Lou Brock / Icon SMI

Lou Brock played 18 seasons in the majors. He took over the career lead for stolen bases from Billy Hamilton in 1978 and led until 1991 when Rickey Henderson passed him.

Brock was a 6-time All-Star, received MVP votes in a staggering 10 different seasons, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985, his first year of eligibility.

I don’t actually have any problem with Brock being in the Hall of Fame–regardless of what the numbers say, he was held in extremely high regard during his era as the preeminent base stealer of the day as well as one of the best leadoff batters.

However, a pretty good devil’s advocate case can be made that he doesn’t deserve to be enshrined.

The first number that my eye is drawn to when looking at any batter’s career is OPS+. Brock’s is a pedestrian 109, behind 126 other Hall of Famers. Even his best 5-year OPS+ is only 121, behind the full-career OPS+ of more than 300 other retired players.

Of course, OPS+ is not the best metric for a leadoff hitter, who traditionally was not someone with a high slugging percentage. Brock’s job was to get on base by any means possible, not necessarily to drive the ball. His career OBP was .343 and his peak period from 1970 to 1975 saw him get on base at a .366 clip. Over that 6-year range, though, Brock barely cracks the top 50 in OBP (minimum 1000 plate appearances.) This, from a guy who was supposed to be a fantastic leadoff hitter?

One of the big knocks against Brock was that he didn’t walk very much. This really hurt his on-base percentage and makes his career .293 batting average fairly soft. Over his career, he averaged 14.76 plate appearances for every walk. Of the 34 Hall of Famers who had at least 2000 plate appearances from 1960-1979, only a handful walked less frequently than Brock. For the record, those were Ernie Banks (14.77), Luis Aparicio (15.51), Nellie Fox (16.11), Bill Mazeroski (18.36), Robin Yount (19.10), and Andre Dawson (20.85), and these numbers are all limited to the portions of careers in just the period 1960-1979. Most of those guys, however, also struck out a lot less often than Brock, who had a 2.27 K/BB ratio in his career. Banks (1.84), Aparicio (0.97), Fox (0.35), Mazeroski (1.46), and Yount (1.96) had more balanced attacks, while Dawson (3.64) was just getting going with his own (HOF-questionable) career.

Brock also took over the lead in career caught stealings in 1974 and kept that lead until 1999, when Rickey Henderson passed Brock, 8 years after he passed him in stolen bases. In fact, looking at the top 10 guys in all-time stolen bases, Brock has the worst success rate of all (ignoring Hamilton and Arlie Latham, for whom caught stealing data doesn’t exist.) Brock’s rate was 75.3%. By comparison, Henderson was at 80.8%, Ty Cobb at 80.9%, and Tim Raines at 84.7%.

For his career, Brock ranks 35th in games played and 19th in at bats, but only 45th in runs scored, 63rd in total bases, 67th in doubles, 63rd in triples, and 58th in times on base, while 21st in strikeouts and 17th in outs made.

So what’s all the fuss? Brock was a really good player, but should he really be in the Hall of Fame?

 

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