Hall of Fame: Second Base Tiers

As we continue to move through the diamond, we continue to refine our approach. At least we refine how we explain our approach. When we start criticizing selections, we are criticizing some people’s favorite player. So, I try not to say someone definitively should not have been selected even if I believe that wholeheartedly. We talk about players either being fit or not fit for the Hall of Fame. The selection of Hall of Famers is a deeply personal process with both objective and subjective criteria.

Second base will be the first position where we see multiple players in tier one that are currently outside the Hall of Fame. The aim of doing this was to identify the player that is most fit for the Hall of Fame that is outside the Hall of Fame. How do we do that when we have multiple players that are fit. These are incredibly hard decisions. 

On the other end, we have another position with a Hall of Famer outside of the top 50. This one will get deeply personal as this player is beloved for multiple reasons. We will address his case at the end, but I’m sure his name will be a glaring omission for some. Rest assured, I ran him through the same test that I ran the others through.

Tier One

Rogers Hornsby (B)357.7265.8623.5
Eddie Collins (B)359.3224.0583.3
Nap Lajoie (B)308.8211.2520.0
Joe Morgan (B)301.8198.2500.0
Charlie Gehringer (B)235.9178.6414.5
Rod Carew (B)230.4160.4390.8
Frankie Frisch (B)220.4165.5385.9
Craig Biggio (B)216.9161.9378.8
Bobby Grich206.0155.5361.5
Ryne Sandberg (B)198.1162.7360.8
Roberto Alomar (B)206.1149.9356.0
Chase Utley187.5167.0354.5
Robinson Cano193.4160.1353.5
Lou Whitaker213.4138.6352.0

Keep a couple things in mind. First, this is not meant to be a ranking of players. I can comfortably say I would put Rogers Hornsby on top, but some others may prefer Collins and that’s fine. This becomes particularly important the further we get down the list. The difference between Chase Utley (who just retired) and Lou Whitaker is negligible. We are measuring fitness and that is measured when we get to the gaps between the tiers. However, we should note that the gap between tier one and tier two will always be greater than the gaps between tiers two, three, and four.

I can’t get overly technical because the mathematicians in the audience will start to wince. Suffice it to say, as we approach the mean we notice that the data gets tighter. I think this is what mathematicians call regression to the mean, but maybe someone will be nice and offer some enlightenment on the issue. We do have two players in tier one that are eligible for the Hall of Fame, but both have fallen off the BBWAA ballot. That makes them eligible for the new Veterans Committee.

This is where the term “fitness” comes back into focus. Grich is more fit than Whitaker according to this model, but that doesn’t mean he was necessarily a better player. That’s a subjective question and while I might have my opinions, those opinions are exactly that and are worth no more or less than anyone else’s.

Tier Two

Jackie Robinson (B)170.0170.0340.0
Joe Gordon (V)166.2159.8326.0
Willie Randolph190.4124.7315.1
Jeff Kent179.2135.1314.3
Billy Herman (V)169.4135.2304.6
Bobby Doerr (V)160.7139.2299.9
Bid McPhee (V)176.2120.3296.5
Ian Kinsler154.8136.8291.6
Nellie Fox (V)150.0134.8284.8
Tony Lazzeri (V)152.5129.5282.0
Dustin Pedroia142.4137.6280.0
Larry Doyle152.5123.6276.1

I’d like to welcome those of you joining us for the first time. If you are joining us then I invite you to buy my book and read my past articles. If you don’t want to go back that far you should keep one thing in mind. The index is a tool and only a tool. Only an idiot would claim that Jackie Robinson doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. Yes, he falls into tier two as an accounting measure, but a wise baseball fan considers a number of factors before making their final call on a player.

A number of Hall of Famers in this grouping served their country in World War II or played in an era where there were fewer opportunities to accrue value. One needs to separate them from others like Fox and Lazzeri who simply were borderline guys at best. This doesn’t even bring up the current crop of guys just on the ballot or on the ballot someday.

The role of the BBWAA voter is different (or should be) than the Veterans Committee voter. The BBWAA should be focused on selecting the ten most fit players for the Hall of Fame. In that universe Jeff Kent might be a Hall of Famer. Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler might be as well someday even if they don’t make it into tier one.

Tier Three

Johnny Evers (V)150.3120.2270.5
Cupid Childs137.5129.8267.3
Ben Zobrist133.9132.4266.3
Tony Phillips151.1109.4260.5
Chuck Knoblauch130.8128.0258.8
Buddy Myer142.4108.9251.3
Del Pratt134.9116.2251.1
Julio Franco141.5105.2246.7
Hardy Richardson130.6113.7244.3
Red Schoendienst (V)132.1108.0240.1
Gil McDougal119.2119.2238.4

Tier three is what the index is really all about. When we get into tier three and four, we are getting into players that really aren’t fit for the Hall of Fame on the merits of their play alone. Red Schoendienst and Miller Huggins are there on the basis of their playing career AND their managerial career. Evers is there because of a poem. As crazy as that may sound, all of us have deeply personal reasons for liking a player that might seem silly to others.

I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I like the cut of Ben Zobrist’s jib. He is extremely versatile, gets on base, and just flies under the radar. I have a similar feeling about a tier four guy. If I allowed those feelings to influence my vote, I would be no better than the Veterans Committee guys that put in so many questionable Hall of Famers.

I won’t hide the fact that I’m rooting for Zobrist to get into tier two, but the methodology won’t change to accommodate him. He will have to earn that spot on his own and with another couple of seasons he might get there. There are always historical reasons for the numbers we see and sometimes those warrant an exception, but we have to work very hard to keep sentimentality out of the process.

Tier Four

Davey Lopes132.2102.1234.3
Placido Polanco123.2108.8232.0
Lonny Frey119.9110.6230.5
Eddie Stanky115.2114.5229.7
Dick McAuliffe121.0107.2228.2
Jim Gilliam122.899.0221.8
Miller Huggins (V)119.0101.3220.3
Danny Murphy113.3106.4219.7
Fred Dunlap109.5109.5219.0
Max Bishop111.7106.4218.1
Don Buford108.8108.8217.6
Claude Ritchie107.8103.8211.6
Jimmy Williams105.1105.6210.7

When I was in high school, there was a computer game called “Old Time Baseball.” They don’t make them like they used to. This game had every team and every player between 1871 and 1981. You could play games between specific teams (say the 1927 Yankees and 1975 Reds) or you could draft players for a super team. Fred Dunlap was a favorite pick for those drafts. One year, he put it all together and hit over .420. In reality, that wasn’t the case. They counted walks as hits that season, so it made everything look like it was magical on that level.

For a seam-head there was no better player from this list than Max Bishop. He was a stalwart on the great Philadelphia A’s teams from the late 1920s and early 1930s. He managed to have a career .423 OBP. Even in the Live Ball Era that was something. As you can see from the basic numbers above, his career was not long enough to get out of tier four. However, when you are really good at the same time as others that are really good you can create something magical. It then becomes easy to get attached to a player like that.

When you look up his numbers you notice that he played six seasons for the American Association’s Baltimore Orioles. Those Orioles may have been able to finish in the middle of the pack in the American or National League. They dominated the American Association to the point where they were better than modern AAA teams. They were also independent and would not surrender their top players for less than top dollar.

The A’s got a number of players from there including Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. In his fourth season (at age 22) with the Orioles, Bishop hit .331. In the modern game he likely would have gotten called up to the big club following that season. Certainly, four seasons of minor league baseball is a suitable apprenticeship today. So, let’s add two seasons on the front end of his career. Is it possible that he could be worth four wins in each of those seasons? Eight wins is equal to 24 index wins. That moves him to 135.7 and also might elevate his peak value a little as well. It still would make him a tier three guy and there are a number of players from that era with the same story.

The Elephant in the Room

Many of you are wondering about Bill Mazeroski. I don’t blame you. I was surprised he didn’t make the top 50. However, I knew he would be in tier three or four. Many trumpet him as the greatest defensive second baseman in the history of the game. The trouble in terms of value is that he was also a below average offensive player. The combination made him roughly average over the course of more than a decade. So, he drops off the list.

This is where my verbiage has to be precise. I am saying he was not fit to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Are there are other reasons? Well, some might say if you are the best at anything then a museum to the game’s history begs for your inclusion. I suppose there is an argument there, but there is also a logical stopping point as well. Do we want to elect the best drag bunter? Pinch runner? Lefty specialist? Certainly, fielding any position is more important than those, but should the best fielder at every position be in even if they weren’t a good hitter?

Mazeroski also hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. He stands with Joe Carter as one of the two players in history to do that. Ironically, Carter is another borderline candidate that could get some benefit from history. Maybe when you include all of these facts into a goodie bag you get a Hall of Famer. I don’t find the case that compelling, but the floor is certainly open to all opinions.

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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