Monday, October 10, 2005

An Open Letter to Jayson Stark

Dear Jayson,

To quote Todd Rundgren, “Hello, It’s Me”. Yes, the lunatic in Kansas City who wrote annual novels to you about the legitimacy of Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame case is back for a return engagement. Only this time, there’s a twist.

Your stunning, USA Hockey-like upset of last year, when you courageously reversed a decade of transgressions and finally cast your ballot with Jim Rice’s named checked (or punched or written-in – how are those ballots actually formatted?) has not been forgotten and is still greatly appreciated. The name “Jim Rice” will not be mentioned again in this missive, as both a salute to your reversal and as a reprieve from a long sentence of badgering you suffered at the hands of myself and those like me.

This year’s subject – here’s the twist – will focus on someone else. And you thought I was just a maniac over He Who Shall Not Be Named. Silly Jayson.

Before revealing whom this person is, allow me to frame the conversation. Let’s say you have a player, we’ll call him Joe Baseball for now, who has the following characteristics:
  • 20-year career
  • Offensive numbers solidly above the average Hall of Famer at his position.
  • 4-time Gold Glover
  • Unquestioned leader of his team
  • World Champion
  • Career post-season OPS of .992.
  • Near MVP (finished 2nd in a year when it is generally agreed he was robbed)
  • Stellar off-field character

Now, on the surface that seems to be a pretty good Hall of Fame case, but let’s provide a few more details of those offensive numbers, just to be clear about Joe Baseball’s accomplishments.

He played almost 7% more games and had about 3% more at-bats than the average Hall of Famer at his position. He had 3% more hits, 7% more doubles, 90% more homers and 10% more extra-base hits than the average Hall of Famer at his position. He had more walks than the average HOFer, a better slugging percentage, and an OPS that was 2% higher than the HOFers who played the same position as he did. And this is not a cross-era fluke that sees him benefit. His OPS+, which includes adjustments for his run-scoring era and his home ballpark, was 2 points higher than the average Hall of Famer too.

If Joe Baseball were a first baseman, that kind of offensive output would translate to a stat line that looks like this:

2250 Games, 1377 Runs, 2472 Hits, 544 Homers, 1418 RBI, 908 XBH, 125 Steals, .308 AVG, .380 OBP, .525 SLG, .905 OPS

Pretty impressive. And that’s not just some fluke at first base. The mythical center fielder that fits the Joe Baseball profile looks like this:

2186 Games, 1456 Runs, 2513 Hits, 396 Homers, 1128 RBI, 805 XBH, 256 Steals, .318 AVG, .393 OBP, .507 SLG, .900 OPS

When you throw in the squeaky-clean reputation, four Gold Gloves and the post-season accomplishments (FYI – not only was Joe Baseball a World Champion, he was MVP of that World Series), it’s pretty obvious that he would be a Hall of Famer, probably a first ballot guy.

To attach a real-life name to the Joe Baseball profile, we could turn to second base. The profile there would look like this:

2325 Games, 1361 Runs, 2546 Hits, 254 Homers, 1055 RBI, 730 XBH, 239 Steals, .303 AVG, .372 OBP, .450 SLG, .822 OPS.

Those are projected numbers, but they are awfully close to Ryne Sandberg’s actual numbers, with the key difference being that Joe Baseball’s stats are a bit better than Sandberg’s and include a World Championship.

Now, if I’m not mistaken, you voted for Ryne Sandberg every year he was on the ballot, and it was the right decision, clearly.

So why won’t you vote for Alan Trammell?

Trammell is the Joe Baseball I have described above. His career is the functional equivalent to shortstops of Ryne Sandberg to second basemen, only a bit better. He’s the equivalent of that 500-homer first baseman, or that 400-homer, 250-steal, .900-OPS center fielder. He’s that much better than the average Hall of Fame shortstop already enshrined. Here is the average Hall of Fame shortstop:

2150 Games, 1206 Runs, 2292 Hits, 97 Homers, 1028 RBI, 591 XBH, 279 Steals, .286 AVG, .354 OBP, .397 SLG, .751 OPS.

Then there’s Trammell:

2293 Games, 1231 Runs, 2365 Hits, 185 Homers, 1003 RBI, 652 XBH, 236 Steals, .285 AVG, .352 OBP, .415 SLG, .767 OPS.

Now, those numbers obviously pale in comparison to the big boppers at the corner outfield spots or first base. But for a shortstop, they are numbers that have rarely been matched in the game’s history. Trammell served as the pre-cursor for the modern, slugging shortstop. He is the only true shortstop link between the slugging era of Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan and Joe Cronin and the modern era of Cal Ripken and ARod. The only others who even approach that description, Ernie Banks and Robin Yount, both played a significant number of games at a different position than shortstop (but I included their numbers in the averages above anyway – take them away and Trammell looks even better).

For the most part, the Hall has determined that a shortstop’s primary role is in the field, so if they did that well, they could hit .270 (or worse) and slug .370 (or worse) and still make the Hall of Fame, in the mold of Bobby Wallace, Joe Tinker, Rabbit Maranville, Monte Ward, Dave Bancroft, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio, and Ozzie Smith.

Well, Trammell came along at the same time as Yount and proved that shortstops could hit again. By age 22, he was hitting .300 in the big leagues, posting an OPS better than the league average for all players, not just shortstops, and playing Gold Glove defense. At a time when Yount and Ripken were playing the position in the same division as he was, Trammell still won four Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards. And he did all of this for one team, in one city, with utmost professionalism and off-field grace.

How Trammell’s vote totals have remained so low for so long is baffling to me, unless he is a victim of the misperception that shortstops always hit like he did, or better. The truth is that he is far more worthy of induction as a shortstop than You Know Who is as a left fielder, or Ryne Sandberg was as a second baseman. In fact, depending upon your view of relief pitchers, Trammell is far more worthy at his position than anyone else on the upcoming ballot is at theirs. He deserves to be elected to the Hall.

There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Less than 1,200 words this year. Please bear in mind that I could easily triple that figure next year if you don’t vote for Trammell. Consider yourself warned.

Regards as always,

Paul White

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