Saturday, January 20, 2007

Future HOF classes, Pt. 2

Two quick notes before we start. I apologize for the irregular font and style on my last blog. I don't yet know how to fix it; it looks fine when I compose and preview it, but once I publish it, it goes all wonky. So I apologize if you have to squint to read some of it.
Also, I wanted to make a note about the players I'll be discussing here. The Class of 2010 retired after the 2005 season, and the Class of 2011 consists of the few players I'm pretty sure are retired now that 2006 is over. But with many of these players, there's still the possibility of a comeback. So any years or deadlines must be considered with that in mind.

Class of 2010:
Bret Boone
Kevin Brown
Al Leiter
Tino Martinez
John Olerud
Rafael Palmeiro
Sammy Sosa
Larry Walker


Bret Boone

Career 266/325/442; 252 HR; 3-Time All-Star; 4 Gold Gloves
208 Career Win Shares (T-42nd all-time among 2B w/ Lonny Frey)

18.93 WS/162 G (4th-worst among 2B w/200 WS)
.268 EQA
.269 eqAVG
.331 eqOBP
.460 eqSLG
While Bret Boone did have a significant career and certainly ranks at least among the top 60 or 70 second baseman of all time, there's not a shred of a Hall-of-Fame case here.
Boone wouldn't even rate mentioning if it weren't for an unlikely late-career renaissance in Seattle. From 1992-2001, Boone was a good-fielding second baseman with an inconsistent bat; he had some power, but his batting average ranged from awful to acceptable depending on the year. He wasn't a bad guy, but he was only slightly more valuable than Quilvio Veras.
Then, in 2001, Boone exploded and put up MVP-caliber numbers. Previously, Boone's best season was in 1994 with the Reds, when he hit 320/368/491. He zoomed past that in Seattle, hitting 331/372/578, despite the spacious confines of Safeco Field. Combine that with good defense, and Boone finished third in the MVP voting. 2002 was a step back (278/339/462), but he returned in 2003 to post All-Star numbers (294/366/535), finishing 10th in the MVP voting.
Then, Boone fell apart. Every part of his offensive game fell off significantly in 2004, as he finished at 251/317/423. In 2005, he split time between the Mariners and Twins, hitting a wretched 221/290/350. Boone went to Spring Training with the Mets in 2006, but didn't make the team and retired.

As I said, if it weren't for Boone's transformation into an MVP in 2001 and 2003, he wouldn't even merit a mention on the ballot. And though I hate to spread unconfirmed rumors, there were a lot of whispers of steroid use surrounding Boone. Boone was about my size (5'10", 180 lbs.) and yet he was one of the league's best sluggers for a couple years. It came quickly and departed just as quickly -- around the same time baseball starting cracking down on the use of PEDs. Jose Canseco claims to have had a conversation with Boone that suggests he used steroids, but that's not any sort of reliable evidence.
In all fairness, I must point out that a) we have no proof, and b) Boone did show better-than-average power even before he came to Seattle. He wasn't hitting 35+ homers, but in four of his first six seasons, Boone hit at least 12 HR, which isn't bad for a middle infielder still trying to catch on. In the three years leading up to his breakout year in Seattle, Boone hit 24, 20, and 19 HR. So this is not Rafael Belliard we're talking about.
There is certainly cause for suspicion surrounding Boone, but there's nothing remotely conclusive about the evidence against him. But then Boone isn't a Hall-of-Famer even with the big Seattle years, so the point is pretty much moot.

