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Harold Baines and Lee Smith in the Hall of Fame could be good news

A few favorites of the stathead community have a stronger case for the Hall.

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Harold Baines and Lee Smith are Hall of Famers. This fact is now indisputable for the rest of time. The Today’s Game Era Committee (a dumb committee with a dumb name) elected them yesterday, and now they’ll be enshrined in Cooperstown forever. Do they belong there? Probably not, but that matters little at this point.

Why are Baines and Smith Hall of Famers, you ask? Delusion, mostly. Baines was primarily a designated hitter who never hit more than 29 home runs nor surpassed 4.3 bWAR in any year. In 10 of his 22 seasons, he failed to achieve 2.0 bWAR. He only lasted five years on the BBWAA ballot, never garnering more than 6.1 percent of the vote. He instantly becomes one of the worst players in the Hall of Fame. That’s still an outstanding career of which he should be proud— most players will never come close to what he accomplished — but a Hall of Famer? No way.

Smith’s case is stronger than Baines’, though less cut-and-dry. He becomes just the seventh reliever in the Hall of Fame, though Mariano Rivera will certainly join him in January. His career straddled the eras of multi-inning firemen and single-inning closers. As such, he retired as the all-time saves leader with 478, though he has since been surpassed by Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. He’s just 16th in JAWS for relief pitchers, but that leaderboard is misleading. Nine of the “relievers” above him started at least 100 games, and all 15 started more games than Smith. It’s especially challenging to evaluate relievers across generations, but the BBWAA voters kept him on the ballot for the full fifteen years. However, only once did he earn more than 50 percent of their votes (50.6 percent in 2012). He finally fell off the ballot just last year.

Regardless of merit, Baines and Smith are now in the Hall of Fame. In this light, there are five players currently on the Hall of Fame ballot that voters must reevaluate. This should be VERY good news for each of them:

  1. Larry Walker was more than twice as good a player as Baines, while playing mostly the same position. Walker sits just above the average Hall of Famer JAWS score for right fielders, with 58.7 compared to the average of 57.8. Baines brings that average down considerably. He’s the 26th right fielder in the Hall, and his 30.1 JAWS is by far the lowest. He brings the average Hall of Fame JAWS down all the way to 56.7. That might not seem like a big difference, but it means Walker clears the bar by that much more. Furthermore, Walker had 3,062 fewer plate appearances. Baines’ inclusion makes Walker’s exclusion that much more egregious.
  2. Baines is considered a right fielder for JAWS purposes, but that wasn’t his primary position. He played nearly 600 more games as a designated hitter than an outfielder. DH was his primary position from 1987-2001, and with 58 percent of total games played at DH, he now surpasses Frank Thomas (56.4 percent) as the Hall of Famer who spent the least amount of time in the field. You probably know where I’m going with this, but the case for Edgar Martinez becomes even more apparent now that Baines has gotten in. His 56.0 JAWS actually surpasses the average Hall of Fame third baseman. It more than doubles that of Baines— the Hall’s newly preeminent DH.
  3. With the election of Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith in successive years, relief pitchers have a much stronger foothold in the Hall of Fame. Billy Wagner’s numbers are nearly identical to Hoffman’s— or at least the numbers that matter. Saves do not meet that criteria for a variety of reasons, but they do seem to hold sway with voters. The only pitchers with at least 400 saves who are Hall of Fame eligible but haven’t been elected are John Franco and Wagner. More importantly, Wagner’s career strikeout rate of 33.2 percent would be the best among Hall of Fame relievers by far.
  4. Both Hoffman and Smith are true compilers. Neither enjoyed a particularly robust peak, but both hung around for a long time. That should bode well for a much more deserving compiler. Mike Mussina pitched for 18 years, just like Smith, and didn’t really have a defined peak. He didn’t achieve any major milestone, such as 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts. Nevertheless, the only pitcher with higher bWAR who isn’t in the Hall is Roger Clemens (who is excluded thus far for other reasons).
  5. Along the same lines as Mussina, this probably also helps 24-year veteran Omar Vizquel. That’s...not great, but hey, at least he’s better than Baines!

Even though Baines and Smith don’t really merit Hall of Fame inclusion, their selection does have positive ramifications for Walker, Martinez, Wagner, and Mussina (plus Vizquel). Or at least it it should, if voters use logic and it probably won’t make any difference at all.

Here are a few other random facts regarding Baines and Smith:

  • Active right fielders with higher JAWS than Baines: José Bautísta, Giancarlo Stanton, Mookie Betts, Jason Heyward, Shin-Soo Choo, and Nelson Cruz.
  • Baines’ WAR7 (total of seven best seasons by bWAR) is 21.4. This is 105th on the right fielder leaderboard. Betts’ WAR7 is 35.5, and he’s only been a major leaguer for five years. Apropos of nothing, Mike Trout’s is 63.8. The only Hall of Famers with lower WAR7 than Baines are Lloyd Waner (20.3) and Rick Ferrell (19.9).
  • Baines joins Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey, Jr. as the only #1 overall draft picks in the Hall of Fame. He was selected first overall in the 1977 draft (as a first baseman).
  • Smith pitched for eight different teams in his career. I don’t know if that’s a record for a Hall of Famer, but if you can name one who played for nine or more, please comment below!
  • Having spent his final season in Montreal, Smith makes it three years in a row in which an Expo has been enshrined. He follows Vladimir Guerrero last year and Tim Raines the year before.
  • With Smith’s induction, all seven Hall of Fame relievers threw right-handed. Presumably, Mariano Rivera will make it eight out of eight, unless Wagner becomes the first lefty reliever in the Hall.
  • Seriously, support Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame. Others too, but especially them!

Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at Tweets @depstein1983