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The BBWAA Project: Shortstop

Here is a little introduction to The BBWAA Project, if you are interested.

And here is the First Base roundup and Second Base roundup.

Now, we’re talking shortstops.


Eleven shortstops have been voted in by the BBWAA, five of those on the first ballot (Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Honus Wagner, Robin Yount).

Median career value: 68.5 WAR (High: Wagner 126.2; Low: Rabbit Maranville 39.4)
25th percentile career value: 60.5 WAR.

Median peak value: 41.8 WAR (High: Wagner 64.1; Low: Maranville 28.8)
25th percentile peak value: 41.1 WAR

Here are the BBWAA Hall of Famers as ranked by fans on Baseball Reference’s EloRater:

No. 3: Honus Wagner
No. 17: Cal Ripken
No. 53: Robin Yount
No. 59: Ernie Banks
No. 72: Luke Appling
No. 82: Joe Cronin
No. 87: Barry Larkin
No. 93: Ozzie Smith
No. 144: Lou Boudreau
No. 166: Luis Aparicio
No. 356: Rabbit Maranville

Well, yes, Maranville is kind of an outlier. He was a little guy, good fielder, dreadful hitter who everybody loved. Put it this way — Maranville finished third in the MVP balloting in 1913 when he hit .247 and slugged .308 (he finished ahead of, among others, Christy Mathewson). The next year, he hit .246, but his slugging jumped up to .326 and so he finished second in the MVP balloting (ahead of the baseball pitching Bill James, who not only went 26-7 with a 1.90 ERA in 332 innings but also hit for a higher average than Maranville).

Over the years, Maranville got MVP votes when he hit .240, .235 and .218. That’s how much the Baseball Writers loved the guy. Well, he was by all accounts a defensive marvel at shortstop and he was also a beloved guy, a practical joker, a New York character running a sandlot program in Queens after he retired. He also — and this is no coincidence — died just months before the 1954 election. His candidacy was heading toward election anyway, but the emotion of his death pushed him well above the 75%. Hey, this stuff does play a part in the voting too.

The Veterans Committee, meanwhile, has elected eight shortstops to the Hall, and it’s a mixed bag. The best of the Veterans Committee inductees is Arky Vaughan, who I think is probably the biggest oversight in BBWAA voting history. Vaughan had a very short career — he “retired” to his ranch in 1943 at the age of 31 despite leading the league in runs scored … there were reports he was just sick of playing for Leo Durocher. He returned for part time duty after World War II ended, but he only got 297 plate appearances. Even so, he hit .318/.406/453 for his career, posted a 70.5 WAR career and 48.9 WAR peak — above the median BBWAA standard even now after Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith and Robin Young. The writer Bill James in 2001 called Vaughan the second best shortstop in baseball history behind Honus Wagner. The EloRater fans have ranked him the 30th best every day player in baseball history. The BBWAA just whiffed on him.

The Veterans Committee voted in 19th-century star George Davis (No. 66) and Pee Wee Reese (No. 85) — both great players who played big roles in baseball history and are in line with the BBWAA general standards.

But the Veterans voted in: Joe Tinker (No. 258), Phil Rizzuto (No. 245); Travis Jackson (No. 313); Dave Bancroft (No. 216), Joe Sewell (No. 148) and Bobby Wallace (No. 122) … all either borderline or dubious choices depending on your own Hall of Fame standards.

Even with that, the lowest ranked shortstop by EloRater in the Hall of Fame is the BBWAA’s Rabbit Maranville.

This year’s candidate:

Alan Trammell

Career: 67.1 WAR (minus 1.4 against median)
Peak: 43.3 WAR (plus 1.5)
Ranking: No. 58

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again … when you compare Alan Trammell to the Hall of Fame shortstops — REALLY compare him, and don’t just fall back on the “I remember Trammell” recollections — you realize the guy doesn’t just have a Hall of Fame case but plainly belongs in the Hall of Fame. True, he might not strike your gut as a Hall of Famer. Well, your gut hasn’t done the comparisons.

No, I shouldn’t say that about your gut — maybe your gut is doing spreadsheets right now. Trammell, by career value and peak value, was basically Barry Larkin who was basically Luke Appling. They did it in very different ways, and people don’t think of Trammell that way. I’d say he fails the gut test for the same reason Tim Raines fails the gut test — he happened to play in an era where his talents were overshadowed — Raines was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson, and Trammell was double teamed, his excellent offense overshadowed by Cal Ripken and his excellent defense overshadowed by Ozzie Smith.

Here’s the thing — and it’s easy to overlook this: The list of shortstops in baseball history who could hit, flash some power, run and field at a high level is very, very short. Heck, before Trammell few shortstops could hit … at all. Luis Aparicio is in the Hall of Fame; he really couldn’t hit. Maranville obviously couldn’t hit. Ozzie Smith, for much of his amazing career, couldn’t hit. Trammell could hit.

Then, there’s Ernie Banks, who could REALLY hit but moved to first base halfway through his career. And there’s Arky Vaughan, who couldn’t get any Hall of Fame support from the BBWAA in part, at least, because they viewed him as a defensive liability. Trammell could field.

