Ten for the Hall

Jamie Squire

Jesse's post regarding the current Hall of Fame ballot (and one particular mention) reminded me of something I'd put together while browsing to take a gander at one of their newer tools -- Jaffe WAR Score. I'll spare you the full explanation, but basically you get Jaffe WAR Score by taking the average of a player's career WAR and his best 7 seasons by WAR, and when you compare players this way, you get some interesting results. Since JAWS is primarily a career-evaluation tool, I thought I'd point out ten players whose JAWS scores probably should earn them a closer look when it comes time to talk Hall of Fame enshrinement.

One quick caveat before beginning: I'm not saying these guys' JAWS scores 'prove' they should be in the Hall -- that requires a more robust discussion. What I am saying is that, based on JAWS, these guys have at least earned a place in the conversation, just like someone with an MVP award or multiple World Series rings.

Ready? Here we go:

Catcher - Jason Kendall

Kendall hasn't ever won a batting title, and is a light-hitting catcher (most of his BBRef similarity comps for his career are actually middle infielders), and he hasn't ever played in much less won a World Series. Nevertheless, Kendall is rated as a likely Hall of Famer by Bill James's Hall of Fame Monitor (rating at 108 where a 'likely' HoFer rates at 100), and has met 38% of HoF standards by James's Standards Monitor. He's in the top 20 all-time in Jaffe WAR Score for catchers, and is just behind Joe Mauer and Jorge Posada in career WAR, boosted by impressive defense -- he's had multiple league-leading totals in assists (5 times), double plays (6 times), and caught stealing (5 times) as a catcher, though it's also true he's allowed a lot of stolen bases (15th all time, led AL twice with over 100 each time) and committed a lot of errors (led league 4 times).

Most significantly, Kendall has a chance to break the record that Craig Biggio could not -- Kendall is currently 5th all-time in hit-by-pitch with 254. Averaging 20 HBPs per 162 games, Kendall could conceivably pass Biggio (and record-holder Hughie Jennings) by the end of the 2014 season if he continues to play regularly.

First Base - Todd Helton

You don't generally hear Helton mentioned in HoF arguments, though he's 14th all-time in Jaffe WAR Score and 18th in career WAR among guys who've primarily played first base in their careers. (Justin Morneau, meanwhile, is 112th -- his Hall case is basically over.) Note that WAR adjusts for both era and park, so while you might dismiss a number of his 360 career homers, his value has still been pretty clear.

Helton played and hit well in the 2007 World Series that the Rockies lost to the Red Sox, and he's well above the baselines set by the James HoF Monitor (164/100) and HoF Standards (57/50). His career similiarity score list contains only two Hall of Famers, and those are not the best comparisons (Orlando Cepeda and Johnny Mize, neither elected by the BBWAA), but he's got a number of other comps who likely will be BBWAA selections (Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Albert Pujols) as well as a number of excellent players (John Olerud, Andres Galarraga, Vlad Guerrero).

Second Base - Chase Utley

Those of us who aren't Phillies fans (or married to Phillies fans) might not realize how good Utley has been as the Philly second-baseman over his career. He's drawn some interest in MVP voting but not enough to win one during the peak of his career, and he's clearly in the decline phase of his career now, having fallen from over 700 PAs in his age 29 season to just 362 last year.

Yet Utley is already 14th all-time in Jaffe WAR Score at his position and 17th all-time in career WAR at second, having passed Jeff Kent last year. Eight more career WAR will allow him to pass Biggio, who many feel is a Hall-of-Famer in his own right.

He has plenty of post-season hitting experience, including a World Series ring. He doesn't quite rate yet in James's HoF Standards, largely based on a lack of 'key numbers' (he's got only 1332 hits, 201 HRs, 769 RBI, for instance), though if he hangs on a few more seasons he might just hit enough of those to turn the tide. His career comp list contains no Hall of Famers, but a lot of good players who arguably aren't as good as he is (including Robinson Cano, David Wright, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, and Todd Walker). He's got an interesting case.

