Weekend BlogJanuary 17, 2009
Ooh, This is Good
By Patrick Sullivan

So I think this is just brilliant. Geoff Young, who writes the Padres blog Ducksnorts, has compiled a list of 21 outfielders that all put up careers within a relatively narrow band of performance output.

Two of the 21 players made the Hall of Fame but, as you will see if you just head on over there, there is little rhyme or reason when it comes to HOF enshrinement. The logic gymnastics performed by the electorate are always something to behold.

Anyway, so yeah, Jim Rice and Kirby Puckett are in and Reggie Smith and Dwight Evans and Jack Clark and Albert Belle and Jimmy Wynn are not. I am not saying that any of these players definitely deserve enshrinement (strike that, I do think Dewey belongs...and maybe Belle and Wynn), but the more interesting point is this: outfielders that hit pretty well are not in any way uncommon. Think about guys like Ellis Burks and Tim Salmon and Cliff Floyd and Moises Alou - this is the neighborhood Rice and Puckett take up residence in.

It's a nice neighborhood, but not as nice as the one where Brian Giles and Gary Sheffield and Reggie Jackson and Al Kaline live, and it sure as hell is not as nice as the Babe's and Barry Bonds and Teddy Ballgame's hood.

Rice and Puckett lend legitimacy to the Hall cases of dozens and dozens of outfielders on the outside looking into Cooperstown.


What's interesting is how weak a candidate Jim Rice really is when you compare him these other outfielders.

Just about every candidate on that list was as good or significanly better than Rice.

It's clear from the list Fenway Park got Rice into the hall of fame. If he had played in a neutral park he would have ended his career with about a .284/.340/.475 line. Not spectacular for a poor fielding LF/DH

What's interesting is that there are only 4 players on that list with at least 300 career win shares, an Ops+ 125 or higher and at least 25 win shares per 162:

Bobby Bonds
Jimmy Wynn
Reggie Smith
Jack Clark

Jimmy Wynn really got screwed playing the Astrodome in the 60's. He always reminded me of the inverse Sandy Koufax.

defense? position? postseason? shouldn't these be considered instead of just listing a bunch of "outfielders" and their offense.

i don't mean to minimize the work done here because it is food for thought but puckett was a CF and played well in the postseason and rice was a LF who didn't. (i never saw rice play so i won't comment on his defense but puckett is certainly considered to be the superior defender.)

The outfielders on that list run the gamut in terms of defense, position and postseason performance. Besides, Win Shares factors defense. Jimmy Wynn and Dale Murphy were both good center fielders. Dwight Evans was a terrific right fielder. Albert Belle had a career .962 OPS in the postseason. And so on...

Puckett got in for several reasons. He was definitely the team leader in the 1991 World Series, with critical defensive plays and hits. He won a batting title. He caught lots of homerun balls. His personality was infectious. His career was shorter than HOF standards, but he only quit because glaucoma caused him to become blind in one eye. The strongest argument against him is that perhaps he used performance enhancing substances, though no one even alleges this. Neither tried to draw too many walks, but comparing Jim Rice to Kirby Puckett insults the Kirby lover in me. The Dome was a neutral hitting park, perhaps favoring doubles, and Kirby hit .318 for his career and .356 in 1988, exceptional marks for a right handed hitter. In a much more favorable park, Rice could not even average above .300 for his career. Rice was dumb sports-writer pick. Kirby was selected for HOF in his first year, and deserved it, even if he was a wife beater.

Bernie Williams should waltz in then, right David? And I trust you're a Jim Edmonds guy too? For what it's worth I would vote for both.

But I would have a hard time making the case that Kirby had a better career than Jimmy Wynn or Fred Lynn or Ellis Burks or even Eric Davis.

Anyway, maybe Kirby deserves enshrinement but like Rice, there are a number of players whose cases look pretty good next to Puckett's.

Sorry David but Puckett was helped a lot by the Metrodome. Career .909 OPS at home, .761 on the road.

Upon further reflection, my Eric Davis comp up there is unfair. Puckett had a much better career than Davis.

sully, win shares are kind of not that good. i would have thought we'd moved forward from such a (in retrospect) poor measure.

Larry, I was addressing the comment that contended defense (and position and postseason performance) was not factored in Geoff's table.

Whatever you think of Win Shares, it does account for defense. And that was my only point.

I was just looking at Burks and Galarraga (sp?) tonight. Hummm...

