Hall of Fame Index: Active Right Fielders

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.

Career Value

Ichiro Suzuki59.357.664.8181.7
Jose Bautista35.635.445.4116.4
Nelson Cruz33.433.142.6109.1
Nick Markakis32.428.546.4107.3

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.

Peak Value

Ichiro Suzuki54.753.152.2160.0
Jose Bautista38.736.839.6115.1
Nelson Cruz32.131.439.8103.3
Nick Markakis27.424.236.888.4

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

Ichiro Suzuki181.7160.0341.7
Jose Bautista116.4115.1231.5
Nelson Cruz109.1103.3212.4
Nick Markakis107.388.4195.7

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

Offensive Value


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.

Fielding Value


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.


 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints


 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints

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.

What About Player A and B?

The what about series is now dedicated to finding the best player at each position not in the Hall of Fame. Some players on the ballot are very strong contenders for the position, but this time we will focus on wrongs the new Veterans Committee can make right. In order to do that we will delay the index and focus on the offensive and defensive numbers for three players that all played for the Red Sox at one time.

However, we will not reveal names yet in order to protect the guilty. Simply put, there is a difference between perception and reality. One of these three players is in the Hall of Fame. He shouldn’t be and we’ve already established that in a previous article. We will compare him with the players that aren’t and determine whether my previous was in fact correct.

Offensive Numbers

Player A1272.647129.375
Player B13711.693137.379
Player C1285.628128.375

Of course, Player B is the one in the Hall of Fame right? How do we know? Well, he had higher numbers than the other two across the board. However, we should note that all three are fairly close. Since they all played in Boston for a good portion (or all) of their careers and they played in roughly the same era we really don’t have to worry much about context. The case should be closed right?

Well, we have a problem. Player B isn’t the one in the Hall of Fame. We don’t lead with the offensive and fielding numbers for an important reason. We are missing the element of time. Did these numbers come over the course of twelve seasons? Fifteen seasons? Twenty seasons? This is something the index can ultimately tell us where aggregate numbers only tell us one part of the story.

However, ignoring that for a moment we have to evaluate the problem. Either Player A or C is Jim Rice. Rice is in the Hall of Fame. Rice has the MVP award and strong finish in MVP points. Rice was the “feared” hitter in the middle of the lineup. The venerable baseball sages will tell us it wasn’t Rice’s job to get on base. It was his job to drive in runs. Well, he was about as effective at getting on base as the other two, so in that vein he is undersold by the sages.

The difference between our collective understanding of offense during these players’ days and now is immense. We now understand that you are judged by your ability to create runs and not by your ability to drive in runs. You create runs by avoiding outs or collecting more bases for every out you create. Player B was just a little better than the other two in that department. 

Fielding Numbers

Player A66-3.88050.80
Player B783.08148.52
Player C24-8.02235.60

There is a credible argument to be made for both Player A and B as the best defensive players in right field. The differences between sources have more to do with longevity than ability. Player A enjoyed a longer career and therefore had more value when compared with the replacement level right fielder. Without giving away too much of the farm, Player A was renown for his arm while Player B had the ability to play center on occasion. That explains the difference in DWAR and just serves to highlight why Player B looks like the Hall of Famer when compared with this grouping.

You have naturally have guessed that Rice is player C in this tale. In this tale, he appears to lag behind players A and B defensively, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. The fact is that he was a solid defender while he was healthy enough to play left field (in his case). So, direct comparisons are not completely fair. Left field is more difficult to build value in than right field because there isn’t as much of an emphasis placed on throwing out runners. Combine that with Fenway Park’s short wall and there just wasn’t as much room to demonstrate excellence. 

Still, it is hard to argue that Rice really is a Hall of Famer based on these numbers. We have to do some logical twisting to justify it. Part of that would be simply putting both Player A and B in the Hall of Fame. However, that would serve to bastardize the Hall of Fame. The “if….then” argument becomes impossible to defend when the “if” is based on a false pretense. Simply put, Player A and B have to be judged on their own merits and not whether Player C is in the Hall of Fame or not.

Since we haven’t included the element of time we will now work to include the index for those two players and see where we are. If you wish, you can fish back into the archives to compare these two to Rice, but that just serves to stir up more anger in those of us that care deeply about the Hall of Fame’s standards. We will then finish up with the MVP tests for Player A and B before we reveal who they are.

