keyboard_arrow_uptop

Cue the JAWS theme. We’ve known this day was coming for years, the day when
the first of baseball’s steroid-fueled sluggers would reach the Hall of Fame
ballot, when claims to immortality would clash with charges of immorality.
With Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti on the ballot for the first
time, we’ve got the juiced era’s canaries in the coalmine, two outspoken
players who broke the code of the locker room and admitted to their own
usage of performance-enhancing drugs while offering chilling estimates of
their ubiquity. In Mark McGwire, we have the most widely-suspected player
this side of Barry Bonds, one whose thrilling accomplishments may be
tarnished by the means he used to achieve them, and whose candidacy may
serve as a cautionary tale for those who follow him.

This is the fourth year I’ve used the very self-consciously named Jaffe WARP
Score system (JAWS) to examine the Hall of Fame ballot. The goal of JAWS is
to identify candidates on the Hall ballot who are as good or better than the
average Hall of Famer at their position, a bar set so as to avoid further
diluting the quality of the institution’s membership. Clay Davenport’s Wins
Above Replacement Player (WARP) totals are the coin of the realm for this
endeavor because they normalize all performance records in major-league
history to the same scoring environment, adjusting for park effects, quality
of competition and length of schedule. Pitchers, hitters and fielders are
thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level, making cross-era
comparisons a breeze.

JAWS does not include non-statistical considerations–awards, championships,
postseason performance, rap sheet, urine test results–but that’s not to say
they should be left by the wayside. They’re just not the focus here. While
I’ll discuss the 800-pound elephant in the room in the context of various
candidacies, I don’t claim to have a solution as to how voters or fans
should handle the dawn of this new era. That’s an emotional issue, and JAWS
isn’t designed to handle emotions.

Election to the Hall of Fame requires a player to perform both at a very
high level and for a long time, so JAWS identifies a player’s peak using his
seven best WARP scores (for this exercise, WARP refers exclusively to the
adjusted-for-all-time version, WARP3).
Early versions used a player’s best five consecutive seasons, but the manual
labor to account for injury and war exceptions was a drag, and that was
abandoned last year with nary a word of protest. Effectively, we
double-count more of a player’s best seasons, but given what we know about
pennants
added
and the
premium value of star talent
, individual greatness can have a nonlinear
effect on a team’s results both in the standings and on the bottom line.

The career and peak WARP totals for each Hall of Famer and candidate on the
ballot are tabulated and then averaged [(Career WARP + Peak WARP) / 2] to
come up with a JAWS score. JAWS averages for the enshrined are calculated at
each position to provide a baseline for comparison, but the lowest-ranked
player at each position (and four pitchers) has been omitted before that
calculation. Invariably these are Veterans Committee selections who lag far
behind the pack, with scores that might be one-third of the position leader
and that serve to lower the bar. Nobody will miss them but their mothers.

I’m going to cut through the minutiae to save space; further details on the
why and how of this system are here.
Below are the JAWS standards, the adjusted positional averages once the low
man on the totem pole is removed, to which I’ll refer throughout the
piece:

POS        #  BRAR  BRAA  FRAA   WARP   PEAK   JAWS
C         13   425   215   70    95.7   59.0   77.3
1B        18   744   489   -9   106.1   62.8   84.5
2B        17   579   304   92   122.8   71.5   97.1
3B        11   668   385   69   117.4   67.3   92.4
SS        20   453   153  120   112.3   67.1   89.7
LF        18   752   477    7   111.1   62.6   86.8
CF        17   720   466   15   109.1   63.7   86.4
RF        22   795   519   36   119.6   65.4   92.5

CI        29   716   450   20   110.3   64.5   87.4
MI        37   510   222  107   117.1   69.1   93.1
IF        66   600   321   69   114.1   67.1   90.6
OF        57   759   490   21   113.8   64.0   88.9

Middle    67   547   283   77   111.0   65.8   88.4
Corners   69   751   479   22   113.5   64.3   88.9

Hitters  136   651   383   49   112.3   65.0   88.6

Other abbreviations: BRAR is Batting
Runs Above Replacement
, BRAA is Batting
Runs Above Average
; both are included here because they make good
secondary measures of career and peak value. FRAA is Fielding
Runs Above Average
, which is a bit more meaningful to the average reader
than measuring from replacement level.

