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

  Rfield DWAR TZ3B DWS WS+DRS
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

  Rfield DWAR TZ3B DWS WSGG
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 

  Rfield DWAR TZ3B DWS WSGG
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.

What happens when the BBWAA makes a mistake?

It’s hard to figure, but what exactly do we do when the BBWAA makes a mistake? It doesn’t happen very often. After all, sometimes a player might be a borderline player as we saw with first basemen like Tony Perez and George Sisler. However, they could hardly be called mistakes when there are as many people that would support their candidacies as people that opposed their candidacies. In the case of third basemen we have one member of the BBWAA group that clearly doesn’t belong.

Obviously, he can’t be removed, so focusing on him is not really about him as much as it is about finding out why the mistake was made in the first place. The Veterans Committee regularly made decisions that were idiosyncratic in nature. Those decisions bordered on scandalous in some cases because some of the players selected were woefully unqualified. Yet, when it happened to the BBWAA it wasn’t nefarious in nature. It was simply built on faulty assumptions that we can hopefully learn from. The problem can be seen immediately when we look at the index.

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Mike Schmidt 106.8 106.5 93.6 306.9
Eddie Mathews 96.6 96.1 90.0 282.7
George Brett 88.7 84.6 86.4 259.7
Wade Boggs 91.4 86.3 78.8 256.5
Chipper Jones 85.2 84.8 83.2 253.2
Brooks Robinson 78.4 80.2 71.2 229.8
Paul Molitor 75.7 67.6 82.8 226.1
Pie Traynor 36.3 37.8 54.8 128.9

The index has always worked more like an SAT question than a hard and fast breakdown. We ask ourselves which of these does not belong. So, it isn’t so much that Pie Traynor scored under 200, 175, or even 150. It is the fact that he is so far removed from Paul Molitor that there really is no defense for putting him in the Hall of Fame. The index can tell you why he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, but it can’t tell why they BBWAA chose to vote for him in the first place. For that, we will need to look at the offensive and defensive numbers individually.

However, before we get there we should take a look at the peak value numbers. Who knows, maybe Traynor had a great ten-year peak and was horrible during the rest of the time. Perhaps the others were not nearly as good in their ten-year peak as they were throughout their entire careers. Yet, It is much more likely that we will see more of the same.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Mike Schmidt 79.2 78.6 66.4 224.2
Eddie Mathews 71.6 71.3 65.2 208.1
Wade Boggs 69.7 64.8 57.2 191.7
George Brett 63.3 60.3 54.0 177.6
Chipper Jones 66.2 55.3 51.8 173.3
Brooks Robinson 56.2 55.0 47.8 159.0
Paul Molitor 42.0 40.0 44.0 126.0
Pie Traynor 33.8 34.8 49.0 117.6

Half of the supposition was right. Traynor had almost the same peak value as career value. So, when we see the total index his score won’t come out looking that bad. His win shares were considerably higher than the WAR scores from both sources. We will get to that soon enough, but before we do we should take a look at the total index scores for all of these guys before moving on to the offensive and defensive numbers.

Hall of Fame Index

  Career Peak Total
Mike Schmidt 306.9 224.2 531.1
Eddie Mathews 282.7 208.1 490.8
Wade Boggs 256.6 191.7 448.2
George Brett 259.7 177.6 437.3
Chipper Jones 253.2 173.3 426.5
Brooks Robinson 229.8 159.0 388.8
Paul Molitor 226.1 126.0 352.1
Pie Traynor 128.9 117.6 246.5

When these scores are revealed it is always important to remind everyone that the index was never designed to rank the players in order. That being said, it seems rather obvious that Mike Schmidt was head and shoulders over everyone else on this list. Eddie Mathews is clearly in the second position based on the numbers. From there, you have three players that are pretty darn close. That will be four when Adrian Beltre retires. Robinson and Molitor are a shade behind, but over the usual mark for Hall of Famers.

Traynor just doesn’t fit and he is nowhere near the borderline zone either. In fact, if one considers only the two WAR scores then he comes out looking even worse. Still, 300 win shares is the normal mark for Hall of Famers and he falls well below that mark. So, how did this happen and how can we prevent it from happening in the future?

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser wRC+ OW% wOBA+
Mike Schmidt 147 -1 147 .727 .395
Eddie Mathews 143 1 143 .704 .389
Chipper Jones 141 3 141 .705 .397
George Brett 135 34 132 .668 .374
Wade Boggs 131 -8 132 .677 .381
Paul Molitor 122 78 122 .623 .361
Pie Traynor 107 -1 107 .523 .366
Brooks Robinson 104 2 104 .587 .322

At first glance, it would appear that Traynor is not as bad as his index score would make him out to be, but that also ignores why he was voted into the Hall of Fame in the first place. He had a career .320 batting average. Back in those days, there was a certain folk lore behind batting average. So, his election was a proverbial double whammy. On the one hand, you had a group of people that paid way too much attention to batting average. He was an excellent contact hitter, but he didn’t draw a ton of walks. So, his career OBP was a solid .362, but that isn’t a tremendous OBP in any era for a Hall of Fame hitter.

