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My struggle with Vladimir Guerrero’s Hall of Fame case

Subjective factors should be used carefully in evaluating Hall of Fame cases. Vlad’s is one of those cases.

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Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

I have seen Vladimir Guerrero in person three times in my life. The third time was the least exciting. It was earlier this season at a preseason game at Olympic Stadium and I could barely see him from my terrible seats. The other two times were much better.

The first time was late in his career. It was 2010 and Guerrero’s only year on the Rangers. The team was in Boston for a series in April, and I was able to get great tickets not far behind the visitor’s bench. During the National Anthem, I saw him for the first time. He was standing at the front of the dugout, probably about 50 feet away from me.

I watched intently when Vlad stepped up to the plate. There were two outs in the first inning with Josh Hamilton on second base. I don’t know what kind of pitch Josh Beckett threw to Vlad, but I do remember the sound of the crack of the bat when he connected on a line-drive double to center field. He hit it hard. Had it enough height, it would have gone over the center-field wall. Sadly for me, that was the only hit Vlad got that day.

I loved Vlad as much as any other baseball fan did. He was a special, unique hitter in baseball history. He is by no means the best hitter of my lifetime, but he was one of the most fun to watch. He did not use batting gloves. If we had some way to quantify hand strength, it would not surprise me one bit to see Vlad’s at the top of the list. I imagine he could crush anyone’s hand in a handshake. Of course, he is well known for having what I always called an infinite strike zone. I will never forget the time I saw him hit a ball that bounced off the ground for a bloop single. Also, his last name is actually Spanish for “warrior!” How cool is that for an athlete?

The second time I saw Vlad was in 2015 during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, NY. Since Pedro Martínez got in, my wife pretty much demanded that we go see his induction. I really did not need much convincing, honestly.

For those of you who have never been, the day before the ceremony is a busy day in Cooperstown. I figured the museum itself would be packed and the town would be bustling, and I was right. What I did not expect, perhaps somewhat naively, was how many former baseball stars would be there. It is a great opportunity for them to make some extra money signing autographs. All I knew when I arrived is that Jonah Keri would be there signing copies of his Expos book, and that I really wanted to meet him. I did, and it was great. Being the great guy that he is, he invited me to stop by again later to chat, which I did not get a chance to do because I got so caught up in Cooperstown itself.

I caught a glimpse of Greg Maddux, but no more because he had such a huge crowd around him. I flipped when I saw Ozzie Smith signing autographs in front of a store. My excitement level would only increase from there. My wife and I crossed the street and then Rickey Henderson walked right in front of me. He had just finished signing autographs and was on his way out. He took a quick selfie with a fan who asked because of course he did. I exclaimed, “That’s Rickey Henderson!” I said that really loud and I didn’t care.

I looked over to see where he came from and not ten feet away from me was the man, the myth, the legend, Vladimir Guerrero.

Vladimir Guerrero with Lou Piniella to his right. I don’t know who the third person is.

Vlad is no Greg Maddux or Rickey Henderson, but still I yelled, “THAT’S VLADIMIR GUERRERO!” My wife told me later on that I was so starstruck that I did not notice the people laughing at me. I did not end up getting his autograph because it was out of my price range. I wish I had.

Up to that point I always assumed that Vlad was a worthy Hall of Famer. I got really caught up in the narrative and mystique of Vlad that I never questioned it. When I got to the hotel room that day, I decided to finally check out his stats on FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.

I was really disappointed.

I saw that Vlad only had a career 59.3 bWAR. The JAWS system considers him a right fielder and ranks him only 21st all time, which is far below that of the average Hall of Fame right fielder. If you look at that list, he is almost identical to Bobby Abreu, a player whom I expect to be fortunate to last more than a few years on the ballot, let alone actually get elected to the Hall of Fame. His 136 wRC+ is especially underwhelming, and is even more so when you consider the time he spent at DH. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still good. It’s just with the reputation he had, you’d think it would be over 150. Still, that wRC+ is only 58th all time among hitters with at least 7,000 PA.

The problem with Vlad’s Hall case is that his poor defense and baserunning took out a good chunk of his value. His defense was good during his time in Montreal because he had a historically great arm. Unfortunately, his range deteriorated and his fielding began to stink as he aged. Then he became a DH and lost all positional value. His baserunning was not terrible, but grounding into 277 double plays certainly was.

