• Puckett and the Hall -- Yes, Again

    Jesse over at TwinkieTown published an essay over the holiday weekend which was the result of a bit of soul-searching over Kirby Puckett and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jesse's point seems to be that, when comparing Puckett to the other centerfielders in the Hall of Fame, Puckett may be far below the best, but he's certainly not the worst and he's also not unworthy of being in the Hall. I may need to turn in my contrarian bona-fides for this, but I find myself largely agreeing with Jesse. I continue to assert that Puckett is the least-impressive centerfielder, and possibly the least-impressive player, ever sent to the Hall by the Baseball Writers Association of America, but that doesn't mean Puckett is undeserving of enshrinement. How do I know Puckett is the least-deserving centerfielder ever elected to the Hall?

    Simple -- let me take Jesse's chart showing the 17 Hall of Fame centerfielders for which baseballreference.com has detailed numbers and tweak it slightly:
    Name WAR Into HOF how?
    Cobb 159.4 BBWAA (1*)
    Mays 154.7 BBWAA (1)
    Speaker 133.0 BBWAA (2*)
    Mantle 120.2 BBWAA (1)
    DiMaggio 83.6 BBWAA (1)
    Hamilton 69.6 Veterans Committee
    Snider 67.5 BBWAA (11)
    Ashburn 58.0 Veterans Committee
    Carey 50.6 Veterans Committee
    Duffy 49.6 Veterans Committee
    Doby 47.4 Veterans Committee
    Roush 46.5 Veterans Committee
    Averill 45.0 Veterans Committee
    Puckett 44.8 BBWAA (1)
    Combs 44.7 Veterans Committee
    Wilson 39.1 Veterans Committee
    Waner 24.3 Veterans Committee





    There's definitely a 'one of these things is not like the other' aspect to this list, and unless you have a really poor opinion of Duke Snider it pretty much demonstrates my argument for Puckett as 'least impressive centerfielder elected by the BBWAA', but it doesn't necessarily mean that Puckett doesn't belong on the list at all. For instance, compare Puckett to the guy just below him on the list -- Earle Combs, the answer to the Jeopardy question, "Who was the leadoff man for the Yankee teams that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the heart of the batting order?" Combs hit .325 with a career .397 on-base percentage, which looks pretty danged impressive to modern eyes, and he had eight consecutive seasons scoring 110 or more runs. His numbers in his prime compare favorably to those of Kenny Lofton, without adjusting for era. And adjusting for era is really the kicker -- in Combs's best season, when he led the AL in both hits and triples, the 'average' AL player (defined by taking every plate appearance for every player on every team in the AL) hit .286 with a .352 on-base percentage, or in other words, nearly as good as a 25-year old Kenny Lofton, by unadjusted numbers.

    To argue that Puckett doesn't belong in the Hall is to argue that Earle Combs had a significantly better career than Puckett did, which all things considered is hard if not impossible to do. Of course, Combs was put into the Hall by the Veterans Committee nearly 35 years after his last big-league game, while Puckett was elected by the BBWAA on his first ballot. Another good comparison is Larry Doby, whose career in the majors was nearly the same length as Puckett's and who finished less than 3 WAR ahead of Puckett on Jesse's list. Doby played in the '50s (and late '40s), mostly for the Cleveland Indians, twice led the AL in home runs, and finished a close second for the 1954 MVP behind Yogi Berra in a year when three other Indians, including two pitchers, got lots of MVP consideration. More significantly, Doby was the first black player in the AL, and was already a star in the Negro Leagues when he was signed by the Indians in 1947 at the age of 23 -- a couple of extra years of production probably wouldn't have made a huge difference, but Doby's existing production, plus his status, made him a worthy pick. Again, to argue that Puckett doesn't belong would require someone to argue that Doby is far more qualified than Puckett, which I don't see. But again, Doby was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1998, nearly 40 years after his final big-league game. Puckett went in first-ballot.


    That's really my bone of contention for Puckett as a Hall of Famer. It was pretty clear that Puckett would eventually get into the Hall, but putting him in first-ballot makes a statement about Puckett that isn't really defensible. Is Puckett a Hall of Famer? Sure. Is he a Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, George Brett, Mike Schmidt-level no-doubt Hall of Famer? No, not really. As long as people are willing to accept that Puckett's first-ballot election didn't really mean anything other than that he was well-regarded among baseball writers, I'm OK with him being in the Hall, and somewhat appreciative that he made the Hall when he was still alive to appreciate it, and let us appreciate his reaction to it.

