Thursday, January 7, 2016

Hall of Fame Centerfield Re-evaluation Needed

On Wednesday Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Can you guess who was the last full time centerfielder to be selected for the Hall by the baseball writers(BBWAA)prior to Griffey?  Kirby Puckett way back in 2001 and before Puckett it was Duke Snider in 1980 and Willie Mays in 1979.
Just two centerfielders enshrined in the last 35 years.  Why is that? Not enough worthy candidates?  Are the modern day centerfielders compared to the great centerfielders of the past (Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio) and who just happen to be among the greatest players of all time?  or is the centerfield position being lumped into one outfield position and is evaluated as such?

Let's first look at some recent centerfielders and the Hall of Fame vote:
1997 Topps

Jim Edmonds (.284 Avg 393 HR 1199 RBI, 4x All Star, 8x Gold Glove and World Series Champion) 2.5 % of votes in 2016 and now is off the ballot for good (must have at least 5% to stay on)

Kenny Lofton (.299 Avg 2,428 hits, 622 stolen bases, 6x All Star, 4x Gold  Glove) . 3.2% of votes in his one year on ballot in 2013

Bernie Williams (.297 avg, 287 HR 1257 RBI, 5x All Star, 4x Gold Glove, 4x World Series champion, batting title and an ALCS MVP) was on the ballot for two years peaking at 9.6% of the votes.
1991 Stadium Club
Devon White (3x All Star, 7x Gold Glove and 3x World Series champion). He did not receive one vote in 2007.  Not one.  Meanwhile Dante Bichette, Jay Buhner, Bobby Bonilla and Ken Caminiti all did in the same year. 

If all the outfielders are getting evaluated as one, I believe that the writers need to reconsider how they do things.  Think about it.  How are the great teams constructed?  With great defense up the middle -catcher, shortstop,second base and centerfield.  Meanwhile the corner positions in the infield and outfield provide the run production.  So shouldn't the centerfielder be compared to the shortstops instead of his outfield teammates?
1992 Bowman
Kenny Lofton, for example, had Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez to his right and left during the great Indian teams of the 90s.  Belle and Ramirez provided much of the offense and very little defense.  Lofton was the table setter on offense and covered a great amount of the outfield because of other two's deficiencies.   Shouldn't Lofton be evaluated for playing a defense first position like a shortstop and catcher rather than the corner outfielders?

Look at the WAR stat. Lofton career WAR is 68.2, while Belle is 39.9 and Ramirez 69.2.  So you can see Lofton is considered far superior to Belle and comparable to Ramirez, who put up Hall of Fame statistics.  The other centerfielders mentioned here has Edmonds with 60.2 WAR, Williams 49.4 and White of 47.0.   And if you are curious about the recent outfield Hall of Fame inductees. Tony Gwynn (68.8), Dave Winfield (63.8) Jim Rice (47.4), Kirby Puckett (50.9) and Andre Dawson (64.5).

As you can see, several of these centerfielders deserves more merit for the Hall of Fame than initially thought.  It is time to think of the centerfield position as its own and not as part of the whole outfield.  I believe the new wave sabermetric statistics such as WAR and the Statcast technology will help in this cause.  Another way to force the voters and fans to look at center field as it's own position is to list them individually for the All Star game ballot.  Centerfielders should compete against other centerfielders. leftfielders with leftfielders and rightfielders with their counterparts.  The Gold Glove award is already doing this. 
The BBWAA should also be a part of this process.  Let's hope they do by the time Andruw Jones is eligible in 2018 and Torii Hunter in 2021.

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