It’s that time of year again. The Hall of Fame announced its 2020 Era Committee ballot not long ago. Of the ten names to choose from, seven are holdovers from the 2018 ballot. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, of course, are in the Hall now, but Luis Tiant was dropped from the list. The newcomers this year are Dwight Evans, Thurman Munson, and Lou Whitaker. Voting will take place at the Winter Meetings on December 8, and candidates will need to receive votes from twelve of the sixteen-member committee to gain induction. Two years ago, there were eight Hall of Famers on the Committee (six who are in based on their play), five executives, and three people considered media or historians. This year’s voters have not been announced at the time of this writing.
Here are your 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee Candidates.
If you were to build a player who would get ignored by the BBWAA, Evans might be the perfect blueprint. He wasn’t a star as a kid, having six of his eight best seasons at age 29 or later. Plus, he had only so-so power, drew a ton of boring walks that did nothing but help his team win, and excelled on defense, which wasn’t and still isn’t recognized as it should be for non-shortstops. As you probably know, Evans is in the HoME. I equate him most closely in career value with Dave Winfield, a guy who’s clearly thought superior by voters. As evidence, Evans was on the BBWAA ballot three times, garnering 5.9%, 10.4%, and then 3.6%. Winfield was on once, getting in with 84.5% of the vote. Given the combination of fame and greatness on this ballot, I think Evans will be lucky to get a single vote. –Miller
The NL Ironman deserves some credit for his impressive streak of 1,207 games played, trailing only Cal Ripken, Lou Gehrig and Everett Scott on the all-time list. He also deserves credit for his long and distinguished career, I suppose. But Garvey was never great. Only once, in 1975, did he play at the All-Star level of 5.0 WAR, yet some will tout his ten All-Star Games. To be fair, he was great in those games, but we’re talking only 30 trips to the plate, hardly Hall-worthy. The BBWAA liked him enough to keep him on the ballot for 15 years, topping out on his third appearance at 42.6% of the vote and never dipping below 20.5%. I think of Garvey sort of the National League’s Cecil Cooper. He ranks 70th on my first base list, four spots behind the Brewer. If he gets in, there will be a Baines-like cry of frustration. –Miller
John is a tough call. On one hand, the surgery. On the other, he was freakin’ knocked out during that surgery! Don’t give credit to people for things that happen to them when they’re unconscious. (To be fair, I don’t know John’s physical state when Frank Jobe was performing that surgery, but you get my point). But seriously, John isn’t an easy call. By my old MAPES+ numbers, he ranked 100th, just five spots behind Whitey Ford, so I can get him in with enough squinting (new MAPES+ numbers coming soon-ish). But John only gets in as a long and low candidate. He never topped 5.6 pitching WAR and only five times topped 4.1. He has 13 seasons of between 1.3 and 2.6 pitching WAR, so we’re looking at someone who was largely just fine, certainly not great. It’s interesting to me that he had 1.4 WAR on the mound when he was 22 and 1.5 when he was 43, but those aren’t numbers that should get him into the Hall. No, I don’t think Tommy John should be in the Hall of Fame. Of course, John played 26 years for six teams, so he’ll quite likely have personal relationships with a number of voters. Also, he stayed on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years. However, he never gained any real traction there, ranging from 18.7% to a peak of 31.7% in his final year of eligibility. Without knowing the members of the committee as I write this, I give John one of the best chances of anyone on this ballot of getting in. –Miller
I concur with Miller that John has a great chance, but for a different reason. He’s an only candidate: The only pitcher on this ballot. Structurally speaking, we have on board:
I reckon that John benefits from this arrangement more than any other person on the ballot because:
My idol during the Little League phase of my life. And a potentially awful Hall of Fame selection. Mattingly’s prime ain’t that special. By my reckoning, he earned about 34 WAR during his top seven seasons, only two of which rated above 5.0 wins (aka: All-Star value). Here are some first baseman who exceeded his peak:
Mattingly has fewer career WAR than all of them. Among the players in bold, Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez were Veterans Committee spit-ups, Harm Killebrew had 573 homers, and Frank Chance’s plaque talks a lot about his managing. Mattingly has no business getting a plaque, but you know what, there’s a part of me that wonders whether he will purely based on the composition of the this year’s Modern Game Committee. If we see a bunch of New York writers and execs, he’s got a shot. Ten-year-old me loves that, and now-year-old me hates it. -Eric
Grumpy old Marvin told us before he died that he didn’t even want to be in this here Hall of Fame. Why? Heck I don’t even remember his reasoning, but I bet it’s because the Hall is closely tied to the Lords of the Realm, and they treated him like public enemy #1. Kinda can’t blame him, I guess. At this point, I think we have to wonder whether Miller, who in our estimation is one of the centrally important off-the-field figures in baseball (and sports) history, can ever gain the support necessary in the VC for election. Each year, the electoral committee includes a bunch of Hall players (usually around half the committee), three writer-historians, some team executives, and some Hall members from the executive and/or managerial ranks. Dude needs 12 votes. If half the committee is players, he should have a base of support among them. Where will the other votes come from? Team executives Hall of Fame or otherwise? I think not. The writers and historians? Well maybe. But one of them is always Steve Hirdt, the guy from the Elias Sports Bureau, which is MLB’s official stat service, and, therefore, has a reason to side with management. Maybe a manager? Miller’s problem is a political one, not one of qualification, and as long as men who have felt the sting of his hardball negotiations and those of his protégé Donald Fehr man this committee, I don’t think he will ever receive 75% of this vote. -Eric
I like your logic here, Eric, but half aren’t players. Half are Hall of Famers. And in 2018 those Hall of Famers included Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz, two people not enriched by Miller like Hall players may have been. Yes, it’s about politics, and Miller really has the the rules of the game stacked against him. Maybe, maybe, maybe logic and good sense win out this time. Yeah, because it’s 2019, and logic rules the day… Alas. –Miller
Munson was nobody’s idea of warm and fuzzy personality. Maybe that helped make him a great catcher who didn’t guff from anyone, including teammates. In a horse-trading session like this committee, these things actually matter. Who’s going to fight for you if you were a dick to them? Munson has the early-death-thing on his side that seems to help a candidate sometimes, but it happened too long ago. Now it’s just a thing that happened that we’ve all had plenty of time to reckon with. A short career won’t help him at all, and, in fact, I’m shocked he even made this ballot. I’m glad he did because I believe in his candidacy, but the screening committee usually looks for guys with long careers and lots of zingy hits. Stubby catchers without much power don’t typically make the cut. Maybe it’s a sign that the screeners have started to change their attitudes. Or maybe they just wanted to stick someone on there they thought no one would vote for to clear the way for other candidates to actually get votes? Who knows. I’d vote for Whitaker, Evans, and Miller ahead of him, and I’d argue with myself whether he or Simmons should get the final checkmark. But he’s definitely worth a vote. -Eric
My hope is that he takes some votes from Mattingly. And I’m with you on Miller, Whitaker, and Evans getting in first. Still, I’d be pleased if he were elected. –Miller
Let’s play the same game we played above with Mattingly. Here’s some guys who have a better peak than Dale Murphy (40) according to my way of tweaking BBREF’s WAR:
That’s it for the guys ahead of him in peak value who aren’t part of the body of the Hall. Mike Griffin and Cy Seymour are tied with Murphy. So that’s pretty good, right? Well, it is pretty good, but he generated precious little value outside his best seven years—a total of six WAR. Berger earned another seven, Cedeño an additional twelve. No one’s clamoring to hail Cesar. If Andrew McCutchen never played again, he would rate the very slightest of edges over Murphy. Cutch has 41 WAR in his best seven years and an additional six more outside his prime. No one’s using the phrase “future Hall of Famer, Andrew McCutchen” these days. The sad reality for Murphy, a reputedly wonderful man, is that if you don’t rack up 60+ career WAR in centerfield, you need a peak worth at least 45 WAR and some hop-on value to play up. That’s the likes of Jimmy Wynn (45/58). Murphy was a great player for a short while and never good again. It’s too little. -Eric
