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The BBWAA Project: Right Field

Previously on The BBWAA Project:


First Base roundup

Second Base roundup

Shortstop roundup

Third base roundup

Left field roundup

Center field roundup

And on to the position of Clemente and Aaron …

Right field

Twelve right fielders have been elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA — more than than any other position except pitcher. Seven of the 12 were elected on first ballot (Hank Aaron; Tony Gwynn; Reggie Jackson; Al Kaline; Frank Robinson; Babe Ruth; Dave Winfield) and another was selected on special ballot (Roberto Clemente).

Median Career: 78.6 WAR (High: Ruth, 159.2; Low: Wee Willie Keeler, 50.7)
25th percentile career: 66.8 WAR.
Bonus: Median Career taking out Babe Ruth — 69.8.

Median Peak: 45.6 WAR (High: Ruth 82.5; Low: Keeler, 34.7)
25th percentile peak: 40.7 WAR
Bonus: Median Peak taking out Babe Ruth — 44.6.

Here are the BBWAA-chosen right fielders as ranked by the fans on Baseball Reference’s EloRater:

No. 1: Babe Ruth (159.2/82.5)
No. 6: Hank Aaron (137.3/58.5)
No. 16: Frank Robinson (100.9/50.4)
No. 20: Al Kaline (87.4/47.1)
No. 23: Roberto Clemente (89.8/52.9)
No. 27: Mel Ott (104/51.1)
No. 36: Harry Heilmann (67.1/.44.6)
No. 44: Paul Waner (69.8/41)
No. 46: Tony Gwynn (65.3/39.6)
No. 59: Reggie Jackson (68.4/44.6)
No. 71: Dave Winfield (59.4/38.4)
No. 126: Wee Willie Keeler (50.7/34.7)

Even though the BBWAA has voted in more right fielders than any other position, you’d have to say their standards are pretty consistent. Keeler is a bit of an outlier, but he’s also a mostly 19th Century player who “hit ’em where they ain’t” and all that legendary stuff. The other 11 all rank in the Top 71 on EloRater.

The Veterans committee has only added six right fielders. They are largely baffling choices.

No. 111: Enos Slaughter
No. 185: Chuck Klein
No. 190: Sam Rice
No. 248: Elmer Flick
No. 273: Harry Hooper
No. 341: Ross Youngs

There are many right fielders not in the Hall of Fame — as a starting point, Dwight Evans (No. 100); Bobby Bonds (No. 113); Tony Oliva (No. 164); Jack Clark (No. 175); Rocky Colavito (No. 184), Rusty Staub (No. 218) — who fit right into the veterans’ idea of what a Hall of Fame right fielder should be. I would say the division between BBWAA and veterans is more pronounced in right field than any other position.

This year’s candidates:

Larry Walker

Career: 69.7 WAR (minus 8.9 against median)
Peak: 43.1 WAR (minus 2.5)
Ranking: No. 49.

One thing that’s fairly consistent at every position — the BBWAA choices in recent years tends to BRING DOWN the median. In other words, the standards are going down. In this case, the last three choices — Reggie Jackson, Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield — are all below the standard that was was set by Ruth, Aaron, Robinson, Clemente, Kaline, Ott. As good as Jackson, Gwynn and Winfield were, they were not as good as that group.

Walker’s career and peak numbers hold up very well against the last three. Walker was, in many ways, a better rounded player than any of the three. Reggie hit for power, low averages and was indifferent defensively as the years went along. Gwynn hit for high averages, flashed speed, was well regarded defensively, but hit for little-to-no power and rarely walked. Winfield was an amazing athlete who hit for power, was very fast in his younger days and won Gold Gloves largely because of his amazing arm, but his batting averages and on-base percentages were relatively low and defensive statistics have never been kind to him.

Walker has his own issues as a Hall of Fame candidate, of course. He was hurt a lot. He missed a lot of games. His numbers were unquestionably enhanced — greatly enhanced — by Coors Field. But one thing that I keep picking up as I do this project is just how rare it is to find players who really do everything well. Walker hit for power, he was a great base runner, he won three batting titles, he had a career .400 on-base percentage, he won Gold Gloves and the defensive numbers suggest he was a good outfielder.

He really was a rare kind of ballplayer. Whether he did it long enough is a harder question, and Coors hurts him, and the offensive exploits of the 1990s and 2000s work against him. By the more recent BBWAA standards, he has to be considered a very serious Hall of Fame candidate.