The second problem is the issue of time. We established very early on in this series, that time is one of the great biases of analysis. Traynor never led the league in batting average. So, even if we were going to go strictly by batting average then we would still conclude that he was not as dominant as the raw numbers would indicate. It is important to introduce another number. Secondary average calculates everything a hitter does beyond batting average. If we combine those two numbers we can get a different look at these eight players.

  AVG SEC AOV
Mike Schmidt .267 .450 .359
Eddie Mathews .271 .411 .341
Wade Boggs .328 .267 .297
George Brett .305 .299 .302
Chipper Jones .303 .406 .355
Paul Molitor .306 .277 .292
Pie Traynor .320 .193 .256
Brooks Robinson .267 .215 .241

In many ways, this is saying the same thing as those other numbers. However, secondary average makes it easy to see hidden value or someone that is overrated because secondary average can be interpreted the same way as batting average. Again, Brooks Robinson comes out looking weaker offensively, but we haven’t seen the fielding numbers yet. As we know, Robinson has the most Gold Gloves of any position player outside the mound. So, let’s see how Traynor fared in comparison.

Fielding Numbers 

  Rfield DWAR TZ3B DWS TZ WS
Brooks Robinson 293 39.1 294 106.2 8 6
Mike Schmidt 127 18.4 130 85.9 6 5
Wade Boggs 104 13.9 96 72.6 1 3
George Brett 47 2.2 54 54.1 1 1
Eddie Mathews 33 5.6 32 57.3 2 0
Paul Molitor 8 -6.9 8 39.9 0 0
Chipper Jones -24 -0.9 -29 47.6 0 0
Pie Traynor -32 2.1 -28 77.3 3

As we can see, the various sources were divided on Traynor as a defender. Win shares seems to love him giving him more Gold Gloves than all but Robinson and Schmidt and giving him more career win shares than all but the same. Granted, some of those guys played multiple positions, but we tried to mitigate that as much as possible. However, even if we accept win shares by itself, Robinson is in a whole different league than any of these guys.

So, we can excuse his pedestrian offensive numbers in that light. When we add in baseball reference and fangraphs numbers it is just simply unfathomable as to how we he could get into the Hall of Fame. He was not a special hitter or a special fielder. He did not enjoy a particularly long career. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The Adventures of Sweet Lou Whitaker

A lot of science goes into choosing Hall of Famers. Most of the voters in the BBWAA are very thoughtful about their ballot and most of them are on the money with their selections. However, no one can deny that there is a certain amount of serendipity involved in the selection process. If we look at second base for instance we have to ask ourselves if Bill Mazeroski would have been selected by the Veterans Committee if he had not hit the walk off home run that won the 1960 World Series.

Most of the players in the Hall of Fame have some kind of magical moment or a calling card they are known for. The irony is that the rules discourage voters for placing a vote on the basis of a single accomplishment. For instance, pitcher Rube Marquard won the most consecutive games without a loss and had a Broadway play based on the accomplishment. The fame went a long way in getting him inducted to the Hall of Fame. The rest of his career lacked the punch necessary to get him in. The Veterans Committee overlooked that.

This brings us to Lou Whitaker. His teammate, Alan Trammel, just got in through the new version of the Veterans Committee. He and Whitaker were similar in that they did not have many signature moments. The Tigers were good throughout the 1980s, but they were rarely ever great. When they were great that greatness was usually attributed to someone else.

1981: 60-49 (2nd)

1982: 83-79

1983: 92-70 (2nd)

1984: 104-58 (World Champions)

1985: 84-77

1986: 87-75

1987: 98-64 (Lost in ALCS)

Had they done this in the 1990s or the 2000s they likely would have had four playoff appearances. The Tigers had quite a bit of talent in 1984. Jack Morris and Trammel are in the Hall of Fame this season and players like Lance Parrish, Darrell Evans, and Kirk Gibson have been sniffing around it. Willie Hernandez was the MVP in the AL that season as a closer. The makeup of the team remain unchanged throughout the period for the most part, but a little here and a little there can make a big difference.

For all of their grandstanding, some in the BBWAA just don’t look beyond the glitz and glamour and simply soak in the numbers. Whitaker doesn’t have a nickname or a signature moment to hang his hat on. He was never the best player in the league and never led in a traditional statistical category. That obviously isn’t going to change, so maybe we need to look into getting him a nickname. First, let’s take a look at the index scores for him and Willie Randolph.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Lou Whitaker 75.1 68.1 70.2 213.4
Willie Randolph 65.9 62.1 62.4 190.4

At first blush, both of these guys belong in, but there is really no excuse for Whitaker to be out. Randolph admittedly takes a little more imagination because much of his value (as we will see) is with the glove. However, Whitaker’s career numbers in the traditional categories are just as impressive as his numbers above. Usually those are well hidden, but they aren’t in Whitaker’s case

Hits: 2369

HR: 244

Runs: 1386

RBI: 1084

SB: 143

BB: 1197

2B: 420

3B: 65

None of those numbers are overwhelming, but they are strong numbers. Additionally, he was the Rookie of the Year in 1978, he won four Gold Glove Awards, and three Silver Slugger awards. None of those things mean anything, but they do demonstrate that he was well regarded by the writers when he played. He bested Randolph in every category and won more Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards than Randolph as well. As we will see, that reputation was not deserved.

