Monday, August 20, 2007

Active Hall of Fame projections: Outfield

There are 61 outfielders in the Hall of Fame. Obviously, combining three different positions into one artificially inflates the number but even if we break down each position individually, there are more left-fielders, right-fielders, and centerfielders in the Hall of Fame than catchers, second-basemen, and third-basemen. The outfield—regardless of the position—has been historically reserved for run-producers. In fact, the five greatest hitters of all-time (Ruth, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds) played in the outfield. So, it’s no surprise that there are a more than a handful of active outfielders destined for the Hall of Fame as well as a slew of players who have legitimate shots. The interesting thing about there being so many outfielders in the Hall of Fame is that there are so many different “types”. You have super-human offensive production like Babe Ruth all the way to a singles and stolen base guy like Lou Brock. There are so many levels in between those two that you can make a case for almost any player who specializes in just two or three categories as you’ll see from many of my summaries below.

Here are the categories that I will be using to breakdown the candidates and a brief description of each category: The “Lock” and “Likely” categories will be counted as being projected into the Hall of Fame. There won’t be too many “Borderline” candidates but I’ll decide those projections on a case by case basis. I will not count players under 25 regardless of my opinion but I’ll identify players under 25 who seem to be off to excellent starts.

Lock: Barring steroid scandal, will be a Hall of Famer
Likely: Player is on the path based on career progression
Borderline: Pretty close to 50/50; or could make a charge
Not Likely: Almost no chance; would take an unexpected resurgence
Under 25: Players that have a good start to a potential HOF career

Active Hall of Fame Outfielders

Locks (6)

Barry Bonds

Bonds was a “lock” well before steroids came into the picture. I'm not sure how voters will treat suspected steroid users but I'm pretty sure Bonds gets in without much of a hassle. I'm not sure I can say the same about Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. In my view, McGwire and Palmeiro have just as much claim to the Hall of Fame as Bonds. Bonds has clearly been the better player but all three are “locks” based on career numbers. Since all three have allegedly used steroids, I’m not sure how they can be treated differently. To let Bonds in and keep McGwire and Palmeiro out would be quite hypocritical.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Griffey is obviously a “lock.” Nobody will ever be able to say Griffey’s name again without millions of baseball fans thinking of lost opportunities. He has had a fabulous career but it could have been so much more illustrious if he weren’t such a damn good centerfielder. Those diving catches ended up costing him the title of “Home Run King” among other things. As I wrote last week, Griffey still has a pretty good chance of becoming the all-time Home Run King before A-Rod does. If that happens, and A-Rod then breaks it, the Seattle Mariners will have had the distinction of having the two greatest home run hitters in MLB history play for them at the same time. As if that wasn’t enough, they also had possibly the greatest left-handed pitcher of all-time (The Big Unit) and the greatest DH of all-time. Amazingly, it wasn’t until Griffey, A-Rod, and Randy Johnson left that Seattle set a MLB record with 116 wins while leading the majors in both pitching and hitting. Go figure.

Sammy Sosa

Sosa could be thrown into Palmeiro/McGwire status. There really is no way of knowing how Hall of Fame-voters will view Sosa at this point. He didn’t test positive like Palmeiro or refuse to deny taking steroids like McGwire. He simply faked a significant language barrier. Sadly, he ended up looking the best of the three in front of congress. Sosa is the only player in MLB history with three 60-HR seasons. Over a five-year stretch from 1998-2002, Sosa averaged an unbelievable 58 home runs per season. The most interesting thing about Sosa’s career stats, IMO, is his amazingly low OPS+ for a guy who hit that many home runs. His career OPS+ stands at 128. For comparison’s sake, Ryan Klesko has a career OPS+ of 129. Barring a boycott by Hall of Fame voters, Sosa is a “lock” having put together the greatest stretch of home-run hitting in MLB history.

Manny Ramirez

Man-Ram is one of the greatest hitters who ever lived. His eclectic personality and lazy reputation have probably gotten in the way of receiving his just-do as a hitter. Ramirez is on his way to his 10th straight 100-RBI season (and 12th overall). He has a .313 career batting average. He’ll likely become the first player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and a .310 batting average. It’s amazing that of all of the legends in baseball history, nobody has ever accomplished that feat. Ramirez is a first-ballot “lock”.

