Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Best Players Getting Snubbed by the Veterans Committee, Part 2

Here's the second part of my series looking at the thirty best Veterans Committee-eligible players who have been snubbed in the process. It directly follows the first part, which you can find here if you missed. Also, if you'd like to see my chart summarizing Veterans Committee ballots since 2000, that can be found here, with the annotation notes: non-player candidates are highlighted in red (Joe Torre gets an off-red color, since his first few ballot appearances were as a player), each column is a different year’s VC ballot, and X’s show seasons that they were nominees. Yellow means a candidate was inducted that year (with subsequent years blacked out), green means the player hadn’t been retired long enough for VC consideration, and light blue is years where the candidate wasn’t up for consideration (for example, how they currently consider certain eras at a time).

---

Willie Randolph (2B, 65.9 WAR)

Randolph is like what you would get if you crossed Lou Whitaker and Graig Nettles (see part 1). Randolph appeared on the 1998 ballot, hit 1.1% of the vote and vanished. Like Nettles, Randolph was a six-time All-Star and two-time champion on the ‘70s Yankees. I’m kind of wondering if the fame of being a Yankee only extends so far, though (something I alluded to last time); like, those ‘70s Yankees benefitted Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter’s cases (and maybe Ron Guidry, who got a decade on the BBWAA ballot), and that’s as far as it went. Nettles, Randolph, and Thurman Munson were just all out of luck. If that is the case, it’s not surprising that Randolph got the shortest end of the stick. His skillset was extremely un-flashy, with lower power totals (he actually has a higher OBP than slugging percentage) and an only-decent average supplemented with a great eye (he’s 55th all-time in walks!), solid baserunning, and a fantastic up-the-middle glove (but at not-shortstop, so it gets overlooked). For the last part, it probably also doesn’t help that he didn’t win any Gold Gloves (the defense component of Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement has him sixth all-time at the position, but Frank White is third on the same list and was racking them up during Randolph’s peak).



Reggie Smith (CF/RF, 64.6 WAR)

Center field isn’t quite third base, but it’s still overlooked in its own way when it comes to Cooperstown, with fewer members than the corner outfield spots. But it probably also doesn’t help that Smith spent the second half of his career in right field, either, naturally inviting that comparison. Smith had a typical career for an overlooked star (good-but-not-singular average and power with great plate discipline leading for a very good but well-divided total package; above-average defense at a difficult position, but maybe not the best ever). But I’ve also seen some speculation that splitting your career (in a variety of ways) hurts a player’s impression on voters, possibly making it harder for them to consider every facet of a player’s career as a single package. And Smith (8 years in Boston, 9 years in the NL between the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Giants; 800+ games at two positions) certainly fits that profile. He didn’t even reach 1% of the vote in 1988, and has not resurfaced since.



David Cone (SP, 62.3 WAR)

We finally have our first post-1900s pitcher. As I mentioned somewhat recently, it’s pretty weird that David Cone didn’t get more attention on the Hall ballot. Again, he’s a former Cy Young winner with a perfect game, he spent over a decade in New York between the Mets and Yankees, he has 5 World Series rings and All-Star appearances each on top of numerous playoff appearances, and he’s a generally likeable and memorable figure. He hit the ballot in 2009, which wasn’t a particularly crowded year. And yet, he didn’t even make it to a second ballot, finishing at 3.9%.

I’ve noted Cooperstown’s recent struggles to elect below-median pitchers to the Hall, and it should probably not come as a surprise that this is an area where the VC in particular has floundered. Prior to Jack Morris in 2018 (and Lee Smith the following year), the last pitcher they elected to the Hall was Negro Leagues star Hilton Smith way back in 2001.* The last pitcher with American League or National League experience was Jim Bunning back in 1996, a pitcher who, like Morris, got over two-thirds of the BBWAA vote at his peak but who ultimately fell short due to a crowded ballot towards the end of his term. Cone feels like he could be a good test case to reverse that drought, as a solid choice who only recently became VC-eligible, but so far, they’ve passed over him. We do have two open slots the next time the Today’s Game committee comes around, though, thanks to the induction of Lee Smith and Harold Baines. We’ll see if Cone gets one of those.

*The VC as a whole had a slight run of electing Negro Leagues stars in the late-‘90s, after years of neglecting them; I will again note that the recent reclassification of the Negro Leagues as major leagues would be a great excuse to work a committee focused on them into the VC rotation of era ballots, especially if they take my advice to vote on multiple eras in the same year.



Mark McGwire (1B, 62.2 WAR) #

McGwire made the Today’s Game ballot in 2017, the first year he was eligible (following a full ten years on the BBWAA ballot, peaking at 23.7%). But apparently, they weren’t interested in bringing him back in 2019, as he was the only player dropped from consideration. Two names were inducted from that 2017 ballot, and one of them was Bud Selig; it feels kind of insulting to see McGwire ignored in favor of the single biggest cause, facilitator, and beneficiary of the steroid era. I suppose if PED players are going to get in via the VC, it’s going to be a matter of chipping away at it, just like it would be any other way. The one big question is if McGwire will be the one at the forefront of such a process; after all, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be aging off the BBWAA ballot soon. Would the VC really use three or more slots on steroids-linked players? I kind of doubt it, and it’s hard to see McGwire coming out ahead of those two.



Jack Glasscock (SS, 61.6 WAR)

Glasscock has a lot in common with fellow Hall snub Bill Dahlen, as both are above-average hitting shortstops from the 1800s with 60+ WAR. But while Dahlen has been on three Veterans Committee ballots since 2000 (including the two most recent iterations of the Early Baseball ballot), Glasscock has been totally ignored. Part of it is probably their similarity (it might seem redundant to use two slots on two players with so much overlap), and Dahlen has the advantage of being the better remembered of the pair (he played a decade later, and even held on long enough to win a World Series, while Glasscock was done by 1895). Maybe if Dahlen gets in next time around (he fell four votes shy last time), that will leave an opening for Jack to step in.



Sal Bando (3B, 61.5 WAR)

It’s kind of weird how underrepresented the 1970s A’s are in Cooperstown. For a team that won three straight World Series and made five straight ALCS, you might expect them to get a little more than three elected players (especially since one of them is a closer, Rollie Fingers, and another is Catfish Hunter, who is sort of overrated among starting pitchers). Sal Bando is the biggest missing link there. But, as mentioned with Nettles and Buddy Bell , playing third base makes it hard to get attention.

Of course, Bando has other struggles that mask his value. Like Nettles, he was a low-average, high OBP player; in fact, he didn’t even reach 2000 hits (traditionally a death sentence for position players’ Hall chances) because he walked over 1000 times in just over 2000 games. That short career is another part of it (although he did have a high peak to help offset that, voters still like to see career totals the most). Some of it is that his biggest strength was his bat (119 OPS+, tenth all time among third basemen in the offensive component of bWAR), but he played in a pitchers’ park in a pitchers’ era that masked that (only a .760 OPS). Bando kind of needs the “dynasty member” narrative to stand a chance, especially since he’s directly competing (within his Era) with Bell and Nettles, who both at least have big round numbers to point to.



Tommy Bond (SP, 60.9 WAR)

Bond is yet another 1800s pitcher (see my rant on that from last time for a full sense of what that means), so he comes with his own boatload of caveats. In his defense, he did lead the league in various stats several times, so he was notable in his time, at least. To his detriment, he was very short-lived; he threw several hundred fewer innings than Tony Mullane or Jim McCormick, and his career was really only five years (from 1875 to 1879, Bond was worth 61.1 WAR; please note that his higher than his career total, which should tell you a lot about his other five seasons). There’s a reason his Hall Rating only works out to 103.



Willie Davis (CF, 60.8 WAR)

Davis is the probably the best player to never appear on a Hall ballot, VC or otherwise. It’s not surprising that he was overlooked in some way, but it is a little shocking that they couldn’t even find a reason to put him on the 1985 BBWAA ballot while at the same time adding players like Bobby Tolan and Ed Kranepool.

Even then, just looking over his career stats, there’s still a lot for even traditionalists to like here. 2561 hits! Nearly 400 doubles! Just shy of 400 steals! His average is a little low, but he did still manage a 106 OPS+ in a pitchers era at a pitchers park. Of course, the latter two factors also probably impact voters' evaluation of him. Also, it probably doesn’t help that the best part of his game was his defense, and he was completely overshadowed there. B-R’s defensive component of WAR has him as one of the ten best center fielders in history, yet he only won three Gold Gloves (in his 30s) because the NL Awards for most of his career were locked up by Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, and Curt Flood. That’s not even the type of thing you can feel angry about, those three deserved a ton of awards! It’s just hard not to wonder how he would have done had he been in the AL and wracked up another half-dozen or more Gold Gloves; would writers have properly considered him as a fantastic fielder, who also reached some big offensive numbers?



Charlie Buffinton (SP, 60.7 WAR)

Buffinton is yet another 1800s pitcher. I don’t know that he brings a lot to the table not already covered by Mullane, McCormick, and Bond.



Keith Hernandez (1B, 60.3 WAR)

It’s actually a little weird that Hernandez hasn’t appeared on a VC ballot at all, after spending nine years on the BBWAA ballot and peaking at over 10%. He was plenty decorated, including an MVP award, and played a good chunk of his career in New York. He may not have hit a ton of homers like most first basemen, but he still hit for good power with solid averages and fielded like one of the best at the position; but again, he was well-recognized for all of that during his career. Is it his cocaine usage that the Hall is holding against him? I kind of doubt it, since he’s still involved with the league and it seems like there are no hard feelings, plus other players from the ‘80s Drug Trials have made Hall of Fame and VC ballots. I think it’s genuinely a case of voters not realizing that you can provide a lot of value at first base while not looking like a prototypical slugger. Which I guess makes it feel a little like them not understanding how to evaluate, say, Sal Bando across the diamond; you just don't normally see that happening to first basemen.

1 comment:

  1. Very good summary. Hard to believe that some of these guys garnered no attention from the VC! Particularly David Cone.

    I agree with you on the 70's A's. They were a dominant force but totally overlooked. Very likely because they were a west coast team and not as favored as the Dodgers and Giants.

    ReplyDelete