Not all of these positions are represented on the 2007 ballot, and some of
these candidates have been addressed at length in earlier pieces. In the
interests of space, I’ll breeze by them except where new developments or
context are deserved, particularly with regards to current rankings within
the position.

First Basemen

Last         H    HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG   AS MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM    Bal  2006%
Garvey     2599  272  1308  .294  .329  .446   10   1   4   31.5   131.0  14   26.0
Joyner     2060  204  1106  .289  .362  .440    1   0   0   24.9   27.5
Mattingly  2153  222  1099  .307  .358  .471    6   1   9   34.1   134.0  6    12.3
McGwire    1626  583  1414  .263  .394  .588   12   0   1   42.0   169.5

             EQA  BRAR  BRAA   FRAA  WARP3   peak   JAWS
Garvey      .281   532   240    40    84.0   54.0   69.0
Joyner      .291   528   290    82    82.4   52.9   67.7
Mattingly   .302   614   388    62    89.0   64.8   76.9
McGwire     .335   922   711   -26   109.3   68.4   88.9
AVG HOF 1B         744   489    -9   106.1   62.8   84.5

More abbreviations from the top table: All-Star appearances, MVP awards, Gold
Gloves, the hoary but somewhat useful Bill James Hall
of Fame Standards
(HOFS) and Hall
of Fame Monitor
(HOFM) scores which inspired this system’s creation, the
number of years on the Hall ballot, and last year’s voting percentage (75
percent is required for election).

Steve Garvey and Don Mattingly have both been on the ballot for as
long as I’ve been covering the Hall beat
, so I won’t delve into the full
merits of their cases. The former, the matinee-idol star of my favorite team
as a kid, is now in his final year on the ballot, a fact which makes me feel
incredibly old. Celebrated in his day–he did the things which attract
voters’ attention, like hit .300 and make the All-Star team while
maintaining perfect hair–Garvey’s like the class president who’s fallen on
hard times much to the delight of those who secretly loathed his smug
superiority back in high school. To his now-famous paternity problems
(“Steve Garvey is not my Padre”), he’s added a
mountain of debt
, and while this has nothing to do with the merits his
Hall of Fame case–which weakens the further we get from the offensive
levels of the ’70s–he’s groomed for oblivion once this vote passes.

Though Mattingly fares better by JAWS standards, he doesn’t look as though
he’ll last his entire run on the ballot the way Garvey has; his vote total
has already been cut in half since his first appearance. The doors to
Cooperstown haven’t closed for him yet, however. The heir apparent
to Joe Torre as Yankee manager, he may do as Torre undoubtedly will,
skippering his way in to top off a Hall of Very Good playing career. It’s a
better shot than Garvey has, at least.

Wally Joyner burst on the big-league scene as a key player on the 1986 Angels,
a team that wound up one
agonizing pitch away
from the franchise’s first pennant. He enjoyed a
career year amid the offensive craziness of 1987, popping 34 home runs–the
only time he would better his rookie mark of 22–and hitting .285/.366/.528.
It was all downhill from there. Joyner posted high batting averages and good
OBPs, but he never managed to slug .500 again, and he topped 20 homers only
one more time over his final 14 seasons. He’s well short of the JAWS
standard, but oddly enough, his WARP numbers bear a striking resemblance to
Garvey’s. The contrast in their counting stats and traditional honors–the
All-Star appearances and hardware–speaks to the changing perception of the
hollowness of Garvey’s low-OBP approach and the increased offensive
expectations of the position. In a bizarre footnote to this year’s
steroid-enhanced ballot, Joyner even copped to trying some
which he acquired from teammate Caminiti during his days as a Padre (he was
part of their ’96 NL West-winning squad and the ’98 pennant winners)–a mild
shock given his apple-pie image, and perhaps a window into the depths of the
sport’s woes. If a player as apple pie as Wally Joyner could be tempted…

