By In Baseball, Hall of Fame

Ugh, Yes, More on McGriff

OK, I apologize in advance. I don’t want to make Fred McGriff my new Jack Morris. For one thing, I think McGriff has a substantial Hall of Fame case, better than Morris’. For another, I shake my head when I think back to how often I wrote about Jack Morris. He was an excellent pitcher, and he didn’t need my yammering about his fine career.

But, well, Brilliant Reader Jason pointed out an article by one of my favorite writers, Tom Verducci, who is leading the charge on McGriff. Tom wrote quite a bit about how McGriff’s getting jobbed here and I admire his enthusiasm for an excellent player. But, no, I can’t help myself: Man oh man does he pull off some statistical jujitsu when making his case. As someone who has committed plenty of statistical crimes and misdemeanors through the years, I feel well qualified to say that.

I want to focus on two charts. In the first, Tom compares McGriff to Eddie Mathews, but leads with a spoiler: The Crime Dog, he says, is the “spitting image” of Mathews.

McGriff: 2480 games, 2,490 hits, 493 homers, 1,550 RBI, .284/.377/.509, .886 OPS

Mathews: 2,391 games, 2,315 hits, 512 homers, 1,453 RBI, .271/.376/.509, .885 OPS

Yep, those split lines do look very, very similar. In fact, McGriff has a higher average and more hits and RBIs and even one more point of OPS. Spitting image, indeed. I guess we can go on to the next thing …

Only, wait a minute. If you look closely, you will notice that chart does not include all the stats. I do realize that for space purposes, you cannot include all every single statistic, I mean with grounded into double plays and sacrifice hits and all those new-fangled stats the kids are talking about.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if there’s anything else.

Runs scored

McGriff: 1,349

Mathews: 1,509

Huh, isn’t that a pip! That doesn’t seem especially close, especially with Mathews playing in 90 fewer games. I wonder how that got missed. But, you know, that could have been an oversight …


McGriff: 134

Mathews: 143

Oh. Yeah. Shame that there wasn’t room for that in there. Oh wait, what’s that?


McGriff: 52.4

Mathews: 96.4

Huh. What do you know about that? How in the world is Eddie Mathews’ WAR FORTY-FOUR wins higher than McGriff’s when they are spitting images of each other? I guess it could be because WAR is a badly flawed statistic.

Or, just spitballing here, it could be that Mathews played in a much lower run-scoring time and in one of the worst hitting ballparks in baseball history. It could be that Mathews played a fair-to-good third base while McGriff was a well below-average first baseman. It could be that Mathews, while no faster than McGriff, was considerably better on the bases.

If I believed in Fred McGriff’s case, I also would make passionate arguments on his behalf. I just don’t think comparing him to Eddie Mathews does him any favors.

The second chart shows that from 1987-93, McGriff hit 228 home runs and that was tops in major league baseball. That’s impressive. I will add on McGriff’s behalf, though it’s not in Tom’s chart, that McGriff also led from 1988-94 and 1989-95. But I think Tom was trying to make a steroid-related point, which is why he came up with the 1993 cutoff line. Let’s see if I’m right.

Yep. The next part of the chart shows that 1994-2004, McGriff hit 265 home runsm and this was just 28th in major league baseball. 

This chart was intended, I think, to make the point I was arguing with Brian Kenny about: That, in Tom’s words, the steroid sluggers “made McGriff look like just another hitter.”

Where to begin. OK, for one thing, Tom cheats on the ranges. The first range, 1987-93, is seven seasons. But the second range, 1994-2004, is 11 seasons. I have absolutely no idea why he does this unless he’s trying to give the illusion that 265 homers in 11 seasons is somehow the equivalent of 228 homers in seven. There’s some inconvenient math that seems to be avoided.

From 1987-93, McGriff averaged about 33 homers a year.

From 1994-2004, McGriff averaged about 24 homers a year.

Put that way: Would you expect someone averaging 24 homers a year to lead all of baseball or come especially close?

A second point is even more obvious: McGriff was in his physical prime from 1987-93. That was from age 23-29. When you break down home run leaders in seven-season increments like this, you will almost ALWAYS come up with a good hitter who happened to be in his prime.


From 1983 to 1989, the home run leader was: Dale Murphy. Not in the Hall of Fame.

From 1984 to 1990, the home run leader was: Darryl Strawberry. Not in the Hall of Fame.