Or Dave Porker in the stylings of my interior monolog in acknowledgment of how badly out of shape Chuck Tanner let him get. Parker is the Chuck Klein of his times, or Tommy Holmes. Or maybe Tim Salmon or Rocky Colavito. Really good players, all, but guys who clearly have no business in the Hall of Fame. Especially considering that right field is well represented and has strength up and down its ranks. Reggie Smith barely makes the Hall of Miller and Eric, and we could easily see arguments for his not being included. He rates, in my computations, 38 WAR7 and 63 career WAR. Dave Parker is at 37 WAR7 (very close to Smith!) but only 42 career WAR. Outside of his good years, Parker generated just five wins. Just like Dale Murphy in center, only Parker hung on longer. But just think what it would have been like if he’d never sniffed any coke and picked up the fork. -Eric
Okay all you negative Nellies, two years ago when Ted Simmons appeared on the Modern Era ballot he garnered eleven votes, just one shy of election. That year he competed with six other people on this ballot and two who got in, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. Of the people who remain on the ballot from two years ago, Marvin Miller received seven votes, and nobody else got that many. If the exact same people were to vote, I suspect Simmons would get in. Of course, the committee will be different. While large BBWAA consideration has historically been important to various incarnations of the VC, Simmons was one and done, garnering just 3.7% of the vote in 1994. Clearly that paltry showing wasn’t a factor two years ago. I admit that I’m rooting for Simmons. He’s in the HoME, though among HoMErs, I rank him ahead of only ballot-mate Thurman Munson and likely HoME mistake Bill Freehan. If he’s the only one who gets in, he’d be the best player aside from Trammell that the Era folks have elected since Deacon White in 2013. Think about that. -Miller
Whitaker is easily the best player candidate on this ballot. Simmons, Munson, and Evans are all very much worth, but they reside in the bottom quartile of the Hall of Miller and Eric and would probably be lower-third at their position in the Hall. Depending on how one views Whitaker, we can easily make a case for him as in the 40th to 50th percentile among Hall second basemen. That might not sound amazing, but he ranks 14th all-time for me and similarly for Miller. This is no-brainer territory for us, far enough away from the in/out line that one needn’t get overly preachy to persuade the other of us of his merit. With the Trammell-Morris election of 2018 and Sparky Anderson’s previous election, Whitaker has a fantastic narrative going for him: Complete the 1984 Tigers set!!! There’s no other player from that team with any kind of recognition of excellence in the mainstream (even though Darrell Evans deserves induction), so Whitaker is the obvious choice to close the door on these bashing Bengals. That’s ridiculously stupid logic, and it’s just the flavor of reasoning that works in the VC, particularly if the electorate has some Tigers folks on it…for example Messers Morris and Trammell. Looking beyond that, Whitaker has more than 200 homers, more than 2,000 hits, more than 1,000 RBI, and more than 1,000 runs scored, so there’s nothing in his stat line that’s too low or missing. He was Rookie of the Year, earned five All-Star selections, and was a three-time Gold Glover, and even picked up three Silver Sluggers. There’s plenty there for our narrative loving friends to tell themselves that it’s go-time on Whitaker, and he may have the best odds on this ballot, depending on how much Detroit presence we see in the committee. -Eric
Hopefully we all get some good news December 8.
Miller and Eric
A couple of days ago MLB.com’s Will Leitch put together a list of each team’s missing Hall of Famer – as he states it, “every team’s best player who isn’t in the Hall of Fame.” Before reading any of it, I predicted that it would be atrocious, much like the lists we’ve seen over the years at ESPN. To my surprise (and I must admit disappointment it wasn’t that bad. Still, I thought that it was flawed, and I thought we at the HoME could better. So we endeavored to do just that. Today and Monday, we’ll look at all 30 major league teams and the best player from each who’s not in the Hall of Fame.
By Leitch’s rules, we’re looking at team most associated with a particular player. This subjective measure works quite well for me. For example, I most associate Fernando Rodney with the Rays because of his incredible 2012 season there, or perhaps it’s because I saw him in a Baltimore hotel bar after a game that year. Dave Roberts had over 3000 trips to the plate as a major leaguer, just 101 of them for the Red Sox. But his 2004 stolen base in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees makes him a Bostonian forever, at least in my mind.
Other rules of Leitch’s are reasonable, such as no active players and none who haven’t had a ballot appearance yet.
So in Leitch’s order, here are my picks. Think along with me and comment below if you agree or disagree.
Leitch’s call: Dave Steib
HoME call: Hell yeah it’s Dave Stieb, one of the more underrated pitchers ever. What if a couple of those near misses turned into no-hitters? For those who don’t remember, Stieb pitched an incredible final week of the 1988 season. On September 24, Julio Franco broke up a no-no with two outs in the ninth. Then in Stieb’s final start, Jim Traber did the same. The pain continued in 1989. Stieb was perfect through 8.2 on August 4 against the Yankees. Then a double by Roberto Kelly ended the bid for perfection. A Steve Sax single ended the shutout. One that people likely forget was four starts later against the Brewers. Stieb hadn’t allowed a hit through 6.2. A Robin Yount grounder to third ended things, and Stieb didn’t allow another hit all day. At least it wasn’t soul-crushing like the other three starts over the previous year. A year later, September 2, Stieb no-hit the Indians. One no-hitter. Imagine if he had four or five. Imagine how we’d look at his career differently if it weren’t for four batters.
Leitch’s call: Mike Mussina
HoME call: Leitch is right. Mussina started with, pitched two more years for, and pitched 450+ innings more for the O’s than the Yanks. He’s an Oriole, and he belongs in. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. I think it’s going to happen this year. It’s sure going to be close.
Leitch’s call: Fred McGriff
HoME call: Let’s start with McGriff being impossible. Maybe he’s a Blue Jay, maybe he’s a Brave. Whatever the case, he certainly isn’t a Ray. The right call is that there’s nobody even remotely deserving of this distinction, but naming nobody would be against the rules. For whatever reason, I consider Lou Piniella a Ray. Maybe he’s a Mariner. Maybe he’s a Yankee. He won a World Series as a Red. And he was Rookie of the Year with the Royals. But he’s a Ray to me. It doesn’t matter though. Managers shouldn’t count here. So I’m going with Aubrey Huff. First and foremost, he’s a Ray. Second, he holds their all-time single-season records for hits, total bases, doubles, extra base hits, and intentional walks, all in 2003. He’s also the only eligible Ray on the team’s single-season RBI list. I think he’s the all-time leading eligible Ray in WAR. Julio Lugo? He’s not a Ray, right? I’ll take Huff over Matt Garza.
Leitch’s call: Roger Clemens
HoME call: I don’t know. As a Red Sox fan, I don’t want to claim Roger. But Leitch is right. I can’t make a non-foolish argument for any other player.
Leitch’s call: Don Mattingly
HoME call: I like Mike Mussina a lot more, but he can’t be most associated with two teams. Roy White is also in the HoME, and there’s no team with which he’s more closely associated than the Yankees. But I think this is an easy enough call, and it’s not Don Mattingly. It’s a player from a generation earlier who was just about equally beloved, Thurman Munson. While Munson beats him by less than four career WAR, he was clearly a better among catchers than Mattingly was among first basemen. I rank Munson 16th behind the plate, and I feel pretty confident he’s in the top-20. Mattingly, on the other hand, is 49th at first base and almost certainly outside the top-40. Regarding Munson, for those interested in silly trivia-type items, the 1970 Rookie of the Year and 1976 MVP never reached 30 doubles, never topped 20 homers, yet reached 100 RBIs on three occasions.
Leitch’s call: Kenny Lofton
HoME call: I really thought about Manny Ramirez for a bit. And I landed on him being an Indian despite an extra 116 games for the Red Sox. Leitch is right though. It’s Lofton – criminally underrated and absolutely deserving of a plaque. So what makes Lofton so underrated? I think it’s a few things. First, he played between 20 and 129 games for TEN different teams. In that regard, he could be considered his generation’s Bobby Bonds in a way. I think it’s defense as well, in that his wasn’t appreciated. He was a contemporary of both Ken Griffey and Jim Edmonds, both of whom I bet you can see making spectacular catches. I don’t have such particular memories about Lofton. And finally, there’s the center field thing as a whole. That position has to be more top-heavy than any other, skewing our perception of all center fielders below the group containing Mays, Cobb, Speaker, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Griffey. Lofton, Edmonds, Andruw Jones, Jimmy Wynn, Willie Davis, Paul Hines. HoMErs, all of them. Yet none are in the Hall.
