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My Hall of Fame Ballot–Part II

In my previous post, I considered the pitchers I would add to my hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot. In this one I’ll consider the hitters.

Before I go too deeply into this, I want to mention one thing that colors my thinking on this issue. The voting rules for the Baseball Writers of America portion of the Hall balloting automatically drop players who failed to draw 5% of the vote from consideration. In several cases, I think this rule has rushed players worthy of further scrutiny out of eligibility too soon. The new voting system announced by the Hall of Fame last August, which reformulates the Veterans Committee into a 90-member body made up of living honorees, will supposedly restore them to consideration. But that voting won’t start until next year (the new VC will consider players every two years, and execs/umps/managers every four years).

As I’ve already made up my mind not to consider a certain banned hustler for my ballot until he’s actually eligible, I’m going to stick by the rules and not include any ineligibles here. But that won’t preclude me from discussing them.

Catchers

Friends, I was never a fan of Gary Carter. For some reason, I always found him annoying, though I can’t really put my finger on why. It probably had something to do with his earnest, gung-ho attitude combined with the fact that I rooted against the ‘86 and ‘88 Mets as hard as any teams I ever rooted against. That said, I am absolutely convinced that Gary Carter is a Hall of Famer. I had an unshakeable feeling of watching a Hall of Famer in the prime of his career when I watched him, and I’ll wager that was a consensus perception among those of you reading this right now. If you thought about the question the best catcher in the National League after Johnny Bench declined, there simply wasn’t any other credible answer besides Gary Carter.

Keeping in mind that as a catcher his hitting stats are a bit deflated, Carter still scores well on the James Standards and Monitor methods (41.3 HOFS, 135 HOFM). By his Win Shares method, Carter is fourth among catchers in terms of career value, and in the middle of the top 10 in peak value as well–James rates him eighth overall. Carter hit 324 HRs for his career, topping 20 nine times. He topped 80 RBI eight times and 100 four times–that’s some serious production for a catcher. While he only hit .262 for his career, he was about at a .280 AVG/.360 OBP/.485 SLG level at his peak. He played in eleven All-Star Games (winning the MVP award twice), and won three Gold Gloves. He had a great ‘86 World Series, driving in 9 runs, and went for .280 AVG, 4 HR, and 21 RBI in 30 postseason games overall. Everywhere you look, there is evidence of his greatness. In, unequivocally and without further ado.

Another catcher, Ted Simmons, ought to be in as well. Simmons was a better hitter than Carter, and for a longer time. He amassed 2472 hits while hitting .285 AVG/.348 OPB/.437 SLG (Carter was at .262/.335/.439 with 2092 hits). That Simmons played a good portion of his career as a DH (279 of his 2035 games) has more to do with his being a good enough hitter to keep in the lineup than it does with his being a lousy defensive catcher (which he apparently was not, according to those who’ve studied the issue). Topped 20 HRs six times, 90 RBI eight times, and at his peak carried around a 900 OPS. He played on 8 All-Star teams. His James numbers are good (44.5 HOFS, 125 HOFM, and he’s ranked 10th in the NBJHA among catchers). Older than Carter, he suffered in comparison with Bench, particularly on defense. But he deserves serious consideration for the Hall, and if he were eligible, I’d probably vote for him.

First Basemen

Two first-basemen are popular candidates among New Yorkers, Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly. While they were excellent players in their day, and both fair very well in James’s rankings (Mattingly is ranked 12th, Hernandez 16th), I’m not inclined to add them to my ballot. I’m of the feeling that, especially with last year’s election of Tony Perez, there are too many first basemen already in to be adding those with 2100 hits and less than 225 HRs. Had James examined their careers more closely in the NBJHA (he gives Donnie Baseball a one-liner and compares Mex to, among others, Chris Chambliss and Mark Grace, neither of them my idea of a Hall of Famer), I might be more inclined to consider the weight of their defensive contributions, but without a better picture of them, it’s tough.

Steve Garvey is a candidate that always gives me some pause. He was the matinee-idol star of my favorite team as a kid, and he put up some nice shiny numbers primarily in the context of a lousy hitters’ park, Dodger Stadium. Basically, Garvey did the things that tend to impress Hall of Fame voters–he scores at 131.0 on the Hall of Fame Monitor thanks to his clockwork ability to rap out 200 hits, hit .300 with 20 homers, drive in 100 runs, make the All-Star team, and have perfectly coiffed hair in doing so. He was great in the postseason overall (.338/.361/.550 with 11 HR and 31 RBI) in helping–no, leading his teams (he never hit less than .286 in an LCS or division series) –to five World Series, he won an MVP award, four Gold Gloves, played in ten All-Star games and set the National League record for consecutive games played. His career totals (2599 hits, 272 HRs) are certainly better than Mattingly or Hernandez, though he didn’t have as high a peak. The knocks against him are that he didn’t get on base enough (only a .329 OBP despite a .294 AVG), or have enough power (.446 SLG, never topping .500). He’s not a popular candidate thanks in part to his post-retirement zipper problems. James ranks Garvey only 31st among first basemen.

Hell, let’s got to the chart:

              H   HR   RBI   AVG   OPB   SLG  AS  MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM   WS  Top 5
Garvey    2599  272  1308  .294  .329  .446  10   1   4   31.5  131.0  279   124
Hernandez 2182  162  1071  .296  .384  .436   5   1  11   32.0   86.0  311   136
Mattingly 2153  222  1099  .307  .358  .471   6   1   9   34.1  134.0  263   146

Most of these categores are self-evident. AS is All-Star appearances, GG is Gold Gloves, WS is Win Shares, and Top 5 is Win Shares in a players best five consecutive seasons. None of them overwhelm, but all three candidates have their merits, no question about it–one way or another, they were thought of as among the best in the game in their time. The questions are how much should we compensate for the lower offensive levels of Garvey’s time and environment (which also would boost Hernandez a bit), how much was Hernandez’s stellar glove play worth (though the other two weren’t slouches), how much the longer career benefits Garvey, and whether anybody’s candidacy is helped by postseason play. Win Shares, which adjust for offensive context and include defense, offer us some guidance: Garvey at his peak was worth less than either of the other two, and scores lower than Hernandez on the career mark as well despite a longer career. What he gains in postseason play may narrow the gap, but it probably doesn’t overcome it.

My personal preferences color this one beyond being able to choose, I’m afraid. While Garvey was never my favorite Dodger, he was unquestionably The Man for them in the same way that Mattingly was for the Yanks later on, with one big exception–the Dodgers won with Garvey, and he was a big part of that reason. That might be a tad unfair to Donnie Baseball, but hey, I was rooting against the Yanks back then, and them’s the breaks. Hernandez I never liked; his early drug problems, his being a Met (see Carter), and that awful mustache… eugh. What I said about the Perez selection still applies, and I don’t see any of these three as signifiantly better, so I’ll pass on all three.

Infielders

Among infielders, two first-time-eligible shortstops who are very different top my list: Ozzie Smith and Alan Trammell. The Wizard of Oz wasn’t a wiz with the bat, though he was hardly a liability at his peak–six times he topped a .350 OBP, and he stole 580 bases, most of them in the service of Whitey Herzog’s small-ball Cardinals teams. He was, of course, a magician with the glove, whether you look at the highlight reels or the numbers. Bill James rates him 2nd among all shortstops defensively by the Win Shares method (and places him 7th overall); though we don’t really know everything that entails, James points out how wide the margin Smith’s assist totals exceed statistical expectations–504 over the course of his career, or about 28 a season. He won 13 Gold Gloves for his efforts. Not many players get into the Hall on the merits of their defense alone, but Oz is one who deserves it.

Alan Trammell is a horse of a different color–a very solid hitter who more than held his own in the field. Trammell racked up 2365 hits to the tune of .285/.352/.415 and hit 185 HRs to boot. He should have been the MVP of the American League in 1987, when he went .343/.402/.551 with 28 HR and 105 RBI, yet barely lost out to 47-HR George Bell. James ranks him 9th overall, right behind Joe Cronin, and ahead of Pee Wee Reese, Luke Appling, Lou Boudreau, and Luis Aparicio–all Hall of Famers. Welcome to flavor country. He does reasonably well on the earlier James methods too (40.4 HOFS, 104 HOFM). In, by my book.

Trammell’s keystone partner, Lou Whittaker (the two of them were as inseparably linked in their time and place as my all-time favorite sporting duo, Utah Jazzmen Karl Malone and John Stockton), was one of the unfortunates bumped off the ballot by the 5% rule. I’m not totally convinced he should be in the Hall, but I do think his candidacy bears closer scrutiny. He places 13th on James’s list, ahead of enshrinees Nellie Fox, Tony Lazzerri, and Bobby Doerr. He hit .276/.363/.426 with 242 career dingers, and was generally good for about 20 HR and 70 RBI. He won three Gold Gloves and made five All-Star teams. He might not be good enough for the Hall, but he deserves some further consideration.

It’s interesting to note that the Detroit Tigers came up with four prospects at almost exactly the same time (debuting in 1977 and sticking in ‘78) who went on to long, stellar careers that wind up on the fringe of the Hall of Fame–Trammell, Whittaker, Jack Morris, and catcher Lance Parrish. They, along with Kirk Gibson, were the nucleus of the Tigers’ outstanding 1984 World Champions and their 1987 team, which had the best record in baseball, but went to an early playoff grave at the hands of the 85-win Minnesota Twins. Had they at least reached a second World Series, all of their candidacies would be helped thanks to the increased exposure. Instead, the fact that they didn’t win more often may be held against them.

There are other infielders just as worthy of consideration as Whittaker who fell off due to the 5% rule. Bobby Grich, Darrell Evans, and Graig Nettles are the most prominent–all of them fitting a similar profile: relatively low batting average, good power, lots of walks, very good defense. In other words, not likely to impress a particularly dull voter uninclined to sift through the numbers. Bill James, who has sifted through the numbers until the cows came home, rates Grich 12th, Evans 10th, and Nettles 13th–definitely in the realm of the Hall of Famers.

It’s tough to believe there are only nine MLB third basemen in the Hall: Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Eddie Mathews, Home Run Baker, Brooks Robinson, Jimmy Collins, Pie Traynor, George Kell, and Freddie Lindstrom (plus two Negro Leaguers, Ray Dandridge and Judy Johnson). Wade Boggs, with his 3010 hits, will make it ten in a few years. A more equal distribution by position would have about twice as many third basemen in. Several worthy candidates, including Ron Santo, Ken Boyer, and Stan Hack–all of whom place in James’s top 10–should be in, but aren’t. Additionally, Lindstrom and Kell are among the worst selections by the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee. If you were going to tear down the Hall and start over (which is what the soon-to-come Hall of Merit over at Baseball Primer promises to do), the enshrinees at third base would get a mighty welcome overhaul. Unfortunately, none of my men are on the ballot, so we’ll have to move on.

Outfielders

There are plenty of heavy hitters on the docket for the Hall, including first-timer Andre Dawson and holdovers Jim Rice (whose candidacy is building), Dave Parker, and Dale Murphy. Let’s cut to the chart:

            H   HR   RBI  SB    AVG   OPB   SLG  AS  MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM   WS  Top 5
Dawson  2774  438  1591  314  .279  .323  .482   8   1   8   43.7  117.5  340   132
Parker  2712  339  1493  154  .290  .339  .471   7   1   3   41.1  125.5  327   150
Rice    2452  382  1451   58  .298  .352  .502   7   1   0   42.9  147.0  282   127
Murphy  2111  398  1266  161  .265  .346  .469   7   2   5   34.3  115.5  294   150

No slouches here. Murphy was a Gold-Glove centerfielder who was shifted to rightfield when he got older. Ditto for Dawson, except he kept winning Gold Gloves after the shift. Parker was a Gold Glove rightfielder who became a DH, Rice a mediocre leftfielder who became a DH. Murphy and Rice petered out early; Rice at 36, Murph at 37. Parker had some drug problems, but had a mid-career rebound which gives his candidacy some extra muscle.

Dawson’s MVP award in 1987 with the last-place Cubs is one of the more dubious awards of all time, but he was also a two-time runner-up, including once to Murphy, who got big help from his park that year. On the road in ‘83, Dawson went .322/.351/.615 while Murphy went .266/.356/.503. In general, Murphy was helped greatly by his home parks (.284/.374/.511 with 206 HR at home vs. .251/.329/.445 with 170 on the road; the splits from Retrosheet are incomplete but not far off). Rice got big help from Fenway (.323/.379/.539 with 156 HR at home vs. .271/.327/.456 with 127 HR on the road). Parker was helped a bit (.297/.346/.495 with 134 HRs at home, vs. .276/.327/.445 and 127 HRs on the road). Dawson is pretty much even (.278/.331/.477 with 147 HR at home vs. .288/.327/.508 and 180 HR on the road). We’re missing bigger portions of Parker, Rice, and Dawson’s splits than the Murphy; the biggest gap is two years of Dawson at Wrigley Field.

Like the first basemen, each of these guys has his knocks. Rice has the short career, the least defensive value, and the most park help. Murphy has the short career and some serious park help. Dawson has the low OBP. Parker’s on the lower end defensively and he’s got character issues (though he was seen as an asset during his late-career days in Oakland). None of them have very good postseason resumes, and Parker’s the only one with a ring.

It’s not clear-cut by any stretch. I’m inclined to rule out the guys with shorter careers and heavy park effects first–so, no to Rice and Murphy. Then the question becomes whether Dawson’s aesthetic value–more speed, better defense, positive character–is enough to overcome Parker’s advantage in peak value (Parker had four seasons as good or better than Dawson’s best, according to Win Shares). Had Parker not spent two seasons wandering in the wilderness mid-career, there’s no question he’d be pretty close to 3000 hits and a bona fide Hall of Famer. Hawk’s knee troubles curtailed his stats in Montreal and probably cut his chances at 3000 as well. After much agonizing deliberation, I’d say it’s a slight edge to Dawson because his problems were less of his making. And I’m swayed by the combination of speed and power. Yes on Dawson, no on Parker.

So, adding in yesterday’s results, that makes my ballot Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Rich Gossage, Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell, and Andre Dawson. This wasn’t easy, and I’m tempted to round it out to ten with the borderline calls I made on Jack Morris, Luis Tiant, Bruce Sutter, Steve Garvey, and Dave Parker. But I’m going to restrain my inclusive tendencies and various biases. For now, at least. Ask me again in a year.

Oh, and here’s my hunch: Carter, Smith, and Gossage get in, Blyleven and Jim Rice come up just short.

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