The shortstop getting the shortest end of the stick   Leave a comment

There is only one shortstop on this year’s BBWAA ballot, and unfortunately for Alan Trammell, it is a spot he is all has too accustomed to.  This year marks the longtime Tiger’s 13th time on the form, and he has only been able to garner a mere third of the votes cast for Cooperstown induction twice.  (Remember, a player needs 75% of the vote; 33% isn’t even close.)

In the table below, you will find Trammell’s name, as well as other players listed in the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, and also a couple of other players whose careers started or flourished after that book was published in 2001.  I want to tackle the other names first this time, leaving Trammell for the conclusion.  Spoiler alert – Alan Trammell was a damn good ballplayer.

First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
  Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Alan Trammell 1977 1996 9 n/a 0 70.3 0.00%
Alex Rodriguez 1994 current 17 n/a 77.9 115.7 67.33%
Derek Jeter 1995 current 17 n/a 43.6 71.6 60.89%
Miguel Tejada 1997 current n/a n/a 39.4 46.8 84.19%
Omar Vizquel 1989 2012 61 n/a 13.8 45.4 30.40%
Nomar Garciaparra 1996 2009 17 n/a 16.4 44.2 37.10%
Jimmy Rollins 2000 current n/a n/a 42.1 42 100.24%
Jose Reyes 2003 current n/a n/a 33.2 33.2 100.00%
Hanley Ramirez 2005 current n/a n/a 32.8 32.8 100.00%
Troy Tulowitzki 2006 current n/a n/a 32.3 32.3 100.00%
Elvis Andrus 2009 current n/a n/a 17.1 17.1 100.00%
Average WAR, SS = 66.7

Jeter – a no-brainer Hall of Famer, regardless of when he retires.  A top-10ish shortstop, now, in the all-time scheme of things.  Yes, he has all of the statistical and post-season credentials the voters look for, and he probably has a season or two left in the tank, but his and Trammell’s career values are incredibly similar: 71.6 to 70.3 in WAR, 42.3 to 44.6 in WAR7 (a score that adds each of their seven best WAR seasons), and 56.9 to 57.5 in JAWS (defined in my last blog).

Rodriguez – so, how do you feel about PEDs?

Tejada – if James re-wrote his book today using the same criteria, Tejada would probably move up into his top 40.  He had a very good bat for a decade, but a lot of other players did during that span as well.  I don’t envision him getting a lot of Hall of Fame support.

Vizquel – is a player I could probably write another full-length post on, due to the attention he’ll get as “the best fielding American League shortstop ever”.  He had a very long career, and he probably deserves to be credited in the top 50 players to ever field the position.  However, I just don’t see a Hall of Famer when I look at Vizquel/  I’m quite curious to see if voters retroactively see one in a few years, given that the only MVP vote he ever earned was a 16th-place one in 1999, and that he only went to three All-Star games over a 24-year career.

Garciaparra – the third of the shortstop trinity, but unlike Arod and the Captain, he couldn’t stay healthy.  Which is a shame, because during his young peak, he was a terror at the plate: from 1997 to 2003, he averaged .325/.372/.557, with 24 home runs and 93 runs batted in a season.  Even more impressively?  He was injured for most of the 2001 season, only playing 21 games that year – thus, those home run and RBI averages should be greater.  A top 50-to-60 shortstop, but not a Hall of Famer.

Rollins – would probably rank a little bit higher than Nomar, but having just turned 35, I doubt he’d get too much higher.  A very durable player, with a National League MVP award, four Gold Gloves, and three All-Star appearances to his credit.  However, unless he finds the Fountain of Youth and plays at his peak for about five more years, I doubt he makes the Hall.

Reyes / Ramirez / Tulowitzki – are separated by just 0.9 WAR, but it should be noted that Reyes debuted first in 2003, followed by Ramirez in 2005, and Tulo arrived the year after.  All three have undeniable skills, but also have, to varying degrees, less than perfect medical charts.  They would all easily make a “new” James list, possibly in the 70-to-80 range, but it’s difficult to forecast where they would land at the end of their respective careers.  I would wager, however, that of the three, Hanley Ramirez has the best chance for delivering a speech in Cooperstown, but that’s just a guess.  I think he has a better chance of staying healthy than the arguably equally talented Tulowitzki, and I also think that Reyes doesn’t have as many high-impact seasons left in him as the aforementioned duo.  If any of them accumulate another 30 WAR, they will be worthy candidates… but as Garciaparra has proven, it’s no sure thing.

