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.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? has been a past regular feature here.
Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Albert Pujols, Allie Reynolds, Andy Pettitte, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Bill King, Billy Martin, Billy Pierce, Bobby Grich, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Craig Biggio, Curt Flood, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe,Dwight Evans, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Gus Greenlee, Harold Baines, Harry Dalton, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, Johan Santana, John Smoltz, Johnny Murphy, Jose Canseco,J.R. Richard, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Kevin Brown, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Omar Vizquel, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito,Roger Maris, Ron Cey, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa, Sean Forman, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey,Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Tony Oliva, Vince Coleman, Vlad Guerrero, Will Clark