One of the tricks about baseball writing is that hyperbole is often what gets read. Either a player is magnificent, or not worthy of being in the Major Leagues. Nobody seems to want to read about a player being average, or even being merely good.
However, there is nothing wrong with being very good. In fact, being very good keeps you in the Major Leagues for 10+ years and makes you a handsome salary to retire with. Being very good is valuable, and a team full of very good players with maybe one or two exceptional players will always contend for the World Series.
Within the last couple of weeks, the Hall of Fame cases for both San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Hudson and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins have been presented, with knowledgeable writers concluding that both are indeed worthy of enshrinement.
I suppose I’m the guy that pours some cold water over their heads.
Let’s start with Tim Hudson. The talk of Hudson and the Hall of Fame has been quietly bubbling under the surface for a while, but has been brought to the forefront this season because of his dominance in the Bay Area. Hudson will absolutely be on the NL All-Star team in Minnesota, and has a legitimate shot at being the NL’s starting pitcher. Hudson leads all of baseball with his 1.81 ERA through 13 starts, and has a 0.97 WHIP as well. While his FIP is a full run higher than his ERA, it’s still a sparkling 2.90, which indicates that his success this season isn’t all luck. Hudson also sports the honor of active wins leader with his 212.
What’s lost in Hudson’s brilliance this season is a career that has been very good, but has fallen short of that great/Hall of Fame level we’re accustomed to.
Entering 2014, Hudson was named to three All-Star teams and received Cy Young votes in just four seasons. He was the runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting in 2000 when he went 20-6 with a 4.14 ERA and 4.33 FIP, but none of that was good enough to top the season of all seasons Pedro Martinez had (1.74 ERA). Hudson has posted three seasons in his career with an ERA under 3.00 and four additional years with an ERA under 3.50, which again indicates a very good, reliable starting pitcher, but not someone you would consider Hall of Fame worthy. His career ERA of 3.39 is solid, but not spectacular. He also doesn’t have the bulk strikeout numbers to make up for his pedestrian ERA, tallying 1,956 in his career.
When you compare Hudson to other starters throughout the history of the game, we continue to see evidence of Hudson being very good, but not great. Using Baseball-Reference’s JAWS metric, which measures players from different eras against each other, Hudson ranks in as the 74th-ranked pitcher on the JAWS board, which puts him ahead of Hall of Famers Mordecai Brown (75), Sandy Koufax (85), Whitey Ford (94) and Dizzy Dean (109).
However, Hudson’s 49.0 JAWS rating also puts him well below the Hall of Fame average of 61.8, and well behind players currently on the ballot struggling to get into the Hall of Fame like Curt Schilling (27), Mike Mussina (28), and one pitcher that fell off the ballot completely after only one year, Kevin Brown (46). In fact, the two pitchers rated directly above Tim Hudson, Kevin Appier and Chuck Finley, are pitchers we would never consider in a Hall of Fame discussion.
For comparison sake, Hudson’s career WAR of 59.7 is slightly lower than Andy Pettitte’s (60.8) and slightly better than Mark Buehrle’s (57.4). Hudson has twice had a single-season WAR above 6.0, but only one other time was it above 5.0 in his career. Pettitte did the same, but had one season (1997) with a WAR above 8.0, a feat Hudson never accomplished. The difference between the Hall of Fame discussions with Pettitte and Hudson is that Pettitte had a lot of success in the post-season, while Hudson hasn’t.
As for Jimmy Rollins, the conversation has always been a little louder than Hudson’s because of the market he plays in and the position he plays. Being an outspoken shortstop in Philadelphia gets you a little more face time than being a starting pitcher in Oakland and Atlanta.
Rollins has some notable career accomplishments that immediately get him into a Hall of Fame discussion, mainly thanks to his recent claim to the Phillies all-time hits title and his 2007 NL MVP. But we’ll circle back to that MVP in a little bit.
There are some other surprising things about Rollins’s career that you may not have realized. For starters, Rollins’s career triple-slash is .268/.328/.425, which is above average for a shortstop, but not beating down the world, either. Rafael Furcal, for example, has slashed .281/.346/.403. You may also be surprised that Rollins’s career OPS+ is 97, and has only posted five full season with an OPS+ above 100, which is considered average. He’s made three All-Star appearances, won four Gold Gloves and a single Silver Slugger.
Rollins does have 109 career triples and 436 stolen bases, but neither of those are good enough alone to get him into the Hall of Fame, especially if Tim Raines’s 113 triples and 808 stolen bases aren’t good enough, either. But I digress.
Let’s take a trip down the JAWS tunnel, this time comparing Rollins to other shortstops in the history of the game. Rollins ranks 35th according to JAWS, ahead of three Hall of Famers: Rabbit Maranville (37), Monte Ward (57) and George Wright (93). However, he ranks well behind Alan Trammell (11), who hasn’t come close to Hall of Fame election despite being on the ballot for years. It also puts him behind the likes of Bert Campaneris (20), Jim Fregosi (21), Miguel Tejada (27), Tony Fernandez (32) and even Troy Tulowitzki (33), who is just now entering his prime. His 37.2 JAWS rating is also well below the Hall of Fame average of 54.7, though it should be noted that the averaged is skewed higher thanks to Honus Wagner (98.2). The next-highest rating for a Hall of Fame shortstop behind Wagner is Cal Ripken Jr. at 75.8.
Rollins’s career WAR of 43.3 also speaks to his “good not great” placing. Rollins has had two seasons with a WAR above 5.0, with his 6.1 WAR in 2007 being his career-best. He’s enjoyed three other seasons with his WAR above 4.0, but that’s it. For the large majority of his career, his worth about 2.0 WAR. His career WAR is lower than that of Omar Vizquel (45.3) and not much higher than the previously mentioned Furcal (39.2).
Of course, there is the case of Rollins winning the 2007 NL MVP that seems to boost him up a bit (though I don’t know why that is, considering Dale Murphy won two MVPs and fell off the ballot without as much of a whimper). A large reason why Rollins won MVP that year was that he (along with Curtis Granderson of the Tigers) became one of the first players in baseball history to post a season with 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 steals. He was also the vocal leader of a Phillies team that charged late to overtake the then-division leading New York Mets to make the playoffs.
But, was he deserving of the MVP? Rollins finished ahead of Matt Holliday (2nd), David Wright (4th), Chipper Jones (6th) and Albert Pujols (9th), four players that had equal or higher WARs than Rollins. In fact, Wright and Pujols had the only two WAR totals in the NL that year above 8.0. Rollins slashed .296/.344/.531, while Wright slashed .325/.416/.546 and Pujols slashed .327/.429/.568. If the Mets didn’t falter late, Wright may have won the MVP outright. Holliday in second received 11 first place votes to Rollins 16 after slashing .340/.405/.607 and helping lead the Rockies on their improbable late-season run to the playoffs.
The most glaring argument against Rollins’s MVP candidacy that year goes back to the fact that 1) Rollins may not have been the best shortstop in the NL that year and 2) he may not have even been the best Phillie that year. A rookie named Troy Tulowitzki was a 6.8 WAR and slashed .291/.359/.479 while playing a better defensive shortstop (15.1 UZR and 31 DRS for Tulo). Chase Utley was the best hitter the Phillies had to offer in ’07, slashing .332/.410/.566 and was a 7.8 WAR. He finished 8th in the MVP voting, behind both Rollins and teammate Ryan Howard (5th).
Regardless of what you may think about the MVP voting in 2007, the fact remains that though it was Rollins’s best season, the rest of his career has been rather ordinary. It’s been a good career, like Hudson’s, that has made both players a ton of money. However, we need to stop calling them Hall of Famers.
Neither are going to members in Cooperstown, and the honest truth is that there’s nothing wrong with that.