EVALUATING BASEBALL'S 2017 TODAY'S GAME ERA COMMITTEE BALLOT

Mark McGwire Mark McGwire
02 Dec
2016
Not in Hall of Fame

Index



Right Field Candidate: Harold Baines

Even though Harold Baines spent much of his career as a designated hitter, setting a number of records for DHs that have since been surpassed by the likes of Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz, Baines started 984 games as a right fielder with another 23 games in center field and seven in left field. Look up the term "professional hitter" in the baseball lexicon, and you will find a picture of Baines—as well as the evidence of his deficiencies as a fielder: He has a career minus-11 in fielding runs above average while his defensive WAR (dWAR) is minus-20.3, as much a reflection of the defensive penalty assessed to designated hitters as of his sub-standard fielding skills that kept him in the American League for his entire 22-year career.

The table below lists Baines along with seven notable right fielders whose careers began within five years of Baines's Major League debut in 1980 (in other words, between 1975 and 1985), ranked by bWAR, with other qualitative statistics, including fWAR, listed alongside it.

Contemporary Right Fielders and 2017 Right Field/Designated Hitter Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

(A) Gwynn, Tony

.338/.388/.459/.847

.370

68.8

65.0

132

132

Clark, Jack

.267/.379/.476/.854

.377

52.8

50.6

137

138

Canseco, Jose

.266/.353/.515/.867

.375

42.3

42.1

132

130

Strawberry, Darryl

.259/.357/.505/.862

.372

42.0

41.5

138

137

Barfield, Jesse

.256/.335/.466/.802

.353

39.3

39.0

117

117

O'Neill, Paul

.288/.363/.470/.833

.362

38.8

41.0

120

120

Baines, Harold

.289/.356/.465/.820

.358

38.5

38.4

121

119

Gibson, Kirk

.268/.352/.462/.815

.358

38.3

35.9

123

123

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.

The table below lists those seven contemporary right fielders along with Baines, ranked by JAWS, along with other JAWS statistics and ratings for the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards. Also included are the JAWS statistics for all right fielders in the Hall of Fame.

Contemporary Right Fielders and 2017 Right Field/Designated Hitter Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by JAWS

Player

No. of Years

From

To

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

Ave. of 24 HoF RF

NA

NA

NA

73.2

43.0

58.1

NA

NA

NA

(A) Gwynn, Tony

20

1982

2001

68.8

41.1

54.9

14

279

54

Clark, Jack

18

1975

1992

52.8

31.3

42.1

28

28

35

Strawberry, Darryl

17

1983

1999

42.0

34.7

38.3

39

56

30

Barfield, Jesse

12

1981

1992

39.3

34.4

36.9

45

20

18

Canseco, Jose

17

1985

2001

42.3

29.6

35.9

50

103

39

Gibson, Kirk

17

1979

1995

38.3

29.8

34.0

56

16

22

O'Neill, Paul

17

1985

2001

38.8

27.3

33.1

59

71

37

Baines, Harold

22

1980

2001

38.5

21.3

29.9

70

66

44

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.

Among Harold Baines's contemporaries, only Tony Gwynn, inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2007, stands out—and even "The Round Mound of Batting Crowns" is about three wins below the average for all 24 of the Hall of Fame right fielders; of course, it is a position chock-full of some of the greatest hitters in baseball history, from Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron on down.

Otherwise, this is not an elite sample. So why is Harold Baines on the ballot? For one thing, he survived four BBWAA ballots, keeping just above the five percent minimum threshold, until he fell just short in 2011; none of the other seven right fielders ever made it to a second BBWAA ballot, with Jesse Barfield not ever making a BBWAA ballot. (Tony Gwynn, too, lasted on only one BBWAA ballot—of course, he collected 97.6 percent of the vote on the 2007 ballot as he sailed into the Hall of Fame on his first try.)