Traditional counting stats work more in Vlad’s favor. He has 2,590 hits, 449 home runs, and 477 doubles. Individually, those numbers aren’t mindblowing, but they are much more impressive as a collection. I checked the Play Index to see how many players have at least 2,500 hits, 400 HRs, and 400 2Bs. It is a pretty impressive list.

2,500 hits, 400 HR, 400 Doubles

Player HR H 2B
Player HR H 2B
Barry Bonds 762 2935 601
Hank Aaron 755 3771 624 HoF
Babe Ruth 714 2873 506 HoF
Alex Rodriguez 696 3115 548
Willie Mays 660 3283 523 HoF
Ken Griffey 630 2781 524 HoF
Albert Pujols 591 2825 602
Frank Robinson 586 2943 528 HoF
Rafael Palmeiro 569 3020 585
Reggie Jackson 563 2584 463 HoF
Manny Ramírez 555 2574 547
Jimmie Foxx 534 2646 458 HoF
Ted Williams 521 2654 525 HoF
Ernie Banks 512 2583 407 HoF
Mel Ott 511 2876 488 HoF
Gary Sheffield 509 2689 467
Eddie Murray 504 3255 560 HoF
Lou Gehrig 493 2721 534 HoF
Stan Musial 475 3630 725 HoF
Chipper Jones 468 2726 549
Dave Winfield 465 3110 540 HoF
Carl Yastrzemski 452 3419 646 HoF
Vladimir Guerrero 449 2590 477
Miguel Cabrera 446 2519 523
Adrián Beltré 445 2942 591
Andre Dawson 438 2774 503 HoF
Cal Ripken 431 3184 603 HoF
Billy Williams 426 2711 434 HoF
Carlos Beltrán 421 2617 536

Guerrero does have an MVP award, but it was pretty erroneously awarded. Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada were inarguably better candidates. In 2004, baseball writers still believed that the MVP was a narrative award and that one player could carry his team to the playoffs.

I was pretty bummed out at this point, so I checked out his playoff record in hopes of breathing more life into Vlad’s Hall case. It’s a disaster. In 44 games and 188 PA, he hit a paltry .263/.324/.339. If we give players like John Smoltz and Curt Schilling extra credit for playoff success — and we should — then we have to debit players accordingly who have performed poorly in the postseason. Vlad’s case just got worse.

I started thinking about Vlad’s Hall case a lot again since he got on the ballot. He has a lot of support in the analytical community, but it really is a tough case to make just on the stats. It’s really hard to conclude anything other than Vlad falls short of meriting Hall of Fame induction, especially when considering his playoff record.

It is interesting to note that he will be in the Hall of Stats, a fun, interesting website that reworks the Hall of Fame based purely on the numbers. He will not be in by much, though.

I recently went on the BtBS Slack channel and asked what other writers thought of Vlad’s Hall case. In short, nobody thought that he should absolutely not be in.

I can be a stone cold baseball analyst who strongly advocates the importance of facts, evidence, and logic when analyzing the sport, and even I am the first one to admit that it is not the Hall of Stats. It is completely fair to factor in subjective judgements. It needs to be done carefully, though, because you can make a Hall of Fame case for anybody if you cite too many subjective factors and narratives. That is how Jack Morris almost got into the Hall of Fame, despite being a player who was at best an above-average pitcher in his prime.

Vladimir Guerrero was a unique hitter in baseball history and was a fan favorite because of it. He was also the last great Expo. That should count for something. BtBS is holding its own election among its writers with a 10-man ballot and an unlimited ballot; the results of that will be released soon. I voted for Vlad on my unlimited ballot, but I could not find room for him on the 10-man one. Jonah Keri might be the biggest Vlad fan on the planet, and even he could not find room for him on his fake ballot.

My prediction is that Vlad will not get in on his first try, but that he will get in eventually. Hopefully I’ll get another chance at that autograph!

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Vladimir Guerrero was not in the Hall of Stats, when the fact of the matter was that he just was not eligible yet. I regret this error and apologize to the good people at the Hall of Stats.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.