The BBWAA Project: Right Field
Previously on The BBWAA Project:
First Base roundup
Second Base roundup
Third base roundup
Left field roundup
Center field roundup
And on to the position of Clemente and Aaron ...
Twelve right fielders have been elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA -- more than than any other position except pitcher. Seven of the 12 were elected on first ballot (Hank Aaron; Tony Gwynn; Reggie Jackson; Al Kaline; Frank Robinson; Babe Ruth; Dave Winfield) and another was selected on special ballot (Roberto Clemente).
Median Career: 78.6 WAR (High: Ruth, 159.2; Low: Wee Willie Keeler, 50.7)
25th percentile career: 66.8 WAR.
Bonus: Median Career taking out Babe Ruth -- 69.8.
Median Peak: 45.6 WAR (High: Ruth 82.5; Low: Keeler, 34.7)
25th percentile peak: 40.7 WAR
Bonus: Median Peak taking out Babe Ruth -- 44.6.
Here are the BBWAA-chosen right fielders as ranked by the fans on Baseball Reference's EloRater:
No. 1: Babe Ruth (159.2/82.5)
No. 6: Hank Aaron (137.3/58.5)
No. 16: Frank Robinson (100.9/50.4)
No. 20: Al Kaline (87.4/47.1)
No. 23: Roberto Clemente (89.8/52.9)
No. 27: Mel Ott (104/51.1)
No. 36: Harry Heilmann (67.1/.44.6)
No. 44: Paul Waner (69.8/41)
No. 46: Tony Gwynn (65.3/39.6)
No. 59: Reggie Jackson (68.4/44.6)
No. 71: Dave Winfield (59.4/38.4)
No. 126: Wee Willie Keeler (50.7/34.7)
Even though the BBWAA has voted in more right fielders than any other position, you'd have to say their standards are pretty consistent. Keeler is a bit of an outlier, but he's also a mostly 19th Century player who "hit 'em where they ain't" and all that legendary stuff. The other 11 all rank in the Top 71 on EloRater.
The Veterans committee has only added six right fielders. They are largely baffling choices.
No. 111: Enos Slaughter
No. 185: Chuck Klein
No. 190: Sam Rice
No. 248: Elmer Flick
No. 273: Harry Hooper
No. 341: Ross Youngs
There are many right fielders not in the Hall of Fame -- as a starting point, Dwight Evans (No. 100); Bobby Bonds (No. 113); Tony Oliva (No. 164); Jack Clark (No. 175); Rocky Colavito (No. 184), Rusty Staub (No. 218) -- who fit right into the veterans' idea of what a Hall of Fame right fielder should be. I would say the division between BBWAA and veterans is more pronounced in right field than any other position.
This year's candidates:
Career: 69.7 WAR (minus 8.9 against median)
Peak: 43.1 WAR (minus 2.5)
Ranking: No. 49.
One thing that's fairly consistent at every position -- the BBWAA choices in recent years tends to BRING DOWN the median. In other words, the standards are going down. In this case, the last three choices -- Reggie Jackson, Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield -- are all below the standard that was was set by Ruth, Aaron, Robinson, Clemente, Kaline, Ott. As good as Jackson, Gwynn and Winfield were, they were not as good as that group.
Walker's career and peak numbers hold up very well against the last three. Walker was, in many ways, a better rounded player than any of the three. Reggie hit for power, low averages and was indifferent defensively as the years went along. Gwynn hit for high averages, flashed speed, was well regarded defensively, but hit for little-to-no power and rarely walked. Winfield was an amazing athlete who hit for power, was very fast in his younger days and won Gold Gloves largely because of his amazing arm, but his batting averages and on-base percentages were relatively low and defensive statistics have never been kind to him.
Walker has his own issues as a Hall of Fame candidate, of course. He was hurt a lot. He missed a lot of games. His numbers were unquestionably enhanced -- greatly enhanced -- by Coors Field. But one thing that I keep picking up as I do this project is just how rare it is to find players who really do everything well. Walker hit for power, he was a great base runner, he won three batting titles, he had a career .400 on-base percentage, he won Gold Gloves and the defensive numbers suggest he was a good outfielder.
He really was a rare kind of ballplayer. Whether he did it long enough is a harder question, and Coors hurts him, and the offensive exploits of the 1990s and 2000s work against him. By the more recent BBWAA standards, he has to be considered a very serious Hall of Fame candidate.
Career: 54.8 WAR (minus 23.8 against median)
Peak: 42.2 (minus 3.4)
Ranking: No. 230
Sammy Sosa was really, really good at hitting home runs. He had other skills at times in his career -- he stole some bases as a young man, he played good defense at various times, during the years when he hit a ton of home runs he walked quite a bit too. But you can see his career WAR and Peak War are below the median, even though he hit 609 career home runs. This is because he had a lifetime .344 on-base percentage, which isn't particularly good, his defense devolved, he took advantage of the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (where he slugged almost .600) and he played in an era of a lot of home runs.
If you discard the steroid question, is Sammy Sosa a Hall of Famer? It's hard to imagine that someone who hit 60-plus homers three times and more than 600 homers is not a Hall of Famer. But I would say, Sosa even with all those home runs has a surprisingly borderline case.