Brian Kenny is not an official Baseball Hall of Fame voter. If he did have a vote, however, it’d go a little something like this:
My HOF ballot: Maddux, Thomas, Raines, Biggio, Schilling, Martinez, McGriff, Glavine, Mussina, Trammell. @CHConfidential
— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) December 20, 2013
In the interest of full disclosure: I do not give a hoot about the Hall of Fame. I lost interest in the whole thing years ago when baseball opinionmakers bestowed upon themselves the job of being the moral vanguards of the game. But as Kenny is a self-described fan of analytics, bringing logic and reason to the mainstream where it has long been absent, I was shocked by some of his inclusions and omissions and felt they were worth discussing. I’ll be making Sabermetric-heavy arguments since that’s the language he speaks.
Firstly: Fred McGriff? And no Jeff Bagwell?
Even if you use Baseball Reference’s version of WAR rather than FanGraphs’, McGriff still loses 52.6 to 79.5. Aside from being a much better hitter, Bagwell was capable of swiping bags as he had ten double-digit stolen base seasons in his 15-year career and stole a total of 202 bags in 280 chances (72 percent) over his career. McGriff stole 72 in 110 chances (65 percent) over 19 years. Bagwell, for the most part, was an above-average defender for most of his career while McGriff was a below-average defender.
McGriff didn’t have much of a peak, so the peak-vs.-longevity argument doesn’t mean anything in this debate. McGriff posted his highest fWAR, 6.6, in 1988, his first full season in the big leagues. In the six seasons that followed, he typically hovered between 3.6 and 6.4. Bagwell peaked at 7.8 twice, in 1994 and in 1999.
Furthermore, if one was to rank Hall of Fame first basemen by rWAR, McGriff would rank 10th out of 16, behind Tony Perez at 54.1. Five of the seven behind him played in the Dead Ball Era. Bagwell, meanwhile, would rank third behind only Lou Gehrig and Johnny Mize.
Secondly: Where is Mike Piazza? Piazza is the greatest-hitting catcher to ever play the game. His 427 career home runs exceed the 389 of Johnny Bench for the all-time record among catchers. Piazza retired with a .390 wOBA (Bench? .362). His 59.2 career rWAR would rank fifth among 14 Hall of Fame catchers, just narrowly behind Yogi Berra at 59.3 and still trailing Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Bench.
Thirdly: Where are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens? Kenny explains he won’t vote for players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. But for someone who fancies himself a proponent of evidence-based analysis, one would think he would apply that here, too. There are plenty of rumors with Bonds, but he only ever failed a drug test for amphetamines. You know who else used amphetamines? Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Mike Schmidt among others. Clemens never failed a drug test.
That being said, there are a couple inclusions that I did like. Kenny made sure to make room for Mike Mussina, who will likely be the most underrated pitcher to appear on any ballot during his 15-year period of eligibility. Kenny also cast a ballot for Alan Trammell, whose support had wavered between 13 and 24 percent before jumping to 37 and 34 percent over the last two years. Trammell’s 70.3 career rWAR would rank seventh among 20 Hall of Fame shortstops, tied with the recently-inducted Barry Larkin.
It’s a tough ballot and no one’s going to nominate ten players that won’t aggravate some large swath of baseball fans for inclusions and omissions. But it was just interesting to see Kenny break from the general consensus of the camp to which he himself subscribes. Interesting discussion for sure.