Peak Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Lou Whitaker 48.4 45.9 45.6 139.9
Willie Randolph 43.1 40.1 44.2 127.4

Here we see a little glimpse into why both of these players are on the outside looking in. Both were good players for a very long time, but neither was great. Bill James called this the black ink test. How many times does a player lead the league in a statistical category? Neither player littered the encyclopedia with black ink. They were simply good players throughout their career. Whitaker did not quite approach Bobby Grich’s index score, but he comes pretty darn close. He is also superior to a player or two that is already in the Hall of Fame.

It’s been said often, but it bears repeating: players that are good with the bat and the glove often get overlooked in favor of someone that is great in one facet or the other. Sadly, if someone is not the best at something they get overlooked. Their value is overlooked. People focus on superlatives and deplorables. Watch any good team long enough and you’ll realize that average players have value. Often, those players are the difference makers. Replace a below average or bad player with an average one and you’ll see more improvement then going average to above average or good to very good.

Hall of Fame Index

  Career Peak Total
Lou Whitaker 213.4 139.9 353.3
Willie Randolph 190.4 127.4 317.8

Whitaker is clearly a Hall of Famer. There really is no excuse for him not being in. Randolph exists in what we might call the borderline zone. It largely depends on your personal philosophy on what the Hall of Fame should be about. He and Jeff Kent have similar Hall of Fame cases. Randolph was a superlative defender while Kent was the better hitter. If you think the Hall of Fame is a museum that should celebrate the history of the game then both should be in. If you think it is a place for only the very best then neither should be in. Either way, we should table this until we look at the offensive and defensive numbers.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Whitaker 117 32 .594 118 .353
Randolph 104 41 .537 110 .335

No one really disputes the fact that Whitaker was the better hitter, but offensive winning percentage might really tell the tale better than the other categories. A team of Whitakers would win 96 games a year and that is assuming he is stone cold average with the glove. Randolph would win 87 games. Obviously, that’s not great, but when we consider the whole package it might come off looking a little better.

We have to keep in mind that these numbers are a comparison with the whole MLB universe. Your second basemen is usually not expected to be one of your better hitters. So, when you have someone that is above average that actually means they are usually better when compared to the average second basemen. This will come out better when we look at the fielding numbers.

Fielding Numbers

  Rfield DWAR TZ DWS WS/1000
Whitaker 77 16.3 77 87.2 4.57
Randolph 114 20.2 114 97.4 5.23

Whitaker was a good fielder by every available metric. Randolph was a great one. It is unfortunate that he never got credit for that defense while he played. We could go into depth about how the Gold Glove awards are selected, but suffice it to say, it is a less than scientific process. That might be costing Randolph with the traditional crowd who don’t look too deeply into a player’s resume. Both players demonstrated they were at least above average with the bat, on the bases, and with the glove. That combination should be enough for them to get in.

Randolph is borderline, so anyone that says no on him can be forgiven for having an opposing point of view. Whitaker simply doesn’t make sense. No, he did not lead the league in any statistical category. He never won an MVP (or have a top five finish). He had no signature seasons. He didn’t win a huge playoff game with a game winning hit. He doesn’t even have a nickname. Well, that changes today. From here on out he will be Sweet Lou Whitaker. I have no idea if that nickname fits his personality or how he was viewed by his teammates. It doesn’t matter. Hopefully, it is enough to get him in.

Modern Second Basemen

The history of baseball is a cyclical one. At certain points certain positions have more Hall of Fame players than others. With the exception of third basemen (which we will get to later) each position has roughly the same number of BBWAA elected Hall of Famers. So, it is unique to see this many modern candidates for the honor, but there are four very qualified Hall of Fame candidates and another I’m throwing in to indulge myself.

We have seen that 300 is the normal benchmark for Hall of Fame fitness in terms of an index score. A 300 score does not and should not guarantee enshrinement, but it should guarantee a conversation and that is what we are giving these guys. With the exception of Chase Utley, all of them have at least a few seasons left to add to their resume. However, all of them are closer to the end than they are to the beginning. Let’s start with career value.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Robinson Cano 67.6 54.6 65.4 187.6
Chase Utley 65.5 63.1 58.2 186.8
Ian Kinsler 56.2 46.2 47.6 150.0
Dustin Pedroia 52.1 46.8 47.6 148.1
Ben Zobrist 44.1 42.4 42.4 128.9

There is an easy place to start here, but a more interesting place to start is Ian Kinsler. Baseball is an interesting game. The Angels have three Hall of Famers on their roster if you count Kinsler. That doesn’t even count the likes of Justin Upton or Andrelton Simmons. Still, they are mired in fourth place in the AL West. This is because only half of those players are performing like Hall of Famers. It’s always about timing.