Andrus – is the youngest man on the list, and in theory, should have the most sand left in his hourglass.  In his five full MLB seasons, he has shown a good glove, great speed (averaging 33 stolen bases a year, in 43 averaged attempts), very little power (surprisingly little, as he stands six feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds), and decent patience at the dish.  Since his debut, Andrus really hasn’t taken the next statistical step, in that his year-to-year numbers are quite consistent.  And while that in itself has some value, he needs to do more at the plate over the next decade to garner numbers that stand out in a crowd.

Speaking of trying to stand out in a crowd…

…Let’s talk about Alan Trammell again.

Trammell played his entire 20-year career with the Detroit Tigers, a team that gets very little love when it comes to the Hall of Fame.  I made up a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to compare Cooperstown representation by team, sorting the players voted in by the BBWAA only.  For example, Cal Ripken earned the Orioles 21 “Hall of Fame” years.  Wade Boggs gathered 11 years for the Red Sox, five for the Yankees, and two for the Rays.  I didn’t differentiate between their good years and their bad ones – the only rule was that you, at some point in your career, played for a particular team.

The Detroit Tigers finished sixth amongst the clubs, a very respectable finish, and one you could probably predict, given their tenure in the American League.  Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg… these three legends alone were responsible for a lot of those years.  Would you like to know the last Detroit Tiger that was elected into the Hall by the BBWAA?  Why, that was Al Kaline, who received a healthy 88.3% of the vote in his first year of eligibility, way back in 1980.  That was also the year that John Lennon was assassinated,  “The Empire Strikes Back” hit the big screen, and Jessica Simpson was born.

I’m not saying that Kaline was the last man to wear a Tigers cap on his Cooperstown plaque.  I’m saying that each and every player inducted into the Hall of Fame since Kaline never played a single game in their career as a Detroit Tiger – not a season, not even a day.  Think of all of the players that played for Detroit over the last 33 years – you have to figure over a thousand men came and left the major league roster.  Brought up through the system, acquired in trade, signed as a free agent… for good teams, for playoff teams, for lousy teams… yet none of them have gone to Cooperstown.

Alan Trammell will not end that streak, either.  Bill James thought he was the ninth best shortstop to ever play the game a decade ago, and since then, I think that the only three players that might have leapfrogged him on that list would be Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Barry Larkin.  Using baseball-reference’s leader boards, Rodriguez is second only to Honus Wagner in WAR, WAR7, and JAWS,  so I’ll give him the nod.  However, he put up a lot of those big numbers as a third baseman.

That leaves Jeter (a no-doubter) and Larkin (elected in his third year of eligibility).  Here are the career rankings in WAR, WAR7, and JAWS, for shortstops:

WAR:   Jeter (10th, 71.6), Trammell (11th, 70.3), Larkin (12th, 70.2)
WAR7:   Trammell (8th, 44.6), Larkin (12th, 43.1), Jeter (16th, 42.3)
JAWS:   Trammell (11th, 57.5), Jeter (12th, 56.9), Larkin (13th, 56.6)

Don’t the three of them seem, you know, the same?  If so, why was Larkin able to sail in after just three tries, while Trammell languishes on the fringe of eligibility?  And if you don’t think he’s on the fringe right now, wait until the vote total comes in next month; with the added competition provided by Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, et al, I’ll bet you a dollar that he doesn’t capture the 33.6% of the total vote that he did last year.  He, and other “lesser” candidates like Fred McGriff and Larry Walker, are going to get squeezed – and possibly squeezed right off the ballot if they don’t keep five per cent of the vote.

At a time when shortstops were more noted for their defense, Trammell was also a valuable contributor with the bat; when he retired in 1996, with 198 career bombs, there were only a handful of shortstops that had more home runs than he did.  He hit over .300 seven times, had a career .352 on-base percentage, and stole 236 bases.  He was a six-time All-Star, won four Gold Gloves, and finished second to George Bell for the 1987 AL MVP (despite being an 8.2 WAR player that season; Bell, with 5.0 WAR, was only the tenth-most valuable player if WAR was the sole indicator).  Ripken had The Streak; Robin Yount got to 3,000 hits; Ozzie Smith was the “Wizard of Oz”; Trammell never stood out amongst his peers.  However, make no mistake – Alan Trammell was their peer, and thus, deserves to stand with them in the Hall of Fame.


Posted December 20, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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