If a player is ranked "among LF" or "among 1B," etc., the sample I'm using is all players with more than 200 career Win Shares. This covers most really significant players, but not all. It also enables me to keep the same sample for every ranking.
Keep in mind that some positions are stronger than others, historically. The more defense-oriented positions don't tend to produce as many great players as positions like 1B, LF, and RF. So being the 10th-best right fielder is a lot more impressive than it sounds, when you consider the context.
The prefix "eq" means that the statistic has been translated by Clay Davenport at Baseball Prospectus. The parameters of his translations can be seen here for batting stats and here for pitching.
The numbers for Equivalent Average and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) have been adjusted for all time, meaning they take into account not just the ballpark but league difficulty and the era. Better details can be found here.
Also, a note on some of the stats I use for pitchers. eqERA is translated in a similar manner as that for batting average, OBP, and SLG listed above. PRAR refers to Pitching Runs Above Replacement. This stat is similar to Win Shares in that it tries to measure a pitcher's total pitching contribution with one number. The difference is that, while pitchers start out with zero WS and work up, a pitcher only earns PRAR for pitching better than replacement level. The big difference this makes is usually with 19th-century pitchers, who earn a lot of Win Shares for pitching 400+ innings, as was the custom of the day. PRAR, on the other hand, only gives you credit for pitching better than pitchers of your era, so a lot of 19th-century pitchers look far more ordinary. It gives us a good insight; Tony Mullane has 401 Win Shares (10th all-time) but only 461 PRAR (which ranks him 90-something or lower). Big difference, and one that's quite important.
Another thing to point out is that most of the pitching stats I quote don't do a good job of accounting for relief pitchers. In fact, I don't know of any all-inclusive stat that does a good job of comparing relief pitchers to starters, or position players for that matter. So I'll have to discuss relief pitchers using a bit more subjective evidence.
Class of 2007:
Career 294/385/425; 2,605 hits; 808 SB; 7 All-Star Games
390 Career Win Shares (7th all-time among LF)
25.25 WS/162 G (27th among LF)
.308 career EQA (T-12th among LF w/ Frank Howard)
37 career FRAA
.310 eqAVG (T-5th among LF)
.403 eqOBP (6th among LF)
I'm pretty convinced, not just from this evidence but from the opnion I had of him coming in, that Tim Raines is a Hall-of-Famer. Raines' raw numbers can be deceiving due to the era he played in (his career tailed off just as the mid-90's came along). He also suffered from being in the shadow of Rickey Henderson, as well as from the general ignorance of players who are good at getting on base.
But Raines was one of the best-ever leadoff men. Think of the great left fielders in history and then consider that Raines was the 6th-best ever at reaching base, when you account for his era. Raines' .403 eqOBP is better than HOFers Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams, Zack Wheat, Al Simmons, Ed Delahanty, Goose Goslin, Joe Medwick, Lou Brock, and others. In fact, Raines is the player that everyone thinks Lou Brock was. Raines didn't steal quite as many bases as Brock, but he has a better adjusted batting average (.310-.301), and a far better adjusted OBP (.403-.354). Raines was also a much better fielder than Brock (37 FRAA to -63 for Brock).
Raines wasn't an excellent slugger, but he was far from a punchless leadoff man. His poor career slugging percentage (.425) is partly due to the fact that he missed the big-hitting 90's and spent most of his career legging out triples in Montreal. His adjusted SLG (.481) shows that the .425 number doesn't do him justice. Raines hit 170 career homers, 113 career triples, and 430 career doubles.
How good was Raines at his best? His top seasons were in the mid-80's. Here's what Raines did from 1985-1987, when he should have won a couple MVPs:
1985: 320/405/475, 70/79 in steals
1986: 334/413/476, 70/79 in steals
1987: 330/429/526, 50/55 in steals
There's really no good reason to keep Raines out of the Hall. He compares favorably with those already in; Raines isn't an elite left fielder on the level of Bonds, Musial, Yaz, Rickey Henderson, or Ted Williams; but he's right there on the second level of legitimate HOFers such as Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, Zack Wheat, and Al Simmons. He's certainly a better player than current HOF left fielders Lou Brock, Goose Goslin, Joe Medwick, Jim O'Rourke, Joe Kelley, Heinie Manush, Chick Hafey and probably even Ralph Kiner.
Is there a better left fielder than Raines not in the Hall? That's very doubtful. Other than players who aren't eligible yet (Bonds, Henderson) or are permanently ineligible (Joe Jackson), the best left fielders not in Cooperstown are probably Sherry Magee, Minnie Minoso, Jose Cruz, and Frank Howard. All four of those guys have a fair case for Cooperstown, and I wouldn't mind seeing Minoso get in, or maybe Magee. But they'd be entering at the bottom level of accepted Cooperstown performance; none of them have achieved as much as Tim Raines has, nor have they maintained it over a long career.
Is there anything subjective that should keep Raines out of the Hall? I don't think so. I don't put much stock in postseason performance, although I have to say that Raines didn't do too well in October (career 270/340/349). But that's deceptive; most of Raines' October at-bats came as a role-player with the Yankees in the late 90's when he was past his prime. In fact, Raines was brilliant with the White Sox in their 1993 ALCS loss to Toronto (444/483/556).
Off the field, there's nothing really nasty to say about Raines, except for his battles with cocaine. But I don't really see how that affects much of anything. Cocaine isn't really performance-enhancing; in fact, it's more destructive than constructive for a baseball player. It's a small black mark against him, but I don't think it's significant enough to keep him out of Cooperstown.
Unfortunately, it's very unlikely that Raines will get into Cooperstown, simply because no one really sees him as a viable candidate. And that's very, very unfortunate. His only real hope is that there are no other serious candidates entering the ballot this year.
