Matthew Pouliot

Mark Teixeira’s case for Cooperstown is really Keith Hernandez’s

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Retirement announcements immediately lead to Hall of Fame speculation these days, and there was plenty of it in my twitter feed when Mark Teixeira announced Thursday that he’d be hanging up the spikes at season’s end.  The twitter consensus seemed correct in this case; Teixeira wasn’t quite good enough for long enough to earn a place in Cooperstown.

Still, that we’re even having this debate about Teixeira can’t hurt the cases of some other first basemen already passed over by the BBWAA. Ranked by OPS+, here’s a list of the best first basemen not currently in the Hall of Fame (min. 7,500 PA):

163 – Mark McGwire – 7,660 PA
157 – Albert Pujols – 10,360 PA
149 – Jeff Bagwell – 9,431 PA
139 – Jason Giambi – 8,908 PA
139 – Norm Cash – 7,914 PA
138 – Carlos Delgado – 8,657 PA
137 – Will Clark – 8,283 PA
134 – Fred McGriff – 10,174 PA
134 – Boog Powell – 7,809 PA
133 – Todd Helton – 9,453 PA
132 – Rafael Palmeiro – 12,046 PA
129 – John Olerud – 9,063 PA
128 – Keith Hernandez – 8,553 PA
127 – Mark Teixeira – 7,894 PA
127 – Don Mattingly – 7,722 PA

Looking at this list, it’s really hard to make an argument for Teixeira. He has a clear advantage defensively over some of the guys ahead of him, but he was a less valuable hitter and he didn’t have a long career. You could skip the steroids guys and still come up with five better Hall of Fame cases from the group. Will Clark seemed like a short-career guy and he’s going to end up with 300 more plate appearances than Teixeira. He was Teixeira’s match with the glove and a better hitter. Helton will have nearly three seasons of play over Teixeira. Palmeiro’s tainted career was a full 50 percent longer than Teixeira’s.

Really, though, it’s the guy immediately above Teixeira on this list that I want to look at. Keith Hernandez belongs in the Hall of Fame, and he probably would be if he had Teixeira’s stat line instead of his own.

Hernandez: .296/.384/.436, 162 HR, 1,124 runs, 1,071 RBI in 8,553 PA
Teixeira: .269/.361/.511, 404 HR, 1,085 runs, 1,281 RBI in 7,894 PA

Hernandez was just as valuable of a hitter as Teixeira, despite hitting 240 fewer homers. The difference is in the eras, the ballparks and the on-base percentages. Hernandez was also the game’s best ever defensively at his position. Unlike Teixeira, he won an MVP, though he had to share it. He also finished second and fourth. Teixeira finished in the top five just once (though he was traded in the midst of his best season and probably deserves credit for another top-five finish there). He had better postseason numbers than Teixeira, as well. Still, Hernandez never received more than 11 percent of the vote in his nine years on the ballot. He didn’t have the homers, and he fell short of the .300 batting average that might have swung a few more to his cause.

As for Teixeira, he can find a home with Mattingly and others in the hall of very good. Maybe if he hadn’t needed wrist surgery and missed nearly all of 2013, things would be different. Still, I’d say probably not. He seemed on the decline before that (he had OPS+s of 124, 121 and 115 from ages 30-32), and even just comparing them through age 32, he still wasn’t as strong offensively as guys like Delgado and Clark, who were dismissed from Hall of Fame contention with nary a thought.