POLL: Gary Sheffield and the Hall of Fame

Icon SMI


Gary Sheffield is an interesting case for the Hall of Fame. As with so many guys of his era, steroids come up a a big issue. Sheffield admitted to a grand jury that he unknowingly used a steroid cream during 2002. Many folks theorize that he had used other substances as well but there have been no formal accusations or admissions. There’s not a lot more we can say on the subject of steroids, though–exactly how it will affect his candidacy remains to be seen.

What we do know about Sheffield for sure are the facts: he topped 500 career homers with a 140 OPS+, was a 9-time all star (at two different positions), received MVP votes in 7 different seasons including 4 top-6 finishes, and he homered in every post-season series in 1997 as his Marlins won it all.

Still, he’s not a slam dunk candidate by any means. Click through for the debate and poll.Sheffield was one of the most feared hitters of his time–and it was usually the 3rd-base coach who was most afraid. Sheffield had incredibly quick wrists and was the master of hitting smash line drives down the left-field line. He racked up a lot of doubles and homers this way.

He was also gruff and seemed to wear our his welcome on many teams. Just look at his list of career stops: Milwaukee, San Diego, Florida, LA Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, Tigers, Mets. The Marlins were the only team with which he played more than 4 seasons. After his time with the Marlins, Sheffield was on 5 different playoff teams but batted only .216 in 111 at bats in those years. While it’s certainly not entirely his fault, his team lost 5 out of 6 playoff series during that stretch.

Anyway, here’s a look at the pros and cons of his case.

For Gary Sheffield in the Hall of Fame

  • He’s one of just 22 players in history with 450 doubles and 450 homers. It’s true that this mark has been significantly easier to achieve in Sheffield’s era, with half the entrants having played as recently as 1995, but that’s still only 11 guys that he is among.
  • Sheffield is 30th all-time in the Batting Runs component of rWAR. That is damned impressive. He’s ahead of a lot of all-time greats, including Joe DiMaggio, Eddie Mathews, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, and Carl Yastrzemski. (Keep in mind that this stat is era-corrected, so he doesn’t get the same benefit as the raw counting numbers in the bullet point above.)
  • From 1995 to 2004, Sheffield had a 157 OPS+ over 5916 plate appearances. As a peak, it’s not as high as some, but at 10 years it’s very long. (As further proof of his distributed peak, his best seasons were a 189 OPS+ in 1996 and a 176 OPS+ in 2000.) Only two players had at least 5000 PAs over that same period and a better OPS+:  Barry Bonds (206) and Manny Ramirez (159). Jim Thome was tied with Sheff at 157.

Against Gary Sheffield in the Hall of Fame

  • Sheffield did not play good defense. Consider this: he’s 29th in career oWAR, but in overall WAR among batters he’s just 89th. He had a staggering 11 different seasons where he was worth at least -1 win above replacement on defense and overall he finished at -18.4 dWAR for his career. Wow, that’s bad.
  • Sheffield is, in fact, worst all time in the Fielding Runs component of WAR:
    Rk Player Rfield From To
    1 Gary Sheffield -178 1988 2009
    2 Derek Jeter -143 1995 2011
    3 Bobby Bonilla -121 1986 2001
    4 Danny Tartabull -120 1984 1997
    5 Bernie Williams -118 1991 2006
    6 Eddie Yost -114 1944 1962
    7 Juan Samuel -113 1983 1998
    8 Rick Monday -112 1966 1984
    9 Chris Gomez -111 1993 2008
    10 Manny Ramirez -110 1993 2011
    11 Ty Wigginton -110 2002 2011
    12 Ricky Gutierrez -110 1993 2004
    13 Bill Madlock -110 1973 1987
    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
    Generated 2/19/2012.

    Most of these guys accumulated such negative totals because they were good with the bat, and the same is true in Sheffield’s case. But that doesn’t change the fact that we must discount his overall value based on the fact that he hurt his teams with defense.

  • Sheffield had remarkably little black ink–just 4, and those come from winning the NL batting title in 1992. He never led the league in any other of the ink-related categories, and that pretty well sums up his career–he was never the best overall player in baseball, but he was in the top 10 for just about all of his career. In other words, he was never a top-tier superstar–“merely” fantastic for many years.

Now please vote in our poll:



Comments

POLL: Gary Sheffield and the Hall of Fame — 66 Comments

  1. Was just comparing him to Carlos Delgado since they’ll both be on the ballot for the first time in 2015. Will be interesting to see which of them does better in the balloting. Sheffield has a pretty large lead in WAR (63.3 vs 44.2). But Delgado has some of the same “markers” as Sheffield – e.g., over 450 doubles and homeruns, 7 times on the MVP ballot with 3 top 6 finishes – without the negatives of a steroid taint or personality issues.

    • Delgado has no steroid taint? Really? Just playing in that era and hitting home runs gives you a taint. What about Jeff Bagwell? There’s zero evidence he ever did steroids other than the fact that he looked like he lifted weights. Didn’t Delgado have a similar body type? Didn’t his power numbers skyrocket in the steroid era?

