Monday, December 19, 2016

Is Jeff Bagwell a Hall of Famer: Part 2 - Electric Bagaloo

Horrible title, I know. Forgive me; I'm a bit rusty.

I thought I'd follow up The Constable's thought provoking post from earlier today with a little something I've been working up the last week or so. If you're on twitter and not already following @bags4hof you need to remedy that immediately. Like, go do it now. I'll wait.

Now, we at AC have written many times about Bagwell's place in history, including two nearly identical posts written by myself and (not Hank) Aaron. But the twitter account I trust you just checked out inspired me anew this year, so I decided to try my hand at campaigning some of the writers who have thus far not included Bagwell on their ballots. Here's what I wrote to 16 voters for whom I could find email addresses:

I'm writing with full respect of your opinions on this subject and in the spirit of honest and friendly discussion. What, in your opinion, prevents Jeff Bagwell from being named on your Hall of Fame ballot? In advance of your response, may I present the following information?
Among first basemen currently in the Hall of Fame, Bagwell would rank 3rd in WAR (ahead of Mize, Murray, McCovey, Killebrew, Greenberg and Sisler) and 6th in OPS (ahead of McCovey, Killebrew, Murray and Sisler). Additionally, he would be 6th in RBI, 4th in runs, and 7th in HR.
Regardless of position, Bagwell ranks top 50 all-time in nine offensive categories (OPS, BB, SLG%, WAR, HR, OB%, RC, XBH, RsBI), despite having his career cut short due to an arthritic shoulder. He's one of only 15 hitters to total 400+ HR and 200+ SB.
During his peak (1994-2003, which coincides with Bonds’ peak), Bagwell ranked top 8 in eight of 10 offensive categories. Only Bonds had more top 10 finishes among all Major League baseball players during that era (9). In fact, Bagwell actually scored and drove in more runs than Bonds over that 10-year stretch.
All of this while playing over half of his career with the Astrodome, one of the most pitcher friendly stadiums of his era) as a home park.
Additionally, other than his admission of using Andro in 1998 (a full 6 years before it was banned by MLB), he has never been linked to using PEDs, unlike many of his contemporaries, including teammates Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. He was not named in the Mitchell Report, he never had any positive tests, and he wasn't named in the leak of the 2003 anonymous tests.
I look forward to your reply. Thank you for your time. 
Now, you could quibble with some of those ranks depending on whether you include dead-ball players and some OF/1B types as, well, OF or 1B.
In the interest of understanding why anyone would conclude that Bagwell isn't a sure-thing HOFer, here are the three responses I received (David Borges, Dan Shaughnessy, and David Maril). Before I relay their responses, though, I want to thank them for their responses and willingness to at least acknowledge my email. I am reprinting them here with their permission.
Bryan: I appreciate your interest and your support of Jeff Bagwell. Any fan of baseball is a friend of mine.
That said, I have very high standards of what a Hall of Famer is, and in my opinion, Bagwell falls just short. I don't believe he transcended the game. I believe you can tell the story of baseball over the past 25 years without mentioning Bagwell. I understand that this is "human element" reasoning that sabermetricians and stat-heads disdain. But that's the way I feel. 
As for PEDs, that's not an issue. I vote for Bonds and Clemens and will likely vote for Manny Ramirez. I'm certainly not going to withhold my vote for a player who was only accused of such use, a la Bagwell. So, that's not a reason why I'm not voting for him.
You can take all the numbers you want and shape them in a way that makes Bagwell look like one of the greatest first basemen of all time. I've followed baseball as a fan and/or writer for 40 years now, and never felt Bagwell was an all-time great. Very good, no doubt. Not an all-time great. Stats can be conveniently manipulated to make some players look greater than they were. I feel this happens with Tim Raines, too. Heck, I've seen great baseball writers argue that Ted Simmons is a Hall of Famer. They're wrong, in my opinion.
I will have no big issue if Bagwell gets elected, which I think he will. There are a few players with whom I take issue to their induction (Don Sutton, Bert Blyleven), but Bagwell won't be one of them.
However, I hold Hall of Famers to a very high standard (overlooking PEDs), and Bagwell falls just short of that standard.
Thanks for your email,
David Borges
This, to me, is the toughest voter to convince. The "human element" is a position that can't be refuted with statistics, player rankings, or analysis. To them, a player either "feels" like a HOFer or he doesn't. Players like Bagwell and Raines will always have an uphill battle to win over this way of thinking. They, and others like them, don't have the benefit of the massive media attention given to players in markets like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Houston simply wasn't on the national radar. Stick around, though. I put together something to show how Bagwell stacks up against the "all-time greats."
Our next response is from David Maril:
I have the utmost respect for Jeff Bagwell and he was one of my favorite players.  I always felt that one of the most stupid moves the Red Sox ever made was trading him away for relief pitcher Larry Anderson when he was coming out of the minor leagues.
While I feel he is a very good player, I think he falls bit short of my standards for determining who I vote for to get into the Hall of Fame.  One of the factors I consider is looking at the candidate in the context of how he  matches up with the other great, impact players in the game during  the  time he is playing.   While Bagwell had a very good career, in 15 years, he was only selected to the All-Star game four times. That says something about how he was rated against the other great players of his era. Obviously you are a student of baseball statistics. But in general. first-basemen are rated on homers and RBIs and Bagwell’s totals are good (449 HR and .297 batting average) but they are not great.
I respect your opinion and it is very possible Bagwell will get in. However, despite your sincere and serious argument on his behalf, he is not going to get my vote.
Thanks for taking the time to write and state your case.
Another tough type of voter to convince, although I think there's hope here. This voter looks at the shiny stats (HR, RBI, and batting average) and then throws in subjective reasoning (All-Star appearances). If we're going with subjective awards, let's talk about his 10 seasons getting MVP votes including 1 award (out of 14 full seasons), his 3 Silver Sluggers (at the most offense-dependent position), his 1 Gold Glove, and his Rookie of the Year. If this type of voter can be convinced that defense and baserunning matter, that Bagwell's entire body of work should be considered, that there's more to being a great first baseman than Socking Dingers, then maybe Bagwell will be able to take his rightful place in Cooperstown.

Our final response is from Dan Shaughnessy:

Bryan -- Relax. He is going to get in this year.
Despite the completely dismissive response, I actually agree with Dan on this one. Ultimately, I think enough voters have been convinced and this is Bagwell's year. He's currently sitting at 90% through 56 revealed ballots, tied with Raines for most current votes. We only need to see about 10 more writers flip their votes from a "no" last year to a "yes" this year. Only once in HOF voting history has a player gotten as close as Bagwell did last year and not get in the following year.

Now, I couldn't figure out how to work this in to this post, so I'll just attach it awkwardly here at the end. I put together a color-scaled table to show how Bagwell stacks up among the 20 1B currently in the HOF. Green is good, red is bad.


Terence said...

It's amazing how many 'Bagwell doesn't feel like a hall of famer' voters only ever covered the Red Sox or Yankees. I think if there was a process where AL only writers could only vote on AL players, and NL only writers could only vote on NL players, Bagwell would have sailed through on the first or second ballot.

People who vote for Mark McGwire repeatedly but refuse to vote for Bagwell are living caricatures of a Simpsons cartoon.

The Batguy said...

I just saw Borges' final ballot. He voted for Vlad. Let's see how they stack up.

Bagwell: 16 seasons, .297/.408/.540/.948, 449 HR, 202 SB, 3843 times on base, 4213 TB, 1517 R, 1529 RBI, 80.2 WAR.

Guerrero: 16 seasons, .318/.379/.553/.931, 449 HR, 181 SB, 3430 times on base, 4506 TB, 1328 R, 1496 RBI, 54.3 WAR.


Anonymous said...

Honest question here: what even is the "human element"? To me, the only true answer to that is: "well, I remember seeing and hearing of Jeff Bagwell a lot when he was playing". Because if you're ignorant enough to look at his numbers and make an argument that he was "good, but not great", then all that simply comes down to is that you didn't pay enough attention to out-of-market teams during the 90's-00's. You could talk about the human element being how clutch you think a player is, but that can be quickly answered by looking at his average and RBI's. You could talk about the human element being his leadership qualities, but that can be quickly answered by looking at the successes of his team. Besides that, I think it simply comes down to someone who was ignorant of what was truly happening around baseball within the past two and a half decades.

Bee Mann said...

One is able to tell the story of Major League Baseball over the past 25 without mentioning Bagwell's name? I don't think so... Trying telling the story of the National League Central, without mentioning Bagwell. Trying writing out the the driving force behind a team that won the division 4 times in a 5 year span, or made the playoffs 6 times in a 9 year span.

Brad said...

I read the first two of these and think "There's no way Shaughnessy takes the time to reply with a thoughtful, reasoned (but ultimately flawed) statement like either of these two. Not a chance".

And damn, if he didn't disappoint.