The 64,000 pound elephant in the room is Cano and his drug suspension. Where does this put him in the Hall of Fame conversation? This always depends on your take on the conversation. For some, PED use is an automatic disqualifier. This is the moralistic group that objects on the grounds that it is an unforgiveable sin against baseball. Then there is a second group. They are more inclined to be pragmatic. They look at the circumstances of the suspension and use. Did his use impact his numbers in a significant way or did he use to recover from injury? He has said he used to come back from injury and his numbers have never been out of whack, so it is hard to pinpoint a point when he started using.

The third group doesn’t particularly care about use. They are more apt to think of the history of cheating from greenies to scuffed balls to corked bats. The question comes down to how many people used in this current generation. If we can assume that as much as half have used (as some former players have asserted) then we have to compare players with their contemporaries. I usually place myself in the second group. I’m a pragmatist which means I take every case on its own merits. If he continues to produce as he always has then he might prove his explanation for the use.

So, the only definite Hall of Famer in the group might be Utley. Then again, nothing is definite. Utley is where he is largely for the same reason as Bobby Grich. He was a very good hitter and a very good defender during his prime. He arguably was never great at either facet of the game, but the individual offensive and defensive numbers later on.

Peak Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Chase Utley 59.6 57.9 48.8 166.3
Robinson Cano 58.5 47.3 53.6 159.4
Dustin Pedroia 51.5 46.0 45.8 143.3
Ian Kinsler 50.9 41.6 41.8 134.3
Ben Zobrist 44.9 42.8 40.2 127.9

Pedroia is a natural addition even though he isn’t that close to 300 yet. He has an MVP to his credit and he has played a prominent role on one of the better teams of the 21st century. Ben Zobrist is not as obvious. He is what most people would consider to be a man crush. He is essentially Bobby Grich on steroids. Not only does he contribute a lot of value both offensively and defensively, but he has done so at six different positions throughout his career.

Intellectually, I know he probably will not accrue enough value before he retires. There are lots of good players that will never get into the Hall of Fame and never should. Some people like guys like Gil Hodges while I like guys like Zobrist. However, we will keep running through this exercise in case we miss something. Before we get to the offensive and defensive numbers in isolation let’s take a look at the total Hall of Fame Index.

Hall of Fame Index

  Career Peak Total
Chase Utley 186.8 166.3 353.1
Robinson Cano 187.6 159.4 347.0
Dustin Pedroia 148.1 143.3 291.4
Ian Kinsler 150.0 134.3 284.3
Ben Zobrist 128.9 127.9 256.8

The index is nothing but a guide. We can surmise that Pedroia and Kinsler will reach 300 before they hang it up. So, we could assert that the conversation is a four way conversation. However, I just don’t feel comfortable eliminating Zobrist from consideration. I feel like we are missing something. The first place we should start is at the MVP voting for Zobrist. So, we will look at his finishes in the voting as compared to his finishes in bWAR.

  MVP bWAR Finish
2009 8 8.6 1
2010 * 4.6 *
2011 16 7.6 5
2012 18 5.8 6
2013 * 5.1 *
2014 * 5.0 *
2015 * 1.9 *
2016 * 3.7 *

So, according to this, Zobrist should have been the MVP in 2009 and should have one top five finish and another top ten finish. Baseball-reference does not keep track of anything outside of the top ten in terms of single season WAR, so it is highly likely that he finished in the top 20 in three other seasons. That certainly would change the way he is perceived by the BBWAA when he is done. You could claim that he is about as misunderstood as any player in the history of the game.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ OW% wRC+ wOBA Rbaser
Chase Utley 117 .637 119 .357 45
Robinson Cano 126 .605 126 .362 -6
Dustin Pedroia 113 .598 116 .353 7
Ian Kinsler 109 .557 109 .342 40
Ben Zobrist 114 .575 116 .343 9

So, Cano is a cut above offensively, but when you look at the basic numbers that is not all that surprising. The rest is pretty close with Kinsler being a cut below the rest. Of course, we don’t know how this all plays in until we look at the fielding numbers as well. We know based on reputation that Utley and Kinsler are good, but there is no way to tell which one is better looking strictly at Gold Glove awards. Neither won nearly as many as they should have. We will get to the fielding data in a minute.

The interesting inclusion here is the base running information. Both Kinsler and Utley were plus base runners in addition to being plus hitters. That’s the way guys like them become Hall of Famers. They are good at every facet of the game and then you look up and they are very good players. It’s the kind of effect that some traditionalists overlook when they are asking whether someone should be in the Hall of Fame or not.

Fielding Numbers

  Rfield DWAR UZR DWS DRS
Chase Utley 141 18.3 94.7 69.3 143
Robinson Cano 29 9.4 -24.3 98.5 31
Dustin Pedroia 99 15.5 96.6 65.9 97
Ian Kinsler 115 17.7 35.7 61.1 116
Ben Zobrist 38 7.4 57.8 50.6 58

Defensive numbers are not linear. We cannot combine them into one number and give us one outcome. Win shares, total zone runs, and defensive runs saved all work differently. This doesn’t even mention defensive WAR. What we do is look at the order of the data to see if we see any patterns. Utley and Kinsler rank one and two in most of the categories.

