Friday, July 20, 2012

Had Fred McGriff Played In The "Second Deadball Era" Rather Than The Steroid Era He'd Already Be In The Hall of Fame


Fred McGriff 1994 Upper Deck
If any player is in danger of becoming a victim of the era he played in, it's Fred McGriff.  Had he played in any other era, McGriff's 493 career home runs, 1,550 RBIs, 2,490 hits, .284 batting average, and .377 on base percentage would have earned the lanky slugger a bronze Hall of Fame plaque.  Unfortunately, "Crime Dog" played a large portion of his career in what would become known as the Steroid Era.  Thus far, the BBWAA Hall of Fame voters have not been kind to the home run hitting sluggers of the Steroid Era.  Whether they are an admitted PED user (Mark McGwire), an exposed PED user (Rafael Palmeiro), or an accused PED user (Juan Gonzalez), the voters have made it clear that players whose careers have been tarnished by accused or proven PED use won't be making the Hall of Fame anytime soon--as none of those sluggers has yet to accumulate even one quarter of the three quarters of the vote needed for election.  Jeff Bagwell, another power hitter from the Steroid Era, collected 56% of the vote on the latest Hall of Fame ballot, but Bagwell has seen many writers withhold voting for him due to suspicions and whispers about his muscular body shape.  By contrast, the writers have not had the same reservations about voting in Steroid Era second basemen with moderate power like Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin who were elected in 2011 and 2012, on their second and third ballot, respectively.  The controversy generated by sluggers of the Steroid Era shows no signs of slowing down with accused PED users Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa--two of the most central figures of the Steroid Era--set to join the already controversial ballot in the upcoming election.

McGriff, on the other hand, was neither accused nor even suspected of PED use, though playing in the Steroid Era with his PED using peers has not only minimized his accomplishments but has also devalued his impressive statistics.  Unfortunately, due to all the attention given to the PED using sluggers of the Steroid Era and their tarnished achievements, McGriff's Hall of Fame candidacy has become somewhat of an afterthought to most voters, as after three years on the ballot, McGriff himself has yet to eclipse 25% of the vote.  And with his vote totals likely to stagnate in the next few years due to a glut of impressive and controversial candidates set to join an already crowded ballot, McGriff obviously has a long but not insurmountable road ahead of him to be elected.  However, had he played in any other era, would McGriff have had this hard a time gaining support for his Hall of Fame candidacy?

Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell 1978 Topps
There is no way to truly know how a player would have fared had they played in another era.  It is impossible to know how factors from different eras would alter a player's performance.  Based on Baseball Reference's Similarity Scores Method originally introduced by Bill James, the sluggers with the two most similar career statistics to McGriff are Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, while another Hall of Famer's career, Billy Williams, is ranked eighth most similar to McGriff's.  McCovey, like McGriff, was a first baseman, Stargell split his career between left field and first, and Williams was a left fielder.  While McGriff played most of his career in a high scoring, hitter friendly era, McCovey, Stargell, and Williams were prominent power hitters during the low scoring 1960's and early 1970's, a time period often referred to as the "Second Deadball Era."  When directly compared to players from the same generation, who started their careers within five years of them, Stargell and McCovey stand tall, ranking third and fourth in career home runs, while Williams and McGriff check in seventh and ninth.  However, the sluggers ahead of McGriff in his own era read like a roll call sheet for accused and proven PED users.  And, if we remove those players from the list, McGriff's totals look much more impressive with the slugger moving comfortably into fourth:

Top 10 Career HRs of Players Who Started Their

Top 10 Career HRs of Players Who Started Their
Career's Between '81-'91



Career's Between '81-'91


accused and proven PED users are highlighted in red

minus accused and proven PED users


Player
Career
HRs
OPS+
HR titles


Player
Career
HRs
OPS+
HR titles
1
Bonds
86-07
762
181
2

1
Griffey
89-10
630
136
4
2
Griffey
89-10
630
136
4

2
Thome
91-**
604
147
1
3
Sosa
89-07
609
128
2

3
Thomas
90-08
521
156
0
4
Thome
91-**
604
147
1

4
McGriff
86-04
493
134
2
5
McGwire
86-01
583
163
4

5
Bagwell
91-05
449
149
0
6
Palmeiro
86-05
569
132
0

6
Galarraga
85-04
399
119
1
7
Thomas
90-08
521
156
0

7
Walker
89-05
383
141
1
8
Sheffield
88-09
509
140
0

8
Belle
89-00
381
144
1
9
McGriff
86-04
493
134
2

9
Gaetti
81-00
360
97
0
10
Canseco
85-01
462
132
2

10
G Vaughn
89-03
355
113
0
**Thome's stats through 2011



**Thome's stats through 2011















Top 10 Career HRs of Players Who Started Their

Top 10 Career HRs of Players Who Started Their
Career's Between '54-'64



Career's Between '57-'67



Player
Career
HRs
OPS+
HR titles


Player
Career
HRs
OPS+
HR titles
1
Aaron
54-76
755
155
4

1
R Jackson
67-87
563
139
4
2
Robinson
56-76
586
154
1

2
McCovey
59-80
521
147
3
3
Killebrew
54-75
573
143
6

3
Stargell
62-82
475
147
2
4
McCovey
59-80
521
147
3

4
Yaz
61-83
452
130
1
5
Stargell
62-82
475
147
2

5
Williams
59-76
426
133
0
6
Yaz
61-83
452
130
1

6
Nettles*
67-88
390
110
1
7
Williams
59-76
426
133
0

7
Bench
67-83
389
126
2
8
Howard*
58-73
382
142
2

8
Howard*
58-73
382
142
2
9
Cepeda
58-74
379
133
1

9
Cepeda
58-74
379
133
1
9
Perez
64-86
379
122
0

10
Perez
64-86
379
122
0
*Frank Howard is only non-HOFer among top 10


*Nettles & Howard are only non-HOFers among top 10

Baseball Reference also has another interesting tool called Neutralized Batting which measures how a player's career statistics would look if you convert their stats into a certain year, league, and home ballpark.  When McGriff's 1986-2004 career is placed into McCovey's 1959-1980* ('59-'77 for McGriff since he played 19 seasons versus McCovey's 22) career span with McCovey's home ballparks, McGriff's totals decrease in every counting stat except for games and hits since he would not have lost nearly half a season's worth of games due to the 1994-1995 strike:


G
R
H
HR
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
McCovey
2588
1229
2211
521
1555
0.270
0.374
0.515
0.889
McGriff
2505
1257
2393
478
1440
0.273
0.363
0.490
0.853
*McGriff 59-77: 59 Seals Stadium, 60-73, 77 Candlestick, 74-76 San Diego Stadium

When you put McGriff's career into Stargell's '62-'82* span, you actually get almost the same results as you do with McCovey:


G
R
H
HR
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
Stargell
2360
1195
2232
475
1540
0.282
0.360
0.529
0.889
McGriff
2517
1252
2396
477
1436
0.272
0.362
0.488
0.850
*McGriff 62-80: 62-69 Forbes Field, 70 Forbes/3 Rivers, 71-80 Three Rivers Stadium

However, when you do the same thing with Williams' '59-'76* career, McGriff takes less of a hit since he would benefit from playing his home games at Wrigley Field--a notorious hitter's park where Williams hit 231 of his 426 career home runs--and finishes with almost the exact same career numbers as he did in his actual '86-'04 career:


G
R
H
HR
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
Williams
2488
1410
2711
426
1475
0.290
0.361
0.492
0.853
McGriff
2505
1326
2481
493
1525
0.280
0.371
0.502
0.873
*McGriff 59-77: 59-74 Wrigley Field, 75-77 Oakland Coliseum



McGriff^
2460
1349
2490
493
1550
0.284
0.377
0.509
0.886
^Actual McGriff 86-04 career totals







Billy Williams 1964 Topps
McCovey and Stargell, both winners of a NL MVP trophy and owners of a 147 career OPS+, were more dominant sluggers than McGriff and Williams whose OPS+ were 134 and 133, respectively.  Although their careers were a little shorter in length than McCovey and Stargell's, McGriff and Williams' were noteworthy for their durability.  McGriff played 150 or more games in a season ten times and 140 or more three times--not counting the strike shortened '94 and '95 seasons where he was on pace to play over 150 games, while Williams reached 150 games in thirteen seasons and 140 in one other.  By contrast, McCovey only reached 150 games four times and 140 three times, while Stargell never had a season in which he played 150 games and just six where he reached 140.  Both McCovey and Stargell courageously battled back from their injuries time and time again, allowing them to have long careers and earn them the milestones that helped make them first ballot Hall of Famers.  However, McCovey and Stargell's recurring injuries forced their teams to play a replacement level player such as Gary Thomasson or Jose Pagan in place of their ailing star.  Conversely, McGriff didn't spend a day on the disabled list until his last full season in 2003, while from 1963 to 1970 Williams played in 1,117 consecutive games, the sixth longest such streak in MLB history.

