Today I decided to put together my list of best Hall-eligible players not in the Hall of Fame. A couple of things to note:
- These are players since 1955. This covers about 60 years, so don’t ask me to go back any further. That’s far back enough.
- Note the phrase “Hall-eligible”. No Pete Rose. No one retired after 2012. No active players. Spare me the “What about Pete Rose?” questions.
- With a few close exceptions you won’t see a player with a HOF Rating below 60.00.
OK, here we go . . .
Ted Simmons (60.96 HOF Rating, .285/.348/.437, 118 OPS+)
Thurman Munson (59.37, .292/.346/.410, 116)
Bill Freehan (55.29, .262/.340/.412, 112)
Catchers are tough to figure out because of playing time and the physical demands of the position. Simmons suffered because he came up in the National League while Johnny Bench was the gold standard for defensive excellence behind the plate. He wasn’t a bad defensive catcher, but most of his value comes as a hitter. His HOFR puts him at the just at the level for induction by my math.
Munson is right at the border. Some may point at his death as stopping his Hall case, but truthfully his power was sapped (slugged .373 the last two years before the accident) and 11 seasons is still pretty short, even for a catcher.
Freehan is one of the forgotten stars of the 1960’s an era where big offensive numbers were not easy to come by as pitchers were allowed to dominate the decade. Besides strong-for-the-time hitting stats, Freehan also provided solid defense behind the plate. Could have won the 1968 MVP Award, but his teammate won 30 games in “The Year of the Pitcher”, so Denny McLain took home the hardware, otherwise his career might have gotten better consideration for Cooperstown.
(So we are all on the same page, Freehan’s rating is the lowest you will see on this post for reason’s I have stated before about catchers.)
Rafael Palmeiro (60.93, .288/.371/.515, 132)
Keith Hernandez (60.52, .296/.384/.436, 128)
Two prime examples that defense at first base doesn’t get a ton of credit. Ignoring the elephant in the room for just a moment, the borderline rating for both basically says they were both borderline candidates to begin with. Neither’s OPS+ is bad, but not at the level you would want from a Hall of Fame first baseman.
OK, done ignoring. Rafael Palmeiro is not getting in any time soon if ever (probably not ever) because of his time in court and what followed. As for Hernandez, he was the best defensive first baseman of his time and put up very good offensive numbers. Eventually they may put him in, but I’m not holding my breath. Also, he hasn’t exactly said anything enlightening over the years to help his cause.
Bobby Grich (68.89, .266/.371/.424, 125)
Lou Whitaker (59.62, .276/.363/.426, 117)
Both of these guys were very good “secondary” players to go along with good basic stats. Combining their power with their walks they were very good offensive players along as very good fielders. While many people are starting to understand the concept of secondary average (and WAR, and Win Shares, etc.), there are still many in the dark, which is a shame. Grich belongs in based on the numbers and Whitaker is borderline. Neither got a second year on the ballot. Someday that should change and hopefully soon.
Ken Boyer (63.30, .287/.349/.462, 116)
Graig Nettles (62.21, .248/.329/.421, 110)
Sal Bando (62.10, .254/.352/.408, 119)
Buddy Bell (59.81, .279/.341/.406, 109)
Of course Nettles and Bando have low batting averages going against them, but please:
Brooks Robinson: .267/.322/.401, 104 OPS+
All four of them have higher OPS’s than Brooksie, and while none of them were better than Robinson with the glove, Boyer and Nettles were every bit as good, and Buddy was no slouch. Defense tends to get overrated, especially when it’s flashy (as I hear in this town all the time), but how Robinson is considered this “Golden Standard” while these guys can’t even place or show when they were every bit as good is baffling to me.
Alan Trammell (60.33, .285/.352/.415, 110)
I like many people felt Trammell and Whitaker should’ve gone in together. Both started in 1977, both were teammates their entire time there (Trammell played 66 games in 1996 after Whitaker retired at the end of 1995) and both were great together. Trammell should have won the 1987 AL MVP but that was written about elsewhere.
Of the many things that gets me, it’s how crazy everyone was over the Vizquel/Alomar double play combination. No one seems in Cleveland seems to realize just how good the double play combination of Trammell/Whitaker was. First off, the Cleveland duo was only together for three seasons as opposed to Detroit’s 19 (13 as fulltime regulars); that’s it. Second, in those three years together the Indians turned about 50 fewer double plays than one would expect a team to turn, factoring in baserunners, ground ball tendencies, strikeout rates, etc. The Tigers during the years where Trammell and Whitaker were the regulars (1978-90) they turned 75 more than expected. You can chalk that up to a small sample size for the Clevelanders if you want, but that is the big point. Three years does not define greatness.
