As we continue with our occasional series on Hall Logic, today we’re going to explore the case of Fred McGriff, a case we think should and will end with the five-time All-Star not getting into the Hall. Even though we’re not Hall voters, we’re going to be right on this one. And with the help of Ryan Thibs, we can explore the dispositions of more than 300 actual Hall voters to try to figure out what the heck they’re thinking.
Make no mistake, Fred McGriff was an outstanding player. I rank him comfortably in a group that includes Mark Teixeira, Gil Hodges, Norm Cash, Orlando Cepeda, and Ed Konetchy. This is a fine, fine collection of players, but none of them, even Cepeda, deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, unless your Hall has 300+ members.
But what about the argument that a non-roider in the steroid era is hurt by the comparisons to all of the roiders? That’s an argument taken up by SI’s Tom Verducci, among others. If it were accurate, it might be a good one. But it’s not. First, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We can’t say that any individual player was clean just because there hasn’t been a report otherwise. Second, a lot of people start the steroid era around 1994. That’s when McGriff turned 30. It’s no surprise that a player in his 30s is less good when compared to the rest of baseball than he was in his 20s. McGriff was performing better when he was younger and regressed some as he aged. So we can either say McGriff was the victim or a very typical aging curve or the victim of the steroid era. One makes a lot more sense to me than the other. Joe Posnanski, as he always does, writes this better than I could. In short, Verducci’s arguments are bunk.
And the case Verducci makes is one that most writers make regarding McGriff. Some are less articulate than Verducci, and some don’t choose to use any statistics beyond 493 homers being close to 500. But all make the same basic clean guy in the steroid era argument. They’re not just overly-simplistic; they’re wrong.
Oh, one other McGriff argument. Some point out that he was certainly hurt by the shortened season in 1994 when he was excellent and 1995 when he was good. Well, my numbers adjust for those seasons. The truth is that there’s no good case to be made when looking at logic, a Hall about the size it is now, and the numbers that matter.
On the 2016 ballot, McGriff received 20.9% of the final vote. Public voters supported him less (19.6%) compared to private voters (24%). That difference supports conventional wisdom. Private voters are more anti-steroid, less WAR-savvy, and more likely to vote for players who don’t really deserve induction.
We know of 61 people who voted for McGriff. Kind of unbelievably 20 of them didn’t support him in 2015. So it’s not like we can say the little support he has is even that strong. And when I looked to see what McGriff converts said, I found that only two of the 20 offered any justification at all.
Mel Antonen called him a borderline candidate, but said, like Bagwell, that he had done enough. There wasn’t more explanation. And he put McGriff, a candidate with 52.4 career WAR, in the same boat as Bagwell, one with 79.6 career WAR. Bagwell’s WAR total bests McGriff plus Mo Vaughn. It bests McGriff plus Justin Morneau. In other words, it’s not close.
John Delcos cited McGriff’s homers and ribbies, “back when it was still a rare feat”. I’ll offer just two counter-points. First, runs batted in is a terrible statistic, one more focused on opportunity than skill. But still, second, eight first basemen match or top McGriff in both of those categories through the end of his career, so it wasn’t that rare a feat if eight at his position are better. Anyone want to look at WAR or OPS+? In OPS, McGriff tops only Eddie Murray, George Sisler, and a number of 1B who don’t belong in the Hall. In WAR, he is behind every deserving 1B in the Hall. Every last one.
One writer who added McGriff this year, Roch Kubatko, thinks so little of his responsibility as a Hall voter that shared his ballot at the end of a post about the Orioles hiring Mark Quinn as an assistant hitting coach. Yet, I would argue Kubatko cares a bit more than those who won’t share their ballots at all.
Inexplicably to me, there were sixteen voters who supported McGriff but not Jeff Bagwell. Just in terms of MAPES points, Bagwell leads the trio of Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, and Yogi Berra by a bit. On the other hand, a slugger, multi-position guy, and catcher really close to McGriff are Albert Belle, Toby Harrah, and Lance Parrish. So I’d say the company they keep isn’t exactly the same.
Of the sixteen who support McGriff and not Bagwell, five are guys from the group above, non-supporters in 2015 who added McGriff in 2016 without explanation. One of them supported Bagwell in 2015 but flipped to McGriff this year. He’s Guy Curtright, who, from what I can tell, is a college football writer.
Anyway, it would seem that Curtwright struggles with information about baseball, but what about the other thirteen pro-McGriff, anti-Bagwell writers?
