BASEBALL HALL OF FAME: UPCOMING BORDERLINE CANDIDATES, PART 1

BASEBALL HALL OF FAME: UPCOMING BORDERLINE CANDIDATES, PART 1
18 Dec
2014
Not in Hall of Fame

Index



2017: Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez, Jorge Posada, Edgar Renteria

The expected 2017 ballot does have two players who look to be clear-cut Hall of Famers: Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez. Both have been discussed previously; Ramirez is unlikely to get any recognition for his accomplishments because of his documented PEDs associations, and if the rumors of PEDs association don't dog Rodriguez, he is practically a lock for the Hall as one of the greatest catchers of all time.

But joining them on the ballot in 2017 are four high-profile players who may nevertheless be overshadowed by the discussion about Ramirez and Rodriguez. Foremost among them is Vladimir Guerrero, who could give Ramirez a run for his money as the greatest right-handed hitter of his era. Guerrero was certainly among the most feared hitters in his prime, as he led the league in intentional walks five times, four of those consecutively from 2005 to 2008, and finished fifth all-time with 250 (Ramirez is 11th with 216).

For an 11-year period, from 1998 to 2008, Guerrero hit at least .300 and slugged at least 25 home runs in every season while driving in at least 100 runs in all but two of those years. During that time, Guerrero averaged, per season, 185 hits including 35 doubles and 35 homers, totaling 331 bases, while scoring 98 runs and knocking in 112, and his .325/.392/.581 slash line produced a 149 OPS+ and a 5.0 bWAR, the latter indicating an All-Star-caliber player, as indeed Vladdy was for 8 of those 11 years, adding his final All-Star appearance in 2010. He reached at least 200 hits in four different season, leading the National League in hits in 2002 with 206 while playing for the Montreal Expos; he also led the NL in total bases that year with 364, and although he—rather dubiously—led the NL in times caught stealing with 20, that is balanced against the 40 bases he did steal successfully—while ending the season with 39 round-trippers, putting him one homer shy of the exclusive 40-40 club.

In his first year in the American League, playing for the (then-)Anaheim Angels, Guerrero led the AL in runs scored (124) and total bases (366) while making a most auspicious debut in what was regarded as the tougher league. Brandishing a slash line of .337/.391/.598, Guerrero added 206 hits, tying his career high, including 39 doubles and 39 long balls while generating 126 runs batted in and an OPS+ of 157. He was named the American League Most Valuable Player, although there were other deserving candidates that year who may have had a better season than did Guerrero. Still, it was hardly as if he stole the award. Guerrero finished in the top ten of MVP voting five other times during his career.

What makes Guerrero's batting prowess even more remarkable is that he was a notorious bad-ball hitter, swinging at—and connecting with—pitches outside the strike zone. Yet Guerrero struck out only 985 times in 8155 at-bats and never reached the 100-strikeout plateau once. And even though Guerrero walked unintentionally only 487 times in 9059 plate appearances (he was intentionally walked 250 times), his career on-base percentage of .379 ranks 182nd all-time.

Quantitatively, Guerrero's all-time rankings include being 38th in home runs (449), 46th in total bases (4506), 54th in runs batted in (1496), 80th in doubles (477), 83rd in hits (2590), and 112th in runs scored (1328). Qualitatively, he is 24th all-time in slugging percentage (.553), 57th in batting average (.318; tied with Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan), 74th in OPS+ (140), and 182nd in on-base percentage (.379).

Vladimir Guerrero
Slugging right-fielder Vladimir Guerrero's was a can't-miss at-bat. Sounds like a Hall of Famer, doesn't it?

Defensively, Guerrero had a cannon for an arm, and he is 17th all-time among right fielders in putouts with 3165 and 26th assists with 126. However, he was not as diligent as a fielder as he was as a hitter: Even though Guerrero is credited with 42 Total Zone total fielding runs above average (Baseball Reference version), his seasonal decline began in 2006, and by 2010 Guerrero was a designated hitter for the large majority of his games, with that becoming exclusive by 2011, his final season; FanGraphs lists him at 43 in Total Zone and marks his decline starting in 2008; moreover, Baseball Reference lists him at a career 26 runs below average (–26) in defensive runs saved above average while that site's defensive WAR for his career is –10.7, with –6.1 coming from his six seasons with the Angels.

