At some point next week, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the BBWAA vote on the 2011 class. We'll find out then if Jeff Bagwell will be enshrined along with the rest of baseball's greats or if he will be forced to wait a few years.
There have been a few articles already written both pro and anti-Bagwell, with Peter Gammons weighing in with the best I've read on Bagwell. I'm not going to attempt to replicate baseball greatness like Gammons. I've actually been holding off on discussing Bagwell's HOF results, since Astros fans probably are already convinced that Bagwell deserves to be a Hall of Famer.
Instead, let's break his case up into parts. I'm planning at least four articles on different aspects of his candidacy this week. The first will be about one of his few weaknesses, his playoff struggles. Surprisingly, I might just show you that those struggles are probably overblown.
Yes, Bagwell did struggle mightily in his first three playoff series. In case you don't remember (or don't have access to Baseball Reference), the Astros lost to the Braves, the Padres and the Braves in three consecutive years starting in 1997. Bagwell had a .128/.292/.128 in 48 plate appearances in those first 11 games.
My first rebuttal of that argument would be looking at his next three playoff series. In 15 games in 2001 and 2004, Bagwell hit .304/.426/.482 in 68 plate appearances. As good a hitter as Bagwell was, he probably fell into a bit of sample bias early in his playoff career.
There's also the level of pitching he was facing in those first 11 games. He faced Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Kevin Brown twice each. That's eight of 11 games against potential future Hall of Famers. The other three games were against Andy Ashby, Sterling Hitchcock and Kevin Millwood. None of those guys are going into the Hall, but they were very good pitchers. Bagwell did have some success against those last three, too, picking up three RBIs against Ashby and going 1 for 3 against Hitchcock.
But, you argue back, great players should be able to beat other great players. If Bagwell can't beat those Braves guys, why should he be a Hall of Famer? Well, the thing is, Bagwell did have success against those guys. He just didn't do it in those particular games. Against Maddux, Bagwell had 102 career plate appearances with a .293/.353/.543 line. Against Glavine, Bagwell had 89 plate appearances and a .333/.506/.545 line. Against Smoltz? .301/.363/.441 in 103 PAs. The only guy who gave Bags trouble in the regular season and the playoffs was Kevin Brown, who held Bagwell to a .235/.325/.441 line in 40 PAs.
Bagwell's shoulder injury kept him from contributing meaningfully to the 2005 World Series team. If he had been able to carry that 2004 success over into 2005, maybe he'd have a better reputation for playoff success. As it is, his failures in those first 11 games were probably more about the sample size and less about his "un-clutchness."
What do you think? How much will the perception of Bagwell's playoff record weigh in his HoF case?