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    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Re-Run: Future Hall of Fame, Corner Outfielders

    The corner outfield has traditionally been filled with stars. In addition, the baseball writers seem to have a fascination with the positions. More Hall of Famers have come from these two positions than any other offensive (as in, non-pitcher) position. Wikipedia lists eleven left fielders and twelve right fielders that have been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association (the normal method of making the Hall of Fame), and that’s not even counting Andre Dawson, who’s listed merely as “outfield”. So, with that kind of history, plenty of corner outfielders playing today should have a good shot, right?

    Well, not really. This group of players may be the weakest one I’ve covered. Sure, there are some locks, and some intriguing young players, but, if I were to list some current corner outfielders, you would generally be underwhelmed. But, then that’s partly why I’m doing this; to uncover the unexpected Hall candidates. So, let’s jump right in with some strong choices for future Hall of Famers.

    Manny Ramirez Based solely on his offense, Manny seems to be an obvious choice for induction. In his 17 (full) season career, the oddball outfielder has totaled 554 home runs, 2553 hits, and a .313/.411/.589 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) line, and could conceivably hit well enough to keep playing for several more years, despite being 38 (this year, he has a .313/.411/.589 line). For those into more advanced metrics, Ramirez has also put up 72.1 WAR for his career (WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is a stat that tries to determine how many wins a player has been responsible for based on all parts of their game; for example, Manny’s defense has actually cost him over a dozen wins. For reference, 70 WAR usually constitutes a lock for the Hall, while 60 and up usually marks a likely candidate).

    As for steroids, I’ve covered the issue of whether I think PED users will make Cooperstown before. To quote myself:

    “They eventually elected those who used substances ON a ball (Gaylord Perry, etc.). They've elected drug users (Paul Molitor, Fergie Jenkins, etc.). They've elected PED users, in the form of players taking greenies (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, among others). They've even elected various other cheats and poor role models (see, Pud Galvin, who used monkey testoterone, or Ty Cobb, a violent racist). Eventually, they will elect steroid users, even if it is grudgingly, and after time.

    In any case, most evidence that show that steroids significantly improve performance is dubious. Most research suggests they are closer to amphetamines-they don't actually improve performance, but allow a player to stay on the field. However, many of the players caught using steroids did so before baseball banned them. The same cannot be said for those who took greenies.”

    Vladimir Guerrero Guerrero may have already secured his spot in the Hall of Fame, particularly if he can keep playing as well as he has been this year for another year or so. At 35 years old, Guerrero has already hit 20 homers and 111 hits this year, to the tune of .309/.385/.566. These add nicely to his career numbers; through 14 full seasons, he has 2360 hits, 427 home runs, and a .321/.385/.566 line. That, combined with his 61.2 WAR, makes for a solid Hall candidacy.

    Bobby Abreu Abreu is an interesting case. As it stands now, he has almost no chance of reaching the Hall. At 36, through essentially thirteen full seasons, Abreu has 2204 hits, 266 homers, and a .297/.401/.488 line. But, on closer look, his numbers are much better than they first appear. In addition to those numbers, he also has 506 doubles (45th all-time) and 364 stolen bases. He also has 59.9 WAR. What has made him very good is his ability to avoid outs. He has walked 1308 times in his career; between his walks and hits, he has been on base 3543 times, good for 89th all time. Right now, that’s on the lower end of the Hall of Fame. It is very interesting to note that the Bill James Stat Calculator projects Abreu to finish reaching base about 4306 times in his career. That would put him right above Gary Sheffield and George Brett, and right behind Al Kaline, Dave Winfield, and Cal Ripken Jr. Also of note, the Calculator projects him to finish about 627 doubles, which would put him tenth all-time in doubles. If you have never thought of Abreu as a Hall-of-Famer, you may need to reconsider him in the future. 

    Magglio Ordonez Ordonez is interesting also, but for a different reason than Abreu. He lost significant time in his prime, playing in only 52 games in 2004 at the age of 30 and 82 games the following years. As it stands, for his career, the 36-year old has 2072 hits, 289 home runs, a .312/.372/.511 line, and 41.9 WAR in his 13 full seasons, and no true, consistent stretch of greatness to show. Some quick estimation of what he could have done in his missed time adds roughly 210 hits and 25 home runs. That may sound inconsequential, but I would imagine it is easier to hang around and reach 3000 hits if he stood at nearly 2300 today.

    Carl Crawford Baseball-Reference credits him as being in his ninth season, which really isn’t quite accurate, as he only played 63 games in 2002 (see, this is why I normally go through the trouble of listing FULL seasons). Still, wrap your head around this: Crawford turns 29 on August 5, he’s in his eighth full season, and he’s just now entering his prime. 2009 was his best season on record, and he looks ready to surpass that this year; he’s on pace to set personal bests in home runs, doubles, RBI, WAR, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and come awfully close in hits and batting average. He can do it all. He’s an incredible fielder. He’s a speed demon on the base paths (395 steals to 88 times caught; 99 triples, good enough to be active leader). He can hit for contact (1408 hits, .296 average) and power (207 doubles, 96 homers, .442 slugging), and may even be getting better at getting on base. He even stands at 32.1 career WAR. At the rate he’s going, I would have to say he will be a solid choice when he retires..

    Alfonso Soriano I think I may have been getting desperate for names when I added Soriano to this list. I figured he might have a chance, though as the Hall voters seem to love guys who can do multiple things. Soriano can hit, run, and play left field well enough that he might pass. Realistically, though, he has almost no shot of making the Hall. Through 10 seasons, he’s nowhere near any milestone that would guarantee election (1586 hits; 308 home runs; even his 261 steals seem far away from the 300-300 club). He hasn’t really had any phenomenal peak. And, he’s 34, meaning he’s more likely to get worse than better.

    Ichiro Suzuki I can’t see Ichiro not making the Hall. He’s not only a trailblazer for Japanese players in the majors, but also a great player. In ten seasons, he has 2155 hits, 364 stolen bases, a .332/.377/.431 line, and 48.4 WAR, while playing strong defense. And, despite being 36, he appears to still be going strong, with a .312 average and 125 hits this season already. He could have a chance at 3000 hits, even though he didn’t play his first major leagues season until he was 27. As a side note, between his years in Japanese baseball and his MLB career, he may end his career with more hits than Pete Rose.

    Matt Holliday I included Holliday partly out of curiosity-I knew he was a good player before he came to the Cardinals (which was when I started following him, of course), and wanted to see how he has been overall. He played his first season at the age of 24, back in 2004. A late start is never a good quality for a Hall of Fame career; it just hasn’t given him time to accumulate big numbers. For his career, he has 1140 hits, 170 home runs, a .317/.387/.544 line, and 30.9 WAR. He hasn’t had a stretch of phenomenal seasons, another way to get into the Hall (although, at 30, he may still have time). In short, he’s been solid thus far, but unless he sustains excellence into his 30s (which wouldn’t be unheard of), he doesn’t stand much of a serious chance in the election process (although this year may be his best season yet, just going by his seasonal WAR; I still wouldn’t bet on his chances, though).

    Nick Markakis I am also a fan of Nick Markakis, which may be the only reason I decided to cover him. (See, it’s complicated, but the Cardinals are my NL team, and the Orioles are my AL team. Let’s leave it at that.) Maybe it’s just the overly optimistic Orioles fan in me, but I think he has a chance to become at least a multiple-time All-Star, if not an eventual Hall of Fame candidate (even though he still hasn’t been picked to even a single All-Star Game yet). At 26, Markakis has 813 hits in his fifth season. He’s shown some power, through his 83 home runs and 193 doubles (hopefully, some more of those doubles will start to go over the fence). He has a .297/.369/.465 line and 16.5 WAR, and he still hasn’t entered his prime. Hopefully, he can continue to improve.

    Andre Ethier Ethier’s hot start is partly what led me to put him on this list. However, I think he doesn’t stand much of a chance at becoming a Hall candidate. Like Holliday, Ethier had a late start; both had their first seasons at the age of 24. However, Ethier, now in his fifth season, has yet to have any major stretches of greatness like Holliday’s 2007-2010. Even this year, after his quick start, he’s fallen of sharply. His career numbers currently stand at 665 hits, 91 home runs, 10.9 WAR, and a .292/.363/.495 line.

    Ryan Braun My first thought on Ryan Braun is that he is having a down year, by his standards. His .280/.332/.470 line is below his career line of .303/.357/.554. Basically, the difference comes from a lower BABIP, or batting average on balls in play (what this shows is basically how many times the balls he makes contact with fall in for hits). In his four seasons, he’s had BABIPs of .361/.305/.353/.304, good for a career number of .331. So, basically, that’s why he has lower numbers this year, compared to the past.

    As for his chances for Cooperstown, he basically has to continue to mash the ball. You may remember he had to move from third base to left field after his rookie season due to his poor fielding. Well, unfortunately, he’s still a poor fielder. The good news is, he can still hit well enough to make a run at the Hall. At 26, Braun has 634 hits, 119 homers, and 13.4 WAR. Considering he should have his best years ahead of him, he could make for a solid candidate.

    Josh Hamilton Hamilton, now 29 and in his fourth year, doesn’t have the advantage of time that some other players on this list have had. He didn’t make it to the majors until 26, and has been affected by injuries since then. His counting stats look low, at 504 hits, 84 homers, and 13 WAR. His rate stats are better, at .307/.366/.538. However, he does have several things going for him.

    One, he is, still technically, in his prime. He is already having his best season ever, and looks like a top choice for MVP. If he can put together a string of good seasons like this one, he might be able to get in on dominance. He’s obviously a talented enough player to do so. His talent may even give him several extra years to play, in that, when he does decline, he’ll still be good enough to play. The second thing in his favor is that the Baseball Writers LOVE a good story; Hamilton’s may be too good to resist. A former top draft pick who, after nearly being out of the league due to various drug problems, not only recovers, but also returns to baseball and becomes an All-Star. His 2008 Home Run Derby is already the stuff of legend. He’s in the running for the Triple Crown this year. Even if his numbers fall slightly short, the voters may give him a pass.

    Justin Upton I was actually surprised at how young Justin is. I remember when he was called up to help the Diamondbacks in their playoff run back in 2007, but I forgot just how young he was at that time. This is his basically his third season, and he’s only 22! So far, he has 381 hits and 59 home runs, as well as a .274/.355/.484 line and 7.8 WAR. He is racking up strikeouts at a rather rapid pace, but he’s hitting well enough to offset it. Also, he has been showing improvement in each season he’s played, so he has a lot of room to grow. As a really early analysis, I like his chances.

    Too Early to Tell: Brennan Boesch
    Mike Stanton
    Jason Heyward
    I can”t really make any projections on these three; I rely on Major League numbers more than anything to make my predictions. However, I would mark these three as a good place to start in the rookie class. Boesch is 25, so I don’t know whether he will have the time he needs to accumulate big career numbers. Mike Stanton and Jason Heyward are both 20-year old highly touted prospects, who likely have bright futures ahead of them (and, in the case of Heyward, have already put together some good numbers for this season).

    Just some quick post-script notes on this one. Hopefully, the Retired Numbers Series will continue some time next week. 

    Also, on this article itself, Vladimir Guerrero is interesting. I remember thinking several years ago that he was a likely future Hall member, but the general consensus at the time was "probably not". Well, it seems like some time between his last year in Los Angeles or his year in Texas, the general consensus became "Hall lock". I have no idea what triggered this change (and it isn't a bad thing), but it reminds of the sudden groundswell some candidates (Jim Rice, Andre Dawson) inexplicably receive in Hall voting (with the difference that Guerrero is still active).

    Also, I think I included Boesch not because I took him seriously as a Hall candidate, but because I saw one or two writers get crucified in their comments section right before I wrote this for suggesting Boesch couldn't sustain his hot start to 2010. I figured I might as well throw his name in just in case.

    Article originally posted 7/28/2010

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