Which brings us to McGwire. After a cup of coffee in 1986, he burst on the
scene with a league-leading 49 homers, a .335 EqA and an 8.9 WARP season
during the offense-inflated 1987 season, winning Rookie of the Year honors.
In tandem with Jose Canseco, who’d won the same honors the year before, and
under new skipper Tony LaRussa, he helped the A’s emerge from a half-decade
in the sub-.500 doldrums. The slugging duo was soon nicknamed the Bash
Brothers
, and they helped the A’s to three consecutive pennants in
1988-1990, though the impact of that dynasty was diluted by upsets in the
’88 and ’90 World Series, the former at the hands of the Kirk
Gibson-inspired Dodgers, the latter via the Nasty Boy Reds, and a lone
championship which came during a series stalled by a major earthquake.

McGwire placed in the AL’s top three in home runs for five of his first six
years, though his batting averages declined into the .230s, coloring the
perception of him as a one-dimensional player. WARP says otherwise; even
while hitting .235/.370/.489 in 1990, he was 13 runs above average at first
base, good for a 10.0 win season. He bottomed out in 1991 (.201/.330/.383),
with LaRussa sitting him at the end of the season so he wouldn’t wind up
below the Mendoza Line (the career .199
hitter
knew what he was talking about). Though he bounced back, heel and
back troubles limited him to just 184 games from 1993-1995. Finally somewhat
healthy in 1996, he began perhaps the greatest sustained power run since
Babe Ruth, bashing 52 home runs in just 130 games, and making a run at Roger
Maris’ single-season home run record the next year despite a mid-season
trade to St. Louis keyed by his pending free-agency. He hit 34 before the
July 31 trade, then reeled off 24 in his final two months, but a 19-game
drought on either side of the trade cost him the record.

You know the rest. Against the widely-held assumption that he’d return to
southern California to sign a big contract, McGwire chose to stay in St.
Louis (where La Russa was now manager). Spurred by a challenge from Sammy
Sosa and under intense daily scrutiny from the media, he set the
single-season home run record with a jaw-dropping 70 in 1998. He hit
.299/.470/.752, good for a .381 EqA and 11.6 WARP, but he lost out to Sosa,
who hit 66 homers but finished with only 9.9 WARP, for the MVP award.
McGwire followed up with 65 homers the next year, but struggles with plantar
fasciitis soon took their toll. Though producing at a rate comparable to his
’98 season (.376 EqA), he was limited to 89 games in 2000, and hung up his
spikes following a dismal (.187/.316/.492) 2001 in which he was reduced to
watching Kerry Robinson usurp his final plate appearance in Game Five of
the Division Series.

Taken at face value, McGwire’s numbers are unassailably Hall of Fame
caliber, and to deny otherwise–say, by pointing out that he had well under
2,000 hits, finished with just a .263 batting average, and couldn’t bunt or
steal a base to save his life–is to drag our understanding of baseball
statistics back to the Stone Age. Even in an era of inflated hitting stats
his total contribution, which included a healthy 114 walks (and, ahem, 50
homers) per 162 games, meant real wins. His 583 home runs rank seventh
all-time, his .588 Slugging Percentage is 10th, and his .335 Equivalent
Average is eighth, just behind guys whose first names aren’t necessary �
Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Gehrig, Pujols, Thomas, Mantle, Hornsby. He’s above
the JAWS standard for first basemen in both career and peak totals, and
ranks 13th all-time among first baseman, trailing contemporaries like Jeff
Bagwell and the Big Hurt but well above many enshrined, including other
so-called one-dimensional sluggers like Willie McCovey and Johnny Mize (Jim
Baker covers Big Mac’s statistical case in great detail here).

The “but” attached to those numbers would make Jennifer Lopez green with
envy. McGwire is widely assumed to have used steroids, and he’s got more
circumstantial evidence surrounding him than any player this side of Bonds.
From the sordid injection stories in Jose Canseco’s book to the now-outlawed
androstenedione discovered in his locker during the ’98 home run chase to
details of his chemical regimen turning up in an FBI investigation called “Operation
Equine”
to his tearful “I’m not here to talk about the past”
stonewalling amid Congressional
hearing
in 2005, there’s enough smoke surrounding him that he’s already
been found guilty in the court of public opinion. The Baseball Writers
Association of America rank and
file
appears inclined
to make a harsh example of the hero they anointed by withholding their vote.
In an AP
poll
of 20 percent of the electorate, roughly three quarters will pass
him over this time around, citing the character clause on the ballot, which
as Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark details, includes “a player’s record of
achievement, contributions to the teams, the game, their character,
longevity, and sportsmanship.”

