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A trad-stats view of the upcoming veterans committee ballots

It’s never too late to start a campaign. Now that we know no players have been elected via the Hall of Fame’s Today’s Game committee, we can turn our attention to the 2017 slate of Modern Baseball candidates. And beyond.

Most of the folks on these committees are either ex-players or ex-journalists who exited the profession before the sabrmetric boom. We can’t count on them to accept, let alone grok, the analytics that people like me and Miller bandy about. So we need to use the stats these folks know well to make our point. The trad stats. Baseball card stats.

In the Politics of Glory, Bill James makes a great point when he says that if a player’s career stats fall right in the belly of a whole bunch of Hall of Famers, then he’s got a solid piece of evidence in his favor. James also says that a strong candidate’s resume would be near or above the average performance of a Hall of Famer at his position. Let’s combine these two ideas. For certain key stats and certain key Veterans Committee candidates, we’ll list out how these outsiders would rank among Hall of Famers. If they consistently rank above the Hall’s average at their position, we can guess they would be really good candidates.

Today, we’ll look at hitters we’ve elected to the Hall of Miller and Eric that the Today’s Game and Modern Baseball eras could consider in the coming years.

CATCHER

Number of Hall of Fame catchers: 15
Ranking to be average or better among Hall catchers: 8th

Joe Torre

         G    R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB  SB    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
===========================================================================
TOTAL 2209  996  2342  344  59  252  1185  779   23  .297  .365  .452  .817
RANK     3    9     2    6   7    6     7    6   14    7      8    11     8
AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH

Torre sits right above the average Hall of Fame catcher. Of course, he’s a plurality catcher, not a 50% catcher, which could give some voters pause. But if they think of him as a catcher, he’s got very competitive numbers.

Ted Simmons

         G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
===========================================================================
TOTAL 2456  1074  2472  483  47  248  1389  855  21  .285  .348  .437  .785
RANK     2     6     1    1   9    6     2    4  14     8    11    13    12

AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH

The rap on Simmons is defense, not hitting. Because clearly he has the hitting stats of a Hall catcher.

Thurman Munson

         G    R     H   2B  3B   HR  RBI   BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==========================================================================
TOTAL 1423  696  1558  229  32  113  701  438  48  .292  .348  .410  .756
RANK   14    11    13   13  11   11   14   14   8     8    12    13    14
AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH

Yeah, that’ll be a hard sell, won’t it. We think Munson was deserving of our plaque but from a straight numbers perspective, the VC won’t buy it. His defense was good but not good enough to overcome this kind of deficit and lack of playing time in their eyes.

FIRST BASE

Number of Hall of Fame first basemen: 23 (including Rod Carew, Frank Thomas, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, and Stan Musial)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall first basemen: 12th

Keith Hernandez

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2088  1124  2182  426  60  162  1071  1070  98  .296  .384  .436  .821
RANK     15    19    19   13  18   15    21     8  11    17    13    21    20
AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH

Here’s why Hernandez had such a hard time with the BBWAA and why he’ll continue to strike out with the VC. His hitting numbers aren’t superficially amazing like a Bill Terry (.341 average), let alone like the Jimmie Foxxes and Lou Gehrigs. Voters would have to acknowledge that but elect him because he’s the best defensive first basemen ever, while being good enough to hang in the lower reaches of Hall first basemen offensively.

Mark McGwire

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  1874  1167  1626  252   6  583  1414  1317  12  .263  .394  .588  .982
RANK     19    18    23   23  24    1    14     8  24    23     9     4     4
AVERAGE RANKING = 13TH

We know that McGwire’s passing over had steroids written all over it. But it’s not impossible that he’d be a tough sell anyway. He’s an amazingly limited player: limited to walks and homers. Good choices those. Anyway, if the steroid taint wears off, I’d expect him to make it purely based on his Harmon Killebrew profile, but he’s not anywhere near the top of this heap.

