The Greats of the 19th Century

Electing players from the 19th century carries two very difficult challenges. The first one is merely cosmetic. The Hall of Fame survives and thrives based on the number of visitors it has each year. Induction weekend is the biggest money maker for them by far. Fans from far and wide travel to see their favorite player inducted. That creates revenue for the Hall of Fame. How many people are going to show up to watch the great grandson of someone you’ve never heard of make a speech on behalf of their long lost relative?

Therefore, the votes of the BBWAA and Veterans Committee have always been biased towards the living. This hasn’t completely shut out those from the game’s first century, but they have been few and far between. Bill James successfully lobbied for George Davis in the late 1990s, but since then we have heard crickets.

Public relations is not the only problem. The rules of the game changed drastically between 1870 and 1890. The game we recognize didn’t really come about until that time and even then competition was very uneven. So, when you look at numbers for anyone (even the more sophisticated ones) you have to wonder what you are looking at. Furthermore, a lot of our uber stats have problems because they did not keep accurate records of statistics like caught stealing, walks, or hit bit pitches. So, someone like Davis that played a number of years after the turn of the century comes out looking good. We generally hate to use the if this guy then that guy approach but when you put in Davis it makes you wonder about other guys like Bill Dahlen and Jack Glasscock. Let’s compare them.

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
George Davis 84.3 84.6 79.6 248.5
Bill Dahlen 75.4 77.5 78.1 231.7
Jack Glasscock 62.0 60.1 52.2 174.3

Glasscock is a problematic candidate. On the one hand, his career value is well within the range of those selected by the BBWAA. Admittedly, it is on the lower end, but it is well within the range. However, he suffers from both areas of bias. First, his children’s children are getting long in the tooth. More importantly, he played a good portion of his career in the 1880s. This becomes a quandary when we discuss concepts like replacement level. What does that even mean in the 19th century?

The distance between the best teams and the worst teams was far greater than in the modern game. It stands to reason the same would be true for the players as well. This is particularly true when we look at fielding numbers. Advanced math always confused me in school, but there is a popular notion that performance (or numbers themselves) gravitate towards the mean. This is particularly true on the lower end of performance. Why bang your head against a wall repeatedly with a player that truly sucks? In the modern game, it becomes increasingly difficult to gather high end talent together for an extended period of time because of the cost of keeping that talent together. So, we get a drive to the mean.

Dahlen on the other hand overlapped with Davis. It’s hard to deny that Davis was better overall, but how much better was he really? 17 wins in the index world really amounts to less than six wins overall. Over the course of a 15 to 20 season career that’s not a whole lot. I certainly hate making an argument I normally detest, but Dahlen is ever bit as fit to be in the Hall of Fame as George Davis.

Peak Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
George Davis 50.8 51.4 45.6 147.8 396.3
Bill Dahlen 47.3 49.4 43.4 140.1 371.8
Jack Glasscock 50.8 49.8 38.9 139.5 313.8

It can be dizzying following the tortured logic of arguing for or against a 19th centuplayer. We’ve already talked about the problems with competitive balance and with the loss of important statistics we hold dear today. The flip side could argue that it is harder to accumulate numbers like WAR and win shares when those players played in fewer games. Teams back then played in as few as 100 games overall. So, statistics like above can be a bit deceiving and this is particularly true when Glasscock is concerned.

So, I’m not sure what these index scores really mean in the grand scheme of things. Glasscock’s score would put him in the borderline category anyway even without the various considerations on each side. Dahlen is clearly in if we use the same standard as everyone else. So, with Glasscock we have to ask if there is a compelling reason to add him. Is the Hall of Fame really missing something there? I’d argue they aren’t. In the case of Dahlen they are definitely missing someone they probably should add. However, we should take a look at the offensive and fielding numbers.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
George Davis 121 19 .624 118 .366
Bill Dahlen 110 12 .578 108 .357
Jack Glasscock 112 16 .574 110 .336

Davis is a cut above the other two, but we also have to remember what we are dealing with. Davis is a top five shortstop in the history of the game according to the index scores. Only Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, and Alex Rodriguez stand in front of him, so Dahlen’s numbers have to be seen in that context. Dahlen’s numbers place him solidly in the top ten historically. His offensive numbers (and Glasscock’s) may not be overwhelming here, but shortstops aren’t expected to be their team’s best hitters.

Speaking of Glasscock, his numbers are an example of the problem with evaluating the game’s early players. Players came and went from team to team and league to league. Pay for players was horrible, so it wasn’t uncommon for even good players to quit suddenly in the prime of their career. So, we have to ask who we are comparing Glasscock to. That’s decidedly different than Dahlen because he played when the game had at least stabilized to a certain extent.

Fielding Numbers 

George Davis 146 24.6 106 87.5 1
Bill Dahlen 139 28.5 120 128.0 3
Jack Glasscock 149 22.3 153 86.0 3

This is a perfect example of how little we can gleam from some numbers. If you look at the numbers above you might be tempted to think these were some of the best fielding shortstops in the history of the game. In point of fact, a solid defensive shortstop that plays a long time could rack up numbers like these during that time. Being solid for a long time is valuable, but it isn’t going to make anyone forget Ozzie Smith.

So, based on every bit of information we have here we have to come to the conclusion that Bill Dahlen belongs in the Hall of Fame. Whether this situation will ever be rectified remains to be seen. Dahlen’s great grandchildren probably shouldn’t be dusting off their acceptance speech any time soon. If there are any huge Dahlen fans out there they can probably wait too, but we can honor him here.

Modern Shortstops

There is a whole cottage industry around comparing players from different eras in every sport. NFL fans want to compare Jim Brown to Walter Payton while basketball fans want to compare Magic Johnson to Oscar Robertson. Often times these players don’t overlap. So, how do we allow for different eras where the level of play was different? It could be enough to make you throw up your hands and give up.

Yet, there is something to be gained as well. We can compare two very similar players and get a glimpse of the past. People of this generation grew up watching Nomar Garciaparra, so even mention the name Vern Stephens and they may glaze over in a lack of recognition. However, their numbers get more and more similar as we peel the onion.

  Hits HR Runs RBI BB SB
Stephens 1859 247 1001 1174 692 25
Garciaparra 1747 229 927 936 403 95

You’ll notice we haven’t included the rate statistics. The fact is that these players are comparable not only in their quality but also in the length of their careers. They spent a good portion of their careers in Boston and arguably both enjoyed the majority of their success there. Their peaks arguably lasted the same amount of time. However, having similar numbers doesn’t prove anything in terms of being similar or picking which guy was better. At first blush, we would say it was Stephens, but we know nothing about the era in which each played in. At least we don’t based on the numbers above.

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA RC
Stephens 119 5 .636 117 .377 1061
Garciaparra 124 0 .630 124 .376 1043

Here, we have normalized the data by comparing each player with the average hitter in the eras in which they played. We see that Garciaparra comes out ahead in some categories and Stephens is ahead in others. However, they are more or less equal offensively. Seeing these numbers creates a snapshot of what it must have been like to experience Stephens’ career firsthand. Sure, they aren’t similar stylistically, but in terms of production relative to the league they are extremely similar. Now, let’s check out the defense.

Stephens -1 9.1 -11 62.9 4
Garciaparra 15 6.5 -1 49.0 0

Who was the better fielder? Well, we have to keep in mind that win shares and WAR compares players with the replacement level player while the baseball-reference and Fangraphs numbers compare players with the average. This is an important distinction when evaluating players with careers of varying lengths. Stephens had nearly 15,000 defensive innings total as compared to Garciaparra’s 11,642. An advantage of 3000 innings is roughly equivalent to three additional season’s worth of innings. So, we can argue that Stephens accrued more defensive value that way, but defensive value and quality are not the same thing.

That being said, even when we look at quality we are not talking about a huge separation here. Garciaparra might average a run or two more per season defensively. That means they were both mediocre defenders for the most part when compared with their contemporaries. So, they are roughly equal offensively and defensively. So, they should come out relatively equal overall in the index. That is until we consider that Stephens did enjoy that additional time.

