The Case for Cooperstown: Jeff Bagwell

With the release of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, Waiver Wire writer Greg Kaplan will explore the candidacy of numerous names on the ballot. Points for and against induction will be presented, and we’re forcing him to make a decision at the end of each post to decide if that player should be placed alongside the immortals that have played baseball throughout history.bagwell

Previous Cases: Jack Morris

Jeff Bagwell

Year(s) on ballot – 3rd (56.0% of vote last year)

Credentials – 15 years in MLB (all with Houston Astros), career .297/.408/.540 with 449 HRs and 1,529 RBI. Four-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, Gold Glove Award winner, 1994 National League MVP, 1991 National League Rookie of the Year.

The Case For:

I know I’m blowing my cover almost immediately with this first sentence about my feelings on Jeff Bagwell’s candidacy, but it is an absolute travesty that Bagwell hasn’t been voted into the Hall of Fame in any of his first two years on the ballot. And the reasonings for it make it even more unjustifiable. Just look at what this guy accomplished throughout his career.

First of all, the guy was an absolute work horse, willing to play through a myriad of injuries during his career. He played in 162 games four separate times in his career, 160+ games two other times and 155+ games four other times. That’s eightseasons of 155 games or more throughout his career, and in all likelihood would’ve been nine if not for the strike-shortened 1994 season.

While we’re talking about that ’94 shortened season, in which Bagwell won his MVP award, let’s take a closer look at his mind-blowing accomplishments. In 110 games, Bagwell hit .368/.450/.750 for an OPS of 1.201, he mashed 39 home runs, drove in 116 RBI, scored 104 runs, stole 15 bases, had an OPS+ of 213, had a walk-to-strikeout ratio of exactly 1 (65 walks vs. 65 strikeouts) and played a Gold Glove-caliber first base. Again, all of that in a span of 400 at-bats spread over 110 games. Let’s have a little fun with these numbers, and expand them out to what he may have been able to post at the end of a 162-game season. Bagwell was on pace to get about 586 at-bats, hit 57 home runs, knock in 170 RBI, score 153 runs, steal 22 bases, draw 95 walks, and pound out 46 doubles. That, without question, would’ve been one of the most historic single-season stat lines in the history of the game.

Over the course of his 15-year career, Bagwell would hit 30+ home runs nine times, three of those years eclipsing 40+ homers, topping out at 47 in 2000. He drove in 100+ RBI eight times in his career, including six consecutive seasons in doing so from 1996-2001. He drew more walks than strikeouts five times in a single season, including a league-best 149 in 1999 and enjoyed a seven-year stretch in which he walked 100+ times or more from 1996-2002. He led the National League in runs scored three times (’94, ’99-’00), led the league in RBI once (’94) and doubles once (’96). He finished in the top five in MVP voting three times, and top 10 a total of six times.

The part of Bagwell’s game that often goes under-reported: he was fantastic on the base paths and possessed a good amount of speed for a short, stocky first baseman. Bagwell swiped 202 bags in his career, which includes three seasons of 20+ and two seasons in which he finished with a 40 home run/30 stolen base campaign.

And, of course, if you want to break this down into how valuable Jeff Bagwell was to the Astros throughout his playing career, he compiled a 76.7 WAR, which is higher than current Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Brooks Robinson and Johnny Bench, to name a few. In fact, baseball-reference.com averages out that the average WAR for a HOFer is about 65, which Bagwell has cleared comfortably. I’m sure there are more numbers I can dig up out of the books that say Bagwell is a Hall of Famer, but I think I’ve hit on enough already to justify election.

The Case Against:

The case against is painfully obvious, and it’s a massive problem with the entire generation as a whole. Everybody groups the mid-90s to early-00s sluggers into the “Steroids Era”, even if they haven’t been linked to any form of performance-enhancing drug use. Never has Bagwell been linked in the same sentence with steroids unless the words “did not use” were between his name and the word.

Bagwell’s career arc takes a normal path considering his skill set. His batting average dropped every year except one after his 33rd birthday. He never stole more than 11 bases in a season after his 30th birthday. Bagwell never even hit more than 33 doubles after he turned 34. The man’s career is logical in terms of aging and even more impressive considering the high peaks he achieved in his prime.

Fact is, Jeff Bagwell is arguably one of the five greatest first baseman to ever play the game of baseball. How it has taken the election committee more than even one year to put him in where he rightfully belongs is shameful. He absolutely should go in, alongside teammate and fellow future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, in this year’s class. Does that mean the baseball writers will finally get it right? Only one way to find out.