Sorry for being gone for so long. In my absence, Dr. Doom has written this post, with more to come. Enjoy!
Welcome to a new post series. I’m calling it, “Make Me a Hall of Famer!’
In this series, what I’m going to do is take a player who is below 60 WAR, and turn him into a 60-WAR player. That’s pretty much the number that gets you in. Obviously, that’s not 100% accurate – there are plenty of guys above that who are out, and plenty below who are in. But I figure that gets you into the conversation.
So I’m going to attack each player on two fronts: first, numerically. I will take the player’s underlying skills and abilities, and make a couple of changes to how things could’ve gone. Like so: if he had a low BABIP, maybe we make it higher; if he missed a lot of playing time, we adjust that; if he switched positions, maybe he was better at one than the other, and we adjust his WAR accordingly; maybe he broke in late or retired early, and we “change” that circumstance. The second front we’ll do is the narrative front. Not surprisingly, a lot of these types of guys (those with WARs in the 40s and 50s) don’t really have the numbers OR the narrative. Giving them one or the other would give them a shot; giving them both makes them a pretty clear shot.
So this is total nonsense, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I’m going to start with a player you probably wouldn’t expect: Toby Harrah.
Let’s start with the basics. Toby Harrah was a righty-throwing, righty-hitting left-side-infielder of dubious defensive quality. He was drafted by the Washington Senators (part 2) and broke in with them in 1969 at age-20, finally becoming a full-time big leaguer at age-22, and the following year became a Ranger (along with the rest of his team). In 1979, he was traded to the Indians for five seasons. Then after a year as a Yankee, he returned to Texas for the final two years of his career. His only black ink comes from leading the league in games played in 1982 and in walks in 1977.
Toby Harrah is a great player for this project, especially if you’re a baseball fan like me, who has lived entirely after his retirement (his final game was just over a month before I was born). It would be quite possible and reasonable for a fan like me – a HUGE baseball fan – to have never had any reason to know about (or, if he or she did know, to think about) Toby Harrah. But think of how close Toby Harrah was to being a Hall of Fame player!
Let’s start with the numbers. Harrah comes in with 51.4 WAR – close enough to the 60-WAR line we’ve established to merit investigating him further. Heck, he needs only 8.6 more WAR. That’s a good starting point. We’re going to start with the fact that he got a cup of coffee at age 20, but didn’t play in the Majors at all at 21. Since he had 0.4 WAR at 22, I figure we can split the difference and say he could’ve earned 0.2 WAR at 21. That brings us down to 8.4 required.
Next, let’s look at defense. Harrah was -96 Rdef for his career. But about 1/3 of that comes from TWO seasons – a -13 and a -23 (!!) in Cleveland. I… have a hard time with that. I’m going to say that he was more like a -6 each of those years – that’s his career average, even including those years. That saves Harrah 24 more runs. Because the Runs:Wins conversion for Harrah’s career is almost exactly 10:1, that means we’ve earned him another 2.4 WAR, bringing us down to 6.0 more that we need. I would consider switching Harrah from SS to 3B earlier in his career… but I really think the positional tradeoff is not worth it. I think he was, for what it’s worth, handled correctly defensively in his career. Honestly, one position or the other, I don’t think really changes his value.
An easy gimme in Harrah’s career, as for most guys from this era, is the 1981 player strike. Harrah played in all 103 of Cleveland’s games; considering that he did the same in 1982, I don’t have any trouble crediting him with a full, 162-game season. That’s another 1.1 WAR, bringing us to 4.9 remaining.
Here’s a complicated one. We see that, from 1975 through the end of his career, Harrah had a walk % of 14.5 and an extra-base hit ratio of .29; prior to that, it was 8.5 and .24. Let’s up those early years to his career averages. From 1971-1974, Harrah caused 1373 outs (AB-H+GDP). WITHOUT CHANGING HIS BATTING AVERAGE (.253), we now would credit him with the same 454 hits he got, but IF he had those other percentages, instead of 170 BB, he would have 315 (upping his OBP from .317 to .363; instead of 107 XBH, he’d have 132 (which I would read as 15 2B, 2 3B, and 8 HR, increasing his SLG from .356 to .380! (Remember: I have not changed Harrah’s average, number of At-Bats, or Hits; he’s still the same guy; just… you know… more like the hitter he later became.) This increases his value by about 45 runs – in other words, 4.5 WAR! That leaves us only 0.4 WAR remaining.
I’m going to make that up the easy way. Harrah played only 88 games with the Yankees in ’84. I see no report of an injury that year. He was the regular 3B, playing more than Roy Smalley. Make him the full-timer, and you’ve got that last 0.4 WAR, and a 60-WAR Toby Harrah! (Yes, it was kind of pulling teeth to get there, but we made it!)
The second front, the biographical front… wow. Harrah played for some awful franchises. Harrah was originally drafted by the Phillies in 1966, only to be drafted in the expansion draft by the Senators 11 months later.
Had he been a Phillie his whole career, he would’ve appeared on six playoff teams, including two World Series winners. Obviously, you’d have to keep him at SS his whole career, and remove Larry Bowa; pretty sure they’re not going to bench Mike Schmidt in favor of Toby Harrah, y’know? So maybe Philadelphia isn’t the idea landing spot for him.
But let’s say the Yanks had decided to upgrade from Bucky Dent at SS in 1979, and he’d been traded there instead. You have to make him a SS again (like I said, I don’t think that actually hurts his value), but there’s a job for him in New York. He probably is a slight upgrade over Dent for a team that, over the next six years, would win over 55% of its games, making the playoffs in ’79 and ’80.
But honestly, the alternate history I really like is the one in which, following a strong ’74, the Rangers trade him to the Red Sox, to replace a now 30-something Rico Petrocelli who hadn’t played a full schedule in years already at that point. Not only do the Red Sox make the World Series in Harrah’s best season (1975), they probably win 100 games that year (Petrocelli was sub-replacement in ’75; Harrah was worth 7.1 WAR, taking the BoSox from 95 to 103 wins). If that happens, Harrah likely finishes runner-up to teammate Lynn in the MVP vote – seriously. Look back at ’75 and tell me that wouldn’t happen. Not only that, but the Red Sox win the pennant in ’78 (with Harrah rather than Butch Hobson at the hot corner – a 3.5 win upgrade for a team that was tied at the end of 162). Not only that, but Harrah was unreal in the second half of 1981 – a 143 OPS+. It’s very similar to Carney Lansford‘s 149 in the same half in which the Sox lost to the Brewers by only two games (split season, remember!)… but it’s not too hard to imagine that righty, doubles-hitting Harrah would’ve thrived against the Green Monster, is it? Maybe he helps them to the postseason that year? (A stretch, sure, but we’re playing pretend, right?) Finally, to stretch reality to its breaking point, Harrah’s career ends as a reserve for the ’86 Red Sox, winning a pennant having lost his starting job to Wade Boggs. Perhaps the Sox decide that it’s Harrah, rather than Bill Buckner, who deserves to be on the field, manning first base, for the final outs of Game 6 of the World Series (in this alternate reality, of course, Harrah was already part of the curse-breaking World Series champs, either by improving the ’75 team to beat the Reds, or perhaps we still count that as a loss, but we give the Sox a victory over the Dodgers in ’78).
Well, folks, what do you think: Toby Harrah for the Hall of Fame? It’s an argument literally no one is making, but I hope I’ve made a believer out of you: that with a few small tweaks, we can take a Hall-of-Very-Good player, and turn him into a Hall of Famer!
If you’d like to see more in this series, let me know in the comments; I can write more. Some player ideas I had were: Devon White, Norm Cash… there are plenty of these guys. So if you have ideas, write them below!
Thanks for indulging me, and I hope we can have a lively discussion in the comments!