Hal Bodley postulates that if McGriff had been operating on a level PED playing field, “then he probably would be in the Hall of Fame by now.” He voted for just McGriff, Griffey, and Piazza. That ballot explains much of what you need to know about Mr. Bodley’s thought processes, such as they are.
Jon Heyman always puts forth a stunner of a ballot, one without even internal consistency. For example, he added Bonds but not Clemens. He called McGriff “a consistent offensive force” and “brilliant in October”. He says that he’s still considering Bagwell, but he speculates that the Astro 1B might have used PEDs, so… Anyway, he adds Bonds, Hoffman, Mussina, Raines, Schilling, and Trammell.
Scott Miller, who really seems to take his voting seriously, and who certainly spent a lot of time explaining his choices, goes to far as to say he’s rewarding McGriff for not using steroids. This is a terrible, terrible reason, right? Hoffman, Kent, Mussina, Raines, and Trammel also get his votes.
Terrence Moore is very clear. He votes “for the best players on the ballot without a clear-cut connection to performance-enhancing drugs.” Hoffman, Piazza, Raines, Sheffield, and Smith earned his check mark. Seriously? Gary Sheffield has a more convincing argument that he never used PEDs than Jeff Bagwell? Sheffield was in the Mitchell Report, Bagwell wasn’t. Sheffield has admitted to using PEDs! This might be the most ridiculous ballot reasoning I’ve heard thus far. Or maybe it’s not and Moore just doesn’t know any better.
This is an utterly ridiculous group of ballots. And, perhaps as expected, these voters resemble private voters much more than public voters. For example, the 7.31 names per ballot is far short of the public total of 8.23, though it’s certainly in line with the non-public total of 7.27.
As for who they support, it’s 0% Bagwell and 100% McGriff by rule. It’s also 100% Griffey. If this group got to decide everyone’s Hall fate, McGriff, Griffey, Hoffman, and Raines would have been on the dais. Nobody from this group supports McGwire or Sosa. Just one supports Clemens, and two support Bonds. Somehow though, four people support Sheffield. Hoffman gets twelve, Smith five, and Wagner four votes from this group, so there’s impressive reliever support. And Mike Piazza gets the same support as Jeff Kent among these Bagwell haters, six of sixteen.
Profiling Pro-McGriff Voters
By this point, we already know that pro-McGriff guys are anti-steroid guys. Take a look at how those who did and did not vote for McGriff saw others on the ballot.
Pro-McGriff Anti-McGriff Bagwell 73.8% 76.4% Bonds 23.0% 50.8% Clemens 24.6% 51.2% McGwire 1.6% 15.6% Piazza 77.0% 86.4% Sheffield 23.0% 10.1% Sosa 1.6% 8.4%
It’s nice that Bagwell, at least among McGriff supporters, doesn’t get hit hard for the steroids there’s absolutely no proof he used. And Piazza didn’t get crushed. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, and Sosa did. And then there’s the strange case of Gary Sheffield. Why do McGriff and Sheffield have so much overlap in their support when other PED get dinged by the pro-McGriff crowd? My theory is that this group sees both Sheffield and McGriff as under-appreciated during their careers because they moved from team to team, but that’s only a guess. Strange group.
McGriff voters also like relievers.
Pro-McGriff Anti-McGriff Hoffman 70.5% 65.6% Smith 39.6% 30.0% Wagner 11.5% 9.2%
I suppose there’s some consistency in voting for the wrong guys?
Of course, not everything makes sense.
Pro-McGriff Anti-McGriff Mussina 57.4% 46.0% Schilling 50.8% 60.4%
Or maybe it does. McGriff is seen by many as one of the game’s good guys. Maybe that can be said about Mussina too, or maybe not. But Schilling absolutely does not have that same reputation. It’s quite possible that McGriff voters supported Mussina more than non-McGriff voters because he was an alternative to Schilling, a theory I think is not just possible, but likely.
If my PED theories are right, Manny Ramirez is going to do very poorly among McGriff voters next election. Pudge Rodriguez won’t do very well either. Then again, the main claim against him is by Jose Canseco, saying that he injected the fourteen-time All-Star. Maybe the anti-Canseco vote will be stronger than the anti-PED vote? I’m not sure. I am confident, however, that Vlad Guerrero will do very well among McGriff supporters. Like McGriff, he was a consistently strong, underappreciated performer who’s not tied to performance enhancing drugs. I’d bet on near-100% support for Vlad among McGriff voters.
We’ll know in about eight months.