While most of us now assume Alex Gordon is well on his way to the Hall of Fame after his 2011 season, he still has some work to do. Since the Baseball Writers Association of America started voting former players into the Hall of Fame in 1936, only thirty one outfielders have been inducted. This collection of outfielders is somewhat of an odd group as the difference in degree of excellence from player to player is more pronounced than at other positions.
Nine of the thirty one outfielders inducted into the Hall of Fame averaged more than 7.39 WAR per 162 games played. This cream of the crop grouping consists of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Aaron.
Comparing the careers of the upper echelon of outfielders to the careers of players like Kirby Puckett and Billy Williams is almost maddening. Once you look at that upper echelon, it becomes hard to understand why such lesser players like Puckett and Williams are in the club. The best news for current players is that you don't have to join the upper echelon to make the Hall of Fame. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up for debate.
The overall dominant careers of the thirty one inductee can be seen in the average WAR per 162 games played among them being 6.21. Also, after 303,857 at bats during their thirty one careers, the Hall of Fame outfielders combined to hit 293/372/481. The WAR/162 number has been dragged down recently with the two worst inductions when it comes to WAR/162 in Dave Winfield and Andre Dawson. Those two recent inductees had WAR/162 rates of only 3.69 and 3.82 respectively. The player inducted recently who caused the most uproar, Jim Rice, had a WAR/162 rate of 4.35.
The players who are already in the Hall of Fame are not going anywhere, so it is somewhat pointless to still argue about if someone should or should not have been let into Cooperstown. The only thing to do now is look at the careers of players already included and weigh them against future candidates. So, how do the resumes of current and recently retired outfielders look?
Barry Bonds: By every measure, Bonds is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Bonds averaged 9.13 WAR/162 for his career, is the all time home run leader, had an OPS over 1.000, and was even rated as a good fielder. The problem for Bonds, obviously, is the steroid issue. The same writers who will likely blacklist Bonds from the Hall of Fame, awarded him the National League MVP every year from 2001 to 2004. It was pretty blatant what was going on with Bonds in the early 2000s, yet the writers still showered him with every award he was eligible for. If they knew and did not care, why will they care when Bonds becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame? Are we really supposed to believe that a museum dedicated to past player excellence is a more hallowed thing than the games themselves?
Chances: None. Will be interesting to see what the Veterans Committee says in 2028, can't wait!
Note: No reason to even look at Sosa, Sheffield, and Ramirez.
Ken Griffey Jr.: In 2000, a good majority of people assumed Griffey Jr. would be among the greatest players of all time by the time his career was over. Unfortunately, his career fell of a cliff when he was only 31 years old. From age 31 until his retirement, Griffey Jr. only accumulated 5.3 WAR or 0.87 WAR/162. It did not really matter though, as Griffey, Jr. had already racked up 78.6 WAR by the time he was 30. The fact that Griffey, Jr. basically had two different careers raises an interesting question. If someone plays 33.8% of their career as a marginal player, are they still worthy of the Hall of Fame?
Chances: Likely first ballot, but you have to wonder what might have been with him.
Larry Walker: What is more valuable, a short spurt of dominance, or a career of consistent All-Star level play? In the case of Walker, he'll have to hope voters value his consistency over outright dominance. With some of the recent inductees like Dawson and Rice, Walker has a good case to be inducted. What will likely drag down Walker is that he played the majority of his career on largely ignored teams in Montreal and Denver and did not reach 3000 hits or 500 home runs. He just does not have much mass appeal, which is unfortunate. For his career, Walker hit 313/400/565 with a 142 wRC+/414 wOBA. He also averaged 5.97 WAR/162 which is higher than Griffey, Jr.
Chances: Only received 20% in his first try, which seems unfair. Hopefully someone makes a stink for him
Tim Raines: "Rock" is slowly inching his way towards induction, having seen his vote total creep up to 37.5% in 2011. It really seems childish that some guys have to wait to be inducted, but that is another issue. Raines should be in the Hall of Fame. He averaged 4.59 WAR/162, hit 294/385/425 and 374 wOBA/134 wRC+, and is 5th all time with 808 stolen bases.
