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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.

Basic Numbers

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.

Counting Stats

		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.

Advanced Metrics

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.

When compared at thirdbase, here’s how they do in EQR (estimated based upon time spent at each position in each season).

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.


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. 

Overall, Bill James rates these guys:

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.


Eugene Freedman Posted: December 03, 2004 at 03:39 AM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. shoomee Posted: December 03, 2004 at 11:34 AM (#993365)
Interesting that the BBWAA writer you quote (Bill Conlin) about wishing Boggs had 500 more many hits did Boggs lose spending 6 years in the minors? One thing that always fueled Boggs was that he could have been drafted by any major league team as a 6 year minor leaguer but no one thought he was worth $50,000. It sometimes led to him saying selfish things, like in 1996 when the Yankees picked up Chralie Hayes in mid season and Boggs saying he would get his 3000th hit somewhere. Boggs did have a big bases loaded walk as Torre's last reserve off Steve Avery in 1996 Game 4 World Series that gets overlooked. But Boggs did probably use that rejection to spur himself on. How many HOF spend 6 years in the minors? Maybe an occasional oddball type like knuckler Hoyt Wilhelm or screwballer Carl Hubbell. Or an injury pitcher like Dazzy Vance. But few, if any, everyday players (except in the case of race if Maury Wills should ever make it).
And for what it is worth, even an intangibles lover like Suzyn Waldman (YES network) has always said the losing Yankee attitude changed in spring training of 1993 when Boggs, O'Neill and Key came on the scene.
   2. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: December 03, 2004 at 01:30 PM (#993389)
It looks like Mathews was the best hitter, but Schmidt passes him overall due to his defense. I'd never have guessed that.

How does being 3rd best among a selection of post-WWII MLB 3B make Boggs the "3rd greatest third baseman of All-Time"?

Shouldn't he be compared with Ezra Sutton, Ray Dandridge, Jimmy Collins, Frank Baker, Shigeo Nagashima, etc. before according him this exhalted status?
   3. Gavvy's Cravat Posted: December 03, 2004 at 01:48 PM (#993412)
I am not so sure that these tables indicate that Eddie Matthews was a better hitter than Mike Schmidt. EQA and WS support that conclusion, but WARP3, RC, and rate stats do not. They are pretty close when it comes to offense, though.

What surprised me was how far behind Brooks Robinson lagged. When I was growing up I heard a lot about how he gave Schmidt close competition for the title of best third basemen on account of his fielding. While Robinson seems to be the best fielder of the group based on the tables above, he clearly is too far behind the rest of the group at the plate for fielding to make much of a difference.
   4. bobbyabreu Posted: December 03, 2004 at 04:07 PM (#993682)
When has Bill Conlin ever said anything smart?
Well, anyway, with all this evidence of Ron Santo's greatness, I'm puzzled as to why he's not in the hall, although I wouldn't have even known about him if not for that Simpson's episode.
   5. Anthony Giacalone Posted: December 03, 2004 at 04:27 PM (#993710)
Like Shoomee the first thing I thought of was the two extra years that Boggs spent in the minors when he was more than qualified to help a major league team.

The funny thing to me about the criticism about Boggs' lack of power is that it's nothing new. In my opinion though, he has more than paid his penance for that sin. Even though Boggs reached the majors at age 24 he could (should?) have been there much sooner. He hit .332 at Winston-Salem as a 19 year old in 1977 and then .311 at Bristol as a 20 year old. But he had very little pop (14 doubles, 1 triple and two homers in A ball and 14, 2 and 1 in AA), so, the Red Sox made him repeat AA. After hitting .325 in a second full season at Bristol they let him play in Pawtucket in 1980, where he hit .306 with 21 doubles as a 22 year old. In order to get a real shot at the majors, Boggs had to destroy the International League, which he did in 1981 by hitting .335 with 41 doubles, 3 triples and 5 homers. I saw him at Columbus that year and he was just phenomenal -- the talk of the league and, to an extent, all of baseball due to the strike. Finally given a major league slot in 1982, Boggs lost 50 games because he was forced to platoon with Dave Stapleton and Carney Lansford at first and third. Boggs hit .333 against lefties that year, so another 121 plate appearances almost surely would have given him his first batting title as a rookie (he would have had to hit only .287 in those remaining games). Boggs could have contributed to a team as early as 1980, but didn't get the chance until he was 24.

