Saturday, October 22, 2005

Current players Pt. 4

Gary Sheffield
Sheffield's personality is such to keep people from admitting he's a Hall-of-Famer. He's also played several different positions with several different teams, so it's hard to get a clear picture of him. But he's one of the 10 best hitters of the 90's and probably ranks even higher than that.
Tony Gwynn
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
Gwynn shouldn't have any trouble getting into Cooperstown. Nor should he.
Manny Ramirez
Manny's a Hall-of-Famer. I know I called Edgar Martinez the best right-handed hitter of the 90's, but Manny just might have something to say about that. Manny's not just a good hitter; he's an excellent hitter, and has been for quite some time. For some reason, his attitude hasn't kept people from still liking him, at least generally. I'd be interested to find out why.
Sammy Sosa
Well, Sosa certainly isn't a sure thing anymore. His career may come to a crashing halt sooner than we anticipated. Sammy turns 37 in November, and his last two seasons have been injury-plagued. And this season is the worst season by far that he's had since he left the White Sox. Do I think he belongs in the Hall? That's a tough question. Sosa is not the all-around ballplayer most people think he is. I think his numbers should get him in, but barely. And that's if he can contribute some more before he retires. Then there's the thorny question of steroids and his ugly departure from Chicago. If Sammy doesn't have another good season, I honestly don't think he'll get inducted.
Larry Walker
You can't really examine Walker's career without knowing pretty accurately how much Coors Field helped him. During his time in Colorad0 (1995-2004), Walker hit 425/618/334. Anybody who hits that well over a 10-year period probably belongs in Cooperstown . . . unless they played at Coors Field.
Everyone knows that Coors Field helped Walker. But how much? That is the question. Everyone will quote Walker's career stats when he comes up for induction, but very few people will make any attempt to unmuddy the waters so polluted by Coors. What will likely happen is that people will just make a blanket statement that he's a Hall-of-Famer anyway, or that he can't be one because of Coors. But that's the stupid way out. We have to know how good Larry Walker was, not how good Coors made him look.
There are several metrics to adjust for ballparks. Win Shares is one. They give Walker credit for 187 Win Shares during his years in Colorado. That's very good -- but it's not Hall-of-Fame material. 300 Win Shares is a rough baseline for Hall-of-Fame induction. Some people with less than 300 are in, but very few. Walker has compiled 311 during his whole career. His best season was a 32-Win Share campaign in 1997. 32 Win Shares is quite good, but it's not good on any sort of historic level. And that was the only time Walker topped 30 Win Shares during a single season.
But Walker did spend a great deal of time injured. If he hadn't been so injury-prone, would he be a Hall-of-Famer. Probably. But we can't make that argument to get someone into the Hall. We can't induct players based on what they would have done if they hadn't gotten injured. Or else Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, Dwight Gooden, and Cesar Cedeno would all be in.
The basic gist of my argument is that Coors Field made Larry Walker look like a Hall-of-Famer. But to the best of my knowledge, he was actually not that good. Coors Field makes good players look great and great players look historic. It's been around for over 10 years now, and you'd think people would have learned. But they haven't. And when Walker gets strong consideration for the Hall (and possibly gets in), it will just prove that people still have no damn idea what they're doing.
Bobby Abreu
Abreu is underrated on a historical level. He has been an excellent, top-10 player since 1998, when he joined the Phillies. Abreu, at the age of 31, has 230 career Win Shares, well on the way to a Cooperstown-caliber career. If he can just keep his career on track, I think he'll deserve a plaque in the Hall. He's a career 411/512/303 hitter, which is just plain amazing. He's a rine right fielder, and he has 241 career stolen bases (with a 76% success rate). And yet no one really noticed him until he won the Home Run Derby this year. What is wrong with people?
Vladimir Guerrero
Is Bobby Abreu really a better player than Vlad? Yeah, I think so, but it's very close. Abreu has the advantage of being 2 years older than Vlad, so he's had more time to accomplish things. But would you believe that Abreu is a better right fielder? Yes, Vlad has an amazing arm. But, uh, it takes more than arm to play defense. People have created this image of Vlad as a great defender just because of his arm. He's actually a bit clumsy, otherwise. But, in what seems to be a recurring theme, people make decisions based on what they want to see, not based on the underlying reality.
But I think Vlad will earn a spot in Cooperstown, especially now that he's moved to a contending team, won an MVP, and gotten noticed.
Harold Baines
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
People think that Harold belongs in the Hall because he has a lot of big career numbers. But if you'd hung around for 22 seasons, well after you were valuable at all, you'd have big numbers, too. Harold was a good player for a long time. But he really wasn't that good. In fact, he was just barely above average as a hitter, and contributed nothing to the defense. He had some strong seasons, back in his early years in Chicago, but Harold's last really effective year came in 1991, but he played 10 more seasons regardless.
This is where people sometimes get caught up in the stats. It's not just a matter of who has the biggest numbers over a career; it was who was the best player. We award pretty good players who play for a long time and shortchange excellent players with unimpressive career numbers. The importance is to find a balance; there has to be some good combination of quality and quantity. And the simple fact is that being a great player is far more valuable than being a good player for a long time. Even though Harold was pretty good for 22 years, he's a much less valuable player, overall, than someone like Albert Belle, who had a short, productive burst of a career. But, with the exception of Sandy Koufax, people with short careers tend to get shortchanged in Cooperstown. This is because of the insane fixation on high career numbers (3,000 hits, 500 HR, 300 wins), without anyone recognizing the fact that, all told, quality is much more important than quantity.
Jose Canseco
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
Yeah, this one's pretty funny now. But even before he wrote his tell-all book and appeared on a VH1 reality show, Canseco wasn't a Hall-of-Famer. He was a very good player, but his peak was quite short. Although he had a bit of a renaissance toward the end of his career, Canseco's Cooperstown chances went down the tubes when he was traded to Texas, at the young age of 28.
Paul O'Neill
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
Paul was a beloved member of the Yankees who had a fine career, but he doesn't belong in Cooperstown.
Other active players with significant careers are: Juan Gonzalez, Tim Salmon, Shawn Green, and Ichiro Suzuki. None of them are really qualified, although Ichiro has had a good, short career. I just don't think he'll get credit for his time in Japan, leaving him short.
Mike Piazza
Yes, Piazza is a great-hitting catcher. He was probably even better at his peak than Berra or Bench. But he is not the best-hitting catcher in baseball history. That honor goes to Mr. Josh Gibson, and no, it is not a trivial point.
Piazza's in given what he's already accomplished. He could certainly use a few more productive years as, say, a DH. But he was such a good hitter at his peak that it doesn't really matter, and he's one of the best players never to win an MVP.
Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge's career is slowing down, which isn't unusual for a soon-to-be 34-year-old catcher, although it took the Tigers by surprise. Of course, a sunrise probably takes the Tigers by surprise.
Signing old catchers to long-term contracts is like peeing on a pit bull; only dumb people think it's a good idea. Pudge was good last year, but took a big step down this season. He has already played well enough to make the Hall, but it would certainly help his chances if he could produce a couple more impact seasons.
The only other active catchers with significant careers are Javier Lopez, Jorge Posada, and Jason Kendall. None of them are Hall-of-Famers, although Posada is much, much better than anyone realizes. Jason Varitek has had some good seasons recently, but he's frickin' 33, and that doesn't bode well for his future.

The last chapter, the pitchers, will be posted soon.

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