The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot has been set for a few weeks, and as the majority of the baseball world slogs through the unremitting Tim Raines columns (or details of the new CBA), today at Talking Chop, we’re going to examine the case of Fred McGriff.
For the uninitiated, McGriff played five seasons for the Atlanta Braves, from 1993 to 1997 where he hit 130 home runs through 636 games. “Crime Dog” was a three-time All-Star first baseman for the Braves, and went on to start at first base for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays during their 1998 debut season.
Throughout his career, McGriff was a .284/.377/.509 batter who compiled 52.4 bWAR and 56.9 fWAR over 19 seasons in the bigs. McGriff never won an MVP award but finished in the top-10 of the voting seven times, won four Silver Sluggers and was named to the All-Star team five times.
McGriff’s most productive years came between 1988 and 1992 when he played for the Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres. Through those five seasons, McGriff was No. 6 among all players in fWAR (with 27.5) behind Barry Bonds, Ricky Henderson, Cal Ripken, Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs — all of whom are already in the Hall of Fame, with the exception of Bonds. During that same period of time, McGriff trailed only Frank Thomas and Bonds with a 155 wRC+.
The problem with McGriff’s case though, is that during the rest of the decade and through the end of his career in 2004, McGriff never had a season as impressive as his 5.2 bWAR 1992 year.
Tom Verducci made the argument earlier this year that steroid users unjustly hurt McGriff’s chances by making him seem like a just another slugger, but Joe Posnanski provides the counter-argument and shows he may have just gotten worse as he career progressed.
Both writers make compelling cases, and with a player like McGriff it seems pretty easy to back either of them depending on the day. Bill James’ Hall of Fame statistics seem to back up that sort of fence-riding stance.
The Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor is a measure that attempts to show how likely a player is to be elected into the Hall, with numbers below 100 meaning that a player is less likely and numbers above 100 meaning a player is more likely.
Fred McGriff comes in at exactly 100, and he’s the only player on the 2017 ballot that the Monitor as so clearly ambivalent about. Jorge Posada’s 98 rating is the next-closest.
When looking at a second measure — the Bill James Hall of Fame Career Standard — that looks at how a players’ statistics measure up with average Hall of Famers (0-100, with 50 being an average Hall of Famer) McGriff checks in at 48.
It’s worth noting that these numbers aren’t the end-all be-all. They fail to capture much of the nuance (and moral high ground) that BBWAA members include in their voting. For instance, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens easily have the highest Monitor and Career Standard ratings despite the fact that Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman are the three players most likely heading to the hall this time around. So rather than using these measures to predict if McGriff will actually make it into the Hall, they seem better suited as a statistical benchmark to try and gauge where he matches up with current members.
However, in the same way that these measures overstate the likely hood of the Bonds’ and Clemens’ of the world entering the Hall, there’s certainly the case to be made that they underestimate a guy like McGriff.
The same writers who won’t cast votes for known steroid users might happily bump a guy like McGriff; a clean player who hit 493 career home runs during an era where performance enhancing drugs started to overwhelm the sport.
That could be showing in recent ballots. After garnering just 11.7 and 12.9 percent of the vote in 2014 and 2015, McGriff jumped up to 20.9 percent in the 2016 vote.
Or it could just be a blip on the radar.
Before the loaded Hall of Fame classes of 2014-15, take a look at the support McGriff received:
The previously hopeful 20.9 percent number starts to look more like a return to normalcy for McGriff. And normalcy for the past seven years has meant a rejection into the most elite of baseball’s clubs.
Whether you’re on the Verducci or Posnanski side of things when it comes to Fred McGriff’s Hall of Fame candidacy, the numbers make it seem doubtful that the writers will suddenly jump him up to the 75 percent threshold. If I had to take a guess, I’d say that once again, Mr. McGriff is going to be disappointed when the Hall of Fame votes are tallied.
But ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield still managed to stay hopeful back in January when McGriff had fallen short for the seventh time:
I do believe McGriff was a better player than Tony Perez or Orlando Cepeda. I'm not sure he was better than Will Clark or even John Olerud. He won't get elected by the BBWAA, but a Veterans Committee down the road -- maybe Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are on it -- will elect McGriff.
Hang in there Fred. You still might find yourself in there one day.