Career Value

Player A67.165.169.4201.6
Player B64.664.665.0194.2

I once got into an argument with the hosts of one MLB XM Radio’s shows about Player A. Player A once said that he remembered when Jim Rice came up and when his career was cut short by knee problems. Somehow, the hosts missed the implication. He (Player A) was there when Rice came up and he was still playing when Rice had to quit. So, he has the slight advantage in longevity even though Player B appeared to be better in both the offensive and defensive departments.

In fact, Player A’s career value was superior to that of Vlad Guerrero and roughly equal to Dave Winfield. Player B was no slouch either. He was also better than Guerrero even if he was a step below Winfield. As we have seen throughout our series, career value is only part of the picture. We include peak value to arrive at the very fact that Player B was a better player than Player A when both were at their best. Any Hall of Fame test that doesn’t include that element is not showing the whole picture.

Peak Value

Player A43.042.843.4129.2
Player B48.148.848.0144.9

These numbers have to mean one of two things. Either Player B was more durable than Player A or he was simply just a little better. The aggregate show him to be about a half win better across the board per season. That’s not a whole heck of a lot, but it is something. As you might imagine, it can be as much as two or three wins in any one season. When you get elite performance at the right time it can lead to a championship. As we know, that didn’t happen in the Red Sox’ case, but it can’t be blamed on either of these two.

When we combine peak value with career value we find that Player B is just a tad better than Player A. Yet, the collective difference is not enough to focus this article on Player B. Both players deserve their day in court. Unfortunately, right field is crowded with talented guys and some of them are still on the ballot.

Hall of Fame Index

Player A201.6129.2330.8
Player B194.2144.9339.1

The index was designed to create separation. So, when we use three different sources and two different tests we ultimately see more separation on purpose. Of course, there are other benefits. We get a complete picture of a player because of the combination of career and peak value. We get a tidy overview of the sabermetric community’s view of a player as well. The long and short of it is that the separation is closer to one win than the eight-plus you see in the table above.

We would expect two relatively even players to be relatively equal in the MVP tests. Yet, we should expect Player B to be better because he was better during his prime. Since the BBWAA are the group that votes for both awards we would expect to see them both fare better in the BWAR tests than in the BBWAA tests. Let’s see if we are right.


 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Player A122017
Player B302013


 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Player A10113
Player B41017

The results are certainly in line with what we expected. We expected Player B to be better because he had more impactful seasons. However, the results would have likely been closer had we included top 25 seasons on the BWAR tests. Player A had five seasons where he garnered top 25 votes and if we added those three top 25 finishes he would have come up close with 16 MVP points.

On the other end, Player B had two seasons where he received votes, but didn’t quite get into the top 25. It is likely the BBWAA missed out on his value in those seasons. All in all we see two very similar players that both deserved better. I know you have been waiting patiently for the big reveal. Player A is none other than Dwight Evans and Player B is Reggie Smith. Both offer different qualities you’d want in a Hall of Famer, but I’d argue that both should be in.

Hall of Fame Index: Tier Two Hall of Fame Right Fielders

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.

Reggie Jackson318.885184148
Vlad Guerrero188.66321720
Babe Ruth1671.214153733
Frank Robinson149.888102519
Tony Gwynn117.73711111
Dave Winfield116.6412119
Roberto Clemente113.8033814

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.

Career Value

Reggie Jackson74.072.788.8235.5
Paul Waner72.874.784.6232.1
Tony Gwynn69.265.079.6213.8
Harry Heilmann72.269.071.2212.4
Dave Winfield64.259.983.0207.1
Vlad Guerrero59.454.364.8178.5

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.

Peak Value

Reggie Jackson58.755.856.4170.9
Paul Waner54.557.259.2170.9
Harry Heilmann59.557.353.4170.2
Vlad Guerrero52.650.152.4155.1
Tony Gwynn48.845.148.2142.1
Dave Winfield44.138.247.2129.5

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.

Offensive Numbers


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.

Fielding 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.


 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints


 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints

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.

Hall of Fame Index: Elite Hall of Fame Right Fielders

There really is no drama around the top spot amongst right fielders. Bill James once said that any rating system that didn’t have Babe Ruth as the top player of all-time was not a good system. Ultimately, that is bad science. You want to come up with a system that makes sense and let the chips fall where they may. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Ruth is likely the most valuable player of all-time according to the index. We won’t know for sure until we crunch the numbers.

Different analysts are fond of using the Player A and B test to prove a point. The general idea is that we discover truths about value when we remove the names involved. The Player A and B test below isn’t meant to hide the identities of those involved. The numbers give each player away, but they do reveal something about counting numbers.

