Hall of Fame Index: Modern Center Fielders

We broke up the center fielders based on when they played the majority of their careers. The center fielders in this section spent most of their careers after 1990, but all are already eligible for the ballot. That seems like a specific data range, but it does include quite a few players. One of the issues with the Hall of Fame process has been the combination of a ten player limit on each individual ballot and the sheer number of players available on the ballot.

Both of those problems are easy fixes. The index certainly wasn’t designed to definitively pick between players for the Hall of Fame, but it could eliminate players that probably shouldn’t be on the ballot. After all, are Placido Polanco or Michael Young really Hall of Famers? Are the really? So, when we look at the current crop we could do the hard work for them. All of these players were on the ballot, but some could have easily been left off to clear some confusion.

Career Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Kenny Lofton68.362.457.4188.1
Jim Edmonds60.464.560.2185.1
Johnny Damon56.444.261.4162.0
Bernie Williams49.643.962.4155.9
Brett Butler49.742.259.0150.9
Steve Finley44.340.459.4144.1

There are a number of tests we go through to test any player’s Hall of Fame credentials. The index is one of them and career value is half of that. So, we aren’t eliminating anyone from consideration yet. Still, you can see some obvious separation out of the gate and we have not seen a player yet with a higher peak value than a career value. So, the guys towards the bottom of the list already have an uphill battle.

What is interesting is the breakdown between guys like Damon and Williams between WAR and win shares. Obviously, their spots on some of the best teams of the period played a huge role. Win shares have two major differences with WAR. First, it is fairly easy to have negative WAR in a season, but win shares are built with an absolute zero. Secondly, win shares are built on actual wins where WAR is built on expected wins. Usually those are similar, but good teams frequently outperform their expected wins. So, players on good teams usually see higher win shares than WAR.

So far, you would expect Lofton and Edmonds to be fairly strong Hall of Fame candidates based on their career value. The others are going to be pretty iffy, but we have to remember there are other tests where these players may shine. One of those is the peak value category, so let’s see if there are any upates.

Peak Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Jim Edmonds51.753.546.6151.8
Bernie Williams47.445.249.4142.0
Kenny Lofton52.646.240.4139.2
Brett Butler43.937.045.8126.7
Johnny Damon40.633.143.0116.7
Steve Finley33.030.238.2101.4

At this point, it would take a great deal to justify even putting Finley on a ballot. Of course, that didn’t stop him from getting on the ballot. You might ask yourself what’s the harm. This past season, there were 35 players on the ballot. Eleven of them did not claim a single vote. Four more got five or fewer votes. If you had found a way to limit the ballot to 20 names then asking someone to limit their ballot to ten names would make a lot more sense.

The problem with the Finleys and Butlers of the world is that they claim an occasional vote here and there. That removes a vote for someone else that could possibly be a legitimate candidate of the Hall of Fame. This isn’t to demean either of those guys. I used to hate Butler as a kid. All he did was get on base against my hometown nine and seemingly wreak havoc on the bases. Finley was a beloved player for the hometown nine and had some impressive seasons. He just didn’t have enough of them.

Hall of Fame Index

 CareerPeakTotal
Jim Edmonds185.1151.8336.9
Kenny Lofton188.1139.2327.3
Bernie Williams155.9142.0297.9
Johnny Damon162.0116.7278.7
Brett Butler150.9126.7277.6
Steve Finley144.1101.4245.5

It’s funny how Moneyballput Damon’s career in a different perspective. He got a bunch of hits (although not 3000) and he scored a bunch of runs. The question is whether he got on base often enough or whether he scored the runs because he was good or because his teams were good. I’m certainly willing to entertain the possibility that he and Williams really are Hall of Famers even though their index score falls short.

That will come with the tests we move to next. We will take a look at their hitting numbers, fielding numbers, and their finishes in the MVP voting. For some of these guys, their postseason success can also enter the equation. After all, Damon and Williams were on multiple World Series champions. So, maybe that should get them over the top.

Offensive Numbers

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
Jim Edmonds132-11.659132.385
Bernie Williams125-3.609126.373
Brett Butler11037.587115.344
Kenny Lofton10778.592109.352
Johnny Damon10477.561105.344
Steve Finley10429.537104.336

No single test makes or breaks a Hall of Fame case. After all, no one would put Ozzie Smith in the Hall of Fame on the strength of his hitting alone. Very few will get in on the basis of one single test as well. So, Jim Edmonds and Bernie Williams look good on the basis of their hitting, but we can’t put them there on this alone. Conversely, it’s impossible to eliminate Damon and Finley on these numbers alone, but they certainly don’t help.

Keep in mind that someone that is above average in both hitting and fielding categories is actually a good player overall. So, Butler and Lofton will see their cases made or broken based on their fielding numbers. It’s the combination of value where we see their index scores justified.

Fielding Numbers

 RfieldDWARTZ/UZRDWSWSGG
Kenny Lofton10815.511463.55
Jim Edmonds376.45860.65
Johnny Damon3-2.0-1856.12
Steve Finley-13.5-3372.46
Brett Butler-84-6.1-8357.52
Bernie Williams-139-9.5-15458.55

We should keep two things in mind. First, we have not included Andruw Jones because he was in our last article. Secondly, this is a cross-section of different fielding metrics designed to give us an overview on how the industry views these guys. So, win shares seems to like Bernie Williams where the other two sources obviously don’t. The whole idea is to get a consensus and we see that all three like Lofton.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Do you trust data, your eyeballs, or your memory? We saw Edmonds make highlight reel catches and he did it in big moments (memory). So, we might be tempted to think Edmonds was the best of the bunch. Lofton made the tough catches look more routine. He wasn’t nearly on Jones’ level in that regard, but he clearly is the best of the players on this list.

The final tests in our look is the MVP tests. Simply put, we are comparing how the players fared in the BBWAA voting with how they fared in bWAR. Ideally, reputations should match, but sometimes they don’t. The BBWAA vote only proves what the writers thought of them at the time. When players are on the outside looking in it is often because they were overlooked for the MVP.

BBWAA MVP Points

 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Jim Edmonds202012
Bernie Williams420010
Brett Butler51008
Kenny Lofton30108
Steve Finley21005
Johnny Damon40004

BWAR MVP Points

 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Kenny Lofton22126
Jim Edmonds41017
Brett Butler21011
Steve Finley3009
Bernie Williams2006
Johnny Damon1003

When we compare the two lists we see a difference between the perception and the reality. Lofton and Edmonds are head and shoulders above the rest and we see that with the index scores as well. That is one of the reasons why the MVP tests are so valuable. They give us a quick look at where guys really should be.

This brings us to the bottom of the list. Williams and Damon were good players, but they were never really more than just good players. Sometimes, good players can look like more than good players when they play on a great team. The fundamental question should always be whether a player is good because he plays with other good players or whether the other players are good because they play with that player.

I like Johnny Damon, Steve Finley, and Brett Butler. They were all good players, but good players shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. Moreover, having them on the ballot creates some confusion and allows other more qualified candidates to go unnoticed.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s