My obligatory “Tim Raines is a Hall of Famer” post, the 2013 edition   Leave a comment

This post will focus on the left fielders on this year’s BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot – at least, the two who, in my opinion, have a legitimate case for induction.  With apologies and a tip of the cap to Luis Gonzalez and Moises Alou, the two I mean are Barry Bonds and Tim Raines.

Even back in 2000, seven seasons before his retirement, Bill James thought that Bonds was the third-best left fielder to ever play the game (trailing only Ted Williams and Stan Musial), and the 16th best player of all-time.  That was before he set the single-season and career home run records, and before he won four more (consecutive) National League MVP awards; a period in which he hit .325/.531/.731, walking 1,011 times and striking out just 350 times; a seven-year stretch in which he accumulated 51.4 WAR, more than the career totals of Fred Lynn, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Rice, and many, many others.  If James re-wrote his Abstract today (and by the way, I wish he would), Bonds would have to be in his all-time top-five, and he or Williams would be considered the greatest left fielder ever.

If you’ve gotten this far, then you know enough about Barry Bonds to understand why he only received 36.2% of the vote last year, his first on the ballot.  And I don’t feel like getting into a PED debate here.

If I’m going to argue about anything, it’s for Tim Raines’ outstanding career.  I’ve done it before.  I’ll probably do it again, assuming he doesn’t get inducted this year (and he won’t; he only earned 52.2% of the vote last year).  And I might as well state my affection for the Montreal Expos now, just to get that bit of personal bias out of the way.

Let’s look at James’ opinion first.  He thought enough about the Rock to rank him as the eighth-best left fielder of all-time, and the 81st-best player in baseball history.  Hey, that works for me: if you’re one of the ten best guys at your position, and/or one of the top 100 to ever play, that’s elite company.  Let’s take a look at a few of his numbers, first and foremost the 808 stolen bases.  That ranks fifth all-time.  Raines led his league four times, and finished top-four in steals nine times.  He came to the plate over ten thousand times in his long career, and put up an outstanding line of .294/.385/.425.  Raines didn’t get 3,000 hits – one of those important landmarks for voters – but he walked 1,330 times; all told, he reached base 3,977 times.

That’s the number I’ve fixated on when I think about his case for Cooperstown.  Raines was primarily used in the leadoff spot; his job was to work the count, get on base, and score.  He did all of that exceedingly well.  Raines reached base more often than (in descending order) Tony Gwynn, Nap Lajoie, Lou Brock, Roberto Alomar, Mike Schmidt, and (I’ll stop here) Roberto Clemente – HOFers all, and some even members of the aforementioned 3,000-hit club.

Raines was as dominant a player as there was in the 1980s.  Using James’ Win Shares method, one of his main measuring tools in the Abstract, Raines ranked fifth in the major leagues with 246 Shares.  He trailed a quartet of Hall of Famers: Rickey Henderson (289), Robin Yount (274), Schmidt (265), and Eddie Murray (250),  That’s some good company, and keep in mind that Raines didn’t start his career until 1981.  Raines earned his 246 Shares in nine seasons, averaging just over 27 a year; give him “credit” for an extra season and he jumps to third.  (That said, I hate giving players credit for things they didn’t do, but again, I’m a Raines fan.  Let’s move on.)

When James published Win Shares in 2002, Raines ranked 53rd all-time in career Win Shares (WS) with 390.  Let me name some Hall of Famers that total exceeds:  Tom Seaver, Joe DiMaggio, Rod Carew, Yogi Berra… I wouldn’t belabor the obvious.  In terms of individual WS seasons, he led the NL twice and finished second once, but never finished higher than sixth in MVP voting.  In his book, James generally considered a 20-30 WS season an “All-Star season”, and a 30-40 WS season an “MVP-type season”.  Using those broad terms, Raines had four All-Star seasons, and four consecutive MVP seasons (1984-87) – he also had four other seasons where he had 19 Shares.

Conventional statistics make a strong argument for him.  Bill James, one of the founding fathers of sabermetrics, makes a strong argument for him.  If we head on back to baseball-reference, we can look at his WAR and JAWS scores, too.  Follow me!

His WAR / WAR7 / JAWS totals of 69.1 / 42.2 / 55.6 rank him seventh (tied with Manny Ramirez), tenth, and eighth, respectively.  Every single player listed ahead of him in any of those categories is in the Hall of Fame, aside from Bonds and the ineligible Pete Rose.  In each of those categories, Raines is above what the “average” Hall of Fame left fielder put up.  If you believe in these advanced metrics – and if you got this far, then I’m going to assume that you do – then Raines is truly deserving of the nod.

So what’s held him back so far?  A number of things, actually.  He never won an MVP award, though he certainly could have.  He peaked early, in a small media market (Montreal), and played at a lesser level for a long time in bigger markets (Chicago and New York).  He played at almost the exact same time as Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff man ever, and Raines’ amazing numbers are dwarfed by Rickey’s.  He wasn’t a slugger, and as mentioned earlier, he didn’t get 3,000 hits.