From 1986 to 1992, the home run leader was: Jose Canseco. Not in the Hall of Fame.

From 1990 to 1996, the home run leader was: Cecil Fielder. Not in the Hall of Fame.

The reason those guys are not in the Hall of Fame is because, after their prime, they slowed down considerably or, in some cases, just stopped. McGriff kept hitting homers. But, and this is my point about all this, what Tom and others don’t want to concede is that for all the talk about the PED bombers, the era did not HURT McGriff. It HELPED him. All the elements were there in the 1990s for home run hitters like McGriff to keep piling on numbers. The rules were geared toward home runs. The ballparks. The equipment. And yes, sadly, there was no drug testing — but this too was part of baseball’s hunger for the long ball.

Bill James has written this about Henry Aaron. When you look at Aaron’s raw career statistics, you see staggering, superhuman consistency, especially with the long ball. He hit 44 homers at age 23. He hit 44 homers at age 29. He hit 44 homers at age 32. He hit 44 homers at age 35. He hit 47 homers at age 37. He hit 40 homers at age 39. It’s like Aaron never aged at all.

But he did age. Everyone ages. Even though Aaron WAS the most remarkably consistent player in baseball history some of this statistical uniformity is an obvious illusion. Aaron as a young man played in a terrible hitting ballpark (see Mathews, Eddie). This suppressed his numbers.

But as an older player, he was in the launching pad that was Fulton County Stadium. This inflated his numbers. Fulton County was where Joe Torre hit his career high 36 homers, where Rico Carty hit .366, where Davey Johnson somehow hit 43 homers and so on. Aaron’s 40-plus homer seasons in Fulton County Stadium, while amazing achievements, were not equivalent to the years he had as a young man.

And so it is for Fred McGriff. His 30-homer seasons with Tampa and Chicago toward the end of his career are just not the same as his 30-homer years in the late 1980s. They are a sign of the times.

Tom does make one final point that has some merit: He points out that McGriff was having a superb 1994 season but it was ended abruptly by the strike. He estimates that McGriff lost 16 homers in the process, and that seems fair enough to me. Those 16 would have pushed McGriff over 500, and that would have given him the adulation he deserved.

He’s right. We do love round numbers. I suspect that if McGriff had 500 home runs, as silly as this sounds, he would be in the Hall of Fame right now. See, hitting 500 would have set off a chain reaction. For one thing, he would have done it, presumably, in 2002, which would have been BEFORE Sammy Sosa did it, before Alex Rodriguez did it, before Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield and even Ken Griffey did it.

In other words, it would have been a big deal, and it would have gotten quite a bit of coverage. During that coverage people would have said all sorts of nice things about McGriff and, I suspect, called him a future Hall of Famer. There probably would have been a live cut-in for his 500th homer at-bat. Lots of people would have remembered his Tom Emanski commercials, his cool finish on his swing and other great things.

Once that happened, it would have been a fait accompli. McGriff would have come on the ballot with 500 homers just as the steroid stuff was raging, writers would have viewed him as one of the last clean 500-home run guys, and I do believe he would have been elected quickly and without much fuss.

That’s a very strong argument for McGriff because at 493 homers he’s the same player, he would have been with 500.

But it’s also a bit of a cynical one. McGriff with 500 home runs — especially with so many of them coming in the home run era — would still be a borderline Hall of Fame candidate with the same positives and negatives his case has now.

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60 Responses to Ugh, Yes, More on McGriff

  1. normkat says:

    Not to disagree with anything Joe says here but Mathews had Aaron hitting behind him for much of his career. McGriff…didn’t. The difference in runs scored is probably a function of that to some degree.

    • McGriff wasn’t exactly on loser teams though. His Toronto teams were loaded with good hitters, including MVP George Bell. His Atlanta teams had loads of talent, including Chipper Jones. The difference between that and Aaron is big. But I don’t think it’s as big as the different in context between the 90’s hitters parks and the 50’s caverns.

  2. Alejo says:

    So in the end you concede Verducci is right.

