Trammell c. 1984

Alan Trammell has lived on the periphery of the HOF discussion for years. He falls somewhere between Tim Raines and his ex-teammate Jack Morris in terms of the “Hall of Famer or Just An All-Star?” debate. Unlike many candidates, it is difficult even to say that Trammell “probably is” or “probably isn’t” a HOFer. A very close look at his career is required to dig up an answer.

The simplest place to start is to see where he lands on All-Time lists. Here are the top 15 shortstops since 1900, according to fWAR:

1 Honus Wagner 127.2
2 Alex Rodriguez 114.1
3 Cal Ripken 92.5
4 Luke Appling 72.7
5 Arky Vaughan 72.6
6 Derek Jeter 71.7
7 Ozzie Smith 67.6
8 Barry Larkin 67
9 Joe Cronin 66.6
10 Robin Yount 66.5
11 Lou Boudreau 64.5
12 Alan Trammell 63.7
13 Ernie Banks 63.3
14 Pee Wee Reese 61.3
15 Joe Tinker 55.5

This is a good omen for Trammell. Coming up at #12 all-time, particularly just ahead of Ernie Banks, makes for a strong argument. Also in his favor is the fact that of the eleven players ahead of him on the list, nine are already HOFers, while Jeter will be and ARod would be first-ballot if not for the PEDs. The three players directly below him on the list are also in the Hall.

What if we look at Trammell directly compared to his contemporaries? There were four other all-star caliber shortstops whose careers largely overlapped Trammell’s. Where does he measure up among this crew?

First, we’ll look at sabermetric aggregates:

Cal Ripken 87.3 92.5 95.5 73.9
Robin Yount 73.9 66.5 77 78.3
Ozzie Smith 68.6 67.6 76.5 61.7
A. Trammell
62.6 63.7 70.4 53.6
Tony Fernandez 43.1 43.5 45 40.9

Ripken, a first-ballot HOFer, stands out far above the rest, but Trammell is only a notch or two below Yount and Smith. Tony Fernandez, an occasional all-star, was the 5th best shortstop of that era, and his placement below Trammell highlights just how much better the top four players were than the rest of the league.

At the plate, Trammell also puts up a good showing. He has the highest OBP of the bunch, and is in a virtual tie with Ripken and Yount in the most comprehensive hitting stat: wRC+.

Cal Ripken 0.276 0.340 0.447 112
Robin Yount 0.285 0.342 0.430 113
Ozzie Smith 0.262 0.337 0.328 90
A.Trammell 0.285 0.352 0.415 111
Tony Fernandez 0.288 0.347 0.399 102

Defense is usually the center of attention for middle infielders.

Name Def dWAR FRAA
Cal Ripken 310.1 34.6 -23.3
Robin Yount 27.3 5.8 -31.4
Ozzie Smith 375.3 43.4 169.9
Alan Trammell 184.4 22 -28.2
Tony Fernandez 116.9 14.2 -18.2

What do these numbers tell us? First, that Ozzie Smith was the best fielder, which should be no surprise to anybody. But it also tells us that Trammell isn’t quite up to Ripken’s level either, at least in terms of career totals. Of course, Ripken played quite a few more games than Trammell. But when we look at 7-Year Peak Total Zone, Ripken still easily beats Trammell:

Ripken, 1989-1995: 128 TZ

Trammell, 1980-1986: 57 TZ

Comparisons to Robin Yount are a little more difficult, as Yount switched from shortstop to centerfield after his first eleven seasons. His defensive ratings were all much higher at SS than in CF, so his career totals are somewhat skewed. From 1978-84, Yount totaled 51 TZ at shortstop, nearly – but not quite – matching Trammell’s peak.

DETROIT, MI - CIRCA 1985: Shortstop Alan Trammell of the Detroit Tigers sets to make a throw to first base during a Major League baseball game circa 1985 at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. Trammell played for the Tigers  from 1977-96. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***Alan Trammell

At this point, we might be able to say that Trammell was as good a hitting shortstop as any of his day, and was probably the 3rd best fielding shortstop of this group of five stars.

Our last look at this era is at “Fame”. Obviously this could mean many different things, but the best way to quantify it is with awards. We’ll look at All-Star Games (ASG), Gold Gloves (GG) and MVP award voting.

Cal Ripken 19 2 2 MVPs, 3rd place
Robin Yount 3 1 2 MVPs
Ozzie Smith 15 13 2nd place
A. Trammell 6 4 2nd, 7th and 9th place
Tony Fernandez 5 4 none

Yet again, Ripken and Ozzie dominate, and Yount had two MVP awards to his credit. Trammell had a decent showing, but it would be hard to leverage these “Fame” credentials on their own into a Hall of Fame argument. Much like Curt Schilling suffers from having pitched alongside Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, we can see that Trammell’s legacy suffers a bit from having played in the shadow of Ripken: many of Ripken’s ASG selections came at Trammell’s expense.  Not on this list is the fact that Trammell won the World Series MVP in 1984, something that should definitely count towards his “Fame” score.

Baseball: Detroit Tigers Alan Trammell #So far, what do we have? It appears that Trammell may have been one of the top 15 shortstops of the 20th century, was one of the top three or four shortstops of his own era, and had a very well-rounded game (offense and defense). He was not as popular or as praised as his contemporaries Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith, but those two players are among the most beloved of all-time.

What if we take a look at non-shortstop HOF players that rank similarly to Trammell in fWAR and bWAR? On the fWAR list, he is tied with Yogi Berra and slightly ahead of HOFers Roberto Alomar and Duke Snider. Looking at bWAR, he is higher on the list than HOFers Ryne Sandberg and Tony Gwynn.

On the flip side, Trammell’s scores on both fWAR and bWAR are just a touch above Kenny Lofton’s and below Lou Whitaker’s, neither of whom ever qualified for the Hall.

Finally, we will take a look at a couple of the more obscure stats: Win Probability Added (WPA) and Base-Out Runs (RE24), both of which give us slightly different views on what is commonly called “clutch” play. These stats have only been tallied since 1974, so this list includes only shortstops of the last 41 years.

Alex Rodriguez 55.83 Alex Rodriguez 690.24
Barry Larkin 30.71 Derek Jeter 381.8
Derek Jeter 30.29 Barry Larkin 328.78
Toby Harrah 22.43 Robin Yount 281.36
Hanley Ramirez 19.82 Nomar Garciaparra 239.21
Robin Yount 19.6 Toby Harrah 220.61
Cal Ripken 17.5 Hanley Ramirez 217.31
Nomar Garciaparra 17.13 Julio Franco 176.87
Alan Trammell 13.01 Cal Ripken 160.06
Jose Reyes 12.78 Jose Reyes 142.49
Alan Trammell 124.92

We find Trammell at #9 in WPA and #11 in RE24. Both placings are very respectable, though neither vaults Trammell into elite territory.  Contemporaries Ripken and Yount again outpaced him in both categories, as did non-Hall of Famers Toby Harrah and Nomar Garciappara.

It is difficult to look at a player as a Hall of Famer when they never lead the league in a major offensive category, never won a regular season MVP, don’t have any of the classic career milestones (3000 hits, .300 BA, 300 HR) and who was almost always second or third best at his position in his own era. His career fWAR puts him in pretty good standing, but he is a long way from the elite shortstops.

As much as he was an excellent player, there does not seem to be enough evidence to argue that he was a Hall of Famer.