Raines’ voting momentum is going to be slowed this year, and in future years, by a backed-up ballot now and the newcomers with overwhelming resumes – Greg Maddux this year; Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez in 2015; and Ken Griffey, Jr. in 2016.  Fortunately, he still has several years to pick up about another 20% of the vote.  I hope he does, and so do a lot of Expo fans.

First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
  Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Barry Bonds 1986 2007 3 16 51.4 162.5 31.63%
Tim Raines 1979 2002 8 81 0.6 69.1 0.87%
Manny Ramirez 1993 2011 n/a n/a 39.2 69.1 56.73%
Lance Berkman 1999 2013 n/a n/a 49.7 51.8 95.95%
Matt Holliday 2004 current n/a n/a 40.3 40.3 100.00%
Ryan Braun 2007 current n/a n/a 35.4 35.4 100.00%
Alfonso Soriano 1999 current n/a n/a 29.2 28.6 102.10%
Carlos Gonzalez 2008 current n/a n/a 19.6 19.6 100.00%
Adam Dunn 2001 current n/a n/a 16.5 16.5 100.00%
Average WAR, LF = 65.0

Every other left fielder that I figure has a shot at future induction did not make James’ Abstract list a decade ago.  I’m not going to dissect each case to the extent that I did Raines’, but I do think a few words about each is important.

Ramirez – I think he’s retired; a lifetime .312/.411/.585 hitter with 555 home runs and 1,851 runs batted in; a 12-time All-Star with seven top-six MVP finishes and a best finish of third, twice; lost in the first two World Series he played in, and won in his last two; with 69.1 career WAR, ranks tenth amongst all left fielders; never fast, and a terrible fielder; probably a top 20 Jamesian left fielder.  He was an awe-inspiring hitter in a high-scoring era, but he still ranks at one of the game’s greatest hitters… it’s too bad he “retired” in 2011 rather than accept a second suspension for PED use, and voters will remember that.

Berkman – I’m calling him a left fielder because he played more games there than in right, and more total games in the outfield than first base; a six-time All-Star, with four top-five NL MVP finishes; led the league in runs batted in 2002, the only significant league-leading number on his resume; drove 1,234 for his career, along with 366 home runs; hit .410 in two World Series appearances, winning one ring.  A very durable player until 2009, and a very good hitter as well, probably ranks in the top 30 as an all-time left fielder… but not quite a Hall of Famer.

Holliday – ten years in, has made six All-Star appearances; has never hit under .290 in a full MLB season, and has hit .300 or better seven times; drove in 100+ runs five times; a lifetime .311/.387/.531 hitter who finished second to Jimmy Rollins in the 2007 NL MVP race; gradually losing the power aspect of his hitting game, he has 251 home runs.  Holliday will probably end his career as a top-40 left fielder, but not as a bonafide, slam-dunk Hall of Fame candidate.

Braun – has played seven seasons, earning an NL MVP, a second-place finish, and a third-place finish; per 162 games, averages 36 home runs, 117 runs batted, 22 stolen bases, and a .312/.374/.564 slash line… we can stop here.  He was suspended for PED use this season after winning an appeal earlier in his career.  Assuming he can sustain similar production for seven or so more years, he will have to hope that the attitudes of voters change when he is eligible for induction.  That’s possible – we’re looking at least ten or fifteen years down the road – but he’s not a popular guy right now.

Soriano – began his MLB career as a second baseman; made seven consecutive All-Star teams from 2002 to 2008; has hit 30+ home runs in a season seven times, and stolen 30+ bases five times; has 408 career home runs, 288 steals, and a lifetime line of .272/.321/.504; never won an MVP award, but finished as high as third in 2002; lost both World Series he has played in, both with the Yankees.  Despite the power and speed that he continues to bring to the ballpark (well, mainly power these days), Soriano’s low WAR total, bad defense, and lack of individual honors will all conspire against him when he’s hoping for votes.

Gonzalez – a lifetime line of .300/.357/.530; has gone 20-20 in each of the last four seasons; possesses three Gold Gloves in just six MLB seasons thus far; has only played 145 or more games in a season once; playing most of his career in Colorado has certainly helped his totals, evidenced by a 59-point difference in home/road batting average, and a 218-point difference in OPS.  It’s very early to look at his case, but until he starts playing full seasons, his career marks will be below the standard for Cooperstown inductees.

Dunn – just turned 34, he has hit 440 home runs and driven in 1,104 runners; has belted 38 or more bombs in a season eight different times, including a string of four seasons with exactly 40 home runs; despite a poor career batting average of .238, he possesses an excellent career mark in on-base percentage, of .366; he has also struck out over 2,200 times, making him the ultimate “Three True Outcomes” player (home run, walk, or a strikeout); a gigantic figure at 6’6″ and about 280 pounds, he is far from graceful in the outfield.  Despite the monstrous power that has made him a very successful ballplayer, his WAR total is very low, thanks to his poor defense and baserunning.  He’ll likely get the Dave Kingman treatment as it pertains to the Hall.

Montreal Expos

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Posted December 30, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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