Leitch’s call: Bret Saberhagen
HoME call: I wanted Leitch to be worse at this. He’s right. Bret Saberhagen was at least somewhat misunderstood when he played. He had the not-totally-incorrect reputation of following great seasons with poor ones. I say that’s not totally incorrect because he did have great seasons By BBREF WAR, he put up 7.2, 8.0, and 9.7 in 1985, 1987, and 1989 respectively. But the seasons following those were anything but poor – 2.0, 3.8, and 3.6. That’s an average of 3.1+ WAR. Saberhagen played for 16 seasons. Had he averaged the same numbers he averaged in those “poor” seasons for an entire 16-year career, he’d have totaled 57.6 career WAR, the same number as Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg and more than Whitey Ford, George Sisler, Luis Aparicio, Bill Dickey…. You get the point.
Leitch’s call: Lou Whitaker
HoME call: Yes!! I don’t know when it happened or why, but though I prefer Bobby Grich, Whitaker has replaced him as the 2B who I most want to get into the Hall. I think it’s the induction of Alan Trammell that makes me so disappointed that Whitaker isn’t in. In 1994’s The Politics of Glory, Bill James “predicted” that Whitaker and Trammell would be inducted together in 2013. I should have happened.
Leitch’s call: Kent Hrbek
HoME call: The first name that came to mind was Tony Oliva, and he’s preferable to Hrbek. I thought about Joe Judge as well. On the mound, there’s Jim Kaat, Camilo Pascual, and Brad Radke. But I’m going with Johan Santana, and I feel pretty confident this is the right call. He’s clearly a Twin, and he’s the only one mentioned who likely belongs in the Hall. If you’re reading this, you likely saw Santana pitch. And if you saw Santana pitch, you likely saw him dominate. He won three ERA titles, three strikeout titles, three ERA+ titles, and two Cy Young Awards. He pitched within the last decade, yet he’s nearly forgotten in many circles. Why? That’s a real question. Correct me or explain in the comments. It’s not that he won just 139 games. Perhaps that’s why he dropped off the Hall ballot so quickly, but it’s not why he’s forgotten. It’s not that his career fizzled so quickly. We remember guys with really disappointing endings. It’s not that he stunk as a Met as many free agents seem to. He won an ERA title there, made an All-Star team there, and averaged over 5.2 WAR per season as a Met before injuries struck. Is it that he’s not Pedro Martinez or Clayton Kershaw? I don’t buy that. I also don’t buy playing in Minnesota. That didn’t seem to hurt Kirby Puckett any. And he never averaged 7+ WAR over a five-year span. What the heck?
Leitch’s call: Eddie Cicotte
HoME call: Though Leitch correctly mentions that Jackson played for the Indians more than he did for the White Sox, it’s clear that we remember Shoeless Joe Jackson from his time on the White Sox, not the Indians. He’s the right call here.
Leitch’s call: Bobby Grich
HoME call: The Angels actually have a few good choices. I like Jim Fregosi more than most, and if we believe the last couple of decades are underrepresented in the Hall, we should all like Chuck Finley more than history has. Still, Grich is a good call. And in spite of my Tiger comment above, I will forever heart Bobby Grich. By the way, our hero was hit 20 times in 1974 but never more than eight in any other season. Do you think it’s possible that he started leaning into pitches that year and stopped because he figured out it hurt to do so? I know it’s almost certainly just coincidental, yet I’d like to hear what he has to say about it. Could be a fun story.
Leitch’s call: Jose Cruz
HoME call: I’m simply stunned that Leitch didn’t take Cesar Cedeño. But he’s right to have chosen Cruz, a better player by just a tad. This is a fine time to reiterate that Leitch did more than an acceptable job with his list. Some calls are debatable, a couple are silly, but most are quite good. I remark on that again because it’s not at all what I’d expect from a mainstream guy. Also, I not-so-secretly believe he forgot Cedeño.
Leitch’s call: Mark McGwire
HoME call: I like Bert Campaneris, Bob Johnson, Wally Schang, and Sal Bando in addition to McGwire. I want to disagree with Leitch, and by a nose I will. I’m taking HoMEr Wally Schang by the slightest bit over HoMErs Johnson, Bando, and McGwire. I rank Johnson 16th in left field, Bando 22nd at third base, and McGwire 26th at first base. However, I rate Schang as 15th behind the plate, though it’s close enough that none of the choices are wrong. So now’s time for a little more on Leitch, or more accurately, about his job. If he wrote about the likes of Wally Schang with any consistency, he’d lose that job. I think about things like that when I read lists like his. Deep in the recesses of what constitutes my brain, I vaguely recall a FOX Sports directive of many years ago that their announcers not talk about dead players. At the time, I found it offensive, insulting, and unnecessarily constraining. Today, I have a bit of a different opinion. MLB.com wants clicks. The average person visiting that site has no clue who Wally Schang is and isn’t very interested in finding out. But they are interested in Mark McGwire. McGwire is easy to digest; Schang takes work. Anyway, though I don’t agree with Leitch’s call here, he’s not wrong.
Leitch’s call: Edgar Martinez
HoME call: Obviously. It’s nice that Edgar’s visage will be struck in bronze this year. The most beautiful right-handed swing ever? It has to be close.
Leitch’s call: Rafael Palmeiro
HoME call: Let’s start by agreeing with Leitch that Palmeiro is a Ranger. Also, he’s deserving of induction based on his numbers alone. Still, I prefer Buddy Bell. Though Bell played 29 more games and came to the plate 57 from times with the Indians, he was a better player as a Ranger. However, there’s also the matter of Kevin Brown. Brown had his most value as a Dodger, and he had two great seasons as a Marlin. But he pitched 50 more games for the Rangers than for anyone else, and he threw more than 400 innings there than anywhere else. Ugh! It’s such a tough call. But since Brown wasn’t great as a Ranger, I’m going call him a Dodger and place Buddy Bell here.
That’s it for the American League. On Monday we’ll check out the missing Hall of Famers from National League teams.
How in the world do you decide what pitch to throw? And who decides? It is the manager? The pitcher? The catcher? A bit of all three? We will answer none of those questions below.
We know that sometimes the catcher decides what pitch should be thrown. And if the pitcher has both command and control, maybe the right pitch goes to the right location, and the batter fails. That’s if the catcher/pitcher/manager chooses the right pitch and location. And if the batter also fails. There’s merit to the idea that the best catchers ever are the ones best at calling games, if they’re actually the ones responsible for calling the games. I don’t think we really know who had such responsibility. And there’s no way to really know if they got the most out of their pitchers. There are just so many variables that we can’t control for.
The best receiver in history would have to have all of the physical attributes, and he’d have to be an expert on game theory, someone in league with the world’s best poker players. We just can’t measure that.
I’d like to note two more things before we get started. First, neither one of our numbers puts Johnny Bench on the top of the catcher list. And second, it’s extremely hard to figure out what’s right at this position. We’re trying our best.
