When I saw that only two players had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week, my thoughts immediately turned to future years. With only two deserving candidates going in, there was still going to be a log jam. How would that impact the players who are coming onto the ballot next year? There are three who have a real case for being in the Hall of Fame: Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez.
Ramirez and Rodriguez seem pretty easy to peg. Ramirez — one of the great right-handed hitters to ever grace this planet, but also a player with several off-field transgressions, including two failed performance enhancing drug tests — seems likely to get a middling level of support, similar to Mark McGwire. Enough to remain comfortably on the ballot, but not enough to be near induction. Rodriguez will vault firmly into the middle of the pack at the very least, and stands a strong shot at induction on his first go-round. He has 13 Gold Gloves, the most of any catcher, and while he had PED whispers, so did Mike Piazza, and he just got in. The tide seems to be turning on the “Steroids Era.”
Guerrero, however, is a total wild card. At least to me. I could see him vaulting into strong induction contention, or I could see him scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s hard to get a good read on his candidacy.
Guerrero’s case boils down to who you regard as his peer group. Do you look at his statistical peers, or do you look at him as an MVP-winner? In which category does he belong?
First, let’s take a look at the statistical peer group. Here are all the right fielders who produced between 50 and 70 WAR in heir career, with their JAWS and Hall of Stats scores included for extra measure:
As you can see, statistically, Guerrero is no slam dunk. He’s middle of the pack in many stats, though he grades out well in home runs, batting average and wOBA. He isn’t first in any category, grades out poorly on defense, and is dead last as a base runner. Guerrero was a really bad base runner. Of the 3,681 qualified position players in major league history, only 11 have/had a worse BsR than did Guerrero. Half of those 11 were catchers (or came up as catchers) and none of them were outfielders. Among the 1,523 qualified outfielders, Guerrero is dead last, and it’s not even remotely close. That matters. To me, anyway. I still remember Guerrero costing the Angels’ a potential rally in Game One of the 2005 American League Division Series with a caught stealing on an ill-advised hit-and-run.
Speaking of the postseason, Guerrero wasn’t so great in the postseason. People are often fond of giving extra credit for great postseason performances, but we rarely look to demerit for poor postseason performances. And that’s probably fair. But it’s definitely eyebrow-raising when a guy with a .931 career OPS could only manage a .664 OPS in the postseason. That poor postseason OPS is partially dragged down by his odorous final postseason with the Rangers, when he hit just .220/.242/.271 across 62 plate appearances. But two points there. One, Guerrero was still a good hitter that season, to the tune of a 119 wRC+ in the regular season. And two, even if you remove 2010, his postseason OPS is still a comparatively poor .740, across 126 PA. He only hit two postseason home runs, and disappeared for whole series, like when he went 1-for-20 in the 2005 ALCS.
But Guerrero was also an MVP. That’s a pretty big gold star on your resume. It’s also not the end all, be all. Of the 124 MVPs who are or were eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame, only 66 — or 53% — have plaques in Cooperstown. And that still might be a touch high. Take a look at this breakdown.
|Player Type||Overall||1 MVP||2+ MVPs|
|Hall of Famers||66||43||23|
While it’s overwhelmingly likely that a player with two-plus MVPs can assure himself a place in Cooperstown, the one-timers are less than a 50-50 proposition. Is that fair, though? I mean, not all players who produce an all-world season go on to have an all-world career. In fact, if we look at a custom leaderboard of these 124 MVP winners, we see that 25 of them had a career WAR less than 35. So, let’s look at the MVPs who tallied between 50 and 70 WAR, just to make it a little more fair of a comparison:
|Joe Torre||62.3||Yes but no|
Well, that’s more like it. Of the 32 players who won MVP and had between 50-70 WAR, 24 of them (or 75%) were elected to the Hall of Fame as players. (Joe Torre is in the Hall, but as a manager.) That’s a pretty strong point in favor of Guerrero. If he had another MVP, obviously, his case would be much stronger, but he did finish in the top five three other times (2002, 2005 and 2007).
And yet, the ballot is still going to be super crowded next year. There have been outfielders in his class who have been one-and-dones in recent years — Kenny Lofton (18 votes in 2013), Jim Edmonds (11 votes this year), Brian Giles (0 votes last year) and Luis Gonzalez (five votes in 2014) — and while Gary Sheffield, Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa remain on the ballot, they haven’t garnered much support thus far.
Walker, in particular, seems like a roadblock. Walker has an MVP, and is a fellow sentimental former Expos player, and compiled far more wins than did Guerrero. Walker scores higher in both JAWS and the Hall of Stats, and yet his high-water mark was 22.9% in 2012. Walker has the road-stats bias, but he not only didn’t spend his whole career at Coors Field, he also posted a .278/.370/.495 line on the road for his career, and hit 168 homers and stole 109 bases on the road. He’s just one of 49 players in the Away 100-100 Club. I’d find it hard to put Guerrero over Walker on any ballot.
And it’s not just Walker. Next year’s Hall of Fame ballot features 19 players who totaled 40+ career WAR, as well as three highly regarded closers.
We haven’t discussed peak value yet, and with good reason. But let’s do that, briefly, in the context of next year’s ballot. Guerrero doesn’t really separate himself from the field in that regard. He had five seasons with five WAR or better. Comparing him to the other 21 players that will be the most prominent on next year’s ballot, you see that his five best seasons (not consecutive, just five best) aren’t a difference maker.
|Name||WAR||5 Best Years||Best||2nd||3rd||4th||5th|
You can see here that like Ken Griffey Jr. did, Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Bagwell can make a good peak-value claim. And Sammy Sosa is sort of separated from the pack. But after him, there are 10 players within a five-win band. That’s where Guerrero is. Again, below Sheffield and Walker. And also, by the way, below the banished Edmonds, whose five-year peak totals 34.0 WAR (and Edmonds still has a six-win season to boot following his top five). On Guerrero’s Hall of Stats page, proprietor Adam Darowski has his value at 50% peak, 50% career. That’s not the breakdown of a guy who can get by touting his peak value.
Vladimir Guerrero was/is a very famous player. He won an MVP award, and came close three other times. He had a marvelous career, and was an outstanding hitter. But even allowing for his arm, he was a horrible defender, and an even worse base runner. He doesn’t have a great peak-value argument and, statistically, finds himself squarely in the middle of the pack. No one is going to complain if he is voted into the Hall of Fame, but on a crowded ballot he is merely one of the qualified candidates, rather than one of the most qualified candidates.