“Compile” this!

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.

The term is often applied to two of my favorite players, who I think are among the most deserving HOF candidates not yet enshrined: Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell.

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:

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 BenchFrank RobinsonMel 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.

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Dr. Doom
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Howdy everyone! Adam Darowski was doing a little project on this a while back, and he decided (very wisely, I might add) that “compilers” are those who rack up huge amounts of WAR in which a large amount of their WAR is between replacement and average. For example, Eddie Murray has 63.4 WAR – but only 27.7 WAA. The majority of his WAR comes from being a below average player! That might make him a compiler. For Whitaker, that number is 42.8/71.4; for Trammell, 40.4/67.1. It would be interesting to compare to a large sample of players, but I kind… Read more »
Timmy Pea
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I always thought Eddie Murray was overrated. He had a half dozen good years early in his career and a lot of average to below average years after reaching age 30. Here’s a guy plugged into the heart of the lineup year after year and can’t drive in 100 despite getting over 650 PA’s for all those years. Of course he gets to 3000 hits and 500 HR playing as long as he did.

bstar
Guest
So Eddie Murray wasn’t adept at driving runners in? Eddie Murray is the only player in MLB history with 20 consecutive seasons of 75+ RBI. He’s also one of two players in MLB history with 20+ doubles for 20 consecutive years(Tris Speaker is the other). Considering he had to navigate through three separate strike-shortened years, those are mighty impressive feats of consistency. He has a career 129 OPS+. He’s got the 500 HR and 3000 career hits and 1900+ RBI. No one’s saying he’s an inner circle Hall of Famer, but he is indisputably one of the most consistent players… Read more »
Timmy Pea
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I just think he’s overrated bstar. He should be in the HoF but was he really that much better than Mattingly during their peak? 75 RBI’s for a guy plugged into the 4 slot isn’t very much. 20 doubles for 20 years? Big deal!

bstar
Guest

Those marks just show his consistency, T, which I think is the most impressive thing about his resume.

Also, remember he played his peak years in the early 80s where the scoring environment was lower. What his counting stats look like if he’d played through the steroid era? If you’re saying he was overrated during his prime, you might be right. I remember talk of Eddie Murray being the best player in baseball for a couple years. That was probably a bit much.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
I heard the same arguments against Yaz just before he was elected to the HOF in 1989, with 94.6 of the vote, at the time one of the highest percentages ever. Many people said he was “just a compiler”, and besides his three/four unquestionably great years (1963, 1967, 1970), he was merely a good player who played a very long period of time. I find this line of reasoning concerning Eddie Murray’s (and Yaz’s) HOF qualifications utterly and completely without merit, and belive that both are 100% qualified. You’d have to cut the HOF at least in half to begin… Read more »
PP
Guest

In defense of Whitaker, in his last two “half” years at ages 37 and 38, he went .287 .375 .503 in 571 ABs, not a bad downside and not really hanging around compiling in my mind, though only a 3.7 total war, which is still not too shabby a number at all. Trammel’s numbers his last 3 yrs are not nearly as good and his total war is -0.4, but it seems pretty normal to have a career like his and play it out until age 38.

Paul E
Guest

Has anyone noticed that Ben Zobrist (yeah, that Ben Zobrist) has 2 8-WAR seasons thus far in his career and is third among active players in that “category” behind A-Rod and Pujols? Having thrown that out there, where DO you draw the line on good/great seasons using WAR as the measure?

JA:
Just curious: Pick one – Trammell or Whitaker – who was the better baseball player? And, how did you/would you reach your conclusion?

PP
Guest

which begs the question, how many players have had two 8 war seasons? I’d guess around 25?

Paul E
Guest

39 players have had 2 or more seasons of 8 WAR and, with the exception of Snuffy Sternwiss during WWII, Zobrist is the “odd” name on the list….baseball-reference is providing a free trial on “Play Index” through July 12th

Sorry, but I just don’t know how to “drag” in the link

Mike L
Guest

John A, my only comment is that I wish you felt more passionately about this.

Ed
Guest

In response to Dr Doom…not sure where you’re info is coming from. Adam doesn’t have a category labeled WAA.

CursedClevelander
Guest

WAA is on baseball-reference, but I’m not 100% sure what the methodology is for it. I know it debuted when they refined their WAR stat earlier this year.

