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HoMEcoming Heroes for 2015—Up the Middle Players

His all-time WAR lead is safe (even from Mike Trout, I think). But which active players may join the Bambino in the HoME?

His all-time WAR lead is safe (even from Mike Trout, I think). But which active players may join the Bambino in the HoME?

While the end of the baseball season stinks in a lot of ways, one silver lining at the Hall of Miller and Eric is seeing which players made strides toward eventual election. We’ll look at it over our next three Wednesday posts, starting today with up-the-middle players, then corners, and finally pitchers. Eric will take the catchers and second basemen, Miller the shortstops and center fielders.

Quick note: Each of us uses a homemade sifting/sorting junk stat that operates similar to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS. Eric uses CHEWS (Chalek’s Equivalent War System) and Miller uses MAPES (Miller’s Awesome Player Evaluation System). In each case, more is better. In CHEWS, Babe Ruth has about 128 of them, and Jeff Kent has the fewest among non-catcher HoMErs at 46.5 In MAPES, Ruth has 129.9, and Kent has 45.2 (though Sal Bando at 44.8 has the fewest MAPES among non-catcher HoMErs). Just so you know what we’re referring to.

Catcher

Joe Mauer
2014 CHEWS: 45.3 (similar to Thurman Munson, 45.8 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 46.2 (similar to Munson again)
Mauer’s decline and position switch are killing his value, but what’s the difference? He’s a made man edging up among the lower third of HoME catchers. Edging by Munson makes Wally Schang (47.0 CHEWS) his next target.

Russell Martin
2014 CHEWS: 32.6 (similar to Rick Ferrell, 32.4 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 35.7 (similar to Duke Farrell, 35.7 CHEWS)
Another fine year from Martin not only propelled Toronto but also pushed him up the totem pole at catcher. He’s not as far from the in/out line as you might think (just eight eligible men above him aren’t enshrined), but now in his early thirties, the clock is ticking.

Victor Martinez
2014 CHEWS: 35.1 (similar to Deacon McGuire, 35.4 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 34.4 (similar to Johnny Kling, 34.6 CHEWS)
Martinez’s nightmare 2015 actually reduced his odds. He was passed by Martin and despite another couple years on his pact with Detroit, his prospects, never great anyway, are dimming more quickly.

Yadier Molina
2014 CHEWS: 30.7 (Similar to Smoky Burgess, 30.6 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 31.3 (Similar to John Clapp, 31.4 CHEWS)
I suspect the perception of Yadi as a someday-Hall candidate is much stronger than his actual performance. Perhaps catcher defense isn’t well enough measured, especially in game-calling and pitcher-handling, but stalling out offensively is the big problem. That 80 OPS+ came straight out of one of his brothers’ stat lines. He’s declined about 25 points in each of the last two years, and heading into his age-33 season off that and several injuries, he’s not a good bet for HoME induction going forward.

Buster Posey, 3Buster Posey
2014 CHEWS: 24.0 (similar to Tim McCarver, 24.6 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 30.1 (similar to Javy Lopez, 30.2 CHEWS)
Posey took another big step forward in 2015. He passed 11 other eligible catchers plus Brian McCann. Now he’s right on Yadi’s tail, and in 2016, he’ll be just 29, meaning he’s still in the traditional peak seasons. He’s about three All-Star level seasons away from being a HoMEr in the Roy Campanella mode.

Brian McCann
2014 CHEWS: 25.9 (similar to Jason Varitek, 26.4 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 28.8 (similar to Manny Sanguillen, 28.2 CHEWS)
McCann’s dim hopes stayed alive with a rebound season that saw him return to slightly above average offensive production. At age 32, he needs several more good, not merely average seasons to make it. Color me skeptical.

Second Base

Robinson Cano
2014 CHEWS: 49.2 (similar to Billy Herman, 48.6 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 51.6 (similar to Craig Biggio, 52.1 CHEWS)
Cano’s hot second half brought his offense up to acceptable levels, but he’s still losing ground to his peak seasons. Opinions differ widely on his defense. Nonetheless, Cano, at age 32, cemented his status as a made man by pushing past McPhee and Randolph at second base and nearing Biggio. After that comes a cluster of guys such as Gordon, Barnes, Whitaker, Alomar, and Sandberg. A popular conception of second basemen is that they age out prematurely. If Cano avoids that fate and ages with grace, he may push into the top seven or eight among keystone men.

Chase Utley
2014 CHEWS: 47.0 (similar to Jeff Kent, 46.5 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 47.1 (ditto)
Utley started awfully, got hot for a little while, cooled back down, then broke Ruben Tejada’s leg. He needed an average to good year to start scaling the lower reaches of HoME second basemen. Instead, he’s stuck just above the position-player HoMEr with the lowest CHEWS score. It’s hard to see him getting a starting gig next year, but if he does, simply returning to average for a couple years would help a lot.