Player A287371464221742214
Player B377175572221742297

So, who was the better player? Well, this isn’t really fair is it? We know who these players are because we know the underlying numbers. We’ve memorized them as fans of the game. Still, they prove a point. If we went only by the numbers we see above then we would surmise that Player B is the superior player. After all, he bests Player A in every category except runs scored and they tied in that category.

So, we know Hank Aaron had better overall numbers, but no one would consider him to be a better overall player than Babe Ruth. This is why we go through all of the different tests we go through. We ultimately compare the player to the average player from the era they played in. We also look at fielding numbers. Everything has a context and that is why statisticians over 100 years ago included rate statistics. So, let’s put the top six right fielders in the Hall of Fame through the ringer.

Career Value

Babe Ruth182.5168.4151.2502.1
Hank Aaron143.0136.3128.6407.9
Mel Ott107.8110.5105.6321.9
Frank Robinson107.3104.0103.8315.1
Al Kaline92.888.988.6265.3
Roberto Clemente94.580.675.4250.5

Keep in mind that the index was never designed to rank order players. One of the many problems with that concept is that each platform can change the value of players over time as historical averages change. However, it is safe to say that Ruth will retain the top spot as we move forward. Aaron will likely stay in second. From there, we could see some movement depending on peak value and other factors. In terms of who you would rather have, that depends on where a player’s value comes from. 

Robinson and Ott were two very different players from different eras, but their ultimate value compared to the replacement level player ends up being very similar. These are based on league averages and other intricate factors that have advanced math involved. Yet, some will sit at a sports bar with an expensive beer and argue vehemently that Robinson was superior to Ott or vice versa. I have no interest in weighing in on that fray.

Kaline and Clemente were roughly contemporaries, so the debate is not as strained between them, but they came to their value in different ways. The peak value results will shed some light on those differences, but we will need to look at the hitting and fielding numbers to see that as well. For now, let’s move on to peak value.

Peak Value

Babe Ruth102.9110.084.8297.7
Hank Aaron81.876.168.0225.9
Mel Ott80.372.665.2218.1
Frank Robinson64.761.162.0187.8
Roberto Clemente68.859.953.0181.7
Al Kaline58.855.949.0163.7

So, according to fWAR, Ruth was worth an average of eleven wins a season during his prime. Imagine that for a moment in the current climate. How much would he be worth on the free agent market? He won only one MVP award because the awards were given out differently back then. Once you won you were ineligible from winning another. Imagine how many awards he would win in this environment.

We see a clumping of the rest, but there are subtle changes in the rankings. Clemente leapfrogs over Kaline. A part of that can be attributed to Clemente’s untimely demise. He may be one of the few Hall of Famers to finish with MVP votes in his final season. Had he continued playing another two or three seasons he likely would have surpassed Kaline in career value as well.

To understand all of this completely we should look at the offensive and fielding numbers for these six players. Often times, our perceptions get the best of us. We picture Ruth as this big fat guy running around the bases. He couldn’t have been that good could he? We saw that Clemente had the great arm. Was he really the best right fielder of all-time defensively?

Hall of Fame Index

Babe Ruth502.1297.7799.8
Hank Aaron407.9225.9633.8
Mel Ott321.9218.1540.0
Frank Robinson315.9187.8502.9
Roberto Clemente250.5181.7432.2
Al Kaline265.3163.7429.0

These numbers obviously put things in perspective and that is especially true when you compare these guys to players from previous overviews. Ruth and Aaron are head and shoulders above everyone else. If we want to find out why this has happened we have to pay attention to the next few sections.

Offensive Numbers

Babe Ruth206-12.858197.513
Mel Ott155-5.747156.430
Frank Robinson15435.743153.404
Hank Aaron15544.733153.403
Al Kaline13436.686134.378
Roberto Clemente13021.655129.365

The Ruth numbers are stupid. In a 162 game schedule, a team of Ruths would have won 139 games in a 162 game schedule. That’s ridiculous. The adjusted (or weighted) OBA is over .500. That’s a ludicrous sum by itself. The rest of them are legendary players and they come nowhere close to those numbers. In fact, you could throw a blanket over the next three guys and you couldn’t tell them apart.

Ironically, four of the six played in the same era. It’s always interesting how different positions have different points in history where they have multiple legendary players. We might be tempted to leave Kaline and Clemente in the dust, but we haven’t looked at the fielding numbers yet.

Fielding Numbers

Roberto Clemente20512.220459.52
Al Kaline1532.816156.41
Hank Aaron98-4.610563.01
Babe Ruth79-2.38044.31
Mel Ott50-6.04544.91
Frank Robinson22-14.82647.31

Gold glove awards (and win share gold gloves) were awarded to the top three outfielders regardless of position. Center fielders almost always have more value than right fielders when compared to the replacement level player. When you compare them with players in their own position groups you see something completely different. Clemente led the National Leagues (all positions) in total zone runs above average four different times. That’s like being the best offensive player in baseball four times. Kaline did the same twice.