  3. Darrel says:

    Joe, I love you but sometimes the steroid logic you infuse in your writing just baffles me. The HR era as you call it was the HR era for everybody. Everybody’s numbers were inflated. I will concede that point. BUT then a whole slew of other players started pumping unnatural chemical substances into their bodies and cranked the already inflated numbers to never before seen heights that dwarfed Mcgriff’s numbers. The point by Mcgriff’s supporters isn’t about the raw numbers but about the comparitive ones. Even in an inflated HR era if you knock 8-10 HR(to pull a number completely out of the sky) off of Sosa, Mcgwire, Bonds et al on a yearly basis then all of a sudden Mcgriff and his 493 looks significantly more impressive and his HoF case stronger. I personally still think he falls short but to argue that having a passel of cheaters blow by him on the HR leaderboard helps his case seems like a reach.

    • jposnanski says:

      See, I think you are the one infusing steroid logic in here. McGriff has gotten MORE SUPPORT than Sosa and McGwire and not substantially less support than Bonds whose numbers are freakish and dwarfed McGriff as a player long before he became the crazy 2000s slugger. Ask yourself the question: Do you think LESS of McGriff because those other guys hit all those home runs. Or do you think MORE of McGriff because you believe he did it as a clean player (and because we want to make his 493 homers count the same way that it did in less homer-friend eras). I don’t see why this is so hard to follow. If there was no McGwire, no Sosa, no Bonds, no Sheffield, no Palmeiro, no anyone you want to add … I don’t see how McGriff would be getting any more support.

      • Alejo says:

        I do think more of him for not using illegal (as in, illegal according to federal law) drugs to boost his performance. And without all those guys he would have been elected.

        Sure, he is not a clear-cut HoF’er, but the bar would be lower in different circumstances. After all, you yourself said the historical cut for HoF admission was above the 2% of all players.

        I am not a McGriff guy, but if Rice and Dawson are in, why not him?

      • Darrel says:

        I personally think neither more nor less of him but if he was 10 spots higher up the career HR leaderboard or had another year or two in which he led the league in HR or the seven years Verducci mentions was 10 or 11 then I believe he would garner much more support. Whether those things would have happened without the steroid guys is certainly open for debate. I mean his decline may not have allowed him to do those things but there is no way be sure either way and the steroid era ended all doubt.
        Again I don’t believe Mcgriff is HoF worthy. Close but no. Where I struggle is with the leap you’ve made that because some voters refuse to vote for the PED users on the ballot that they are then more inclined to vote for Mcgriff. Maybe you’ve had discussions with voters in which they have indicated that but I don’t think Mcgriff support and Anti-PED votes are linked.

        • Freddie says:

          Darrel. I love the lack of logic you display with arguing that you believe that “a whole slew of other players started pumping unnatural chemical substances into their bodies and cranked the already inflated numbers to never before seen heights that dwarfed McGriff’s numbers” while also arguing that you don’t think that “McGriff support and Anti-PED votes are linked.” If one wants to truly punish a villain, one has to also boost the hero.
          And Joe (Happy Birthday by the way), you are trying to argue logic with people who are obsessed by morality. You’re never going to make a successful logic argument to a moralist. Everyone, and by that I mean every single baseball person on the planet, recognizes that Bonds and Clemens belong in the HOF even if their supposed “juiced” statistics are not included in the calculation. Regardless, neither one has been elected and I doubt either one ever will be (at least by the writers). I’ve said this numerous times, but their exclusion makes these arguments about whether an admitted borderline HOF should get in or not completely irrelevant.

          • Darrel says:

            No one does not, have to boost the hero that is. At least not in this case. And that assumes there is a hero in the first place. Sometimes there are just villains(your word not mine). Mentally yes you can feel better about McGriff the person and player than you might otherwise have but that does not mean you have to check the box beside his name and vote him in to the HoF. Voting yes on one player and no on another does not mean that one vote had anything to do with the other. How does voting for Griffey affect not voting for Mussina for example. Unless it used up the 10th slot on the ballot one has nothing to do with the other. For some voters it might on the steroid front but it does not HAVE to mean that.
            Also the “belong in the HoF” argument is a completely moral stance. It suggests the Hall as someplace that can be objectively earned leaving no room for argument. My world has room for few more grey areas than that.

