It’s a fan, just a regular fan who has become one of the most important people in baseball every January. His name is Ryan Thibodaux. Maybe you know him as @NotMrTibbs. The way I got to know him is through his Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker. That’s where he keeps tabs on actual Hall of Fame votes as they come in and provides tremendous fodder for conversation during an otherwise slow time in the baseball world.
Eric and I cite him and the Tracker regularly, like here, here, here, here, and here. In fact, it seems I can’t refer to him without using the word “great”, which is both an indictment on my writing and an indication of just how impressive his work is. Eric calls the Tracker crack for Hall junkies, and I couldn’t agree more. We keep it open all day and just hit refresh. It’s the beginning of so many of our conversations each December and January, and it’s simply indispensable for us and many others.
If you missed a piece highlighting his work this past January on mlb.com, I’m proud to introduce you to him here. Ryan was kind enough to give me more than a few minutes of his time and sit down to chat. Sure, it was both asynchronous and I think bicoastal, but the meaning of “chat” has morphed over the years, right?
I hope you enjoy.
What made you start the Tracker?
I didn’t so much start the Tracker as continue the fine tradition of ballot tracking done by people like Darren Viola (Repoz) on Baseball Think Factory and @leokitty on Twitter. For me, it was just a way to pass the time in the offseason. When I started, I was particularly interested in Jeff Bagwell’s candidacy since I grew up in Houston. I didn’t think it would ever be the all-consuming thing it has become for me for two months every winter, but here we are.
Have you had contact with any players on the ballot because of it?
The only real contact I’ve had with players is on Twitter, mostly from a few players who seemingly follow the balloting. Billy Wagner, Vlad Guerrero, and Curt Schilling follow me on Twitter and chime in from time to time (as do some others like David Cone). By far though, the coolest experience I’ve had with a player (indirectly) was when one of Jeff Bagwell’s representatives sent me a “Class of 2017” poster autographed by Bagwell: https://twitter.com/NotMrTibbs/status/839665329915621376
Who’s the most famous/interesting/surprising non-player who’ve you’ve talked to because of it?
That’s easily been the best part of this hobby over the years, to be honest. Baseball writers have always been heroes to me in much the same way that baseball players themselves are, so I’m extremely lucky for all the things I’ve gotten to experience. I’ve gotten to meet and talk to Susan Slusser from the San Francisco Chronicle, who I’ve been reading for years and years and consider one of the best ever at her job. She’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday as a Spink Award winner, I hope and suspect. I’ve done phone interviews with some greats like Larry Stone and Evan Grant. I’ve had the writer and voter who runs the BBWAA website, Jeff Fletcher, solicit my help adding what I’d collected to BBWAA.com. I’ve had long email discussions with Jonah Keri and Jerry Crasnick. I’ve gotten out of the blue direct messages from Buster Olney. I’ve had the Hall of Fame expert of our time, Jay Jaffe, ask me questions. Can you imagine!? I did my one and only podcast interview on my favorite baseball podcast, Effectively Wild, with Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh. I’ve had my name plastered all over MLB Network for uncomfortably long stretches of time. Insane! Any one of those things would be amazing and an honor, but the fact that they’ve all happened is still surreal to me.
Since you’ve started, do you have an opinion as to whether the writers are submitting ballots of higher, lower, or about the same quality?
I think the average ballot has probably “improved” a bit in recent years, though I don’t make much of a habit of criticizing individual ballots or voting philosophies. The “improvement” that I do think has occurred probably has something to do with many former voters who haven’t actively covered game in the last decade getting “purged” from the voter rolls. Votes per ballot has increased, which I think is important since we still have such a backlog of deserving candidates. Voters seem to be willing to consider candidates who don’t have traditional Hall of Fame resumes more and more (Tim Raines, for example, whose case is largely based on advanced statistics and the modern understanding of what makes players valuable, as opposed to meeting traditional milestone numbers of hits/home runs/etc.). There are fewer objectively ridiculous ballots and fewer votes cast for players who have little to no real case. There are fewer voters not voting for obvious inner-circle Hall of Famers like Griffey and Maddux. I suspect we may actually get a unanimous Hall of Famer sometime in the next few years, which would have been impossible as recently as a couple of years ago. So overall, I think there are fewer “bad apple” voters who historically have given the process a worse reputation than it probably deserves.
How do you think the Tracker has influenced ballots? If it has, do you think it’s a good or a bad thing?
I think the impact on voters is fairly minimal. The primary thing the Tracker provides voters is an easy way to easily access other voters’ rationales for their ballots through the links I include on the sheet. That might have some impact, in that I believe voters influence each other far more than fans and observers do. Of course, a criticism of that is that the Tracker might contribute to a “hive mind” situation, where there’s less variability among voters and the votes they cast. I’m happy to leave it to others to decide if that’s good, bad, or both.
Beginning with the 2018 election, the BBWAA will start making every Hall ballot public once the election is over. How do you foresee that affecting the Hall vote? And just as important, the Tracker?
That’s a very open question at this point. On my end, I expect it to be business as usual. Voters are still free to reveal their ballots whenever they choose, and when they do, I’ll be there to log them. It might be that more voters choose to reveal their ballots later (after the results are announced), so I may have less “work” to do in the pre- announcement period. It may be that some voters who have historically kept their ballots private may stop voting to avoid the attention and the often aggressive criticism that comes with publicly sharing a ballot. Like you said, this is the first time the BBWAA will make all ballots public (which won’t occur until one week after the results are announced), so I’ll be as interested as anyone to see how that affects both voting as well as how voters decide to reveal their ballots.
Do you prefer players having ten years or fifteen years of ballot eligibility?
I can see why the Hall changed it to 10 years, and it makes sense in plenty of ways, but I feel for players who might be hurt by it like Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker. Of course, we all thought that change was the knife in the candidacy of Tim Raines, too, and we know how that turned out.
Do you prefer a cap of ten votes per writer, something more, or no cap?
The Hall, I don’t think, will ever go to an unlimited ballot, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it. Derrick Gould from the St. Louis Post Dispatch has proposed what he calls a “binary ballot” where each voter votes yes or no on every candidate. I like the idea, but that’s essentially a “no cap” situation, and doesn’t seem likely to ever happen. A BBWAA committee asked a couple of years ago for the limit to be raised from 10 to 12, but the Hall didn’t grant even this modest request. I think voters who are tasked with the responsibility of voting for the Hall should be given the leeway to vote for whomever they’d like, but it seems like the Hall is sticking with a 10 player per ballot maximum for the foreseeable future. Even with this limitation, the voters have done a good job the last few years electing worthy candidates.
Is there a player on the current ballot you’re most rooting for?
Despite my obvious rooting for Bagwell in the past (I couldn’t help it!), I honestly do try to remain as neutral as I can on most players. My own particular biases are perfectly obvious to people who follow me closely on Twitter, and I’m fine with that, but I try hard not to wade too deeply into arguments for or against anyone. That said, Larry Walker has polled WAY, WAY too low for WAY too long and is running out of time. I hope voters give him one last good look before it’s too late. Also, #EdgarHOF. Okay, I’m done.
Who’s your favorite Hall of Famer?
As I’ve said, Bagwell is certainly among my favorites. I watched him his entire career when I was growing up, and I’m elated that he finally got the honor he deserves. Craig Biggio certainly is right there too, of course. My other favorite is Nolan Ryan. I only really remember the last 8 or so years of his career, but he was my first true baseball hero. I used to tell kids in school that I was named after him (I wasn’t). He was also my first autograph. My grandfather used to work on Nolan’s boat motors in Texas, and Nolan was nice enough to sign a ball and picture for him in the late 80s. After years and years of teasing me about it (“maybe when you get accepted to college,” “maybe when you’re old enough not to lose them,” etc.), my grandfather finally gave them to me when I was about 10 years old. They’re prized possessions.
Hope that works for you! Let me know if you need anything else.
I suppose if I were a veteran of stuff like this, I might not include Ryan’s last line above. But I kept it just to point out how gracious the guy is. I’m nobody to him, and he didn’t just answer my questions, he answered in tremendous depth. I thought I was pushing it with the number of questions, so I made the last four a lightening round, suggesting he could answer with just a couple of words. Either he’s unfamiliar with lightening, or he’s just a fantastic person.
Thank you so much for your time, Ryan! And thank you all for reading.
Long live the Tracker!
Adrian Beltre sealed his Hall of Fame case Sunday night with a hustle double into left field against the Orioles. It’s an amazing accomplishment for many reasons, and I have thoughts about five of them.
MLB’s first Dominican 3000-hit man
Beltre was the 31st person to reach 3000 hits in MLB history and the first (of many likely to come) born in the Dominican Republic. All but five of the others were born in the US. For me this brings up a larger question: Who are the current leaders among countries that regularly produce major leaguers today? In fact, I wanted to know the same things about a few other figures, such as homeruns, wins, strikeouts, and WAR for hitters and pitchers. Hello, BBREF! [PS: I’m going to count Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as separate from the US for this purpose.]
