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Sunday, December 29, 2002

Brett Butler and Vince Coleman

Dan leads off the week with two of the most important leadoff hitters of the free agency era.

Brett Butler and Vince Coleman, two players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, were both speedy outfielders with little power.  However, they also were drastically different in a lot of ways such as longevity and hitting ability.  Do either of them have a Hall of Fame case?  A look at the Keltner List can help answer that question:

1.  Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

Butler: He was never the best player—his only case that anyone thought he was rests on the one first-place MVP vote he received in 1991.  He finished seventh, his only top ten finish, even though it wasn’t his best year.

Coleman: No way.  He stole a lot of bases, which was valuable, but only twice did he have an OPS+ over 100, and one of those times was over just 261 plate appearances.

2.  Was he the best player on his team?

Butler: Yes.  In 1984 and 1985, Butler was arguably the best player on the Cleveland Indians—certainly in 1985, when he led the team in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage while playing 150 games in centerfield and stealing 47 bases (while Blyleven also has a case, I find it more instructive to consider pitchers and hitters separately).  You could also make a case for him being the best on the 1990 Giants (121 OPS+, 51 stolen bases, 159 games in center) and the 1991 Dodgers, when he led the team in batting average (.296), on-base percentage (.401), stolen bases (38), and games played (161).  And he was certainly the best on the 1992 Dodgers, leading the team with an OPS+ of 132, 41 stolen bases, and 157 games played.

Coleman: He was never the best player, but at times he wasn’t too far off, depending on how much weight you give to his stolen base totals.

3.  Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Butler: He was the best centerfielder in the National League in 1994, though Ken Griffey Jr. was clearly better in the American League.  Other than that, he never was the best, though he frequently was among the best.

Coleman: Coleman was never among the best at his position.

4.  Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Butler: Yes.  In 1989, Butler put up a 105 OPS+ and scored 100 runs for the NL Champion San Francisco Giants.  His 112 runs and 114 OPS+ helped the 1991 Dodgers finish just one game out of first place in the NL West.  In 1994, Butler helped the Dodgers to a first-place finish in the strike-shortened season, and his performance down the stretch for the Dodgers in 1995, including a .368 OBP, helped Los Angeles secure first place.

Coleman: Yes.  Coleman scored 107 runs in his rookie season for the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the National League Pennant.  He hit .289 with 121 runs and 109 stolen bases for the 1987 Cardinals, who again reached the World Series.  He also hit .290 in 40 games for the 1995 Seattle Mariners, who advanced to the ALCS.

5.  Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Butler: Absolutely.  Despite the 1994 strike, a bout with throat cancer, and a broken hand, Butler averaged 471 plate appearances per year from age 36 to age 40.  At 38, Butler posted a 102 OPS+, stole 32 bases, and played 120 games in centerfield.  At 37, his OPS+ was 131 and he stole 27 bases in the strike-shortened 1994 season.

Coleman: Not really.  The most games he played in a season after his age-27 year was 124.  He only played in 100 games twice after age 28, and only recorded 109 plate appearances after his age-33 season.

6.  Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

Butler: No.  There are quite a few players not in who have better cases.

Coleman: Not even close.

7.  Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Butler: Of Butler’s ten most similar hitters, three are in the Hall of Fame: Richie Ashburn (his number one comp), Harry Hooper, and Lloyd Waner.  Of all ten players, however, only Hooper played as many games as Butler, and he was a rightfielder who stole 183 fewer bases.

Coleman: One of Coleman’s ten most similar batters, Ned Hanlon, is in the Hall of Fame, but he had an OPS+ of 101 compared to Coleman’s 83.

8.  Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Butler: Butler falls a little short, scoring a 36 on the Hall of Fame Standards test (where 50 is average) and a 50.5 on the Hall of Fame Monitor, 100 meaning a likely inductee.

Coleman: Coleman is not close, with just a 12.9 on the Standards test and a 27 on the Monitor.

9.  Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Butler: Yes.  Here are Butler’s batting park factors for every year he reached 300 PA:

107
102
 99
 98
101
 96
 97
 96
 98
 98
 96
 93
100
 92

Despite that, Butler was very steady over the course of his career, hitting .304/.393/.382 (Average/OBP/Slugging) at home and .278/.362/.371 away, and .294/.384/.360 against lefties and .289/.374/.383 against right-handers.