          • Freddie says:

            Well, it’s kind of hard to argue there are no heroes and only villains when you also state “that a passel of cheaters blew by [McGriff] on the HR leadership board.” I suppose I discounted the argument that since EVERYONE did it, you can’t decide who is a cheater and who is not. But if that is your argument, then I think you only have two choices: The first is to not vote for anyone who played at anytime between 1995 and 2005 or to discount steroids entirely and behave as though they did not exist. (After all, no one got a unfair boost since everyone was doing it). Since you believe that a HOF choice is a moral choice, and talking “unnatural chemical substances to boost performance” violates your standards of morality, I can’t see you taking the second option. That leaves the first. I suppose the first option is logically constant, but vilifying everyone who played the game during that era and turning in a blank ballot does not seem to me a valid moral choice under your morality standard either. Turning in a blank ballot would have been a disservice to Griffey under your moral code.

            I think it’s pretty clear that Griffey was elected because many voters believed him to be a clean hero. After all, Bonds and Clemens have better stats than Griffey and neither one of them made it. Voters did not vote for them because of the “steroid front.” I don’t think that’s arguable.

            I disagree that “belong in the HOF” is a moral position. There are some people that objectively earned being in the HOF with no room for argument. Bonds and Clemens are two of those people. Griffey is as well. Ruth, Mantle, Rose, Mays, and Williams are others (and there are a lot more). Granted, there might be some people that are borderline and one can argue one’s position and be subject to counter argument. But when the home run king, the hit king and the best pitcher in the history of the game are not in the HoF, then you no longer have a HoF anymore. My position is not that there aren’t gray areas, but that everything is not gray. There is a lot of black and white too.

      • I made the point on the previous comments section and you wrote as well that if McGriff would have hit 7 more HRs, he’d be in the HOF. It’s amazing the psychological value of 7 HRs. I never thought about the strike season either…. wow…. he would have easily hit more than 7 HRs. Then all this would be academic, unless we decided to retroactively put him on the list of most undeserving HOFers. That would have been quite a twist. Maybe Marty McFly can go back to 1994 and talk some sense into Donald Fehr. Or break his legs, or something.

        • Not Jennifer Gibbs says:

          “Maybe Marty McFly can go back to 1994 and talk some sense into Donald Fehr.”

          Yes, talk sense to Fehr because it was the players’ who were at fault. After all, everything that the owners claimed would occur without the salary cap that they unilaterally imposed and that lead to the strike occurred—several teams have gone bankrupt and folded since then, no small market team like the Royals or Cardinals has won the World Series, and baseball in generally has lost money and not grown revenues hand-over-fist. Plus, it was the players who had colluded illegally a few years earlier that led to the climate of mistrust and who voluntarily decided not to fund the pension and benefit fund that they were obligated to fund, and the NLRB found that the players were the ones whose actions violated federal law. It’s certainly not like the union was vindicated in going on strike by stopping what the owners were trying to do.

          • Is Donald Fehr your Dad, or something? Geez. It was a throw away line for God’s sake. Maybe the “Marty McFly” reference should have clued you in. I certainly wasn’t trying to re-litigate 1994. Nothing could interest me less.

          • invitro says:

            bellw, you’re the one who picked out Fehr instead of Selig. I think Ms. Gibbs gave a clear and succinct summary of why Fehr is the wrong person who needed some sense. I am no knee-jerk union supporter, but it’s clear to anyone sensible that the owners were flat-out liars in 1993-4. You may not be interested in reviving 1994, but maybe you should be.

          • I should be interested in reviving 1994? No, I shouldn’t. Geez, I didn’t realize that the 1994 strike year was still a hot button issue or I would have framed my joke differently. If it makes you happy, then insert Selig for Fehr. I really don’t care. I just grabbed a name, it could have been either, it wouldn’t change the joke at all.

      • Carl says:


        The reason (and I would like a Verducci type to do this) is that going year-by-year through the HR leaders in each league would show that McGriff is closer to Ralph Kiner (a poor-fielding, slow runner who hit into DPs but led his league in HRs the first 7 years of his career).

        McGriff finished 2nd in 88 to Canseco and led the AL in 1989. In 1992 led the NL in HRs; and in 1994 finished 4th in HRs behind Matt Williams, Bonds, and Bagwell. Remove the steroid cheaters and one would have a 4x HR leader. Would have been the first player to lead the AL in back-to-back seasons since Jim Rice. First player to lead the league in home runs his first two seasons since Ralph Kiner.

        I believe every player who led his league in HRs 4x (other than McGwire) is in the HoF. Certainly not the strongest or most well-rounded candidate for the HoF, but if he was clean and other hitters weren’t, his relative value as a hitter was devalued, the same way hyperinflation makes the value of saved money less valuable.

