Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Fred McGriff is a "No" for the Hall

While we were gushing over Ken Griffey Jr. voting totals (read my profile of him as The Almost Brave) or how Mike Piazza's back acne wasn't enough to keep him out of the HOF for a fourth year or how Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell look like they will get in next year...one topic was brought up on a couple of occasions by the AJC's David O'Brien. "(Fred) McGriff's total up, but still only 20.9 percent. Ridiculous." "He should get more (votes) IMO. A lot more."

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O'Brien is certainly entitled to his opinion. The AJC bars DOB from voting, but if he did, his hypothetical ballot would have had Fred McGriff, Junior, Piazza, Bagwell, and Raines on it along with Trevor Hoffman and Larry Walker. It's not the worst ballot - hypothetical or otherwise - but considering his support for the Crime Dog, my question is - and really the focus of this post - does McGriff deserve such a push?

I tend to side with "no." The problem with McGriff is really this simple - he really never stood out. He was a good player who accomplished some very impressive things, but during the era he played (1986-2004), he ranks 20th in fWAR with 56.9 . If anything should tell you about where a player ranks, it's a stat like that because it truly should benefit McGriff. I'm taking his whole career into account, but for other players, it might just be a part of their careers (players who began their careers before '86 or played beyond '04). If position accounts for much, McGriff ranks sixth among 1B during that time period. Here's the Top 5:

Bagwell - 80.2 fWAR
Rafael Palmeiro - 70.2 fWAR
Frank Thomas - 67.7 fWAR
Mark McGwire - 66.3 fWAR
John Olerud - 57.3 fWAR

Presumably, Bagwell will be elected next year and Thomas joined two years ago. Palmeiro and McGwire were tarnished by steroids. That leaves Olerud and McGriff, teammates in 1989 and '90 with the Blue Jays. Olerud certainly didn't reach the big HR numbers that McGriff did (he pulls ahead on defense), but their careers are pretty similar. Incredibly so, actually. Here is a glimpse at some stats to show that.



Yet, Olerud received 4 Hall of Fame votes in 2011 in his only year on the ballot. Just to be clear, I'm not arguing that there aren't other things at play here (namely 493 career homeruns), nor that Olerud deserved more consideration (or even equal consideration to McGriff). My only criticism here is that O'Brien's contention that McGriff deserves a lot more votes seems unrealistic to me. Juan Gonzalez, who was a better player than either McGriff or Olerud, barely lasted one year on the ballot before falling off.

It's worth mentioning that unlike McGriff, Gonzalez has some ties to steroids due to a weird incident in the Mitchell Report and accusations by Jose Canseco. Gonzalez denies it, but it likely played a role in stifling any support for Gonzalez sticking around on the ballot. This leads us to, essentially, McGriff's rallying cry. He did it clean. Unlike so many other power hitters of the time period, there has not been the first accusation that McGriff was on any performance-enhancing drug. Others, including Piazza, are voted against on the hint of allegations, but because McGriff doesn't have that, it seems like it makes his accomplishments more impressive.

The problem for me is that this argument does little to help a player's claim as one of baseball's elite. That's the whole purpose of the Hall of Fame, no? It reminds me all too much of the arguments presented about Dale Murphy. The numbers and on-the-field accomplishments fell short, but Murphy was a "Hall of Fame person." In an era where we penalize potential Hall of Famers for their personal demons, should we prop up someone who did it the "right way" even if that "right way" wasn't good enough to lead to a Hall of Fame career? My answer is an emphatic no. I love Murphy and I especially love McGriff. In this blog, I've announced my Favorite Braves team - guys I watched and loved. He's my starting first baseman. But that's not enough for me to turn a "no" into a "yes" when it comes to the Crime Dog's candidacy for the Hall of Fame.