      • bstar,

        Delgado’s HR totals did NOT “skyrocket” at any point in his career. The extreme range for his HR totals from age 25 to 34 is only 14 – a low of 30 and a high of 44, median of 38. No spikes or skyrockets there.

  2. Well, I mentioned this on another thread. I grew up in Milwaukee in the 90s (okay, I’ve actually mentioned that in a LOT of other threads), and we really, really didn’t like Gary Sheffield. He committed the cardinal sin in Midwestern culture: he trashed the city he was supposed to be calling “home.”

    I’ll admit that has a bearing on how I think of him historically. Another thing does, too, and it’s what Andy mentioned. I don’t really remember thinking of him as being among the best players in baseball. And the thing about it is, I think, that he suffers (to a lesser degree) from the doing-everything-well syndrome that we’ve so often encountered. Obviously, I don’t mean everything, since he was a terrible defender, but rather I mean as a hitter:

    He hit a lot of homers and doubles, but never led the league in either. He was a lightweight when it came to the big-boppers we expected in the 90s, so he wasn’t thought of in the Bonds-Griffey-McGwire-Belle-Thomas-Bagwell group. Those were power hitters.

    He was nearly a .300 hitter for his career, but outside of 1992, he never posted an outstanding average.

    He was not an outstanding base-stealer, but there were several years in which he posted a great SB%, but barely ran.

    His three best RBI seasons came in his mid-30s. He wasn’t really considered to be an “RBI man” like some players are, but he certainly knocked in a lot of runs, and scored some, too.

    He walked a lot (check out the numbers in the mid-to-late-90s!), but that’s an “invisible” skill to most fans/media.

    He was a great hitter, a bad defender, and constantly overshadowed in every offensive category by other players, but there were maybe only two or three hitters in his era who could top him in all aspects of offense. Definitely a tough choice, and I haven’t voted yet. I’m inclined to say yes, but I’m hoping that this discussion will enlighten me a bit more before I make my final vote.

  3. I still can’t make up my mind.

    One interesting angle is how his teams did before acquiring him and after sending him on. I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, since his overall playing record is much more important, and there are always many factors in a team’s success or failure, but it’s a little surprising:

    Brewers:
    — 1991 (with Sheff), 83-79
    — 1992 (without), 92-70

    Padres:
    — 1991 (before Sheff), 84-78.
    — 1992 (with Sheff), 82-80.
    — 1993 (with Sheff thru June 24), 28-44, .389
    — 1993 (without after June 24), 33-57, .367
    — 1994 (without), 47-70, .401

    Marlins:
    — 1993 (franchise debut, before Sheff thru June 24), 32-39, .451
    — 1993 (with Sheff from June 25), 32-59, .352
    — 1997 (last full year with Sheff), 92-70, WS champs.
    — 1998 (all marketable assets were liquidated, including Sheff on May 14)

    Dodgers:
    — 1997 (before Sheff), 88-74
    — 1998 (with Sheff for 3/4 of season), 83-79
    — 2001 (last year with Sheff), 86-76
    — 2002 (without), 92-70

    Braves:
    — 2001 (before Sheff), 88-74, lost in CS
    — 2002 (with Sheff), 101-59, lost in DS
    — 2003 (last year with Sheff), 101-61, lost in DS
    — 2004 (without), 96-66, lost in DS

    Yankees:
    — 2003 (before Sheff), 101-61, lost in WS
    — 2004 (with Sheff), 101-61, lost in CS
    — 2005 (last full year with Sheff), 95-67, lost in DS
    — 2007 (without), 94-68, lost in DS

    Tigers:
    — 2006 (before Sheff), 95-67, lost in WS
    — 2007 (with Sheff), 88-74, missed playoffs
    — 2008 (last year with Sheff), 74-88
    — 2009 (without), 86-77, lost playoff game for division title

    Mets:
    — 2008 (before Sheff), 89-73
    — 2009 (with Sheff), 70-92
    — 2010 (without), 79-83

    It’s a mixed bag at best. The Dodgers, Braves, Yanks and Tigers all had championship aspirations when they acquired Sheffield; none were realized:

    — LA had made the playoffs 2 out of 3 years before Sheff, missing by 2 games the other time. But in 4 years with Sheff, they never made the playoffs.

    — Atlanta had been winning their division and falling short in the postseason since Sheffield was a Brewer. They did the same in his 2 years with their club, losing in the Division Series twice in row for the first time ever.

    — The Yanks had been to the World Series 5 out of 6 years before signing Sheff. In his 3 seasons, they became the first MLB team ever to blow a 3-0 playoff lead, then lost in the DS twice.

    — Detroit’s 2006 success surprised everyone before crashing in the WS, when they hit a combined .199 in a 5-game loss. In 2 years with Sheff, they did not come close to making the playoffs.

    Again, many factors involved, but still.

    And when he did get to the postseason, Sheffield did not distinguish himself, either in raw numbers or “clutchness”:
    — In 202 PAs, 6 HRs, 6 doubles, 19 RBI, 27 Runs. Per 162 G, that’s 22 HRs, 22 doubles, 70 RBI, 99 Runs.
    — In 44 games (all as a starter), his combined WPA was 0.280 (projects to 1.031 for 162 G), with a high game of 0.308, and a negative WPA in 27 of 44 games.