Kevin Brown
Career 211-144; 3.28 ERA (127 ERA+); 3,256.1 IP; 2,397 K; 6-Time All-Star
241 Career Win Shares (T-79th all-time among P w/Dolf Luque, Frank Tanana, & Dazzy Vance)
1069 PRAR (37th all-time)
3.25 eqERA (39th all-time)
There's no doubt in my mind that if Kevin Brown had stayed healthy, he'd be a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. But there's a good possibility that he's still a Hall-of-Famer, even though he wasn't always healthy.
The PRAA and eqERA both rate Brown well within the ranks of HOFers. His career ERA is more than 25% better than league average, he threw more than 3,000 innings with more than 2,000 strikeouts and managed 200 wins (if red is the new black, then 200 wins is the new 300 wins).
Even Win Shares rates him pretty well. 79th place doesn't sound good, but a lot of the players above Brown are 19th-century guys with padded numbers. Among 20th-century players, he's tied for 59th-place, which is a lot closer to Hall status. And he's listed among some impressive names; he's tied with Hall-of-Famer Vance, and both Luque and Tanana are borderline Hall members. He rates just behind HOFer Stan Coveleski, Eddie Cicotte, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant, Carl Mays, and HOFers Jim Bunning and Hoyt Wilhelm. He's just ahead of HOFers Rube Waddell and Herb Pennock, as well as near-misses Rick Reuschel and Jerry Koosman.
In short, Kevin Brown is right in the grey area that separates HOFers from non-HOFers. That makes our job a bit tougher. Does Brown have any qualifications that might push him into Cooperstown?
The biggest, I think, is that Brown was -- at his best -- an elite pitcher. Brown never won a Cy Young, but I think he deserved the 1996 NL award. Brown as only 17-11 with Florida, but he posted a 4:1 BB:k ratio in 233 IP and led the league in ERA by nearly a full run (his was 1.89; Greg Maddux was second at 2.72). Brown's ERA+ was an amazing 214, meaning he was more than twice as good as the league average (Maddux was again second at 162). But Brown finished second in the voting for two stupid reasons: John Smoltz went 24-8, and the Braves won the pennant.
That wasn't the only great season for Brown (although it was his greatest). I have him as the 2nd-best NL pitcher in 1998 (behind Maddux), the 3rd-best NL pitcher in 2000 (behind Randy Johnson and Maddux), and the 4th-best NL pitcher on three occasions (1997, 1999 and 2003).
Everything I've just mentioned -- a high peak, lots of career games and innings -- sounds like a Hall-of-Famer. What are the reasons not to induct Brown?
There are two, really. There's no doubt that from abotu 1995-2003, Kevin Brown was a Hall-of-Fame pitcher. No doubt at all. It's what happened before and after that that taints his candidacy.
Brown made a couple cameo appearances with the Rangers in 1986 and 1988 before catching on for good in 1989. From 1989-1994 with Texas, Brown was a capable workhorse who was solidly above-average. He was never excellent, but he was good, reliable, and durable. At this point, though, he didn't look like an "elite" anything, so the Rangers let him go to Baltimore on a 1-year free agent deal. (It's not surprising that the best pitcher the Rangers ever developed -- 1st round pick , 1986 -- would blossom after he left the team).
But even the Orioles must have been shocked at how well Brown pitched. He was 31 in 1995, but managed his best season yet by far: 3.60 ERA (136 ERA+), 26 starts, 48:117 BB:K ratio.
The Florida Marlins were impressed enough to offer Brown a 3-year contract worth about $13 million. It was one of the masterstrokes that brought them the 1997 World Championship, as Brown was one of the best pitchers in the world from 1996-1998. He even made it back to the World Series in 1998 after being traded to the Padres, although he lost.
After that came The Big Contract and the great unraveling of Brown's Cooperstown case. Long story short, Brown was very good with the Dodgers when healthy, but that was rare, and he was getting money (and perks) far beyond what he was producing on the field. This was one of the first big object lessons in what not to do in contract negotiations: offer 7 years to a 34-year-old.
Luckily for the Dodgers, Brown put together an excellent (and healthy) season in 2003 (posting a 2.39 ERA (169 ERA+) with 185 K in 211 IP. They foisted the last two years of his contract (about $31.5 million) onto the Yankees for Jeff Weaver.
Brown struggled in New York, and this also hurt his Cooperstown chances. He was good in 2004 (4.09 ERA, 110 ERA+), but injuries limited him to 22 starts and 132 IP. Even worse (for the fans, at least), Brown was savaged in the ALCS by Boston, posting a 21.60 ERA that included a dreadful start in Game 7.
Brown came back for 13 starts in 2005 (6.50 ERA), and then called it a career.Is this enough to keep Kevin out of the Hall of Fame? Does his lack of excellence in Texas, his L.A. injuries, and his late-career struggles with the Yankees overshadow his elite performance?That's a very difficult and complex question, and one that I don't think I can reach any consensus on in my own mind. Brown's Hall-of-Fame case looks better to me every time I look at it, but at the same time, I try to approach my Hall "vote" rather conservatively. If I'm really doubtful about someone, I won't endorse them. The great thing about the Hall vote is that you can always change your mind; I have every right to change my mind and endorse Brown next year. But I fear that it won't make a difference either way; Brown probably won't get inducted by the BBWAA.

