Today I will assess the qualifications of players that became eligible for the MLB HOF between 1994 and 2003 (retired between 1989 and 1998).
I used the player sorter tool to find players who had their last season fall in this range, and I picked the players I thought were at least worthy of a discussion.
Here is the list of players with links to their baseball reference profiles:
Robin Yount, Kirby Puckett, Chet Lemon, Ozzie Smith, Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph, Dwight Evans, Gary Carter, and Jack Clark.
Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Eddie Murray, and Dave Winfield, will be addressed in part two of the post.
For those who may be confused as to just what wWAR is, here is a link to an explanation of the metric by its creator Adam Darowski.
Let’s start with Robin Yount:
While he was the recipient of MVP awards in 1982 and 1989 he never finished in the top 10 in voting otherwise in his career despite finishing in the top 10 in WAR for all players 6 times. His career WAR of 76.9 places him ahead of Paul Molitor, Reggie Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Duke Snider and Larry Walker. His wWAR ranks him 38th all time just behind Reggie, but ahead of Willie McCovey, Tim Raines, Duke Snider and Paul Molitor as well as being well ahead of the HOF median. Add in the 3142 hits, 1632 runs, and 1406 RBI, and you have yourself a sure fire quality HOFer.
Let’s start with a cumulative WAR by year comparison for Puckett and three other outfielders who will make this version of the HOF from the same era; Griffey Jr, Yount and Molitor. Now if you’ve been reading the entries regularly you will know that I said Molitor was just about the hurdle which players had jump in order to make it in, looking at this graph, Puckett didn’t even come close.
I realize that Puckett only played 12 seasons, but comparing just the first 12 seasons of these 4 career arcs, Puckett is still in last place. He never won a MVP, only had two seasons with MVP quality WAR (1988 with 7.2 and 1992 with 6.7). People may claim that he was a great defensive CF but his dWAR for his career is a -1.8. Looks like his popularity won him those gold gloves more than his skills with the leather. If his career had played out a few more years or if he had a couple more great seasons I might consider him. There is no doubt Puckett was a very good hitter, but this is not the Hall of Very Good, looks like Puckett is out.
I’ll let this WAR graph from fangraphs do the talking on Chet Lemon (and Jim Rice, Dale Murphy and Kirby Puckett too)
You can see that Lemon had a very similar career to Jim Rice, and that is exactly why he doesn’t belong. Lemon is 169th all time in career WAR among position players with his career best season barely cracking MVP levels (6.0 in 1984 oWAR of 4 and dWAR of 2). The wWAR statistic is also not kind to Chet Lemon. He’s out.
Ozzie Smith: Well, let’s start with the good; Ozzie is 4th all time in career dWAR, but Barry Bonds is 6th, leading me to debate the actual value of the metric for dWAR. His best finish in an MVP race is 2nd in 1987, when he probably should’ve finished no higher than 5th. His 43 total career oWAR is higher than Brooks Robinson’s 41.8, and Ozzie played the tougher defensive position. One can argue the merits of Ozzie’s HOF candidacy back and forth but one cannot argue that by whatever metric you wish to use, he was the best defensive shortstop during his reign. According to Sean Smith’s RField rating, Ozzie was 239 runs above average; meaning that Ozzie saved 239 runs over his career compared to an average shortstop. Even though Ozzie was -140 as a hitter, that still works out to a +100 runs over average rating for his career. There are plenty of one-dimensional players in the hall, and I think being one of the top 3 (if not #1) defensive shortstops qualifies you for induction.
Lou Whitaker: IN!
Whitaker has a wWAR of 147.6, which compares favorably with many players already in the HOF. Whitaker has an OPS+ of 116, which is identical to Roberto Alomar. Whitaker had 15 seasons with a WAR above 3.0 (the borderline for excellence set by Adam Darowski), which ranks him 13th all time, tied with Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan. I think that Lou Whitaker is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer.
There’s also this little gem designed by Adam Darowski that compares Ozzie, Whitaker and Alan Trammell.
Willie Randolph is another tough case, and I will admit upon glancing at his stats I almost took him off of this list. However, he had 12 seasons with a WAR above 3.0, and his career 60.5 WAR rank him ahead of Hank Greenberg, Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield and Richie Ashburn while leaving him just 1.5 WAR behind Ryne Sandberg (who I have already deemed worthy). None of his offensive stats jump off of the page but take a look at this WAR comparison.
That looks like a comparison of four HOF worthy second basemen. Randolph also has a wWAR of 119 putting him 5th among the current HOF 2B, ahead of Robbie Alomar and Ryne Sandberg. Randolph passes the test. He’s in.
Dwight Evans has a career wWAR of 126.3 which ranks him ahead of Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Tony Perez, Jim Rice and Dave Winfield. Just from a pure numbers standpoint, 2446 hits, 385 HR, and 1384 RBI to go along with a .272/.370/.470 slash line, Evans is good enough to merit induction. He was valuable on defense as well, posting a career 6.9 WAR and he was good for 65 runs above replacement in the field. His career WAR of 61.8 would rank him 12th all time for RF, which would be right in the middle if he were to be elected. I think he belongs, and he makes the cut for my HOF.
Gary Carter with a career WAR of 66.3 and a wWAR of 98.6 there is no debate that Gary Carter belongs in the hall.
Jack Clark has a career wWAR of 104.5 and WAR of 55.0. His totals stats don’t reach anywhere near automatic induction numbers but he was a top 5 MVP vote getter twice, and top 10 a total of four times.
You can see that his career WAR arc is almost identical to Dawson, Winfield and D. Evans, but without the career longevity displayed by the other three. While I do include Dwight Evans in my HOF, I will admit that he is borderline (and helped by his strong wWAR). I think Jack Clark joins Kevin Brown as one of the best to be kept out.