Borderline Hall of Fame Left Fielders

When we start looking at borderline Hall of Fame candidates we start looking at borderline players in the Hall of Fame we start looking at all kinds of different tests we can apply to create separation. I would not want the index to be the only determining factor as to whether someone should be in or not. It wasn’t meant to do that. It was meant to define who should be a part of that category.

We’ve introduced MVP points in the past and we will use that test again, but we will also look at some other tests. The first such test is one Bill James called the “black ink test”. It simply calculates the number of times a player led the league in a particular category. Different weights (or points) are awarded to leading the league in a major statistical category (average, home runs, runs, and RBI) and other minor categories (games played, walks, OBP, SLG). The second new test is simply an accounting of what they did during postseason play. Of course, that’s not a perfect test either. Ralph Kiner did not play in the postseason. That’s hardly his fault. However, we can begin to see some separation between players as to who shone during their moment and who did not. Finally, we have bases per out. We’ve seen it before, but we will see it again here just as a way to further categorize these players.

All four of these players come up short when the index is concerned. It is important that we look at all of the relevant data to determine if there was good enough reason to put them in the Hall of Fame. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances and sometimes we should overlook certain statistical shortcomings. In other instances, we see examples of certain prejudices that get confirmed when the Hall of Fame vote comes out. Let’s begin with the index and move on from there.

Career Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total
Joe Medwick 55.6 54.6 62.4 172.6
Lou Brock 45.3 43.2 69.6 158.1
Jim Rice 47.7 50.8 56.4 154.9
Ralph Kiner 45.4 47.6 48.4 145.4

These numbers by themselves don’t mean much, but we do notice that they fall a little short of the players we profiled in the previous two articles. This is where one of our secondary tests should be brought in to take a look. Since bases per out belongs with the offensive data we will simply add it in there. This leaves us either the playoff performance data, black ink test, or MVP points.

We will make this a little more compelling and compare these four players with the other eight that are already in the Hall of Fame. Obviously, any test is only valuable when we have a frame of reference to compare it with. Since we acknowledge that the other eight left fielders belong in the Hall of Fame we should see these four approach those numbers if they also belong in the Hall of Fame.

  Black Ink
Ted Williams 122
Stan Musial 116
Rickey Henderson 50
Carl Yastrzemski 55
Al Simmons 23
Tim Raines 20
Billy Williams 18
Willie Stargell 17
Ralph Kiner 52
Joe Medwick 41
Jim Rice 33
Lou Brock 26

The average Hall of Famer has a 27 for the black ink test, but that’s a bit of a misnomer since you have to lead the league to get black ink. Left fielders are more likely to lead the league than shortstops. So, we compare these players with their own position group. Tests like these can either serve to eliminate players or qualify them. Brock nearly meets the Hall of Fame average and he is the worst of the four players profiled here. So, we can’t really eliminate him from consideration based on these numbers.

What we can do is look at Kiner and Medwick in a whole different light. Kiner is fifth amongst Hall of Fame left fielders in black ink. Obviously that is a major point in his favor. Medwick stands sixth with 41 and he was the last player in the National League to win a triple crown. Rice and Brock are more ordinary.

Similar to the black ink test, the postseason numbers test can serve to either eliminate a player from consideration or give them an extra boost. So far, no one has been eliminated, but we see that Medwick and Kiner have a boost. Let’s see how these players fared when we look at the postseason numbers.

  PA OPS Runs RBI SB
Lou Brock 92 1.077 16 13 14
Jim Rice 80 .749 14 7 0
Joe Medwick 48 .811 5 5 0

As mentioned earlier, not one of Kiner’s teams got anywhere near the playoffs. As Branch Rickey famously told Kiner, “I could finish last with or without you.” His lack of record in the postseason neither helps him nor hurts him. This leaves the other three guys. Brock clearly comes up huge in the postseason as he put up much better numbers than he did during the regular season.

Rice for his part was unlucky enough to be hurt in 1975 when the Sox made their run. It was such a close series he might have been the difference against the Reds. His lone appearances came in his last good season in 1986 and in 1988 when he was suddenly over the hill. Medwick played in only one series and was decent enough, but was not memorable either way.

If we take both of these tests in concert we see that Brock comes out well ahead in playoff performance, but last in black ink. Rice is decent in black ink and lackluster in playoff performance. Medwick is good in both black ink and playoff performance. Kiner is brilliant in black ink and nonexistent in playoff performance.

