Finally, we get to the recently retired center fielders and those that are still active. Interestingly enough, this list will be defined more by who it doesn’t include than who is in the list. In order to be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot you have to play at least ten seasons. So, while there are certain players that seem destined for Cooperstown, we can’t profile them before they get to the ten-year mark.
This is both a philosophical point and point based on practicality. After all, how does one calculate a peak value based on six, seven, or eight seasons? Rest assured, those players will be profiled soon enough. So, for our purposes, there are only two current players that meet the criteria of playing ten seasons or more and profiling as likely getting at least some support when they get to the ballot stage. We also have a couple of recently retired players that aren’t quite eligible for the ballot.
When Beltran entered free agency following his great 2004 season, his agent (Scott Boras) generated one of those infamous dossiers that ultimately compared his client favorably to Willie Mays. It was one of those hatchet jobs where they talked about the two of them being the only players to do this and do that, so they must be equal. It wasn’t exactly intellectually honest, but who’s counting?
Ultimately, such devices end up hurting the player’s legacy more than helping. Beltran was a good player overall following 2004, but he was frequently hurt and never quite lived up to those lofty expectations. Still, Mays isn’t the Hall of Fame standard. If he was there would be only three center fielders in the Hall of Fame. Still, those expecting great things would ultimately believe he came up short of the Hall of Fame standard. Judging by above he would be easily in.
Granderson and McCutchen are still active, but that is where the similarities stop. Granderson is likely entering his final season and while he has aged relatively gracefully, he isn’t likely to add a ton of additional value. McCutchen has played just ten seasons and likely will play at least three or four more full seasons. So, his totals could change dramatically.
This brings us to Hunter. Hunter is another example of the players we saw in the last article. Is he good enough to even put on the ballot? We will ultimately answer that question through our multitude of tests. As you might imagine, Twins fans will have a lot to say about that, but we have to put our love for a guy aside and look at the cold, hard facts.
Career value and peak value answer two different questions. Career value answers the question of whether you did it for long enough. Discounting injuries, Beltran was a regular for 20 seasons. His career value reflects that. The other players didn’t do it for nearly as long, so their career value isn’t there. In some cases, they may get there some day, but they certainly aren’t there now.
Peak value answers a very different question. It asks how great you were when you were at their best. Both Beltran and McCutchen averaged between four and five wins when they were at their best. In the case of Beltran, he really was better than that, but lost a couple of seasons to injury. McCutchen was truly great in some facets of the game, but has one major weakness holding him back (as we will see later).
Granderson and Hunter have fatal flaws holding them back as well. Granted, we are talking about the difference between good and great. The vast majority of fans would have loved to have either one of their team during their prime. So, any criticism should be taken in the spirit in which it is intended. Before we get to the offensive and defensive numbers we need to clean up the index.
Hall of Fame Index
We start with the obvious. Carlos Beltran is a Hall of Famer. Sure, he might be closer to Duke Snider than he is Willie Mays, but Scott Boras can be excused for hyperbole. I’m sure Snider would have afforded Boras a mansion in agent’s fees had he played in the modern game. At this point, none of the others are there. I suspect McCutchen will get there if he stays healthy, but the future has yet to be written.
If we were really being honest we would say that neither Granderson nor Hunter deserve to even be on the ballot, but we know they’ll both be there when their time comes. So, the following numbers really serve more as an explanation of that fact than any further test. Sometimes they tell us an unusual story that could change our mind, but more often than not, they serve as an explanation of the index.
There was a running gag when Theo Epstein burst onto the scene as the youngest GM in baseball. Someone adapted the song OPP to create the catchy line, “I’m down with OBP (yeah you know me). I’m down with OBP (yeah you know me).” In most instances, the ability to steal first base is the thing that separates great hitters from ordinary ones. It’s hard to call any of these players ordinary, but Hunter is a lot closer to average than he is to being really good. ESPN and the MLB Network don’t show people drawing walks in their highlights. So, it is no wonder that average fans don’t really think about that when they consider whether someone is a great player or not. Stadiums and television networks are now in the habit of showing OBP, so maybe that perception will change.
McCutchen is a truly gifted offensive player and now that his last few teams have taken him out of center field he might have more value overall. Part of Beltran’s “problem” is that McCutchen hasn’t had the problem of diminishing returns yet. Beltran’s last season was truly brutal and there were a couple of clunkers thrown in there. If you took his best fifteen seasons he might be in McCutchen territory.
The other two are where they are. They clearly are/were above average performers overall and there is a considerable amount of value there, but there is a difference between considerable value and Hall of Fame value. So, unless they brought a great deal to the table defensively, they just aren’t there.
Often times, when you see wild differences between bWAR, fWAR, and win shares we will notice that the player’s ratings on the defensive end vary wildly. McCutchen comes out better in UZR (relatively) than in Rfield and so he comes out better in fWAR than he does in bWAR. That really shouldn’t be a mystery. The same could be said for Torii Hunter and win shares.
So, this brings us to Beltran and the difference between perception and reality. He spent his last several seasons as an occasional corner outfielder and primary designated hitter. That ended up killing his career value as compared to the replacement level defender, but in metrics that compared him with average he did just fine. On a value per 1000 innings basis he likely came out looking a lot better.
Again, the effects of Web Gems and other highlights hurt here. Torii Hunter was a fixture on that segment, but the reality was that he was a good defender and not a great one. Granderson is probably closer to Beltran in terms of reputation. He was really good as a young player, but he has been a part-time performer for a number of seasons now. Add it all up and you have two players that gravitate somewhere between solid and good overall. If you’re not careful you may be describing Harold Baines.
BBWAA MVP Points
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The MVP test has a way of illustrating the previous point numerically. A picture often paints a thousand words. Of course, the BBWAA vote is not always fair. The beat writers are not always great arbiters of value. McCutchen is a great example of this in reverse. Studying fielding takes a lot of time. You have to sift through multiple sources and it can be hard to get a consensus. So, many ignore it. McCutchen is a very good offensive player that has been occasionally been great.
Beltran certainly feels underrated on this list. Of course, part of that is coming from memory when Beltran seemingly put the Astros on his back in 2004. This is why we also include the top ten finishes in single season bWAR. Unfortunately, they did not go up to the top 25 like the MVP did, but nothing is perfect.
BWAR MVP Points
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So, as It turns out, McCutchen ends up being about equal on both counts. He probably comes out in front of Beltran by virtue of the fact that he has been more durable in his prime than Beltran was in his. Still, they come out a lot closer here than they were in the other vote. The MVP tests often serve to justify or support what we have seen in the offensive numbers, defensive numbers, and index.
Granderson will end up being a borderline part of the ballot, but he really shouldn’t make it that long on the ballot. Hunter will be on the ballot, but he really shouldn’t be. He was always somewhere between above average and solid, but he really was rarely ever really good. Counting numbers are nice, but they rarely ever tell the whole story.