The last image of Vladimir Guerrero defensively may be his fumbling around in right field at AT&T Park, committing two errors during Game One of the 2010 World Series as his Texas Rangers took on the Giants in San Francisco. Tellingly, Guerrero sat out Game Two, still in San Francisco (Nelson Cruz started in right for the Rangers), before the Series traveled to Arlington, Texas, and, in an American League ballpark, Guerrero could play DH. Not that it helped much as Guerrero managed one single, albeit an RBI single, in 14 at-bats for a paltry .071 batting average while striking out five times (he did add a sacrifice fly) as the Rangers fell to the Giants in five games.

And as far as the intangibles go, I got to see Guerrero several times in his prime during his first few seasons with the Angels. Simply put, his was a can't-miss at-bat—you didn't leave your seat to get a hot dog or to use the rest room when you knew he would be coming up soon. Even if Vladdy grounded to short or flied out to center, it was still exciting because there was the potential for magic any time he connected with the ball. I've seen a lot of great hitters in person over the years—Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez—players who are or will be the key names on a Hall of Fame ballot, and not one of them produced as hard a crack off their bat when they hit the ball as did Guerrero—that ringing sound seemed to reverberate through the ballpark. Granted, I saw Guerrero many more times than those visiting stars, but just like them, whenever I saw Guerrero, I felt as if I was looking at an exceptional baseball player. A Hall of Fame-caliber kind of player. And that is where Vladimir Guerrero belongs. He is a Hall of Famer.

With a career split between two teams in the American League Central Division, first the Chicago White Sox from 1997 to 2004, and then the Detroit Tigers from 2005 to 2011, Magglio Ordóñez also found himself sharing the limelight with marquee players, whether Albert Belle and Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas in Chicago or Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit. Ordóñez also had the bad luck to sign with Detroit as a free agent for the same season, 2005, that saw the White Sox win the World Series for the first time since 1917; he did get to the World Series in 2006, which saw the Tigers lose to the St. Louis Cardinals.

And whether Ordóñez was a Harry Heilmann to someone's Ty Cobb is our examination here. Impacting his career were injuries sustained in 2004 and 2005, his age-30 and -31 seasons, that limited his playing time. In 2007, he did lead the AL in hitting with a gaudy .363 average and in doubles with 54 while placing second in hits (216), total bases (354), on-base percentage (.434), and runs batted in (139) as he was runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in American League Most Valuable Player voting. Ordóñez had one other season in which he finished in the top ten for MVP consideration, 2002, when he posted a .320/.381/.597 slash line while slamming a career-best 38 home runs and driving in 135 runs.

Magglio Ordonez
Right fielder Magglio Ordonez posted some big-league numbers--big enough for the Hall of Fame, though?

For an 11-year period from 1999 to 2009, Ordóñez's age-25 to age-35 seasons, he delivered a .315/.376/.521 slash line every year while averaging, per season, 164 hits including 33 doubles and 24 home runs while scoring 82 runs and driving in 97. Over that time, Ordóñez generated, on average, a 131 OPS+ and a 3.4 bWAR each season, and his averages may have looked even more impressive had injuries not limited his playing time in 2004 and 2005, with just 52 games and 222 plate appearances in 2004 and 82 games and 343 plate appearances the following year.

Yet whether in Chicago or Detroit, Ordóñez seemed to be a bridesmaid but never the bride. Becoming a full-time player for the White Sox, Ordóñez competed for attention against Frank Thomas and Albert Belle, and when Belle departed after the 1998 season (in which Belle nearly duplicated his still-unique feat of hitting at least 50 doubles and 50 home runs in the same season, as he did in 1995), young first baseman Paul Konerko began to make his presence felt. Moving to the Tigers in 2005, Ordóñez had been signed as a marquee player, with Ivan Rodriguez, in his age-33 season, the only true position-player star. However, subsequent seasons found Curtis Granderson a young up-and-comer as veteran Gary Sheffield joined the team, the upshot being that Ordóñez was never the linchpin on the two teams he played for.

