Friday, December 31, 2010

Ten Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame

Disclaimer: Yes, I know that MLB Network's "Prime 9" has covered this subject.  This site isn't a copy of that show, as I've been making these lists for years.  MLB Network does fine work, but I would never plagiarize from them. If there is some overlap, it is because I happen to agree with what they have to say.  So, without any further commentary, I present my (thematically relevant) list of the top ten players not in the Hall of Fame.

  • Note 1: For the purposes of this list, all players who are either currently or not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame are not included.  I also left off players who have been banned from baseball (such as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose).
  • Note 2: My minimum playing time for qualification was 1000 games for position players and 200 games for pitchers.
  • Note 3: Just because a player appears on this list doesn't mean they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  They just happen to be among the best of the players that aren't.
  • Note 4: No player who played before 1901 was considered, for statistical ease and difficulty of comparison.
  • Note 5: Unlike with my previous HoF lists, this one is ranked in preferential order.
  • Note 6: This list was the most difficult one I've done so far.  There are so many ways to compare players, and I was obviously working with a basically unlimited database.  If I've left out an obvious case, I'm sure there's a bad reason for it.  Feel free to inform me of it in the comments.  I'm more than willing to admit when I've messed something up.
1. Ron Santo, 3B (CHC): 66.4 WAR/342 HR/125 OPS+
Quick, name the obviously elite third basemen of all-time.  All right, time's up.  Your answer probably includes Eddie Mathews, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs, and Brooks Robinson.  There are nine third basemen in the Hall of Fame, meaning that the Hall has room for those five elites plus four not-so-elites.  Ron Santo falls somewhere in between those two groups, making him a clear choice for Cooperstown.  Unlike Whitaker, Santo's case has not gone unnoticed, and every two years when the Veterans Committee meets means it's time for Cubs nation to pray that Santo finally makes it this time.  Sadly, Santo passed away recently, but the drumbeat of Cubs fans will surely continue until they make room for Santo in the Hall.  So why should you believe me?  Here's how his stats rank among third basemen, all-time: WAR, 7th; home runs, 8th; OPS+, 12th; hits, 10th.  When you consider that many of the players ahead of him in those last three statistics would rank quite low in at least two of the other four, you can begin to appreciate Santo's consistency and all-around skill.  Had his playing career not been cut short by diabetes, which he admirably played through for fifteen season, Santo would probably have gotten to 400 home runs or 2500 hits.  He may not be in the Mathews-Brett group of players, but as the best third baseman of his era, Santo should be an obvious hall of famer.  It's a disgrace that the Hall itself hasn't realized that yet.

2. Keith Hernandez, 1B (STL): 61 WAR/128 OPS+/11x GG
At first blush, it may seem as if Hernandez is only here due to my Mets bias, but that would be doing Mex a great disservice.  No, Hernandez was one of the best (if not the best) fielding first basemen of all-time.  His 119 fielding value is first all-time.  He reinvented first base, and was able to play it at a gold glove caliber level well into his thirties.  Were it not for his gimpy legs, Hernandez would have lasted a lot longer than he did.  His defense certainly wouldn't have improved over time, but he might have been able to accumulate flashy offensive statistics that would help bolster his case.  As it is, his 128 OPS+ is thirtieth all-time, and his 2162 hits twenty-sixth, among first basemen.  Those aren't the numbers of an elite hitting first baseman, especially during the seventies and eighties, but they're way more than adequate.  His WAR of 61 is tenth all-time among first basemen, showing how just how good of a player he was (and how valuable his defense was).  Hernandez may not have been the most feared hitter, but he did win the MVP award in 1979, and finished in the top-ten for three straight seasons (1984-6) later in his career.  A good comparison to Hernandez is Ozzie Smith, except Hernandez was a much better hitter.  For his superb defense, along with some quality hitting, Hernandez is well-deserving of a spot in Cooperstown.

