For the second year, I’m participating in Baseball Past and Present’s 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame project. First, I covered players still on the ballot. Then, I started on to the backlog of candidates. He’s the final part of the older candidates. Each player is listed with their teams (in order of games played), position, and Hall Rating from the Hall of Stats (which works similar to OPS+; 100 is the baseline for a Hall of Famer).
Ted Simmons, Cardinals/Brewers/Braves, C, 111-Catchers in general are underrated in the Hall, as previously mentioned. Even considering that, though, the voters passing on Simmons is a little odd. His 2472 hits are second most for a catcher, behind only Ivan Rodriguez (meaning he was number one when he retired). He’s tenth among catchers in home runs with 248 (and Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Javy Lopez all started after he retired, meaning he was even higher up on the list when he first hit the Hall ballot), and second in doubles with 483 (again, only behind Ivan).
I was kind of surprised to see his Hall Rating at only 111. However, 1) that still puts him in a tie for eleventh all-time among catchers; and 2) he hung on too long. His final fives seasons were pretty bad (-2.9 bWAR and -1.4 fWAR). If he had just quit after 1983, his Hall rating would probably have gone up to something like 137 (if my math is correct), squarely between Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra. Not to say that those seasons shouldn’t count, but, at the same time, Yogi Berra was a second-ballot Hall of Famer, and Piazza might be a first balloter. If they tacked on three or four more seasons with the Mets and A’s (respectively) like the ones they had at the end of their real careers, would that have suddenly invalidated their entire Hall cases? At the very least, I think there’s definitely room in Cooperstown for Simmons. I suppose you get overlooked as a catcher when your career overlaps with Johnny Bench's.
For his career, Simmons was worth 46.7 bWAR and 61.2 fWAR.
Reggie Smith, Red Sox/Dodgers/Cardinals/Giants, RF/CF, 124-I have long espoused the theory that there are two tiers of Hall of Fame center fielders; the Legend Tier, consisting of the one-name giants of the game (Mays, Cobb, Speaker, Mantle, DiMaggio, and the not-yet-eligible Griffey), and the tier just below that. The second tier isn’t to be knocked; they all still clear the Hall’s existing bar. It consists of Hall members Bill Hamilton, Duke Snider, Larry Doby, and Riche Ashburn. However, on level with them are a bunch of modern players (Kenny Lofton, Carlos Beltran, Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds). Then, there are two snubs. I would say Jimmy Wynn falls at the tail end of that group-more on him in a minute. He was overlooked for being the worst of that second tier and for playing in the hitter graveyard known as the Astrodome. Then, there’s Reggie Smith-the biggest problem he faced was that he split his time and value almost evenly between center and right fields (879 in right, versus 808 in center).
Smith was a good batter (.287 average, 2020 hits) who, like many others on this list, buoyed his value with a good eye (890 walks, .366 OBP) and power (314 home runs, but also 363 doubles and a .489 slugging percentage). Overall, it gives him a 137 OPS+ that would rank eleventh among center fielders, but only sixteenth among right fielders. He was a pretty good fielder, too-Fangraphs credits him with 80.0 runs saved. As a whole, it was good for 71.8 fWAR and 60.8 bWAR.
Dave Stieb, Blue Jays/White Sox, P, 112-You know how everyone is arguing for Jack Morris to be inducted on the basis that he was the best pitcher of the 1980s? Don’t believe it. Sorting by Baseball-Reference’s play finder, Dave Stieb actually leads the decade in WAR, leading Bert Blyleven by nearly ten full wins. Fangraphs has him third behind Nolan Ryan and Blyleven, but it’s still close. His career was short, but brilliant; in sixteen seasons, only twelve saw him throw more than 100 innings. But, in his 2895.1 innings, he had a 3.44 ERA, a 176-137 record, and 1669 strikeouts. He also has a respectable (for more recent pitchers, at least) 103 complete games and 30 shutouts. With a 122 ERA+ in his career, he looks pretty similar to David Cone, who I’ve already covered. Either way, he managed 53.5 bWAR and 49.5 fWAR.