That perception is borne out in terms of value. As noted above, Ordóñez finished in the top ten for Most Valuable Player twice. In 2007, his best showing, his bWAR was 7.3, his single-best mark, and in 2002, when he placed eighth in voting, he generated a 5.1 bWAR. However, Ordóñez generated a bWAR of 5 wins or better only two other times, with that threshold considered to be All-Star caliber, although he made six All-Star appearances in total. Over his career, Ordóñez generated a bWAR of 38.5 while Jay Jaffe's JAWS (Jaffe's WAR Score system) places him 53rd among all right fielders; FanGraphs is a shade more critical, valuing him at 37.8 wins above a replacement player, while evaluating him at only two seasons with an fWAR of 5.0 or greater.

Magglio Ordóñez had flashes of greatness over his career, and superficially he looks impressive, sporting a career .309/.369/.502 slash line, a 125 OPS+, 2156 hits, 426 doubles, 294 home runs, 1076 runs scored, and 1236 runs batted in. But just as Ordóñez was overshadowed by his more impressive teammates over the course of his career, his playing record is overshadowed by many of the 24 right fielders already in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, Jose Canseco's claim to have injected Ordóñez with steroids in 2001, although a relative non-starter (for example, Ordóñez's name does not appear in the Mitchell Report), could come back to haunt him. In any case, Magglio Ordóñez lacks the qualifications for the Hall of Fame.

Along with shortstop Derek Jeter and pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, catcher Jorge Posada is one of the "Core Four," the quartet of New York Yankees whose careers all coincided and who are considered to be the backbone of the emergent Yankees dynasty that in 1996 won its first World Series in 18 years, and, for a seven-year period after that championship, returned to the World Series five more times, winning three Series in a row between 1998 and 2000. Moreover, Posada joins a long and distinguished line of Yankees catchers, starting with Bill Dickey and continuing through Yogi Berra—both are Hall of Famers—Elston Howard, and Thurman Munson.

As the back-up catcher to Joe Girardi, though, Posada was brought along slowly. From 1997 to 1999, he started 52, 85, and 98 games as catcher, respectively, getting 136 starts in 2000, his age-28 season, when Girardi left to sign with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent. Posada remained the Yankees' full-time catcher for another seven seasons, and for an eight-year period from 2000 to 2007 Posada posted a .283/.389/.492 slash line, averaging per season 137 hits including 31 doubles and 23 home runs as he generated a 130 OPS+ and a 4.5 bWAR while scoring an average of 76 runs and driving 90 per season. Posada had two seasons with 40 or more doubles, joining Ivan Rodriguez as the only two catchers in baseball history to accomplish this feat, and he hit at least 20 home runs in every year during this period except 2005 when he fell one shy of that plateau, while his 30 round-trippers in 2003 were a career-best.

Indeed, the switch-hitting Posada was considered an offensive catcher. He earned five Silver Slugger awards at the position while placing among the top five for American League Most Valuable Player twice. His 2003 campaign was his best year: He delivered a .281/.405/.518 slash line, good for a 144 OPS+, and his 30 home runs and 101 RBI were also career-bests. Posada was third in MVP voting that season, behind Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado. He placed sixth in MVP voting in 2007 when he batted .338, fourth-best in the AL and the only time he hit .300 or better, based on a career-high 171 hits that included 20 home runs and a career-best 42 doubles, and he reached base at a career-best .426 clip, good for third in the AL. Rounding out his slash line was his .543 slugging percentage, another career mark and eighth overall in the AL, while his 153 OPS+, yet another career high-water mark, was good for fifth in the AL that season. Posada was named to the 2007 AL All-Star squad for the fifth and final time.

Then shoulder surgery sidelined him in 2008, his age-36 year, as he managed just 51 games overall. He returned to form in 2009, as in 88 starts as catcher and in 438 plate appearances he produced a .285/.363/.522 slash line, generating a 125 OPS+, with 25 doubles, 22 home runs, and 81 RBI. But Posada's decline had begun—following the 2010 season, a disappointing offensive campaign, he had knee surgery, and in his final season in 2011 he was used as the Yankees' designated hitter with a handful of starts at first base. The 2011 season also saw a slumping Posada remove himself from the lineup after being listed as the number-nine hitter for a mid-May game against the Boston Red Sox, and although he hit well in June, by August he was riding the bench. Ironically, Posada hit .429 as the Yankees' DH during the AL Divisional Series against the Detroit Tigers, a series the Yankees lost in five games, but when the Yankees, the only major-league team Posada had played for, showed no interest in him for the 2012 season, he retired.

