Jeff Bagwell's Case For The Hall Of Fame, Act Two

What, you need more reasons to elect Bagwell?

Day Two of my very late campaign to convince the non-believers of Jeff Bagwell's worthiness for the Hall of Fame will focus on comparisons. Namely, I'm going to look at every hitter elected to the Hall of Fame in the past decade to see how they stack up against Jeffrey Robert.

Now, I know there is a problem with this sort of analysis. For instance, a voter who has decided to not put Bagwell on his ballot may not be swayed by seeing that Bags is better than Andre Dawson. He might instead be a "small Hall" guy, not wanting to add players to the Hall just because he's better than Home Run Baker.

Still, I think it'll be instructive to see just how good a resume Bagwell has to compare his numbers with some of the great from the past decade. I decided to focus on a few different categories, both for the stats crowd and the more traditional audience. I looked at each hitter's career OPS+, which measures his on-base and slugging percentages against the league average. I also looked at awards voting, like All-Star games, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers and any Rookie of the Year winers. Those are there more to show how popular a player was and to see if there is any correlation with HOF voting percentage. I also looked at how many times a player finished in the Top 10 of their respective league's MVP voting to get a sense of how people viewed them during their own time. It stands to reason that the more times a player ended up that high in the MVP votes, the better voters thought of them. Lastly, I looked at each player's Wins Above Replacement as per Baseball Reference, splitting out Fielding WAR to see how he compared to other positions on the field.

Where does Bagwell stand in those? First, his OPS+ is 149 in 15 seasons. He was elected to four All-Star games, won one Gold Glove, three Silver Sluggers and the Rookie of the Year. He also finished in the Top 10 on the MVP ballot six times, winning the award in 1994. He had a WAR total of 79.9 with the fielding part of that at 3.6. How does that stack up to his prospective peers?

Bagwell vs. Andre Dawson

Batting: Bagwell wins this one easily. Dawson has a career OPS+ of 119, which is significantly lower than Bagwell. His WAR total of 57 is also significantly below Bagwell. In Dawson's best seasons, he played in hitter-friendly Wrigley Field and benefitted from that. Bagwell played in a cavern and still put up similar numbers. Oh, and there is the little matter of on-base percentage, where Bagwell clearly lapped Dawson. Basically, Dawson wasn't in Bagwell's class in any way as a hitter. 

Fielding: Dawson was an outfielder. Of the past four hitters elected to the Hall, all of them have been outfielders and six of the 13 in the past decade have patrolled the outfield. Dawson was very good at it, even after his knees left him, totalling a WAR of 7.3 for his fielding and winning eight Gold Gloves. Bagwell was not close to being the asset in the field that Dawson was, but the difference was closer than I expected.

Longevity: Dawson played for 21 years. Bagwell simply didn't have the time Hawk did to reach milestones or to gain more national attention. That's a big plus for Dawson.

HOF voting percentage: 77.9 percent - It took Dawson a long time to get in and there are plenty of detractors against him. Those eight All-Star Games sure don't show up in his voting percentage, but they did probably keep him on the ballot long enough to get elected.

Overall winner: Bagwell probably wins by a bit. Even though Dawson was better as a fielder, he wasn't significantly better to make up for the difference in their bats. Both of them did win Rookie of the Year and MVP, but Dawson did not finish in the Top 10 as much as Bagwell (4 to 6). Everyone wanted to talk about Dawson's knees robbing him of so much, but he was still able to play for six seasons longer than Bagwell, who also had a bum shoulder. Unfortunately, Bagwell didn't get nearly the sympathy for his career-ending degenerative injury, which is a shame.

Bagwell vs. Rickey Henderson

Batting: Bagwell hit for a higher OPS+ than Rickey (127 to 149) and had just as many Silver Slugger awards. Of course, Rickey did many, many things Bagwell did not. He got on base at a similar clip and hit for a little less power, but just played and played and played. He holds the stolen base record by a lot and hit a lot of statistical milestones in his 25 seasons. Bagwell was a more powerful hitter, but didn't have nearly enough time to match Henderson's WAR total of 113, which is one of the ten highest WAR totals on Rally's Historical WAR index.

