Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rock 'n the Hall

With the latest Hall of Fame vote coming up on Monday, despite the fact that there are a number of borderline names on the ballot, I've been thinking a lot about the candidacy of one particular player. Unfortunately, the player in question received only 24.3% of the vote last year, in his first year of eligibility. In fact, he received only one-third the amount of support as another player, who happened to play the same position that he did, and who is much less deserving of the honor. But, I'm not going to get into comparing these two players. If you're interested, you can read about that here. I just want to make the case for the guy I feel is the second most deserving candidate on this year's ballot.

Rickey Henderson, of course, is the most deserving player. Should I waste any time, or space here, explaining why? Probably not, so I'll let the numbers do the talking: 1406 SB (1st all-time), 2295 runs (1st), 2190 BB (2nd), 3055 hits, .401 OBP, 127 OPS+, 535 win shares (400 means absolute HOF enshrinement, according to Bill James).

Tim Raines, while maybe not a first-ballot Hall of Famer, should be fairly obvious as well. In the '80s, he was the National League's version of Henderson. That is, the best leadoff hitter in his respective league. He was not quite as good as Rickey, of course, but that's certainly no insult. He had an OBP of .390 or better, which ranked in the top six in the NL, in seven seasons in that decade. Also in the '80s, he ranked first or second in runs scored four times (six times in the top ten), and in the top four in stolen bases eight times, including leading the league for four consecutive years from 1981 to 1984. He also ranked in the top three in runs created for five consecutive years (1983 to 1987).

Raines had an excellent prime, but there was a bit of a drop-off after he left Montreal. Still, although his base stealing ability declined quickly from his early to mid-30s, he remained a good offensive player with a high OBP and decent power. He also played a significant part-time role for two World Series teams in his late 30s, and accumulated 390 win shares over the course of his career. I said earlier that Bill James, the creator of win shares, has stated that 400 is the plateau for automatic enshrinement in Cooperstown. James has also called 300 the level at which a player is more likely than not to enter the Hall of Fame. The last ten position players to be inducted have averaged 377, from Kirby Puckett's 281 to Eddie Murray's 437, with Wade Boggs (394) and Tony Gwynn (398) achieving the closest totals to Raines' 390.

Raines also had a career OBP of .385, an OPS+ (park/league adjusted OPS) of 123 (23% better than average), and is 5th on the career stolen bases list with 808, at an outstanding success rate of 84.7%, which ranks first all-time. By comparison, Rickey Henderson was successful 80.8% of the time, and Lou Brock's rate was 75.3%. In fact, although caught stealing statistics only existed for the second half of Ty Cobb's career, it's extremely likely that Raines would rank second all-time in stolen bases minus caught stealing (Henderson - 1071, Raines - 662, Brock - 631). It seems more than obvious to me that this should be considered a more important statistic than merely stolen bases on their own.

Speaking of Brock, baseball-reference.com's similarity scores judge him to be the player whose career mostly closely compares to Raines'. Brock is not only a Hall of Famer, but he was elected on the first ballot. I'm a strong advocate that we should never argue that one player deserves to make it just because another undeserving player did. I'm not saying Brock is undeserving, but he is over-rated and has nothing on Raines, other than 130 stolen bases—which, of course, is more than offset by having been caught stealing 161 more times—and the fact that he reached the artificially magical milestone of 3000 hits.

Raines beats him in win shares (390 to 348), and tops him easily in OBP (.385 to .343), OPS+ (123 to 109) and runs created per 27 outs (6.6 to 5.2), while maintaining fairly comparable statistics in other more traditional cumulative categories (39 fewer runs, 80 more RBI, 21 more HR). Furthermore, Raines never won a Gold Glove, but he was an above average outfielder, and Brock was a surprisingly poor defender, making 10 or more errors in 12 different seasons. Yes, you're reading that correctly. He made 196 errors in 19 seasons, with a .959 fielding percentage, as an outfielder.

But, as I said, Brock's shortcomings should not be an argument for Raines' candidacy. However, I have no problem saying that Raines compares favorably with the two men considered to be the best speed-oriented leadoff hitters in the second half of the 20th century. In fact, if you asked me to rate them in order, I'd feel very confident rating Raines behind Henderson, but ahead of Brock. Therefore, Tim "Rock" Raines is, without question, a Hall of Famer.

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