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.

 HitsHR2B+3BRunsRBI
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

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
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

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
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

 CareerPeakTotal
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

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
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

 RfieldDWARTZDWSWSGG
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.

BBWAA MVP Points

 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Aaron647163
Robinson544257
Clemente443141
Kaline544037
Ott733031
Ruth011118

BWAR MVP Points

 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Ruth2311131
Ott47597
Aaron510175
Kaline38052
Robinson36149
Clemente53140

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

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
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

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
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

 CareerPeakTotal
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

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
McCutchen134-4.678135.370
Beltran11954.612118.358
Granderson11611.596117.350
Hunter11016.518110.342

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

 RfieldDWARUZRDWSWSGG
Beltran361.64470.14
Granderson384.11347.32
Hunter293.51261.72
McCutchen-78-6.1-3938.90

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.

BBWAA MVP Points

 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPTotal
McCutchen003125
Beltran420010
Granderson11109
Hunter41007

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.

BWAR MVP Points

 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
McCutchen12123
Beltran32019
Granderson1108
Hunter1003

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

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
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

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
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

 CareerPeakTotal
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

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
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

 RfieldDWARTZ/UZRDWSWSGG
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.

BBWAA MVP Points

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

BWAR MVP Points

 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

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Career62.866.955.2184.9
Peak55.460.946.2162.5
Total118.2127.8101.4347.4

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.

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
Jones1119.554111.352

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.

 InningsDWSWS/1000RfieldDWARWSGGDWAR1
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?

Center Field: On the Outside Looking In Part One

The new Veterans Committee gives us another compelling reason to separate those on the outside looking into different groups. So, we are essentially breaking the hopefuls in half between those that spent most of their careers before 1990 and those that spent most of their careers after 1990. As you might imagine, there are always players that fit right in between, but for now we will focus on those guys that played between the 1960s and 1980s.

The new committee seems to be focused on players that played in the 1980s and later. We are looking at players that will likely be overlooked by the committee. Should they be considered for the Hall of Fame? Well, we run into issues when we compare them with players already in the Hall of Fame. This is why we stick to the BBWAA list. Even still, some of them will compare favorably with Kirby Puckett. Puckett isn’t the standard. So, we should almost erase him and compare these players with the top eight amongst the BBWAA list. Here is a reminder of where we left off.

 CareerPeakTotal
Ty Cobb444.8257.3702.1
Willie Mays434.7265.5700.2
Tris Speaker390.7226.7617.4
Mickey Mantle335.6243.5579.1
Joe DiMaggio238.6199.5438.1
Ken Griffey Jr239.9187.2427.1
Duke Snider200.2171.7371.9
Andre Dawson192.3137.2329.5

So, we could consider Dawson to be the baseline one has to clear. Naturally, if you have read these articles before you know we are looking for gaps in data. If you come close to Dawson we then get to look at the other factors to determine if you get the support. That will include offensive statistics, fielding statistics, and the MVP test. Sometimes, that’s not even enough. As always, we start with career value.

Career Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Willie Davis60.753.764.4178.8
Jimmy Wynn55.952.861.0169.7
Vada Pinson54.347.364.2165.8
Cesar Cedeno52.849.859.2161.8
Chet Lemon55.652.053.0160.6
Fred Lynn50.249.256.0155.4
Dale Murphy46.544.358.8149.6

The great thing about the index is the addition of the peak value element. It gives each player dimension where strictly going by career value doesn’t give us that. What is also fascinating is how each player comes to their value differently. Davis brings defense and base running (as we will see when we get to the offensive and fielding numbers) while players like Dale Murphy and Jimmy Wynn bring power. WAR and win shares are not necessarily precise. This is why we look at multiple sources of data to make our determinations.

