As I’m sure you know, I don’t have a Hall of Fame ballot. But you know what, I’m at the point, at least as I write this, that I kind of think I should. I have studied the Hall more than most voters. I have studied the candidates more than most voters. I have a logical framework from which I work. I’m open to feedback and criticism. I think I’d be a far above average voter.
To be fair though, I only think I deserve a ballot when compared with the current crop of voters. In the universe of all possible voters, I suspect I’m not in the top-500 or so in terms of knowledge, effort, and passion. I’d like to think I am, but there are tons of people out there who do great work. Odds aren’t high.
Alas, it’s silly to speculate where I rank in imaginary Hall knowledge. I don’t have a ballot, and I never will. But I do have a blog! And the Hall and BBWAA can’t stop me from sharing my thoughts, so let’s have at it!
What you’ll see below is how my thought process would unfold if I did have a vote. I’m sure you’ll agree with some of it and disagree with other parts. Whatever the case, I think it’ll all make sense from a baseball perspective. Well, at least most of it.
Before doing anything else, I’d check Larry Walker’s name. There are so many unfair ways that Walker has been thus far rejected by the BBWAA and the Hall. To start, because the Hall doesn’t want to deal with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, they decreased the number of years of ballot eligibility from fifteen to ten. While I don’t think Walker will get in this year, he absolutely would if he had five more tries at it. Some folks who don’t understand the game will lose ballots, and they’ll be replaced by those who do. At a minimum, the new folks will know more than their predecessors. Walker has also been hurt by writers who ignore 69% of his plate appearances and choose to focus on the 31% that occurred in Colorado. Finally, he’s also been hurt by writers who focus on injuries, or time he missed, rather than the time he played.
All of that aside, Walker is an easy vote because he’s somewhere between the eighth and fourteenth best right fielder who ever played. I guess maybe some folks who have done the work could drop him all of the way down to sixteenth, but no further than that. He’s tenth by my rankings and tenth by JAWS as well. There are at least ten right fielders in the Hall of Fame who were clearly inferior players.
There’s no strategic reason to leave him off. There’s no character faux-reason to leave him off. There’s nothing. Simply, if you don’t vote for Larry Walker, you’re showing that you don’t understand greatness in baseball.
I dislike the rule that drops players from the ballot who don’t reach 5% of the vote in their first year of eligibility. A system of 1%, 2%, 4%, 8%, and 16% for the first five years; then 20% for each of a candidate’s last ten years on the ballot (yes, not last five) seems preferable to me. Anyway, while Bobby Abreu is the tiniest smidgen below my in/out line right now, I’m not 100% sure I’m right. Vladimir Guerrero, Mike Tiernan, Brian Giles, and Enos Slaughter are ahead of him but outside the HoME. Sam Rice trails him, but he’s been enshrined. My rankings today see him at #30 right, but a reasonable person could see him anywhere from 23rd to 33rd, I think. It would be a real shame if writers had only one chance to review Abreu’s candidacy. He would get my vote, and I’d take pride in that decision.
Unless it’s Mike Trout or you’re older than 60, I’m quite confident Barry Bonds is the best position player you’ve ever seen in his prime. And to be honest, I don’t think your age even matters. Unless you’re older than 110, Roger Clemens is the best pitcher you’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s fairly evident that both used performance-enhancing drugs, but neither did so during the time that they were banned by the agreement between MLB and the MLBPA. Enough said.
I feel awful admitting this, but Curt Schilling has become a somewhat sympathetic figure for me. There are only two reasons one would not vote for Schilling. One is an inability to evaluate his record correctly – paying far too much attention to wins and Cy Young trophies – and not enough to actual value. The other is imposing your political sensibilities and applying the so-called “character clause” when it absolutely shouldn’t matter. Schilling was great at baseball. Whether or not you think he’s awful today (and for the record, I think he is) cannot have any bearing on his Hall case, even if you say it does.
I’m up to five. Five check marks to go.
Scott Rolen ranks between Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez at third base. That’s fourteenth in history. I think reasonable people could place him anywhere from about 11-20. He ranks tenth by JAWS, though I think it’s pretty clear Home Run Baker was better. He’s a pretty easy call for my sixth vote.
Todd Helton is my seventh. He ranks between Hank Greenberg and Frank Thomas for me, fifteenth overall by MAPES+. That’s ahead of nine HoMErs and eleven Hall of Famers. I’m quite confident Helton should place in the 12-24 range. JAWS says 15th. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure I believe my ranking for Helton, but there’s no shot he’s outside of the top two dozen, so he’s an easy call.
Andruw Jones is the twelfth best center fielder ever according to my rankings, in between Carols Beltran and Jim Edmonds. Center field is such a strange position. Cobb, Mays, Speaker, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Griffey are among the recognized greats in history, but after those six, the position is a bit of a wasteland. Sure, you have Mike Trout, and lots of people forget Billy Hamilton. I like Richie Ashburn and Paul Hines more than Jones. Very reasonable people may like Duke Snider too. But that’s just about it. Who else is there? JAWS recognizes his greatness, ranking him 11th ever in center.
That’s eight guys on my fictional ballot.
Jason Giambi had a wonderful peak of about four to six years, but there wasn’t much at all after that. You might say that Andruw Jones is little different, but that’s not true. We’re talking eight five-win seasons for Jones compared to half that for Giambi, at least by my numbers.
While I’m not satisfied with how my pitching rankings look quite yet, I’m pretty confident that I can’t support Cliff Lee. He looks a considerable amount like Frank Viola to me, and he currently ranks 113th among pitchers. He was wonderful in 2008 and 2013, better than that in 2011 when he could have easily won a second Cy Young Award and gotten more attention from voters. Sorry, Cliff Lee supporters.
Billy Wagner was great at what he did. There are two problems though. First, at least three relievers – Mariano Rivera, Goose Gossage, and Hoyt Wilhelm – were clearly better. And there are others such as Stu Miller, Tug McGraw, Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, to name just four, who might have been as well. Second – and this is the bigger problem – what Wagner did just didn’t have a ton of value. I don’t buy that because the Hall has made mistakes with guys like Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith that we need to induct anyone who happened to be better.
Omar Vizquel might be about the 800th best player in baseball history. There’s no way in hell he’s in the top 500. Voting for Vizquel is ridiculous. If you’re new to the HoME, just put Omar’s name into our search engine to see the many posts I’ve written about the man with a career 84 OPS+.
If you’re following along, and don’t think I need to discuss the likes of Paul Konerko and Eric Chavez, I have six players I’m still considering for my final two spots. Alphabetically, they are Derek Jeter, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa.
Since it’s easier for me to choose guys not to support from this list, that’ll be my direction next.
Andy Pettitte might be the pitching version of Bobby Abreu on this ballot. There are two small differences for me. Unlike Abreu, Pettitte’s just above my in/out line. But more importantly, I don’t think he’s at any risk of falling off the ballot. Jeter and Manny were better players, and Kent, Sheffield, and Sosa have fewer years for writers to consider their cases, so Pettitte is gone. This isn’t a particularly hard call.
