Hall of Fame Index: First Base Tiers

As we continue through our journey of looking at the top 50 players at each position we discover the importance of looking at tiers instead of looking at simple rankings of players. Of course, we also might find your favorite first baseman in here as well. However, the most important reason to go through this exercise is to definitively determine the tier one players not yet in the Hall of Fame.

Players in the Hall of Fame will be bolded with a “B” and “V to show how they made it into the Hall of Fame. As we saw last time, the tier one players were almost universally Hall of Famers. Tier two guys were mixed with those in the Hall of Fame often having compelling cases based on external factors that limited their ability to enter tier one. Some will make arguments for other tier two guys and they aren’t without merit, but it also serves to water down the Hall of Fame.

Tiers three and four have some Hall of Famers in them, but none are qualified for the Hall of Fame. They are in because the Veterans Committee devolved into cronyism rather than electing players on merit. Some of our favorite players are here and they are still good players, but have flaws that limit their fitness.

Tier One

Lou Gehrig (B)326.5259.6586.1
Albert Pujols 283.4228.1507.5
Jimmie Foxx (B)285.8221.2507.0
Roger Conner (V)293.1182.2425.3
Jeff Bagwell (B)237.5186.1423.6
Cap Anson (V)261.5147.2408.7
Frank Thomas (B)227.0174.8401.8
Dan Brouthers (V)224.2169.6393.8
Miguel Cabrera 219.3173.3392.6
Johnny Mize (V)207.1184.7391.8
Eddie Murray (B)228.1153.4381.5
Jim Thome (B)218.6154.9373.5
Rafael Palmeiro220.7149.4370.1
Willie McCovey (B)213.5150.9364.4
Harmon Killebrew (B)202.7154.3357.0
Dick Allen 188.4168.4356.8

So, four players on the above list are not in the Hall of Fame and two of them are currently active. That leaves Palmeiro and Allen. As we know, Palmeiro has extenuating circumstances that are keeping him from the Hall of Fame. Interestingly enough, he has been playing in the Atlantic League for the past couple of years and even posted a 900+ OPS last year. There has been talk of him getting back into organized baseball. Maybe that will start the clock over with the BBWAA.

Either way, that leaves Allen as the only viable candidate left. There is some question of where he should be categorized. He played more games at first base than third base, but arguably had his best seasons as a third baseman. All that being said, he should be in the Hall of Fame and should be one of the players that gets the attention of the new Veterans Committee.

Tier Two

Keith Hernandez182.0160.0342.0
Mark McGwire196.9141.4338.3
Joey Votto173.8162.6336.4
Todd Helton179.6155.7333.3
Hank Greenberg (B)172.1154.5326.6
Tony Perez (B)182.7141.9324.6
Bill Terry (V)166.8152.7319.5
John Olerud175.9139.5315.4
George Sisler (B)166.6147.6314.2
Jason Giambi165.3143.1308.4
Will Clark 174.7133.3308.0
Fred McGriff177.9127.8305.7
Norm Cash169.6133.7303.3

I should say a word or two about Keith Hernandez. Brian Kenney from the MLB Network is just one of the significant baseball journalists that champion his cause. Yes, he is usually regarded as the best fielding first baseman ever and he got on base with great proficiency. He is close to being a tier one guy, but just isn’t quite there. This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, but he shouldn’t be the priority.

Officially, Votto is the only active player, but there are some that have not been exposed to the BBWAA ballot yet. Jason Giambi and Todd Helton are not on the ballot yet, so we don’t know how the BBWAA will respond to their candidacies, but since Helton played in Colorado and Giambi was implicated in the steroids scandal, neither figures to get a ton of support when they do get on the ballot.

In terms of the Hall of Famers here, we know Greenberg’s story (missed seasons due to World War II) but the other three are all questionable Hall of Famers. I hashed the cases of Perez and Sisler in an earlier article. Terry was the last National League player to hit over .400. Is that fact alone enough to throw a borderline career over the top? That’s hard to say, but there is a case to be made I guess.

