Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Dick Groat

Claim to fame: Dick Groat and the question of his Hall of Fame worthiness has popped up twice on this website in recent months. First came a comment at my annual project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Someone wrote:

Bobby Grich (6x-AS, .266 avg.)
Dick Groat (8x AS, 1960 MVP, .286 avg)

Groat played in a pitcher’s era and still hit .286. Groat was voted MVP in 1960. Grich never ranked higher than 8th in MVP voting during his career. I guess it helps to have played more recently.

Last month, I posted my personal Hall of Fame, which includes Maury Wills. Longtime reader Brendan Bingham posted a long comment, which included:

3) If Maury Wills, why not Dick Groat?
I have commented on this site about the similarity between Wills and Groat. Their careers were of similar length (8306 PA for Wills; 8179 for Groat). The biggest difference between them is that Wills stole more bases, 572 more (586, versus Groat’s 14). But Wills hit only 177 doubles, while Groat hit 352. That’s a difference of 175 bases that Groat did not need to steal, because he was already on second base. The down side of attempting to steal bases is getting caught stealing. Wills was caught 208 times, versus 27 for Groat. Wills had a few more walks; Groat had a few more home runs. Wills earned more WAR (39.8 to Groat’s 36.8), but is he really worthy of enshrinement? With all due respect to Groat, the multi-sport Duke graduate, can a compelling HOF case really include the phrase, “he was marginally better than Dick Groat”?

I found both comments thought-provoking. I’ll reply momentarily.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Groat last played in 1967 and appeared on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown six times from 1973 through 1978, peaking at 1.8 percent of the vote. Now eligible for enshrinement through the Veterans Committee and considered to have played in what the committee dubs the Golden Era between 1947 and 1973, Groat could theoretically next be voted in in two years.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? In a word, no. I’ve hesitated to write this column in part because Groat’s an easy “No” for me. While I respect that Groat was an integral member of two championship teams (the 1960 Pirates and ’64 Cardinals) and was a rare man to play both MLB and NBA ball, he simply doesn’t have the numbers for Cooperstown and trails behind legions of worthier candidates. But I don’t mind spotlighting older players, however briefly, and there are a couple of broader points I’d like to make here.

The first excerpted comment above, comparing Groat to Bobby Grich took me back. Before I got into sabermetrics, I treated batting average as the overall measure of a batter, and I believed that Grich’s era, the 1970s and ’80s was significantly more of a hitter’s era than the 1960s. I was wrong on both counts. There’s this misnomer that the lowering of the pitcher’s mound in 1969 and the adoption of the designated hitter rule in the American League in 1973 dramatically changed the offensive landscape. In reality, except for the occasional outlier such as 1987, run totals in games didn’t spike consistently until the 1990s. The sooner this is better understood, the easier it will be for players like Grich, Dwight Evans, and Dale Murphy to get enshrined. They simply played in a tougher offensive era than they’re being credited for.

For evaluating offensive production, I’ve come to prefer comprehensive stats that don’t just look at a hitter’s ability to make contact with the ball but also incorporate things like run production, on-base percentage and total bases. I also like stats that are weighted to adjust for ballpark and eras. For all of this, I find stats like wRC+ (weighted run creation) and OPS+ (weighted offensive production) much more useful than batting average. Grich trumps Groat 125 to 89 in OPS+ and 129 to 90 in wRC+. If we simply look at raw stats that aren’t adjusted for eras, such as wOBA or OPS, the differences are more pronounced. A 20 point advantage in batting average may be impressive at quick glance, but it doesn’t mean that much in context.

I take a different approach, however, comparing Groat and Maury Wills. When it comes to Wills, I value his contribution to baseball history more than his somewhat pedestrian career stats. My rationale is admittedly somewhat arbitrary and selective, but I think a certain degree of that is okay when it comes to the Hall of Fame. It’s not the Hall of Algorithmically-Determined Statistical Superiority, after all. (My friend Adam Darowski has a cool site for this.) I like Wills’ role in popularizing the stolen base in the 1960s (though he was arguably no more important than Luis Aparicio or Lou Brock.) I like that he shattered Ty Cobb’s 47-year-old season record for stolen bases in 1962. For me, that’s enough for a plaque.

