Is Vladimir Guerrero a Hall of Famer?

When I saw that only two players had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week, my thoughts immediately turned to future years. With only two deserving candidates going in, there was still going to be a log jam. How would that impact the players who are coming onto the ballot next year? There are three who have a real case for being in the Hall of Fame: Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez.

Ramirez and Rodriguez seem pretty easy to peg. Ramirez — one of the great right-handed hitters to ever grace this planet, but also a player with several off-field transgressions, including two failed performance enhancing drug tests — seems likely to get a middling level of support, similar to Mark McGwire. Enough to remain comfortably on the ballot, but not enough to be near induction. Rodriguez will vault firmly into the middle of the pack at the very least, and stands a strong shot at induction on his first go-round. He has 13 Gold Gloves, the most of any catcher, and while he had PED whispers, so did Mike Piazza, and he just got in. The tide seems to be turning on the “Steroids Era.”

Guerrero, however, is a total wild card. At least to me. I could see him vaulting into strong induction contention, or I could see him scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s hard to get a good read on his candidacy.

Guerrero’s case boils down to who you regard as his peer group. Do you look at his statistical peers, or do you look at him as an MVP-winner? In which category does he belong?

First, let’s take a look at the statistical peer group. Here are all the right fielders who produced between 50 and 70 WAR in heir career, with their JAWS and Hall of Stats scores included for extra measure:

Career Stats, Right Fielders w 50.1-69.9 WAR
Name HoF JAWS HoS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Harry Heilmann Yes 59.6 136 8960 183 113 .342 .410 .520 .427 144 -5.1 519.2 -129.1 69.0
Larry Walker No 58.6 150 8030 383 230 .313 .400 .565 .412 140 21.5 427.9 3.5 68.7
Manny Ramirez No 54.6 128 9774 555 38 .312 .411 .585 .418 153 -35.0 624.8 -276.6 66.4
Dwight Evans No 52.0 122 10569 385 78 .272 .370 .470 .375 129 -9.0 348.4 -68.6 65.1
Tony Gwynn Yes 54.9 126 10232 135 319 .338 .388 .459 .370 132 11.3 401.5 -92.2 65.0
Reggie Smith No 51.6 124 8050 314 137 .287 .366 .489 .379 137 -2.5 331.7 25.5 64.6
Gary Sheffield No 49.1 114 10947 509 253 .292 .393 .514 .391 141 9.7 575.7 -300.9 62.1
Joe Jackson No 57.4 128 5690 54 202 .356 .423 .517 .443 165 -10.6 418.6 -49.1 60.5
Sammy Sosa No 51.0 115 9896 609 234 .273 .344 .534 .370 124 -7.9 300.4 -8.1 60.1
Dave Winfield Yes 50.8 113 12358 465 223 .283 .353 .475 .364 128 5.9 406.5 -243.9 59.9
Andre Dawson Yes 53.5 121 10768 438 314 .279 .323 .482 .350 117 18.8 230.5 -11.8 59.5
Bobby Abreu No 50.7 109 10081 288 400 .291 .395 .475 .378 129 33.8 415.6 -143.4 59.2
Bobby Bonds No 49.4 110 8090 332 460 .268 .353 .471 .368 130 28.9 303.9 -34.6 57.1
Ichiro Suzuki No 51.0 105 10101 113 498 .314 .356 .406 .330 105 94.5 164.5 65.2 56.7
Elmer Flick Yes 47.2 103 6414 48 330 .313 .389 .445 .399 145 16.4 365.4 -41.8 56.0
Willie Keeler Yes 45.1 98 9594 33 495 .341 .388 .415 .383 124 13.3 345.0 -78.5 55.7
Brian Giles No 44.1 97 7836 287 109 .291 .400 .502 .388 136 17.9 384.8 -80.8 54.9
Vlad. Guerrero No 50.2 110 9059 449 181 .318 .379 .553 .390 136 -49.8 370.4 -115.0 54.4
Kiki Cuyler Yes 40.8 87 8098 128 328 .321 .386 .474 .393 126 54.1 334.7 -45.1 52.9
Harry Hooper Yes 41.5 82 10244 75 375 .281 .368 .387 .363 116 -2.4 188.4 -30.5 52.3
Enos Slaughter Yes 45.1 94 9084 169 71 .300 .382 .453 .384 126 8.3 286.6 -71.5 51.4
Jack Clark No 42.1 94 8230 340 77 .267 .379 .476 .377 138 -10.0 349.1 -135.7 50.6
Sam Rice Yes 41.8 81 10246 34 351 .322 .374 .427 .372 113 9.3 180.0 -33.0 50.3
SOURCE: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, Hall of Stats

As you can see, statistically, Guerrero is no slam dunk. He’s middle of the pack in many stats, though he grades out well in home runs, batting average and wOBA. He isn’t first in any category, grades out poorly on defense, and is dead last as a base runner. Guerrero was a really bad base runner. Of the 3,681 qualified position players in major league history, only 11 have/had a worse BsR than did Guerrero. Half of those 11 were catchers (or came up as catchers) and none of them were outfielders. Among the 1,523 qualified outfielders, Guerrero is dead last, and it’s not even remotely close. That matters. To me, anyway. I still remember Guerrero costing the Angels’ a potential rally in Game One of the 2005 American League Division Series with a caught stealing on an ill-advised hit-and-run.

Speaking of the postseason, Guerrero wasn’t so great in the postseason. People are often fond of giving extra credit for great postseason performances, but we rarely look to demerit for poor postseason performances. And that’s probably fair. But it’s definitely eyebrow-raising when a guy with a .931 career OPS could only manage a .664 OPS in the postseason. That poor postseason OPS is partially dragged down by his odorous final postseason with the Rangers, when he hit just .220/.242/.271 across 62 plate appearances. But two points there. One, Guerrero was still a good hitter that season, to the tune of a 119 wRC+ in the regular season. And two, even if you remove 2010, his postseason OPS is still a comparatively poor .740, across 126 PA. He only hit two postseason home runs, and disappeared for whole series, like when he went 1-for-20 in the 2005 ALCS.

But Guerrero was also an MVP. That’s a pretty big gold star on your resume. It’s also not the end all, be all. Of the 124 MVPs who are or were eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame, only 66 — or 53% — have plaques in Cooperstown. And that still might be a touch high. Take a look at this breakdown.

MVPs in the Hall of Fame
Player Type Overall 1 MVP 2+ MVPs
Hall of Famers 66 43 23
Total 124 97 27
% HoFers 53% 44% 85%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Full data here: http://tinyurl.com/hsxngop

While it’s overwhelmingly likely that a player with two-plus MVPs can assure himself a place in Cooperstown, the one-timers are less than a 50-50 proposition. Is that fair, though? I mean, not all players who produce an all-world season go on to have an all-world career. In fact, if we look at a custom leaderboard of these 124 MVP winners, we see that 25 of them had a career WAR less than 35. So, let’s look at the MVPs who tallied between 50 and 70 WAR, just to make it a little more fair of a comparison:

MVPs in the Hall of Fame, 50.1-69.9 WAR
Name WAR HoF?
Larry Walker 68.7 No
Willie McCovey 67.4 Yes
Barry Larkin 67.0 Yes
Robin Yount 66.5 Yes
Harmon Killebrew 66.1 Yes
Lou Boudreau 64.5 Yes
Yogi Berra 63.7 Yes
Ernie Banks 63.3 Yes
Willie Stargell 62.9 Yes
Joe Torre 62.3 Yes but no
Dennis Eckersley 61.8 Yes
Dazzy Vance 61.6 Yes
Dick Allen 61.3 No
Hank Greenberg 61.1 Yes
Ryne Sandberg 60.9 Yes
Hal Newhouser 60.7 Yes
Joe Gordon 60.6 Yes
Sammy Sosa 60.1 No
Andre Dawson 59.5 Yes
Keith Hernandez 59.4 No
Jackie Robinson 57.2 Yes
Carl Hubbell 56.5 Yes
Jeff Kent 56.1 No
Ken Boyer 54.8 No
Joe Medwick 54.6 Yes
Sandy Koufax 54.5 Yes
Gabby Hartnett 53.7 Yes
George Sisler 51.9 Yes
Jim Rice 50.8 Yes
Mickey Cochrane 50.6 Yes
Bob Elliott 50.5 No
Orlando Cepeda 50.3 Yes
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs

Well, that’s more like it. Of the 32 players who won MVP and had between 50-70 WAR, 24 of them (or 75%) were elected to the Hall of Fame as players. (Joe Torre is in the Hall, but as a manager.) That’s a pretty strong point in favor of Guerrero. If he had another MVP, obviously, his case would be much stronger, but he did finish in the top five three other times (2002, 2005 and 2007).

And yet, the ballot is still going to be super crowded next year. There have been outfielders in his class who have been one-and-dones in recent years — Kenny Lofton (18 votes in 2013), Jim Edmonds (11 votes this year), Brian Giles (0 votes last year) and Luis Gonzalez (five votes in 2014) — and while Gary Sheffield, Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa remain on the ballot, they haven’t garnered much support thus far.