Tier Three

Jake Beckley (V)186.1104.0290.1
David Ortiz169.5115.0284.5
Orlando Cepeda (V)162.5122.1284.6
Mark Teixeira149.8130.4280.2
Carlos Delgado149.1130.7279.8
Gil Hodges139.5137.0276.5
Ed Konetchy153.2123.3276.5
Frank Chance (V)141.2128.3269.5
Adrian Gonzalez135.7132.0267.7
Mark Grace150.7116.1266.8
Dave Foutz133.0132.0265.0

There are stronger feelings around tier three then there are around tier two. Ortiz and Hodges have fierce defenders, but when you see them surrounded by the guys they are surrounded with you get a tequila shot of where they actually stand in the history of the game. However, to illustrate the case for Ortiz we compare him to his three contemporaries here, but we will do it with the A,B,C, and D test.

Player A138-25.678135.391
Player B129-34.620127.359
Player C141-39.688140.392
Player D126-8.639127.371

Which one is Ortiz? If you guessed Player C you would be right and Player C is the best hitter on the board. However, he is the best hitter on the board. He spent nearly all of his time as a designated hitter, so while Adrian Gonzalez (B) and Mark Teixeira (D) may not have been brilliant first basemen, they were decent enough to play their full-time. Delgado (A) also spent time at designated hitter, but spent enough time at first to mitigate the difference on the offensive end.

The point being that when we get attached to a player good or bad we sometimes lost objectivity. Ortiz has a stellar postseason reputation that is likely well-deserved. How much should that count towards his Hall of Fame case? Well, that is debatable, but for me it is hard to take a guy from tier three and bypass a guy that is in tier one.

Tier Four

Don Mattingly135.7125.1260.8
Dolph Camilli131.6128.6260.2
Boog Powell139.5113.0252.5
Fred Tenney139.2105.5244.7
Joe Judge146.597.4243.9
Steve Garvey131.7108.4240.1
Harry Davis125.8112.7238.5
Jim Bottomley (V)124.5110.6235.2
Jake Daubert135.0100.0235.0
Kent Hrbek122.2108.3230.5

Tier four is a treasure chest full of interesting characters. Mattingly was the best player in baseball for five or six seasons before back injuries wrecked his career. With all of the excitement over guys like Mookie Betts and Mike Trout, he is a great reminder of why we wait ten seasons before we profile any player. Meanwhile, Powell and Garvey were on some great teams and were prominent players on those teams.

Bottomley is not the worst Hall of Famer at first base. George Kelly didn’t even crack the top 50 and played in the same era as Bottomley. Both were dubious selections by the Veterans Committee at a time with numerous dubious selections. Simply put, the numbers he put up might look special to some but came at a time when everyone was putting up numbers. This is why we utilize something like the index to distill out the effects of time and place.

Like with the catchers, you see some prominent players on prominent teams here. Number 50 on the list played a key role in two World Series championships in Minnesota. It might be overstating it, but those two titles might be the reason why there is still baseball in Minnesota. Powell and Garvey had their moments as well. There just weren’t enough of them to push them into the higher three tiers. 

Hall of Fame Index: Catcher Tiers

We spent the first round of articles covering those that the BBWAA voted into the Hall of Fame and those that we think could be in the Hall of Fame. Now, it is time for us to go in a different direction. We are going deep data diving in the interest of tying up some loose ends. First, everyone has a favorite player we haven’t featured yet in our articles. So, we are going 50 players deep at every position in the interest of satisfying the “what about” nature of the discussion.

More importantly, this kind of data dive demonstrates how the index works and how it can refine the Hall of Fame discussion. Simple rankings don’t tell us nearly as much as when we look for gaps in the data. We will break every position into four tiers. The first tier always contains the most Hall of Famers and therefore we find that those outside the Hall of Fame stick out. These tiers are not divided equally. We look for gaps in data to determine our dividing line.