Al Leiter
Career 162-132; 3.80 ERA (112 ERA+); 2,391 IP; 1,974 K; 2-Time All-Star
153 Career Win Shares
769 PRAR
3.51 eqERA
Leiter lasted a long time, pitched a lot of games, and was generally good. Unfortunately, he was never great or anything like it. Leiter only had two really good seasons, seasons where he was clearly an All-Star caliber pitcher:

1996 w/FLA: 16-12, 2.93 ERA (139 ERA+), 215.1 IP, 119:200 BB:K; All-Star
2000 w/NYM: 16-8, 3.20 ERA (136 ERA+), 208 IP, 76:200 BB:K; All-Star

Leiter could be a good strikeout pitcher, but he also allowed his share of walks. He didn't allow a whole lot of homers, but the walks typically hurt him. And it should be noted that most of his good seasons came in two big NL pitcher's parks in New York and Miami.
Leiter's low career totals (162 wins, 153 WS) would look better if he'd gotten established earlier in his career. Leiter bounced around with the Yankees and Blue Jays for quite a while before ever pitching a significant number of innings. Leiter's first season as a semi-regular starting pitcher was in 1993 with Toronto, when he was already 27. His first good season was also his last in Toronto: 1995, at age 29.
If Leiter had gotten started earlier, he might have had a more impressive Jamie Moyer-ish career of 200 wins and pitching til' you're 40 (and beyond, for Moyer). Or it's possible that pitching so sparingly in those years saved his arm and enabled him to stay in the majors through his 39th birthday. It's a moot point though; Leiter's not a Hall-of-Famer, he's just a guy who was reliable and gave some good years to his teams.

Tino Martinez
271/344/471; 339 HR; 2-Time All-Star
216 Career Win Shares (T-62nd all-time among 1B w/George Scott)
17.30 WS/162 G
.285 EQA
.275 eqAVG
.350 eqOBP
.500 eqSLG
Tino's adjusted numbers make him look like the strongly above-average hitter that he was. His fielding numbers are good, but I always thought he was better than good. He never won a Gold Glove, which was a shame considering who was bringing them home in the '90's. Tino was a good all-around player.
Unfortunately, there's very little great about him. None of Tino's numbers were outstanding, especially when adjusting for the era in offense-heavy era in which he played.
Tino has become more revered in recent years, as his years with the Yankees have slowly become a sort of "Golden Age," especially when compared to the recent Yankees. A lot of this is poor hindsight and sour grapes. Tino's Yankees were good, and they did win in October. But the current Yankees are good, too -- perhaps even better. But since they aren't winning in October, their current players (such as A-Rod) are demonized, while the old heroes are lionized (Tino, Paul O'Neill, Brosius).
This reimagining of history centers around the theory that the old Yankees won because they had good clubhouse chemistry, and the modern Yankees lose because they don't. Not only is clubhouse chemistry about the 86th most important thing for a baseball team, but that's an oversimplification of two very complex eras. Tino was a good guy in the clubhouse, but we shouldn't start raising statues to him simply out of spite for the current Yankees.
I know it sounds silly, but Hall votes have been cast for dumber reasons.