Mauer is a made man. Unless he turns in a few -2.0 WAR seasons in a row, he’s over the line for good. The question is whether he can gain ground on the rest of the field. Given recent history, his peak appears locked in, so it’s about chasing down the career value of guys above him on the totem pole. Bill Dickey feels like his top end to me. After my various adjustments, Dickey’s ahead by 9 career WAR, but their peak is exactly the same. Mauer certainly could catch up, though as a thirty-five year old with a history of concussion syndrome, the wear and tear of catching, and an overall long-term decline in performance, especially in power, I’m not sanguine about his odds to hit on that prop. He’ll pass Joe Torre this year, but Charlie Bennett is a pretty far in the distance, let alone Hartnett and Dickey.—Eric
There’s actually quite a bit going on here. After three years when it seemed Mauer was done as a plus hitter, he rebounded nicely last season. On the plus side, his K-rate fell to pre-concussion levels. He also made more hard contact than he had in four years. Maybe he’s back??? I know that’s not the way aging works though. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of data we have on people who have recovered from concussions. In the last four seasons, he’s averaged over 138 games, 18 more than his previous four. In terms of wear and tear on his body, perhaps he’s looking better than a few years ago? Then again, the last four years have seen him with a 106 OPS+, while the previous four were at 134. And his 116 from last year isn’t really too impressive. He’s 35 now, and it’s quite possible his surprise 3-win campaign of 2017 was the last year of that quality he’ll ever have. That’s what I’m guessing. If we plug in seasons of 2.2, 1.1 and -0.4 WAR, he gets by Joe Torre, and that’s it. I say he finishes at #12.–Miller
This is one incredibly healthy catcher we’re looking at, a guy who’s played in at least 140 games every year since 2012. What’s more, he’s been worth over 4 wins each season. He’s 31 now. As he ages, the Giants can move him out from behind the plate more and more. If he can maintain last year’s level in 2018 and then decline slowly, he can get to #14. Maintaining a little more value and playing until age 38, he’ll battle Mauer for that #12 spot. I’ll take the more positive run out in this case.–Miller
It has to be Gary Carter, right? Everyone calls Johnny Bench the best MLB catcher ever. Well, everyone except me and Eric. I have to admit to being unsure of how catcher handling should be interpreted, and I think my catcher ratings are less likely to be “correct” than those at any position. I use Max Marchi’s handling numbers, albeit at a reduced rate, which vaults Carter to the top. Somehow, it’s actually not very close.–Miller
We could make a baseball TV comedy show called That 70s Catcher. Bench, Fisk, Simmons, Munson, plus big hunks of Carter’s career. Oh, and Gene Tenace. Gino Fiore Tenace is one of those analytical darlings who walked a lot, hit for power, moved around the diamond a bit, and whose excellence was hidden by baseball’s traditionalist mindset until the last twenty or so years. There’s that and the fact that his career was very short, under 6,000 plate appearances, and that defensively he wasn’t an outstanding backstop. I’m pretty sure that given the opportunity to name the twenty best catchers ever, a supermajority of baseball watchers and sports journalists wouldn’t include him. Especially when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, Yadier Molina, and a few other more famous catchers rank below him.—Eric
I have Charlie Bennett 28% over the line, while Eric sees him only 13% over. The difference between 10th best and 12th best, however, really isn’t a big deal. Perhaps Johnny Bench is our biggest disagreement? We are in lockstep on #1 and #2 at every other position, so when my #2 is his #5, we might say that it’s a big difference.–Miller
Yes, just about anyone. We use the handling numbers we have, which we think makes sense. Unfortunately, those numbers don’t exist for the first 80 or so years of the game, nor the last six. We’re not guessing. We’re doing the best we can, and we think we’re reasonably close. It’s just that the error bar at catcher is greater than at any position. Far greater, I think.–Miller
You know, Buck Ewing bugs me. I know that some folks in his own time considered him the best player in the game, but the second-best catcher of all time? I’m not so sure. Could be an issue with how I’m extrapolating playing time. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re overcommitted on Ewing. Miller is absolutely correct that among all nine positions on the diamond (ten if you want to consider the DH separately), catcher is the fudgiest. We have all the usual things to account for such as schedule length, league quality, in my case standard deviation, differing defensive systems. Then we also have to introduce a ton more uncertainty because no defensive system captures catchers well, and the developers of those systems will tell you so. No system has successfully figured out how to add framing because framing is dependent on the umpire and the pitcher as well as the catcher. No system has incorporated pitcher handling either. Is plate blocking included in any of them? Where does pitch calling fit into this? Plus we have to account for the negative impact catching has on playing time so that we can bring catchers as close to other positions as possible. It’s not a cluster, not a whack-a-mole, more like those Russian nesting dolls. You’re trying to get down to the smallest doll, but there’s just so many other dolls ahead of it that eventually your hands get crampy from all the twisting apart of the dolls. And they are all wearing masks!—Eric
Next week we’re back with the next 20 catchers. And unless you’ve studied this subject, a bunch of names will be at least a little surprising.
It’s been a while since our last Rushmore post. Welcome back! As a Celtic fan, I like to think of the Yankees as the Celtics of MLB. As a fan of accuracy, however, the Yankees are just the Yankees, without a peer in the battle for best big-4 franchise of all time. With 27 World Series wins, they have seven more than the next two teams combined. They’ve played 20 fewer years than the Phillies, yet they have about 500 more wins. The have the best winning percentage ever, topping the Giants .569 to .537 (at the time of this writing). They’re so good that the entire format of this series is going to change because of them. What an incredible franchise with remarkable stability.
Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter
Mariano Rivera, Whitey Ford, Bill Dickey, Bernie Williams
Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson, Mel Stottlemyre, Jorge Posada
Babe Ruth, Earle Combs
Babe Ruth: Since I have a passion for the Red Sox, I also have a sort of passion for the Yankees, though not in a good way. Also, I can’t believe I felt the need to link to Ruth’s BBREF page. But I looked at it, and I learned something new. One of his nicknames was Jidge. Every day you should go to BBREF and learn something new.
Lou Gehrig: Even Red Sox fans love him.
Mariano Rivera: I met him years ago. He was super nice to me, and I was about 80% fanboy. Oh, and he’s the best relief pitcher ever.
Thurman Munson: This is the way I ask for forgiveness. One of the great sports rivalries when I was a kid was Fisk/Munson. As a Red Sox fan, you know my answer. And that is the right answer in terms of career value. Ranking the two, even including peak, it’s still Fisk. But Munson had an extended 8-year peak where he averaged 5.0 WAR per year. The best Fisk can do over such a period is 4.4 WAR. Over seven years, it’s very close, but Munson still wins. My real apology is to Munson and fans regarding his Hall case. As a not-yet-formed researcher, I found Munson’s case to be clearly lacking. Then I added some advanced statistical knowledge to my base, and more importantly added context and comparison to other catchers. Munson belongs.
On their way next week will be the Philadelphia Phillies.
If you were a hitter who debuted in the 1970s, you’ve had a harder time getting into the Hall of Fame than you should have. From 1971-1992, an era that encompasses the careers of almost all of the players in this series, only once did scoring top 4.47 runs per game. And three times it was 3.99 or below. In contrast, the era from 1921-1941 saw scoring higher than 4.47 every single year. Yes, different eras have different levels of offense. And when we use counting stats to make Hall of Fame decisions for hitters, we fail to take into account those lower run environments. Since 1950, five of the eight seasons with the fewest home runs per team were in the 1970s, and half of the bottom-24 occurred from 1971-1984.
You can’t expect huge offensive numbers in that era, but Hall of Fame voters still seem to. It’s that failure, plus the misunderstanding of base on balls, the misunderstanding of defensive value, and the misunderstanding of greatness versus inner circle Hall of Fame talent that has helped keep Ted Simmons and others who debuted in the 1970s out of the Hall.
Ted Simmons is a catcher who played a bit on the corners and some designated hitter. He got started with a cup of coffee at just 19 for the 1968 Cardinals. By 1970, he was sharing time behind the plate with Joe Torre. In 1971, Simmons pushed Torre to third.He was shipped to the Brewers with the next two AL Cy Young winners, Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich, in a 1980 deal that brought the Cards four players, including top prospect David Green. It was a terrible trade for the Cardinals. After five years in Milwaukee, he was sent to the Braves in a deal for Rick Cerone. Simmons was all but done at that point, and he ended his career in Atlanta in 1988.
Simmons had power, which is evidenced by his 11th place standing in home runs by someone who played more than 50% of his career at catcher. And he could hit for average too; he’s 14th on a similar list among backstops.
The greatest problem Ted Simmons has is when he debuted. His first full season was 1970. Johnny Bench had his in first full year in 1968, Carlton Fisk in 1972, and Gary Carter in 1975. All three of those catchers were clearly better than Simmons. It’s not easy to get a lot of attention when there are three clearly better players who debuted right around the same time, not to mention the excellent Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Jim Sundberg, and Darrell Porter.
The only time Simmons appeared on the BBWAA ballot was 1994 when he received just 3.7% of the vote. Far inferior players like Steve Garvey, Rusty Staub, and Dave Concepcion fared better.
To get an idea of Simmons’ greatness, we need to compare him to all catchers, not just his contemporaries. There are only 39 catchers ever with at least 5000 plate appearances, 100 homers, and a .300 on base percentage. If we move those numbers up to 150 homers and a .325 on base clip, we’re down to 23 catchers. And if we move to 200 long balls and a .340 OBP, it’s just a dozen guys. Simmons absolutely did not play during a good offensive era, yet only Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra, and Jorge Posada can match him in both HR and OBP. He’s also one of three catchers ever with 200 HR and 400 2B. The other two, Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodgiruez are in the Hall.
Simmons has 50.1 career WAR, which is better than six Hall of Famers. To me, he is so clearly superior to Hall mistakes Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell. Schalk is 42nd in career WAR among catchers, while Ferrell is 36th. Simmons is 12th. And he’s debatably better than Hall of Famers Roger Bresnahan and Ernie Lombardi.
