Today, we continue our series highlighting the very best players not in the Hall of Fame—those with unquestionable, bulletproof cases. Previously, I named three players from the 19th century and four players returning to the next BBWAA ballot. Then, I started writing about the group in between (20th century players no longer on the BBWAA ballot). The first was Kevin Brown and the second was Lou Whitaker. Today, we continue with catcher Ted Simmons.
Ted Simmons, to me, is the most bewildering Hall snub. While the advanced metrics strongly support his case, I feel that he actually fares better if you look at him by his traditional numbers.
Simmons ranks 11th all time among catchers in WAR and 10th in wWAR. Those are excellent, Hall-type rankings. But you know what's better? First.
Before Ivan Rodriguez came along, that's exactly where Ted Simmons ranked among the hit leaders for catchers. First (he's now second). Can you imagine the all time leader in hits for a catcher debuting on the ballot and failing to collect the 5% to stay on the ballot? It's actually pretty insane.
Simmons is also second to Rodriguez in doubles (meaning he was #1 all time when he retired), second to Yogi Berra in RBI, fifth in extra-base hits, sixth in runs scored, and 11th in home runs (among catchers). He was an 8-time All Star. He finished in the top ten in batting average six times, hits four times, doubles eight times, and RBI six times. Again, the traditional numbers seem to set him up perfectly for induction.
The issue, apparently, is that Simmons doesn't have the best reputation as a defensive catcher. The numbers just don't back it up, though. Researcher Bill Deane (as Bill James describes in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?) ran the numbers and found that Simmons' handle on the running game was actually a slight asset to his teams, not a liability. Total Zone essentially agrees and rates him as just eight runs below average. Over 1771 games caught, that's just another way of saying "league average".
One other unique aspect of Ted Simmons' career is how he finished. In his final five seasons (after his excellent age 33 season), he was—worthless. He was worth a combined –2.8 WAR in 1591 plate appearances. So, if he had quit five seasons earlier, he would have been a 53.2 WAR player rather than a 50.4 WAR player. Not a huge difference, but that's a lot of golf he could have been playing.
Through a more traditional lens, in those last five seasons he added 356 hits, 70 doubles, 26 home runs, and 194 RBI to his career totals. So, while Simmons looks good as a 2472-hit catcher, he actually would have had a more valuable career as a 2116-hit catcher, retiring after the 1983 season. Go figure.
Still, Simmons is among the top ten offensive catchers in history. He would need to be pretty lousy defensively to ruin his Hall of Fame case. The fact that he was basically a league-average catcher (or better) means that it doesn't affect his ranking. A Top 10 catcher should be inducted.