Did Carlos Delgado deserve more Hall of Fame support?

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In a column published yesterday, ESPN’s Jayson Stark argues that Carlos Delgado deserved a better fate than a one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot. The veteran, who played from 1993-2009, received only 21 votes, or 3.8 percent which fell below the five percent threshold to remain on the ballot.

To his credit, Stark makes a compelling argument using statistics, but I’m still not convinced. Delgado’s career 138 adjusted OPS barely outranks the 136 of Brian Giles. Furthermore, regardless of which version of WAR you use — the 44.3 total from Baseball Reference or 43.5 from FanGraphs — Delgado falls well short of the typical 55-60 threshold most Hall of Fame candidates need to hit to merit an argument. Delgado fell short for two main reasons: he played first base, which is on the lower end of the positional spectrum, and he did so poorly to the tune of -65 fielding runs according to B-R.

The consideration of poor defense and positional adjustments is relatively new to Hall of Fame discourse, but Delgado doesn’t have many strong arguments from a traditionalist’s perspective either. (I don’t consider myself a traditionalist so these arguments don’t necessarily reflect my own point of view). Delgado hit a lot of home runs, but he never led the league, and he did so at a time when everybody was hitting home runs. Delgado hit 40-plus home runs three times: in 1999, in 2000, and in 2003. He was one of 13 to do so in ’99, one of 15 in ’00, and one of 10 in ’03. Comparatively, Nelson Cruz was the only player to eclipse the 40-homer mark this past season and only 11 have combined to accomplish the feat in the last four seasons. For similar reasons, this is why Delgado’s unadjusted OPS isn’t terribly impressive in the context of the Hall of Fame.

Delgado never won any hardware and didn’t have much of a post-season legacy (though he did perform well in 2006 with the Mets). He didn’t break any records, and his claim to fame is having hit four home runs in one game, on September 25, 2003 against the then-Devil Rays.

Going by JAWS, a Hall of Fame-centric statistic developed by Jay Jaffe, Delgado comes in as the 22nd-best player listed on the ballot. He noticeably trails Nomar Garciaparra while barely out-ranking Don Mattingly.

If there’s anyone who deserves a “needed more support” column, it’s Larry Walker, who ranked eighth on the ballot by JAWS but received only 11.8 percent of the vote. Though Walker wasn’t as prolific a home run hitter as Delgado, he finished his career with a .313 average and .400 on-base percentage. As a result, his 141 adjusted OPS beat Delgado’s 138. Walker also played phenomenal defense in right field. All of that helped him accrue 72.6 WAR in his career, more than 28 more WAR than Delgado.