Rafael Palmeiro

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2831  1663  3020  585  38  569  1835  1353  97  .288  .371  .515  .885
RANK      3     5     5    2  20    2     6     6  11    18    16     9    11
AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH

There are folks out there who think Palmeiro isn’t worthy. He’s just a compiler. It’s hard to be a compiler and stack up stats like these. Rusty Staub? Hal Baines? Compilers. Rafael Palmeiro? Hall of Famer. Except for that steroid problem….

SECOND BASE
Number of Hall of Fame second basemen: 20 (including Rod Carew and Jackie Robinson)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall second basemen: 11th

Bobby Grich

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2088  1033  1833  320  47  224  864  1087  104  .266  .371  .424  .794
RANK     15    16    18   16  21    6   15     5   15    20     9    15    15
AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH

Grich is like a second-base combination of McGwire and Hernandez. Like McGwire, he excels the most in the two most important offensive categories: homers and walks. Like Hernandez, he was a fabulous defensive player. So voters need to go beyond the traditional stats and see the Gold Glove defender with the powerful, patient bat. Collusion didn’t help him either, but I doubt that’s a talking point for these folks.

Willie Randolph

          G     R     H   2B  3B  HR  RBI    BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
=============================================================================
TOTAL  2202  1239  2210  316  65  54  687  1243  271  .276  .373  .351  .724
RANK     12    13    15   16  17  16   20     3   11    16     9    20    17
AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH

Willie Randolph is unlikely to gain election. Ever. His offensive profile is too deadball in this era to get a second look, and his defensive excellence probably wouldn’t be enough for most voters. What you also don’t see here is strong base running value. Still, the trad-stats case for Randolph goes like this:

Willie Randolph was a little better hitter than Nellie Fox, and near or maybe better than Fox in the field. If Nellie Fox is a Hall of Famer, then Randolph makes sense too.

That’s a terrible argument, of course. If–then only makes sense when the if player is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. Randolph’s argument is much more subtle than that, and Fox is a lower rung Hall member. But it wouldn’t surprise me if a lousy argument like that might be palatable to a VC group.

Lou Whitaker

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
===============================================================================
TOTAL  2390  1386  2369  420  65  244  1084  1197  143  .276  .363  .426  .789
RANK      6    11    13   12  17    6    11     3   14    16    12    15    15
AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH

Here’s your most likely guy at second base. Whitaker’s got the power and walks of Grich, a fine glove, and a longer career than both Grich and Randolph to give him a little more clout in the career figures. What he also has is a strong association with Detroit and with Alan Trammell. Since Trammell and Whitaker will likely appear on the ballot together, there’s some narrative to help his case since there could be sentiment toward enshrining them simultaneously. Unless Jack Morris gets in the way.

THIRD BASE
Number of Hall of Fame third basemen: 13 (including Paul Molitor)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall third basemen: 7th

Sal Bando

          G    R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
=============================================================================
TOTAL  2019  982  1790  289  38  242  1039  1031  75  .254  .352  .408  .760
RANK      8   11    13   13  14    6     8     7   8    14    10    12    11
AVERAGE RANKING = 10TH

This one’s a tough sell. Bando played his career in a very hard time for hitters, in a ballpark that was very hard for hitters. As a result, his numbers aren’t top-shelf on their surface. There are also differing opinions about his defense with some systems liking him OK and others disliking him. But he won three straight World Series titles and five straight divisions in Oakland when the division meant something. I wouldn’t hold my breath for him.

Buddy Bell

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
=============================================================================
TOTAL  2405  1151  2514  425  56  201  1106  836  55  .279  .341  .406  .747
RANK      5     8     5    5  13    7     8    8  10    10    13    12    12
AVERAGE RANKING = 9TH

Bell is an even longer shot than Bando. His traditional numbers are better than Sal’s, but he played for a lot of lousy teams and never got to strut his stuff in the playoffs. Like Whitaker, he’s a little below his position’s midline, but unlike Sweet Lou lacks the narrative. In reality, his excellent defense plays a very big role in his sabrmetric campaign, but not much of one in his trad-stats campaign as his defensive value isn’t communicated well even by six straight Gold Gloves. Well, and he’d better hope they don’t count his managerial days against him because he’s probably the worst long-time manager in modern baseball history.

