Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Misery and Third Basemen
2006-01-11 23:34
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I don't know how I missed this earlier seeing as how much time I spend daily on, but here's Jim Caple's MLB "Misery Index." The Rockies place 14th, which seems about right. Since Colorado has never really had a good team, it's hard to argue that its fans have been let down too much. A 7.0 for "Recent Despair" seems a little low though. The whole Clint Barmes deer meat debacle ought to be worth an extra point and a half all by itself. The one thing we had going for us in 2005 and poof, there it went. 8.0 for "Misery Outlook" seems right on though.

I wrote this whole thing about Eric Chavez's Hall of Fame chances in response to a friend's message board posting, and I spent so much time on it I figure I might as well air it out here as well. The third base situation is a good microcosm of the Baseball Hall of Fame's overall struggle to define itself. "We have to keep the standards for induction high," fans say. But they aren't high. Or sometimes they are. Then they change the rules to try and fix some obvious problem or another and cause several more. I'm not visiting until they put Ron Santo in. Anyway, here's what I wrote:

I love Chavy and he's one of my favorite players in all of baseball. But the Hall of Fame is downright weird when it comes to third basemen, and it's not really guys like Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones Chavez has to compete with.

Here's the third basemen presently in the Hall: Home Run Baker, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jimmy Collins, George Kell, Fred Lindstrom, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, and Pie Traynor. That's it, that's the list.

Frank Baker didn't play very long and doesn't have terrifying career totals: 1,838 hits, 96 homers (no, really), 987 RBIs. He's remembered basically for leading the American League in homers four years in a row during the dead ball era (with a high of 12). Obviously he played in a completely different era and you can't really compare him with any of the players of today. Mostly he's in because he had a great nickname.

Wade Boggs is the most recent inductee. Sadly, to me he'll most be remembered for being the guy who forced the HOF to change their hat policy, as he tried to sell the rights to the cap on his Hall of Fame bust to the Devil Rays. Boggs is somewhat overrated, as he had no power whatsoever, but he did have 3,010 career hits and a .328 overall average. The batting average, obviously, will be hard for any of the current guys to match. Unless Miguel Cabrera turns back into a third baseman.

George Brett was one of the all-time greats. He had 3,154 hits and quite memorably chased .400 in 1980. He won an MVP and led the Royals to their only championship. He also threw the best justified hissy fit in the annals of the game. None of the current great third baseman are anywhere near his class. (One misplaced shortstop is, but we'll get to him later.)

Jimmy Collins is another one of those weird HOF picks from the very early years of baseball. He had 1,999 career hits and led the NL in homers once, in 1898. Like Baker, the modern guys aren't competing with him.

George Kell had a good, not great career in the '40s and '50s. He had 2,054 career hits, led the AL in hitting once, and had a couple of doubles crowns. The Veterans' Committee put him in undeservedly in '83 because, well, he played with a lot of its members. Any one of a number of current players will end up with better numbers, but for some reason, they will be compared to Brett and Mike Schmidt, not Kell, Collins, or Baker.

Fred Lindstrom is another Veterans' Committee blunder. 1,747 career hits, 103 homers, led the league in one thing -- hits -- exactly once. Pretty much everyone who was a regular for the New York Giants in the '20s is in the Hall due to favoritism on the part of the Committee in the '60s and '70s. (Lindstrom went in in '76.)

Eddie Mathews is another story. He hit 512 homers, mostly for the Milwaukee Braves, and looks even better to modern analysts thanks to his fondness for drawing walks (four times led the NL). Rafael Palmeiro may buck this trend, but usually anybody with 500 homers is a lock for the Hall.

Brooks Robinson is widely acclaimed as the greatest defensive third baseman who ever lived (rightfully or not, his glove is often credited with singlehandedly winning the 1970 World Series for the Orioles), and he came pretty close to 3,000 hits as well (2,848). He played in fifteen straight All-Star games from 1960 to 1974. It bodes well for Chavez that Robinson got in despite an unimpressive career batting average (.267). He did play forever (23 seasons) and for the same team the whole way, which helps.

Mike Schmidt I'm sure you know about. Bill James rates him the greatest all-around third baseman of all time, and I don't think it's subject to much debate. (By the way, James' Top Ten is: 1. Schmidt, 2. Brett, 3. Mathews, 4. Boggs, 5. Baker, 6. Ron Santo, 7. Robinson, 8. Paul Molitor [who's in but doesn't really have a career position, he played 791 games at third but 1,174 as a DH], 9. Stan Hack, 10. Darrell Evans. Santo isn't in but should be, Hack and Evans [400 career homers but only a .248 career average] never will be.) I don't really think I have to prove Schmidt's case, but: 548 homers. There you have it. From 1979 to 1987 he was arguably the best player in all baseball; the OPS section of his Total Baseball entry is practically all in boldface.

Last but not least, Pie Traynor. Pretty good player, another selection from the era when third base was a position from which you didn't expect much offense. 2,416 career hits, nice defensive stats, never led the league in anything except for triples (once). He's better than Lindstrom or Kell.

The trouble is, because there's so few third basemen in the Hall of Fame and several of them are obvious mistakes, people think automatically of Schmidt, Robinson, Mathews, and Brett when they think "Hall of Fame third baseman." This is silly. Ron Santo should have been in 20 years ago, but still languishes on the outside looking in. Santo, by the way, won five (straight) Gold Gloves and finished with 2,254 hits and 342 homers. If he gets in, which most people seem to think he will eventually, that lowers the bar considerably for the best of today's players.

The 2006 Bill James Handbook (an invaluable resource, by the way) has career projections for current players:

Eric Chavez
2,568 hits
470 homers
.267 career average

If he hits that many homers, he's in, period. He's going to win a whole boatload of Gold Gloves before the final reckoning as well. A-Rod's position shift kind of hurts him when it comes to All-Star appearances, but through no fault of his own.

Vinny Castilla
2,151 hits
360 homers
.272 career average

Even if you ignore the Coors Effect, which the voters won't, no way. Does anybody really think of Vinny Castilla of one of the most feared hitters of his era?

Troy Glaus
2,063 hits
516 homers
.245 career average

An interesting case. If he plays out the rest of his days as a third baseman and hits 500 homers, he's in for sure. But I don't know how much longer he'll last until he gets most of his playing time at first or DH. With that average and the back half of his career played at the non-defensive priority positions, he may be one of many guys from the steroid era with 500 homers who doesn't get in.

Chipper Jones
2,773 hits
510 homers
.293 career average

Probably the surest thing this side of A-Rod. He has played part of his career in the outfield and likely will go back there or to first before too long, but that probably won't hurt him. If he does end up staying at third for most of the rest of his career, that could hurt Chavez's chances slightly.

Scott Rolen
2,417 hits
427 homers
.277 career average

He probably has the best defensive reputation in the majors besides Chavez. On the other hand, he has been hurt a lot -- if his career totals fall 200 hits and 50 homers short of the projections, he's got no chance. If those numbers hold up, he's probably the cutoff guy -- he, Jones, and Chavez make it, no one beneath 2,400 hits and 400 homers from this period does.

And the surest of sure things:

Alex Rodriguez
3,517 hits
816 homers
.295 career average

Who knows how long he'll stay a third baseman (probably a pretty long time, given Jeter's job security in New York and the longevity of both their contracts) but there's no other 30-year-old in the game who's more of a lock than A-Rod. Thankfully, Rodriguez is SO good that it's not likely his outrageous numbers will raise the bar further for other aspiring Hall of Fame third basemen.

This all leaves out rings, of course. Glaus and Jones have them. A-Rod will probably get one one of these days, not that he needs it. If the Rolen/Pujols Cardinals win two or three World Series titles and the Chavez A's never play in one, that could be a stumbling block, but expecting every HOF third sacker to win multiple MVPs and championships or hit 500 home runs is unrealistic (and as we've seen, not true). Says here A-Rod and Jones are first-balloters, Chavez and Rolen make it within two or three tries. Another guy too young for projections, but with The Look: David Wright of the Mets. Check this guy out, he's the real deal.

2006-01-12 13:59:10
1.   molokai
Since your using Bill James as your handbook you might want to take a look at Beltre's projected career numbers. Last year I'm sure he would have been part of this conversation. Does the one year in Seattle remove him completely as much as the 2004 year brought him into the discussion?
2006-01-12 14:12:21
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Beltre wasn't mentioned in the post I was responding to and to be honest I didn't even think of him. It's not as if he was a guy who was on track who had one bad year. He's more like a guy who was nowhere near who had one really good year.

1998 74 OPS+
1999 100 OPS+
2000 116 OPS+
2001 93 OPS+
2002 98 OPS+
2003 89 OPS+
2004 163 OPS+
2005 90 OPS+

What does that look like? To me, it looks like four out of five below-average years in what should be the guy's prime. Then again, the BJH says 2,779 hits and 448 homers. It's true that Beltre's pretty young. But that seems totally wrong to me. I guess it throws the whole exercise into question. Yet another reason for me to loathe Adrian Beltre, I guess.

2006-01-12 15:37:40
3.   molokai
According to Bill James favorite tool the chance of Beltre hitting 500 home runs:
2005/20% - still higher then Chavez

BJ's favorite tool has a lot of problems with players who have a fluke year at a very young age. Of course the 116 OPS+ at the age of 21 is still a possible indicator that 2004 wasn't a complete fluke year. Time will tell. Can't imagine why anyone would loathe Beltre unless he messed up your roto team. He was always a class act as a Dodger.

2006-01-12 17:19:30
4.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Although I think for the most part the whole "these young whippersnappers, they just don't respect the game" thing is a tired cliché, Beltre more than any other guy in the game today just seems as if he only tries when he feels like it. That might be as good an argument against his HOF candidacy as any -- eventually, he'll just get bored and quit in his mid-thirties, leaving all of those big projected numbers on the table.
2006-01-12 17:31:50
5.   molokai
You evidently never watched him play on a day to day basis. Just because he could never get started in the 1st half doesn't mean he wasn't busting his butt.
2006-01-12 20:22:05
6.   Ali Nagib
Sure Beltre MIGHT have just gotten lucky and had his one good year of the 5 in his walk-year, but on the other hand, you have guys like Vince Carter who freely admit after they get traded that they weren't trying as hard when they felt like it. I'm not saying Beltre was consciously doing this, but until he has another good season, he's just a guy who had 1.5 good seasons out of 8
2006-01-13 08:44:13
7.   molokai
Of course lets ignore the fact that he started his MLB career at the age of 19 and basically lost one whole year to the botching of his appendectomy when he almost bled to death. Would like to see what Ian Stewart would have accomplished last year at the ML level. It would not have been pretty even in Coors.

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