Barry Bonds (119.19, .298/.444/.607, 182)
Manny Ramirez (70.29, .312/.411/.585, 154)
Minnie Minoso (64.08, .298/.389/.459, 130)
I just wrote about the first two and everybody already has their opinions. I want to write about Minoso . . .
Minoso was born in Cuba in 1925. Inspired by the likes of future Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo, Minnie played everywhere on the field. Once he threw a no-hitter against a junior All-Star team at 18 years old. After making his way through various teams in Cuba he reached the Negro National League in 1946, playing for the New York Cubans. Eventually Bill Veeck signed Minoso to play for the Indians as Major League Baseball was slowly integrating. But the big story of the 1950’s Indians was the shortcomings of Hank Greenberg. The former player proved to be overmatched as a general manager. Besides driving a future Hall of Fame manager out of town and losing out on Luis Aparicio over a couple of thousand bucks, he traded Minoso to the White Sox in a three player deal even though he showed everything he could do in the PCL and only given limited chance in Cleveland.
He eventually became the White Sox regular in left, but by then he was already 25 years old. Take some time at your own leisure to find out how many position players had Hall of Fame careers when they hadn’t established themselves as regulars before turning 25. It’s a shorter list than you might even believe. But Minoso did play 11 full seasons in the big leagues and hit .305/.395/.471 (134 OPS+), made seven All-Star team, led the league in hits, doubles, triples (three times), stolen bases (same) and walked 230 more times than he struck out. He retired in 1964 and was on the ballot in 1969, receiving only 1.8% of the vote. In 1976 he played for the White Sox in three games as a publicity stunt (Bill Veeck by then owned the White Sox and LOVED publicity stunts), giving him the claim to playing in four different decades. In 1980 they did it again, making it five decades. I remember discussion about that happening again in the 1990’s but by then Major League Baseball wisely said “no”. I think this hurt him during the 80’s. He was back on the ballot from 1986 through 1999 he never received more than 21.1% of the vote. He died in 2015 in what had become his home, Chicago.
Minoso came over to play in a different time. He played during tough racial times, times when a person of color had best keep their mouth shut. Yet he was beloved in Chicago. One way of describing how good he was in the 1950’s is this: From 1951 (his first year of real time) through 1959 he earned 234 Win Shares. The top ten 1951-59:
Mickey Mantle 317
Stan Musial 253
Duke Snider 249
Eddie Mathews 248
Yogi Berra 244
Willie Mays 237
Minnie Minoso 234
Richie Ashburn 226
Nellie Fox 219
Warren Spahn 218
That’s not my basis for the Hall of Fame. My rating system factors in whole career and peak value and number of top seasons. The point is that Minoso was that good of a player. My score says “yes”; no emotional score to be added.
Jim Edmonds (66.04, .284/.376/.527, 132)
Andruw Jones (63.56, .254/.337/.486, 111)
Jimmy Wynn (61.35, .250/.366/.436, 129)
Kenny Lofton (60.11, .299/.372/.423, 107)
There is a common thing about pretty much all of these players. We are talking about multi-dimensional players at each position who did so many things well without one number standing out. Palmeiro’s the only one with milestone numbers and we’ve already discussed why he’s coming up short.
Wynn seems like the one who probably doesn’t belong, but besides putting up four All-Star level seasons, four of those were at an MVP level (1965, 1968, 1969, and 1974), which combined with his peak and career totals puts him along the cutting line.
I already wrote about Jones last week, so let’s think about the other two.
Both were top defensive players who provided great offensive contributions to their teams. Lofton is one of the top leadoff hitters of all time, a player who at his peak was reaching base 40% of the time and wreaking havoc on the bases, stealing them at an 80% success rate. Edmonds was middle of the order hitter who also drew nearly 1000 walks. Lofton is right on the edge and played for just about every team in baseball, so I can kinda see why he didn’t receive a ton of support (even if I don’t like the reasoning). Edmonds was putting up power numbers but the in the realm of McGwire, Sosa, Pujols, Belle, Thomas, and others, so I can kinda see why he didn’t receive a ton of support (even if I don’t like the reasoning). Neither received a second year on the ballot. That’s another one that will keep me scratching my head.
Larry Walker (66.35, .313/.400/.565, 141)
Bobby Bonds (66.02, .268/.353/.471, 129)
Reggie Smith (64.68, .287/.366/.489, 137)
Gary Sheffield (62.57, .292/.393/.514, 140)
Vlad Guerrero (62.33, .318/.379/.553, 140)
Sammy Sosa (61.58, .273/.344/.534, 128)
Dwight Evans (60.02, .272/.370/.470, 127)
Covered Walker, Sheffield, Vlad, and Sosa last week.