The problem is not only that we don’t have ironclad proof about McGwire’s
usage, but that we still lack the perspective on its impact on his career,
not to mention how widespread the steroid problem was (or if you prefer, is)
within the game. Does the electorate intend to withhold election from every
suspected but otherwise qualified player to hit the ballot, and if so, what
are the standards of proof? Does it intend to make an example of McGwire
only to wave his successors (even Bonds) through? Does it matter that the
Hall itself is filled with racists, alcoholics, drug addicts, cheaters,
wife-beaters, booger-eating spazzes and other “role models” whose place in
baseball history is nonetheless secured for eternity? Does it matter that
the electorate itself is complicit in the entire steroid narrative,
abdicating any journalistic responsibility in favor of preserving access to
the press box and the locker room by functioning as quote-monkeys? Or that
we as fans played right along, flocking to the ballparks in ever-increasing
numbers to celebrate record-breaking home run totals–and that we still
haven’t left despite BALCO and the Congressional debacle?

I don’t pretend to have an answer here, though I would hate to see McGwire drop off the ballot in year one for failing to receive the requisite five percent. The AP poll indicates he already has enough votes to keep his case alive (25% x 20% = 5%), and only the harshest of critics could argue that’s a bad thing. Time is on our side–time to gain perspective and, as the Dude would say, for new information to come to light. Ultimately, the less emotion that’s attached to a vote on his candidacy either way, the better.

Third Basemen

Last         H    HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG   AS MVP  GG  HOFS     HOFM
Bonilla    2010  287  1173  .279  .358  .472    6   0   0   32.0    64.5
Brosius    1001  141   531  .257  .323  .422    1   0   1   12.6    19.0
Caminiti   1710  239   983  .272  .347  .447    3   1   3   24.8    38.0

            EQA  BRAR  BRAA   FRAA  WARP3   PEAK   JAWS
Bonilla     .295   582   338   -63    85.2   60.2   72.7
Brosius     .265   163    27    67    44.4   39.7   42.1
Caminiti    .285   422   209    67    83.2   62.2   72.7
AVG HOF 3B         668   385    69   117.4   67.3   92.4

As I remind you all every year, third basemen are the Hall’s redheaded stepchildren, criminally underrepresented in the ranks of Cooperstown, with only eleven enshrinees (a tally that includes Paul Molitor, who spent far more time at DH).
Sixth-ranked Ron Santo, who scores at 98.3, is not only well above the JAWS
standard at third base, he’s the highest-scoring player eligible for the
Hall of Fame but not already enshrined–but we’ll save that sermon until the
Vet
Committee
screws up again in the spring. In the meantime, none of the
three newcomers on the ballot here are going to change the situation; the
bet here is that they won’t poll the five percent necessary to draw a return
invitation. Nonetheless…

Bobby Bonilla played barely half his career at the hot corner; he wasn’t
awful there (96 Rate2), but high error totals contributed to that
perception, and he shuttled between third base and rightfield according to
the needs of his teams. He made his name in Pittsburgh by helping the
Pirates franchise return to respectability, joining forces with new manager
Jim Leyland and a young Barry Bonds. His best year came in 1989, when he was
worth a surprising 11.7 WARP. The Davenport numbers rate him a very
suspicious 17 runs above average at third; he’d never been higher than -7
before, nor would he top +1 again. His 1990 showing (.280/.322/.518 with 32
homers), though it looks rather mediocre now, was worth 10.5 WARP; along
with Bonds (12.9 WARP, 33 HR) he led the Pirates to their first postseason
since 1979, and the duo topped the MVP voting, with Bonds winning. The
Pirates repeated their NL East title the next year, but as before, they lost
in the League Championship Series.

