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    Sunday, July 31, 2011

    Re-Run: Future Hall of Fame, Middle Infield

    The second true entry in the Future Hall of Fame Series. Second base and shortstop were lacking in candidates individually, so I combined them.

    The middle infield is a rather odd position to consider, as far as Hall of Fame goes. Middle infielders have, in general, been known primarily for their defensive prowess and considered worse offensively than most other players due to their harder positions. Additionally, many see drop-offs in their performance around their early 30s (specifically, 32-34). Therefore, you may be surprised to find out that that the Hall of Fame voters have less trouble electing middle infielders than, say, third basemen. Nine second basemen and ten shortstops have been elected to the Hall of Fame, compared to six third basemen (I was shocked too).

    In any case, with these players manning the positions, it’s unlikely those middle infield Hall of Fame numbers will stay there for long.

    Derek Jeter Really, it seems almost pointless to review whether or not Derek Jeter will make the Hall of Fame. He is the last of the 90s’ “big three” of shortstops still at shortstop, and has even improved his defense over the years to remain at the position into his mid-30s. His bat has been both solid and consistent, with a .316 lifetime batting average. 3000 hits has slowly gone from “Will he...?” to “When will he...?” For those into advanced metrics, Jeter’s already accumulated 70.1 Wins Above Replacement (or WAR, a stat that tries to account for all parts of a player’s game and determine how many wins they alone have contributed; around 60 you reach numerous Hall members, and around 70, you reach the first-ballot members). Oh, yeah, he also has some playoff success; you may have heard about that.

    In reality, his candidacy has moved into the Cal Ripken phase: when Jeter retires, most writers won’t be wondering whether or not he will be elected, but rather whether or not he will be unanimously elected.

    Jimmy Rollins I don’t know if I’m surprised by Rollins’ chances for the Hall of Fame. I initially did not think to have him on my list from last winter when I started listing which players I would cover, but felt his omission was rather glaring my second time through. In reality, his chances to make the HOF at this point are somewhere in the middle. He likely won’t reach any major milestones; he’s 31 years old, and, in his 10th full season, has only 1653 hits and 150 home runs. His averages (batting/on-base/slugging) are surprisingly low, at .274/.329/.439. His 329 steals come at an impressive 83% success rate. He’s provided above average defense. However, age may be catching up with him; he’s missed time with injuries this year, and his batting average and OPS have fallen every year since they peaked in 2007 at .296 and .875, respectively. (His 2010 OPS stands at .810 right now, but he has only played in 26 games this year, meaning we may just be seeing a hot streak, or a lack of wear from the season, etc.) His WAR is an uninspiring 35.5. Also, at 31, he stands dangerously close to the age where many middle infielders see a fall-off in their abilities.

    Chase Utley Chase Utley has a much stronger case for the Hall of Fame than his double play partner. His offense has been much stronger; he already has 1051 hits, 172 home runs, and a .294/.380/.518 career line, despite not getting a regular shot in the Majors until he was 26 (As it stands, this is his sixth full season). In addition, he has been a much stronger fielder than Rollins, as demonstrated by their Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Interestingly, he is only three weeks younger than Rollins, meaning he is also approaching the age where middle infielders drop off. However, I’d say he has a better chance of making it through that age, if only because he’s done so much better than Rollins up till now. (For those interested, Utley is already at 42.3 WAR in less time.) Also, his run of excellence may also help his candidacy; voters like players who have a dominant stretch, meaning if he can play even semi-decently for a few more years, he very likely could lock up a spot. However, we will have to see what effect his recent injury will have.

    Jose Reyes Like Rollins, Reyes played his first full year at 22 (although he had two partial years before that). However, he has started to miss time as of late. At 27, he is up to 1048 hits, 69 home runs, and a .285/.336/.433 line. Also an above average defender, and has 24.5 WAR for his career. Really, he’s been just slightly better than Rollins, so the same questions will apply. If either of them is to make the Hall of Fame, they will have to keep up their numbers for several more years. Neither has had a stretch were they have dominated, so they need to remain very good for a sustained period.

    Robinson Cano Cano already has an advantage on Rollins and Reyes in that he has already had fairly strong offensive seasons. Cano is in his sixth season, and, at 27, is having his best season: he looks poised to set personal bests in home runs, RBI, on base percentage, slugging, and WAR. If he keeps these up through the rest of his peak years (say, until he’s 30), he could very well solidify his position in the Hall. Even if he falls back to his numbers before this season, it wouldn’t necessarily be an end to his chances; he would just have to keep those numbers up slightly longer. For those interested, for his career, Cano has 985 hits, 103 home runs, 449 RBI, a .310/.344/.488 line, and 16.8 WAR.

    In short, if he follows a semi-standard career arc, he’ll have a decent shot.

    Hanley Ramirez Ramirez may be the closet thing to a lock after Jeter on this list. He’s 26, and, in five seasons, already has notoriety (a Rookie of the Year, 3 All-Star selections, 2 silver sluggers, 3 top eleven finish in MVP, including second place last year). His numbers largely back it up, with 863 hits, 116 home runs, a .314/.385/.526 line, and 26.9 WAR. And he’s even improved his defense, from “butcher” to “average”. And he still likely has his best years ahead of him.

    Ian Kinsler I feel that Kinsler may have the weakest chance on this list. He’s 28 and only has five seasons under his belt, meaning he has a later start than most of his fellow list-mates with the exception of Chase Utley. However, he has not dominated in the manner that Utley has. For his career, Kinsler has 14.8 WAR, 624 hits, 86 home runs, and a .282/.357/.471 line. This doesn’t look bad compared to some of the others, but he is also less likely to improve than most of the players on this list. He could peak late in his career, as some have done. But, as it is right now, he has been “merely” an All-Star, instead of a Hall of Famer.

    Troy Tulowitzki Troy’s chances aren’t looking exactly shabby, either. the 25-year-old is in his fourth season, and has 532 hits, 74 home runs, 14.1 WAR, and a .286/.359/.478 line. Even more encouraging, he has improved massively. In his first two seasons, he was essentially a just-above-average hitter with a great glove. Now, he’s more of a great hitter who plays above-average shortstop. Another player who could likely make it in the HOF by keeping his performance at his current level for a few years. However, given that he has continued to improve, it’s likely he could surpass this expectation.

    Dustin Pedroia Pedroia is 26, and debuted the same year as Tulowitzki. He’s already achieved some fame (a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, 3 All-Star Games), which should help his election. It may be hard to believe, given their reputations, but Troy has become the better hitter, while Dustin has become the better fielder. For his career, Pedoria stands at 666 hits, 54 home runs, a .305/.370/.461 line, and 18.1 WAR. He hasn’t shown as much improvement as Tulowitzki, but he has been much more consistent, which, with his numbers, is good enough. I would have to put his chances at induction at least as high as Tulowitzki’s, if not slightly higher (if only because he plays in a bigger market).

    Too Early to Tell: 

    Elvis Andrus I really don’t feel qualified to make a call on these next three hitters, for various reasons. Andrus has been a below average hitter in his (season and a half long) career thus far (although, this is somewhat mitigated by playing shortstop). However, his offensive numbers have shown improvement, and his defense is already solid. He made his first All-Star team this year, but only time will tell if he makes the team regularly. As a side note, he may not need to become a superb hitter to gain election-obviously, he’d increase his chances if he did. But, if he stays at average/slightly above-average hitter and keeps playing defense as well as he has, he may receive induction via the Ozzie Smith route.

    Gordon Beckham I have no idea what to make of Beckham. His numbers last year were solid for a 22-year-old rookie, but his numbers this year have been pitiful. We’ll have to see if he can improve.

    Martin Prado Prado is 26, and just found regular starting time last season. However, since 2008 (when he played about half of a season), he has been a decent hitter. His career line so far is .316/.365/.466, and he does lead the league in hits, average, and total bases so far this season. Only time will tell if he follows the same path as Chase Utley, though.

    Very Unlikely:

    Brian Roberts
    Rafael Furcal 

    For various reasons, I feel like these players will not make the Hall of Fame, but I included them. As an Orioles fan, I feel like I need to include Roberts. He was one of the few good things about the O’s for many years. He has solid career numbers, including 319 doubles, 258 stolen bases, 1276 hits, and 27.5 WAR. However, he’s 32, and has already missed much of the year due to injury. As much as I would like to find some way to reward him for his time with some truly awful Orioles teams, I can’t. Furcal has also had some good years, but, like Roberts, he’s 32, has already been injured this year, and, in general, hasn’t done quite enough to vault himself into consideration.

    Article originally posted 7/9/2010

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