Vladimir Guerrero

After hiding away in Montreal for eight-seasons, Guerrero’s talents are now being recognized on a much larger scale. Along with possessing one of the most devastating right-field arms the game has ever seen, Vlad will likely become the second player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and a .310 batting average. In fact, he’ll likely become the first player to reach 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and a .320 batting average. It’s not an accident that the player most similar to Guerrero from the age of 23-30 using’s player similarity scores is Willie Mays. Vlad is a “lock.”

Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro is going to waltz into the Hall of Fame with about as much ease as it is for him to reach 200 hits in a season. Ichiro is one injury-free season from setting the record for most consecutive 200-hit seasons (eight). At 33, I don’t think he’s going to stop there. Ichiro does everything that Wade Boggs did but does everything slightly better. He also happens to be a superb outfielder. Ichiro’s game would have been perfect for the dead-ball era but he has managed to be a game-changer in an era befitting the sluggers.

Likely (2)

Andruw Jones

Just to give you an idea of how young Jones was when he started, he was the youngest player in the National League for three years. While Jones’ actual prowess at the plate is nowhere near what his career totals might indicate, he is one of the greatest offense/defense combinations the league has ever seen. His career batting average is .262 and dropping and his OPS+ is a pedestrian 118. Despite what might otherwise seem obvious, Jones is nowhere near the caliber of player that Griffey has been. Nonetheless, Jones may very well reach 600 home runs, 2000 runs, 2000 RBIs, and 3,000 hits. Only Hank Aaron (and Barry Bonds very shortly) has ever accomplished that feat. Jones has to play into his late 30s to remove all doubt. If for some reason he suffers a career-ending injury in the next couple years, his mediocre averages may stick out more. Barring injury, Jones is pretty much a sure-thing.

Gary Sheffield

Unless “Sheff” somehow gets lumped in with Palmeiro and McGwire, he’ll be a “lock.” Sheffield will likely reach 500 home runs next season and has a pretty good shot at 3,000 career hits. Combine that with a .297 career batting average, a 145 OPS+, and a reputation as the most feared hitter in the game, and Sheff’s case for the Hall of Fame is a no-doubter.

Borderline (1)

Carl Crawford

Crawford is stuck between Rickey Henderson and Ichiro on the baseball evolutionary chart. He sacrifices some of Ichiro’s average for a little of Henderson’s power. He became an everyday player at the age of 21 which will go a long way in padding his career triple, stolen base, and hit totals. I’m going to guess that whether Crawford makes the HOF or not depends entirely on whether he reaches 3,000 career hits. Barring injury, that will happen relatively early (mid to late 30s) in his career. It also wouldn't hurt to get out of Tampa.

Juan Pierre

Baseball fans better start preparing themselves for Juan Pierre’s induction speech because it very well could happen. Perception in baseball is often driven by statistics. If you reach certain career totals, you make the Hall of Fame. That is how things have gone for decades. If that thinking doesn’t change, then Pierre will make it. His numbers are almost an exact-replica of Lou Brock’s. Pierre should reach 3,000 hits. He has a career batting average above .300. He averages 50 stolen bases a year. He walks more than he strikes out. The problem with all of that is that Pierre is hardly a Hall of Fame-caliber player. Pierre’s OBP is .347 and dropping fast. That just doesn’t cut it for a leadoff man. While it would probably be easier to project Pierre into the Hall of Fame, I’m going to predict that someone will reach 3,000 hits and not get into the Hall of Fame before Pierre becomes eligible. There are a number of players who could do it—I’ll have a post about this soon—and I think the odds are that someone will. If that happens, Pierre loses his “3,000-hits” leverage.

Carlos Beltran

Beltran experienced a bit of an Abreu-like dropoff in 2005 but bounced back nicely in 2006 and 2007 with some pretty good power-numbers. Beltran hasn’t turned into the player that many people thought he would become when he was tearing up the league with the Royals in his early twenties. His power numbers are up a bit from back then but I can’t say that he is a more productive player. Based on the way his career has gone thus far, Beltran is not a Hall of Famer. I am surprised at how unmoving his career has been so far. He is a very good player but doesn’t appear to be in the elite class.

