I was somewhat surprised to see that first base actually gained an inductee as a result of the Hall of wWAR re-population process. Six first basemen were bumped from the Hall, but really only two of them were questionable elections to start with—Jim Bottomley and George Kelly.
In their place, we welcome seven new first basemen. They are all modern players, with all but one starting their careers in the DH era. It is a very interesting group of players, as we have positive PED tests, cocaine scandals, and explosive personalities all represented here.
These six players are in the Hall of Fame, but did not make it into the Hall of wWAR:
- Jake Beckley: You really can't complain about Jake Beckley being in the Hall of Fame. As a player who started his career in 1888, he collected 2934 hits, a 125 OPS+, and 61.5 WAR. Those are impressive numbers. There just happens to be quite a few first basemen with better numbers.
- Frank Chance: It's not fair to say that Chance was inducted because of a poem. He was a darn good ballplayer. Chance posted a .394 OBP for his career. Unfortunately, his slugging percentage was also .394. Still, the .788 OPS was good for an OPS+ of 135. Chance only accumulated 49.5 WAR, though. Before now, I hadn't realize he only totaled 5103 plate appearances. He produced at a good rate, but not long enough for induction.
- Tony Perez: Perez is already widely acknowledged as a great player but weak Hall of Fame choice. wWAR does nothing to change that. While 50.5 WAR (66.8 wWAR) is a nice total, it is not Hall-worthy.
- Orlando Cepeda: Like Perez, Cepeda was certainly a good player. His 46.8 WAR and 61.1 wWAR just doesn't stack up to other Hall-worthy first basemen.
- Jim Bottomley: Bottomley's .310/.369/.500 career line looks great on the surface. However, it's not quite as good when you compare it to the offensive era in which Bottomley played. Add to it the fact that he was a pretty lousy fielder (by Total Zone) and you have a guy worth just 32.4 WAR (39.5 wWAR).
- George Kelly: Seriously? High Pockets? Seriously? Owner of a 109 OPS+ for a first baseman... there's just no excuse for a first baseman with 24.3 WAR (and 28.1 wWAR) to be in the Hall of Fame.
These seven players are not in the Hall of Fame, but are now being inducted to the Hall of wWAR:
- Jeff Bagwell: The fact that Jeff Bagwell was passed over for the Hall of Fame—even if it is just this once and he’s inducted in 2012—is just plain crazy. Now that Bert Blyleven has been inducted, Bagwell is now the best eligible player (pitcher or position player) not enshrined, by wWAR. There are only five eligible first basemen in history who rate ahead of Bagwell (by both WAR and wWAR). Bagwell’s 79.9 WAR and 128.3 wWAR is topped by Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, plus three 19th century stars (Roger Conner, Cap Anson, and Dan Brouthers). Quite simply, Bagwell did everything. He hit for average (.297). He had a great eye (1401 walks and a .408 OBP). He knocked the crap out of the ball (488 doubles, 449 homers, .540 slugging percentage). He could steal bases (202 steals). He could field his position (+35 runs despite a weird –19 run season in 2003). He simply got hurt too soon to reach any magic numbers (like 500 homers). He was never going to reach 3000 hits for the same reason Babe Ruth and Ted Williams didn’t—he walked too damn much.
- Dick Allen: For a long time, I’ve heard Dick Allen’s name listed on many "Top Hall of Fame Snub" lists. And for a long time I didn’t believe it. I saw a guy who was done at 35 and who hit about 350 home runs while hitting .292. Heck, he didn’t even have 2000 hits. I assumed he was less of a player than Jim Rice. But once you adjust for the era and league, Allen's batting runs total is a staggering 461 runs above average. The other players between 450 and 470 are Rafael Palmeiro (466), Al Kaline (461), Carl Yastrzemski (460), Wade Boggs (454), and George Brett (451). Those are some pretty elite hitters. Allen is tenth among eligible first basemen with 98.2 wWAR. His raw WAR total is 61.2, so he is given a substantial boost from his amazing peak. In fact, Willie McCovey, Mark McGwire, Eddie Murray, and Palmeiro are all behind Allen in wWAR, but ahead of him in WAR. He was such a controversial figure that it affected his play, affected his playing time, and affected his ability to remain employed in the big leagues. Were he able to simply go out there and play baseball day after day and season after season without distraction, there’s no telling what he could have done in the big leagues. As it stands now, he had a Hall of Fame-caliber career. But he really could have been one of the all time greats.