For another, Baines compiled big numbers during his 22-year career. He is 45th in hits with 2866, one of three players within the all-time top 50 who are eligible for the Hall of Fame but are not currently in the Hall; the other two are Rafael Palmeiro (3020 hits) and Barry Bonds (2935), and both have PED notoriety. Baines's other counting numbers that are within the top 100 all-time include 2830 games played (19th); 1628 runs batted in (32nd); 4604 total bases (41st); 921 extra-base hits (60th; tied with Bobby Abreu and Hall of Famer Goose Goslin); 384 home runs (65th); 488 doubles (72nd; tied with Hall of Famer Mel Ott and potential Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell); and 1062 walks (94th). Baines led the American League in slugging percentage in 1984 with .541, his only appearance atop a leaderboard. He was named to six All-Star teams, and finished among the top ten in MVP voting twice.

An excellent career—but Harold Baines is not a Hall of Famer. Perhaps Baines's inclusion on the ballot is a trial balloon for subsequent players whose careers were primarily as designated hitters, specifically, Edgar Martinez, should he fail to be elected on a BBWAA ballot—he has three more chances on a BBWAA ballot—and David Ortiz, who, should he not reverse his decision to retire after the 2016 season, would be eligible for a BBWAA ballot in 2022. Otherwise, Harold Baines's inclusion on the Today's Game ballot is a professional courtesy to a professional hitter who is not among baseball's elite.

Left Field Candidate: Albert Belle

Is Albert Belle the Dick Allen of his era? Like Allen, Belle was a contentious, sometimes controversial player who was often an offensive powerhouse; however, Belle's career was cut short by degenerative arthritis in his hip and forced him into retirement at age 34. His stormy relationship with the media may have cost him once he became eligible for the BBWAA ballot in 2006: Belle survived his first time with 7.7 percent of the vote, but lost more than half of that support the following year and fell off the ballot.

The table below lists Belle along with six notable left fielders whose careers began within five years of Belle's Major League debut in 1989 (in other words, between 1984 and 1994), ranked by bWAR, with other qualitative statistics, including fWAR, listed alongside it. Also included in the table is Lou Piniella, a left fielder who is not a contemporary of Belle and is on the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Contemporary Left Fielders and 2017 Left Fielder Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

(B) Bonds, Barry

.298/.444/.607/.1.051

.435

162.4

164.4

182

173

(C) Ramirez, Manny

.312/.411/.585/.996

.418

69.2

66.3

154

153

Gonzalez, Luis

.283/.367/.479/.845

.364

51.5

55.2

119

118

Belle, Albert

.295/.369/.564/.933

.396

39.9

41.0

144

139

Alou, Moisés

.303/.369/.516/.885

.378

39.7

47.7

128

129

Gant, Ron

.256/.336/.468/.803

.351

33.9

32.7

112

112

Vaughn, Greg

.242/.337/.470/.807

.350

30.7

25.5

113

111

* Piniella, Lou

.291/.333/.409/.741

.330

12.5

12.3

109

107

* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.
(C): Denotes player not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

The table below lists those six contemporary left fielders along with Belle, ranked by JAWS, along with other JAWS statistics and ratings for the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards. Also included are the JAWS statistics for all right fielders in the Hall of Fame, as well as Lou Piniella, a left fielder who is not a contemporary of Belle and is on the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Contemporary Left Fielders and 2017 Left Fielder Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by JAWS

Player

No. of Years

From

To

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

(B) Bonds, Barry

22

1986

2007

162.4

72.7

117.6

1

340

76

(C) Ramirez, Manny

19

1993

2011

69.2

39.9

54.6

10

226

69

Ave. of 24 HoF RF

NA

NA

NA

65.1

41.5

53.3

NA

NA

NA

Gonzalez, Luis

19

1990

2008

51.5

33.8

42.7

24

103

48

Belle, Albert

12

1989

2000

39.9

35.9

37.9

38

135

36

Alou, Moisés

17

1990

2008

39.7

27.6

33.6

45

80

44

Gant, Ron

16

1987

2003

33.9

26.4

30.2

52

44

26

Vaughn, Greg

15

1989

2003

30.7

27.4

29.0

56

51

25

* Piniella, Lou

18

1964

1984

12.5

16.2

14.3

163

20

14

* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.
(C): Denotes player not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Two of the left fielders above the JAWS threshold, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez, are among the elite hitters of their era—Bonds of course is simply off the charts. However, both have major issues with respect to PED, with Ramirez, who failed two drug tests following establishment of a new drug policy in 2006, almost certain to be blackballed when he first arrives on the 2017 BBWAA ballot. Albert Belle, while never associated with PED, nevertheless served a 10-day suspension in 1994 for having been caught using a corked bat—complete with an in-game caper to retrieve the bat before it was officially examined that involved pitcher Jason Grimsley, who was deeply mired in PED including a high-profile association with Roger Clemens.