Coleman: No.  Coleman’s parks were by and large pretty neutral.  His career OPS was .719 at home but just .617 on the road.

10.  Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

Butler: Dale Murphy is probably better, with a career 121 OPS+ to Butler’s 110.  However, while Murphy played in just 33 fewer games, he played in just 1,044 at centerfield—or about half of Butler’s 2,069.

Coleman: No.  Jim Rice, for example, is clearly superior.

11.  How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Butler: Butler never really had an MVP type season, and just finished seventh once.

Coleman: Coleman never came close to winning an MVP.

12.  How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?

Butler: Butler was only an All-Star in 1991, though he certainly had a few other all-star type seasons for a centerfielder, such as 1988, 1990, 1992, and 1994, but he was hurt by playing in pitchers’ parks.

Coleman: Coleman was an All-Star in 1988 and 1989, but never really had a great all-star season.  The closest he came was 1987 and 1990.

13.  If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Butler: They could, but it wouldn’t be likely.  Butler was among the best players on a few competing Dodgers and Giants teams.

Coleman: Probably not.  Coleman was only an above-average hitter once in a full season, and while his stolen bases certainly help, they almost certainly wouldn’t be enough.

14.  What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Butler: Not that I know of.

Coleman: Coleman discovered a new use for automatic tarp machines when he was injured by one during the 1985 playoffs, but other than that, no.

15.  Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Butler: As far as I know.  Some would cite his quick return from his battle with throat cancer as evidence of strength and character; whether you include that or not, Butler never had any incidents to make one doubt his character.

Coleman: Unfortunately, Coleman had some problems in this area.  The most infamous incident was his throwing a firecracker at a group of fans in the Shea Stadium parking lot in 1993.  He also had clashes with managers and coaches, particularly during his time with the Mets.

Conclusion

Vince Coleman was an interesting player with some truly spectacular stolen base totals, but he obviously doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.  Brett Butler’s case is better, as he was a valuable player for a long time.  He is at best a borderline candidate, but I think the Hall of Fame could do much worse (and has) than to induct him.  While it would certainly be reasonable to leave Butler out, it would not be a travesty at all to have him in.

Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: December 29, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 29, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607847)
One of Coleman's ten most similar batters, Ned Hanlon, is in the Hall of Fame, but he had an OPS+ of 101 compared to Coleman's 83.

Of course, Hanlon got the nod for his managing skill with the old Baltimore Oriole teams of the "Gay Nineties", not for his playing career (he was a terrific fielder, BTW).
   2. Aaron Gleeman Posted: December 29, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607851)
I am not sure, but I think it was the parking lot at Dodger Stadium.
   3. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607853)
My bad... it was Dodger Stadium, not Shea. Does anyone know why exactly he did it?
   4. Eric Enders Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607856)
Dan, nice article. Two comments:

1) I believe Coleman threw the firecracker at some fans who were taunting him. Not that that excuses his actions, but...

2) I must emphatically disagree with your answer to question number 15 regarding Brett Butler. Butler, in my opinion (I'm a Dodger fan) was a sleazeball and one of the least admirable players in the game during the 1990s. As has been discussed on this site before (although I'm too lazy to search the archive), Butler in 1994 made some fairly racist comments about Latino players in general and Raul Mondesi in particular. Also, in 1995 he was one of baseball's ringleaders in turning the cold shoulder toward ex-replacement players, refusing to even speak to Mike Busch, and encouraging his teammates to do likewise. If we're inducting people into the Hall of Fame on the quality of their character, I'd take Vince Coleman over Butler in a heartbeat.

Also, I'm not sure how relevant this is -- it might go under the "Is there any reason to believe that the player was significantly better or worse than his statistics show?" category. Brett Butler was easily the worst baserunner I have ever seen in my two decades of watching Major League Baseball. His caught stealing stats, while poor, do not necessarily support the theory that he was the worst baserunner of the past generation. However, it seemed like he was always getting picked off base and getting thrown out trying to advance on hits. Take it from someone who watched him often: The man had the baserunning instincts of Stevie Wonder.
   5. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607858)
Eric,

I appreciate the comments. While I agree that my answer was incomplete, and Butler's comments were somewhat racist, I honestly don't think they were intended that way (reminds me of the VP from My Fellow Americans). I know that doesn't excuse it, but I think it makes a difference.

