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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Baer: Don’t ignore Lofton’s Hall of Fame case

Don’t worry…Jim Ingraham hasn’t, or has.

Lost in the PED controversy, though, is the underappreciated career of Kenny Lofton. The outfielder is on the ballot for the first time as well, but he isn’t expected to garner much support. A light-hitting speedster during his 17-year playing career, Lofton’s production was dwarfed by the 50-homer seasons that were common between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s.

...Baseball-Reference.com, which has done an admirable job of attempting to quantify defense before batted-ball data was logged regularly (spanning most of Lofton’s playing career), puts Lofton at 64.9 career Wins Above Replacement (WAR), just a sliver behind Tony Gwynn at 65.3. Among Hall of Fame outfielders, Lofton would have the 21st-highest WAR of the 56 who are currently enshrined. He ranks ahead of such luminaries as Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn, Willie Stargell and Jim Rice.

Some might say that if you allow a fringe Hall of Famer like Lofton in, you lower the standard for everybody else, but that ship has already sailed. Rice, with his 44.3 WAR, is only one recent example of voters’ letting some of the less-worthy into the hallowed grounds. If Rice is in, then Lofton should be pushed in on a landslide.

It is a very unfortunate ballot for Lofton to appear on for the first time. Bonds and Clemens posted a career 158.1 and 133.9 WAR, respectively—both historically legendary marks. Had Lofton appeared last year, for example, he would have had to compete with a top five of Jeff Bagwell (76.7), Larry Walker (69.7), Barry Larkin (67.1), Alan Trammell (67.1) and Tim Raines (66.2). Though he shouldn’t, it will be understandable when Lofton gets looked over on a very stacked ballot. Hopefully, though, when all is said and done, we’ll have at least gained a better appreciation for what Lofton did over an impressive 17-year career.

Repoz Posted: December 08, 2012 at 09:12 AM | 39 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hof, sabermetrics

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   1. BDC Posted: December 08, 2012 at 09:37 AM (#4319869)
Here's one set of comps for Lofton: middle infielders and CF centered on him in terms of PAs and OPS+. Most are middle infielders, actually, because there are very few pure CF close to Lofton:

Player            Rfield   PA OPS+  SB        Pos
Bobby Wallace        133 9612  105 201 
*65/149873
Bill Dahlen          126 9151  108 467   
*6/54879
Pee Wee Reese        117 9470   99 232        
*65
Willie Randolph      114 9461  104 271      
*4/D5
Kenny Lofton         104 9235  107 622     
*8/7D9
Alan Trammell         75 9376  110 236   
*6/D5478
Ryne Sandberg         60 9282  114 344     
*45/6D
Tony Phillips         39 9110  109 177  47569D
/83
Tony Fernandez        31 8793  101 246     
*654/D
Barry Larkin          18 9057  116 379      
*6/4D
Julio Franco         
-40 9731  111 281   643D/579
Miguel Tejada        
-47 9038  109  84     *65/D4
Brett Butler         
-83 9545  110 558     *87/9D 


But wait, there's more …
   2. BDC Posted: December 08, 2012 at 09:46 AM (#4319870)
Here are the same parameters, but all OF positions, no IF:

Player            Rfield   PA OPS+  SB      Pos
Kenny Lofton         104 9235  107 622   
*8/7D9
Tommy Leach           67 9051  109 361  85
/7649
Garret Anderson       23 9177  102  80    
*78D9
Carlos Lee           
-18 8787  113 125    *73/D
Ruben Sierra         
-67 8782  105 142   *9D7/8
Brett Butler         
-83 9545  110 558   *87/9D
Joe Carter           
-86 9154  105 231 7983D/45 


And that looks less good in terms of HOFers, but it also makes Lofton an extreme outlier in terms of defense and speed; OPS+ is hardly a great way to evaluate him.

