Who’s the New Santo?

By Bill

For pretty much as long as I’ve been aware of these things, there have been two guys who were, clearly and beyond all reasonable dispute, by far the most worthy eligible players not in the Hall of Fame: Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo. Now, of course, thanks in some part to a big push by the stathead crowd, they’re both in.

So now what? Rob Neyer tackled that question yesterday. Kind of. I’m not entirely sure what he conclusion he comes to, though; he asks the question much more than he answers it. And I guess (as Rob hints) the question of “who should the next cause be” isn’t that interesting right now. We’re in kind of a transitional period where nothing we do matters much anyway; in a couple years, it’s going to be all about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and so forth, and I’m going to hate every bleeding second of it.

I guess the question I’m interested in is: if you could throw all your support behind one candidate and wake people up to his cause, who would it be? Or, if you prefer, a slightly different but closely related question: who is getting ripped off most royally? I’ve said that Scott Rolenis set up to take over for Santo as the new most egregious snub, and Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds will have a strong claim to that title, too, but they’re not eligible yet, so technically, we don’t know that they’re going to get jobbed (even though they totally are). So we’ll just consider candidates that already have been considered and (more or less) rejected. 

Here’s a chart of what I think are the ten best candidates:

Player rWAR fWAR WARP Average Peak Status
Dick Allen 61.2 67.9 63.7 64.3 7.66 VetCom(GE)
Jeff Bagwell 79.9 83.9 86.8 83.5 7.94 2nd; 41.7%
Kevin Brown 64.0 77.2 37.6 59.6 6.92 Off (2011)
Bill Dahlen 75.9 80.0 N/A 80.0 6.20 VetCom(PI)
Bobby Grich 67.6 74.1 57.7 66.5 6.52 VetCom(EE)
Edgar Martinez 67.2 69.9 64.2 67.1 6.44 3rd; 32.9%
Tim Raines 64.6 70.9 69.4 68.3 6.28 5th; 37.5%
Alan Trammell 66.9 69.5 54.2 63.5 6.74 11th; 24.3%
Larry Walker 67.3 73.2 60.6 67.0 6.60 2nd; 20.3%
Lou Whitaker 69.7 74.3 55.5 66.5 5.66 Off (2001)

I hope you know what the first three columns are by now, and the fourth is obviously just the average of those. For “Peak” — your mileage may vary, perhaps completely — I simply took each player’s five best bWARs and averaged them. (JAWS or wWAR will do a much better job for you, but I don’t have the access or time.) Finally, the status is probably self-explanatory, except that the initials after “VetCom” refer to which of the three subcommittees the player is subject to: Pre-Integration (PI), Golden Era (GE) or Expansion Era (EE); for more info on those, there’s always Wikipedia. The two “Off” players are no longer BBWAA-eligible, and are some years away from qualifying for Veteran’s Committee consideration (five or six for Whitaker, more like 15 for Brown). 

Let me be clear: I think all of these players are Hall of Famers, and I think it’s hard for anyone to seriously argue against any of them. The question is, who is most deserving of your love and support, and of Santo’s newly vacated biggest-snub title? A word about each:

Dick Allen
By OPS+, Allen’s the second-best currently eligible hitter on the outside looking in (min. 5000 PA), just behind Mark McGwire. He makes this list ahead of McGwire because his defensive versatility gives him a WAR edge by two of the three methods (fWAR slightly prefers Mac), and because I think PED issues are a strike against a player on this matter; in part, you’re picking the guy you want to stand behind, and arguing against the moralistic anti-PED crowd is just no fun at all.
You might pick him if: you really like dominant, short-career hitters. His Peak score comes in second in the bunch, and Allen’s 9.1 and 9.3 WAR in 1964 and ’72 are, I believe, the two best single seasons on this list.
But: he’s generally considered to have been a particularly poor teammate (and person, frankly), he’s got no chance of getting in soon no matter how hard you argue for him (he wasn’t even listed on this year’s GE ballot), and at least by the bWAR and composite scores, he’s one of the weaker candidates on this list.

Jeff Bagwell
Clearly the best player on this list, and technically, the best eligible player not in the Hall.
You might pick him if: you want to back, you know, the best overall player not in the Hall. Bagwell wins big on all of the career scores and the Peak score, and is generally considered in the top five all-time among first basemen.
But: it’s only his second year on the ballot. His inaugural showing, while inexcusably poor given his credentials, has historically been promising. We don’t know for sure yet that Bagwell’s getting screwed, though he’s certainly got an uphill climb with all the new candidates coming in. Also, if he’s your guy, you’ve got to deal with a lot of insufferable witch-hunting morons like this guy. No fun at all.

Kevin Brown
A personal favorite, I’ll admit, and the one whose qualifications the most of you are likely to argue with me on. But bWAR and fWAR put him pretty comfortably in the Hall of Fame zone, and there are really no other pitchers in the running (if you want to argue for Rick Reuschel, please go ahead).
You might pick him if: you really like pitchers? Few on this list have a single year as great as Brown’s 8.4 WAR 1998 (even better by fWAR, at 9.3), during which, if you care, he led an unlikely Padres team to the World Series.
But: BPro’s WARP is crazy low on him (but it also seems to be low on pitchers in general; it’s considerably lower than rWAR and fWAR on Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, too). He’s definitely the furthest from induction — he didn’t even come close last year, and won’t be considered again for another 15 years or so barring another big change in how the VetCom works. So you might also pick him if you like lost causes. I think he’ll get in, but that we’ll all be nearing retirement age by that point.

Bill Dahlen
Second-best to Bagwell in both rWAR and fWAR (WARP doesn’t go back that far), but it’s a lot more career value than peak.
You might pick him if: you have a soft spot for turn-of-the-last-century defensive wizards. He got no attention at all the last time he was up for consideration. The big problem with Dahlen is that there’s no compelling reason for anybody to stump for him, as few people alive today even had a grandparent who might’ve seen Dahlen in his prime. So it’s your chance to be a pioneer, a la Rich Lederer, for a guy who looks like he might really deserve it.
But: well, it’s just that — he’s kind of a lost cause. And he had just a few years as a really elite hitter; his case is mostly defense and longevity, and do we really put that much faith in the defensive numbers from 100 years ago? There’s little evidence he was considered elite in his day, and he certainly wasn’t by the time the Hall came about in 1936, so how comfortable are you declaring, 100 years after he stepped off the field, that they all had it wrong?

Bobby Grich
A favorite of mine for a long time, Grich was the king of underappreciated skills. Walks, good-for-a-middle-infielder power, good but non-flashy defense. He even led the league in HBPs once.
You might pick him if: you really like Ron Santo. Grich was kind of the 1970s Santo, a great player whose skills were covered up by the parks, era, and the things that were valued during his career, and who never played for great teams. Finished second in the league in rWAR in 1973 and first in 1974, though the numbers (7.3 and 6.7) don’t compare to the best of of Dick Allen or several others on this list.
But: he, too, is a long way off. He was eligible for but didn’t make last year’s Expansion Era ballot, while clearly inferior players like Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey and Al Oliver did. It’s another uphill battle, and there aren’t a lot of reasons to prefer him over, say, Whitaker or Trammell, below.

Edgar Martinez
One of my favorite players to watch, Edgar would probably be in already if his managers had made him waddle out to first on a regular basis rather than tucking him away at DH.
You might pick him if: you like amazingly awesome hitters who are easier to root for than Dick Allen.
But: like Bagwell, his fate is far from sealed. He risks drowning in the sea of qualified players about to come in starting in 2013, but he’s gotten enough support that it’s not impossible. Also, you’ll have to argue against a lot of “DH is only half a position!” folks who nevertheless think it’s cool to vote for a closer, which is only a little less frustrating than the PEDs-are-the-worst-thing-ever ones.

Tim Raines
I mean, he’s going to be the guy. It’s already sealed. I just don’t know that it’s right.
You might pick him if: you’ve been to this website, have a soft spot for Expos or victims of collusion, or think the second-best leadoff hitter in history is worth fighting for even though (or perhaps especially because) he played at the same time as the first-best. The campaign is already well underway, so you might as well join the chorus.
But: the one drawback here is that it’s hard to differentiate him from guys waiting in the wings, specifically Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton. They’re all totally deserving, but if you’re going all out and saying we absolutely have to elect Rock Raines right now and it’ll be a travesty if we don’t, people are kind of just going to laugh at you if you then turn around and say these two other guys were basically just as good.

Alan Trammell
It’s ridiculous that he’s not getting more support. The two worst AL MVP choices of the eighties came in 1984 and ’87, and Trammell was likely the victim of at least one of those, arguably both.
You might pick him if: like Rob, you’ve become convinced that he’s the best one currently getting jobbed. He is, as Rob notes, 7th among SS in career (r)WAR. He’s mostly getting screwed because he previously got screwed for at least one of those two MVPs, and how is that fair?
But: he’s more like 13th in fWAR, and WARP doesn’t like him much at all (relatively speaking), though it’s worth noting that WARP is way down on all three 1980s middle infielders on this list, and even Ryne Sandberg (58.0). The other reason to be wary is that there’s nothing you can do. He’s not going to see his support triple over his next five ballots, and then he’s got to wait at least a few more years before his chance comes up again.

Larry Walker
Yeah, he played in Coors, and put up hugely better numbers there than when he played elsewhere. It also turns out that he spent all his prime years in Coors, and went there at about the same time as the whole offensive explosion happened, so you’d expect his numbers to be better. While his raw numbers definitely got a boost from Coors and the era, all the numbers that try to adjust for that still pretty clearly say he had a Hall-quality career.
You might pick him if: you’re like me and are sick of people over- or double-correcting for Coors. Walker was a great player, who probably deserves induction. He’s also not a totally lost cause; he’s at about the same level of support as Trammell, but with up to fourteen chances on the BBWAA ballot left to burn through. Getting people to take a reasonable approach to park effects might be kind of worth your time.
But: He didn’t have a great peak — his MVP-winning 1997 is the third-best single-season rWAR of anyone on this list (9.0), but it’s a big dropoff from there — and is far from the most deserving player on this list. There are good reasons to get behind him, but it might be weird pushing so hard for one outfielder when, really, Raines is probably more deserving at more or less the same position.

Lou Whitaker
I wrote a lot about Whitaker about nine months ago. I get a little angry every time I think about what they did to him.
You might pick him if: You’re obsessed with justice. I do think Whitaker’s one-and-done is the single worst mistake the BBWAA has ever made, and if there’s one thing left worth ceaselessly screaming and crying about, it’s probably that Sandberg made it fairly easily while his equal-or-better contemporary got no attention at all. Also, it’s not one you’ll necessarily have to wait forever for. Whitaker was last active in 1995, and as of 2011, players last active in 1989 or earlier were eligible for the Expansion Era vote; assuming they do the logical thing and bump that up three years for every new every-third-year vote, he should be eligible two Expansion Era ballots from now, in 2017. Pretty reasonable window of time to get the word out and hopefully, at least, get his name on a ballot for just the second time.
But: There’s no real downside here, in my opinion. There’s the weird WARP thing again, and there’s the fact that his peak wasn’t brilliant; it’s kind of astounding how consistently and for how long Whitaker was good (he had at least 3.0 rWAR fifteen times), but he topped out at 6.9 (lower by fWAR or WARP).

So who’s our (or, much more importantly, your) new guy? Maybe he’s not even on this list — maybe you’ve got a stronger stomach for dead-end steroid debates than me, in which case McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro might come into the picture.

I never would’ve expected this coming in, but I almost talked myself into going with Larry Walker up there. I couldn’t do that in good conscience, though, while Raines, a probably slightly better corner outfield candidate, still has a reasonable chance. Raines will most certainly become the closest thing saberists have to an “official candidate,” and while it’s not nearly as clear-cut as some will make it, there are plenty of good reasons to stick with him.

Ultimately, though? I think I’d go with Whitaker. By both his career rWAR and fWAR, he’s the third-best candidate on the list behind Bagwell (who, as I said above, I don’t think you can really call a snub yet) and Dahlen (who’s a bit hard for me to get excited about), and his chance is coming back around faster than I would’ve expected. I’d really like to see a kind of movement get going that helps people realize that the writers put Ryne Sandberg in in 2005, four years after giving a less volatile but at least equally valuable version of Sandberg just 2.9% of the vote.


About Bill

Bill is an employment lawyer and baseball geek. Also a comedy geek, and just a geek generally.