So, Ozzie Guillen, in a recent interview, apparently started promoting Paul Konerko for the Hall of Fame. The interview, as a whole, came out as a mess that bugged me in so many ways. I could go on all day just about his quote that “there’s [sic] not that many good players out there anymore”. I would argue the opposite, of course-that there are more good players now than ever before. But I digress. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he did it to praise Konerko. I want to focus on the Hall of Fame stuff instead.
I could go on all day about the steroid stuff, too. Part of Guillen’s case is that Konerko “did it clean”. I would argue that doesn’t matter, as I think players should be compared against their own era, and it probably doesn’t matter anyway, as there’s probably already some Hall of Famers who used steroids, and there are definitely others that used performance enhancers, and so on. I would also point out that there are numerous other players who are contemporaries of Konerko and have also not been connected to steroids, but who have had similar yet more successful careers (among them Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Todd Helton...). But I’ll also ignore that for the moment. Let’s just look at Konerko and determine, in a vacuum, is he a Hall of Famer?
Last year, I did a quick run-down of potential future Hall of Famers by position. I came to the conclusion that, no, it isn’t looking likely. Has his case changed much? Well, he currently has 1940 hits, 381 home runs, and 1208 RBIs. In RBIs, he trails players already thought of as borderline, like Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, and John Olerud, as well as players thought of as nowhere near Hall of Fame material, like Carlos Lee, Matt Williams, and Dave Kingman. But RBIs are overrated, so what about hits? With 1940 hits, he currently trails players like Rolen, Adrian Beltre, and Jim Edmonds; however, all of those players also have/had very strong defense and harder positions to go with their hits. Among first basemen, he currently stands next to players like Wally Pipp, Tino Martinez, and Gil Hodges. All of them are strong players, but none of them have much Hall support (and for good reason). His 381 home runs also sound strong, but home runs have been up across the board for the last few decades. Players like Andres Galarraga, Jason Giambi, Dave Kingman, Carlos Delgado, and Fred Mcgriff all stand ahead of Konerko in total home runs.
What about more advanced stats? Maybe, what he lacks in totals, he makes up in value that isn’t as well-known. Well, OPS+ measures a players On-Base Plus Slugging compared for their era, and accounts for things like home park advantages. 100 means a player is league-average, 110 means they have been 10% better than average, and so on. Konerko currently stands at 121. That ties him with Derrek Lee and Hideki Matsui, and puts him just behind players like Carlos Pena (122) and Nick Johnson (124). Furthermore, as Konerko ages, he’ll likely see that number drop as his ability declines. For another way to look at it, there’s WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. WAR looks at all parts of a player’s game: defense, offense, base running, position, and games played, and determines a player’s career value. Going by Fangraphs, players usually enter the Hall of Fame discussion at 60 Wins, and 70 Wins makes a player a virtual lock. Konerko stands at an unimpressive 26.7 Wins, well below numerous other players.
Not helping matters is Konerko’s age: he’s currently 35, an age where many ball players start to feel the effects of age. He did have a great season last year, and he’s off to a hot start this year, but as I pointed out this offseason with regards to Aubrey Huff, first basemen in their mid-thirties are quite capable of sudden collapse. There’s a chance Konerko might hang around and rack up just enough hits or home runs to reach a milestone, but it doesn’t appear terribly likely at this point.
This isn’t to say that Konerko isn’t a good player. He’s managed to play numerous years at the highest level of baseball, and he’s had great seasons for the White Sox. They can retire his number if they wish; there would be nothing wrong with that. But all indications right now are that Paul Konerko is nowhere near a Hall of Fame player.