Tier 2 will have some Hall of Famers in it, but always far fewer than Tier 1. Those are not necessarily mistakes per se. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that help explain why a Hall of Famer is a tier 2 guy. When we move into tiers three and four we find the mistakes. Usually, they are Veterans Committee selections, but that is not always the case as we will see. In the following tables, Hall of Famers will be bolded with a “B” next to BBWAA selections and a “V” next to Veterans Committee selections. Italicized players are either active or not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Tier One

Johnny Bench (B)221.2171.3392.5
Gary Carter (B)206.9172.5379.4
Mike Piazza (B)188.1167.8355.9
Yogi Berra (B)198.1152.9351.0
Ivan Rodriguez (B)205.2144.1349.3
Carlton Fisk (B)210.4120.0330.4
Joe Torre (V)182.9142.8325.7
Ted Simmons167.5140.3307.8
Bill Dickey (B)174.7131.1305.8
Joe Mauer165.5135.6301.1
Mickey Cochrane (B)157.7142.0299.7
Gabby Hartnett (B)172.1112.5284.6

The data usually speaks for itself. This will become plain when we get to the second tier, but suffice it to say there is always a significant gap between tier one and tier two. It won’t always be at a specific number like 300 as you can see here. It won’t always be after a dozen players. It varies by position. Considering that Joe Mauer just retired, you don’t get any more obvious than this. There is only one player here not in the Hall of Fame.

Is Ted Simmons the best player in baseball history not in the Hall of Fame? That’s a more difficult question to answer, but he is the most qualified catcher not in the Hall of Fame by a considerable margin. As a matter of course, he deserves much more attention than someone like Harold Baines.

Tier Two

Jorge Posada139.1124.2263.3
Gene Tenace138.0123.5261.5
Bill Freehan143.0116.4259.4
Thurman Munson128.2127.0255.2
Buck Ewing (V)143.9109.2253.1
Buster Posey122.4122.4244.8
Jason Kendall130.2108.9239.1
Yadier Molina129.0108.2237.2
Roger Bresnahan (V)127.5107.6235.1
Lance Parrish132.598.5231.0
Wally Schang135.092.8227.8
Roy Campanella (B)113.7113.7227.4
Ernie Lombardi (V)131.492.3233.7
Darrell Porter126.197.0223.1

The index was never meant to be an exact science, but there is always a sizeable gap between tier one and two. So, even though Jorge Posada ranks right behind Gabby Hartnett, that does not mean he belongs in. It also doesn’t mean that Ewing, Bresnahan, Campanella, and Lombardi don’t belong in. We know Ewing and Campanella have compelling cases that will ultimately affect their index score.

Campanella lost several seasons to the color barrier and Ewing played his career in the 19thcentury when schedules were far shorter than today. Lombardi and Bresnahan have more difficult cases, but cases can be made for them. The trouble comes when people make the “if…then” argument. Players like that have cases that stand alone because of unique circumstances, so arguing that Wally Schang should be in because Ernie Lombardi is in becomes a quagmire. 

When we move to tier three we notice two things. First, the gap is noticeable between two and three, but it is a much smaller gap. Secondly, it is hard to argue for anyone in tiers three and four, but we will always see an occasional player that made it in anyway. We didn’t cover those players the first time around because there was no compelling reason to do so. Their careers have not been and should not be a basis for arguing for someone else. However, since many of them are fan favorites (and legitimately good players) we should tip our cap by giving them a cursory mention.

Tier Three

Jim Sundberg118.395.7214.0
Russell Martin112.998.0210.9
Brian McCann111.598.2209.7
Victor Martinez106.6101.4208.0
Charlie Bennett109.495.9205.3
Sherm Lollar109.689.2198.8
Elston Howard98.992.7191.6
Javy Lopez99.291.7190.9
Tom Haller95.194.0189.1
Smoky Burgess101.979.8181.7
Mickey Tettleton94.786.8181.5

It’s actually unusual for us not to have any tier three Hall of Famers. With three current players near the top of the list we can see a good illustration of what a tier three guy looks like. All three current players (Victor Martinez just retired) have looked like Hall of Famers for short bursts. All three have had issues that have prevented them from approaching the neighborhood of guys like Joe Mauer. In the case of Martin, he just hasn’t been as consistent offensively. McCann has been good offensively and defensively, but he has never been great in either category. As we know, Martinez has spent the past several seasons as a designated hitter because he just wasn’t durable enough behind the plate.