Yes, he was a good hitter, had some power, stole some bases, he was a very good fielder, he should have won the MVP award in 1987 and he could have won the MVP award in 1984 if people had paid him closer attention,

It’s really this simple: Trammell’s career production and excellent peak put him right in line with the BBWAA Hall of Fame standards. So far, though, he has just not gotten the support, and he probably won’t … I think he will be seen as a miss by the BBWAA.

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26 Responses to The BBWAA Project: Shortstop

  1. Joe, how much do you think the influx of great hitting SS’s that entered baseball right after his retirement (ARod/Jeter/Nomar/Tejada…) influenced perception of him? It seems his skill set became antiquated and less valuable almost immediately. This combined with the fact that he was never truly a “star” really hurt his public perception.

    • JRoth says:

      I think this is exactly it. You saw it on the other side, where young SS who weren’t historical aberrations were dismissed – suddenly a slick defender who could hit a little was viewed as a hole in the lineup, as opposed to a prototypical SS. Jack Wilson of the Pirates embodied that – until UZR confirmed that his impressive-looking glove truly was impressive, most sabremetric Pirates fans disliked the guy because he didn’t hit like Jeter.

      I think you actually saw a similar thing in the aftermath of Johnny Bench (and you could add Carter): in the shadow of mold-breaking players, exemplary players of the old mold get unfairly dismissed.

      Heck, you know part of why Vaughn didn’t get voted in? Because he was so much worse than his predecessor. Who was, of course, Wagner. People who’d grown up on the Flying Dutchman simply weren’t impressed by Vaughn.

    • Rob Smith says:

      JRoth: good comments. I didn’t realize Vaughn followed Wagner. Trying to follow a legend is pretty impossible. I wonder if the lack of respect factor was partially responsible for his leaving at age 31. Interesting. Jack Wilson played for the Braves last year and he is a very good fielder. Fun to watch, even. Unfortunately he can’t hit anymore, so he’s no more than a part time player at this point. Also, I think you can add Fisk to the list of mold breaking catchers. As for catchers, one of the players that got lost was Bill Freehan. As any Strat O Matic fan knows, he was the best catcher not named Bench in the 60s…. and certainly the best in the AL (11 All Star selections, plus a 2nd and a 3rd place MVP vote). Very good offense, great defense in a very low offensive era. He got .5% of the vote in his only appearance. Tough crowd those writers.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Hmmmm… one of my comments disappeared. Oh well, I was just basically saying that it’s ironic that the list of SS’s (above) that made Trammell look weak by comparison were almost all steroid users. (Tejada, ARod, Nomar). The reality is that shortstops without PEDs don’t win Gold Gloves, run like the wind and lead the league in HRs. Trammell is definitely begging for another look, especially when the writers are busy barring steroid users (even suspected users) from the HOF. Clean players need to be reevaluated against other clean players.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      Maybe Trammell’s skills seemed antiquated once the steroid era rolled around, but Trammell himself was part of a pool of SS’s who made the skills of their predecessors seem antiquated also – Larry Bowa, Mark Belanger, Rick Burleson, Bucky Dent, Dave Concepcion, Bill Russell, Bert Campaneris, etc.

    • Dinky says:

      I think Trammell was better than any of those others. The Hall rewards specialists, not generalists. Get 3,000 hits and 300 walks, you’re a hitter, but get 2,500 hits and 1,000 walks, not good enough. Get 500 homers and 200 doubles, a slugger, but 300 homers and 500 doubles, not so much. To get in the HOF you have to be the best at one thing other than helping your team win by being above average to very very good at all things. It’s also worth noting that Trammell has a postseason OPS of .992. But he had too many walks, not enough hits. Some GG, but not enough to cement his reputation as a great fielder. Good speed, not great speed. Only thing he led the league in was sacrifices. Too many guys don’t take their HOF vote seriously enough to do the research. I’m sure all those walks instead of singles hurt guys like Dewey and Grich as well, and they both walked a lot more than Trammell.

  2. Rob Smith says:

    I want to add to my comment above. I think yet another reason to bar steroid users from the HOF is the fact that clean players will then be judged against “enhanced” numbers as the steroid era fades into the past and as new writers without direct recollection of the era start to become voters. I think Trammell is one of those players that’s being negatively impacted, especially when he’s compared against contemporaries who were users. Steroids make a huge difference in the stats…. and that’s what players are judged against when making their HOF case.

  3. Jawed Ali says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Scott says:

    I think the problem with Trammel now is that while he could hit, he hit like Lee Smith saved games: great until the day he retired, but so-so compared to the top active guys 5 years later. So Trammel gets no cred for hitting, and people don’t seem to realize that while his defense wasn’t too flashy next to Ozzy Smith in the 80’s, he was a much better defender than great hitting shortstops like A-Rod, Jeter, and Cal Ripken Jr., all of whom get a pass on the D to one extent or another. So he is being punished for not being a good enough defender even when he is a better defender than the guys he is compared to, and punished for not being enough of a hitter even though he was a better all around player than the great hitters he is compared to. He can’t win this argument, I think, he will get in through the veterans committee or not at all, just like Lou Whitaker, and that’s a real shame.