None of the others could put up numbers like that even though all of them were better than average fielders. Ruth in particular is a surprise, but we must remember that he wasn’t always that fat guy in the grainy films. The fact that all of them were at least above average will be a stark difference from the next set of guys we will look at.

Before we dive into the MVP points we should note that other than Ruth, the numbers individually for each player weren’t outrageous, but they were very good in both categories. That’s ultimately how value is obtained most times. This becomes important with the MVP vote because the voters don’t consider defensive value most of the time.


 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints


 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints

Let’s start off with the obvious. It would be inaccurate to say that Babe Ruth and Mel Ott were underrated. The rules prevented them from winning multiple MVP awards. So, it is likely under current rules that they would have come close to what the BWAR numbers show. However, eleven and five are ludicrous totals for MVP awards. These are major league wide numbers. So, roughly between 1920 and 1940, they were the best player in the league a combined 16 times.

Of course, the others combined for just three such awards between 1955 and 1975. This is usually where someone points out that with expansion and the breaking of the color barrier, there were more really good players. That’s true and the fact that Aaron, Kaline, and Robinson had so many top five finishes is almost as remarkable given the time.

Clemente and Robinson are the only ones to have a lower BWAR total. Clemente fell short by one point. Throw in the top 25 seasons and he would have been ahead as well. Robinson had just as many top ten seasons (counting top five and MVP seasons) in both tests, but they were distributed differently. Robinson is famous for winning an MVP award in each league and he wouldn’t have if we went according to the BWAR voting. Give him his five seasons in the top 25 and he would have come pretty close to matching the BBWAA total as well.

All in all, these numbers illustrate how dominant each of these players were. That’s usually how these things work. Each test reveals the same information in a different way. That is how it should be. When we move on to the second list we will see that this clean data set will likely not continue. 

Hall of Fame Index: Active Center Fielders

Finally, we get to the recently retired center fielders and those that are still active. Interestingly enough, this list will be defined more by who it doesn’t include than who is in the list. In order to be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot you have to play at least ten seasons. So, while there are certain players that seem destined for Cooperstown, we can’t profile them before they get to the ten-year mark.

This is both a philosophical point and point based on practicality. After all, how does one calculate a peak value based on six, seven, or eight seasons? Rest assured, those players will be profiled soon enough. So, for our purposes, there are only two current players that meet the criteria of playing ten seasons or more and profiling as likely getting at least some support when they get to the ballot stage. We also have a couple of recently retired players that aren’t quite eligible for the ballot.

Career Value

Carlos Beltran69.868.073.8211.6
Torii Hunter50.142.755.4148.2
Curtis Granderson47.748.748.2144.6
Andrew McCutchen42.048.653.8144.4

When Beltran entered free agency following his great 2004 season, his agent (Scott Boras) generated one of those infamous dossiers that ultimately compared his client favorably to Willie Mays. It was one of those hatchet jobs where they talked about the two of them being the only players to do this and do that, so they must be equal. It wasn’t exactly intellectually honest, but who’s counting?

Ultimately, such devices end up hurting the player’s legacy more than helping. Beltran was a good player overall following 2004, but he was frequently hurt and never quite lived up to those lofty expectations. Still, Mays isn’t the Hall of Fame standard. If he was there would be only three center fielders in the Hall of Fame. Still, those expecting great things would ultimately believe he came up short of the Hall of Fame standard. Judging by above he would be easily in.

Granderson and McCutchen are still active, but that is where the similarities stop. Granderson is likely entering his final season and while he has aged relatively gracefully, he isn’t likely to add a ton of additional value. McCutchen has played just ten seasons and likely will play at least three or four more full seasons. So, his totals could change dramatically.

This brings us to Hunter. Hunter is another example of the players we saw in the last article. Is he good enough to even put on the ballot? We will ultimately answer that question through our multitude of tests. As you might imagine, Twins fans will have a lot to say about that, but we have to put our love for a guy aside and look at the cold, hard facts.

Peak Value

Carlos Beltran51.150.745.0146.8
Andrew McCutchen42.048.653.8144.4
Curtis Granderson40.441.239.4121.0
Torii Hunter38.231.736.4106.3

Career value and peak value answer two different questions. Career value answers the question of whether you did it for long enough. Discounting injuries, Beltran was a regular for 20 seasons. His career value reflects that. The other players didn’t do it for nearly as long, so their career value isn’t there. In some cases, they may get there some day, but they certainly aren’t there now.