    • John- great stuff. You’ve made me rethink how I think about Sheffield.

      I’m a big hall guy and just on his numbers alone I think he’s clearly qualified. Before I read what you wrote my only issue was the steroids. There I fall in the “if he would have been good enough without them” camp, meaning I would vote for Bonds & Clemens (after a year or 2 penance) but not Palmeiro. Sheffield doesn’t have a lot of black ink but he was consistently among the league leaders for more than a decade. But it’s also true that the game is not played in a vacuum and the whole point is to win. One player can’t be completely responsible for a teams failure and playoff series are too short to mean a lot but you’ve made a pretty damning case that he did very little, if anything, to make most of the teams that he played for better. You couple that with the fact that he gave up in Milwaukee (an unpardonable sin in my book) and now I’m not so sure he’s worthy.

  4. For me, the case for Sheff mostly relies upon whom amongst his outfield peers we put in before him. The same thing will be true in a decade or so when it comes time to start putting this generation’s first basemen into the Hall. Howard’s late start was already going to hurt his ability to put together a good Hall case and his inability to stop giving outs to the defense because of the shift, amongst other declines in his performance, make it look like his case is disappearing.

    But there is still Teixeira, Pujols (lock), Fielder, Cabrera, Gonzalez, Votto, late-surging Konerko, and perhaps even someone else I am overlooking at the moment. Point is, you put in Pujols and probably two other guys but that’s it, regardless of how great a class of 1B they are, right? Or do others feel differently about electing guys to the Hall?

    Anyway, when considering Sheff, that’s how I feel about his case–I immediately begin to think that there are other outfielders I’m supposed to put in first, and then wonder if there’s enough “room” for Sheff.

  5. Speaking of the Hall, I am saying this now and I will probably say it a half-dozen times before all is said and done but I’m not a huge fan of this first ballot/not first ballot stuff. That said, if Frank Thomas doesn’t go in first ballot I’m going to be upset.

    That’s my one big bone to pick with the next few years’ candidates–Frank better get in right away.

    I won’t further derail the topic by saying that The Rock should get in or any other that.

  6. One of the hardest aspects of this decision for me is how much weight to give to Sheffield’s awful defense. Two aspects of this dilemma:

    (1) He had the bat (and the glove) to be a DH, 1B or LF. Yet he played the majority of his games in RF, even though there’s no evidence of a strong arm. He played just 9 games at 1B, and had only 71 games as a DH before spending 2 years there with Detroit late in his career. Even the 2004-06 Yanks, who could have DH’d him, chose not to.

    But would he have made the HOF if he’d spent most of his career at DH, where the offensive standard is higher than RF? That’s hard to say. We still don’t have a DH in the Hall; Edgar Martinez has averaged about 35% in his 3 ballots, and Frank Thomas isn’t up until 2014.

    (2) As often noted by one of our regulars (one of the Mikes?), offensive WAR and defensive WAR are measured against different scales. oWAR is measured against replacement level, while dWAR is measured against average.

    I usually close my eyes & cross my fingers about this discrepancy, hoping that the difference isn’t critical. But when the defensive number is this big — worst dWAR of all time — then I’m much less certain that adding oWAR and dWAR together gives a good estimate of true value.

    • Two things:

      Isn’t defense compared to “average” rather than “replacement” because it’s assumed that average defense IS replacement level defense? In other words, there are a whole lot of guys in the minors who could come up and play league-average defense. I always assumed that was the reasoning. I mean, I have a friend who played college baseball, and who could easily out-throw, say, Johnny Damon, and was as fast, to boot. My friend was a great hitter on our softball team, but of course probably wouldn’t have hit .150 in the majors. I think the rationale is that defense is just easier.

      Second of all, your DH argument really just feels like an argument for the inclusion of Edgar rather than the exclusion of Sheffield. He was a liability, yet teams played him in the field, and he’s still a very, very solid Hall candidate. Edgar was probably a better defender at 3rd than Sheff in RF, but his teams didn’t put him there. Not his fault. I would think that would help Edgar’s case. But then again, I’m always looking for things to help Edgar’s case.

    • To John A’s point about dWAR, I agree-I’m a little leery about giving it as much emphasis when the science is less exact, and, at least for the “skill positions”, the ability to grab a glove and play the position has value, even if you don’t play it particularly well. It’s an allocation of resources by the team which balances the player’s contribution against what else is available (and at what price.) On the “character clause”, there’s a difference between being surly and engaging in illegal activity. I’m more inclined to give players a pass for surly. We’d like them to be polite good guys, but it’s really irrelevant. Athletes and the writers/media types who cover them tend to have a one thing in common-they all have jobs most of the rest of us would kill for, and more than a few of them-on both sides of the lines-know it and can be self-absorbed jerks. So, when they get into the clubhouse and start the question “Gary, on that ball hit down the line in the third inning, did you just lose concentration…” don’t be surprised if he may not be the most pleasant. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a political junkie-I’ve written hundreds of notes to editors and political writers, very often disagreeing (respectfully), and I’ve never received anything less than a polite response, and often a detailed one. Contrast that to the odd (again, polite) comment you send to a sports staff writer and the sometimes contemptuous and often rude email back. So, in judging Sheffield (or any other player), I’d limit my “character” concerns to things like steroids and personal misconduct (if any).