I’m making Ray Schalk the choice here because he and Simmons both played in eras with depressed offense. In fact, the AIR number at BBREF, which measures the offensive level of the leagues and parks the player played in relative to all-time, is the same 96 for both of them. Let’s look at some stats.
Simmons Schalk ================================ Hits 2472 1345 Runs 1074 579 Home Runs 248 11 RBI 1389 594 OPS+ 118 83 Remember, they played in equally difficult offensive eras. ========================================================== Rfield -33 46 DRA -20.5 -17.1 The first is the defensive number at BBREF. The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more. ===================================================================== Actual WAR 50.1 28.5 My Conversion 54.7 35.5 MAPES C Rank 17 45 MAPES is my personal ranking system.
Have I convinced you that Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame? Maybe not. But I hope I’ve convinced you that if the Hall could have only one of Simmons and Schalk, it should absolutely be Ted Simmons.
Tune in next Monday for the second part of this series, Keith Hernandez.
It’s never too late to start a campaign. Now that we know no players have been elected via the Hall of Fame’s Today’s Game committee, we can turn our attention to the 2017 slate of Modern Baseball candidates. And beyond.
Most of the folks on these committees are either ex-players or ex-journalists who exited the profession before the sabrmetric boom. We can’t count on them to accept, let alone grok, the analytics that people like me and Miller bandy about. So we need to use the stats these folks know well to make our point. The trad stats. Baseball card stats.
In the Politics of Glory, Bill James makes a great point when he says that if a player’s career stats fall right in the belly of a whole bunch of Hall of Famers, then he’s got a solid piece of evidence in his favor. James also says that a strong candidate’s resume would be near or above the average performance of a Hall of Famer at his position. Let’s combine these two ideas. For certain key stats and certain key Veterans Committee candidates, we’ll list out how these outsiders would rank among Hall of Famers. If they consistently rank above the Hall’s average at their position, we can guess they would be really good candidates.
Today, we’ll look at hitters we’ve elected to the Hall of Miller and Eric that the Today’s Game and Modern Baseball eras could consider in the coming years.
Number of Hall of Fame catchers: 15
Ranking to be average or better among Hall catchers: 8th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS =========================================================================== TOTAL 2209 996 2342 344 59 252 1185 779 23 .297 .365 .452 .817 RANK 3 9 2 6 7 6 7 6 14 7 8 11 8 AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH
Torre sits right above the average Hall of Fame catcher. Of course, he’s a plurality catcher, not a 50% catcher, which could give some voters pause. But if they think of him as a catcher, he’s got very competitive numbers.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS =========================================================================== TOTAL 2456 1074 2472 483 47 248 1389 855 21 .285 .348 .437 .785 RANK 2 6 1 1 9 6 2 4 14 8 11 13 12 AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH
The rap on Simmons is defense, not hitting. Because clearly he has the hitting stats of a Hall catcher.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ========================================================================== TOTAL 1423 696 1558 229 32 113 701 438 48 .292 .348 .410 .756 RANK 14 11 13 13 11 11 14 14 8 8 12 13 14 AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH
Yeah, that’ll be a hard sell, won’t it. We think Munson was deserving of our plaque but from a straight numbers perspective, the VC won’t buy it. His defense was good but not good enough to overcome this kind of deficit and lack of playing time in their eyes.
Number of Hall of Fame first basemen: 23 (including Rod Carew, Frank Thomas, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, and Stan Musial)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall first basemen: 12th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2088 1124 2182 426 60 162 1071 1070 98 .296 .384 .436 .821 RANK 15 19 19 13 18 15 21 8 11 17 13 21 20 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
Here’s why Hernandez had such a hard time with the BBWAA and why he’ll continue to strike out with the VC. His hitting numbers aren’t superficially amazing like a Bill Terry (.341 average), let alone like the Jimmie Foxxes and Lou Gehrigs. Voters would have to acknowledge that but elect him because he’s the best defensive first basemen ever, while being good enough to hang in the lower reaches of Hall first basemen offensively.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 1874 1167 1626 252 6 583 1414 1317 12 .263 .394 .588 .982 RANK 19 18 23 23 24 1 14 8 24 23 9 4 4 AVERAGE RANKING = 13TH
We know that McGwire’s passing over had steroids written all over it. But it’s not impossible that he’d be a tough sell anyway. He’s an amazingly limited player: limited to walks and homers. Good choices those. Anyway, if the steroid taint wears off, I’d expect him to make it purely based on his Harmon Killebrew profile, but he’s not anywhere near the top of this heap.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2831 1663 3020 585 38 569 1835 1353 97 .288 .371 .515 .885 RANK 3 5 5 2 20 2 6 6 11 18 16 9 11 AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH
There are folks out there who think Palmeiro isn’t worthy. He’s just a compiler. It’s hard to be a compiler and stack up stats like these. Rusty Staub? Hal Baines? Compilers. Rafael Palmeiro? Hall of Famer. Except for that steroid problem….
Number of Hall of Fame second basemen: 20 (including Rod Carew and Jackie Robinson)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall second basemen: 11th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2088 1033 1833 320 47 224 864 1087 104 .266 .371 .424 .794 RANK 15 16 18 16 21 6 15 5 15 20 9 15 15 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
Grich is like a second-base combination of McGwire and Hernandez. Like McGwire, he excels the most in the two most important offensive categories: homers and walks. Like Hernandez, he was a fabulous defensive player. So voters need to go beyond the traditional stats and see the Gold Glove defender with the powerful, patient bat. Collusion didn’t help him either, but I doubt that’s a talking point for these folks.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================= TOTAL 2202 1239 2210 316 65 54 687 1243 271 .276 .373 .351 .724 RANK 12 13 15 16 17 16 20 3 11 16 9 20 17 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
Willie Randolph is unlikely to gain election. Ever. His offensive profile is too deadball in this era to get a second look, and his defensive excellence probably wouldn’t be enough for most voters. What you also don’t see here is strong base running value. Still, the trad-stats case for Randolph goes like this:
Willie Randolph was a little better hitter than Nellie Fox, and near or maybe better than Fox in the field. If Nellie Fox is a Hall of Famer, then Randolph makes sense too.
That’s a terrible argument, of course. If–then only makes sense when the if player is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. Randolph’s argument is much more subtle than that, and Fox is a lower rung Hall member. But it wouldn’t surprise me if a lousy argument like that might be palatable to a VC group.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS =============================================================================== TOTAL 2390 1386 2369 420 65 244 1084 1197 143 .276 .363 .426 .789 RANK 6 11 13 12 17 6 11 3 14 16 12 15 15 AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH
Here’s your most likely guy at second base. Whitaker’s got the power and walks of Grich, a fine glove, and a longer career than both Grich and Randolph to give him a little more clout in the career figures. What he also has is a strong association with Detroit and with Alan Trammell. Since Trammell and Whitaker will likely appear on the ballot together, there’s some narrative to help his case since there could be sentiment toward enshrining them simultaneously. Unless Jack Morris gets in the way.