Peak value answers a very different question. It asks how great you were when you were at their best. Both Beltran and McCutchen averaged between four and five wins when they were at their best. In the case of Beltran, he really was better than that, but lost a couple of seasons to injury. McCutchen was truly great in some facets of the game, but has one major weakness holding him back (as we will see later). 

Granderson and Hunter have fatal flaws holding them back as well. Granted, we are talking about the difference between good and great. The vast majority of fans would have loved to have either one of their team during their prime. So, any criticism should be taken in the spirit in which it is intended. Before we get to the offensive and defensive numbers we need to clean up the index.

Hall of Fame Index

Carlos Beltran211.6146.8358.4
Andrew McCutchen144.4144.4288.8
Curtis Granderson144.6121.0265.6
Torii Hunter148.2106.3254.5

We start with the obvious. Carlos Beltran is a Hall of Famer. Sure, he might be closer to Duke Snider than he is Willie Mays, but Scott Boras can be excused for hyperbole. I’m sure Snider would have afforded Boras a mansion in agent’s fees had he played in the modern game. At this point, none of the others are there. I suspect McCutchen will get there if he stays healthy, but the future has yet to be written.

If we were really being honest we would say that neither Granderson nor Hunter deserve to even be on the ballot, but we know they’ll both be there when their time comes. So, the following numbers really serve more as an explanation of that fact than any further test. Sometimes they tell us an unusual story that could change our mind, but more often than not, they serve as an explanation of the index.

Offensive Numbers


There was a running gag when Theo Epstein burst onto the scene as the youngest GM in baseball. Someone adapted the song OPP to create the catchy line, “I’m down with OBP (yeah you know me). I’m down with OBP (yeah you know me).” In most instances, the ability to steal first base is the thing that separates great hitters from ordinary ones. It’s hard to call any of these players ordinary, but Hunter is a lot closer to average than he is to being really good. ESPN and the MLB Network don’t show people drawing walks in their highlights. So, it is no wonder that average fans don’t really think about that when they consider whether someone is a great player or not. Stadiums and television networks are now in the habit of showing OBP, so maybe that perception will change.

McCutchen is a truly gifted offensive player and now that his last few teams have taken him out of center field he might have more value overall. Part of Beltran’s “problem” is that McCutchen hasn’t had the problem of diminishing returns yet. Beltran’s last season was truly brutal and there were a couple of clunkers thrown in there. If you took his best fifteen seasons he might be in McCutchen territory.

The other two are where they are. They clearly are/were above average performers overall and there is a considerable amount of value there, but there is a difference between considerable value and Hall of Fame value. So, unless they brought a great deal to the table defensively, they just aren’t there.

Fielding Value


Often times, when you see wild differences between bWAR, fWAR, and win shares we will notice that the player’s ratings on the defensive end vary wildly. McCutchen comes out better in UZR (relatively) than in Rfield and so he comes out better in fWAR than he does in bWAR. That really shouldn’t be a mystery. The same could be said for Torii Hunter and win shares. 

So, this brings us to Beltran and the difference between perception and reality. He spent his last several seasons as an occasional corner outfielder and primary designated hitter. That ended up killing his career value as compared to the replacement level defender, but in metrics that compared him with average he did just fine. On a value per 1000 innings basis he likely came out looking a lot better.

Again, the effects of Web Gems and other highlights hurt here. Torii Hunter was a fixture on that segment, but the reality was that he was a good defender and not a great one. Granderson is probably closer to Beltran in terms of reputation. He was really good as a young player, but he has been a part-time performer for a number of seasons now. Add it all up and you have two players that gravitate somewhere between solid and good overall. If you’re not careful you may be describing Harold Baines.


 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPTotal

The MVP test has a way of illustrating the previous point numerically. A picture often paints a thousand words. Of course, the BBWAA vote is not always fair. The beat writers are not always great arbiters of value. McCutchen is a great example of this in reverse. Studying fielding takes a lot of time. You have to sift through multiple sources and it can be hard to get a consensus. So, many ignore it. McCutchen is a very good offensive player that has been occasionally been great.

Beltran certainly feels underrated on this list. Of course, part of that is coming from memory when Beltran seemingly put the Astros on his back in 2004. This is why we also include the top ten finishes in single season bWAR. Unfortunately, they did not go up to the top 25 like the MVP did, but nothing is perfect.