Ranked by JAWS, Albert Belle is tucked between Luis Gonzalez and Moisés Alou in our sample, but Belle had the shortest career of any of them because of an early retirement caused by injury. Belle's first two years with the Cleveland Indians found him seeing limited service, but by 1991 he broke out, posting a .282/.323/.540/.863 slash line, generating a 134 OPS+, with 31 doubles, 28 home runs, and 95 runs batted in. Belle's slash line was down the following season, but he slammed 34 home runs and drove in 112 RBI, the first of eight consecutive years with 30 or more home runs and nine consecutive years with 100 or more runs driven in.

Indeed, Albert Belle was an unholy terror at the plate throughout the 1990s, largely with the Indians until the end of the 1996 season, and then two years each with, respectively, the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles before retiring. During the decade, Belle produced a .298/.374/.571/.945 slash line, yielding a 146 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 167 hits including 38 doubles and 37 home runs, 95 runs scored, and 120 runs batted in. He led the American League in RBI three times, including 148 in 1996, and in total bases and slugging percentage twice each while in 1995 he led the AL in six categories: runs scored (121), doubles (52), home runs (50), runs batted in (126), total bases (377), and slugging percentage (.690).

No batter in the Major Leagues, before or since, has ever hit at least 50 doubles and at least 50 home runs in a single season. Belle was the runner-up in AL MVP voting—a clear case of theft as the winner, Mo Vaughn of the Boston Red Sox, could match Belle in only one major category as both tied with 126 RBI. The voting was very close, with Vaughn just two percentage points ahead of Belle; retrospectively, bWAR bears out Belle's superiority as he was worth 6.9 wins to Vaughn's 4.3 wins.

Albert Belle
Albert Belle hit like a monster in the 1990s. Is that enough to get him into the Hall of Fame?


Just how dominating a hitter was Albert Belle in the 1990s? Let's compare him to notable right-handed power-hitting batters who played in at least most of the 1990s, with "notable" being an arbitrary benchmark of at least 350 career home runs. (Belle slugged 381 round-trippers all told.) This sample of 15 gives us a mix of three batters already in the Hall of Fame, four batters on the current BBWAA ballot, and one batter, Mark McGwire, on this year's Today's Baseball ballot with Belle. Note that four batters are missing one season in the 1990s and one, Manny Ramirez, is missing two; he did not debut until 1993 with the Indians and remained Belle's teammate until 1996, when Belle signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox for the 1997 season.

The table below lists those 15 batters ranked by Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) along with other qualitative statistics for the 1991 to 2000 period.

Right-Handed Power Hitters (350 or more HR), 1991-2000, Ranked by oWAR

Player

Slash Line

OPS+

bWAR

oWAR

RAA

RAR

(A) Thomas, Frank

.320/.439/.581/.1.020

168

56.4

62.4

349

587

(B) Bagwell, Jeff

.305/.417/.552/.970

159

62.1

57.5

444

639

McGwire, Mark

.275/.421/.641/.1.062

178

44.9

48.2

308

472

(A) Piazza, Mike (9 yrs.)

.328/.392/.580/.972

156

46.6

48.1

344

487

Belle, Albert

.298/.374/.571/.945

146

40.0

46.0

183

419

(B) Sheffield, Gary

.298/.411/.543/.954

152

30.2

42.7

160

318

Gonzalez, Juan

.295/.345/.570/.915

135

31.3

36.7

113

322

(C) Ramirez, Manny (8 yrs.)