Manny Ramirez is fifteenth by MAPES+ among left fielders, just a smidge behind Billy Williams. A reasonable person could rank him as high as tenth. And I like to consider myself a reasonable person. But I have too many guys who I think deserve a vote. I have to dump someone, and Manny did fail two PED tests after PEDs were banned by agreement between MBL and the MLBPA. Manny is in the HoME. He absolutely belongs there. I like him for the Hall of Fame too. But when given the choice between Manny and other deserving candidates, I don’t mind supporting others, even if they were lesser players, given Manny’s failed PED tests. If there were only ten worthy players on the ballot, Manny would get my vote.
Four guys left for two spots.
This is the first time on my fake ballot that I’m not 100% sure I’d do what I’m about to claim. I won’t include Derek Jeter on this ballot. Jeter was great, obviously. But he’s also insanely overrated. I place him 21st among shortstops, between Joe Sewell and Miguel Tejada. He is one of the worst defensive players in baseball history in terms of value. He has actual character problems for me too. Rather than doing what would have been best for the Yankees in 2004, he did what was best for his ego. A great teammate would have moved to third base when a superior defensive shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, arrived. Jeter didn’t.
However, those are my excuses, not my honest reasoning. I’m not so proud of my honest reasoning, but when I put Bobby Abreu on and leave Manny Ramirez off, I’m already not taking the exact ten best players.I can say both that Derek Jeter belongs in the Hall of Fame and that he wouldn’t make my ballot.
Derek Jeter has been one of my most hated players of all time since about 1997 or 1998, whenever his deification began. Maybe that was 2000 or 2001, to be honest. Whatever. It only seems like he’s been put on a pedestal forever. Anyway, the reason I’m beginning to feel sympathy for Curt Schilling is because he’s being treated unfairly by the voters. The reason I didn’t like Jeter is because he was treated unfairly by fans and writers alike. Yes, he was great. But he was no Robin Yount or Barry Larkin or Alan Trammell. The guy’s treated like he was the best shortstop in baseball history. Maybe the unthinking would put him behind Honus Wagner and/or Cal Ripken, but that’s about it. Luke Appling or Jeter? Jeter would get about 95% of the vote in a poll. He’d get near the same against Lou Boudreau or Joe Cronin or Bobby Wallace. And don’t even get me started on Bill Dahlen and Jack Glasscock, guys who aren’t even in the Hall. Jeter was unfairly adored, and that doesn’t sit well with me.
There’s another reason too. Mariano Rivera was the single best player in baseball history at the thing he did. There’s essentially no dispute about that. I love the fact that Rivera was the first person to be elected unanimously. To me, Derek Jeter was no Mariano Rivera. Yes, I’m being hypocritical here. There’s no such thing as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. That “honor” is made up. It’s silly. Similarly, we shouldn’t be concerned about who’s unanimous and who isn’t. Still, I’d love for Adrian Beltre to be the second. Or Albert Pujols. Or Mike Trout. Just not the insanely overrated Derek Jeter.
The reason I didn’t save Jeter until the end is because he was an easier call for me than Kent, Sheffield, and Sosa are. I won’t belabor this though. While I have serious reservations about all three, all three are over my line, and all three are in the HoME. Kent is ahead of three HoME-level second basemen by my rankings. Sheffield is ahead of six right fielders, and Sosa is two players ahead of him. Still someone who had them all on the wrong side of the in/out line could possibly put together an argument that I’d find reasonable.
Really, I could justify any combination of these three. Still, I have to choose. And I’ll give my ninth check to Sosa. Since I rank him above Sheffield, it would be really hard to take Sheffield and Kent.
For my final pick, I’ll take the other right fielder. Sheffield’s defense was so awful that it knocks his ranking down a great deal. His bat was likely the best of the three though, and when things are close among position players, I’ll always take the bat.
What’s your 2020 ballot? Would you vote strategically, or would you just select the ten best players. Please share in the comments below.
As we always do before the Hall of Fame vote is announced, we present our Hall of Fame roundup. We’ll Statler and Waldorf each player on the BBWAA ballot, provide some thoughts on his candidacy, and give you our predictions for his chances. It’s our annual chance to look like geniuses or like hucksters, charlatans, and mountebanks. We’ll let you decide after the results come in. Today, we’ll review the infielders. We’ll handle outfielders in a week and pitchers the week after that.
Oh, and you may notice that we’ve included a few names who didn’t make the ballot. That’s because we began this process using the list at BBREF rather than waiting until the official ballot came out. Rather than dumping them, we’re keeping them here for your possible entertainment.
Career BBREF WAR: 18.3
Year on ballot: didn’t make it
CHEWS+ and MAPES+ Ranks: not ranked
A fine guy to have in your lineup for a few years from about 2006–2010. To my surprise, he never appeared in more than 140 games in a season. -Miller
Career BBREF WAR: 37.5
Year on ballot: 1st
CHEWS+ Rank: 52
Ahead of Ryan Zimmerman, Travis Fryman, and Denny Lyons
Trailing Ken Keltner, Doug DeCinces, and Troy Glaus
MAPES+ Rank: 52
Ahead of Manny Machado, Kyle Seager, and Denny Lyons
Trailing Troy Glaus, Ken Keltner, and Doug DeCinces
I thought in real time that Chavez had the makings of a Hall case. He actually didn’t. His best years weren’t that great. Then the wheels fell off, dooming him. He ended up in the vicinity of Doug DeCinces, Troy Glaus, and Travis Fryman, good third basemen who might toss out two or three All-Star seasons and could contribute effectively to a winner, but who were rarely if ever great and probably not the best player on their teams. -Eric
Chavez reminds me somewhat of Matt Weiters, a guy who we thought would be something that he never was, yet a guy who was able to maintain a roster spot for a long time. Looking at his BBREF page took me far down a rabbit hole, so I’m going to share an odd near-factoid with you. Chavez had an OPS+ of 120 or more each of his last three seasons in the majors. I wondered how common that is. So I went to BBREF’s Play Index. Since I don’t know exactly how to answer the question through the PI, it took me some time to get the answer I needed. Anyway, not counting seasons in the Union League, the Player’s League and other Major League-Lite baseball, there have been only 28 other guys ever to end with three straight seasons of 600+ total plate appearances with an OPS+ of 120 or more. Eleven are in either the Hall or HoME. The others form an interesting group. Here they are: David Ortiz, Roy Cullenbine, Jeff Heath, Tommy Henrich, Will Clark, Lefty O’Doul, Brian Downing, Phil Weintraub, Bill Joyce, Henry Larkin, John Titus, Benny Kauff, Mike Grady, Bill Lange, Alex McKinnon, Doc Gessler, and Cal McVey. Just thought I’d share. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: No votes.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: Lucky to reach three quarters of a percent.
Career BBREF WAR: 17.4
Year on ballot: 1st
CHEWS+ Rank: 100
Ahead of Greg Luzinski, Mike Greenwell, and John Briggs
Trailing Starling Marte, Joe Vosmik, and Cleon Jones
MAPES+ Rank: 103
Ahead of Rusty Greer, Willie Horton,and Michael Brantley
Trailing Greg Luzinski, John Briggs, and Tommy Davis
There was a time when Adam Dunn would have received a long look. Four hundred and sixty-two homers used to be a lot. Of course, Dunn played in the wrong era for that sort of performance. Homers are cheap since about 1993. Dunn ends up like fellow 400-homer-club member Dave Kingman as one of the biggest homer threats to have no shot at the Hall. It’s a nice match: Big power, terrible averages (within one point of one another!), terrible gloves, and nearly identical WAR totals. I don’t know much about Dunn as a teammate, but Kingman rarely made friends and played on four different teams in 1977 alone. On the other hand, I don’t think Kingman, who was drafted as a third baseman/pitcher had quite so loose a sense of the words conditioning and athleticism as Dunn. -Eric
Miller’s 2020 prediction: No votes.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: No votes.