Ezra Sutton, Beaneaters (modern Braves)/Athletics (NA)/Athletics (NL)/Forest Citys, 3B/SS, 72-Sutton’s counting numbers won’t look great-he played from 1871 to 1888, during much shorter seasons. Despite playing eighteen seasons, he only played in 1263 games. For comparison, in the same number of seasons, Wade Boggs managed 2440 games. In that shortened time, he managed 1574 hits and a .294/.316/.386 batting line, for a 120 OPS+. Despite his abbreviated time, he was still good for 30.5 fWAR and 32.0 bWAR. I’m not sure I’d keep him on the list for next year, but I think you could argue he was one of the best from his day.
Luis Tiant, Red Sox/Indians/Yankees/Twins/Pirates/Angels, P, 128-Tiant’s case looks much more solid than a lot of the pitchers that I’ve already covered, despite what you might think from his 229-172 record. In 3486.1 innings, he managed a 3.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with 2416 strikeouts against only 1051 unintentional walks. That also puts him at a 114 ERA+. He also put up 49 shutouts (tied for eleventh in the post-WWII era) and 187 complete games (seventeenth in the post-war era). His 61.8 bWAR puts him fifth among pitchers since 1901.*
*The rest of the top eight, for curiosity’s sake, in order: Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Rick Reuschel, Kevin Brown, Tiant, David Cone, Tommy John, and Bret Saberhagen. The only one of those not on my list is Tommy John, and I seriously debated him. In the end, I decided his peak wasn’t enough. He threw more innings than all but Clemens, with the next closest being over 1000 innings behind him. That seemed less dominant and more like an accumulator, although that’s not totally a bad thing. I might add him to the list in the future, especially if names clear out.
Joe Torre, Braves/Cardinals/Mets, C/1B/3B, 111-Torre would technically add to the catchers, but he didn’t even play 50% of his games behind the plate. He spent just over 100 fewer games at first, as well as a sizable chunk of time at third. Still, he did well for himself, with 2342 hits and 252 home runs in sixteen full years. His .297/.365/.452 batting line means a 129 OPS+. That looks good for a catcher, but since he played so much elsewhere, it only means 54.2 bWAR and 70.9 fWAR. It may not make him an overwhelming case, but I’d still say he’s good enough to make the Hall as a player (although he’ll very likely make it as a manager soon; I don’t know if I’d keep him on my list if he did make it, or add someone totally new).
Lou Whitaker, Tigers, 2B, 142-Perhaps the best player no longer on the ballot, Whitaker fell off after not even pulling 3% of the vote his one year on the ballot. His bat look decent at first, but even better when consider his position. With 2369 hits, 1197 walks, 420 doubles, and 244 home runs, he managed a .276/.363/.426 batting line, and his 117 OPS+ ties him for sixteenth among second basemen. He was a great fielder along with that, though, with Fangraphs crediting him for 77 runs saved.
B-R credits him with 71.4 bWAR, fourth most among eligible position players. Yep, not second basemen, position players as a whole. Fangraphs gives him similar praise, giving him 74.3 fWAR (which places him 62nd among all position players in MLB history).
Jimmy Wynn, Astros/Dodgers/Braves/Brewers/Yankees, CF, 110-Like Whitaker, Wynn is someone who left the ballot much too soon. It was arguably worse for Wynn, though, who didn’t even receive one vote. As mentioned, he’s arguably at the bottom of the second tier of Hall of Fame center fielders, but he’s still worthy enshrinement, in my mind.
The Astrodome did a number on his numbers. He finished with only 1665 hits, 285 doubles, 291 home runs, a .250 average, and a .436 slugging percentage. None of that really jumps out. However, the next thing I noticed in his stats were his 1224 walks, which bump his on-base percentage all the way up to .366. He adds 225 steals on top of that, a non trivial amount. Also in his favor, the Astrodome was such a bad park for hitters, his OPS+ is actually a very good 129, tied for thirteenth among center fielders. His wasn’t fantastic as a fielder, but he played it at an average level. An above-average bat (especially at a position like center) with a competent glove is worth a lot. In spite of only playing for fifteen seasons (and only twelve of them saw him in more than half of the games), he still put up impressive career value. In his shortened time, he was worth 53.1 bWAR and 60.7 fWAR.