Doug
Guest

Possibly, part of the problem for Tram and Lou may be that they were teammates. Voters may feel they can’t choose both, but then can’t decide which one to vote for. As you say, they were always perceived as a tandem.

We’ll never know, but had they not been teammates, or not exact contemporaries, or if there had been a Tiger dynasty, then they may well both be in.

Phil
Guest
At a certain level of compiling “counting stats,” I think the charge becomes silly anyway. When people level it at Palmeiro, for example–putting aside PEDs, which is a separate issue–I roll my eyes. If you say someone with 500+ HR/3000+ hits deserves to be in the HOF, you’re not automatically implying he was one of the three or four most dominant players of his era (as those who decry Palmeiro’s counting stats seem to assume); you’re just saying he was very, very good for a very, very long time, and that he cleared two traditional benchmarks for career excellence. I… Read more »
Larry
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Off topic but very recent. The Brewers Greinke was ejected after only 4 pitches. The second batter Altuve was ruled safe at first as Greike covered the bag on a grounder. Greinke was ejected because he spiked the ball in anger. The announced said the record for quickest ejection by a pitcher was 2 pitches, but I couldn’t catch who it was. Ruth threw at least 4 pitches before he was ejected for arguing the walk (I think he even struck the ump!) whereupon Ernie Shore pitched the (later ruled unofficial) perfect game.

Luis Gomez
Guest

Roger Clemens was ejected during the first inning in an early 90´s(?) ALCS game, though I can´t remember what were the circumstances.

Tmckelv
Guest

With Roger, there was a lot of grumbling from the mound on what he thought was a bad call on a pitch. He was actually ejected while on the rubber looking in at home plate. You could see him running his mouth from behind his glove. I guess he said something. It must have been bad to get ejected in the first inning of a playoff game.

Richard Chester
Guest

On 5-16-2009 John Lackey was tossed out of the game after 2 pitches. His first pitch came close to hitting Ian Kinsler and his second pitch hit him. That’s why he was ejected from the game. KInsler hit 2 HRs against the Angels the night before.

bstar
Guest

Hey, JA, just curious: what was the straw that broke the camel’s back and prompted you to write this article? Was it something specific that set you off? Inquiring minds are bored and want to know.

Timmy Pea
Guest
I confess to never looking at WAR and really don’t know what it is. Having said that to me the only way Lou Whitaker gets a sniff for the HoF is by using newstats. I see a lot of good on his stats page but not much great. Trammel? Well someone is starting to love him because his HoF vote shot up to 37% this year. I understand that both were good hitters in an era of light hitting SS and 2B. I understand that playing SS is more demanding than playing right field. But still, I don’t think either… Read more »
Jason Z
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I know he was fourth in the NL, just neglected to write that, but it really is a close fourth, as I pointed out. I agree that Trammell and Raines should be in, to me they are obvious choices. I remember their careers well, and I always thought they were outstanding players. In regards to Whitaker, I remember him as a very good player, but not great. I realize now that with the advent of WAR, this opinion probably isn’t fair. At the time, I felt that Lou Whitaker was very similar to Willie Randolph, only with a lot more… Read more »
BryanM
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Since Raines has been mentioned a couple of times , does anyone have a theory on what’s keeping him out? Didn’t enough voters actually see him play?

Doug
Guest
Perhaps some silly things are keeping him out, like a career BA just under .300, and a career OBP just under .400. Also, his hits + walks total is just under 4000. If he were above those thresholds, he would likely be perceived better. Aside from stolen bases, Raines did not have much black ink – once leading the league in BA and OBP (in the same season), twice in runs, and once in doubles (with a really low leading total of 38). Also, his best defensive season was only 0.9 dWAR, and his career was -9.5 dWAR. FWIW, HOF… Read more »
bstar
Guest
Yeah, Bryan, I have a theory about Raines. I think he played too long. He played so many years past an elite level that voters actually forgot how good/great the guy once was. Unless you’re out there chasing some Hall of Fame counting stat benchmark, in my opinion hanging on too long can have a detrimental effect on your chances of enshrinement. Here’s a look at Raines’ career from a WAR perspective, in graph form(look at the second graph especially): http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?players=1406 Notice how his career WAR line in the second graph pretty much flattens out but continues for another decade?… Read more »
Jason Z
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Since you brought up the cocaine with Raines, let me add this. I attended high school in Palm Beach County from 81-85. Raines used to work out with our baseball team before spring training which for the Expos, was then in West Palm Beach. Anyway he became friendly with one of the guys on our team and after the 1984 season he showed up at one of our football games. I will never forget how hammered he was. Completely out of his mind. Almost incoherent. In any event, since he admitted to cocaine use during games, I am sure the… Read more »
dannyc
Guest