Career BBREF WAR: 22.2
Year on ballot: 1st
CHEWS+ Rank: 118
Ahead of Todd Zeile, Mike Mowrey, and Vinny Castilla
Trailing Casey Blake, Milt Stock, and Sammy Strang
MAPES+ Rank: 121
Ahead of Casey Blake, Todd Zeile, and Pete Ward
Trailing Vinny Castilla, Mike Mowrey, and Milt Stock
Tony Phillips lite. Very lite. More along the lines of Jose Offerman, including the signing of a big contract that hamstrung his teams thanks to his inability to meet even modest expectations. -Eric
And like the Offerman signing, it was silly at the time and in retrospect. One great, aberrant year in 2009 got Figgins signed from the ages of 32–35. He was below replacement. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: No votes.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: (Ch)One and done.
Career BBREF WAR: 39.4
Year on ballot: 1st
CHEWS+ Rank: 45
Ahead of Jay Bell, Johnny Pesky, and Johnny Logan
Trailing Maury Wills, George Wright, and Freddy Parent
MAPES+ Rank: 48
Ahead of Jay Bell, Tony Fernandez, and Ed McKean
Trailing Johnny Pesky, Johnny Logan, and Julio Franco
A multifaceted player who produced a surprising amount of value for his teams but who sometimes had injury issues and faded early. His career looks a little like Hall of Famer Travis Jackson’s, which is bad news for Furcal. -Eric
What? You mean looking like another Hall of Famer doesn’t help get you in? I can’t imagine why not… Seriously though, Furcal is close to Luis Aparicio and Phil Rizzuto too. He was a very good player, and in another era and with a different skill set that produced the same value, he’d have had a shot at enshrinement. Interesting only to me, in 2010, at the age of 32, Furcal was the best position player on the Dodgers by a good margin despite only playing 97 games. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: I wanted to find an angle whereby I could suggest someone would toss him a vote. I couldn’t.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: He’ll get what Jackson deserved.
Career BBREF WAR: 50.5
CHEWS+ Rank: 32
Ahead of Fred Tenney, Norm Cash, and Dolph Camilli
Trailing Paul Goldschmidt, Harry Stovey, and Gil Hodges
MAPES+ Rank: 34
Ahead of Fred Tenney, Gil Hodges, and Norm Cash
Trailing Frank Chance, Lance Berkman, and Harry Stovey
John Sterling’s “Giambino” finished up his career about one All-Star-type year short of the promised land. Had his injury-shortened and awful 2004 season instead been like those surrounding it, he’d have a puncher’s chance as a peak-oriented candidate. Had it been a six-win season, he’s just over the line but on the inside. That’s how good a player Giambi was. Or to think of it from the other end of his career, the big guy played a half-season at 24 as a rookie. He’d showed plenty at AAA to warrant an early debut. Had the A’s obliged, he might have enough now to sneak into the Hall. -Eric
Not the Hall, Eric, but the HoME. Giambi is Lance Berkman on steroids, literally but not figuratively. Berkman, a perfectly reasonable candidate, received support from just five voters. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: He’ll end up between one vote and Berkman’s total.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: The question is whether he will get any votes or not. He’s one of the last known steroids guys to hit the ballot, and his half-admission puts him among them, as does Jose Canseco’s memoir. He won’t hit 5%, but will he get even a courtesy vote? Maybe one or three.
Career BBREF WAR: 9.2
Year on ballot: didn’t make it
CHEWS+ and MAPES+ Ranks: not ranked
Synopsis: I think I know which of the Alexes Gonzalez we’re talking about. Or maybe I don’t. I don’t think it matters if I do, however, because neither of them has any business getting Hall of Fame votes. -Eric
Gonzalez pulled off a neat trick by having a job in the majors for 16 years with an awful Rbat of -180, a negative on the bases, a negative grounding into double plays, and a negative with the glove per DRA. How neat a trick, you ask? Well, there have been only 12 players with a bat as bad as Gonzalez’ in the double play value era (starting in 1948) who were negative on the bases and negative grounding into double plays. I’d say we shouldn’t count Phil Niekro, and I’m sure you’d agree. Each of the others had a positive DRA, most waaaaay positive. If I raise the Rbat by 20 points, the only two guys added to the list are Ken Reitz and Matt Walbeck. Walbeck was a catcher with only 2280 plate appearances. Reitz was third baseman who came to the plate 5079 times. Gonzalez, as you know, was a shortstop who was given 6248 times to shine at the plate. In other words, to be as bad on offense, defense, running the bases, and at avoiding the double play as Gonzalaz is unprecedented for someone given his playing time in the last 70 years. -Miller
Career BBREF WAR: 61.2
Year on ballot: 2nd
2019 percentage of the vote: 16.5%
CHEWS+ Rank: 14
Ahead of Jim Thome, Bill Terry, and George Sisler
Trailing Joey Votto, Frank Thomas, and Keith Hernandez
MAPES+ Rank: 15
Ahead of Frank Thomas, Joey Votto, and Keith Hernandez
Trailing Hank Greenberg, George Sisler, and Pete Rose
Helton’s debut vote percentage is something to build off of. He won’t have to worry about any first basemen on the ballot for some time. Giambi won’t steal votes from him this year, nor will Paul Konerko. In 2022, David Ortiz is the next significant “first baseman” who will reach the ballot, and I suspect he’ll be handily elected. Then there’s no one until Pujols or Cabrera or Votto in the late 2020s. That’s plenty of time for Helton to make progress. Also, Larry Walker’s eventual election will help Helton subtly by removing a little of the Coors taint that seems to be a point of hesitation. He only needs to pick up an average of 7 percentage points per annum for the next nine years to make it. Not impossible given his advantageous set of circumstances. -Eric
This isn’t a synopsis of Helton so much as a reply to Eric. I argue that predicting what the VC will do, which is where I think you believe Walker to be elected, is a fool’s errand. They might elect someone like him, or the might elect someone like Harold Baines or Lee Smith. Impossible you say? Well pal, I’ll direct you to the long-ago election of 2019 for evidence. I’m not saying you’re wrong. Far from it. I’m only saying I’m not at all convinced you’re right. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: I think Helton will slide back a bit this election. Perhaps I’m saying that just to have something interesting to say. I don’t know. But I do think writers will focus on Walker, and I think some of them might kind of ignore Helton and get to him later. Yeah, I just want something interesting to say.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: 20–25%
Career BBREF WAR: 72.4
Year on ballot: 1st
CHEWS+ Rank: 21
Ahead of Joe Sewell, Monte Ward, and Dave Bancroft
Trailing Art Fletcher, Ozzie Smith, and Hughie Jennings
MAPES+ Rank: 21
Ahead of Miguel Tejada, Dave Bancroft, and Monte Ward
Trailing Joe Sewell, Ozzie Smith, and Pee Wee Reese
If Mariano Rivera went unanimously into the Hall, surely Derek Jeter will follow. The great Derek Jeter. Saint Derek of the Jetes. Gold Glove winner Derek Jeter. The Captain, Derek Jeter. I don’t suppose anyone will take into consideration the wholesale flimflam scam he fronted and perpetrated on the people of Miami and fans of their Fishy franchise. That would get in the way of a good story. -Eric