I really can't understand the knock on the guy considering that he did the things that most ordinary baseball fans and writers like -- hit for average, hit with men on, hit when it matters in the season. A lifetime .338/.428/.462 hitter, he did even better with men on .345/.449/.464 and better still with men in scoring position .348/.479/.465 (he was intentionally walked 150 times so some of that OBP with men on is an illusion). As for his power, Boggs did hit for power when he should have. His slugging percentage while leading off was just .439 but it jumped to .487 when he batted second and .492 when batting third. In September of 1986 when the Red Sox were holding off the charging Yankees to win their first pennant in 11 years, Boggs hit .404/484/.541. In September of 1988 when the Red Sox eaked past a fading Detroit team and staved off a surging Brewers team, Boggs hit .423/.551/.536.

If we are going to knock Boggs for anything then it should be that he was probably not as good a hitter as Fenway made him out to be. While with the Sox, he hit .369/.465/.525 at Fenway but .307/.391/.400 while on the road. That's still a pretty damn good lead off hitter mind you. As many of you will remember, Boggs had a tremendous knack for doubling off the Green Monster. For example, in 1983 20 of the 34 (!!) doubles that he hit at Fenway richoted off the wall in left. And in the course of his Red Sox career, he hit 140 more doubles at Fenway than on the road, while his triples and homers remained close. That said, a players job is to help his team win. Boggs learned that he could flip any outside pitch off the wall for a double, so he did. So, sue him.
   6. shoomee Posted: December 03, 2004 at 05:51 PM (#993949)
I have always felt there are 2 reasons why Santo didn't get into the HOF. He was pretty much in competition with Ken Boyer as best NL third baseman of the 60s and they divided the votes (writers probably tend to choose maybe 1 player at each position) and Boyer has things writers love like an MVP (which they choose) and a ring, not enough to get him in but enough to divide the vote.
Also Santo probably emerged as the jerk from those Cub teams in late 60s/early 70s that won a lot over games in a 5 year period but never enough in one year to win a pennant. Banks was loved, Williams and Jenkins were respected (Williams more so) but Santo was hated for jumping and clicking his heels after a Cub victory. Mild today, but not admired by many traditional writers of that era. It probably didn't help him that his manager Leo Durocher ripped him in his autobiography. Durocher praised Williams, is pretty silent on Jenkins and while Durocher was critical of Banks, Mr Cub's persona was pretty well established as a good guy (idle thoughts..could Sosa have learned no corked bats and no leaving games early and getting caught). Durocher did have enemies who waited until he died before putting him in Cooperstown..the old Veterans committee was often accused of rewarding friends and punishing their enemies by HOF enshrinement/rejection.
One of thing about Boggs lack of much mainstream acceptance.. I remember in 1990 Chris Russo of WFAN was ripping Boggs for not scoring enough runs despite 200 hits/100 walks seasons. Fortunately there was a caller with a record book who told Russo that Boggs had scored 100 runs for 7 straight seasons, tying a record.. Russo was left to sputter some idiocy over being proven wrong.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: December 04, 2004 at 12:27 AM (#994843)
Great article, no argument from me on Boggs. I'm a little surprised he's as far ahead of Santo as he is and I'm stunned he's rated his equal defensively. As to how far to drop Brett probably depends on whether you're a peak or career kind of guy, but Boggs is certainly among the top 4 in my book.

fat lot of good it does Eugene now, but a minor nit on the presentation -- very minor, editor type stuff. When introducing the advanced metrics, it would be good for the less-saberiffic fan (which seems to be the audience) to mention that WS and WARP3 try to combine offense and defense, while RC, EQA, etc. are offense only.