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Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? has been a past regular 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 PosnanskiJohan 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 Coleman, Vlad GuerreroWill Clark

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? 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

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Johan Santana

Claim to fame: Fresh off the first no-hitter in the 8,000+ game history of the New York Mets, Johan Santana appears fully recovered from the shoulder surgery that cost him the 2011 season. Santana’s historic performance and his strong output through 11 starts this season suggest that the lefty’s career is far from finished and that the dominant pitcher we saw in Minnesota and Queens during an incredible five-year stretch — when he never finished out of the top-five in Cy Young voting — is back and ready to continue his path to Cooperstown.

Through 12 whole or partial Major League seasons, Santana has accomplished much, earning three ERA titles, three strikeout titles, a pitching triple crown, and two Cy Young awards while posting an ERA+ that currently ranks tied for 11th all-time (min. 1,000 innings pitched) and a WHIP that stands 20th among modern era hurlers. His 50.0 WAR is certainly impressive for such a (so far) brief career by Hall of Fame standards but would place him among the lower tier of Hall of Famers in that category.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Santana will be eligible for the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot five years after he retires, which doesn’t look to be all that soon.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? There are two questions to be answered here: Would Santana be a Hall of Famer right now, and will he be one when he retires? The latter defends somewhat on his health. The lefty is borderline Hall-worthy as is, but a few more productive seasons would seal his induction. If Santana’s early-2012 success is no aberration and he’s back to vintage-Johan, he shouldn’t have a problem approaching 200 wins, 2,500 strikeouts, and 60 WAR, totals respectable enough to garner Hall of Fame support when paired with multiple Cy Young awards during a fantastic peak.

More interesting, to me at least, is the question of whether Santana is already Cooperstown-qualified. To those who instinctively reject the idea that after less than a decade as a starting pitcher Johan is already a Hall of Famer, consider these blind résumés:

Pitcher A: 12 seasons, 371 G, 275 GS, 1,981.2 IP, 3.10 ERA, 141 ERA+, 1.118 WHIP, 3.55 SO/BB, 50.0 WAR, four all-star games, two Cy Young awards, three ERA titles (three ERA+ titles).

Pitcher B: 12 seasons, 397 G, 314 GS, 2,324.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 131 ERA+, 1.106 WHIP, 2.93 K/BB, 50.3 WAR, six all-star games, three Cy Young awards, one MVP, five ERA titles (two ERA+ titles).

Pretty close, right? Almost identical really. Comparing raw numbers, Pitcher B might get the edge, but there’s good reason his ERA+ (which adjusts ERA according to league average ERA as well as a pitcher’s home ballpark; 100 is average, higher is better) is 10 points worse than Pitcher A’s despite Pitcher B’s lower ERA. Pitcher B, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, pitched in an extreme pitcher-friendly era and in a cavernous home park. Pitcher B boasts a slightly larger body of work, but Baseball-reference.com’s WAR formula asserts that this only cancels out Pitcher A’s superior production relative to his contemporaries.

If you haven’t yet guessed, Pitcher A is Johan Santana, and Pitcher B is Sandy Koufax, and, disregarding preconceptions, the two are extremely comparable. Both left-handers enjoyed relatively brief careers as starting pitchers but also substantial stints as the consensus best pitcher in the world, during which they each won multiple Cy Young awards and finished among the top votegetters for the award in several other seasons. Koufax’s legend is inflated by his strikingly low ERA numbers, which, again, are a product of when he pitched, the offense-starved 1960s, and where he pitched, deep-fenced Dodger Stadium. Santana’s first 12 seasons have been just as productive as Koufax’s dozen-year career with just as strong of a peak.

Johan is still three no-hitters short of Sandy’s career total, but by almost all other measures the two are near-equals. Santana may or may not already be deserving of a Hall of Fame plaque, but if you argue he’s not, you’re arguing against Koufax as well.