The Hall of Fame Index

  Career Peak Total
Vern Stephens 147.1 132.3 279.4
Nomar Garciaparra 130.4 128.4 258.8

So, in terms of peak value they are very similar, but the extra few seasons gives Stephens the slight advantage overall. What does all of this mean? Well, it means that fans of both generations have a frame of reference for their guy. Modern Boston fans have a handle on Stephen’s place in history because they can compare him with Garciaparra. The same is true for the old guard of Boston fans. For the rest of us, we can get a handle on each player’s Hall of Fame credentials when we compare them with the rest of the Hall of Fame register. We’ll do that now with the modern shortstops (minus Derek Jeter who we have already covered).

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Alex Rodriguez 117.8 113.5 90.2 321.5
Jimmy Rollins 46.3 49.8 56.2 152.3
Miguel Tejada 47.3 39.8 57.6 144.7
Troy Tulowitzki 44.1 38.3 37.2 119.6

It’s a testament to the times we are living in that there is doubt as to whether ARod will be voted into the Hall of Fame. He finds himself in the same category as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They are known PED users that had Hall of Fame careers outside of the use. So, we put them into some kind of separate stick in the butt moralistic category. We could provide tons of historical precedent of cheaters moving on to Cooperstown, but that’s a different article for a different day.

Tulowitzki is still active, but he has missed much of the past two seasons with various foot issues. His career is like many before him. He is a Hall of Fame quality player that hasn’t been able to stay on the field enough. That being said, he still has the opportunity to add to his resume, so we will largely ignore him for the time being and focus on the other two guys. At first blush, they would seem to be a little short of the standard, but we haven’t seen their peak value numbers yet.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total Index
Alex Rodriguez 81.2 78.4 56.6 221.8 543.3
Miguel Tejada 44.3 37.9 46.6 130.8 275.5
Troy Tulowitzki 44.4 38.7 36.2 119.3 238.9
Jimmy Rollins 37.5 41.3 39.2 113.0 265.3

We just got through with our discussion about comparing players from different eras. Notice that the bottom three compare favorably with the dynastic shortstops of the previous post. Those three will have just as many (including Garciaparra) argue for them as the previous generation of shortstops. Hopefully, the value of the index comes into focus when we start comparing the numbers in larger groups.

That being said, we can go back to the MVP points we introduced in the previous article. Just a reminder, each player is awarded a point for finishing in the top 25, three points in the top ten, five points in the top five, and ten points for winning the MVP. We can’t necessarily compare players across eras because it is harder for the modern players to gain MVP points in a 15 team league than an eight team league. However, we can compare them with themselves.

MVP Points

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Alex Rodriguez 4 4 3 3 60
Derek Jeter 4 5 3 0 34
Miguel Tejada 6 0 1 1 21
Nomar Garciaparra 2 4 1 0 19
Troy Tulowitzki 3 1 2 0 16
Jimmy Rollins 2 1 0 1 15

In a 15 team league we can assume there are either 120 or 135 regulars depending on whether you are in the National League or American League. That would have been 64 in the previous article. So, finishing in the top 25 players in the league has to be seen through that prism. This is of course eliminating any pitcher that may sneak into the top 25. So, we should take a step back and marvel at how ARod managed to finish among the top 25 players in the AL in fourteen different seasons.

The MVP points are lower across the board than their counterparts from the 1940s and 1950s. Again, that makes perfect sense. The point of the MVP points are to compare players from their own generation. Here, we see where the breakdown between BBWAA Hall of Famers probably should be without diving deep into the index. Yet, insert a player of Tejada’s quality back in time and anything could happen. We would likely break into a huge debate over level of play and watering down of expansion that we really wouldn’t get anywhere. We will ultimately know more when we look at the offensive and fielding numbers.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Alex Rodriguez 140 56 .684 141 .395
Troy Tulowitzki 118 -1 .631 119 .368
Miguel Tejada 108 -46 .511 106 .341
Jimmy Rollins 95 67 .518 95 .323

People love to use statistics to prove their point, but statistics have two separate issues. First, we have to be careful to use them how they are intended. Secondly, we have to make sure we quote them correctly. I hate to pick on the president, but he recently bragged that GDP was higher than unemployment for the first time ever. He’s also said that we had a negative GDP before he became president. Huh?

GDP is measured either in total dollars or dollars per capita. That number can’t be negative. It also can’t be less than the unemployment rate because that is expressed as a percentage. Similarly, I ran into someone on the internet that grades hitters by the total number of hits that they collect. Jimmy Rollins collected 2455 hits which is certainly Garciaparra and narrowly more than Tejada (2407). So, he was the better hitter right?

I don’t mean to demean anyone, but all numbers have their proper context. Hits are nice, but going with that number alone ignores so many other numbers that are meaningful. How often did the hitter walk? How many of those hits were extra base hits? How many at bats are we talking about here? The numbers above do a much better job of encompassing the offensive value a player brought to the table. Rollins is bringing up the rear in this group. Both he and Tejada end up being a tad better than the guys from the previous post, but they aren’t that much better.

Fielding Numbers 

Troy Tulowitzky 97 16.9 42 65.3 1
Jimmy Rollins 32 14.5 37 90.8 0
Alex Rodriguez 26 10.6 33 85.4 1
Miguel Tejada -46 6.9 -45 88.9 0

Again, comparing win share gold gloves (or Fielding Bible Gold Gloves) is not all that fair. Being the most valuable fielder among eight teams is a little easier than doing it amongst 15. So, I’m not sure how those numbers should be interpreted. What we do know is that Tejada likely has taken himself out of the running with these numbers. He was a prolific player, but not a particularly valuable one. Rollins on the other hand comes out above average offensively and defensively. There is an argument there for that kind of player to get into Cooperstown.

That leaves ARod and his place in the history of the game. His index score puts him second in history to Honus Wagner. I acknowledge the moral quandaries of the day and that it is difficult to honor someone that has admitted to cheating. It’s time to remove Gaylord Perry’s plaque then. If Cooperstown is meant to be a museum then it is difficult to fathom a few of the greatest hitters and pitchers being out. We can acknowledge their greatness and acknowledge their flaws at the same time. You don’t have to like him to acknowledge his greatness.

Dynastic Shortstops

One of the offshoots of the Hall of Fame and its discussions are the way we treat players from great teams. We see this during the season every all-star break. The great teams get more all-star teams than the average or bad teams. It makes perfect sense. Good teams are good because they have good players. However, there is a logical extreme there and the same is true with Hall of Famers and great teams.

The aforementioned book, “Baseball’s Greatest Dynasties” lists the dynasties of the 20th century and there is considerable representation for shortstops in the Hall of Fame including:

1906 Chicago Cubs- Joe Tinker

1953 New York Yankees- Phil Rizzuto

1955 Brooklyn Dodgers- Pee Wee Reese

1998 New York Yankees- Derek Jeter

It doesn’t seem like an exhaustive list, but there is another list of guys that the pundits think should be in the Hall of Fame from the list of fifteen teams listed in the book. If we admitted all of those guys then more than half of the teams would have a Hall of Fame shortstop. Throughout his landmark book (“Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame”), Bill James demonstrated that throughout most of history you could find ten percent of the game populated with Hall of Famers. So, half of any listing of teams with a Hall of Famer at a certain position seems out of whack.

We saw the same phenomenon with Gil Hodges and others. Good players can put up great numbers on occasion and when they do it at the right time you can have a dynasty. So, the question is whether someone that puts up great numbers is truly great or whether they benefit from historical serendipity. The index can help us with that, but it ultimately only takes us so far. Many of these players were historically good and they may have had leadership skills that are impossible to quantify. So, let’s see where we stand.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Bert Campaneris 53.1 44.9 56.0 153.0
Vern Stephens 45.5 48.6 53.0 147.1
Dave Concepcion 40.1 39.7 53.8 133.6
Maury Wills 39.7 35.7 50.6 126.0
Marty Marion 31.6 30.0 35.4 97.0

We start with the most obvious player. Marty Marion stands out because he is seemingly overmatched. However, he was prominently mentioned in James’ book. He is a truly great example of the “if…then” fallacy. If Phil Rizzuto is a Hall of Famer then why not Marion? Well, if we follow that logic to its logical extreme we might end up with Rafael Landestoy enshrined in Cooperstown.