Sammy Sosa

Career: 54.8 WAR (minus 23.8 against median)
Peak: 42.2 (minus 3.4)
Ranking: No. 230

Sammy Sosa was really, really good at hitting home runs. He had other skills at times in his career — he stole some bases as a young man, he played good defense at various times, during the years when he hit a ton of home runs he walked quite a bit too. But you can see his career WAR and Peak War are below the median, even though he hit 609 career home runs. This is because he had a lifetime .344 on-base percentage, which isn’t particularly good, his defense devolved, he took advantage of the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (where he slugged almost .600) and he played in an era of a lot of home runs.

If you discard the steroid question, is Sammy Sosa a Hall of Famer? It’s hard to imagine that someone who hit 60-plus homers three times and more than 600 homers is not a Hall of Famer. But I would say, Sosa even with all those home runs has a surprisingly borderline case.

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28 Responses to The BBWAA Project: Right Field

  1. Ian R. says:

    I wonder if the recent choices can’t compare to the earlier standard because the standards are coming down, or because the overall level of play is going up. Two of the 100+ WAR guys at the position (Ruth and Ott) played in the prewar era, and the other two (Aaron and Robinson) retired in 1976. It’s possible that the more recent players are brought down by a higher replacement level.

    • In much the same way that .340 now is much harder than .340 in 1930, yes.

    • Cliff Blau says:

      Actually, uses a higher replacement level for the earlier years and a lower one for recent years. Otherwise Ruth and Ott would be even further above the recent players.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Cliff, I’ll add that the 60s and 70s, when Aaron and Robinson played (I know they also played in the 50s), are considered pitcher dominated decades. Plus, when Ruth was hitting 50+ HRs in the early 20s, he was out homering entire teams. He was the equivalent to when Gretzky came along and routinely had 200 points. Nobody did that before and since.

  2. Alejo says:

    1) Where is Sammy Sosa? Wasn´t he an outfielder?

    2) I accept the standards are coming down. However, descending from Ruth to Reggie is just like going down from the Everest to the Aconcagua… you´ll still need an oxygen bottle to breathe there.

    • Jerry Davis says:

      Alejo, loved the mountain analogy! There seem to be a lot of intelligent people on here and you are definitely one of them.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Reggie had the 500 HR milestone and a good Mr. October narrative. Otherwise, the rest of his HOF case wasn’t too good. I love those who take shots at Ruth. They are the classic no nothings. For example, they say that he hit in a hitters era, when in fact, he hit HRs like nobody else and surpassed entire teams. They say he didn’t play against black players, but he barnstormed against the negro league players frequently…. and they were in awe of him like everyone else. It’s kind of like Stan Musial. He played before many people would have had the opportunity to see them play. So, it’s easy to say that it’s all mythology and he wasn’t all that. The numbers AND the real narrative say differently.

  3. kkurt23 says:

    I am somewhat new to the WAR statistic. I know its wins above replacement, but do they take historical replacement or a replacement from that particular year. That may be while some of the pre-WWII WARs are so high, because no African Americans, no Latin Americans, No Japanese, etc… A deeper pool of players gives a better replacement, and thus lower WARs.

  4. ceolaf says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. ceolaf says:

    (I’ve tried to put in space, because it doesn’t like the tabs.)

    Oh, Pos. I love you dearly, but you keep making this same mistake. The median is NOT their standard.

    If the median WAS their standard, they’d have inducted people BELOW their standard half the times. If the median WAS their standard, they’d have make a mistake (by their own standards), half the time.

    Think about this.

    1) “My standard for a great game is one that keeps me glued to my seat until the final possession. There could be record on the line, perhaps some off field/court stuff, on even the ending is in doubt, but that’s MY standard.”

    If someone said that, s/he could not then list 10 great games, only half of which meet that standard. We’d expect ALL TEN to meet that standard. But, we wouldn’t be surprised if there were one or two for which s/he said something like, “Yeah, not until the LAST possession on that one, but man(!!!) that last quarter/period/inning was incredible!”

    The BBWAA standard is not the median. It’s far lower than that.

    2) What has happened to the BBWWA RF standard (by career WAR)?

    Year Lowest Ever 2nd Lowest Ever
    1936- 159.2 (Ruth)
    1939- 50.7 (Keeler) 159.2
    1951- 50.7 104 (Ott)
    1952- 50.7 67.1 (Heilmann)
    2001- 50.7 59.4 (Winfield)

    So, in the last sixty years, only one (1!!) BBWAA RF inductee would be been in the bottom two of all BBWAA RF inductees. That does not seem like a frequently lowered standard to me.