BATTERS COUNTRY H HR WAR ======================================================================= Aruba X Bogaerts ( 634) X Bogaerts ( 47) X Boagaerts ( 10) Australia J Quinn (1804) D Nilsson (105) D Nilsson ( 11) Brazil Y Gomes ( 418) Y Gomes ( 63) Y Gomes ( 9) Canada L Walker (2160) L Walker (383) L Walker ( 73) Columbia E Renteria (2327) E Renteria (140) E Renteria ( 32) Cuba R Palmero (3020) R Palmeiro (569) R Palmeiro ( 72) Curacao An Jones (1933) An Jones (434) An Jones ( 63) Dominican Rep A Beltre (3001) S Sosa (609) A Pujols (100) Japan I Suzuki (3060) H Matsui (175) I Suzuki ( 60) Mexico V Castilla (1884) V Castilla (320) B Avila ( 28) Nicaragua M Benard ( 714) M Benard ( 54) M Benard ( 9) Panama R Carew (3053) C Lee (358) R Carew ( 81) Puerto Rico R Clemente (3000) C Delgado (473) R Clemente ( 95) S Korea S Choo (1292) S Choo (160) S Choo ( 30) Taiwan C Hu ( 34) C Hu (2) T Lin ( 1) USA P Rose (4256) Ba Bonds (762) B Ruth (163) USVI H Clarke (1230) E Hendricks (62) H Clarke ( 16) Venezuela O Vizquel (2877) Mi Cabrera (459) Mi Cabrera ( 70) PITCHERS COUNTRY W K pWAR =========================================================================== Aruba S Ponson ( 91) S Ponson (1031) S Ponson ( 11) Australia t-G Balfour/ ( 30) G Balfour ( 571) G Balfour ( 9) t-G Lloyd Brazil A Rienzo ( 6) A Rienzo ( 104) A Rienzo ( -1) Canada F Jenkins (284) F Jenkins (3192) F Jenkins ( 83) Columbia J Tehran ( 54) J Quintana ( 915) J Quintana ( 23) Cuba L Tiant (229) L Tiant (2416) L Tiant ( 66) Curacao J Jurrjens ( 53) K Jansen ( 701) K Jansen ( 14) Dominican Rep J Marichal (243) P Martinez (3154) P Martinez ( 86) Japan H Nomo (123) H Nomo (1918) H Nomo ( 22) Mexico F Valenzuela (173) F Valenzuela (2074) F Valenzuela ( 37) Nicaragua D Martinez (245) D Martinez (2149) D Martinez ( 50) Panama t-M Rivera/ ( 82) M Rivera (1173) M Rivera ( 57) t-B Chen Puerto Rico J Vazquez (165) J Vazquez (2536) J Vazquez ( 43) S Korea C Park (124) C Park (1715) C Park ( 20) Taiwan C Wang ( 68) C Wang ( 394) C Wang ( 13) USA C Young (511) N Ryan (5714) C Young (170) USVI A McBean ( 67) A McBean ( 575) A McBean ( 15) Venezuela F Hernandez (159) F Hernandez (2328) F Hernandez ( 52)
Hey, that’s some pretty snappy company that Beltre is keeping. He must be amazed to be on a list with Marvin Benard and Andre Rienzo! In all seriousness, however, when players reach milestones with round numbers or lists like these that I’ve just drafted, it means big things about their careers. After a while, it’s no longer about the specific number but the weight of that number. No one cares how many hits over 3,000 you get. Once you reach that mark, it’s all gravy.
Soon to be MLB’s foreign-born hit king?
It’s possible that by year’s end Beltre could be the all-time leader in hits by a foreign-born person. If not this summer then next because he’s only sixty knocks away from the current leader, Ichiro. The Japanese star doesn’t play all that often, has only thirty hits this year, and is hitting .234. It sure seems like this is Ichiro’s last season or his penultimate. It will be far more shocking if Beltre fails to capture this distinction.
Albert Pujols will not pass Adrian Beltre in career hits. You heard it here first. Pujols currently trails by about 85, and looks old at the plate. But Adrian Beltre might pass King Albert in career WAR. That would make Beltre the foreign-born player with the most career WAR. (He is currently behind Pujols and Robert Clemente—since we’re counting Puerto Rico as “foreign” for this purpose.)
As of this writing, Pujols has earned 99.9 career WAR. Pujols’ horrible season has caused him to dip back below 100 WAR. He’s hitting .233/.280/.386 for a 79 OPS+—straight out of the Bobby Crosby/Danny Espinoza Collection. The horror of 2017 adds up to -14 batting runs and -1.2 WAR. Now as recently as May, Albert’s bat looked OK: .281/.340/.483. It’s not exactly, well, Pujolsian, but it was in line with his recent batting performances. Unfortunately, that’s his only good month this year, and unless he closes well, he’ll be looking fork-tender in October.
Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre checks in at 92.4 WAR. Just 7.5 WAR separate them. Now, for players nearing 40, that’s a lot to ask, but despite missing a big chunk of the first half, and despite being one baseball year older than Albert, Adrian does not look done. He’s hitting .307/.385/.531, with a performance on par with his recent, excellent seasons. Let’s say he finishes with two more WAR through the end of the year. There’s 94.4. So if he ages out gracefully, say declining half a win per year, he passes Pujols in two or three years. If he has another typical late-career Beltre season, he passes him next year.
Now that all assumes that Albert is done. Maybe, maybe not. He’s still got a big contract attached to him, and surely he wants to reach 3,000 hits. Will the Halos give him the rope to do it? I hope so. But it sure looks like he’s going to cost them wins as he does it. He could make things easier for Beltre to catch up. But I suspect he won’t make it much if any harder.
One of the weirdest career paths ever
Entering his age-30 season, Adrian Beltre had managed six seasons with an OPS+ of 100 or more. In just one of those seasons, his famous 2004 walk year, did he manage an OPS+ above 116. Here was his career line after the 83 OPS+ that led the Mariners to let him go as a free agent after 2009:
12 years, 6877 PA, 1700 hits, 250 homers, .270/.325/.453, 105 OPS+, 44.5 WAR.
Now, that WAR figure is a little unbalanced. His bat accounted for 60 runs above average, and his glove for 142. Those totals looked superficially like the totals at that age of a few marquee from the very low octane 1960s: Santo, Yaz, and Staub. But they played in a time when Yaz won the batting crown by hitting .301. His comps at BBREF also included Ruben Sierra and Aramis Ramirez as well as Travis Fryman. To the good, Cal Ripken made his comp list. But overall, his list is filled with fellows who debuted at an early age and didn’t miss a lot of time, just like Beltre.
Then all hell broke loose inside Adrian Beltre’s bat.
Who knows what caused the explosion, but in the past eight years, in 4604 PA, Beltre has 1301 hits, 204 HR, a .310/.360/.522 line for a 134 OPS+, and 47.9 WAR. This time around, he’s got 193 batting runs above average and 85 fielding runs. Yeah, that’s really frickin’ weird. There are very few players in history whose careers we can consider to be like Beltre’s. Miller and I kicked a few names back and forth, and here’s the before and after lists, including Beltre for comparison.
BEFORE/AFTER PA H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+ WAR ================================================ ADRIAN BELTRE BEFORE 6877 1700 250 270/325/453 105 44.5 AFTER 4604 1301 204 310/360/522 134 47.9 BRIAN DOWNING BEFORE 3080 686 56 264/364/374 109 17.9 AFTER 6229 1413 219 269/374/451 128 33.4 LUIS GONZALEZ BEFORE 4372 1036 107 268/341/432 109 22.0 AFTER 6159 1555 247 294/385/513 125 29.5 CHILI DAVIS BEFORE 5337 1262 156 267/340/422 114 20.2 AFTER 4660 1188 194 283/382/486 128 17.9 TONY PHILLIPS BEFORE 3007 649 33 251/338/350 95 14.0 AFTER 6103 1374 127 273/392/409 115 36.8
There’s probably a few more than we missed, but these guys help make the point. Beltre’s offensive transformation is astounding and perhaps unprecedented in its scope. It’s enabling him to produce value at a rate about 40% higher per plate appearance than he did in his twenties. One big difference between these guys and Beltre is that Adrian had significantly more playing time by age 30 than any of them and more than he has had in his 30s. In other words, it took him longer to become amazing than those guys, and he’s been more amazing than any of them in general and in his 30s. If you spot any other similarly strange career paths among hitters, drop it in the comments!
The end game
This is the big question, right? How long can Beltre keep it up, and how far will he go up the various leaderboards? The answer is I don’t know. How do you forecast a player whose career has been so unusual? The best we can do is look for guidance from the past. Or as I prefer to call “the past,” the BBREF Play Index.
I queried it for all players since 1961 with at least 3500 plate appearances from age 31–38 (and who played in their age 38 season) who weren’t pitchers or catchers, and who an OPS+ between 125 and 145. I then found the stats for those in the group from age 39 onward who accumulated at least 300 plate appearances. Of the 49 my original query returned, 26 hung on for at least another half season or so. These players averaged a 134 OPS+ from age 31–38 and a 109 OPS+ afterward. The longest survivor was Pete Rose, but his circumstances were unique. After him, Rickey Henderson lasted longest at 621 games and 2030 plate appearances. The 26 players in the group averaged 291 games after age 39, 1116 PAs, 264 hits, and 30 homers.
Let’s say instead that we believe that Beltre is in better shape than most of these guys and will keep his skills longer. We’ll take the top ½ of the group by OPS+ to represent this scenario. These guys hit for a 120 OPS+. They averaged 284 games and 1097 PAs. They picked up another 263 hits and 40 homers. Yeah, you can see the influence of Pete Rose here…he skews the overall average toward him.
Before we make any projections, let’s also assume that Beltre simply continues at his current pace for the 2017 season and plays another 50 games. He’ll have another 213 PAs, another 57 hits, and another 9 homers, putting his career totals at 3057 hits and 463 roundtrippers.
So in our first scenario, where we took the group’s average, Beltre would end up with 3322 hits and 493 homers. In our more aggressive scenario, Beltre ends up at 3321 hits and 503 homers. Under both scenarios, Beltre ends up barely edging out Paul Molitor to enter the top ten list in hits. In our less aggressive scenario, his 493 homers tied Fred McGriff and someone named Gehrig for 28th all-time. In our aggressive scenario, those 503 dingers gives him sole possession of 28th place as well as the distinction of being the 28th player to push past the 500 line.
But if history is a guide, then Adrian’s got another year or two in him, and he’s going to make a run at 500 homers. But history may not be a guide, and he might keep on truckin’ for four more years, pick up another 500 hits, another 5 or 100 homers, and maybe cap it off with 120 doubles to move from 13th all time to 3rd all-time as only the fifth hitter to reach 700 two-baggers. The best part? The sky’s the limit because, hey, it’s Beltre!!!
I’m not sure there’s any player whose Hall case I’ve attacked as much as that of Catfish Hunter. To review, click here, here, here, and here. Since it’s been about three years I’ve gone without trashing his case, perhaps it’s time once again. When recently researching Carlos Beltran’s playoff home run log, I learned, or maybe relearned, that Hunter has given up tied for the second most home runs in playoff history. That’s right, despite the fact that he’s not in the top-ten in playoff innings, he trails just Andy Pettitte on playoff homers allowed. And Pettitte pitched more than twice as many innings. Let’s take a look.
Hunter’s A’s were swept by the Orioles, and it was Hunter who lost the middle of the three games. Brooks Robinson’s solo shot got things started in the second. Boog Powell followed with one of his own in the third. There was no more Oriole scoring until the seventh when Elrod Hendricks took Hunter deep for one more run. And Boog Powell capped things off with a two run shot in the eighth. One game, four homers.