.313/.407/.592/.998

152

29.9

33.6

165

317

Burks, Ellis

.294/.371/.531/.901

127

27.2

30.0

142

290

(A) Ripken, Cal

.280/.339/.446/.785

106

38.6

29.8

171

392

Williams, Matt

.278/.326/.505/.831

119

36.4

29.1

202

371

(B) Kent, Jeff (9 yrs.)

.284/.348/.493/.841

121

29.5

29.0

160

312

(B) Sosa, Sammy

.277/.339/.540/.879

128

39.3

28.2

234

410

Galarraga, Andres (9 yrs.)

.299/.357/.540/.897

123

19.4

21.6

61

211

Davis, Chili (9 yrs.)

.283/.382/.486/.868

128

17.9

18.0

9

183

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.
(C): Denotes player not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

oWAR: Wins Above Replacement for offensive play only, as calculated by Baseball Reference.
RAA: Runs Above Average as calculated by Baseball Reference.
RAR: Runs Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

In terms of offensive value, Albert Belle's 46.0 wins above a replacement player is fifth in our sample, behind two Hall of Famers, Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza; one hitter, Jeff Bagwell, on the threshold of election in 2017; and McGwire, who like Belle is getting his second chance on the Today's Game ballot. Gary Sheffield, on the BBWAA ballot for 2017, is the only other hitter with at least a 40.0 oWAR.

At least among right-handed power-hitters, Albert Belle was clearly an elite slugger in the 1990s—one of the best, in fact. But does this span of dominance give him a commanding enough peak to overcome a relatively short career as shown by his modest WAR values?

Let's see how Belle compares to players with similar career lengths who have made it into the Hall of Fame. The following tables contain players whose careers spanned at least 10 years, the minimum MLB service time required to qualify for Hall of Fame consideration, and are generally close to Belle's 12 years as a Major Leaguer. Most of the players are in the Hall of Fame, elected either by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) or by the various Veterans Committees that have existed over the decades.

Items to note are that the careers of these players range across various eras of baseball starting with the modern game in 1901, and that all eight fielding positions are represented. Both points have an impact on the various applications of WAR used below: Players in earlier eras will look "better" because the comparative talent pools (that is, the pool of replacement players) are not as strong as in later eras, and because WAR incorporates the player's defensive position and abilities, players at the strength positions up the middle (catcher, second base, shortstop, center field) have an advantage over those players at the non-strength positions (first base, third base, corner outfield).

The table below lists the players ranked by Offensive Wins Above Replacement along with other qualitative offensive measurements.