I always like big Hall elections since that means a big and hopefully interesting HoME election. This year I’m secretly hoping the Era guys elect nobody and the BBWAA elects only Jeter. Because if they do, we might throw down. I’m not going to tip my hand now (or more honestly, I haven’t made up my mind because I don’t have to yet), but I don’t think Derek Jeter is a shoe-in #1 selection on our 2020 ballot. It would be one of the greatest joys of my baseball blogging life to come up with the right argument to make Jeter wait. Oh, he belongs in the Hall of Fame, and if I had a vote, he’d 100% get it from me. As a Hall voter, I’d be a lot more interested in his 2000 World Series MVP, his 200 playoff hits, his 20 playoff homers, and his 2 playoff series in which he hit .500 (hope you see what I did there). And if truth be told, I think I’d use those numbers to push him above others in the HoME. But I’m not sure, and I don’t want to think about it yet. Let me just daydream for a while. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: In all seriousness, I don’t think Jeter will be unanimous. I’d say one, two, or three voters choose to leave him off. Mariano was special and completely uncontroversial. Jeter has allegedly been a big jerk in his personal life, is one of the worst defensive players in the history of the game, and has been really bad for a Marlins franchise that needed just the opposite. I’ll go so far as to offer you a writer who will leave his name off the ballot—Jose de Jesus Ortiz. His ballots are generally insane, and he holds some very strong opinions.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: Unanimous
Career BBREF WAR: 55.4
Year on ballot: 7th
2019 percentage of the vote: 18.1%
CHEWS+ Rank: 21
Ahead of Tony Phillips, Bobby Doerr, Ross Barnes
Trailing Cupid Childs, Billy Herman, and Willie Randolf
Ahead of Willie Randolph, Hardy Richardson, and Tony Phillips
Trailing Fred Dunlap, Billy Herman, and Bid McPhee
I don’t see Kent going on a Trammell-like rampage where he goes from the teens to nearly half the vote over the last couple years of his candidacy. I would advocate for his bronzing, and he’d be an improvement over Hall second basemen Tony Lazzeri, Johnny Evers, Red Schoendienst, Nellie Fox, and Bill Mazeroski. Maybe Bobby Doerr too. On the other hand Kent isn’t a slam-dunk kind of guy either, and he’s close enough to a reasonable person’s in/out line that his exclusion wouldn’t rank as a Rainesian or Blylevenesque crime against humanity. Among second baseman, we’ve got to take up the case of Bobby Grich long before we deal with Kent (or in a few years Chase Utley). Kent has been an afterthought for most voters, and until he breaks 30%, I don’t see him as having a serious pathway to induction by the BBWAA. -Eric
I don’t disagree, but serious question: Did you see Trammell going on a Trammell-like rampage? -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: South of 20%
Eric’s 2020 prediction: 20–25%
Career BBREF WAR: 27.7
Year on ballot: 1st
CHEWS+ Rank: 99
Ahead of Mo Vaughn, Brandon Belt, and Charlie Hickman
Trailing Prince Fielder, Ron Fairly, and Bill Skowron
MAPES+ Rank: 108
Ahead of Mike Napoli, Mo Vaughn, and George McQuinn
Trailing John Reilly, Jose Abreu, and Bill Skowron
Pauly was a first baseman the likes of whom we’ve seen many times before. Think Ron Fairly or Tino Martinez. In fact, the only first baseman with more than 9,000 plate appearances that I personally rank lower than Paul Konerko is Joe Kuhel. -Eric
About 15 to 18 years ago, I dated a woman who went to kindergarten with Konerko. One day he threw up on her. So for a few years, I made sure acquired Konerko in my fantasy auction. True story. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: No votes.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: Sympathy votes from the Chicago press contingent.
Career BBREF WAR: 16.8
Year on ballot: didn’t make it
CHEWS+ and MAPES+ Ranks: not ranked
Eric wrote these synopses before I started with my work. But he left out Overbay. Perhaps you don’t think that’s a big deal, but maybe it is. See, there was a time, in the mid-2000s, when it was said Eric had a bit of a man-crush on Overbay. My theory is that crush was real, is still real now, and Eric hoped I’d overlook his omission of Overbay and not share his not-really-dirty secret with all of you. -Miller
Career BBREF WAR: 25.1
Year on ballot: 1st
CHEWS+ Rank: 127
Ahead of Dn Mincher, Alvin Davis, and Dan Driessen
Trailing Earl Sheely, Chris Chambliss, and Gus Suhr
MAPES+ Rank: 133
Ahead of Jeff Conine, Chris Chambliss, and Dave Kingman
Trailing Ed Sheeley, Gus Suhr, and Joe Cunningham
I rank him somewhere around 130th among all first basemen, which is plenty of explication. –Eric
Miller’s 2020 prediction: No votes.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: No votes for Carlos.
Career BBREF WAR: 30.4
Year on ballot: 1st
CHEWS+ Rank: 69
Ahead of Davey Johnson, Ron Hunt, and Bret Boone
Trailing Claude Ritchey, Phil Garner, and Laughing Larry Doyle
MAPES+ Rank: 66
Ahead of Davey Johnson, Frank White, and Bret Boone
Trailing Brandon Phillips, Phil Garner, and Tom Daly
A really good second basemen with a sadly short career. -Eric
My wife, a baseball fan only by marriage, has owned three player t-shirts in our time together. There’s the Dustin Pedroia shirt Eric and his wife gave her when we got married (great gift!!!), a Brian Roberts shirt she got because we traveled to Baltimore for games a good deal for a number of years, and a Franklin Gutierrez Indians shirt, which she bought because we were soaked by rain one day in Cleveland and it was on sale for $4. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: Somebody’s going to vote for him.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: More golfing next August for Roberts.
Career BBREF WAR: 70.2
Year on ballot: 3rd
2019 percentage of the vote: 17.2%
CHEWS+ Rank: 8
Ahead of Adrian Beltre, Dick Allen, and Brooks Robinson
Trailing Ron Santo, Chipper Jones, and Home Run Baker
MAPES+ Rank: 14
Ahead of Edgar Martinez, Darrell Evans, and Graig Nettles
Trailing Paul Molitor, Jimmy Collins, and Buddy Bell
Things may not look great for our hero, but he’s earned about as much support as Jeff Kent, but in four fewer years. If Rolen were to gain 7 additional percentage points every year, like he did in 2019, we’d soon be talking about him as a very serious candidate. He’d enter year ten at 66 percent of the vote and be an overwhelming favorite for either election by the BBWAA or by the VC a year or two later. Does that mean he’s going to do it? While it would be really easy to dismiss the notion, there are a couple reasons to believe he could do it. Like all the candidates in the backlog, Rolen will benefit from the next several years of weak debutants to the ballot. The next player remotely like him is Alex Rodriguez, who is half a third baseman, and who hits the ballot in 2022. That could be a significant challenge for Rolen since A-Rod seems destined to clog up a ballot slot like Bonds and Clemens do now. The next third basemen he’ll face will be David Wright and Adrian Beltre in 2024. Wright won’t get much support thanks to his shortened career, but Beltre, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the making, will set Rolen back for one year. After that, however, there’s no one coming down the pike for really long time. Rolen will have a wide-open path to grow. I don’t love his odds because he’s kind of like Ron Santo and a subtle-skills player, but having a path forward is really important. -Eric
I don’t see the path Eric does. And I both hate and love the Santo comparison. More apt, I fear, may be Ken Boyer or Buddy Bell. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: South of 20%
Eric’s 2020 prediction: 20–25 percent.
