It’s not always so easy to explain to my students the difference between what should happen and what will happen. For example, reasonable people might think that cigarettes should be made illegal. Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and causes over 480,000 deaths per year. But there’s not a chance anytime soon that they will be made illegal. Why? It’s because tobacco companies make more than $35 billion per year selling cigarettes in the United States alone. Just because it won’t happen doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing.
Fred McGriff probably shouldn’t go into the Hall of Fame (I’ll explain why below), but maybe he will. After all, there are lots of guys in the Hall who don’t belong there. If there weren’t, there would be no need for the Hall of Miller and Eric.
A decent way to judge a player’s place in history is relative to his contemporaries. If he’s among Hall of Famers, perhaps he belongs in himself. If he’s not, he probably doesn’t. And if he’s behind guys who don’t belong, he certainly doesn’t. Since McGriff played his last game in 2004, I’ll say his peer group is first basemen who retired between 2000 and 2008. Those players include Jeff Bagwell, Will Clark, Andres Galarraga, Wally Joyner, Mark McGwire, John Olerud, and Rafael Palmeiro. I think the right thing to do is remove McGwire and Palmeiro from the equation. They’re both steroid guys, and there doesn’t seem to be good reason to muddy already somewhat muddy waters by including them.
As you can see in the chart below, my adjusted WAR sees Jeff Bagwell with a huge lead and Wally Joyner and Andres Galarraga trailing by a ton.
Top 3 Top 5 Top 7 Top 10 Top 12 Top 15 Career McGriff 18.7 28.1 35.4 44.8 48.7 52.9 52.6 Bagwell 24.6 37.9 49.9 66.1 75.1 81.9 81.9 Clark 21.3 30.8 39.7 50.0 54.7 60.1 60.1 Olerud 21.6 32.2 40.6 50.6 54.8 59.4 59.9 Grace 13.8 22.0 29.6 39.1 43.9 47.8 46.9 Joyner 11.8 17.7 23.3 29.9 33.4 35.1 34.8 Galarraga 14.3 21.4 27.0 31.7 32.8 33.6 31.7
Let’s eliminate those three so we get a better look at just what we’re comparing.
Top 3 Top 5 Top 7 Top 10 Top 12 Top 15 Career McGriff 18.7 28.1 35.4 44.8 48.7 52.9 52.6 Clark 21.3 30.8 39.7 50.0 54.7 60.1 60.1 Olerud 21.6 32.2 40.6 50.6 54.8 59.4 59.9 Grace 13.8 22.0 29.6 39.1 43.9 47.8 46.9
Based on the shape of their respective careers, maybe there’s not a lot of analysis to do here. Clark and Olerud beat McGriff over three years, five years, seven years, ten years, twelve years, fifteen years, and for their careers. McGriff tops Grace in the same way the other two top him. But let’s look at Bagwell and Grace anyway.
McGriff vs. Bagwell
Spoiler alert. Fred McGriff was nowhere near as good as Jeff Bagwell. So the only reason to review Bagwell and McGriff is just for fun. Below you can see who played better in his Nth best season.
Bagwell: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
McGriff: 15, 16, 17
You can see that Bags outperformed McGriff in their best seasons, second best, third best, and so on. McGriff got Bagwell in seasons 15-17 only.
Let’s consider a more visual representation.
We can see things pretty well there. It’s not close between Bagwell and McGriff. Freddy wins the battle only after Bags’ career ended. Still, we can agree that a player need not be the very best at his position during his career to get a plaque. If we didn’t see things that way, such greats as Tris Speaker, George Brett, and Mickey Mantle would be on the outside looking in.
McGriff vs. Grace
We know that Mark Grace isn’t worthy of the Hall, right? So McGriff has to be better than Grace to stand a chance. Luckily for McGriff supporters, their hero wins this comparison.
McGriff: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 15, 16, 17
Grace: 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, (18), (19)
I might like to see more seasons in McGriff’s favor. But all we really know from the comparisons above is that he’s worse than a deserving guy and better than an undeserving guy.
McGriff vs. Olerud vs. Clark
This is where things really begin to show for McGriff, and not in a good way.
While the Hall of Stats likes John Olerud, and both the Halls of Stats and Merit voted for Will Clark, they both fell short of the HoME. We basically think of them at about the 24-26 range among retired 1B, which just isn’t high enough on the list to get in. If we paid no attention to position, however, they’d both make it over the likes of Jose Cruz, Dave Bancroft, and Sal Bando. But at the HoME, position matters.
Basically, if McGriff isn’t better than Olerud and Clark, he’s not good enough. And Crime Dog, we have a problem.
Clark: 1, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Olerud: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 16
That’s right. McGriff is the best player in their 17th best seasons. He was worth a tenth of a win, while the other two had no value.
Let’s look at the career components that make up WAR just to see why McGriff is massacred in the way he is.
Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA Clark 353 7 16 2 -108 271 Olerud 333 -23 -15 103 -125 273 McGriff 400 -22 -13 -34 -143 188
McGriff is clearly the best hitter of the bunch. On the other hand, he couldn’t run, or field, or avoid double plays, or play defense. McGriff is like a lot of sluggers who we’ve killed – Willie Stargell, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner – in that he couldn’t do much at all other than hit. Thing is, McGriff is less valuable than Pops, Killer, or Kiner.
Olerud is the weakest hitter. He couldn’t run or avoid grounding into two either. But he could defend. He had a plus, plus glove with which he added a ton of wins.
Clark was a somewhat different player. He was pretty much average defensively, ran the bases well, and avoided hitting into two more often than not.
All told, Olerud is 273 runs above average. Clark is 271 above. And McGriff clocks in at 188 above. That’s no small difference. It’s a tremendous difference.
Should Fred McGriff get into the Hall of Fame? Again, no, not unless you think the Hall should be a lot larger than it is, which would be okay, I guess. He’s inferior to Clark and Olerud. He’s also behind three other 1B Hall of Famers who couldn’t get into the HoME: Harmon Killebrew, Frank Chance, and Tony Perez. He’s underqualified on most every level.
But WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all, you say? How about some traditional numbers?
McGriff and the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia
G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS+ Clark 1976 8283 1186 2176 440 47 284 1205 67 .303 .384 .497 137 Olerud 2234 9063 1139 2239 500 13 255 1230 11 .295 .398 .465 121 McGriff 2460 10174 1349 2490 441 24 493 1550 72 .284 .377 .509 134
McGriff has a clear edge in hits, homers, ribbies, and runs scored. However, if we look at things on a per game basis, the numbers look a little different. McGriff still hits the most long balls. But Clark crushes him in runs per game, he’s last in hits per game, he’s massacred in doubles per game, Clark matches him in extra base hits per game, and Clark even closes in in runs batted in per game.
R/G H/G 2B/G HR/G XBH/G RBI/G Clark .600 1.101 .223 .144 .390 .610 Olerud .510 1.002 .224 .114 .344 .551 McGriff .548 .988 .179 .200 .389 .630
Now let’s look at where they batted in the lineup. There’s an established connection between where you bat in the lineup and how many runners you see on base per game. (By the way, if it weren’t for the absolutely amazing work at BBREF.com, I could do essentially none of this research. Thanks BBREF!).
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Clark 33 77 1145 185 330 94 63 20 29 Olerud 4 33 439 493 777 317 111 24 36 McGriff 1 2 39 1826 394 62 59 51 26
Through a table I found fishing around the Internets, we learn just how different each position is. Well, they’re not soooo different, but those differences sure do add up over a career. Looking at lineup position, I’m going to estimate the number of runners who each of our 1B candidates saw on base during their careers, how many of those runners they drove in, and the percentage who they drove in.
Men On RBI - HR % Driven In Clark 5906 921 .156 Olerud 6761 975 .144 McGriff 7725 1057 .137
So if anyone ever tells you they want McGriff up when the team needs to score, you can agree, but add that you’d prefer Clark or Olerud. Both of those guys drove in a higher percentage of baserunners than did McGriff.
There’s no good angle for McGriff here. He trails Clark and Olerud just about any way you slice it, unless you ignore WAR and remove context.
So no, Fred McGriff isn’t a Hall of Famer.
Neither is High Pockets Kelly
Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it’ll happen. And just because it’s a bad idea doesn’t mean it won’t.
Based on value alone, Jim Bottomley, Bill Mazeroski, George Kell, Phil Rizzuto, Chick Hafey, Hack Wilson, Ross Youngs, and a bunch more are terrible picks. But they’re all in. They all had a little something that got voters to pay attention to them–friends, defense, a good Hall campaign. Does Fred McGriff have that je ne sais quoi?
My real answer is that I don’t know. It’s so hard to predict what mistakes will be made by a body that’s not yet been constructed–whatever iteration of the Veterans Committee that gets to McGriff. (I don’t even want to approach the idea that the BBWAA votes for him in the next four elections).
In my attempt to predict McGriff’s future, I’m going to compare his Hall results to his closest 1B peers in terms of value. And I’m also going to include some of the other corner players close to his value to get a little more depth of comparison. The 1B group includes Gil Hodges, Norm Cash, and Orlando Cepeda. Others similar in value include Ken Williams, Bill Nicholson, Albert Belle, George Foster, Bob Elliot, and Willie Stargell. That’s nine total players, a pretty decent group, at least to begin.
Fred McGriff has gotten a fair amount of Hall support over his six years on the ballot.
Given that level of support, we can eliminate a few guys from our group. McGriff clearly didn’t get the first ballot treatment given to Willie Stargell. And he didn’t follow the path of Cash, Williams, Nicholson, Belle, Foster, or Elliot, in that he’s remained on the ballot for six seasons. Further, he’s been above 11% in every one of them. That leaves Hodges and Cepeda as the guys who we can use as comparison points.
McGriff vs. Hodges
Let’s start with the votes for Hodges.
1969 BBWAA (24.1%)
1970 BBWAA (48.3%)
1971 BBWAA (50.0%)
1972 BBWAA (40.7%)
1973 BBWAA (57.4%)
1974 BBWAA (54.2%)
1975 BBWAA (51.9%)
1976 BBWAA (60.1%)
1977 BBWAA (58.5%)
1978 BBWAA (59.6%)
1979 BBWAA (56.0%)
1980 BBWAA (59.7%)
1981 BBWAA (60.1%)
1982 BBWAA (49.4%)
1983 BBWAA (63.4%)
In their first years on the ballots, these two were quite close. However, Hodges got to 50% very quickly and stayed in that range pretty much from ballots 2-15. Another difference is that McGriff won’t have years 11-15. The current Hall rules say he’ll be off the ballot after 10 tries. And McGriff almost certainly won’t have Hodges’ managing career. Also, lord willing, McGriff will remain alive for many, many more years. Thus, he won’t have the Hall spike that comes with an untimely death.
In terms of Black Ink (leading the league in a category) and Gray Ink (being in the top-ten), it’s relatively close. McGriff beats him in Black, 9-2, with the average Hall of Famer reaching 27. But Hodges wins in Gray, 128-105, with the average Hall of Famer being at 144.
All told, seeming like a lesser candidate than someone who’s not in doesn’t bode well for McGriff.
McGriff vs. Cepeda
Again, let’s review Cepeda’s Hall numbers first.Four years in, McGriff had the edge. But in year five, just when the Crime Dog fell, Cha Cha began to gain ground.
1980 BBWAA (12.5%)
1981 BBWAA (19.2%)
1982 BBWAA (10.1%)
1983 BBWAA (15.8%)
1984 BBWAA (30.8%)
1985 BBWAA (28.9%)
1986 BBWAA (35.8%)
1987 BBWAA (43.3%)
1988 BBWAA (46.6%)
1989 BBWAA (39.4%)
1990 BBWAA (47.5%)
1991 BBWAA (43.3%)
1992 BBWAA (57.2%)
1993 BBWAA (59.6%)
1994 BBWAA (73.5%)
1999 Veterans (inducted)
Cepeda had a great Hall campaign going for him. McGriff has no such campaign. And like with the Hodges comparison, McGriff has five fewer years of eligibility than Cepeda. In his fifteenth and final season on the ballot, Cepeda fell just seven votes shy of election. His plaque was almost assured. Cepeda tops McGriff 14-9 on Black Ink and 196-105 on Gray. Plus, he won the Rookie of the Year Award and was NL MVP for the World Series willing 1967 Cardinals.
It seems to me someone has to start a Fred McGriff campaign. But nobody should.
Electing Fred McGriff to the Hall of Fame would be a mistake. It would likely be backed by some notion that he was clean, at least cleaner than guys like McGwire and Palmeiro. And maybe he was. But as far as we know, so were Will Clark and John Olerud. And those two guys were better than McGriff. And don’t even get me started on Dick Allen or Keith Hernandez. Just don’t.
I don’t know what kind of treatment history will give McGriff. He played for six teams and was a teammate of Phil Niekro, Dave Stieb, Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Andruw Jones, Wade Boggs, Sammy Sosa, Adrian Beltre, Rickey Henderson, and Kevin Brown. Maybe someday the right combination of those guys will have a vote when McGriff’s name comes up. Maybe enough of them think highly of their dear teammate. And maybe, just maybe, he gets in.
But I wouldn’t bet my Tom Emanski videotape on it.