I didn’t really give a lot of time to the returning candidates this year that I didn’t vote for in past years. Which I guess makes sense; I mean, I knew I couldn’t vote for any of them, with 18 players that I knew I’d vote for. It made sense to stick with the new guys that I may have not considered, since I’ve by definition already looked at past years.
And to be fair, I went in knowing that I would vote for thirteen of the seventeen returning candidates. That really only leaves four players, and I already know i wouldn’t vote for Jack Morris or Don Mattingly, as I've put more than enough time into considering their cases.
And I’m pretty chilly on Lee Smith’s candidacy as well; I wouldn’t be opposed to him going in, I guess, but I don’t see it as urgent. I’d put him on level with Dan Quisenberry, or maybe even-to-slightly behind Billy Wagner (maybe even Eric Gagne-Lewie Polls at Beyond the Boxscore makes an interesting case for him on a hypothetical unlimited ballot), which is to say: I’d support them if we decided that Cooperstown needed more than seven closers (the five currently in, plus I’m assuming Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman get in, which might be a leap), but given what we know about the difficulty of closing, the relative newness of the closer position, etc, it seems almost silly to put that many in the Hall.
That leaves one holdover-Fred McGriff. I’ve actually voted for McGriff before, back when there were more ballot spaces than worthy candidates. It only seems fair to give him another look, since he’s so close to my borderline.
Let start with the basics. 2490 hits-not bad, but he walked quite a bit with that (1305 of those). 493 home runs, rather famously. This gets almost painful when you realize that he also missed two of his best seasons to the strike. He had 34 home runs through 113 games in 1994 when the strike hit, then managed 27 more in the 144 game season that followed.There’s almost certainly at least 7 home runs in those few games. He would have made a more interesting test case of the power 500 home runs has with voters than the steroid group. Part of me wants to vote for him on that alone; it feels almost like he was cheated out of one of the game’s great milestones.
What about his rate stats? Over 19 seasons, McGriff mustered a .277/.384/.509 line, which came partly before the inflated offense of the 1990s, remember. That translates to a 134 adjusted OPS+ for the Crime Dog over 10174 plate appearances. Among players with at least 9000, that’s pretty comparable to Todd Helton, Paul Waner, Billy Williams, Al Simmons, Tony Gwynn…
The summary of that, to me, seems to be it’s good enough for any position with lower defensive standards than first base. Unfortunately, since first base is the least-demanding position defense-wise, it has the highest standard. McGriff and Helton (who has about a season less of at-bats than McGriff but a higher peak) are right about on my Hall borderline, while Rafael Palmeiro (who’s also right there) makes it in thanks to about 2000 more plate appearances. Even accounting for the strike, I’m not quite sure that gets him there.
What about value stats? Those are always fun. Baseball-Reference credits him with 52.6 Wins Above Replacement, and we can probably add 1-1.5 wins into that for the strike. Where would that put him among first basemen in the Hall? Well, there are currently 17 of them (according to the B-R Play Index), and McGriff would fall right into the 11-14 range, along with Orlando Cepeda, George Sisler, Tony Perez, and Bill Terry. Not an awful group, although I’d like to see him place a little higher on the list than he does, maybe closer to the median.
Are there a lot of better first basemen not in the Hall by this measure? It’s one thing to match up to the established standard, and another to be close but fall behind ten other players. According to Play Index again, McGriff is actually ninth. Albert Pujols leads the way with over 90, then comes current ballot-mate Jeff Bagwell with almost 80. More current ballot-mates are next, with Rafael Palmeiro just topping 70, then Mark McGwire at 62 in substantially fewer at bats than anyone else in the top 10. I think the five-through-nine group is where you’d almost certainly have to place McGriff (not docking for steroids), with him fighting it out with Todd Helton, Keith Hernandez, Will Clark, and John Olerud. I’ve argued for all of them to be elected in Cooperstown in the past. I would probably put him closer to Olerud and Clark than Hernandez, though, in that Hernandez is consistently on my 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame list while Olerud and Clark are routinely bumped for space (Helton, I’m not sure of yet, as I haven’t had to put him on a 50 Best Not in the Hall list). Fangraphs’ WAR puts him in similar company.
That feels about right, I guess. On top of that, Adam Darowski’s Hall Rating has him at a just-missed 95. I’m not sure if Hall Rating accounts for time missed for strikes (I know past versions of it, like weighted WAR, did), but again, it’s shows the Crime Dog is right on the borderline (Olerud and Clark both score a 103, for reference). In retrospect, I would probably throw a vote McGriff’s way. As I found in my 50 Best article for the year, I’m still not quite to the point of watering down the Hall, so I can probably include Fred McGriff since he rates so similarly to Olerud and Clark. I would probably end the line of first basemen with him, though (Norm Cash and Jason Giambi are the unlucky losers in this situation, it seems, while Lance Berkman scrapes by in the future). That feels right, for some reason.
I still don’t regret not voting for him this year, what with only ten ballot spaces, and he’s more or less the minimum production I would consider for first basemen, but I can support Fred McGriff for Cooperstown.