Monday, January 23, 2017

The Top 10 Braves Not in the Hall of Fame

Last Wednesday, the 2017 Hall of Fame class was announced with first timer Ivan Rodriguez joining Jeff Bagwell and long-overdue Tim Raines as the latest inductees into Cooperstown. It got me thinking - who are the best Braves not in the Hall? And why just think it when I can attempt to quantify it? Hence, today's list of the top ten Braves to be shut out of Cooperstown. To be clear - this list isn't ten players who should be in the Hall of Fame. It's not a great injustice that these ten players collectively aren't in the Hall. I feel like only one really deserves it while others have legitimate arguments, but I feel aren't Hall of Fame-worthy.

To preface this list, let me tell you how I arrived at the Top 10. This is a Braves-centric blog with a Braves-centric list. These are players who, if they are ever enshrined, would have gone into the Hall as Braves (or Beaneaters, Doves, etc.). A good example of someone who doesn't apply for this list is Gary Sheffield. A borderline choice for the Hall of Fame, Sheff is a no-go for this list because he only played two years with the franchise. Fred McGriff spent five years with the Braves, but missed this list as well. McGriff only had 11 bWAR as a Brave - way too little to make this list. To put it in another way, a player's accomplishments elsewhere are meaningless.

Well, that's not entirely true as I'm not going to split all of their stats up by franchise - especially the Hall of Fame metrics. However, I will split up WAR because that's pretty easy to do so the WAR I list is limited to the player's time with this franchise. I wanted to make my reasoning clear before you comment "Crime Dog!" or "Billy Wagner!"

I tried to use era-comparable stats like WAR (both main versions), wRC+, and FIP over traditional counting numbers. FIP isn't perfect, but I don't really have a pitcher's stat that compares well from era to era. Further, consideration was given to other stats which tried to compare the player's accomplishments and numbers to members already in the Hall of Fame (HOFm, HOFs, JAWS). For more information on HOFm and HOFs, click here. To read up on JAWS, try this.

Finally, a player actually has to be eligible for induction, which keeps out Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones.

With all that out of the way, here are the Walk-Off Walk Top 10 Braves Players not in the Hall of Fame.

10. Johnny Logan
33.0 bWAR, 31.1 fWAR, .321 wOBA, 96 RC+
28 HOFm, 19 HOFs, 31 JAWS

The everyday starter at shortstop for the Braves between 1952 and 1960, Logan was considered a spark plug for some good Milwaukee teams. Four times, he was selected as an All-Star and he received MVP support in six consecutive years from '52 to '57. A strong defender, Logan hit .275/.334/.395 during his first eight full seasons. Logan was elite for his time and ranks third in fWAR for shortstops during the 50's and has the 24th best fWAR of the 50's.

However, he declined like he fell off a cliff. In 1960, he hit .245/.309/.334 over 136 games. He would play just three more years and appear in only 170 games, in which he hit .241/.315/.286 mostly as a reserve. He does hold the distinction of being the first major league ballplayer to be on title-winning teams in both the United States and Japan as he played one year for Nankai in '64. As it will become clear for most players on this list, how they finished their career is often what keeps them out of Hall of Fame consideration. Logan just didn't have the staying power - partly because he only got to the majors as a 25-year-old.

9. Del Crandall
27.3 bWAR, 29.0 fWAR, .315 wOBA, 93 RC+
82 HOFm, 26 HOFs, 26.5 JAWS

Crandall became the everyday catcher for the Braves in 1953 and hit 151 homeruns over the next eight years - well overshadowed by his teammates Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. Crandall may have garnered even more support for a Hall of Fame vote had he not missed two whole seasons by serving his country in Korea.

Between 1953 and 1962, he was an All-Star eight times, a Gold Glover four times, and helped to lead the Braves to a World Title in 1957. However, while he was an elite defender and had good pop, he just doesn't stand up to other peers like Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella.

Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons
8. Tommy Holmes
34.7 bWAR, 33.8 fWAR, .375 wOBA, 122 RC+
55 HOFm, 22 HOFs, 32.6 JAWS

Like many greats during the franchise's post-1900 years in Boston, Holmes' prime seasons were wasted for some bad teams - which makes him easy to forget. His lack of longevity also hurt him as he played just 11 years, including just 7 at a starter-level. His fourth full season in the majors, 1945, was a huge campaign for the then-28-year-old. He led the league in hits, doubles, homers, slugging percentage, and OPS and finished second in batting average and RBI - which ranks him among the closest any modern-era Brave has ever been to a Triple Crown season. His most amazing stat in 1945, however, was his 70-to-9 walk-to-strikeout rate. Since 1901, only 19 times has a player received at least 600 plate appearances without striking out at least ten times. Holmes is the second most recent and it is also the only time a hitter belted 20 homers while striking out fewer than ten times.

Holmes had a Hall of Fame beginning to his career, but the power numbers cratered after '45 when the owners moved the fences back out after bringing them in the previous year. By 1950, his career was basically over as a professional ballplayer, which kept him from putting up the numbers that might warrant Hall of Fame consideration.

