We interrupt our normal course and skip ahead to the active list of right fielders. Technically, this list would include Bobby Abreu since he won’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot until next season, but we profiled him in a previous article. So, the list today includes four players that are all technically active, but we will likely only see three of them this season. One likely will retire following the opening series in Japan.
Ichiro Suzuki could make a credible argument for being one of the top ten right fielders in the history of the game when his Japanese numbers are included. Include those numbers and he has the most professional hits in the game’s history. After all, it is called the Baseball Hall of Fame and not the MLB Hall of Fame. However, we cannot count his Japanese numbers here because we have no way to handicap the level of play in Japan as compared to the big leagues.
The other two active players have a long road ahead of them in terms of value, but both have done enough to capture some support amongst those that really don’t pay attention to such noble pursuits. As is our custom, we will go through the index first and then take a look at offense, fielding, and the MVP tests.
The key thing for active players is that we have something called the multiplier effect. Let’s say that Markakis is worth three wins this season as he approached last season. It would raise his career index score nearly ten wins total. So, when we look at how all three players below Suzuki appear to be far outside the Hall of Fame conversation, that can change with two or three good seasons.
No one has called Jose Bautista yet, but the same happened to him last season and he ended up being worth about a win total. The trouble for him and players like him is that they are good enough to play regularly for a bad team, but those teams don’t want to pay middle-class prices for average players. They’d rather put a rookie there and suffer their lumps.
Markakis and Cruz are nearly there as well. Both had to take one-year contracts for less than they likely would have in the past. The phenomenon is one of the sordid undercurrents of the past two off-seasons. Approximately a third of the teams are actively not trying to win, so the market has contracted. Couple that with a new understanding of data and how it relates to player worth and you have a vastly shrinking middle class.
This new trend makes it difficult to project where all three players go from here. Bautista could very well be done and that would be a shame for someone that clearly has something left in the tank. Cruz and Markakis will likely continue playing beyond 2019, but it might not be for as long as they would have just ten years ago.
We might as well start at the bottom. Markakis represents a problem of accumulation. Let’s say a player plays 15 full seasons in the big leagues and averages 600 at bats per season. In such a universe that player could hit .250 and average 150 hits a season. That would give that player 2250 hits. Give him a couple of additional seasons and that becomes 2500 hits. There are those that would put that guy in the Hall of Fame with no questions asked.
Let’s say he averaged 75 runs scored and 75 RBI as well. In those 15 seasons he would eclipse 1000 runs and RBI. So, he could potentially reach each of those plateaus without hitting .300, driving in 100 or scoring 100. Markakis is that sort of player. Sure, there is something to be said for average. He is a glue kind of player. He is a player that helps very good teams become great because he plugs a hole. You don’t put those guys in the Hall of Fame.
Cruz and Bautista are in different categories than Markakis. They were occasionally great and when you look at Bautista you see his peak value is almost better than his career value. He might be the only notable player in history that is true of. He was brutal in his first several seasons, but he discovered something in Toronto. If he had discovered it sooner or kept it going for a season or two more he might be worthy.
Cruz is similar in that all of his value has come since he was 27 years old. We could call him a late bloomer or simply figured that his teams discovered his value late. Since he has been DHing for the past half dozen years, he has not been able to accrue the same value as other guys that have put up similar numbers. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him put up two or three more seasons of 30 home runs and 100 RBI, but still come up short when it comes to Hall of Fame value.
Hall of Fame Index
Even without his Japanese numbers, Ichiro will only have to wait the minimum years to get his call to Cooperstown. We haven’t even addressed his historical significance as a pioneer. He obviously wasn’t the first Asian transport, but he has been the most significant. The other three just aren’t there. If each could magically yank four or five solid seasons out they might have an argument, but at this point they don’t
Suzuki’s numbers represent three different principles at work. First, he was clearly not as good an offensive player as was perceived. For one, he just didn’t have the same power as others, but when you throw in the fact that he didn’t draw many walks, his 200+ hit seasons just weren’t as impressive as they looked from afar. However, that also ties into the second part of the discussion about value. His fielding and baserunning added value that were not added for the other players. So, he might have been a three win player offensively, but the fielding and running saw that play up to five wins a season.
Of course, we see the reverse with Cruz and Bautista. Nearly all of their value came with their bat and that value dropped to nearly zero once they left the batter’s box. Markakis would be a marriage between the two extremes. He plays a passable right field and had some good defensive seasons in his younger days, but he would never be considered in the class of Suzuki.
There is some cognitive dissonance when we get to Cruz and Bautista. Bautista was clearly an inferior right fielder, but has more defensive value according to WAR. That is because Cruz has spent so much time at DH. Rfield and UZR are value neutral when it comes to DHs where WAR penalizes DHs more than any other position. It becomes a bit of a philosophical conundrum because not all DHs are created equal. You have your David Ortiz types that probably shouldn’t play anywhere and then guys like Cruz that can (or at least could earlier in their career) but there may have been someone a little better.
We shifted to Fielding Bible Gold Gloves since all of these guys played in the Fielding Bible era. If you finished in the top two among right fielders then you were awarded a Gold Glove. Suzuki may have deserved more as he finished in the top five numerous times in addition to his three here. Markakis has been much like his offensive numbers. He is better than about half the universe, but probably has ten or so guys in front of him.
As we saw, Ichiro doesn’t hold a candle to Roberto Clemente, but then again no one does. Still, he probably is a top five defensive right fielder in the history of the game. Add that kind of fielding to even above average offense then you get a really good player historically. He didn’t make his big league debut until he was 27, so if you gave him another five seasons (conservatively) on the front end and he might have ended up being amongst the first group of right fielders historically.
BBWAA MVP Test
|Top 25||Top 10||Top 5||MVP||Points|
BWAR MVP Test
|Top 10||Top 5||MVP||Points|
These kinds of awards voting have real consequences. Let’s say the BBWAA had given Markakis his MVP award. His career would be seen in a completely different light then it is now. Would it be enough to get him in the Hall of Fame? I tend to doubt it, but it would likely get him some votes he won’t likely get now. Ichiro effectively stole the MVP award in 2001 away from Jason Giambi. Giambi lapped him in terms of value from a sabermetric and traditional sense. That would have given him two MVP awards in a row. Would that have changed his Hall of Fame case? I’m sure it would have helped.
It’s just difficult for weak defensive players to get a ton of traction in the WAR method. Cruz likely had a number of top 25 campaigns there, but they don’t keep track of those. As always, we notice how the BWAR lists contracts the differences between players. Still, it is impossible not to see the difference between Ichiro and the other three.