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 Martin, Billy 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 PosnanskiJohn 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

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Billy Pierce

Claim to fame: About a month ago I visited Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field for a White Sox game and throughout the game studied their ten retired numbers and corresponding faces decorating the left-centerfield wall. Six of the players honored on that fence are in the Hall of Fame (including Jackie Robinson, whose number is retired throughout baseball), and a seventh, Frank Thomas, will join them shortly. Of the three non-Hall of Famers, Minnie Minoso has come closest to Cooperstown, receiving nine of a possible 16 Veterans Committee votes last year when 12 were required for induction. Then there’s Harold Baines, who hung on the BBWAA ballot for several years before garnering only 4.8% of votes in 2011 and falling off subsequent ballots.

The tenth retired White Sox number: Billy Pierce. I was not entirely unfamiliar with Pierce. In December, while preparing by ballot for BPP’s Top 50 Players Not in the Hall of Fame, I had considered him for the final spot on my list, even checking his name off on the ballot before changing my mind last minute and granting my final vote to Robin Ventura. Still, as I sat at U.S. Cellular Field and stared at those faces, I felt uneducated on the career of this apparently-heralded lefty, knowing significantly less about him than I did about his retired number peers.

So I did my research. Pierce pitched in the Majors in 18 seasons, throwing 89% of his career 3,306.2 innings for the South Siders. He retired with a 119 ERA+ and 1.260 WHIP, having made seven all-star games, led the American League in complete games three times, in WAR for pitchers twice, and, in 1955, in ERA, ERA+, and WHIP.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Pierce never received more than 2% of votes on the BBWAA ballot in his five appearances there. He was eligible to be selected to the 2011 Golden Era Veterans committee ballot but was not chosen and will not again be eligible until 2014.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Historically, those who’ve thrown 3,000 innings with an ERA+ above 120 have done very well in Hall of Fame voting. Among those who meet that threshold and have appeared on a Hall ballot, only Kevin Brown, Will White, and Silver King have failed to garner induction.

Alas, with that 119 ERA+, Pierce falls just short of that admittedly arbitrary mark. This of course doesn’t mean he isn’t Hall-worthy, but it is somewhat representative of how I view his career in regards to Cooperstown. The lefty was often an all-star and award vote-getter, but rarely the dominant pitcher in his league. He had one excellent season but was otherwise merely above average. No statistic of his stands out as spectacular; his ERA, ERA+, WHIP, strikeouts, and even WAR are nice but nothing shiny enough to anchor a Hall of Fame candidacy. By any measure he was a very good pitcher, and by no measure was he a Hall of Famer.

In the end, Billy Pierce just missed earning a spot on my ballot for the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame, just missed earning a spot on the list of 3,000 IP/120 ERA+ hurlers, and falls just short of deserving a spot in the real-life Hall. He seemed just qualified enough to write about here but turned out not interesting enough to say much about; no one will comment here claiming Billy Pierce’s lack of induction a travesty, and no one will comment here claiming me crazy for considering his worthiness. Long-tenured guys who last with one team and post impressive but unspectacular numbers get their faces displayed on their team’s outfield wall, but they don’t always get (or deserve) their faces carved into a Hall of Fame plaque.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? J.R. Richard

Claim to fame: Richard may rank as another of baseball’s great What Ifs?, an ace pitcher for the Houston Astros whose career ended at 30 due to a stroke. He went 107-71 with a 3.15 ERA, winning at least 18 games four times, and it’s conceivable he might have gotten to 300 wins if not for his July 30, 1980 collapse during pre-game warm-ups. He’s set an admirable example, both as a player and as a survivor, someone who tried for years after his stroke without success to return to the majors, someone who wound up homeless and living under a highway overpass in 1994 and has since rebuilt his life.

The question for our purposes is if Richard did enough for a Hall of Fame plaque. Cooperstown has enshrined pitchers with truncated careers before, from Addie Joss to Dizzy Dean to Sandy Koufax, and Richard would have the fewest career wins of any of them. With a deeper look at his numbers, other factors come into play as well.

Current of Hall of Fame eligibility: Richard’s a candidate for the Veterans Committee, having made his sole appearance on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot in 1986. Pitchers glutted the voting that year, and to some extent, they may have cancelled one another out. Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, and Lew Burdette, among others, fared better than Richard though no pitchers were enshrined in 1986. Richard’s 1.6 percent showing was better only than Ken Holtzman, Andy Messersmith, Jim Lonborg, and Jack Billingham for former front-end hurlers.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I like Richard, and I’ll celebrate Richard as the very good player he was, but the flaws of his Cooperstown candidacy aren’t difficult to expose. Even if we set aside his underwhelming lifetime numbers, such as his 22.4 WAR as the byproduct of a shortened career, his 108 ERA+ and 1.243 WHIP don’t place him among the upper echelon of Hall of Fame pitchers. Richard’s an example of something else, too: Pitchers whose stats were bolstered by pitching in the offensive void that was the Houston Astrodome.

I’ve written here before how the cavernous dimensions and low run environment hurt the likes of Cesar Cedeno, Bob Watson, and Jim Wynn. The inverse may have been true for pitchers (and on a side note, if there’s a ballpark that’s confused more Hall of Fame cases, I’d love to know of it.) Richard wasn’t the most egregiously different pitcher between the Astros’ landmark former home and elsewhere, though his difference in splits is noticeable. Consider the following:

Player W-L ERA IP H ER BB SO SO/9 WHIP
J.R. Richard at the Astrodome 56-36 2.58 831 582 238 370 754 8.2 1.146
J.R. Richard, elsewhere 51-35 3.76 774.2 645 324 400 739 8.6 1.349
Larry Dierker at the Astrodome 87-49 2.71 1272 1100 383 361 882 6.2 1.149
Larry Dierker, elsewhere 52-74 4.02 1061.1 1029 474 350 611 5.2 1.299
Mike Hampton at the Astrodome 38-16 2.91 531.2 489 172 170 407 6.9 1.239
Mike Hampton, elsewhere 110-99 4.42 1736.2 1881 852 731 980 5.1 1.504
Darryl Kile at the Astrodome 35-35 3.51 630.1 565 246 282 534 7.6 1.344
Darryl Kile, elsewhere 98-84 4.37 1535 1570 746 918 1134 6.6 1.621
Nolan Ryan at the Astrodome 59-44 2.77 989.2 714 305 413 1004 9.1 1.139
Nolan Ryan, elsewhere 265-248 3.29 4396.2 3209 1606 2382 4710 9.6 1.272
Mike Scott at the Astrodome 65-40 2.70 937.1 741 281 244 729 7.0 1.051
Mike Scott, elsewhere 59-68 4.23 1131.1 1117 532 383 740 5.9 1.326
Don Wilson at the Astrodome 57-45 3.00 951 807 317 320 671 6.4 1.185
Don Wilson, elsewhere 47-47 3.33 797 672 295 320 612 6.9 1.245

If anything, Richard and others here are a bit overrated. Playing in a pitcher’s park and having tragic career-ending circumstances will do that for a man.

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 MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises Alou, Omar VizquelPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy SosaSean FormanSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Sean Forman

Claim to fame: I’ll preface this by saying I was planning to write a column on Sean Forman before he bailed me out of a jam this morning. I signed up about a month ago for a free 30-day trial of the Play Index, a nifty tool on Forman’s website Baseball-Reference.com that allows for the kind of searches that used to take me hours. Want to know how many players in baseball history have at least 500 home runs and an OPS+ of 140? A quick Play Index search shows there to be 19.

My free trial expired on Sunday, and I put up $36 that evening for a year-long subscription. By some glitch in the Baseball-Reference.com system, though, perhaps a quirk of PayPal, my order was delayed for a few days during which time I couldn’t see the results of my P-I searches. I already don’t want to fathom writing regularly about baseball history without the index, so I sent an email to Baseball-Reference.com this morning, and they fixed the glitch within an hour or so.

Such is the power of the most important baseball website ever. I’ll go a step further and say that I think Forman’s the most influential person in baseball research today. He’s a modern version of Henry Chadwick, a 19th century statistician who invented the box score, batting average, and earned run average among other things. If Chadwick can have a place in the Hall of Fame, I’d augur for an eventual spot for Forman as well.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Chadwick has had a plaque in the Executives & Pioneers section of Cooperstown since 1938. At quick glance, he might be the only statistician enshrined, even if modern godfather of statistics Bill James is sorely overdue. That’s a story for another time, though James’ case and Forman’s as well could reasonably come before the Veterans Committee in the next decade or so.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Some may sooner call James the most important baseball researcher today. But James has slowed in recent years, and while I respect his scholarship, he remains a highly polarizing figure. Some people zealously defend his work. Others have little use for it. Forman, meanwhile, continues to refine a website that appeals to analysts and traditionalists alike and draws several hundred thousand people a month. Just past his 40th birthday, Forman’s hopefully just getting started.

Consider how far baseball research online has come since Forman launched Baseball-Reference.com in 2000. A former college mathematics professor, he created his site after being unable to find stats for the likes of Ty Cobb on the Internet. By 2007, B-R was up to pages for all 17,000 players in MLB history, as well as 40,000 pages of Wikipedia-style content and 98,000 pages of box scores. Forman told SI.com that year:

I haven’t necessarily found all the data. The people at Retrosheet and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), they just do incredible work. I often say that I’m just putting a friendly face on the things that they’re doing. I certainly can’t take credit for getting the data in the raw format. But one of the things that I think the site does well is make this data easy to find. That’s always been a goal of mine, is to make things as quick and easy as possible.

I love that attitude, and at a time where people who’ve devised metrics like Wins Above Replacement are taking heat for a lack of transparency, I respect what Forman’s doing. More than that, I try to follow his example here.

End of day, I can only speak for myself, a blogger with no idea how much worse my work would be without Forman’s influence. Giving his organization $36 was the least I could do, and truth is, Forman’s done more for me than I’ve ever done for him. $36? Heck, I joke that I spend so much time on Baseball-Reference.com I may as well be paying the site rent.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie Reynolds, Andy PettitteBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff Bagwell, Jeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy SosaSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Jeff Kent

Claim to Fame: Kent played for six teams over 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, bringing a big bat and a bad attitude with him on every stop. With the Mets, Kent was criticized for his refusal of hazing rituals and short-temper. In San Francisco he repeatedly butted heads with Barry Bonds (although Barry would almost certainly win any head-butting competition), famously exchanging shoves with the leftfielder in 2002. This after Kent had broken his wrist popping wheelies on a motorcycle and lied about it, much to the displeasure of the Giants organization. Years later, with the Dodgers, Kent’s criticisms of LA’s young players caused James Loney to announce that “Jeff Kent is not our leader,” before, in a separate incident, the second baseman opined that legendary Dodgers play-by-play man Vin Scully “talks too much.” Milton Bradley would accuse Kent of not knowing “how to deal with African-American people,” and a $15,000 donation to backers of California’s ban on gay marriage suggests that in addition to being an alleged racist, Kent wasn’t too fond of gay people.

But, as Yahoo! Sports’s David Brown wrote upon Kent’s retirement in January 2009, “The consensus on Jeff Kent seems to be, ‘That jerk sure could hit!’ ” Arguably the best offensive second baseman since Rogers Hornsby, Kent hit more career home runs than anyone ever at that position. And among second basemen with at least 9,000 plate appearances there, he’s second all-time in slugging percentage, third in OPS, eighth in wOBA, and sixth in wRC+ (frustratingly, I can’t find a way on baseball-reference.com to organize by position, so these are fangraphs.com stats; wRC+ is essentially equivalent to OPS+).

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Kent last played in 2008, meaning he will be eligible for BBWAA Hall of Fame voting in 2013.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Kent’s career WAR of 59.4 puts him right along the Hall of Fame fault line. Many players below that figure have been inducted, but a handful above it still wait for a call. Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph, and Bobby Grich are the only non-Hall of Fame second basemen to have contributed more WAR than Kent, while Bobby Doerr, Johnny Evers, Nellie Fox, Billy Herman, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Mazeroski, Bid McPhee, Joe Gordon, and Red Schoendienst are all in Cooperstown with fewer WAR.

Yet Kent’s body of work might be better than all 12 of those fellow-second basemen. His 2000 National League MVP award is one of only nine BBWAA MVPs ever awarded to a second basemen, and of those listed above, either in the Hall or out of it, only Fox owns one (although Evers won the Chalmers Award in 1914, the equivalent of an MVP). Offensively, Kent has few peers among the borderline HOF group; of the aforemention dozen, only Grich tops Kent in OPS+, and only Grich and Lazzeri lead Kent in wRC+. And for those who look to peak performance to gauge Hall of Fame-worthiness, behold Kent’s five-year stretch between 1998 and 2002, when he averaged 29 home runs and 5.7 WAR while posting a .307/.378/.548 slash line and a 142 OPS+.

Because voters too often cast their votes based on counting stats, expect many to note Kent’s 377 home runs from a second baseman and induct him on the second or third ballot. Just know that when they do, he’ll deserve it, curmudgeon or not.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Andy Pettitte

Claim to Fame: Andy Pettitte was an anchor of the Yankees 1990s dynasty, rarely their best pitcher but always a reliable arm. He pitched much of the next decade with the Bombers, a three-year stint with his hometown Houston breaking up 13 seasons in New York. Pettitte has won 240 regular season games, made three all-star teams, and finished in the top six in Cy Young voting five times, but his legacy has been forged in October, where has won an MLB record 19 postseason games and more World Series games (five) than anyone who’s pitched in the last 30 years. Now, he’s emerging from retirement after a one-year hiatus, returning to the Bronx to add to those totals and help the Yankees back to the Fall Classic.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: If Pettitte plays for the Yankees this year he will have to wait five years before becoming eligible on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. But if this un-retirement experiment crashes before it gets off the ground and Pettitte fails to appear in a Major League game, he’ll appear on the ballot in 2015.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Pettitte supporters like to point out that every pitcher who’s more than 100 games above .500 for his career is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Guys like Pettitte, however, are exactly the reason wins and winning percentage are becoming less and less valued in player evaluation. That Pettitte won a higher percentage of his decisions than Greg Maddux doesn’t make the longtime Yankee a better pitcher than Maddux; it just means he played for more great teams. In fact, Pettitte has never pitched for a sub-.500 club in his 16-year career, while Maddux made over 200 starts for teams that ended up losing more often than they won.

More telling than Pettitte’s impressive winning percentage is his only-respectable 117 career ERA+ over 16 seasons of relative durability. That ERA+ is better than those of four of the past five Major League pitchers inducted into the Hall of Fame, although each in that quartet threw drastically more career innings than did Pettitte. Of the eight Hall of Famers within 150 innings of Pettitte’s total, only the undeniably under-qualified Chief Bender owns a worse ERA+. The other seven are all at least ten points higher in the category.

With Cooperstown seemingly getting more selective with their admission of pitchers, Pettitte’s fate might be similar to that of Orel Hershiser, whose career numbers were similar to Pettitte’s but not good enough to preserve his spot on the Hall of Fame ballot for more than two years. After a long drought of Hall of Fame pitchers (no current HOFer pitched after 1993), a wave of worthy hurlers confronts the BBWAA next year. Roger Clemens may not make it to Cooperstown any time soon due to alleged steroid use, but Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez are locks, and Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz all have strong cases as well. Pettitte’s candidacy looks less convincing than all of the above, and voters may be hesitant to vote for a marginally-qualified starter immediately after supporting a mass induction of well-qualified starters.

Pettitte could potentially be helped by two of the same effects that are enabling Jack Morris’s absurd Hall of Fame candidacy. Like Morris, Pettitte won more games than any other pitcher in a given decade (148 from 2000-2009), and like Morris, Pettitte made a name for himself in the playoffs. Pettitte’s stats are more impressive than Morris’s, and I would support Pettitte’s Hall of Fame bid long before I would consider supporting Morris’s, but I’m not sold on the arguments on which their candidacies hinge. As discussed earlier, wins are a product of the team as much as the pitcher, and a decade is nothing but a random period of time and shouldn’t be used to judge a career any more than a random 13-year stretch should. Postseason stats are even more dependent of team success, as in order to compile such numbers a player’s teammates need to be good enough to take him to the playoffs. No one should make the Hall of Fame because he got to the postseason more than his peers and pitched adequately once there.

So, with stats that seem short of the Cooperstown threshold and a case based on arguments I don’t buy, Andy Pettitte doesn’t get my hypothetical Hall of Fame vote, although I wouldn’t be too upset were he to be elected. The BBWAA’s treatment of starting pitchers is difficult to predict (as I’ve covered before, Jack Morris’s near induction contrasted with Kevin Brown’s immediate dismissal from the ballot is some sort of travesty), but I imagine the above “qualifications” will garner Pettitte some degree of support. Then again, irrationally vindictive writers might withhold their votes due to Pettitte’s admission of HGH use. Assuming the Yankees deem him a capable Major League starter, however, the lefty’s career appears not to be over. A successful comeback and a good season in 2012 and beyond could alter the Hall of Fame discussion. For now, Pettitte’s worthiness and likelihood of induction remain unclear.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn Smoltz, Johnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy SosaSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Johnny Murphy

Claim to fame: I’ll start by thanking broadcaster Len Berman for including a link to the BPP All-Time Dream Project in a recent mass email. The link led to votes from about 50 people, including the son of former New York Yankees pitcher Johnny Murphy who emailed and suggested I add a relief pitcher category. I’ve chosen not to do this for the same reason I don’t have a designated hitter or bench players in the project– I don’t want a way for people to jam extra players into their lineups, like sticking Willie Mays in center field and Mickey Mantle at DH. I want people having to make tough decisions. It’s a nine-player dream team for a reason.

That being said, I’m glad the email alerted me to Murphy, who pitched 13 years in the majors between 1932 and 1946, might have been baseball’s first great relief pitcher, and later was general manager of the New York Mets from 1964 until his death in 1970. I sent an email to Frank Graham Jr., whose father covered Murphy as a player. Graham has stories about being around those Bronx Bombers as a kid, and I asked if he’d crossed paths with Murphy. Graham replied:

No, I had no interaction with Fordham Johnny Murphy, though I do remember some of my dad’s ‘dugout’ columns where Lefty Gomez would make some wisecrack about how Murphy pulled him out of a jam so often that their names were being coupled like ham and eggs. That kind of connection was rare in those days, when relievers were often characterized as second-rate pitchers not good enough to make the starting rotation. Branch Rickey was one who thought the value of relief pitchers was overrated– in other words, good pitchers started a game and saved it as well.

Murphy tallied 107 saves in his playing career, similar to an early stolen base champ or Deadball Era home run leader in that he played in a time before his marquee stat was favored, and the more that saves aggregators like Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, and Trevor Hoffman come to glut the Hall of Fame ballot, the more pioneering relievers like Murphy may be forgotten. That’s a shame, and there ought to be a way for Cooperstown to remedy this.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Under new voting rules that took effect prior to the 2011 election, Murphy can be considered for Cooperstown by the Pre-Integration Era section of the Veterans Committee. It meets once every three years and will convene at the Winter Meetings in December.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Lest there be any confusion, let me be clear: The point of this column isn’t too mount a case that Murphy needs to be enshrined. I’m a big Hall person, though to me, there are simply too many other players to be honored first, and that includes a couple early relievers. In general, I think Cooperstown has made incomplete note of pioneer closers, relying too much on career saves totals. It gives short shrift to greats like Sparky Lyle and Dan Quisenberry, both men who dominated in their day and would get my vote sooner than Smith.

I don’t feel as strongly about Murphy. Maybe it’s that he played in pinstripes, and plenty of very good Yankees are already enshrined from Waite Hoyt to Joe Gordon to Phil Rizzuto and others. Murphy’s stats also simply don’t beg a plaque, from a 3.50 lifetime ERA and 118 ERA+ to 14.7 career WAR and 1.367 WHIP. Lyle, Quisenberry, and a number of other closers trump those numbers. And I don’t know if Murphy was an executive long enough for it to matter for the Veterans Committee, which considers a man’s total contribution to baseball. I could be wrong here, and if there’s something I’m missing, I encourage comments from anyone reading, including anyone from Murphy’s family.

Do I mean to knock Murphy? Certainly not. Just getting to play an important role on the Yankees of the ’30s and ’40s is awesome. And while I wouldn’t necessarily enshrine pioneer relievers like Murphy, they belong somewhere in the museum, just as I’d highlight early stolen base kings like Maury Wills or Deadball home run hitters like Gavvy Cravath. They all figure notably in baseball’s history. Maybe there’s a relief pitchers exhibit that can include Murphy, if one doesn’t exist already.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn Smoltz, Jose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy SosaSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Jose Canseco

Claim to Fame: Not long ago, Jose Canseco, a Major League outfielder for 17 seasons, was suspended from the independent AAA Mexican League for refusing a drug test, the latest in a sequence of wacky exploits of a controversial ex-superstar whom no one respects but by whom everyone is intrigued.

Since his last at-bat in Major League Baseball in 2001, Canseco has written two tell-all books, one a New York Times best-seller and the other barely successful enough for a Wikipedia page. He has appeared in reality television next to everyone from Donald Trump to Jenna Jameson. He has fought several E-list celebrities and sent his brother to fight another for him. And he has toiled in baseball’s independent leagues, hitting, pitching and even managing for teams like the San Diego Surf Dawgs, Long Beach Armada, Laredo Broncos, and Yuma Scorpions.

But before all that Canseco was a pretty good major leaguer, a six-time all-star and American League MVP in 1988, when he became the first player in MLB history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases. His posted a career OPS+ of 132 and belted 462 career long balls, twice leading the league in dingers. That his totals were admittedly chemically-enhanced diminishes their luster, but Canseco’s accomplishments on the diamond should not be overlooked.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Canseco received six votes on the 2006 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, good for 1.1 percent and below the 5 percent threshold necessary to remain on the ballot. With superior players like Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro punished by voters for steroid use, it was no surprise that the already marginally-qualified Canseco, who has pronounced himself “godfather of steroids,” fell off the ballot immediately. He will one day be eligible on the Veterans Committee ballot, but given his lack of popularity in all baseball circles, shouldn’t be holding his breath for induction.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Well, no he doesn’t, but statistically it’s closer than you might think.

In fact, Bill James’s Hall of Fame Monitor has him slightly above the level of a likely Hall of Famer, and his career WAR of 41.7 is better than a cast of Cooperstown inductees, two tenths of a win ahead of Jim Rice. Canseco also leads Rice in home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS+, which accounts for the offensive climate in which Canseco played. Considering Canseco’s base-stealing ability and the fact that neither he nor Rice was known for defense, a statistical argument can easily be made that the Bash Brother was a better player than the Red Sox outfielder.

This example does more to reinforce the absurdity of Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame candidacy than to add credence to Canseco’s, but the fact that Canseco has better career numbers across the board than someone inducted only a few years ago at a similar position at least demonstrates that, if not for the steroid baggage, Canseco’s resume is not too far from Cooperstown-worthy. Canseco may be amusing off the field, but between the white lines he was nothing to laugh at.

Well, except for when that ball hit off his head and bounced over the fence for a home run. That was worth laughing at.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon Santo, Sammy SosaSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark