Yes, here’s one more Fred McGriff post … but this one is different from the previous two. You could read the previous two posts on McGriff and conclude (not without reason) that I am denigrating his great career. I am not, I promise, but these are just words and easy to dismiss. I wrote that while I think McGriff is a viable and borderline Hall of Fame candidate, I do not buy the current theory that he is being undervalued by voters because of PED users. I also do not believe he is one of the, say, ten best candidates not in the Hall of Fame.
When you put it that way, that sounds pretty negative. And to make those points, I made reference to the various negatives of McGriff’s case: his below average defense; his late-career numbers being boosted by the very era that some say has haunted him and his relatively low WAR total for Hall of Fame candidates.
But I believe McGriff has a case, a good Hall of Fame case, a better one (I think) than the “he’s getting jobbed by the steroid era” case.
So here goes: Fred McGriff was every bit as good a player as David Ortiz.
Ortiz is not on the Hall of Fame ballot yet. Heck, he’s not even retired yet. And when he goes on the Hall of Fame ballot, it will be emotionally charged because the Hall of Fame cases for him and against him are all big and bold and personal.
For Papi: He likely will finish his career in the Top 25 in doubles, homers, and RBIs. He had some of the most memorable postseason performances in baseball history. He’s the emotional leader of a three-time World Series champion. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to tell the story of baseball over the last 25 years without including a section on Big Papi.
Against Papi: He did test positive for banned substances, even if that test was supposed to be confidential. He spent almost his entire career as a DH. Much of his success was at Fenway Park, a good hitters park, where he was dramatically better overall than he was on the road (though he did hit more homers on the road).
I don’t have a good feel for how Papi’s case is going to go. In fact, I don’t have a good feel for how several of the upcoming candidates will do. Next year, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Vladimir Guerrero will go on the ballot. Pudge is a Hall of Fame mystery to me. He was a guy often called “future Hall of Famer” in his prime and for obvious reasons. He has almost 3,000 hits, 13 Gold Gloves, an MVP award and 14 All-Star appearances. That seems to put him in the first-ballot territory. But he also has that foggy “God only knows” answer to the PED question and a whole bunch of years at the end of his career when he kept switching teams and playing at replacement level. I think he gets close, but I don’t know.
Ramirez probably gets very little support (McGwire level support? Sosa level) because he failed two drug tests. But I don’t know. He was a better player than McGwire or Sosa. Vladimir Guerrero was as much fun to watch as anyone in my lifetime, and he has fantastic career numbers, but again, I don’t know. I’m sure neither will get elected and I’m guessing both will be comfortably above the 5% line that knocks players off the ballot. But the rest is a mystery.
Baffling times these are, Luke, and so I can’t predict what will happen to Papi except to say that those who believe he’s a Hall of Famer STRONGLY feel that way, and those who feel he’s not a Hall of Famer STRONGLY feel that way. There’s no need to go over the Papi argument because you know exactly how good a player he was.
Well, Fred McGriff was just as good a player, maybe even better.
McGriff hit .284/.377/.509 for his career in about 10,000 plate appearances
Ortiz has hit .284/.378/.547 in what will, in the end, be about 10,000 plate appearances.
McGriff hit 493 home runs. Ortiz, so far, has hit 503.
Ortiz does have that higher slugging percentage and more RBIs and runs and doubles, but so much of that is the context of when and where he played. Ortiz hit .308/.405/.580 at Fenway Park. That’s 40 points of batting average, 50 points of on-base percentage and almost 60 points of slugging percentage better than he hit outside of Fenway Park.*
McGriff, meanwhile, was almost the same player at home and on the road.
McGriff on road: .288/.376/.510
Ortiz on road (including time he played in Minnesota): .265/.358/.537
*One other note worth making: McGriff KILLED it at Fenway. He hit .377/.456/.536 in 239 plate appearances at Fenway.
Ortiz does have postseason heroics that few can match, and this should be a huge part of his Hall of Fame argument. But McGriff was fantastic in the postseason too. He hit 303/.385/.532 with ten homers in 50 postseason games. That counts.
And as far as the rest, no, McGriff was not a good defensive first baseman, but he certainly contributed more defensively than Ortiz did. Ortiz played only 277 of his more than 2,000 games in the field. McGriff, meanwhile, played only 174 games as a DH even though he spent more than half his career in the American League.
By Baseball Reference WAR, McGriff leads 52.4 to 50.4
By Fangraphs WAR, the difference is much more substantial — 56.9 to 46.1 for McGriff.
One of the core theories of this blog is that everyone has his or her own version of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some believe it should have only the very best players based on their production. Some believe it should have the players who were most famous and, as such, carried the narrative of the game. Some believe it should include PED users if they were all-time great players. Some believe it should not because they cheated the game. Some believe the Hall should be bigger than it is now. Some believe it should be smaller. Some believe that it should tell the story of baseball. Some believe that it should tell the history of baseball, which might not be the same thing.
Some believe Dwight Evans should be in the Hall of Fame. Some believe Jim Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Some believe neither. Some believe both.
Fred McGriff was better than some people in the Hall of Fame, and he’s not as good as some of the people not yet in the Hall of Fame. This is what it means to be a borderline candidate. I think to make his case, you need to explain what made him unique and special. It’s easy to see what was unique and special about Big Papi. Well, McGriff was as good a player as Papi, and he might have been better.