Of course, Marion deserves better than that. It’s the main reason why we are even mentioning him here. He was a very talented fielder and a decent enough hitter for a shortstop, but his career comes up short for one reason or another (longevity). The fact that he was a prominent member of the dominant Cardinals team in the 1940s does cloud the question some, but I could handpick a player on every championship that was historically good, but played great at the right time.

The rest of the list comes out reasonably enough on the career value scale, but they are noticeably worse than the BBWAA standard. How does history play into the countenance of greatness? Should good players on great teams get a nod? There are quality arguments on both sides of this discussion. The index does not directly answer that question. It provides evidence that gets weighed in such an argument. Right or wrong, the BBWAA has established a reasonably consistent standard we can measure. These don’t meet it, but it doesn’t mean they should be out.

Peak Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total Index
Vern Stephens 40.6 44.8 47.8 133.2 279.3
Bert Campaneris 46.8 41.8 40.2 128.8 281.8
Dave Concepcion 37.1 36.1 41.0 114.2 247.8
Maury Wills 36.6 32.3 43.0 111.9 247.9
Marty Marion 30.9 29.2 32.8 92.9 189.9

Marion’s case is easy enough. His peak value and career value are nearly identical. So, he basically lasted ten or eleven seasons. If he had played 15 full seasons it might have been a different story. The same is true of Maury Wills, but his story isn’t quite so neat. He did not make his debut until he was 27. We are left wondering why. The question is whether he was a victim of institutional racism or just a bad break of playing for a historically great franchise. The facts show he was signed into the Brooklyn system when he was 18 but hit .300 or better in only three of his nine seasons of the minors.

Lack of success in the minors shouldn’t be a disqualifier, but it is hardly evidence of any nefarious dealings either. Perhaps in the modern age he could have left as a minor league free agent and caught on somewhere else in the big leagues two or three years sooner. Perhaps a lot of things. Players are ultimately judged against their contemporaries. Everyone had to survive under the same rules in 1950s baseball.

The top three could be considered Hall of Fame worthy if we didn’t know anything about career value. The trouble is that three or four win players are not particularly special over the course of a decade. The upshot is that those numbers could be due to a shorter peak or simply a lack of dominance. That of course assumes that we put a whole lot of credence into these index numbers in the first place.

In the interest of being as even-handed as possible we can also look at how each player was viewed by the baseball media at the time of their careers. We could run through the whole list, but we will compare Vern Stephens and Marty Marion to their contemporaries that are in the Hall of Fame with something we will call MVP points. Others have used similar formulas, so I can’t claim credit, but we will award ten points for MVPs, five for finishing in the top five, three for top ten finishes, and one for top 25 finishes.

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Lou Boudreau 2 5 2 1 37
Pee Wee Reese 4 7 1 0 30
Vern Stephens 2 3 3 0 26
Phil Rizzuto 4 1 1 1 22
Marty Marion 3 2 0 1 19

The fact that Boudreau and Rizzuto won MVPs is a big deal when it comes to their Hall of Fame fitness. Of course, whether those awards were all deserved is up to debate. This methodology isn’t about what it deserved. It is about what the voters thought of the players then matters. It matters because the same group votes for the Hall of Fame. Few deny the qualifications of Reese or Boudreau, so it is interesting to find Stephens ahead of someone like Rizzuto.

Two of these men did not serve their country during World War II They are the two that are not currently in the Hall of Fame. It is impossible to say whether that is the definitive reason why they are not in, but the three in the Hall of Famer were given leeway as to the lack of adequacy of their numbers. No single test is necessarily worth more than another, but seeing the only BBWAA elected shortstop on top of the list adds some value to this test.

As we have done in the past, we will also look at the offensive and fielding numbers for these players. There is always a context and these numbers often serve to add to the index the context we need to evaluate their Hall of Fame qualifications. Their index scores indicate that none of these players should be in, but their careers deserve too much respect to just simply leave it at that.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Vern Stephens 119 5 .636 117 .377
Bert Campaneris 89 58 .465 90 .298
Dave Concepcion 88 20 .459 88 .306
Maury Wills 88 55 .481 91 .301
Marty Marion 81 -1 .443 83 .317

Which of these was not like the other? Naturally, offensive production is only part of the equation. How much of the equation depends on the eye of the beholder. Many look at shortstops through a different prism. The question is whether a below average offensive player should be in the Hall of Fame. Statistics like OPS+, wRC+, and offensive winning percentage aren’t broken down by position. So, shortstops are compared to first basemen and outfielders. Obviously, not all of these players might be below average as the numbers appear. They are closer to average amongst the shortstop universe. Therefore, it might be more instructive to ask if average hitters should get in the Hall of Fame. We won’t know until we take a look at the defensive numbers.

Fielding Numbers

Marty Marion 130 25.0 130 97.5 4
Bert Campaneris 63 21.1 71 98.6 2
Dave Concepcion 52 21.4 49 116.9 5
Maury Wills 0 12.2 4 74.7 3
Vern Stephens -1 9.1 -11 62.9 4

Here we get the smorgasbord of numbers that all mean something different. The comparisons with average clearly favor Marion and when you compare him with the replacement level player you get the same result. Unfortunately, his career was a little too short to dominate across the board. Considering his career spanned only a little more than a decade, leading the league in defensive win shares four times is quite an accomplishment.

The reverse is also true. Stephens looks like a mediocre defensive shortstop overall, but he won the same number of win share Gold Gloves. So, we can surmise when Stephens was at his best he was nearly as good as the rest of them. When we add in the offense when he was also at his very best we probably get a superior player. That is reflected in the peak value numbers that we saw earlier.

The others are in the in between zone. They are better than average defensively and charitably could be called average offensively. So, they are above average players looking to get into the Hall of Fame. If you do that long enough I suppose there is a case to be made, but for these guys I’m not seeing it. Dynasties need good players to make a go of it. They need solid players too. Saying they are not Hall of Fame worthy shouldn’t be seen as an insult.

What About: Derek Jeter

I started the what about series primarily to address guys that a lot of people think should be in the Hall of Fame. Usually, we clump players together that are all borderline candidates. This time we are doing something else. No one doubts the fact that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer. He was the captain of the best team in baseball in the 1990s and 2000s. He joined the 3000 hit club. He earned the nickname Mr. November. So, we are not here to debate whether he belongs in Cooperstown. We are debating exactly his place in Cooperstown.

There are a few players like Jeter throughout history. Some fans think he is among the best to ever play the game while others think he is among the most overrated players to ever play the game. For Jeter, that usually begins and ends when people start talking about fielding. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves as usual. We should begin with the index and then move on from there.

The Hall of Fame Index 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Career 72.4 72.7 82.6 227.7
Peak 57.1 47.6 67.8 172.5
Total 129.5 120.3 150.4 400.2

If we look at the total list of shortstops (including modern players) then we find that Jeter’s index puts him fourth all-time. Obviously, the index was never designed to rank order players, but he clearly belongs in elite company. That is almost exclusively because of the offense that he brought to the table and his long record of durability. It is a lot more instructive to compare him with the top five guys on the Hall of Fame board offensively before we even get to the fielding question.

The typical offensive numbers we use show us how dominant (or not) a player was over the course of his entire career. They don’t tell us how long the player did it. We can use different numbers for that. So, to illustrate that we will include runs created as a way to show each player’s durability.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA RC
Honus Wagner 151 34 .762 147 .408 1888
Cal Ripken 112 5 .536 112 .346 1729
Robin Yount 115 -56 .573 113 .343 1655
Luke Appling 113 0 .597 115 .378 1412
Alex Rodriguez 140 56 .684 141 .395 2274
Derek Jeter 115 56 .593 119 .360 1910

Now we get into one of those famous cases where we ask ourselves what these numbers really mean. Obviously, Wagner and Rodriguez are in a league of their own offensively. The rest were grouped pretty close together. There are two ways to look at this data. The first is that Jeter belongs with the elite performers because he was relatively close to all of them in the numbers we have been using throughout our reporting. However, we haven’t gotten to defense yet and we know his reputation is shaky at best. That is where runs created come in. He is second all-time amongst shortstops in that honor and beaten only by his former teammate Arod.

The upshot is that he had approximately two to three seasons worth of plate appearances beyond what the others were able to produce. Part of that can be attributed to longevity and part can be attributed to durability. Both of those are good things, but none of those make him a better hitter than the rest of them. Now, we look at defense. We really can’t compare him to anyone else as you can see, so we will look at Jeter by himself.


Derek Jeter -243 -8.3 -137 91.6 0

There is an argument to be made for Jeter being the worst defensive shortstop of all-time. Unfortunately, that argument is primarily dependent on the numbers. When you look at defensive win shares (as an example) you find that players typically have fewer defensive win shares per 1000 innings with the fewer innings they play. That makes perfect sense. Teams don’t employ inferior fielders for very long. That was different in Jeter’s case for a variety of reasons.

Jeter was a fan favorite and a powerful player within the Yankees organization. They moved Rodriguez to third so they could keep Jeter at short. This was even though Rodriguez was clearly the better defender. Obviously, they were not using dispassionate analysis there. One could argue that the desire not to rock the boat outweighed a desire to actually have the better defender. They won and won a lot, so obviously they can defend the decision, but there was something else at stake. Let’s compare him with fellow butcher Jose Offerman.

  Innings Rfield Field/1000 Errors E/1000
Derek Jeter 23225 -243 -10.46 254 10.93
Jose Offerman 5065 -67 -13.23 139 27.44

We see two very important phenomena happening at the same time. First, we could yank any other player from history similar to Offerman. Offerman played longer than just those five or six seasons. They moved him around between second base and first base to find a position where he wouldn’t be a liability. This is the way sports work. When you find a player that you like overall, you will keep shuffling him around when he proves to be substandard at a position.

So, Jeter really isn’t the worst shortstop in history. That’s ludicrous. He is the worst shortstop for any that played the position for that long. That could hardly be blamed on him totally. The Yankees simply had a blind spot where he was concerned. However, another more likely blind spot are the errors. Jeter was fairly surehanded when compared to Offerman and most other shortstops for that matter.

This reflects the bias of the previous age. Many traditional fans still think it matters how many errors you have. On an individual game basis it might. It certainly looks worse when you boot one. It matters a lot more how many balls you actually get to. This is where Jeter suffered. He just didn’t get to as many balls as most other shortstops. So, in terms of actual ability and scouting, Jeter was not the worst defender of all-time at shortstop, but in terms of value he was.

In terms of overall value, this definitely has an affect on how we perceive Jeter over time. This is one of the reasons why we look at career value and peak value. Jeter is a top five shortstop in career value. Peak value just might be a different story. All told, he is still a Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible, but where he stands in history will probably be debated for quite some time.

Shortstops Index Part II

We heard it again this past week. Recently retired outfielder Jayson Werth said, “the supernerds are destroying the game.” There has long been tension between the modern baseball analysts and the old school baseball lifers. Some of them are scouts. Some are former players. Some are old-fashioned fans. Either way, the battle lines have been drawn. Many do not see the benefit of a statistic like WAR or win shares. After all, you can’t boil down someone’s contribution to a number.

That point would not be so insidious if those people didn’t attempt to do the same. We look at hits, home runs, batting average, wins, and ERA as if they are sacrosanct. So, the essence is not whether you boil down a player’s value to a number, but which number? In the scouting world it is a grade somewhere between 20 and 80. They grade the so-called five tools and those that sort of know what they are talking about treat all of those numbers as if they mean something equal. In other words, having a 70 (all-star level) arm would mean the same thing as having 70 power. Of course, scouts know this is bunk, but many casual observers don’t know the ins and outs of how scouts weight all of this.

Furthermore, the most valuable skill in baseball in easily the ability to get on base. Plate discipline isn’t a skill most organizational scouts grade officially. So, if one doesn’t grade it then how do any teams know they have it? I bring all of this up because all six of these remaining shortstops grade out similarly in value. They are all very different in terms of the skills they brought to the table. We will only see that when we break down offensive and fielding numbers, but as always we start with the index.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Luke Appling 74.4 72.7 75.6 222.7
Ozzie Smith 76.9 67.6 65.0 209.5
Barry Larkin 70.4 67.0 64.0 201.4
Joe Cronin 66.4 66.6 65.6 198.6
Ernie Banks 67.5 62.3 66.4 196.2
Lou Boudreau 63.0 64.5 55.4 182.9

It is here especially where we remind you that it is not the purpose of the index to rank players in order. Each score is built on three different platforms that all have different opinions of how much weight to apply to specific events. In other words, they will not grade offense and defense exactly the same way. Win shares parcels out wins differently than the two WAR formulas.

What’s important here is that all of these players are fairly similar in the amount of value they brought to their teams. So, Werth can decry the nerds all he wants. Spreadsheets don’t play the game. They never will. Each player accrues value in a unique way. A smart GM or scout will discover a player’s unique quality and will determine if that quality interacts well with the rest of his or her roster. It’s not as simple as plugging in a .360 OBP and considering that to be superior to a .350 OBP. More goes into than that and the same is true with the index.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Lou Boudreau 59.7 61.2 51.0 171.9
Ernie Banks 58.5 53.9 44.2 156.6
Barry Larkin 56.3 50.9 48.4 155.6
Joe Cronin 50.3 50.8 49.8 150.9
Ozzie Smith 54.8 50.1 43.2 148.1
Luke Appling 48.5 47.0 49.0 144.5

Again, the key story here is how close most of the numbers are. Boudreau is an obvious exception, but he also appeared towards the bottom of the career value list. Again, the idea here is that players accrue their value differently. Would you rather have 15 good seasons or 11 or 12 very good ones? Everyone has their own answer to that question.

The interesting data always comes in when we break down offense and fielding separately. Each player has his own reputation and they certainly gained a lot of mileage off of those reputations. The numbers often reveal the truth. However, before we get to those numbers we need to clean up the index to see how close they come.

Hall of Fame Index

  Career Peak Index
Luke Appling 222.7 144.5 367.2
Ozzie Smith 209.5 148.1 357.6
Barry Larkin 201.4 155.6 357.0
Lou Boudreau 182.9 171.9 354.8
Ernie Banks 196.2 156.6 352.8
Joe Cronin 198.6 150.9 349.5

Keep in mind that the goal of the index is to find to gaps in data. There are virtually no gaps in the data here, so all of these guys are legitimate Hall of Famers. It’s interesting to see players this close in index scores, but it is more interesting to see how each one got there. Those numbers are often more revealing than the index scores themselves.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Ernie Banks 122 -6 .612 118 .359
Lou Boudreau 120 -7 .599 122 .375
Joe Cronin 119 -4 .622 120 .393
Barry Larkin 116 80 .627 118 .360
Luke Appling 113 0 .597 115 .378
Ozzie Smith 87 79 .481 90 .305

Smith obviously does not belong with the rest of these guys, but he is an interesting player even when you only look at the offensive numbers. We saw where Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville landed in the last post. The difference between the three is that Smith improved throughout the course of his career. So, his final wOBA reflects that he was just a little better than they were. Combine that with his baserunning and he was able to get to that magical 90 wRC+.

However, he would have needed to produce outrageous fielding numbers to get the rest of the way there. He has the best defensive reputation in the history of the game (13 Gold Gloves) so it wouldn’t be shocking to see the numbers reflect that. Still, we have see other cases where numbers didn’t back reputation. Ironically, the rest fit in a very tight grouping offensively, so there really isn’t much to discuss in terms of offensive numbers.

Fielding Numbers

Smith 239 44.2 239 139.8 10
Boudreau 118 23.4 115 87.2 1
Banks 55 5.1 62 65.1 0
Appling 41 19.0 39 105.3 2
Cronin 28 14.3 26 94.8 4
Larkin 18 14.4 28 92.0 2

Ozzie Smith is number one all-time in career defensive WAR. Granted, the deck is stacked in his favor since shortstops play the most difficult position according to the formula, but it is easily defensible to call him the most valuable defender of all time. I’m guessing there are others that would argue for others and that’s fine. For most of my generation there will never be a better defensive player.

The rest are all above average at worst and some were very underrated defenders (Boudreau). Yet, each source ranks them in a different order. This could be a question of disagreement, but more often than not is a question of what you are measuring. If you are comparing to average that is far different than comparing a player to replacement level. One rewards quality while another rewards longevity. Then you get the case of Ernie Banks who played a lot of games at first base.