Cano and Pedroia rank high in some categories as well. This leaves Zobrist on the outside looking in in virtually all of the categories. However, the fact that he played six different positions with some regularity, so it’s hard to treat him the same way as the others. However, since DRS keeps records since 2005, let’s take a look at Utley and Kinsler to see how many Gold Gloves they should have won.

  Kinsler Rank Utley Rank
2003 N/A 1 N/A
2004 N/A 7 N/A
2005 N/A 20 3
2006 -3 22 18 2
2007 4 11 18 3
2008 -9 30 30 1
2009 22 1 12 6
2010 8 5 17 2
2011 17 2 7 7
2012 1 20 9 8
2013 11 4 -4 26
2014 20 1 3 12
2015 19 1 -1 20
2016 12 1 -3 24
2017 6 3 1 16

Billjamesonline.com does not break down fielders by league, so when we see these guys finish in the top three at the position we can assume that they would have been good enough to win the Gold Glove. So, if we go by that standard then Kinsler would have won six Gold Gloves while Utley would have won five Gold Gloves. Kinsler has two other top five finishes while Utley has a few top ten finishes on top of those Gold Gloves.

The idea here is that good still has value here. When you are good in all facets of the game then you are great. That is something all five of these players can claim. Cano might be the only elite performer in any facet but all of them are at least above average in every facet. So, when it is all said and done you could have at least four Hall of Famers from this era.

The Ballad of Bobby Grich

Bobby Grich is the Rosetta Stone between the old baseball world and the new age baseball world. If you’ve read my baseball writing before you’ve probably heard me talk about this issue before. The standard response from the old baseball world is that they know a great player when they see one. I give you Bobby Grich. Grich is a mostly forgotten man in traditional baseball circles, but for stat heads he is the Holy Grail.

The irony of the debate is easy to see. Traditionalists love to say that they know great players when they see them. I would argue that we all do, but let’s leave that aside for a moment. Invariably, those on the traditional side will use numbers to their defense. In these cases we use the traditional counting numbers instead of the new numbers. We don’t need to the new numbers to tell us who was great. That’s just a crutch.

Of course, really smart people have reservations about some of these metrics. Those reservations are based on well thought out objections to the math involved. This diatribe is really not aimed at them. We should always check ourselves and our assumptions so we grow in our analysis. There are far too many people that dismiss all of this out of hand. So, let’s take a look at Grich’s career and see why these two groups see him differently. Then, maybe we can decide who is right after all.

This isn’t to say the traditionalists are completely unsystematic. They have a few things they look at in addition to brute, raw numbers. The first test they often take is the black ink test. This is simply the number of times a player led the league in a statistical category. He led the league in home runs and slugging percentage in 1981 and played in every game in 1973. That was it. The second test was basic awards voting like Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, and all-star game. Grich played in six all-star games, won four Gold Gloves, and a silver slugger award.

There are no hard and fast rules on either test, but those results usually mean you’ve ended up short. Most voters look for players that play in around ten all-star games. He had a good fielding reputation based on the Gold Gloves, but the voters usually like more. Obviously, winning only one silver slugger is not all that impressive comparatively.

The third and final test was where a player finished in the awards voting. Grich finished with two top ten finishes in the MVP voting. He finished in the top 20 three other times. Usually a player that finishes no higher than eighth has no business being in the Hall of Fame. Yet, this is where traditional wisdom and the new methodology differs. He finished in the top ten four times in bWAR including 2nd in 1973 and 5th in 1981. Two top five finishes to go with those two top ten finishes would have made him look considerably better. Ironically enough, he had only two seasons where he was the best fielding second basemen according to total zone runs. He did finish in the top ten four other times.

The long and short of it is that Grich looks better when you start comparing him with the replacement level or average player. Grich was at the very least above average offensively and defensively simultaneously. Sometimes it is easy to overlook the combination effect of being better than average or merely good at every facet of the game. The pundits saw an above average player, but the numbers reveal a very good player. So, let’s take a look at how he fared in the index.

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Bobby Grich 71.1 69.1 65.8 206.0

If this is the first article you are reading on this site then the numbers above are meaningless to you. All statistics must have a context. The best thing we can do is look at his contemporaries and see how they fared. Grich played in both the 1970s and 1980s, but he was considerably better in the 1970s. If we take a look at their index scores we might see what the above numbers mean.

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Willie Randolph 65.9 62.1 62.4 190.4
Lou Whitaker 75.1 68.1 70.2 213.4
Davey Lopes 42.4 41.8 48.0 132.2
Phil Garner 29.7 28.2 39.0 96.9
Frank White 34.8 31.1 42.2 108.1
Tom Herr 23.5 22.9 34.0 80.4
Steve Sax 25.7 22.6 39.6 87.9

We will cover the Hall of Fame cases for Randolph and Whitaker in a subsequent article. However, the other guys were all fair country ballplayers and they were all significantly worse than Grich in the index. How does this happen? Well, that can only be explained by looking at some other numbers. We will get to those in a minute. That being said, we should talk a little about how these numbers should be interpreted.

