There’s no crying in baseball, which may or may not explain why Jeff Kent‘s stoic facade crumbled during the press conference in which he announced his retirement last week. A notoriously gruff and prickly personality, Kent had spent the better part of two decades distancing himself from his teammates and the media as much as possible. Thus the sight of him fighting back the tears was surprising, even shocking, given his apparent lack of emotional range. As the legendary sportswriter Frank Graham once wrote of Yankees outfielder Bob Meusel, “He’s learning to say hello when it’s time to say goodbye.”

Less than two months shy of his 41st birthday, there’s little doubt that the time to say goodbye had arrived for Kent. He hit .280/.327/.418 for the Dodgers in 2008, with a career-low .264 EqA and just 12 homers, his lowest total since 1996. He missed most of the final month of the season due to a torn medial meniscus that required surgery; though he rehabbed doggedly and made the Dodgers’ post-season roster, he was confined to bench duty while Blake DeWitt took over at second base. A future as a part-time player was unthinkable for Kent, who had once declared, upon being sidelined by a more minor injury, “I hate watching baseball.”

While Kent hasn’t been the object of many fond farewells, the widespread consensus in the mainstream media is that he’s bound for the Hall of Fame. From a traditional perspective, it’s not difficult to see why. Although he didn’t debut in the majors until he was 24 and didn’t top 400 plate appearances until the following year, Kent nonetheless racked up 2,461 hits and 377 homers, reached the postseason seven times, made five All-Star teams, and won the 2000 NL MVP award. The 351 home runs he hit as a second baseman are tops for the position, far outdistancing the second-, third-, and fourth-ranked second-sackers-Ryne Sandberg (277), Joe Morgan (266), and Rogers Hornsby (263)-all of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown. He also leads all second basemen in RBI and extra-base hits, while ranking 12th in games played at the position; several articles pertaining to his retirement credited him as ranking fifth in games played, but someone clearly failed to do their homework:

Games  Player
2650   Eddie Collins
2526   Joe Morgan
2320   Roberto Alomar
2306   Lou Whitaker
2295   Nellie Fox
2206   Charlie Gehringer
2153   Willie Randolph
2153   Frank White
2126   Bid McPhee
2094   Bill Mazeroski
2035   Nap Lajoie
2034   Jeff Kent
1995   Ryne Sandberg
1989   Craig Biggio
1852   Bobby Doerr
1843   Ray Durham
1834   Red Schoendienst
1813   Billy Herman
1767   Bobby Grich
1763   Bret Boone

If Kent’s case for Cooperstown appears on firm footing from a traditional standpoint, it’s on shakier ground sabermetrically. On the one hand, his Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor scores are in line with the averages, or at least the averages at the time James created his system some 25 years ago; Kent scores 50.9 on the Standards, where 50 is average, and 122.5 on the Monitor, where 100 is average. Basically, this means that he did the things that typical Hall of Famers do. Furthermore, he fares well on the more subjective Keltner Test, through which Joe Sheehan ran Kent’s case back in early 2007.

As noted in that previous link, Kent does not fare nearly so well when it comes to JAWS, and I say that as someone whose first impulse would be to vote for him if the BBWAA granted me a ballot today. I’ve explored his case before, but with his final two seasons of play, as well as a major adjustment in the WARP system’s replacement level-one that’s not yet reflected on our player cards, alas-it’s appropriate to take another look. Here are the rankings for the position:

Player            Career   Peak   JAWS
Eddie Collins      137.9   72.7  105.3*
Rogers Hornsby     128.6   76.6  102.6*
Joe Morgan         127.5   73.5  100.5*
Nap Lajoie         125.7   71.7   98.7*
Bobby Grich         92.3   63.6   78.0
Lou Whitaker       103.4   51.6   77.5
Craig Biggio        90.0   55.0   72.5
Rod Carew           86.1   53.0   69.6*
Charlie Gehringer   84.8   54.2   69.5*
Frankie Frisch      83.3   50.1   66.7*
Roberto Alomar      81.0   51.8   66.4
Ryne Sandberg       75.6   56.4   66.0*
Billy Herman        77.8   51.2   64.5**
Jeff Kent           80.1   47.9   64.0
Jackie Robinson     68.0   57.5   62.8*
Joe Gordon          67.5   53.9   60.7**
Bobby Doerr         72.8   47.7   60.3**
Bid McPhee          77.7   41.7   59.7**
Willie Randolph     70.3   42.4   56.4
Davey Lopes         64.5   47.8   56.2
Avg HoF 2B          84.9   54.6   69.8
*BBWAA elected
**VC elected

Kent ranks 12th in career WARP, 20th in peak WARP (best seven seasons), and 14th overall among all second basemen. As odd as it sounds for a player who lasted through his age-40 season, he’s hampered by a lack of durability. Kent topped 145 games just five times (including in 2002, the season he infamously broke his wrist while “washing his truck”) and averaged only 133 games a year over his last six seasons, the Houston and Los Angeles phases of his career. He’s got just four seasons above 5.5 WARP via the new system, and just three above 7.0. Overall, his JAWS score tops only one of the nine second basemen elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, that being Jackie Robinson, whose career was shortened by the color barrier but who nonetheless had a peak that was well above average, to say nothing of his monumentally larger role in history.

It won’t get much better for Kent, either. By the time he actually reaches the 2014 ballot in the company of fellow first-year eligibles Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina, both Biggio and Alomar will likely be enshrined. The former is a lock given his 3,060 hits, while the latter’s round-number combination of a .300 lifetime batting average and 10 Gold Gloves probably put him into the no-brainer category for many a voter.

The introduction of a play-by-play based system for the defensive component of WARP and thus JAWS-something that’s in the works, which is why the above numbers haven’t made it to our player cards-likely won’t help Kent either. Right now he’s actually got a higher FRAA (+9) than either Biggio (-56) or Alomar (-63); suffice to say that none of these guys aged very well at the keystone. It would be surprising if that order held up given both the stronger reputations of the other two players (Biggio won four Gold Gloves, while it’s tough to imagine Kent ever coming up in a Gold Glove conversation) and the late-career Ultimate Zone Rating figures from Fangraphs, which show Kent even less charity than the FRAA numbers do.

In chewing on Kent’s candidacy, it’s worth noting that second base has long been something of an odd duck in the JAWS pond. In my annual analyses of the 2006, 2007, and 2008 ballots-dating back to the point where I redefined the peak component from a player’s best five consecutive years (a definition used for the 2004 and 2005 ballots) to his best seven years at large-the second basemen had the highest JAWS score of any position. That changed with this year’s ballot, which uses a long-awaited higher replacement level for hitters. The third basemen actually overtook the second basemen, as did the right fielders:

Pos  Career  Peak   JAWS
 C    78.3   50.9   64.6
1B    75.8   48.4   62.1
2B    84.9   54.6   69.8
3B    89.4   56.1   72.8
SS    79.5   52.2   65.9
LF    79.8   49.1   64.5
CF    84.2   52.5   68.4
RF    87.9   52.2   70.1

This isn’t simply a built-in advantage for second basemen, it’s more likely a product of small sample sizes, as the Hall’s ranks include just 11 third basemen. The top 40 second basemen (a group chosen because it incorporates all of the Hall of Famers down to bottom-ranked Johnny Evers) have an average JAWS score (60.2) which ranks fourth among the eight positions, 0.3 higher than the third basemen. Looking back at the individual rankings, the list is unmistakably top-heavy, as there’s a gulf between Lajoie at number four and Grich at number five which is founded in that top quartet’s career-long excellence as hitters. Collins, Hornsby, Morgan, and Lajoie average 1,045 Batting Runs Above Replacement and 740 Batting Runs Above Average apiece; only Carew comes within 250 runs on either count, while Gehringer comes up more than 400 short in both categories, and the rest all fall behind him. Furthermore, only the top four players on the list are actually above the JAWS standard at the position and in the Hall of Fame, though two more are pretty much dead even, and Biggio is virtually guaranteed entry unless somebody shows up with a sordid performance-enhancing drug scandal to lay at his feet.