    And in that sense, I'm not worried anymore about Jack Morris's case for the Hall of Fame. If he doesn't get elected in the next two years, and there are reasons to think he might not, that won't mean he'll never get into the Hall of Fame. Morris is, if anything, the stereotypical Veterans Committee selection -- the guy who didn't necessarily have the numbers, but who had the reputation and the recognition of his peers as a competitor and outstanding player. That Bert Blyleven got elected by the BBWAA and Morris might not doesn't mean that they weren't both outstanding pitchers, and doesn't make one more deserving than the other, just as Puckett's election doesn't make him more deserving than Doby or Combs or any of the other Hall of Fame centerfielders enshrined by the Veterans Committee. Except Hack Wilson, of course. I mean, what's up with that? * - Cobb wasn't just elected on his own first ballot, but was elected on the first-ever Hall of Fame ballot in 1936. Tris Speaker, therefore, had to wait until the second-ever Hall of Fame ballot in 1937 for his own election. In that sense, Speaker's second-ballot selection is more impressive, in my eyes, than anyone's first-ballot selection after 1937.
    This article was originally published in blog: Puckett and the Hall -- Yes, Again started by dwintheiser
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. RealityBaseTwinsFan's Avatar
      RealityBaseTwinsFan -
      So really your bone to pick is only the timing of the election? Now remind me does that put them in a different wing or get them a nicer plaque or get noted anywhere on the plaque?

      Also you seem to imply that Morris should be in the hall of fame. I think he has a pretty weak case.

      W L W-L% ERA IP BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
      Player A 254 186 0.577 3.90 3824 1390 2478 105 1.296 8.4 3.3 5.8 1.78
      Player B 267 204 0.567 4.24 4020.1 1137 2405 104 1.317 9.3 2.5 5.4 2.12

      Can you tell me which player belongs in the HoF and which is Jamie Moyer?
    1. BeefMaster's Avatar
      BeefMaster -
      That Bert Blyleven got elected by the BBWAA and Morris might not doesn't mean that they weren't both outstanding pitchers, and doesn't make one more deserving than the other
      While technically true, I would say that their actual on-field accomplishments do make one more deserving than the other.
    1. dwintheiser's Avatar
      dwintheiser -
      Quote Originally Posted by RealityBaseTwinsFan View Post
      So really your bone to pick is only the timing of the election? Now remind me does that put them in a different wing or get them a nicer plaque or get noted anywhere on the plaque?
      Nope. In fact, I'd be willing to put money down that the vast majority of Twins fans will never actually see Puckett's plaque in person.

      Finding out about Puckett from other fans, if you didn't know much about him, is far more common. And insofar as those fans don't really make a distinction between 'first ballot' Hall of Famer, other-ballot Hall of Famer, or Veterans Committee inductee, it's not an issue there, either. It's only really an issue if you do make distinctions, and those distinctions say less about Puckett than about the BBWAA.

      Also you seem to imply that Morris should be in the hall of fame. I think he has a pretty weak case.

      W L W-L% ERA IP BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
      Player A 254 186 0.577 3.90 3824 1390 2478 105 1.296 8.4 3.3 5.8 1.78
      Player B 267 204 0.567 4.24 4020.1 1137 2405 104 1.317 9.3 2.5 5.4 2.12

      Can you tell me which player belongs in the HoF and which is Jamie Moyer?
      I wouldn't have a problem with Morris not getting into the Hall -- it'd be OK with me if the defining characteristic for Hall of Fame starting pitchers was "you've got to be better than Jack Morris".

      Point is, though, that Morris not getting elected by the BBWAA isn't synonymous with Morris not getting into the Hall -- which is pretty much the flip side of the point about Puckett. Morris is going into the Hall, no question -- as noted in the original essay, if he doesn't get elected by the BBWAA, he's exactly the kind of player the various Veterans Committees love to induct.

      But as long as we're playing the Player A/B game...

      W L W-L% ERA IP BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
      Player C 216 146 .597 3.46 3261.0 711 3116 128 1.137 8.3 2.0 8.6 4.38


      Can you tell me which upcoming Hall of Fame ballot member this is, and why he should get in before either of the first two?
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      One of the problems using WAR is it's a compiling stat, so comparing Kirby to Duke Snider (12 seasons vs. 18 seasons) is hard. (Or do you really think Kirby was going to be a negative WAR player if he'd played another 3-5 years? even with bRef hating on Kirby's defense, he was still projectable as a 2-4 WAR guy for at least a few more seasons) But at the end of the day, it makes little difference to me if a guy's in on the first ballot or the 11th. I'm just not someone who adds a little extra shine to the halo for being a "first-ballot Hall of Famer", but YMMV.

      Kirby got a little extra love for a career cut tragically short via a beaning, being an ebullient personality and positive ambassador of baseball, being the best player on 2 World Series winners, and (probably) getting significantly more credit for his defense that bRef's dWAR gives him. (career -1.8?) BBWAA saw him as being one of the better defensive OFs during his era; dWAR says it added nothing to his career value. Add 3-5 years to his career and make him a plus dWAR guy every year and suddenly he looks a lot like Duke Snider in terms of overall value. Hmmm...
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I think that Pitcher C is the best pitcher of the three, and yes, would be in the Hall of Fame (in my mind) well before Morris.
    1. mnfireman's Avatar
      mnfireman -
      Quote Originally Posted by dwintheiser View Post
      Nope. In fact, I'd be willing to put money down that the vast majority of Twins fans will never actually see Puckett's plaque in person.

      Finding out about Puckett from other fans, if you didn't know much about him, is far more common. And insofar as those fans don't really make a distinction between 'first ballot' Hall of Famer, other-ballot Hall of Famer, or Veterans Committee inductee, it's not an issue there, either. It's only really an issue if you do make distinctions, and those distinctions say less about Puckett than about the BBWAA.



      I wouldn't have a problem with Morris not getting into the Hall -- it'd be OK with me if the defining characteristic for Hall of Fame starting pitchers was "you've got to be better than Jack Morris".

      Point is, though, that Morris not getting elected by the BBWAA isn't synonymous with Morris not getting into the Hall -- which is pretty much the flip side of the point about Puckett. Morris is going into the Hall, no question -- as noted in the original essay, if he doesn't get elected by the BBWAA, he's exactly the kind of player the various Veterans Committees love to induct.

      But as long as we're playing the Player A/B game...

      W L W-L% ERA IP BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
      Player C 216 146 .597 3.46 3261.0 711 3116 128 1.137 8.3 2.0 8.6 4.38


      Can you tell me which upcoming Hall of Fame ballot member this is, and why he should get in before either of the first two?
      Curt Schilling. I don't think he should get in, but if he doesn't then Smoltz may not get in either, despite the 154 saves.
    1. Schoenke's Avatar
      Schoenke -
      The problem with using WAR for Puckett is is for fielding before advanced stats were on the scene. Do we really think Kirby was a negative WAR outfielder? Check out his career and how his fielding WAR varies. Isn't fielding supposed to be the most consistent aspect of a player? I'm just not ready to invest too heavily in historical metrics for fielding before Pitch f/x came along .. and that's where Kirby's WAR is hurt compared to modern players.
    1. BeefMaster's Avatar
      BeefMaster -
      Can you tell me which upcoming Hall of Fame ballot member this is, and why he should get in before either of the first two?
      Well, he's superior to both those guys in every single stat except wins and innings pitched, putting up a better WHIP and ERA in a better hitters' era while striking out far more and walking fewer. You have to give a ton of credit to longevity to put Moyer and Morris on Schilling's level.
    1. dwintheiser's Avatar
      dwintheiser -
      Quote Originally Posted by jmlease1 View Post
      even with bRef hating on Kirby's defense, he was still projectable as a 2-4 WAR guy for at least a few more seasons)
      I'd say it's defensible -- you might not remember it, but Puckett was playing games in right as early as 1991, and by 1994 had become strictly a rightfielder, yet he continued to win Gold Gloves through 1993. It would be far from the first time or the last that a player won Gold Gloves more on his rep than on his performance.

      Kirby got a little extra love for a career cut tragically short via a beaning,
      Both Puckett and the Twins were consistent in saying that the beaning had nothing to do with the glaucoma that ended his career. Whether you believe that or not is your own deal, but the official story is that they're unrelated. Everything else you mention, though, is spot-on.

      BBWAA saw him as being one of the better defensive OFs during his era;
      Actually, the Gold Glove is voted on by managers and coaches, not the BBWAA, but that doesn't necessarily improve things, as managers might only see a given player a handful of times in a season and are prohibited from voting for their own players.

      dWAR says it added nothing to his career value. Add 3-5 years to his career and make him a plus dWAR guy every year and suddenly he looks a lot like Duke Snider in terms of overall value. Hmmm...
      So you're saying if Puckett was a better player (played longer, played better defense), then he might not actually be the worst centerfielder elected by the BBWAA? Okay, I'll buy that. But if you're going to add 3-5 years to Puckett's career, why not also add 3-4 years to Larry Doby's career lost to the color line, or 3 years to Joe DiMaggio's career (the closest first-ballot centerfielder to Puckett) lost to World War 2? Even if you decide to play that game, you still see Puckett stuck far below the other first-ballot centerfielders, even if he looks a lot better when compared to Duke Snider. That I'm not buying.
    1. RealityBaseTwinsFan's Avatar
      RealityBaseTwinsFan -
      Quote Originally Posted by dwintheiser View Post
      W L W-L% ERA IP BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
      Player C 216 146 .597 3.46 3261.0 711 3116 128 1.137 8.3 2.0 8.6 4.38


