Hall of Fame Index: Center Field Tiers

Center field is one of the more interesting positions on the diamond. It is clearly one of the two marquee spots among all the position players and the names on top of the list are some of the titans of the game. However, the depth of the position on top might not be what some of the other spots are. Still, there are plenty of names in tier one that should get the nod within the next few seasons.

As we continue through the tiers, we notice that every position has a mind of its own. This is why tiers are not necessarily evenly distributed but are dependent on the breakdown of the numbers. Simply put, we are looking for gaps. So, the end result is that we are trying to categorize players with other players of similar value. The idea is not to rank order players, but to frame the conversation.

Tier One

Willie Mays (B)443.8265.5709.3
Ty Cobb (B)444.8257.3702.1
Tris Speaker (B)390.7226.7617.4
Mickey Mantle (B)335.6243.5579.4
Joe DiMaggio (B)238.6199.5438.1
Ken Griffey Jr. (B)239.9187.2427.1
Billy Hamilton (V)201.0170.3371.3
Duke Snider (B)200.2170.7370.9
Carlos Beltran211.6146.8358.4
Andruw Jones 184.9162.5347.4
Richie Ashburn (V)187.1152.6339.7
Jim Edmonds185.1151.2336.3

Unlike many positions, the three players outside are either on the ballot or will be within a few seasons, so the Veterans Committee doesn’t need to make any corrections for past injustices. At least, that is if we want to stick with tier one applicants. However, we might suspect that Jones will be passed over because of perceptions about his career. Like many guys at other spots, more was expected. In fact, you could say that about a few guys on this list.

The problem with a large contingent of the BBWAA is that they still hold to old, arcane conceptions of value. In other words, they go with the “I know a Hall of Famer when I see one” approach. That will likely impact Edmonds as well. This is the two-fold problem with conventional numbers. The crowd that says they know Hall of Famers use conventional numbers to prove their preconceived notions. Both players brought considerable defensive value to the table.

That leaves us with Beltran. His own agent made dossiers that compared him favorably to Willie Mays. Those dossiers were patently ridiculous and much of his later career was marred with injuries. Still, the overall value was there and perhaps winning a World Series in his final season was the icing on the cake.

Tier Two

Andre Dawson (B)192.3137.2329.5
Kenny Lofton189.1139.2328.3
Max Carey (V)184.3131.8316.1
Jimmy Wynn169.7145.7315.4
Larry Doby (V)154.3151.8306.1
Vada Pinson165.3138.4303.7
Willie Davis178.8123.5302.3
Earl Averill (V)151.9149.5301.4
Cesar Cedeno161.8138.5300.3
Bernie Williams155.9142.0297.9
Chet Lemon160.6131.8292.4
Dale Murphy149.6139.7289.3
Andrew McCutchen144.4144.4288.8
Kirby Puckett (B)152.2133.3285.5
Hugh Duffy (V)150.4131.7282.1

There are any number of philosophies as it pertains to the Hall of Fame. Some people want the most exclusive club while others want to be more inclusive. It depends on whether you want to think of it as a museum or an exclusive club that only so many players can get in. Personally, I try to split the difference, but this point becomes dreadfully important when we get to tier two at any position.

I’m hard pressed to call any of these selections mistakes. They are only mistakes if you view the Hall of Fame as an exclusive club. The problem is when you get to the top of the list with guys like Kenny Lofton. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the question of whether Kenny Lofton or a Bernie Williams is a Hall of Famer is complicated one. The question of whether they are the most qualified player outside the Hall of Fame is a relatively easy one. A vote for either in the BBWAA process is not a bad vote, but when we are limited to ten selections, it may not be the most effective use of the slot.

It becomes more problematic with guys like Cesar Cedeno or Jimmy Wynn (local heroes). The Veterans Committee could certainly justify a selection of either, but who would be bypassing with such a selection? It’s one of the many reasons why it is important to have some kind of a system to sort through it all. After all, one man’s Wynn is another man’s Pinson. The tiered system simply indicates they have similar value. I have no problem with anyone arguing for one or the other, but they should go into with eyes wide open.

Tier Three

Fred Lynn155.4124.5279.9
Edd Roush (V)157.7121.5279.2
Johnny Damon162.0116.7278.7
Brett Butler150.9126.7277.6
Roy Thomas136.4133.7270.1
George Van Haltren154.9113.1268.0
Fielder Jones146.3120.6266.9
Amos Otis140.2125.6265.8
Curtis Granderson144.6121.0265.6
Wally Berger133.0132.4265.4
Mike Cameron145.9117.0262.9

I know that many of you are wondering about the name missing. There is a reason why we wait ten years before we start profiling current players. Exhibit A might be Wally Berger. He had more than 30 wins through his age 30 season and had put up some gaudy numbers in the process. He would accumulate only six wins following that season. There is just no telling how the aging process will impact any player, so while Mike Trout might end up being a tier one center fielder, we will wait for him to get to the ten year mark.

Overall, we break guys into tiers because we suddenly see things more clearly. All of these players have positive qualities and some might be enticing as candidates. Damon and Granderson are more current and certainly look like Hall of Famers when we look at the conventional numbers. However, value is determined by what you contribute offensively and defensively.

Again, it would be easy to bag on the selection of Edd Roush, but we have other Hall of Famers that aren’t even on the list. The most prominent of those would be Lloyd Waner. Waner will not appear anywhere on this list. However, those from the past did not have access to the data we have now. That is why selections from today in the borderline category are that much more infuriating.

Tier Four

Al Oliver149.1109.7258.8
Torii Hunter148.2106.3254.5
Earle Combs (V)129.2124.9254.1
Jimmy Ryan152.4100.3252.7
Andy Van Slyke129.3122.9252.2
Mike Griffin135.1116.2251.3
Hack Wilson (V)125.8123.1248.9
Pete Browning130.9117.0247.9
Steve Finley144.1101.0245.1
Paul Hines138.9104.3243.2
Clyde Milan131.0110.2241.2
Willie Wilson131.3108.0239.3

One of the more fascinating phenomenon in Hall of Fame circles is how many people trumpet the candidacies of good players on great teams. There is the Gil Hodges with the Boys of Summer and Dave Concepcion on the Big Red Machine. Usually, the argument goes that those teams would have been who they were without those players. In the literal sense that is true, but the question comes whether they were who they were because of the team they played on.

This brings us to Earle Combs. He was on the Murderer’s Row Yankees and perhaps had his best season in 1927 when the Yankees were perhaps the best team ever assembled. Sure, without him they likely wouldn’t have been that good, but they still would have been a great team. Players on great teams have built in advantages in the numbers and that is particularly true with win shares. So, giving them extra credit for their geography is like giving them an extra leg up.

Hack Wilson is an easier situation to read. He had 191 RBI in 1930 to set the modern record. It’s hard to imagine that record being broken. Opening the door for him is like giving Roger Maris the honor as well. Great seasons do not a career make. Still, it is understandable even if it is indefensible. 

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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