    • The problem is the definition of dWAR, and obviously oWAR also since oWAR = WAR – dWAR.) WAR is the sum of, offense over average, defense over average, position adjustment, replacement adjustment. (Which is the difference between replacement level and average times games played.) Sean Foreman, (not Sean Smith who developed rWAR), chose to separate the defense over average and call it dWAR, and call all of the other parts together oWAR. My objections to that, especially to including the position adjustment in oWAR are on record at the b-r blog.

      Looking at overall defensive value, combining position and runs below average at that, (or those) position(s), Sheff appears to be the worst all time. Ahead, or should that be behind, Manny, Big Hurt, Winfield and Baines. (So 2 of the worst fielders all time have “field” in their names. Didn’t help them none.)

      There is considerable evidence that while there is such a thing as a replacement level hitter, there is no such thing as a replacement level fielder. That is, the borderline, end of bench, AAAA players defend as well as regulars, their offense is worse.

    • If I recall correctly, during his time with the Yankees, Shefield was not in love with the idea of DHing. But to be fair, that can be said of several players in the last 15 years AND the Yankees (he was the last “George Steinbrenner signing” did not sign him to DH, they signed him to play OF.

  7. I say no because I feel that he wouldn’t have gotten some of his numbers if not for the steroids. There is, of course, no way to state to what extent his PED usage helped his numbers and overall career. I’m not comfortable with voting for Sheff until it’s clear to what extent PED usage helped his and other known/assumed users’ careers.

  8. This is a tough one. While in Detroit, I never “felt” like I was watching a future HOF’er. In fact I was begging for Leyland to bench him in ’08. I think he would get more support if he would have been a one or two franchise player. His numerous stops and boorish attitude never allowed him to connect with the fan base IMO.
    That being said he has the numbers. One thing I noticed when reviewing his stats was his relatively low K totals. In fact Sheffield, Ted Williams, and Mel Ott are the only players with 500+ and less than 1,200 strikeouts. Take it for what you you will…

  9. The lowest WAR Fielding Runs total for an HOFer since 1901 is -89 by Dave Winfield, another OFer and also a 450/450 guy with the same black ink score of only 4.

    Put Winfield’s stats beside Sheffield’s and they’re quite similar. Except, Sheffield’s are a bit better in slash, OPS+, SB and WAR, quite a bit better in terms of both taking walks, not striking out, and GIDP, and (FWIW) far, far better at getting hit by a pitch.

    If Winfield is the standard, then Sheffield should be in.

  10. Just looked at his most comparable list. Could one day all of ’em are Hall of Famers.

    Mel Ott (877) *
    Reggie Jackson (864) *
    Chipper Jones (863)
    Ken Griffey (851)
    Fred McGriff (850)
    Mickey Mantle (840) *
    Billy Williams (838) *
    Frank Robinson (836) *
    Frank Thomas (832)
    Al Kaline (830) *
    * – Signifies Hall of Famer

    Interesting… Chipper Jones is his most comparable seven out of ten years in their 30s.

    • I’ll just chip in my usual disclaimer that a top Similarity Score of 877 is not terribly similar. So the fact that all 10 of Sheffield’s most-similars are HOFers or nearly there does not necessarily show anything about Sheff.

      Omar Vizquel has 6 HOFers in his top 8, but the highest actual score is 889 (Aparicio). Harold Baines has 5 HOFers in his top-10 Similarity Scores, including 4 of his top 5. But only one of those scores (Tony Perez, 943) is highly similar to Baines. Neither Vizquel nor Baines deserves to make the Hall.

      • No quarrel with any of that.

        But it does remain that, all ten of the players with the most similar numbers to Scheffield are in, or have an excellent chance of going in.

        The Chipper Jones stuff is amazing – and he is almost an exact contemporary.

        What is especially fascinating to me is that Sheffield is almost the anti-Chipper, in terms of his media persona. Hired gun versus lifetime team guy. Team captain type versus team scourge type. The steroid stigma. I have to mention race.

        When the time comes to consider Chipper for the hall, will the remarkable similarity of his numbers to those of Sheffield be meaningful?

        • Chipper does get some more credit for playing a more demanding defensive position, though… and playing it generally well, at least according to reputation, though I don’t think he was ever considered an elite glove.

  11. wow, it’s nine out of ten on Chipper’s page. (Most comp in their 30s) Plus another pair in their twenties.

    I’ll go out on a limb and say Chipper’s line for 2012 will look something like this…

    100 G 312 PA 13 D 2 T 10 HR 43 RBI .276 .372 .451 .823

  12. Similarity scores show him in the company of nothing but HOFers or will-be HOFers, the only maybe being Crime Dog.
    ___________________________________

    Sheffield was, by observation, a poor defensive player.
    And the statistics seem to back that up.