Hunter started the first game of the series against the Tigers. After a scoreless first, Norm Cash took him deep for a solo homer. Hunter would allow no more, and though Al Kaline homered against Rollie Fingers in the eleventh to break a tie, the A’s scored two in the bottom of the inning to win it. Two games, five homers.
Game four in Detroit also went into extras. The road team again scored, and once again the home team scored more to win it. As with the first game of the series, Hunter allowed the game’s first run on a homer, this one a third inning solo shot by Dick McAuliffe. While McAuliffe was not without power, he hit only eight during the regular season. Three games, six homers.
With the A’s leading the Reds one game to none, Hunter started the second game and was excellent, allowing just one run in the ninth on a single, ground out, and another single. Four games, six homers.
Up 3-1 in the series, Oakland called on Hunter to close things out at home. He allowed a solo shot to the game’s lead-off hitter, Pete Rose. In case you’re wondering, Rose hit just six home runs during the 1972 regular season. The A’s then gave Hunter three runs in the second. But Hunter allowed a Dennis Menke homer in the fourth to get Cincy to within a run. It was yet another solo shot. And again it was hit by a guy who didn’t reach double figures during the regular season. Hunter didn’t get out of the fifth. Five games, eight homers.
Hunter pitched decently in relief two days later to grab the win and the World Series for the A’s. Six games, eight homers.
The Orioles were back this year, and like he did in 1971, Hunter started the second game with his team behind in the series. This game worked out better than did the one 24 months earlier. Hunter threw seven and a third innings, allowing three runs but zero homers. The A’s tied the series at one game each. Seven games, eight homers.
Catfish twirled a gem with a five-hit shutout in the deciding fifth game to lead the A’s to their second consecutive World Series. Eight games, eight homers.
With the series tied, Hunter got the start in the third game. And as was fairly common for him, he allowed a solo home run. This time it was Wayne Garrett taking him deep leading off. It’s rather fortunate that eight of the nine homers Hunter had given up in his playoff career to this point were solo shots. In any case, the A’s won to take the series lead. Nine games, nine homers.
With their backs against the wall, Oakland turned to Hunter for the sixth game. He didn’t give up a homer, and with the help of Darold Knowles and Rollie Fingers, he outdueled Tom Seaver. Oakland went on to win the next game and their second consecutive World Series. Ten games, nine homers.
Once again it was the Orioles in 1974. Hunter took the ball in the opener, and he wasn’t good. He retired the leadoff hitter, but then Paul Blair gave the O’s the lead with a solo shot. In the fifth, Brooks Robinson added a solo shot of his own. Five hitters later Bobby Grich hit a two-run bomb ending Hunter’s night and giving Baltimore the series lead. Eleven games, twelve homers.
Another World Series was coming after Hunter’s gem in the fourth game. He gave up just three hits over seven shutout innings, and the A’s closed out the O’s. Twelve games, twelve homers.
With two outs in the ninth inning of the first game, Hunter struck out Joe Ferguson for the save. Thirteen games, twelve homers.
The third game, again in a tied series, Hunter took the ball against the Dodgers. Up 3-0 in the eighth, Bill Buckner, he of seven regular season homers, brought LA to within two runs. They got closer against Fingers but couldn’t get the job done. The A’s got to within two wins of their third straight title. Two games later, without another Hunter appearance, they got there. Fourteen games, thirteen homers.
Catfish started the opener, went the distance, and allowed just one run on five hits with no homers. Fifteen games, thirteen homers.
Trying to close things out in the fourth game, Hunter was a wreck. He gave up two doubles and a triple, but no homers, as he was bounced after three innings. Hunter’s Yankees would finish things off the next night. Sixteen games, thirteen homers.
Down a game in a series where they’d get swept, Hunter gave up ten hits, including three for extra bases, but no homers. The Yankees lost 4-3. Hunter didn’t give up a single homer in the 1976 playoffs, but he didn’t pitch well either. Seventeen games, thirteen homers.
The Yankees won in five games, but Hunter didn’t pitch.
Up a game, the Yankees sent Hunter to the mound for the first time in the 1977 playoffs. And his good fortune with solo home runs came to an end. Ron Cey opened the scoring with a two run shot in the first. Steve Yeager hit a solo homer in the second. And Reggie Smith took him deep for two runs in the third. Hunter got only seven outs while giving up three homers, a double, and a single. Eighteen games, sixteen homers.
In the fifth game, getting crushed, Hunter pitched two innings in relief with no homers. New York closed things out one game later. Nineteen games, sixteen homers.
With the series tied, Catfish got the ball trying to get the Yankees closer to their second consecutive World Series. This is the game during which George Brett went crazy. To start the game, he became the third guy to hit a leadoff homer against Hunter. Another solo shot in the third followed. And when Brett came to the plate again in the fifth, he made it three straight solo shots. A fly out to center and a fly out to right against Goose Gossage in his final two trips ended Brett’s night, and backed by a Thurman Munson two-run shot in the eight, the Yankees managed to top the Royals. Twenty games, nineteen homers. New York closed things out the next night.
New York was down 1-0 when Hunter took the ball in the second game. Up 2-1 in the sixth, Ron Cey came to the plate with two outs and hit the most damaging home run Hunter ever gave up, a three run shot. Hunter gave up four runs in six innings to take the loss. The Yankees were down two games. Twenty-one games, twenty homers.
After three straight Yankee wins, Catfish was on the mound to close things out. He didn’t get things started well at all. Davey Lopes hit a leadoff homer. But the Yankees touched Don Sutton an inning later, Hunter was solid the rest of the way, and the Yankees won their second straight World Series. Twenty-two games, nineteen starts, twenty-one homers.
Don’t get me wrong. Catfish Hunter was a talented pitcher. And in the playoffs, he generally did well, posting the exact same 3.26 ERA that he did during the regular season. Of course his hit rate, his home run rate, and his K/BB ratio were all up in the playoffs. He allowed 1.0 homers per nine in the regular season, but that number spiked to 1.4 per nine in the playoffs. Still, I can’t quite crush the guy for that since he was pitching against better competition. Here’s the problem. He gave up way too many home runs. And he got lucky with them.
Regular Season Playoffs ======================================== Bases empty 67% 81% One on 26% 14% Two on 7% 5% Three on 1% 0%
Hunter gave up a decent number of solo shots or those with just one man on during the regular season as well. In the regular season, his home runs resulted in an average of 1.41 runs. In the playoffs, that number dropped to 1.24. Let’s pretend he allowed runs to score on his home runs at the same rate in the playoffs as he did during the regular season. His 3.26 payoff ERA would jump to about 3.85. Suddenly, Hunter seems a tick worse in the playoffs than he looked during the regular season. By itself, that’s pretty much a meaningless. However, when a Hall argument in his favor is playoff greatness, we have to reconsider that thought process. Based on his regular season, as I wrote a bunch a few years ago, Hunter is not a Hall of Famer. And it’s not like his playoff pitching drags him much closer.
Not long ago I was thinking about Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington National first baseman who seems to have re-found himself this season. At the time I was looking into him, Zimmerman had posted 2.5 WAR to that point after totaling 0.0 from 2014-2016. And I thought that if he reverted to his form of the previous three seasons, which was entirely possible, he’d still just have a mediocre season. So that led me to BBREF to try to determine what players had the most mediocre seasons in history.
Let me explain. I called a season “mediocre” if it landed between 1.5 and 2.9 WAR. To be fair, seasons toward the end of that range are sort of good. And seasons toward the beginning aren’t really worthy of starting jobs. Still, I had to have a range, and that’s the one I chose. I made no adjustments for schedule length, and I didn’t count pitcher hitting, so I don’t claim that this is an all-telling list. But it sure is interesting, at least I think so. The following ten players are the game’s most mediocre, each with at least ten individual seasons of WAR from 1.5-2.9.
Jim O’Rourke, 13 seasons
Aside from one game, O’Rourke’s Hall of Fame and HoME career ran from 1872-1893. His best five seasons are outside this range, and he actually has 13 adjusted seasons above this level. Be careful of analysis of those short-season players without depth of analysis.
Harold Baines, 12 seasons
When we’re thinking mediocre, this is more of the direction that makes sense. But Baines is a six-time All Star, and he had his number retired by the White Sox, you might be thinking. If he had only 134 more hits, he’d be in the Hall of Fame, you protest. Baines was a majority DH who couldn’t field when he tried, couldn’t run the bases, and hit into double plays more than he should have. Oh, and he wasn’t a great hitter, never reaching 30 homers or a .550 SLG, and only once posting a .400 OBP. He had only two seasons above our WAR range, and he had another two at 1.4 and 1.2. Baines is tied for 55th in WAR among RFs, and he ranks 65th at the position for me because he really had no peak.
Cap Anson, 12 seasons
Anson was a truly great player whose career overlapped with much of O’Rourke’s, playing from 1871-1897. He has 13 unadjusted seasons above this level, 22 with my adjustments. If you consider Stan Musial a first baseman as I do, Anson is either second or third at the position in a battle with Lou Gehrig. He certainly isn’t mediocre.
Gary Gaetti, 11 seasons
Gaetti’s career almost completely overlapped with the White Sox “star” above. The two-time All Star stayed in the league as long as he did in large part because of an excellent glove at third base. And he had some power in his bat, three times hitting 30+ homers. He has four seasons above this range, five if we include my adjustments. He’s 35th in career WAR at his position, and I rank him 48th at the hot corner. With very long and very low guys like Gaetti and Baines, my ranking is lower than their career WAR ranking because they don’t have high peaks.
Tommy John, 11 seasons
Our most “mediocre” pitcher is Tommy John. Are you catching a pattern? Guys who play a ton of seasons are the top guys on this list. That’s because they keep themselves useful, even if they’re not stars. With or without my adjustments, John has eight seasons above this range. But none of those seasons are really great ones, only three at the All Star level, and none at 6+ WAR. By the way, before the surgery my numbers say that he had four seasons above this range and six inside of it. By the way again, for those who care about such things, John had a .684 winning percentage from 1972-1980. For the rest of his career it was .480. Don’t pay attention to winning percentage of individual pitchers, please.