I'll take your word on the replacement players and baserunning. But I don't think character concerns make the difference in Butler's case (or Coleman's), and I'd still take Butler's character over Coleman's.
   6. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607863)
I have read all of the Keltner List articles, and yours is probably the only one that gets off of the track of evaluation and into advocacy.

It's difficult to evaluate a favorite player evenly.


Interesting. I've never considered Butler a <A >favorite player</A>. I suspect what you're seeing is simply more my liberal HoF viewpoint.

But if you have any issues to my answers to any of the question, I'd be happy to discuss them.
   7. The Original Gary Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607865)
Another character incident on Brett Butler. Right after he retired he went on a tirade to the la times talking about piazza and insinuating that his bachelor's lifestyle was "ungodlike" or something to that affect. coleman was a dufus too, but butler was a sanctimonious jerk. not enough to keep him out of the hall (he is just no good enough) but it should be remembered what kind of a guy he was.
   8. Old Cardinal Fan Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607866)
Of course, Coleman should receive no votes at all for the HOF - that's not in dispute. But the Keltner list provides opportunities to make a few comments.

As a side issue on #9, I seem to remember something about an extraordinary fraction of all balks called one year happening with Coleman on base. This suggests that his basestealing statistics might slightly understate his baserunning contributions.

On #4 (with a nod to #9), there's a case for him having a positive psychological effect on his team in 1985 that went beyond his actual playing value. In 1985, Coleman spent the spring in the major league camp with Whitey raving about him, but the season opened with Lonnie Smith in left field and Coleman in the minors. This was the mid-career Lonnie - the trough in the middle that lies so much below his 1990-1993 start and his 1989-90 finish. Very early in the season, the Cardinals traded Lonnie (for no immediate value) and brought up Coleman to play left field and lead off. You cannot reasonably argue that Coleman, 1985, was a better player than Lonnie Smith in his midcareer slump - but ...
Coleman wasn't a better offensive player than Lonnie, but he was different, with a much greater fraction of his offensive value concentrated in one narrow area - baserunning. That helped the team to have an image of themselves, as the best and boldest baserunning team around. Silly as it is, having a team image can help - just ask the 2002 Angels. But the bigger difference was defensive. Lonnie was a scary, error-prone left fielder, while Coleman was a sound defensive player. Whitey was preaching to all his pitchers: you have to throw strikes. Lefties have to through inside to RH batters. John Tudor wanted to believe that, but when you look over your right shoulder to see Lonnie, that sort of spoils the view. With Coleman out there, you now had a solid, fast outfield and Pendleton, Ozzie, and Herr in the infield. Tudor burst forth with a magnificant year, and the Cardinals won the pennant.

On #5, it's shocking to see how negative the answer has to be for Coleman, in contrast to some others whose careers were defined by speed, like Stan Javier or Otis Nixon, who were as good in their late 30's as they had ever been.

On #11, one could point out that Coleman's 1987 season matches up pretty well, offensively, with Maury Wills's 1962 MVP year. Of course all that will convince anyone of is that Wills didn't deserve that award.

Question #14 seems designed to elict responses of "He was the first of his kind." Well, Coleman was the LAST of his kind. Once upon a time, these guys, the followers of Lou Brock, were common: Omar Moreno, Ron Leflore - even Lonnie, although he wasn't so extreme. They're all gone now; even the somewhat Brock-like players since then, like Luis Polonia, have stolen fewer bases. The casual baseball fan is more likely to know that Ted Williams was the last man to bat .400 than to know who actually holds that record. Twenty years from know, will we know that Coleman was the last man to steal 100 bases in a season?
   9. Scott Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607868)
I like the article, because it's a neat contrast of two contemporaries as leadoff hitters. But does anyone really think Butler is a serious candidate? He's not close as a "high peak" guy, a la Fred Lynn or Dale Murphy, other marginal CFs who have a better (though losing, I think) argument. He's not a "longevity" guy either; his top longevity accomplishment is his 2375 hits, though he is #3 on the all-time "caught stealing" list (he's #23 in SB).

The best case to make is that he's "not far" from Ashburn, etc. But the talent distribution of good-to-great players is a pyramid: there a few all-time greats (Mantle, Mays, etc.); there are more "great" players (Ashburn, Yount, etc.) who deserve the HOF; and there are MANY, many more "very good" players (Butler, Lynn, Jim Edmonds, Steve Finley, Willie McGee, etc.) who don't deserve the HOF.

The guys like Butler who are just "very good" (and don't deserve the HOF) may not be THAT much worse than the guys who are "great" like Ashburn/Yount. But that's not an argument for the Butlers of the world: if we let in "very good" players, the HOF becomes way too overinclusive -- and stops meaning anything.
   10. Old Cardinal Fan Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607869)
Of course I meant Lonnie Smith's 1980-1983 start, not 90-93. But you would have figured that out, right? Curious spellings of "throw" and "now". Oh, well.
   11. Srul Itza Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607871)
I must respectfully disagree with your analysis of Mr. Butler. I think he is a lot farther from Hall of Fame standards than your analysis would show. Part of that is becuase he is compared with Vince Coleman, and obvious non-candidate. And part of it is the weakness with the Keltner test, in that it can be read a little too subjectively. I think that for some of the questions, the issue should not be whether once or twice in his career he met a certain standard, but whether he did it often enough to have a true case for induction. Looking at Mr. Butler, accepting that he played in some pitcher's parks, he had little or no power to speak of, with 54 home runs and 277 doubles in 17 seasons. If he was a truly great fielder, I have not seen that presented anywhere. His claim to fame as a hitter is as a lead off man, and in that role he had a career OPS+ of 110, with a poor 68% base stealing proficiency, NO top 10 OPS, NO top 10 OPS+, and a top 5 in OBP all of 3 times in his career. He has only one All Star appearance, and only one top 10 in MVP voting.

Turning to a look at Keltner:

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?

No. One First Place MVP, in the only year he ever cracked the top 10, does not hack it.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Once or twice, maybe, although he had legitimate competitors for that honor almost every year. You have to expect more from a Hall of Famer, unless he is sharing time with another Hall of Famer on the teams, which does not seem to be the case.

3. Was he the best player at his position?

Once, at best. For a true Keltner Hall of Fame, yes, you would look for three or four years, minimum.You would expect a lot more than that from a Hall of Famer. This does not hack it

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Yes.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

Absolutely not

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Butler: Not really. Only three of his comps are in. One, Lloyd Waner does not belong in the Hall. Another, Harry Hooper, was mostly a dead ball hitter who got extra consideration from playing on four Red Sox Wall Series Winners. Richie Ashburn is the only comp who is close, which in fact shows some of the fallacies of similarity scores. Richie led the league in OBP 4 times, with 3 other top 5s. Butler's fame is as a lead off hitter, but he was top 5 in OBP all of 3 times in his career, and never lead the league.

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

No. No "a little short", but a lot short, with a 36 on the Hall of Fame Standards and a 50.5 on the Monitor.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Yes as to park factors, but then in looking at his stolen bases, you should also look at his caught stealing. It indicates he was not a good base runner.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

No. Dale Murphy at least was better, with a much higher peak.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have?

None

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have?

One All Star game. Even if he might have been elected a few other years, this is a poor showing.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Butler: Not likely. If you consider only his best 2 or 3 years, maybe, but that test would apply to a lot of other players.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

None

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship, etc.

No real disqualifiers

Conclusion: If you want to argue lowest common denominator, you could make a case. But given the number of bad choices already in the Hall, the fact that Butler would further lower the standard significantly, means he does not below in the Hall.
   12. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607874)
Srul,

First of all, I never said Butler should go in, in fact, I said that at best he is a borderline candidate.

Second, the HoF standards you apply don't have to be the same standards I apply.

Third, I don't see where our answers are that different. We came up with the same answers at least on 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15.

For the four where we didn't necessarily:

2. If you include pitchers, fine. If you don't, I can't see any rational case in which Butler wasn't clearly the best on his team at least twice.

7. We basically agree, but Lloyd Waner is nowhere near as good as Butler. Ashburn's OPS+ is 111 to Butler's 110, and he played in fewer games. When you adjust their stats, they are much, much closer than they appear.

8. Well, I guess that's just subjective. 50 is average, which means there are HoFers lower, and there are many with a score of 36 or lower. So I call Butler a little short, and stand by it.

9. You're right; his caught-stealing is bad. I should have mentioned it.
   13. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607877)
Once Rickey and Rock are inducted, I imagine the precedent for this type of player will be sufficiently high enough to keep guys like Butler and Coleman off the ballot in the future.

It'll keep such guys from getting 5% (which Butler might, unfortunately, get this year), but it won't keep them off the ballot. Basically, you play in 10 seasons and are a regular for at least 5-7 of them, and you've earned the chance to have your candidacy ridiculed here on BP.
   14. Srul Itza Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607878)
Dan, I guess we are not that far apart, except that I think that Butler is a bit further from the HOF borderland than you do, and I think that, given the number of poor HOFers and a few purely glove types, a 36 on the standards is way too low, unless you have a Maseroski or Smith rep with the leather, others.

As regards Keltner, I guess my beef is with the way the questions are worded. To be a good test, I would revise the first three questions to include words like "regularly" or "often", so as to weed out guys who had one good year:

1. Was he regarded as the best player in baseball over a period of two or more seasons?

2. Was he regularly the best player on his team?

3. Was he the best player in baseball/in the league at his position over a period of three or more seasons?

   15. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607880)
Srul,

My hope was to include enough information so the reader could determine on their own whether it was consistent enough to merit a yes.

Jango,

Alou played 63 games in LF and 45 games in RF in 1994. In fact, he's never had a full season at CF.
   16. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607881)
Correction:

Butler played 1,986 career games in CF, not 2,069. Sorry about that.
   17. John Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607882)
For what it's worth, Butler is the 25th-best CF in the NHBA, just behind Cesar Cedeno, Amos Otis, Max Carey, and Dom DiMaggio, just ahead of 3 dead-ballers and Willie Davis. No HOF, but I suppose not as absurd a candidacy as I first imagined. In light of above (entirely justifiable) diatribes re baserunning, the comment is interesting:

"Another one of my all-time favorite players, a little guy who wasn't even really all that fast, but who hustled and bunted and played smart . . . "

The most prolifically bad baserunner of ALL TIME played smart? Wow. Goes on to rate him as 4th-best CF of all time after age 33 (Mays/Cobb/Speaker), so he's got that going for him.

Which is nice.
   18. Jim Kaat on a hot Gene Roof Posted: December 31, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607883)
Dan -- I believe you when you say that Coleman played in nuetral parks to the extent that I believe your source must have listed mid to late 80s Busch as neutral, but how in the HELL did they come up with that conclusion?

St. Louis is a sauna in the summer; legend has it that the playing field is quite a bit lower than street level (true?), St. Louis is hardly very high above sealevel anyway and, as I remember it, the outfield was spacious. Sure, it was no astrodome, but geez, "neutral"?. Now, of course I will be the first to admit that Coleman had no power for the park to rob, my complaint is just the "fact" that 80s Busch was considered neutral.

-------------------------------

No, neither of these two are Hall worthy, but I'm pleased that at least someone gave Coleman a Keltner test without throwing the Sabermetric Oakland A's book at him while doing so. I for one think that there should be a few of these lead-off guys left for use; I don't think the stolen base is obsolete.

------------------------------------------

I'll try to add more later when I'm sober ;))
   19. User unknown in local recipient table (Craig B) Posted: December 31, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607885)
if Moises Alou played center in '94 (which I think he did), he was surely better than Butler.

Alou didn't play center though; he played left, and right when Walker played first. Marquis Grissom was the Expos centerfielder.
   20. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: December 31, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607888)
I believe your source must have listed mid to late 80s Busch as neutral, but how in the HELL did they come up with that conclusion?

<A >How they (B-R.com of course) came up with that conclusion</A>

Don't ask me what any of that means.

For what it's worth, here are the relevant park factors (not including the tail end of his career, when he didn't play more than 40 games anywhere):
STL
 99  1985
 99  1986
102  1987
101  1988
103  1989
100  1990
NYM
 99  1991
 99  1992
 96  1993
KCR
104  1994
103  1995

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