**NOTE: I am in no way associated with the MLB or the Society of American Baseball Research (I am a SABR.org member however). I'm simply producing MY OWN version of the HOF for the history of the MLB using some of the stats that SABR has deemed important.**
So I’ve begun the task of producing a SABR-based web Hall of Fame for the MLB, which will no doubt be imperfect. However, I (with the help of some very educated baseball dorks) think that I can do a better job than the writers have done over the past century in electing the players that need (Dwight Evans, Bert Blyleven) to be there and keeping the ones who don’t deserve to be there out (I’m looking at you Jim Rice). Writers such as John Heyman spend more time defending why they won’t vote for certain players (Blyleven) than they do showing us the merits of the players they do vote for (Jack Morris) all while stooping to name calling to bloggers who have much more insightful points of view. Other writers such as Dan Graziano refuse to vote for certain players because it is POSSIBLE that they used steroids while maintaining voting records that are dubious at best. Others refuse to vote for sure fire HOFers (Rickey Henderson) because they feel they don’t deserve as much of the vote as a Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb.
This Splashing Pumpkins blog entry echoes my views in a very well written piece: and this video from the Colbert Report does the same:
Starting with the most recently retired players and working backwards, I’m going to establish my own “SABR” HOF using WAR and some other personal biases in an attempt to determine how good a player was within his era, and use that ranking to determine if he is really HOF worthy. I won’t be touching executives, owners, umpires or other people who contributed to the game off the field. The focus here is only on field accomplishment. That being said, you can bet Pete Rose is getting in. Also, it is hard to find accurate statistics for Negro League players, so I’ll save them for last in order to do as accurate a job as possible.
First up will be players who gained their HOF eligibility for the first time between 2004 and 2010 (retired from 1998 to 2005).
First I looked at the players who were already elected by the BBWA during this time; of these Rickey Henderson Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. are absolute no brainers. Done. In. If you feel the need to debate the worthiness of any of those three, please go away.
Next up was Ryne Sandberg, and while I don’t debate his greatness, he wasn’t a sure thing for me. After a bit of research and comparing his career WAR to that of Robbie Alomar, Jeff Kent and Lou Whitaker, who are other 2B that I deem worthy, I decided he is also in. Wade Boggs get in easily on the merits of 3000 hits, 1500 runs and 5 batting titles, and an 89 WAR for his career.
Paul Molitor was next up on the list. I wondered if Molitor was truly great or if he was just very good for a long time. While he has 3300 hits and 1700 runs, his best five WAR seasons were 7, 6.2, 6.1, 5.8 and 5.7. Compare that to Wade Boggs whose best five WAR seasons were 9.1, 8.7, 8.6, 8.5 and 8.2. I realize that Molitor wasn’t only a 3B and he played a lot at 2B and SS (as well as 3B, 1B and OF) so comparing him to a great 3B might be unfair, but his career dWAR is only 0.8, meaning he was an average fielder all over the diamond and had many seasons with a negative WAR. Also, Molitor’s best defensive season was a 0.8 in 1983 when he was primarily a third baseman. Molitor does rank 68th on the all time WAR leader board at baseball reference, ahead of players like Derek Jeter, Brooks Robinson and Tony Gwynn. However, he only has about 8 more WAR for his career than Ron Santo (who is a borderline HOF case in many people’s minds) despite playing 6 more seasons. Molitor is 150th all time in MVP shares with 1.43, which ranks him behind the likes of Carlos Delgado, Justin Morneau, Terry Pendleton, Jose Canseco, and Will Clark. On the other hand he was in the top 10 in the league for WAR 7 times, and in batting average ten times. After much hemming and hawing, I decided that Molitor was a borderline HOFer, who pushed himself in by being very good for very long. If his career were only 16 or 17 seasons instead of 21, he probably wouldn’t have gotten in.
Last on the list of players elected by the BBWA from 2004-2010 is Dennis Eckersley. Let me preface this by saying that other than Rickey Henderson, Eck is my favorite non-Giants player of all time, so I am a bit biased here. I realize that many people think saves are a useless stat, but I only partially subscribe to that mode of thinking. I think that the 9th inning presents a new set of pressures, and the last three outs of a baseball game really are the toughest three to get. I know that there is no way to justify this line of thinking, but hey, I’m the one writing this article and doing the research so I make the rules. All of that being said, Eck won a CY and a MVP as a closer, which may have been unfounded given his WAR rating of 3.0 in 1992 while Roger Clemens posted a WAR of 7.9 and Mike Mussina a WAR of 7.4. I’m going to include Eck on the following line of reasoning: closers are the best relievers, and they pitch the most important innings, and it is much harder for a closer to accumulate enough stats to be deemed worthy for the HOF than a starter (just look at the number of closers in the HOF compared to SP) and while Eck isn’t the greatest closer of all time, he is certainly the greatest of his generation and in the top 5 all time. Eck is in. End of story.
Now on to players who retired between 1998 and 2005 who haven’t been elected. The players I found that are worthy of discussion are Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Kevin Brown, Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, David Cone, Mark McGwire, Will Clark and Albert Belle.
First the players who didn’t quite make it: Albert Belle wasn’t good for long enough, and even though he was downright scary for six or seven years, he never posted a great WAR season, his best being a 7.4 in 1998 (he was only over 6 two other times).
Will Clark is a favorite of mine and I would love to be able to justify putting him in, but 1989 was his only great season and he compares poorly to the other 1B of his era. McGwire was another player I rooted for growing up, but he was too one dimensional and spent too much time on the DL for me to include, leaving Big Mac and the Thrill out is something that hurts, but in the name of all that is SABR, I have to do it.
David Cone is an interesting case, although he only has 197 wins, he was in the top 5 for WAR among pitchers six times, and is 47th all time in pitching WAR. He was the Cy Young award winner in 1994, and finished in the top six of the voting four other times (3rd in 1988, 4th in 1995 and 1998 and 6th in 1999). He also ranks ahead of Whitey Ford and Mordecai Brown in career WAR. The case against Cone is that in the seasons he wasn’t in the CY running, he was very average. Ten times he posted a WAR below 4 (seven times below 2), and while that may have been due to the myriad of injuries he sustained during his career, it is enough to keep him out of this hall of fame.
I’ll let this comparison of WAR over career do my finger wagging at Palmeiro. You’ll never, ever, EVER get in. No way. I’m insulted you think you belong. Go away Raffy.
It took Palmeiro 7 seasons to break 20 WAR total, Clark, Bagwell and Thomas all did it in 4. Comparing nth best WAR seasons, Thomas and Bagwell posted 4 seasons with WAR higher than Palmiero’s best season.
That graph also makes a very strong case for Jeff Bagwell being in. Bags played most of his career in the great expanses of the Astrodome, making his numbers more impressive. The chart also compares his stats to two players who also played in the steroid era, one of them even testing positive, and Bags compares favorably to both. I’m putting Bagwell in.
Kevin Brown was a very good pitcher, even among the league’s best for a number of years, but he never won a CY and only finished in the top six of vote getters five times. However, he led the league in WAR for pitchers twice, and was in the top three for pitching WAR four other times (Six times total in the top 3). He ranks 34th on the career WAR list among pitchers ahead of Carl Hubbell, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal and Amos Rusie and right behind Don Drysdale, Bob Feller and Tom Glavine. In the new age of SABR stat analysis, wins aren’t as important as they used to be, so the fact that he only has 211 wins shouldn’t be held against him. He led the league in ERA twice, and was second two other times. My initial inclination was to put Brown in, but after reading an article by Joe Posnanski in which he compares Kevin Brown to Curt Schilling, I began to think otherwise. Yes Kevin Brown ranked very highly in ERA and WAR compared to other pitchers during the time he played, but he is still a borderline case (as is Schilling). One could argue that Brown prevented runs as well as anyone, but the three main factors pitchers can control are walks, strikeouts and homeruns. Schilling posted a historic career K/BB rate of 3,116 to 711 (the best since 1900) while Brown posted a very good K/BB rate of 2,397 to 901. Brown posted a career HR/9 rate of 0.6 compared to 1.0 for Schilling in an almost identical number of regular season innings. Schilling also spent a lot of time in Boston and Arizona, parks that are not as pitcher friendly as Jack Murphy or Joe Robbie. Another thing that sets Schilling apart from Brown is his postseason performance. We all remember the bloody sock game, but how many of us remember that Schilling posted a postseason mark of 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA (4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in the World Series), while Brown was 5-5 with a 4.19 ERA in the postseason (0-3 6.04 ERA in the World Series). I agree with Posnanski that borderline cases such as Schilling and Brown need something extra to push them over the edge, and in Schilling’s case his K/BB ratio and postseason performance do just that. Brown, however, is probably going to be one of the best pitchers NOT to make it in to my SABR-HOF.
The case for Larry Walker:
I compared Larry Walker to three other outfielders who made All-Star teams in the mid to late 90’s, and his career WAR arc looks much more like Tony Gwynn’s than Steve Finley’s or Reggie Sanders’. Walker ranks 69th in WAR all time among position players ahead of Edgar Martinez (who many in the SABR crowd argue should be in), Eddie Murray and Willie McCovey. I think that his WAR numbers speak for themselves. Walker also gets in.
There are places all over the web to find arguments for Tim Raines being in, I won’t rehash them here, and he gets in. The same goes for Roberto Alomar, who will probably be voted in this year.
Here’s the list of inductees so far:
Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken Jr., Ryne Sandberg, Paul Molitor, Dennis Eckersley, Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker.
Next week I’ll tackle players who retired between 1990 and 1997. Hello Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell!
Special thanks to the Splashing Pumpkins blog for help with this article, make sure to check them out. All information contained in this post came from BaseballReference.com or Fangraphs.com except for the information on Brown and Schilling, which came from a Joe Posnanski post on SI.com