    But I’m not entirely sold on the advanced defensive metrics yet.
    According to the chart above, the Shortstop and Centerfielder on the only dynastic team of the last 35 years were two of the worst defenders in history.
    And they were awful during the 4 out of 5 run.

    That speaks either to the minimal impact of bad defense or the not-quite-there factor of the defensive stats.

    • For the edification of the audience, rWAR has him at -178 runs.

      fWAR has him at -204.6 runs. Since fWAR uses TotalZone rather than UZR before 2002, that means that both systems had him at -158 from 1988-2001, but UZR says he was much worse thenceforth.

      The Baseball Gauge, which uses a system for defensive WAR more similar to the system in Win Shares, sees Sheffield as basically an average defender: positive half a run for his career.

      Frankly, it’s really, really hard for me to believe that Sheff was as bad as particularly UZR sees him (or TZ in 1993: -32 runs is pretty brutal). I remember thinking he was not great, but I’m not sure that he’s even the worst defender I’ve seen have a long career. Still, I don’t think he was average, either. Tough call, but I thought this might be edifying to everyone when considering how differently some systems grade him defensively.

      Also, Dave Cameron on Fangraphs posted about Sheff’s HOF chances on Friday:

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/is-gary-sheffield-a-hall-of-famer/

      • Thanks for the link. I especially enjoyed the quote from Sheff on the HOF question:

        “I am sure it will be mentioned and debated but from my standpoint I know who is in the Hall of Fame,” Sheffield told The Post. “A lot of them don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. If someone wants to debate me, check the stats.”
        (emphasis added)

        Wouldn’t you love to hear his list of those that don’t belong?

      • I recall that article Dr. Doom, the discussion below was very good.

        If there were no PEDs involved, i would day his peak & career value were good enough, even accounting for defense. But when it is close at all, & a guy is named in the Mitchell report, I want to either see that it is the unusual case they got wrong, or have some good idea of how delimited the usage was. Since normally it helps sluggers hit with more power, thus draw more walks, & can keep guys healthy for a while, even if they break down in stereotypical ways later.

        The only reason why it is remotely likely he did not know what The Cream & The Clear was, is that i recall he was letting Bonds micromanage his training regimen then.

      • PA OPS+ WAR oWAR dWAR
        1.Sheffield 11,000 140 63.3 81.7 -18.4
        2.Mel Ott (877) * 11,300 155 109.3 103.0 6.3
        3.Reggie Jackson (864) * 11,400 139 74.6 75.1 -0.5
        4.Chipper Jones (863) 10,200 141 82.7 84.9 -2.2
        5.Ken Griffey (851) 11,300 135 78.6 80.9 -2.3
        6.Fred McGriff (850) 10,200 134 50.5 53.2 -2.7
        7.Mickey Mantle (840) * 9,900 172 120.2 122.1 -1.9
        8.Billy Williams (838) * 11,300 133 57.2 61.0 -3.8
        9.Frank Robinson (836) * 11,700 154 107.4 101.9 5.5
        10.Frank Thomas (832) 10,100 156 75.9 83.2 -7.3
        11.Al Kaline (830) * 11,600 134 91.0 74.7 16.3
        – Signifies Hall of Famer

        • I disagree with your ‘somewhat meaningless’ comment, good sir.

          Looking at those top ten similarity scores with modern metrics (OPS+, WAR), Sheffield’s numbers stand up pretty well.

          Mantle is the odd man out of this group; his numbers are clearly in a different universe. But for the rest, Sheff holds his own; 6th of 11 in OPS, 9th in WAR (but 6th in oWAR).

          Do we tend to downplay too much the offensive stats that were put up during the recent hitters’ era?

          Defense is his Achilles heel.

          If we are going to assess his Hall of Fame worthiness, I think it fair to examine how he stacks up with this group of players.

          Personally, if building a team, given a choice I’d take any one of these other guys. But, like I noted earlier, he’s sort of the anti-Chipper, in terms of the perception that has been built around him. How fair is that perception? How relevant to his ability to contribute to a winning team? Will that fade with time, or will that be what we remember most about him?

          And just for the record, he has as many rings as Chipper…

        • Following my comment #35 I went to the top 10 on the sim list and figured Offensive WAR properly. That is, I removed the position adjustment, so it is batting and base running above average and replacement runs to get it to runs above average for offense. Then convert runs to wins.

          Name Offensive WAR
          Sheffield 91
          Ott 113
          Reggie J. 95
          Chipper Jones 87
          Griffey Jr. 82
          McGriff 70
          Mantle 129
          B. Williams 78
          F. Robinson 119
          F. Thomas 95
          Kaline 88

          Chipper, Junior and Mickey change less than the others because they played most of their careers at 3B or CF. The rest of the guys here played mostly RF, LF and 1B, all easier defensive positions, and their position adjustments recognize this.

          As an offensive player, position neutral, Sheff is below Reggie and Big Hurt, and about the same amount above Chipper and Al Kaline. As a defensive player, including position, he’s the worst ever.

          With his career WAR less than overwhelming for HoF, a not very high and spread out peak, and some specific incidents that hurt his teams, I’m dubious about his belonging in Cooperstown. I voted no, but consider it very close.