Short-Career Hall of Fame Position Players and Selected Others, Ranked by oWAR

Player

Slash Line

OPS+

bWAR

oWAR

RAA

RAR

(1) DiMaggio, Joe

.325/.398/.579/.977

155

78.1

73.3

571

815

(2) Vaughan, Arky

.318/.406/.453/.859

136

72.9

70.9

473

718

Allen, Dick

.292/.378/.534/.912

156

58.7

69.9

287

541

McGwire, Mark

.263/.394/.588/.982

163

62.0

64.8

379

644

(x) Jackson, Joe

.356/.423/.517/.940

170

62.3

61.2

380

592

(2) Baker, Frank

.307/.363/.442/.805

135

62.8

59.2

337

582

(1) Greenberg, Hank

.313/.412/.605/.1.017

158

57.5

55.9

393

607

(1) Robinson, Jackie

.311/.409/.474/.883

132

61.5

54.2

397

616

(1) Kiner, Ralph

.279/.398/.548./946

149

49.3

54.1

261

495

(2) Sewell, Joe

.312/.391/.413/.804

108

53.7

53.8

241

550

(1) Puckett, Kirby

.318/.360/.477/.837

124

50.9

52.4

239

510

(1) Cochrane, Mickey

.320/.419/.478/.897

129

52.1

52.2

320

550

(2) Averill, Earl

.318/.395/.534/.928

133

48.0

51.0

255

517

(2) Doby, Larry

.283/.386/.490/.876

136

49.5

47.8

305

495

(1) Terry, Bill

.341/.393/.506/.899

136

54.2

47.3

334

550

Belle, Albert

.295/.369/.564/.933

144

39.9

45.8

173

419

(2) Wilson, Hack

.307/.395/.545/.940

144

38.8

42.5

235

404

(2) Combs, Earle

.325/.397/.462/.859

125

42.5

41.8

211

443

(2) Gordon, Joe

.268/.357/.466/.822

120

57.1

41.4

364

570

Maris, Roger

.260/.345/.476/.822

127

38.2

34.3

200

382

(1) Campanella, Roy

.276/.360/..500/.860

123

34.2

33.8

169

352

(2) Hafey, Chick

.317/.372/.526/.898

133

30.1

31.3

148

306

(2) Rizzuto, Phil

.273/.351/.355/.706

93

40.8

28.3

205

405

* Johnson, Davey

.261/.340/.404/.744

110

27.5

26.9

92

275


(1): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
(2): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
(x) Denotes player ineligible for the Hall of Fame.
* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Albert Belle, an offensive powerhouse for most of his career, still winds up in the bottom half of our sample of mostly players with relatively short careers who are in the Hall of Fame, who would be Belle's peers should he be elected to the Hall.

But is this a failing of Belle's, or a reflection of his era? After all, WAR entails a replacement player, hypothetically, a player coming up from the minors to take the Major Leaguer's place. Like today's era, Belle's era was one of talent compression, or many excellent players in the overall pool of talent, as opposed to talent dispersion, or a few excellent players among a pool of average or mediocre players.

But during his run, Belle was consistently at or near the top of the heap. So, given Belle's power-hitting forte, not just home runs but doubles as well, how does he stack up against our sample of short-career Hall of Famers and a few others?

The table below lists the players ranked by extra-base hits along with other quantitative offensive measurements.

Short-Career Hall of Fame Position Players and Selected Others, Ranked by Extra-Base Hits

Player

GP

PA

H

2B

HR

R

RBI

TB

XBH

(1) DiMaggio, Joe

1736

7672

2214

389

361

1390

1537

3948

881

McGwire, Mark

1874

7660

1626

252

583

1167

1414

3639

841

Belle, Albert

1539

6676

1726

389

381

974

1239

3300

791

(1) Greenberg, Hank

1394

6098

1628

379

331

1046

1274

3142

781

(2) Averill, Earl

1669

7221

2019

401

238

1224

1164

3390

767

Allen, Dick

1749

7315

1848

320

351

1099

1119

3379

750

(1) Puckett, Kirby

1783

7831

2304

414

207

1071

1085

3453

678

(1) Terry, Bill

1721

7108

2193

373

154

1120

1078

3252

639

(1) Kiner, Ralph

1472

6256

1451

216

369

971

1015

2852

624

(2) Vaughan, Arky

1817

7722

2103

356

96

1173

926

3003

580

(2) Wilson, Hack

1348

5556

1461

266

244

884

1063

2593

577

(2) Hafey, Chick

1283

5115

1466

341

67

164

777

833

572

(2) Gordon, Joe

1566

6535

1530

264

253

914

975

2657

569

(2) Sewell, Joe

1903

8333

2226

436

49

1141

1054

2945

553

(2) Doby, Larry

1533

6299

1515

243

52

253

970

960

548

(x) Jackson, Joe

1332

5695

1772

307

54

873

785

2577

529

(2) Combs, Earle

1455

6513

1186

154

58

1186

633

2657

521

(1) Cochrane, Mickey

1482

6208

1652

333

119

1041

830

2470

516

(2) Baker, Frank

1575

6667

1838

315

96

887

991

2647

514

Maris, Roger

1463

5847

1325

195

275

826

850

2429

512

(1) Robinson, Jackie

1382

5804

1518

273

54

137

947

734

464

(1) Campanella, Roy

1215

4815

1161

178

242

627

856

2101

438

* Johnson, Davey

1435

5465

1252

242

136

564

609

1938

396

(2) Rizzuto, Phil

1661

5816

1588

239

38

877

563

2065

339

(1): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
(2): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
(x) Denotes player ineligible for the Hall of Fame.
* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

In terms of extra-base hits, Belle again ranks highly when compared to short-career Hall of Famers and those in consideration for the Hall. Belle is one of only six hitters in our sample with 700 or more extra-base hits, with Belle just nine extra-base hits shy of 800. It is worth noting that the 1994 season was a strike-shortened season, and Belle would have only added to his already-impressive season totals of 35 doubles, 36 home runs, and 101 RBI had it been a full season; Belle played in 106 games of the 113 total games the Cleveland Indians played before the work stoppage.

Albert Belle is clearly a poster child for the "bubble candidate," a Hall of Fame candidate whose résumé is not definitive enough to gain entry to the Hall without deliberation yet too substantial simply to be dismissed. Let's examine Belle in relation to a pair of Hall of Famers, Ralph Kiner and Hack Wilson, along with Dick Allen, most recently on the last Golden Era ballot in 2015, on which he fell one vote shy of election.

We will look at each player's decade of dominance, the ten consecutive years in which they had their greatest impact; in Dick Allen's case, we will examine the years 1964 to 1974 while omitting the 1973 season, in which he played in just 72 games because of injury. The table below lists these four right-handed sluggers by Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) along with other qualitative statistics for their ten-year periods.

Ten-Year Peak for Dick Allen, Albert Belle, Ralph Kiner, and Hack Wilson, Ranked by oWAR

Player

Slash Line

OPS+

bWAR

oWAR

RAA

RAR

Allen, Dick

.298/.385/.551/.936

165

55.4

65.3

296

505

(1) Kiner, Ralph

.279/.398/.548/.946

149

49.3

54.1

261

495

Belle, Albert

.298/.374/.571/.945

146

40.0

46.0

183

419

(2) Wilson, Hack

.310/.396/.553/.949

146

38.1

41.9

235

397

(1): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
(2): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

What is noteworthy in the table above are the similarities in the four sluggers' slash lines, particularly their OPS percentages, which are within thirteen-hundredths of a percentage point of each other. Their OPS+ values reflect the quality of their respective competition: Both Belle and Wilson played in eras of high offensive production, the 1920s and 1990s, respectively, while Kiner's stretch from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s was less so, and Allen's period, particularly the first half, was in the 1960s and a pitching-dominated era.

This may also account for the relative values of the other qualitative measures. The metrics that evaluate the player's value over a replacement player—bWAR, oWAR, RAA, and RAR—suggest the talent pool of each player's era—the more outstanding players there are available, the less the replacement value they provide. We compared Belle to several right-handed hitters from the 1990s, and while Belle was often among the top ranks, he was not an uncontrovertibly elite slugger—and we compared only right-handed hitters.

In terms of generating extra-base hits, Belle was indisputably impressive, so let's see how he compares to our current sample.

The table below lists these four right-handed sluggers ranked by the total number of extra-base hits they hit along with other quantitative offensive statistics.

Ten-Year Peak for Dick Allen, Albert Belle, Ralph Kiner, and Hack Wilson, Ranked by Extra-Base Hits

Player

GP

PA

H

2B

HR

R

RBI

TB

XBH

Belle, Albert

1468

6417

1673

381

373

951

1199

3207

771

Allen, Dick

1409

5982

1544

257

303

929

934

2852

631

(1) Kiner, Ralph

1472

6256

1451

216

369

971

1015

2852

624

(2) Wilson, Hack

1271

5311

1412

261

238

860

1033

2521

566

(1): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
(2): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Belle's ability to hit for extra bases is remarkable even—perhaps especially—in this small sample. Belle's 771 total extra-base hits outdistances the other three by a huge margin, and while he just eclipses Kiner in home runs, Belle's 381 doubles stand well apart from the others. In addition, Belle fell just one RBI shy of 1200 in this ten-year period, and while runs batted in is a team-dependent statistic—Belle did play on a Murderers Row of sorts at least in Cleveland—it is nevertheless another gaudy statistic in his favor.

We have gone the distance here to make the Hall of Fame case for Albert Belle, who lasted two years on a BBWAA ballot before disappearing, only to reappear this year on the Today's Game ballot. Unlike Will Clark and even Harold Reynolds, Belle has sufficient weight in counting numbers, qualitative measures, and especially peak dominance to merit serious consideration.