Number of Hall of Fame third basemen: 13 (including Paul Molitor)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall third basemen: 7th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================= TOTAL 2019 982 1790 289 38 242 1039 1031 75 .254 .352 .408 .760 RANK 8 11 13 13 14 6 8 7 8 14 10 12 11 AVERAGE RANKING = 10TH
This one’s a tough sell. Bando played his career in a very hard time for hitters, in a ballpark that was very hard for hitters. As a result, his numbers aren’t top-shelf on their surface. There are also differing opinions about his defense with some systems liking him OK and others disliking him. But he won three straight World Series titles and five straight divisions in Oakland when the division meant something. I wouldn’t hold my breath for him.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================= TOTAL 2405 1151 2514 425 56 201 1106 836 55 .279 .341 .406 .747 RANK 5 8 5 5 13 7 8 8 10 10 13 12 12 AVERAGE RANKING = 9TH
Bell is an even longer shot than Bando. His traditional numbers are better than Sal’s, but he played for a lot of lousy teams and never got to strut his stuff in the playoffs. Like Whitaker, he’s a little below his position’s midline, but unlike Sweet Lou lacks the narrative. In reality, his excellent defense plays a very big role in his sabrmetric campaign, but not much of one in his trad-stats campaign as his defensive value isn’t communicated well even by six straight Gold Gloves. Well, and he’d better hope they don’t count his managerial days against him because he’s probably the worst long-time manager in modern baseball history.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2687 1344 2223 329 36 414 1354 1605 98 .248 .361 .431 .792 RANK 3 6 9 11 14 3 5 1 7 14 10 10 10 AVERAGE RANKING = 8TH
Evans—who virtually no one remembers outside of Detroit, San Francisco, and online sabrmetric hangouts—was quiet and did nothing flashy. But he lasted forever and racked up some impressive career totals in key stats. I don’t believe for a second that the VC would elect him, but you can see here that he’s got some markers that they should love. He also played a good third base and later a decent first base.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2700 1193 2225 328 28 390 1314 1088 32 .248 .329 .421 .750 RANK 3 7 9 11 14 3 6 7 12 14 13 10 12 AVERAGE RANKING = 9TH
I suspect that it’s Nettles who would be first in line among these four hot-corner habitués. His career stats are remarkably similar, damn near identical in many categories to Evans’ (with the exception of SB and walks, and therefore OBP). But Nettles does have a lot of fame and narrative to go with those career totals, and a reputation for Brooksesque defense. Frankly either he or Bell is the most deserving anyway, and given the paucity of third basemen in the Hall of Fame, it’s time the VC looked at guys like Nettles. I think this guy could have a real shot. Probably not next year, though, because those Tigers will get the limelight.
Number of Hall of Fame shortstops: 22 (including Ernie Banks, Monte Ward, and Robin Yount)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall third basemen: 12th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2293 1231 2365 412 55 185 1003 850 236 .285 .352 .415 .767 RANK 11 14 10 9 22 5 10 11 11 11 12 9 13 AVERAGE RANKING = 11TH
In these 13 important trad stats, Alan Trammell would average 11th, which, in turn, would put him above the Hall’s average. The only place he scores poorly is triples, and that’s mostly about his having come along well after triples began to decline in favor of homers. All in all, Trammell’s statistics make good case for his inclusion when compared against other Hall shortstops. I would give him odds second only to Jack Morris for election.
Number of Hall of Fame left fielders: 21 (including Stan Musial, Willie Stargell, Babe Ruth)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall left fielders: 11th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2353 1036 2251 391 94 165 1077 898 317 .284 .354 .420 .774 RANK 9 20 17 15 13 13 16 12 8 19 20 19 20 AVERAGE RANKING = 15TH
Not that Jose Cruz has an ice cube’s chance in hell of even seeing the ballot, but we elected him and the next fellow, so I wanted to be sure to at least include them. As Bill James pointed out years ago, had Jose Cruz played anywhere other than the Astrodome, he’d have been a huge national star. But because its run-suppressing power, his stat line looks kind of pedestrian. Given that and the importance of his defense to a Hall case, he’ll never get a second look.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================ TOTAL 1881 964 1803 300 51 160 758 934 233 .271 .360 .404 .764 RANK 17 21 19 20 21 14 21 11 8 22 19 21 20 AVERAGE RANKING = 18TH
Same story as Cruz except that the suppression of White’s offense was due to a pitcher’s era and, to a lesser extent than Cruz, his home park. Defense again plays a big part of White’s story. I have no illusions about his chances either.
Number of Hall of Fame center fielders: 19 (including Robin Yount and Andre Dawson)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall center fielders: 10th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================= TOTAL 2001 1251 1949 437 25 393 1199 998 67 .284 .376 .527 .903 RANK 10 12 16 6 19 5 9 9 15 17 13 8 10 AVERAGE RANKING = 11TH
As far as leftovers go, this one’s pretty tasty. The BBWAA summarily disposed of Jim Edmonds, but just looking at these numbers it’s easy to see both why they did (fewer than 2000 hits) and why they shouldn’t have (everything else). In addition, Edmonds was a highlight-reel defender. Nice job, voters. Oh, and unless the VC changes, I don’t know how they would arrive at a different decision. I mean, they never elect players anymore anyway!
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2103 1528 2428 383 116 130 781 945 622 .299 .372 .423 .794 RANK 11 9 10 11 11 12 16 11 4 13 13 17 16 AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH
Seriously? One and done? Lofton was one hell a lot better than that. Actually, there’s a little wider perception than just the BBWAA that Lofton’s not Hall material. Like with Rafael, I don’t understand this position. When I put my analytics together, he’s a solid member of any but the most exclusive Halls of Fame. He’s pretty much an average Hall center fielder, especially once you add in positive defensive value and amazing base running value. Trad stats wise, he might have an incrementally better chance in the VC than Edmonds if only because his steals and impressive runs scored totals give him a narrative to hang a vote on.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 1987 1123 2020 363 57 314 1092 890 137 .287 .366 .489 .855 RANK 12 16 16 11 17 7 11 11 12 15 15 11 13 AVERAGE RANKING = 13TH
The other Reggie is a very borderline candidate, even for us. He ranks out decently among Hall centerfielders but spent a lot of time in right field, too, where he doesn’t look as great. He was always hurt and that won’t help him either, especially since it hurts his career totals.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 1920 1105 1665 285 39 291 964 1224 225 .250 .366 .436 .802 RANK 13 16 18 16 19 7 15 6 10 20 15 15 16 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
The poor Toy Cannon. Like Jose Cruz, his batting stats are just demolished by the Astrodome. But unlike Cruz, he got away from it. To Dodgers Stadium, another well-known pitchers park. As a homer-hitting, high walks, high-steals center fielder, you’d think he’d look pretty good, but the low batting average and park-suppressed slugging percentage are too much context for people to get past. Too bad, they’re missing out on a great player.
Number of Hall of Fame center fielders: 24 (including Andre Dawson and Babe Ruth)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall center fielders: 12th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 1849 1258 1886 302 66 332 1024 914 461 .268 .353 .471 .824 RANK 19 20 21 21 23 9 19 11 3 24 23 15 18 AVERAGE RANKING = 17TH
Once again, there’s a defense argument to be made here that the VC won’t get into, so Bonds’ chances are pretty slim. The power, walks, and speed combo is might impressive, but they’ll have bigger fish to fry. Like this next guy.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2606 1470 2446 483 73 385 1384 1391 78 .272 .370 .470 .840 RANK 8 11 17 12 21 9 11 5 24 24 17 15 13 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
Evans is a sabrmetric favorite and long underrated by Hall voters of every stripe due to his OBP-heavy profile. But 385 homers isn’t exactly something to sneeze at. His arm was feared around the league and for great reason, so there’s additional value and narrative that voters could pick up on. I like his chances more than Bonds’ and many others on this list.
As we look at these guys and compare them to positional norms, we should also remember something important. These guys have been passed over because their career totals weren’t in no-brainer territory. So they go to the back door to find their way in. But also, remember that the Hall has made a ton of mistakes. Additionally, given its 217 members, the Hall should have roughly 18–20 men per position. None of the players above falls outside that range in terms of their average ranking in these key categories. In fact, only one even falls as low as that range. The rest improve on that figure. Additionally, the Hall electorates have been too tough on centerfield, third base, and catcher. Those positions are way understaffed, and the men mentioned above would be great steps toward recognizing more Hall of Fame caliber players at those needlessly scarce positions.
Next time out, we’ll look at pitchers to see who on the Modern Baseball and Today’s Game ballots might have a shot from an old-school perspective.
BBREF is good for a lot of things. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of baseball. On Monday, sandwiched around trying to sell a house and buy a car, I was looking through the career WAR leaderboard. Now this is something with which I’m generally familiar at the top, but as you move down the list there are some pretty fascinating ties. So today, we’re going to look at some of those ties, offering surface-level commentary and trying to understand perceptions of quality.
Mike Trout and Fernando Valenzuela, two of the game’s most talked about rookies. Trout’s in his sixth season, fifth full. It took Fernando seventeen to get here. Next up for Trout, with 0.1 more WAR, are Don Mattingly, Jose Canseco, Lenny Dykstra, and Red Schoendienst.
This is a fun one – Hugh Duffy, Charlie Keller, and Tony Oliva. All three were clearly very good players. Hugh Duffy found his way into the Hall, though he probably shouldn’t have. Charlie Keller has six outstanding seasons. In fact, his sixth best season is about fifteenth best among all left fielders. But he was done after that. It’s hard to hit homers with a bad back. Oliva is a little like Keller. He was an All-Star for five years, excellent for eight, and then done. His eighth best season is around the twentieth best among right fielders. Of course, knee and other assorted injuries ended his run. Because of superior defense, my MAPES system actually prefers Duffy to Keller and Oliva, though the Hall of Fame is a stretch.
This is where we see Hall of Famer Travis Jackson and very clear not Hall of Famer Steve Finley. By MAPES, Finley was already behind Mike Trout heading into this season. He’s even behind Hall mistakes in center field like Earl Averill, Edd Roush, and Earle Combs. Clearly, the Hall has its shortstop problems. Jackson is just one example thereof.
This is a fun tie. Herb Pennock is in the Hall, but he shouldn’t be unless you’re in a camp that wants the Hall large enough to include the likes of Bartolo Colon. And no, that’s not a joke about Big Sexy’s size. Dizzy Dean is in the Hall. He’s not in the HoME since he really gave us about six years and nothing else. Harry Stovey isn’t in either. He wasn’t quite great enough when he was great, and he really only put up twelve years of note. And then there’s J.D. Drew. He was hated by Philadelphia fans because he wouldn’t sign with them for less than $10 million. He wasn’t beloved by St. Louis fans because of the perception he didn’t work hard enough and because they thought he’d be better than they perceived he was. He killed it in Atlanta for just a season. He was good in Los Angeles for two. And then Boston fans had their turn at not appreciating him after he signed for five years and $70 million in 2007. Drew was hurt a lot, topping 140 games just twice. And he seemed to underperform. That’s because fans have a hard time seeing the little things that Drew did well. He was an excellent all-around player. And while he’s no candidate for the HoME, his eleven 2-WAR seasons match Sammy Sosa and Vlad Guerrero among right fielders. And they top Elmer Flick and Ichiro Suzuki (unless he somehow makes it this year).
Decon White is in the Hall of Fame, and as the greatest ever third baseman before Home Run Baker, he should be. Omar Vizquel has his backers too. He played until he was 45, totaled 2877 hits, and is perceived by some to be the greatest fielding shortstop this side of Ozzie Smith. Omar’s Rfield number at BBREF is a very impressive 128. However, his DRA, which I think is a superior fielding measure, is -31. Vizquel is just about the most overrated player in the game’s history if you prefer DRA to Rfield. The truth, I’m sure, is somewhere in the middle. But when some group wages a campaign for Omar in 25 years and it succeeds, just know that it shouldn’t have.
Ernie Lombardi played seventeen years. He’s in the Hall probably because today’s advanced metrics didn’t account for his miserable base running at the time. Thurman Munson played for twelve years. He isn’t in the Hall, though he is in the HoME due to an outstanding peak and prime. His five best seasons top Mickey Cochrane. His seven best top Carlton Fisk. And his ten best top Bill Dickey.
Jim Rice and Frank Viola are tied here. Why’d I bother writing an entire How the Hall Failed post on Jim Rice when I simply could have pointed out this tie?
Here you have undeserving Hall of Famer Nellie Fox, if you trust DRA and realize Fox was a pretty mediocre hitter, even for a second baseman. And you also have Sandy Koufax. Since I’m a baseball fan, I love Sandy Koufax. But I really can’t stand the historical company he keeps. He’s no Walter Johnson. He’s no Greg Maddux. And he’s no Clayton Kershaw. Yes, Sandy Koufax was amazing. However, even if we look at Koufax by his best five seasons consecutively, he’s behind Pedro Martinez and Bob Gibson and Lefty Grove. If you prefer to look at only four, he still trails those three – and at least a dozen other guys by both measures. Again, I love Sandy Koufax. Don’t tell anyone, but we sort of saw Koufax in Minnesota and New York from 2004-2008, except they called him Johan Santana. It’s amazing how narrative affects our perceptions.
Ralph Kiner and Dennis Martinez are tied. See Rice and Viola above. To be fair, Kiner did have an amazing power peak. But he was done at 30. El Presidente didn’t really get started until he was 33. He once said, “My concentration wasn’t on baseball; it was on drinking.” Imagine if it were on baseball.
This is one of my favorite ties of all. Bobby Doerr is a Hall of Famer, though he barely, barely, barely missed the HoME. Felix Hernandez is one of the best pitchers of his generation. And then there’s Toby Harrah. For seventeen seasons, Harrah got on base and knew what to do once he was there. But he hit .264 in his career while playing in Texas and Cleveland. He never reached the playoffs, and the back of his baseball card wasn’t exciting. It’s with great confidence I say Harrah was better than Hall of Fame third basemen Freddie Lindstron, George Kell, and Pie Traynor. If he wasn’t such a hack on defense, he’d likely be in the HoME. Of course, he really was bad defensively. Really bad.
Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt and Mark Teixeira are tied. Don’t get too excited Tex fans. Your guy was a Yankee, but he wasn’t a 1927 Yankee.
Here we have Clayton Kershaw, 70 spots above Koufax, by the way. We also have a guy killed by perception, Ron Cey. He didn’t have a baseball body. He wasn’t as pretty as Steve Garvey. And he certainly didn’t hit for the average Garvey did. On the other hand, Garvey’s career OBP was .329 and Cey’s was .354. Steve Garvey certainly played in the right generation for a player of his type. Ron Cey didn’t.
Please see #339 and #315 David Ortiz fans. He’s tied with David Wells. Then again, Papi will probably produce for another eight or twelve years, win three more World Series for the Sox, and become a unanimous Hall of Fame selection. (I can’t say bad stuff about Papi).
Hall of Famers and HoMErs Max Carey and Bill Terry are tied with HoMErs Bucky Walters and Jose Cruz. We’re looking at the borderline here. Someone could certainly prefer Frank Tanana to Walters. Most people prefer Joe Medwick and Willie Stargell to Cruz. Carey was in a conversation with George Gore, Mike Griffin, and Willie Davis for a couple of center field spots. And Bill Terry isn’t so, so far ahead of Jake Beckley, Will Clark, and John Olerud. Hall and HoME lines are hard to draw and blurry. And even if you get them right, there’s a consideration about peak, prime, and career that’s pretty messy too.
I’ve fallen in love with Joe Gordon these past few years. Amazing bat, amazing glove, incredible peak. And the guy he’s tied with shows either that reliever WAR is bunk or that relievers just aren’t all that valuable – Mariano Rivera. If you’re like me, you have about 70 movies and songs in your personal top-ten lists. Well, with that said, Mariano is clearly one of my ten favorite players ever. As a reminder, in 141 innings in the playoffs, he had a 0.70 ERA.
Hank Greenberg and Willie Stargell are tied. The former is in the HoME, the latter isn’t. The former reached #208 all-time in 13 seasons, the latter in 21. That pretty much explains it.
Sal Bando and Jackie Robinson. Yes, it took Bando sixteen years to accomplish what Robinson did in ten. Still, players from the 1970s and 1980s are criminally underrated. And we just ignore the greatness of the third basemen of that era. Sure, we bow down to Schmidt and Brett, but Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles, Darrell Evans, and Sal Bando were truly great too. And how great is it for Bando to be able to say he’s tied with Jackie Robinson in all-time WAR!
Willie McCovey and Andre Dawson are tied. Seems about right.
Ed Walsh and Willie Randolph. It’s not just third basemen of that era who are underrated. Nearly everybody is. If I twist my brain in certain ways, I can find a path to the Hall for a ton of players. But somehow I can’t find one for Randolph, a guy who I think is clearly qualified. There’s nothing sexy about him. Comparisons to Bid McPhee and Ross Barnes hardly help. And it’s hard to make a case for too many guys with but one year better than 5.8 WAR. Randolph, though, is one.
Goose Goslin and Buddy Bell. Hey, another third baseman from an overlooked era. These two really are similarly great historically. A more apt historical comparison for Buddy Bell, however, is Brooks Robinson. If Bell were fifteen years older and began his career in Baltimore and Brooks were fifteen years younger and began his career in Cleveland, our perceptions would pretty much flip.
No-brainer Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk is tied with a guy who received just eighteen career Hall of Fame votes, Kenny Lofton. Perhaps it’s not just Tim Raines who Rickey Henderson has crushed.
Hall of Fame voters, please take note. Here we have one of the 1970s greatest pitchers in Jim Palmer. We also have one of the 2000s greatest players in Carlos Beltran. This may be true only for the next few days. Beltran is having a fine 2016 campaign. Maybe by the time it’s done he can be tied at #92 with Bobby Grich.