    • In the five years from 1996-2000, the Yankees pitching staff finished 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, and 4th in the AL in strikeouts. Fewer balls in play lessens the negative impact of bad defense.

    • Voom:
      I agree. Give me the all-time worst iron gloves and I’ll win 120 games:
      Manny, Piazza, Allen, Jeter, Bernie Williams, Frank Thomas, Sheffield, Hornsby…..you get the idea. People quote these fielding metrics as if they were the synoptic gospels.

      If you bat for 9 and pitch for 9, the standard deviation on the value of fielding has to something like 6% ? And then you divide it into 9 fielding positions, it’s even less. If one guy gets 4 PA’s/per game and another gets 4 fielding chances per game, who has greater effect on the outcome of the game/which aspect of the game is more “impactful”.

      I dunno. I guess Sheffield was a good enough hitter to be a shitty fielder – for a long time. And back to the prior Lou Brock HoF argument, yeah, Sheffield looked like a HoFer when he swung so hard and fiercely, it was like he was playing wiffle ball. THAT’S the kind of talent Sheffield had

  13. Similarity Scores as I understand them are based on unadjusted raw numbers, which means a player who played in high run-scoring period in baseball history (such as Sheffield) is going to end up looking similar to hitters from lower scoring eras who were actually more valuable than he was.

    I prefer to use sabermetric numbers to find comparable players. One good comp for Sheffield (in terms of baseball numbers, not personality!!) might be Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew had a career 143 OPS+ and 61.1 WAR (including negative WAR fielding numbers his whole career), compared to Sheff’s 140 OPS+ and 63.3 WAR. Both played in 22 seasons in the majors.

    • I’ve said it before but I really wish Baseball Reference would get rid of the Similarity Scores. They may have made some sense when Bill James first developed them, but he was working with a lot less information than what we have available now. Now, they really don’t add any value to the discussion and too many people have no idea what they represent. At the very least, someone should come up with an updated system that takes into account some of the newer stats (e.g., OPS+, WAR, etc.).

      • Meh… I guess you just have to take it with a grain of salt, like a lot of other stuff. We’ve mentioned many times in this community how RBI mean very little, and how pitcher Wins mean very little, at least when we’re talking player analysis. But I wouldn’t want those things gone. They have some value. Likewise, I think Sim Scores can have value, too, but only if they’re used properly. It might be worth checking, for example, if you’re curious how many players put up career numbers to Sheff. I don’t think that you can actually build a HOF case around it, but it’s an interesting frivolity. I don’t think it hurts to have them. I just don’t think they really belong in this kind of a discussion, unless they’re just a shingle on the building of your argument. They can’t be the cornerstone.

        • The problem is that too many people use them without knowing what they do and don’t mean. (see some of the comments on this post for example). Mike L’s idea (comment #37) is actually a decent compromise.

    • One of the unintentional results of the B-R Similarity Scores is that singles hitters from recent decades frequently get compared to power hitters from the deadball era, and vice versa.

      For example, Rod Carew is Sam Crawford’s #8 MS; Tony Gwynn is Tris Speaker’s #9 MS. Cy Seymour is Matty Alou’s #6 MS. Paul Molitor is Honus Wagner’s #10 MS. None of these pairings is of really similar type offensive players.

  14. I don’t know if this has been said before, but Sheffield only used steroids in 2001, and I don’t know how long steroids’ effects last, but (by WAR) his 2001 season was a step down from his 2000 season, and 2002 was another step down. Maybe steroids had a negative effect on him? Then, in 2003, 2 years after his steroid use, he had the best year of his career. I think he definitely deserves it, but the question is if he will, as the simple fact that he did use and that he played during this era.

    • While I know he admitted to usage in 2001…do we know for sure that 2001 was the only year Sheffield used PEDs? Legitimate question; not suggesting I know otherwise.

  15. When he came up with Milwaukee, he admitted making errors on purpose because he didn’t want to be there. This was when he was an infielder. That, to me, would be enough to keep him out of the Hall.

  16. Just to follow on about what’s been said about Similarity Scores, I still think I would display them, but I’d cut them off at 5000 or more PA, and the top three or everything at 900 or above. What you find is something interesting-that the greats just aren’t that similar-even to each other. The similarities become more pronounced when you move down in class. I looked at the 25 500+HR hitters, where you would think you’d find commonalities. In that entire group, there are only four matches at 900 or above-not just to each other, but to all other players in the entire baseball universe; Griffey to Frank Robinson at 900, and Mike Schmidt to Eddie Matthews at 920. Compare that to a very good player like Tim Salmon, and he has 7 matches at 900 or above all by himself

  17. On the issue of Sheffield’s defense – defense in general, really – I think there is a different perspective that legitimately influences our assessment of players, in addition to the perspective natural among this group. The athletic fielder is a pleasure to watch and contribtues the possibility of a game as a set of highlight moments. When I think of Mays or Clemente, I remember them in the field first, even though I know (and was excited to watch them compile) their wonderful batting records. I’m not thinking of their dWAR’s, I’m thinking of what they were able to do and actually did. When I visit the MLB online site, I go to watch the fielding clips, and I notice young players when they appear multiple times. This is a talent important to the aesthetics of the game. Great fielding plays bring a stadium crowd roaring to its feet as much as a huge home run, and, for me at least, it’s the fear of missing one that keeps me from wandering off to the concession stands. Naturally, for position players, hitting has far more impact (so to speak) and is a much rarer talent. Lots of potential Brooks Robinsons may never earn a cup of coffee. But if teams all hit like the ’61 Yankees and fielded like the ’62 Mets, even though we might say that baseball’s net talent was statistically much higher and HoF candidates were flooding the market, I think baseball would be much worse as a game.

