Donnie, Keith, and Steve
Don reviews the remaining first basemen on the ballot. Rated PG.
Who needs the Keltner List when we have all these tools to
measure performance? Because the Hall of Fame is imprecise and
haphazard, and the more times we circle around the same data, the more
likely it is that some piece of context will emerge from the debris and
allow us to anoint someone as either Worthy or Not.
If the above seems overly critical of a framework that has thus far
dominated the Hall of Fame presentations here, you are directed over to
the Big Bad Blog for a far more incendiary version. In the
meantime here, I?ll stay on my medication and deliver a relatively sober
assessment for three first basemen currently overshadowed by Eddie
Murray?taking them alphabetically, we have Steve Garvey, Keith
Hernandez, and Don Mattingly.
I?m not going to take a lot of time answering the questions on the
Keltner List for reasons that will be clearer to you if you decide to
brave the Blog. There are really only two that matter?question #1 (was
the player ever the best in baseball) and #10 (best player at his
position currently not in the HoF). The rest are essentially instruments
for special pleading of various sorts, or simply add anecdotal evidence
that is rarely (if ever) sufficient to make a difference in borderline
For question #1, we have several modes of interpretation. Bill
James worded it in such a way that it?s reliant on opinion, either
in the form of some nebulous consensus or in the more tangible form of
MVP voting. We can add other, more “precise” measures, such as OPS+,WARP,
and Win Shares (pick your poison, mix/match, or prepare your own
potion) to at least see if consensus tracks with sabermetric math.
Since James? Win Shares is currently the only method that really
seems to make a credible stab at summing up all of the elements involved
in player value, I?m going to focus on it here. (Yes, I realize it?s
controversial, and I can?t stop you from hijacking any ensuing
discussion into the nether regions of neo-sabermetric theory, but try to
limit such exchanges to topics relevant to the Hall of Fame
qualifications of our Three Amigos.)
When we look at MVP awards, we can see that all three (Garvey,
Hernandez and Mattingly) were MVP winners once. As I note in the Blog
version of this article, one of these awards is significantly more
dubious than the others. If we were tallying up the Keltner List
questions (and we?re not doing that, remember), we?d have to put an
asterisk (or some other typesetting symbol of your choice) next to
Garvey?s MVP award.
Question #1 can be interpreted to be about peak value, a
daunting concept that has found itself increasingly under attack in some
neo-sabermetric quarters. When we use Win Shares to look at the peaks of
these players, we find that Mattingly has the best consecutive
three-year peak, while Hernandez matches him if we use non-consecutive
years. Garvey trails these two by a significant margin.
As I discuss in more detail over in the Blog version of this
article, the question that needs to be answered in order to make
question #1 truly useful (and, by doing so, virtually eliminating the
need for all of the other questions on the list) is whether a player?s
peak is a) so brilliant at its apex that it justifies election to the
Hall regardless of a shortened career, and b) similarly impressive when
we apply a more stringent construction of peak (as suggested in the Blog
essay, nine years as opposed to three).
It isn?t exactly clear why James ranks Mattingly so high on the list
of first basemen in his New Historical Baseball Abstract?his
comment, “100% ballplayer, 0% ########”, apparently addresses character
issues in an attempt to justify his downgrading of Dick Allen
(whose Win Shares per 162 games is second only to Lou Gehrig).
Mattingly?s peak is very good indeed, about as good as likely
first-ballot Hall of Famer Eddie Murray?but
Murray?s peak is a good bit below Allen?s, as well as a host of other
Here are the Win Shares numbers for our Three Amigos, plus Murray
Player, 3best, 3cons, 9best, 9cons, Career
Murray, 97, 93, 242, 242, 437
Allen, 116, 108, 285, 281, 342
Hernandez, 91, 89, 238, 212, 311
Garvey, 78, 78, 200, 196, 275
Mattingly, 94, 94, 227, 213, 263
One is forced to conclude that Mattingly?s peak isn?t so dazzling as
to compensate for his early demise. Hernandez lasted longer, and
accumulated more Win Shares. His total of 311 compares favorably with
recent Veterans? Committee pick Orlando Cepeda (310).
Hernandez is really the most attractive candidate here, if for no
other reason that he goes against the grain of what has become the
personification of first basemen?big sluggers and RBI men. His
reputation as a great fielder is supported by both mainstream opinion
and the current state-of-the-art in fielding analysis, and his
OBP-driven hitting skills are a signature of that often-maligned
term?“pure hitter”?which is supposed to identify a player not blessed
with the innate power to have his OBP inflated by being pitched around
but who draws walks nonetheless.
However, Question #10 is going to stymie Keith?s chances for a
while. (Actually, it?s the more generic Question #6?best player not
currently in the Hall?that is the culprit.) There?s going to be a glut
of more deserving players on the horizon for awhile, and the BBWAA may
not get around to Hernandez before his eligibility expires.
The rest of the Keltner List questions don?t really add anything
useful or compelling to this surprisingly straightforward discussion.
And since the Keltner List is dissected in greater detail over at the
blog, I?ll simply note that much of what that list of questions does is
to circle around the poles of peak and career value in something akin to
an asynchronous orbit.
So I?ll simply close by noting that Hernandez is the quintessential
Veterans Committee Hall of Fame selection. Whether he?ll make it before
Mattingly depends on a) how swayed the new Vet Committee will be by high
RBI seasons, b) how much of a factor Keith?s drug dalliances will be
when his name reaches the Vet Committee ballot, and c) how many of the
voters share James? moony reverence for someone with the magisterially
cheesy nickname of “Donnie Baseball.”
I think both Mattingly and Hernandez will go in via the Vets? side
door, while Garvey will remain on the outside looking in. (He has more
total Win Shares than Mattingly, but it took him a good bit longer to
get there.) Of course, the Vets should enshrine Dick Allen ahead of
either one of these guys, but this is America, after all.
Posted: January 04, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 17 comment(s)
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