The Hall of Fame Index: Third Base Tiers

As we move to third basemen we notice that the methodology in play for both the BBWAA and the Veterans Committee is coming into play. Essentially, we are looking for tier one players that aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Finding only ten players to vote for can be a challenge, but if we estimate about one tier one player per position and you are practically there. Of course, for the Veterans Committee it becomes a little easier as they only have to choose two from a selection of maybe ten players.

The alternative is to sort through a series of tier two, three, and four players and select ones we consider fan favorites. I don’t care who you are. Everyone has a fan favorite that they allow slip past the protective barrier of snark and cold, hard analysis. The index was never designed to be a definitive voice on any player, but it does help protect ourselves from ourselves.

Tier One

Third base is an unusual position for a number of reasons. First, it may be the most underrated position in the Hall of Fame. The reasons for this are numerous. For one, we didn’t really see the kind of consistent power that we know today until after World War II. That coupled with the fact that most writers compare them offensively to first basemen leaves a standard impossible for the typical third baseman to live up to.

We won’t this kind of collection of worthy candidates at any other position. Beltre will be elected at his earliest convenience due largely to his 3000 hits, but also a career of terrific defense. Rolen still has the opportunity to be voted in by the writers, but he hasn’t built up following yet. We could chalk that up to the whole first base phenomenon but it also comes from the era he played in. There was always more than was expected and those lofty expectations often serve to obscure what really was.

Meanwhile, the last four guys could all be voted in by the Veterans Committee and be terrific selections. Out of the group, my vote would go to Nettles, but that is primarily because he comes on top in the index. With the exception of Bell, they all come with playoff resumes in addition to their career numbers.

Tier Two

The other major peculiarity about third basemen is the lack of traditional tiers that we have seen and will see again. It made picking only four tiers difficult. I’ve never had a problem with tier two Hall of Famers. Often there are reasons why they never made it into tier one and many times those reasons are legitimate. Bill James once said that numbers take on the properties of language. In this case, they tell a story in every case. A high career value and low peak value indicates a long career where a player was never really quite great. The flip side occurs when we have a low career value and similar peak value score.

Mike Schmidt (B)303.0220.4523.7
Eddie Mathews (B)282.7209.1491.8
Wade Boggs (B)258.5198.7457.2
George Brett (B)259.7176.6436.3
Chipper Jones (B)252.9162.9415.8
Adrian Beltre254.6146.5401.1
Brooks Robinson (B)229.8157.7387.5
Paul Molitor (B)226.1137.9364.0
Scott Rolen200.8154.6355.4
Graig Nettles197.9152.1350.0
Edgar Martinez (B)194.9146.1341.0
Sal Bando174.3157.2331.5
Ken Boyer173.4153.0326.4
Buddy Bell188.2137.4325.6

It is always fascinating seeing players from different eras. Some of these guys are guys we grew up watching or watched as adults. Seeing their scores next to players from bygone eras helps us visualize the older players. Sure, their styles and strengths may be different, but value wise they are extremely similar.

Longoria is the only truly active player in the group and seeing him along with David Wright serves as a casual reminder about the dangers of canonizing young players. Wright was on his way to tier one when the injury bug bit. Longoria has been relatively healthy but he went from an all-star to an also ran overnight. He may be average enough to build enough to value to get over the hump, but it will be more difficult than previously imagined.

Tier Three

John McGraw (V)136.0132.1268.1
Larry Gardner145.1116.7261.8
Matt Williams139.6121.1260.7
Pie Traynor (B)128.8113.5242.3
Lave Cross148.190.6238.7
Harlond Clift121.3115.7237.0
Tim Wallach125.7109.0234.7
Doug Decinces123.2110.8234.0
Eddie Yost124.5104.4228.9
Art Devlin114.2114.2228.4
Aramis Ramirez125.4101.9227.3
Ken Caminiti117.9108.8226.7
Bill Bradley111.6113.9225.5
Bill Madlock121.6103.8225.4

Sabermetrics certainly isn’t new. You could argue that McGraw was practicing it back in the 19thcentury. All he did was get on base. The funny thing is that 100 years ago or today it is all the same. The ability to get on first base is the single most valuable skill an offensive player can have. I remember when Terry Collins (then manager of the Astros) said of outfielder John Congelosi, “all he does is get on base.” He meant it as an insult.

I say all this because it becomes important in understanding why guys are where they are historically. Madlock won four batting titles in his career. Hundreds of fans decry the new numbers while others love them. Often, the old-fashioned will say, “I know a great player when I see one.” Sure. Suddenly, when asked to defend such a statement they will fall back on batting average or other similar established numbers. Maybe the irony isn’t lost on some of them. A fan is falling back on numbers to prove that we don’t need numbers to rank players in our own mind.

Numbers describe a player. They don’t define him as no single thing can define anyone. Someone could very well defend wanting a Madlock over a Ramirez historically. Ramirez struck out a lot and was not the best defender in the world. On a team of sluggers a Madlock might come in handy. On a team of junk and judy hitters a Ramirez might be preferred. The index considers the whole player and attempts to categorize him in these tiers. After that we can consider other numbers to further describe a player we may prefer over another.

Tier Four

Heinie Zimmerman (V)112.6110.7223.3
George Kell (V)121.4100.6222.0
Troy Glaus111.1110.1221.2
Danny Murphy111.1110.1221.2
Ryan Zimmerman116.9103.6220.5
Carney Lansford123.196.5219.6
Gary Gaetti130.988.7219.6
Ken Keltner 109.9106.4216.3
Eric Chavez110.9104.0214.9
Ned Williamson108.1106.6214.7
Travis Fryman104.699.9204.5
Darrell Evans192.5121.9314.4
Ron Cey165.4140.3305.7
Stan Hack171.6132.7304.3
Jimmy Collins (V)160.6142.7303.3
David Wright155.8145.9301.7
Robin Ventura167.6133.4301.0
Bob Elliott158.3131.1289.4
Heinie Groh153.0133.6286.6
Evan Longoria144.7140.7285.4
Tommy Leach164.7118.2282.9
Toby Harrah154.5126.6281.1

It doesn’t matter what position you are talking about, there are always a couple of tier four (or lower) guys that will slip into the Hall of Fame. If we are having a sober moment, we would readily admit that none of these guys really belong in the Hall of Fame. Yet, you get a smoke filled room where the cigars are smoked and the whiskey flows and suddenly George Kell becomes a Hall of Famer.

Of course, this isn’t to demean Kell or his memory. He was a good enough player when he was at his best. You could say the same for guys like Chavez, Gaetti, and Lansford from our lifetimes. Most fans would love to have a young Fryman on their team. In situations like these, there is something between high praise and snark that is warranted. Being one of the 50 best players at any position is something to be proud of, but if we are electing someone that has 40 or more guys more qualified than what are we doing?

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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