Some writers and fans have inaccurately labeled McGriff as a "compiler" and say that the slender slugger owes his impressive career numbers to longevity rather than excellence.  Others say his stats don't quite measure up in the era he played.  McGriff's career stats are a byproduct of consistency, durability, and excellence--not just longevity.  There are few players in baseball history as consistent as McGriff, who for 16-straight seasons, from 1987 to 2002, hit no less than 19 home runs and in 10 of those seasons hit 30 or more.  In contrast to sluggers like McCovey and Stargell, "Crime Dog" could be counted on for his durability.  In fact, McGriff ranks third all-time with 2,239 games played at first.  As far as excellence goes, from 1988 to 1994, McGriff averaged 35 home runs, 95 RBIs, a .288 batting average, .390 OBP, and 155 OPS+.  Moreover, during that seven year span, McGriff won three Silver Slugger Awards, finished in the top 4 in homers each year in his respective league--leading the AL in 1989 and NL in 1992--and led all of baseball with 242 homers.

Top 5 HRs 1988 to 1994

Top 5 HRs 1995 to 2002

Player
HRs
OPS+


Player
HRs
OPS+
1
McGriff
242
155

1
Sosa
404
148
2
Bonds
218
170

2
Bonds
354
197
3
Carter
213
111

3
McGwire
345
183
4
Canseco
207
148

4
Palmeiro
335
140
5
Fielder
197
130

5
Thome
304
159

Fred McGriff 2000 Fleer Tradition
While it is true that McGriff did benefit from playing the latter half of his career in a hitter friendly post-expansion era with smaller ballparks, he also faced his share of PED using starting pitchers, middle relievers, set up men, and closers so if he wasn't taking the chemical shortcuts that so many of his peers were then he wouldn't have gained much of an advantage.  Also, most of McGriff's career peak came in the pitcher friendly time period before the 1993 expansion draft that ushered in the dawn of the hitter's era which evolved into the Steroid Era.  And, while he was no longer able to dominate as he had before the Steroid Era, McGriff remained one of baseball's most consistent and durable players, averaging 27 home runs, 99 RBIs, a .288 batting average, .371 OBP, and 122 OPS+ from 1995 to 2002, while still playing an average of 150 games.

Had McGriff played in the "Second Deadball Era" in McCovey, Stargell, or Williams' career span, he would have retired after the 1977 or 1980 season and would have first been eligible to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot in '83 or '86.  McCovey and Stargell both made it into the Hall of Fame on their first try, with McCovey picking up 81.4% of the vote on the '86 ballot and Stargell collecting 82.4% on the '88 ballot.  Williams didn't have quite as easy a road, making his debut on a very crowded '82 ballot that included fellow first time nominees Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson.  Aaron and Robinson were easily elected with 97.8% and 89.2% of the vote, while Williams drew just 23.4%.  The following year, Williams' support jumped to 40.9% and continued to rise, about 10% a year, until he was voted in on his sixth ballot in 1987 with 85.7% of the vote.

Based on Baseball Reference's Neutralizer link, McGriff's career numbers translated into the "Second Deadball Era" would have been just a tick below McCovey and Stargell's but right on par with or slightly better than Williams'.  One drawback of the Neutralizer link is that it does seem to understate the effects of the "Second Deadball Era" on McGriff's home run totals.  Though, I think we can safely assume that had McGriff played during the "Second Deadball Era" at McCovey or Stargell's home ballparks, he would have hit around 450 or 475 homers with a batting average in the low to mid .270s, and probably been elected to the Hall of Fame somewhere around his fifth or sixth ballot.  And, had McGriff, like Williams, spent most of his home games aiming for the stands above the ivy covered brick walls of Wrigley, he likely would have hit just under 500 longballs with a batting average around .280, and rather easily been voted into Cooperstown--possibly on his first ballot.  Unfortunately, McGriff spent his career playing alongside the PED users of the Steroid Era who made a mockery of the home run and now has the misfortune of being overshadowed by those same PED users on the Hall of Fame ballot.

----by John Tuberty



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