Bonilla left Pittsburgh as a free agent, signing a five year, $29 million
contract with the Mets, making him the game’s highest-paid player.
Ill-suited for the title, he hit just .249/.348/.432 in his first year,
while his surly 72-win club
gained immortality as The
Worst Team Money Could Buy
via beat writers John Harper and Bob
Klapisch’s diary of the season. Bonilla’s place in the annals of surliness
was further assured when he confronted Klapisch the following spring,
offering to show
him the Bronx
. He eventually found his stroke in New York but the team
continued to stink on ice, and in 1995 he was traded to Baltimore amid his
most impressive season with the bat (.329/.388/.576) and third-best
according to WARP (9.3). He never hit as well again, and the rest of his
career is known more for battles with managers than performance, excepting a
1997 World Series ring under Leyland in Florida. His time in Baltimore ended
when Davey Johnson stuck him at DH, while the Mets, rather than let him
resume his clash with Bobby Valentine at the cool price of $5.9 million,
agreed to pay him nearly
$30 million of deferred money
starting in 2011 to go the hell away. For
all of his negatives, he was a very good player, but he’s got no shot at the
Hall; the real question is whether the writers will deal him one of their
rare zeroes.

After biding his time in a utility role, Scott Brosius enjoyed a couple of
decent seasons as Oakland’s starting third baseman at the tail end of the
McGwire era, including a 7.9 WARP season in 1996 off a .304/.393/.516
performance. A knee injury and some tinkering with his swing triggered a
miserable follow-up campaign (.203/.259/.317)–one of the largest
batting-average drops in history–and over the winter, the team sent him to
the Yankees to complete a deal for Kenny Rogers. The Yanks had a vacancy at
third base, having just traded Charlie Hayes to the Giants and let Wade
Boggs go to free agency. Brosius was initially expected to platoon with
either Dale Sveum or prospect Mike Lowell (who’d slugged .561 between
Double- and Triple-A in ’97), but he won the job outright and reeled off a
storybook campaign. He hit .300/.371/.472 and turned in excellent defense
(+17 runs) for a Yankee team
that won an AL-record 114 games, making the All-Star team and finishing with
a career-high 9.3 WARP. He topped that by winning World Series MVP honors on
the strength of a .471/.471/.824 showing. He never again matched that
performance; back trouble hampered him at the plate, though he won a Gold
Glove (+16 runs) in 1999 and was part of the core which took the Yanks to
three consecutive World Championships and one agonizing near-miss. He was
money in the Fall Classic, hitting .314/.333/.529 overall, and even amid a
.167 struggle during the 2001 Series, he smacked a dramatic, game-tying
two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning of Game Five.
That turned out to be his final major-league hit; Brosius hung up his spikes
at age 35, opting to return to his family in native Oregon. He’s really got
no case for the Hall, JAWS or otherwise, but he’s fondly recalled by this
Yankee fan for his big hits and consistent wizardry in the field. He was the
best at making the barehanded slow-roller pick-and-throw that I’ve ever
seen.

Ken Caminiti looked like he’d eaten a mouthful of dirt for breakfast, and
then another for lunch. A gritty player who never hesitated to get his
uniform dirty, he was a late bloomer, debuting with the Astros at age 24 in
1987, but not winning a regular job for another two years. He didn’t become
a consistent force at the plate until his Age 31 season, though excellent
defense at the hot corner (+21 runs in 1989, +17 in 1991) helped him top 7.0
WARP three times by then. He hit well on occasion in Houston–a .292 EqA in
1992, .299 in 1994–but it was in San Diego where his career took off.
Traded as part of a 12-player deal that boiled down to him and Steve Finley
for, um, Derek Bell, Doug Brocail and the wrong Pedro Martinez, he hit
.302/.380/.513 with a career-high 26 home runs in 1995. He followed that up
with a monster season: .326/.408/.621 with 40 homers and 130 RBI, good for
12.9 WARP, a unanimous NL MVP award and a Gold Glove as the Padres won the
NL West. But Caminiti’s all-out style–and lifestyle–quickly took its toll;
he never made it through another season without a trip to the disabled list.
He was limited to 131 games and a .252/.353/.509 performance in helping the
Pads to just their second pennant in 1998. Returning to Houston as a free
agent, he hit well but played just 78 games in 1999, 59 in 2000, and retired
after an abysmal 2001 season split between the Rangers and the Braves.