Career 200-173, 3.85 ERA (115 ERA+), 3,197.1 IP, 2,610 K, 5 All-Star Games
Career 213 Win Shares (T-110th all-time, w/Frank Dwyer)
1031 PRAA (40th all-time)
3.39 eqERA (49th all-time)
Win Shares isn't very friendly to Finley at all; he gets passed up by a lot of the 19th-century pitchers. Clay Davenport's translations rank him around the 50th-best starting pitcher of all time. Personally, I think that's a bit too friendly, but I can still ask what it is about Finley that the DTs (Davenport Translations) like so much. Part of it could be his strikeouts; Finley was a good strikeout pitcher, which is a point in his favor. It could also be a measure of the tough level of competition that Finley faced in the 1990's, where it was a very difficult task to be a winning pitcher in the AL.
Finley deserves a lot more credit than he gets, and a lot of the work I've done over the past few years has given me a new appreciation for him. But I don't think he's a Hall-of-Famer. He may be elevated to the ranks of the almosts (Tommy John, Dave Stieb, etc.), but I don't see him earning an induction.
One problem is that Finley was never really excellent or dominant. I myself don't have Finley ranked any higher than the 5th-best pitcher in the league in any season. Here's a short list of Finley's best seasons:
1990: 18-9, 2.40 ERA (160 ERA+), 236 IP, 17 HR, 81:177 BB:K
1993: 16-14, 3.15 ERA (144 ERA+), 251.1 IP, 22 HR, 82:187 BB:K
1998: 11-9, 3.39 ERA (139 ERA+), 223.1 IP, 20 HR, 109:212 BB:K
Finley's 1990 season might have won the Cy Young in another year, but he picked the wrong season; Roger Clemens was demonstrably better in '90, and it was also the year of amazing relief seasons from Dennis Eckersley and Bobby Thigpen. Finley was probably better than Cy Young-winner Jack McDowell in '93, but not as good as Kevin Appier, who was excellent, or Randy Johnson, I don't think. '98 was a good season, but that's a lot of walks. Roger Clemens was busy being historically good, Pedro Martinez wasn't far behind, and Finley wasn't really any better than Kenny Rogers, David Wells, or Mike Mussina, either.
Finley's undoing is, I think, that he was just never excellent. If he had been able to break through with one or two really dynamite seasons, I would give him serious Hall consideration. But he never did. What he did do was be remarkably consistent; even now, looking at his performance, it's striking. Finley's first full season was in 1988 with the Angels. He threw 194.1 IP. From 1988-2000, Finley threw at least 164 innings every year. He had 12 seasons of more than 190 IP in his career, and 9 seasons of more than 200. He was a consistent strikeout pitcher (though never excellent), but along with that came consistent walks. Per 162 games, Finley struck out 179 batters (good) and walked 91 (bad). He only struck out more than 200 batters twice in his career, despite his durability.
Is there anything subjective to change my mind about Finley? Not at all, really. In fact, my opinion of Chuck Finley is much higher than many people's, it seems. I'd be highly surprise if Finley stays on the HOF ballot for more than a year or two. He wasn't considered a star during his career; he made 5 All-Star teams, but only once did he finish in the top 10 for Cy Young voting (7th in 1990).
Finley didn't pitch particularly well in October. He actually got into the 1986 ALCS as a rookie with the Angels, throwing 2 scoreless innings. He didn't make the postseason again until 2001 with Cleveland, where he got bombed in 2 starts (7.27 ERA). He threw his last big-league pitches with the Cardinals in 2002. In the NLDS against Arizona, he made one start and threw 6.1 scoreless innings. But in the NLCS, the Giants bombed him in his only start, scoring 4 ER in 5 IP.
Other than that, there's nothing particularly notable about Finley off the field, other than the bizarre incident where he alleged that his wife was abusing him. It would be sad if that hiccup is what Finley is ultimately remembered for, because he was quite a pitcher. In fact, he probably could have come back and pitched in 2003, at age 40. He pitched well enough in 2002 with Cleveland and St. Louis, and I remember hearing that some teams were interested in him. But for whatever reason, Finley retired.
Being durably good is a very valuable quality, and I guess the numbers I mentioned value it even more than I do. But I'm just not convinced that Finley was good enough to get in the Hall.
Career 276/336/443; 223 career HR, 5 All-Star Games, 1 Gold Glove
199* career WS (50th all-time among 3B)
18.99 WS/162 G
.276 career EQA
24 career FRAA
* -- Even if Fryman had compiled 200 WS, he doesn't rank highly in any category among all-time 3B)
Nobody ever gave Travis Fryman any credit. But he was a very good third baseman and had some fine seasons. He's not even a marginal Hall-of-Famer, but it's still nice to have a place in your heart for the Travis Frymans of the world.
Fryman had some good seasons, stuck around for a while, and while he was never excellent, he was pretty good at a lot of things. Only once do I think Fryman was one of the 10 best players in his league, and that was 1993; he hit 300/379/486 with capable defense at third, no small feat. But that '93 season was an outlier; Fryman was typically not nearly so good at the plate. One big exception would be his unlikely career year in 2000 with Cleveland: 321/392/516, though he was losing ground defensively at this point.
While Fryman could have built up a long career as a capable, above-average guy, that didn't happen. His production fell off sharply after 2000, and he was out of the majors after his age 33 season in 2002.
There's nothing wrong with just being above-average. But when you're only above-average for a little while, you're not going to get more than a sniff from Hall voters.
Career 279/378/500; 305 HR; 3-time All-Star; 1990 NL Rookie of the Year
233 career Win Shares (t-56th all-time among LF w/Tim Salmon)
23.44 WS/162 G
.301 career EQA (T-28th among RF w/ Dave Winfield)
27 career FRAA
.381 eqOBP (21st among RF)
Justice is somewhat similar to Chuck Finley, career-wise: he was good but rarely great and didn't last all that long. If you stretched David Justice's quality out over a couple hundred more games, he might make the grade based on durability. The problem is that David Justice just never really played that much.
Justice rarely missed a lot of time; his only incomplete seasons were his first season, 1989, and an injury-plagued 1996, where he only played 40 games. But Justice wasn't an everyday player, either; he only topped 146 games once in his whole career. He only topped 130 games 6 times during his career. So while the sum total of his career isn't so bad, there are a lot of seasons where Justice just didn't produce a whole lot on a day-to-day basis.