John Olerud
Career 295/398/465; 2,239 Hits; 255 HR; 2-Time All-Star; 3 Gold Gloves
301 Career Win Shares; (23rd all-time among 1B)
21.83 WS/162 G
.309 EQA (T-16th among 1B w/Roger Connor)
154 FRAA (2nd among 1B)
.303 eqAVG (T-10th among 1B w/5 others)
.408 eqOBP (8th among 1B)
.497 eqSLG
This guy was one hell of a ballplayer. At the plate, he was a poor man's Frank Thomas (the two were almost exact contemporaries), with one hell of a glove at first. He was around for quite a while and had some dynamite seasons in the process.
Olerud's another one of the tough decisions I had to make. I decided not to give him my Hall "vote," and I'll tell you why. John had a couple great seasons; MVP-esque. But for the rest of his career he was good but not great. If he'd had a couple more seasons in between, where he was more than just an All-Star, then I'd support him. But as it is, he's a first baseman whose offense just isn't quite up to par. As you can see above, he ranks very favorably when compared to other first baseman. But I don't think he quite measures up.
John Olerud is better than a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame. But if we want to keep the Hall standards high, we have to be stricter than our forebears. Maybe circumstances will change or I'll just take a different view of the evidence; that's possible. But right now, Olerud's a near-miss.
His greatest hits:

1993 w/TOR: 363/473/599; 24 HR, 200 H, 114 BB
1998 w/NYM: 354/447/551; 22 HR, 96 BB

Olerud finished third in the '93 AL MVP race behind teammate Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas. Molitor was good, but he had no right to finish ahead of Johnny O; he was a DH who didn't hit nearly as well. That's moot, though, because Thomas ran away with the vote, getting all 28 first-place votes. Frank was very good, but he didn't hit as well as Olerud, and his defense was much worse. Frank, however, was playing on a White Sox team that made the postseason for the first time in 10 years. He also hit for more power, which is sexier than Olerud's walks. The Thomas vote is an example of voting for the right player in the wrong year.
As for '98, Olerud was great, but he wasn't to deprive McGwire/Sosa of their collective glory. He finished 13th in the MVP voting, which isn't exactly fair, but there you go.