Caminiti’s career arc came into better focus the following year. Shortly
after being released by the Braves, he was arrested in a Houston crack
house; later it was revealed that he’d struggled with cocaine and painkiller
addiction as well as alcoholism during his first stint in Houston. During
the following spring, he told Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci
that he
began using steroids
during his 1996 MVP season, to recover from a
rotator cuff tear sustained while diving for a ball. He offered a chilling
estimate on the drugs’ ubiquity: “It’s no secret what’s going on in
baseball. At least half the guys are using [steroids]. They talk about it.
They joke about it with each other.” And he was unrepentant: “I’ve made a
ton of mistakes. I don’t think using steroids is one of them.” Caminiti
admitted that his litany of ligament and tendon tears were caused by his
usage, and so were bouts of depression that resulted from his body’s failure
to produce its own testosterone.

The news for baseball was dark; Jose Canseco had only recently sung his own
particular steroid tune, admitting to his own usage and promising to “name
names”. For Caminiti, things
only got darker
; not only were there further bouts of substance abuse
and depression, but also stints in rehab centers and jail for violating his
probation, and an ever-downward spiral. He died of a heart attack brought on
by a drug overdose on October 10, 2004. I believe this makes him the first
ballplayer to retire but not survive long enough to see his name on the
BBWAA ballot. That’s as chilling an epitaph as any.

Shortstops

Last         H    HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG   AS  MVP GG  HOFS   HOFM   Bal  2006%
Concepcion 2326  101   950  .267  .322  .357    9   0   5   29.1   107.0 13   12.5
Fernandez  2276   94   844  .288  .347  .399    5   0   4   31.5    74.0
Ripken     3184  431  1695  .276  .340  .447   19   2   2   58.3   236.0
Trammell   2365  185  1003  .285  .352  .415    6   0   4   40.4   119.0 5   17.7

            EQA  BRAR  BRAA   FRAA  WARP3   peak   JAWS
Concepcion  .256   264   -39   150   109.8   66.6   88.2
Fernandez   .273   399   131   115   105.4   63.6   84.5
Ripken      .284   759   371   130   169.2   89.1  129.2
Trammell    .283   535   251    64   123.4   70.8   97.1
AVG HOF SS         453   153   120   112.3   67.1   89.7

The shortstop contingent on this year’s ballot is an unusually strong one. Of the holdovers, Alan Trammell has quickly become the Bert Blyleven of hitters,
receiving little love from the voters despite being overqualified when
compared to his peers. He ranks 10th all-time among shortstops according to
JAWS; only seven Hall of Famers are ahead of him: Honus Wagner (140.6 JAWS),
Arky Vaughan (110.7), Ernie Banks (105.2), Ozzie Smith (104.4), Robin Yount
(103.7), Luke Appling (99.7), and Joe Cronin (98.4). Even with a percentage
of votes that’s risen for the past three years, he’s made little headway
towards the Hall. In the interests of space, I’ll refer you to last
year’s piece
for the full merits of his case.

Likewise for Concepcion. A below-average hitter, the defensive linchpin of a
Big Red Machine dynasty that won five divisions, four pennants, and two
World Series during the 1970s still fares surprisingly well according to
JAWS. He ranks 15th all time, behind nine enshrined shortstops but ahead of
eleven others (though nine of those were Vet Committee selections), falling
less than two wins below the standard. His Fielding Runs Above Average total
is seventh all-time, topped by just four Hall of Fame shortstops: the Wizard
(288), the Flying Dutchman (188), Joe Tinker (160; his JAWS score of 63.4 is
second-worst among all elected shortstops), and Lou Boudreau (155). It would
hardly be the worst vote in history if Concepcion got in, he’s never topped
17 percent, and time is running out.

