Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Vlad Guerrero

Posted: 26th June 2012 by Alex Putterman in Vlad Guerrero

Claim to fame: From 1998 to 2007, playing for the Expos and Angels, Vladimir Guerrero posted a .327/.394/.586 slash line with a 149 OPS+ while averaging 151 games per season, making eight all-star games, winning seven silver slugger awards and receiving at least one MVP vote in all 10 seasons. Never during that stretch did Guerrero’s OPS fall below .930 or his OPS+ below 138. It was a decade of dominance, of a sustained status as one of Major League Baseball’s premier offensive players.

Since 2008, Guerrero’s production has declined steadily, an all-star berth in 2010 suggesting a renaissance before 2011 brought the worst full season of the rightfielder’s distinguished career. Coming off that replacement-level production (0.0 WAR on Baseball-Reference), Guerrero struggled to find work, eventually signing with the Blue Jays, theoretically foreshadowing a return to Canada to finish his career north of the border, where it began. He went 9-20 at Class-A Dunedin before a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, where Vlad continued to knock around minor league pitching, batting .303 over eight games before asking for, and being granted, his release two weeks ago. The former-MVP is now back on the job hunt, hoping to avoid retirement.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Released by the Blue Jays after failing to earn a Big League call-up, Guerrero’s career appears to be finished. If he does not again play in the majors, he will first be eligible for BBWAA Hall of Fame voting in 2016.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Vlad Guerrero seems like a Hall of Famer. Maybe it’s the all-star appearances; he was selected to nine Mid-Summer Classics. Maybe it’s the MVP votes; he won the award in 2004 and finished in the top five in voting three other times. Maybe it’s the admiration with which his peers describe him; in an excellent 2000 ESPN Magazine feature, Jose Mesa is quoted as saying:

Vladimir and A-Rod are the two most complete players in this game. You are obligated to put Vladimir in the top two. Obligated. But A-Rod at least has help. Vladimir is all by himself. You put Vladimir on the Yankees, and he’s hitting 50, 60 homers and driving in 200 runs.

Then later in the same conversation:

The devil himself would be afraid to pitch to that guy.

Or maybe Guerrero seems like a Hall of Famer because he practically knocked the laces out of baseballs for 16 eyeball-grabbing seasons, smashing line drives through ball parks across the continent and wowing on-lookers and colleagues alike with a throwing arm that made the proverbial “cannon for an arm” look like a Nerf gun.

When we look a little more closely, we note that Guerrero walked only 56 times per 162 games, for an on-base percentage only 61 points above his batting average. We note that, despite his ability to gun down base-runners from right, Guerrero’s range in the outfield was unexceptional, resulting in a negative career Ultimate Zone Rating (according to Fangraphs.com, which only started tracking the stat in 2002) and a negative career dWAR (according to Baseball-Reference). And we note that, while Guerrero twice stole 37 or more bases in a season, earning him a reputation as a valuable base-runner, he converted only 65.8% of his career stolen base attempts and grades out as a below-average base-runner according to formulas from both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.

All this adds up to a 55.2 WAR, roughly equal to that of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell but also non-Hall of Famers Bobby Bonds, Dick Allen, and Darrell Evans.

That quintet shows that seeming like a Hall of Famer is almost as important as actually playing like one. Using objective statistical analysis, it would be hard to deem any of those five players head and shoulders above the others, but reputation got two of them to Cooperstown and the others not even that close. Killebrew won five home runs titles and finished with 573 long balls while Stargell won two World Series titles as an outsized personality on a pair of memorable teams. More than Allen, Bonds, and Evans, Killebrew and Stargell put the “fame” in Hall of Fame.

Ironically, so too does Guerrero, whom LeBatard once called “The most anonymous superstar in sports.” Everyone assuming you’re a Hall of Famer shouldn’t automatically make you one, but giving off that Hall of Fame vibe makes for a reasonable tie-breaker. Vladimir Guerrero seems and feels like a Hall of Famer, and for a borderline case, that’s not too bad of a reason to make him one.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsAndy PettitteBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBilly PierceBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe Posnanski, Johan SantanaJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose Canseco,J.R. RichardJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouOmar VizquelPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy SosaSean FormanSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

  1. I love this part:

    “All this adds up to a 55.2 WAR, roughly equal to that of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell but also non-Hall of Famers Bobby Bonds, Dick Allen, and Darrell Evans.”

    So true.

    wWAR has Vlad over the Hall line by a little bit, but not so far over that he’s a slam dunk. He’s actually very close to Killebrew. A modern trio he rates very close to is Bobby Abreu, Gary Sheffield, and Jason Giambi. That group says to me “borderline Hall numbers, needs extra something to get in”.

    Does Giambi have it? No, he has PEDs (an admission, even).

    Sheffield? There are BALCO links. If Bagwell struggles, Sheff has no chance.

    Abreu is probably just not famous enough. And he’s not so far over the induction line for that to bother me.

    Vlad was pretty special. And there have been no PED links. He tricks you into thinking he’s a well rounded player (the arm! the speed!). I think he gets in. And I’m cool with that. He was so damn exciting.