Career BBREF WAR: 22.1
Year on ballot: didn’t make it
CHEWS+ Rank: 116
Ahead of Tommy Corcoran, Chico Carrasquel, Orlando Cabrera
Trailing Mickey Doolin, Gene Alley, and Erick Aybar
MAPES+ Rank: 116
Ahead of Chico Carrasquel, Mickey Doolin, and Orlando Cabrera
Trailing Erick Aybar, Rey Sanchez, and Buck Weaver
He has a cool name. What more is there to say? -Eric
He was better then we thought when he was playing, and he was better than we remember now. I’d say he was the best eligible infielder to fail to make the ballot. -Miller
Career BBREF WAR: 45.6
Year on ballot: 3rd
2019 percentage of the vote: 42.8%
CHEWS+ Rank: 72
Ahead of Eddie Joost, Jhonny Peralta, and Marty Marion
Trailing Carlo Guillen, Chris Speier, and Billy Rogell
MAPES+ Rank: 74
Ahead of Scott Fletcher, Bill Russell, and Jhonny Peralta
Trailing Glenn Wright, Marty Marion, and Frank Fennelly
Miller’s written a lot about Omar Vizquel, so I’ll take up the reins for a second. Look, Omar’s just a narrative looking for votes. That’s all. We all know it. Now the interesting question is this: Does the presence of Derek Jeter on the 2020 ballot momentarily stunt Vizquel’s progress? Often it’s the case that when a superior player at the same position gains eligibility, a lesser candidate, someone like Omar, stalls. Then he resumes his trajectory the year after. I think that’s somewhat likely to occur this year. With Jeter above him, some herding around Schilling, and the final-year narrative around Larry Walker, there’s reason to believe that pushing Vizquel forward may not be a top priority for many voters. Omar gained only 5% year-over-year in his first two tries, so there’s no meteoric rise anyway. It’s just a matter of whether he holds his ground or not. I hope not with no offense meant to him or his fans. -Eric
If you haven’t seen my Vizquel objections, you must be new around here. Just put his name into our search engine and enjoy! Last year, I said that Harold Baines was the worst Hall of Fame choice ever. No, he’s not the worst player in the Hall but given what we know today compared to what we knew when some of the Hall’s lesser lights were elected, he might be the worst selection. And in that way, three years from now, Omar Vizquel will become the worst player ever elected by the BBWAA, taking that ignominious distinction from Bruce Sutter, I think. -Miller
Miller’s 2020 prediction: About 48%.
Eric’s 2020 prediction: 40–45%
We hope to see you next week for the outfielders!
Miller and Eric
I suppose you’ve heard by now that Harold Baines is going to the Hall of Fame. Well, his election got me thinking about all things Baines. Back in my day (humor intended), it was a bad thing to be a career DH. Voters even held such things against you. Well I have good news for you, Jason Giambi. Those days are over!
Today we’re going to rank the best 40 designated hitters in history. Now, anytime I undertake a project such as this, one of the first things I do is head to the Play Index over at Baseball Reference (you should subscribe) and start filtering. I decided to look at all players with 5,000 plate appearances and at least 25% of their games at DH. There are exactly 50 players who fit those parameters. Perhaps you prefer a different number of plate appearances or percentage of games at DH. If so, okay.
As an aside, there are just eight players ever with more than 5,000 trips to the plate and at least half of their games at DH. Alphabetically, they’re Harold Baines, Don Baylor, Billy Butler, Edgar Martinez, Hal McRae, Kendrys Morales, David Ortiz, and Frank Thomas.
Anyway, we have out 50, so let’s get crackin’.
The first thing I did was narrow by getting rid of the ten guys on the list who I haven’t ranked yet. So goodbye to Alvin Davis, Cecil Fielder, Ruben Sierra, Larry Parrish, Jorge Orta, Matt Stairs, Morales, Dimitri Young, Adam Lind, and Butler. If we went by straight WAR, I’d have the 38 “best” along with #41 (Dave Kingman), and a guy tied with Davis for #38 (George Bell). I suppose I could just chart Davis and feel a little more complete. Then again, it’s not like he has a shot at the top-25 list.
Once I got my list together, I referred to my MAPES+ post and did almost everything the same way I did for every other position player. Just two differences. First, I put anyone with the requisite plate appearances and percentage of games at DH at the position. Second, since we have 5.11 careers at DH in the HoME, I looked at the medians of the best 10 at the position for each of peak, prime, consecutive, and career.
So here are the results.
#25 Rico Carty (64th in LF): The Beeg Boy won a batting title and an OBP title in a nice 1970 season. His only All-Star campaign, I translate that season to almost 5.3 WAR, better than Harold Baines ever did.
#24 Edwin Encarnacion (80th at 3B): E5 is still at it and still a good enough hitter, so this ranking may rise in the next year or two. He has 30+ homers in each of the past seven seasons, something Baines never did once. I wouldn’t put money on number eight, but you never know.
#23 Greg Vaughn (60th in LF): In 1998 and 1999 he hit 50 and 45 home runs for the Padres and Reds, respectively. In each of those seasons he finished 4th in the MVP voting. He was very impressive in 1998, but he was just good, not great, for the Reds. His second best season was 1993 for the Brewers, when he played good defense. Two seasons of at least 5.3 WAR. Not bad. And not something Baines did even once.
#22 Harold Baines (79th in RF): He’s the reason for this post. He’s also the reason my original plan to name the best 20 turned into the best 25 and then 40. American novelist William Gaddis once said that stupidity is the deliberate cultivation of ignorance. If you refuse to learn anything beyond what you knew when you were twelve years old about evaluating baseball players, I think Gaddis would have called you stupid. And I’d agree with him. Baines had a better top season than only five designated hitters of the 40 on this list. Only eight have fewer 3-win seasons than his four. Maybe you’ve heard this already, but Baines is the single worst Hall of Fame choice ever.
#21 Mickey Tettleton (48th at C): Five times Tettleton walked 100+ times in a season, and he posted a career .369 OBP despite a BA of just .241. Baines had a career OBP of just .356. With the help of a tiny bit of rounding, Tettleton had three All-Star-level seasons in his career. That’s three more than Baines.
#20 Chili Davis (75th in CF): Chili’s position is center field? That’s hilarious. The truth is that he wasn’t miserable there as a young man, and he transitioned fairly quickly to DH. Each of his best five seasons were better than the seasons Baines put up.
#19 Victor Martinez (44th at C): Now retired, V-Mart won OBP and OPS titles when he was 35. He also led the game with 28 intentional walks and finished second in the MVP voting to Mike Trout. Martinez retires with seven seasons I convert to over 3.2 WAR. Baines had one such season.