It would be fair to point out that we did not include anyone currently in the Hall of Fame that played in the same period (Morgan, Sandberg, Carew). There were a few other players we could have included that we did not. The entire idea around the index is not to completely rank players with that information alone. Whitaker may be better than Grich or he might not. The same is true of Randolph. That’s not really the point. The point is that they are similar. The others are not. So, they are not in the same league as those guys. Now, we will look at some offensive numbers to determine why.

  OPS+ Rbaser SEC OW% wRC+ wOBA
Grich 125 4 .318 .609 129 .361
Lopes 107 83 .326 .573 111 .336
Garner 99 5 .240 .497 99 .317
White 85 1 .192 .414 84 .301
Herr 95 7 .219 .522 98 .317
Sax 95 23 .195 .486 97 .313

We could conceivably stop with OPS+ because most people understand that and we already see separation. However, that would ignore some other compelling numbers. We’ve used offensive winning percentage before and it bears repeating for those that have seen it before. We assume all nine hitters in the lineup produce exactly like the hitter in question. Grich and Lopes are both above average, but a majority of Lopes’ added production came with his legs. Both secondary average (SEC) and wOBA demonstrate the same thing. Too many people focus on batting average. Grich wasn’t special in that deparment, but he combined a good batting eye and some surprise power to produce good numbers in those categories. Lopes used speed to produce a good secondary average. The rest of the players fall further behind in all of the categories.

Remember, we are excluding Morgen, Randolph, Whitaker, and Sandberg. So, it might seem like we are stacking the deck in Grich’s favor, but we are also excluding a ton of guys that just didn’t last and never put up huge numbers. The point here is that Grich might not be called a brilliant hitter, but he was a good one and certainly a good one for a second baseman. Others were better (notably Morgan) and some were as good (Whitaker, Lopes) but the value comes in being better than most. So, now we should compare Grich to that same group defensively.

  Rfield DWAR TZ WS WS/1000
Grich 82 16.8 83 85.8 5.68
Lopes -27 1.7 -32 49.1 4.12
White 121 21.9 121 99.7 5.58
Garner 13 7.0 15 62.1 4.11
Herr -14 3.9 -13 51.8 4.36
Sax -61 -0.9 -61 54.4 3.71

So, again we see that Grich is not the best of the bunch. Frank White was a perennial Gold Glove performer, so it is no surprise that he should come out looking so good here, but it is a lot closer than people think. In many instances, we dismiss a fielder if he doesn’t win a ton of Gold Gloves. An above average fielder has value. Someone consistently above average has more value than you might think.

Yet, here is where the rubber meets the road and this is where traditionalists sometimes miss the mark. When we expand the second base list to include the likes of Joe Morgan, Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph, Ryne Sandberg and even a guy like Steve Sax we find individual skills that some did better than Grich. There were players that hit for better average. There were players that ran the bases better. There were players that hit for more power. There were some that had more patience. Obviously, White and Randolph were superior fielders. There weren’t many that did it all as well as Grich. So, those that focus on individual categories miss the point.

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Bobby Grich 55.4 52.8 47.8 156.0

The numbers above represent Grich’s peak value. This is arguably where Grich shines. The biggest problem for the traditionalists is that he simply didn’t play long enough. It took some time for him to break into Earl Weaver’s lineup and the two sometimes did not get along. This gets us to a philosophical question. Should a player be penalized when those in charge of playing him didn’t fully understand his value? Weaver was a great manager, but sometimes even great managers make mistakes.

When he was at his best, Grich was more valuable than both Lou Whitaker and Willie Randolph. In fact, he was superior to Roberto Alomar from the previous article. So, he arguably has the best case for anyone on the outside looking in to get into the Hall of Fame. That might be for every position when things like PEDs are thrown into the conversation. Unfortunately, his name hardly ever gets mentioned outside of these circles. It’s really too bad.

  Career Peak Total
Bobby Grich 206.0 156.0 362.0

The index was never designed to be used to rank players. Grich’s final index score puts him squarely in the neighborhood of Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Lou Whitaker, and Craig Biggio. Some have higher scores and some have lower scores but they are all fairly close. Grich belongs in that conversation. Where that conversation goes depends on who you are with at the sports bar, but he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

WAR (What is it good for?)

Occasionally, you see something or get involved In a discussion that changes your thinking. I started this site because it allows me to react to these things in real time. So, today we are taking a step back from the index briefly so we can address a debate that has been raging on the internet. Essentially, there has been a backlash against WAR. It has been going on for a lot longer than I’ve been making out, and I won’t be avoiding WAR for too long, but since I have the platform I’ll try to put my own spin on the subject.

Last time, we introduced total runs as an alternative number to use. It has its advantages. First, it’s easy to understand because the components are right there in front of you. With the components being there you can also manipulate them. We certainly will do that. Second, it accounts for longevity. That’s one of the hallmarks of the Hall of Fame. The longer you play the more likely you are to get in. Of course, there are some that debate the merits of longevity as it compares with quality. One compares players that compile numbers and others compare players with the average.