Darrell Evans

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2687  1344  2223  329  36  414  1354  1605  98  .248  .361  .431  .792
RANK      3     6     9   11  14    3     5     1   7    14    10    10    10
AVERAGE RANKING = 8TH

Evans—who virtually no one remembers outside of Detroit, San Francisco, and online sabrmetric hangouts—was quiet and did nothing flashy. But he lasted forever and racked up some impressive career totals in key stats. I don’t believe for a second that the VC would elect him, but you can see here that he’s got some markers that they should love. He also played a good third base and later a decent first base.

Graig Nettles

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2700  1193  2225  328  28  390  1314  1088  32  .248  .329  .421  .750
RANK      3     7     9   11  14    3     6     7  12    14    13    10    12
AVERAGE RANKING = 9TH

I suspect that it’s Nettles who would be first in line among these four hot-corner habitués. His career stats are remarkably similar, damn near identical in many categories to Evans’ (with the exception of SB and walks, and therefore OBP). But Nettles does have a lot of fame and narrative to go with those career totals, and a reputation for Brooksesque defense. Frankly either he or Bell is the most deserving anyway, and given the paucity of third basemen in the Hall of Fame, it’s time the VC looked at guys like Nettles. I think this guy could have a real shot. Probably not next year, though, because those Tigers will get the limelight.

SHORTSTOP
Number of Hall of Fame shortstops: 22 (including Ernie Banks, Monte Ward, and Robin Yount)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall third basemen: 12th

Alan Trammell

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2293  1231  2365  412  55  185  1003  850  236  .285  .352  .415  .767
RANK     11    14    10    9  22    5    10   11   11    11    12     9    13
AVERAGE RANKING = 11TH

In these 13 important trad stats, Alan Trammell would average 11th, which, in turn, would put him above the Hall’s average. The only place he scores poorly is triples, and that’s mostly about his having come along well after triples began to decline in favor of homers. All in all, Trammell’s statistics make good case for his inclusion when compared against other Hall shortstops. I would give him odds second only to Jack Morris for election.

LEFT FIELD
Number of Hall of Fame left fielders: 21 (including Stan Musial, Willie Stargell, Babe Ruth)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall left fielders: 11th

Jose Cruz

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2353  1036  2251  391  94  165  1077  898  317  .284  .354  .420  .774
RANK      9    20    17   15  13   13   16    12    8    19    20    19    20
AVERAGE RANKING = 15TH

Not that Jose Cruz has an ice cube’s chance in hell of even seeing the ballot, but we elected him and the next fellow, so I wanted to be sure to at least include them. As Bill James pointed out years ago, had Jose Cruz played anywhere other than the Astrodome, he’d have been a huge national star. But because its run-suppressing power, his stat line looks kind of pedestrian. Given that and the importance of his defense to a Hall case, he’ll never get a second look.

Roy White

          G    R     H   2B  3B   HR  RBI   BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
============================================================================
TOTAL  1881  964  1803  300  51  160  758  934  233  .271  .360  .404  .764
RANK     17   21    19   20  21   14   21   11    8    22    19    21    20
AVERAGE RANKING = 18TH

Same story as Cruz except that the suppression of White’s offense was due to a pitcher’s era and, to a lesser extent than Cruz, his home park. Defense again plays a big part of White’s story. I have no illusions about his chances either.

CENTERFIELD
Number of Hall of Fame center fielders: 19 (including Robin Yount and Andre Dawson)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall center fielders: 10th

Jim Edmonds

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
=============================================================================
TOTAL  2001  1251  1949  437  25  393  1199  998  67  .284  .376  .527  .903
RANK     10    12    16    6  19    5     9    9  15    17    13     8    10
AVERAGE RANKING = 11TH

As far as leftovers go, this one’s pretty tasty. The BBWAA summarily disposed of Jim Edmonds, but just looking at these numbers it’s easy to see both why they did (fewer than 2000 hits) and why they shouldn’t have (everything else). In addition, Edmonds was a highlight-reel defender. Nice job, voters. Oh, and unless the VC changes, I don’t know how they would arrive at a different decision. I mean, they never elect players anymore anyway!

