Hall of Fame 2018: Voting Primer (5/9) – Borderline Cases

Hall of Fame 2018: Voting Primer (5/9) – Borderline Cases

The Hall of Fame class of 2018 will be announced on January 24, 2018. In the meantime, I’m going to spend my Sundays going over the 33 players on this year’s ballot. I’ll include what the argument for inclusion is for each player and what the argument against their inclusion might be. I’ve tried to group the players together in the most reasonable manner. In the comment section, I’d love to hear if any of the players have your vote or you’re at least considering them. Thanks!

Scott Rolen | Keith Allison (SA BY CC 2.0) via Flickr
Scott Rolen
70 bWAR, 70.1 fWAR
First Year on the Ballot

Consider this: According to JAWS, the average Hall of Fame third baseman – 13 in total – has a career bWAR of 67.5, a 7-yr peak of 42.8 WAR, and JAWS score of 55.2. Rolen beats all three. He was a seven-time All-Star, won eight Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and was the ’97 NL Rookie of the Year. Of position players, only 66 players in history have a better bWAR. He finished as high as fourth in the MVP race in 2004 and Rolen was a plus-player until his Age-36 season.

Four times, Rolen posted at least a 6 fWAR – including an even 9 in 2004. He finished with a .368 wOBA, a 122 wRC+, and is seventh since 1970 in fWAR by a 3B. That’s despite finishing with 8518 PA and the top six having at least 1500 more PA. His JAWS score, by the way, is tenth all-time among 3B and just a shade under Paul Molitor.

But there’s this: Voters can use two reasons to not vote for Rolen, though many would find both reasons ignorant. Reason #1 – he sucked in the playoffs. He had a couple of decent showings (’02 NLDS, ’04 NLCS, ’06 World Series), but in 159 overall plate appearances in postseason action, Rolen hit just .250 and grounded into as many double plays as he hit homers. One could argue that a .252 BABIP was more to blame for Rolen’s postseason struggles and given enough PA, his stats may normalize. But facts are facts and Rolen struggled when the calendar switched to October.

The other criticism against Rolen is that other peers shined ahead of him. This is similar in some regards to the Fred McGriff debate. I mentioned that only six 3B had a better fWAR than Rolen since 1970, but half are contemporaries like Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and Adrian Beltre. Rolen lags well behind Chipper and A-Rod in offense. Beltre has played well enough for long enough to hit some big counting stats (3000+ hits and making a run on 500 homers). Rolen only received a vote four times for the MVP in 17 years. He was just not seen as a difference maker, but an above-average player for his position.

According to Baseball-Reference, Rolen’s most similar hitter was Paul O’Neill – another plus-player, but not a Hall of Famer. It’s a fair comparison offensively, though Rolen supporters would point out that Rolen played a more important position and did it well. In Rolen’s case, the Gold Gloves were earned by merit and not reputation. Again, using the “since-1970 sample,” only two third basemen have a better DEF grade than Rolen. He’s also in the Top 50 all-time for Defensive WAR. The problem for Rolen is that voters can look at Adrian Beltre and see a player who is a lot like Rolen, but better in every way. It makes Rolen look smaller – whether that’s fair or not.

Johnny Damon
56 bWAR, 44.5 fWAR
First Year on the Ballot

Consider this: I recently went after Rick Telander, a Chicago Sun-Time writer, who voted for Damon over another deserving first-time outfielder – Andruw Jones. That wasn’t meant to slight Damon, but only point out that an objectively better player at the same position who played in the same time period was available. Perhaps there is some reason to vote for Damon after all. Let’s dive in.

There are ten players who have 225 or more home runs and 400 or more steals. That’s according to Baseball-Reference Play Index. Four of the players on this list are enshrined with a fifth, Barry Bonds, likely to get in as well. That leaves the other half of the list – Bobby Bonds, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Marquis Grissom, and Damon. Make of that what you will, but getting into this club is no small thing.

For his career, Damon hit .284/.352/.433 with a .344 wOBA and 105 wRC+. He had four seasons with a 4 fWAR or better and led the league in steals back in 2000 with 46. Twice, Damon was an All-Star and he ranks 32nd all-time in Runs Scored and 54th in hits. His numbers in the playoffs were reasonably close to his career slash (.276/.323/.452). Damon is also one of four players – with Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Chase Utley – to have at least ten postseason home runs and ten postseason steals.