    3) Because we are thinking about where the line is (or ought to be), when we see “standard,” we really mean the “minimum standard.” And, as I’ve been saying, I am all for cutting some slack there an allowing some mistakes. But how many mistakes? 10%? 20%?

    Reggie Jackson (1993) was the third lowest, at the time of his induction. Did he lower the standard? He was lower than the previous five, but there were two lower before then. Gwynn was also the third lowest at time of induction, making Reggie the 4th lowest.

    I think that any time the BBWAA inducts a player whose whatever value (career? peak? whatever.) is LOWER than player X’s, that player is more firmly established as ABOVE the standard.

    4) Ranking from the bottom of all BBWAA inducted RF’s at date of induction, and the % of previous inductees they are better than (by career WAR)

    Ruth 1 (st lowest) 0%
    Keller 1 (st lowest) 0%
    Ott 2 (nd lowest) 50%
    Heilmann 2 (nd lowest) 33%
    Waner 3 (rd lowest) 50%
    Clemente 4 (th lowest) 60%
    Kaline 4 (th lowest) 50%
    Robinson 6 (th lowest) 71%
    Aaron 8 (th lowest) 88%
    Jackson 3 (rd lowest) 22%
    Winfield 2 (nd lowest) 10%
    Gwynn 3 (rd lowest) 18%

    5) The real way to do this would be to having a running tally of the lowest (2nd lowest? 3rd lowest? 20th %ile?) to get and the the highest not to get in. The BBWAA hall of fame standard for RF’s would fall between those two values. Is THAT line getting lower? Because that is the actual standard the the BBWAA seems to be using.

    • Rob Smith says:

      You are correct that the standard is not the median. That’s the average player they elected. The standard is the lowest they let in. That’s the line. You can moderate, if you like, and use the 20th percentile. But, either way, definitely the standard is way lower than the median. Statistics can be tricky, so thanks for pointing that out.

  6. ceolaf says:

    Nope. Doesn’t like multiple spaces, either. Sorry, folks.

  7. dbutler16 says:

    Larry Walker would have fewer plate appearances than any other RF to be voted in by the BWAA, should he get in that way, so it’s indeed an uphill battle for him. I know was a 5 tool player, but that Coors Field thing does throw his offensive numbers into question, even though his OPS+ is 141.

  8. Unknown says:

    Dwight Evans never seemed he he was HOF material while playing because a lot of time he was slumping. Look at these June 30 averages per year 1980 .199, 1983 .228, 1985 .228, 1986 .242. The year end numbers turned out ok, but the Sox were usually 15 games out by June 30. Rice was a more consistent hitter. I don’t recall him ever in a prolonged slump.

    • clashfan says:

      So, he’s not a Hall of Famer because he had four springs in which he underachieved? Talk about cherry-picking.

      It doesn’t really matter if or when his team fell out of contention. Baseball’s a team sport but the HoF is an individual honor.

  9. rcharbon says:

    The BBWAA standard is sinking because newer guys are compared to the existing members of the Hall, including the mistakes of the various Veteran’s Committees. You know this.

  10. David in NYC says:

    “Reggie hit for power, low averages and was indifferent defensively as the years went along.”

    Slightly OT, but “indifferent” is a pretty good adjective for Reggie’s defensive work. One of my more distinct “I was there” memories was seeing the Yankees play the A’s (when Reggie was on the latter team, not the former); a Yankee batter hit a ball into the CF-RF gap, and Reggie *literally* walking toward the ball from his position in RF. It wasn’t a trot, he wasn’t “jogging slowly”, he wasn’t slowing down because the CF had played the ball already — he was simply walking after the ball like he was taking an after-dinner stroll.

    I didn’t particularly care for him previously, but from that moment on, I hated his guts. In fact, the three primary factors in my giving up my lifetime Yankee fandom (Mickey Mantle was my first hero, not just in sports) were George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and Reggie Jackson.

  11. gwowen says:

    “Bonus: Median Career taking out Babe Ruth — 69.8.”

    That looks like a statement about the greatness of Ruth, but medians do not work like that.

    The Median Career without Al Kaline is also 69.8.

    Why does the median drop precipitously when any above-median player is removed? Because there are 12 people on the list, and the gap between 6th and 7th (Kaline and Waner, the middle two) is so large – and the median is half way between them.

    Remove any below average player, and Kaline is the middle player (6th of 11), so the median score jumps to 87.4.

    Remove any above average player, and Waner is middle player (6th of 11), so the median score falls to 69.8.

    The present median is the mean of Kaline and Waner (87.4+69.8)/2

  12. ceolaf says:

    Here is how you find the real BBWAA hall of fame standard, statistically.