Peak Value

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
Ralph Kiner 49.4 47.6 48.4 145.4 290.8
Joe Medwick 50.1 44.9 48.6 143.6 298.6
Jim Rice 42.3 45.0 46.2 133.5 288.4
Lou Brock 33.4 36.1 50.0 119.5 277.6

These results tell us two things. First, none of these players meet the traditional standards we have seen from the index. Secondly, they are fairly close to each other in their finishing results. So, the deciding factor over which ones were warranted and which ones were mistakes comes down to how they finish in all of these tests in addition to their index scores.

Before we move onto the offensive and fielding numbers we should look at their MVP scores. For those that are reading for the first time, players get one point for each top 25 finish, three points for every top ten finish, five points for every top five finish, and ten points for every MVP award. Unfortunately, modern players like Rice and Brock have a harder time in the expansion era than Medwick and Kiner, but we can get a general idea.

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Jim Rice 2 0 5 1 37
Joe Medwick 4 1 2 1 27
Lou Brock 4 4 1 0 21
Ralph Kiner 1 3 2 0 20

It’s difficult to be too hard on Kiner. He played on a last place team for most of his career, so even in an eight team league it was going to be hard for him to garner votes. Still, he played only ten seasons and got votes in six of them. That’s not half bad. Brock wasn’t exactly a typical MVP candidate and that can be seen in only one top five finish in his career. Unlike with playoff performance, Jim Rice propels to the front of the line with his five top five finishes and one MVP.

Moreover, his MVP was well deserved in 1978. Rice was legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball in a ten year period between 1977 and 1986. Medwick and Rice were very similar in that regard. Medwick’s triple crown was enough to get him an MVP as well. So, of our four extra tests, we have finished three of them. We will see our last test when we look at the offensive numbers.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA BPO
Ralph Kiner 149 0 .731 147 .427 1.003
Joe Medwick 134 1 .700 133 .393 .805
Jim Rice 128 5 .628 128 .375 .791
Lou Brock 109 78 .598 109 .336 .765

This is not the same bases per out that we saw before. To be a little more complete we included stolen bases as a part of the total bases which definitely helped Brock. We could assign points here, but there is very little separation between Medick, Ricke, and Brock. Kiner comes way out ahead across the board offensively. Offensively, Kiner and Medwick are a step ahead of the other two.

Rice in particular was called a dangerous hitter throughout his career. I’m not quite sure what that means. The numbers bare out that he was definitely a good hitter overall, but I’m not sure the reputation matches the numbers. This because he lacked the walks that others had and also grounded into more double plays than most guys. The combination was that he created more outs than the average guy. Even though this is overly simplistic, here is how each player ranked according to our MVP test, black ink, postseason, and BPO test.

  Black Ink MVP Playoff BPO Total
Joe Medwick 2 2 2 2 8
Ralph Kiner 1 4 4 1 10
Jim Rice 3 1 3 3 10
Lou Brock 4 3 1 4 12

This doesn’t say anything definitively yet, but it is beginning to paint a picture. Without all of the relevant information, it is an incomplete picture. We need defense to make this a complete picture, but even without defense I am beginning to make up my own mind. The beauty is that everyone is allowed to come to their own conclusion.

Fielding Numbers 

  Rfield DWAR TZLF DWS WS/GG
Joe Medwick 45 -4.8 47 44.2 0
Jim Rice 24 -8.0 26 35.6 0
Ralph Kiner -40 -10.7 -36 25.1 0
Lou Brock -51 -16.8 -43 49.0 0

Wait a minute, I thought that fast guys were supposed to be great outfielders. Well, that obviously isn’t always the case. Playing outfield also requires a strong throwing arm and it requires anticipation and the ability to make the first step in the right direction. Slower guys like Medwick and Rice had those skills where Brock did not. I hate to say any player was a mistake, but Brock appears to be one.

Why was he selected? Well, that one is simple. He had more than 3000 hits and was the all-time leading base stealer when he was inducted. Having 3000 hits shouldn’t be an automatic qualifier. A bunch of steals doesn’t have the same value as getting on base or getting to more balls defensively in the outfield. Outs are the blood currency of the sport. The ability to avoid them offensively and get more of them defensively are paramount. Extra bases are nice, but they aren’t as important as we otherwise thought. Then again, his postseason record was sterling, so a yes vote is defensible on that level, but anyone that quotes hits or steals may want to check again.

Author: sbarzilla

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

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