Modern Hall of Fame Ballot: Ted Simmons, Alan Trammell, and (Not) Lou Whitaker

This is the third post covering the Modern Era Ballot for the Hall of Fame. For a look at the pitchers, click here. For the first four hitters, click here. The introduction below might look familiar.

Last week, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced 10 candidates for consideration for the Modern Era ballot, which includes executives and players whose careers took place mainly from 1970 to 1987. This year, the candidates include one non-player, Marvin Miller, and nine players from that era: Steve GarveyTommy JohnDon MattinglyJack MorrisDale MurphyDave ParkerTed SimmonsLuis Tiant and Alan Trammell. Among the player candidates, we have an interesting mix: some who make their claim with a high peak, those who have longevity on their side, and one player with both. Over the course of three posts, I’m examining all the candidates. Today, we’ll cover the two most deserving position players. I’ll also look at one player left off the ballot.

First, a brief word on the rules and procedures of this ballot, which is an updated version of the old Veteran’s Committee. Baseball has been separated into eras, with Early Baseball (1871-1949), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-Present). Most players up through 1969 have had their cases considered many times. As a result, during this cycle (2016-2020), the Early Baseball and Golden Days players are scheduled to be evaluated just once, in 2020, with Modern Baseball and Today’s Game receiving consideration every other year from 2016 to -19. There are 16 voting members on the Committee for election, and players must receive 75% of the vote with voting members limited to four votes.

In my evaluation of each player, I’ve included a collection of numbers. Besides WAR, the rest of these come from a system I devised (introduction here) that provides an escalating scale of points for all above-average seasons (HOF Points) averaged with WAR to come to a total HOF Rating. The averaged and median numbers that follow are first for all Hall of Famers at their respective positions. The BBWAA averages and medians are for those Hall of Famers voted in by the writers, who have historically had tougher standards.

Below are the two players most deserving of the Hall of Fame on this year’s ballot.

Ted Simmons
Player Rating Inductee Benchmarks
(Catchers)
HOF
Points (Peak)
WAR HOF
RATING
HOF
AVG
HOF
MEDIAN
BBWAA
AVG
BBWAA
MEDIAN
26 54.2 40.1 40.9 39.3 49.1 51.3

If Steve Garvey had played the most difficult defensive position on the field instead of the easiest, his career would have been similar to Ted Simmons’. The former Braves, Brewers, and Cardinals catcher occupies a unique place in the Hall of Fame landscape. Looking back at the great catchers of the last 70 years or so, one finds all-time greats like Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, and Ivan Rodriguez, roughly one catcher for every decade. Then there’s pretty decent-sized gap, then Ted Simmons, then another decent-sized gap.

In catcher, we find a position that’s underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, particularly in recent history. Then we have a catcher who’s the best at the position (by a considerable amount) not to have been inducted into the Hall. Here’s a look at the best non-Hall catchers.

Best Catchers Not in the Hall of Fame
Points WAR AVG
Ted Simmons 26 54.2 40.1
Joe Mauer 26 48.1 37.2
Jorge Posada 26 44.3 35.2
Bill Freehan 23 44.8 33.9
Gene Tenace 22 45.0 33.5
Thurman Munson 23 40.9 32.0
Buster Posey 26 37.2 31.6
Lance Parrish 19 43.4 31.2
Darrell Porter 20 40.8 30.4

These are roughly the seventh- through 16th-best catchers in baseball history over the last 70 years based on peak and total WAR. Joe Mauer’s placement on this list is interesting. A few years ago, we might have thought he was going to blow by Simmons, but he’s accumulated just five wins over the last four years and will be 35 next season. Also, there’s a question of whether he’s actually a catcher: if he plays just three more years, he’ll have recorded fewer than 50% of his starts behind the plate. He’s caught only about half the number of innings as Simmons did and he still might not surpass Simmons either in WAR or HOF Rating.

