When we get to the second list of BBWAA Hall of Fame right fielders we get to the elephant in the room. How do we sift through the differences between reputation and reality? Most people would have put Reggie Jackson in the first group of right fielders because of his postseason success. He was lucky enough to be a part of six World Series championship teams and arguably a part of two dynastic teams.
It’s easy to think of him as the most important part of those teams (or the straw that stirs the drink as they used to say). This is especially true when we think of the iconic moments in our mind. So, the first thing we have to do is look at the actual numbers to determine if that reputation was warranted. So, we will look at all of the Hall of Fame right fielders (BBWAA) with 100 or more playoff plate appearances to see if he is really head and shoulders above the rest.
It’s sometimes difficult to parse our words, but the truth about Jackson is both perception and reality. It is true that he has more postseason home runs than any player in history. He is also amongst the leaders in runs and RBI. However, a part of that is a function of opportunity. He has nearly twice as many plate appearances as the next best right fielder. So, he might not have been as brilliant as we remember.
This is part of a multi-layered conversation. Jackson’s playoff numbers were about as good as his regular season numbers. That cuts both ways. On the one hand, it is easy to think that the reputation was overblown because you are supposed to be the same guy. However, you are generally facing the best pitching, so it would be natural for your numbers to dip. This is why we go through the process of the index and the other tests. It will serve to either serve or counteract the reputations players get over time.
One of the things I like about the index is that it takes players where they are and takes a good, honest look. The problems of looking at playoff performance, basic run production, and awards voting is that those things are a function of opportunity. You can’t produce in the playoffs if you aren’t on a playoff team. You can’t produce runs if there aren’t good teammates around you. Typically, good players on bad teams get overlooked in the awards voting.
Jackson is better than these other players, but the margin is tiny between Jackson and Waner. True, we haven’t looked at peak value yet, but so far he appears to fit very favorably in this group. Guerrero is the only one that doesn’t, but we haven’t looked at peak value yet, so it is hard to say definitively.
You tell me how I’m supposed to separate the top three guys. Honestly, I can’t do it. It does drive home the point that Jackson is in the right grouping. We separate guys when the numbers show us the separation. We can see the separation between the top three and the bottom three. We can see the separation between each of those players as well.
Peak value is one number though. It adds context to a career, but it does not define it. Guerrero looks a lot better here, but it also puts his career in a different context. He did not enjoy as many productive seasons as these guys did. Longevity matters even when those additional seasons might not be great or even good. If they are just average, those average seasons have value. That’s the kind of context we can add to a Winfield and Gwynn that we can’t add to Guerrero.
A part of Waner’s problem is the company he kept. He played at the end of Babe Ruth’s career and throughout Mel Ott’s career. This doesn’t even mention Harry Heilmann and other great outfielders from that day. Add in the fact that he played in only one World Series and you can see why he was buried in relative obscurity. Stylistically I might have preferred him to Jackson. He didn’t have Jackson’s power, but as we will see, he was a better percentage hitter and a superior fielder as well.
The old sages of baseball were fond of saying that the game is half hitting, half pitching, and half fielding. They weren’t necessarily the best statisticians. We know hitting is more valuable than fielding, but the ratio is up for debate. Heilmann lived in Ty Cobb’s shadow for the first part of his career, so few noticed how really good he was. Then, you had other really good hitters like Ruth and Gehrig in the same league. Sprinkle in a Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons and it’s easy to overlook someone.
The rest are grouped nicely. Often times, the offensive and fielding numbers don’t reveal anything new. They simply serve to explain the index in a different way. These players were close in value because when you compared their numbers to the league average you ended up seeing the same thing.
What we do see is that Winfield was a step below the rest of the guys. That means his value came from the fact that he played 20+ seasons. If you are between solid and good for that long you end up putting up counting numbers that make you look like you were great. That is why we focus on the value numbers.
It’s natural to assume to believe that the biggest difference between the first group of right fielders and the second is with the bat. We are talking about some of the players on baseball’s Mount Rushmore. In point of fact, the biggest difference likely comes with the glove. Simply put, those top six guys contributed in all facets of the game. Waner is the only one here that could credibly make such a claim.
The DWAR numbers can be perplexing, but we have to remember three of these guys (Jackson, Guerrero, and Winfield) spent considerable time as designated hitters. In that metric, that can kill your value where it is neutral in the others. Had Winfield come up in the American League he might not have ever gotten a full opportunity to field. Then again, advanced metrics weren’t a thing in the 1970s.
BBWAA MVP Test
|Top 25||Top 10||Top 5||MVP||Points|
BWAR MVP Test
|Top 10||Top 5||MVP||Points|
Let’s assume that each player had the same total of seasons in the MVP voting if we include top 25 finishes. Heilmann would have had the same 36 MVP points, Jackson would have come in at 36, Waner at 28, Gwynn at 29, Winfield at 22, and Guerrero at 24. In other words, the exact order would be different, but all of these players would be fairly close to one another. This is ultimately how statistics work.
As we move closer to the mean we notice that the grouping gets tighter and tighter. This is true in all statistics. So, ultimately the way we find Hall of Famers is not by who scores 300, 400, or 275 in a made up test like the index. We find them by measuring the difference between them and other players. When we find a number of players grouped at the same data point we have to wonder how special any of them really were. That’s find for these five or six guys, but what happens when it turns into ten? Fifteen? That’s how we ultimately address the “if….then” arguments and the “what about?” questions we come to with the players on the outside looking in.