There's also the fact that Justice retired fairly early. Yes, he was 36 years old, but he was coming off an impressive season as a semi-regular with Oakland where he hit 266/376/410 . At the time, it looked like he had a couple more seasons as a part-timer left if he wanted them. But as it turns out, he didn't.
If your resume is as short as Justice's, you've got to have some truly excellent seasons on your resume. And while Justice was a very good hitter for quite a while, he was never MVP material. A lot of his numbers were fuelled by the mid-90's, and he also wasn't adding anything significant defensively, at least not in his later years.
Justice only had three seasons where I would rank him among the league's 10 best:
1993: 270/357/515, 40 HR, career-high 157 G
1997: 329/418/596, 33 HR, 139 G
In '93, Justice wasn't in the same ballpark as Barry Bonds (336/458/677) or Mike Piazza (318/370/561 at catcher), or Lenny Dykstra (305/420/482) and Darren Daulton (257/392/482) of the pennant-winning Phillies. He may not even have been the best player on his own team. That may have been Jeff Blauser (305/401/436).
His '94 was a big step up, but then all of baseball took a step up offensively in '94. Justice was no match for MVP Jeff Bagwell (368/451/750), ace pitcher Greg Maddux (16-6, 1.56 ERA), Barry Bonds (312/426/647), Craig Biggio (318/411/483), and maybe even Moises Alou, Larry Walker, and Piazza again. And, like '93, Justice wasn't even the best player on the Braves. Besides Maddux, Fred McGriff (318/389/623) had a fine year).
Justice played for Cleveland in '97, and was no match for MVP Ken Griffey, Jr. (304/382/646). I think the best player that year was Frank Thomas (347/456/611), who was also clearly superior to Justice. You've also got Roger Clemens in the midst of a historically great year, and professional hitters like Edgar Martinez, Jim Thome, and Mo Vaughn.
All this is meant to show that while Justice was good, he was never really great. A lot of his great numbers are a product of the mid-90's offensive explosion. They make Justice look great, when in fact, he was just very good. Combine that with a relatively truncated career, and it's very hard to see a Hall-of-Fame case here.
Career 289/378/406; 407 SB; 1991 AL Rookie of the Year; 4-Time All-Star; 1 Gold Glove
231 career Win Shares (32nd all-time among 2B)
22.93 WS/162 G
.275 career EQA
-25 career FRAA
.296 eqAVG (8th among 2B)
.386 eqOBP (T-8th among 2B w/ Bobby Grich)
Through the 1999 season, Chuck Knoblauch was a Hall-of-Famer. After slumping in his first season with the Yankees, Knoblauch rebounded in '99 to hit 292/393/454 and get a World Series ring. He had just turned 31 that July and had a lot of great years ahead of him.
Through 1999, Chuck Knoblauch hit 289/378/406. That doesn't look amazing, but it's pretty darn good for a second baseman. His fielding was decent (-19 career FRAA at the time), although he was coming off an awful season (-20 FRAA) where he'd been afflicted with Steve Sax disease (trouble throwing to first). Still, this was a 31-year-old second baseman who hit quite well. If he wasn't Rod Carew, he was close enough to make it into Cooperstown.
In 2000, Knoblauch hit 282/366/385. It was a pretty significant drop, especially considering that he was now a defensive liability. He tried playing the outfield, but you just can't hold down an outfield job with those stats, especially on the Yankees. Knoblauch split a full season between LF and DH in 2001 and was dreadful (250/339/351). Luckily for the Yanks, his contract was up, and he left as a free agent. He signed with the Royals in 2002, but wasn't any better (210/284/300) and retired).
We can all look back and speculate about what Knoblauch could have been. It's really mystifying to wonder why he suffered a steep drop in batting average and power to go along with the ongoing catastrophe that was his defense. Yeah, he could have been a Hall-of-Famer, but so could a lot of people. If you look at his numbers, he actually didn't do too bad for himself anyways.
I'll finish by "replaying" the best of Chuck Knoblauch: 1995-1996:
1995: 333/424/487, 46/64 in steals, 107 R, 2 FRAA
1996: 341/448/517, 45/59 in steals, 140 R, 13 FRAA
(In my opinion, Knoblauch was the 2nd-best AL player in 1996; only A-Rod was better).
Class of 2008:
Career 271/401/419; 10-time All-Star; 1 Gold Glove; 1990 AL MVP
2,295 Runs (1st all-time)
3,055 Hits (20th all-time)
2,190 Walks (2nd all-time)
1,406 SBs (1st all-time)
535 Career Win Shares (15th all-time, 4th among LF)
28.13 WS/162 G (11th among LF)
.315 career EQA (9th among LF)
24 career FRAA
.298 eqAVG (T-14th among LF)
.421 eqOBP (13th all-time, 3rd among LF)
Okay, so I've put all of my arguments in the introduction. The point I'm trying to make is that Rickey Henderson is an absolute sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. He's one of the 15 or 20 greatest players ever and is either the 4th- or 5th-best left fielder of all time, depending upon how you feel about Carl Yastrzemski.
265/343/416; 195 HR; 2-Time All-Star; 1 Gold Glove
245 career Win Shares (34th all-time among SS)
19.24 WS/162 G
.269 career EQA
50 career FRAA
Bell never really got any respect while he was still active. He was a good hitter for a shortstop, but not a great one. He had a few really strong seasons, but nothing that ever got noticed. He was quite good with the glove, but not as good as Rey Ordonez or any of his more famous contemporaries. There's not much to say about Bell except that he was quite a good player who never really got noticed as such.
Bell's greatest season:
1993 w/PIT: 310/392/437; 102 R; Gold Glove
Career 194-126; 3.46 ERA (120 ERA+), 2,898.2 IP, 2,668 K, 5-Time All-Star; 1994 AL Cy Young
205 Career Win Shares (T-124th all-time w/Hippo Vaughn & Tom Zachary)
967 PRAR (50th all-time)
3.22 eqERA (T-35th all-time w/Carl Hubbell & Warren Spahn)
Of all the decisions I had to make for this article, Cone was one of the toughest. At his peak, he was Hall-of-Fame material. Cone won (and deserved) the 1994 AL Cy Young Award, and he finished 3rd in the voting for the 1988 NL Award (although he probably should have been second).
