Center Field: On the Outside Looking In Part One

The new Veterans Committee gives us another compelling reason to separate those on the outside looking into different groups. So, we are essentially breaking the hopefuls in half between those that spent most of their careers before 1990 and those that spent most of their careers after 1990. As you might imagine, there are always players that fit right in between, but for now we will focus on those guys that played between the 1960s and 1980s.

The new committee seems to be focused on players that played in the 1980s and later. We are looking at players that will likely be overlooked by the committee. Should they be considered for the Hall of Fame? Well, we run into issues when we compare them with players already in the Hall of Fame. This is why we stick to the BBWAA list. Even still, some of them will compare favorably with Kirby Puckett. Puckett isn’t the standard. So, we should almost erase him and compare these players with the top eight amongst the BBWAA list. Here is a reminder of where we left off.

 CareerPeakTotal
Ty Cobb444.8257.3702.1
Willie Mays434.7265.5700.2
Tris Speaker390.7226.7617.4
Mickey Mantle335.6243.5579.1
Joe DiMaggio238.6199.5438.1
Ken Griffey Jr239.9187.2427.1
Duke Snider200.2171.7371.9
Andre Dawson192.3137.2329.5

So, we could consider Dawson to be the baseline one has to clear. Naturally, if you have read these articles before you know we are looking for gaps in data. If you come close to Dawson we then get to look at the other factors to determine if you get the support. That will include offensive statistics, fielding statistics, and the MVP test. Sometimes, that’s not even enough. As always, we start with career value.

Career Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Willie Davis60.753.764.4178.8
Jimmy Wynn55.952.861.0169.7
Vada Pinson54.347.364.2165.8
Cesar Cedeno52.849.859.2161.8
Chet Lemon55.652.053.0160.6
Fred Lynn50.249.256.0155.4
Dale Murphy46.544.358.8149.6

The great thing about the index is the addition of the peak value element. It gives each player dimension where strictly going by career value doesn’t give us that. What is also fascinating is how each player comes to their value differently. Davis brings defense and base running (as we will see when we get to the offensive and fielding numbers) while players like Dale Murphy and Jimmy Wynn bring power. WAR and win shares are not necessarily precise. This is why we look at multiple sources of data to make our determinations.

Many reading this will likely be Astros fans and will be keenly interested in where Jimmy Wynn and Cesar Cedeno land. Neither fared well in the BBWAA voting for largely the same reason. They did not enjoy particularly long careers, but when they were good they were very good. The same could be said for Fred Lynn and Dale Murphy. On the other hand, Vada Pinson and Chet Lemon were on the other extreme. Everyone has their preference. Do you want a player to be good for 15 years or great for ten? It’s a hard question. Of course, this brings us to the peak value numbers.

Peak Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Jimmy Wynn49.046.550.2145.7
Dale Murphy47.243.748.8139.7
Cesar Cedeno47.344.846.4138.5
Vada Pinson47.742.548.2138.4
Chet Lemon46.945.139.8131.8
Fred Lynn41.540.242.8124.5
Willie Davis42.738.042.8123.5

We see a larger gap here than we did with the career value numbers. As advertised, both Wynn and Cedeno are near the top. This is because WAR takes in hitting, fielding, and base running but also takes into the account the effects of time and place. There may have been no worse place to hit than the Astrodome in the 1960s and 1970s. They moved the fences in later on before it closed and it became palatable. When Wynn was at his best he was amongst the league leaders in home runs and walks in the best pitcher’s park possibly ever built.

Dale Murphy is one of three position players in baseball history to win multiple MVP awards and not be in the Hall of Fame. Roger Maris and Barry Bonds are the other two. So, it is no surprise that he should be near the top in peak value either. He fell off a cliff following a brilliant 1987 season. Not including the peak value element would not show the player he was throughout most of the 1980s.

In a similar way, when we get past Pinson we notice that the others suffered through a much more ordinary looking peak value. Rest assured, there is nothing ordinary about averaging four wins a season for ten years. Still, it raises the question of whether a merely good player should get into the Hall of Fame. Before we move on to the offensive and fielding numbers let’s add career and peak value together and see what we get.

Hall of Fame Index

 CareerPeakTotal
Jimmy Wynn169.7145.7315.4
Vada Pinson165.8138.4304.2
Willie Davis178.8123.5302.3
Cesar Cedeno161.8138.5300.3
Chet Lemon160.6131.8292.4
Dale Murphy149.6139.7289.3
Fred Lynn155.4124.5279.9

Some people would use a system such as this and make a hard cut off either at Andre Dawson or another arbitrary point like 300 wins. It somehow seems stupid to say yes to Cedeno and no to Lemon based on eight wins. Remember we are looking at three different sources and two different levels. So, the real difference is probably closer to one or two wins. What these numbers are designed to frame the conversation moving forward. If there is a path forward for Kirby Puckett then there could be a path forward for Fred Lynn. We just have to move to the other tests.

