Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mark Grace and Keith Hernandez...Hall of Famers? And someone who doesn't belong in.

Mark Grace has been brought to the forefront after his rather interesting comments about steroids a few weeks ago.

His comments about steroids (and his lack of using them) made me think a bit...was Mark Grace a better player than most people thought?  Was he just overshadowed by the juiced up Mark McGwire?

I have felt, for a long time, that Mark Grace's achievements in baseball were vastly overlooked by much of the the world.  Why?  Because he was a singles and doubles hitting first baseman in an era when home runs reigned supreme.

First base is often considered a power position.  It's a position where, if you have a great power hitter who can't field worth a lick, you stick him there.  It's where great power hitters are put at the end of their careers.

But when I was growing up, I was told that the model of a truly great first baseman was one man: Keith Hernandez.  While I still think many consider that to be true, Hernandez was used more as the ideal model defensively rather than offensively for a first baseman.  Hernandez won 11 consecutive Gold Gloves.  He was a 5 time All-Star.  He was MVP in 1979...a year when he also won the batting title. 

But the man won 11 straight Gold Gloves!!!  During nearly an identical time span, Ozzie Smith earned 13 straight gold gloves. Smith's career batting average was .262 and his career on-base percentage was .337.  While he was a great defensive shortstop, Smith's career fielding percentage of .978 is only slightly above average for a shortstop.

Ozzie Smith was a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Keith Hernandez was almost Smith's equal at defensively at his position.  Offensively, Hernandez had a career batting average of .296...and on-base percentage of .384.  Hernandez's fielding percentage was .994 which is slightly above average for a first baseman.

In 9 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, Hernandez never received votes from more than 10.8% of the voters.

Keith Hernandez was the player that other first basemen idolized when they were growing up....just as Smith was for shortstops.

Why all the love for Smith and not Hernandez?  Because Ozzie did back flips going out to shortstop at the beginning of each game?  I guess so. now I come back around to Mark Grace.  Mark Grace has more base hits in the 1990's than any other player in baseball.  He won 4 Gold Gloves (while part of his career was played during Hernandez's career), was a 3 time All Star.  Grace had a career batting average of .303 and an on-base percentage of .383.  Defensively he had a career fielding percentage of .995. 

Most of Gracie's numbers compare very favorably to Keith Hernandez.  And I always felt that Hernandez should be in the Hall of Fame.  So why not Mark Grace too?   And consider this...Mark Grace struck out once every 12.6 at-bats.  Compare that to Hernandez?  7.6 AB per K. Defensively, Grace was only slightly worse than Hernandez when taking all defensive stats into consideration.

Ok...but comparing these guys to Ozzie Smith is kinda like comparing apples to hamburgers.

Two other first basemen from a slightly earlier time have been elected to the Hall, Tony Perez and Eddie Murray. 

Perez was a 7 time All-Star with a career .279 average and .804 OPS and no Gold Gloves.  Murray was an 8 time All-Star with a career .287 average and an .836 OPS and 3 Gold Gloves. 

If you put Grace's OPS of .824 and Hernandez OPS of .821, overall their statistics look very similar.

Where are the main differences with Hernandez/Grace and Perez/Murray?  There are two...home runs and longevity. Tony Perez played for 23 seasons and hit 379 home runs.  Eddie Murray played for 21 seasons and hit 504 home runs.

So where does that leave us?

Hernandez and Grace were better defensively and got on base more.  Perez and Murray played longer and hit more home runs.

Eddie Murray was a first ballot Hall of Famer....Perez needed 9 tries before he got in. Eddie Murray's statistics, along with his longevity should easily qualify him.  Perez?  Well, that is a lot more debatable.  In fact, I'd argue that Hernandez and Perez are equally qualified to go to the Hall. 

Let's look at one more example of a first baseman during this era...Don Mattingly.  Mattingly won 9 Gold Gloves.  He was a 6 time all-star.  He was MVP in 1985.  He had a career .307 batting average and .830 OPS.  He hit 222 homers and had 2153 hits in his career.

Mattingly received a 28.2% vote in his first year on the HOF ballot.  In ten years he has never been close to topping that, and will likely go through his 15 years of eligibility without being elected. 

So we basically have set some standards here...Eddie Murray on one side...Don Mattingly on the other.  I leave Tony Perez out for the moment.

It is apparent that voting for the HOF focuses more on a player's offensive achievements...especially at first base.  But offensive achievements with an emphasis on home runs.  Murray sets the standard for us.

That leaves us with three first baseman who define their position during their era, Grace, Hernandez and Mattingly...all of whom have similar career numbers and none of whom will likely make it into the hall.

That leaves us with Tony Perez.  Perez's numbers pale in comparison to the three non-Hall of Famers in every category except home runs and longevity.  But even in those categories, he didn't stand out all that much from Grace, Hernandez and Mattingly.

By way of majority rules, Tony Perez doesn't belong in the Hall.

Side note:

And I have heard a number of people questioning Mark McGwire's qualifications for the Hall (regardless of steroids).  McGwire's numbers are impressing as far as home runs and OPS are concerned.  But things drop off after that.

583 homers
.982 OPS
12 time All-Star.
1 Gold Glove.
.263 batting average.
1626 hits. 

McGwire broke Roger Maris' single season home run mark in 1998.  Maris held that record for 37 years.  He was a 2 time MVP.  Maris is not in the Hall of Fame.  Mark McGwire probably shouldn't be there as well.