        • James says:

          There have been no allegations against Williams, no good ones against Bagwell, and it is presumed that Bonds was not doing steroids in 1994. He started a few years later.

          • invitro says:

            Amen. Carl’s claims are laughable.

          • Carl says:

            You are quite right about Bonds, and I retract that. Bagwell I consider reasonable suspicions. Williams actually admitted to purchasing and using hGH and was in the Mitchell report.

      • Dan says:

        I don’t think many people think *more* of McGriff because his numbers were clean. Think more of him in comparison to someone who’s numbers are tainted? Sure. But that’s because those other guy’s numbers were tainted and devalued. I don’t think that translates into a higher opinion of what McGriff did on a scale of “Is this guy a HOF-er or not”. It just gets him to the starting point, in some people’s minds, in the discussion of whether he belongs.

        I also would not be surprised if there was a tendency – perhaps not consciously acknowledged, perhaps even anathema to the person holding it – to discount McGriff’s numbers because others have surpassed them, even though their numbers may be tainted. He used to be part of some very select groups, and now he’s not.

        So yeah, I think if there was no McGwire, no Sosa et al, McGriff might be getting more support.

      • MikeN says:

        I think your logic is the one that is hard to follow.
        McGriff is getting more support than Sosa and McGwire because voters have discounted them due to steroids, as well as Bonds. Why is that evidence of McGriff getting more support because of steroids? Without Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, yes I think McGriff would be getting more support. His primary hall of fame point has been reduced to shreds. It would be like if a bunch of pitchers started using a substance in 1996 that let them pitch longer into games, particularly late night playoff games. Then you would have blogged 50% less with no more Jack Morris columns.

        Will Clark hit 284 home runs. John Olerud 255. Only Jose Canseco is close on your list, and of course he is on the steroid list too.
        Maybe they are as good players, but they are not as likely to get hall of fame votes. (Just like Evans vs Rice)

  4. Mark Daniel says:

    What Verducci is doing could work. I think this is the kind of thing that got Jim Rice in.
    Dick Bresciani, a Red Sox Historian, sent out a data sheet to HoF voters for a few years before Rice got in. The data sheet used to be available online, but I can’t find it anymore. I did find this quote from some online forum, in which a Ken Rosenthal column was quoted:

    “Actually, Rice was dominant for 12 years, from 1975 to ’86. During that period, according to research by Red Sox vice-president/historian Dick Bresciani, Rice led the American League in games, at-bats, runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, total bases and outfield assists.
    More from Bresciani: Rice is one of only nine retired players with at least 382 homers and a career average of .298. The others are Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams — all Hall of Famers.”

    Bresciani was able to take a substantial period of time (12 years) and put Rice as the best in the AL in some big time, HOF-ish stats like HR, hits, RBIs, and then was also, incredibly, able to link Rice to Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Aaron, Musial, Williams…

    Verducci has some more work to do, I think.

  5. Craig M says:

    The problem for a lot of these reporters who started out twenty years ago is not the steroid issue. It’s that their basis for player evaluation, the one they always relied upon, has evaporated. 500 home runs is losing it’s meaning, not necessarily because of PED, but because we now have evaluation tools that show us that hitting 500 home runs as a one dimensional slugging first baseman or outfielder does not necessarily make someone a Hall of Fame quality player. Witness Sammy Sosa. A home run hitting machine, but a marginal Hall of Fame because for much of his career he did little else worthwhile.

    Twenty years ago, Fred McGriff would have waltzed in to the Hall of Fame, while Bagwell would have been life or death to get in. We now know that Bagwell was a significantly better player, and the voters are increasingly reflecting this.

    It’s a crime that so many veteran baseball writers lack your intellectual curiosity, Joe.

    • invitro says:

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with your “twenty years ago” line, but I don’t remember anyone in 1996 thinking that Bagwell was not significantly better than McGriff.

  6. shagster says:

    Fake numbers do not equate to HoF careers. In finance there is a lot of modeling. Good expression, “garbage in, garbage out.” To Joe’s credit, he’s thought more about it than most writers. Slicing and dicing away. Looking for that little diamond of hardness. Holding up each new cutting in the light; ‘NOW, this is a FINE diamond!” Problem is, can’t get that inclusion out.

