Thursday, December 5, 2013
Ten from '70s, '80s for the Hall of Fame
By David Schoenfield
A follow-up to yesterday's post titled "One thing Hall of Fame voters get wrong." The premise of that piece was that voters haven't properly adjusted for the increasing number of teams since expansion first began in 1961 -- from 16 teams to the 30 we have now. I pointed out that the 1950s and '60s have a combined 39 Hall of Famers (for an average of 36 teams) while the 1970s and '80s have just 36 Hall of Famers for 50 teams.
Personally, I think the one-to-one ratio of Hall of Famer per team sounds about right. It's fewer than the overrepresented 1920s and 1930s, about what we have for the '50s and '60s but fewer than what we have for the '70s and '80s.
So, who is missing from the '70s and '80s? Here are 10 guys I would put in. WAR totals and rankings from Baseball-Reference.com.
Tim Raines (69.1 WAR, 105th all time)
Ballot history: After starting out with just 24 percent of the vote in 2008 he's started climbing in recent years and was up to 52 percent last year.
This will be Raines' seventh year on the ballot, and while he'll probably stagnate in the next couple years with some big names on the ballot, he looks like he'll eventually get in before his 15 years is up.
Alan Trammell (70.4 WAR, 94th)
Ballot history: After 12 years on the ballot, he was at 33 percent last year. He won't get elected via the BBWAA.
I've never understood why Trammell was never able to build a case. His career numbers are very similar to Barry Larkin's, minus a few steals, and Larkin made it in on his third year. Even if you think Larkin was a little better, if Larkin's case is 100 percent then Trammell's should be about 98 percent. Two differences: Larkin won an MVP and Trammell finished second when he should have won; Larkin didn't have Cal Ripken in his league.
Lou Whitaker (74.8, 77th)
Ballot history: Got 3 percent his first year and fell off.
Whitaker's career numbers are pretty similar to Roberto Alomar's: .276/.363/.426 with a 117 OPS+ versus .300/.371/.443 with a 116 OPS+. Alomar had more steals and the better defensive reputation although Whitaker was very good and won three Gold Gloves. It's not necessarily that Whitaker was as good as Alomar but that he compares very favorably. The case against him is that his peak wasn't as high -- his five best seasons were worth 28.9 WAR compared to Alomar's five best at 33.0 -- but he was very good even up to his final season. You know what hurt him? He hit the ballot in 2001, when even middle infielders were putting up huge offensive numbers. Whitaker's good seasons looked less impressive at the time.
Dwight Evans (66.7, 125th)
Ballot history: First came on in 1997, lasted three years before getting booted.
Evans had received 10 percent his second year, which while not great at least gave him some momentum from his first year. Maybe his case would have exploded like Bert Blyleven's. But the 1999 ballot added Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount and everybody else suffered as a result. Evans, of course, is a sabermetric darling. He did things well that Jim Rice, his Hall of Fame teammate on the Red Sox, didn't: draw walks, play superb defense. The walks meant that Evans posted a higher on-base percentage even though Rice had the higher average. You'd think a guy who won eight Gold Gloves, hit 385 home runs in the pre-steroid era, drove in 1384 runs and scored 1470 would have been more appreciated. Part of his problem was that he was better in his 30s than his 20s. He wasn't a Hall of Famer for the first half his career so not enough people thought of him as one.
Bobby Grich (71.0, 90th)
Ballot history: One and done.
Yes, another sabermetric favorite. He had good power for a second baseman for his era, drew a ton of walks and won four Gold Gloves. An enormously valuable player in his time -- Baseball-Reference ranks him as one of the top seven position players in the AL in seven different seasons, including first in 1973.
Orel Hershiser (56.8, 209th)
Ballot history: Received 11 percent his first year and then fell off in his second. Odd.
Hershiser won "only" 204 games and thus his early exit from the ballot. I'm not saying he's a lock candidate, but why has Jack Morris' case taken off while Hershiser was dumped so quickly? At his peak, Hershiser was more dominant and his 1988 postseason heroics certainly are the equal of Morris' Game 7. OK, Morris won more games. Maybe a better comparison is another former Dodgers pitcher, Don Drysdale, who made it in with 209 career wins. Hershiser's career ERA isn't as good but he also had to pitch in the high-scoring late '90s during the decline phase of his career. Like Drysdale, he was famous during his peak (not mention Hershiser broke Drysdale's scoreless-inning record). Postseason career: 8-3, 2.59 ERA in 22 games (18 starts).
Keith Hernandez (60.1, 177th)
Ballot history: Stayed on for nine years, peaking at 11 percent.
As a first baseman, you make the Hall of Fame for your bat, thus Hernandez never drew much support. Still, he was a .296 career hitter, drew walks, played on two World Series champs and is regarded as maybe the best defensive first baseman ever. His career WAR is Hall of Fame borderline but Hernandez was also one of the most iconic players of the '80s, if you want to put stock into that. (And, yes, Hernandez over Don Mattingly, who simply had too short of a peak.)
Luis Tiant (66.7, 125th)
Ballot history: Stayed on for 15 years.
Here's what's interesting about Tiant: He received 30 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot, 1988. People have been elected with worse starting positions -- Rice, Blyleven, Bruce Sutter. Drysdale received just 21 percent his first year. So initially there was a strong belief in Tiant as a possible Hall of Famer, with his 229 career wins and popular personality. He to fell 11 percent his second year. What happened? Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins entered the ballot in 1989. Then Jim Palmer. Then Tom Seaver in 1992, Phil Niekro in 1993, Steve Carlton in 1994. He wasn't as good as those guys so everyone forgot about him.
Ted Simmons (50.2, 289th)
Ballot history: One and done. He's on the Veterans Committee ballot this year.
I'm on the fence with Simmons, but he does rank 10th all time in catcher WAR and I'd argue that the top 10 at each position are strong Hall of Fame candidates. He wasn't Johnny Bench, but who was? From 1971 to 1980 he hit .301 and averaged 90 RBIs per season.
Pete Rose (79.4, 64th)
Ballot history: Actually received 9.5 percent of the vote in 1992.
OK, maybe including Rose is cheating a bit.
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So that's 10 players. Others you could argue for: Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Willie Randolph; Graig Nettles isn't that dissimilar from Brooks Robinson; Rick Reuschel's career WAR is higher than Palmer, Drysdale, Sutton or Juan Marichal; Lee Smith has done pretty well in the BBWAA voting and is still on the ballot. Tommy John, Dave Concepcion, Dave Parker, Steve Garvey and Dan Quisenberry are on the Veterans Committee ballot this year, which makes them all candidates, although I think only John has a strong case. (Quisenberry is no different from Sutter, however, so there's that.) Dave Stieb was dominant in the '80s; with a little more luck he could have won three Cy Young Awards and been a stronger choice.
Part of the problem voters face is that as the quality of talent improves over time it becomes harder for the great players to separate themselves. So Stieb looks like Hershiser who looks like Bret Saberhagen who looks like Dwight Gooden and none of them were Tom Seaver so nobody gets in.
I know many (most?) of you believe electing guys like those above would weaken the Hall of Fame. That's sort of my ultimate point; if your Hall of Fame is Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken, then your bar is way above the established level of actual Hall of Famers. Let's just give guys from recent decades their fair due.