 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints

So, as It turns out, McCutchen ends up being about equal on both counts. He probably comes out in front of Beltran by virtue of the fact that he has been more durable in his prime than Beltran was in his. Still, they come out a lot closer here than they were in the other vote. The MVP tests often serve to justify or support what we have seen in the offensive numbers, defensive numbers, and index. 

Granderson will end up being a borderline part of the ballot, but he really shouldn’t make it that long on the ballot. Hunter will be on the ballot, but he really shouldn’t be. He was always somewhere between above average and solid, but he really was rarely ever really good. Counting numbers are nice, but they rarely ever tell the whole story. 

Hall of Fame Index: Modern Center Fielders

We broke up the center fielders based on when they played the majority of their careers. The center fielders in this section spent most of their careers after 1990, but all are already eligible for the ballot. That seems like a specific data range, but it does include quite a few players. One of the issues with the Hall of Fame process has been the combination of a ten player limit on each individual ballot and the sheer number of players available on the ballot.

Both of those problems are easy fixes. The index certainly wasn’t designed to definitively pick between players for the Hall of Fame, but it could eliminate players that probably shouldn’t be on the ballot. After all, are Placido Polanco or Michael Young really Hall of Famers? Are the really? So, when we look at the current crop we could do the hard work for them. All of these players were on the ballot, but some could have easily been left off to clear some confusion.

Career Value

Kenny Lofton68.362.457.4188.1
Jim Edmonds60.464.560.2185.1
Johnny Damon56.444.261.4162.0
Bernie Williams49.643.962.4155.9
Brett Butler49.742.259.0150.9
Steve Finley44.340.459.4144.1

There are a number of tests we go through to test any player’s Hall of Fame credentials. The index is one of them and career value is half of that. So, we aren’t eliminating anyone from consideration yet. Still, you can see some obvious separation out of the gate and we have not seen a player yet with a higher peak value than a career value. So, the guys towards the bottom of the list already have an uphill battle.

What is interesting is the breakdown between guys like Damon and Williams between WAR and win shares. Obviously, their spots on some of the best teams of the period played a huge role. Win shares have two major differences with WAR. First, it is fairly easy to have negative WAR in a season, but win shares are built with an absolute zero. Secondly, win shares are built on actual wins where WAR is built on expected wins. Usually those are similar, but good teams frequently outperform their expected wins. So, players on good teams usually see higher win shares than WAR.

So far, you would expect Lofton and Edmonds to be fairly strong Hall of Fame candidates based on their career value. The others are going to be pretty iffy, but we have to remember there are other tests where these players may shine. One of those is the peak value category, so let’s see if there are any upates.

Peak Value

Jim Edmonds51.753.546.6151.8
Bernie Williams47.445.249.4142.0
Kenny Lofton52.646.240.4139.2
Brett Butler43.937.045.8126.7
Johnny Damon40.633.143.0116.7
Steve Finley33.030.238.2101.4

At this point, it would take a great deal to justify even putting Finley on a ballot. Of course, that didn’t stop him from getting on the ballot. You might ask yourself what’s the harm. This past season, there were 35 players on the ballot. Eleven of them did not claim a single vote. Four more got five or fewer votes. If you had found a way to limit the ballot to 20 names then asking someone to limit their ballot to ten names would make a lot more sense.

The problem with the Finleys and Butlers of the world is that they claim an occasional vote here and there. That removes a vote for someone else that could possibly be a legitimate candidate of the Hall of Fame. This isn’t to demean either of those guys. I used to hate Butler as a kid. All he did was get on base against my hometown nine and seemingly wreak havoc on the bases. Finley was a beloved player for the hometown nine and had some impressive seasons. He just didn’t have enough of them.

Hall of Fame Index

Jim Edmonds185.1151.8336.9
Kenny Lofton188.1139.2327.3
Bernie Williams155.9142.0297.9
Johnny Damon162.0116.7278.7
Brett Butler150.9126.7277.6
Steve Finley144.1101.4245.5

It’s funny how Moneyballput Damon’s career in a different perspective. He got a bunch of hits (although not 3000) and he scored a bunch of runs. The question is whether he got on base often enough or whether he scored the runs because he was good or because his teams were good. I’m certainly willing to entertain the possibility that he and Williams really are Hall of Famers even though their index score falls short.

That will come with the tests we move to next. We will take a look at their hitting numbers, fielding numbers, and their finishes in the MVP voting. For some of these guys, their postseason success can also enter the equation. After all, Damon and Williams were on multiple World Series champions. So, maybe that should get them over the top.