    Are PED players taking space from others? Hmm. Are they on the ballot? If they weren’t “eligible” would writers think a little harder about the other candidates? Would more arguments be made for/against these folks, previous folks? Would fewer players go on the final ballots? Perhaps. But over couple cycles human nature (and writer compensation structure) is such that one or two “borderline” would get in. Certainly there’d be more written about them individually. For my part, I’d take one of those HoF over 5 – 10 – X fake [fill in your favorite name] numbers.

    Let’s move on to new stones and stop trying to pass off the flawed rocks as diamonds. For new threads, where is the 100?

  7. Bags4HoF says:

    Using numbers, we can (I think) objectively state that Jeff Bagwell was a better player than Fred McGriff. He leads McGriff in literally every individual category imaginable, save for three: HRs (+44), RsBI (+21) and, the kicker: plate appearances (+743). Bagwell has a higher BA, OB%, SLG%, OPS, OPS+, WAR, oWAR; he has a ROY, MVP & GG. And even with 743 fewer PA, Bagwell scored more runs (168), stole more bases (130) and drew more walks (96).

    And yet, despite that avalanche of statistical evidence, we know (courtesy of @NotMrTibbs’ addictive HOF Tracker) that 14 writers voted for McGriff but not Bagwell – that’s roughly 30% of McGriff’s public votes (49).

    I would argue that those votes made exactly the point Joe is making here, that McGriff has absolutely benefited from *not* being linked, real or otherwise, to PEDs. What other explanation could possibly exist for voting McGriff but not Bagwell, short of not being able to count? And we know some of those are indeed PED-related, including Bryant’s, Heyman’s and Miller’s – they’ve all mentioned suspicions, re: Bagwell.

    And while McGriff and his 493 home runs are being held up as some unimpeachable accomplishment, there, in a puddle of slander, sits Bagwell and his decidedly fewer 449 home runs*. Yep – the King of Not Taking Steroids hit more home runs than the King of Probably Took Steroids.

    * Yes, Bagwell had fewer plate appearance. But even if we project Bagwell’s home run pace using McGriff’s total plate appearance, his total comes to 484, which is also, FYI, less than Fred McGriff.

    • Bags4HoF says:

      BTW, one more point – this idea, offered by Verducci, that PEDs were hurting McGriff… As I mentioned, 14 voters (that we know of) voted McGriff and not Bagwell, despite overwhelming statistical evidence that suggests Bagwell was better. And by how many votes did Bagwell miss the Hall of Fame?… (The answer is 15, btw)

      And it’s McGriff getting hurt by the PED era, huh?…

      • Darrel says:

        That again is taking a leap that those voters decided to vote for McGriff BECA– USE he didn’t take steroids. That seems to me to be the argument Joe is making. We can’t make that leap in my opinion. It may be true but it’s just as likely they think McGriff belongs in the Hall independent of Bagwell or any other player.

        • Bags4HoF says:

          I think we can draw a fairly reasonable conclusion that they’re using their vote to send a clear message, re: PEDs. But I’m open to other suggestions why they might be voting for McGriff and not the statistically superior Bagwell.

          • Darrel says:

            I agree as to your point of why they are not voting for Bagwell. The leap to why they are voting for Mcgriff is the one I won’t make.

    • It’s all academic now that Bagwell has crossed 70%. He’s getting in, probably next year. McGriff is not getting in. Just to bottom line it.

  8. Bob says:

    To me, the arguments in large part comes down to how much of increase in power during the “steroid era” comes from PED’s. If one believes it comes 100% from PEDS, then Fred McGriff would have a strong case for HOF as your “replacement level” player would be much lower performing without PEDs, and his career WAR and OPS+ would be much higher. You tack on 1 WAR/year to his 11 years post-1994 (completely arbitrary), and his career WAR comes pretty close to the average HOF first baseman.

    More likely, though, other factors like ones Joe cited played a not so insignificant part. Those things played a part in McGriff’s power numbers, 493 home runs for example. Unfortunately there’s no accurate way of adjusting his numbers for a non-PEDs era. So people argue, his numbers are good enough for a non-PED era, says Tom Verducci, since his career WAR is corrupted by PEDs in his era. When people starts to argue about things that are totally unquantifiable, it’s hard to have a satisfying conclusion.