#18 Juan Gonzalez (#69 in RF): Gonzalez is a lot like Harold Baines in that his stats were so wildly misunderstood that he won awards he never should have, specifically the AL MVP trophies in 1996 and 1998. Sure, he averaged 46 HR and 150 RBI in those campaigns, but there were better players in both seasons. By WAR, Alex Rodriguez would have been a fine choice in both of those years. Ken Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, Robin Ventura, Albert Belle, Bernie Williams, Mo Vaughn, Paul O’Neill, and even Scott Brosius out-performed Gonzalez in both of those years. I remember 1996 and 1998 quite well. Many were up in arms about how the BBWAA did such an awful job. Sadly, those on the Era Committee haven’t progressed beyond where the BBWAA was more than two decades ago. When does Juan Gonzalez hit their ballot?
#17 David Justice (67th in RF): With rounding, he had six seasons of 4.0 WAR. Baines had just one. Justice was better in each of his top seven seasons than Baines. Plus, he hit 14 post-season home runs and drove in 63 runs in the playoffs. Baines had just 5 and 16.
#16 Kirk Gibson (63rd in RF): Gibson never hit 30 homers and never drove in 100 runs. He won the 1988 NL MVP with just 6.5 WAR, yet it’s an award he may have deserved. Gibson owns one of the most iconic home runs in baseball history. Can you name one Harold Baines homer?
#15 Nelson Cruz (62nd in RF): He’s in the midst of a ten-year run with 20+ homers in each campaign, including a 2014 HR title and a 2017 RBI title. Baines never had either of those. Cruz’ seventh best year in homers equals Baines’ best. At this point on the list, I can say with some confidence that we’re a level above Baines in terms of value to a team. Actually, I’m pretty confident in Justice and Gibson too.
#14 Ken Singleton (47th in RF): Singleton finished second in the MVP voting in 1979 and third in 1977. While voting wasn’t done very well back then, Singleton was better in both of those campaigns than Baines ever was. I think it’s interesting that he led the game in intentional walks in his penultimate season. He was still a real threat then, as his 131 OPS+ shows. But man, he lost it quickly. Singleton had four seasons better than Baines’ best, and he was better than the Hall of Famer in each of their best eight seasons.
#13 Brian Downing (38th in LF): There he is, the man who wrestles with Tim Wakefield and Mookie Betts for the title of my all-time favorite. Had he been born 40 years later, we’d see what a star he was. Downing had nice power and got on base at an incredible rate. Bear with me on a concocted statistic for a moment. Baines was so well thought of when he played that the White Sox retired his number while he was still active. Downing was never thought of similarly, not even close. However, both had exactly three top-20 finishes in the MVP voting. Downing only played 110 games with the White Sox once, yet his best season with the Pale Hose was better than Baines’ second best. And overall, Downing was better than Baines in each of their top ELEVEN SEASONS (yes, I’m yelling). Baines had a career WAA of 1.8; Downing’s was 21.1. If only one could be in the Hall of Fame, it’s not Baines.
#12 Jose Canseco (46th in RF): Maybe you’ve heard that Canseco used PEDs. Yet, he didn’t hit a single home run after his age-36 season. Baines is one of only 37 players to top 80 long balls in his age-37 season and later. As opposed to the 37 who topped his HR count after 36, there are 119 players who topped his HR count through that age. Baines and Canseco became teammates in 1990. Interesting. No, I’m not trying to imply that Baines used PEDs. I’m just saying that we don’t know what we don’t know. What we do know is that Canseco and Baines were teammates, lots of Canseco’s teammates used, and Baines was a more prolific home run hitter after playing with Canseco than he was in the years before. There’s smoke. I’m not saying he used PEDs. After all, people inject those, they don’t smoke ‘em.
#11 Jim Rice (35th in LF): Rice may be the modern player whose rating gives me the most pause. The Baseball Gauge has moved Rice’s DRA numbers back and forth in the last few years. That means I sometimes apply an adjustment for Fenway Park’s left field that Michael Humhreys, DRA’s creator, suggests – and sometimes I don’t. When The Baseball Gauge readjusted DRA numbers last off-season, I didn’t update mine. That’s because Rice rises and falls with DRA adjustments, except he shouldn’t as long as the Fenway factor in left field correctly adjusts the slugger’s defensive numbers. All of this is to say that I don’t know. What I do know is that Rice doesn’t belong in the Hall. Yet, he had five years better than any single one Baines ever had.
#10 Tim Salmon (41st in RF): With my adjustments, Salmon has seven 4-win seasons compared to one for Baines. He’s tragically underrated and underappreciated. Of those position players with greater WAR for the decade from 1993-2002, they’re either all in the HoME, not yet eligible, or named John Olerud, Robin Ventura, or Luis Gonzalez. Each of his best ten seasons are better than those of Baines.
#9 Tony Oliva (38th in RF): Oliva had eight 4-win seasons and then nothing. Injuries destroyed his career, a career with five hit titles, four doubles titles, and three batting titles. He was an elite hitter, a good fielder, and a helpful baserunner. Baines was none of those things. He had eight years that were worth almost 1 WAR more than Baines put up in any but his absolute peak.
#8 David Ortiz (38th at 1B): The following things are true: 1) David Ortiz was miles better than Harold Baines; 2) I am a Red Sox fan; 3) I do not believe David Ortiz is worthy of the Hall of Fame. What does that say about how far off Baines is? Each of Ortiz’ twelve best seasons are better than those of Baines. Oh, and he was kind of good in the playoffs too. Compare his 17 HR, 61 RBI, and two series MVP trophies to 5 HR, 16 RBI and a record of 2-6 in playoff series for Baines.
#7 Jason Giambi (31st at 1B): Don’t look too closely, Sox fans. Yes, I do prefer Giambi to Ortiz by a little bit. Giambi won three OBP titles and the 2000 MVP Award that should have gone to Alex Rodriguez (if you didn’t want to give it to Pedro Martinez). He is the only player on this DH list with two MVP-level seasons, and his third-best season is better than anyone else’s #3 campaign. I’d say it’ll be interesting to see his level of support a year from now, but I expect it to be close to zero. Of course, he deserves more votes than Baines did.
#6 Vlad Guerrero (24th in RF): Is this the year Vlad gets into the HoME? Vlad has eight seasons better than Baines’ best.
#5 Edgar Martinez (13th at 3B): It’s stunning that Baines was voted into the Hall before Edgar. Edgar has nine seasons better than any one season Baines ever put up.
#4 Paul Molitor (10th at 3B): Molitor played 21 seasons. He’s better than Baines in his best, his second best, and every other one through his twenty-first.
#3 Jim Thome (19th at 1B): Thome played 22 seasons. He’s better than Baines in his best, his second best, and every other one through his twenty-second.
#2 Frank Thomas (15th at 1B): He has eight seasons a full win better than Baines’ best. He has nine seasons two wins better than Baines’ second best.
#1 Reggie Jackson (8th in RF): I forget how great Jackson was. Maybe it was the strikeouts, maybe his big mouth. He’s one of the all-time greats. Same as Harold Baines. At least that’s what the Hall of Fame tells me.
Hal McRae, Mike Sweeney, Andre Thronton, Aubrey Huff, and Lee May failed to make the top-25 designated hitters of all-time. Still, if we rank every one of their first four seasons, each would beat Baines every time.
Here’s the MAPES+ DH list.
Perhaps I’ll stop talking about Baines soon.