Chances: It appears he is headed towards Cooperstown, but weirder things have happened before.
Kenny Lofton: The greatest defensive center fielder I can remember, Lofton has a pretty good resume. His candidacy looks best when you compare it to another speed heavy outfielder already in the Hall of Fame, Lou Brock. For his career, Lofton averaged 5.11 WAR/162, hit 299/372/423 with a 359 wOBA/115 wRC+. A man already in Cooperstown, Brock, averaged 3.31 WAR/162 hit 293/343/410 with a 346 wOBA/115 wRC+. At the time of his induction into the Hall of Fame, Brock was the all time leader in stolen bases, a mark he no longer holds. When looking at the numbers, does the difference of 316 steals between Lofton and Brock really make one man a Hall of Famer and one man forgotten?
Chances: Should not be low, but I think they are. Makes little to no sense considering Brock is in.
Carlos Beltran: The prototype five tool player when younger, Beltran has averaged 5.66 WAR/162 for his career, which would put him well above recent inductees. His batting line of 283/361/496 with a 372 wOBA/125 wRC+ is in line with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. Beltran needs to finish his career well, because if he retired today it is unlikely he ends up in Cooperstown. With 302 home runs, 293 steals, 1917 hits, and three Gold Gloves, Beltran has a well rounded resume, but it does not feel like quite enough. It is also important to consider the perception of Beltran during his career. Outside of his playoff run with Houston, was he ever considered one of the very best players in baseball?
Chances: Has a good case, but has never been fawned over by the media, making it a tough call.
Lance Berkman: Looked to be a fading player in 2009-2010 when he posted 5 WAR combined, only to turnaround and post a 5 WAR year in his age 35 season. If Beltran has a good case, Berkman has a great case. For his career, Berkman has averaged 5.47 WAR/162, with a batting line of 296/409/545 and 403 wOBA/146 wRC+. Berkman would seem to be in the same camp as Larry Walker, a consistent All-Star level player throughout his career without much in terms of recognition. Like Walker, it is unlikely that Berkman reaches the 500 home run or 3000 hit club, but the overall resume is hard to find fault with. The Cardinals run to the World Series this past year probably adds some juice to Berkman's candidacy as well.
Chances: Should be a Hall of Famer. If Walker finds his way to Cooperstown, Berkman will follow.
Bobby Abreu: This generation seems to have quite a few guys who unfortunately might end up in the Hall of Very Good, and it seems that could be where Abreu ends up. Abreu has averaged 4.51 WAR/162 for his career, with a batting line of 293/397/481 and a 383 wOBA/132 wRC+. Before the Phillies became the juggernaut they are now, Abreu performed at elite levels while going largely unnoticed. In his first eight full seasons, Abreu averaged a 6.16 WAR season, and never had a wRC+ below 130. Somehow this production resulted in only two All-Star appearances and a couple of down ballot MVP votes every year. Time seems to be running out on Abreu's career, so his resume is about set, will it be enough?
Chances: Unappreciated throughout his career, that will continue in retirement.
Ichiro Suzuki: What at one time looked to be a tough call, as it was assumed Ichiro would slow down in his mid-30s, Ichiro has made it a pretty easy call with his production. It wasn't until 2011, at age 37, that Ichiro finally hit a wall and posted a 0.2 WAR season. For his career, Ichiro has averaged 4.91 WAR/162, to go with a batting line of 326/370/421 and a 348 wOBA/116 wRC+. With Ichiro seeming to be a lock, one has to wonder why guys like Lofton, Walker, and Raines have had trouble gaining traction with voters.
Chances: Has the media support and the numbers, he will get in.
Vladimir Guerrero: A guy who seemed to have his body break down at a fast rate once he turned 30, Guerrero was able to build enough of a power and overall hitting resume early in his career, that it did not really matter. While maybe a touch below the all-time elite power hitters, Guerrero has hit 449 home runs for his career. His hitting line of 318/379/553 with a 389 wOBA/136 wRC+, should be more than enough for his candidacy. With his rare power/contact combination, Guerrero should find an easy entrance to Cooperstown.
Chances: Should be a lock.