Four years ago yesterday, I wrote my first article on Bert Blyleven. It was designed to raise the awareness of Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame. I have added about 20 pieces since then, including more statistical evidence, interviews with Blyleven and voters, and responses to naysayers. Blyleven's vote total jumped from 145 (or 29.2% of the total) in 2003 to 277 (53.3%) in 2006, before retreating to 260 (47.7%) in 2007.
Although Blyleven's support has increased substantially over the past few years, the man who ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins since 1900 is still on the outside looking in. Bert has a long ways to go to make it to the necessary 75% – especially in view of the fact that he will have just four more years left of eligibility after this year. As everyone knows, I strongly endorse Blyleven and will continue to do my part in the hope that the voters will one day see fit to give him his day in Cooperstown.
In the meantime, there is a new player on this year's ballot who deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, yet my sense is that his accomplishments may also be overlooked by the majority of voters. His name? Tim Raines. He wore number 30 on the back of his jersey and went by the nickname Rock. Ergo, 30 Rock, just like the TV series. Unlike the show, this is not meant to be a comedy. The case for Raines is serious and worthy of every voter's time and attention.
A superficial voter may dismiss Raines altogether. "Let's see here . . . 500 HR? Nope. 3,000 hits? Nope. .300 career batting average? Nope. Any MVPs? Nope. Next."
To all that, I say "hold on here." First of all, using Triple Crown stats to gauge the merits of a lead-off hitter like Raines is flat out wrong. He's simply not going to put up magical numbers in HR and RBI. If Raines did, it's unlikely that he would have batted first in 63% of the games he started over the course of his career. Instead, he should be compared to other lead-off hitters.
Isn't it the job of a lead-off batter to get on base and score runs? Well, Raines did both well. Very well. He ranks 40th all-time in getting on base (hits + walks + hit by pitch). Every player who is above him in times on base (TOB) is in the Hall of Fame with the exception of Rusty Staub. Moreover, three of the next four and 23 of the next 27 players on the list behind Raines are also in the HOF. Think about that for a second. Fifty-five of the top 60 players in TOB who are eligible for the Hall have been inducted into Cooperstown. Does Raines, who is virtually right in the middle of this group, deserve to be included among the 92% who are in or the 8% who are out?
Raines also ranks 46th in runs scored. Every player who is above him in R is also in the HOF with the exceptions of Jimmy Ryan, George Van Haltren, and Bill Dahlen – all of whom played a large part of their career in the 19th century. Not one player exclusively from the 20th century ranks higher than Raines in runs and is not in the Hall. Furthermore, the next six and 12 of the next 13 eligible players are also in the HOF. Put it all together and 47 of the top 51 players in R who are eligible for the Hall have already been enshrined. Again, does Raines belong in the 92% who are in or the 8% who are out?
The Rock's rankings in TOB and R alone should basically qualify him for the Hall of Fame with little or no argument. Unfortunately, the voter who pays attention to these two important stats is in the distinct minority. Voters look at hits but how many of them take the time to look at walks? Do walks not count? When it comes to the Hall of Fame, a player would be better served to go to the plate hacking away in hopes of getting a hit because little or no attention is placed on walks.
Had Raines gotten 3,000 hits and walked 935 times rather than accumulating 2605 hits and 1,330 walks, do you think there would be any question as to whether he was worthy of the HOF? I recognize that hits are generally more valuable than walks but the difference is less meaningful for a batter leading off the inning or with nobody on base (unless, of course, the hit goes for extra bases).
Rather than fixating on hits, I suggest we should all pay more attention to times on base and outs. Here is a simplistic way of appreciating Raines' ability to get on base for those folks who don't want to take the time to compare rate stats vs. the league average. Tim's TOB ranking is higher than his PA ranking, while his Outs ranking is lower than his PA ranking. In other words, he got on base more often and made fewer outs than expected given the number of times he went to the plate
TOTAL RANK PA 10,359 52nd TOB 3,977 40th OUTS 6,670 67th
But if one truly wants to compare apples to apples, then it would be best to pit Raines versus other Hall of Fame-caliber lead-off hitters. The good news is that Tom M. Tango has already taken the time to perform this exercise. Tango's conclusion? Raines performed above the level of all Hall of Famers when such players batted in the lead-off spot and at a similar level to Hall-worthy players during the Retrosheet years (1957-2006).
Take a big part of Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose, add a good size part of Lou Brock, Paul Molitor, and Craig Biggio, and stir in some Ichiro Suzuki, Wade Boggs, Joe Morgan, Derek Jeter, and Barry Bonds, and you get a composite that is a shade inferior to Tim Raines.
Still not convinced? Let's take a look at the three main rate stats (AVG, OBP, and SLG), plus OPS (which is none other than OBP + SLG), and OPS+ (which compares a player's OPS to the league average while adjusting for ballpark effects) for four players. Which player is not like the others?
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Player A .271 .392 .427 .819 132 Player B .279 .401 .419 .820 127 Player C .294 .385 .425 .810 123 Player D .293 .343 .410 .753 109
Did you say "Player D?" I thought so. That would be none other than Lou Brock, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The other three players are Joe Morgan (Player A), Rickey Henderson (Player B), and Tim Raines (Player C).
While Raines does not quite match up to Morgan and Henderson, he was closer in value to them than Brock.
All four players rank among the top 11 in career stolen bases. Raines is number one in stolen base percentage among players with 300 or more attempts.
SB CS SB% 1 Henderson 1406 335 80.8 2 Brock 938 307 75.3 5 Raines 808 146 84.7 11 Morgan 689 162 81.0
While on the subject of stolen bases, Raines became the first player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in four consecutive years when he swiped 71, 78, 90, and 75 bags in his first four seasons. He extended his streak to six campaigns after stealing 70 bases in 1985 and once again in 1986. Who knows how many bases Raines would have stolen in his rookie year in 1981 had the season not been shortened due to the strike? He stole 71 as is – in just 88 games played (out of a team total of 107).
A cynical voter may also pass on Raines due to the fact that he admitted to using cocaine early in his career. It would be a fallacy given the fact that another cocaine user of the same era was inducted in his first year of eligibility.
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Raines .294 .385 .425 .810 123 Molitor .306 .369 .448 .817 122
How can one in good conscience include Molitor and exclude Raines? Sure, Molitor's counting stats are slightly better than Raines', primarily owing to the fact that he had 1,801 additional plate appearances. Molitor had 714 more hits but 236 fewer walks while producing 1,370 more outs. To their credit, Raines and Molitor cleaned up their acts and became role models in the later years of their careers. They are both worthy of induction for what they accomplished on the field.
Like Blyleven, Raines played in the majors as both a teenager and into his 40s. At 19, he was the youngest player in the National League when he made his debut in 1979. Twenty-three years later, he was the third-oldest player in the NL during his final season in 2002. Like Blyleven, Raines was also a terrific player from the get go. If not for Fernando Valenzuela, Raines would have been the Rookie of the Year in 1981 when he led the league in SB and placed in the top five in several sabermetric categories, including Runs Created Above Average (RCAA), Runs Created per Game (RC/G), Bases per Plate Appearance (BPA), Offensive Winning Percentage (OWP), and Total Average (TA).
In 1982, Raines led the league in SB and finished in the top five in TOB and triples. In 1983, he led the NL in TOB, R, and SB, while placing in the top five in H, BB, OBP, RC, RC/G, RCAA, BPA, OWP, and TA. In 1984, Raines led the league in TOB, 2B, SB, RC/G, RCAA, and TA, while ranking in the top five in R, H, BB, OBP, RC, and BPA. In 1985, he placed second in TOB, R, 3B, SB, RC, RC/G, RCAA, BPA, OWP, and TA; and third in AVG and OBP.
In 1986, in what turned out to be the best season of his career, Raines led the NL in AVG, OBP, TOB, RC, RC/G, RCAA, BPA, OWP, and TA. He should have been named Most Valuable Player that year but lost out to Mike Schmidt (more on this tomorrow). Tim also ranked 2nd in OPS and third in H, 3B, and SB. It was a remarkable season that was lost on voters perhaps due to the fact that the Expos went 78-83 and finished in fourth place in the NL East, 29 1/2 games behind the New York Mets.
In 1987, Raines led the league in runs scored with 123 even though he missed all of April due to collusion on the part of owners. He returned to Montreal on May 1 after not receiving a single offer from any team at the age of 27 and coming off an MVP-type season. Tim went on to rank in the top five in AVG, OBP, TOB, BB, SB, RC, RC/G, RCAA, BPA, OWP, and TA.
For those first seven seasons, Raines and Schmidt were clearly the two best players in the NL. Raines was every bit as good as Henderson was in those years. He led the league in Win Shares in 1984, 1985, and 1986. Just think what his résumé would look like had he won three consecutive MVP awards!
All in all, Raines had 390 Win Shares, good for 59th all time. (Three WS equals one win. Therefore, Raines was worth about 130 wins during his career.) Using Win Shares Above Bench, Dave Studeman ranked Raines 44th among all position players, post-1900.
Like Win Shares, Wins Above Replacement Value (or WARP3) takes into account defensive value. Raines' 124 career WARP3 ranks 62nd among position players and 83rd among all players (including pitchers).
When you look at all the evidence (including articles by others), Raines is one of the top 50 or 60 position players of all time and perhaps the best lead-off hitter in the history of the National League.
If 30 Rock can win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in its first year, there's no reason why Tim Raines can't be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer Newsblog.]