Shortstop - Nomar Garciaparra

Did you realize that Nomar Garciaparra hasn't yet appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot? His first will be in 2015, since his last season in the major leagues was with the A's in 2009. By Jaffe WAR Score, Garciaparra is 23rd all-time for shortstops, placing just between Luis Aparicio and Joe Tinker, both of whom are Hall of Famers.

His career comp list contains only one current Hall of Famer (Joe Gordon), but also contains Cano and Utley, plus a number of players who might well be put in via the Veterans Committee, including Vern Stephens and Tony Oliva. He's actually above the 'likely HoFer' mark in James's Monitor (112/100), though comes up a bit short in Standards (41/50).

Probably the biggest thing that hurts him is that he was the keystone of the massive three-team trade that also involved Doug Mientkiewicz going to the Red Sox the year the Red Sox finally beat the Curse -- which means the Red Sox did better in post-season play without Nomar than with him, despite him having a career .975 OPS in post-season play (though it should be noted that much of that comes from the absolutely insane run he had in the 1999 post-season).

Third Base - Scott Rolen

Scott Rolen has more career WAR than Edgar Martinez. If we assume that our current metrics are accurate, this helps to define the difference in value between a bat and a glove -- Rolen, who was Rookie of the Year in 1997 but only had a single season where he drew any significant MVP consideration and never led the league in any hitting category, contributed an extra win per year on average to his team with his glove at third base, which over a 17 year career made him roughly equivalent in value to Martinez, who only ever really contributed with his bat. You might choose to re-interpret this as a reason that Martinez should not be in the Hall, but it doesn't change the impressiveness of Rolen's feat.

Taken as a whole, Rolen's post-season hitting doesn't look impressive, but Rolen could easily have been named World Series MVP over David Eckstein in 2006, which would make the memory of that series work harder in his favor.

Like most of the guys on this list, Rolen's comp list contains a lot of 'really close to Hall of Fame caliber' players (Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, Bobby Bonilla, Reggie Smith, Fred Lynn, Ken Boyer) and one marginal Hall of Famer (Ron Santo, just recently elected via the Veterans Committee).

Left Field - Luis Gonzalez

Gonzalez appears for the first time on a Hall of Fame ballot next year.

He is 23rd all time among left fielders in Jaffe WAR Score, 21st in career WAR. There are a few HoFers near him (Joe Kelley, Ralph Kiner) but also a good number of non-HoFers (Brian Downing, Jose Cruz). His 2001 season was clearly the best of his career, and also something of a ridiculous outlier to the rest of his career (hit 57 homers that year, only one other season with more than 30; hit .325, only hit .300 or better in 4 other seasons in a 19 year career and only beat that .325 season once). However, even if you drop that 8 WAR season down to something more in line with the rest of his career, he'd likely still have more career WAR than Jim Rice, elected by the BBWAA just a few years ago. (And again, WAR adjusts for park and era.) This isn't Zoilo Versailles we're talking about here.

As with most of the guys on this list, Gonzalez didn't have much league-leading performance -- he led the NL in hits in 1999, and that's pretty much it. He has some HoFers on his career comp list including Billy Williams, Tony Perez, and Andre Dawson, but his closer comps tend to be Hall-of-Very-Good players like Dave Parker, Dwight Evans, Chili Davis, and Harold Baines.

James's HoF tools put Gonzalez pretty much right on the borderline of the Hall; 103/100 on the Monitor, and 48/50 in Standards.

His amazing 2001 season was capped off with a solid post-season ending in a World Series ring, but other than that his post-season career isn't anything to write home about.

Center Field - Johnny Damon

The nice thing about center field for the Hall is the presence of Kirby Puckett.

Despite being a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, one could make the argument that Puckett represents the baseline Hall of Fame career -- short but not too short, just enough black ink, an MVP, World Series ring, etc. If you're not a better candidate for the Hall than Puckett, it's hard to argue that you should be in.