  5. nscadu 9 says:

    Trammell is a better defender than A-Rod and Jeter, but Ripken despite not being flashy either was an excellent defender. Never was a big Trammell supporter, nor was I a Barry Larkin guy, but Trammell does match up well. Don’t think he’s in their with Ripken or the upper echelon, but good point about him being a step above the typical SS mold of the time.

  6. Joe,

    There were 3 put in by Franklin Adams. Tinker, Evers, and Chance. The committees were just reciting to get them in.


  7. Adam says:

    I think the biggest thing holding Trammell back is the mindset (right or wrong) that Trammell wasn’t a GREAT player while he was playing. I was more of an NL fan in the 70s and 80s but I don’t recall much talk if any about Trammell being a future Hall of Famer or every a star. He was seen as a very good player.

    Even looking at his raw stats now, they’re fairly pedestrian. 285 career avg, 415 SLG, 767 OPS. Even in his peak years from 83 to 88, he was a .310 hitter with a 460 SLG and 850 OPS (excluding his 87 MVP season). And really he wasn’t a great hitter or even a good hitter (aside from his peak). He was a slightly above average hitter (110 OPS+). He only got serious consideration for MVP in one season.

    It’s only when you the whole package together and realize he’s an above average hitter playing a premium defense position and playing it well do you realize Trammell was a great hitting SS which makes him a star and terribly under appreciated during his career.

    A similar guy today is Adrian Beltre. Except for those spending too much time staring at career WAR leaders (myself included) no one talks about Beltre as a Hall of Fame player. But he’s borderline today and only 34. I think we’ll be having the same conversation about him in 15 years.

    • Adam says:

      Amazing Jeter-Trammell note. Depending whose WAR you use they’re close or very for their careers. However Jeter is 30 Wins (not runs) better as a hitter than Trammell while Trammell is 30 Wins better as a fielder. Which makes Jeter a slam dunk Hall of Famer, while Trammell is on the outside.

    • David in NYC says:

      You also have to factor in Jeter’s impending sainthood. See Joe’s definition of “jeterate” for a better understanding of that (click the “JoeWords” link at the top of the page).

      Not only does St. Derek have his five rings, but he also fights crime during the off-season (some say he’s Batman), helps little old ladies across the street, works with Smokey the Bear to prevent forest fires, and jumps tall buildings in a single bound as part of his training regimen.

      Think I’m kidding? In a fan poll in 2011, St. Derek tied Babe Ruth as the greatest Yankee of all time. Not only is that absurd on its face (Ruth is the greatest player, period), but it also meant that Jeter finished ahead of some guys named Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle.

  8. Will H. says:

    Looking forward, I’m guessing that catchers are under-appreciated. I’m thinking this as Posada approaches candidacy in a few years, as he is out versus who is currently in but, if the C position were given equivalent representation by BBWAA as other positions there would be a real argument for having him in.

  9. I suspect Trammell is also unfairly brought down by his tenure managing the Tigers after his career was over, including the 119 loss season. Mind you, Casey Stengel had no difficulty being voted in after the 120 loss season, but that was a different vote in a different era. Trammell was historically good in an era of historically good shortstops.

  10. Brian says:

    As someone who grew up in Michigan, this whole “wasn’t a star/didn’t feel like a Hall of Famer” argument is mind boggling, because to 8 year old me Alan Trammell was the best player in the world.

    Oh well.

  11. Interesting that Trammell rates so close to the SS median in Wins Above Replacement. And yet he has only a few Wins more than Biggio, who falls far short of the 2B median.

    My gut, which has never done a spreadsheet in its life, thinks of third base (5) as the next position in the list after second base (4), and shortstop (6) as the position after that. It’s interesting to see how other people list them. I’d guess my gut is probably in the minority.

  12. From 1931 through 1948, Rabbit Maranville had played more career games at shortstop (2153) than anyone else. When you’ve played the most games at a position, particularly a demanding one, that will not only make you better known but also raise you in the esteem of some voters.

    • kkurt23 says:

      That may be true, but those accomplishments seem to be recognized by the veterans committee rather than the BBWAA. Also, it doesn’t explain away that he got 2nd in the MVP voting while batting .246.

  13. andrew_o_ says:

    Joe with this new era of power hitting shortstops, what do you think are the chances of Omar Vizquel to get in the Hall of Fame?

    • Ian R. says:

      I think more than anyone else, Omar Vizquel is doing his best to kill Omar Vizquel’s Hall chances. He’s been a sub-replacement player the last two seasons while ensuring that by the time he hits the ballot, his glory days in Cleveland will be way in the rear-view mirror.

      His candidacy, actually, strikes me as a lot like Maranville’s. Both guys played a long time, both were subpar hitters for their eras (in fact, they have matching 82 OPS+ marks) and both were renowned for their defensive work. I think Vizquel willed his way into being a borderline Hall of Famer by sheer longevity, but I think he’ll have to wait a long time to get in if he makes it at all.

  14. Nathan Mize says:

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