In the postseason, Posada ranks in the top ten in several batting categories—hardly a surprise both as the Yankees seemed to be perennial playoff contenders during his tenure and as the divisional playoff structure has afforded players many more postseason opportunities. But although Posada is second in games played with 125, third in doubles with 23, and fourth in hits with 103, his overall performance is hardly auspicious: In 492 plate appearances, Posada delivered a .248/.358/.387 slash line from 103 hits including 23 doubles and 11 home runs. Not surprisingly, Posada hit best in divisional series and worst in the World Series as, presumably, the competition gets tougher with each successive round. Of course, in the postseason, timing is everything—it's when you get a hit, and what its impacts on the game and series are, that matter. For instance, in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Seven of the 2003 AL Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, Posada hit a screwy fly ball off Pedro Martinez that landed behind second base for a double that enabled Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui to score and thus tie the game at five-all. Three innings later, Yankees' third baseman Aaron Boone hit a leadoff homer off Tim Wakefield, and the Yankees went to their sixth World Series in eight years.

Defensively, Posada was no more than adequate. His defensive WAR (from Baseball Reference) of 2.1 is deceptive because Baseball Reference uses a plus-10.0 positional adjustment for catchers, meaning that a replacement-level catcher of league-average defensive ability is worth 10 wins to his team simply for being able to catch. This is borne out by Posada's other defensive metrics: His Total Zone fielding runs above average as a catcher from FanGraphs is –18 while Baseball Reference's version is more harsh, –28, and its defensive runs saved index is –49. Posada's career caught-stealing percentage is 28 percent against a league aggregate total of 30 percent, and although current conventional wisdom has it that a base is stolen against the pitcher, Posada did catch Andy Pettitte, owner of one of the best pickoff moves of his generation of pitchers, for several seasons. Posada did throw out 387 base runners over his career, tied for 106th all time, and just one behind Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane. Nevertheless, Posada allowed 984 stolen bases over his career, 37th all-time, in 1574 total games at catcher, with 1450 starts as he completed 1306 of those starts.

Posada's relative novelty as a switch-hitting catcher may recall Ted Simmons, and it may be instructive to compare their careers. However, let us note that Simmons played for 21 seasons to Posada's 17 seasons, and Simmons played in 2456 games overall including 1771 as a catcher, with 1687 of those games as the starting catcher, while Posada totaled 1829 games including 1574 as a catcher, starting 1450 of those games at that position. Simmons became the St. Louis Cardinals' starting catcher in 1971, his age-21 season, and had first come up for a cup of coffee (two games and four plate appearances including his first hit, a single) at the tender age of 18 in 1968; Posada, as we have noted, did not become the Yankees' full-time catcher until his sixth season with the team, in 2000 in his age-28 year, although he did start 98 games behind the plate in 1999.

The following table summarizes both catchers' career batting statistics overall including slash line, plate appearances (PA), hits, home runs (HR), and qualitative measurements defined previously.

Jorge Posada and Ted Simmons: Overall Career Batting Statistics

Player

Slash Line

wOBA

PA

Hits

HR

OPS+

wRC+

Posada, Jorge

.273/.374/.474

.367

7150

1664

275

121

123

Simmons, Ted

.285./348/.437

.347

9685

2472

248

118

116


In addition, Posada scored 900 runs in his career while driving in 1065 runs; Simmons's career runs scored are 1074 and career RBI are 1389.

The following table summarizes both catchers' batting statistics at the catching position including slash line, plate appearances, hits, doubles (2B), home runs, runs scored (R), and runs batted in (RBI).

Jorge Posada and Ted Simmons: Career Batting Statistics as a Catcher

Player

Slash Line

PA

Hits

2B

HR

R

RBI

Posada, Jorge

.279/.380/.487

6200

1472

344

246

814

954

Simmons, Ted

.294/.358/.451

7279

1908

364

195

851

1062


The following table summarizes both catchers' batting statistics as a left-handed- and right-handed batter. As runs scored totals are not available for switch-hitters based on which side of the plate they hit from, the table lists the number of bases on balls (BB) each catcher was issued as a left-handed- or right-handed hitter.