Today we continue through our journey around the diamond listing the best ever to play the game at each position. Well, actually, we’re still at first base. A week ago, we revealed our top-20 at the position, today it’s 21-40, and in a week we’ll name the top-20 second basemen ever. All rankings are based on Eric’s CHEWS+ and my MAPES+ lists. And we won’t stop until we give you the top-40 at every position and the top-120 pitchers.
Joey Votto: Eric doesn’t address Votto because he did so last week as the 20th ranked guy on his list. For a player with six OBP titles and almost 55 WAR, Votto is criminally underrated. Unfortunately for him, he’s only hit 30 homers twice and only drive in 100 three times. On the other hand, just looking at straight WAR, he’s never had an 8-win season. But I digress. This question is about where he’ll end up. My adjusted numbers gave him 7.47 WAR a year ago. But he will be 34 this year. Imagine a graceful decline of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 WAR. He’d pass seven guys and move into 17th place on my list. But maybe the decline will be even less pronounced, seeing him fall to 6 WAR this year and then age gracefully. He’s now fighting George Sisler for 10th in history. I’m not saying it’ll happen, but it certainly could. —Miller
It’s an easy enough call to say that it’s David Ortiz. After all, conventional wisdom says he’s going to waltz into the Hall. But I think nearly 100% of the writers for vote for Papi will do so noting his specialness or clutchiness or Papiness or all three. Ortiz deserves the Hall based a lot more on Fame than on greatness. And if you’re thinking his playoff greatness puts him over the line, well, maybe it does, though I did contribute a meandering post about the incredible amount of value you’d need to give playoff excellence to get the Sox great over the line. —Miller
It would be easy to spotlight old timers like Harry Stovey or Jack Fournier or even Dolph Camilli here. But there’s two guys on this list where I see divergence. First, no one during his career ever thought that John Olerud was a Hall-caliber player. He got attention when he took a run at .400 early in his career. He got some kudos as the slick-scooping glue that held the Mets’ infield defense together in the Piazza era. He was also known for the piano he carried on his back when he ran the bases. But his case for the Hall is actually pretty damned good thanks to a combination of good hitting and excellent fielding. Then there’s Harm Killebrew. The 500 homers pretty much starts and ends the conversation on him, and, ipso facto, he’s a Hall of Famer. Well, he was an abysmal fielder, a bad baserunner, and hit into a lot of double plays. The entire package isn’t nearly as good as the gaudy homer figures would indicate, and if you only stop at 573, you won’t agree with us.—Eric
Nothing to see here. There’s no meaningful disagreement.
In this group, not especially. So I’d like to take just a moment to talk about how a team might have underrated a player. In 1967, the Reds moved Tony Perez to third base. He’d never played an MLB inning at the hot corner, but during his minor league apprenticeship, he’d played a vast majority of his games there. Arriving in Cincy in 1964, Perez played nothing but first base for three years, and he was slightly below average (-3 runs) in 174 games. The Reds realigned their infield for ’67, moving Perez off first base, pushing incumbent Tommy Helms to second base, putting Pete Rose to pasture in left field, and putting defensively inept left fielder Deron Johnson at first base where he could do less damage (and they were right). In 1966, these players combined for -24 runs. In 1967 they combined for -10. Bob Howsam and Dave Bristol saved themselves at least a win’s worth of runs just by putting their players where their skills made the most sense. Perez was the weakest link at -9 runs in 1967, but over the next four years, he accumulated positive value at third base.
Prior to the 1972 season, the Reds acquired infielder Denis Menke who had at one time played a decent shortstop, but whose glove faltered badly. He could hit a little, and the Reds picked him up in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history.
November 29, 1971: The Houston Astros trade Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke, and Joe Morgan to the Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Helms, Lee May, and Jimmy Stewart.
Morgan alone brought back 58 WAR, with Geronimo returning 13, Menke 4, Billingham 2, and Armbrister none. For their efforts, the Astros got 4 wins from Helms, though they later flipped him for Art Howe who earned 13 WAR with the ‘Stros; 6 from Lee May who they later made part of a trade for Enos Cabell and Rob Andrews; and -1 from Stewart whom they later cut.
For Perez’s part, however, the departure of May and Helms opened holes at first base and second base. Morgan, of course, would man the keystone sack. Who would play first base? They had options on hand. Obviously Perez had played there previously and was fine. Menke might also be stationed there. He had, in fact, been the Astros’ primary first baseman the year before and played there about as well as Perez had in the past. Pete Rose had moved from left field to right field in deference to rising youngster Bernie Carbo. Cabo had been worth 4.4 WAR in 1970, faltered in 1971, and after a slow start was dealt in 1972, pushing Rose back to left. The young Hal McRae got a lot of playing time and might have been an option. George Foster was on the roster but didn’t play much and hit poorly when he did. The Reds chose to stick Menke at third base and slide Perez across the diamond.
I wasn’t there, and I don’t know what all happened, but here’s the thing. Menke was a short timer however you looked at it, and the Reds had more good hitters than the WBA, WBC, and IBF combined. But Perez looked like a first baseman and hit like one, so the move made sense. But in retrospect, leaving Perez be would have given the Reds many more opportunities and made Perez more valuable. During his time at third base, Perez earned 12 positional runs (he did appear other places from time to time). Perez left Cincinnati after 1976, but in those five years, the positional adjustment for third base was three runs a season, or 15 runs over those five years. At first base it was -45 runs. If Perez played every day, the difference between the positions was 60 runs without factoring in defense or anything else. Perez was a good first baseman from 1972–1976 and picked up 17 fielding runs. So the net of his positional adjustment and fielding was -28 runs. Perez could have been a -42 run fielder at third base over that same time and still have earned out at the hot corner.
The worst defender with 50% of his games at third base in that time as Richie Hebner who “earned” -37 runs. Bill Madlock placed with -32 runs. Dave Roberts to show at -30. Bill Melton next at -29, and the only other player over -20 was Paul Schaal at -30. Whether contemporary observers saw it or not, Perez played a good enough third base to have likely avoided that kind of disaster artistry.
And that’s just the BBREF Rfield side of the story. DRA pegs him at 8 runs instead of 17 from 1972–1976, and it likes his defense a lot at third, to the tune of 22 runs from 1967–1971. I understand why Sparky Anderson and Bob Howsam made the move they did. It seemed like a good baseball move based on the understandings of the game in 1972. Looking backwards, though, it’s possible that the difference between Tony Perez first baseman and Tony Perez Hall of Merit third baseman came down simply to a trade, a decision, and 100 years of soon-to-be-obsolete conventional baseball wisdom.—Eric
Harmon Killebrew is in our backlog. You’re likely surprised to see someone in every other hall of fame, someone with 573 homers, outside our proverbial candy store looking in. One of the biggest reasons we haven’t voted for him is his defense. It’s really bad.
It’s too bad for him that the designated hitter wouldn’t be adopted until 1973. He might have avoided all that bad fielding and let his bat do all the talking for him. Right? Maybe, maybe not.
BBREF’s WAR breaks out its components so we can play around with them. One of those components, abbreviated Rpos, is an adjustment made to account for the relative difficulty of each position. For example, in today’s game, BBREF adds about 8 runs to a shortstop’s ledger. First basemen have about 10 runs subtracted from theirs. To put it simply, the difference in fielding difficulty between shortstop and first base is around 17 runs, or about 1.5 wins. That’s a lot when an average player is worth two wins.
What this means is that we can answer a question such as “What if Harmon Killebrew had always played DH?” For Killebrew we know the following information:
Batting runs: 487
Base running runs: -24
Grounding into double play runs: -27
Fielding runs: -78
Position adjustment runs: -77
Total runs above average: 284
All we have to do is replace Killer’s position adjustment runs with the adjustment he’d get as a DH in the same playing time and then remove his fielding runs.
Unfortunately, BBREF doesn’t give us the by-position breakdown of Rpos for a player, so we need a hack. Killebrew is a great example to work with because he straddled the DH era. We can figure out a player’s Rpos at every fielding position using the table on BBREF’s WAR Explained for hitters page. We know Killebrew’s innings at each position, and the values on the table are all rates per 1350 innings, so some simple algebra will do the job. If we sum our results at each position he played in a given year and subtract from his total Rpos for the year, the difference is his runs as a pinch hitter, pinch runner, or DH. We then replace his by-position Rpos with the value if he’d been a DH (using the defensive innings) and add it to his non-fielding Rpos to get our estimate of what his DH-only Rpos would be. Then we can plug it into the Runs Above Average above.
Here’s an example from Killebrew’s 1974 season. He appeared at DH 57 times and played 223.67 innings at first base. First basemen in 1974 are debited 9 runs per 1350 innings, which means Killer is adjusted downward by about 1.5 runs. His total Rpos for the year was -7, which means his DH and pinch hitting appearances totaled -5.5 runs. Switch that first base Rpos to DH Rpos, and he would be debited -2.5 runs for those appearances. Which added to the -5.5 DH Rpos is a total of -8 runs. Now we return to his runs above average:
Batting runs: -4
Base running runs: -1
Grounded into double plays runs: -1
Fielding runs: -1 0 (notice, we have removed his fielding)
Position adjustment runs: -7 -8 (notice we have substituted the Rpos we calculated above)
Total runs above average: -1.5 (which is identical to what he produced as a part-time fielder)
In this case, it’s a wash. But when I took Killebrew’s career as a whole, season by season, the story was very different:
Batting runs: 487
Baserunning runs: -24
Grounding into double play runs: -27
Fielding runs: -78 0 (removing fielding runs)
Position adjustment runs: -77 -215 (swapping in DH-only runs)
Total runs above average: 284 221
Just being able to stand at a position without fielding as poorly as I would was worth about 60 runs to Killebrew and his teams! Unquestionably, Killebrew was better off in the field. Probably at first base, but the Twins had Don Mincher at the same time. That’s how much being a DH takes a bit out of a player’s value. Why? Because, generally speaking, a replacement level DH is a league-average hitter. That’s why David Ortiz, despite his 385 batting runs and 139 OPS+ in 8851 PAs, has only mustered 16.9 wins above average and 47.7 WAR in his career. His debit for DHing is 183 runs.
But all this brings up two questions. All other things being equal, how bad a fielder would a player have to be for his team to be better off DHing him? Well it depends on his position, of course. Derek Jeter’s defense is much maligned, but he’s nowhere near DH-only. During his career, shortstops had a positional adjustment of +7.5 runs per 1350 innings. So the break even appears to be -7.5 fielding runs. Except that DH is 22.5 runs easier per 1350 innings than shortstop is. Jeter is boosted +135 positional runs as a shortstop, even though he’s worth -220 runs in the field. If he were a DH, he’d have no fielding value, but his positional adjustment would be more than -250 runs. Let’s lay this out:
Batting runs: 353
Base running runs: 56
Grounding into double play runs: 8
Fielding runs: -246 0
Position adjustment runs: 138 -251
Total runs above average: 305 166
See, the positional adjustment totally swamps the gain in fielding runs. Now as to whether Jeter should have stayed at shortstop his entire career….
The question, then, is whether anyone is worth making a DH-only because he is that bad with a glove on? The answer is yes. Gary Sheffield, for example, has the second worst career fielding runs (after Jeter) of anyone in history with -195. If we swap in DH positional adjustments and remove the fielding, look what happens.
Batting runs: 561
Base running runs: -1
Grounding into double play runs: -11
Fielding runs: -195 0
Position adjustment runs: -84 -227
Total runs above average: 270 322
Sheffield’s teams would have been better off were he a full-time DH. By like five wins’ worth of runs.
Danny Tartabull is a similar story. Another infielder turned outfielder who was good at neither. When I put him through the process above, he leapt up by 70 runs. Jeff Burroughs would have been about five-wins better as a DH-only.
But rather than go through this lengthy process for a whole bunch of plodding defenders, we can use a quick and dirty inequality to see who other candidates might be
(Rfield + Rpos) < (fldINN * (-15/1350))
This isn’t perfect for someone like Adam Dunn who spent a good chunk of time at DH, but it identifies guys well enough. Here are some with long careers:
Realistically, Jason Giambi is the only one for whom this might be an interesting what-if scenario as regards his case for the Hall of Miller and Eric. I used the long method to see if that’s so:
Batting runs: 444
Base running runs: -15
Grounding into double play runs: -10
Fielding runs: -83 0
Position adjustment runs: -136 -191
Total runs above average: 199 228
When I plug DH-only Giambi into my personal evaluation system for the HoME, the extra 30 runs would likely slide him just beneath Mark McGwire. He would end up just above Will Clark and John Olerud who are very close to the line indeed but just below it. He’d be a really tough call, especially for someone who prefers a candidate with strong peak performance.
Overall, what we find is that many players whose value we think might benefit by being lifetime DHes actually wouldn’t. At least not in a theoretical vacuum. Of course, teams push their chess pieces around to best meet their real-life strategic needs—platooning, rotating regulars through the slot to keep their legs fresh, putting a brittle hitter there to keep him whole, or simply playing the lesser fielder at DH even if his fielding may not be that bad. We don’t really do what-ifs at the HoME, but we do enjoy thinking about them. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about them like real teams do.
Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers, and Roger Connor (the ABCs!) played concomitantly from 1880–1896 (17 years). All no-doubt all-time greats. Connor (84) Brouthers (79), and Anson (74) combined for an amazing 237 combined WAR in those 17 years. Are they the best trio of first-base talent in history? [By first base, I mean guys who really were first basemen, not guys who moved there after a while or due to injury. Musial, Perez, Banks, Allen, and Jack Clark aren’t who we’re talking about.]
I’m no databaser, so I eyeballed the career WAR leaderboards to see what trios might compete.
There are probably other groups, or other permutations of these trios that I’ve overlooked in my hasty zip through history, please add any you come up with.
The ABCs dominate their own era in a way no one can even get close to, especially when you see how evenly the performance was distributed among the three of them.
But…the 1880s were an easier time to dominate. Easier than the 1920s. Plus the first Gehrig Group did its work in only 12 years, a significantly higher rate of production than the other threesomes we’ve listed. So we should crown the Twenties Trio as the best cluster.
But…the roaring 1920s was a time of pinball offense, with each league usually having a couple doormat teams among the merely eight in its league, and with zero farm systems to procure and develop talent consistently. Not to mention no relief pitching.
So, there is a reasonable argument that the Bagwell Bunch is the most impressive of the lot: they faced tougher competition—the spread from the best performers to the worst (or standard deviation to our statistically-minded friends), was likely lower than the 1920s and the 1880s. And although offense was way up in the 1990s, those guys face numerous competitive conditions (such as relief pitching) that made out-and-out domination more difficult than in previous eras.