Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 15, 2000
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame: Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey and Lance Parrish

(Originally posted 12/15/00 on the Boston Sports Guy website):

CATCHERS

I’ve already laid out the bones of the case for Gary Carter in my column on Tony Perez, and I intend to go back and do a more detailed treatment of the Carter vs. Fisk debate another day, so I’ll pass over him without much comment here. Carter is the easiest call of any of the plausible candidates on this ballot – in fact, I’m as sure he belongs in the Hall as I am that Candy Maldonado doesn’t. He’s indisputably one of the 10 best ever at his position. I would vote Carter IN.

Other than Carter, there’s no precedent for denying Hall of Fame induction to a catcher with 300 career home runs and a World Series ring, and Lance Parrish is a better candidate than you think. Parrish’s case is mostly based on the 4-year peak (1982-85) when he averaged 30 homers and 99 RBI a year, won 3 Gold Gloves, played for a World Champion, caught an MVP/Cy Young Award winner and terrorized opposing baserunners. But I have to vote Parrish OUT. Yes, there are a lot of Hall of Fame catchers who weren’t much as hitters, but it’s no answer to lower the standards to keep up with the worst mistakes the Hall of Fame has already made, and there are just too many negatives with Parrish.

Despite the great arm, Parrish was, at minimum, a controversial defensive player. Pitching coach Roger Craig called his pitches for him from the bench, and his handling of pitchers was the subject of much debate. I’m not sure how much to make of all that, since the men on the field voted him the Gold Gloves, but it’s a start. He only had six full seasons as a real star (1979-80 and 1982-85), plus one more outstanding year cut short by injury in 1986; the rest of his career he was a below-average player. Even in his best years he hit for a mediocre average at best and rarely walked, resulting in a career on base percentage of .313, which was poor even for the less offense-crazy 1980s. In 1984, having one of his better seasons and earning his only postseason appearance, Parrish’s OBP was .287. Eech.

Parrish’s career HIGH in OBP (.343) barely beats the LOWEST career OBP of any Hall of Fame catcher (Ray Schalk, .340). There are only four Hall of Famers with career OBP below .320, and they are all shortsops of dubious credentials from lower-scoring eras than the early-80s AL: Joe Tinker (.308), Luis Aparicio (.313), SS/P/Manager Monte Ward (.314) and Rabbit Maranville (.318). As a result of his failure to get on base, Parrish scored just 856 runs in 19 seasons, with a career high of 80. Maybe with 3 or 4 more years of 30 homers and 100 RBI that wouldn’t matter so much. Unfortunately for Parrish, you can fall short of either transcendent greatness or durability and still make the Hall... but not both.

FIRST BASEMEN

Three guys whose cases are startlingly similar: Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez, and Steve Garvey. Certainly these three don’t lack for recognition – all three played the prime years of their careers in the nation’s largest media markets; Hernandez and Garvey were also charismatic figures, fixtures in the postseason, and no strangers to off-the field scandal. Both have remained in the public eye since retiring, Hernandez as a broadcaster, Garvey doing infomercials.

Garvey and Mattingly both burst on the scene suddenly, and all three players were also washed up very suddenly – Garvey declining rapidly beginning at age 32, Hernandez at age 34, and Mattingly having his last truly great season at age 26 and his last star season at 28 due to back trouble. Mattingly and Garvey were short for pro ballplayers, and Hernandez wasn’t exactly known for his strict training regimen; none of the three were effective once their reflexes slowed.

The place to begin is in their primes; I started by looking at the 7-year stretch (1974-80, age 25-31) that comprises nearly the whole of Garvey’s case, and comparing Mattingly’s 4 great and 2 good ones (1984-89, age 23-29) and Hernandez’ best 8-year stretch (1979-86, age 25-32, actually prorated as a 7.67 year stretch because of the 1981 strike). That meant including seasons that were less than Mattingly’s best while excluding some that weren’t far off for Hernandez, but it just wouldn’t work to compare a
12-year peak to a 4-year peak.

Here’s the average season:

PLAYERGABH2B3BHRRRBIBBSBAvgSlgOBPOPSOutsPATB
Mattingly1536222034322797114491.327.530.372902444682330
Hernandez156573179355129388899.313.456.403859418671261
Garvey1616462013242388104389.311.480.348828474692310

(Outs includes Caught Stealing, Sac Flies and GIDP).

All hitting stats are not created equal, however. The average team scored 4.09 runs/game in the NL during Hernandez’ prime, 4.13 during Garvey’s – but the average AL team scored 4.52/game during Mattingly’s peak. While the DH is part of the equation there, the bottom line is that the runs put on the board by Hernandez and Garvey were about 10% more important in the context they played in. The technical measures like Runs Created/27 outs, when compared to the league, give Hernandez a significant edge over the other two on account of a much higher on base percentage.

Then there’s the parks. Yankee Stadium was a very mild pitcher’s park in Mattingly’s prime, depressing scoring by about 4% overall, which means only about a 2% drag on Mattingly’s numbers. Shea was a tough places to hit in the mid-80s, but while Busch was a brutal home run park it was actually quite friendly to high-average hitters like Hernandez in the early 80s; the net effects cancel each other out. Only Garvey’s stats were seriously influenced by his park; Dodger Stadium wasn’t the beast it had been before they chopped down the mound in 1969 and then moved in the fences in 1977, but overall from 1974-80 it averaged about a 9% reduction in scoring. We have to give Garvey credit for swimming uphill against that.

All three were good defensive players; Garvey was largely a stationary object, and a short one at that, but he was tremendously sure-handed, racking up several league leads and records for fielding percentage. That’s not a small thing, in an infield where the double play combination was a pair of converted outfielders, and something the Dodgers missed after Garvey left. Garvey won four Gold Gloves, before Hernandez came into his own. Mattingly was really outstanding with the glove, winning nine Gold Gloves. And Hernandez was just the best defensive player I could imagine at the position.

(If you never saw him play, it’s hard to describe how a first baseman can be such an impact player in the field. Just saying he won eleven consecutive Gold Gloves doesn’t do him anything near justice. He was a master at fielding bunts, often cutting down the runner at second, and covered an enormous amount of ground. He covered a multitude of sins handling throws. Who else could hold together an infield that sometimes included Wally Backman at second, Howard Johnson at third, and Kevin Mitchell at short – on a first place team? Is it an accident that the Cardinals won the World Championship the only full season that Hernandez and Ozzie Smith shared the infield?)

None of the three ran well; Hernandez had a ridiculous style of running with his toes pointed almost upwards, and Garvey in his later years became a GIDP machine. Hernandez and Garvey also compiled extensive resumes of clutch performance. We can debate whether clutch hitting is more luck and chance than skill, but honors like the Hall are for actual, not potential, performance; I definitely give some bonus points for outstanding postseason performances. Hernandez drove in the tying or go-ahead run in the seventh game of the World Series not once but twice in his career. Garvey did much better, setting a boatload of LCS records, winning two LCS MVPs, and leading his teams to five World Serieses. Garvey was truly a fearsome postseason performer.

Let’s look at the average Hall of Fame first baseman, by comparison; these are players from many different times and places and most of them weren’t the kind of glove men that Hernandez and Mattingly were, but it’s worth running the chart:

PLAYERAvgSlgOBPRRBIHOPS
AVG HOF.310.506.388131714152320894
Mattingly.307.471.358100710992153829
Hernandez.296.436.384112410712182820
Garvey.294.446.329114313082599775

All three guys would drag down the average in nearly everything. It’s obvious that Garvey doesn’t stack up here, heck, even his prime years don’t really stack up here; while he amassed respectable career totals, he just spent too many years as a below-average player. I don’t necessarily hold those years against him – you play your way into the Hall, not out of it – but I basically discard them in giving him any credit for longetivity, and all that’s left is seven very good but not truly great years (even when you take the park and era into account). Garvey's OUT.

Mattingly was considered one of the best players in baseball, but for only a brief moment and he was probably being a bit overrated; when you stretch out his prime by adding 1988-89 he already slips away from the pinnacle of true greatness inhabited by the likes of Hank Greenberg, George Sisler, Johnny Mize, and even Frank Chance in his prime, let alone people like Gehrig, Foxx, McGwire, Frank Thomas and Dan Brouthers. And after six years, there’s nothing left, not a single season worthy of the All-Star team and only one (1993) that even put him arguably in the top half of the league at his position. If he hadn’t gotten hurt . . . but he did. Mattingly’s OUT.

That leaves Hernandez, the strongest of the three candidates. STATS, Inc. has a “relativity index” comparing a player’s Runs Created/27 outs to the league average; Hernandez comes in in the top 20 first basemen of all time for his career, while neither Mattingly nor Garvey is on the chart. Most of Hernandez’ career was the good stuff – he was a significantly above-average hitter for twelve years, and was widely regarded when he played as the best defensive player ever at his position. He was respected as a leader, although when you combine his drug history with the lives of the people he led, you have to wonder. He played on championship teams, and was the best player on at least one team (the 1984 Mets) that won far more games than it had any business doing and another team (the 1986 Mets) that won 108 games and placed among the all-time great teams. He was a serious MVP candidate three times, splitting the award in 1979 and in the running in 1984 and 1986. From 1979 to 1984 he was rivaled only by Eddie Murray as the best in the game at his position (Cecil Cooper was a close third). He was among the league’s top 3 in on base percentage six years in a row and seven times in eight years.

It’s a very tough call, but I would leave Hernandez OUT. The Hall of Fame is an exclusive institution, and it can stay that way only by excluding the very, very good so as to truly honor the great. Hernandez was a critical component of winning teams, but except for 1979 he was never a dominant player, and his career still runs a bit short of the durability required for a player who wasn’t. Two or three more of his good years would make him a no-doubt inductee. He drove in or scored 100 runs only three times, and averaged 88 RBI a year in his prime; those numbers don’t suggest a great hitter – due to his poor foot speed, Hernandez wasn’t a run-scoring machine – and he played at a hitter’s position.

Hernandez was clearly a better player than Tony Perez or George Kelly or Jim Bottomley (or Frank Chance on the balance of his career, although Chance was both a superstar and a great manager in his prime), and fairly comparable to Bill Terry and Orlando Cepeda. But I wouldn’t have voted for Perez or Bottomley, and Kelly’s a bad joke as an “immortal.” Hernandez falls just short.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:17 PM | Baseball Columns | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

You are stupid. I am a Mets fan and hate the Yankees with every fiber of my being, but even I know The Don deserves to be in the hall. Jesus, Bob Uecker got in. The Don will forever be known as The Hitman. And Mex??? Keith Hernandez?? Best defensive first baseman ever??? You suck.

Posted by: daedge at August 1, 2003 09:18 PM

From your assesment I am gathering that you feel Hernandez was better than Mattingly. If that assumption is correct, let me applaud you.

Here are some thoughts I think are worthy of inclusion in this comparision...

Mattingly played at Yankee Stadium and had a short porch down the right field line for his entire career. Mattingly had Winfield in his lineup. Mattingly had RICKEY HENDERSON (the walking triple) in front of him. I wonder how many times Mattingly drove Henderson in? What has been the effect Henderson has had on other players he has played with? Mattingly's numbers are spectacular certain years but if you are going to compare him to Hernandez you must say that the lineups and stadiums were a world of difference.

Hernandez played in 30 post season games. His teams went 18-12 in those contests. He was walked 8 times intentionally. That works out to an average of 43 times walked intentionally over a 162 game season. Bonds coming into 2003 had been walked over 43 times intentionally twice in his career.

If Hernandez played at Yankee Stadium and had Henderson and Winfield in his lineup I think his numbers with homers and rbi's would have been better, but the bottom line is that I'll take two World Championships over more homers any day.

Posted by: HRSWHALERS at October 15, 2003 10:30 AM

Much as I despised Gary Carter when he was playing, I would agree he belongs in the Hall. (That he was good and such a hard-nosed player was why I despised him--I bleed Cardinal red.)

Mattingly is a no brainer NO to me. A few very good seasons don't qualify anyone. He did not EVER lay claim to the most dominant player in his league. Even in his supposedly MVP year in 1985 he wasn't as good as Brett (who I believe should have won the award) or his teammate Rickey Henderson. He won that award because sportswriters see huge RBI numbers and are unduly impressed. I'm not saying Don wasn't a great player for a time. He certainly was. But not good enough for enough time.

Garvey is also a very simple no. He was a key player on many championship teams...but that is about all he has to recommend him to the Hall. His career numbers just don't cut it, and I believe he is far overrated defensively. Sure handed he was, but no range.

Hernandez I must say is borderline. But I would vote for him. He was an outstanding hitter in his era. He played for championship teams. But what really puts him in in my opinion is his defense. He was the best defensive first baseman in his era...period. He may have been the best ever. So while he may be only marginal at 1B with his hitting stats, marginal is good enough when you are a legendary defensive player.

Posted by: jeff reid at February 1, 2004 11:40 AM

Hi.
I have a 1908 complimentary season ticket book from the Baltimore Base Ball Co. Made out to Wilbert Robinson. It has 31 unused tickets left. Would you know where I could take it to find out if it is Wilbert Robinson's signiture.

Thank You
F.Thrasher

Posted by: F. thrasher at April 28, 2004 06:51 PM

Mattingly has good offensive numbers but they are borderline numbers when evaluating whether he should be a hall of famer. When I write "borderline", I mean that his numbers, while providing a solid career, are not enough standing in isolation to get him into the Hall. Remember, Don was no slouch with a bat, because he has a .307 lifetime average. His problem is that because of a short career, he lacks the cumulative numbers (3000 hits, 450 homers, etc. etc.), that people look for in a no-brainer candidate.

The question is, therefore, is there anything else about this candidate that we can analyze?

Incidentally, I suppose that I could argue all day that "so and so" is in the hall and they have inferior stats to Don Mattingly, so let Don in. But I won't do that. Let's examine Don's game.

Mattingly's 9 gold gloves (which means that he dominated his position defensively) and his leadership that -- when coupled with his good offensive numbers, 1 MVP, several high finishes in MVP voting, and a 4 year period (not just a brief moment as someone mentioned) -- 1984 to 1987 -- where he was regarded as being either the best player in the game or at least in the TOP 3 that carry him over the threshhold.

Folks, it's time to acknowledge that defense is ONE-HALF of the game. If a player is DOMINANT defenively during his era, and has SOLID offensive numbers, albeit somewhat borderline, the player should be elected to the Hall of Fame. I think that no one will argue that DOMINANT offensive players with borderline (or in some cases downright BAD) defensive numbers should not get in. Let's start evaluating defense too. There are still great defensive players who would not get in because of terrible or below average offensive numbers (see Mark Belanger, Andy Carey).

But a guy like Mattingly gets the bump into the Hall because of his defense.

Also, I don't think players should AUTOMATICALLY get voted into the hall of fame b/c of injuries, but I do think that when you have a borderline candidate, it should at least give them a point or two of consideration.

Some borderline guys (Dick Allen, Jim Rice) get kept out of the Hall for being A-Holes, despite having hall of fame numbers, albeit close calls, so I think it should work the other way too. Mattingly was a good leader, and as Bill James says, "100% Ballplayer; 0% B.S." Let's get him in!

Posted by: Jeb Stewart at June 26, 2004 09:28 PM

It's amazing how many of these statistical websites exist on the Internet that try to make or refute Hall of Fame cases.
What's even more amazing is how every site appears to be created by someone that lives in the Mid-Atlantic Area; NY,NJ,&PA.
Garvey, Hernandez & Mattingly are all candidates that deserve to be elected by the Veteran's Committee (If they ever run out of Pre-1900 and Negro League Candidates).

Posted by: game_over at August 12, 2004 11:40 PM

It's very easy for people to deny the Garv, the Don, and the Mex. "They don't have the numbers" "The numbers" "The numbers" The point is... The Hall of Fame is overrated. I've been to the Hall and believe me, the memorabilia inside is more important than the plaques any day. Why? Because the Hall inductees are based on numbers alone. (It is going to get ridiculous when Rafael Palmero and Fred McGriff are inducted...)
I say look at each player the exact same way as the Boston Sports Guy did with ONE EXCEPTION. Lay off the comparisons. Ask one and only one question: What role did this player have to MLB? If the answer is,"This player was dynamic at his position and to the game"-- IN!
The Babe--IN
Hank Aaron--IN
Satchel Paige--IN
etc.
Trust me, this will exclude the players who hit 500 meaningless homers just because they stick around at Coors Field 'til their 50 years old. Someday, one will have to exclude the number 500 in the home run equation anyway... so why not exclude numbers as a final end-all to get into the Hall of Fame altogether?

Posted by: Bobby Arnold at November 24, 2004 12:43 PM
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