      Can you tell me which upcoming Hall of Fame ballot member this is, and why he should get in before either of the first two?
      I pretty much second what was said by others, significantly better ERA vs peers, almost .2 lower WHIP, higher K rate and a much better K/BB rate. There is also a wide difference in WAR.


      Career bWAR and (Rank)
      Schilling 69.7 (28th)
      Moyer 47.3 (86th)
      Morris 39.3 (141st)

      Career fWAR
      Schilling 86.1
      Moyer 56.9
      Morris 49.0

      Also while "the game" is often cited as a big reason for Morris, his career post season performance is anything but clutch and is pretty much inline with his career stats. Moyer also has no better performance in the playoffs. Schilling on the other hand has an ERA 1.2 Better, a WHIP almost .2 lower and a higher BB/K.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by dwintheiser View Post
      I'd say it's defensible -- you might not remember it, but Puckett was playing games in right as early as 1991, and by 1994 had become strictly a rightfielder, yet he continued to win Gold Gloves through 1993. It would be far from the first time or the last that a player won Gold Gloves more on his rep than on his performance.



      Both Puckett and the Twins were consistent in saying that the beaning had nothing to do with the glaucoma that ended his career. Whether you believe that or not is your own deal, but the official story is that they're unrelated. Everything else you mention, though, is spot-on.



      Actually, the Gold Glove is voted on by managers and coaches, not the BBWAA, but that doesn't necessarily improve things, as managers might only see a given player a handful of times in a season and are prohibited from voting for their own players.



      So you're saying if Puckett was a better player (played longer, played better defense), then he might not actually be the worst centerfielder elected by the BBWAA? Okay, I'll buy that. But if you're going to add 3-5 years to Puckett's career, why not also add 3-4 years to Larry Doby's career lost to the color line, or 3 years to Joe DiMaggio's career (the closest first-ballot centerfielder to Puckett) lost to World War 2? Even if you decide to play that game, you still see Puckett stuck far below the other first-ballot centerfielders, even if he looks a lot better when compared to Duke Snider. That I'm not buying.
      1. According to bRef, Puckett played in RF in '90 & '91 with CF as his primary position, didn't play there at all in '92, played there with CF as his primary position again in '93, and didn't become a full-time RF until '94. Even if you give him the last 2 GG as "reputation" GGs, he still won 4 straight.

      2. yes, that was the party line for years. Later, Puckett admitted that it was a factor and they stuck to the line so Martinez wouldn't think he'd ended the guys career with an errant pitch. But that's not really the point; there was widely held sentiment that the beaning effectively ending Puckett's career by a lot of writers and that sentiment probably helped him soem in the voting.

      3. doesn't matter who actually voted on the GGs; BBWAA membership is going to take that seriously as an indicator of what kind of defensive player Puckett was. So i think my point holds.

      4. I actually wasn't saying anything about "if Puckett was a better player" at all. I'm suggesting that bRef's assessment of Puckett's abilities as a defensive player might not be very accurate; they list him as a negative dWAR player 7 out of his 12 seasons in the majors and only a 1+ dWAR player ONCE in his whole career. I'm not saying IF Puckett was a better player, I'm saying he WAS a better defensive player than dWAR gives him credit for. Regarding career longevity: look, the first couple of years and last couple of years in a player's career shouldn't really change the way we think about them as a player. But because WAR is a accumulation stat, those extra years matter if you use WAR as the measuring stick. When evaluating greatness for the HoF we take into account thinks like shortened careers, the color line, wars, etc. And that came into play with Puckett, and reasonably so. He was still a fine player in his mid-30's.

      Duke Snider had the longer career and the higher peak (although Puckett was easily the better player in their 30's). he's almost certainly the better player overall, but he's also an easy HoF choice and the only reason he took so long to get in was he was being compared to the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays his entire career. That's neither Puckett or Snider's fault: the Duke played in a wonderful era for CFs. But if you think Puckett was actually a a plus defensive player through most of his career as I do, they become much more comparable players. Puckett's an easy HoF choice for me too; WAR only makes him look a little questionable as a) a first-ballot choice, whice is easily explained through the intangibles, and b) through its assessment of his defensive skills.
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