Trammel and Whitaker were very nice players but would you really take them over Winfield Gwynn and most all the others above? I know WAR is a trendy measurement, but if your life depended on a base hit would you want Trams, Whits or Molitor?

Jason Z
Guest

A friend from high school pitched six years in the majors from 91-95,99.

I asked him once who was the best hitter he ever faced.

The answer, without hesitation, was Molitor.

Bill Johnson
Guest

John,

Keep fighting the good fight.

Do you think Trammel still has any kind of realistic chance with the writers? Hoping the Vets committee remedies both wrongs if not.

Hartvig
Guest
John- Sorry for weighing in so late on this since I’m sure you’re aware that this cause is also very near and dear to me as well. I can’t even begin to understand that logic behind keeping Trammell and Whitaker out of the HOF. Just look at a list of the 21 shortstops in the Hall of Fame- I would suspect that no one with any baseball knowledge would put Trammell any lower than 11th or 12th on that list and many would rank him 2 or 3 spots higher. He’s better than shortstops that the BBWAA selected almost 60… Read more »
dannyc
Guest

I just don’t get this, and I have no axe to grind here. They were both nice players but why do we continue to lower the bar for the HOF? Other than playing together for a long time, where’s the beef? In Trammells long career the only offensive stat he ever led the league in was SHs twice and Whits was leading the AL in games played during the 1981 strike year. Hell, the Tigers haven’t even retired their jerseys!

Hartvig
Guest
“They were both nice players but why do we continue to lower the bar for the HOF?” Seriously? Lower the bar? There are 21 shortstops ALREADY in the Hall of Fame. I’m willing to bet that over 90% of knowledgable baseball people would place Trammell in the top 12 and a majority in the top 10. How exactly does that LOWER the bar? The idea that the Hall of Fame should suddenly be limited to guys like Babe Ruth and Willie Mays after 70 years of selecting guys like Tommy McCarthy (1946), Rabbit Maranville (1954), Kiki Cuyler (1968), Jessie Haines… Read more »
Michael Sullivan
Guest

Because shortstops and 2Bs almost never lead the league in offensive stats. They add a lot of their value in the field. Middle infielders who regularly lead the league in offensive stats and are not major defensive liabilities, are not just HoFers, they are inner circle.

And note, there is something Trammel led his league in a few times: total value, i.e WAR. You can dismiss this as a “new stat” if you want, but what it does is look at all the ways he was very good and add them up.

e pluribus munu
Guest
I’ve been working on longwinded comments to add to this string for days, but I keep deleting them because others have said them better. I join in agreeing strongly with John. If Trammell & Whitaker were compilers, then it is in the sense that they provided a top quality keystone for an incredibly long time, and the longevity of their productivity is at the core of what makes them rare and famous. I think people undervalue both because their fame is joint, and each is pictured as only one half. And it doesn’t help that the infield combo that FPA… Read more »
Timmy Pea
Guest

Darwin Barney = Ryan Braun. I went and looked up the WAR stats for the NL and Barney is tied with Braun, and ahead of Melky?? No way, and an example of why I look at many newstats with a critical eye. I understand Barney has had only 2 errors in the field, but he doesn’t have great range from what I’ve seen and turns the DP average. His 267/308/351 are pretty poor.

Joe
Guest
My rule on who is in the HoF: Who do I want to remember when telling my son about great baseball players of the past. I’m a big stat junky, but I think there is also room for nonstatistical considerations. Alan Tramwell was pretty good, and I personally probably feel he’s at least a borderline HoFer – but I would like to see more in in general. By the limitations of quantity that they currently go with – I think it’s okay not to have compilers, if they’re truly compilers (just long lived players). If they were an exciting player… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin
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Cal Ripken and The Streak is a very bad example of what distinguishes a HOFer from a non-HOFer. The Streak may be what distinguishes Ripken in the casual baseball fan’s mind, but he has plenty of other HOF credentials. If Ripken never had a meaningful consecutive-games streak, but had the exact same records and accomplishments, he’d still be an easy first-ballot HOFer. To use a very bad food metaphor, Ripken’s consecutive-games streak of 2632 games is the cherry on top of the cake, rather than the cake itself. Steve Garvey set a record for the NL consecutive-games streak, but I’m… Read more »
Joe
Guest
Fair enough. It is somewhat hard to find players who are famous while being good-but-not-great players. The ones who were the most famous, of course, were the ones who did both 🙂 The only others I can think of off the top of my head are sort of like Yao but with even weaker cases (often from shortened careers); Bo Jackson, for example. Clearly an extremely famous player, but such a short career that it’s pretty hard to make any justification for the hall. But do I imagine telling my son about baseball in the 90s without mentioning Bo, and… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin
Guest
Joe, Thanks for being so magmanimous in acknowledging my point about Ripken. I’ll give you a player whose fame surely exceeds his greatness: Roger Maris. Breaking the most hallowed record in MLB history in 1961 certainly made him famous; so did winning back-to-back MVP; so did playing for the Yankees, winners of five pennants in a row 1960-64. Unfortunately, that is almost the entirety of his HOF argument. While that may be enough for some people, and he was a great player from 1960 to 1962, his peak isn’t good enough, and his career is just waaay too short. There’s… Read more »
Joe
Guest
Maris probably wasn’t good or famous long enough to be in, but at the same time it’s hard to say he wasn’t important or famous enough overall. I certainly agree that some statistical excellence must be present, so we don’t have one-hit-wonders; but I’m not sure Maris really qualifies as a one hit wonder. His one hit was pretty darn big, after all (whether or not it was aided by drugs and/or circumstances), and when you consider the surrounding publicity, as well as the movies and whatnot, I’m not sure he doesn’t belong there (as part of my ‘who do… Read more »
Bill Johnson
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Yao Ming? I was following you right up until that point.

Joe
Guest
Yao clearly was defeated by Father Bad Back, but when he was playing full time he was one of the top couple of defenders in the league. But beyond that, he was clearly one of the most famous NBA players during that era; not only in China, but in the US as well, and was personally responsible for creating literally millions of NBA fans. The Rockets will have at least another decade of high Asian fan turnout even if they fail to land Lin or another Chinese(-american) star, and while Yao hasn’t brought quite so many Chinese players along with… Read more »
mosc
Guest
The hall is clearly full of people who don’t belong. You don’t have to look at currently eligible players to see that. If you pick the current hall by WAR of players not currently active or on the ballot, you’d lose nearly half the list as it is. Not that I like WAR much mind you. DWAR is still a complete steamer of uselessness for evaluating anything. And we still haven’t the foggiest clue of a catchers value behind the plate IMHO. All that said, I wouldn’t consider a guy for the hall unless I thought he was better than… Read more »
Jeff
Guest

What is everyone’s opinion on Will “The Thrill” Clark? HOF worthy? Close?

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

In a cluster of recent retired first baseman who are worth mentioning, ahead of Wally Joyner and Mark Grace, about even with John Olerud and Don Mattingly, but behind Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff, and Keith Hernandez, and way behind Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Bagwell.

Sorry, he doesn’t quite make the cut. Let’s get Bagwell, McGriff, and Hernandez in before we even consider The Thrill.

That my quick, from-the-gut listing, without doing any involved direct statistical comparisons.

Chad
Guest
Thanks for the post, John. I’m a lifelong Tiger fan growing up in the great state of Michigan – the World Series win happening when I was 9. I was as fortunate to watch Tram and Sweet Lou growing up as I am to watch Cabrera and Verlander playing in their primes. I am a firm believer that both Trammell and Whitaker belong in the hall, based on watching them countless times on TV and several times in person, but even more so based on statistical evidence. While I am displeased with the fact that neither is in, I’m even… Read more »
Chad
Guest

“While Lou has the edge in dWAR, it’s Sandberg who the 9-3 tally in his favor. Whitaker is obviously hurt here by having to compete with Frank White most of his career.”

9-3 edge in Gold Gloves, that should have said.

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