Rafael Palmeiro
Career 288/371/515; 3,020 Hits; 569 HR; 4-Time All-Star; 3 Gold Gloves
396 Career Win Shares (5th all-time among 1B)
22.66 WS/162 G
.307 EQA (T-21st among 1B w/Fred McGriff)
.292 eqAVG
.379 eqOBP
.550 egSLG (T-17th among 1B w/Roger Connor)
Point 1: Rafael Palmeiro isn't quite as good as his numbers look. He spent most of his career in hitter's parks in a hitter's era, and therefore we have to take his raw numbers (especially the homers and slugging) with a grain of salt.
Point 2: Palmeiro was so consistent, and around for so long, that the problems suggested in Point 1 are basically irrelevant. Palmeiro was always in the lineup, playing at least 110 games every season from 1988 through 2005. He spent parts of 20 seasons in the majors and compiled at least 550 ABs in 15 of them. Palmeiro may never have been great (he was never the best player in the league, and putting him in the top 5 is debatable), but he was always just behind, and he was around for so damn long that he became one of the most valuable first baseman in history.
His career bears a slight resemblance to that of Eddie Murray. The two are, along with Hank Aaron, the only members of the 3,000 hit/500 HR club. Also, Murray was -- like Palmeiro -- rarely excellent, but so good for so long that he became one of the best first basemen of all time. The big thing that makes the two different is their eras; Murray's numbers are far more impressive than Palmeiro's when you consider the offensive environment in which he played. And Murray was indeed the best player in the league on at least one occasion.Based on these two points, I'm very much inclined to believe that Rafael Palmeiro is a Hall-of-Famer.
Point 3: In 2005, Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids.
Point 3 is, of course, the puzzler. Not only did Palmeiro test positive, but the circumstances surrounding the positive test were ugly and made Palmeiro look very bad. Word leaked out that Palmeiro told baseball officials that he got the illegal substance from then-teammate Miguel Tejada, who claimed it was a vitamin supplement. This made Palmeiro not just a steroid user, but a rat who would try to blame a teammate.
Even more embarassing for Palmeiro was his appearance on Capitol Hill where he swore -- under oath -- that he had never used steroids. He even pointed a stern finger at the Congressmen. Of course, that picture of him pointing a stern finger accompanied every story of his positive test, making him look like a hypocrite and most likely a perjurer.
It's interesting that Mark McGwire, who implied his own steroid use by refusing to perjure himself, has been treated far worse than Palmeiro, who almost certainly did perjure himself (Palmeiro's positive test came after the testimony, but I highly doubt that it was his first time using). McGwire has been continually roasted around the country since his testimony, whereas Palmeiro retired and was mostly forgotten.
This may be off-topic, but I think this illustrates the real reason behind all the sanctimonious McGwire-bashing. Everyone is mad at McGwire because he let them down. They believed in him wholeheartedly, and he "betrayed" them. No one felt very betrayed by Palmeiro, who had never had any sort of national following like McGwire's. He'd also never been the media's poster boy and anointed Golden Child of modern baseball.
It's never a good idea to take out your anger for your own mistakes on others, and yet that's exactly what the sports media is doing to Mark McGwire. Their treatment of McGwire -- when compared to that of Palmeiro -- is illogical and inexcusable.
Back to Raffy: does this new information cast enough doubt on his Hall-of-Fame case to keep him out? I think so, yes -- for now. I stress that. No sportswriter will spend a column talking about what they don't know (humility doesn't sell -- look at Skip Bayless), but it's much more informative to consider everything we don't know about Palmeiro.
We know most of the important circumstances surrounding Barry Bonds' alleged steroid use because of the tireless investigations into his activities. This all despite the fact that there's no smoking gun -- a positive test -- for Barry.
With Raffy on the other hand, all we have is that positive test. The only other information we have is Jose Canseco's claim that Palmeiro was using while they were teammates in Texas. It's a lot harder to dismiss Canseco's allegations these days -- they have a knack for coming true -- but we still have to take them for what they are.
We have no clue what Palmeiro was using or when he started. It was rumored (but never confirmed) that Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol, a pretty powerful anabolic steroid. This isn't your "designer" drug, it's an old favorite. If Palmeiro's been using that for years, then we could assume a pretty significant boost to his health regimen (thus his great durability).
Of course, it's just as likely that Palmeiro started using late in his career. In fact, it's not unlikely that he started using in his last season or two. After his 2002 in Texas (273/391/571), Palmeiro's quality took a dip down to merely good. This is perfectly normal for a 38-year-old. But look at it from Palmeiro's standpoint; he's nearing 500 homers and 3,000 hits, milestones that would almost ensure his induction into Cooperstown. Everyone in the media is talking about what a borderline Hall candidate he is. And just then, he starts to steadily decline. It sounds like a pretty compelling reason for a player to start using.All this is guesswork, of course. We really don't know enough about Palmeiro's steroid use to make a conclusive judgment in regards to his career. The trouble is that we may never know. Either way, I'm going to go ahead and decline on Palmeiro and take full advantage of the 5-year waiting period after a player's retirement before they are Hall-eligible. It's possible (and even likely) that we won't know any more about Palmeiro then, but I just don't feel comfortable making the decision now. Palmeiro's the toughest case there is: a solid Hall-of-Famer, but not s0 solid that consistent steroid use couldn't make it crumble.
It may not be a wise career move for an analyst to say so, but in regards to Rafael Palmeiro's Cooperstown case:

I don't know.