7. Lew Burdette
26.2 bWAR, 29.3 fWAR, 3.70 FIP, 24 SV
84 HOFm, 31 HOFs, 26.4 JAWS

For 13 years, Burdette was a Brave and for most of those years, he was their #2 starter. It's not the worst thing to be #2 when your teammate is Warren Spahn. A control pitcher who was also a joker (he once intentionally posted as a left-hand pitcher for his baseball card), Burdette was a true character. He also helped to bring the Braves its only title while in Milwaukee. In Game 2, Game 5, and Game 7 of the 1957 World Series, Burdette gave up two runs while throwing complete games in each three - all wins. The final two, pitched over a four-day period, saw Burdette not allow a single run.

If one could be in the Hall of Fame for a dominant World Series performance, Burdette would be near the front of the line. However, his overall numbers just aren't there.

Boston Public Library/Public Domain
6. Fred Tenney
39.1 bWAR, 41.1 fWAR, .357 wOBA, 111 RC+
36 HOFm, 25 HOFs, 36.1 JAWS

It is rarely rewarding to be an elite defensive first baseman. Tenney revolutionized how first basemen play defense from playing deep and off the bag to popularizing the 3-6-3 double play. A strong hitter, Tenney hit .318/.376/.376 in 1897, his first season as Boston's first baseman. He would hit .300 four more times, but even by the standards of his time, Tenney never displayed much of ability to hit for extra base hits. Tenney did steal 285 bases and walked nearly 300 more times than he struck out. It was a very successful career that included time as a manager, but his stats never really added up to Hall of Fame support.

Here's a fun story about Tenney that's not that important to his chances to head to Cooperstown. After his days with Boston were finished, he spent two years with the Giants and on September 23, 1908, New York was facing the Cubs. Tenney's back, which had been ailing for some time, was so bad that he missed his only start of 1908. His replacement that day was Fred Merkle. With the game tied 1-1 in the ninth, Al Bridwell singled with runners on the corners and two outs to score the go-ahead run. The only problem was that Merkle, believing the game was over, never reached second base and started to head back to the dugout. Future Brave Johnny Evers saw this and implored his teammate to throw him the ball. He did and Evers forced Merkle at second base. The game would be suspended because of darkness and re-played on the season's final day - a game the Cubs would win to propel them into the World Series, which they also won. So, you see, Merkle's Boner doesn't happen without Tenney's back hurting too much to play that day.

5. Wally Berger
36.6 bWAR, 42.7 fWAR, .393 wOBA, 136 RC+
60 HOFm, 29 HOFs, 38.9 JAWS

Berger's .393 wOBA is just outside the Top 100 of all time. It's better than David Ortiz, Mike Piazza, Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie McCovey. Only three players hit more homers during the 1930's than Berger and all three are in the Hall of Fame (Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Mel Ott). So, why is Berger on the outside looking in?

Similar to the case of Albert Belle, Berger was an elite outfielder who stands up well against his peers, many of whom are enshrined. But also like Belle, his run was shorten by injuries and his counting stats suffer considerably as a result. With that said, for several years after Berger arrived in Boston, he was one of the best in the game.

Photograph of the Boston Beaneaters infield, 1900. Top:
Fred Tenney (1B), Right: Herman Long (SS), Bottom: Jimmy Collins (3B)
and Left: Bobby Lowe (2B). Boston PublicLibrary (Public Domain)
4. Herman Long
35.2 bWAR, 41.1 fWAR, .342 wOBA, 93 RC+
88 HOFm, 41 HOFs, 30.9 JAWS

The original "Flying Dutchman," Long is another in the long line of 1800's Boston players whose career had long been over by the time the Hall of Fame opened its doors. Otherwise, Long likely would have been enshrined as one of the game's best shortstops of the 1890's. With time working against him, his numbers paled to compare to many other star shortstops. Unfortunately for Long, when he does show up in career leaderboards, it's not for the most flattering statistics. With 1,096 career errors, he is on top of a category no one wants to be. That said, many contemporaries felt he was one of the slickest fielding shortstops of his time.

As it stands, it's difficult for Long to receive much support because comparatively, his numbers just don't add up to a Hall of Fame plaque. For more on Long, I recently wrote about how he came to the franchise and how a convoluted Hall of Fame vote gave him an unusual amount of support.

3. Jim Whitney
33.5 bWAR, 47.2 fWAR, 2.75 FIP, 2 SV
110 HOFm, 31 HOFs, 35.9 JAWS

Grasshopper Jim was one of the game's first great pitchers and the Babe Ruth of his era (.323/.382/.510 in 1882). In an era where starters WERE the team, Whitney was a workhorse who threw 2263.2 innings for the Boston Beaneaters over just five years. He completed all but 12 of his 254 starts for Boston while finishing 1st to 5th in bWAR for four consecutive years.

Whitney continued to pitch for five years beyond his Boston days, but was never as dominant. His run to begin his career could have generated some Hall of Fame support. However, he just didn't have the lasting power to keep it going.