That such a small number of second basemen outdo the standards at the position is not terribly unique to the JAWS universe, as only about one-third of the left fielders and center fielders in the Hall do so:

Pos  AVG+    #   Pct
 C     7    13   53.8
SS    10    21   47.6
3B     5    11   45.5
1B     8    18   44.4
 P    24    61   39.3
RF     9    23   39.1
LF     7    20   35.0
CF     5    17   29.4
2B     4    18   22.2
Total 79   202   39.1

In the table above, AVG+ is the number of players with JAWS scores exceeding the positional standard, and # represents the total number of enshrined players at that position who have full enough careers to make a JAWS analysis worthwhile (i.e., not including the Negro Leaguers or late-career crossovers like Satchel Paige or Monte Irvin). As noted before, Carew and Gehringer are so close-less than 10 runs between them-that we could conceivably bump the second basemen ahead of the center fielders with 33.3 percent; no other position has anyone who misses by what may as well be a rounding error.

This top-heaviness will be taken by some as grounds for suggesting the use of median scores at each position, rather than the adjusted means (the means once the lowest score at each position-invariably a laughably awful VC selection-is thrown out), a subject I’ve tackled before. Though it wasn’t the case this year, in the past I’ve found that comparing a typical BBWAA ballot’s worth of players against the medians results in a system that flags more players as worthy of votes than there are spots on a Hall of Fame ballot. Within the broad range of opinions held by actual voters and interested observers, I doubt one could find a single credible analysis that reached such a conclusion. Going lower than the median-one commenter even suggested down to the 20th percentile, which among second basemen would mean touting Chuck Knoblauch and Julio Franco for the Hall-is an even worse idea.

Kent does inch over the second base median (63.7), but he remains squarely below the JAWS standard for second baseman. Unless one attaches special importance to his leading the position in homers, which has much to do with his era, it’s difficult to draw the conclusion that the credentials which WARP can’t capture are enough to close the gap. His HOFS and HOFM scores, which tally things like his All-Star appearances, awards, and league leads in important categories, may be solid, but they’re still well below those of contemporaries Alomar (55.9, 193.5) and Biggio (55.9, 169.0), and not necessarily superior to the stylistically similar Sandberg (41.9, 157.5). He never won a World Series ring (though he received one from the 1992 Blue Jays, who traded him to the Mets for David Cone midway through his rookie season), and his .276/.340/.500 performance in the postseason is respectable, but hardly spectacular enough to merit extra credit. His MVP award came in the rare year that he outperformed teammate Barry Bonds, but his 8.7 WARP was still just fifth in the NL; he finished third in the NL in 2002 with 9.6 for the pennant-winning Giants, but Bonds’ 13.7 WARP trumps that considerably. No extra credit to be had there either.

Kent was a very good player for a long time, and an often misunderstood one. His lack of charisma and his businesslike approach made him an easy target, though his humorlessness should never have been confused with a lack of passion for the game. From this vantage point, he looks to be a borderline Hall of Famer at best. Even with no particular love lost for him as a fan-one who spent years rooting against him as a Giant before settling down and appreciating his uneven virtues with the Dodgers-I’ll admit that this still contradicts my gut instinct, but then that’s one of the reasons for the five-year waiting period before a player reaches the ballot. Nonetheless, I strongly suspect he’ll find his way into Cooperstown in due time, and if that’s the case, it will hardly be the crime of the century.