    * For each statistic (WAR, peak7, all time rank, rank at time of induction, whatever), there’s a value above which candidates have a greater than 50% of being approved, and below which they have a less than 50% chance. With some data, it’s fuzzy around the line. With others, it’s VERY clear. (By position, by metric, whatever). That’s the line you are looking for.

    Sometimes it’s so clear that it’s not really 50/50, but more like 10/90 or 5/95. But that’s the line.

    * The statstical technique for this is “logistic regression.” Whatever. That’s what it is called.

    * What you do is make is list of each eligable candidate ever, with the scores on the metric in question and whether they got in or not. You then use any stat software in world (R, SPSSS, SAS, whatever) to do a logistic regression. It will give you the line very quickly.

    * You could even add terms for the position, so you know how the BBWAA adjusts that line for each position. You could also run two metrics (career and peak, for example), so you could see how they weigh out against other. But that would make it little harder to see a single standard for each.

    All of this is VERY easy. I’d do it, but I don’t have (and don’t want to run down) the data. If someone gives me the data, I can get you answers REALLY fast.



    1) This all assumes that that the data is all equal. That is, all of the players faced the same standard.

    2) Of couse, most of the serious assumes that there’s some sort of standard for each position, rather than shifting standards and the compositon of the BBWAA changes. Of course, a series about how the standard has changed over time is quite different than a series about what the standard is.

    3) This would be so easy to do, it might already have been done.

  13. rmtaylor12 says:

    Anybody ever read that great SI article on Sam Rice from about 20 years ago?

  14. Another interesting name for the list of “many right fielders not in the Hall of Fame” is Dave Parker (#153). Not that he belongs, but that he might, except for having messed up his career with the 1970’s — 1980’s equivalent of steroids.

    With regard to Sosa, if you discard the steroid accomplishments, is Sammy a Hall of Famer? Unlike Bonds, who had compiled 96.9 WAR before he hit 50 homers in a season, Sammy had 20.7 WAR at that point.

    But, if at some point, the voters say, “Llet them in,” I won’t boycott the place just because Mark and Sammy are there.

  15. James says:

    Larry Walker did every thing better than almost any one: the # stolen bases for man his size.. his bullet producing throwing arm.. and overall extreme awareness on defense.
    Yes.. I watch baseball. Have for years.
    I also played baseball for 32 years and coached another 10 seasons. I rarely finish 2nd in my fantasy league. I love baseball. I love the character it builds in boys/men. You can BS your mom.. your friends.. even your team mates for a while. But you can not BS a baseball. It will respond in the precise proportion to your athletic ability. . skill development and conditioning. What ever energy you manifest on the back of that baseball will be reflected in the flight of the ball. Nothing more.
    Larry Walker’s energetic and intelligent approach to the game should be rewarded. I observed this man in his approach to spring training here in Tucson. You could see purpose on his face.. a twinkle in his eyes. He knew what he was capable of doing.. and where to find that performance in his considerable athletic reservoir.
    It’s too bad he suffered so many injuries. And that he’s viewed, measured as a Coor’s Field phenom. He’s not. Larry Walker also endured 6 years in Montreal. Not a rewarding place to play. In Montreal he stole bases, threw out base runners and hit for power and average.
    At age 36 he hit .289 with 15HRs and 20 2Bs in 300ABs for the Cardinals. His talent.. performance were not a function of the Coor’s altimeter.. in my opinion. Larry Walker is one of the best all-round baseball players of all time. Maybe even the best.. save all the injuries.
    But at 6′-3″ and 235 lbs.. it was the forces of gravity.. inertia and impact that foiled even greater success for Walker. This is essentially an NFL linebacker trying to play 162 games in RF.. and take 500-600 ABs. Gravity.. just wouldn’t let him complete what was one of the best all-round baseball performances ever seen. Maybe the best.

  16. Dinky says:

    Uh, sorry, James, but Walker’s got a long way to go to be the best all-around. I’d pick Mays. Did you mean best all around in right field? I’m going Clemente or Aaron.

  17. Dinky says:

    A potentially controversial thought occurs to me about WAR through the ages. Is it not possible that WAR is dropping today because of integration? How many of the best WAR hitters of all time that we’ve seen here established those numbers because of seasons or careers where they didn’t have to face all of the best players in baseball? Thus, breaking the color barrier is going to increase the skill level needed to make the majors as well as the level of the opposition. That makes it harder to excel by as much as Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, etc.

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  19. John says:

    You missed Sam Crawford

  20. That looks like a statement about the greatness of Ruth, but medians do not work like that.


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