As you might imagine, the other players on the list come with similar issues. The difference between tier three and tier four is that tier three guys usually only had minor flaws that prevented them from entering tier one or two. Tier four guys have major flaws that impact most players. The difference is that all of these players played at least ten seasons, so they all accrued some level of value.

Tier Four

Tim McCarver96.979.5176.4
Manny Sanguillen86.687.8174.4
Walker Cooper93.379.7173.0
Jack Clements90.378.5168.8
Rick Ferrell (V)98.270.5168.7
Mike Scioscia88.279.7167.9
Ray Schalk (V)89.278.3167.5
Terry Steinbach90.676.7167.3
Ed Bailey84.781.5166.2
Tony Pena83.679.4163.0
Benito Santiago94.068.0162.0
Bob Boone101.359.3160.6
Butch Wyneger80.978.0158.9

When we say that Schalk and Ferrell are woefully unqualified for the Hall of Fame that isn’t meant as an insult. Most of us would love to have a modern-day clone as the catcher on our team. Neither would be the best catcher in their league, but they would certainly be in the upper half. Being in the upper half does not make you a Hall of Famer. However, if you are good at the right time you can contribute to some pretty special seasons from a team standpoint.

We reviewed Baseball’s Dynastiesin an earlier article and noted how many prominent catchers were on those teams. It’s likely that every dynasty covered in that book is represented by a catcher in one of these tiers. We are still talking about the top 50 catchers (that have played ten or more seasons) in the history of the game. You have to be pretty good to make this list. Undoubtedly, we may have left out someone near and dear to you. That’s unfortunately going to be the case whether the cutoff is 50, 75, or 100.

Hall of Fame Index: Recently Retired Right Fielders

If you have been following the series of articles on right fielders you have noticed an issue. The primary issue is that there are too many guys on the outside looking in that seem to be qualified for the Hall of Fame. If we count the what about series, we have three players from the period before 1990, two players from the current crop of players, and we haven’t looked at the players who played most of their career after 1990.

Obviously, not all of them can get in even though they all seem to be qualified. That is why the Hall of Fame index was never meant to peg an exact number for players to get into the Hall of Fame. Every position is unique, so we look for gaps in data and then we leave it to the voters to make up their mind from there.

We have resisted the temptation to look at Veterans Committee selections because that just adds to the cesspool and confuses the situation. However, we will be getting there eventually to illustrate the data gaps at each position. The hope is that the new Veterans Committee can approach things in a different way.

In this edition, we will look at players currently on the ballot or who were recently dropped off of the ballot. All of them have compelling cases, but some of them are more pressing than others. As we have seen, once you drop off the ballot there is a long line to get in. That is made longer when they keep tabbing guys like Harold Baines.

Career Value

Gary Sheffield60.562.186.0208.6
Larry Walker72.768.761.6203.0
Sammy Sosa58.660.164.2182.9
Brian Giles51.154.957.4163.4

It is impossible to give a complete airing out of the issues with all of these players. Two of them were implicated in the steroids scandal of the early 2000s while another has perception issues stemming from where he played a good portion of his career. Then, there is Brian Giles. Even to mention the specter of steroids doesn’t even being to explain the individual situations of Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa.

Sosa never tested positive in an official test, but everyone knows there was something going on there. He was always a good player, but in 1998 he burst onto the scene to win the MVP award. The race between Mark McGwire and Sosa was largely credited with bringing the fans back from the player strike in 1994. Sheffield fits more into the “suspected users” category. There is really no proof, but there are dozens of players that fit uncomfortably in that category. The “evidence” is largely based on innuendo and conjecture. The player got bigger. His numbers suddenly got better. He played with known users. Often any combination of those statements is enough to paint the scarlet “S” on a player’s record.

It’s impossible to say definitively which case is the most tragic, but my vote goes to Walker. He was never implicated in that scandal, but he played a good portion of his career in Denver. A breakdown of the basic numbers and the WAR numbers indicate why Walker has gotten a raw deal.