After Mauer, we have a bunch of guys in front of whom Simmons is comfortably situated. Buster Posey represents an interesting case. I think most people consider him a future Hall of Famer. If Posey were to age normally, hitting the four-win mark for which he’s projected in his age-31 season and then losing half a win the rest of his career due to age-related decline, he’d end up with 55 wins, nearly even with Simmons. If Buster Posey ages normally, in other words, he’ll have been about as good as Ted Simmons. That should also make him good enough for the Hall of Fame.

Now here’s the list of catchers in the Hall of Fame, plus Simmons:

Hall of Fame Catchers and Ted Simmons
Points WAR AVG
Johnny Bench 61 74.8 67.9
Gary Carter 48 69.4 58.7
Mike Piazza 46 63.7 54.8
Ivan Rodriguez 40 68.7 54.4
Carlton Fisk 37 68.3 52.7
Yogi Berra 36 63.7 49.9
Bill Dickey 28 56.1 42.1
Ted Simmons 26 54.2 40.1
Mickey Cochrane 28 50.6 39.3
Gabby Hartnett 22 53.7 37.9
Buck Ewing 24 48.1 36.1
Roy Campanella 28 38.2 33.1
Roger Bresnahan 17 39.6 28.3
Ernie Lombardi 13 41.9 27.5
Rick Ferrell 7 27.2 17.1
Ray Schalk 6 22.4 14.2

Looking at this list, it seems odd that Simmons isn’t in the Hall of Fame already. For most positions, it’s possible to put a borderline player into a table like this one and find him situated above a few current Hall of Famers. That’s not surprising: the standards for the Hall have shifted over the years and the Veteran’s Committee used to be pretty lenient. When we do that, though, we can usually also point to half-a-dozen other players at the same position who’ve been excluded from the Hall and who possess similar or better credentials. We can’t do that here.

Simmons fits in well with the electorate right now. He’s better than any other candidate at his position, and he isn’t in any real danger of being surpassed anytime soon. Simmons’ 116 wRC+ is the exact same mark produced by Gary Carter and just one point lower than Carlton Fisk. Simmons might not have been as good on defense, and the difference in WAR from Carter and Fisk reflects that, but he managed to catch nearly 1800 games in his career, 15th-most all-time. Of the top-20 catchers in terms of games caught, nine are in the Hall of Fame, another one (Yadier Molina) is still active, and the other nine averaged an 89 wRC+. Only Lance Parrish’s 105 wRC+ even breaks average.

Simmons, in other words, is in a class by himself. Thus far, that class of one has been relegated to Hall of Fame purgatory. Simmons isn’t one of the top-seven catchers of all-time, but he is in the top 10 and that should be good enough for a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Alan Trammell
Player Rating Inductee Benchmarks
(Shortstops)
HOF
Points (Peak)
WAR HOF
RATING
HOF
AVG
HOF
MEDIAN
BBWAA
AVG
BBWAA
MEDIAN
37 63.7 50.4 55.0 52.5 62.0 57.8

Alan Trammell isn’t a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. In many ways, his career is pretty similar to Simmons’ above. Trammell is right there in terms of the standards for the position. He isn’t going to lower the bar for shortstops, and he might have been a bit unfortunate to play at the same time as one of the greatest shortstops of all time, Cal Ripken; the greatest defensive shortstop of all time, Ozzie Smith; Robin Yount, who played a lot of shortstop; and Barry Larkin, who won an MVP award during his career. All four played at around the same time as Trammell and all four had superior careers. There’s no reason to punish Trammell, though, just because he played the same position — one of the most difficult positions on the field — as some other great players.

Trammell didn’t really have one single period of greatness. He generally mixed his great seasons — including three campaigns of six-plus wins — with merely good seasons. From 1983 to -88, he put up a 129 wRC+ and 34.4 WAR. That mark finished behind only Hall of Famers Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, and Ripken, and ahead of Eddie Murray, Mike Schmidt, and Ozzie Smith. In addition to Trammell’s three great seasons, he produced another four seasons of four or more wins, plus another seven with at least 2.5 WAR. That’s 14 above-average seasons, including three great ones, all as a shortstop. Alan Trammell’s walk and strikeout rate were almost identical, both right around 9%. His career slash line of .285/.352/.415 produced a 111 wRC+. By comparison, Ripken’s wRC+ was 112 and Yount’s was 113. Both played longer than Trammell, though only 10 players in MLB history have played more games at shortstop than the former Tiger.