Many reading this will likely be Astros fans and will be keenly interested in where Jimmy Wynn and Cesar Cedeno land. Neither fared well in the BBWAA voting for largely the same reason. They did not enjoy particularly long careers, but when they were good they were very good. The same could be said for Fred Lynn and Dale Murphy. On the other hand, Vada Pinson and Chet Lemon were on the other extreme. Everyone has their preference. Do you want a player to be good for 15 years or great for ten? It’s a hard question. Of course, this brings us to the peak value numbers.

Peak Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Jimmy Wynn49.046.550.2145.7
Dale Murphy47.243.748.8139.7
Cesar Cedeno47.344.846.4138.5
Vada Pinson47.742.548.2138.4
Chet Lemon46.945.139.8131.8
Fred Lynn41.540.242.8124.5
Willie Davis42.738.042.8123.5

We see a larger gap here than we did with the career value numbers. As advertised, both Wynn and Cedeno are near the top. This is because WAR takes in hitting, fielding, and base running but also takes into the account the effects of time and place. There may have been no worse place to hit than the Astrodome in the 1960s and 1970s. They moved the fences in later on before it closed and it became palatable. When Wynn was at his best he was amongst the league leaders in home runs and walks in the best pitcher’s park possibly ever built.

Dale Murphy is one of three position players in baseball history to win multiple MVP awards and not be in the Hall of Fame. Roger Maris and Barry Bonds are the other two. So, it is no surprise that he should be near the top in peak value either. He fell off a cliff following a brilliant 1987 season. Not including the peak value element would not show the player he was throughout most of the 1980s.

In a similar way, when we get past Pinson we notice that the others suffered through a much more ordinary looking peak value. Rest assured, there is nothing ordinary about averaging four wins a season for ten years. Still, it raises the question of whether a merely good player should get into the Hall of Fame. Before we move on to the offensive and fielding numbers let’s add career and peak value together and see what we get.

Hall of Fame Index

 CareerPeakTotal
Jimmy Wynn169.7145.7315.4
Vada Pinson165.8138.4304.2
Willie Davis178.8123.5302.3
Cesar Cedeno161.8138.5300.3
Chet Lemon160.6131.8292.4
Dale Murphy149.6139.7289.3
Fred Lynn155.4124.5279.9

Some people would use a system such as this and make a hard cut off either at Andre Dawson or another arbitrary point like 300 wins. It somehow seems stupid to say yes to Cedeno and no to Lemon based on eight wins. Remember we are looking at three different sources and two different levels. So, the real difference is probably closer to one or two wins. What these numbers are designed to frame the conversation moving forward. If there is a path forward for Kirby Puckett then there could be a path forward for Fred Lynn. We just have to move to the other tests.

Offensive Numbers

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
Jimmy Wynn12918.651130.362
Fred Lynn129-1.648129.372
Cesar Cedeno12357.610122.353
Dale Murphy1213.630119.357
Chet Lemon121-7.582122.356
Vada Pinson11128.592110.340
Willie Davis10662.536105.321

These numbers are more an illustration to show how the players arrived at their value above. Of course, we are missing the key element of defense. However, the fact that Wynn and Cedeno played much of their career in the Astrodome demonstrates how pedestrian looking numbers can look really good when you consider the negative impacts of their home ballpark. The same could be said for Willie Davis as well.

In a way, seeing such little separation works against all of these guys. This is especially true when compared to the Hall of Famers we saw in previous articles. At first blush, it would appear that Wynn and Lynn look better than the rest and Davis and Pinson look worse than the rest, but we also haven’t seen how they fare in fielding.

Fielding Numbers

 RfieldDWARTZDWSWSGG
Willie Davis10411.110678.36
Chet Lemon939.09663.23
Vada Pinson-8-5.7-669.32
Cesar Cedeno-14-4.3-849.61
Fred Lynn-27-3.1-2751.93
Jimmy Wynn-28-6.4-1844.11
Dale Murphy-33-6.8-445.22

It isn’t the fact that Davis is the best defensive player. It is by what margin he is the best defensive player. The win share Gold Gloves are the first clue. We have eschewed the traditional Gold Gloves because they simply don’t represent fielding excellence. Some might argue these numbers might not either. They represent a cross-section of what the industry had at the time. Some measure fielders against the average while others against the replacement level.