3. Bobby Grich, 2B (CAL): 67.6 WAR/224 HR/125 OPS+
Grich suffers from only playing thirteen seasons with at least 100 games, but don't let his apparently low numbers (such as his 1833 hits) fool you.  He was an all-time great second basemen, and merits serious reconsideration for Cooperstown.  Despite Grich's disarming offensive numbers, his 125 OPS+ is quite good, especially for a second baseman (it ranks sixth all-time, behind four hall of famers and Chase Utley).  In fact, Grich is one of two second basemen, along with Nap Lajoie, to rank in the top eleven all-time at fielding value, WAR, and OPS+.  There are just eight second basemen who rank in the top eleven in two of those categories: all of them except for Grich are hall of famers.  Grich's case is similar to Keith Hernandez', except Grich was a better hitter and Hernandez a better fielder.  If Grich had played longer, or played more during his career, he surely would have accumulated more than 2000 hits, and might have even hit 300 home runs.  As it is, he is fifth all-time among second basemen in that last statistic, which impressive considering his relative lack of hits, as well as longevity.  Grich was one of the best second basemen of his time--no mean feat, considering that he played alongside Rod Carew and Joe Morgan.  His initial vote percentage of 2.6% in 1992 was shameful, and undersells just how good of a player he was.  He is definitely deserving of more serious consideration than that, and might very well merit a spot in the plaque gallery.

4. Lou Whitaker, 2B (DET): 69.7 WAR/2369 H/116 OPS+
Whitaker was one of the best second basemen of his era, and should have a plaque right next to his double play partner of many years, Alan Trammell (see my previous post).  Sweet Lou's offensive numbers don't jump out at you initially, but his OPS+ ranks fifteenth all-time among second basemen (ahead of Roberto Alomar and Ryne Sandberg) and his WAR is good for seventh all-time.  From 1970-2000, however, his WAR ranks tenth among all players--not just second basemen.  When you take all of this and add some very solid defense (a 77 fielding value) you have a clear hall of famer.  I'll never understand why the voters allowed Whitaker to drop off the ballot after only one year of eligibility, but hopefully the Veterans Committee will one day fix that error.

5. Dick Allen, 1B (PHI): 61.2 WAR/351 HR/156 OPS+
Based on those numbers, you'd think that Allen would be a surefire hall of famer.  They don't, however, take two things into account: the fact that Allen only played eleven seasons with more than 100 games, and the conflict that seemed to follow Allen wherever he played (though mostly in Philadelphia).  What is indisputable, however, is that Allen was one of the most feared sluggers of all-time, relative to his era, and posted monster offensive numbers.  Out of his eleven aforementioned full seasons, he posted an OPS+ of at least 160 in seven of them.  He led the league in OPS four times, including his amazing MVP season of 1972, in which he hit 37 home runs with an OPS+ of 199.  He was also named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1964, when he had 29 home runs, 201 hits, and an OPS+ of 162.  What he suffers from most are the two things I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph: his relatively short career and lack of goodwill among the writers.  Somehow, he only peaked at 18.9% in his fifteen years on the HoF ballot.  His OPS+ is seventh all-time at first base (adjusted for all players with 40% of games at 1B, rather than the normal 50%, due to Allen's multiple positions), no mean feat considering who he is behind: Gehrig, Pujols, Foxx, McGwire, Mize, and Greenberg.  His WAR is just fourteenth all-time at the position--less elite of a spot, but still higher than Hank Greenberg and Tony Perez.  Allen's career was certainly too short, but it was long enough to cement him as one of the best hitters not only of his generation, but of all-time.

6. David Cone, SP (NYM): 194-126/2668 K/121 ERA+
Surprised to see Conie on this list?  You shouldn't be: he was one of the best pitchers of his era, and has a much stronger case for the Hall of Fame than the 3.9% of the vote he got in his first (and only) year of eligibility.  He was one of the most dominant pitchers of the late 80s through the 90s, and averaged 8.3 K/9: fifth all-time among pitchers with at least 100 decisions who are not in the Hall of Fame.  His 2668 strikeouts are fourth on that same list.  His ERA numbers are a tad high (his ERA+, along with a 3.46 ERA), but remember that he pitched during the heart of the steroid era.   From 1988-1999 he averaged a 15-8 record with a 3.15 ERA and a 131 ERA+.  The only players who did better over that stretch are Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson.  Cone's case suffers from a late career drop-off, but his numbers before his career unraveled in 2000 were good enough for a long enough period of time.  He'd have more wins to bolster himself if he didn't pitch for some pretty bad Mets and Royals teams.  I have no trouble saying that Cone is one of the best starting pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.

7. Sherry Magee, LF (PHI): 59.1 WAR/2169 H/136 OPS+
Who is Sherry Magee?  Good question!  He was a notoriously ill-tempered outfielder for the Phillies during the heart of the Dead Ball Era.  Hence, his seemingly-low numbers.  However, when given context, his statistics are all the more impressive.  Magee's OPS+ is twelfth, and his WAR eighth, among all players who played at least 1000 games from 1901-1919.  Everybody ahead of him in both of those categories (save for Gavvy Cravath, who had a 151 OPS+, but didn't play long enough to merit consideration on this list) is already in the Hall of Fame.  Magee isn't an obvious all-time great, but as one of the best hitters of his notoriously difficult era he deserves a spot on this list.

8. Dwight Evans, RF (BOS): 61.8 WAR/385 HR/127 OPS+
It seems to be in fashion to claim that Evans should make it now that Jim Rice is in the Hall, but I think Evans is deserving regardless of whether or not his former Boston outfield partner ended up making it.  In fact, I'll adopt the popular theory that Evans was better than Rice by quite a bit.  I won't, however, make that argument now; I'll just tell you why Evans is the eighth best player not in the Hall.  In his eighteen full (aka more than 100 games) seasons in the major leagues, all with the Red Sox, Evans only once had an OPS+ below 100.  His career OPS+, seen above, is actually pretty low for a right fielder, yet his WAR is eleventh among all right fielders.  This is due to Evans' supreme defense.  In fact, he is one of five right fielders to have both a WAR and a fielding value above 60.  When you look at the numbers of all corner outfielders in the Hall, Evans' WAR would be fifteenth (out of thirty five) and his fielding value, ninth.  Whatever obvious relative power shortcomings Evans had (though his 385 home runs is a tidy sum), he obviously more than made up for the with the other facets of his game.  One of the most feared and underrated players of the seventies and eighties, Evans should be in the Hall of Fame.

9.  Carl Mays, SP (BOS): 208-126/120 ERA+/.623 W%
Mays, he of the notoriously weak control, is best known for throwing the pitch that killed Ray Chapman, but that unfortunate incident shouldn't mar his otherwise outstanding career.  Over the nine seasons in which he was a full-time starting pitcher he averaged twenty wins and a 2.70 ERA (126 ERA+) per year.  Keep in mind that his career mostly came after the Dead Ball Era.  That's impressive dominance, even for the 1920s.  He only posted one season with an ERA+ under 100, and won twenty games five times (and had one season with nineteen wins in which he received MVP consideration).  The other pitchers of Mays' era in the Hall of Fame (such as Eppa Rixey, Chief Bender, and Waite Hoyt) all have a lower ERA+, a lower or similar W%, and a slightly higher or similar WAR.  Mays is not an obvious hall of famer, but he favorably compares to other pitchers of his age--many of whom are already in the Hall.  His blackballing over the Chapman beaning has been really unfair, and it is high time that Mays received his due for his impressive career.

10. Luis Tiant, SP (BOS): 229-172/2416 K/115 ERA+
Consider this: Tiant twice led the AL with an ERA of under 2.  He's in elite company with Hal Newhouser, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers to do that since 1919.  Besides those two seasons, however, Tiant was plenty dominant.  He had an ERA+ above 120 during eight full seasons, and struck out over 200 batters three times.  Actually, let's come back to those two great seasons; specifically, 1968.  Tiant went 21-9 with an ERA of 1.60 (ERA+: 186) and 264 strikeouts.  That's phenomenal, especially considering that 1968 is widely considered the "Year of the Pitcher."  He had the bad luck of recording this seasons at the same time that Denny McLain won thirty games (with a 1.96 ERA no less... but that's fodder for another article), depriving Tiant of a Cy Young Award.  Okay, back to Tiant's career as a whole.  He had 2416 strikeouts (6.2 K/9, which would rank him tenth among Hall of Fame starters), and while his ERA+ seems a bit high, it's still higher than that of quite a few other Hall of Fame pitchers.  Tiant is another borderline case, but his prolonged dominance and multiple favorable comparisons to already-enshrined hall of famers makes him a strong pick for one of the most overlooked non-HoFers.

Runners-up: Tommy John, SP (LAD); Jim Kaat, SP (MIN); Urban Shocker, SP (SLB); Jim Wynn, CF (HOU).


  1. How on earth could you not mention Bert Blyleven? It would be hard to not make him #1 on the list. Whether WAR or other advanced metrics, or strikeouts & shutouts, he is very high on the list of pitchers all time, & blows away ALL others eligible for & not in the Hall! He also does surprisingly well in any decent metric of peak value.

  2. Hi Mike. I agree that Blyleven is much deserving of Hall inclusion, as I stated in my article on this year's ballot. I wanted to separate this list from that, however, so I didn't include any players who are still on the Hall ballot or who aren't yet eligible (such as Blyleven).

  3. What about Tony Oliva? To me it's a no brainer that Oliva should be in the hall of fame.