Trammell can’t make the claim that he’s the best shortstop not in the Hall of Fame, not with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez arriving on the ballot in a few years, but there really isn’t another shortstop with a career comparable to Trammell’s who’s been omitted from the Hall. Jack Glasscock had a similar career, but that was 100 years earlier.Bill Dahlen, from that same period as Glasscock, might have been even better. After that, in terms of HOF Rating, there’s a huge 10-point gap before we get to guys like Bert Campaneris, Jim Fregosi, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada. Other recent shortstops like Troy Tulowitzki and Jimmy Rollins aren’t even close. We could reproduce the charts above from Simmons’ case for Trammell, and we’d see the exact same thing.

There are 21 shortstops in the Hall of Fame. Trammell would make 22 and rank 12th, right in between Barry Larkin and Pee Wee Reese. He fits in with the Hall of Fame as it stands. The writers let Trammell slip through the cracks, maybe because he wasn’t quite as good as Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, or Robin Yount. That happens sometimes. We can take a longer, more historical view further away from the careers of both Simmons and Trammell, and see that, despite playing in the shadows of some of their contemporaries, their production is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

*****

With Marvin Miller on the ballot, plus the two players featured here, that leaves one potential vote left. If I had the choice, I’m not sure I would choose to exercise it, but if I did, it would go to Tommy John. Of course, that excludes the one pretty notable omission from this round of balloting — namely, Lou Whitaker.

Trammell’s double-play partner was never as great as the Tigers’ shortstop, but his career was roughly as valuable. His wRC+ of 118 was better than Trammell’s, though the defensive value of playing shortstop evened things out for the two. Whitaker had two seasons, in 1983 and 1991, in which he just eclipsed the six-win mark; he had one other season where he topped five wins. However, from 1978 through 1993, he bested the three-win mark in 15 of 16 seasons. Whitaker was simply good for a really long time. We could debate whether or not that should be enough for the Hall of Fame, but he didn’t even make the ballot this year despite credentials that are easily superior to half the players listed here. Other players from this era deserving a longer look include Darrell Evans, Dwight Evans, Bobby Grich, Graig Nettles, and Reggie Smith.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Fireball Fredmember
4 years ago

Simmons is an interesting case because he was regarded as a sure HoFer during his career, then lost his former reputation as a great guy in the clubhouse and in life. But the question I’ll raise is, “How much does WAR really tell us about catchers?”. It’s a defense-first position, and the defensive components of WAR don’t really seem to cover the role very well. This is true even of actual plays on the field, but more so of things like game preparation and pitch-calling — which are core activities, not “intangibles” except in the sense that they aren’t readily quantifiable (like framing in the 20th c.). I’d advise extreme caution about criticizing contemporary judgment of catchers.

steelehere
4 years ago
Reply to  Fireball Fred

Agreed. I felt Ted Simmons was a Hall of Fame player following him in the 70’s and 80’s based on his bat alone. That said, voters relying on WAR to determine whether Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame are doing him a disservice.

I still don’t get how the heck someone came up with Ted’s defensive WAR numbers (which is a large part of what measures value in a catcher) when there’s no video footage of him playing defense for much of the 1970’s and the stat was invented well after his playing career ended.

Additionally, the Veteran’s ballot was set up to be more lenient for lower tier Hall of Famers because in essence the time waiting to get inducted is essentially purgatory for the player for having non-Ruthian statistics.

The process has to a degree been hijacked the past couple decades by small Hall of Fame voters discerning the statistics of veterans ballots candidates expecting to find hidden gems that slipped through 10-15 years of voting on the writers ballot.

sadtrombonemember
4 years ago
Reply to  Fireball Fred

The Ted Simmons trade was also the Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich trade. It’s hard to blame the Cards too much when they won the World Series in ’82 (over the Simmons/Fingers/Vuckovich Brewers) but that was not a good trade.