Zack Wheat, 10 seasons
In both the Hall and HoME and playing at a time when the schedule is a reasonable facsimile of what it is today, Wheat is the most surprising name on this list to me. And he’s here because of arbitrary endpoints. He has six seasons above this range, but if the range ended at 2.6 rather than 2.9, he’d 14 seasons above it and only two in it. Wheat put up 2.7-2.9 unadjusted WAR eight times. So how is this seemingly mediocre player in the Hall and HoME? The answer is fairly simple. On the margins he gained a tiny bit every year. His 154-game schedule got a tiny bump. The fact that his defense was a little better than bWAR claims helped too. And the strength of his arm helped a lot. While he had ten seasons in the range by straight WAR and only six above, with adjustments, most of those 2.7-2.9 seasons moved upwards. I give him a dozen seasons above and only four in the required range. I have him at 16 adjusted seasons of 2.0 WAR or higher. The only left fielders who can say the same are Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Clarke, and Jim O’Rourke.
Paul Hines, 10 seasons
Where have you heard this before? Hines played from 1872-1891. Like O’Rourke and Anson, he doesn’t truly belong on this list. He is a short season guy with only five campaigns above this level. And like Wheat, he has a bunch, six, from 2.7-2.9. With my adjustments, he has 14 seasons above this range and only one in it. Among center fielders, he’s just 37th in career WAR, but 9th on my list.
Nolan Ryan, 10 seasons
To me, Ryan is one of the most interesting pitchers ever. The longevity, the strikeouts, the greatness at an advanced age. Seriously, the guy led the league in K/9 every year from age 40 through age 44. He won 71 games and struck out over 1400 batters after his age-39 season. And if there’s an argument that someone will absolutely win 300 games again, it’s Ryan. CC Sabathia has 230 wins right now in his age-36 season. Ryan still had 105 wins after that point. No, I’m not saying CC is anything like Ryan. All I’m saying is the “never again” stuff is silly. All it takes is one crazy outlier. Anyway, back to our program. Ryan doesn’t really belong on this list. He has a dozen seasons above this level. Among pitchers, only Ryan, John, and Don Sutton had positive value in their 22nd best season. Ryan’s 22nd best I convert to 1.5 WAR, the best ever for a hurler.
Jesse Haines, 10 seasons
Haines is in the Hall of Fame, though he absolutely should not be. Like a lot of undeserving Hall of Famers, he played with Frankie Frisch, and Frisch, for a time, had tremendous influence on the Veterans Committee. Haines actually might be the pitching equivalent of a Baines or a Gaetti half a century earlier. A below average hitter, by straight pitching WAR, Haines only has three seasons above our level. And he only has four above 2.2 WAR. He does have a lot of mediocrity though. Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Hal Newhouser, and plenty of other pitchers in the HoME cannot claim the 14 seasons of 1+ WAR that Haines can. Of course, he only has five at 2+. To be clear, Haines wasn’t very good. He is the worst starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame.
Sad Sam Jones, 10 seasons
Overlapping with Haines for about a decade was Sam Jones, a pitcher who never teamed with Frisch and who never sniffed the Hall, though he was better than Haines. Still, he clearly belongs on a list such as this. He has four seasons above this level, interestingly enough for four different teams. Longevity was his thing. He posted 16 years with 1+ pitching WAR. That’s something Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson, and many others failed to do.
Francisco Rodriguez, 8 seasons
On one hand I’m somewhat surprised no relief pitcher made this list. On the other, not many have ten seasons at 1.5+ WAR. For K-Rod, he’s reached 1.5 only twice since 2010. He’s 35, and he may well be done. I don’t expect any movement.
Nick Markakis, 8 seasons
In some ways, he’s Harold Baines for the new millennium. But he’s less of a hitter than Baines and not as bad at anything else. He seemed like he might be something about a decade ago. Now he’s just a guy who holds on. While I wouldn’t put it past him to post two more seasons to make this list, betting on Nick Markakis has seldom been a wise move.
It might be a more interesting list on some levels if these players were all truly mediocre. We have a few guys on the list because they played shorter seasons. We have a couple who are here because they were so good that they played forever. Then we have guys like Baines, Gaetti, Haines, Jones, and Markakis who truly fit here. But just as very good for a long time equals an excellent career because so few players can be very good for a long time, mediocre for a long time is quite a nice career. For example, Harold Baines is tied for 547th in career WAR. While that might not sound so impressive, it’s well inside the top 3% in history.
Maybe I need a new definition of “mediocre.”
A week ago we updated the battery through the mid-year mark of June 30. On Monday we did it with the infield, and today we finish things off with the outfield. Remember that these are unadjusted WAR totals in the first half. To makes my MAPES conversion for my official statistics at the end of the year, I make some changes based mainly on Defensive Regression Analysis and a bit of a bonus for playoff innings for pitchers.
Preseason Rank: 34
2017 WAR: 0.2
Current Rank: 34
HoME Status: For the last two years it seemed like Braun was reviving his PED-aided career. I don’t normally spend much time discussing PED use, but Braun’s denials and his attacks on the innocent were particularly bothersome. I’m pleased that the first half of the season hasn’t really gotten him closer to the HoME. Despite a very strong four-year peak, he’s n
Preseason Rank: 37
2017 WAR: 1.2
Current Rank: 35, passing Jim Rice and George J. Burns
HoME Status: Of the guys who beat him in homers and batting average, almost everyone is in the HoME. Only Moises Alou isn’t going. Vladimir Guerrero is in limbo now. Holiday, of course, is much more in the Alou group than the HoMEr group. Still, there are only 16 guys ever who can top his HR, RBI, BA, and OBP. Every single one is in the HoME or going. No, Holliday shouldn’t go. And that type of stat is what’s wrong with using a bunch of one player’s stats as a cut-off. Even so, we should appreciate Holliday’s career and the nice little bounce back he seems to be having at age-37.
Preseason Rank: 41
2017 WAR: 0.0
Current Rank: 41
HoME Status: Red Sox fans, Dodger fans, and pretty much anyone born this century thinks Crawford is a dog. But when he was good, he was very good, a guy you absolutely wanted on your team. Too bad for his last two teams, the last time that occurred was 2010. No HoME for him. Why have I even listed him here?
Preseason Rank: 51
2017 WAR: 0.1
Current Rank: 51
HoME Status: A corner outfielder who can’t hit is about as done as a player can get. If he weren’t still such a good defender, perhaps he should get released. He’s not going to the HoME. Of course, there’s still the matter of $44 million he’s owed.
Preseason Rank: 64
2017 WAR: -0.8
Current Rank: 64
HoME Status: I don’t know exactly what to make of Gonzalez. On one hand he has the reputation of a star even though he’s had just one 5-win season. On the other, he’s doing what he’s doing right now. Was it the big RBI total and batting title when he was 24? I don’t know. He’s not coming close to the HoME though. Still, I have to chuckle when I read my own comment below. Gonzalez has been better than Gardner, yet I talk up Gardner as I downplay Gonzalez. I guess that goes to expectations.
Preseason Rank: 65
2017 WAR: 2.4
Current Rank: 65, charted him to early last year
HoME Status: Yankee fans should appreciate him more. He’s been a solid player for a decade now. It seems like 2017 will be his seventh season of at least 3.3 WAR. He’s no HoMEr, but he’s a pretty important player who isn’t widely regarded as such.
Preseason Rank: 68
2017 WAR: -0.4
Current Rank: 69, behind Pat Burrell, but likely a number of slots lower
HoME Status: He’s in the middle of a PED suspension, has likely already hit his peak, and has never topped 5.4 WAR. He stands very little chance. Actually, none.
Preseason Rank: 12
2017 WAR: -0.2
Current Rank: 12
HoME Status: If this is the end of the road, and at 40 it may be, it’s been one hell of a career. One of the greatest playoff performers ever is still known for leaving his bat on his shoulder as the Mets lost to the Cards in the 2006 NLCS. He shouldn’t be. Not a single player matches him in playoff HR, SB, and BA. I hear whispers about him and the Hall. Maybe voters will get right what they’ve gotten or will get wrong on Kenny Lofton, Jim Edmonds, and Andruw Jones. Let’s hope they get it right. He’s certainly going to join those three in the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 20
2017 WAR: 3.4
Current Rank: 18, passing Mike Griffin and HoMEr Willie Davis
HoME Status: Trout can’t get back from injury to resume his HoME-level career soon enough. I continue to think he’ll finish his career in fifth among center fielders, between Mantle and DiMaggio.
Preseason Rank: 48
2017 WAR: 0.8
Current Rank: 46, passing Earle Combs and Devon White
HoME Status: Andrew McCutchen is a poor defensive center fielder. No, he’s terrible. Defensive Regression Analysis has him only about ten career runs worse than noted hack Bernie Williams. And Bernie played center for seven years beyond where McCutchen is now. Even if his bat comes back, as perhaps it has over the last month, the Pirates or some other team needs to find a less damaging defensive position if he’s ever going to find his way into the HoME. I was betting on him a couple of years ago. But now I’d be quite surprised if he made it.
Preseason Rank: 50
2017 WAR: 1.2
Current Rank: 47, passing Andy Van Slyke, Earle Combs, and Devon Wite
HoME Status: There were rumblings of negativity when the Mets gave Granderson $60 million for his age 33-36 seasons, perhaps rightly so. But he’s likely to end the contract with over 11 WAR. It was worth it. Nice player, not a HoMEr.
Preseason Rank: 69
2017 WAR: 1.3
Current Rank: 68, passing Chili Davis
HoME Status: Jones has had a nice run. He’s on the downward arc now, perhaps with another good year or two left in him. He’s certainly not reaching the HoME, but I’d like him to hang around the game in some capacity if he wishes. I quite enjoy the guy.
Preseason Rank: 78
2017 WAR: 1.0
Current Rank: 76, passing Dode Paskert and Benny Kauff
HoME Status: Working around injuries, Ellsbury had quite a one-year peak with the Red Sox. Assuming the Yankees buy him out in 2021, he’s now half way through his contract. And the Yankees aren’t happy with what he’s earned. We’re looking at about 8 WAR for half of $153 million. He’s not getting into the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 23
2017 WAR: -0.7
Current Rank: 23
HoME Status: Let’s not kid ourselves. The last time Ichiro was a decent full-time player was 2010. Since then he’s added 807 or so hits, much in the same way Craig Biggio got there at the end, as a guy who didn’t really deserve many playing time. Ichiro, however, has avoid much of the criticism. It’s nice to be beloved. And for Ichiro, the 3 or so WAR the lefty has earned since 2010 has likely put him in the HoME. Bobby Abreu, Vlad Guerrero, Sam Rice, Reggie Smith, Sammy Sosa, and Ichiro are really so close together that picking or dumping any of them is really a matter of taste. And Eric likes Ichiro more than I do.