Sammy Sosa
Career 274/345/537; 588 HR; 2,194 K; 7-time All-Star; 1998 NL MVP
312 Career Win Shares (T-26th all-time among RF w/Larry Walker)
22.56 WS/162 G
.294 EQA
.273 eqAVG
.345 eqOBP
.552 eqSLG (19th among RF)
Of course, as I speak Sosa is negotiating a minor league contract with the Rangers in an attempt to return to the Majors. Considering that Sosa is 38, has had a year off, and wasn't particularly good in his last couple seasons, I'm not optimistic about his return. And even if he does return, it's doubtful he'll do anything to improve his career numbers.
I made my case against Sosa's induction in
this article written when he went into semi-retirement last Spring. In short, Sosa was only excellent for a couple seasons (1998 and 2001) and wasn't much more than a slugger for the rest of his career. He wasn't around for a very long time, and so his lack of excellence leaves him with not much of a Cooperstown case. Sosa doesn't compare fav0rable to other right fielders in measures of quality and quantity. Realistically, he's a near-miss Hall-of-Famer, along with right fielders such as Dwight Evans, Dave Parker, Reggie Smith, Jack Clark, and Bobby Bonds. There's nothing to indicate that Sosa was a better player than these guys, and that's without considering steroids.

Larry Walker
313/400/565; 2,160 H; 383 HR; 5-Time All-Star; 7 Gold Gloves, 1997 NL MVP
312 Career Win Shares (T-26th all-time among RF w/Sammy Sosa)
25.42 WS/162 G
.307 EQA (T-14th among RF w/Tony Gwynn & Babe Herman)
98 FRAA (3rd among RF)
.290 eqAVG
.381 eqOBP (21st among RF)
.544 eqSLG
Walker was a hell of a hitter and also an excellent right fielder. Walker's raw numbers indicate someone who's a Hall-of-Famer; his rate stats are excellent, and while his career didn't last that long, his numbers would indicate a Hall-of-Famer.
The problem, of course, is that Walker played at Coors Field from 1995-2004, the bulk of his career. Coors Field obviously juiced his numbers by a significant degree. The question is: how much? Can we adjust for the effects of Coors Field and then take stock of his numbers? Yes, we can.
But first, I'd like to dismiss a couple fallacious arguments. One, that Walker's time at Coors Field disqualifies him from the Hall. I doubt anyone will say it quite like that, but when Walker's name shows up on the ballot, you know that a lot of people are going to pass on him just because of Coors. I've written about this before, but I'll say again that we can't just dismiss someone based on their circumstances. We adjust for the circumstances and go from there.
The other argument is that Walker "could hit anywhere," and so we shouldn't "punish" him for hitting in Coors Field. Well, it's true that Walker could hit anywhere. When the Expos made their postseason run in 1994, Walker was hitting 322/394/587 when the strike hit. He'd produced excellent offense the two previous years as well.
The problem is that we have to take into account that Coors Field took this 322/394/587 hitter and in a couple years changed him into a 366/452/720 hitter ('97, his MVP year). Did Walker coincidentally become a truly amazing hitter the same day he arrived at Coors?
Let's look at his road stats. In 1994, Walker's last season with Montreal, he hit 331/401/604 at home and 314/388/575 on the road. That's pretty normal; most people hit slightly better at home, and Olympic Stadium played as a slight hitter's park that year.
In 1995, Walker went to Colorado. He hit 343/401/730 at home. That's a 126-point increase in slugging, which is pretty telling. On the road, Walker hit a strong but more pedestrian 268/361/484. This suggests that Walker, who could hit for average and draw his walks anywhere, wasn't quite the slugger that Coors Field make him look like.
For his career, Walker hit 348/431/637 at home and 278/370/495 on the road. That's a very significant difference. Walker was a very good hitter on the road, but nothing like an MVP, especially considering that this was the 90's. If we take Walker's road numbers and extrapolate them into an entire career, his (normalized) career would look roughly like this.Larry Walker (neutral): 278/370/495, 1,934 H, 336 HR, 406 doublesSo, using this (admittedly rough) measure, we can say that Coors Field gave Walker about 35 points of batting average, 30 points of OBP, 70 points of slugging, 226 hits, 47 HR, and 65 doubles. These numbers come with two big caveats: we're taking his entire career, which includes his early years in Montreal and his final years in St. Louis. It's also true that, even in a neutral environment, players tend to perform better at home than on the road. So Walker's home/road splits aren't quite as significant as they would seem.
However, I think we can see that Coors Field gave Walker a significant boost. This hurts Walker's Cooperstown case, since he's basically a borderline candidate as is. Another damaging facet of his career was his trouble with injuries. Walker started out healthy, playing six full seasons in the majors after a short debut season in 1989. But in 1996, Walker played only 83 games due to injury, and this would prove to be the start of a career-long battle with injuries. After '96, Walker only topped 500 ABs once more in his career. He only topped 130 games 4 times in his last 9 seasons. It shoud be said, though, that while the injuries cut into his playing time, they didn't have much effect on his productivity. Walker's power numbers suffered, but he still managed a .400+ OBP for 8 of his last 9 seasons, finishing 2005 with a .384 mark to break the streak.
Was Walker ever really the best player in his league? There are several ways to measure this. One is Win Shares, which does take ballpark effects into account. Walker's career Win Shares aren't that impressive, putting him in the midst of all the other near-miss right fielders. Was Walker a great player at his peak? According to Win Shares, Walker only topped 30 Win Shares once in his career: his 1997 MVP season. Hall-of-Famers usually have several seasons above 30 Win Shares, which indicates the top 6 or 8 players in the league. So according to Win Shares, Walker was only one of the top NL players in '97, and even then he wasn't tops in the NL; he tied for 5th place with Jeff Bagwell, finishing with fewer Win Shares than Mike Piazza (who should have won the MVP), Tony Gwynn, Craig Biggio, and Barry Bonds.Win Shares suggests that Walker had neither the quantity nor the quality to make it into Cooperstown. What do other metrics suggest? Walker ranks 14th all-time among right fielders in Equivalent Average, which is an encouraging sign. But it's not reason enough to induct him; 14th-best isn't much to brag about by Hall-of-Fame standards, and he ranks behind three non Hall-of-Famers (Darryl Strawberry, Pedro Guerrero, and Jack Clark) and is tied with another (Babe Herman). EQA suggests that Walker was, qualitatively, better than Win Shares give him credit for. But there's nothing here for him to hang his hat on when the voting comes.
WARP3, Baseball Prospectus' all-inclusive measure of a player's value, gives Walker a WARP3 of 106.8. That's quite impressive. Unfortunately, it still doesn't separate him from the pack. He ranks 17th all-time, behind Sam Crawford and Andre Dawson, and just ahead of marginal players Sammy Sosa, Rusty Staub, and Enos Slaughter (who missed time to WW2).
Well, we've been searching high and low for Larry Walker's Cooperstown case, and I just haven't seen it. He got a good boost in quality for Coors Field, and when you take that into account, his career numbers don't seem to merit induction when judged by quality or quantity. Walker was a good player for quite a while, and if he hadn't suffered from so many injuries, he might have made it over the hump and earned himself a plaque. But as it is, I don't see it. Walker was quite excellent, but not any more excellent than Jack Clark or Sammy Sosa.