Also, did you ever actually list your top 3B?

Then it might be nice to add FRAA (not that I buy it) and maybe DRA (if you can find it) to the defensive stats.

I can't speak to many other pre-war 3B, but Baker falls short of this group based on most stats. He does well on OPS+ (135), but had a very short career compared to these guys (1575 games) and so had little decline phase. I once calculated his OPS+ as if he had as many games played as Santo, playing those extra games at league average, and his "career" OPS+ came out right at Santo's (125). And Santo gets grief over his "short" career.

He has 78 WARP3 (8/162). (By the way Eugene, BPro's website lists Santo with 115 WARP3, you have him at 109). Anyway Santo's WARP3 are almost 50% higher than Baker, though Santo's per 162 rate is just a smidgen higher (8.3).

So basically Baker's peak is pretty good, probably just below Santo's. Bakers top 5 WARP3 totaled 43.9 and top 3 is 28.0; for Santo those numbers are 61.2 and 37.6. So maybe Baker's peak was well below Santo's. When you figure that Baker has far less career value than any of these guys, Baker might battle Robinson for 6th if you really value peak over career (I generally do), but that would seem to be about it.

Traynor pretty clearly doesn't belong by fancy stats. Just 78.2 WARP3 (in about 400 more games than Baker but a good bit less than any of these guys), a career EQA of 269, and just 6.5 WARP3/162.

The other guys I can't comment on.
   8. OCF Posted: December 04, 2004 at 07:53 AM (#995176)
Shouldn't he be compared with Ezra Sutton, Ray Dandridge, Jimmy Collins, Frank Baker, Shigeo Nagashima, etc. before according him this exhalted status?

Over at the Hall of Merit, we have elected Baker, Collins, and Sutton. Walt Davis has put the case for Baker well: a definite high peak, but a short effective career, quite short compared to any of the 80's guys this article is about.

Jimmy Collins only got in becuase we respect his defense and understand that 3rd base was a defense-first position. As a hitter, he doesn't belong in the same conversation with Baker.

Sutton's true quality is partly lost in the mists of time, and he has an oddly shaped career, with an offensive dropoff in the middle. We did see enough there to elect him.

Dandridge and Traynor aren't eligible yet; frankly, I don't expect Traynor to be elected. I don't know enough about Nagashima to comment.

Bottom line: none of these guys mentioned should get in the way of discussing Boggs versus Brett, Mathews, and Schmidt.

An odd offensive comparison: Boggs and Tim Raines, both of them essentially leadoff hitters who spent some time batting 2nd or 3rd in the order. They have about the same number of R+RBI in about the same number of outs.
   9. Srul Itza At Home Posted: December 05, 2004 at 07:05 AM (#996935)
Wade Boggs, with that great OBP, all the hits, the batting titles, the doubles, etc., from the 3b slot, while being at least a decent fielder , always struck just me as a no brainer first ballot guy. So when I read that idiot Bill Conlin article, I could not believe it.

But I really reacted when I read the idiotic thing quoted above about how he'd "feel better about his numbers if he had about 500 more hits than his 3,010". Is Conlin so lacking in either basic math skills or knowledge of baseball that he does not how bloody many hits that is? Does he not know that this would put him in the top 6 all time in hits? If that is the standard, you don't need a Hall of Fame; a large walk in closet of Fame would about cover it.
   10. baudib Posted: December 06, 2004 at 06:15 PM (#1000706)
I had this long post about why I thought Boggs was great, but slightly overrated. I lost it because it was too many characters and I hadn't saved it anywhere.

Anyway, to summarize:
1. As mentioned, Boggs had a 200-point OPS advantage in Fenway. On the road he was a sub-.400 OBP guy and a sub-.400 SLG guy. That makes him still useful as a leadoff hitter, but really makes him either a rich man's Greg Gross or maybe a poor man's Mark Grace.
2. Boggs is probably one of the few guys (Ernie Lombardi, Shanty Hogan) whose baserunning is such a problem that it actually subtracts a fairly significant chunk of value from his remarkable hitting stats. He wasn't just slow; lots of guys are slow. He was slow and tentative and usually had no idea wtf he was doing on the bases.

For a quick and dirty comparison, check out Boggs' 1985 season and compare it to Brett Butler that year. Boggs had an amazing season for getting on base, getting 240 hits and 96 walks, one of the greatest on-base years ever. Butler reached base almost 100 fewer times and his OBP was almost 100 points lower, and for good measure he got thrown out 20 times. Boggs was in a better hitter's park with better hitters behind him (Evans, Buckner, Rice, Easler) than Butler (Bernazard, Jacoby, Franco, Thornton). The Red Sox were second in the league in slugging, the Indians 12th.

But Boggs only outscored Butler 107-106.

Boggs' runs scored totals are terrific, but they aren't any more terrific than a handful of other leadoff guys who got on base a hell of a lot less often.

Boggs was certainly a great hitter and no doubt a Hall of Famer, but it's hard for me to believe his true value is 30 points of OBP over Tim Raines (who I also think is a no-doubt Hall of Famer).

Great, just a little overrated.
   11. Darren Posted: December 07, 2004 at 02:22 AM (#1001965)
I think there is a distinction to be made between a guy who benefits from a hitter's park and one who tailors his game to the park he plays in. I think Boggs was more the latter.

In 81, Boggs hit .335/~.436/.460 at AAA. In 82, he hit .349/.406/.441. Was he taking advantage of Fenway in AAA? No. Boggs' best ability was bat control. He would slap high breaking balls over the short stop's head, pound outside fastballs down the line. In Fenway, he did what he would have done in any park--he found the best way to use his skills to get hits and exploited it.

Another point in his favor is that the overall park factor for his homeparks averages out to something around 103.

I disagreen with baudib's assesment of Boggs' baserunning--I remember him as quite speedy in his younger days and adequate on the basepaths. I cannot, however, explain his relatively low run totals in certain years.
   12. Repoz Posted: December 07, 2004 at 05:25 PM (#1003405)
For a quick and dirty comparison, check out Boggs' 1985 season and compare it to Brett Butler that year....

But Boggs only outscored Butler 107-106.

Boggs' runs scored totals are terrific, but they aren't any more terrific than a handful of other leadoff guys who got on base a hell of a lot less often.

1985 season...

Boggs-46 games leading off...Butler-127 leading off.
Boggs-113 games batting 2nd.


Boggs-737 games leading off...Butler-1,402 leading off.
Boggs-888 games batting elsewhere in lineup(mostly 2nd-3rd).
   13. Snelling Will Return Posted: December 08, 2004 at 06:32 PM (#1006451)
I can't imagine why anyone could or would argue Boggs' HOF credentials. Personally I always equated him with Tony Gwynn as I was growing up - a great hitter, especially for average, but lacking HR power.
Looking at some of their stats...

Boggs .328BA .415OBP .443SLG 3010 Hits
6 Batting Titles

Gwynn .338BA .388OBP .459SLG 3141 Hits
8 Batting Titles

Do you really think that the media is going to be saying that Gwynn is a borderline case?
   14. Zach Posted: December 19, 2004 at 01:14 AM (#1029649)
Something Bill James mentions in the NBJHBA: most players have (R+RBI) for their career almost equal to their number of hits.

Brett is exceptional in this respect: 3178 R+RBI, 3154 H.

Boggs is not. 2527 R+RBI, 3010 H.

Maybe it's the horrible baserunning. Maybe it's the Fenway factor. Maybe it's teammates who hit into a lot of DPs, or whatever. But I think the evidence shows that Boggs's contribution to run production was less than you would expect by applying linear weights to his various totals of hits and walks.

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