Some don’t agree between one player or another, but all agreed that Davis was a more valuable fielder than the others. So, when you combine an above average offensive player with a great defensive player you get a very good overall player. So, while Davis’ offensive numbers don’t jump off the page, he was a very valuable performer.

The others were not bad fielders, but when compared to the Hall of Fame standard they were underwhelming outside of Lemon. It is important to note the main difference between RField and Total Zone runs. They are sourced the same, but total zone runs count only their time as an outfielder. The Braves tried Murphy at catcher at the beginning of his career and that ended badly. So, if you ignore that experiment, he was probably closer to average. When you consider that all of them played ten to fifteen seasons, being 30 runs or less away from average means you were essentially average overall.

We could sit here and talk about fielding all day and we will pick up Davis’ mantle in a subsequent article, but for now we need to move on to the last leg of our test: the MVP tests. The test is plural because we compare how players did in the real MVP voting along with their actual finishes amongst position players in bWAR. MVP voting was documented through the top 30 in each league. The bWAR rankings only went through the top ten, so our comparison will not be perfect.

MVP Points

 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Dale Murphy320229
Fred Lynn201117
Vada Pinson311011
Cesar Cedeno41007
Jimmy Wynn20107
Willie Davis40004
Chet Lemon00000

MVP points are obviously weighted the closer you get to the MVP award with the MVPs counting ten points each. This does not prove Dale Murphy was the best player in the bunch. It proves that the beat writers thought he was more valuable when he was at his best than the others were when they were at their best. The fact that Chet Lemon had no votes is a bit of a surprise given his value as a player, but considering his value came mainly with his glove you can see why he is where he is.

MVP points help to explain why some players get more support than they should and why some don’t get as much. After all, the group that votes for the MVP award is the same group that votes for the Hall of Fame. It can be interesting comparison their finishes above to their rankings when we look at actual bWAR. The point values are the same, but we don’t have top 25 finishes to count.

bWAR MVP Points

 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Dale Murphy13018
Fred Lynn01115
Chet Lemon31014
Willie Davis21011
Cesar Cedeno21011
Jimmy Wynn3009
Vada Pinson1108

One of the best things about the baseball Hall of Fame is that the process allows for debate. I hope the index does the same. I would not be inclined to put any of these players in the Hall of Fame myself, but I could see a credible argument made for some. Murphy fares pretty well in the bWAR MVP points test considering we took away both of his MVP awards. He was still a very good player for several years in a row.

Lynn was really good for a season and great for one. If we follow the fame model of the Hall of Fame that might be good enough for most people. Lemon fares much better, but he was never great, so he probably falls short as well. Davis’ candidacy depends on how much you value his defense. We will end up looking back at his fielding later on, so maybe we should table in.

For most of my readers, that leaves Wynn and Cedeno. The final determination is probably something we already know. They were simply not good enough for long enough. If either had added another all-star level season or two it might have been enough. Sometimes you are just that close.

Hall of Fame Index: Centerfielders Part II

One of the key differences between the current version of the index and the book version is that we are eschewing the Veterans Committee selections. Our stated goal is to measure those out of the Hall of Fame against a Hall of Fame standard. Simply put, the Veterans Committee selections are too idiosyncratic to include in any kind of standard. Imagine comparing a current player to Harold Baines for instance. I’m sure the current committee had reasons for voting for Baines, but clearly they weren’t following the established standards when you look at right fielders.

So, when we look at the remaining center fielders we are ignoring the Veterans Committee selections. There were certainly some good ones that probably eclipse some of the players we will cover here, but adding some and not others really doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Why Earl Averill and not Max Carey? Why go back and add in a Billy Hamilton for instance? It is interesting that the center field list is show short, but we will get to look at those on the outside looking in subsequent articles.

Career Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Joe DiMaggio78.183.177.4238.6
Duke Snider66.363.570.4200.2
Andre Dawson64.859.568.0192.3
Kirby Puckett51.144.956.2152.2

Keep in mind that we are always looking for gaps. DiMaggio may belong with the top group and when we included Ken Griffey Jr. with the top group we certainly created a glaring issue. Of course, we will illustrating an important point about the difference between counting numbers and the value numbers. So, normally we would include Griffey with this group and if that were the case then this grouping would make sense for DiMaggio.

If DiMaggio hadn’t lost those three seasons serving his country the calculus would likely be different. That’s one of the many reasons why we include offensive and fielding numbers in addition to the index numbers. There are any number of ways to categorize players. Naturally, we have a problem on the other end with Puckett. I have always avoided setting a minimum for the index because it is all about the gaps. Puckett is clearly not in the same class as the other three, but that doesn’t mean he should be out necessarily. It means that we need some compelling reasons to look past the above numbers.

Duke Snider and Andre Dawson are comfortably in the middle. How they got there is part of the lore of baseball. Both players didn’t age gracefully for various reasons. Dawson was probably a victim of Astroturf where Snider just wasn’t the same guy once the Dodgers left Brooklyn. However, their career values seem to be enough to give them enough cushion. 

Peak Value

 bWARfWARWS/5TotalIndex
Joe DiMaggio65.570.064.0199.5438.1
Duke Snider58.556.456.8171.7371.9
Andre Dawson48.845.043.4137.2329.5
Kirby Puckett44.439.749.2133.3285.5

To give you some idea of reference, Bryce Harper has amassed about 30 WAR in his first seven seasons. That would come out to about four WAR per season and give him about 42 or 43 WAR over a ten-year period. He wants more than 300 million dollars and still might get it. So, imagine how much a Joe DiMaggio might have been worth in 21stcentury dollars. Heck, even a Kirby Puckett might have broken the bank.

This isn’t to demean Harper. He looks like a future Hall of Famer in the making. It does illustrate a couple of things we have noticed throughout history. First, the gaps between the best players and worst players have shrunk as time has gone on. So, a four-win player is more special today than in the past as the floor has elevated. Secondly, peak value by itself is a terrific barometer of greatness and shouldn’t be overlooked. Most advanced systems use some form of it because it adds so much context to the argument. 

For instance, Dawson and Snider are neck and neck in career value, but the peak value adds a great deal of separation and demonstrates that when Snider was at his best he was a more special player. It also shows that Puckett actually had a fairly strong peak value record. If he had lasted two or three more seasons he might have found himself in Dawson territory. That being said, he falls a little short in the index. As promised, we will take a look and see if we can find other compelling reasons to add him in.

Offensive Numbers

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
Joe DiMaggio15516.752152.439
Duke Snider14014.707139.404
Andre Dawson11914.595117.350
Kirby Puckett12413.618122.366

Bill James has said that statistics take on the characteristics of language. I certainly don’t have the juice to interview him, but I would assume he is thinking of adjectives. If you think of numbers as describing a player then it would make sense that some adjectives are more descriptive than others. You could also think of them as strokes of paint by a painter. Some of us paint stick figures while others paint a masterpiece.

Numbers like batting average, hits, runs, and RBI are stick figures. Numbers like those above creates the shadows and dimensions that give a painting (or player) life. Take offensive winning percentage (OW%). A team of DiMaggios would win 120 games in today’s schedule. No team ever assembled has ever won 120 games. A team of Snider’s would produce around 110 wins. That’s also historically good. Meanwhile, a team of Dawsons and Pucketts would be good teams, but like teams we’ve seen before. The other numbers tell a similar story, but they do it in their own special way.

For instance, wOBA spits out a number that looks like OBP. A .350 or .366 is pretty good in any era, but an OBP over .400 is special. One above .430 is outrageously good. For Puckett, the numbers show that he was a better offensive player at his best than Dawson was. Dawson just did it for longer. Longevity is certainly part of the grade. The history of the game is littered with guys that would be Hall of Famers if they could have only stayed healthy.

Fielding Numbers

 RfieldDWARTZDWSWSGG
Joe DiMaggio493.24960.58
Duke Snider-22-5.9-2154.84
Andre Dawson701.66962.25
Kirby Puckett-14-0.3-1258.46

Offensive numbers tend to tell the same story in a variety of ways. Fielding numbers seem to compete with each other. One of the reasons is that they compare different things. Rfield and total zone runs compare players with the average while DWAR and defensive win shares compare with the replacement level player. An average or even slightly below average fielder can look good when compared to the replacement level player over a long period of time. Duke Snider and Kirby Puckett fit that description. 

Joe DiMaggio’s career was relatively short because of the lost war seasons, so his DWS doesn’t look at that good. That is one of the reasons why James added a per 1000 innings number in the book version of Win Shares. The win share Gold Gloves show that when each were at their best they were among the most valuable fielders in the league. Of course, value and greatness are sometimes two different things.

The numbers above are enough reason to think Dawson had a leg up on Puckett as an overall player. So, we are at a loss to explain the BBWAA love for Puckett except that his career ended abruptly and we tend to romanticize that sort of thing. Our last test is the MVP vote test and considering that the BBWAA also voted for the MVP awards that could give us a clue. We use MVP points to tally this up with MVP awards counting ten points, top five finishes five points, top ten finishes three points, and top 25 finishes one point.

MVP Points

 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Joe DiMaggio243359
Kirby Puckett243029
Andre Dawson512128
Duke Snider233023

If we follow the general premise that the MVP should be the best player on the best team then DiMaggio’s dominance makes sense. The Yankees lived in the playoffs and he was objectively the best player on the Yankees during that time period. Of course, that is only one way of looking at it. Was he the best player in baseball during those MVP seasons? I think most would agree Ted Williams was, but that’s a different argument for a different day.

The fact that Snider doesn’t have an MVP seems somehow criminal. He was a more valuable player than Roy Campanella in each of his MVP seasons. Jackie Robinson was probably deserving of his award, but Snider should have snuck in there at least once if not twice. This is where we get to Puckett. He got as much love as anyone without actually winning the award. 1987 and 1991 certainly make sense as he helped engineer an improbably title in both seasons, but it’s hard to explain his five other top ten finishes.

This is where we apply the second half of the MVP test. We take the baseball-reference top ten seasons for position players and apply the same point systems. Unfortunately, they didn’t provide top 25 lists, so the finish is not the exact same, but such a test tells us who was overappreciated and who was underappreciated.

B-Ref MVP Test

 Top 10Top 5MVPTotal
Joe DiMaggio36039
Duke Snider13128
Andre Dawson13018
Kirby Puckett02010

What exactly does this prove? Well, it proves there was a sizeable gap between what Kirby Puckett really was and what the writers thought he was. Criminologists are often warning us about how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. Our memories play tricks on us. We see a diving catch in Game 7 of the World Series and develop a picture of a player that may not be accurate. The game is made of up moments. Statistics can tell us the rate that these moments occur, but they can’t tell us exactly when they occur and under what circumstances.

The funny thing is that individual players can’t control the weight of the moments they get to play in. Andre Dawson spent most of his career out of the playoffs. Is that his fault? Some people might say so. It’s funny how some casual fans blame the best player on a team for the team’s shortcomings. If only he did more when he had the opportunity. Somehow the crappy player playing on the other side of the diamond isn’t to blame. We do this in football, basketball, and hockey too. It’s nuts when you think about it.

Puckett had an .897 OPS in postseason play. That came with five home runs, 16 runs, and 16 RBI in just over 100 plate appearances. That came with an ALCS MVP Award in 1991. So, there is little doubt that he performed big in big moments. It is called the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Stats or Hall of Greatness. Take away his moments in 1987 and 1991 and the Twins may not even be in Minnesota. At the end of the day, it is foolish to boil down the politics of glory down to a number. There is always a context to everything, but what we can say is that comparing any player and using Puckett as a standard will lead us down a bad path. Maybe he does belong, but his index score is not a good argument for him.

Hall of Fame Index: Top Five Centerfielders

As we move to the center fielders it is high-time we do a reset. We have been covering fantasy baseball for a while now and have gotten out of our normal routine of looking at the index. So, we are going to re-eningeer this thing to show why we use something like the index in the first place. So, instead of starting with the index we will start with the conventional numbers and move from there.

A lot of fans use the counting numbers to grade players and determine who the best player of all time at a particular position or period. Some branch out to the rate statistics, but both of those categories bring two major problems. In short, they don’t account for the effects of time and place. Where did those numbers occur and during what time period? That has a dramatic effect on what those numbers mean. We are looking at who many consider the top five center fielders of all time. All five are in the Hall of Fame and no one doubts their place there. Still, how we parcel out their value depends greatly on the methodology we use.

 HitsHR2B+3BRunsRBI
Ty Cobb4189117101922431944
Ken Griffey Jr.278163056216621836
Mickey Mantle241553641616761509
Willie Mays328166066320621903
Tris Speaker3514117101418821531

I’ve talked before about my Facebook “friend” who rates everyone according to hits. Well, in that scenario we would surmise that Mickey Mantle stands in fifth place on this list. The fact that Mantle has more walks than the other four apparently doesn’t matter. Let’s consider each of these numbers as being equal. We will focus our energy on Griffey for reasons that will become obvious later.

Griffey ranks fourth in hits, second in home runs, fourth in extra base hits, fifth in runs scored, and third in RBI. So, no one in their right mind would claim he was the best center fielder of all-time, but he definitely would belong in this group. The problems are all plain to see. First, simply listing the numbers above assumes all numbers carry equal weight. We know they don’t. A simple hit doesn’t have the same value as a home run or even a double or triple. Those don’t carry the same weight as runs or RBI.

Furthermore, we don’t know any context around any of those numbers. Were they accomplished in 12 seasons? 15? 20? How easy was it it to put up numbers during the era they played? How well did they run the bases? How well did they avoid outs? We can begin to answer some of these questions when we look at numbers that distill out the effects of time and place. When we look at those numbers we begin to see some separation between Griffey and some of these other guys.

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
Ty Cobb16852.809165.445
Mickey Mantle17250.804170.428
Tris Speaker1571.778157.436
Willie Mays15677.748154.409
Ken Griffey Jr.13616.663131.384

One of the beauties of something like this is that you really don’t even need to know what you are looking at it to see the problem. Griffey clearly doesn’t belong in this group. The explanation is easy enough. Each of these numbers compare players to the average player from their era. We distill out the effects of home ballparks as well to give a truly neutral outlook on each player.

As you might imagine, these numbers don’t prove that a player is ranked where he should be overall. These are just the offensive numbers. We know that Willie Mays had quite the reputation as a great defensive player. Cobb has the reputation as the best hitter in the history of the game. Whether either of those reputations are deserved is neither here nor there. The point is that while these breakdowns are helpful, they don’t necessarily tell us much about value in a real sense.

However, before we skip to value we should find out if Mays really is the best defender in this grouping. We can see that Cobb has some competition here from Mantle, but this listing doesn’t show how long they did it for. That is where the value questions comes into play. We will get there eventually, but let’s look at fielding first.

 RfieldDWARTZWSWSGG
Willie Mays18518.2191103.610
Tris Speaker922.591117.811
Ken Griffey Jr.32.2-3760.24
Ty Cobb0-10.8082.63
Mickey Mantle-37-9.6-2855.13

The fielding numbers give us a little clearer picture of value, but even then it depends on which source you are looking at. Rfield and total zone runs are more or less the same thing. The total zone version looks at their performance solely as outfielders. Griffey has the biggest difference because of the switch to universal zone runs (UZR). They are supposedly more accurate than their predecessor and happened to capture him late in his career when he clearly was not the same fielder he was in the 1990s.

The implication is pretty clear though. Mays and Speaker were in a class by themselves defensively. It is important to note that the numbers above don’t absolutely indicate who was the betterdefensive center fielder. They peg who the more valuabledefensive player was. That is done in part by comparing players with their contemporaries. So, we are looking at the gap between each player and the other center fielders and not at an absolute cataloging of skills. There was no way to have Speaker and Mays have a foot race or a skills challenge. Most scouts and historical observers would probably tab Mays as the better of the two, but we are trying to arrive at value.

This brings us to the ultimate question. How does one account for both offensive and defensive value? How do we combine the two to come up with one number? There have been numerous critics of any particular WAR formula or that of win shares. You are taking something that is inexact and placing an exact looking value on it. The numbers were never meant to be gospel, but to give us a general overview of the value of a particular player or group of players.

For those just joining us, the Hall of Fame index was designed to measure the fitness of someone for the Hall of Fame by comparing him to those already in the Hall of Fame. We do that by combining bWAR (baseball-reference WAR), fWAR (Fangraphs WAR), and win shares divided by five. We combine a career value element and a peak value element to come up with the total index. Let’s take a look at the career value breakdown.

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Ty Cobb151.1149.3144.4444.8
Willie Mays156.4149.9128.4434.7
Tris Speaker134.1130.6126.0390.7
Mickey Mantle110.3112.3113.0335.6
Ken Griffey Jr.83.877.778.4234.9

It’s important that we talk about what these numbers mean. Essentially, they combine the value a player brings with his bat and his glove to give a total amount of wins they were worth over a replacement level (AAA) player. The index is not meant to say that Cobb is better than Mays. After all, different sources disagree here. Each brings their own brand of secret sauce to come to their ultimate conclusion.

The index was never designed to pick Cobb over Mays or vice versa. It is meant to find gaps in data to determine where a player belongs in context. As we will see, Griffey definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame, but he doesn’t belong with this group. He fits better with the Joe Dimaggio’s and Duke Snider’s of the world. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, this is simply looking at career value. Peak value considerations add some context we don’t see here.

For instance, we know Mickey Mantle had a shorter career than the other four. Griffey’s career also was not consistent over the full course of his career. So, what we do is take the best ten year stretch of their careers to see how they fared in terms of value. Then, we can combine the two to get a total look at the player.

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Willie Mays96.993.675.0265.5
Ty Cobb88.788.080.6257.3
Mickey Mantle82.683.177.8243.5
Tris Speaker78.075.173.6226.7
Ken Griffey Jr.67.767.352.2187.2

So, we can see that some players move around when we count only their best ten seasons. Mantle moves ahead of Speaker in terms of peak value and Mays moves ahead of Cobb as well. However, the results are close enough to keep us from declaring one as better than the other. The key for the index is that we want to find gaps in data. Griffey is well below the other four. That is a significant gap. In point of fact, the index was designed to create gaps, so when we see data this close we would be foolish to start making declarative statements. We can see how close when we combine the career and peak value numbers.

 CareerPeakTotal
Ty Cobb444.8257.3702.1
Willie Mays434.7265.5700.2
Tris Speaker390.7226.7617.4
Mickey Mantle335.6243.5579.1
Ken Griffey Jr.239.9187.2427.1

Anyone willing to pick Cobb over Mays on the basis of less than two wins is deluding themselves. That’s not what the index was designed to do. It essentially says that when all things are considered they are nearly equally valuable in terms of value. How they arrived at that value was wildly different. So, it really has to be a personal preference as to which guy you would ultimately pick.

If you have paid any attention to the previous index articles then you know that all five of these guys are more qualified. The fun is when we get into the next set of players. However, you can see how this list is a more accurate accounting of their value than the simple counting numbers that many rely on. There is just more context in these numbers than the basic ones.