Two interesting Hall of Fame cases: Ichiro Suzuki and Joey Votto

It’s Tuesday, which means my latest edition of “Cooperstown Chances” is out for Sporting News. I also realize I forgot to share last week’s column here, so I’m going to drop two links.

First, I wrote about Ichiro Suzuki, who isn’t the “real” hit king now but will be an easy Hall of Famer five years after he retires. I didn’t spend too much time focusing on this in my piece. The real thrust of what I wrote about: a few better players will be lucky to draw 1/10th the votes that Ichiro does.

Meanwhile, I wrote last week about Joey Votto, who ranks as one of the better first basemen in baseball history through his first nine seasons. However, it’s critical Votto continue to rebound from his slump this season if he wants to keep his Hall of Fame hopes alive.

As always, feedback’s welcome and appreciated. Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Two interesting Hall of Fame cases: Ichiro Suzuki and Joey Votto”

  1. Graham, I’m abig fan of your work. But to blatantly ignore the fact that all ood Ichiro’s production has come after age 27 is an almost unforgivable oversight. Bill James had said that, whem ranking players, you don’t give credit for injury and the like; you DO, however, give credit for being good, but being barred by factors beyond your control (like war, racism, or simply being born in the wrong country). To me, you have to give Ichiro SOME credit for being a great player in Japan. If he was a great 27-great-old, doesn’t it stand to reason that he would’ve been pretty darn good art 26, 25, & 24? Maybe even EARLIER, too. That must be considered in evaluating him. Heaven knows tgw voters will be thinking about it.

    1. @David — Good to see you around here, and your comment got me thinking. I think there are a couple ways to look at this.

      First, you’re absolutely right, some credit for Ichiro’s Japanese seasons should probably be due. But how much? I doubt that Japanese baseball is MLB-caliber. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s Triple-A caliber given how marginal MLBers like Matt Murton can thrive over there.

      I’d think a conservative, but reasonable estimate would be to tack 10-15 Wins Above Average on to Ichiro’s mark. That would likely move him past Beltran, but not Rolen or Utley, so my point remains.

      Another way to look at this is to just evaluate players since 2001 from their age-27 seasons to the ends of their careers. By this measure, Ichiro ranks 10th, though still behind Utley and Rolen. Interestingly, Ben Zobrist is nipping at his heels. I don’t think Zobrist will be anywhere close to the Hall of Fame, but he already has his supporters, particularly with the year he’s having.

      @Brendan — You’re right as well. It’s important to consider Wins Above Average relative to plate appearances. That this lumps Votto in with Perez and Cepeda probably isn’t great for his Hall of Fame chances. Those two players got in on the strength of narrative and the teams they were on as much as stats.

  2. Graham:
    Nice discussion of Joey Votto’s HOF chances. The first several seasons of Votto’s career have been remarkable for the rate at which he has amassed WAA.
    When looking at career WAA numbers, I prefer to add the context of plate appearances. It’s not unusual for a player to show a pattern of steady accumulation of WAA through his first 4000 to 6000 career PA, followed by flat or even decreasing WAA for the rest of his career. Among noteworthy first basement, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly and Jason Giambi all have this kind of career WAA/PA trajectory. Perhaps Votto is now on the same path.
    You compare Votto to Keith Hernandez, but it’s noteworthy that the 29.2 career WAA that Votto accumulated through the end of last season came in less than 4800 career PA, whereas Hernandez did not reach 29 WAA until he had amassed something like 6900 PA.

    The following HOF and borderline HOF first basemen also needed more than Votto’s 4800 PA to reach 29 WAA:
    Harmon Killebrew (>7000 PA)
    Miguel Cabrera (about 7000)
    Jim Thome (about 6000)
    Willie McCovey (about 5400)
    Dick Allen (>5000)

    And the following first basemen never reached 29 WAA:
    Steve Garvey (14.2 peak WAA)
    Don Mattingly (19.6)
    Orlando Cepeda (20.2)
    Fred McGriff (21.5)
    Tony Perez (23.1)
    Jason Giambi (24.2)
    Norm Cash (26.5)
    John Olerud (28.1)
    Will Clark (28.6)

    Clark, one of your all-time favorites, never experienced a WAA plateau. He put up positive WAA numbers in all but one season of his long career, and in the end, he got very close to 29 WAA, but not until he had accumulated 8300 PA.

  3. I hope that Votto still has some positive WAA years ahead, but even if he spends the next several years as essentially a 0 WAA player and finishes his career with, let’s say, 30 WAA in 8000 PA, I would still rank him ahead (maybe well ahead) of Perez and Cepeda. But then I’m someone who values OBP more highly than narrative.

    1. For evaluating players, I take the same approach as you. Have to admit, though, that with Hall of Fame discussions, I’m starting to value narrative a bit more than I have in recent years.

      It’ll be interesting to see what Votto does the next few years.

  4. Another factor with some gray in it is that Ichiro played at least two seasons. and probably several more, with many players who were taking steroids or who had residual effects. His statistical performance relative to the league was likely lowered, even without including the fact that many pitchers were roiding as well.

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