2. Dale Murphy
46.2 bWAR, 44.3 fWAR, .357 wOBA, 119 RC+
116 HOFm, 34 HOFs, 43.6 JAWS

It has long been a criticism of the Hall of Fame by Braves fans that The Murph wasn't enshrined. For 15 years, starting in 1999, Murphy languished on the ballot with little support. His best year, 2000, saw him still not reach a quarter of all ballots. Even a last-year effort by his supporters only garnered 18.6% of the vote in 2013.

The greatest detriment to Murphy's hopes were that his elite stage from 1982 to 1987 was Hall of Fame worthy, but that was just six years of a 14-year career. He was especially not worthy during his final five full seasons in which he slashed .238/.311/.403 while still under the age of 35. It leaves a bad last impression of Murphy along with dragging his numbers to fairly pedestrian totals for a Hall of Fame outfielder. That said, Murphy was always well-respected and could still get consideration from a Veterans Committee at some point.

1. Tommy Bond
41.2 bWAR, 36.9 fWAR, 2.41 FIP
142 HOFm, 48 HOFs, 61.9 JAWS

Not only is Bond the most deserving Brave to not be in the Hall of Fame, he is one of the most deserving players ever to be shut out. Born in Ireland, Bond came to the Boston Red Stockings in 1877 and in a time of rubber-armed players, Bond was as dominant as they come. Here's a fun number: 2127.1 innings. Why is that so fun? Because it came in just five years. Really, it came in four years because he made just three starts in 1881. To put that into context, Tim Hudson threw just over 1500 innings for the Braves in nine seasons.

It was a different game, no doubt, but Bond was as dominant as they come. For a four-year run, he completed 223-of-238 starts with 29 shutouts. In those 2100 or so innings, he walked just 140 batters, which comes out to a 0.6 BB/9 rate. Greg Maddux who? Bond threw a good fastball for the time, a wonderful curveball, and was particularly gifted at throwing the spitball.

Now, we can quibble about the lack of longevity, but he was elite in the major leagues and arguably the game's first true great pitcher. He became the first pitcher to win a Triple Crown in 1877 and of pitchers with at least 2000 innings pitched before 1900, Bond's career 2.51 FIP ranks second to John Ward. In terms of bWAR, he was the career leader in that category for five years from 1879 to 1883. However, when the Veterans Committee voted in 1936, Bond received just one point. That would be the end of Bond's chances to gain enshrinement. His only hope rests on the Early Baseball electorate of the Eras Committee (formerly the Veterans Committee). They next meet in 2020, though, and won't meet again until 2030. Bond, who died in 1941, will hopefully receive a longer look in three years than he received in '36.

4 comments:

  1. It's always enjoyable to read your thoughts on Braves history.
    Here are some additional points worth considering. With respect to Jim Whitney and Tommy Bond, I believe their playing under the Knickerbocker Rules and variants play a part in their virtual anonymity. All or most of their careers were played before overhand pitching was permitted, and they also pitched when the distance to the plate was significantly shorter than the 60'6" that was adopted in 1893. While the HoF has inducted a few pitchers from these earliest days (notably Hoss Radbourne), the perception lingers that the pitchers had advantages that diminishes their accomplishments (of course, as you noted in Bond's case, he was so advanced compared to the pitchers of his time that he was Greg Maddux-like when compared to his peers).

    Per my father, whose Braves' Fandom began in 1914, Wally Berger was the Braves best all-time hitter until
    Eddie Matthews and Hank Aaron debuted in the 1950's. Berger held the Major League rookie home run record (38) from 1930 until Frank Robinson tied him in 1956. Berger played in an enormous stadium (far larger than most Major League ball parks of that era) and often was the only consistent power bat in the Braves lineup in the 1930's; his relationship to his teammates' hitting resembles that of Ralph Kiner to the postwar Pittsburgh Pirates: on mostly losing teams, the fans would wait for their at bat in the 8th or 9th inning, then go home. I'm going to bring your post to the attention of the Boston Braves Historical Association.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. A good catch to mention the other little nuances that definitely aided pitchers during the pre-1890s. It was a different time, but dominance is dominance and hopefully Bond gets more of a look in 2020 when the Early Baseball portion of the Eras Committee meets.

      It's a shame injuries got to Berger. He was one of the elite hitters of his era, but just couldn't do it long enough. I haven't heard that note about waiting for his final at-bat before going home. Considering how terrible some of those Boston teams Berger played on were, that's a true testament to the love they had for the man.

      Again, thank you so much for reading.

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  2. Crandall and Burdette are the two most deserving. Crandall was an all-time great receiver which is a catcher's most important job. Burdette's career was at least as good as Drysdale's but no-nothing baseball writers put way too much stock in Ks for pitchers and way too little for hitters. Both were great championship players.

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  3. At least one commenter - at a Boston Braves reunion some years ago - stated that Mr. Crandall is deserving of the Hall honor and merits consideration from the Veterans' Committee. My Dad - who just passed away last week, used to enjoy chatting with him at those dinners.

    It might be noted - that Del Crandall and Roland Hemond are probably the last two Boston Braves employees to be active in baseball - until a few years ago, Del was a pitching coach at Rancho Cucamonga. Roland was an office boy in the Braves' front office and went to Milwaukee with the team - and won the O'Neill award a couple of years back.

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