Offensive Numbers

Jim Edmonds132-11.659132.385
Bernie Williams125-3.609126.373
Brett Butler11037.587115.344
Kenny Lofton10778.592109.352
Johnny Damon10477.561105.344
Steve Finley10429.537104.336

No single test makes or breaks a Hall of Fame case. After all, no one would put Ozzie Smith in the Hall of Fame on the strength of his hitting alone. Very few will get in on the basis of one single test as well. So, Jim Edmonds and Bernie Williams look good on the basis of their hitting, but we can’t put them there on this alone. Conversely, it’s impossible to eliminate Damon and Finley on these numbers alone, but they certainly don’t help.

Keep in mind that someone that is above average in both hitting and fielding categories is actually a good player overall. So, Butler and Lofton will see their cases made or broken based on their fielding numbers. It’s the combination of value where we see their index scores justified.

Fielding Numbers

Kenny Lofton10815.511463.55
Jim Edmonds376.45860.65
Johnny Damon3-2.0-1856.12
Steve Finley-13.5-3372.46
Brett Butler-84-6.1-8357.52
Bernie Williams-139-9.5-15458.55

We should keep two things in mind. First, we have not included Andruw Jones because he was in our last article. Secondly, this is a cross-section of different fielding metrics designed to give us an overview on how the industry views these guys. So, win shares seems to like Bernie Williams where the other two sources obviously don’t. The whole idea is to get a consensus and we see that all three like Lofton.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Do you trust data, your eyeballs, or your memory? We saw Edmonds make highlight reel catches and he did it in big moments (memory). So, we might be tempted to think Edmonds was the best of the bunch. Lofton made the tough catches look more routine. He wasn’t nearly on Jones’ level in that regard, but he clearly is the best of the players on this list.

The final tests in our look is the MVP tests. Simply put, we are comparing how the players fared in the BBWAA voting with how they fared in bWAR. Ideally, reputations should match, but sometimes they don’t. The BBWAA vote only proves what the writers thought of them at the time. When players are on the outside looking in it is often because they were overlooked for the MVP.


 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Jim Edmonds202012
Bernie Williams420010
Brett Butler51008
Kenny Lofton30108
Steve Finley21005
Johnny Damon40004


 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Kenny Lofton22126
Jim Edmonds41017
Brett Butler21011
Steve Finley3009
Bernie Williams2006
Johnny Damon1003

When we compare the two lists we see a difference between the perception and the reality. Lofton and Edmonds are head and shoulders above the rest and we see that with the index scores as well. That is one of the reasons why the MVP tests are so valuable. They give us a quick look at where guys really should be.

This brings us to the bottom of the list. Williams and Damon were good players, but they were never really more than just good players. Sometimes, good players can look like more than good players when they play on a great team. The fundamental question should always be whether a player is good because he plays with other good players or whether the other players are good because they play with that player.

I like Johnny Damon, Steve Finley, and Brett Butler. They were all good players, but good players shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. Moreover, having them on the ballot creates some confusion and allows other more qualified candidates to go unnoticed.

What About Andruw Jones?

I have always been a big believer in silver linings. Incredibly horrific events can have some positive outcomes. Of course, the positives never outweigh the negatives in these moments, but I choose to look at it from a “lessons learned” perspective. Harold Baines going into the Hall of Fame is not a positive moment for the Hall of Fame. It’s positive for Baines and his family. It’s positive for White Sox fans and fans of Baines. Still, it’s hard to argue that it makes the Hall of Fame a better place.

The lesson learned from the Baines situation is that the present day Veterans Committee has a path forward if it looks at their vote in the correct prism. I could argue for days about whether or not Baines is a Hall of Famer (he’s not), but that misses the point. The point is whether he is the best player not currently in the Hall of Fame. There is no way anyone in their right mind that could argue that.

This is the spot in book preparation where I would do a bit of revising. I have been dedicating the “what about” series to players that people think should be in the Hall of Fame. Usually, these were popular players, that simply came up short for one reason or another. However, this revelation is profound on a number of levels. I certainly am not going to try to identify the single best player not in the Hall of Fame, but I can do it at each position. In this case, we have a player that is already on the BBWAA ballot. Being that this is a web blog, I can simply take this path moving forward.

One of the problems with an overabundance of talent is that way too much is expected. It’s rare, but occasionally we find a Hall of Fame caliber player that is overlooked because more was expected. Some in the Hall of Fame even have that moniker. Certainly Mickey Mantle is among the top four center fielders in the history of the game, but the common refrain from those that watched him is that he could have been more had he been injury free and taken better care of himself. This brings us to the subject of our discussion: Andruw Jones.