I absolutely agree with where you're going on the HOF vis-a-vis Rice. Last week, a Red Sox fanatic at work was celebrating Rice's enshrinement and couldn't grasp why I didn't think Rice deserved to be in. I threw a few numbers at him, which he didn't accept (even though the numbers I used were facts). I then told him that letting Rice in was fine, but if Rice deserved entrance so did Evans (Darrell and Dwight), Belle (thanks Baseball Analysts), and Burks. I'll add Brian Giles and Jack Clark next time I talk to these folks.

Thank God for the Internet and more profound studies on baseball!

Kent you could add:

Jimmy Wynn, Bobby Bonds, Reggie Smith, Ken Singleton, Fred Lynn, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy,Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Charlie Keller, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Ron Santo, Dick Allen, Bobby Grich, Bill Dahlen, Tony Fernandez, Dave Concepcion, Bert Campaneris, Willie Randolph, Will Clark, Ken Boyer, Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Paul O'Neil, Jose Cruz, Ron Cey, Joe Torre, Bret Butler, Stan Hack, Keith Hernandez, Bob Elliot, Chuck Knoblauch, George Foster, Don Mattingly, Ted Simmons, Rusty Staub, Matt Williams, Harold Baines, Roy White, Norm Cash, Cesar Cedeno, Tim Wallach, Sherry Magee, Maury Wills, Sal Bando, Pedro Guerrero, Jim Fregosi, Vada Pinson, Gil Hodges, Tommy Leach, Minnie Minosa, and Thurman Munson.

These are all players that were better than Jim Rice and who are eligible for the HOF.

Of all the players you mention, only Belle ever made it over the "likely HoF" line on any of 4 standards that Baseball Reference calculates. Belle cleared 2 while Rice cleared 3 of the four and wasn't too far below the third (HoF Standards which is weighted toward those with long careers). None of the others cleared even one although a few came close on 1 or 2 of the standards.

In addition, Rice did two amazing things. One - his rookie year (2 in RoY voting and 3 in MVP). It was overshawdowed by Fred Lynn's even more spectacular season, other than Ichiro has any other RoY finished higher in MVP voting? Two - his 1978 season was eye-popping (408 total bases - the most in 30 years and the first time in 19 years that anyone hit 400). It needed to be to win the MVP over Guidry's equally eye-popping season as a pitcher; but no hitter was close.

Lastly, Rice has a great story as a worthy successor to one of the most amazing player progressions - Williams to Yaz to Rice in the shadow of the Green Monster.

I'm a Sox fan old enough to remember Reggie Smith and I'm a big fan of Lynn (sure HoF but for injuries), Dewey (long productive career especially in light of the comeback from his beaning) and Burks (again, productive but only one season that makes you go WOW). I'd be happy to have any of them patrolling my outfield, but I just don't see them having the something extra that makes me want to put them in the Hall of Fame.

Absolutely John Q! Proofs in the numbers, eh?

According to Bill James in the 1980s, Hall of Fame voting historically has been about HOF moments, such as World Series performance. I figured Puckett sealed his case in 1991. Jim Rice was the Bill James poster child of an average player who when given a favorable park and favorable lineup, put up numbers that look better than they really are, sort of like Todd Helton or Matt Holliday as Rockies. Nonetheless, until Bert Blyleven makes the HOF, I refuse to take any other of the injustices seriously.

Dan G -

There is nothing I really disagree with in your comment but I have a few things to say in response.

For one, the B-Ref HOF black ink/grey ink metrics track the likelihood that a given player gets in given the way the electorate has voted historically. The triple crown stats figure prominently. As you might know, more progressive baseball fans value other things like on-base and defense, and we take into account environment and other contextual items when we try and determine who is best.

Also, Dewey had every bit the peak Rice did. You can look it up. He was way better than Rice. Played longer, was a better offensive producer and he was one of the best outfielders of his time defensively.


You could add Bernie Williams and John Olerud and Edgar Martinez when they become elligible.

Also that's not a subjective list of names, those are all players who have either a higher career Warp 3 or Best 5 Year Span in Warp 3 than Jim Rice.

Question about home road splits as they pertain to a specific player's output (e.g., "Puckett had a .909 OPS at home, .761 on the road): How does one distinguish empirically between home-road differentials that are attributable to the park, per se, and those that are attributable to simply playing at home versus playing on the road?

Thanks, I will have to add Jack Clark to my list, as I've been agitating for Bobby Bonds inclusion in the Hall. One would think that being one of only two players (the other being his son) with five seasons of 30-30 would be a pretty good career feat, plus being (at the time of his retirement) one of the top 50-100 players all-time in a wide variety of offensive stats would help too.

Patrick or anyone else:

How would you rate Brian Giles as a Hall of Fame candidate? He'll never make it of course, and I wouldn't be surprised if he falls off the ballot altogether. But in terms of merit, does he have a decent case, a good case, or a strong case?


iyh: On average, most players produce at about a 4% better clip at home than on the road before taking into effect ballpark adjustments.

Jason: Using your choices, Giles has a "decent case." According to THT, he has 296 career Win Shares. Therefore, Giles is approaching the level of production that merits consideration. On the rate side of the equation, his single season OPS+ has ranged from 107 to 177 with a lifetime average of 139 (tied for 78th all time). He is in the company of some Hall of Famers and some non-HoFers.

Unfortunately for Giles, he turns 38 on Tuesday and probably has no more than a couple of decent seasons left in him. As such, he is going to fall well short of the "magical" 3000 hits and/or 500 home runs that writers/voters like to see, particularly among corner outfielders not named Jim Rice. In addition, Giles' walks will not be appreciated properly nor will his years in San Diego be adjusted accordingly (even though both should).

Think of Giles as a Larry Walker type but without the MVP and Gold Gloves on his resume. Other comps include Norm Cash and Will Clark. More Hall of the Very Good than Hall of Fame, particularly as viewed by the voters.

Rich: Thank you for your response. You do excellent work here, and although this is my first post on your site, I read it every day.

I see where Giles falls short, and I guess I don't really believe he should *be in* the Hall. I just feel like he will get 0 consideration, when he should get *some* consideration. Abreu and Walker are guys I feel similarly about. Maybe Jim Edmonds too. These guys look like superstars to me, at least on paper.

Lastly, both you and Sully (in his email to me) brought up Giles' OPS+. I am not mathematically inclined, so I will pose this as a question: Shouldn't we give a little extra "boost" to guys like Giles and Abreu who have OBP heavy OPS splits? From my reading on the subject, most experts say that OPS, and by extension OPS+, undervalues OBP. Intiutively, this makes sense to me, yet the "mainstream" SABR-oriented sites still use regular OPS+ as a measuring stick. Is the difference not worth adjusting for? Or does it make sense to dig a little deeper when looking at players like Giles and Abreu, especially when we are discussing their candidacy for the HOF?

Thanks again, and thank you Sully for responding to my email as well.


You're welcome, Jason. You may not be "mathematically inclined," but you are spot on in your understanding of OPS and OPS+ as it relates to overvaluing SLG and undervaluing OBP. Metrics such as GPA and wOBA account for this discrepancy. The bottom line is, yes, we should give players like Giles and Abreu an "extra boost" when evaluating them. However, my comps also walked more than the norm (although not quite at the same level as Giles) so it's fair to think of these players as being in the same neighborhood of value.

The beauty of OPS and, by extension, OPS+ is that they are easy to compute and understand and explain more than 95% of run creation. Are there better stats? Yes. It just comes down to the trade-off between accuracy and complexity. There is a place for both in my judgment.

Speaking of Giles, the guy put up a 306/398/456 last year while playing half his games in Petco. Unbelievable and I'm a life long Padres fan.

If the HOF electorate were smarter, Giles would be a shoo-in. The 50th best player all-time at not getting out (OBP) belongs in a group that recognizes several hundred of the game's best hitters over the years.

Edgar Martinez should be a shoo-in as well, but both players will probably fall short because of their HR-totals unless a lot more Rob Neyers and Keith Laws crash the gates of the BBWAA.

Giles' HOF case is also hurt by starting his MLB career late. Brian didn't play more than 51 games in the majors until he was 26. He was clearly ready to play in the big leagues in 1995 and 1996 but was blocked by Albert Belle in LF, Kenny Lofton in CF, and Manny Ramirez in RF on those outstanding Cleveland Indians teams.

Giles hit .313/.391/.479 in AAA in 1994 when he was 23. His .870 OPS compares to a league OPS of .736. He repeated AAA in 1995 when he was 24 and hit .310/.390/.501 (.891 OPS vs. .735 lgOPS). Apparently that still wasn't good enough so he played a third year in AAA in 1996 at the age of 25 and hit .314/.394/.594 (.988 OPS vs. .735 lgOPS). He finally got his first real shot in the bigs in 1997 at 26 but only after Belle had left as a free agent and signed with the White Sox.

Puckett's career ended just as the Twins went out and signed a player to help him and he would have put up career numbers that season. Puck had a lot left in him when he got glaucoma and went blind. Puck played the game as it should be played and he is the main reason I'm typing this right now. He has left a legacy in Torii Hunter, even if he is not the player Puck was, he plays it hard and with a smile(and swings at everything). He absolutely deserves to be in the Hall..RIP #34.