WAR and win shares attempts to marry the two by comparing players with a replacement level player. So, one can accrue value over time by being average or even below average. That becomes important when looking at a total runs metric. We will look at the findings for those in the Hall of Fame at second base along with four players that some people think definitely should be in the Hall of Fame. As promised, there will be no WAR today, but there will be two iterations of total runs. The first combines runs created, Rfield, and Rbaser. That’s a direct reenactment of the formula seen on billjamesonline.com

RC Rfield Rbaser Total
Rogers Hornsby 2045 54 -9 2080
Eddie Collins 1811 35 40 1886
Joe Morgan 1804 -48 80 1836
Craig Biggio 1832 -100 54 1786
Nap Lajoie 1690 83 -11 1762
Charlie Gehringer 1715 34 9 1758
Rod Carew 1595 14 26 1635
Frankie Frisch 1460 140 28 1628
Roberto Alomar 1575 -36 54 1593
Lou Whitaker 1395 77 32 1504
Jeff Kent 1497 -42 1 1456
Ryne Sandberg 1342 60 33 1435
Willie Randolph 1138 114 41 1293
Bobby Grich 1127 82 4 1213
Jackie Robinson 951 81 30 1062

Depending on your familiarity with these numbers, some of you are either soaking it in or yelling at the computer screen. First, I should mention that I don’t think Bill ever intended for his total runs metric to be used this way. His are always shown through the eyes of a single season. There is an important reason for that and it has to be mentioned before we move forward. Runs created are not normalized throughout history. Simply put, 100 runs created in 1968 is far different comparatively to 100 runs created in 1998. So, comparing a player like say Ryne Sandberg to Jeff Kent or Rogers Hornsby is nearly impossible using runs created.

This becomes problematic when trying to reach any conclusions from this particular formula. Looking at runs created ignores the quality in which these runs were created. In other words, while a Craig Biggio was second all-time at the position in runs created, we cannot assume he was the second-best hitter at the position. He produced the second most runs partially because he spent most of his career in a great hitter’s era and also because he played for a really long time. So, some would question his placement in the fourth spot in history and rightfully so.

When one considers WAR they would consider that at a certain point, Biggio was no longer providing value. Yes, he was creating runs, but if the Astros put someone like Chris Burke in his spot they might have gotten a better rate of runs created, baserunning runs, and fielding runs. So, in a table like above, Biggio was continuing to add value. In reality, he wasn’t. That’s where statistics like win shares or WAR are more descriptive than numbers like above.

Of course, we can make adjustments above by replacing runs created with baseball-reference’s Rbat statistic. It is the number of runs created above average. This does a number of things for us. First, it brings more fidelity because Rbat, Rfield, and Rbaser are all compared to the average player. Secondly, it helps solve the problem of different eras because each player is compared with the average player from that era. Finally, it doesn’t reward longevity nearly as much. You only get extra credit if you are actually good. It is interesting to see how the rankings with the same players differs when switching methodologies.

Rbat Rfield Rbaser Total
Rogers Hornsby 861 54 -9 906
Eddie Collins 629 35 40 704
Nap Lajoie 576 83 -11 648
Joe Morgan 450 -48 80 482
Rod Carew 407 14 26 447
Charlie Gehringer 379 34 9 422
Jackie Robinson 261 81 30 372
Bobby Grich 256 82 4 342
Frankie Frisch 159 140 28 327
Lou Whitaker 209 77 32 318
Ryne Sandberg 192 60 33 285
Willie Randolph 120 114 41 275
Roberto Alomar 242 -36 54 260
Jeff Kent 297 -42 1 256
Craig Biggio 257 -100 54 211

One of the joys of living with a scientist is that I get to see this kind of work poked fun at because of all of the rules we break. Most baseball statisticians are guilty of something called confirmation bias. It is defined as the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs. James himself demonstrated this when he asserted that any metric that did not have Ruth on top was inherently inaccurate. That may or may not be true, but it obviously doesn’t rigorously follow the scientific method.

I say that to point out that the above list probably matches most people’s beliefs about second basemen closer than the first one. That would tend to get most to say that the above method is more accurate. The problem is that average performers have value. According to the above chart they don’t. So, there is an inherent problem here. The first chart asserts that everyone has value. The second says you have to be above average to have value. What we need is something that marries the two.

This is where metrics like WAR and win shares come in. Craig Biggio is not the worst player in the group and he isn’t the fourth best player in the group. He is likely somewhere in between. The same is true of a player like Bobby Grich in reverse. Some credit has to be given for longevity, but we have to be careful about how much. If we learn anything it is that one set of numbers (no matter how carefully compiled) can tell us the whole story. That includes WAR.

What about: Jeff Kent

The nature of the what about series developed when we consider players that the public clamors for, but really aren’t quite Hall of Fame worthy. There are few second basemen that fit that description. The players that are passionately argued for are tend to actually belong in the Hall of Fame, so we move onto the borderline candidates. The one that seems to get the most attention is Jeff Kent.