Ian Kinsler, 2Ian Kinsler
2014 CHEWS: 39.0 (similar to Lonny Frey, 38.2 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 41.3 (similar to Del Pratt, 40.6 CHEWS)
Raise your hand if you thought Ian Kinsler had only six other eligible second baseman ahead of him who weren’t in the HoME? He’s quietly putting together an excellent career as an all-around talent. Good at many things, great at none. Heading into his age-34 season, Kinsler could be heading for the second-base cliff dive, or he could post another near-All-Star year. Assuming that his best seasons are behind him, he needs at least three more 4.0-WAR seasons to get close enough to look compelling. But he needs to probably accumulate 20 or so WAR between now and the end of his career to get himself far enough up the chain to guarantee election. That’s not utterly impossible, but according to BBREF’s Play Index, only five second basemen since expansion have managed 15 or more WAR after age 33:

Jeff Kent: 20.5
Joe Morgan: 19.8
Lou Whitaker: 19.6
Davey Lopes: 16.5

Take the under, but root for him to break the mold.

Ben Zobrist
2014 CHEWS: 35.7 (similar to Nellie Fox 35.3 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 37.5 (similar to Eddie Stanky, 37.7 CHEWS)
Zobrist’s late-career resurgence hit a small roadblock in the form of injuries that limited him to 126 games and sagging defense. Going forward, his biggest obstacle is age. While still a fine player, his bat has come way down off his peak seasons, and his peak isn’t world-class, which means he needs a lot of bulk. At thirty-five next year, there’s little chance he’s going to collect the thirty or so WAR that would guarantee his election.

Dustin Pedroia
2014 CHEWS: 34.4 (similar to Danny Murphy, 34.4 CHEWS)
2015 CHEWS: 35.8 (similar to Max Bishop, 36.1 CHEWS)
Pedie faces the exact same challenge that Kinsler and Zobrist do. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and needs a lot of bulk because his peak isn’t stupendous. In fact, it would be the worst at his position were he to be elected as it currently ranks. That and nagging injuries over the last two years make him a long, long shot. He does have an extra year or two on Kinsler and Zobrist, but he also trails both of them in both career and peak value. What two years ago looked like a player setting up for a run at the HoME now looks like someone who might not get all that close.

Shortstop

Alex Rodriguez
2014 MAPES: 81.7 (similar to no SS, but close to Roger Connor, 81.3 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 83.0 (still similar to no SS, now closer to Mickey Mantle at 84.3 MAPES)
A-Rod hasn’t played a single game at short since 2005 and hasn’t been a regular there since 2003, but unless something very odd happens and he plays another 80 games at 3B (or another 1000+ at DH), he’s going to retire as the second greatest SS ever. Last campaign was his best since 2011, and though it didn’t really move him meaningfully toward Honus Wagner, now there’s a great shot he gets to 700 HR. And he’s only 27 away from Ruth. Given that he hit 33 in 2015, more than any year since 2008, I suppose there’s a shot next year. And he’s only 76 away from Bonds. I suppose it’s possible, which I wouldn’t have said in April, that’s for sure.

Troy TulowitzkiTroy Tulowitzki
2014 MAPES: 32.6 (similar to Freddy Parent, 33.3 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 34.2 (similar to Tony Fernandez, 34.1 MAPES)
Tulo is going to be just 31 next season. So on one hand there’s time. On the other, he’s going to be a 31 year old SS who only twice in his career has played in 150 games, never since 2009. In his career, he’s missed two full seasons worth of games. If you want to know why he’s not going to be a HoMEr, look to those games. If you want to know why he is, he played at an All-Star level as recently as 2014. With only one more year of play at that strength, he’s either going to find his way into the HoME eventually, or he’ll join Nomar Garciaparra as the only guys at the position with six All-Star types of seasons and no HoME plaque.

Hanley Ramirez
2014 MAPES: 31.4 (similar to Jay Bell, 31.4 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 31.0 (similar to Johnny Pesky, 31.2 MAPES)
Enough has been written about what a disgusting season he had in Boston this year, so I’m not going to pile on. Like Tulo, he’s had some injury troubles, reaching 130 games just once in the last five years. Word is that he’s moving to 1B next season. Perhaps that’ll be good for what ails him. When in LA, it seemed he relocated his bat. Maybe he can relocate it again. I don’t know. He’ll have to do it in a hurry, however, if he wants to make any sort of run at the HoME.

Jimmy Rollins
2014 MAPES: 30.5 (similar to Ed McKean, 30.3 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 30.2 (similar to Terry Turner, 30.2 MAPES)
Like Hanley, J-Roll took a step back in 2015. Unlike Hanley, he’s not signed for another four years and might just be done. There aren’t many teams out there looking for a poor defensive shortstop who slashes .224/.285/.358. It’s been a nice career for Rollins, very different in shape and glory to Jose Valentin, but quite a bit similar in quality.

Jose Reyes
2014 MAPES: 27.7 (similar to Chris Speier, 27.2 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 28.2 (similar to Cecil Travis, 28.6 MAPES)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—Jose Reyes is a shortstop with health issues. He’s 32, has never been a great defender, and he’s slowing down. Interesting only to me is that from August 19-21 of this year he had the same number of 3B, HR, and CS in his career. Of interest to his HoME charge, he was barely above replacement level last season and hasn’t had an really ever had a slam dunk All-Star type of season. I suspect there’s a better SS or three who I haven’t run through my system.