Fielding: Surprisingly, Bagwell is as close to Henderson as he is to Dawson. Henderson only accumulated a 7.1 fielding WAR in all those seasons and has just one Gold Glove. Bagwell had half that fielding WAR total and played a slightly less important position in the field. The edge still goes to Henderson.

Longevity: Again, all those years and all those records. We're not even counting Rickey's time in the Golden Baseball League. Rickey just kept on stealing bases and hitting leadoff home runs for all those years. Bagwell played 10 less seasons than Rickey, which is longer than most players' careers.

HOF voting percentage: 94.8 percent - Befitting his 10 All-Star games, Henderson was an almost unanimous choice. 

Overall winner: Bagwell couldn't hope to compete with Henderson here. They both had MVP awards and Bagwell again had more Top 10 MVP finishes, but Henderson's sheer longevity and skill wins out. He accumulated 34 more wins above replacement than Bagwell and contributed as much with his legs as with his bat.

Bagwell vs. Jim Rice

Batting: Again, Bagwell's OPS+ blows away Rice (149 to 128). Rice's WAR total also is woefully behind Jeffrey Robert, by almost half. Rice's career ended almost as abruptly as Bagwell, so he didn't get a chance to accumulate the numbers, but Bagwell still beats him in a lot of categories. Bagwell has the edge in career home runs, doubles, runs, RBIs, walks (doubling Rice up there), and stolen bases.

Fielding: For all the talk of how Rice played the wall in Fenway, Bagwell was more valuable defensively, according to Baseball Reference. Rice only had a 2.3 fielding WAR, despite playing a more challenging defensive position. He also never won a Gold Glove.

Longevity: As I've already mentioned, Rice didn't play long enough to hit any big milestones, playing only a year longer than Bagwell. He did have more hits, despite playing in less games.

HOF voting percentage: 76.4 percent - Rice barely squeeked into the Hall of Fame and was a huge bar room argument on whether he was worthy. His eight All-Star games didn't seem to help, nor did his two Silver Sluggers.

Overall winner: Bagwell in a landslide. Bagwell was a better hitter, better fielder and better base runner. The only saving grace for Rice was his six Top 10 MVP appearances, which tied Bagwell, along with his one MVP award. Still, in virtually every category you can look at, Bagwell was a superior player.

Bagwell vs. Tony Gwynn

Batting: Here's an interesting one. You probably assume one of the best pure hitters of the past generation would blow Bagwell out of the water in this category. It was closer than any of the others (save Rickey), but Bagwell still thoroughly beat Gwynn at the plate. Gwynn's OPS+ of 132 was much less than Bagwell and he had a lower WAR total despite playing five more years. Gwynn did win four more Silver Slugger awards than Bagwell and did have 3,000 hits. Gwynn's value historically is tied up in batting average, but he just wasn't the same caliber hitter that Bagwell was, partially because his high batting average wasn't supplemented with a correspondingly high on-base percentage. Despite having a batting average 41 points higher than Bagwell, Gwynn's OBP was 20 points lower.

Fielding: Another area that I was surprised to learn Bagwell easily bested Gwynn. Tony barely had a positive fielding WAR at 0.8, despite winning four Gold Gloves. Bagwell didn't win as many Gold Gloves, but was probably more valuable in the field.

Longevity: Gwynn put those 20 years in the big leagues to good use, racking up milestones like 3,000 hits and hitting .338 in his career. He also never struck out, which has to help his cause here.

HOF voting percentage: 97.6 percent - Few players have reached Gwynn's universal popularity despite playing in a small market like San Diego. Gwynn played in 15 All-Star games and finished with a ridiculously high voting percentage.

Overall winner: The only way Gwynn beats Bagwell is if you look at counting measures. He had more All-Star appearances, more Gold Gloves, more Silver Sluggers and one more Top 10 MVP finish, despite never having won the award. And yet, Gwynn still falls short of Bagwell in both fielding and batting categories. If Tony Gwynn is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, Jeff Bagwell should be too.

Bagwell vs. Cal Ripken, Jr.

Batting: Despite an OPS+ that was 37 points lower than Bagwell and 18 fewer home runs, Ripken had almost as high a batting WAR total as Bagwell. His overall WAR of 89.9 was 10 wins higher than Bagwell and the shortstop/third baseman had five more Silver Slugger awards. He wasn't the baserunner Bagwell was, but he made up for it by constantly being in the lineup.