Jorge Posada and Ted Simmons: Career Batting Statistics as a Left-handed Batter

Player

Slash Line

PA

Hits

2B

HR

BB

RBI

Posada, Jorge

.267/.375/.471

5098

1148

256

203

707

758

Simmons, Ted

.287/.350/.437

6203

1594

327

146

552

873

Jorge Posada and Ted Simmons: Career Batting Statistics as a Right-handed Batter

Player

Slash Line

PA

Hits

2B

HR

BB

RBI

Posada, Jorge

.288/.371/.482

2051

516

123

72

228

307

Simmons, Ted

.281/.345/.437

3481

878

156

102

303

516


Not surprisingly, both hitters faced more right-handed pitchers, consequently batting left-handed against them, and thus their totals as lefties are higher than as righties. (Oddly, though, Posada did have one plate appearance batting right-handed against a right-handed pitcher, and Simmons had one plate appearance batting left-handed against a left-handed pitcher.) And while Posada hit better as a right-hander against southpaw pitching in an admittedly smaller sample size than against right-handed pitching, Simmons saw a higher proportion of lefty pitching than did Posada, and as a right-handed hitter he hit only slightly worse than he did as a lefty hitter.

Curiously, Simmons had better home-run power as a right-handed hitter: He hit 102 long flies in 3123 at-bats, one home run for every 30.6 at-bats, while batting left-handed his 146 dingers in 5556 at-bats yields one home run for every 38.1 at-bats. Posada displayed more even-handed power: As a lefty, he slugged 203 round-trippers in 4300 at bats, averaging a home run every 21.2 at-bats, while his 72 homers in 1792 at-bats as a righty works out to a big knock every 24.9 at-bats.

Although Ted Simmons hit for higher average, Posada reached base and slugged at a better percentage. However, we should also note that offensive production during Simmons's period of the 1970s and 1980s was lower than it was throughout Posada's career, which coincided with the high offense of the late 1990s and 2000s, otherwise known as the height of the Steroids Era. (Please note that Jorge Posada has never been associated with performance-enhancing drugs.)

Defensively, Simmons was a better catcher than was Posada. Simmons's defensive WAR is 4.7, while both FanGraphs' Total Zone and Baseball Reference's Total Zone total fielding runs above average show –8 for him as a catcher. Both were known as offensive catchers, and both were overshadowed by at least one superstar catcher: Simmons played in the National League at the same time as the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Bench, arguably the greatest catcher of all time; during his career, Posada not only had to contend with Ivan Rodriguez, one of the greatest receivers ever, in the American League, but with Mike Piazza, probably the greatest-hitting backstop in baseball history, also in the majors.

And as a switch-hitting catcher known more for his offense who had to play second banana to another, even more illustrious backstop, Ted Simmons received 3.7 percent of the vote in his first and only appearance on a BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in 1994. Simmons has yet to impress a veterans committee that could vote him into Hall. In many ways, Jorge Posada looks like the Ted Simmons of his era—will he suffer the same fate as Simmons?

Posada does have one edge, and that is his ownership of four championship rings as a member of four Yankees teams that won World Series, although as we noted above, his hitting overall in the postseason, despite cumulative notability, was unexceptional. By contrast, Simmons appeared in just two postseasons, both with the Milwaukee Brewers (then in the American League) in 1981 and 1982, going to the World Series in the latter year and ironically facing his old team the Cardinals, who won in seven games. Simmons's postseason batting record is undistinguished although he did hit a pair of home runs in the World Series. However, when Simmons retired, he had more hits (2472) and doubles (483) than any player whose primary position was catcher, although Simmons's totals were not achieved exclusively as a backstop; Ivan Rodriguez has since eclipsed both marks.

Jorge Posada
As one of the Yankees' "Core Four," catcher Jorge Posada helped New York to four World Series rings. Is that good enough for the Hall?