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Julio Franco for the hall! Playing forever has to be worth something, to say nothing of his giant omelet eating skills.
What are you prognosticating re \"in due time\"? I\'d say a Rice-like admission. Say, 2027.
Kent\'s numbers are right there...but was he FEARED?
By teammates and reporters, at least. Although that did get Jim Ed into the Hall...
Hey! Where\'s the coverage of the Caribbean World Series? Where\'s the coverage of winter ball been since Arizona?
Jay, why are there so few 3B\'s in the Hall? Random chance?
Huh. I\'d have thought he had a really solid case.
The crime is Kent being in the HoF and Lou Whitaker not even on the ballot.
This diminishes JAWS in my eyes if the system argues that Jeff Kent is a borderline HOF\'er. I just can\'t believe that in the least.
Where\'s the love for Sweet Lou?
Kent\'s a first-ballot HOFer because his virtues are reflected in the counting stats the voters look at, and his shortcomings revealed only with the type of analysis the voters have never used.

Having Alomar and Biggio inducted ahead of Kent can only help - can you imagine the BBWAA putting those 2 in and not including a guy who had more counting stats?
I\'m stunned that Alomar and Biggio are rated so low in FRAA, according to your article. Were they really that bad?

As you note, the 2B standard is skewed by the existence of 4 Immortals who were so far ahead of the rest of the pack. We don\'t want to penalize the Charlie Gehringers of the world for only being Charlie Gehringer and not Rogers Hornsby, but we also don\'t want to just ignore what\'s possible at the high end when trying to identify greatness.

Have you played around with eliminating outliers at the high end, as well as the low end, when computing your adjusted average for the position? That would also help in LF, where Williams and Henderson and Bonds would stop distorting the standard for \"worthy HOF inductee\".

More concretely: suppose we say that the center 50% of HOF JAWS scores defines what it means to be a worthy HOF inductee at each position. That corrects not only for horrible bad past choices, but also for Ruthian distortions. How do the positional standards change, and who becomes more (or less) worthy by the new metric?
I haven\'t tested anything with regards to eliminating high-end outliers or the middle 50%, but offhand I can tell you that the effect will largely be the same as what happens when using the median: lower standards at each position except catcher (where the median is actually higher than the adjusted mean) and thus the danger of a system that concludes that more than 10 \"worthies\" are on a given ballot. Eyeballing it, such a switch probably nets 3-5 additional worthies per position (not including pitcher).

While this avenue may merit a deeper exploration, I\'m not testing anything new until the defensive upgrade happens -- hopefully sooner rather than later.
Though seemingly humorless, he played against that image to great effect in an ESPN the Magazine commercial a while back. (Big, comic book-style blurbs covering his face during the usual pitch). Sadly, it doesn\'t look like anyone saved that one for future YouTube uploading.
Now that BP has readjusted its replacement level to better fit with the rest of the interweb\'s numbers, how many previously JAWS-approved players have dipped below the new benchmark? (I\'m kinda amazed how low Alomar scores now.)

And with the work being done by Tom Tango and positional adjustments, I wonder what\'s the best way to handle defense. Even good systems (+/-, BIS UZR, STATS UZR, etc.) still disagree a lot, and until we see BP\'s Play-By-Play numbers it\'ll be hard to evaluate that--and thus be able to better judge JAWS as a tool.
Again, a question better left until the PBP defense is incorporated. In terms of high-profile candidates of recent vintage, Ron Santo fell below the suddenly elevated 3B standards when I did the VC ballot based solely on a drastic drop in his defensive numbers. Lee Smith has fallen below the RP standards, which owes something to Rich Gossage finally making it. Tommy John was above the standard as recently as 2006. Albert Belle fell further behind the LF standard, though his peak still exceeds the average - and I advocated a vote based on peak alone in his case.

More RBI than Mickey Mantle, more HR, RBI, and doubles than any other second baseman, and he\'s only a borderline Hall of Famer?

Maybe you\'re squinting a little too hard. The Hall of Fame isn\'t just for us prospectus types. In the eyes of most baseball fans, Jeff Kent\'s traditional numbers don\'t just make him a hall of famer, they make him a slam dunk hall of famer. If he was a little bit more gregarious, he\'d probably get Henderson-like numbers his first year. Either way, he\'ll be in on the first ballot, as he should.
Oy vey. Do I really need to go here? You\'re not even comparing apples to oranges, you\'re comparing apples to pickled herring.

That Kent may have more RBI than Mickey Mantle is only slightly more relevant to his Hall of Fame case than the fact that he\'s 511 wins behind Cy Young. Kent played in an era of inflated offense, where runs and thus RBI were considerably easier to accumulate than in the Mick\'s day. Over the course of his career, he used up about 450 more outs to drive in all of nine runs more than Mantle, and did so in an environment where the park-adjusted league OPS was about 50 points higher than in Mantle\'s day.

Oh, did I mention he hit more World Series homers than Ted Williams? Forget the plaque, let\'s build him his own wing in Cooperstown.
Having fulfilled my daily snark quota in the previous reply, I\'ll forget for a moment that you brought RBI - a team-dependent stat that\'s obviously linked to historical scoring levels as well - into this argument at all and focus on your statement about the home runs and doubles relative to other second basemen. They are indeed nice things, very useful for generating runs, even if they too are easier to accumulate in a high-offense era such as the one encompassing Kent\'s career.

In fact, it\'s fair to point out that Kent\'s actually a better hitter than the JAWS standard for second basemen once you take into account all of the other facets of his offensive game - walks, outs, singles, triples, stolen bases, hit-by-pitches, the whole shebang. His .292 EQA bests the JAWS standard among second basemen by four points. It\'s a whole 50 points short of Mantle\'s EQA, but only one point below that of Jim Rice. Among second basemen, it\'s hell-and-gone from the big four, but three points ahead of Charlie Gehringer and eight above Ryne Sandberg. Those are points in Kent\'s favor.

Furthermore, his 644 Batting Runs Above Replacement and 361 Batting Runs Above Average outdo the average Hall second-sacker (569 BRAR and 299 BRAA). He\'s a better hitter than the average Hall of Fame second baseman, a statement that could have stood an emphasis in the article proper.

The problem, then, comes down to defense, where Kent\'s offensive advantages over the average HOF second baseman evaporate; he\'s 368 Fielding Runs Above Replacement, and nine Fielding Runs Above Average, where the standard is 447 and 86. Runs prevented are worth slightly more than runs scored (see Baseball Between the Numbers for the math), which is why Kent falls slightly on the low side relative to the Hall second basemen by this reckoning, at least until a play-by-play metric tells us otherwise. I know that\'s not what you asked at all, but it\'s the flip side of the best talking point I can give you in this realm.

As I said in the piece, I do think Kent will get into the Hall; my guess would be within five years on the ballot but almost certainly not on the first try, going up against Maddux. THAT is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.
It\'s not my contention that the more RBI than Mickey Mantle means anything about Kent\'s actual value in comparison to Mickey Mantle\'s value (because you\'d have to be a lunatic to suggest that Kent comes anywhere near Mantle).

What I\'m saying is that, for a large portion of baseball fans, AVG, HR, and RBI are the most important statistics a player can have. And, by that standard, Kent not only is above where he needs to be, but he\'s way, way above where he needs to be. For an awful lot of people, Kent is a slam-dunk hall of famer. My argument is that traditional, less nuanced statistics have a bigger place in the hall of fame because they reflect the perception of most baseball fans better than a lot of the more advanced statistics.
Jumpin\' Jeebus, how do you think we go to this point in the first place?

Of course AVG, HR, RBI are the most important statistics to that large portion of people, and if they can\'t look beyond that, then JAWS - hell, the field of sabermetrics - has absolutely nothing to tell them about the Hall of Fame, or about baseball history in general. Boy, hitters were great in the 1930s and they\'re great now, but they sure sucked in the 1960s and especially in the Deadball Era, when they couldn\'t hit homers for ****.

Those people - many of them in the BBWAA, alas - will vote the Jim Rices in and keep the Tim Raineses out based on their home run totals, forget about any kind of value-based accounting for player performance, forget about adjusting for anything, forget about looking at anything in a way that contradicts what people knew about baseball 25 or even 50 years ago. Run back to the TV and let Joe Morgan and Peter Gammons tell you all you need to know about what makes a Hall of Famer, because there\'s nothing to see here.
And for the record, I like pickled herring quite a bit, and apples make my gums itch.
IMHO, the Achilles heel of JAWS - of BP\'s WARP, really - has always been FRAR/FRAA. I understand that one can only impute historical defensive capability according to such a defensive system as BP has in place. But confidence in fielding stats is wholly out of proportion to the role they play in determining WARP. Their softness lies in heavy contrast to BRAR/BRAA. I\'m looking forward to seeing/understanding better the new approach to defensive evaluation BP\'s looking to go to.
I\'d sure take that bet.
1) Seconding Dr. Dave\'s call for Jay to eliminate outliers from his HOF positional averages - I would advocate removing the top and bottom 10% in making the averages.

2)I don\'t know that Kent makes it in on the first ballot, but see him taking the Sandberg route - 3 years, maybe 5. He will lose out in his first go round, competing with Maddux, Mussina and his diametric position player opposite - Sean Casey.
Hi Jay:

The notion that Kent has a better fielding rating than Alomar is laughable.
The two topics that consumed the most electrons on in the early 1990\'s were Ken Griffey Jr.\'s defense and Roberto Alomar\'s defense. Those were the two players with the most striking contrast between reputation and what the numbers seemed to be saying. In those days, there were no UZRs or probabilistic range distributions, but there was \"defensive average\" (DA) and its relative, the original Zone Rating.

After a lot of digging and observation, what everyone decided (if I recall correctly) was that Alomar was very weak at making plays to his right. He played shaded toward first, and make any number of spectacular plays behind him and to his left, but anything up the middle was a hit. The data saw that; the live observers simply noted \"ball out of reach, not his fault\".

I\'d be very curious to see what the retroactive play-by-play defensive evaluation of Alomar looks like.
the five year wait is interesting for players like bonds. how will voters mellow with time to the steroid era? i suppose they will be recalcitrant and rely on coachspeak.
This article and these comments by Jaffe signal the end of JAWS. Nice try, Jaffe.
Hardly the end, my friend. All the more reason to go back and examine the assumptions of the system and see if there are ways to improve it.

If I believed that my approach to any statistical question I tried to answer was impervious to a second look, or to have turned tail at a bit of criticism -- even the not-so-constructive kind -- I\'d never have made it to BP in the first place.
At least substantiate your declaration of the demise of JAWS with something. If no results were ever counterintuitive what would be the point of analysis, - of any kind about anything?
By the way, just a note on Kent\'s defense. His 2006-2008 numbers via the WARP set used for this series go +6 in 2006 and -7 in both 2007 and 2008. In the play-by-play based numbers from BP2009 which I was granted access to for today\'s piece on Manny Ramirez, those numbers are -7, -10, and -2, respectively (and no, I don\'t have them going back any further yet).

And before this thread goes cold, I just want to make it clear, because some people have missed the point entirely: the system is not saying, \"Jeff Kent should not be in the Hall of Fame.\" It\'s saying, \"Jeff Kent would not be an above-average Hall of Famer.\" Since the number one stated goal of JAWS is and has always been to raise the standards of the Hall by endorsing only the above-average candidates, I would therefore not vote for him unless the combination of my numbers and my reckoning on the more subjective areas of his career (which in Kent\'s case I judge to have some value but not an overwhelming amount) convince me otherwise. That day may come - he\'s got five years before he reaches the ballot, obviously - but it\'s not here yet.