But consider this: Beyond the numbers, which other than being quirky – Damon’s one of 13 players with 500 doubles, 100 triples, and 200 home runs – there appears to be little justification for Damon in the Hall. He never finished in the Top 10 of the MVP race, nor was he defensively a plus. Damon was a good player, especially when kept in left field, but he was a spark plug, not a difference maker.

His numbers pale in comparison to the 19 other center fielders already in the Hall and are also well below Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds – peers in center field who didn’t last more than one year on the ballot. On a ballot with one premier center fielder and at least five other outfielders with better cases than Damon, it seems like Damon will join Lofton and Edmonds in the one-and-done group.

Omar Vizquel | Keith Allison (SA BY CC 2.0) via Flickr

Omar Vizquel
45.3 bWAR, 42.6 fWAR
First Year on the Ballot

Consider this: Over a long, 24-year career, Omar Vizquel proved that he was one of the game’s top shortstops, winning eleven Gold Gloves. Only Ozzie Smith won more and I imagine during this snippet, that won’t be the only time I mention The Wizard of Oz. Vizquel has the best fielding percentage by a shortstop in history – which is pretty amazing considering how many plays he was involved in. Among shortstops, he’s fifth all-time in Total Zone Runs, turned the most double plays, and has the third most assists. If there was a Defensive Hall of Fame, Vizquel would be a first-ballot choice. He’d only miss being unanimous because Hall of Fames, in general, are really dumb about things like that.

His defense was excellent, but he did turn himself into a better hitter. From 1992 to 2006, Vizquel was good for a .282/.349/.370 triple slash, which is no small thing considering he was a sub-.600 OPS hitter before ’92 and a .615 OPS hitter during the final six years of his career. Those do play a role in taking down his career slash to .272/.336/.352. He finished 123 hits short of 3,000. He did swipe over 400 bases. Vizquel was also an All-Star three times.

But there’s this: Vizquel has received a lot more support for the Hall of Fame than I expected. A lot of that likely has to do with his easy apples-to-apples comparison with Ozzie Smith. Both players’ cases for the Hall were built nearly entirely on defense. Vizquel has slightly better numbers in many ways, though Smith was the more accomplished base stealer. Further, Smith is actually the better offensive player here when you take into account the time he played and the ballparks he played in. Smith finished his career with a 90 wRC+ and, during his hitting prime, he had a 100 wRC+ in seven out of eight years. Vizquel had a 83 career wRC+ and only reached 100 wRC+ twice.

Of course, it was much harder to reach that mark in the juiced ball era, which is why Vizquel does have a .310 wOBA versus’s Smith’s .305. The comparison falls back to defense and here’s where I probably ruffle some feathers. Vizquel was a great defender, but he wasn’t one of the best. Ozzie Smith, Mark Belanger, and Cal Ripken finished with at least 176 total zone runs. Vizquel finished with a 134, good for fifth best. Smith finished fifth in Range Factor/9 inning with a 5.215. That’s 0.055 behind the leader, Bill Almon. Vizquel is 72nd with an RF/9Inn of 4.617. Vizquel had smooth hands and an accurate arm, but he never had the range others had. Still a great defensive shortstop, but perhaps not as good as some make him out to be.

If his case is built entirely on defense – and it is – his metrics should matter. Vizquel was eighth all-time among shortstops in DEF, but nearly 100 behind Smith. Comparing the two does as much harm to Vizquel as it does help make Smith look even better. If Vizquel had played during Rabbit Maranville‘s time, he probably gets elected one day. But in an era where defense took a back seat to big flies, it’s difficult to really support Vizquel’s induction. Especially on a ballot this deep.

Andruw Jones
62.8 bWAR, 67.1 fWAR
First Year on the Ballot

Consider this: Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey Jr., Billy Hamilton, Al Simmons, Carlos Beltran, and Andruw Jones. That’s the Top 10 in fWAR by a CF. Eight are in the Hall of Fame, including Hamilton, who isn’t the current Reds speedster but one of the best players to play the game before 1900. A ninth, Beltran, seems like a slamdunk choice. Jones…well, right now, he’s just hoping to stick on the ballot for a second year.

