In any discussion of Hall of Famers or HOF candidates, you’ll usually hear the term “compiler,” a mild pejorative meaning a player who reaches career totals in counting stats like Hits, Runs or RBI, without having great individual seasons.
Without question, Trammell and Whitaker meet any reasonable career standard for induction. If you spend 10 minutes comparing their career totals in both counting stats and rate stats to the shortstops and second basemen already enshrined, and if you have even a basic grasp of how the offensive context has varied in different eras, I don’t see how you could deny that they meet the career standards.
The only argument I’ve heard against them is that they were “compilers.” They won no MVP Awards (even though Trammell clearly was more valuable than George Bell in 1987); there’s no league-leading “black ink” on their stat sheets; they combined for just one 100-RBI season and five years of 100 Runs.
To focus on my main point, I’ll skip the argument that their better offensive seasons, considered in the context of their times and of their positions, are actually better than the first impression made by the raw numbers. My main point is this:
If you want to keep this kind of player out of the Hall of Fame, you’d better be prepared for a much smaller pantheon than we have now.
Let’s talk about big seasons, as measured by Wins Above Replacement, or WAR (using the Baseball-Reference formula).
Alan Trammell had four seasons rated 6 WAR or better (8.0, 6.5, 6.5 and 6.1); Lou Whitaker had two (6.8 and 6.5).
Now let’s look at the hitters already in the Hall. For simplicity, I’ll use a filter of 1,500 career hits, to weed out most of the guys who had good playing careers but were inducted as managers.
Counting from 1893 (when the pitching distance was moved back to 60′ 6″), there are 125 HOFers with at least 1,500 career hits. I think Al Lopez is the only guy in this group who was not inducted as a player. So our base number is 124; here’s the list.
Here’s the number of 6-WAR seasons for that group of 124 HOFers:
- The median number of 6-WAR seasons is 3; the average is 3.8.
- 21 of these HOFers had zero 6-WAR seasons.
- 21 had one 6-WAR season, including Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Harmon Killebrew, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane and Willie Keeler, to name some of the most famous.
- 16 had two 6-WAR seasons, including Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Willie Stargell, Barry Larkin, and Kirby Puckett, to name just a few.
- 10 had three 6-WAR seasons, including Brooks Robinson, Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, and Roberto Alomar.
- 16 had four 6-WAR seasons, including Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Ozzie Smith, and Duke Snider (who’s only in because of his peak value).
- 13 had five 6-WAR seasons.
- 5 had six such seasons, 2 had seven, 4 had eight, 5 had nine, 1 had ten, 2 had eleven, 4 had twelve, 1 had thirteen, 1 had fourteen, and 2 had fifteen 6-WAR seasons.
- Here’s the list of 6-WAR seasons.
If you want to block Lou Whitaker as a “compiler,” be prepared to shrink your HOF by almost half — because 58 of these 124 HOFers had no more 6-WAR seasons than Sweet Lou had.
And if you want the bar set high enough to keep out Alan Trammell, your HOF just shriveled to one-third its present size — 84 of these 124 had no more 6-WAR seasons than Tram did.
Now, everyone agrees that there are some undeserving inductees. And there are plenty of serious baseball fans who belong to the “small-Hall” camp. But I don’t know many folks who want to draw the Hall of Fame standards so tightly that somewhere between 46% and 67% of present inductees get the boot.
To acknowledge that there’s nothing magically “right” about a 6-WAR standard, let’s do the same count of 8-WAR seasons:
- The median is 0; the average is 1.3.
- 76 of these 124 HOFers had zero 8-WAR seasons.
- 17 had one 8-WAR season, including Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott and Charlie Gehringer.
- 6 had two, 8 had three, 4 had four, 2 had five, 6 had six, 2 had seven, 1 had nine, and 2 had eleven 8-WAR seasons.
- Here’s the list of 8-WAR seasons.
If you kick out everyone in Whitaker’s group (no 8-WAR seasons), you’re left with 48 out of the original 124. If you also evict the Trammell group (one 8-WAR season), you could have a nice backyard barbeque with the 31 players who are left.
I still don’t really know exactly who is and who isn’t considered a “compiler” by the folks who use that term. If they want to slap the label on Johnny Damon (one season of exactly 6 WAR) or Omar Vizquel (peaked at 5.8 WAR), it won’t get my dander up.
But if you call Whitaker or Trammell a “compiler,” them’s fightin’ words.