  2. Alex Putterman says:

    Thanks for the comment as usual Adam. I think you sum it up well at the end. If a guy is borderline, there’s definitely something to be said for being “so damn exciting.” it’s funny that you bring up Abreu because he was kind of the anti-Vlad in terms of excitement. He played with no energy and made his name by drawing walks. Probably the opposite of “so damn exciting,” and that certainly doesn’t help his Hall case.

  3. Hartvig says:

    I think he’ll probably get in- it’s not that long ago that the BBWAA selected Jim Rice and Guerrero is like Rice on steroids (only not). Plus as you mentioned he did well in AllStar and MVP voting and he hits a lot of key buzzwords that seem important to voters: “cannon arm”, “5 tool”, “notorious bad ball hitter” and, most importantly, “feared”.

    I see 3 things working against him: 1) most of his best years were in Montreal (see Tim Raines) but he did win the MVP for the Angels (see Andre Dawson) so maybe that’s a wash, 2) his numbers were put up in a high offense context and that might confuse some voters and 3) he came up short on most of the milestones: 3000 hits, 500 home runs, 1500 RBI’s.

    I’d guess it will take a few years because we are coming up on a tidal wave of well qualified players in the next few years and it will probably take some time to clear out the backlog that that will probably create but I think that he’ll make it eventually. And when he does, I’ll be just fine with it.

  4. W.k. kortas says:

    I feel sort of the same way about Vlad that I do about Larry Walker–somedays I think we’re talking about a clear Hall of Famer, somedays I think the numbers are too skewed because of the era (though Vlad didn’t have a Coors-like bump in Montreal, obviously). If Vlad gets in…well, it might not be the Hall’s finest hour, but it wouldn’t be any reason to set the place on fire, either.

  5. BENJAMIN RAUCHER says:

    Vlad was a tremendous player. Admittedly my standards for the Hall of Fame are quite high do I am a bit prejudiced. I think he is borderline. I’d like to see him get in though

    BENJAMIN RAUCHER

  6. Jon Deegan says:

    Career .318 BA, 449 HR, 2590 hits, .931 Career OPS!!!! Guerrero gets in on stats alone. He is not borderline. Nobody with a .318 batting average over 16 seasons is borderline HOF, are u kidding me? He was dominant from 1998 through 2011 as a hitter. Obviously his defense declined as he aged. It’s a crime that he doesn’t have a job as a DH on some AL team right now. Older players are becoming a dying breed in today’s game, probably due to the emergence of WAR statistics. The only good thing about the Designated Hitter position is it keeps great hitters in the game when they can no longer contribute defensively.
    I saw Guerrero play in the minor leagues for the AA Harrisburg Senators and several games against the Phillies at Veteran Stadium. I always called him “the freak” for his freakish arm strength, power and ability to hit any pitch in any location. You wanna talk about passing the “Eye Test?” If you ever saw him throw a ball from the outfield wall all the way to homeplate or hear the sound his bat made when he hit the ball hard then you know this guy was elite. He was a joy to watch and should still be in MLB as a DH. Shame on every AL team for not giving Guerrero a DH job!

  7. Alex Putterman says:

    Jon, there’s no doubt Vlad was a great hitter, but he played in an offensively inflated era and didn’t hang around that long. And he wouldn’t be the first guy to miss the Hall with a .313 batting average. At the end of the day, Vlad never walked and played mediocre defense (though of course with an amazing arm). I said his hitting should be and will be enough to get him in, but he was a one-dimensional player.

    Vlad vs. Edgar Martinez would make an interesting comparison.

  8. Ryan Redimarker says:

    No discussion needed. Are you kidding me? First ballot worthy.
    Never struck out 100 times in any season while swinging at a lot of “bad” pitches.
    Lowest BA for any season was .290, also happened to be his last.
    Anybody who hits .318 for a career, with power nonentheless, is a no brainer. A NO BRAINER. Career Slugging .553 should also say enough by itself.
    He remains the only player I have ever seen throw the ball to the plate on the fly from the right field wall. A laser for a right arm.
    Don’t forget he won an MVP immediately after jumping leagues, seeing lots of new pitchers.

  9. Craig Alain says:

    I hear the comment, ‘he played in an offensively inflated era’, but no one ponts to the fact that he had to protection in the Expos lineup for all those years. I believe 2B Jose Vidro has his protection.

    Also if you want to look at Stats, check out how many guys hit 400+ HR but struck out less than 1000 times. I think there are only 3 others in history.

    And only he and Gehrig ever hit 300+ w/ 25+ HRs in 11 straight seasons.

    How can that not be HOF worthy?! First ballot IMO.

  10. Interesting stat. There are six players with at least 400 homers and under 1,000 strikeouts: Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Albert Pujols, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig and Guerrero.

    If we drop the requirements to 375 homers and under 1,250 strikeouts, the number of players in this group jumps to 17, including such non-HOFers as Norm Cash, Graig Nettles and Albert Belle.