It will be interesting to see if Damon qualifies -- he's ahead of Puckett in both Jaffe WAR score and career WAR, but hasn't got any batting titles or MVP awards to his name. In fact, his only black ink is that he led the AL in runs and stolen bases in 2000 with the Royals, then tied for the AL triples lead in 2002 in his first season in Boston.

Leaving Kansas City may not have endeared him to midwestern baseball fans, but it gave him plenty of postseason experience, including two World Series rings; while his overall postseason numbers aren't as good as his regular season numbers, this is largely due to bad luck in ALCS games -- he's racked up double-digit total bases in just over half of all the post-season series he's played in, including both World Series.

His best argument probably lies in his comps -- fully half of his career comps are BBWAA elected Hall of Famers, including Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, and Roberto Clemente. Tim Raines is another comp who, though not yet in the Hall, likely will be soon. His *best* comps, though, are not HoFers -- Vada Pinson is the only one that grades out as 'truly similar' -- and it could be argued he's not as good as his best HoF comps.

Right Field - Bobby Abreu

Abreu ranks 18th all-time in Jaffe WAR Score and also 18th in career WAR among regular right-fielders all-time. He actually has exactly the same career WAR as Gary Sheffield and has more career WAR than Ichiro Suzuki or Sammy Sosa. He got consistent, if minor, consideration for league MVP throughout his career, picking up votes in 7 different seasons.

Abreu's big problem, like most of the guys on this list, is that he didn't have a lot of league-leading performance (led the NL in doubles in 2002 is pretty much the highlight), though James's tools have him as a borderline HoFer, 94/100 on the Monitor and 54/50 by Standards. Abreu certainly wouldn't denigrate the Hall if he were elected. (Also, keep in mind that it's a lot harder to lead a 14-to-16 team league than it is to lead an 8-to-10 team league; league-leading performance is a metric that probably should be discounted when considering more modern players for this reason alone.)

His career path also didn't give him much opportunity for post-season experience, being picked up by the Phillies before their late 2000s surge, then being traded to the Yankees for what ended up being spare parts. He's never played in the World Series, and has been decent if unspectacular overall save for his limited play against Boston in the 2009 ALDS as a member of the Angels.

His similarity scores basically solidify his position as 'best of the Hall of Very Good', though -- his top comps are Bernie Williams, fellow list members Luis Gonzalez and Johnny Damon, and many of their HoVG comps like Dewey Evans, Dave Parker, and John Olerud. But at least in Abreu's case, it could be argued that he was better than many on his list.

Pitcher - John Smoltz

Smoltz is probably not the Hall of Fame pitcher you'd think of when you think of the 90s and 2000s era Atlanta Braves; fellow starters Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, though, are comfortably above Hall of Fame standards and should have no trouble getting in. Smoltz's case will take a bit more work.

He's 58th all-time among starters in Jaffe WAR Score, though he moves up to 34th all-time in career WAR (putting him just below the Hall average WAR, and in a near tie with Hall of Famer Jim Palmer).

Smoltz has a surprising amount of black ink -- he led the NL in strikeouts in 1992 and 1996, led in wins in both 1996 and 2006, and led in saves in 2002. While the Hall of Fame Monitor says Smoltz is far above where he needs to be (167/100), the Standards tool isn't so sure (44/50).

Of course, he's got tons of post-season experience (209 post-season innings, including 51 World Series innings, which is as many as some famous Yankee starters in the Hall), and he was surprisingly excellent in the post-season: overall he's 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA in post-season play, 2-2 with a 2.47 ERA in the Series.

His comp scores, unfortunately, largely reinforce the view of him as the third-best pitcher on a great team -- he's not truly comparable to any of the guys on his list, largely because of the closer phase of his career, I'd guess, but the guys he is comparable to include Kevin Brown, Luis Tiant, Orel Hershiser, and Bob Welch; all good, none obviously great (save maybe Tiant, but he's not in the Hall yet). Oddly enough, his Hall comps, Catfish Hunter and Don Drysdale, are guys who weren't the top pitchers on their own famous ballclubs.

So there's my ten for (consideration for) the Hall.