Offensive Numbers

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
Jimmy Wynn12918.651130.362
Fred Lynn129-1.648129.372
Cesar Cedeno12357.610122.353
Dale Murphy1213.630119.357
Chet Lemon121-7.582122.356
Vada Pinson11128.592110.340
Willie Davis10662.536105.321

These numbers are more an illustration to show how the players arrived at their value above. Of course, we are missing the key element of defense. However, the fact that Wynn and Cedeno played much of their career in the Astrodome demonstrates how pedestrian looking numbers can look really good when you consider the negative impacts of their home ballpark. The same could be said for Willie Davis as well.

In a way, seeing such little separation works against all of these guys. This is especially true when compared to the Hall of Famers we saw in previous articles. At first blush, it would appear that Wynn and Lynn look better than the rest and Davis and Pinson look worse than the rest, but we also haven’t seen how they fare in fielding.

Fielding Numbers

 RfieldDWARTZDWSWSGG
Willie Davis10411.110678.36
Chet Lemon939.09663.23
Vada Pinson-8-5.7-669.32
Cesar Cedeno-14-4.3-849.61
Fred Lynn-27-3.1-2751.93
Jimmy Wynn-28-6.4-1844.11
Dale Murphy-33-6.8-445.22

It isn’t the fact that Davis is the best defensive player. It is by what margin he is the best defensive player. The win share Gold Gloves are the first clue. We have eschewed the traditional Gold Gloves because they simply don’t represent fielding excellence. Some might argue these numbers might not either. They represent a cross-section of what the industry had at the time. Some measure fielders against the average while others against the replacement level.

Some don’t agree between one player or another, but all agreed that Davis was a more valuable fielder than the others. So, when you combine an above average offensive player with a great defensive player you get a very good overall player. So, while Davis’ offensive numbers don’t jump off the page, he was a very valuable performer.

The others were not bad fielders, but when compared to the Hall of Fame standard they were underwhelming outside of Lemon. It is important to note the main difference between RField and Total Zone runs. They are sourced the same, but total zone runs count only their time as an outfielder. The Braves tried Murphy at catcher at the beginning of his career and that ended badly. So, if you ignore that experiment, he was probably closer to average. When you consider that all of them played ten to fifteen seasons, being 30 runs or less away from average means you were essentially average overall.

We could sit here and talk about fielding all day and we will pick up Davis’ mantle in a subsequent article, but for now we need to move on to the last leg of our test: the MVP tests. The test is plural because we compare how players did in the real MVP voting along with their actual finishes amongst position players in bWAR. MVP voting was documented through the top 30 in each league. The bWAR rankings only went through the top ten, so our comparison will not be perfect.

MVP Points

 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Dale Murphy320229
Fred Lynn201117
Vada Pinson311011
Cesar Cedeno41007
Jimmy Wynn20107
Willie Davis40004
Chet Lemon00000

MVP points are obviously weighted the closer you get to the MVP award with the MVPs counting ten points each. This does not prove Dale Murphy was the best player in the bunch. It proves that the beat writers thought he was more valuable when he was at his best than the others were when they were at their best. The fact that Chet Lemon had no votes is a bit of a surprise given his value as a player, but considering his value came mainly with his glove you can see why he is where he is.

MVP points help to explain why some players get more support than they should and why some don’t get as much. After all, the group that votes for the MVP award is the same group that votes for the Hall of Fame. It can be interesting comparison their finishes above to their rankings when we look at actual bWAR. The point values are the same, but we don’t have top 25 finishes to count.

bWAR MVP Points

 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Dale Murphy13018
Fred Lynn01115
Chet Lemon31014
Willie Davis21011
Cesar Cedeno21011
Jimmy Wynn3009
Vada Pinson1108

One of the best things about the baseball Hall of Fame is that the process allows for debate. I hope the index does the same. I would not be inclined to put any of these players in the Hall of Fame myself, but I could see a credible argument made for some. Murphy fares pretty well in the bWAR MVP points test considering we took away both of his MVP awards. He was still a very good player for several years in a row.

Lynn was really good for a season and great for one. If we follow the fame model of the Hall of Fame that might be good enough for most people. Lemon fares much better, but he was never great, so he probably falls short as well. Davis’ candidacy depends on how much you value his defense. We will end up looking back at his fielding later on, so maybe we should table in.

For most of my readers, that leaves Wynn and Cedeno. The final determination is probably something we already know. They were simply not good enough for long enough. If either had added another all-star level season or two it might have been enough. Sometimes you are just that close.

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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