Matt Holliday

Holliday is a nice, young player. He is working on his second straight season of a .320 average, 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, and 100 runs. Those are two elite seasons. He certainly helped his reputation by winning the 2007 Home-Run Derby but he’ll need to produce for many years to come to get into the Hall of Fame conversation.

Adam Dunn

I think Adam Dunn is the Juan Pierre of power-hitters. Pierre is a mediocre leadoff-hitter except that he excels in hits and stolen bases. Dunn is a mediocre power-hitter but excels in home runs and walks. If Dunn doesn’t improve his batting average or OPS+ over the remainder of his career, he might not get into the Hall of Fame even with 500 home runs. Dunn and Pierre will be perfect case-studies for the automatic status of both 500 home-runs and 3,000 hits. Dunn has never finished in the top 25 of the MVP voting which is saying something considering he is working on his fourth-straight 40 home run season. Dunn has a pretty good chance of becoming the all-time leader in career strikeouts. He’ll have to play until he’s 40 to get close to that record, though. A-Rod already has his eyes set on that mark.

Jason Bay

Jason Bay is off to a pretty good start. Bay and Matt Holliday seem to be on the same path. Both are making a habit of putting together 30 HR/100 RBI/100 Run seasons. Neither has entered elite power-hitter status yet. As of now, these guys look to be very good baseball players without the high-end run-producing seasons. If that changes, they’ll start to look good for the Hall of Fame.

Luis Gonzalez

“Gonzo” is quietly putting together career statistics that are going to be hard to ignore. He just might play long enough to reach 3,000 hits (it would take three more seasons as an everyday player). He’ll likely finish with 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs. He’ll also likely reach 600 doubles. There has never been a player kept out of the Hall of Fame with 600 career doubles. There has never been a player kept out of the Hall of Fame with 3,000 hits. “Gonzo” could be the first in both categories to be kept out. Regardless, I don’t believe Gonzalez has been up to the caliber of the elite hitters of his generation.

Magglio Ordonez

I’m not sure how much baseball “Mags” has left in him. It’s not too late for a charge but it would take a spectacular effort over the next seven or eight years. Ordonez has a career batting average of .310. That is a pretty substantial mark to be carrying around. Mags was on a good “Hall of Fame” pace before suffering a devastating knee injury that essentially stole two seasons. If Mags can put together four more seasons similar to what he has put up in ’07 and follow that up with a few solid run-producing seasons, he just might have a chance of making it. That would take some work, though.

Not Likely

Jim Edmonds

Edmonds has been a heck of a player. In fact, I think Edmonds will go down as one of the 50 best players to not make the Hall of Fame. He’ll likely finish with 400+ home runs with a very respectable OPS+ of 135. He is one of the great defensive centerfielders the game has ever seen. He just wasn’t a dominating player and his relatively late start—he didn’t become an everyday player until 25—made it impossible to reach some of the bigger milestones.

Bobby Abreu

Five years ago, Abreu looked about as close to a sure-thing as a young player can be. He was the epitome of a five-tool player. In 2004, he hit over .300 with 30+ homers, 100+ RBIs, 100+ runs, 40 SB’s and 120+ BBs. In fact, his yearly averages from 2000-2005 resembled his 2004 campaign. Then, he won the Home-Run Derby at Comerica Park and he’s never been the same. Despite being a productive player for a number of years, Abreu never finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting. Considering he’s 33 and appears to be on the downside of his career, I’m not sure that’s ever going to change. Abreu has been good but disappointingly unspectacular.