Center Field

Carlos Beltran
2014 MAPES: 51.4 (similar to Kenny Lofton, 50.5 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 51.7 (similar to Andruw Jones, 52.7 MAPES)
In 2015 Beltran added to his career value after taking a step back the year before. No matter, he’s a HoMEr already. He’s clearly better than guys like Jimmy Wynn, Max Carey, and Willie Davis, guys who already have their plaques. He’s debatably better than Kenny Lofton and Duke Snider too. Beltran fans who want him to break into the top-10 are likely to be disappointed. Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds are a bit off in the distance, and it doesn’t seem like Beltran is worth much more than counting stats at this point. Perhaps next season he gets to 400 home runs and 1500 runs and runs batted in.

Have a great retirement, Torii!

Have a great retirement, Torii!

Torii Hunter
2014 MAPES: 39.9 (similar to Wally Berger, 39.8 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 39.5 (similar to Mike Cameron, 39.3 MAPES)
After a season in which he went, .240/.293/.409, Torii Hunter announced his retirement, just a bit short of both 1300 runs and 1400 runs batted in. He had some nice moments in his return to Minnesota this season, but the truth, as his year-over-year MAPES shows, is that he’s no longer a very good player. He’s actually a guy who could find his way into the Hall one day since he’s a bit better than Earl Averill, Edd Roush, and Earle Combs. Hunter has been a pretty great baseball guy over the years, so the Hall is possible, but his HoME chances are pretty much zero.

Mike Trout
2014 MAPES: 26.6 (similar to Mike Donlin, 26.9 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 35.6 (similar to Andy Van Slyke, 35.7 MAPES)
The greatest player in the game today gained more meaningful ground in his trek toward the HoME than any other hitter in 2015. This year he passed Hall of Famer Hack Wilson and also Pittsburgh great Andrew McCutchen. With five WAR next year he’ll pass Combs, Roush, and Averill. With six he’ll pass Larry Doby and pretty much tie Kirby Puckett. With seven Hugh Duffy goes down, and he approaches Johnny Damon. With eight, which would be his worst full season, he’d sneak past Damon into 26th all-time. Give him nine, which would be worse than this year, and he passes Willie Wilson for 24th. And if we give him an even ten, his best year ever with my adjustments, he’d move all the way to 20th, just behind Mike Griffin. Let’s say Trout has exactly eight remaining seasons, one each of eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one WAR, he’d slot in 8th, between Billy Hamilton and Richie Ashburn. A more reasonable decline might include an eight, two sevens, a six, two fives, two fours, four threes, two twos, and a two ones. That would give him a 20-year career that would slot in between Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. I think he could top that.

Curtis Granderson
2014 MAPES: 32.1 (similar to Al Oliver, 32.0 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 34.9 (similar to Clyde Milan, 34.8 MAPES)
Is Granderson a hidden HoMEr? After seeing 4.4 this year, that’s the question I asked myself. Then I saw that the Grandyman will be 35 next year. It’s both a good thing and not so good a thing that 2015 was the second best year of his career. But let’s be realistic here, just about the best Granderson could hope for is winding up like Torii Hunter. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Andrew McCutchen
2014 MAPES: 30.0 (similar to Dwayne Murphy, 30.4 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 34.2 (similar to Dom DiMaggio, 34.2 MAPES)
He’s no Mike Trout, but he’s certainly one his way toward the HoME. Averaging 6.3 WAR over the last five seasons will do that for a guy. As it is, there are only seventeen center fielders ever with a better fifth best year. Let’s say he has nine years remaining in his career. With three at 4 WAR, three at 3 WAR, and three at 2 WAR, he’d wind up just a sliver behind Duke Snider all-time, and clearly in the HoME. He’s on his way.

Adam Jones
2014 MAPES: 27.8 (similar to Ginger Beaumont, 28.2 MAPES)
2015 MAPES: 30.1 (similar to Dwayne Murphy, 30.4 MAPES)
He’s a pretty nice guy to have on your fantasy roster, I suppose, averaging 26 homers and 84 runs and runs batted in over the last seven seasons. Seven more seasons of 3 WAR each gets him into the Kirby Puckett range, so stranger things have happened. Of course, Puckett had black ink, great moments, and a premature death. Jones, isn’t so likely to have any of those. Turning 30 next year, he’s a long shot. Still there’s hope.

Next week we’ll review guys on the corners.

Miller and Eric

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “HoMEcoming Heroes for 2015—Up the Middle Players

  1. Beltran may be one of the great underappreciated players I’ve seen.
    Question about Tulo. How much do you discount/account for the Coors Field issue in dealing with him?
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | November 4, 2015, 7:46 am
    • Generally speaking, we trust the offensive component of WAR, thus the Coors discount is something already built in. Defensively there are some Coors considerations, though those considerations are for outfielders. So basically, there’s no additional Coors discount. As far as counting stats, that’s a Hall of Fame thing, but it’s not something about which we worry at the HoME. Hope that makes sense.

      Posted by Miller | November 4, 2015, 7:57 am

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