Here are the two marquee seasons:
1988 w/NYM: 20-3, 2.22 ERA (145 ERA+), 10 HR, 80:213 BB:K (posted 4.50 ERA in NLCS)
1994 w/KC: 16-5, 2.94 ERA (170 ERA+), 15 HR. 54:132 BB:K
One problem is that Cone didn't have any other seasons like this. The best of all his other seasons was probably 1997 with the Yankees (158 ERA+ in just 195 IP).
Still, it's plausible to say that Cone was -- at the age of 36 -- a Hall-of-Famer. He was a durable strikeout pitcher with a good ERA, and if he could just finish out his career gracefully (and pad his numbers) he might get in the Hall with a John Smoltz-ish type of career (minus the relief pitching).
But Cone struggled mightily to finish his career. Pitchers as reliable as Cone usually age fairly gracefully, but he certainly didn't. After back-to-back strong seasons in 1998 and 1999 with the Yankees (including a mid-summer perfect game), Cone had a dreadful 2000. There didn't seem to by anything physically wrong with him, so the Yankees let him keep pitching. But it was like someone had taken a Quantum Leap into his body and didn't know how to work it. Cone finished with a ghastly 6.91 ERA despite making 29 starts and pitching 155 innings.
With Boston the following year, Cone rebounded somewhat, posting an ERA slightly better than the league average (4.31; 105 ERA+). But despite making 25 starts, Cone wasn't able to go deep into ballgames and threw only 135.2 innings. He retired after the season. An attempted comeback with the Mets in 2003 was ultimately fruitless (6.50 ERA in 5 games).
I think that if Cone had finished his career more gracefully he would certainly have a shot at the Hall. He wouldn't be any kind of shoo-in, but he'd be right there with guys like Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown, directly on the bubble. As it is, though, Cone's career crashed and now it's hard to piece together a Cooperstown case out of the wreckage. We can't forget what a fine pitcher he was, but unfortunately, it didn't last long enough.
Career 256/336/468; 321 HR; 2-time All-Star
206 Career Win Shares (61st all-time among LF)
18.22 WS/162 G
.255 eqAVG (worst among all LF with 200 WS)
.336 eqOBP (4th-worst among all LF with 200 WS)
As the numbers suggest, Gant was a slugger-for-hire and little else. He was considered something of a flameout after he left the Braves, and while that's partly true, he never really was great in Atlanta, and he had some good seasons afterwards.
Gant's fielding numbers would look better if the team hadn't made the disastrous attempt to put him in the infield. As it is, his bat was all he had. He stole a few bases early in his career, but his career high was 34 and he wasn't much of a percentage stealer until he matured a bit.
Offensively, Gant's best season may have been 1990 with Atlanta. It was a year before the Braves made it big, but Gant showed a sign of things to come by hitting 303/357/539 with 32 HR. Power was most of Gant's game, which is one of the reasons he won't be getting a Cooperstown plaque. He did draw his walks, but he hit for a pretty low batting average (as noted above), so his OBPs were never great.
Gant hit the skids in 1992 with Atlanta (259/321/415). Although he did come back with an improved 1993, he ended up missing all of '94 before returning with the Reds in '95. It may have been his best season (276/386/554), as the Reds won the NL Central (but got swept by the Braves in the NLCS). Gant shifted to the Cardinals in 1996 and won the NL Central again, hitting 246/359/504, but they too fell to the Braves in the NLCS.
Gant's game started to trail off after that, and while he was able to put up some more decent seasons (1999 with the Phillies), he was never good and healthy in the same season again. He knocked around as a part-timer for a while, playing with 5 different teams in his last 6 years before retiring after 2003.
There are always the memories though. My personal favorite is the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. Sure, all he did was hit a sac fly, but it was a part of the big comeback, culminating in Sid Bream's one-legged race.
Career 303/383/442; 2,445 hits; 511 doubles; 3-time All-Star; 4 Gold Gloves
294 Career Win Shares (25th all-time among 1B)
21.22 WS/162 G
133 FRAA (3rd among 1B)
.302 eqAVG (16th among 1B)
.385 eqOBP (20th among 1B)
Grace was a poor man's Keith Hernandez; he wasn't Mex's equal with the glove, but he was a reliable high-average singles hitter who was pretty darn popular in his day. Grace also wasn't as good a hitter as Hernandez; although their numbers bear a good similarity, Grace benefited from playing in hitter's parks during a hitter's era. Hernandez didn't spend any significant time in a hitter's park, and his peak was in the late 70's/early 80's. It may seem like a simple argument, but if Keith Hernandez isn't in the Hall of Fame (and I don't think he should be), then neither should Grace.
Another point is that Hernandez was, at his peak, among the best in baseball, all around (his 1979 c0-MVP was earned). But never was Grace among even the ten best players in the league, and his best seasons don't rank as MVP-caliber at all. Barring some obscene amount of durability, guys like Grace just aren't Hall-of-Famers, fun though they may be to watch.
Career 87-80; 3.16 ERA (125 ERA+); 1,295 IP; 1,179 K; 2-Time All-Star
140 Career Win Shares
Orosco became famous when he set the record for most appearances ever by a pitcher (1,252). Unfortunately, there has to be some quality to go along with that quantity. At first glance, that doesn't sound so hard. Orosco's ERA was well above-average for his career, and he did get his strikeouts. Isn't he then a Hall-of-Famer?
I don't think so. The problem has more to do with the nature of relief pitchers than Orosco himself. The fact that he set the record for appearances isn't just a credit to his durability (although it is partially that), it's a function of modern bullpens. Most modern bullpens have a limited-use left-hander (LOOGY), and Orosco served that role for the last half of his career. In each season from 1991 through his final season in 2003, Orosco had more appearances than innings pitched. This means that he was, generally, not pitching a full inning when he came into a game.