I hate to use this cliche, but McGriff definitely is a member of the Hall of Really Good Players. He was never a top player, either at his position or in his league, but he was very consistent and posted an wRC+ of 131 to 162 each year from '87 to '94. His decline from greatness happened the next year, but he remained productive up until 2003 and 2004, when he stuck around essentially to reach 500 homeruns. He was also great in the postseason, belting 10 homeruns as a Brave with a .917 OPS.

But Hall of Famers should be compared to the players at their position while they played as part of the criteria and McGriff falls short - especially compared to the careers of Thomas and Bagwell (one a HOFer, the other soon to be). Increasing the timeline to include the last 30 years, McGriff's career falls further into perspective. If he's a Hall of Fame player, is Lance Berkman? If McGriff is in the Hall, why isn't Olerud? Why isn't Will Clark? Or Keith Hernandez?

Here's one final thought on McGriff. In his 19-year career, he led his team in bWAR just three times - twice with the Jays, once with the Rays.

He simply never stood out.

1 comment:

  1. Standing out is hard to do if you're standing among cheaters.
    McGriff did lead the league in home runs twice with 36 and 35. He had a .924 OPS in 1989, good for 1st in the american and 5th among both major leagues while his .930 OPS in in 2001 was good for 31st. 36 home runs tied McGriff for 2nd among major league hitters in 1989. 36 home runs ties for 21st in 2001.
    5th to 31st and 2nd to 21st, that is the impact of anabolic steroids in what appears to be their peak year of use.
    McGriff stood out as a home run hitter at age 19, that can not be said for many home run hitters in peak steroid use years.
    Since you mention Will Clark, there is a picture of Will Clark and Mark McGwire standing together at the 1990 All Star game and a picture of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire standing together at the 1998 All Star game. Placing those pictures side by side creates an interesting view of changes in baseball in that period. The pejorative term "hall of the very good" is silly. Chick Hafey is not mistaken for Babe Ruth and Jesse Haines HOF presence does not diminish Walter Johnson's achievements. A Hall of Fame recognizes measures of fame, it's not creating deities.
    I would add about 100 baseball players to the Hall of Fame based on the impact the players made when the games were played. PED use needs regulated in the present, if that is a desired goal. It took MLB a number of years to conduct tests forcing out readily detected anabolic steroids like Dianabol and Deca Durabolin. Their lacking presence is readily discerned. Professional baseball has the resources and needs to use them to take blood samples for HGH and testosterone before every game if it wishes to get them out of the sport. Those 2 substances help keep highly paid players on the field, so there is incentive to conduct tests in ways allowing their use, not prohibiting it.
    Chris Davis is possibly taking Vyvanse in excess of therapeutic use. It is unlikely the Baltimore Orioles would bring that to MLB to investigate if it received such a report. The Orioles have a contract paying Davis $23 million a year for the next 7 years and would not appreciate receiving his 2014 performance for that money if he were at a lower dose. Numerous athletes are seeking out and receiving such exemptions. The exemption is a gateway to an advantage. There are over 100 exemptions for drug use by professional baseball players, nearly all of them kept confidental.
    Moralizing about past PED use with a Hall of Fame vote or no vote is a sad little exercise by small minds. PED use will never be investigated by american sports writers even though they are widely present. The critiques of al Jazeera's coverage of PED use in american sports were not on the merits of the investigation, it was on the audacity of a foreign Muslim associated media outlet doing the report. It's improbable Ryan Howard or Ryan Zimmerman will be awarded damages suing al Jazeera. It's a certainty any baseball writer doing that report would no longer be a baseball writer.
    I have no strong opinion about PED use in professional sports, merely observations about business. It was good business to keep Sammy Sosa with his 55 pound muscle weight gain out of baseball in the wake of congressional hearings. It was also good business for Sammy Sosa to hit 66 home runs in 1998 after 2 shortened seasons had damaged the business. Median attendance per baseball game increased by 5000 in 1998 over 1997. Sosa isn't returning his MVP, people attending the games aren't demanding refunds.
    I view baseball writers who have Hall of Fame votes as dim petty hacks. This essay is representative of how baseball writers see Fred McGriff, so it supports my view.

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