- Mark McGwire: First base is a position mired in controversy. The only excuse I've heard for not voting for Jeff Bagwell is steroid suspicion. Allen's personality is what marred is career. For McGwire, it was only only steroid suspicion, but later steroid admission. McGwire has spent five years on the ballot. After earning between 21.9% and 23.7% as a suspected steroid user, he finally came clean. He then proceeded to earn 19.8% of the vote. Moral of the story: If you are a Hall of Fame-caliber player who used steroids, it is not in your best interest to come clean. McGwire is just so clearly a Hall of Famer. His career .394 OBP and .588 SLG led to 578 batting runs. That figure ranks 33rd all time and puts him in the vicinity of Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Nap Lajoie, and Joe DiMaggio. Among eligible first basemen, his 90.9 wWAR is tied for 12th with Hank Greenberg. McGwire has a 6.3 WAR advantage, but Greenberg makes up for it with an even better peak than McGwire had.
- Rafael Palmeiro: We go from admitted steroid user to busted steroid user. Palmeiro hit the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this past season and he managed just 11% of the vote. The moral of this story is if you wave your finger at Congress, you better not get busted for the very thing you say you never did. As mentioned earlier, his 466 batting runs are in the Dick Allen neighborhood. One nice thing about Palmeiro was the fact that he could actually field his position. He won three Gold Gloves (one, famously, in a season where he was almost exclusively a DH). Opposite of Allen, he is actually leapfrogged by five first basemen who have a lower career WAR total than him, but a higher career wWAR. He was steady for a long time and never had an exaggerated peak. He ranks 15th among eligible first basemen with 88.1 wWAR. That puts him right behind Eddie Murray. One might say 15th doesn't sound that good for a guy with 3000 hits and 500 home runs. But hey, Murray reached both of those figures and ranks 14th. There have simply been a lot of good-hitting first basemen.
- Keith Hernandez: Hernandez is probably the first surprise on the first base list. He ranks right behind Palmeiro at #16 among eligible first basemen with 87.2 wWAR. It's really not surprising that Hernandez was worth 119 runs on defense, since his reputation helped him earn eleven Gold Gloves. I think the more surprising total would be his 330 batting runs. That's just a run different than Jose Canseco. Hernandez wasn't a slugger (.436 SLG), but his .394 OBP helped him to an impressive 128 OPS+. Combine the plus offense with the plus defense and you get a Hall of Fame-caliber player who flew under the radar.
- John Olerud: Olerud debuted on the ballot last year and promptly fell off with just 0.7% of the vote. He was actually a very similar player to Hernandez. Hernandez was worth 330 batting runs. Olerud was worth 366. Hernandez was worth 119 runs in the field. Olerud was worth 97. Olerud's WAR total (56.8) and wWAR total (81.3) both sit a few wins behind Hernandez at #19 among first basemen. While it seems that we're getting past the Hall of Fame borderline, it really makes you think about how many weaker players are already in the Hall. Olerud outperforms a ton of them.
- Will Clark: Lastly, we have The Thrill. Honestly, it made me so happy that Will made the cut. Clark retired after posting one of the greatest final seasons in history—.319/.418/.541, 144 OPS+, 4.1 WAR in 507 PA—for all the right reasons. Despite his abbreviated career, he still compiled 2176 hits, 284 home runs, 937 walks, and 440 doubles to go with awesome rates of .303/.384/.497 (137 OPS+). He was worth 57.6 WAR and 79.5 wWAR (#21 among first basemen, the last before the cutoff). Somebody has to be last, and I'm much more comfortable with it being Will Clark than High Pockets Kelly.
These four players are either still active or retired and not yet eligible for the Hall, but have already met the threshold to be inducted to the Hall of wWAR:
- Albert Pujols: As if there was any doubt. His 83.8 WAR balloons to 161.6 wWAR. That trails Lou Gehrig and just barely follows Jimmie Foxx among first basemen. That's it. Plus, he apparently has another ten year contract left in him. He will destroy Gehrig for first all time.
- Jim Thome: Thome's 70.3 WAR gets a boost to 99.4 wWAR. That will be good for 11th all time (including Pujols ahead of him). Does anyone actually question whether or not he's worthy? With a straight face?
- Todd Helton: A nice showing in WAE (26.3) and WAM (6.7) bumps him from 57.9 WAR to 90.9 wWAR. That's not among the all time greats, but still a very strong number.
- Jason Giambi: This one surprised me. His WAM (8.3) actually surpasses both Helton and Thome. His modest 52.8 WAR then jumps to 84.8 wWAR and puts him in the Harmon Killebrew/Keith Hernandez range.
Tune back in tomorrow as we start off by discussing second basemen.