St. Louis.2862695793.3

Sure, he was a considerably better hitter in Denver. Anyone would be, but Walker averaged three wins a season outside of Denver over the course of eight seasons. He averaged nearly five in Denver, but his prime came in Denver. Even if we assume he would have been a four win player elsewhere, that would still be more than 60 bWAR in his career. On the other hand, that is a misrepresentation of the way WAR works. All numbers have a context and the homefield advantage is taken into account.

So, in essence Walker has been penalized twice. The formulas of the three stats we use already penalize him. We will see that in the offensive numbers as well. Statistics like OPS+ and wRC+ already account for home ballpark differences. So, when the voters discount what he does they are penalizing him a second time. That’s obviously not fair.

Giles is a more of a conventional question. Was he good enough for long enough? The career value numbers only show us part of the story. We will have to look at the peak value numbers to get a definitive answer to that question. Both Walker and Giles suffer in comparison with Sheffield in win shares because they didn’t play for good teams for the bulk of their career. WAR normalizes that data much more than win shares, so it is fair to question whether Sheffield really is better in terms of career value. 

Peak Value

Sammy Sosa54.254.847.6156.6
Gary Sheffield45.845.758.4149.9
Brian Giles45.349.050.4144.7
Larry Walker51.248.441.6141.2

Again, the difference can be seen in win shares. Sheffield has a distinct advantage over every player and Walker somehow comes up behind the others. The interesting guy on this list is Giles. Without looking at other numbers, you can kind of tell what his career was like. Giles and Sosa are similar in that they were really good during their ten year peaks, but didn’t have a ton of value outside of those ten seasons.

Walker and Sheffield enjoyed more success outside of their peaks and that might be the difference between being fit and not. Still, you have four really good players here and it will be tough to choose one or two from the group even when you distill out the debates beyond the numbers.

Hall of Fame Index


We probably will not see a collection of talent like this at any position from any era. I suppose an argument could be made against any of these players, but more arguments could be made for them. As we move to the offensive and fielding numbers we will begin to see why these players are where they are historically.

Offensive Numbers


In many ways, it’s an interesting time in baseball. The data revolution is beginning to make it’s way to the writers. Of course, there are any number of opinions about whether that is a good thing or not. With Edgar Martinez getting in we have our first designated hitter getting into the Hall of Fame. The voters are also looking at more data when it comes to Cy Young awards and MVP awards. One of the absolutes has been that no player from Denver will make it into the Hall of Fame because we just can’t trust the numbers.

The numbers above demonstrate the folly of discounting Walker. Every one of those numbers is adjusted for the advantage of Coors Field. Walker was that good. Sheffield was not as good, but the numbers are still very comparable to those that are already in the Hall of Fame. His problem is two-fold. Yes, there are the steroids, but the other problem is that he did not have many signature seasons with a signature team. He played for eight teams in his career. It would be fair to ask why. When you play for that many teams there are obviously things going on behind the scenes. Some make too much of intangibles, but when you have a borderline case that matters.

Sosa represents the other part of the data revolution. There was a time when 600 home runs would be an automatic for Cooperstown and maybe if steroids weren’t involved he would be. Even without the PEDs he still might come up short because he just didn’t get on base as many times as the others on this list.

Fielding Numbers


There is scene in “Major League” where the manager wonders why no one else picked up Pedro Serrano. Then, he asked the batting practice pitcher to switch to curveballs. A similar statement could be made about Sheffield. Maybe those seven teams that traded him just had enough of his defense. Of course, he also came up as a third baseman and failed miserably there. So, he wasn’t as bad a defensive outfielder as the raw numbers would indicate. If there had been a designated hitter in the National League he might have never had played in the field at all.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Sosa. I would have never dreamed that he was this good. Perception was that he was not all that good. This is why we keep numbers in the first place. Walker also never won a Gold Glove in his career. That seems somehow impossible given how good he was, but the Gold Glove awards could best be called idiosyncratic in nature.

However, there is no greater demonstration of the effects of perception than the MVP tests. We could probably predict that Sosa might appear to be overrated and the others underrated before we even get to the tables. That is probably on the basis of his MVP award. We will have to put that to the test though.


 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPTotal


 Top 10Top 5MVPTotal

Let’s assume that all of the seasons listed in the first table that were not counted in the second were top 25 campaigns. Walker would jump to 26 points. Sosa would have a stronger 17 points, but he would still trail Walker by a considerable margin. Sheffield would stand at 13 points and Giles would stand at nine.

Giles had eight seasons with 3.8 bWAR or better. So, if the voting were fair, he likely would have wound up with 12 points. Branch Rickey famously told Ralph Kiner that he could finish in last with or without him. The same was likely true of Giles and those Pirates teams. What these tables tell us is that Larry Walker has gotten a raw deal in the voting so far. The BBWAA still has time to rectify the situations for Walker, Sheffield, and Sosa. It remains to be seen whether they will get that call.

Hall of Fame Index: Right Fielders On the Outside Looking In through 1990

The Hall of Fame index is way to separate players into different tiers. Absolute rankings are not meaningful all the time. If I were to throw out five right fielders like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, and Josh Reddick, it would be accurate to say that Reddick was the fifth ranked right fielder in the group. However, what does that even mean? Obviously, the separation between number four and number five makes that distinction practically meaningless.

That’s obviously an extreme example, but when we get to the debate over players on the outside looking in, we get to players that fans obviously have an emotional attachment to. When it’s a beloved player it becomes increasingly difficult to look at them objectively. If it is a hated player, we have the same problem. We will see both examples in the players that played a majority of their careers before 1990.

Career Value

Bobby Bonds57.957.260.4175.5
Jack Clark53.150.663.2166.9
Rusty Staub45.847.971.6165.3
Dave Parker40.141.165.4146.6
Tony Oliva43.140.749.0132.8

Social media doesn’t usually allow for indepth analysis and nuanced arguments. One Facebook group threw out the question of whether you would pick Parker or Oliva for the Hall of Fame if you had to pick one. Could I pick neither? Such an argument also leaves out the three names above them (in addition to Dwight Evans and Reggie Smith from the previous article). A part of that is the perception over the counting numbers that each of them put up. Some of that is the perception of the players off the field and in the clubhouse. Let’s take a look at the counting numbers.


Well, obviously Staub and Parker were better than those other guys. They had more hits and drove in more runs. They also hit for a better average than both Bonds and Clark. So, how in the hell do those two end up with more value than the bottom three? Well, the easy answer is that all numbers have a context. We have to consider the era they played in, the home ballpark, and whether those numbers were accrued over the course of a dozen seasons or twenty seasons. We also haven’t accounted for defensive value at all.

Baseball fans remember hits, home runs, Runs, and RBI. They remember batting average. They don’t remember walks, OBP, or slugging percentage. Those numbers just don’t roll off the tongue. This perception widens when we are dealing with a personal hero. Suddenly we remember the good times and forget about the bad times. We also forget about context. This is why we include peak value in the conversation. How good were these guys when they were at their very best?

Peak Value

Bobby Bonds50.551.151.8153.4
Tony Oliva42.840.445.2128.4
Rusty Staub36.435.949.6121.9
Jack Clark37.334.342.8114.4
Dave Parker34.333.142.4109.8

This is where Bonds shines. His career was relatively short, so he didn’t have the counting numbers the others had. The index is merely a guide, so a voter could figure him not to be worthy of the Hall of Fame for any number of reasons. Like his son, he could be a little surly and that probably caused him to move around a lot. Another thing we notice in every industry is that when you are difficult to get along with, teams aren’t willing to tolerate you unless you are really good. When you stop being really good they stop employing you.

Still, he was really good when he was at his best and you really couldn’t say that about anyone else with the exception of Oliva. The others either were a grade below across the board or didn’t produce enough good seasons to make the grade. That certainly describes Parker and Clark. They had some really good seasons that were Hall of Fame quality. They just didn’t have enough of them. Staub was consistently solid, but rarely ever good.

Hall of Fame Index

Bobby Bonds175.5153.4328.9
Rusty Staub165.3121.9287.2
Jack Clark166.9114.4281.3
Tony Oliva132.8128.4261.2
Dave Parker146.6109.8256.4

Whether any of these guys is a Hall of Famer is what I like to call a “sports bar” question. It’s best discussed over a beer with friends. The index is designed to measure fitness. I won’t say that any of the bottom four are not Hall of Famers, because that is more of a philosophical question. What I will say is that there are others (as we have seen) that are more qualified to go in at this point.

Just like with all of the other articles, we will look at offensive numbers, defensive numbers, and MVP voting. These don’t necessarily tell us anything that we haven’t already seen, but they serve to explain why we are seeing what we are seeing. Occasionally, our opinions can change, but usually we already have our minds made up. This is just evidence to point us one way or another.

Offensive Numbers

Staub 124-11.620122.353

If we go back to the referenced social media question, we find two very different reasons why Oliva and Parker aren’t qualified. When he was healthy and at his best, Oliva was as good as the second tier BBWAA guys. He simply wasn’t healthy enough throughout his career to match their longevity. We could say that about quite a few guys. Don Mattingly immediately comes to mind from my childhood. If we are going to make allowances for that then we will have to keep that door pretty wide open.

As for Parker, he just wasn’t as good as we remember. That happens too. Sometimes a player comes up big in a big moment and becomes the stuff of legend. Sometimes a good player plays on a good team and ends up looking like something more than good. Either of those could be true of Parker as he did play on some good Pirates teams.

As for Clark and Staub, we are only seeing half of the battle (offense is weighted more than fielding in reality, but saying half is just easier). Clark in particular looks like a Hall of Famer here, but spent about the same amount of time at first as he did in right field, so he didn’t have the requisite defensive value.

Fielding Value


Again, Parker comes out worse than we remember. Those of us that grew up watching him heard all of the stories about the legendary arm and we saw examples on the highlight reels. The measure of a player is how often they are able to succeed and not whether they are capable of the spectacular on occasion.

If anything, the offensive and defensive numbers demonstrate how tragic a case Oliva’s career truly was. He was brilliant offensively and defensively, but couldn’t stay on the field. Bobby Bonds on the other hand demonstrated why he was as valuable as he was because of his ability to hit and field.

Our final tests are the MVP tests. Invariably, we can make the mistake a justifying or torpedoing a selection based on how a player fared in the MVP voting. This assumes the voters were right. As we know, the voters often aren’t able to accurately pinpoint value and that assumes they are even trying. What the test does show is how each player was thought of when he was in the midst of his career. The BWAR test shows where he probably should have been rated had the voters been ranking them accurately. The tests aren’t perfect. Baseball-reference only tracks the top ten position players each season, so we don’t get any top 25 votes on that portion. Still, the scores should be similar if everything else is equal.


 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints


 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints

We would have assumed that Parker was overrated going in, but actually that was not the case. In both tests he ended up getting votes in four and five seasons in the top five. That’s pretty darn impressive. The problem comes in what happens in the other seasons. Parker and Oliva are prime examples of why I wait until a player has played ten seasons. We can assume Hall of Fame fitness before that and with some players (cough…Mike Trout…cough) that assumption is pretty safe. That isn’t always the case.

Parker and Oliva looked like Hall of Famers before they got to their tenth season, but whether it was injury or ineffectiveness, they petered out. Clark and Staub are explained fairly easily as well. Defense matters, but to many in the BBWAA it doesn’t. The Bobby Bonds experience is a little more complicated.

Beat writers and players hang out together all the time. They spend every day together. Beat writers are therefore privy to the personality quirks of every guy where casual fans may not. Modern writers have access to numbers that those from the past did not. Also, with the advent of social media, players can bypass the media and interact directly with fans. So, fans will become more keenly aware of which players are “cool” and which ones are “assholes.” Bonds might have charitably been put in the latter category.

Most beat writers wouldn’t blatantly stick it to a guy that is surly with them, but a few would. On top of that, these MVP votes are often close. If you have two guys with similar numbers you will vote for the one you think is the better “clubhouse leader”. When you start looking at the top ten or top 25 you are looking at a lot of similar players. Bonds played for a number of teams because ultimately the teams tired of his act. Still, even with all of that the BBWAA wasn’t horribly off on Bonds. Still, they didn’t give him the love he deserved. Maybe the new Veterans Committee can take up the mantle.

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.