Jay Jaffe's JAWS system lists Ted Simmons as the 10th-best catcher all-time and Jorge Posada as the 16th-best catcher all-time. JAWS is based on bWAR, with Simmons posting a 50.1 bWAR for his career, a 34.7 bWAR for his best seven seasons (WAR7, and they do not need to be consecutive seasons), and a 42.4 bWAR for his JAWS, a combination of overall bWAR and WAR7. Posada merits a 42.7 bWAR, a 32.7 WAR7, and a 37.7 JAWS. Let's keep in mind that Simmons's marks are higher because he logged more playing time, although WAR7 demonstrates a player's peak regardless of longevity. However, both catchers fall below the average marks of the 13 catchers already in the Hall of Fame: 52.5 overall bWAR, 33.8 WAR7, and 43.1 JAWS.

We have done an extensive analysis of Posada that includes the comparison with Simmons, and that is because catcher is the most difficult—and most crucial—fielding position on the baseball diamond. The catcher calls the game, handles the pitchers, attempts to throw out runners trying to steal a base, and, particularly in the contemporary period, is expected to produce offensively in addition to being a defensive stalwart.

Historically, however, the Hall has rewarded those catchers who have been offensive stars, although there have been exceptions in the modern game that began in 1901: Ray Schalk, best known as the catcher for the 1919 Chicago White Sox that deliberately lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds (Schalk was not one of the "eight men out," the eight White Sox players who accepted bribes to throw the Series; in fact, Schalk was visibly incensed on the field at the players he suspected of cheating), was eventually inducted into the Hall by a veterans committee, and it was purely for his defensive play: A lifetime .253 hitter, Schalk not only totaled 11 career home runs, which Babe Ruth would have shrugged off in a month, but he has the dubious honor of having an on-base percentage (.340) that is higher than his slugging percentage (.316). (Schalk did steal 177 bases, which is second-best to Jason Kendall among catchers whose careers began after 1901.)

Furthermore, the catching position is the most physically demanding fielding position, which is why catchers are rarely on the leaderboard for most games played in a season (and that would hardly be at catcher exclusively). Catchers' equipment is known familiarly as the "tools of ignorance," a nod to the physical abuse catchers endure, inning in and inning out, from constant squatting and rising, from pitches fouled off them again and again, and, until only recently, from base runners trying to barrel them over in their attempts to score. In fact, the 2011 season-ending injury sustained by San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey during a home-plate collision forced Major League Baseball to amend rules regarding contact and providing a "runner's lane" on a scoring play. An earlier example of a home-plate collision that has become iconic occurred in the 1970 All-Star Game when Pete Rose slammed into catcher Ray Fosse at the end of the game; it has often been cited as the crucial derailment of Fosse's budding stardom, although Fosse's entire career had been beset by injuries irrespective of Rose's notorious hit. Even without those spectacular incidents, a catcher such as Mike Matheny, currently the manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, was forced to retire because of sustained head trauma resulting from "routine" foul balls hitting him even on his protective headgear.

Simply put, evaluation of catchers for the Hall of Fame must go beyond mere numbers-crunching, although ironically catcher is one position at which a "compiler" could be considered favorably merely for being able to produce a long career. All of this, though, is ultimately to decide whether Jorge Posada is a Hall of Fame player. As one of the Yankees' "Core Four," Posada was integral to the making of the Bronx Bombers as a contemporary dynasty—although Posada, who was left off the team's 1996 postseason roster, was not really a full-time force until 2000 and the Yankees' World Series victory that year, by which time the Yankees had already won three Series between 1996 and 1999 with Posada not a central factor. Posada did have a strong eight-year peak from 2000 to 2007, which is essentially his career highlight. Sidelined by shoulder surgery in 2008, his age-36 season, Posada had a decent 2009 season but soon declined precipitously, which is hardly surprising in this age of high talent compression.

And given the logjam on the writers' ballot, Posada, despite his high-profile status as a Yankee, may very well experience the same fate that Ted Simmons did on his first year on the ballot. That may be unfortunate, but it is not unjustified, as Jorge Posada falls short of the Hall of Fame threshold by any measure.

Accomplishing a feat done previously by only Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra puts you in some rarefied company, and for Edgar Renteria, he is just the fourth man to deliver the hit that won more than one World Series.

In 1997, as the shortstop for the (then-)Florida Marlins, Renteria's single off the Cleveland Indians' Charles Nagy in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game Seven scored Craig Counsell from third base and brought the Marlins their first World Championship. Then, in 2010, as the shortstop for the San Francisco Giants in Game Five of the World Series against the Texas Rangers, Renteria broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning with a three-run homer off Cliff Lee. That score held up until the final out, and with the Giants leading the Series three games to one, Renteria delivered—again—the Series-winning hit that brought the Giants their first World Championship in 56 years. That hit, along with the home run Renteria delivered in Game Two, earned him Series Most Valuable Player honors.

