Card Carrying Left Fielders

In the book version we sometimes called this group the rank and file or the card carrying Hall of Famers. They aren’t living legends, but no one denies that these guys belong. Interestingly enough, one of them had to wait the entire time until the BBWAA finally approved of them. We will see why that happened and what we can learn from that experience moving forward.

Tim Raines waited the full length of time in spite of arguably being a top five left fielder of all-time. Naturally, Al Simmons will have a lot to say about that. We didn’t look at the MVP race in the living legends section, but it comes into focus here. The group that votes for the Hall of Fame also votes for the MVP. So, looking at MVP points doesn’t so much tell us whether a player was really good or really bad, but what the people thought of him at the time. In some instances they may have missed the boat. For those just joining us, players receive one point for a top 25 finish, three points for a top ten finish, five points for a top five finish, and ten points for a MVP. Players are listed in order of how they finished in the index.

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Al Simmons 2 2 4 0 28
Tim Raines 4 1 1 0 12
Billy Williams 4 1 2 0 17
Willie Stargell 4 3 3 1 38

So, if you were to use this list you would think Stargell was a far superior player to anyone else on this board. This in spite of the index information we will see soon. Raines looks like the worst player and some writers used this as evidence against him. It’s hilarious as it turns out because the group is using their own prejudice from the past to keep him out. The madness finally ended in his last year of eligibility.

The other three were power hitters, so it is easy to see how their run production would keep them in the MVP conversation. Still, Raines was just as valuable in his own way, but didn’t put up the power numbers the voters wanted to see. Value is not about home runs but runs produced and runs saved.

Career Value

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total
Tim Raines 68.4 66.4 78.0 213.8
Al Simmons 68.8 69.3 75.0 213.1
Billy Williams 63.7 60.4 74.8 198.9
Willie Stargell 57.5 62.9 74.0 194.9

So, if we go strictly according to career value then Raines is the fifth best left fielder in the Hall of Fame. We will know a whole lot more when we look at the offensive and fielding numbers, but many think of Raines as a prolific basestealer, but he also was adept at stealing first base. Unfortunately for Raines, he played at the same time as Rickey Henderson. Henderson did everything a little better than Raines and also did it longer. However, there was one category where Raines was superior to just about everyone.

Rickey Henderson 1406 335 .808 1071
Lou Brock 938 307 .753 631
Tim Raines 808 146 .847 662
Vince Coleman 752 177 .809 575

Many of you will notice some players missing from this list. Ty Cobb was third all-time in stolen bases (from 1900 on) but they did not count caught stealing in every season he played. The same was true for Eddie Collins, Max Carey, and Honus Wagner. So, the list above includes all players with 700 or more career steals that had a full accounting of caught stealing.

This is dreadfully important as we find out more about efficiency and creating runs. Avoiding outs is far more valuable than claiming the extra base. So, having 1400 steals is nice, but the success rate is maybe more important. Adjusted stolen bases are stolen bases minus caught stealing. We see that Raines vaults himself into second place in adjusted stolen bases. So, while he was a dangerous base stealer, it was more valuable that he was a smart base stealer. This is just one of those hidden value components that the voters didn’t get.

As for Bucketfoot Al, no one denies that he should be a Hall of Famer, but some may gloss over how dominant he was during the Philadelphia A’s heyday between 1928 and 1932 when they won a combined 505 games. He played alongside Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Cochrane. You could argue that Simmons was the best of the bunch.

Al Simmons 3030 .360 142 593 708 21 195
Jimmie Foxx 3079 .335 171 579 642 26 445
Mickey Cochrane 2886 .311 67 520 438 21 356

The difference between the three is that Simmons hit for higher average, but also drew fewer walks. If we calculate their OBPs over the same time period we see they each had OBPS better than 40 percent. While we have to acknowledge the time period where these numbers were produced, it is still remarkable to have three guys produce OPSs over .900 over a five year period. They had other good offensive players (Mule Haas, Bing Miller, Max Bishop) but you could definitely argue he was the best from the period based on the numbers above.

Peak Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
Al Simmons 59.1 59.8 57.2 176.1 389.2
Tim Raines 52.0 50.8 53.4 156.2 370.0
Billy Williams 53.0 51.2 55.8 160.0 358.9
Willie Stargell 44.6 48.2 50.6 143.4 337.8

Willie Stargell is the subject of a minor debate when it comes to the index. The old version of the index took the best ten seasons no matter what order while the current index takes the best ten year stretch. Stargell managed to win an MVP outside of his ten year peak. That’s completely unheard of and it might have barely qualified for his best ten seasons. Either way, he arrives somewhere in the borderline zone at most positions. In left field he is ahead of the gap. This is why we look for gaps in data and avoid using hard cutoffs.

The others had numbers we would expect. Billy Williams performed a little stronger than some might have remembered as compared to his comrades. Simmons had the best peak value this time around, so he edges Tim Raines into the top five of left fielders currently in the Hall of Fame. We will know more when we see how they performed on offense and defense.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Al Simmons 133 3 .700 130 .410
Tim Raines 123 115 .665 125 .361
Billy Williams 133 20 .688 132 .376
Willie Stargell 147 -13 .717 145 .387

It would appear at first blush that Stargell was the best hitter here and that would be true based on virtually all of these numbers, but it doesn’t mean he was the best player. In fact, the index shows he was the least valuable player in the group. The rest are relatively equal especially when we add base running into the conversation. Raines is obviously a cut below based on the lack of power, but he isn’t as far removed as people might suspect based on the lack of power.

All four players would produce teams that won 108 or more games if the entire team was made up of them. A team of Stargells would win 116 games a season. It’s remarkable because you don’t normally associate greatness of that level onto Stargell. So, he must have suffered a great deal when the defensive numbers were included.

Fielding Numbers 

Al Simmons 67 -1.1 67 69.0 6
Tim Raines -7 -8.5 -3 52.7 1
Billy Williams -38 -18.0 -33 43.4 0
Willie Stargell -70 -19.5 -22 31.4 0

This makes perfect sense. Simmons won six win share Gold Gloves even though outfield win shares are broken down overall and not by position. He might have won more if he had been compared to other left fielders. The flip side is Stargell. Stargell split time between left field and first base and wasn’t good at either one. So, electing Stargell was similar to electing a designated hitter. He was the least valuable left fielder in the bunch, but he was still valuable enough to put in the Hall of Fame.

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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