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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, December 03, 2004
Hall of Fame Candidate - Wade Boggs
Where does Boggs rank among the greats?
Wade Boggs is up for Hall of Fame balloting in 2004. He is considered a shoo-in for election based upon his 3000+ hits and five American League batting titles, but hits and batting average don’t come close to telling Wade Boggs’ value as a player. One BBWAA voter summed up the misconceptions about Boggs by calling him “the king of the American League banjo hitters” and writing, “I’d feel better about his numbers if he had about 500 more hits than his 3,010, something giving a brighter shine to a 12-time All-Star who also lacked speed. I think Boggs will get in on the first ballot, however. A lifetime batting average of .328 gives him automatic status, ahead of even his hit total.”
Boggs is generally regarded as a great hitter for average, which he was. Many of his detractors, mainly Red Sox fans who aren’t statistically inclined, have commented that Boggs was too selfish. They cry that Boggs only cared about his own stats, his own average, and could have been a better player had he just given up some of his average for additional power. They base this on his tremendous power displayed in home run hitting contests in batting practice and his 1987 total of 24 homeruns. Ichiro gets the same press about his potential to hit more homeruns if he just decided to. But, what these casual fans and media types who propagate these fanciful theories fail to understand is that in home run hitting contest the pitcher only throws meatballs up there. If you have tremendous bat control and good bat speed, plus you know the pitch will be thrown where you want it, it’s much easier to hit the ball out of the park. However, when facing Major League pitching in game situations, no matter how great bat control and bat speed, you have to adjust to the pitch. On the latter argument, 1987 was the year of the homerun in the 1980s and nobody’s homerun total from that year should be considered a true display of power.
I’ve already gone far a field, so before this becomes Gleeman Length, I will get to the one other issue with Boggs: Margo Adams. Boggs had a well-publicized affair during his playing career that led to him “falling out of his wife’s car.” While this proves that Boggs probably wasn’t the best husband during his playing career, I’m sure the difference between Boggs and many other players is that he was caught and it was made public, humiliating both him and his family.
In my opinion Boggs ranks as the 3rd greatest third baseman of All-Time. When I was growing up thirdbase was the weakest position of All-Time. Reading books about the greatest baseball players I always saw Pie Traynor listed as the greatest. Some books put Eddie Mathews there, but not that many. The prevailing wisdom at that time caused Mathews to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978 even though he retired in 1968. Looking at his stats today, that seems incredulous. In comparing Traynor’s stats to those of the greatest players at other positions I always wondered, why was thirdbase so weak? Part of the reason is that the position was originally intended as a defensive slot. Rogers Hornsby was considered too weak defensively to hold down that position or shortstop, where he was also tried. He instead was moved to secondbase. Today nobody would think of moving a bad fielding thirdbaseman to second. Instead, the defensive spectrum has second as more difficult and valuable than third. It just so happened that my childhood was the golden age of thirdbasemen. Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Wade Boggs all played when I was growing up. These three thirdbasemen combined for 36 All-Star appearances. Only Brooks Robinson has more appearances than these three greats did individually. Brooks, of course played during the thin times at thirdbase, and despite his defensive prowess and terrific longevity, he doesn’t really compare with the three greats of my youth.
This article will attempt to compare the greatest post WWII thirdbasemen and explain why and how I rank Wade Boggs third, well ahead of where most casual fans would place him and one ahead of where Bill James placed him.
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Boggs 0.328 0.415 0.443 0.858 130 Brett 0.305 0.369 0.487 0.856 135 Mathews 0.271 0.376 0.509 0.885 143 B Robinson 0.267 0.322 0.401 0.723 104 Santo 0.277 0.362 0.464 0.826 125 Schmidt 0.267 0.380 0.527 0.907 147
Boggs is first in batting average by quite a bit as expected. The only other thirdbasemen with a top batting average is George Brett. Boggs also dwarfs the competition in OBP. He beats Brett by more in OBP than he did in AVG, where Brett drops from 2nd to 4th, among those considered. Schmidt and Mathews dominate the competition in SLG as expected. The two 500 HR Club members also separate themselves from the field in OPS and OPS+, Schmidt ahead of Mathews in each of these stats. Brooks finishes last in every category. As I wrote above, Brooks Robinson really doesn’t compare with the other greats, defense notwithstanding.
R RBI H 2B 3B HR SB G G@3B Boggs 1513 1014 3010 578 61 118 24 2439 2215 Brett 1583 1595 3154 665 137 317 201 2707 1692 Mathews 1509 1453 2315 354 72 512 68 2391 2181 B Robinson 1232 1357 2848 482 62 268 28 2896 2870 Santo 1138 1331 2254 365 67 342 35 2243 2130 Schmidt 1506 1595 2234 408 59 548 174 2404 2212
George Brett dominates the counting stats, and this, in many people’s minds, places him behind Schmidt as the greatest thirdbasemen. He was the most balanced offensively and the Royals of the 1980s were very good, adding to his Run and RBI totals. But, look at his games at third. He played more than one-third of his career away from the hot corner. The others played almost exclusively at third. Schmidt and Mathews each played one season primarily at first. Brett, however, played 4 at first and 3 at DH. In my mind this is the critical factor in reducing his overall ranking at 3B. While he may rank ahead of the most of the others in terms of total career value, as a thirdbaseman he doesn’t rank as highly in my mind. Boggs, as expected, finishes last in both HR, by a longshot, and also RBI. His last in SB doesn’t really matter much as none of them have good rates. Brett’s and Schmidt were both right around 2/3 successful, or what is commonly believed to be the break-even point.
RC RC/600 EQA EQR WARP3 WS TOP5 TOP3 WS/162 Boggs 1710 95.53 0.307 1658 138.2 394 162 103 26.16 Brett 1893 97.71 0.304 1895 127.6 432 154 106 25.85 Mathews 1650 98.01 0.315 1796 129.8 447 167 112 30.29 B Robinson 1390 70.78 0.271 1542 113.3 355 130 85 19.86 Santo 1386 88.51 0.293 1407 109.4 322 162 105 23.26 Schmidt 1682 100.3 0.313 1731 151.1 468 171 112 31.54
For those not familiar, RC is Runs Created, RC/600 is Runs Created per 600 Plate Appearances. EQA, EQR, and WARP3 are advanced metrics developed by Baseball Prospectus. EQA is equivalency average and attempts to calculate a batting average like statistic for total offensive value, EQR is similar to RC, in that it attempts to project how many runs the player created. WARP3 calculates wins above a replacement level player, adjusted for era, stadium, and normalized for a 162 game season. WS is Win Shares, as developed by Bill James. It attempts to calculate how many wins a player was worth (actually it’s not true wins since there a three win shares up for grabs for each team win). Top5 and Top3 measure peak season win shares, and WS/162 is how many Win Shares a player was worth over the course of an average 162-game season.
Once again Brett does better in the raw numbers, RC and EQR, as he played considerably more games than all but Brooks, who again pales in comparison. Almost every other statistic is dominated by Schmidt. Schmidt was far more productive than his fellow Hall of Fame caliber thirdbasemen. Schmidt also had a better peak than the others.
Boggs 1553 Brett 1206 Mathews 1642 B Robinson 1513 Santo 1355 Schmidt 1726
Schmidt is tops again, but one can see that Brett falls off the table. It’s purely based upon his considerable playing time at other positions.
FPCT LFPCT RF LRF DWS WS/162@3B Boggs 0.962 0.951 2.62 2.33 74.12 4.93 Brett 0.951 0.953 2.98 2.58 61.52 5.26 Mathews 0.956 0.950 2.92 2.68 58.95 4.30 B Robinson 0.971 0.953 3.10 2.74 106.48 5.96 Santo 0.954 0.948 3.07 2.58 68.84 4.97 Schmidt 0.955 0.949 3.00 2.45 88.13 5.95
I think the most interesting thing about this table is that the league fielding percentage over the 60s, 70s, 80s, and early 90s, didn’t fluctuate much. It has always been around .950 for thirdbasemen. Brooks Robinson, was the most errorless, for whatever that is worth. But, Boggs comes in second. Range, however, is all over the map for league average, and without really knowing how to interpret defense to a great degree personally, and because pitching, neighboring fielders, and field surface play so heavily into fielding numbers I can only conclude that all were credible to good to even great fielders. In counting Gold Gloves, Boggs had two, Brett one, Mathews none, Robinson 16, Santo 5, and Schmidt 10.
DWS in this table is defensive Win Shares. It is not broken down by position, however WS/162@3B is broken down by position.
Schmidt A Robinson A- Boggs B Brett B Santo B- Mathews C
Wade Boggs should not be considered a second tier anything, whether that be Hall-of-Famer or thirdbaseman. He ranks right up there in career value with Eddie Mathews and George Brett and ahead of Brett in terms of value at thirdbase. Not only should Boggs be a first ballot HOFer, but he should receive an extremely high percentage of the vote. The ironic thing is that he will get both, but more likely because of the hits and the batting crowns than for the overall career value where he may only be behind Mike Schmidt.
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