Fielding: This is where Bagwell really falls short. Ripken finished with 17.6 fielding WAR, playing two premium defensive positions. He also won two Gold Gloves, despite being unfairly thought of as defensively limited because he was a tall shortstop. Advantage Ripken.

Longevity: 21 seasons and a heck of a lot of consecutive games played. Bagwell couldn't live up to that. Ripken also had 3,000 hits and more runs and RBIs than Bagwell for good measure.

HOF voting percentage: 98.5 percent - Ripken became the face of baseball in the wake of the 1994 strike. With his pursuit and breaking of Lou Gehrig's record, he stamped himself as an automatic Hall of Famer. Oh, and those 19 All-Star games didn't hurt.

Overall winner: This one was close, but it probably goes to Ripken. The streak and the defense outweigh any slight advantage Bagwell has at the plate. That's just two players out of five who were better players than Bagwell and we're halfway through the decade. 

Bagwell vs. Wade Boggs

Batting: Boggs had a much higher OPS+ than Ripken at 130, but still was not in the class of Bagwell's 149. He also had more batting WAR than Bagwell. Basically, Boggs had a better batting average, similar on-base percentage with less power than Bagwell. He had more doubles, more hits and almost as many runs scored, though he did play three more seasons than Bagwell. Boggs also cleaned up in Silver Slugger awards, winning eight in his career.

Fielding: Boggs was a good fielder by all accounts at a premium defensive position. Though he didn't win a Gold Glove until he played in New York, Boggs had 10.1 fielding WAR in his career. That's much higher than what Bagwel mustered at first base.

Longevity: He only had a few more seasons than Bagwell, but that .328 batting average ensured he hit 3,000 hits before he retired. What's remarkable about that is Boggs didn't play in the majors until he was 24 and didn't play a full season until he was 25. 

HOF voting percentage: 91.9 percent - That's what 3,000 hits and playing the majority of your career in Boston and New York will do for you. His 12 All-Star games also help set a pattern. Get to at least 10 ASGs if you want to be enshrined easily.

Overall winner: Boggs beats Bagwell, but not by much. Boggs provided more value in WAR, but Bagwell had much more power and finished in the Top 10 two more times than Boggs. Also, Boggs never won an MVP award, though those aren't big enough detractions to put Bagwell ahead of him.

Bagwell vs. Ryne Sandberg

Batting: Sandberg is probably graded on a curve offensively. Everything is couched with language like, "He hit well for a second baseman." His OPS+ was not exceptional at 114, but he was a rarity at second base with his power. Bagwell easily beats him in number of home runs, runs scored, RBIs and walks. Sandberg had more stolen bases but had less doubles. He also played in that hitter-friendly park in Chicago, which should have aided his numbers and is one of the reasons why Bagwell's WAR total blows Sandberg's out of the water.

Fielding: For a guy who was considered the best fielding second baseman of the 80's, Sandberg had less than two fielding wins above replacement than Bagwell. He did win nine Gold Gloves, but as we're beginning to see, that doesn't always equate with defensive greatness. He gets the edge here, but it's very small.

Longevity: Sandberg only played one more season than Bagwell. He didn't hit any big milestones or break any records. Basically, he had a career similar to Bagwell's in this respect.

HOF voting percentage: 76.2 percent - Barely above is still in the Hall. Sandberg's 10 All-Star games didn't help him, but he could have been downgraded more for a lack of postseason success than anything.

Overall winner: Bagwell by a landslide. Apart from being a better hitter and almost as good a fielder, Bagwell also was more dominant in his day. Sandberg never won an MVP award and only finished in the Top 10 three times. Bagwell doubled that and added some hardware to his trophy case. Sandberg may be viewed differently because he played a historically weak offensive position, but even with a curve, he's still not up to Bagwell's snuff.

Bagwell vs. Paul Molitor

Batting: Again, Bagwell beats him handily in OPS+, both because of his on-base percentage and his power. Molitor was more of a doubles hitter, finishing with 215 fewer home runs than Bagwell despite playing six more years. He got to 3,000 hits and had more runs scored than Baggy, but didn't have nearly as many walks or RBIs. 

Fielding: Molitor was never considered much of a fielder, never winning a Gold Glove at any of his positions. He played at least a season's worth of games at first, second and third base, but finished with a career fielding WAR of 0.8. Bagwell easily beats him out here.

Longevity: Molitor played a long time, but never really had the limelight till he got 3,000 hits. He only went to seven All-Star games, which is still more than Bagwell, but not as many as some of the sure-fire guys on this list.

HOF voting percentage: 85.2 percent - Again, see what a milestone will get you. A small-market guy (he played for Milwaukee, Minnesota and Toronto), Molitor still got in relatively easily.

Overall winner: Molitor came close to Bagwell's WAR total with 74.8, but didn't have as many Top 10 finishes and never won an MVP. Bagwell just barely edges him out as the better player, making him five for eight so far.

Bagwell vs. Gary Carter

Batting: Carter is probably similar to Sandberg in that he was judged on a curve for catchers. Backstops who were good defensively didn't need to hit a whole lot. When Carter did, he became a Hall of Famer. His 115 OPS+, batting average, total hits, home runs, RBIs, runs scored, on-base percentage or walk total can't hold a candle to Bagwell. That's a big reason why he's nearly 20 batting wins above replacement below Bagwell.

Fielding: Carter was an excellent defensive catcher. He won three Gold Gloves and amassed a 10.1 fielding WAR in 19 seasons. That plus his obviously important defensive position give him the edge over Jeffrey Robert.

Longevity: Carter played a lot of seasons behind the plate. Getting to 2,000 hits as a catcher is pretty rare, so he definitely gets bonus points for that. 

HOF voting percentage: 78.0 percent - The fact that he was not a standout hitter probably contributed to this some, but his presence on the '86 Mets had to help. In the end, playing a good chunk of your career in Montreal means more than 11 All-Star games.

Overall winner: Bagwell probably takes this one pretty easily. He wasn't as good defensively as Carter and their batting totals will be viewed differently because of the positions they played, but Bagwell was that much better than him. Carter did get four Top 10 finishes, but never won an MVP. That's six of nine for Bagwell now.

Bagwell vs. Eddie Murray

Batting: Here is the most interesting comparison. In the past 10 years, Murray is the only player to play exclusively at first base to be elected into the Hall of Fame. He didn't have the OPS+ that Bagwell did, but did have more home runs, RBIs, runs, hits and doubles. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all worse than Bagwell, and he didn't have as many steals. The argument for Murray being the better hitter is probably tied to his longevity as he got to play six more seasons. That's probably why Bagwell has 13 more wins above replacement and is ahead in batting WAR by 16.

Fielding: Against the only first baseman on the list, Bagwell falls short. Murray had 6.5 fielding WAR, which was almost double Bagwell's total. We don't even have to adjust for positions played, as Murray played 2,400 games at first and 600 as a designated hitter. Even discounting his time as DH, he still played more games at first than Bagwell did. On top of that, he won two more Gold Gloves than Bagwell.

Longevity: Murray has him in all those counting stats I mentioned above. He was the supreme grinder, getting to 500 home runs despite having to play for four different teams in his final two seasons. 

HOF voting percentage: 85.3 percent - Interestingly enough, Murray went in easily and on the first ballot. That's despite having fewer than 10 All-Star selections.

Overall winner: It's a close call, but I have to give it to Bagwell. Murray is one of two guys on this list to have more Top 10 finishes in the MVP than Bagwell, even though he never won one himself. He did win a Rookie of the Year, though. Bagwell was probably the better overall player and I wonder if he had played as long as Murray, if we'd even be having this conversation right now.

Bagwell vs. Ozzie Smith

Batting: Though he did start hitting for more average later in his career, Ozzie isn't in the Hall of Fame for his bat. He had more career WAR than four other guys on this list. Unfortunately, Bagwell isn't one of them. Taking away his fielding WAR, Smith had 33 fewer batting wins above replacement than Bagwell. Smith is also the only player on this list with a below average OPS+ for his career at 87. He only won one Silver Slugger, but did get over 150 hits more than Bagwell in four more seasons. It's no surprise, though, that Bagwell was a much better hitter than Smith.

Fielding: They didn't call him the Wizard for nothing. Smith had the highest fielding WAR total on this list at 21.6. He clearly beat out Bagwell in this category by a wide margin. His 13 Gold Gloves were probably well-earned and underline just how good he was and the perception of his defense was.