You could argue that Orosco (and by extension, most LOOGYS) have the easiest job in baseball. They throw relatively few innings (1990 was the last time Orosco threw more than 57 innings), only come in when the matchup favors them, and rarely stay in to face tough right-handed pitchers. If you made an adjustment for the easy life of a LOOGY compared to relievers of the past, Orosco (and other LOOGYs) would suffer mightily from the adjustment. After 1990, Orosco was an above-average pitcher who stuck around until age 46 thanks equally to his good durability and the idiosyncatic nature of the modern bullpen.
What about the years 1979-1990? Is it possible that Orosco made his Hall of Fame career then and spent his declining years just padding his numbers? That's a very questionable proposition. A good relief pitcher is, generally speaking, never as valuable as a good starting pitcher. And so if the standard for starters in Cooperstown is stringent, the standard for relievers must be even stronger, since relief pitching is by its nature less strenous and generally less valuable.
Was Jesse Orosco so brilliant from 1979 through 1990 that he punched his Hall ticket? I don't think so. During that period, Orosco threw 791.1 innings, compiled a 2.76 ERA, and notched 683 strikeouts. He was not in the LOOGY role, but in the tougher role of closer or full-time reliever. He did have one really excellent season -- 1983 with the Mets -- but while his performance was better than average, it wasn't brilliant.
Since Orosco's Cooperstown case really hinges on these years, let's compare him to his contemporaries over that same stretch:
Orosco: 2.76 ERA, 121 SV, 791.1 IP, 683 K
Dave Smith: 2.53 ERA, 199 SV, 762 IP, 529 K
Dan Quisenberry: 2.76 ERA, 244 SV, 1043.1 IP, 379 K
Bruce Sutter: 2.83 ERA, 300 SV, 1042.1 IP, 861 K
Goose Gossage: 2.64 ERA, 224 SV, 784 IP, 687 K
There's nothing here at all to separate Orosco from the pack. He wasn't nearly as prolific as Quisenberry and Sutter, and his (unadjusted) ERA was only better than Sutter, whose numbers include his decline phase. His save numbers aren't as high as the others, and that's no coincidence. Orosco was only a closer for four or five years; that means that he wasn't pitching in high-leverage situations nearly as often as the other guys.
The other thing that is his undoing is Orosco's lack of big seasons. In terms of big years, Orosco wasn't nearly as good as Goose Gossage, Quisenberry, Sutter, or even John Franco. So why should he get into Cooperstown ahead of them?
It's a tough case to analyze a relief pitcher conclusively. However, from what I've seen, Orosco was not an elite relief pitcher and is probably 3rd in line to get inducted among relievers of his era. His record for games pitched was impressive, and so was Orosco's ability to pitch at age 46. But that says as much about his era as it does about him, and I haven't seen anything yet to make me think otherwise.
Career 293/383/523; 328 HR; 3-Time All-Star; 1995 AL MVP
200 Career Win Shares (Tied 71st all-time among 1B w/George Burns)
21.43 WS/162 G
.308 EQA (T-18th among 1B w/Harmon Killebrew)
.384 eqOBP (21st among 1B)
.548 eqSLG (T-19th among 1B w/Dolph Camilli)
Mo Vaughn's the sort of player that drives traditional "baseball men" crazy. Managers and commentators since A.G. Spalding have downplayed the skill it takes for a "big idiot" to hit home runs, as opposed to doing the more intellectually challenging work on the ball field. That ideology fell out of practice around 1920, when Babe Ruth showed that hitting homers not only helps you win, it helps you sell tickets. But vestiges still remain; modern reporters and analysts are ten times more likely to praise a "true hitter" like Pete Rose or Ichiro Suzuki while virtually ignoring guys like Mo.
That's unfortunate, because not only was Mo very good, he was not one-dimensional. Mo hit a lifetime 293/383/523, which indicates a broad base of offensive skills: power, contact hitting, and patience. His translated stats show that while he may have benefited from the mid-90's, he also gets credited for playing and succeeding in the modern American League.
Vaughn didn't play enough to merit induction into Cooperstown, as the Win Shares suggest. He was only around for 12 seasons and played just 1,512 games. But, since we've determined that, I'd like to pose a hypothetical: would Mo Vaughn have made it into the Hall if he'd stayed healthy?
Through the 1998 season, Vaughn was hitting a career 304/394/542. Even considering that he was in Fenway Park in the mid-90's that's an impressive achievement. Vaughn was one of the best hitters in baseball, but then he had to be, because he wasn't one of the best players in baseball. Not only was Vaughn just a first baseman, he was a very bad first baseman, and he also ran with all the raw foot speed of a wooly mammoth. So if Vaughn was going to make it into Cooperstown, he was going to have to keep hitting like an elite player.
We know what happened next: Vaughn signed a big free-agent deal with the Angels, and his offense went down the tubes. Even adjusting for the change in parks, Vaughn's first two seasons in Anaheim were a step down. Viz:
1998 w/BOS: 337/402/591; .333 EQA
1999 w/ANA: 281/358/508; .290 EQA
2000 w/ANA: 272/365/498; .290 EQA
Vaughn had gone from an elite hitter to just a very good one in the blink of an eye (or, if you will, after the age of 30). But it all got worse when injuries forced Vaughn to miss the entire 2001 season. The Angels had had enough and traded Mo to the Mets straight-up for Kevin Appier (in a swap of onerous contracts). In 2002, Vaughn was his Anaheim self; good, but no longer excellent. In 2003, he suffered a debilitating knee injury, and his career was over.
Yes, I know that baseball history is littered with tales of Hall-of-Famers whose careers went awry due to injury. But Vaughn's tale is only somewhat about injuries. His steep drop-off in quality with the Angels can't be explained by injuries. And to top it off, many of Vaughn's injuries could have been avoided. He wasn't just the victim of "freak" injuries -- he was a 300-pound man putting his knees through hell.
Unfortunately for the story books, Vaughn's injuries weren't "star-crossed" injuries of chance that cruelly denied him his true destiny. I think Mo was a Hall-of-Famer before he turned 30. But what happened to him after that wasn't just bad luck; it was a predictable circumstance.