A couple of notes: Lofton was not "light-hitting"; he had fair power (10-12 HR, 30 doubles a year) and batted .299 lifetime. The major thing holding him back from a fairly starightforward HOF case is that he didn't break into the majors till he was 25. He was very good immediately and great at age 27, with a long and strong "decline" afterwards. But what can one say: it just didn't happen for him to come up earlier. He looks very good against his peers, but for a guy who played till he was 40 his career is not extremely long. There's another tier of non-HOF outfielders with somewhat longer careers and many of the same qualifications: Willie Davis, Johnny Damon, Steve Finley, Vada Pinson. It's a tough call. Lofton is better than many HOF outfielders (including Lou Brock, who would be similar if his defense was better). But he's not really a shoo-in.
   3. Suff Posted: December 08, 2012 at 10:00 AM (#4319875)
Unless he gets a boost from enough people looking for "clean" players to vote for, he'll be one of those guys we'll lament as one-and-done who deserved much more consideration. I don't know if he's a HOF for sure, but I hope some future incarnation of the Veterans' Committee will give him a look, at least.
   4. Repoz Posted: December 08, 2012 at 10:26 AM (#4319881)
he'll be one of those guys we'll lament as one-and-done who deserved much more consideration.

Small sample alert!

Of the 15 Full Ballots I have...Lofton has zero votes.

Of the 12 Partial Ballots I have...Lofton has zero votes.

   5. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: December 08, 2012 at 11:47 AM (#4319895)
The thing that kills Lofton most directly is Raines. BBREF WAR has Raines at 66.2 and Lofton at 64.9, but a much greater proportion of Lofton's value is in his defense, since he was a center fielder for his entire career, while Raines was in left. Unfortunately, I'd expect most voters to ignore that little fact and just look at their offensive numbers, where Raines blows him away... and since most of them aren't voting for Raines either, I too am thinking Kenny will be lucky if he manages to stay on the ballot.
   6. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili(Teddy F. Ballgame) Posted: December 08, 2012 at 11:58 AM (#4319902)
The major thing holding him back from a fairly starightforward HOF case is that he didn't break into the majors till he was 25. He was very good immediately and great at age 27, with a long and strong "decline" afterwards. But what can one say: it just didn't happen for him to come up earlier.


Of course, that's largely because he was playing high-level basketball instead. Given the right push, I think a narrative emphasizing his general athletic skills could help his HOF case. Jackie Robinson (minus the racial pioneer thing) could be a comp in this regard.
   7. SoSH U at work Posted: December 08, 2012 at 12:26 PM (#4319915)
Indiana has produced 8 Hall of Fame ballplayers. Even without timelining, East Chicago's Kenny Lofton, a potential one-and-done, is quite possibly the best player the state has ever produced.

Edit: Retired division. I'd give the overall nod to Scott Rolen.
   8. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 08, 2012 at 12:32 PM (#4319919)
Here's one set of comps for Lofton: middle infielders and CF centered on him in terms of PAs and OPS+. Most are middle infielders, actually, because there are very few pure CF close to Lofton:

Player Rfield PA OPS+ SB Pos
Bobby Wallace 133 9612 105 201 *65/149873
Bill Dahlen 126 9151 108 467 *6/54879
Pee Wee Reese 117 9470 99 232 *65
Willie Randolph 114 9461 104 271 *4/D5
Kenny Lofton 104 9235 107 622 *8/7D9
Alan Trammell 75 9376 110 236 *6/D5478
Ryne Sandberg 60 9282 114 344 *45/6D
Tony Phillips 39 9110 109 177 47569D/83
Tony Fernandez 31 8793 101 246 *654/D
Barry Larkin 18 9057 116 379 *6/4D
Julio Franco -40 9731 111 281 643D/579
Miguel Tejada -47 9038 109 84 *65/D4
Brett Butler -83 9545 110 558 *87/9D


Really should use wRC+ (career 110). Lofton's OBP heavy hitting (.372 career) makes his O better than a 107 OPS+ indicates.
   9. Bigotis49 Posted: December 08, 2012 at 12:37 PM (#4319922)
I've always thought that Lofton's legacy (and Hall of Fame case) was hurt by the fact that he moved around so much. Give him the same stats, but all for the Indians...I think he's looked upon more favorably by the voters. Not that it affects how good he actually was, of course, but it gives an easier narrative. And would likely result in very strong emotions by Cleveland fans/media.
   10. Steve Treder Posted: December 08, 2012 at 12:50 PM (#4319926)
I've always thought that Lofton's legacy (and Hall of Fame case) was hurt by the fact that he moved around so much. Give him the same stats, but all for the Indians...I think he's looked upon more favorably by the voters. Not that it affects how good he actually was, of course, but it gives an easier narrative. And would likely result in very strong emotions by Cleveland fans/media.

