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All-Offense, All-Defense, Speedsters, and More: The Many Paths to 60 WAR

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I think a lot about the correlation between Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. WAR is a single stat, so it's impossible to draw a line that says those above it are Hall of Famers and those below are not. But there has to be some sort of guideline, right? While discussing WAR with my brother, he said "so it sounds like 60 WAR is more or less a Hall of Fame cutoff, right?". It's not as easy as that, but there may be something to it.

70 WAR is essentially a guarantee of election. There is only one eligible player with more than 70 WAR who has failed to  get in. That's Bill Dahlen. With 75.9 WAR, he is tied for 42nd all time in Position Player WAR (with Frank Thomas). Why isn't he inducted? The turn-of-the-centry shortstop derived much of his career value from his defense (+139 total zone runs) and his position (+140 run positional adjustment). Since nobody really remembers him playing, he essentially slipped through the cracks as an amazing fielder. His offense (+188 runs) and baserunning (+25 runs) were also quite good, but not Hall-worthy on their own. So the fact that nobody alive today saw (or remembered) him playing means he doesn't get talked about enough as a major Hall of Fame omission.

But I'm not planning to talk about Bill Dahlen today. I want to talk about the 60 WAR guys. More specifically, I want to talk about the 54 players who have between 60 and 70 career WAR (entering 2010).

Just a quick note—I've derived all my numbers from adding up totals from the specific seasons avaialble in Rally's WAR database. For that reason, some of the WAR totals are a bit off from what you'll see on Baseball-Reference.com or BaseballProjection.com. I didn't want to go in and correct each number, since the differences are minor, but I wanted to bring it up. This post focuses more on the players themselves than the actual WAR total.

What strikes me about the players in the 60–70 WAR group is that they vary greatly in skillset and, quite frankly, fate (when it comes to Hall-worthiness). Here's how the 54 players break down:

  • 25 players (46.3%) have been inducted to the Hall of Fame
  • 17 players (31.5%) are eligibie for induction but have not been elected
  • 6 players (11.1%) are still active and therefore not yet eligible for induction
  • 5 players (9.3%) are not yet eligible for induction
  • 1 player (1.9%) is banned and not eligible for induction

For comparison, of the 53 players with 70+ WAR, 44 are Hall of Famers (83%), 1 is elgibile but not elected (Dahlen), 4 are still active (Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez), 3 are not yet eligible (Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds), and 1 is banned (Pete Rose). It's safe to assume that Pujols, Jones, Griffey, Rodriguez, Thomas, Bagwell, and—PED issues aside—Bonds are Hall-worthy, so that percentage should become 96.2 (with just Dahlen and Rose on the outside).

What I want to look at today is what kind of players fall between 60 and 70 WAR, because this group contains players as different as Manny Ramirez (all offense), Ozzie Smith (defense and speed), and Lou Whitaker (good at everything).

Here's a sample of the "All-Offense" guys, taking the Top 5 by Batting Runs:

Name PlApp Bat BSrun DP TZ IFDP OFarm WAR
Manny Ramirez 9348 649 -22 -27 -110 0 6 66.0
Jesse Burkett 9525 587 3 0 -4 0 0 68.0
Billy Hamilton 7544 585 70 0 30 0 0 69.6
Gary Sheffield 10827 582 4 -12 -165 -4 -11 63.3
Mark McGwire 7579 578 -19 -23 -29 -1 0 63.1

Manny, Sheffield, and McGwire you'd expect. Burkett and Hamilton surprised me a bit, but for their time they were mashers. They just didn't do it with classic home run power. Burkett featured numbers like a .415 OBP and 182 triples that helped him reach a 140 OPS+. Hamilton's OBP was a staggering .455 as he compiled a 141 OPS+.

How about the "All-Defense" crew, as determined by Total Zone+Infield Double Play+Outfield Arm+Catcher rating?

Name PlApp Bat BSrun DP TZ IFDP OFarm catcher WAR TZ+IFDP+OFarm+catcher
Brooks Robinson 11567 20 0 -35 268 26 0 0 69.1 294
Ozzie Smith 10501 -140 82 27 214 25 0 0 64.6 239
Buddy Bell 9869 111 -15 -8 173 4 -1 0 60.8 176
Ivan Rodriguez 9613 87 3 -21 -1 0 0 155 66.7 154
Scott Rolen 7302 234 17 -3 141 0 0 0 62.2 141
Graig Nettles 10124 102 -1 5 140 -1 2 0 61.6 141

Robinson and Smith bubble to the top of any list you're going to create that features the best defenders of all time. Interestingly, Ozzie Smith is the only player in the 60–70 WAR crew with negative offensive value. In fact, he's #1 all time in career WAR among players with negative Batting Runs. Buddy Bell was a monster. Between covering the best non-Hall third basemen and then the WAR leaders for the Texas Rangers, I've written a fair amount about Bell. While I'm not willing to crown him a Hall of Famer, I do think he's seriously underrated. Ivan Rodriguez is tied for the most catching runs all time with Charlie Bennett, a 19th-century backstop. Scott Rolen and Graig Nettles are/were ridiculous at the hot corner. They both also could swing a mighty stick.