That makes sense because up until Robinson Cano, Kent was the all-time leader for home runs as a second baseman. Obviously, leading in one of the major categories is compelling, but the key is whether he is a good enough all-around player. There are two reasons why players aren’t elected to the Hall of Fame. Either the BBWAA doesn’t think they were good enough or they simply didn’t like him. Either one could be true of Kent.

Kent and Barry Bonds were the two star players in San Francisco. It was said that Kent was the only player that could get 23 guys to unite behind Bonds. Since Bonds was notoriously prickly, that gives you an indication of how disliked Kent was. When he came to Houston, he reportedly told Jeff Bagwell that his goal was to leave baseball without any friends. Bagwell said, “so far, so good.” All of this is to say that Kent is a very unlikable guy by all accounts. So, maybe that spilled over to the Hall of Fame voting.

We start with the index and move on from there. The index doesn’t definitively tell us anything, but it does help eliminate players that obviously should not be considered. From there, we can take a look at the offensive and fielding numbers individually to see if we are missing anything the basic information is not providing.

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Jeff Kent 55.4 56.1 64.8 176.3

The career value doesn’t necessarily reveal whether he is worthy candidate one way or another. 300 tends to be the minimum score for Hall of Fame fitness. Obviously, we don’t know the peak value score, but the career value scores show he was good, but something is missing. We can’t know what that is until we break down the offensive and defensive numbers. Like with Craig Biggio in the last article, he had a significant advantage in win shares because of the consistent competitive nature of the teams he played on. Given that fact, we should probably look at the postseason numbers too.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Jeff Kent 42.8 43.8 47.0 133.6

There is nothing wrong with being a four win player, but when that is where you are when you are at your peak then there is something missing. If we add the career and peak value together we get 309.9 wins. That squarely puts Kent in the borderline category. As my fellow teachers tend to say, attitude can be the difference between and A and a B (or worse). It also means we need to start looking for tiebreakers. So, we start with the postseason and move on from there.

  PA AVG OBP SLG HR Runs RBI
Kent 189 .276 .340 .500 9 25 23

According to the postseason numbers, he was roughly the same hitter he was during the regular season. At first blush this would seem to give him no more of an advantage as if he had done nothing. However, if we assume that you are playing superior competition then your numbers should be worse theoretically. So, give a bit of a bonus point to Kent. His OPS was higher in the World Series than at any individual level of the playoffs. So, he got better as the chips were down.

WAR and win shares have their detractors and the Hall of Fame is way too important to boil down to just those metrics. Kent’s index scores get him in the ballpark and his postseason record is a credit as well. Based on those numbers alone he has an excellent argument but we should compare him to the bottom of the second base BBWAA group. First, we will look at their offensive numbers and then their defensive numbers. Finally, we will introduce a new metric that might shed some light on the issue.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Craig Biggio 112 54 .597 115 .352
Ryne Sandberg 114 33 .620 115 .351
Roberto Alomar 116 54 .600 118 .359
Jeff Kent 123 1 .604 123 .367

These numbers are very revealing. Overall, these players are fairly similar even though Kent has a superior OPS+. As we can see, the baserunning numbers are definitely off kilter. Often times it is the little things that makes a big difference. However, based on these numbers alone Kent definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame. Of course, the index scores say something else, so we should look at the fielding numbers to see what is going on.

Fielding Numbers 

  Rfield DWAR TZ DWS
Craig Biggio -100 -2.9 -33 86.0
Ryne Sandberg 60 13.5 60 89.0
Roberto Alomar -38 3.3 -3 95.5
Jeff Kent -42 -0.1 9 71.8

The defensive win shares tell a tale here. The tale they tell is that Kent did not enjoy the same length of a career as the others. In terms of quality he rates somewhere between Alomar and Biggio. In terms of reputation he was nowhere near any of those guys. He probably deserves better than what he has gotten. To give the perspective of time in addition to quality we can use a modified version of Bill James’ total runs. It includes most of the elements of WAR and win shares, but it is broken down and transparent. It includes runs created for the offensive element, Rfield for the fielding, and Rbaser for baserunning.

  RC Rfield Rbaser Total Runs
Craig Biggio 1832 -100 54 1786
Ryne Sandberg 1342 60 33 1435
Roberto Alomar 1575 -38 54 1591
Jeff Kent 1497 -42 1 1456

This is certainly interesting. These numbers put Kent somewhere in the neighborhood of Sandberg. Of course, the problem is that a run created in 2000 was not worth the same as a run created in 1985. So, maybe we should take these results with a grain of salt. Still, the results are what they are. He is in the neighborhood according to the index and he is in the neighborhood on the offensive numbers and he is in the neighborhood here.

He and Sandberg are similar in that they did not enjoy lengthy careers. You could say they are roughly equal offensively when all things are considered. Sandberg was obviously superior defensively. For some that is the difference. For others Kent is thrust over the threshold when you consider his postseason numbers. My personal take will probably change every time you ask me.