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Thursday, July 5, 2012

David Ortiz and the Hall of Fame

I guess I’m just in a Hall of Fame mood the last few days. Or maybe there’s just been a relative abundance of milestones this year. Whatever the case, David Ortiz hit his 400th home run on Wednesday, and like with every milestone, it seems like a good chance to look at the player’s career and see where exactly they fit in in history.

There are the obvious counting totals. The home run puts Ortiz 49th All-Time, one ahead of Andres Galarraga and Al Kaline. With 22 home runs through 81 games, he has a good chance to move up two or three more slots by the end of the year. Also, he’s the same age as Paul Konerko-both are in their age 36 seasons (although Ortiz seems much older to me for some reason), and Ortiz is hitting better this year (162 OPS+, 22 homers for Ortiz to 153, 14 homers for Konerko), meaning that he has to have at least as good chances at reaching 500 home runs.

Sure enough, if I estimate Ortiz with 18 homers the rest of the year, the Bill James projection tool gives him a 68% chance to reach 500 homers. When I did something similar with Konerko back on his 400th home run, his odds came in at 58%. However, that’s assuming that 500 home runs carries the same weight with voters once Ortiz (and Konerko) retire. Like I said last time, I’m not sure that’s going to be the case.

So, let’s look at Ortiz without the magic 500 home runs mark in mind (besides, most hitters get in to Cooperstown without 500 homers or 3000 hits anyway). Has he been good enough for Cooperstown? Well, to start with, he has impressive-looking numbers; 400 homers and 480 doubles (75th all-time), both of which will go up as he continues to play, as well as a .284/.379/.547 batting line (AVG/OBP/SLG). All of those look rather strong, especially when you add that he’s 46th all-time in OPS, and 28th all-time in slugging percentage.

But the more you look, more holes seem to open up in his case. For example, due to playing in a high-offense era in a hitters’ park, Ortiz only has a 137 OPS+. That’s still more than respectable-Hall of Famer Chuck Klein is at the same mark in a career of similar length, and borderline Hall candidates Sherry Magee, Will Clark, and Reggie Smith are all at the same mark as well.

And then there’s the matter of his position. Like it or not (and I imagine Hall voters tend to fall on the “not” side), designated hitter is a position. However, Hall voters seem hesitant to induct any designated hitter no matter how good a hitter they are (outside of Paul Molitor, who apparently gets a pass for his 3000 hits or something). Edgar Martinez is currently the gold standard for career DH’s. His counting stats look a little low due to Seattle holding him down in the minors longer than necessary, but he still hit 514 doubles (45th all-time) and 309 home runs. Also, he managed a .312/.418/.515 slash line, good for a .933 OPS (33rd all-time) and a 147 OPS+ (40th all-time, tied with Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, and Mike Schmidt, among others). Wins Above Replacement accounts for position played, and despite being docked value for DH’ing, Edgar was still worth 69.9 WAR, according to Fangraphs, sandwiched comfortably in between Pee Wee Reese, Billy Williams, Lou Boudreau, Barry Larkin, Craig Biggio, and Ozzie Smith. And yet, despite all of that, Edgar is yet to pull support from more than 36.5% of Hall voters in his three years on the ballot so far.

David Ortiz is comparable, position-wise, to Edgar, I would think. So far, Fangraphs puts Ortiz at 38.2 WAR. It’s a respectable total, and he will almost certainly retire with more value to his name than that, particularly with another good season or two. But still, it seems really lacking, compared to Martinez and players in the Hall. Now, Ortiz has stuff to his case that Edgar doesn’t; he’s spent much more time in a media center, he has several memorable playoff moments, and so on. However, with someone as deserving as Martinez still having so far to go before the Hall properly recognizes him, I can’t imagine someone still a little short on credentials will have an easier go of it.

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