Played 23 years with six teams
Seven-time All-Star won a batting title, twice led league in runs and stole 808 bases. 69.1 WAR, 35.0 WAA
Pro Argument: Multifaceted case of base stealing, getting on base and scoring runs – one of the 100 greatest players ever.
Con argument: Doesn’t have the obvious stats like 3,000 hits – was basically a part time player the last 10 years of his career.
Deserves to be in Hall?: Oh yes.
Will get elected this year?: Yes.
Will ever get elected?: Yes.
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Great news: After next week, we won’t have to spend any more time arguing about why Tim Raines belongs in the Hall of Fame … because he will be elected.
So, one more time, just for old time’s sake, let’s do one of the classic Baseball Hall of Fame bits, a little number we like to call: Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines.
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It is well known that Tony Gwynn was an all-time great player, one of the greatest in baseball history. He received 97% of the Hall of Fame vote his first year on the ballot, the seventh-highest total ever, just off Henry Aaron’s percentage and ahead of Willie Mays and Johnny Bench and Ted Williams and so on. The question in the aftermath was who DID NOT vote for him, a viable question then and now.
Tony Gwynn’s excellence was obvious in the fullest definition of that word. You could not miss it.
Tim Raines was born seven months before Tony Gwynn and his career lasted almost exactly the same number of games and the same number of plate appearances. And if there was one thing that was extremely clear to everyone it was that, while Raines was a fine player, Tony Gwynn was much better.
Tony Gwynn hit .338 for his career. Tim Raines hit .294.
Tony Gwynn had 3,141 hits. Tim Raines had 500 fewer.
Tony Gwynn had 4,259 total bases, Tim Raines had about 500 fewer.
Tony Gwynn won eight batting titles. Tim Raines won one.
Tony Gwynn won five Gold Gloves. Tim Raines probably never came close to one.
Tony Gwynn led the league in hits eight times. Raines never did.
Tony Gwynn made more than twice as many All-Star Games as Tim Raines.
And so on. Raines stole a lot of bases, that was nice, but Gwynn — whew — remember how he was hitting .394 when the strike hit in 1994? I asked Gwynn if he would have hit .400. He said: Yes! Emphatically. No doubt. I think he would have done it, too. Ted Williams called Gwynn one of the purest hitters he ever saw.
And Raines? Right. Good player. Fine player. He got 24% of the Hall of Fame vote his first year on the ballot. People appreciated him.
But he was no Tony Gwynn. That part was undeniable.
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Bill James came up with the concept of “runs created” almost 40 years ago.He came up with it because he saw that baseball people were measuring the absolute wrong things when it came to hitters. They were always talking about batting average. But teams don’t win games with batting average. They win games by scoring runs.
Bill figured that with the stats available, he should be able to come up with a quick and easy formula for how teams (and players) created runs.
He had this notion that scoring runs came down to three basic factors.
Factor 1: Getting on base.
Factor 2: Advancing on the bases.
Factor 3: Opportunities.
His first runs created formula was as basic as can be. Opportunities were at-bats plus walks. Getting on base was hits plus walks. And advancing on the bases was, of course, total bases.
The classic formula: ((H + W) * TB) / (AB + W)
You can see right away how much this formula leaves out — Bill only had a few stats to work with when he started — but it is still surprisingly effective. You look at the 2016 Red Sox, by this formula they 905 runs. They scored 878 runs. That’s about 3% off … Bill found the formula almost always got within 5% of the target. He was definitely on to something.
By the way, if you use this version of runs created, you can see why Tony Gwynn was so clearly better than Raines.
Basic Runs Created:
Gwynn: 1,661 runs
Raines: 1,454 runs
That more or less fits what the mind sees.
Since then, though, the formula has been changed and reworked countless times by many different people, Bill James among them. After all, the basic formula is missing so much. What about stolen bases? What about getting hit by a pitch? What about separating walks from intentional walks? Etc.
Bill eventually came up with what he would call the “Technical Version” of the formula. It is not the last version he came up with and it is not the most complicated. There are dozens of other ways to do this.
But, hey let’s go through the Technical Version with Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines.
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Part 1: Getting on base.
You already know about Gwynn’s advantage in hits.
What was easily missed when they played, of course, was Raines’ huge advantage in walks.
Now, walks are not as good as hits, we all know that. And we’ll deal with that in a few minutes. But first, we also have to add in hit-by-pitch (Gwynn 24, Raines 42).
And then we have to subtract some things, extra outs that the players made. We can do this by subtracting caught stealing and double plays. Gwynn was caught stealing 125 times and he hit into 259 double plays. Raines was caught stealing a bit more (142 times) but hit into 117 fewer double plays (142).
Total for Getting on Base:
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The second part of the formula is the “bases advanced” part (the part Bill originally had as total bases).
It starts with total bases where Gwynn has a sizable advantage.
But total bases does not include walks. As mentioned, a walk is not as good as a hit but it’s worth something. What? How much do you think a walk is worth compared to a single? Is it worth three-quarters of a single? Half of a single? Bill through various efforts came to believe that real walks — meaning non-intentional walks — are worth one-quarter of a base (.26 to be exact).
Here are the bases added for walks and hit-by-pitches:
OK, then you have to add some value for sacrifice hits, sacrifice flies and stolen bases. Bill estimates each of those are worth about half a base each.
Bases added for sacrifice hits, sacrifice flies, and stolen bases:
And that leads us to the total advanced bases for each player:
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Finally, the third category is the easiest one — it is simply plate appearances. The funny thing is that it was not easy to find when Bill first started out. You had to deal with at-bats and then add back in the walks, the hit-by-pitches, the sacrifice hits and the sacrifice flies. It really is funny how they used to divide up this game.
Plate appearances:Gwynn: 10,232
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OK, before giving you the final total, let’s state one last time why everyone came to believe that Tony Gwynn was a vastly superior player than Raines: Gwynn did those distinct and unmissable things that we always attached to baseball greatness. He hit for high averages. He cracked and flared balls into the open spaces. He won those things we have long called “batting titles.” He had a strong arm and so we gave him Gold Gloves. He stole some bases so we called him a complete player. He was a wonderful man, absolutely wonderful, and so we voted him into All-Star Games year after year after year.
These things are not illusions. They are real. Tony Gwynn was a great baseball player.
Tim Raines did things in the shadows. He walked a lot, and we don’t admire walks. He played his best baseball in Canada where we almost never saw him. He was a cocaine addict when we first came to know him — everyone heard the story about how he slid head first to protect the vials in his back pocket — and you know that line about first impressions. He played left field (played it about a draw) which is so much less romantic than right field or, certainly, center field. He went unwanted after becoming a free agent because the owners colluded. He was a wonderful base stealer, we could see that, but there was someone better, Rickey Henderson, who dominated the time and took most of the air.
And while we all know that a player’s strike took away Gwynn’s chance to hit .400, we forget that Tim Raines probably would have set the stolen base record in 1981. He stole 50 bases in 54 games before the strike. He might have set the record where even Rickey himself could not have topped it.
When you add up and subtract, multiply and divide all the numbers in the runs created formula, though, here is what you come up with:
Tony Gwynn: 1,623 runs created.
Tim Raines: 1,627 runs created.
Of course, that’s only one runs created formula. I actually prefer the one that Baseball Reference uses. In their runs created formula, which has a few adjustments, Tony Gwynn finishes with 1,636 runs created.
And Raines finished … with the exact same number.