So, this was a low drama episode in the case that we don’t have any controversy. That’s okay, low drama is good every now and then. It is more instructive to see how value gets put together. When you can accurately peg the past it helps in pegging the future. Or, as a wise person once said if you can predict a crisis then you can usually prevent it.

Shortstops Index Part One

There are eleven shortstops that have been voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. One of the issues with the Hall of Fame is that the Veterans Committee has a way of muddying the waters. However, like with the third basemen we also have a mistake or two by the writers. That also has a way of making things more complicated. So, comparing all eleven guys at the same time makes little sense. We will split the group in two and look at the living legends and the mistakes at the same time.

That will leave a group of very similar players in the subsequent piece. It is always more compelling when we have similar players to compare anyway. When we look at mistakes we are not literally saying they should be removed. That’s impossible. We are simultaneously removing them from consideration for comparison sake and looking at the reasons why the writers overlooked their normal qualifications.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Honus Wagner 130.8 138.1 131.0 399.9
Cal Ripken 95.9 92.5 85.4 273.8
Robin Yount 77.3 66.5 84.6 228.4
Luis Aparicio 55.8 49.1 58.6 163.5
Rabbit Maranville 42.9 42.5 60.4 145.8

Books have literally been written about Honus Wagner. Wagner is clearly the best shortstop of all-time and even when you include Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter you could arguably say there is more distance between him and the second best shortstop than any player at any other position. That includes the likes of Ruth, Aaron, Mays, or anyone else you can think of. Sure, that could be a proverbial stacked deck, but value can be defined as the distance between two players.

Ripken stands second for now and that could be underwhelming in some sense. Ripken was always seen as extremely durable, but the general malaise of the 1980s and 1990s camouflage some really good all-around seasons. Part of that is that his stature made you think he couldn’t be a brilliant defensive shortstop. As we will see, the numbers will say otherwise.

Still, the greatest point here belong to Aparicio and Maranville. Both had stellar defensive reputations and matched what many would think should be the prototypical shortstop. They were small, slap hitters that either won Gold Gloves (nine in Aparicio’s case) or would have if they had been around during their career. Gold Gloves are great and if they are truly deserved they are really great. You are measured by your ability to help teams win games and not by highlight reels.

It should be noted that both that both players are more qualified that Pie Traynor, so everything is relative. That ignores the fact that we should have minimum standards and that usually means 300 in the win department. That’s unless there are extenuating circumstances like there were in Roy Campanella’s case.

Peak Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total Index
Honus Wagner 84.9 89.1 84.2 258.2 658.1
Cal Ripken 69.3 65.0 54.2 188.5 462.3
Robin Yount 55.1 50.0 54.8 159.9 388.3
Luis Aparicio 36.7 32.3 36.6 105.6 269.1
Rabbit Maranville 33.8 32.6 37.8 104.2 250.0

Both Aparicio and Maranville were prolific players in terms of durability, but neither were particularly dominant during their prime. There is nothing wrong with a three or four-win player, but you don’t typically think Hall of Fame when looking at that sort of player. For most people, the concept of wins or an index is way too cumbersome to consider, so we bring the offensive and fielding numbers out for you.

We haven’t mentioned Yount. Even though he is not a controversial Hall of Famer there is some controversy over whether he should be considered an outfielder or a shortstop. Yount actually played more games at shortstop (1470 vs. 1218) even though it seemed like he was an outfielder for longer.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Honus Wagner 151 34 .762 147 .408
Cal Ripken 112 -5 .536 112 .346
Robin Yount 115 56 .573 113 .343
Luis Aparicio 82 92 .449 83 .296
Rabbit Maranville 82 4 .424 83 .313

These numbers are somehow more meaningful than the index numbers and show how much of an advantage Wagner has. Keep in mind that when you are looking at the wOBA numbers that he played during the Dead Ball Era. Those numbers are ludicrously stupid given that fact. A team of Wagners would win 122 or 123 games in a 162 game schedule. It may not be the highest offensive winning percentage of all time but it’s pretty darn close.

On the flip side, it would be simplistic to say that these numbers disqualify Aparicio and Maranville, but they are pretty damning. It is wrong to assume 100 as average in OPS+ or wRC+ for shortstops. That’s a universal average. You are comparing shortstops with first basemen and outfielders. Maybe 90 is closer to the position average. Great. Should a below average offensive player get into the Hall of Fame?

Offensive winning percentage is always a good place to look as well. Aparicio’s base running gives him a bit of an edge of Maranville, but there is no getting around the fact that they are both below average. The traditionalists will tell you game is 50 percent pitching, 50 percent fielding, and 50 percent hitting. That’s 150 percent. So, it might be closer to 50/25/25. It’s hard to justify a below average offensive player. Let’s see if we can do it.

Fielding Numbers

Honus Wagner 85 21.3 67 116.9 1
Cal Ripken 181 35.7 176 115.2 2 6
Robin Yount -48 6.8 25 104.0 1 0
Luis Aparicio 149 31.8 149 122.8 9 5
Rabbit Maranville 130 30.8 115 123.2 5

The most intriguing player here is Yount. The overall numbers are terrible, but when you look at the total zone shortstop runs you see he was an above average shortstop. That affected him in his defensive WAR totals as well. Admittedly, Aparicio and Maranville were legitimately good defensive shortstops. They might even be classified as really good depending on who you are comparing them to.

If you are comparing them to Ripken then they come up short. His defensive win shares did not include his time as a third baseman. So, it is fair to say he would be better in every single category. He won only two Gold Gloves. You look at him and naturally compare him to smaller guys like Ozzie Smith. Smith was legitimately better, but not by as much as people think. You see a six foot four muscle bound guy and naturally assume he’s slow. For Ripken it was the difference between being a good player that played a lot of games in a row and being a great player that played a lot of games in a row.

The BBWAA didn’t blow the Aparicio and Maranville vote as much as the Traynor vote. After all, they were legitimately good defensively. Aparicio was an elite base runner as well. They just didn’t do enough in the batter’s box. It isn’t about a lack of power. As we will see soon enough, Ozzie Smith is more than qualified despite his lack of power. It’s always more important to steal first base than hit an occasional home run.

Modern Third Basemen

Normally we close out with the active players at the position. When we include recently retired players that’s easily enough to go on. This time we are going to throw in a couple of guys that are currently eligible to be voted in. As we saw in the previous post, different eras have different amounts of Hall of Fame candidates. It definitely is not the golden age of third basemen. Still, there is one current player that should be a top five guy all-time when all is said and done.

Adrian Beltre is the perfect example of what some might call compounded value. He has been uneven offensively over the years. In some seasons he has been brilliant and others he has been merely above average. You could charitably be called good offensively overall, but compare him with the rest of the Hall of Fame class and he may seem likely. Defensively Beltre ranks with the likes of Mike Schmidt and Buddy Bell defensively. Combine a good offensive record with a great defensive record and you get an all-time legend, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with career value.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Adrian Beltre 94.6 83.9 73.8 252.3
Scott Rolen 70.2 69.9 60.8 200.9
Robin Venture 56.1 56.7 55.6 168.4
Evan Longoria 50.2 48.5 41.0 139.7

Beltre’s career plans are not exactly clear. We believe he will play another season at least, but he will be a free agent following the season. The past two seasons have seen him miss considerable time with nagging injuries that have zapped his power and limited his value. So, who knows where he will end up in terms of overall career value, but the numbers don’t lie in this case. The numbers above put him in the top half dozen third basemen in terms of career value. However, even a normal season or two could vault him two or three spots up the list.

Rolen is another surprising player when you consider the reputation he finished with. Most people considered him promise unfulfilled. Like Beltre, he combined solid offensive production and very good defensive production. While it may be true that he could have produced more, we have to let go of what someone could have done and focus on what they did. Based on the numbers above, Rolen should be a Hall of Famer as well.

Robin Ventura probably comes a little short, but he is another example of good hitting meeting good fielding. Peak value will tell us how close he comes to having a Hall of Fame profile. Ventura is very similar to Rolen in the fact that people thought he should be better than what he was. He is one of the best college baseball players of all-time. People naturally thought he would be a living legend in the big leagues. He was good, but not necessarily ever great.

