It’s easy just to get rolling into a discussion when you get into a rhythm, but one of the great things about having a web blog is that it allows you to respond to discussions in real time. The discussion on Facebook seemed unrelated, but someone posted about the fact that Chase Utley doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame because he didn’t have enough hits. Let’s let that marinate for a while before we move on. He didn’t have enough hits. It seems somehow backwards to boil down everything a player does to help their team win games into one arbitrary number.
After all, isn’t that why we are here? Aren’t we ultimately trying to figure out who did enough in all facets of the game combined to help their team win more games? I suppose one could make a decent argument that Utley doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame based on all of the numbers. Heck, you could even look at the more advanced ones and come to that conclusion. I certainly didn’t if you go back to the article about current second basemen. However, boiling it down to hits is beyond short-sighted. What if half of them were home runs? How many walks did he have? Have we even talked about fielding? These are all discussions that have little to do with the number of hits a guy gets.
Naturally, I don’t want to relitigate the Utley argument, but the discussion of hits (and it’s bastardized red-headed cousin known as batting average) that we will look at in this particular piece. We established that Pie Traynor did not belong in the Hall of Fame if we use the index. However, there are some historians that believe every era should be represented at every position. Unfortunately, that assumes that value is somehow evenly distributed at each spot in each era. However, from a historical sense there is some defense for this position. So, was Traynor the best third baseman from the Live Ball Era? Let’s consider a comparison with contemporary Stan Hack.
Hack was clearly the best third basemen from the period according to the index. Was he good enough to deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? Well, that largely depends on where you stand on the historical argument. If we just look at the career value numbers we find that he comes up a little short when compared with the majority of the BBWAA bunch. He is considerably better than some of the Veterans Committee selections but basing a selection on that is problematic for any number of reasons.
Before we move to the peak value numbers we should take a look at the discussion we had before. Looking at some of the basic numbers will help us understand why the argument over whether someone had enough hits is complete bunk. In order to do this we will take a look at statistics we used in some of our early articles called bases per out. BPO has its problems but since we are talking about players from the same era we can compare them without worrying too much about the effects of time.
For those that are unfamiliar with the metric, bases per out is calculated by adding total bases, walks, and hit by pitches and dividing it by the total number of outs the player had. I included Utley not to compare him directly with either player, but as a point of reference to the prior conversation. Yes, he has the least number of hits. I honestly could give a crap. He is the more valuable offensive player. Incidentally, it is only fair to point out the differences in eras and home ballparks, but even then you could still claim he was better offensively.
We are comparing Hack and Traynor directly. Traynor has more hits. Again, that’s worth about as much as good penmanship in stock car racing. If we add in the walks we see that Hack was on base more often and he had fewer outs. So, even though he had less power he was more valuable as an offensive performer. Before we take a look at the offensive and defensive numbers for the two we should clean up the index and look at peak value.
Again, I’m not sure that Hack is a Hall of Famer. He does belong in the conversation though. The problem for him will ultimately be peak value. Remember, this represents the best ten season stretch of his career. A four win player is a borderline all-star, but may not rise to the level of a Hall of Famer. The trouble for Hack is that he had one facet of the game that was missing. He was by all accounts an average defender and he did not hit for much power. If he had brought one of those skills to the game he would have been a shoo in.
Traynor of course was missing the on base element as well. So, he never should have been considered, but he brought batting average and hits to the equation. We certainly love our batting average and judging by the conversation we certainly love our hits. The difference is that these numbers are certainly among those that describe greatness, but some of us make the mistake in believing that they define it. No single number defines greatness. We take a look at all of them and they all come together to paint a portrait of a player. Relying on any one single number means we’re painting stick figures.
Hall of Fame Index
It bears repeating. There are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a Hall of Fame career and what doesn’t. A 300 score certainly puts you in the conversation, but we are talking about gaps. We won’t know where Hack fits on the scale until we add in some of the other guys that are on the outside looking in. My gut tells me that Hack will remain on the outside looking in, but that is just one man’s opinion.
We continue on with the offensive and fielding numbers because the index should not be the last word on the subject. All numbers must have a context and the offensive and fielding numbers give them a context. Bases per out certainly are a part of that discussion, but without a comparison to the field they are more or less meaningless.
We can see that Hack if a superior, but he isn’t necessarily that much superior to Traynor. The key is that he was able to get on base at a much more superior clip. Traynor hit .320 for his career while Hack hit .301. Again, I hate to say it doesn’t matter. Yes, I’d rather have a .320 hitter than not, but I’d rather have a guy that gets on base 40 percent of the time. When we compare Hack with the majority of the Hall of Famers at the position we see he falls a bit behind because of the lack of power. That more than anything explains the gap.
Traynor is more or less above average. There is nothing wrong with being above average. Most of us would love to have an above average third baseman on our team. Yet, some of us already have one. They aren’t particularly special when we look at the landscape of baseball or baseball history.
We use multiple sources because sources sometimes disagree. The differences are often based on what you are looking for. Win shares compares players with the replacement level performer and players can accrue value according to the number of plays they make. Baseball-reference and Fangraphs evaluate the quality of the plays made. So, they deemed Hack to be relatively average while they saw Traynor as below average.
Interestingly enough, we find that they are relatively equal when it comes to defensive value in DWAR. Defensive WAR is similar to win shares in that it looks at a player in comparison to the replacement level performer. Either way, there is not enough here to give either of them a huge benefit in the Hall of Fame discussion. So, ultimately they are both probably on the outside looking in if we were redoing the Hall of Fame.