Very, very true. A player needs two things going for him to have a serious chance at the HOF: the stats (traditional and/or advanced), and the narrative. And of the two, the narrative is probably the stronger need. Lofton has almost nothing going for him on the narrative side.
   11. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: December 08, 2012 at 02:07 PM (#4319962)
The issue about Lofton and using BBREF WAR is defense. DRA estimates him at only around 30-40 RAA, where br's WAR has him over 100 RAA. That's a 7-9 win swing if you swap DRA in for WAR's fielding component. At 58ish WAR he is still a decent candidate, but he's not the obvious HOFer he seems with br's WAR.
   12. Pleasant Nate (Upgraded from 'Nate') Posted: December 08, 2012 at 02:28 PM (#4319973)
And of the two, the narrative is probably the stronger need. Lofton has almost nothing going for him on the narrative side.


I think the basketball angle is a strong one, though. Perhaps awareness isn't very strong. The idea that a player could essentially not play baseball for four years in college (he played like 8 games or something), then decide to go play pro baseball and become as good as Lofton was is rather incredible.
   13. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: December 08, 2012 at 03:20 PM (#4320000)
If you use rWAA, Lofton looks a lot better than if you use rWAR. The all-time CF, 2B and 3B in the same range:

Griffey 47
Carew 46
Gehringer 45
Rolen 44
Grich 44
Whitaker 43
Utley 40
Robinson 40
Robinson 39
Beltran 39
Hamilton 39
Frisch 39
Martinez 39
Sandberg 38
Lofton 38
Molitor 38
Smith 38
Thome 38
Santo 37
Gordon 37
Baker 37
Randolph 36
Beltre 36
Jones 36
Snider 35
Edmonds 35
Nettles 33
Alomar 33
Allen 33
Bando 33
Bell 33
Boyer 32
Doby 30
Biggio 29
McGraw 29
Rose 29
Dawson 29
Wynn 29
Ashburn 28
Ventura 28
Browning 27
Doerr 27
Herman 27
Kent 27
Davis 26
Groh 26
Collins 26
Cey 26
Puckett 26
Sheffield 26
McPhee 25
Hack 25
   14. Morty Causa Posted: December 08, 2012 at 03:38 PM (#4320011)
Lofton's case for induction rests almost entirely on sabermetric interpretation, WAR especially, of his value running/stealing bases and as a defensive centerfielder. If he is elected, it has come to pass, verily, that the geeks have inherited the baseball earth and they should have a parade--or sacrifice Murray Chass or something like that to the baseball god (give no sign if this meets with your approval, Lord). It would be much bigger than Blyleven's election. Will he even stay on the ballot?
   15. Walt Davis Posted: December 08, 2012 at 04:56 PM (#4320048)
FWIW, fWAR has him basically the same as bWAR. But, yeah, I don't expect him to make the 5% mark. Bernie barely squeaked over and he has much better surface stats and narrative.
   16. thok Posted: December 08, 2012 at 07:49 PM (#4320103)
Lofton's case for induction rests almost entirely on sabermetric interpretation, WAR especially, of his value running/stealing bases and as a defensive centerfielder.


It's basically the Mike Trout argument all over again, except that Lofton hasn't played for five years and has been somewhat ignored.
   17. Steve Treder Posted: December 08, 2012 at 09:16 PM (#4320125)
I think the basketball angle is a strong one, though. Perhaps awareness isn't very strong. The idea that a player could essentially not play baseball for four years in college (he played like 8 games or something), then decide to go play pro baseball and become as good as Lofton was is rather incredible.