The other three are again a collection of guys who did a lot of things well but didn’t have the “magic numbers”. Dewey drew a lot of walks, hit for good power and was a superb fielder in Boston. Honestly he was better than his teammate Jim Rice. Reggie Smith was almost an exact contemporary of a more famous Reggie – Reggie Jackson. Obviously a better defensive player, Smith didn’t have the power or walks (despite the higher average he trails Jackson in both OBP and slugging). As Bill James wrote in his “Historical Baseball Abstract”, Bobby was probably a better athlete than his kid, though it’s very clear his kid was a better ballplayer.
Roger Clemens (99.51, 354-184 W-L, 3.12 ERA, 143 ERA+)
Curt Schilling (79.42, 216-146, 3.46, 127)
Mike Mussina (77.17, 270-153, 3.68, 123)
Kevin Brown (70.16, 211-144, 3.28, 127)
Start with this: I still haven’t figured out exactly how this formula works for pitchers. This part of it is still a work in progress.
I wrote about the first three previously. So let’s take a look at Kevin Brown.
In 1992 Kevin Brown “won” 21 games and had a 3.32 ERA, good enough for a 116 ERA+. He finished sixth in the Cy Young voting. The following season he had a 3.59 ERA, again good enough for a 116 ERA+. He didn’t receive a single Cy Young vote because he was 15-12. Those Texas teams were mediocre at best (the team peaked at 86 wins during Brown’s time there). He pitched a year for a so-so Orioles team then signed with the Florida Marlins. In 1996 he led the NL with a 1.89 ERA and finished second in the Cy Young voting because John Smoltz was 24-8 (please ignore the ERA more than a run higher). During the Marlins’ Winter Fire Sale of 1997 Brown was traded to the San Diego Padres for Steve Hoff, Derrek Lee, and Rafael Medina. Led by a 38-year old Tony Gwynn, Greg Vaughn, and Brown the Padres beat two 100-win teams in the playoffs to reach their second World Series. He later pitched with the Dodgers and Yankees, but in the “confidential” Mitchell Report his name was mentioned. He was also a surly human being and wasn’t the most liked. His postseason record is not exactly sparkling, either. Those last three sentences are most of what keeps Brown out of the Hall of Fame.
OK, long digression . . .
You know, one thing that cracks me up is about the big modern argument is this: You listen to old timers complain about guys like me because we’re “all into numbers”. Yet, who came up with the “milestone numbers”? I never made 3,000 hits or 300 wins a milestone. And if you look at Win Shares, bWAR, fWAR, WARP, and their derivatives, they do a much better job of capturing a player’s all-around value than any anecdote ever told. Biggio and Ripken remind me a bit of this. People look at their 3,000 hits and think of it as automatic when the real reason they are Hall of Famers is because of how they played at their peaks. Biggio from 1995 through 1999 AVERAGED 33 Win Shares, 6.6 bWAR, 6.3 fWAR, and 5.6 WARP. Ripken averaged 27.8, 7.2, 6.9, and 6.1 from 1983 through 1991. Because of those great years they were able to hang around and collect some of those milestones.
What happens when writers look at these careers years later, they just lazily look at career numbers and go by whatever pops into their heads (which explains why Jim Ingraham holds such a low bar for “elite level” of play). If they actually took the time to actually research a player’s career objectively they might learn a bit more.
That isn’t to say there shouldn’t be emotions involved. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc. all trigger certain memories. Reggie Jackson is remembered more for three World Series homers and one All-Star Game homerun than anything else. Babe Ruth is remembered most for something that he may or may not have done. That’s all well and good, but – probably because I love digging into this kind of stuff and feel insulted when anyone given this privilege isn’t – if you are not going take the time to, you know, research the subject, how do I know you are not just pushing for childhood heroes? That wasn’t why I did this.
I’ve done versions of this in the past but hadn’t had a single formula to organize things. My version isn’t perfect – on one’s is. But Between Win Shares, the various WAR’s, JAWS, and other systems the ability to baffle with bullshit has become tougher to get away with.
And it should be that way. Bill James started the war on bullshit over 40 years ago. In the age of instant information, bullshit should be more and more a part of the past. The idea of just shooting off some anecdote
OK, back to what I’m doing here.
I have named 31 players here who were all fantastic players. What kept them out? Some are because of circumstances, some are the consequences for what they were willing to do in order to accomplish greatness. Whatever the case, by bringing them up hopefully the discussions start up and continue.
Some will say that “if so-and-so goes in the Hall, then what about this guy?” Guys are creating methods to say “yes” or “no”. None of them are perfect, but dammit, it beats bullshit like “he played at an elite level” without defining what an elite level is. . .