An better hitter than Concepcion and no slouch as a fielder, Tony Fernandez
is just three spots behind him in the all-time JAWS rankings. A relatively
early product of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, he ranks third
among his
countrymen
in games played and hits, trailing only Julio Franco and
Sammy Sosa, and was arguably the island’s first great major league shortstop
and remains its best to date, at least until Miguel Tejada‘s career comes
into perspective. Reaching the big leagues with Toronto in 1983, he played a
pivotal role in the team’s ascent to respectability under Bobby Cox. His 8.9
WARP ranked third on the 1985
team
, the Jays’ first division winner, his 8.2 WARP ranked second on the
AL East-winning 1989 club,
and his 10.1 WARP bested teammate and AL MVP winner George Bell during the
near-miss 1987 season.

Fernandez left Toronto after his best season, a 10.6 WARP, and bounced
around to a handful of teams while remaining very useful, generally worth
six or seven WARP a year. He returned to Toronto for three more stints,
including their 1993 championship run; having evolved as a hitter, his
.306/.361/.442 was a huge midseason upgrade on that team’s Mendozoid tandem
of Dick Schoefeld and Alfredo Griffin, and his participation in the glory
was fitting. He was part of the Yanks’ return to the postseason in 1995, but
may have served that franchise better with a spring-training elbow fracture
the following year, cueing the entry of a young whippersnapper named Derek
Jeter. That cost him an entire season, as did a 2000 spent in Japan. He
falls a bit short by JAWS, and it’s tough to argue he’d be over the line by
filling in those two missing years; he was at his nadir in 1995 (his last
gasp as a shortstop) and ’97 (a combined 6.5 wins) and couldn’t even manage
a 1.0 WARP upon returning to the states after a very useful pre-Japan 1999
(5.6 WARP). Close, but no cigar.

As for Cal Ripken Jr., welcome to flavor country. His 129.2 JAWS score
places him second behind only Wagner among shortstops, and 15th overall in
major league history. He’s 16th based on career WARP, and an even more
impressive 10th according to peak. Chew on that for a moment: we’re talking
about one of the 20 greatest players in baseball history, a player who’s
seventh-best season was worth 9.7 wins, good enough to win an MVP
award in some years. Of course, given his membership in the 3,000 hit club,
his record 2,632 consecutive games, and the most home runs by a shortstop,
Ripken’s a no-doubt choice for the Hall of Fame; he’ll be close to
unanimous.

The most interesting part of Ripken’s candidacy may be the fact that he
changed the game. I’m not talking about the feel-good aura produced by his
run at Lou Gehrig‘s consecutive game streak, which is often credited for
bringing fans back to baseball after the 1994-’95 players strike. It was his
success at shortstop despite being 6’4″, 225 lbs which opened the door for
other big, athletic types like Jeter, A-Rod, and Tejada to play the
position, a development which played no small part in moving the game more
towards the high-offense era in which we currently sit. Roll over,
Concepcion, and tell Mark Belanger the news.

None of which takes away from his fielding. Ripken had five seasons where he
was at least 20 runs above average in the field, and including his
latter-day move to third base, eight in double digits. Those years lead to
some staggering WARP totals: 17.0 in 1991 (an MVP year, and the
fourth-highest single-season WARP total ever), 15.0 in 1984, 13.9 in ’83
(his first MVP award while playing for his only World Series winner). In his
first 10 full seasons, he averaged 11.4 WARP… and I could go on. But I’ll
sum it up thusly: according to JAWS, he’s the strongest candidate to grace
the ballot since Hank Aaron.

You heard that right. Oh, and in case you’re wondering who the #3 shortstop
is according to JAWS, the one left out of the rankings above, it’s the guy
slagged on a daily basis in the tri-state area: Alex Rodriguez (112.5).

We’ll be back with the outfielders in the next installment…

This year’s JAWS series would not have been possible without the timely
assistance of Clay Davenport and Peter Quadrino. Thanks, guys!

RELATED PREMIUM CONTENT

12-12-05 — The Class of 2006: The Hitters

12-16-05 — The Class of 2006: Starting Pitchers

12-20-05 — The Class of 2006: Relievers

01-30-06 — JAWS 2006: From the Mailbag

12-16-04 — The Class of 2005: The Hitters

12-20-04 — The Class of 2005: The Pitchers