Career 268/317/489; 378 HR; 5-Time All-Star; 4 Gold Gloves
Career 241 Win Shares (T-35th all-time among 3B w/Scott Rolen)
20.92 WS/162 G
126 FRAA (12th among 3B)
.320 eqOBP (5th-worst among 3B with 200 WS)
.522 eqSLG (7th among 3B)
Power and defense: not a bad combination. It nearly made Williams an MVP and brought him one (labor) strike away from a chance at breaking Roger Maris' record.
But what holds back Williams from Cooperstown is the same thing that holds back Andre Dawson, Joe Carter, and several others: that pesky OBP. Namely, that Williams made a whole lot of outs in the course of getting those home runs.
If Williams had kept up that production over a much longer period, then maybe we could say that he made up for a lack of quality with quantity. But he didn't. Williams played 17 seasons, which sounds like a lot, but isn't. He debuted in 1987, but didn't catch on as a full-time player until 1990. And the last four years of his career, he was only a semi-regular, playing in 96, 106, 60, and 44 games respectively in those seasons. There was also 1995 and 1996, where injuries limited Williams to only 2/3 of his team's games.
What you're left with is 1,866 games and about 7,400 plate appearances. That's not a whole lot. Brooks Robinson, another power/defense guy (but with much less power and much more defense) played 2,896 games and notched over 11,000 PAs. Robin Ventura, Williams' more well-rounded contemporary, played 2,079 games and managed about 8,100 plate appearances. So while Williams wasn't exactly a short-timer, his low number of games played makes it hard to form a Cooperstown case.
But is it possible that Williams was good enough to make the Hall in such a short time? I really don't think so. Williams' power was pretty well dampened by all those outs. This shows in his .278 EQA, a woeful number. A .270 EQA represents average, and Williams' .278 mark indicates a level of offensive production that's a couple furlongs away from being called "elite." Third baseman with better EQAs who aren't in Cooperstown include Stan Hack, Bob Elliott, Bobby Bonilla, Ron Santo, Bill Madlock, Ron Cey, Darrell Evans, Sal Bando, Toby Harrah, and 6 or 8 others.
Unfortunately, Williams fails to merit Cooperstown induction through quality and quantity. This isn't to say that he wasn't a valuable player of course -- you have to be just to show up on this list -- but he was simply not an elite player or a Hall-of-Famer.
Class of 2009:
Career 300/371/443; 2,724 hits; 210 HR; 12-time All-Star; 10 Gold Gloves
Career 376 Win Shares (8th all-time among 2B)
25.60 WS/162 G (13th among 2B)
.295 career EQA (8th among 2B)
.309 eqAVG (6th among 2B)
.382 eqOBP (11th among 2B)
.474 eqSLG (16th among 2B)
I think that Roberto is an easy Hall-of-Famer. He ranks very favorably in most every important career measure among his peers, as illustrated above. He may not have deserved 10 Gold Gloves, but it seems to me that he was better than just 10 FRAA over his career. If you've got a second baseman who hits among the best ever for his position and is also a good fielder (and perhaps better than that), that's a Hall of Famer. Roberto was around for 17 seasons and was a very durable player. So there's no reason that a player this good who was around this long should be denied a spot in Cooperstown. Roberto may not have been quite as good as Craig Biggio, his contemporary. But he was the AL's best second baseman since Rod Carew, at least.
I think that Roberto will be inducted into the Hall, but I don't think it will happen easily. The thing that will hold him back is that his career took a completely inexplicable nosedive at the age of 34. I don't have a clue what it was that turned Roberto from an MVP candidate into a merely decent player, but it happened very suddenly and seriously hampered his reputation in the eyes of the voters.
In 2001 with Cleveland, Alomar hit 336/415/541 and went 30/36 in steals. He was easily one of the best players in all of baseball that year.
That offseason, the Indians traded Alomar to the Mets for some prospects in what was a salary dump. For some reason, Alomar's offense disappeared; he hit a woeful 266/331/376. 2003 was no different. He was traded to Chicago in mid-season, but was still just marginal, hitting 258/333/349 overall. He split 2004 between the Diamondbacks and White Sox as a part-time player and was even worse. He retired during Spring Training 2005.
This badly damaged his reputation and turned him from a sure-fire first-ballot HOFer into a guy on the bubble. I personally think that he punched his ticket to Cooperstown before 2002, and his sudden fall simply kept him from moving from the Top 10 second baseman into the Top 5. But several polls taken since then have been lukewarm towards Alomar.
However, I don't think this will last. Alomar's failure was a big deal at the time, but it wasn't the sort of catastrophe that sticks in people's heads. Five years is a long time, and I think that when the Hall voters look over his case, they'll see that he's a very deserving candidate. It may not happen on the first ballot, but I think it will happen eventually. And that's only fair.
Career 295/371/444; 2,340 Hits; 12-time All-Star; 3 Gold Gloves; 1995 NL MVP
347 Career Win Shares (9th all-time among SS)
25.79 WS/162 G (11th among SS)
.291 EQA (T-6th among SS w/Lou Boudreau)
.295 eqAVG (12th among SS)
.373 eqOBP (8th among SS)
.465 eqSLG (14th among SS)
I think that Barry Larkin is a Hall-of-Famer, no doubt about it. I also think that he will probably get in, but it could be a hard trip for him.
Barry was a victim of circumstance in many ways. He started his career as the successor to Dave Concepcion, a defensive whiz and a beloved member of the Big Red Machine. Not only that, he was under the shadow of Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken, Jr. Ozzie was a better fielder, and Ripken was a better hitter. It's not a fair comparison, of course; Barry was good enough at both things combined that he was the best all-around NL shortstop since Ernie Banks. But while he was appreciated (as the twelve All-Star games and MVP would attest), he wasn't considered a superstar.
Barry did outlast both Ozzie and Cal in that he was still in his prime when their careers started to fade in the mid-90's. Unfortunately for Barry, that was exactly the same time that a new breed of shortstops emerged over in the AL (Jeter, Nomar, A-Rod) and made people forget every other star shortstop in recent memory (Larkin, Trammell, Concepcion). So there was never any one moment when people considered Barry to be the best shortstop in baseball.
That, I think, is what will delay -- perhaps even stop -- his induction into Cooperstown. Hopefully, though people will look past that and see Barry's brilliance.
Bill James once said that one of the easiest ways a player can be underrated is if he does a lot of things well, rather than any one thing. Barry fits that profile perfectly. He was a very good hitter for his position, but he never posted any gaudy hitting stats like Nomar or A-Rod. He was quite good defensively, but he wasn't as good as Ozzie (not that that's a fair standard). He stole some bases (379) at a good rate (83%), but he never led the league. All three main aspects of his offensive game -- power, patience, and contact hitting -- were far above-average, but no one of them was enough to make him famous.
There's no one number that makes Barry Larkin a Hall-of-Famer. But when you put together all the things he did, it's very hard to argue against his candidacy. Not only was he a great player, he was also a team leader who hit 338/397/465 in four postseason series. This man deserves a Hall-of-Fame plaque, and he shouldn't have to wait for it.
Career 312/418/515; 2,247 Hits; 309 HR; 7-Time All-Star
305 Career Win Shares (12th all-time among 3B*)
24.04 WS/162 G (14th among 3B)
.327 EQA (T-15th all-time; 1st among 3B)
.320 eqAVG (T-15th all-time; 2nd among 3B)
.429 eqOBP (6th all-time; 2nd among 3B)
.555 eqSLG (3rd among 3B)
* -- I list Edgar as a third baseman, just because it's easier than creating a separate "DH" category
This may have been the hardest decision I had to make. I'll take you through the same thought process I went through.
I think we can all pretty much agree that Edgar Martinez was a Hall-of-Fame hitter. After Frank Thomas, he was probably the best right-handed hitter of the 90's, with all due respect to Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield.
One problem with Edgar's career is that while we can't argue with the quality, we can quibble with the quantity. Edgar worked like clockwork once he became established, but he didn't become an everyday player until 1990, when he was 27.
I may be setting a dangerous precedent here, but I think we can cut Edgar some slack in this regard. Edgar was good enough to start for the Mariners as early as 1987 or 1988, especially when you consider we're talking about the 1980's Mariners here. But the club couldn't put Edgar at third base, because they already had Jim Presley (which doesn't sound as impressive now as it did then). After that, they couldn't keep Edgar at third because his defense was awful. They had Alvin Davis and Ken Phelps at first base and DH, respectively, so they couldn't really move him. In my opinion, though, the Mariners were silly to stick with Jim Presley (a horrifically overrated player), when they had the far superior Edgar, even taking defense into account. I'm not saying we should ignore Edgar's late start; many potential HOFers have been the victim of circumstances in their careers, too. But I think we can cut him a little slack in recognizing that his late start was entirely due to his team, rather than his talent.
But that's a relatively minor matter. Even with the late start, I think Edgar was a good enough hitter to make the Hall, and I don't think many analysts would disagree. No, the elephant in the room in regards to Edgar's Hall-of-Fame case is the fact that he was primarily a DH. The only Hall-of-Famer who spent more games at DH than any other position is Paul Molitor. But Molitor's a poor comparison; he played 1,174 games at DH in a career of 2,683. So he spent more time at other positions, which he often played quite well. It's just that he played at so many different spots that he never accumulated as many games as he did later in his career as a DH.
So Molitor wasn't a "career DH," meaning that there isn't one in the Hall, which is bad news for Edgar's chances. Because Edgar was a career DH; Edgar played 1,412 games at DH, and just 563 at 3B and 28 at 1B. If he gets into the Hall, he'll be the first one in Cooperstown who spent the majority of their career at DH.
And so, we reach the burning question: can a career DH make the Hall of Fame? If so, was Edgar's hitting good enough to get him in despite his zero contribution on defense?
As to the first question, I say yes, absolutely, but many writers would disagree. It's amazing to me that so many people still bear a sharp grudge against the DH rule and are willing to let it affect their voting on MVP and Hall of Fame matters. But I think the simple fact that Edgar was a DH will get him a sharp dismissal from many writers, who will simply say, "A DH shouldn't be in Cooperstown!" and then go on their merry, ignorant way.
I couldn't disagree more. A DH should absolutely be considered for Cooperstown. We should elect a player based on his total value. You add up their offensive, defensive, and baserunning values and judge them by their sum total. The question is whether Edgar contributed enough on offense to compensate for a zero on defense.
I think I can say yes, but let me change the subject for a moment to explain myself. The central concept of baseball value is (in my mind) the concept of the replacement level. A player is only valuable in as much as he contributes above what can be gotten from a replacement-level player. So let's consider Edgar's lack of defense in this light: he contributed nothing above replacement level in those games in which he was a DH. But, neither did he hurt the team by contributing defense that was worse than replacement level. You'd rather have Edgar, who's a zero on defense, than someone who's actually worse than a replacement-level player.
So instead of considering Edgar's Fielding Runs Above Average, let's look at his Fielding Runs Above Replacement. For his career, he contributed 44 FRAR. That's mainly due to his work at third base; he was bad, yes, but he was still better than a replacement-level defensive third baseman. Even so, if you're only 44 runs better than replacement-level over your entire career, then you haven't done much for yourself.
But (he said earnestly), consider this:
Edgar Martinez: 44 career FRAR
Frank Thomas: -13 career FRAR
Mo Vaughn: -17 career FRAR
Willie McCovey: 28 career FRAR
Chipper Jones: 74 career FRAR
If Edgar Martinez had stayed a third baseman, he probably wouldn't have been a whole lot worse than Chipper Jones, whose defense has never really hurt his reputation as a future HOFer.
And is Edgar, a full-time DH, really more valuable defensively than Frank Thomas? Yes. Thomas was so bad that the club would have been better off if he'd stayed off the field entirely.
What this comes down to is that many people see a DH as a defensive zero. And anyone else -- even someone as bad as Thomas -- is worth more than zero. I disagree with this concept. As I said before, the idea of replacement level means that it's possible to be worse than a DH -- who is a zero. And Thomas certainly was.
For Edgar Martinez, this makes the DH issue much easier to overcome. While his defensive nonexistence does weigh against his offense, it doesn't weigh as badly as a truly terrible player at another position.