Peak Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Scott Rolen 53.6 54.6 46.4 154.6
Adrian Beltre 56.9 48.7 38.2 143.8
Evan Longoria 50.0 48.3 40.2 138.5
Robin Ventura 45.6 46.6 41.4 133.6

There is a reason why we wait ten years before tracking anyone in the index. Longoria looked like a sure fire Hall of Famer as recently as 2016. Even 2017 was a decent enough season for him in Tampa. He would be well on his way if he just sustained that level. Who knows, maybe this season was just a blip on the radar for him in San Francisco. It could also be the beginning of the end. If that is the case, he won’t make it.

Beltre’s relatively low mark in peak value is interesting to say the least. We go with the top ten consecutive seasons and while that works well for most players it did not work for Beltre. His career had a lull in the middle that left picking out ten seasons difficult. The previous formula picked the top ten seasons non-consecutively. He would have done much better under that formula.

Ventura is an interesting situation. The Baseball Hall of Fame is not the MLB Hall of Fame. So, you could theoretically consider achievements outside of the major leagues. He also served as a manager for a brief time. Some have argued that combined achievements across various roles should put someone over the top. Ventura was a Golden Spikes Award winner, so should that get him over the top? It’s an interesting question.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Evan Longoria 124 3 .581 122 .349
Scott Rolen 122 13 .626 122 .368
Adrian Beltre 116 4 .575 116 .357
Robin Ventura 114 -13 .557 113 .351

In fact, there isn’t a ton of separation here, and many of you would probably be surprised to see Longoria on top here. This is what happens when you look at players during their career. Every career has an arc and we have not seen an extended down period for Longoria. The other three are either done or have clearly shown their downward arc. So, it is easier to compare them without having to worry about unfinished business.

Again, Ventura is the one that is the most intriguing. It isn’t because he is a definite Hall of Famer. Out of the group he is probably the least qualified. It’s interesting because a lot of people don’t think he was that good. That is probably because of the expectations coming from college. In three college seasons, Ventura hit over .400 twice, had 68 combined home runs in 210 games and drove in a ridiculous 302 RBI. Obviously, expectations were high.

The numbers indicate that Rolen will likely go down as the best hitter of the group. This is especially true as Longoria ages. None of the numbers are tremendous enough to be Hall of Fame numbers on their own, but we are combining fielding and hitting for each of these guys. All of them had good defensive reputations. Let’s see how the numbers hold up in comparison.

Fielding Numbers

Adrian Beltre 233 28.9 194 77.7 6
Scott Rolen 175 21.2 153 65.9 3
Robin Ventura 155 17.9 148 72.9 5
Evan Longoria 73 10.6 73 52.4 2

All four of these guys are accomplished fielders. Beltre ranks among the all-time greats in the game defensively. We adjusted the last category to include defensive runs saved Gold Gloves since 2002. If the player finished in the top two we gave him credit. However, that never tells the whole story with guys like Beltre. Since 2002, Beltre had only one season with a negative DRS score. He finished third or fourth in DRS in four other seasons in addition to the six where he finished in the top two. He had four additional seasons in the top ten. That’s fourteen top ten seasons between 2002 and 2018.

Rolen and Ventura were also very good and had similar breakdowns over the years. Often times, people mistake how fielding numbers work. The Gold Gloves often go to players in consecutive seasons, but actual performance is comparable with offense. Players go through slumps defensively like they do with the bat and sometimes they get lucky bounces and unlucky bounces that can affect their numbers one way or another.

Like Beltre, Rolen had only one negative season between 2002 and 2012. He was in the top ten every season between 2003 and 2011. So, that record deserves more praise that the fact that he led the league only once during that time. Longoria has been more inconsistent during his career. He has four seasons where he has finished in the bottom ten interspersed with six seasons in the top ten. That’s more expected when we compare him with most players that play over an extended period of time.

All in all, we have two definite Hall of Famers in Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen. Ventura probably winds up on the outside looking in, but his collegiate record does create an interesting argument in his favor. Evan Longoria still has some work to do, but it is not outside of the realm of possibility should he remain relatively healthy for three or four more seasons.

The Golden Age of Third Basemen?

Third base presents a couple of fascinating issues as it pertains to the Hall of Fame in general and the index specifically. One of the governing principles of the Hall of Fame index is that each player should only be compared to players from their own position group. Third base is the best example of why. Third base is the least represented position in the Hall of Fame and there are some good reasons for that.

For our purposes, the biggest and most important reason is because third basemen have long been compared to first basemen in terms of the expectations for numbers. Third basemen aren’t first basemen. First basemen tend to last longer and in the early history of the game they were closer in style to shortstops or second basemen. You’ll notice that there is only one player in the Hall of Fame that played before World War II and he shouldn’t have been. When the Live Ball Era ended, third basemen began to develop more power until they morphed into what we recognize in the 1960s.

The 1960s-1980s is the other subject of our discussion. In an earlier post we looked at what happens when there are no legitimate Hall of Famers. Now, we look at the opposite problem. What do you do when there are a bunch of solid Hall of Fame candidates. If we consider the Expansion Era as roughly occurring between 1962 and 1990 then you could identify nearly ten good Hall of Fame type of players. This of course includes the likes of Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Ron Santo, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Wade Boggs. They are already in and all are more than qualified. So how many Hall of Famers is too many from the same position and same era?

We have six more Hall of Fame candidates from the same time period. Are any of them deserving? How do we draw the line between who should be in or who should be out? The index can help, but it was never designed to be the final word on the subject. It was designed to help refine the conversation. All debate is fun and reasonable when it is refined. So, let’s take a look.

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Graig Nettles 68.0 65.7 64.2 197.9
Darrell Evans 58.8 61.1 72.6 192.5
Buddy Bell 66.3 61.7 60.2 188.2
Sal Bando 61.5 56.2 56.6 174.3
Ken Boyer 62.8 54.8 55.8 173.4
Ron Cey 53.8 55.6 56.0 165.4

The first test is to look for gaps. Sure, there is a gap between Nettles and Cey, but it isn’t a huge one and we also haven’t looked at peak value yet. In short, the numbers above make all of them look like Hall of Famers. At least they should be in the conversation. The nuts and bolts of the proposition dictate that not all of them can be Hall of Famers. So, there needs to be a place where we have an obvious dividing line. Career value appears to split the group into two groups of three. That is a decent enough place to start.

We look to peak value because peak value adds the depth we need to get an accurate picture of a player. Accomplished painters can add perspective to their paintings to the point where they can appear to be three dimensional. Peak value does that for Hall of Fame candidates. It differentiates the players that were pretty good for 20 years from the ones that may have been really good for 10 to 15 seasons. They call it the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Stats. We want to reward greatness whenever possible.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Sal Bando 56.5 52.3 49.4 158.2
Ken Boyer 56.8 49.8 45.0 151.2
Graig Nettles 54.6 51.9 44.4 150.9
Ron Cey 47.5 49.8 44.2 141.5
Buddy Bell 50.8 44.9 36.8 132.5
Darrell Evans 38.3 39.8 42.6 130.7

Presidential historians often seem unfair in their grading of presidents. A president that did almost everything well could be graded under another that had more significant crises during their tenure. Similarly, a player that happened to be a part of a great team is seen as somehow better than a similar player on a bad team. All of the top three guys played on World Series champions. That’s plural. So, their peaks take on more significance even beyond what they individually accomplished.

Conversely, Bell languished on teams that could charitably be called mediocre and more accurately be called bad. That affected him directly in win shares but also indirectly in both WAR formulas. It really affects him in the eyes of history. Branch Rickey once famously told Ralph Kiner, “I could finish in last with or without you.” Value has a definite mathematical quality, but for much of history it has had a more esoteric definition. What did you do to help your team win? Solo home runs are great, but they don’t mean much when you are on the business end of an 8-2 rout.

Hall of Fame Index 

  Career Peak Total
Graig Nettles 197.9 150.9 348.8
Sal Bando 174.3 158.2 332.5
Ken Boyer 173.4 151.2 324.6
Darrell Evans 192.5 130.7 323.2
Buddy Bell 188.2 132.5 320.7
Ron Cey 165.4 141.5 306.9

We can probably safely say that Graig Nettles is a Hall of Famer going by these results and that Ron Cey is not. That isn’t to say that there isn’t strong evidence to go the other way on both guys. Anytime you score between 300 and 350 you are in what we might call the borderline zone. So, we could go either way on all six of these guys. That presents a huge problem historically when considering the era.

There were 24 teams for the majority of the Expansion Era. Are we to suggest that there were as many as 12 Hall of Fame third baseman that played a majority of their careers during the period? Really? I get that completely. From an appearances standpoint we have to draw the line somewhere and for many of the BBWAA and Veterans Committee they have already drawn that line.

Unfortunately, that ignores some really good players that somehow fell through the cracks. Some of that is natural. Who wouldn’t look human compared to Schmidt, Brett, Boggs, and Mathews? When we look at the offensive and fielding numbers we will see some things that stick out. They may make you think differently about some of these players.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Ron Cey 121 -15 .614 123 .356
Darrell Evans 119 -6 .621 120 .355
Sal Bando 119 11 .594 121 .346
Ken Boyer 116 13 .615 116 .355
Graig Nettles 110 -3 .551 111 .337
Buddy Bell 109 -17 .533 108 .335

You could throw a towel over these numbers and cover them all up. However, seeing Cey on top even by a small margin is probably a surprise. People have a split memory of him. Those that grew up in the 1980s remember a solid but unspectacular third baseman that played for the Cubs. Older fans remember a really good third baseman that played for the Dodgers. The rest are somewhere between pretty good and above average.

Offense is only part of the picture. Fielding holds the other key and with this grouping presents some numbers that will shock some. Memories fade and perceptions are often misguided. Some of these guys were surprisingly better fielders than we might have remembered. We will include Win Share Gold Gloves in the fielding data because it will serve as a direct comparison with the actual Gold Gloves. Bell won six of those and Boyer won five. The others won two or fewer. So reputations don’t always match up.

Fielding Numbers

Buddy Bell 174 23.8 168 83.3 2
Graig Nettles 140 21.4 136 90.6 7
Ken Boyer 73 10.7 71 64.2 7
Darrell Evans 37 0.2 5 65.6 3
Sal Bando 36 8.5 36 52.0 0
Ron Cey 19 6.6 21 60.2 0

Even win share Gold Gloves are a one-dimensional look at fielding. Coming in second or third still has a great deal of value. So, watching a Buddy Bell finish with just two really doesn’t even tell most of the story. How many great players were in the league at the same time? Nettles may have been better at his very best but how long was he at his peak? These are questions that Gold Glove awards (or single season honors) don’t answer. They do answer the question of how dominant the player may have been.

They can serve as a tie breaker when the vote gets really close. The implication is that Bell was a good player for a long time, but when you consider his offense and fielding in concert he may have never risen to the level of a great player. Naturally, the peak value index numbers indicate the same thing. That’s really what we are looking for here. We are looking for consistencies across various data points. When we find them, we are much more comfortable making a determination one way or another.

Ask anyone whether they would rather win a title or two or if they would rather be good, but not quite the best for five or six years and they would all answer the same way. The same goes with players individually. When a Bando plays well at the same time as a Gene Tenance, Reggie Jackson, and Bert Campaneris then you get three consecutive World Series titles. The same could be said for Boyer and the Cardinals of the 1960s. Right or wrong, these players were afforded the opportunity to contribute more to history and that is why they probably should get the nod (along with Nettles) over the other three. We could compare playoff numbers and if the conversation drags on we probably would, but we will leave it right there for the moment and move on to the next conversation.

What about: Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez is in a bit of a crunch. He has one more year left on the BBWAA ballot after getting 70.4 percent of the vote in his 9th year of eligibility. We could treat him like every other Hall of Fame candidate and project him through the index, but that would shortchange the argument that he is spearheading. In short, we can start with the obvious. Should someone that spends the majority of his career as a designated hitter get into the Hall of Fame?

Well, that begins by asking another basic question: is the DH a real position or is it a strategy that is legal in half of baseball? Well, seeing him here in the midst of our section of third basemen is a bit of a clue to the answer. However, to prove my point I will change the order in which I normally do this. Let’s start with the fielding numbers so I can illustrate an important point when it comes to Martinez.

  Rfield DWAR TZ3B DWS
Edgar Martinez 17 -9.0 17 12.7

So, what does this all mean? In short, it means that Martinez did not spend long in the field, but when he played he was generally above average. The stereotype of the DH is of the 250 pound body builder that couldn’t even be a rover in beer league softball. In this case, the Mariners could have employed Martinez as a third baseman very easily, but decided it was better for him to serve as the DH.

Martinez spent considerable time on the disabled list in his first few seasons. The Mariners decided they would get more out of Martinez if they used him as a DH. That’s a strategic decision. So, we will consider Martinez as a third baseman and compare him to the third base universe. The defensive WAR and defensive win shares clearly demonstrate a very important point that needs to be levied in all cases involving DHs. Martinez did not derive any benefit from DHing. In fact, he was hurt by it more than anything.

There are two ways to look at a lack of fielding numbers and WAR and win shares represent each point of view. On the one hand, you have the idea if one does not perform defensively then they should have zero defensive value. If you do nothing you get nothing. The makers of WAR compare every defender to the replacement level defender at the average position. So, typically first basemen, left fielders, and sometime right fielders end up finishing below zero in defensive WAR. Obviously, that means designated hitters are worse than that. So, even though Martinez was above average when he played third, he registers as below replacement because the majority of his career was not spent in the field. This is dreadfully important as it pertains to him and other DHs because some people will mark him down twice. The WAR numbers do it automatically and then analysts will do it again in their mind. I’ll demonstrate this as we move through the index.

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Edgar Martinez 68.4 65.5 61.8 195.7

Normally, eclipsing 190 wins would make you a pretty solid Hall of Fame choice, but Martinez is obviously a different case. Unfortunately, some analysts view this kind of score as borderline and therefore reserve all ties with DHs as a firm no. Judging by the vote last year (70.4 percent) that isn’t a lot of voters, but it is enough to cost Martinez. This is where I remind everyone that the metrics above already penalize him for not fielding. So, doing so again is the proverbial double whammy. To put it another way, all of the others put these numbers up by fielding and hitting. So, imagine how good a hitter Martinez must have been.

In an earlier article I reintroduced the concept of bases per out. Essentially, outs are the blood currency of the sport. Every team gets 27 of them and they have to do as much as they can with them as possible. As with every metric, it has its strengths and weaknesses. The key is never to overreach with any individual number. For instance, BPO has problems when you compare players from different eras. However, when we compare Martinez with the best third baseman from the BBWAA list we find something interesting. Also, I’ll throw in another comparison just for fun.

  Hits Walks TB HBP Outs BPO
Schmidt 2234 1507 4404 79 6490 .923
Mathews 2315 1444 4349 26 6478 .898
Boggs 3010 1412 4064 23 6556 .839
Brett 3154 1096 5044 33 7673 .805
Jones 2726 1512 4755 18 6657 .944
Martinez 2247 1283 3718 89 5273 .965

Bases per out is calculated by adding total bases, walks, and hit by pitches and dividing it by outs. So, why did I include hits? Well, there are those that use hits as a barometer of whether someone deserves to be a Hall of Famer. Of course, it would be foolish to say that hits are meaningless, but their ability to project proficiency offensively clearly is suspect. The two players with the least number of hits were among the top three in BPO.

It might surprise some to see Martinez on top of the list. Naturally, some would point that he and Chipper Jones played in a better offensive period than the others. That’s fair. It’s also fair to point out that the volume of numbers was not the same either. We can address one of those concerns directly when we directly compare Martinez with two Hall of Fame quality teammates. So, who would you want strolling to the plate with the game on the line?

