The most ridiculously under-populated position in the Hall of Fame is third base. Before Jeff Bagwell swung and missed, Ron Santo was an easy choice as the best eligible position player outside of the Hall. I did some research in the past that found the next-most-deserving third baseman was Sal Bando.
Bando was part of a large group of third basemen (many of whom played simultaneously) who provided a similar amount of value. Voters seemingly figured this entire class of third basemen wasn't good enough for the Hall of Fame. The fact that nobody stood out cost all of them.
Except, there's a problem. Every single one of them belongs. Third base shifts from being one of least populated in the Hall of Fame to being one of the most populated in the Hall of wWAR. And that was one of the most satisfying results of this entire project.
One thing the voters did do right is not elect many early 20th century third basemen. For whatever reason, third basemen didn't start piling up value until the second half of the century. Because of this, we actually remove three of those ten third basemen they actually did put in.
These three players are in the Hall of Fame, but did not make it into the Hall of wWAR:
- Pie Traynor: There is just one thing that stands out about Pie Traynor's game—his .320 batting average. And, of course, at the time that he was inducted (1948), batting average was everything. His OBP was just 42 points higher than his batting average, as he drew just 472 walks in his career. His defense ranks as a somewhat below average. All in all, a high batting average does not make a Hall of Famer.
- George Kell: George Kell was pretty good at everything. He hit .306 in his career. He drew a few walks. He hit some doubles. He fielded his position pretty well. But he didn't do anything at a Hall of Fame level. He was inducted by the Veterans' Committee in 1983, when we were witnessing a Golden Age of third basemen right before our eyes. I just don't get why he would be considered a Hall of Famer.
- Freddie Lindstrom: Lindstrom hit .311 for his career. In fact, all three third basemen who were bumped hit .300. We know batting average used to be the king of the stats. Just ten third basemen in history have hit .300 in 6000 or more plate appearances. These three guys are part of that list. Lindstrom provided just 0.8 WAR after his age 27 season. The vast majority of his career value came in two seasons—his age 22 and 24 seasons. He was worth 79 batting runs for his career. 70 of those came in one year (89%). He was also worth 21 fielding runs in his career. 17 (81%) came in those two seasons. Sure, those were two great seasons, but that's really all he did.
These eleven players are not in the Hall of Fame, but are now being inducted to the Hall of wWAR:
- Ron Santo: There's Schmidt, there's Mathews, there's Boggs, and there's Brett. Those are the only eligible third basemen who rate ahead of Ron Santo by wWAR (Brooks Robinson sneaks ahead by plain old WAR). Santo's case just makes me sad. He so clearly deserved a spot in the Hall of Fame, but he kept getting passed over, time and time again. Now he's gone and won't be able to enjoy it. While I'm passionate about this stuff, I don't generally let Hall of Fame "injustices" bother me. This one bothers me a bit. Santo had an absurd peak from 1964 (his age 24 season) through 1967 where he averaged 8.5 WAR over four seasons. Expand that peak to 1963–1972 (ten years) and he averaged 6.3 WAR per season and a traditional line of .288/.377/.490 (137 OPS+) with 27 homers and 100 RBI. He also totaled 55 Total Zone runs and and earned five Gold Gloves during that span. Seriously, this isn't right. At least I can put him in.
- Sal Bando: Now, we get to that bunch of third basemen who are are tough to distinguish between, value-wise. Bando rates as the best of that crew, with 60.6 WAR and a tremendous peak that boosts him to 92.5 wWAR. Bando reminds me a lot of of Tenace, which is interesting because they were teammates. Bando hit just .254 (with 1790 hits), but his OBP was 98 points higher (.352). He also had a brilliant sustained peak like Tenace. His first full season was no slouch (3.2 WAR in 1968), but after that he rattled off an impressive decade where he averaged 5.7 WAR per season (for a decade!), peaking at 8.9 in 1969. He also averaged a 127 OPS+ in that decade. But 127 isn't that high—how did he post such insane WAR numbers? Well, Bando didn't have a flaw that detracted from his value. In every category—batting, Total Zone, baserunning, reaching on errors, avoiding double plays, and even positional adjustment—he was above average. If you do that for long enough while excelling at the plate, you put up a ton of value. And you deserve a spot in the Hall.
- Ken Boyer: Like many of the third basemen here, Boyer hung around the ballot for a long time, peaking at 25.5% of the vote in 1988. Boyer is another third baseman who was good at everything. His solid .287/.349/.462 batting line was worth a 116 OPS+ and +148 batting runs. Defensively, he was worth +73 runs at a premium position. He also had positive marks in everything else. He also had a solid 9-year peak where he averaged 5.6 WAR. His peak bumps his raw WAR total of 58.4 up to 84.3 wWAR. That's ninth among eligible third baseman. Ninth is pretty damn impressive
- Graig Nettles: Nettles' career is another excellent pairing of offense and defense. He did it while staying at the hot corner through his age 43 season. His 2412 games at third base rank behind only Brooks Robinson. Nettles' rate numbers seem a bit underwhelming—.248/.329/.421. That's still an OPS+ of 110 because of the era in which he played. Because he was a bit above average for so long, he was actually worth 102 batting runs. His defense was worth a stunning 141 Total Zone runs. Here's where wWAR helps—Nettles actually has a higher WAR than Boyer and Bando, but he has less of a peak, so his wWAR (83.4) sits behind them.
