|9 All-Star Games||1 MVP||8 Silver Sluggers|
There was a ten year period of time (1998-2007) in which Vlad Guerrero was an elite hitter. Of the 203 players with at least 3000 plate appearances during that time, Vlad ranked 5th in BA, 7th in SLG and 10th in wRC+. He had 200+ hits four times and joined the 30-30 club twice. He lead all right fielders in Assists three times (and finished top five in five other seasons). It was an impressive peak.
But was his career worthy of the Hall of Fame? I don’t know. Lots of baseball analysts on TV seem to think so. He was very good, and between his rocket arm and unorthodox batting style, he certainly was memorable. Let’s do a pro/con.
|56th in BA|
|24th in SLG|
|34th in OPS|
|49th in Total Bases|
|38th in HR|
|45th in Extra Base Hits|
|90th in wRC+|
|138th in fWAR|
|125th in rWAR|
|Lead League in Errors for an OF 8 times|
|SB success rate was below 70% in both of his 30-30 seasons|
What these lists seem to tell us is that Vlad was an outstanding hitter, with an emphasis on slugging, but his overall value (i.e. the era in which he got his big hits, his fielding, base running) demotes him from elite status. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that being ranked in the top 150 players is something to dismiss. But when we’re talking about the HOF, “138th” doesn’t sound very special.
On the other hand, Vlad had the “Fame” part on his side. From 1997-2008, he received votes for at least one award in every single season. He got votes for Rookie of the Year, MVP, ASG, and Silver Slugger. In addition to winning the MVP in 2004, he finished 3rd two other times, 4th once and 6th another time. Baseball Reference has an interesting stat called “MVP Shares”, which calculates how many “shares” of MVP ballots every player accumulated over the years. Vlad ranks 39th on that list, above popular Hall of Famers like Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline. (NOTE: MVP awards were given differently – sometimes not at all – in the first third of the 20th century, so the list is more of a “Modern Day” rather than an “All Time”.)
When we debate a player’s eligibility for the Hall, I think we should look at both ends of the spectrum: players that have made it in already, and then players that did not make it in, but who might have deserved to. For me, Lou Whitaker and Kenny Lofton both come to mind, particularly because both players were eliminated from the ballot on their first try, despite having WAR scores significantly higher than players who got in fairly quickly. I agree with those who say that WAR isn’t the only (or best) way to judge a player’s entire career, but on the other hand, if a player ends up with 10 WAR higher for their career than another player, there are usually good reasons for it.
In the cases of Whitaker and Lofton, both players earned their greatness through excellent fielding at important positions, while Whitaker added above average hitting and Lofton added exceptional base running. But neither had the ASG or Awards numbers that Vlad had, or the gaudy power numbers that are the quickest way to identify a good player. To me, Vlad is not far from their level, falling into the Fred McGriff maybe/maybe not column.
In some ways, Vlad’s career was similar to Larry Walker’s, a player who I think should be in the Hall. And Vlad had more Hits, more HR, and more Awards. But Walker had significantly higher WAR scores, a slightly higher wRC+, and – possibly most importantly – positive scores in both fielding and base running, making him a complete player. When I look at Vlad’s career, he looks like a one dimensional player (ok, maybe two, if you count his Arm; but not his overall fielding). He was a crazy good hitter in an era chalk full of crazy good hitters.
I won’t say that Vlad unequivocally shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, but at this point I wouldn’t be able to vote for him. Maybe someone can convince me next year.