There's another type of defensive player who makes the list—the guy who played a premium position well for a long time. Before filtering this list, Ozzie Smith ranked first and Pudge Rodriguez ranked fourth. Here are the top five without them:

Name PlApp Bat BSrun DP TZ IFDP OFarm catcher Pos WAR
Luke Appling 10169 222 -4 0 47 -6 0 0 145 69.3
Bobby Wallace 9439 51 -26 0 128 5 0 0 138 60.5
Pee Wee Reese 9294 51 51 -2 78 39 0 0 131 66.7
Carlton Fisk 9748 190 10 -15 -2 0 -1 30 120 67.3
Gary Carter 8887 146 -10 -10 1 0 5 106 118 66.3

It's not much of a surprise that this list is topped by three longtime shortstops (Appling, Wallace, and Reese—all Hall of Famers) and two veteran catchers (Fisk and Carter, also Hall of Famers). A good way to get to 60 WAR is to be a pretty darn good player for a long time at a very valuable position.

There are also the players on the list who picked up a ton of value on the bases. Here are the speed guys (with Ozzie Smith, Billy Hamilton, and Pee Wee Reese removed, since they already appeared on another list):

Name PlApp Bat BSrun DP TZ IFDP OFarm catcher WAR
Tim Raines 10244 306 121 8 -13 -2 7 0 64.6
Barry Larkin 8931 189 85 8 37 -10 0 0 68.9
Kenny Lofton 9097 125 81 26 79 0 34 0 65.3
Roberto Alomar 10155 253 57 6 -24 -8 0 0 63.5
Craig Biggio 12321 233 49 22 -19 -19 -7 -26 66.2

Interestingly, three players here (Raines, Larkin, and Alomar) failed to be inducted last year while two others (Lofton and Biggio) aren't yet eligible.

Lastly, I've long been intrigued by the "Good at Everything" type of player—those who may have slipped through the cracks because they may not have dominated in any single aspect of the game, but were above average in each. Lofton also appears on this list, so I'll show the Top 5 with him removed:

Name PlApp Bat ROE BSrun DP TZ IFDP OFarm WAR
Lou Whitaker 9787 209 -10 33 17 70 7 0 69.7
Alan Trammell 9175 124 12 21 19 59 17 0 66.9
Frank Baker 6507 285 0 7 0 35 0 0 63.7
Jackie Robinson 5689 276 7 39 1 51 28 2 63.2
Sal Bando 8166 208 17 11 5 28 8 0 60.6

On this list, only Baker and Robinson are in the Hall of Fame. I love that this list is topped by two guys who played side by side for so many years. I don't love that neither one is in the Hall of Fame. The more numbers I crunch, the more I see that both of them totally belong. Bando, on the other hand, I'm not quite ready to put in. But I do believe that he might be the best non-Hall of Fame third baseman not named Ron Santo.

As you can see, there are many ways to reach that 60-70 WAR zone.

I'll leave you with a list of the members of the 60-70 WAR group that have not been inducted in the Hall of Fame (excluding the banned Joe Jackson):

Name PlApp Bat ROE BSrun DP TZ IFDP OFarm catcher Pos WAR
Lou Whitaker 9787 209 -10 33 17 70 7 0 0 51 69.7
Barry Larkin 8931 189 -2 85 8 37 -10 0 0 114 68.9
Derek Jeter 9687 322 35 49 9 -103 -18 0 0 107 68.8
Bobby Grich 8063 267 0 3 -11 59 24 0 0 53 67.6
Larry Walker 7958 384 -9 40 13 41 0 55 0 -89 67.3
Edgar Martinez 8585 559 2 -14 -20 16 0 0 0 -140 67.2
Alan Trammell 9175 124 12 21 19 59 17 0 0 118 66.9
Jim Thome 9391 568 -4 -27 4 -34 1 0 0 -130 66.8
Ivan Rodriguez 9613 87 -7 3 -21 -1 0 0 155 135 66.7
Jim Edmonds 7634 332 -7 -8 8 45 0 47 0 17 66.7
Ron Santo 9289 271 16 -3 -31 30 -7 -1 0 50 66.4
Craig Biggio 12321 233 32 49 22 -19 -19 -7 -26 55 66.2
Rafael Palmeiro 11912 466 -23 -10 -11 41 3 -2 0 -189 66.0
Manny Ramirez 9348 649 -2 -22 -27 -110 0 6 0 -119 66.0
Kenny Lofton 9097 125 7 81 26 79 0 34 0 26 65.3
Tim Raines 10244 306 -18 121 8 -13 -2 7 0 -105 64.6
Roberto Alomar 10155 253 -3 57 6 -24 -8 0 0 38 63.5
Reggie Smith 7956 332 -13 16 -7 62 -1 19 0 -59 63.4
Gary Sheffield 10827 582 11 4 -12 -165 -4 -11 0 -95 63.3
Mark McGwire 7579 578 2 -19 -23 -29 -1 0 0 -113 63.1
Scott Rolen 7302 234 4 17 -3 141 0 0 0 21 62.2
Dwight Evans 10440 350 6 -1 -7 13 -1 53 0 -139 61.8
Graig Nettles 10124 102 -14 -1 5 140 -1 2 0 42 61.6
Dick Allen 7242 461 2 16 -14 -97 -4 -8 0 -48 61.2
Keith Hernandez 8472 330 -6 2 4 113 7 -1 0 -130 61.0
Buddy Bell 9869 111 1 -15 -8 173 4 -1 0 27 60.8
Sal Bando 8166 208 17 11 5 28 8 0 0 38 60.6
Willie Randolph 9299 122 -6 39 -10 74 40 0 0 58 60.5