Mays, by the way, has the second-best DEF grade by a CF. It’s 170.1. Andruw Jones is #1 with a 281.3. There are certainly issues with that metric, but Jones has the eighth-best total in history and Mays is the only outfielder, not just center fielder, who comes within walky-talky distance. That joke is a play on someone being within shouting distance of another. That’s my way of saying Andruw Jones is the greatest defensive center fielder to ever play the game.

I’m glad we have both Andruw Jones and Vizquel in this post. Whereas Vizquel’s defensive numbers are hurt by those ahead of him, the same doesn’t apply to Andruw. In terms of Total Zone Runs by an OF, the second-best total is 205 by Roberto Clemente. The only other player above 200 is Andruw Jones with a 243. He won ten consecutive Gold Glove, went to five All-Star Games, and finished his career with the 20th best Defensive WAR of all-time. Vizquel played seven more years than Andruw Jones at a position that awards defensive metrics better and finished with a dWAR that was just 4.3 better than Andruw.

But it wasn’t all about defense for Andruw. He finished four times in the Top 10 in home runs, including winning the 2005 title. His 434 home-runs are 47th all-time. Jones is one of 20 players all-time with at least 425 home-runs and 150 steals. Andruw’s numbers in the postseason weren’t superb, but they were solid (.273/.363/.433) and started with that three-homer barrage as a 19-year-old rookie back in ’96.

But there’s this: For detractors of Andruw Jones, there are a few issues that have to be addressed. Let’s take a look at his JAWS. While the seven-year peak is Hall of Fame quality based on the average HOF CF, he falls short as far as career WAR and JAWS goes. However, center field’s average is a bit skewed by a few of the best players to ever play pushing up the curve in Mays, Cobb, and Speaker. Jones does have comparable WAR/WAR7/JAWS splits to Richie Ashburn and Andrew Dawson. He’s also much higher than Kirby Puckett, but well below Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider. A contemporary of Andruw’s, Ken Griffey Jr., is also a good deal higher in those Hall of Fame metrics.

Also working against Andruw was that his career as an everyday starter was basically over after he left the Braves. He was a full-time starter for a decade. But in the five years after he left in Atlanta in 2007, he reached a high of 331 PA. He went from a 5-win+ player to a 1-win player in the span just two years. Furthermore, you have to wonder if it will hurt him that he never reached his before ’97 sky-high expectations. It shouldn’t, but baseball writers during the time may have seen him as a great center fielder, but a disappointment offensively despite a career .352 wOBA.

Andruw Jones is the best defensive center fielder ever. That much is not up for debate – the numbers prove it. His offensive skills aren’t Hall of Fame-worthy, but he wasn’t a DH. He was the best defensive center fielder ever. Will that be enough to push him all the way to Cooperstown? It won’t happen this year – he’s currently 14 votes short of the needed 5% to land on next year’s ballot. Should he reach that, he could eventually climb the charts like Tim Raines did.

What do you think? Do any of these four newbies to the Hall of Fame ballot deserve to be elected? Let me know below and if you’ve missed any of the previous primers, you can also find them below.

Previous Primers

  1. Position Players With Little Chance
  2. The Closers
  3. Starters Who Will Fall Short
  4. The Returning Sluggers


Very good analysis, You have reported facts and perspectives that I had not read in other columns until now. I agree with you, but I think there are several difficulties about the case of Vizquel.

With respect to the Range Factor / 9 inning, we must remember that it depends on the balls in play and at Smith’s time there were significantly more balls in play than in Vizquel’s as Jaffe says in https://www.si. com / mlb / 2017/12/06 / omar-vizquel-hall-fame-ballot-2018

“Smith played in an era with more balls in play and fewer strikeouts. Via B-Ref, during his time in the field, 83% of his pitching staff’s plate appearances ended with a ball in play; for Vizquel’s teams, the rate was 77%, so there would have been fewer chances for him to make a play. Likewise, his staffs faced a smaller proportion of righthanded batters, whose natural pull tendency would be to the left side of the infield: 58%, in line with the league average. Smith’s teams faced 61% righties, two points above average.”

