The Case For Cooperstown ’14: Fred McGriff

The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has been released, and it is one of the most loaded ballots the game has ever seen.

Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi break down the big names on the ballot this year, and give their opinions on who should be in, who should be out and why. 

Previous Analysis: Jeff Bagwell / Edgar Martinez / Greg Maddux / Craig Biggio / Barry Bonds / Roger Clemens / Curt Schilling / Frank Thomas / Jeff Kent / Mike Mussina / Tom Glavine / Larry Walker / Jack Morris / Mike Piazza

Fred McGriff #27Fred McGriff

Year(s) on ballot – 4 – received 20.7% of vote last year

The Numbers: 19 seasons (Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers), 2,460 games, .284/.377/.509, 493HR 1,550RBI, 2,490 hits, 1,349 runs, 441 doubles, 134 OPS+, 134 wRC+, 52.6 bWAR, 57.2 fWAR – 5-time All-Star, 3-time Silver Slugger, four times finished in top 10 of MVP voting without winning, 2-time American League HR King, 1994 All-Star Game MVP.

VG: I love Fred McGriff, but he probably doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

McGriff had a great bat, finishing with a wRC+ of 134 (150 or higher four different times), a triple slash of .284/.377/.509 and an ISO of .225. Those very good numbers, but not quite upper-tier, and certainly not enough to make up for the fact that he was below average on the base paths and a major liability with the glove.  He finished with a career WAR of 57.2 across a 19-year career, which makes him somewhat of a fringe candidate.

The Crime Dog’s peak was in the front half of his career, where from 1988-94 he finished with a WAR of 4.5 or higher six times, 5.5 or higher for four of those years, and a peak season in ’88 with a 6.6. It’s an abnormal curve in that McGriff essentially peaked in the first two full seasons of his career and we are left to wonder what his ’94 season would have been like if it had not been for the strike (4.8 WAR in 113 games). Following 1994 though, McGriff offensive numbers dipped and he was something more of an average player for the rest of his career.

For me, McGriff was a very good player who wasn’t quite good enough for long enough to get into Cooperstown. Had his peak been a bit longer or a bit more dominant he’d have a better chance. Instead he’ll just be remembered as very good power hitter with an awesome nickname.

Verdict: Out

GK: Again, I find myself agreeing with much of what Vinny is preaching. Fred McGriff was a great player at the beginning of his career, then somewhere between good and very good for the majority of it. He was consistent at the plate to a tee and remarkably healthy, which helped him put up some lofty career totals.

Vinny brought up what might have been for McGriff in 1994, and it’s worth revisiting. The strike left about 45 games on the table for McGriff, and while playing in hypotheticals is always dangerous because who knows what really would’ve happened had those games been played, but mull this over. McGriff was averaging a home run every eight at bats in 1994. At that rate, had he played another 45 games (bringing his total that year to 158), he would’ve hit an additional 12 home runs. Sure, the single-season difference between 34 and 46 home runs is one thing, but what it would’ve done is put his career total up from 493 to 505. Fred McGriff would likely be a member of the 500 Home Run Club had it not been for the 1994 strike. Once upon a time, that was more than enough to get you elected to Cooperstown. Would that have changed how the voters feel about him?

I think the answer to that question is yes, but I still believe that would be the wrong answer. Again, as we’ve said with Jeff Kent and Jack Morris, there is nothing wrong with being very good for a long period of time. It gets you on some very successful teams (or, in McGriff’s case, traded for other talented players that help teams win the World Series. If the Blue Jays hadn’t packaged McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres for some infielder named Roberto Alomar and some outfielder named Joe Carter, wonder what would’ve happened for the Jays…). However, being very good doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get you into the Hall of Fame.

JAWS ranks McGriff as the 27th-best first baseman in baseball history. That’s pretty much the definition of pretty good, but not great, historically speaking. The only first basemen in the Hall of Fame ranked below McGriff: Orlando Cepeda (30th, also saw time in OF early in career), Frank Chance (32nd, of Tinker-Evers-Chance fame), Jim Bottomley (54th) and High Pockets Kelly (85th, that’s his name, I’m not making this up). A few first baseman that rank ahead of McGriff, that have either fallen off the ballot already or aren’t likely to make the Hall any time soon, include the likes of Keith Hernandez (18th), John Olerud (20th) and Will Clark (24th). We haven’t had a problem calling that trio very good, but not great, despite Olerud winning batting titles and Hernandez likely being the best defensive first baseman the game has ever seen.

I don’t think it’s disrespectful to call McGriff very good. He was very good for a long time, he was just never great. That happens, and solid careers develop that way.

It just doesn’t get you into the Hall of Fame.

Verdict: Out