- Buddy Bell: Like Nettles, Bell was a bit of a compiler. His OPS+ was 109 and the fact that he had over 10,000 plate appearances means he turned that into 111 batting runs. Like Nettles, his defense shines. But Bell even takes it to the next level—he's second all time in Total Zone runs at third base (167 of his 176 total). Bell didn't have the sharp peak of some others on this list, but each of his full seasons in Texas (1979–1984) were solid and he averaged 5.8 WAR. He won the Gold Glove each season and averaged 20 Total Zone runs per season.
- John McGraw: Most of the third basemen in this list were contemporaries. Let's kick it way back with McGraw. Wait, isn't McGraw a Hall of Famer? Yes, he is. He's a Hall of Fame manager. The thing is, he should have been a Hall of Fame player. McGraw barely played after taking over as Giants manager in 1902. It's too bad, because he was an amazing player. His career batting line of .334/.466/.410 (135 OPS+) is double-take-inducing. By putting up that line in just 4940 plate appearances, he was worth 337 batting runs. Among players with 300–350 batting runs, he has the fourth fewest PAs (behind Bill Joyce, Charlie Keller, and Tip O'Neil). McGraw was worth 49.3 WAR while Joyce was worth 33.8, Keller was 43.4, and O'Neil was 30.7. Keller and O'Neil played lower value positions while Joyce was a fellow third baseman. While McGraw only rates as an average fielder, Joyce rates as below average. McGraw's peak (which saw him clear 8 WAR twice) gives him a wWAR of 77.2 (12th among eligible third basemen).
- Darrell Evans: Okay, now we're getting crazy, right? Darrell Evans? Here's the thing—playing a long time usually leads to Hall of Fame value. 41 players have recorded 10,737 plate appearances (Evans' total). 33 of them either are in the Hall of wWAR or will be. Every single player ahead of Evans is in. He is towards the bottom of this list, value-wise. But he still put up enough value to get in. Offense is his most valuable component (250 runs) while he was also a good enough defender (+36 runs). A completely average player who played as much as Evans at the same positions as Evans would have been worth 28.1 WAR. So, he still provided double the value of an average player. As you might guess, Evans' peak is one of the weaker ones on this list. He still earns a wWAR of 77.0, good for 13th all time at his position (among eligible players).
- Robin Ventura: Value-wise, Ventura is remarkably close to Evans in career value. Ventura is one of those players who's WAR total surprised me. I always thought of him as a decent enough hitter, and he was—.267/.362/.444 for a 114 OPS+ and 146 batting runs. That's not bad. It certainly doesn't scream Hall of Famer, though. Where Ventura shines is his 162 Total Zone runs. He trails just Robinson, Bell, and Clete Boyer in that respect. His peak wasn't sharp, but he did average 4.8 WAR per season from 1991 to 1999. His 18.2 WAE and 0.8 WAM give him 74.5 wWAR.
- Stan Hack: It's nice to see another player from the first half of the 20th century. I read a lot about Hack when I first started getting interested in the Hall of Fame. I didn't really see his case, though. It lies in the .394 OBP, though. That figured helps him to 240 batting runs. He also was either average or above average in every other component of the game. As we've seen before, doing that for a decent number of years can lead to great things. Hack's value numbers are actually quite Ventura-esque, with a 54.8 WAR and 71.8 wWAR, good for 16th at his position.
- Ron Cey: I'll be honest—this one had me saying "enough is enough!" Cey makes 11 third basemen who started their careers within a 20-year span. That's a lot. Cey's career value (52 WAR and 69.2 wWAR is about as low as you can get and still make the Hall of wWAR. His 121 OPS+ translates to 209 batting runs. He wasn't particularly special in any other components of WAR, combining for five runs in baserunning, ROE, GIDP, and Total Zone. One way Cey piled up value was staying at a more valuable position for longer than most. Traditionally, third basemen will see a decent amount of time at first base or DH. Cey played just 46 innings at first, compared with 17,140 at third. This allowed him to keep piling up value in this respect while other contemporaries may have moved off the position.
- Deacon White: White is a rare beneficiary of one adjustment I made for 19th century players. 1884 was the first season that schedules reached 100 games. Therefore, players who started their careers before then are at a severe disadvantage. There were a few of these players who put up great numbers but didn't have the playing time to accumulate a higher career WAR. So, these players got a different baseline to clear. White barely beat that baseline with 43.1 WAR and 50.1 wWAR in 6973 plate appearances (despite playing 20 years). White was primarily a third baseman and catcher—two very difficult positions—so I'm happy to see him included. He was worth 268 batting runs, thanks to a .312/.346/.393 line that gave him a 127 OPS+. His defense was a tick below average, but it was always at high-value positions.
These two 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:
- Chipper Jones: I really don't think people understand how good this guy is. If he retired today, he'd be #5 all time at his position (just ahead of Santo). He is a rare 80-WAR player and his peak of 33.1 WAE and 4.9 WAM brings him to 118.1 wWAR. He still appear to be a good bet to retire a 3/4/5 player (.306/.405/.536 for a 142 OPS+). That translates to 537 batting runs. That's a lot.
- Scott Rolen: If I don't think people value Chipper, I really don't think they value Rolen. Fifth all time in third baseman fielding behind Ventura, Rolen is worth 144 Total Zone runs and 254 batting runs (thanks to his .284/.369/.498/124 OPS+ line). Rolen's a combination of people underrating his power and patience while also not realizing just how much his defense is really worth. He gets a nice peak boost to 97 wWAR, which places him 9th all time at his position (between Brooks Robinson and Sal Bando).
Tomorrow, we'll kick things off with shortstops.