Baseball’s Forgotten HOF Candidates: Part 1

Good day my beloved readers, this is Lucas Kinser with the first of a ten-part piece on players who should get a second look by the Baseball Hall of Fame. As there are far more than 10 in total who could make a legitimate argument, I’m narrowing down the list to offensive players who are no longer on the ballot.

My goal is to lay out a comprehensive argument featuring the pros and cons for each player’s induction using data collected from baseball-reference.com, in my opinion the best source for both standard and sabrmetric statistics.

Come back every week or so for another edition from now until whenever ten weeks from now will be.

First up on the list is:

Bobby Bonds

  • Spent 14 seasons with eight teams
  • Played the vast majority of his career in Right Field
  • Highest percentage received: 10.6% in 1993

Traditional Career Offensive Stats:

Bonds is one of two players with more than 300 home runs and 400 stolen bases, joined only by his son, Barry. Even if you reduce the numbers to 200 homers and 300 steals, he’s still one of 22 players, including seven Hall of Famers and a number of future members of the club (Biggio, A-Rod, Jeter etc.)

If you limit those results to 1871-1981 (Bonds’ last season), he is one of four players with 200-300 (Willie Mays, Vada Pinson and Joe Morgan). Remember, he has 300-400, not 200-300. Limit that total to only right fielders in his era and he stands along.

But Bonds’ traditional stats aren’t without flaws. He was a swing-and-miss hitter like many power bats of his era (Jim Rice, for example). He didn’t get paid to walk to first base, he got paid to trot around the bases. Therefore, his OBP has been questioned (.353) as well as his career hits (1,886), runs (1,258) and RBI (1,024, only two seasons with more than 100).

He also struck out. A lot. Like, a record amount. His 1,757 fans stood at third behind Hall of Famers Willie Stargell (1,912) and Reggie Jackson (1,810) when he retired in 1981. But as a side note, the top seven career leaders in Ks at that time are all enshrined in Cooperstown today (Brock, Mantle, Killebrew and Perez).

Traditional Single-Season stats/honors:

This category is traditionally one of the weakest in Bobby Bonds’ case, as he only led the league in major positive categories three times (120 runs in 1969, 131 runs and 341 total bases in 1973) while he topped four negative categories (187 Ks in 1969, 189 Ks in 1970, 148 Ks in 1973 and 23 caught stealing in 1979).

But he did garner some accolades during his MLB tenure, earning three All-Star berths, collecting three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards and notching at least one MVP vote five times, including  third and fourth place finishes in 1973 and 1971.

Sabrmetric Stats:

Bonds was one of Bill James’ favorite subjects and even served as the inspiration for his Power-Speed # stat, and for good reason. Bonds led his league in the stat in 10 times from 1969-79, including a 40.9 mark in 1973 which served as the single season record until Rickey Henderson’s 1986 campaign.

His 386 career PS# ranks fifth all-time behind the younger Bonds, Henderson, Mays and A-Rod (at least two of which are directly linked to PEDs).

He also racked up some solid Wins Above Replacement numbers in his career, breaking the five-point barrier (making him generally considered an All-Star worthy player that season) on seven occasions.

In total, his career WAR finished at 57.7, the most by a right fielder not in the Hall of Fame upon Bonds’ retirement. In fact, second place on that list is Rusty Staub with 45.8.

He ranks eight overall among his position from 1981 back, posting a comparable number to Enos Slaughter (55.2), Harry Hopper (53.6) and Willie Keeler (54.0), but he remains a good distance away from No. 7 Harry Heilmann (72.1)

Fielding Stats:

Finally, let’s look at how Bonds performed in the field. This is an area where both the SABR numbers and the traditional stats come together nicely.

His 48 career fielding runs would rank seventh among Hall of Famers pre-1981 at his position, while he routinely ranked among the best Right Fielders in Range Factor/Game, finishing in the top five on nine occasions and ranking 42nd all-time.

And while he committed a number of errors (23rd most by a RF), he also ranked in the top 30 in putouts, games played and assist at the position, meaning his chances to make a mistake were extraordinarily high.

Plus not to be overlooked, he ranks 11th among RFs in double plays turned, tied with the legend himself Roberto Clemente. Let that sink in.

Postseason Stats:

Unfortunately, Bonds never got to play in a Fall Classic, only making it to one LCS in 1971. The Giants consistently floated near the top of the NL West during his prime seasons with the squad, but only took the division crown once. And as further evidence of Bonds’ value, the team posted a losing record in each of the four seasons after he left for New York

Diagnosis:

There’s certainly enough data here to prove Bonds was overlooked by the BBWAA during his years of eligibility. As a candidate from 1987-97, voters looked on as Bonds’ spots in the record books began to sink lower and lower due to the influx of PEDs in the game. In retrospect,  it would be nice to see him on the Veterans Committee ballot once again, as he’s been left off the final ballot every year since 2008. He may be a bit off the edge for HOF contention, but anyone whose career features such a unique combination of power, speed and fielding should at least be considered for years to come.

Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @LucasKinser and look me up on Facebook. Next week, we’ll take a look at another forgotten candidate. Stay tuned to find out who!

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