With this in mind, was Edgar's offense good enough to offset his defense? I think so, absolutely. Not only does Edgar rank favorably among third basemen (which isn't fair, since he really wasn't one), he ranks favorably all-time among everybody. Edgar's EQA is tied for 15th all-time, meaning that, adjusted for era, he was one of the best hitters ever. Here are the players he's tied with: Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Johnny Mize, and Jim Thome. I don't know if I'd list Edgar's offense quite that highly, but it is a striking thought that he ranks among these giants.
The two main concerns surrounding Edgar -- defense and longevity -- are significant concerns. But I don't think they're insurmountable. As I've illustrated above, they're actually not as much of an issue as they are perceived to be. Whether the BBWAA voters agree with me is very doubtful. But here's what I think: if Frank Thomas is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, then Edgar Martinez can't be too far behind.
Career 288/347/499; 2,333 Hits; 399 HR; 5-Time All-Star; 2 Gold Gloves
251 Career Win Shares (42nd all-time among 1B)
18.07 WS/162 G
If it weren't for Coors Field, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. I love Andres as much as anyone, but there's nothing here that represents a Hall of Fame case. The only really strong argument is his slugging. But, unfortunately, that's also the argument most influenced by Coors Field. In Andres' peak seasons at Coors, the ballpark inflated offense by 20-30%. That's historically high, and it bumps down Andres' slugging percentages and raw numbers to the point that his Hall case is just not there.
It's not that Andres was a bad hitter; in 1998 he came to the Braves and really did hit like an MVP (305/397/595). But there weren't enough of those seasons, and the ones he did have were juiced by his ballpark. I'll always remember Andres' comeback from cancer in 2000 fondly, but he just doesn't meet the standard for Cooperstown.
Career 284/377/509; 2,490 Hits; 493 HR; 5-Time All-Star
341 Career Win Shares (15th all-time among 1B)
22.46 WS/162 G
.307 EQA (T-20th among 1B w/ Rafael Palmeiro)
Well, here's another really tough case. McGriff ranks pretty well on career Win Shares, and he was indeed a productive player for quite some time. His .307 EQA is surprisingly high to me, as I never really considered McGriff to be that good. The problem is that while he was sometimes an MVP candidate, he was never really the best player in the league, and was rarely even in the top 10.
McGriff finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting 6 times during his career. But two of those were 10th-place finishes, and only once did he finish in the top 5 (his amazing 1993). That's pretty much consistent with my own MVP rankings. I personally rank McGriff among the top 10 in his league four times in his career, with his best a 5th-place finish in 1990, when he hit 300/400/530 for Toronto.
So here's the problem I have with McGriff: quality-wise, I think he falls just short of Cooperstown standards, but it's possible that he made up for it with good quantity, consistency, and durability. Let's also take into account that McGriff played in ten postseason series and hit 303/382/532 overall. His best performance may have been in the 1993 NLCS, when the Braves lost to the Phillies through no fault of his own; the Crime Dog hit 435/519/696.
The general consensus about McGriff seems to be that he was a really good player for a long time, but he just wasn't great enough to merit induction into Cooperstown. And, although I have some misgivings, I think I would have to agree. Fred had a good, long career, but I just don't think he ever reached a peak that ranks him above the rest. Ask me again in a few years and I might change my mind, but right now, I wouldn't vote for Fred McGriff for the Hall of Fame.
Career 267/362/444; 294 HR; 2-Time All-Star; 6 Gold Gloves
272 Career Win Shares (23rd all-time among 3B)
21.19 WS/162 G
157 FRAA (5th among 3B)
.373 eqOBP (13th among 3B)
For a while in the early 90's, I considered myself a White Sox fan. Maybe it's because they were on cable TV, maybe it's because they had cool new uniforms, and maybe it's because I had a bizarre fascination with Steve Sax's career (don't ask). Either way, I came to be a big fan of Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura, the cornerstones of those teams, along with guys like Tim Raines, "Black" Jack McDowell, and Roberto Hernandez.
So I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Robin Ventura and never felt like he really got the credit he deserved. But while the 10-year-old in me would love to put Robin the Hall, the 25-year-old in me realizes he just doesn't belong.
Robin was a good hitter for the position and a fine fielder, as the Gold Gloves suggest. He was rarely a great hitter, but he was consistenly of All-Star caliber. From 1991-1995, Ventura was amazingly consistent:
1991: 284/367/442, Gold Glove
1992: 282/375/431, Gold Glove
1993: 262/379/433, Gold Glove
Admittedly, this consistency is partly an illusion. Ventura was better in 1991-1993, because the entire league experienced an upward shift in offense starting in '93, meaning that Ventura's performance in the strike years wasn't quite as valuable.
Ventura returned with similar consistency in '96, but broke his leg in Spring Training 1997. Possibly still suffering the effects, he had an off year in 1998 (263/349/436) which was, unfortunately for him, his walk year. He signed as a free agent with the Mets and got a new lease on life.
Ventura's 1999 with the Mets was one of the best seasons by a third baseman since the heyday of Schmidt-Brett-Boggs. He hit 301/379/529 despite moving to a pitcher's park in the National League. The leg didn't seem to be bothering him. Ventura struggled in the postseason, although he'll be forever remembered by Met fans for his "walkoff grand-slam single" that won Game 5 of the NLCS in the 15th inning.
Ventura spent two more decent seasons with the Mets and then went to the Yankees, where he was equally capable, although he would never again be the star he once was. He ended his career with one-and-a-half seasons with the Dodgers and retired after hitting 243/337/362 as a part-timer in 2004.
Ventura was good, but rarely great. He was consistently good, but not for a very long time. He was a fine, well-rounded ballplayer, no question about it. But he's just not a Hall-of-Famer. The 10-year-old Aaron is disappointed, but at least he'll feel better when the Big Hurt gets inducted.
Since this discussion has gone on longer than I expected, I'll go ahead and wait on the rest of the entry, making this a two-part installment. You can expect a report on the HOF Class of 2010 and the tentative Class of 2011 within a couple of days.