I also suppose that at the time of Vizquel (PED use era), the balls in play had an average speed higher than in Smith’s time, leaving of course much less reaction time for the infielders.

I think that the aforementioned facts would be very significant mitigating factors for the Range Factor / 9 difference, although I am convinced that Smith had a higher rank, but the difference is not so great due to the facts above.

There is another fact that amazed me a lot.

As you know, several of the advanced and accurate defensive statistics were introduced at the beginning of the 2000s. For example, UZR was introduced in 2002, when Omar was 35 years old and had spent 13 years of his career.

As we all know a 35-year-old SS, however talented he may be, he no longer has the reflexes, nor flexibility, or the speed of his best time. We must recall that shortstop is one of the positions that most demand athletic ability

Taking into account that, however, according to the analysis of total UZR from the year when that statistics was introduced (2002) until Vizquel retired (2012). Omar was third in UZR only slightly surpassed by Rollins (who played almost 6200 more innings!) And Hardy (who is 15 years younger than Vizquel!). In UZR / 150 only Hardy surpassed it. Both analyzes are based on min 7000 innings played during that time https://twitter.com/cesarcuadra/status/944316641319546883

If this was done by Omar as SS between his 35 and 45 years, which prevents us from believing that during his 20 it was even better?

Perhaps it would be that at that time did not exist the advanced statistics of today where there is the assignment of zones of the field?

Nothing but valid points. Certainly, older metrics like RF/9 and the like are very vulnerable to the time periods. I admit – I’ve let my judgment get clouded to some degree by the sheer insanity of I see between voting for Omar Vizquel entirely for defense, but not doing the same for Andruw Jones – who also provided much more offense. It’s crazy to me why this happens. I do believe Vizquel was a great defender, though I don’t believe he was better than Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripkin Jr., and so on. I just don’t see the evidence to believe he was in that discussion. That said, there is no doubt that he was superb at playing shortstop and it would have been very interesting to see what his advanced metrics (UZR/150, DRS, etc.) would have looked like during his prime, though the same could be said of Ozzie and Cal. Because of the relative youth of those numbers, Andrelton Simmons is already second all-time behind Adrian Beltre in DRS, for instance.

I do thank you for your comment. Perhaps in my rush to show that Andruw Jones deserves much more support, I have pushed against Vizquel too hard. I’m still not convinced he was a Hall of Famer. Actually, to be honest, I am pretty sure he isn’t, but I am a bit more open to the idea now.

AJ & Rolen vs Vizquel. Modern approach to defensive grade against traditional one.

I guess Vizquel will get in, AJ and Rolen won’t.

Andruw is a good example of what I believe are potential HOF’ers hurting themselves by leaving their team of origin where they have built their biggest legacy. Even in his last year in Atlanta, he had fallen off a cliff. But after a down year or two, he became a useful player again for a couple of years. Had he stayed in Atlanta, it’s possible he might have returned to form or completed a couple more seasons as a starter before going into full decline and he would have been held in higher regard at the end. With the exception of a year or two at the very end of a HOF’er’s career, the very best players played for one team for the vast majority of their careers. A few have broken the rule but being the long term leader of your team boosts the esteem in which players are held. Not that he’s in the same ballpark, but Matt Kemp is another example. He has never been held in as high regard since he left the Dodgers even though his numbers have not been so different (there was a step function lower, though). Although, I will admit that this idea could be confounded by the fact that some players, even high functioning players, may have a tendency to decline by the period of time it takes to become a FA, especially if they sign one extension.

I don’t know if it was as much his changing teams as it was his rapid decline in skill. I hate to even say this, because every player deserves to play as long as they want, and they’re wanted- but Andruw should’ve hung it up after 2008 if he wanted to build a strong case for the HoF. I think a lot of the writers might remember those last 4-5 years of his career, when he was a shell of his former self, all too vividly.

If you lop those years off, you have the positional equivalent to Sandy Koufax- a guy who maybe doesn’t have the lengthy career, with the gaudy counting stats; but who was, by almost every measurable, one of the most dominant, and talented players to ever man the position for a short period.

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