Walker, in particular, seems like a roadblock. Walker has an MVP, and is a fellow sentimental former Expos player, and compiled far more wins than did Guerrero. Walker scores higher in both JAWS and the Hall of Stats, and yet his high-water mark was 22.9% in 2012. Walker has the road-stats bias, but he not only didn’t spend his whole career at Coors Field, he also posted a .278/.370/.495 line on the road for his career, and hit 168 homers and stole 109 bases on the road. He’s just one of 49 players in the Away 100-100 Club. I’d find it hard to put Guerrero over Walker on any ballot.

And it’s not just Walker. Next year’s Hall of Fame ballot features 19 players who totaled 40+ career WAR, as well as three highly regarded closers.

We haven’t discussed peak value yet, and with good reason. But let’s do that, briefly, in the context of next year’s ballot. Guerrero doesn’t really separate himself from the field in that regard. He had five seasons with five WAR or better. Comparing him to the other 21 players that will be the most prominent on next year’s ballot, you see that his five best seasons (not consecutive, just five best) aren’t a difference maker.

Five Best Seasons, 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot Luminaries
Name WAR 5 Best Years Best 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Barry Bonds 164.4 57.8 12.7 12.5 11.9 10.5 10.2
Roger Clemens 133.7 45.0 10.7 8.2 8.4 9.2 8.5
Curt Schilling 79.7 39.5 9.3 8.3 8.2 7.2 6.5
Jeff Bagwell 80.2 38.0 8.0 7.8 7.8 7.7 6.7
Sammy Sosa 60.1 33.6 9.9 7.1 5.8 5.5 5.3
Tim Raines 66.4 32.6 7.2 6.7 6.7 6.0 6.0
Larry Walker 68.7 32.4 9.1 7.6 5.4 5.3 5.0
Gary Sheffield 62.1 31.7 7.3 6.6 6.5 6.5 4.8
Vladimir Guerrero 54.4 31.2 7.1 6.7 6.2 5.9 5.3
Mike Mussina 82.2 30.8 6.9 6.4 6.0 6.1 5.4
Edgar Martinez 65.5 30.7 7.0 6.1 6.0 5.9 5.7
Ivan Rodriguez 68.7 30.0 6.8 6.4 6.2 5.6 5.0
Manny Ramirez 66.4 29.9 7.5 5.9 5.8 5.4 5.3
Fred McGriff 56.9 28.8 6.6 6.4 5.5 5.5 4.8
Javier Vazquez 54.0 28.6 6.5 6.1 6.0 5.2 4.8
Jeff Kent 56.1 27.4 7.4 6.7 4.9 4.2 4.2
J.D. Drew 45.9 27.2 8.6 5.6 4.8 4.2 4.0
Mike Cameron 50.7 26.1 5.5 5.5 5.3 5.3 4.5
Jorge Posada 44.3 26.1 6.1 6.0 5.6 4.3 4.1
Lee Smith 26.6 13.1 2.9 2.7 2.7 2.4 2.4
Trevor Hoffman 26.1 13.1 3.1 2.9 2.6 2.3 2.2
Billy Wagner 24.2 12.3 3.6 2.3 2.2 2.1 2.1
SOURCE: FanGraphs

You can see here that like Ken Griffey Jr. did, Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Bagwell can make a good peak-value claim. And Sammy Sosa is sort of separated from the pack. But after him, there are 10 players within a five-win band. That’s where Guerrero is. Again, below Sheffield and Walker. And also, by the way, below the banished Edmonds, whose five-year peak totals 34.0 WAR (and Edmonds still has a six-win season to boot following his top five). On Guerrero’s Hall of Stats page, proprietor Adam Darowski has his value at 50% peak, 50% career. That’s not the breakdown of a guy who can get by touting his peak value.

Vladimir Guerrero was/is a very famous player. He won an MVP award, and came close three other times. He had a marvelous career, and was an outstanding hitter. But even allowing for his arm, he was a horrible defender, and an even worse base runner. He doesn’t have a great peak-value argument and, statistically, finds himself squarely in the middle of the pack. No one is going to complain if he is voted into the Hall of Fame, but on a crowded ballot he is merely one of the qualified candidates, rather than one of the most qualified candidates.

We hoped you liked reading Is Vladimir Guerrero a Hall of Famer? by Paul Swydan!

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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Dbacks4EVER
Member
Dbacks4EVER

Yes. Yes, he is.

MustBunique
Member

Also yes.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer

Yes.

DSCeee
Member
DSCeee

Yes.

tz
Member
Member

Yes for the HOF that includes Andre Dawson. No for the HOF that excludes Larry Walker.

(I favor the first option).