Class of 2011*:
Jeff Bagwell
Roger Clemens*
Tim Salmon

* -- tentative, based on who may or may not retire

Jeff Bagwell
Career 297/408/540; 2,314 H, 449 HR, 202 SB; 4-Time All-Star; 1 Gold Glove; 1991 NL Rookie of the Year; 1994 NL MVP
388 Career Win Shares (6th all-time among 1B)

29.24 WS/162 G (12th among 1B)
.323 EQA (12th among 1B)
124 FRAA (4th among 1B)
.301 eqAVG (T-17th among 1B w/Steve Garvey & Mike Hargrove)
.413 eqOBP (T-18th all-time w/ Bobby Abreu & Mike Hargrove); (T-5th among 1B w/Mike Hargrove)
.568 eqSLG (14th among 1B)
There's really nothing to say here. This guy belongs in the Hall of Fame without a second thought. He's one of the 6 or 8 greatest first baseman of all time, if not better than that. His career numbers are impeccable, especially considering that he spent his prime years in the AstroDome. At his peak, he was easily one of the best players in baseball. Not only did he win the 1994 NL MVP, but he probably deserved one or two others (his 1996 season was brilliant and would have won, had not Ken Caminiti proved he was a "gamer" by playing a game while down with food poisoning).
The only thing that will keep Bagwell from getting swept into the Hall with 85-90% of the votes is suspicion of steroid use. But with Bagwell, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that he used other than the fact that he was a big guy with a lot of power. There is no circumstantial or even anecdotal evidence of his use, and the only reason to suspect him is because we're all paranoid now. This isn't to say that Bagwell didn't use; he may have. But we're going to need a lot more than that to keep this all-time great out of Cooperstown.

Roger Clemens
Career 348 Wins (8th all-time)
.662 Winning Percentage (348-178) 20th all-time
3.10 ERA
144 ERA+ (T-8th all-time w/Johan Santana)
4,817.2 IP (15th all-time)
4,604 K (2nd all-time)
690 Games Started (T-7th all-time w/Gaylord Perry)
11-Time All-Star
7-time Cy Young Award-Winner (most ever)
1986 AL MVP
435 Career Win Shares (5th all-time among pitchers)
1947 PRAR (1st all-time)
2.58 eqERA (2nd all-time)
OK, I know that Clemens probably isn't retiring and will most likely be coming back again this season. But I couldn't resist listing his accomplishments. That, friends is the resume of the greatest pitcher who ever lived.

Tim Salmon
Career 282/385/498; 299 HR; 1993 AL Rookie of the Year
233 Career Win Shares (T-56th all-time among RF w/David Justice)

22.58 WS/162 G
.305 EQA (T-19th among RF w/ Gavvy Cravath, Ken Singleton & Paul Waner)
.285 eqAVG
.391 eqOBP (T-10th among RF w/Vladimir Guerrero)
.524 eqSLG
Judging broadly by their careers, Salmon isn't too different from David Justice. Both were clearly above-average hitters and decent all-around players. Both were consistently good, although Salmon was more reliable than Justice. And both men experienced premature declines to their careers that cost them a chance at the Hall. (I also have to note the coincidence that Salmon's adjusted OBP is tied with his successor as Angels right fiedler, Vladimir Guerrero).
Salmon was one of the more underrated players on the 1990's for the classic reason that there was no one thing or one number that really stood out, but he was an all-around gem. He's the kind of guy you'd consider to be a perennial All-Star candidate, although oddly enough, Salmon never made an All-Star team. The sponsor of Salmon's page at says that Salmon is the best player never to make the All-Star team. I wouldn't know offhand without checking, but he's got to be pretty damn close.
The sponsor also says that Salmon is the best hitter ever produced by the Angels, and that one's a lot harder to argue with. Even long-time stars like Jim Fregosi (Red Sox; expansion draft) and Brian Downing (White Sox, trade) came from outside the system.
That's probably the best way to remember Tim Salmon. He wasn't quite good enough or durable enough to get a plaque in Cooperstown, but Angel fans can always consider him a symbol of the franchise's salad days. He was a classy guy and an all-around gem who earned the nickname "Mr. Angel."

This entry took a lot longer than I anticipated, but that's mainly because it was a lot tougher than I expected, with a lot more thinking involved. But more thinking is usually a good thing, and I feel like I came to a better understanding of these guys through the process. Hopefully you have, too.

There's been some baseball news in recent days that I need to catch up on, and I'll be back soon with my take on that. Until then, happy Saturday.

No comments: