Ortiz and Sheffield
This is the second of a series of Baseball Hall of Fame-related posts leading up to the big announcement of the new inductees on Jan. 25. Thanks, as always, for your readership and support.
So, here’s the Hall of Fame question of the day: Who is the better Hall of Fame candidate, David Ortiz or Gary Sheffield?
Notice the question: I didn’t ask who was the better player. We will get into that, but that’s not the big question. No, I’m asking: Who is the better Hall of Fame candidate?
And, even more, I’m asking: Is there a difference between those two questions?
Let’s start with some basics — David Ortiz will probably get elected this year. Gary Sheffield definitely will not. With 13\30 public ballots in, Ortiz is getting 83% of the vote. That doesn’t make him a lock to get in by any stretch — he still has to get 71% of the “private” votes, and in general the people who do not publicly reveal their ballots tend to be significantly harder on suspected steroid users.
We don’t need to delve very far into Ortiz’s specific story — his connection to steroid use is an illegally leaked drug test — to note that pretty much anyone even tangentially connected to steroid use has gotten 10-20% less support among the private votes. I think he gets there. But I think it will be painfully close, at least this year.
Sheffield, meanwhile, is getting 50% of the vote right now. It’s the best he’s done — he drew less than 15% in each of his first four years on the ballot — but it will not be close to good enough to get him elected. With only two years left on the ballot after this one, it’s going to take a real wind shift for Sheffield to get elected to the Hall of Fame.
OK, so we know that the voters have Ortiz way ahead.
And that leads to the first question: Was Ortiz the better player?
I’m not sure we can give a conclusive answer to that, but I do think we can get pretty close to one. Let’s begin with their hitting numbers — Sheffield did get about 900 more plate appearances than Ortiz, so please keep that in mind:
Ortiz: .286/.380/.552, 141 OPS+, 632 doubles, 19 triples, 541 homers, 1,768 RBIs, 1,419 runs.
Sheffield: .292/.393/.514, 140 OPS+, 467 doubles, 27 triples, 509 homers, 1,676 RBIs, 1,636 runs.
Boy, that looks close, isn’t it? Ortiz, having had so many games at Fenway Park (he played the Green Monster the way Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello) is way ahead in doubles. Sheffield, though, got on base more and, because of that, scored many more runs.
So, who was better? Well by Baseball-Reference Batting Runs (RBat), Sheffield was demonstrably better, 561 batting runs above average to 455 for Ortiz. That difference does surprise me, I must admit — their OPS+ numbers are SO CLOSE. I asked our pal Tom Tango to explain why there is such a big gap, and he explained it this way:
The fact they have such close OPS+ misses the true value of those extra walks that Sheffield got.
RE24 is probably the most complete way to evaluate offense because it looks at the 24 different states of baseball* and it shows Sheffield being 60 runs more valuable on offense than Ortiz.
Sheffield’s career is longer so there is more value there.
*The 24 states of baseball? It’s actually easier that you think: There are 24 possibilities every time a batter steps to the point. There could be: No runners on with 0, 1, 2 outs (3 states); runner on first with 0, 1, 2 outs; runner on second with 0, 1, 2 outs; runner on third with 0, 1, 2 outs; runners on first and second with 0, 1, 2 outs; runners on first and third with 0, 1, 2 outs; runners on second and third with 0, 1, 2 outs; and bases loaded with 0, 1, 2 outs — that’s 24 different states.
Tango also points out something else which I find fascinating — Sheffield’s Win Probability Added, which looks at every individual at-bat, is higher than Ortiz’s. I did not expect that at all, considering Ortiz’s clutch-hitting reputation.
Look, they were both absolutely incredible hitters, way above Hall of Fame level, but if we’re comparing them, the advanced numbers offer a pretty powerful argument that Sheffield was better.