Tony La Russa thinks “new metrics” are keeping Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame

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137 plate appearances with a 1.078 OPS will have an impact on an opposing manager. Among players with at least 100 PA against the Cardinals between 1996 and 2011 (the years in which Tony La Russa managed the red birds) former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell has the sixth-highest OPS against the Cardinals.

Bagwell’s Astros were rivals of La Russa’s Cardinals throughout the mid-2000’s. The Cardinals defeated the Astros in the 2004 NLCS, an epic seven-game series. The Astros exacted revenge the following season, taking out the Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS in six games. La Russa has a lot of respect for the players who made life difficult for him as a manager, and believes that Bagwell and Biggio are worthy of the Hall of Fame. But he thinks “new metrics” are part of the reason why Bagwell only got 54 percent of the vote in his fourth year of eligibility.

Via MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart:

“Houston, in our division, Bagwell, Biggio and [Lance Berkman], they had good surrounding characters the couple of years you had [Carlos] Beltran and [Jeff] Kent,” La Russa said. “So I saw Bagwell as a huge influence, not just on the field but off. One of the best players of our generation.”

La Russa said he doesn’t understand the criteria members of the BBWAA use to vote for the Hall of Fame.

“Otherwise, Jack Morris would be in the Hall of Fame,” La Russa said. “The new metrics have a real important place, just don’t exaggerate them, and I think they get exaggerated at times. Like with Jack Morris, and maybe Bagwell.”

La Russa is off the mark with the reason why Bagwell is not in the Hall of Fame. Sabermetrics actually bolster his case for enshrinement. According to Baseball Referece, Bagwell’s career 79.5 Wins Above Replacement ranks 37th all time among position players, and third among Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame-eligible first basemen (min. 75 percent of games played at first base). He ranks ahead of Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, and Hank Greenberg. In the years Bagwell played, 1991-2005, only Barry Bonds (122.0) and Alex Rodriguez (80.5) posted more WAR. To boot, FanGraphs’ version of WAR is slightly more kind, putting Bagwell at 80.3. Bagwell is a slam dunk Hall of Famer according to the most well-known and most often cited “new metric”.

The real reason why Bagwell isn’t in the Hall of Fame? Baseball moralists.

Exhibit A, Murray Chass in December 2013:

The boxes next to these 10 names will not get an X: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa.

These non-exes won’t get my vote because they were proved to have cheated, admitted they cheated or are strongly suspected of having cheated. I have not voted for any player in those categories and am not prepared to start doing so now.

Bagwell never tested positive and his name never surfaced in any PED-related investigation. The only rumors that included his name were baseless, like that of Chass.

Exhibit B, Bob Brookover in December 2011:

For the second straight year, I look at Jeff Bagwell’s name and wonder if he beat the system while he was also pounding baseballs out of ballparks all across the country. I’d love to vote for him, because he was always a class act whenever I had to interview him and his numbers scream Hall of Famer.

Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, and Rafael Palmeiro remain on the ballot as documented cheaters, and I don’t vote for them even though their numbers also are Hall of Fame-worthy.

I’ve listened to the argument that Bagwell should be a Hall of Famer because there is no proof he used the same performance-enhancing drugs that inflated the heads, bodies, and resumés of some of his peers. I suspect, however, that there are a lot of players who cheated and never were caught. We’re going to see many of those names on the Hall of Fame ballot in the near future.

Exhibit C, Howard Bryant (and others) in January 2013:

As it turned out, I sent my 2013 Hall of Fame ballot in blank.

This wasn’t science. It wasn’t a clever attack in the three-front culture war among the players, the SABRs and the BBWAAs. It wasn’t a protest either. It was just one voter’s inability to reach a comfortable verdict on a colossal mess that for years no one wanted to take responsibility for and that isn’t going to get any less complicated as time goes on.

The voters were handed a basket of rotten vegetables called the steroid era by the players, the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball and told to make a chef’s salad.

Chass and Brookover weren’t the only ones to exclude Bagwell with baseless suspicion of PED use, and Bryant hasn’t been the only one to submit a blank ballot. They are merely examples.

If you emptied the BBWAA ranks and replaced them entirely with Saber-minded voters, Bagwell would probably get in with 95-plus percent of the vote. If you emptied the BBWAA ranks and replaced them entirely with baseball moralists, Bagwell would likely struggle to reach 40 percent.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.