    For all their many remaining defects, fielding statistics seem to me to have improved far more than batting and pitching statistics over the past thirty years (I’m only talking about degree of change). But compared with batting and pitching, I think fielding skill involves a greater proportion of meaningful quality of execution issues that can’t be reduced to quantity measures, and those particular issues can be relevant when thinking through why we may or may not feel a borderline candidate fits in the Hall. I admired Sheffield – great player – but I remember him only for his bat and his speed (and disruptiveness and PEDs), and for me he’s a borderline candidate who fits better outside.

    • Munu:
      Yeah, great fielding is matter of aesthetics AND some measurable factor of ability and contribution that keeps changing with the hyper-statistician’s analysis. But, as far as aesthetics, Jeter going in the hole and jumping, twisting, and throwing is very pretty; however, Ozzie Smith, Ripken, and Tulowitzki make that play flat-footed without any fanfare or Thom Brennaman felatio….

      • Point taken, Paul. I’m sure Sheffield made a few circus catches along the way; Ozzie and Jeter share acrobatic moments, but Ozzie’s come at the edge of a greater range.

  18. Just wanted to touch on one thing, as Derek Jeter’s name comes up here as 2nd worst all time in Fielding Runs behind Sheffield…I see on the EloRater, he is only at #168. Yesterday, I believe he was at #189 and I think earlier last week, I saw him at #200. I don’t know if it came up when the most underrated hitters of all time were being discussed or if that list included active players…but if active players were counted, would Jeter being ranked that low on the EloRater make him one of the most underrated hitters in history?

    As for Sheffield, man, I just don’t know. He’s not eligible for a few more years and I think I need those years to make my determination. But if I had to vote right now, then I’d vote No.

    • I don’t know if this is still the case, but this same thing happened with Derek Jeter like a year ago. It turned out to be a glitch in the EloRater. Maybe that’s happened to him again.

      • Thanks for the info, Dr. Doom. I see today he is at #160, so perhaps the glitch is slowly moving him up to where he’s supposed to be (as he’s had a climb from #200 to #160 in a short span).

  19. A great debate, I think, about Sheffield. I have a couple of thoughts. Obviously he moved around quite a bit. Teams are often looking for the “best available bat” and I got the impression that Sheffield was often available. My perception was that the teams acquiring him never looked at him as a long-term solution – but only hoped he would get them over the hump before his personality and bad defense made him available once again. And I never got the impression that the teams who traded him/let him walk via free agency really felt like they were losing a HOF’er.

    The other point is not really if he belongs or not, but when he would get elected. I have a hard time seeing a point in the next decade where Sheffield is one of the “best” players on the ballot. Not only do we have the people that are assumed to go in on the first or second ballot (Griffey, Maddux, Thomas) we have those who would be slam dunks if not for the PED question (Clemens, Bonds, etc.) and we have those who are either suspected to be PED users or who are strong but not obvious selections The farthest out BBREf lists a potential ballot is 2016, which is Sheffields 2nd year. Looking doent he list I can easily see the following players still on the ballot: Trammell, Smith, McGwire, Raines, Martinez, McGriff, Bagwell, Sosa, Schilling, Biggio, Glavine, Kent, Mussina, Smoltz, Griffey, Hoffman, Wagner, Pettitte. I’m not saying all of those players – or even most of them – are better than Sheffield, but that’s a crowded field to stand out in, especially given the other factors he has against him.

  20. In an era with so much offence and PED suspicion he’ll get lost in the mix and won’t get serious consideration. He’ll stay on the ballot for a few years but will never get anywhere near enough votes.

  21. My gut response to Gary Sheffield for the Hall was NO WAY.
    When I saw the similarity score list, I began to question that. I am fully aware what similarity scores are, and that they are more of a toy than a vehicle for rigourous analysis.
    I do think, however, they provide a context – at least a starting context – for evaluating where a player`s career achievements rank among his peers.
    Ultimately some large percentage of hall-worthiness analysis is based on the numbers, and sim scores are a way to consider those numbers quickly to come up with comparable cases.
    Now, you can argue that Sheffield may not belong to the group of ten that BRef’s method produced. But the OPS+ and WAR numbers, both of which reflect the context in which he put up the numbers (which is the only complaint presented about sim scores), suggest to me that just dismissing him as belonging with that group (with the exception of Mantle) is pretty close-minded.
    I believe Chipper Jones belongs in the Hall, as does Tim Raines.
    Sheffield’s numbers are better – even if you agree Sheffield is among the worst defensive players to ever make 11,000 plate appearances in the major leagues. The only way his numbers are worse than Jones ‘ and Raines’ are if we put even greater weight on fielding performance than dWAR does. And I`ve seen a great deal of debate around here about our ability to evaluate defensive performance fairly.
    Some percentage of hall-worthiness is based on factors other than the numbers put up by the player. Even with such a caveat, you`d have to give him a zero and the other two full marks to put Chipper and Raines much ahead of him in rating hall-worthiness.

