Thursday, September 17, 2009

Invisible Milestones

The baseball regular season is winding down and so are my opportunities to write about general baseball stuff. So, I’m going to get this post out there so I don’t have to hold on to it over the winter. Even the most novice of baseball fans understands the significance of baseball’s most celebrated milestones. Whenever a player closes in on 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, or 300 wins, MLB and its contractually interested partners make a big deal about it. The reason they make a big deal about it is because those numbers are important. The reason those numbers are important is because they are essentially the equivalent of finding a golden ticket in a Willy Wonka candy bar. In other words, you get to bypass the line and head straight to Cooperstown. Obviously, the steroid-era will wreak havoc on the traditional milestones as voters try to fruitlessly separate players who didn’t take steroids from players who did but would’ve made it anyways from players who were only good because they took steroids. The next ten years are going to be a mess but considering the fact that power numbers have regressed back to the pre-steroid norm, there’s every reason to believe that the traditional milestones will survive and regain their importance at some point.

I always found it interesting that there are only three significant milestones in a sport that trumpets a stockpile of readily available statistics. In fact, with the introduction of sabermetrics and more complex measures, it seems like baseball statistics are infinitely expanding like the universe. With such a sheer volume of statistics, I would think that MLB could find more than three milestones to celebrate. The only thing making the aforementioned milestones so much more important than other milestones is the attention they receive. For instance, I don’t think anyone would argue that "500 home runs" is any more important than "1,700 RBIs." Yet, based on the level of excitement generated by each accomplishment, it would seem like there is a huge difference. Other milestones don’t exist because MLB hasn’t made a big deal out of them. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t unofficial milestones for every other statistic in which every player above that mark is in the Hall of Fame. There is a specific number in each statistic that has historically guaranteed induction into the MLB Hall of Fame. In the interest of indiscriminate behavior, I have identified these previously neglected marks. I doubt these new “milestones” will ever be celebrated but they do provide a pretty good way of identifying Hall of Fame distinguishing accomplishments beyond the big three.

Note: All statistics are for players since 1901. This list does not include active players, players who aren't yet eligible and players who are ineligible for other reasons (i.e. Pete Rose and Joe Jackson). All statistics that involve "average" (i.e. Batting Avg, OPS, OPS+, Slug%, OBP, ERA+, and Win%) have a min. of 2,000 hits for hitters and 200 wins for pitchers.

MLB “Milestones”

StatisticHOF MilestonePlayer with highest mark not in HOF
Hits2,900Harold Baines
Runs1,650Jimmy Ryan
RBIs1,650Harold Baines
Batting Avg..311Bobby Veach
Doubles550Al Oliver
Home Runs475Jose Canseco
Walks1,700Eddie Yost
OPS.900Bob Johnson
OPS+140Bob Johnson
SLG%.500Will Clark
OBP.400John Olerud

Total Bases

4,800Andre Dawson
Runs Created1,700Tim Raines
Wins300Bobby Mathews
K's4,000Bert Blyleven
ERA+125Eddie Cicotte
Win%.590Eddie Cicotte

Some of these “milestones” won’t last long. There is a pretty good chance that Fred McGriff, Kevin Brown and Larry Walker won’t get into the Hall of Fame. Larry Walker’s omission alone would eliminate the above milestones for batting average, OPS, OPS+, Slug%, and OBP. Kevin Brown’s omission would remove the markers for ERA+ and Win%. Fred McGriff would have the same impact on Runs Created and Home Runs. Nonetheless, I'd like to see some of these invisible milestones celebrated. For instance, players who reach 1,700 RBIs and Runs should probably be given the same fanfare as a 500th home run. Having just three milestone statistics is getting boring.

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