  Hits Walks TB HBP Outs BPO
Rodriguez 3115 1338 5813 176 7915 .926
Griffey 2781 1312 5271 81 7398 .901
Martinez 2247 1283 3718 89 5273 .965

We could talk at length about ARod and whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. We will get there eventually. We could talk about how injuries derailed Griffey’s chances of being among the top five or ten players in the history of the game. This is all well and good, but the numbers above tell a very definite story. As great as those two were, you’d rather have Martinez at the plate everything else being equal. It is fair to point out their longevity in comparison to Martinez, but that is what peak value is for. Longevity and durability was the chink in Martinez’s armor. Let’s see how much it affected him.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Martinez 51.6 50.4 43.0 145.0

The peak value reveals what we would expect to you. When you don’t field it is hard to build up huge value, but the results are still promising. A five-win player is usually an all-star every season and when all of those five wins come offensively it means you are one hell of a hitter. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s compare Martinez to those same Hall of Famers with the numbers we have been using to compare players across eras.

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA+
Schmidt 147 -11 .727 147 .395
Mathews 143 1 .704 143 .389
Boggs 131 -8 .677 132 .381
Brett 135 34 .668 132 .374
Jones 141 3 .705 141 .397
Martinez 147 -18 .712 147 .405

You could make a very compelling argument that Martinez is the best hitter in the bunch. Naturally, you could make the same argument for Mike Schmidt as well. Chipper Jones and Eddie Mathews are the neighborhood as well. Jones was arguably worth as much defensively at third base as Martinez was with a bat in his hand. The others brought a little more to the table with the glove, so they are more valuable overall.

The fact remains though that those players were well above the index borderline territory. So, it is not a crime to say Martinez is a cut below overall. Still, he was that good as a hitter and it seems criminal to keep someone of that quality out of the Hall of Fame. I’m no fan of the DH, but keeping Martinez out of the Hall of Fame out of some puritanical objection to the DH seems extremely petty. I’ll leave you with the final index tally below.

Hall of Fame Index 

  Career Peak Total
Edgar Martinez 195.7 145.0 340.7

The 340 score puts him well within the Hall of Fame range. He isn’t an automatic choice, but we need to keep in mind that our sources have already penalized him for his lack of fielding record. So, a vote against him should be based on the relative brevity of his career and not a lack of fielding record.

Stan Hack vs. Pie Traynor

It’s easy just to get rolling into a discussion when you get into a rhythm, but one of the great things about having a web blog is that it allows you to respond to discussions in real time. The discussion on Facebook seemed unrelated, but someone posted about the fact that Chase Utley doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame because he didn’t have enough hits. Let’s let that marinate for a while before we move on. He didn’t have enough hits. It seems somehow backwards to boil down everything a player does to help their team win games into one arbitrary number.

After all, isn’t that why we are here? Aren’t we ultimately trying to figure out who did enough in all facets of the game combined to help their team win more games? I suppose one could make a decent argument that Utley doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame based on all of the numbers. Heck, you could even look at the more advanced ones and come to that conclusion. I certainly didn’t if you go back to the article about current second basemen. However, boiling it down to hits is beyond short-sighted. What if half of them were home runs? How many walks did he have? Have we even talked about fielding? These are all discussions that have little to do with the number of hits a guy gets.

Naturally, I don’t want to relitigate the Utley argument, but the discussion of hits (and it’s bastardized red-headed cousin known as batting average) that we will look at in this particular piece. We established that Pie Traynor did not belong in the Hall of Fame if we use the index. However, there are some historians that believe every era should be represented at every position. Unfortunately, that assumes that value is somehow evenly distributed at each spot in each era. However, from a historical sense there is some defense for this position. So, was Traynor the best third baseman from the Live Ball Era? Let’s consider a comparison with contemporary Stan Hack.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Pie Traynor 36.3 37.8 54.8 128.9
Stan Hack 52.6 55.8 63.2 171.6

Hack was clearly the best third basemen from the period according to the index. Was he good enough to deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? Well, that largely depends on where you stand on the historical argument. If we just look at the career value numbers we find that he comes up a little short when compared with the majority of the BBWAA bunch. He is considerably better than some of the Veterans Committee selections but basing a selection on that is problematic for any number of reasons.

Before we move to the peak value numbers we should take a look at the discussion we had before. Looking at some of the basic numbers will help us understand why the argument over whether someone had enough hits is complete bunk. In order to do this we will take a look at statistics we used in some of our early articles called bases per out. BPO has its problems but since we are talking about players from the same era we can compare them without worrying too much about the effects of time.

  Hits Walks TB HBP Outs BPO
Pie Traynor 2416 472 3289 31 5467 0.694
Stan Hack 2193 1092 2889 21 5278 0.758
Chase Utley 1883 721 3186 201 5137 0.800

For those that are unfamiliar with the metric, bases per out is calculated by adding total bases, walks, and hit by pitches and dividing it by the total number of outs the player had. I included Utley not to compare him directly with either player, but as a point of reference to the prior conversation. Yes, he has the least number of hits. I honestly could give a crap. He is the more valuable offensive player. Incidentally, it is only fair to point out the differences in eras and home ballparks, but even then you could still claim he was better offensively.

We are comparing Hack and Traynor directly. Traynor has more hits. Again, that’s worth about as much as good penmanship in stock car racing. If we add in the walks we see that Hack was on base more often and he had fewer outs. So, even though he had less power he was more valuable as an offensive performer. Before we take a look at the offensive and defensive numbers for the two we should clean up the index and look at peak value.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Pie Traynor 33.8 34.8 49.0 117.6
Stan Hack 40.2 42.9 47.0 130.1

Again, I’m not sure that Hack is a Hall of Famer. He does belong in the conversation though. The problem for him will ultimately be peak value. Remember, this represents the best ten season stretch of his career. A four win player is a borderline all-star, but may not rise to the level of a Hall of Famer. The trouble for Hack is that he had one facet of the game that was missing. He was by all accounts an average defender and he did not hit for much power. If he had brought one of those skills to the game he would have been a shoo in.

Traynor of course was missing the on base element as well. So, he never should have been considered, but he brought batting average and hits to the equation. We certainly love our batting average and judging by the conversation we certainly love our hits. The difference is that these numbers are certainly among those that describe greatness, but some of us make the mistake in believing that they define it. No single number defines greatness. We take a look at all of them and they all come together to paint a portrait of a player. Relying on any one single number means we’re painting stick figures.

Hall of Fame Index

  Career Peak Total
Pie Traynor 128.9 117.6 246.5
Stan Hack 171.6 130.1 301.7

It bears repeating. There are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a Hall of Fame career and what doesn’t. A 300 score certainly puts you in the conversation, but we are talking about gaps. We won’t know where Hack fits on the scale until we add in some of the other guys that are on the outside looking in. My gut tells me that Hack will remain on the outside looking in, but that is just one man’s opinion.

We continue on with the offensive and fielding numbers because the index should not be the last word on the subject. All numbers must have a context and the offensive and fielding numbers give them a context. Bases per out certainly are a part of that discussion, but without a comparison to the field they are more or less meaningless.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Pie Traynor 107 -1 .587 107 .366
Stan Hack 119 -9 .626 124 .375

We can see that Hack if a superior, but he isn’t necessarily that much superior to Traynor. The key is that he was able to get on base at a much more superior clip. Traynor hit .320 for his career while Hack hit .301. Again, I hate to say it doesn’t matter. Yes, I’d rather have a .320 hitter than not, but I’d rather have a guy that gets on base 40 percent of the time. When we compare Hack with the majority of the Hall of Famers at the position we see he falls a bit behind because of the lack of power. That more than anything explains the gap.

Traynor is more or less above average. There is nothing wrong with being above average. Most of us would love to have an above average third baseman on our team. Yet, some of us already have one. They aren’t particularly special when we look at the landscape of baseball or baseball history.

Fielding Numbers 

Pie Traynor -32 2.1 -28 77.3 3
Stan Hack 3 2.2 3 61.0 2

We use multiple sources because sources sometimes disagree. The differences are often based on what you are looking for. Win shares compares players with the replacement level performer and players can accrue value according to the number of plays they make. Baseball-reference and Fangraphs evaluate the quality of the plays made. So, they deemed Hack to be relatively average while they saw Traynor as below average.

Interestingly enough, we find that they are relatively equal when it comes to defensive value in DWAR. Defensive WAR is similar to win shares in that it looks at a player in comparison to the replacement level performer. Either way, there is not enough here to give either of them a huge benefit in the Hall of Fame discussion. So, ultimately they are both probably on the outside looking in if we were redoing the Hall of Fame.