    One more note: MikeL @ 37 remarks that “What you find is something interesting-that the greats just aren’t that similar-even to each other.”
    That’s Sheffield – his high sim score is 877. He shares that characteristic with the greats…

  22. One point to consider, if Ron Santo was like the greatest injustice of all-time before he made the HOF then shouldn’t anyone with a similar WAR be in the same boat? Last I checked, WAR accounts for position and defense, so if Ron Santo and his 66 WAR SCREAMED hall of fame snub then how could you say Gary Sheffield and his 63 does not belong (including a staggering amount of negative defensive value which we all know is questionable).

    Baseball is about hitting, if say for example the greatest basketball player of all-time played baseball they would probably be able to pretty easily play at least average defense and have above average speed, but they would probably not be able to hit well enough to hang around in the majors. The best hitters are the best baseball players, not the guys who are pretty good at hitting and are also fast, even if they may provide more “value”.

    • There is at least one reasonable distinction between the HOF arguments for Santo and Sheffield: Position scarcity.

      There are around 60 outfielders already in the Hall. Santo was just the 11th third baseman.

    • The complaint that not having Santo in the HoF is a major error goes back long before WAR. Bill James, in his HoF book, “Politics of Glory”, (1994) said that if he had the power Santo would be the first he would put in. In his Historical Abstract (1985), he rated Santo 8th in peak among 3B and 6th in career value. He had him as the 71st greatest player by career value among all players to that time. James wasn’t the only one.

  23. Also, peak value is at least as important as career value, right? Whatever # of years you examine, it is a basic measure of greatness. Santo was more dominant at his peak. So they are not as close as they appear, unless Sheffield is significantly wrongly assessed as a fielder. While he should have been moved or DHed, I doubt he was much better than given discredit for. His longevity also contributes to his negative accumulation.

    Though I would put him in as similar or close to to The Killer overall, if it was not for The Mitchell Report. but nobody can say it is likely he did not know what he took-though given his strange relationship with Bonds, who played his friend but controlling Alpha dog-it is possible. And also how much he used what is unknown. That is why I would say no. He was not a Bonds or even Griffey or Thomas level dominance where you can say if he got any significant value from drugs, likely, that he still would have been good enough clean.

    Similarity scores: they seem to have some validity in Sheffields case: for offense only. His likely historically poor defense changes the equation.

    But I think that since they are so dependent upon both raw #s, era, park & teammates, they are a poor & unintelligent way to even compare the offensive quality of players. OPS + & WAR are very different.

    Use these total measures, consider problems with them & other factors, AND consider peak value. How good you were at your best is a very telling & basic component of greatness.

    • Well, combining peak and career WAR is an Adam Darowski specialty. Right now, his wWAR score would place him 16th among all HOF rightfielders. However, Sosa and MannyBManny are both marginally higher than Sheff. Still the Hall of wWAR has 20 RFs right now. If that holds steady, those three will move in (in the next few years), while Dave Winfield, Bobby Bonds, and Andre Dawson will move out.

      • Possibly, no one cares about this thread anymore, which is actually fine by me. But I was just looking at my own WAR-weighting system. Typically, I only use The Baseball Gauge WAR when doing so (freely available data, plus I actually really like the different systems it uses – but I digress). Anyway, I re-ran the system for 25 of the top RFs of all time. Using the different WAR systems, here’s how Sheffield came out.

        The Baseball Gauge – #6 all-time, behind only Ruth, Aaron, Ott, Frank Robinson, and Reggie Jackson. Of course, this WAR system has Sheff as an average defender for his career, rather than a wretched one, and that’s primarily the difference.

        rWAR – #15. The three people before and after him were Sammy Sosa, Tony Gwynn, and Elmer Flick above; Willie Keeler, Bobby Abreu, and Reggie Smith below.

        fWAR – #17. The three people before and after him were Reggie Smith, Bobby Bonds, and Elmer Flick above; Lance Berkman, Dwight Evans, and Tony Gwynn below.

        WARP – #9 since 1950. Aaron, Robinson, Kaline, Clemente, Jackson, Billy Williams, Bobby Bonds, and Reggie Smith above him; Dave Winfield, Sammy Sosa, Dwight Evans, and Lance Berkman below.

        In other words, three of the four WAR systems I’m aware of on the internet rank him pretty equally with the following group (in no particular order):

        Reggie Smith
        Dwight Evans
        Tony Gwynn
        Dave Winfield
        Bobby Bonds
        Sammy Sosa
        Lance Berkman
        Bobby Abreu

        If you feel players of that caliber belong in, then so does Sheffield. If you think that group, as a whole, is on the outside looking in, then so is Sheffield. I guess that would be my response. I’m inclined to say yes, but I prefer a bigger Hall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *