Prevent a Crime, Dog

Preface

This is an argument for Fred McGriff to be inducted into the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2010. Former BTB writer and current BP writer Marc Normandin and myself have had a few conversations on this topic, and while this isn't really a direct argument based at him, I do like to think he'll read this and become enlightened - or just outsmart me again, either way.

I tried to avoid spinning numbers for my favor and took as much of a fair stance as I could, but after the jump is my case and something you must know before continuing on.

Introduction

I have to admit something; Fred McGriff is my favorite baseball player of all time. As a Rays fan there aren't a ton of really good players walking through our history's halls, at least not with good Rays' seasons under their belts. Ask any of my friends or co-writers, the though of rebelling against the organization until Wade Boggs number was un-retired or McGriff's retired alongside has been a long standing obsession of mine.

Only three baseball jersey shirts hang in my closet - one from each era of the Rays' history; it goes without saying what player represents the rainbow time. Growing up I was into baseball before the Rays were formed, most of my immediate family - the ones who care at least - are Atlanta Braves fans, so naturally I joined in.

I don't remember much, even with a Braves cap lying somewhere around the house, but the first baseman with a weird swing stuck with me. Make no mistake I didn't know his name, but I knew the helicopter finish. Imagine my surprise when, upon seeing my first Devil Rays game, that same guy was on the team.

Those three and a half seasons were a revival for McGriff's career and a maturing time in my life, so when the Rays, looking to move a hefty contract dumped him to the playoff contending Chicago Cubs I didn't shed a tear. No, I simply found WGN on my cable box and watched his games at an even ratio to my Devil Rays watching. I wasn't a Cubs fan, but I was a McGriff fan.

2001's version of the Cubs didn't make the playoffs, but McGriff's hesitation to waive his no-trade clause in order to go to Chicago made me realize that he wasn't selfish. Sure, he did eventually leave, but Tampa was his home, and for a player to truly struggle between playoff contention and humiliating losses to stay home with his family spoke volumes to me.

He'd bounce to the Dodgers and then back to Tampa in search of his 500th career homerun, but fail in the process. After retiring he'd stay in Tampa and co-host radio show with my co-writer Matt Sammon, later on he'd rejoin the Rays' organization as a special advisor. Making him one of the few members to don a title with the organization at each of the three generational shifts - from rainbow to green to blue - and one who seemingly means the most to the organization in a historical sense. McGriff is amongst the few who wanted to stay here; even if that means the area instead of on the team.

I won't bring up how he's a good guy, or how his family was in baseball, or even how was without a doubt one of the most fared hitters of the 1990's, after all that's not up for debate, or even provable. Yes he stared in those Tom Emanski commercials without getting much compensation, but that doesn't mean much for his baseball career, and of course his nickname is based on a cartoon crime solving dog, but again, unless that had the same effect as bull hormones I don't think it plays much of a role.

Instead all I'm going to do is provide statistical evidence that McGriff is without a doubt worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame. I'm sure someone will make that "Hall of Very Good" joke, but it's not like I expect to change the minds of those who vote, as a member of the BBWAA once told me, I assume far too much from the process.  Also I'm not a fool, if Tom Tango and company can't change enough minds for Tim Raines to get in I don't stand much of a chance to convince those souls that McGriff is a no-doubter, but I feel like I owe McGriff this as a service for providing entertainment and hope.

Let's begin with some basic background information, it's hardly evidence, but I like to think most fans should be able to know one piece of general information about each player outside of their statistics - and that's coming from a stats writer. Before you complain; there's nothing stopping you from skipping to the actual argument part, that's why the headings are in bold after all.

Background

A graduate of Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida the left-handed batter would be selected in the 9th round of the 1981 draft by the New York Yankees. His first exposure to minor league ball was hardly a taste of things to come; in 29 Gulf Coast League games McGriff would hit .148/.255/.173 and only reach base 24 times out of 81 at-bats. In 1982 McGriff would repeat the level with quite a bit more success; hitting .272/.413/.456

McGriff would be traded in December 1982 to the Toronto Blue Jays for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd in a package deal. It would be the first transaction he'd be involved with, but hardly the last. In 1990 the Jays would trade Tony Fernandez and McGriff to the San Diego Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. In 1993 the Padres would send him to the Braves for Vince Moore, Donnie Elliot, and Melvin Nieves. In 1997 the Rays would buy him from the Braves and in 2001 he'd head to the Chicago Cubs for Jason Smith and Manny Aybar. From there McGriff sign on twice as a free agent - once with the Dodgers and the other with the Rays.

McGriff would provide a steady presence in any lineup he became part of, including displacing John Olerud in Toronto and becoming a member of the "Four Tops" in San Diego along with Tony Gwynn. In Tampa "The Hit Show" featured McGriff, Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, and Greg Vaughn. He'd make for a fearsome threesome with Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou in Chicago. The Dodgers paired him with Shawn Green, Adrian Beltre, and Jeromy Burnitz.

While some would contest he was never the best player in his own lineup should that truly play into the Hall of Fame debate? I don't see too many arguing that without Dwight Evans Jim Rice wouldn't be nearly as successful, being a member of teams with grand lineups is random, particularly when you consider the three times McGriff "chose" his teams they were arguably the weakest of his career.

The Case

McGriff finished his 19 season, 2,460 game career with 493 homeruns, 2,490 hits, a line of .284/.377/.509, a OPS+ of 134, and an average WARP3 of 5.4. On paper those numbers are impressive enough, but to truly get a feel for how great McGriff is we must compare him to the all-time legends and the greats of his generation.

To pre-face the statistics one cannot go without mentioning that McGriff, by all accounts, has never taken anabolic steroids or performance enhancing drugs in what some have referred to as the "Steroid Era" of baseball.

As of 2007 42 players were members of the 400 homerun club, 20 hit 500, one 600, and three 700, although in fairness the likes of Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa broke milestones during the 2007 season. McGriff sits in 22nd, 23rd after Frank Thomas' 2007 season, tied in homeruns with Lou Gehrig. Although comparing the eras is difficult - one would be insane to say 493 homeruns in the 1920's and 30's is equal to 493 homeruns in the 1990's and 2000's let's assume we can turn a blind eye to their time periods and simply compare the players around McGriff on the homerun list: Gehrig, Thomas, Stan Musial, and Eddie Murray.

Of those four players three are in the Hall of Fame, and Thomas is a borderline candidate, but only due to being a designated hitter for most of his career. McGriff compares quite favorably to the grouping, including having a better OPS than Murray who was largely a first baseman and designated hitter in his career, similar to McGriff.

I don't play the steroid card often, but if Murray is in, and his career ended right before steroids blew up, and McGriff's numbers are, at worst, comparable shouldn't he be considered a shoo in? Voters are seemingly trying to delay the known or heavily suspected users from gaining access to Cooperstown; this should work for McGriff, but if he was clean and most others were dirty imagine the numbers he could've produced in a vacuum. Or if he would've remained a Yankee, surely his sweet left-handed stroke would've had its share of balls clear the short porch in right field.

Comparing him to generational greats like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire simply isn't fair to McGriff; his career doesn't come close to the truly historical performances of those two. However with Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, and Manny Ramirez there seems to be more room for comparison. Despite that let's compare him to the players who were still active in 2006, first purely through common statistics.

Now to use a trick developed by Jay Jaffe and Normandin; taking the best five seasons, ranked by WARP, and averaging them out.

From Normandin's BTB post on the Ray Lankford Hall of Fame we pull this graphic:

A point I'd like to come back to, Don Mattingly did play in the Bronx as a lefty first baseman, and while it's random, you do have to consider their numbers being slightly closer than they may appear based on ballpark factors - assuming you care to dig that deep into the statistics goodie bag. Using Baseball-Reference's stat neutralizer McGriff would apparently have had a career .885 OPS compared to Mattingly's .844, I won't point that out as crucial evidence however.  

Unfortunately for McGriff that graphic also shows that, judged statistically, his lack of range really hurt him in defensive metrics. So much so that his case is probably helped if considered solely as a designated hitter. Although he did appear to get to most of the balls thrown at him, within a small range, and hey, first base defense is a bit hard to judge anyways, right?

Voters tend to flock to the fabled "consistency" label and McGriff was that, hitting 30 homeruns seven straight seasons and for three different teams. No matter the league or ballpark placed in McGriff simply hit the ball.

Conclusion

This is getting a bit longer than I previously anticipated so let me conclude my argument by pointing back towards the evidence. McGriff played in a performance enhanced game and faired well compared to past players, he also outperformed the likes of Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome when WARP3 was taken into account - Manny usually being considered a lock for the hall.

I'll put the vote - whether I've changed any minds or not - in your hands; below there's a simple poll, cast it and we'll see if McGriff gets the 75% needed to "graduate" from the RLHoF once and for all.

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