Renteria delivered another World Series-ending hit in 2004—although that one was more a dubious honor: As the shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, Renteria grounded out to Boston Red Sox reliever Keith Foulke in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game Four, the final out of Boston's four-game sweep of the Cardinals on their way to the first World Championship for the Red Sox in 86 years.

In his 16-year career, Renteria did play in several postseason series for four teams all told; ironically, he was Boston's shortstop in 2005, when the defending champion Red Sox were stopped in the American League Divisional Series by the Chicago White Sox, who themselves went on to win their first World Series in 88 years. But although Renteria was in the right place at the right time—or vice versa—at key moments, and he did have a couple of excellent series—as the Giants' World Series MVP, he batted .412 with 2 homers and 6 RBI—his overall postseason record is unremarkable: In 66 games, 278 plate appearances, and 242 at-bats, he posted a .252/.327/.339 slash line with 61 hits, 12 doubles, and 3 homers while scoring 37 runs and driving in 23.

But postseason success is not the make-or-break criterion for a potential Hall of Famer—in fact, it is not even necessary: Another shortstop, Ernie Banks, never played one game in the postseason but was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. But Renteria, a solid, journeyman shortstop, is no Ernie Banks.

Edgar Renteria
Edgar Renteria also had some post-season glory--will it make the shortstop appealing to Hall of Fame voters?

In his 16-year career, Renteria played for seven MLB teams, seeing the most action with the Cardinals, with whom he earned two Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger awards, and three All-Star berths. However, he came up with the Marlins, and as a 19-year-old in 1996 he was the National League runner-up for Rookie of the Year with a .309/.358/.399 line in 106 games, 471 plate appearances, and 431 at-bats, knocking 133 hits including 18 doubles while scoring 68 runs and stealing 16 bases. Traded to the Cardinals following the 1998 season, Renteria was solid for six straight seasons, batting over .300 twice and smacking 30 or more doubles in all but one season while driving in a career-high 100 runs in 2003. During his stint with the Redbirds, Renteria averaged, per season, a .290/.347/.420 line generated from 162 hits including 34 doubles and 12 home runs while scoring 83 runs and knocking in 75 runs, adding 25 stolen bases for good measure—all excellent offensive production from a middle infielder.

But after signing as a free agent with the Red Sox for the 2005 season, Renteria, still only in his age-28 year, became more of a journeyman although he did post an impressive .332/.390/.470 line with the Atlanta Braves in 2007, following his trade there in 2006. However, 2007 was the last time Renteria posted an OPS+ above league-average, with his 124 his second-best mark, and he wound up his career with the Detroit Tigers, Giants, and Cincinnati Reds, fighting injuries while enjoying occasional glories such as his postseason heroics with the Giants in 2010.

Defensively, Edgar Renteria was an adequate shortstop, worth 8.1 wins above a replacement shortstop for his defensive play, better than Hall of Famers Banks or Robin Yount, although well below several others. FanGraphs charts his Total Zone rating at 8 runs below average, while Baseball Reference puts it at 14 runs below average, with his defensive runs saved at –26. Renteria is 85th in all-time errors by a shortstop (tied with Yount); he did retire having been the leader in that category among active shortstops.

In sum, Edgar Renteria was a good-, not great-, hitting shortstop and a good-, not great-, fielding shortstop, with an fWAR of 35.5 and a bWAR of 32.1. Jaffe's JAWS ranks him 63rd, below even marginal Hall of Fame shortstops Travis Jackson, Rabbit Maranville, and Phil Rizzuto. With two World Series-winning hits, Renteria repeated a feat done only by three Hall of Famers, but that is as close as he will get to baseball immortality.

Last modified on Thursday, 14 January 2016 00:56

Comments   

0 #1 Committee Chairman 2014-12-21 22:20
Another great piece. They should actually hold a referendum stating whether these guys should be on it or not....If they should be, then let's define that era, hell put an asterisk on it if you must, but just call it what it was.
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