Frankie Frisch is a Hall of Famer. Pretty much everyone agrees. Red Ruffing is a Hall of Famer. Pretty much everyone agrees. Ron Santo is a Hall of Famer. Even though it took forever, pretty much everyone agrees. And then there’s Alan Trammell. Let me guess. He played in the 1970s or 1980s and didn’t hit for huge average or huge power.
I bring this one up for no reason other than it’s the highest tie on the all-time WAR leaderboard. Pedro Martinez is tied with John Clarkson. While it’s absolutely crazy to try to compare players with careers a hundred years apart, I’m very thankful for WAR for letting us try.
Our 25th election, that of 1985, marked only the second time that we’ve had just one Hall of Miller and Eric enshrine. The great Thurman Munson joins the elite club in his first ballot, this despite being passed over 15 times by the BBWAA and only once reaching 10% of the vote. With his inclusion, HoME membership balloons to 121 of the greatest players in the game’s history. We have 91 more to go. And given the rather extensive list of obituaries you’ll see on Monday and the short ballot that we’ll post on Wednesday, I think the next election may allow us to keep working on the backlog.
Per our rules, players have to be named on both ballots for induction. We have some new names and some familiar favorites below. Enjoy.
Miller Eric 1 Red Faber Thurman Munson 2 Thurman Munson Roy White 3 Whitey Ford Dave Bancroft 4 Pud Galvin
At a time when great catchers like Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, Joe Torre, and Ted Simmons seemed to be falling out of trees, Thurman Munson is somewhat overlooked, perhaps overshadowed by the story of the end of his career rather than the story of his career. The first Yankee captain since Lou Gehrig is also the only Yankee ever to win the Rookie of the Year Award (1970) and the Most Valuable Player Award (1976). He also hit .373 in three World Series, two victories. In his nine full seasons, he was an All-Star seven times and a Gold Glove winner on three occasions. Making the necessary catcher adjustments so the position looks like others in terms of value, he’s one of six catchers ever with a pair of 8-win seasons, one of eleven catchers with five seasons of 6 WAR, and one of thirteen with six seasons of 5 WAR. He died on August 2, 1979 when a plane he was flying crashed, a crash that the FAA basically said he caused. At the time, he was still pushing out better than average seasons, and we might have been able to expect a graceful decline phase. Munson is missed, but his plaque will forever live on in the HoME.
There were a couple of votes Eric retracted since the last election due to a slight recalibration of his system. He decided to cut his standard deviation adjustment in half. Enough to make it more along the scale of a park adjustment. He felt like the previous adjustment had just been too much, and he wanted more alignment with Miller in certain places. Thus, two guys get retracted.
Billy Herman: Still likely to get my vote someday, but it’s now too close to call quite so easily as it was last year. He went from 17 or 18 at his position to 18/19. Might not seem like much, but the gap between 17 and 19 is often enough to make a big difference to my comfort level.
Wilbur Cooper: Pitching is awfully bunched up from about the mid-50s through 70. Cooper went from near the top of this segment to the belly of it. In other words, right on the cut line. So I’d say there’s still a high ultimate likelihood I pull the lever here, but it’s not the easy vote I had him on.
When we don’t agree on who should get elected, we feel the need to explain our solo votes. Those explanations are below.
Red Faber, Whitey Ford, and Pud Galvin: There’s nothing meaningfully new to see here, so I won’t pretend there is. In my latest pitching rankings, I put Faber at #48, Ford at #59, and Galvin at #64. I like Faber at that level. I like Ford a bit more due to his post-season work. And I like Galvin a bit more too based on his huge counting totals.
Roy White: The Bobby Veach of the 1960s and 1970s. White was good at everything except throwing and great at perhaps only tracking down flyballs. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the combination of his era, his more famous teammates (and in the beginning and middle of his career, his less famous teammates), his all-around game, and his low-key personality seem to have obscured his excellence. It’s strange to be voting for two 1970s Yankees that are underrated.
Dave Bancroft: Despite some rejiggering of my system that drew Bancroft down a tad, he remains, for me, and is now even more so, extremely similar to Joe Sewell. Actually just a shade ahead of him. I believe at this point that Sewell/Bancroft is as deep as we will go at shortstop. It’s all looking up from there. But the position is amazingly deep.
That’s all for our 1985 election. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those elected and to see plenty more information about the HoME.
Congratulations to our second class of inductees, Cap Anson, Roger Connor, and Dan Brouthers for gaining entrance to the Hall of Miller and Eric on our 1906 ballot. The HoME is now populated with six of the greatest players in the game’s history.
Per our rules, all three had to be named on both ballots for induction. Let’s look to see how we voted.
|Cap Anson||Cap Anson|
|Roger Connor||Roger Connor|
|Dan Brouthers||Dan Brouthers|
Here’s a brief rationale from each voter for each player.
Cap Anson: To this point, he’s the best player in baseball history.
Roger Connor: At his best, he was great. When he wasn’t his best, he was still very good. He had a very nice peak and a very nice career. Connor is an easy inductee into the HoME
Dan Brouthers: He might be the best power hitter of the 19th century. And he’s another easy call.
Cap Anson: Best player we’ve seen so far.
Roger Connor: Second best player we’ve seen so far, by a nose over Brouthers.
Dan Brouthers: Third best player we’ve seen so far.
Buck Ewing: Tremendous defense adding to good offensive profile at tough position.
George Wright: Best player before the NA, probably second best player from 1871-1879, maybe the best depending on how one sees Barnes.
King Kelly: The bad-defense and shorter-career version of Ewing. $10,000 sale reflects his performance and popularity. Strong peak/prime performer, would have been higher but for inability to keep it together after age 33.
Paul Hines: Best centerfielder of the pro-game’s first 15 years. Strong similarity to already-enshrined Deacon White in peak, prime, and career value.
Ross Barnes: Most dominant player of the 1870s by far. Among handful to lead league in WAR 5 times. Was still average after illness/injury that ultimately forced him from game. Probably best 2B before Nap Lajoie/Eddie Collins.
Charlie Bennett: He’s the Carlton Fisk to Buck Ewing’s Johnny Bench in the 1880s. Oddly enough his playing style is kind of like Thurman Munson with an even better glove. Munson is a borderliner, this guy is easily over the line for catchers.
Please visit our Honorees page to see their plaques and to see more information about the HoME and those who have been elected.
Congratulations to Jack Glasscock, John Clarkson, and Deacon White for gaining entrance to the Hall of Miller and Eric on our inaugural ballot. Though they’re no Cobb, Johnson, Mathewson, Wagner, and Ruth, they are among the best in the history of the game.
Per our rules, all three had to be named on both ballots for induction. Let’s look to see how we voted.
|John Clarkson||Jack Glasscock|
|Jack Glasscock||George Wright|
|Deacon White||John Clarkson|
Here’s a brief rationale from each voter for each player.
John Clarkson: He’s the best pitcher in the first quarter century of the professional game’s history.
Jack Glasscock: How can Cooperstown not have yet acknowledged a player at a critical defensive position whose glove was absolutely great and his bat nearly as good?
Deacon White: He’s the best 3B of his era and had value behind the plate as well.
Jack Glasscock: Ozzie Smith’s glove + Alan Trammel’s bat = one of the most-overlooked stars in MLB history. Must be the name.
George Wright: The game’s best player in the 1860s, a star on both sides of the ball in the NABBP, NA, and NL.
John Clarkson: Best pitcher before Nichols and Young, easily. Clarkson fetched $10,000 just like Kelly, and for good reason.
King Kelly: $10,000 sale reflects his performance and popularity. Strong peak/prime performer, would have been higher but for inability to keep it together after age 33.
Deacon White: Best player of 1877, best catcher of 1870s before position-switch. Maintained abilities and value deep into career.
Paul Hines: Best centerfielder of the pro-game’s first 15 years. Strong similarity to White in peak, prime, and career value.
Ross Barnes: Most dominant player of the 1870s by far. Among handful to lead league in WAR 5 times. Was still average after illness/injury that forced him from game. Probably best 2B before Lajoie/Collins.
Charlie Bennett: He’s the Fisk to Ewing’s Bench in the 1880s. Oddly enough his playing style is kind of like Thurman Munson with an even better glove. Munson is a borderliner, this guy is easily over the line for catchers.
Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of our first inductees.