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    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    Re-Run: Future Hall of Fame, Center Fielders

    History is littered with great center fielders, almost none of which have made the Hall of Fame. Only seven center fielders have made it to Cooperstown via the traditional method (election by the Baseball Writers’ Association). Two of those elected are Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, who were elected in the first and second votes ever taken, respectively. So, from the Hall’s third election on, only five center fielders have been voted in in the standard way. After third base, center field may be the most underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame.

    Currently, the position of Center Field is in something of a flux. There seems to be a slight “new guard/old guard” movement going on. As I compiled a list of players to cover, I noticed a definite split in age groups; players in their mid-to-late 30s with a good shot at enshrinement in Cooperstown, and players in their early twenties with their best years likely ahead. In between that, there are some good players, but no one in the group remotely resembles anything near a Hall of Fame candidate (if you would like to argue that, say, Marlon Byrd or Aaron Rowand is a Hall of Fame candidate, feel free, but don’t expect me to take you seriously).

    Admittedly, several recently retired center fielders have cases for election. Recent retiree Ken Griffey Jr. looks like a first-ballot lock. Kenny Lofton and Bernie Williams have both retired recently, and may be better than you realize (especially in Lofton’s case). However, I decided to only cover current players, and so I must leave these players out.

    Jim Edmonds As a Cardinals fan, I have long hoped that Edmonds might work his way to an induction. A glance at his numbers indicates that he is a more than qualified candidate. For his 16-year career, he stands at 389 home runs, 1933 hits, and a career line of .284/.376/.526 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). He provided great defense, and has eight Gold Gloves to show for it. He has a career WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, of 67 (WAR combines all aspects of a player’s game and adjusts for things like position; 70 WAR is usually a lock for the Hall, and anything over 60 usually warrants discussion). He’s playing well enough this year as a 40-year-old with the Brewers that those numbers will likely increase. Excluding 1999, in which he was injured, he hit 25 or more home runs every year from 1995 to 2005, hit over .290 every year in that same stretch with the exception of one year, and provided exceptional defense at a tough position. A player who does all of that should be in the Hall.

    Johnny Damon Realistically, Damon only has one shot at Cooperstown. His 213 home runs aren’t impressive. Neither is his .288/.356/.438 career batting line, or his 41.9 WAR. However, he’s 36, and, through 15 seasons, has 2514 hits, making him a very likely possibility to join the 3000 hit club. Reaching that would probably ensure his induction. He has 89 hits already this year, and his totals for the last three seasons have been 155, 168, and 144, so reaching 3000 would not be difficult at his current pace.

    Andruw Jones Jones has rebounded nicely from his atrocious 2008 with the Dodgers. He recently reached his 400th career home run, and stands at 401 home runs in his 14 full seasons. He also has 1817 hits, a .256/.337/.486 line, and 69 WAR (It’s worth noting that he actually LOST a career win due to his 2008 season). At 33, he may also have time to rack up larger numbers. It’s easy to forget now, but like Edmonds, Jones blended stellar offense with incredible defense; Jones’ ten Gold Gloves serve as a reminder of that (As a side note, if you’re a fan of advanced fielding metrics, go look up Andruw’s career UZR; it’s pretty impressive, to say the least). Based on that, I would say they both deserve to go in.

    Torii Hunter Torii is an interesting case. He started his career as a decent hitter and well above-average fielder. As he’s gotten older, his defense has been declining (not that that will stop him from winning more Gold Gloves-he won his ninth last year), but his hitting has improved. That in and of itself isn’t shocking; what is surprising is that this season and last are his two best offensively, and they came at the ages of 33 and 34. In 12 full seasons, he has 347 doubles, 250 home runs, 1604 hits, and a .275/.332/.473 line, with 31.9 WAR. If he can continue to age well, he may make his case for the Hall. As it stands now, though, I would have to say no.

    Carlos Beltran It had never occurred to me just how many good center fielders there were in the last fifteen of twenty years until I got to Carlos Beltran. Again, we have a player who can both field and hit well, playing a tough position. 33-year old Beltran is in his twelfth season, and already has 273 home runs, 1711 hits, 53.1 WAR, and a career line of .283/.360/.496. As it stands, I would put his chances of election above Torii Hunter’s, but not quite as high as Jim Edmond’s or Andruw Jones’. One thing that may hurt him is that he is rather underrated, compared to the other three. Nevertheless, I think that, should he keep his numbers up, he will make it eventually.

    Grady Sizemore Two years ago, I never would have guessed that Grady Sizemore would have the problems that he has today. He posted four straight strong years (2005 to 2008), an impressive feat coming from from someone as young as he was. However, the last two years have been marked with injury. At 27, he’s in his sixth season, and has 129 home runs, 888 hits, a .272/.363/.477 line, and 28.2 WAR. He was a good defensive player until his injuries. Only time will tell if he returns strong from the DL.

    Matt Kemp Kemp is an incredibly talented young player, and has a lot of potential to add his name to the list of Hall of Fame contenders. He’s 25, and playing in his fourth full season, and already has 78 homers, 596 hits, 10 WAR, and a .292/.341/.478 line. It is worth noting that he is much better defensively in right field than he is in center, so I don’t know how long he’ll stay a center fielder.

    Too Early to Tell: Andrew McCutchen
    Colby Rasmus
    Adam Jones

     All three of these players look to have promising futures. Jones is the 24. He also has the most experience, in his third full season, with parts of two others (Both Rasmus and McCutchen were rookies last year, and both are 23). The Orioles and Cardinals are my two teams, so I say this with great excitement: look forward to some great things from these three.

    Very Unlikely: Mike Cameron
    Curtis Granderson
    These two are both good players, but I don’t think either has a realistic shot at the Hall. Mike Cameron is 37, and just hasn’t done enough to make his case for the Hall, with only 50.9 WAR to his name.

    Granderson is only 29, so he does have time. However, most of his numbers have been trending the wrong way.

    Article originally posted 7/26/2010

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