Soon after I posted my piece about the Hall of Could’ve Been, commenters started naming players who fit the title of the Hall better than most of the players I included. Herb Score, Tony Conigliaro, Dickie Thon, J.R. Richard, Pete Reiser, and many other players had practically unlimited potential, only to see their careers derailed, usually by injury. The two sets of criteria I established put the spotlight on a few players who could have been much more than they were and a few who actually did achieve greatness, but who just happened to have the right mix of single-season and career WAR to make the cut.
The players I listed may fit better in the Hall of Peak Value than in the Hall of Could’ve Been.
What if the Hall of Fame didn’t care about longevity? Janis Joplin was dead at 27, but is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the strength of one great solo album and a few prior efforts with different bands. Bob Beamon is in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame for one very long jump- he never won another medal. Baseball is somewhat rare in its refusal to immortalize players who were the best in the world for a short time.
If we repopulated the Hall of Fame- Hall of Stats style- with players who were the best in the game for a short period, we would add a few Noodles Hahn types, but the majority of the Hall would stay the same, right? Let’s give it a try, based on these criteria:
1) Players with at least one season of 9 or more WAR since 1901 (per fangraphs; ranked by # 9-win seasons; * denotes a player not in the Hall of Fame)
|*Ken Griffey, Jr.||3|
2) Players with at least two seasons of 8 or more WAR, but no seasons of 9 or more WAR, since 1901:
3) Players with at least three seasons of 7 or more WAR since 1901 who meet neither of the first two criteria:
That gives us 140 players, far short of the 208 MLB players in the Hall of Fame. I’m ignoring players whose big years came before 1901, since I don’t trust WAR figures before then, particularly for pitchers, who earned huge WAR totals by pitching almost all of their teams’ innings. My inclusion of active players, right up through Mike Trout, essentially rolls the Hall forward 20 years, so that should offset the loss of the 19th century guys.
Ideally, this hall would be of a similar size to the Hall of Fame , but I’m not going to add any more players for a few reasons. First, reducing the criteria for eligibility feels contrary to the point of the Hall of Peak value. We could include players with several six-win seasons, but then we’re looking at Eddie Murray-types who compiled huge numbers without ever playing at a transcendent level. We could include players with one eight-win season, but then we run into some real flukes like Jimmy Sheckard and Magglio Ordonez. I could start mincing WAR and including guys with two 7.5-win seasons, but WAR is already uncertain enough, with questionable fielding metrics and defense removed from pitchers’ records (because I’m using fangraphs). Let’s steer clear of decimal points and accept a smaller Hall.
Of the 140 players in the Hall of Peak Value, 82 are in the Hall of Fame. The other 58 seem to fall into one of three groups:
Active or otherwise-ineligible players
|Ken Griffey, Jr.|
Jackson and Rose, of course, are a group of their own, the only two players on this list who are permanently ineligible. Maddux, Thomas, Johnson, Pujols, Griffey, Martinez, Chipper Jones, and Halladay are all locks for the Hall of Fame someday, with CC Sabathia approaching that territory as well. Rodriguez is clearly qualified, but will fight an uphill battle for obvious reasons. Rolen (HoS Hall Rating 141), Andruw Jones (126), Beltre (123), Utley (120), Helton (120), and Santana (108) have all done enough from an objective standpoint, and some of them will get to Cooperstown someday, but none fits the traditional mold of a BBWAA inductee. That leaves Giambi, who probably didn’t do enough and has skeletons of his own, Greinke, who’s still building credentials, Ellsbury, who could easily end up on the fluke list, and Trout, about whom I won’t embarrass myself with a prediction here.
Eligible players with reasonable Hall cases
Bonds and Clemens are two of the best players ever, but both will have to wait a while, while Sosa is more of a borderline case who will likely never make the Hall. Bagwell, Biggio, and Piazza are on their way in. Walker should be as well, once the writers start to feel more comfortable adjusting for park effects. Wynn (Hall Rating 110), Grich (141), and Brown (137) are three of the more famous one-and-done guys and may get some love from a Veterans Committee someday. Nettles (124) and Evans (106) are living in third base purgatory. Dick Allen (115) is one of the game’s more underrated sluggers, and should probably be in the Hall of Fame, while John Olerud (101) is only on the borderline if you think the Hall of Fame should have 208 players in it. Colavito (82) doesn’t have a particularly strong case, but after writing about him in the Hall of Could’ve Been, I don’t want to call him a fluke.
One- or two-year flukes
If there’s a Hall of Famer on this list, it’s either Hahn, who pitched brilliantly for six years of an eight-year career, or Gooden, who was the best pitcher in the world for two years before succumbing to drugs, overuse, and injuries. Rosen, Keller, Stirnweiss, and McDowell all sustained their excellence for a few years, but not long enough to be Hall of Famers. Jack Quinn’s inclusion here is somewhat ironic, as he pitched until he was 50 and won 247 games, but was only truly excellent in the Federal League in 1914 (and baseball-reference disagrees). Luis Gonzalez isn’t eligible yet, but I think it’s safe to call his 2001 a one-year fluke. I’d never heard of Terry Turner, a shortstop whom fangraphs credits with 34 Fielding Runs Above Average for the 1906 Cleveland Naps, or Falkenberg, who, like Kauff, did his damage in the inferior Federal League. There are three times as many Cys in the Hall of Peak Value as there are in the Hall of Fame.
A challenge for the readers: Of the 126 players in the Hall of Fame who aren’t in the Hall of Peak Value, who were the best players? Were they great because they played solidly, but not spectacularly, for many years, or were they as dominant at their peaks as these players, but held back because fWAR doesn’t appreciate their contributions?