Players like Jones get the wrong kind of attention. He started young and so some people felt like he should have put up more counting numbers than he did. His last productive season came at age 30. He was out of the game by the time he was 35. He could have surpassed 500 home runs, 1500 runs, and 1500 RBI. He didn’t do any of those things. However, we could spend forever looking at what he didn’t do and forget about what he did do. Since, we are focused on him along, we can breeze through the index and spend the meat of our time tackling a bigger question.

Hall of Fame Index


Jones has the highest index for any center fielder that is not currently in the Hall of Fame. By sheer definition, that makes him the most qualified Hall of Fame candidate at the position. There are others to be sure and we will get to them in due time, but his advantage is significant enough that we can single him out. There are other reasons to single him out and I think most discerning fans know that reason, but let’s take a look at his offensive numbers first.


There is a compounding effect that propels players and teams from being merely good to being great. If you are good in more than one facet of the game then you will come out looking very good when you take all-encompassing numbers like WAR and win shares. The same is true for teams when their pitching and hitting is good. Jones was a good offensive player. No one would ever mistake him for a great one, but he did have his moments. Those are the moments that convinced people he should have been better.

Let’s ignore the complex data for a second and consider conventional wisdom. When a player puts up numbers like Jones did and wins ten Gold Glove awards, that’s pretty special. Of course, we don’t concern ourselves with traditional Gold Gloves here. They are often awarded to the best offensive player at the position. What we will do is consider the common defensive metrics over time and compare Jones to other center fielders that had tremendous reputations as a fielder. Let’s see who winds up on top.

Willie Mays24426103.64.2418518.2101
Tris Speaker23710117.85.04922.5110
Max Carey2134194.84.3786-0.1100
Willie Davis1987178.33.9410411.161
Andruw Jones1703886.35.0723524.594
Willie Wilson1610567.84.2110810.750
Curt Flood1415475.15.319910.680
Paul Blair1414764.04.5217418.880
Garry Maddox1395558.04.1610011.452

Let’s begin by breaking down our categories. Our sources can be separated into two main categories. We have win shares and baseball-reference. We took the innings, Rfield, DWAR, and DWAR1 from baseball-reference. We took defensive win shares (DWS), win shares per 1000 innings from both, and win share Gold Gloves from win shares as well.

One of the important things to note about fielding analysis is that it is backwards as compared to hitting analysis. Hitting analysis is based primarily on what you do. How many hits do you have? How many runs do you create? How often do you get on base? These are all questions based on positive events. Fielding is almost opposite. For decades people focused and graded fielders based on the number of errors they had. Imagine if that is the way offensive analysis worked. Essentially, you are basing your opinion of someone’s competence based on the amount of times you think they failed. Of course, failure in this regard is subjective. If I take a bad route to a ball and don’t get there it’s not an error. It’s just a ball I didn’t get to. So, I could actually make a better play if I take the correct route to a ball and simply fail to make the catch. That might be ruled an error.

Given these parameters, a large part of fielding analysis is based on perception. Even more advanced metrics attempt to conclude whether you should have gotten to the ball. So, even when we distill out the fact that different metrics use different frames of reference (average vs. replacement level) we still have variance based on someone’s opinion about whether someone should have made a certain number of plays. It’s madness and we have to agree on that beforehand, but we can take the general consensus and go from there.

We include win shares per 1000 innings because comparing pure totals is unfair based on the fact that Mays and Speaker had five or six seasons worth of innings more than someone like Jones. So, we compare them on a per 1000 inning basis and find he comes in second in that regard to Curt Flood. Baseball-reference has him number one by a large margin in their Rfield metric (which is compared to average) and it shouldn’t be a surprise that he was also number according to defensive WAR which is compared to the replacement level fielder on the whole diamond.

This is where the last category (DWAR1) is so remarkable. That is simply an accounting of how many times the player led the entire league in defensive WAR. That’s comparing him to all positions and some positions (notably shortstop and catcher) have a natural advantage because of the distance from replacement (in other words, the replacement level shortstop is much worse than the replacement level center fielder). He still was the most valuable fielder in the entire game four times (four seasons in a row actually).

Granted, a couple of players (notably Mays and Speaker) won more win share Gold Gloves. That’s likely because his career was only 11 or 12 years long in terms of being an everyday player. It’s pretty remarkable being one of the three most valuable outfielders in 9 out of 12 seasons. All in all this means that we could certainly argue that Jones is best fielding center fielder in the history of the game. Naturally, some will push back against that and that’s fine. The numbers make the case though and since he could be called the best doesn’t that merit a spot in Cooperstown?