Kenny Lofton

          G     R     H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2103  1528  2428  383  116  130  781  945  622  .299  .372  .423  .794
RANK     11     9    10   11   11   12   16   11    4    13    13    17    16
AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH

Seriously? One and done? Lofton was one hell a lot better than that. Actually, there’s a little wider perception than just the BBWAA that Lofton’s not Hall material. Like with Rafael, I don’t understand this position. When I put my analytics together, he’s a solid member of any but the most exclusive Halls of Fame. He’s pretty much an average Hall center fielder, especially once you add in positive defensive value and amazing base running value. Trad stats wise, he might have an incrementally better chance in the VC than Edmonds if only because his steals and impressive runs scored totals give him a narrative to hang a vote on.

Reggie Smith

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  1987  1123  2020  363  57  314  1092  890  137  .287  .366  .489  .855
RANK     12    16    16   11  17    7    11   11   12    15    15    11    13
AVERAGE RANKING = 13TH

The other Reggie is a very borderline candidate, even for us. He ranks out decently among Hall centerfielders but spent a lot of time in right field, too, where he doesn’t look as great. He was always hurt and that won’t help him either, especially since it hurts his career totals.

Jimmy Wynn

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR  RBI    BB  SB    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  1920  1105  1665  285  39  291  964  1224  225  .250  .366  .436  .802
RANK     13    16    18   16  19    7   15     6   10    20    15    15    16
AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH

The poor Toy Cannon. Like Jose Cruz, his batting stats are just demolished by the Astrodome. But unlike Cruz, he got away from it. To Dodgers Stadium, another well-known pitchers park. As a homer-hitting, high walks, high-steals center fielder, you’d think he’d look pretty good, but the low batting average and park-suppressed slugging percentage are too much context for people to get past. Too bad, they’re missing out on a great player.

RIGHT FIELD
Number of Hall of Fame center fielders: 24 (including Andre Dawson and Babe Ruth)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall center fielders: 12th

Bobby Bonds

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  1849  1258  1886  302  66  332  1024  914  461  .268  .353  .471  .824
RANK     19    20    21   21  23    9    19   11    3    24    23    15    18
AVERAGE RANKING = 17TH

Once again, there’s a defense argument to be made here that the VC won’t get into, so Bonds’ chances are pretty slim. The power, walks, and speed combo is might impressive, but they’ll have bigger fish to fry. Like this next guy.

Dwight Evans

          G     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB  SB   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
==============================================================================
TOTAL  2606  1470  2446  483  73  385  1384  1391  78  .272  .370  .470  .840
RANK      8    11    17   12  21    9    11     5  24    24    17    15    13
AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH

Evans is a sabrmetric favorite and long underrated by Hall voters of every stripe due to his OBP-heavy profile. But 385 homers isn’t exactly something to sneeze at. His arm was feared around the league and for great reason, so there’s additional value and narrative that voters could pick up on. I like his chances more than Bonds’ and many others on this list.

As we look at these guys and compare them to positional norms, we should also remember something important. These guys have been passed over because their career totals weren’t in no-brainer territory. So they go to the back door to find their way in. But also, remember that the Hall has made a ton of mistakes. Additionally, given its 217 members, the Hall should have roughly 18–20 men per position. None of the players above falls outside that range in terms of their average ranking in these key categories. In fact, only one even falls as low as that range. The rest improve on that figure. Additionally, the Hall electorates have been too tough on centerfield, third base, and catcher. Those positions are way understaffed, and the men mentioned above would be great steps toward recognizing more Hall of Fame caliber players at those needlessly scarce positions.

Next time out, we’ll look at pitchers to see who on the Modern Baseball and Today’s Game ballots might have a shot from an old-school perspective.

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