Preseason Rank: 48
2017 WAR: -0.1
Current Rank: 48
HoME Status: With the decline in full swing, Bautista is just about done. No matter. He played for four teams at 23, seemed pretty much done by 27, and became a star at 29. Nice, nice career. No HoME for him.
Preseason Rank: 66
2017 WAR: 1.0
Current Rank: 64, passing Harold Baines and Juan Gonzalez
HoME Status: He has less than 5.5 WAR half of the way through a contract of seven years and $130 million. He’s 34 now, and it doesn’t seem like it should get better in the next couple of years. The Rangers are certainly disappointed, and he’s not close to HoME-level.
Preseason Rank: 70
2017 WAR: 1.4
Current Rank: 68, passing Ken Griffey and Bobby Murcer
HoME Status: Among position players, he’s 53rd in history in WAR from ages 33-35. To me, he’s kind of Jose Bautista without the bluster. He doesn’t look like he’ll put up his fourth straight 40 homer season, but a guy who hit just 22 homers through age 27 wasn’t expecting that anyway. Even though he’s not going to the HoME, after he retires he’s going to run across his BBREF page one day, and in a quiet moment, he’ll smile.
Preseason Rank: 71
2017 WAR: 1.5
Current Rank: 71
HoME Status: On one hand, it looked like he was in the midst of reviving a stalled career in the first three months. On the other, he still doesn’t look like a good hitter. And he’s hurt. He’s been around forever, and he’s still just 27. There’s hope, but for a guy who I thought was nearly a sure thing two years ago, he has a lot of work to do. I’m no longer optimistic.
Preseason Rank: 73
2017 WAR: 2.0
Current Rank: 72, passing John Titus
HoME Status: I remember when Stanton was going to be the best player in the game. And though he’s not and likely never will be, he really looks likely to hit 500 homers. And if a guy who’s never topped 150 games and has only twice topped 123 ever stays healthy for a sustained period, we might see him challenge 600.
Preseason Rank: 76
2017 WAR: 2.7
Current Rank: 74, passing Jackie Jensen and Vic Wertz
HoME Status: I don’t know exactly what to think of Upton. He reached the majors at age 19, was a 4-win player at 21, and was a 6-win player at 23. And then he became just another guy, a guy you’d certainly want on your team, though not one you’d build around. At the age of 29, we might be seeing peak Upton again. He’s putting up what should be at least his second best season. Maybe things are looking up, but his HoME case isn’t looking good. Even with a 5-win season this year and 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, and 3 following, he’d not get much inside the top-50 in right field. Nice first decade in the bigs though.
Preseason Rank: 77
2017 WAR: 2.8
Current Rank: 77, it was premature ranking him last off-season
HoME Status: I know he’s the favorite player of a bunch of people out there, I know he has seemingly unlimited potential, and I know he’s still just 24 years old. On the other hand, the next 4-win season he has will be just his second since he was a rookie. I like his HoME chances more than virtually anyone who’s still 24, but let’s not confuse who Harper is. Through his age-24 season, Mike Trout had 48.5 WAR. If Harper doubled his career total in the second half, he’d still be behind. Manny Machado is only 102 days older than Harper, and he has more career WAR too. On the other hand, only 28 other position players ever have more WAR through their age-24 seasons than Harper has now. Give him a second half like the first, and he’d be 25th on the all-time list. The only two not in the HoME or going are Vada Pinson and Cesar Cedeno. So, yeah, in spite of my near maniacal need to compare everyone to Mike Trout, Harper is looking very, very good right now.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Full updates will be coming your way after the season.
Last Wednesday, we looked at the active(ish) battery and their chances at the HoME. Today, using unadjusted first half WAR through June 30, we look at the infield. This is an area where we have some of the highest guys on their respective lists – guys like Pujols, Cano, and Beltre. It’s also where we have a shortstop position without anyone who projects to be a HoMEr. Luckily we have Seager, Correa, Lindor, Bogaerts, and others getting started. The next generation looks to be better than the current one.
Make sure you come back on Wednesday for the active outfield.
Preseason Rank: 5
2017 WAR: -1.1
Current Rank: 6, falling behind Jimmie Foxx
HoME Status: Seeing that negative number in front of his WAR hurts quite a bit. I suspect he’s going to finish as the sixth best first baseman now, rather than the fifth, by my numbers. Of course, very reasonable people can still rank him ahead of Foxx and Roger Connor. He’s going to the Hall, the HoME, and anywhere else he wants on the first ballot.
Preseason Rank: 18
2017 WAR: 0.5
Current Rank: 16, passing Rafael Palmeiro and Jim Thome
HoME Status: This can’t be the end. Can it? I don’t even think it should be the beginning of the end, but it’s at least that. His only plus skill is a bat, but it’s a bat like few we’ve seen, even if it is fading now. To me, watching his counting numbers is a lot of fun. He has a great chance to be the sixth guy ever to reach 2000 RBIs, assuming Albert gets there before he does. And forget homers, he has a fine chance to finish his career fifth all-time in doubles. Maybe even higher if he’s not in steep decline now. He’s easily in the HoME, jammed in with a bunch of easy calls at first base. Whether he can separate from the pack and get to the top-10 will be a matter of health and time.
Preseason Rank: 36
2017 WAR: 3.7
Current Rank: 31, passing Jason Giambi, Tony Perez, Fred Tenney, Frank Chance, and Lance Berkman
HoME Status: Before this season, Votto seemed like the type of great player the Hall could ignore because he didn’t hit a ton of home runs. Luckily for Votto, this looks to be a career power year for the on base machine from the Reds. If he can repeat his first half, he’ll be a stone’s throw away from Mark McGwire, my lowest HoMEr first baseman. He won’t get there this season, and even if he doesn’t guarantee induction next year, he will eventually. His is a skill set that’s going to age just fine. I could see him finishing in the Frank Thomas/Pete Rose range. He’s going to the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 48
2017 WAR: -0.6
Current Rank: 48
HoME Status: After you’re 35, it’s hard to recover from herniated discs and become great at sports again. Of course, you might say that Gonzalez already wasn’t great, and I couldn’t disagree. He had a short run of excellence and was a very nice player for a decade. That’s not what a HoMEr is.
Preseason Rank: 70
2017 WAR: 4.0
Current Rank: 57, passing Hal Trosky, Kent Hrbek, Derrek Lee, Jim Bottomley, George H. Burns, Dave Orr, Steve Garvey, Cecil Cooper, George Scott, Jake Daubert, Frank McCormick, Stuffy McInnis, and Lu Blue
HoME Status: Let’s not confuse things. Goldschmidt isn’t close yet. Still, he’s one of the best players in the game, and with a repeat of the first half, he’ll move all the way up to #52 when the season ends, just behind Don Mattingly and Mark Grace. The guy is such a complete player that I think he’ll age well. I think he can make it.
Preseason Rank: 82
2017 WAR: -0.4
Current Rank: 82
HoME Status: Despite the 34 homers last year, Napoli hasn’t really been a big plus at the plate since 2014. The former catcher is now a plurality first baseman, and he’s at the point in his career where he’s going to jump from place to place looking for work. There’s no HoME in his future.
Preseason Rank: 88
2017 WAR: 0.2
Current Rank: 89, falling behind Anthony Rizzo
HoME Status: His only HoME-level skill is drawing walks. If you’re the Indians, you like having him because he hasn’t made any real money yet. A free agent at the end of the year, he has to be expecting the big payday. I wouldn’t pay him much. And he’s not going to the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 89
2017 WAR: 2.4
Current Rank: 86, passing Carlos Santana, Mo Vaughn, and Joe Kuhel
HoME Status: He’s a couple of years behind Goldschmidt, which isn’t such a bad thing since he’s a couple of years younger. Perhaps problematic for him is that I don’t think he’s quite the player Goldy is. Sure, he has more time for things to go right. He also has more time to show he’s just excellent, not immortal.
Preseason Rank: 91
2017 WAR: 2.6
Current Rank: 90, passing Hal Chase
HoME Status: The Mike Trout injury got all of the tears from me, but the Freeman break of the left wrist was nearly as bad. Freeman was excellent last year and looked to be building early in this one before Aaron Loup struck him with a fastball. Maybe he’ll be great again next season at age 28. Whatever the case, he has a lot of ground to make up to eventually be considered for the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 9
2017 WAR: 2.2
Current Rank: 8, passing Jackie Robinson
HoME Status: He’s already signed, sealed, and delivered. Has been for years. The question now is one of his final landing place among the all-time greats. Well, moving up the list won’t be easy. If Cano repeats his first half five more times, that’ll get him up only one more place, past Bobby Grich. Then again, at that point, both Charlie Gehringer and Frankie Frisch would be within striking distance. The active guys who have a shot at the top-five at their positions are Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, Mike Trout, and Cano. That’s it.
Preseason Rank: 22
2017 WAR: 0.3
Current Rank: 21, passing Hardy Richardson
HoME Status: I’ve read a couple of times recently the question of holding just a few months against someone after a great 15-year career. That’s something I was prepared to do to Chase Utley when it seemed his career was coming to an end in Philadelphia in 2015. That didn’t happen, and he’s been decent since joining the Dodgers, putting up more than 3 WAR. But what if he put up -3 WAR? To me, it all counts. Whether you put up -3 WAR in your fifth year or your fifteenth, it counts. And when making your case for the HoME, we don’t just ignore some of your MLB play if it doesn’t fit into our notion of who you are as a player. I like Utley, though I don’t love him. To me, he’s just over the line. Since I think Eric likes him more than I do though, I think his chances of getting into the HoME at some point are over 90%. Of course, he could play three more years and stink up the joint. In that case, all bets are off.
Preseason Rank: 26
2017 WAR: 2.1
Current Rank: 24, passing Fred Dunlap and Bobby Doerr
HoME Status: Kinsler is a guy I’ve been tracking publicly for at least a year now as a future HoMEr. I’ve actually been on his case for longer than that. He just passed HoMEr Bobby Doerr, and he’s closing in on territory where we can’t avoid giving him a vote. I’m not sure he’ll get there in the second half, but I expect him to seal his case before 2018 ends. Just a quick stat for you: Kinsler has more 4+ WAR seasons with my conversions than Jackie Robinson.
Preseason Rank: 32
2017 WAR: 0.6
Current Rank: 31, passing Lonny Frey
HoME Status: A tough dude and a really talented player, it doesn’t seem like Pedroia is going to get there. When healthy, he’s still quite good, but guys who are 33, 5’9”, and play second base just aren’t as healthy as they need to be to put up the three or four more good seasons Pedroia will need. Even though Laser Show seems to me like he loves the game more than most players, I’m not betting on him making it to the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 33
2017 WAR: 0.7
Current Rank: 33
HoME Status: Not getting to the majors until age 25 and not becoming a regular until age 28 have doomed Zobrist. I don’t want to really bet against the guy, and he’s only 36, but I can’t imagine too many more strong years in front of him. Even three more 3-win seasons wouldn’t get him into the HoME, so, yeah, I’ll bet against him.
Preseason Rank: 59
2017 WAR: 3.8
Current Rank: 59, probably because I started charting him too early; others I don’t chart are likely better
HoME Status: Guys at Altuve’s height just don’t make it in the majors. He’s already 13th all-time in WAR for those who are 5’6” or shorter. Altuve will be 28 next year, and there are only ten players ever Altuve’s height or shorter who totaled 20+ WAR from age-28 on. He would have to reach Phil Rizzuto’s 30.6 WAR, second all-time for short dudes from age-28 on, to have even a prayer at the HoME. Yes, he’s an outstanding player right now, but his chances at the HoME are very long.
Preseason Rank: 9
2017 WAR: 0.5
Current Rank: 9
HoME Status: If it wouldn’t disappoint him, I’d like something to happen that keeps him from getting to 3000 hits. Every deserving player who gets into the Hall without reaching one of the sure-thing milestones is a good thing. It seems like even the mainstream baseball media now think he belongs. It’s going to be tougher than I thought getting past Ron Santo, but I still put Beltre at about even money to best Paul Molitor, Chipper Jones, and Home Run Baker before he hangs ‘em up.
Preseason Rank: 25
2017 WAR: 😦
Current Rank: 25
HoME Status: A little over a year ago I wrote a sad baseball obituary for David Wright. At just age 33 at the time, there’s no way he should have been done. But some bodies don’t hold up as well as others. Back in 2013, it seemed certain he’d be a future HoMEr. And hell, there’s still a shot. One year at 3.7 WAR puts him past Sal Bando by my numbers. And that’s how close it can be. That’s the difference between immortality and eventual obscurity for the greatest Met position player in franchise history.
Preseason Rank: 30
2017 WAR: 2.5
Current Rank: 28, passing Larry Gardner and Robin Ventura
HoME Status: One path to the HoME is a few years of greatness and then solid performances for about ten more. That’s the path Longoria hopes to take. David Wright is a cautionary tale of how a third baseman, or any player, could just break down though. Give Longoria a few more years, and he might just prove his fans of 2009-2011 right. I think he has an excellent shot of eventually making the HoME. It’ll be about health.
Preseason Rank: 52
2017 WAR: 1.3
Current Rank: 51, passing Denny Lyons
HoME Status: It’s always disappointing to me when I remind myself of the age of someone who’s been so good and it’s not a small enough number. Since Jackie Robinson’s first season, only Donaldson, Jackie, and fourteen others have had four consecutive years at 7+ WAR. Chase Utley isn’t 100% guaranteed entry into the HoME. All of the others, aside from Donaldson, are. A calf injury held him back in the first half of the year. If his second half rebounds to the level we’ve seen since 2013, I might reconsider his status. As of now, I think it’s going to be next to impossible.
Preseason Rank: 57
2017 WAR: 2.4
Current Rank: 54, passing Jimmy Dykes, Don Money, and Bill Madlock
HoME Status: Not long ago, I wrote about the April 2017 NL Player of the Month, Ryan Zimmerman. At that time I asked if we should more likely trust the month of the three years where he put up a grand total of 0.0 WAR. Through May 6 of this year he put up a line of .453/.475/.907. Since then, it’s been a very mediocre .277/.318/.446. If you’re wondering what it was the last three years, wonder no more: .242/.300/.420. Since June 5, he’s been at .253/.277/.418. Trust the last three years, not a random month. Zimmerman is not going to the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 61
2017 WAR: 1.0
Current Rank: 58, passing George Kell, Richie Hebner, and Jeff Cirillo
HoME Status: Corey’s big brother is a heck of a player, albeit one who’s struggling in 2017. He’s the kind of guy who could keep hitting enough for a while, not long enough to get into the HoME though.
Preseason Rank: 73
2017 WAR: 1.1
Current Rank: 72, passing Jerry Denny
HoME Status: If you want a quick answer as to what’s happened to Manny Machado’s bat, take a look at his yearly BABIP: .293, .322, .317, .297, .309, .226. Balls will start falling. The BABIP will tend to equilibrium. While it’s true that he is swinging and missing more than he has in the past, isn’t everyone? He’s not swinging at more first pitches. He’s not swinging at more bad pitches. Assuming he doesn’t press, he’ll start looking better soon enough. And I expect he’ll get what looks like it can become a HoME-worthy career back on track.
Preseason Rank: 74
2017 WAR: 1.2
Current Rank: 73, passing Jerry Denny
HoME Status: Because he got good too late, he stands very little shot of getting into the HoME. He’s still a fun hitter to watch and a dangerous one to face.
Preseason Rank: 76
2017 WAR: 0.7
Current Rank: 76
HoME Status: Headley should consider himself lucky to even make my third base chart. He has absolutely no chance at the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 40
2017 WAR: 0.1
Current Rank: 40
HoME Status: He’s 32 years old now. He hasn’t been a good hitter since 2014, and he hasn’t played in 140+ games since 2011. For a guy with four seasons over 6 WAR and another two over 5 WAR, it’s pretty shocking that Tulo is a relative long shot at HoME induction. That’s in part because I think Rfield overrates his defense. Oh, and he just doesn’t play enough. In 2014, I’d have put him at 80% to get in. Now, I think he’s less than 20%.
Preseason Rank: 43
2017 WAR: 0.2
Current Rank: 43
HoME Status: There really isn’t much to see here. At his best, he was all hit and no field. Now he’s some hit and no field. Upon retirement, he won’t be worthy of HoME consideration.
Preseason Rank: 60
2017 WAR: -0.8
Current Rank: 60
HoME Status: Middle infielders don’t tend to age well. Reyes has been below replacement level since his age-31 season in 2014. He’s only two steals away from 500, so that’s something he could hang his hat on. HoME induction isn’t happening.
Preseason Rank: 67
2017 WAR: 2.4
Current Rank: 66, passing Frank Crosetti
HoME Status: He doesn’t field enough to be a great shortstop, and he doesn’t hit enough to play anywhere else. To his credit though, he has turned himself into a league average hitter over the past year and a half. He would need to become far above average in a hurry to have a shot at the HoME.
Just two days until the active outfield is up.
Welcome to the first of a three part series updating you on the HoME status of active players I’m charting. Today it’s the battery. On Monday you’ll see the infielders, and a week from today it’ll be the outfielders. For each player I’ll list his positional rank on my charts before the season began, his actual WAR through June 30, where he would move if it were his straight WAR that I use to rank (it’s close), and some comments on his eventual HoME chances. Enjoy!
Preseason Rank: 56
2017 WAR: 3.6
Current Rank: 51, passing Urban Shocker, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Bunning, Red Faber, and Dazzy Vance
HoME Status: Talk of Max Scherzer being the best pitcher in baseball is premature. Kershaw is the reigning champ, and for my money you have to take the belt away from the champ. It’s not like The Claw is anything other than great again this year, on his way to another 7-win season. What’s more, he’s about to put up his eighth straight 5-win campaign. And if we imagine a second half like the first for Kershaw, he’ll have the fourth most WAR of any pitcher in the last century in his first ten seasons, trailing only Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, and Lefty Grove. Everyone on the career list he passes now is a HoMEr, so he’s already assured of going. Watch him pitch when you can. There are few you’ve seen before or will see again who are like him.
Preseason Rank: 57
2017 WAR: 1.4
Current Rank: 55, passing Urban Shocker
HoME Status: Sabathia is now ahead of 14 pitching HoMers, and he continues to add nice value over the last year and a half. He’s punched his ticket.
Preseason Rank: 77
2017 WAR: 2.7
Current Rank: passing Whitey Ford, George Uhle, Bucky Walters, Johan Santana, Sandy Koufax, Frank Tanana, and Kevin Appier
HoME Status: I tend to think of Greinke as a four-trick pony, which is a lot of tricks. First there’s the incredible 10.4 WAR season of 2009. Then there’s 9.9 WAR season of 2015. Add to those two a very impressive bat and consistency on the mound, and you have a HoMEr. For Eric, he was in before the season began. For me, it’s quite likely he’s in now, though he still trails a couple of non-HoMErs on my list. A second half like the first would push him past those guys, and make him a slam dunk for me.
Preseason Rank: 85
2017 WAR: 1.2
Current Rank: 80, passing Pud Galvin, Mickey Welch, Wilbur Cooper, Charlie Buffinton, and Mark Buehrle
HoME Status: Whether or not a Jarrod Dyson bunt is controversial doesn’t really matter around the HoME. What does matter is performance, and Verlander’s first half work elevated him past five guys even though that performance wasn’t anything special. It just goes to show how close some of these comparisons are. It’s a reminder that pulling straight from my list isn’t necessarily the right thing to do when electing to the HoME. Verlander has now passed his second HoMEr in Galvin, yet he’s not quite a sure thing at this moment. With 1.8 WAR in the second half, he’d get past Whitey Ford, Bucky Walters, and Sandy Koufax, as well as a few other excellent pitchers. Even if it’s not in 2017, he’s almost certain to get there.
Preseason Rank: 89
2017 WAR: 0.7
Current Rank: 87, passing Nap Rucker and Burleigh Grimes
HoME Status: Hamels is 33 this year and has made just five starts because of injury. He has been building a quiet yet growing case for more than a decade. There’s little reason to believe that barring more injury woes he won’t continue to build. Even if he didn’t pitch again this year, two season of 3.0 WAR after this one puts him in a virtual tie with Early Wynn. There’s good reason to believe Hamels is a future HoMEr.
Preseason Rank: 99
2017 WAR: 0.4
Current Rank: 98, passing Mickey Lolich
HoME Status: On one hand, King Felix is still just 31. On the other, he had a young arm that was worked hard, and he’s been hurt the last two years. It’s clear that he’s breaking down. We all do. But think about CC above. After he broke down, he still had some nice nights at the park. Hell, think about the last old car you drive. I bet you took it to the shop a couple of times, worried about putting so much money into it, and then were surprised by a sustained streak of reasonable performance. Such a streak can still certainly come from Felix. It’ll need to if he wants to get to the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 123
2017 WAR: -2.3
Current Rank: 134, falling behind Jimmy Key, Doc White, George Mullin, Jack Stivetts, Dolf Luque, Dennis Martinez, Lon Warneke, Jamie Moyer, Silver King, and Carlos Zambrano
HoME Status: If this is the end of the road, and I think it is, Colon has had a nice career. A couple of nice careers, really. At one point, he put up -0.7 WAR over five seasons. Then he put up 9.7 in the next three. We’ll miss him, and we’ll never see him in the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 155
2017 WAR: 4.5
Current Rank: 131, passing Al Spalding, Jack Morris, Sam McDowell, Bill Dinneen, Bill Donovan, Dutch Leonard (the younger), Pink Hawley Claude Passeau, Red Lucas, Catfish Hunter, Jack Chesbro, Murry Dickson, Camilo Pascual, Mel Harder, Jim Whitney, Steve Rogers, Addie Joss, Bob Shawkey, Brade Radke, Herb Pennock, Vida Blue, Carlos Zambrano, Silver King, and Jamie Moyer
HoME Status: He’s not there yet, but with a second half like the first, he’d get past Goose Gossage, the lowest ranking HoME hurler. And if he replicated the first half for the next three half-seasons, he’d pass fifteen more HoMErs. Scherzer is 32, so it’s possible it could fall apart quickly. Plus, he’s a pitcher, so he could fall apart at any moment. On the other hand, he’s doing a great impression of the best pitcher in baseball right now. A gentle decline would get him in. A great second half and a fairly precipitous decline might get him in too. It’s pretty exciting to watch this guy work right now, and I expect it will be exciting inducting him into the HoME in a dozen or so years.
Preseason Rank: 164
2017 WAR: 0.9
Current Rank: 157, passing Schoolboy Rowe, Hoyt Wilhelm, Mel Stottlemyre, Bob Welch, Fernando Valenzuela, Nig Cuppy, and Smoky Joe Wood
HoME Status: On one hand, he’s 33. On the other, he’s made at least 31 starts every year since 2008. Oh, and he overcame cancer, so I don’t put much past him. Repeating his first half and then following up with five 3-win seasons would get him really close. Like I say, I don’t put much past him.
Preseason Rank: 165
2017 WAR: 0.4
Current Rank: 163, passing Schoolboy Rowe and Hoyt Wilhelm
HoME Status: Older and far less healthy than Lester, I don’t see him moving up the charts much more. He really hasn’t been a very good pitcher since 2014. But the guy can hit. He has 4 HR and 25 RBI in his last 100 trips to the plate.
Preseason Rank: 181
2017 WAR: 0.0
Current Rank: 181
HoME Status: Peavy isn’t retired yet, but he hasn’t pitched yet in 2017 to he could spend time with his kids after a divorce. There’s little reason to believe he’ll rebound to be a good pitcher again if he returns. His HoME case is virtually closed.
Preseason Rank: 189
2017 WAR: 0.0
Current Rank: 189
HoME Status: Nathan is likely done after requesting his release from the AAA contract he had with the Nationals. He may or may not be done in the game, but his HoME chances are zero.
Preseason Rank: 199
2017 WAR: -0.4
Current Rank: 199
HoME Status: He’s not going to make it. As it is, perhaps it’ll be a trick to retire inside the top-200.
Preseason Rank: 204
2017 WAR: -1.2
Current Rank: 209, falling behind Bruce Hurst, Sadie McMahon, Francisco Rodriguez, Rich Rhoden, and Chris Sale
HoME Status: No, never. And his miserable work (well, any work) with the Padres this year has taken him off the Angel Mount Rushmore.
Preseason Rank: 205
2017 WAR: -1.1
Current Rank: 208, falling behind Bruce Hurst, Sadie McMahon, Rick Rhoden, and Chris Sale; passing Jered Weaver
HoME Status: The end can come very quickly for some closer. Perhaps the end is here for K-Rod. There was once some speculation that he would retire with the all-time saves record. In a way, he got close. He’s fourth, but he’s 215 behind Mariano. Dave Smith had 216 career saves. He’s 43rd in history.
Preseason Rank: 225
2017 WAR: 0.3
Current Rank: 225, passing Chris Carpenter and falling behind Chris Sale
HoME Status: He seems generally to be righting the ship this season after early injury troubles. As for the HoME, there’s a lot of ground to make up. I’d settle for a strong post-season for a pitcher with a 2-8 career record and a 5.54 October ERA.
Preseason Rank: 226
2017 WAR: 3.5
Current Rank: 204, passing David Price, Chris Carpenter, Bob Rush, Guy Hecker, Earl Whitehill, Charlie root, Rick Sutcliffe, Mort Cooper, Charlie Leibrandt, Rick Wise, Harry Howell, Paul Derringer, Deacon Phillipe, Burt Hooton, Jerry Reuss, Hooks Dauss, Doyle Alexander, Rick Rhoden, Sadie McMahon, Bruce Hurst, Francisco Rodriguez, Jered Weaver, and Bill Hutchinson.
HoME Status: If Max Scherzer weren’t the east coast’s answer to Clayton Kershaw, it would be Sale. He’s just so good now, and he’s only 28. A second half like the first would put him past 27 more guys, moving into 176th place in history. It’s smart money to take the under on just about every pitcher. I’m rooting for him though.
Preseason Rank: 229
2017 WAR: 0.3
Current Rank: 227, passing Danny Darwin and Billy Wagner
HoME Status: If you want to know what’s wrong with signing pitchers to long-term contracts, you’re looking at him. In the first year of a six-year $125.5 million contract, he finished a run of 28.1 WAR over six years. Since then, he’s been about a win below replacement. His ERA if 5+ for the third straight year, and the Giants will be very happy to give him $7.5 million this off-season to go away. He has no shot at the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 233
2017 WAR: 0.9
Current Rank: 228, Slim Sallee, Bob Ewing, Frank Killen, Danny Darwin, and Billy Wagner
HoME Status: Bumgarner was off to another great start before a sprain of his throwing shoulder knocked him out. Best case scenario, he’s back for the last two months of the season. Hopefully he’ll be healthy moving forward. And hopefully he won’t be a cautionary tale about betting on pitchers to produce HoME-worthy careers when they’re still just 27. If forced to bet, I’d bet against him at this point.
Preseason Rank: 246
2017 WAR: 1.7
Current Rank: 238, passing Larry Dierker, Dave Foutz, Charlie Ferguson, Bobby Mathews, Harvey Haddix, Lee Smith, Rube Marquard, and Willis Hudlin
HoME Status: Well, Rube Marquard made it. Let’s see if the Giants can find someone to take him and the $92+ million he’s still owed.
Preseason Rank: 266
2017 WAR: 0.5
Current Rank: 262, passing Mike Cuellar, Bruce Sutter, Ken Holtzman, and Bill Hands
HoME Status: Um, no.
Preseason Rank: 275
2017 WAR: 0.0
Current Rank: 275
HoME Status: Lincecum is done. That’s good news since he’s lost nearly three WAR the last four seasons. The Freak was a superstar for two years when he won his Cy Youngs, good for two more, and that’s it.
Preseason Rank: 291
2017 WAR: -0.3
Current Rank: 295, falling behind Paul Splittorff, Ron Reed, Craig Kimbrel, and Corey Kluber
HoME Status: Arrieta is 31, had a nice run of excellence from 2014-2015, owns a Cy Young for his troubles, and will probably get to 100 wins in his career. But guys who struggle for years and then peak seldom keep it up for long. He’s no HoMEr.
Preseason Rank: 294
2017 WAR: 2.3
Current Rank: 286, passing Ron Reed, Paul Splittorff, Jake Arrieta, Bob Veale, Candy Cummings, Mike Will, Jon Lieber, and Jim Devlin
HoME Status: Well, Kimbrel is back. On the basis of a career high swinging strike percentage and a career low ball in play percentage and contact rate, the AL All-Stars will have a lockdown guy in the ninth should they choose to use Kimbrel in that role. Closers basically don’t get into the HoME due to low inning totals keeping their value down. Kimbrel will be no exception, but he’s certainly fun to watch.
Preseason Rank: 296
2017 WAR: 2.9
Current Rank: 281, passing Red Ames, Craig Kimbrel, Ron Reed, Paul Splittorff, Jake Arrieta, Bob Veale, Candy Cummings, Mike Witt, Jon Lieber, Jim Devlin, Red Donahue, Mike Flanagan, J.R. Richard, Matt Kilroy, and Spud Chandler
HoME Status: He didn’t pitch 200 innings for the first time until he was 28. Unless he learns a knuckler, he has no chance.
Preseason Rank: 297
2017 WAR: 0.1
Current Rank: 297
HoME Status: It’s kind of cute that he’s even on the list.
Preseason Rank: 14
2017 WAR: 1.0
Current Rank: 14
HoME Status: While the best of Mauer is gone and isn’t returning, he’s long been a HoMEr. And with a second half just a smidge better than his first, he’ll get past Wally Schang.
Preseason Rank: 24
2017 WAR: 1.0
Current Rank: 22, passing Jason Kendall and HoMEr Bill Freehan
HoME Status: There’s no position more difficult to judge than catcher. From framing, to handling a staff, to DRA not really improving on rfield, to countless other things, I just don’t know how much to trust my own numbers. But what else do I have to trust? Martin has just passed HoMEr Bill Freehan on my list. Of course, there are still four catchers ahead of Freehan and out of the HoME, as I trust the Tiger’s defensive reputation more than I do for most. But I don’t know that I’m being fair. I don’t know if I’m right about any of these rankings. Russell Martin in the HoME doesn’t feel quite right, but it’s certainly possible.
Preseason Rank: 30
2017 WAR: 2.9
Current Rank: 28, passing Deacon McGuire and Darrell Porter
HoME Status: Now Posey feels right in the HoME. He’s already the 11th best catcher ever based on BBREF’s rbat, moving past the likes of Ted Simmons, Carlton Fisk, and Gary Carter this year. He’s 30, relatively close, and still excellent. He can be moved out from behind the plate when necessary and still have a bat that plays. He still has a bit of work to do, but I bet he’ll get there.
Preseason Rank: 34
2017 WAR: 0.9
Current Rank: 33, passing Sherm Lollar
HoME Status: In the mind of many Cardinals fans, Yadi is already a sure thing. For the Hall, maybe, not for the HoME. In some ways I think of him like Bill Mazeroski or Omar Vizquel. Then again, he’s better than those guys. But he really isn’t a hitter. And I’m not certain his overall defense is what some make it out to be. When I say that I’m not sure, I don’t mean it as a critique. I’m just not sure. Catcher defense is so hard. If you told me Molina and Martin should be flipped, I couldn’t put up a very good argument otherwise.
Preseason Rank: 43
2017 WAR: 0.0
Current Rank: 43
HoME Status: He’s not going, though with five All-Star Games has had a very nice career. Here’s hoping his health issues allow him to bow out gracefully and lead a happy and healthy existence for the next 50+ years.
Preseason Rank: 46
2017 WAR: 1.2
Current Rank: 46
HoME Status: McCann 42 doubles in 2008, 35 the next year, 25 the year after that, and 19 in 2011. He hasn’t topped 15 since. So far this year he has 8. That’s weird. He’s a decent player who’s never getting to the HoME.
Preseason Rank: 54
2017 WAR: 0.0
Current Rank: 54
HoME Status: It’s sad to see that A.J. is done. Unless you played against him.
The infield is coming on Monday.
A great contributor to Retrosheet, David Vincent passed away on Sunday at the age of 67 after battling stomach cancer. Baseball research, particularly that on home runs, wouldn’t be the same without him, which is why he will be missed even by those who have no idea who he is. I ran into information about the passing of the guy they called “Dr. Longball”, fittingly enough, when I was researching a post on home runs and runs batted in this morning.
Thank you, David. Rest in peace.
Looking at Curtis Granderson’s numbers recently to write my mid-year outfield update, I was reminded that in 2016 he had only 59 runs batted in to go with his 30 homes runs. That is one of only six full seasons in history where a player hit as many as 15 home runs and had fewer than twice the number of runs batted in. Just think about that for a moment. This means they drove themselves in more than they drove in teammates – over the course of a full season. And if you know how a home run works, you know that they drove in 100% of the teammates who were on base when they hit those homers. Yep, that’s the kind of top-flight analysis you’ve come to expect at the HoME.
Anyway, you can learn all of that and more if you subscribe to the Play Index at Baseball Reference. You should. Let’s look at those seasons.
There are some haters who have been thinking a lot about Kevin Maas this year based on the incredible work of Aaron Judge. Yes, they’re both Yankees who broke out with monster home run binges during their age-25 season. Hmm, maybe the haters have a point. But I digress.
Maas hit three homers in 1990 against HoMErs, the first of his career against Bret Saberhagen, and solo shots against Kevin Brown and Nolan Ryan. Fifteen of his 21 homers were hit with the bases empty, five with a man on, and one with two men on. So those 21 homers were good for 28 runs batted in. That means there were 13 other runs driven in overall. The best game of his season was July 14 in Chicago. In addition to a solo homer and a two-run shot, he singled in two in the Yankee seventh against Barry Jones. The only other game all year when he drove in multiple runs not having to do with homers was August 18 against the Mariners. In that contest he had both an RBI ground out and a bases loaded walk.
Overall: 21 HR, 41 RBI
With 11.9 WAR, this is the best of all seasons with ribbies not doubling homers. In fact, it’s better than all of the others combined. It’s the fourth of Bonds’ seven MVP seasons and the first of four in a row. It was his third triple slash triple crown and the first of four straight. Oh, and he hit 73 home runs. Juiced ball, juiced body, I don’t care. It’s an amazing season. He hit 27 homers with men on base, which means he hit 46 with the bases empty. That means there are only 52 other guys in baseball history who hit more total home runs than Bonds hit with the bases empty in 2001. The only HoMErs who he took deep, however, were Kevin Appier and Curt Schilling three times.
On May 12 Bonds hit a two-run double against the Mets. On August 5 he hit another two-run double, this time against the Phillies. And on September 28 there was a two-run double against the Padres. Those were the only three times all year he drove in multiple runs without the benefit of a home run.
Overall: 73 HR, 137 RBI
Dave Duncan’s kid posted a career total of 1.0 WAR aside from his sort of impressive 2006. Of course, that year was only worth 1.8 WAR itself. The most impressive pitcher who allowed him to go deep that year was Roy Oswalt. Eight of his 22 homers occurred with a runner on. The other 14 were solo shots. That means there were 14 other runs driven in overall on the season. The only game that season in which he drove in more than one run having nothing to do with a homer was a two-run single against Chad Billingsly and the Dodgers on July 23.
Overall: 22 HR, 43 RBI
Jerry Hairston’s brother had his best year in 2008, posting 2.5 WAR. Two of his 17 homers were against HoMEr Randy Johnson and potential future HoMEr Cole Hamels. He actually had two games where he drove in more than one run without the benefit of a homer. On April 20 there was an RBI single against Randy Johnson and a sacrifice fly against Doug Slaten. On June 20 there was a two-run single against Joel Zumaya too. After June 25, he never drove in a single run without the benefit of a home run. That’s 123 straight plate appearances.
Overall: 17 HR, 31 RBI
I’m not really familiar with any of Curtis Granderson’s relatives. But I’m at least a little familiar with his 2016 season. Among his 20 homers were bombs against Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and Johnny Cueto. He hit one grand slam, five homers with a guy on first, and 24 solo shots. His most ribbie-filled game of the season without a homer occurred on September 27 against the Marlins. It included a two-run single in the eighth and an RBI double in the ninth. Three runs batted in is quite a bit for a guy who drove in only 29 all year without the benefit of a home run.
His homers were actually quite valuable, driving in 45 of the 30 long balls. That means he drove in only 14 other runs all year, three on September 29.
Overall: 30 HR, 59 RBI
The same year as Granderson, Gyorko had the same season as Granderson, right down to WAR. It was 2.6 for Granderson and 2.5 for Gyorko. Homers 12-14 on the season were against an impressive trio: Kenley Jansen, Noah Syndergaard, and Bartolo Colon.
Never once on the entire season did he drive in more than one run in a game without the benefit of a homer. Not once.
Overall: 30 HR, 59 RBI
In this year of the home run, I expect we’ll add another player or two to this list. Check out Yonder Alonso, Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo, Scott Schebler, George Springer, and Eric Thames. They’re the six guys who already have the homers and might just keep the ribbies low enough.
Some crazy tweeter, whose name will not be identified because I have happily suppressed it, recently called Aaron Judge one of the best five power hitters of all time. Or something like that. Anyway, Darryl Strawberry was #2 on that list along with Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and one other player. I’m told this savant possesses a Hall of Fame vote. Great. Just great.
In another question that initially struck me as odd, someone asked if Aaron Judge is the best player in baseball. At first, this notion seemed almost as ludicrous at the one above. Then I got to thinking about it. After all, when the comment was made, Judge did lead all of baseball in WAR. And if we trust WAR…
Yes, yes we should. It’s flawed, but it’s easily the best omnibus statistic we have. It does an excellent, if imperfect, job identifying the best players in the game. And if we trust WAR, we have to trust those who employ it most, the folks at BBREF. They say, “We present the WAR values with decimal places because this relates the WAR value back to the runs contributed (as one win is about ten runs), but you should not take any full-season difference between two players of less than one to two wins to be definitive (especially when the defensive metrics are included).”
Do we trust it? Yes. Generally. Just understand that small differences don’t necessarily mean anything.
Um, no. It’s not even close. You don’t think we should have a running ten-week WAR contest by which we determine the game’s best player, do you? Of course not. While a month isn’t ten weeks, the NL player of the month this April was Ryan Zimmerman. This is a guy who was worth 0.0 WAR over the past three seasons! He’s up to 2.5 WAR as I write this and seems to have rediscovered his health, his swing, or something else. But what do you think we should trust, only April 2017 or April 2014-September 2016 to predict how good a player will be moving forward? You guessed it.
I am quite certain of my answer to the first two questions. To this one, not so much. It does take more than half a year or a year though. Stealing an idea from the Rob Neyer/Eddie Esptein book, Baseball Dynasties, a player needs to be more than a one-year wonder to be considered the best in the game, at least in my opinion. Over the course of just one year BABIP or HR/FB or injuries could all go a player’s way. That’s much less likely over two years.
Bryce Harper was dynamic in 2015, posting 9.9 WAR. However, in the years surrounding that he totaled just 2.6 WAR. Josh Hamilton put up 8.7 WAR in 2010, yet only 4.3 total in the surrounding years. Jose Rijo, Teddy Higuera, and Mark Fidrych have also led the majors in WAR for one year. We shouldn’t have called any of them the best in the game at any point. The list goes on.
So a year isn’t long enough, at least not for me. On the other hand, if you lead your league in WAR two consecutive years, you’re probably the best player in the game at that point. Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Stuffy Stirnweiss (during WWII), Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie, Hughie Jennings, Jack Glasscock, Dan Brouthers, Cap Anson, and Ross Barnes. I think that’s the full list. At least it’s close. And I think we can generally agree that those guys could be called the best position player in baseball at different times.
Is two year exactly right? I don’t know. Maybe. But I don’t think it can be less.
A player doesn’t have to lead the league for two straight years, necessarily, to wear the crown. But let’s remove hypotheticals for a moment. Mike Trout had led the AL in WAR five years running (and all of MLB three of those five), plus he was leading MLB this year at the time of his injury. So no, Aaron Judge is not the best player in baseball. Even if we figure out in 15 months that he’s been the best for two years running – and I don’t think we will – he can’t be the best by my reckoning until at least April of 2019. At least until then, that title belongs to Mike Trout.