Left Fielders on the Outside Looking In

The index was never designed to be a conversation stopper. Baseball in general and the Hall of Fame specifically is better when there is a conversation. The index pinpoints value, but how one accrues that value matters. Would you rather have a player who was very good for ten to twelve seasons or would you rather have someone that was merely good for fifteen seasons? That obviously depends on the eye of the beholder.

Furthermore, the why and what fors matter too. The index doesn’t tell those stories. So, the index is merely a beginning and not the end. There were five primary left fielders before the modern era that deserve some level of recognition and mention. How they arrived at their value might be as important as the value itself. Let’s begin with career value.

Career Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total
Sherry Magee 59.3 63.4 70.8 193.5
Bob Johnson 57.3 57.0 57.4 171.3
Jose Cruz 54.4 50.8 62.6 167.8
Minnie Minoso 50.5 50.8 56.6 157.9
Bobby Veach 47.8 43.7 52.0 144.5

It is theoretically possible to have a higher peak value than a career value, but the practical odds are nearly zero. The index doesn’t automatically qualify anyone, but it can serve to disqualify someone. Veach is destined to finish below 300 and probably well below 300 in total index. The rest are still in the conversation. We will continue to track Veach for the heck of it, but he will not be seriously considered from here on out.

The others have interesting individual cases for enshrinement that go beyond the numbers. Some of those are very compelling. Magee was one of the best hitters from the early part of the 20thcentury. His career slipped through the cracks because the BBWAA started to consider players well after his retirement. His resume just didn’t stack up with the all-time greats.

Indian Bob Johnson got a very late call up, so his shortened career has to be seen in a different context. The question is two-fold. First, were the seasons he had good enough to overcome the shortened career? Secondly, could it be credibly argued that he should have been called up earlier and would have been in a different era? The index can help us with the first question. History will have to help us with the second question.

Finally, we get Minnie Minoso. He was the first significant foreign born player to break through in the big leagues. The big leagues are inundated with players from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America now. He could be considered as a pioneer beyond the numbers. That being said, we should finish our cursory look at these players and their peak value numbers.

Peak Value

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
Minnie Minoso 50.5 51.1 51.3 152.9 310.8
Sherry Magee 46.8 50.1 52.6 149.5 343.0
Jose Cruz 44.8 44.9 46.0 135.7 303.5
Bob Johnson 44.8 45.4 43.4 133.6 305.3
Bobby Veach 44.5 41.0 47.4 132.9 277.4

The idea behind the index is to find separation. We see two sides of separation here. We see separation between Magee and the others and we see separation between the others and Veach. We can safely eliminate Veach from consideration, but the others find themselves squarely in the borderline zone. We have identified enhancements to the candidacies of Minoso and Johnson.

Cruz may not have a considerable bonus to add to his candidacy, but seeing his name here is surely a surprise. He didn’t hit for extremely high average. He wasn’t a noted power hitter. He didn’t steal a bunch of bases. He didn’t win a bunch of Gold Gloves. What he did was a little of everything and did in a very hostile environment for hitters. Add that all up and you get a much better player than the eyeball test might.

The first significant test we can throw in after the index is the MVP points for each candidate. Unfortunately, we will need to take Sherry Magee and Bobby Veach out because they played at a time when MVP awards were not consistently handed out. Even when they were, the voting was much different, so it would be like comparing applies to cucumbers. So, we will include the other three just as a point of reference. Each top 25 finish is awarded one point, every top ten finish three points, top five finishes are awarded five points, and MVP awards are given ten points.

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Minnie Minoso 2 1 4 0 25
Bob Johnson 3 2 1 0 14
Jose Cruz 2 2 1 0 13

This doesn’t prove that Minoso was the best of the three. It simply proves he was the most highly regarded of the three. If we include the others in here we will see something completely different when we look at the way they finished in single season WAR. Baseball-reference tracks that, so let’s take a look at how each fares in individual season bWAR.

  Top 10 Top 5 1st Points
Sherry Magee 6 1 1 33
Minnie Minoso 5 0 1 25
Bobby Veach 3 3 0 24
Bob Johnson 2 2 0 16
Jose Cruz 3 0 0 9

These numbers are much more meaningful in terms of what the players actually did. The MVP points tell us how they were viewed at the time. We have been ignoring Veach for the most part but he did fare well here. Johnson and Cruz’s teams typically did not win much. WAR is parceled out based on expected runs scored and runs allowed, but that is still dependent on team success. This probably affected Johnson a lot more than Cruz. The Athletics were terrible throughout his tenure, so he would not have been given a lot of extra credit.

No single test gives us a definitive answer, but each one reveals a small piece of the puzzle. Magee and Minoso definitely come out looking better given the fact that they were the best player in baseball in at least one season. We can’t give them the go ahead just yet, but they are both a step closer. Now, let’s look at the offensive numbers.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Bob Johnson 139 -1 .682 133 .411
Sherry Magee 137 22 .700 134 .381
Minnie Minoso 130 13 .652 133 .382
Bobby Veach 127 -2 .653 124 .383
Jose Cruz 120 2 .610 119 .344

Whether Johnson or Magee is the best hitter of the bunch depends largely on which number you pay the most attention to. Johnson played in the greatest hitter era the game has ever known, so it makes perfect sense that some of his numbers would be superior. I tend to like offensive winning percentage and in that case he is not quite as good as Magee, but both players would be on teams that won more than 110 games.

Everyone acquits themselves well except for Jose Cruz. Granted, he was still a much better offensive player than most people gave him credit for. These numbers don’t eliminate him from Hall of Fame consideration, but they do put him behind the eight ball. He will need to finish strongly in the defensive categories. Either way, it would appear that Johnson, Magee, and Minoso have much stronger cases than they had before.

Fielding Numbers 

Jose Cruz 77 0.2 67 48.8 0
Minnie Minoso 30 -5.3 31 39.6 2
Bobby Veach 30 -6.3 30 47.0 3
Sherry Magee 25 -8.4 37 44.4 2
Bob Johnson 18 -5.8 22 35.4 0

We mentioned this last time, but it bears repeating. Gold gloves (and win share gold gloves) were awarded to the top three outfielders regardless of position. So, that usually meant centerfielders. Maybe these guys would have won more Gold Gloves if they had been parceled out by position. Either way, all of them were positive impact fielders and Cruz was the best of the bunch. It is enough to get him in the Hall of Fame? That might be a tall order.

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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