Johnny Damon

Damon will only make the Hall of Fame if he reaches 3,000 hits. Although, I don’t think that would even guarantee him a spot. I am convinced that we will see a player in the next 15 years who reaches 3,000 hits without getting into the Hall of Fame. Damon could be that guy. Damon’s career OPS+ is 103. That means he has only been 3% better than the average player in baseball throughout his career. Since Damon’s defense is average at best, his offense has to carry his case for Cooperstown. A leadoff guy doesn’t necessarily need a great OPS to be effective. A good on-base percentage is often enough. Unfortunately, Damon’s OBP is merely average for a leadoff hitter at .353. He has never finished in the top ten of the MVP voting. He has been a solid major leaguer throughout his career but solid doesn’t cut it for the Hall of Fame.
Vernon Wells

Wells still has some time to blow-up but, as of right now, he isn’t even close to a Hall of Fame player. His OPS+ is terrible for a power-hitter at 109. He strikes-out twice as many times as he walks. It is possible that Wells just hasn’t put it all together yet but he’ll need to explode for a 10-season binge just to get back into the conversation.

Torii Hunter

Hunter has every bit of a gripe to make the Hall of Fame as Omar Vizquel. In fact, I would say that Hunter has a better case for the Hall of Fame. Hunter is possibly the greatest defensive-centerfielder who ever lived (Mays, Griffey, DiMaggio, Andrew Jones all have legitimate arguments). I don’t think there’s any doubt that centerfield is significantly more difficult to play than second base. Hunter is every bit Vizquel’s equal at a position that’s more difficult to play. Centerfield—like second base—is not known for offensive production yet Hunter is a much better hitter than Vizquel. As much as I can appreciate his defensive prowess, I don’t think Hunter is really that close at all to being a Hall of Famer. He should pay attention to Vizquel, though. If Vizquel makes it, then Hunter should get his acceptance speech ready.

Moises Alou

Alou has been a solid hitter for a long time. He’ll probably end up being one of the 100 best players to not make the Hall of Fame. His chances are pretty much stuck on 0%.

Garrett Anderson

I don’t think there is anyone out there who would argue that Garrett Anderson will make the Hall of Fame. However, I am going to make that argument right now. No player has ever been kept out of the Hall of Fame with 3,000 career hits. Anderson will reach 3,000 hits if he plays until he’s 40. So, if Anderson plays until he’s 40 (which every good hitter pretty much does these days), then Anderson will make the Hall of Fame. That sounds like a pretty good argument. However, there is a first for everything. If he reaches 3,000 hits, I think Anderson will be the first player kept out of the HOF having reached that milestone. There is no question that Anderson has been a very good player. He just hasn’t been a Hall of Famer.

Brian Giles

I have a question: what happened to Brian Giles’ power? He averaged 37 home runs for four-seasons from 2000-2003. He went 20, 23, 15, and 14 in the next four seasons, respectively. Then, in 2007, he hit two home runs in his first 282 at-bats! It’s not like Giles was old in 2004 when his power started to decline. He was 33. Giles had an unbelievable power surge (at least relative to what he had been producing) this past week when he hit five home runs in three games. Where has that been? How does that kind of power just disappear?

Jermaine Dye

Dye’s career has been hampered by injuries. He has had some pretty solid seasons but he isn’t anywhere close to having the career numbers to merit election to the Hall of Fame.

Pat Burrell

Burrell’s similarity scores on features a who’s who of short-term sluggers from the past. Among the memorable names are; Pete Incaviglia, Phil Plantier, Dean Palmer, Henry Rodriguez (O-Henry!), Danny Tartabull, Richard Hidalgo, and Glenn Davis. Burrell has been a productive player and is still relatively young at 30. Unfortunately for him, he has about as good of a chance of making the HOF as the players I just listed.

Under 25 to keep an eye on:

Grady Sizemore

Sizemore turned 25 earlier this month but I’m going to keep him in this category. In fact, the time I do this—whenever that may be—I’ll probably only project players 27 or older with a few exceptions. Sizemore is every bit as good as Carl Crawford but he has more power. If Sizemore stays healthy, I think there’s a 75% chance he makes the Hall of Fame.

Final Outfield Projections (9)

Barry Bonds
Ken Griffey Jr.
Sammy Sosa
Manny Ramirez
Vladimir Guerrero
Ichiro Suzuki
Andruw Jones
Gary Sheffield
Carl Crawford

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