To you and to me, sure. But, yes, awareness is basically non-existent, which kills that narrative in its tracks.
   18. Eric Ferguson Posted: December 08, 2012 at 09:17 PM (#4320126)
Maybe I'm a Small Haller, but if you have to write a "don't ignore the case for X" column for a guy, he's probably not a Hall of Famer.
   19. Darren Posted: December 08, 2012 at 09:18 PM (#4320127)
The non-saber case: 1,500 runs, 2,400 hits, .299 BA, 622 SB, 4 GG in CF. That looks good but it doesn't look like there are a lot of those types in the hall.
   20. Tubbs & Minnie Miñoso don't fear Sid Monge Posted: December 08, 2012 at 09:56 PM (#4320140)
I'd like to know if anyone has more info on Lofton's 1997 season in Atlanta. In John Schuerholz's book he says he "threw in the towel" on re-signing Lofton and that Lofton never "embraced the environment or ideals." Also, Schuerholz quotes Bobby Cox being critical of Lofton's refusal to talk to the writers. Lofton was a horrid 27 for 47 in steal attempts in his one year in Atlanta, I remember reading somewhere he was playing through injuries that year.
   21. Josh1 Posted: December 08, 2012 at 10:37 PM (#4320151)
Another non-saber case: he's Richie Ashburn.
   22. Morty Causa Posted: December 08, 2012 at 10:43 PM (#4320154)
It's basically the Mike Trout argument all over again, except that Lofton hasn't played for five years and has been somewhat ignored.


I don't think so. Trout had a great year at the plate. Lofton's career hitting is mediocre. If Trout's defense and baserunning would have had to carry him as far as Lofton's do in making the case for him for MVP, there would have been no controversy. He simply wouldn't have been in the running.
   23. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: December 08, 2012 at 11:23 PM (#4320175)
Another non-saber case: he's Richie Ashburn.

Although by WAA he's much much better. He's more like Frankie Frisch or Paul Molitor, and a lot better than Craig Biggio.
   24. Morty Causa Posted: December 08, 2012 at 11:39 PM (#4320183)
When Richie Ashburn was inducted, he was widely seen as being maybe the best defensive centerfielder of all time. This is an Ozzie Smith thing. (Plus, he was ostensibly a good hitter--with no power, but still.) In fact, not too long before his induction, Bill James (somewhere I remember) wrote that he had the best stats of any outfielder in history (and FWIW Maz had the best fielding stats of any fielder in history). I don't think the refinements of assessing defense support that conclusion anymore, but that had to have had an effect on his selection.
   25. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: December 09, 2012 at 12:26 AM (#4320201)
Another non-saber case: he's Richie Ashburn.

Ashburn won two batting titles and led the league in hits three times. Lofton may be as good as or better than Ashburn (if you buy him as Ashburn's equal or superior in the outfield, which I'm not in a position to address), but not necessarily in a way you can sell to the writers. And even if you can, the writers didn't vote Ashburn in; he was a VC selection.
   26. Josh1 Posted: December 09, 2012 at 12:28 AM (#4320203)
When Richie Ashburn was inducted, he was widely seen as being maybe the best defensive centerfielder of all time.


He was inducted in 1995. I don't most people generally having Ashburn above Mays or Speaker at that time.

Although by WAA he's much much better. He's more like Frankie Frisch or Paul Molitor, and a lot better than Craig Biggio.


I made the comparison to Ashburn since both were excellent fielding CF with speed, both had similar career OBP-heavy OPS+ figures, both had similar career lengths, and both played in eras of sluggers when they would have dominated much more if they had been born in another time.
   27. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: December 09, 2012 at 12:35 AM (#4320206)
The issue about Lofton and using BBREF WAR is defense. DRA estimates him at only around 30-40 RAA, where br's WAR has him over 100 RAA. That's a 7-9 win swing if you swap DRA in for WAR's fielding component. At 58ish WAR he is still a decent candidate, but he's not the obvious HOFer he seems with br's WAR.
Speaking of this key point, does anyone know what the confidence curve is on any of these stats? Is bWAR say 20% or 95% or x confident of career war falling within 10% of the true total? How about for defensive stats? It's one thing not to know if Lofton's career WAR is 58 or 64, but it's another thing entirely if both are just as possible as 52 or 70.