For the final comparison, I chose Dick Allen, Ralph Kiner, and to a lesser extent Hack Wilson because they seemed to be a prime bubble candidate from their era. I added Wilson because at least in looking at his WAR scores next to Belle made me wonder if Belle is the Hack Wilson of his era: Belle remains the only hitter to hit at least 50 doubles and at least 50 home runs in the same season and should have been the American League Most Valuable Player in 1995; in 1930. Wilson hit 56 home runs, which remained the National League single-season record until Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs and Sammy Sosa hit 66 home runs 68 years later, and drove in 191 runs, which remains the all-time single-season record for RBI.

Hack Wilson appeared on 15 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballots between 1937 and 1962 (voting, particularly during World War Two, was not always annual) but he never collected more than 38.3 percent of the vote; that was in 1956, eight years after Wilson had died at age 48. However, Wilson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979 by the Veterans Committee.

As for the other two hitters in our final sample, Ralph Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA—although that was literally by the skin of his teeth: Kiner received one vote over the minimum required for the 75-percent qualification in his 15th and final year of eligibility in 1975. Keep in mind that Kiner was the premier slugger in the National League for much of his ten-year career: He led the NL in home runs for his first seven years, slamming 50 or more twice, in 1947 (51) and 1949 (54), and for the five-year period between 1947 and 1951 the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger crushed a total of 234 long balls over the fence, an average of 47 per year. He also drove in at least 100 runs during that time, averaging 121 RBI per season as he was in the top ten of NL MVP voting every year.

Then there is Dick Allen. Allen appeared on 14 BBWAA ballots over 15 years—he garnered just 3.7 percent of the vote in 1983, but was returned to the ballot in 1985, where he gathered just enough support, peaking at 18.9 percent in 1995, his penultimate year, to remain on the ballot. The 1964 National League Rookie of the Year and 1972 American League Most Valuable Player began his playing career during the tumultuous 1960s, and as an African-American Allen caught a fair dose of the racial divisiveness emblematic of the time, which has contributed to the perception that Allen was himself divisive and contentious, a charged leveled against Albert Belle although Belle did not have the same social upheaval to contend with in the 1990s.

As a player, though, Allen was an impressive offensive force, even more so considering that he played the first half of his career in an offensively-challenged period, one considered a "Golden Era" for pitching but one in which Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski could lead the AL in 1968 with a .301 batting average—the only qualified hitter to bat .300 or higher. Yet Allen, the seven-time All-Star, managed to post a career OPS+ of 156, tied for 21st all-time with Willie Mays and Frank Thomas, both elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.

I will admit that when I did my ballot assessment of the Golden Era for 2015, I stated that Dick Allen was the best candidate on the ballot, but that he fell just short of the Hall of Fame. In looking at the comparisons to Albert Belle here, I realize that I was wrong: Dick Allen, compared to various short-career Hall of Famers, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame with them, and in fact he looks stronger than some of them. Like Belle, Allen is another bubble poster boy, helping to define in some measure what the threshold for admittance may be, even if only for his era.

Which makes Albert Belle's case so taxing: He clearly slugged the hell out of the ball during the 1990s—we've seen how he has topped or has come close to topping the list for extra-base hits—but so did a lot of hitters during that high-offense period. Was Belle that much better than his contemporaries? Among the 15 right-handed power-hitters we profiled for the 1990s, Belle's OPS+ of 146 is seventh, about in the middle. Among the 24 short-career players, many of whom are in the Hall of Fame, Belle's 144 OPS+ is tied for seventh, comfortably in the upper third. If ever a player was made for the Keltner List, it may be Belle, who may look like a Hall of Famer but who may not feel like one.

I feel as if I may be eating my words once more in a couple of years, but rather than looking like Dick Allen or Ralph Kiner, Albert Belle looks more like the Hack Wilson of his era; again appropriately enough, both Belle and Wilson are tied for 49th all-time in OPS+ with 144. Wilson may be in the Hall of Fame, but his was a gratuitous election. Despite all those extra-base hits, Albert Belle's would be too, although ask me again in couple of years.

Last modified on Saturday, 03 December 2016 16:10

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