The history of baseball is a cyclical one. At certain points certain positions have more Hall of Fame players than others. With the exception of third basemen (which we will get to later) each position has roughly the same number of BBWAA elected Hall of Famers. So, it is unique to see this many modern candidates for the honor, but there are four very qualified Hall of Fame candidates and another I’m throwing in to indulge myself.
We have seen that 300 is the normal benchmark for Hall of Fame fitness in terms of an index score. A 300 score does not and should not guarantee enshrinement, but it should guarantee a conversation and that is what we are giving these guys. With the exception of Chase Utley, all of them have at least a few seasons left to add to their resume. However, all of them are closer to the end than they are to the beginning. Let’s start with career value.
There is an easy place to start here, but a more interesting place to start is Ian Kinsler. Baseball is an interesting game. The Angels have three Hall of Famers on their roster if you count Kinsler. That doesn’t even count the likes of Justin Upton or Andrelton Simmons. Still, they are mired in fourth place in the AL West. This is because only half of those players are performing like Hall of Famers. It’s always about timing.
The 64,000 pound elephant in the room is Cano and his drug suspension. Where does this put him in the Hall of Fame conversation? This always depends on your take on the conversation. For some, PED use is an automatic disqualifier. This is the moralistic group that objects on the grounds that it is an unforgiveable sin against baseball. Then there is a second group. They are more inclined to be pragmatic. They look at the circumstances of the suspension and use. Did his use impact his numbers in a significant way or did he use to recover from injury? He has said he used to come back from injury and his numbers have never been out of whack, so it is hard to pinpoint a point when he started using.
The third group doesn’t particularly care about use. They are more apt to think of the history of cheating from greenies to scuffed balls to corked bats. The question comes down to how many people used in this current generation. If we can assume that as much as half have used (as some former players have asserted) then we have to compare players with their contemporaries. I usually place myself in the second group. I’m a pragmatist which means I take every case on its own merits. If he continues to produce as he always has then he might prove his explanation for the use.
So, the only definite Hall of Famer in the group might be Utley. Then again, nothing is definite. Utley is where he is largely for the same reason as Bobby Grich. He was a very good hitter and a very good defender during his prime. He arguably was never great at either facet of the game, but the individual offensive and defensive numbers later on.
Pedroia is a natural addition even though he isn’t that close to 300 yet. He has an MVP to his credit and he has played a prominent role on one of the better teams of the 21st century. Ben Zobrist is not as obvious. He is what most people would consider to be a man crush. He is essentially Bobby Grich on steroids. Not only does he contribute a lot of value both offensively and defensively, but he has done so at six different positions throughout his career.
Intellectually, I know he probably will not accrue enough value before he retires. There are lots of good players that will never get into the Hall of Fame and never should. Some people like guys like Gil Hodges while I like guys like Zobrist. However, we will keep running through this exercise in case we miss something. Before we get to the offensive and defensive numbers in isolation let’s take a look at the total Hall of Fame Index.
Hall of Fame Index
The index is nothing but a guide. We can surmise that Pedroia and Kinsler will reach 300 before they hang it up. So, we could assert that the conversation is a four way conversation. However, I just don’t feel comfortable eliminating Zobrist from consideration. I feel like we are missing something. The first place we should start is at the MVP voting for Zobrist. So, we will look at his finishes in the voting as compared to his finishes in bWAR.
So, according to this, Zobrist should have been the MVP in 2009 and should have one top five finish and another top ten finish. Baseball-reference does not keep track of anything outside of the top ten in terms of single season WAR, so it is highly likely that he finished in the top 20 in three other seasons. That certainly would change the way he is perceived by the BBWAA when he is done. You could claim that he is about as misunderstood as any player in the history of the game.
So, Cano is a cut above offensively, but when you look at the basic numbers that is not all that surprising. The rest is pretty close with Kinsler being a cut below the rest. Of course, we don’t know how this all plays in until we look at the fielding numbers as well. We know based on reputation that Utley and Kinsler are good, but there is no way to tell which one is better looking strictly at Gold Glove awards. Neither won nearly as many as they should have. We will get to the fielding data in a minute.
The interesting inclusion here is the base running information. Both Kinsler and Utley were plus base runners in addition to being plus hitters. That’s the way guys like them become Hall of Famers. They are good at every facet of the game and then you look up and they are very good players. It’s the kind of effect that some traditionalists overlook when they are asking whether someone should be in the Hall of Fame or not.
Defensive numbers are not linear. We cannot combine them into one number and give us one outcome. Win shares, total zone runs, and defensive runs saved all work differently. This doesn’t even mention defensive WAR. What we do is look at the order of the data to see if we see any patterns. Utley and Kinsler rank one and two in most of the categories.
Cano and Pedroia rank high in some categories as well. This leaves Zobrist on the outside looking in in virtually all of the categories. However, the fact that he played six different positions with some regularity, so it’s hard to treat him the same way as the others. However, since DRS keeps records since 2005, let’s take a look at Utley and Kinsler to see how many Gold Gloves they should have won.
Billjamesonline.com does not break down fielders by league, so when we see these guys finish in the top three at the position we can assume that they would have been good enough to win the Gold Glove. So, if we go by that standard then Kinsler would have won six Gold Gloves while Utley would have won five Gold Gloves. Kinsler has two other top five finishes while Utley has a few top ten finishes on top of those Gold Gloves.
The idea here is that good still has value here. When you are good in all facets of the game then you are great. That is something all five of these players can claim. Cano might be the only elite performer in any facet but all of them are at least above average in every facet. So, when it is all said and done you could have at least four Hall of Famers from this era.