Also, while I'd like to agree with Bigotis and Steve on the issue of narrative, Whitaker and Trammell had a great one and it didn't help either of them a jot. I think there's something else going on.
   28. vivaelpujols Posted: December 09, 2012 at 07:24 AM (#4320256)
It's one thing not to know if Lofton's career WAR is 58 or 64, but it's another thing entirely if both are just as possible as 52 or 70.


Well we know that the reported number is the most likely and numbers off that are decreasingly less likely. That doesn't mean that Lofton couldn't have been worth only 50 WAR, but it's most likely he was worth 60-70 WAR.
   29. Juilin Sandar to Conkling Speedwell (Arjun) Posted: December 09, 2012 at 09:02 AM (#4320260)
To echo what was mentioned above: as I mentioned here (post 34), DRA severely marks down Lofton's defence in comparison to TZ (there's a bit of a breakdown in Humphrey's book which I copy-pasted in the link above about where the difference is and Humphrey's opinion of the best interpretation of the data). There are few really massive differences like this between DRA and other similar stats, so I'd be wary of overstating Lofton's case, given how much of it is defence

EDIT: I don't intend to diminish just how good a player Lofton was. I'm a Cubs fan - I will love him eternally, just for what he did in 2003!
   30. Tim Marchman Posted: December 09, 2012 at 12:42 PM (#4320310)
I actually asked Michael Humphreys about this for something I'm working on, and using DRA and WOWY he figures that B-R overstates Lofton's defensive value by quite a bit, with his best read of the data being that Lofton was about a 60 WAR player. He figures Lofton is a bit above Craig Biggio overall, but a borderline candidate. I'd still support him for the Hall, quite possibly above Tim Raines, but that's worth noting.

I'm also editing a reported piece on Lofton's basketball career, which I'll submit to be linked here when it's out. There's a ton of fun material in there; one bit I like is that the coaching staff and the players used to play softball, and Lofton would insist that the other outfielders head to the infield so that he could handle it himself. The really strange thing is that the general judgment was that he was a freak athlete, but way too out of control (as a player, not personally) to play at the NBA level.
   31. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: December 09, 2012 at 12:47 PM (#4320315)
It is worth pointing out that, whatever it thinks of his defense, WAR is guaranteed to underrate Lofton in at least one way - his best year was 1994. With the caveat that pro-rating is likely not a good idea, here is what happens if you pro-rate Lofton's 94:

Lofton        G   PA   AB    R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  SB  CS  BB  SO
Actual 94    112  523  459  105  160  32   9  12   57  60  12  52  56
Pro
-rate 94  161  750  658  151  229  46  13  17   82  86  17  75  80
Career high  154  736  662  132  210  35  13  15   73  75  20  87  84 


Lofton was on his way to not just a career year, but to career highs in almost every individual part of the game. That's some season he might have had.
   32. cardsfanboy Posted: December 09, 2012 at 01:27 PM (#4320326)
Lofton's case is going to be weakened by the other centerfielders in his era leaching his arguments. Griffey being the only slam lock. Meanwhile you have Bernie, Edmonds, Beltran, and Andruw all with cases, all arguably hofers, all borderline. The one difference is that all of them were probably more regarded than Lofton when they played.
   33. Josh1 Posted: December 09, 2012 at 01:37 PM (#4320333)
To echo what was mentioned above: as I mentioned here (post 34), DRA severely marks down Lofton's defence in comparison to TZ


I replied in that other thread that I was skeptical of a system that found Lofton to be barely above average in his prime (when he was the fastest man in the game and was widely considered a great defender -- gold gloves and all) but then improved in his 30s and managed to be a competent CF until age 40. Brefs numbers where Lofton was fantastic until his early 30s (when his SB also dropped), then declined to a bit above average in his mid 30s, and then declined to below average at the end of his career seem much more plausible.
   34. cardsfanboy Posted: December 09, 2012 at 04:38 PM (#4320377)
I replied in that other thread that I was skeptical of a system that found Lofton to be barely above average in his prime (when he was the fastest man in the game and was widely considered a great defender -- gold gloves and all) but then improved in his 30s and managed to be a competent CF until age 40. Brefs numbers where Lofton was fantastic until his early 30s (when his SB also dropped), then declined to a bit above average in his mid 30s, and then declined to below average at the end of his career seem much more plausible.


Not that this is necessarily the case, but if Lofton took some time off from baseball to play basketball, and was a little behind on the learning curve, it could have taken a few years for his judgement off of the bat to catch up to his raw ability. It wouldn't have hurt his reputation, as people don't look at jump off of the bat when evaluating defense, but range that they can visibly see being covered(other words speed/acceleration), hands, and pizzazz/diving/jumping to claim excellent defense.

   35. DanG Posted: December 09, 2012 at 04:41 PM (#4320380)
35+ WAR, at last one-third career G in CF, debut 1976+

Rk            Player WAR/pos OPSRfield    PA From   To   Age
1        Ken Griffey    79.2  136      2 11304 1989 2010 19
-40
2       Kenny Lofton    64.9  107    104  9235 1991 2007 24
-40
3     Carlos Beltran    62.3  122     69  8349 1998 2012 21
-35
4       Andre Dawson    60.6  119     70 10769 1976 1996 21
-41
5       Andruw Jones    59.5  111    236  8664 1996 2012 19
-35
6        Jim Edmonds    57.3  132     37  7980 1993 2010 23
-40
7       Johnny Damon    52.1  104      1 10917 1995 2012 21
-38
8      Kirby Puckett    48.2  124    
-13  7831 1984 1995 24-35
9       Brett Butler    47.0  110    
-83  9545 1981 1997 24-40
10       Ellis Burks    46.3  126    
-32  8177 1987 2004 22-39
11   Bernie Williams    45.9  125   
-139  9053 1991 2006 22-37
12      Torii Hunter    44.4  111     69  7887 1997 2012 21
-36
13       Devon White    44.2   98    135  8080 1985 2001 22
-38
14     Willie Wilson    43.5   94    108  8317 1976 1994 20
-38
15      Mike Cameron    43.2  106     72  7884 1995 2011 22
-38
16       Dale Murphy    42.6  121    
-33  9041 1976 1993 20-37
17     Lenny Dykstra    41.0  120     45  5282 1985 1996 22
-33
18      Steve Finley    40.4  104     
-1 10460 1989 2007 24-42
19    Andy Van Slyke    38.6  119     24  6495 1983 1995 22
-34
20      Ray Lankford    35.7  123      2  6675 1990 2004 23
-37 
   36. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: December 09, 2012 at 04:52 PM (#4320383)
   37. Misirlou was a Buddhist prodigy Posted: December 09, 2012 at 06:04 PM (#4320392)
Very, very true. A player needs two things going for him to have a serious chance at the HOF: the stats (traditional and/or advanced), and the narrative. And of the two, the narrative is probably the stronger need. Lofton has almost nothing going for him on the narrative side.


He's hurt by 2 other things: He was screwed out of the 1992 ROY, and his best year was 1994. A 230 H, 150 R, 85 SB, 10 WAR season on his resume( his extrapolated 1994 stats) would be worth a passel of votes.
   38. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: December 09, 2012 at 06:32 PM (#4320401)
He's hurt by 2 other things: He was screwed out of the 1992 ROY, and his best year was 1994. A 230 H, 150 R, 85 SB, 10 WAR season on his resume( his extrapolated 1994 stats) would be worth a passel of votes.
Also, in the postseason, Lofton did a lot of losing. He was on 2 WS losing team, and five LCS losing team. He lost the 2002 World Series in terrible fashion, the 2003 NLCS with the Cubs, the 2004 ALCS with the Yankees and then the 2007 ALCS with Cleveland.

Obviously, a big part of the reason these teams--well, some of these teams--made it as far as they did was Lofton, but he never won a title and can't help but wonder if some voters see him (maybe him subconsciously) as the guy who was on a bunch of teams that weren't good enough, so he, by extension, is not good enough.
   39. Walt Davis Posted: December 09, 2012 at 09:53 PM (#4320489)
then improved in his 30s

The disaster that was Ken Griffey playing CF in those years probably raised every other CF's Rfield by 10 runs. :-)

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