Longevity: It took him a long time to get to some milestones, but he still had less runs scored, RBIs and walks than Bagwell. Plus, he almost had fewer extra base hits than Bagwell had doubles. 

HOF voting percentage: 91.7 percent - With 15 All-Star appearances and all those Gold Gloves, it's pretty clear that Smith was very popular. His voting percentage seems to bear that out.

Overall winner: Bagwell wins this one, despite having the clear disadvantage in fielding. Smith was also a more successful base runner, but that couldn't make up for his complete lack of power. This is one of the tougher comparisons, but Smith's one Top 10 MVP appearance simply doesn't stack up to Bagwell's resume.

Bagwell vs. Kirby Puckett

Batting: Ahh, another very interesting case. Puckett only played 12 seasons before glaucoma ended his career. He actually had a shorter career than Bagwell, but that should have given him an advantage in not having his later seasons lower his OPS+. However, Puckett still had a lower OPS+ than Bagwell at 124 to 149. He also didn't have nearly as many Wins Above Replacement, but that's probably due to Puckett's shortened career.

Fielding: Here's a surprising one. Puckett won six Gold Gloves in his 12 seasons but had a negative 1.8 fielding WAR for his career. He was hurt most by his 1993 season, when he lost 30 fielding runs. He didn't win the Gold Glove that year, but should we believe that his defense was really that bad? However you slice it, Puckett was probably not as good defensively as his reputation. Bagwell probably wins this by a nose.

Longevity: One of the few players on this list who didn't play as long as Bagwell, Puckett had 10 fewer hits, 241 fewer home runs and 446 fewer runs. He didn't hit any of the traditional milestones, but probably got reverse credit for his shortened career.

HOF voting percentage: 82.1 percent -  Though he was elected in his first year of eligibility, it wasn't by a landslide. He did get over the required 75 percent, but there wasn't the overwhelming support like for some of the other players on this list. That's despite making 10 All-Star games in 12 seasons and being one of the nicest guys in the game.

Overall winner: Weirdly, Bagwell probably wins this one because of his longevity instead of despite it. Bagwell was the better hitter and fielder and had a much higher WAR.The really interesting thing is that despite not having huge offensive seasons, Puckett still finished in the Top 10 of the MVP voting seven times. He and Murray are the only two players with more Top 10 finishes than Bagwell. If Puckett can get in on the first ballot, why not Bagwell?

Bagwell vs. Dave Winfield

Batting: Winfield was possibly one of the best all-around athletes to ever play baseball. He wasn't quite the hitter Bagwell was, though. His OPS+ was just 130, 19 points lower than Bagwell. He had a lower batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than Bagwell while hitting just 16 more home runs in seven more seasons. He had more RBIs and runs scored as well as 3,000 hits. Winfield also won seven Silver Slugger awards despite never hitting 40 homers in a season. His batting WAR total was about 10 below Bagwell's and his base running wasn't substantially better. It appears Bagwell was probably the better hitter here too.

Fielding: Interestingly, Winfield and Puckett were the only two players on this list with negative fielding WAR values. Again, that flies in the face of Winfield's award shelf, as he won seven Gold Glove awards in his career. Which do we believe? I can understand either case, but I have to think Bagwell gets the slight edge here too, despite Winfield playing so many games at more premium defensive positions.

Longevity: This is the biggest plus for Winfield. He got to 3,000 hits and played for a very long time. Other than those counting categories, Winfield doesn't have the edge over Bagwell.

HOF voting percentage: 84.5 percent - Again, a player who spent a good chunk of time in New York didn't have a huge percentage of yes votes. Winfield still got in on his first ballot, but wasn't supported like Gwynn or Wade Boggs.

Overall winner: Winfield tied Bagwell for number of Top 10 MVP finishes but never actually won the award. He had seven Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers but wasn't close on WAR. Based on awards won, hitting prowess and defense, Bagwell has the edge here too, but not by much.

The Verdict

Like you needed me to say it. Though these arguments are far from definitive, you saw how easy it was to make a good case for Bagwell being the better player than 10 of the 13 hitters who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Some of those guys were first-ballot Hall of Famers and it looks more and more like Bagwell should be elected this time around. 

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