    So someone needs to quantifying the relative causes of the last offensive era in baseball. x% from ballparks, x% from smaller strike zone, x% from harder baseball, x% from increased weight training (which may be tied to PEDs), x% from PEDs, etc. Then we can have OPS+-PED, OPS+ neutralized for PEDs, to compare clean versus dirty players (joking).

    • Marc Schneiderr says:

      Exactly and, in fact McGriff’s numbers after 1994 aren’t, to me, HOF caliber, even in a pre-PED era (if you assume that PEDs were the only factor in increased home runs). He declined substantially after 1994 (as a Braves fan, I watched the decline). The decline had nothing to do with what other players were taking and I think his home run numbers (which were his primary strength) would not have been impressive even in most of the pre-PED years (although there were some years when 32 was good enough to lead the league). I think Joe is correct; McGriff will benefit from the perception that the only thing that hurt his numbers was his being clean.

  9. Jason says:

    People like Verducci, whether they would admit it to themselves or not, are not only disqualifying PED users, but giving a statistical bump to supposed clean players. If Caminiti was right, and 50% of players were juicing, then (assuming a boost in competition level) the replacement level would possibly be a significantly higher level. Therefore, by their logic, the steroid era deflated the clean players’ numbers compared to where they should have been and they deserve a clean player WAR bump when calculating a HOF vote. I may disagree with that choice and believe the boost being given is ridiculously arbitrary, but I understand the logic.

    Disclaimer: I could be wrong about how a replacement player is calculated. I am not as familiar with how WAR is exactly calculated.

  10. DjangoZ says:

    Correct me if I missed someone, but there is noone above McGriff on the all-time HR list who is NOT in the hall of fame, except players from the last 20 years.

    And you’d have to go down 12 spots to Dave Kingman at 442 HRs before you find another player not in the HOF who did not play in the last 20 years. And, obviously, McGriff was much better than Kingman.

    So, I think the McGriff isn’t in the HOF partly because of the explosion of HRs from PEDs. That’s a pretty reasonable statement to make.

  11. invitro says:

    I calculate that McGriff missed 14 HR’s in 1994, not 16. But anyway… if you give McGriff that extra credit, it seems you must also give Mathews extra credit for having to play in 154-game seasons his first ten years. I calculate that Ed “lost” 18 HR’s that way. (Aside: bb-ref says Mathews played 157 games in 1953. The Braves played the usual 154 that year, so I’m not sure what’s going on here.)

  12. Lets Go Mets says:

    I agree with the article. However, if McGriff was younger and his prime took place in the heart of the steroid era, with all of the advantages to both users and non-users, would his counting stats be higher? His prime years would look so much better. Although, his declining years would take place after the steroid era and he wouldn’t be able to pad his stats. I don’t know which would benefit his HOF case more: Having his declining years numbers boosted by the steroid era or if he had been born a few years later and had his prime years numbers boosted.

  13. 86Mets says:

    WAR is a mostly useless stat, which is probably why Verducci doesn’t bother with it. Unless, of course, you believe – as (baseball-reference) WAR states: Lou Whitaker was better than Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter, and Tony Gwynn. Or that Dwight Evans was superior to names like Dawson, Winfield, McCovey, and Stargell.

    Or that Kevin Brown had a better career than Feller, Koufax, and Whitey Ford.

    If that kind of logic floats your boat, by all means go with it.

    • What WAR is saying, in these comparisons, is that Lou Whitaker was a better overall “value”, when you take into account their era, the position they play, their offense, their defense, baserunning and the parks they played in. Speaking purely about offense, anyone who plays fantasy baseball knows what a difference maker it is to get someone who plays second base to be a big contributor the team makes a huge difference. There might only be one or two good offensive second basemen and then a huge gap. You can expect to have a big advantage every week. It’s less important to pickup the best first baseman, because a lot of them are good offensive players and the gap between players usually is not as large.

      So, because of the positional adjustment, you can’t compare Frank Thomas’s WAR directly to Lou Whitaker. But you can see where Whitaker picked up a lot of value from his defense at a key position, where Thomas lost value.

  14. Darrel says:

    You can quote me all you want but that doesn’t mean you are representing my position even remotely accurately. Nowhere have I ever made a case for McGriff as a HoF let alone a Hero. Bystander would be more accurate. I should probably quote you about arguing logic with a moralist. A disregard of or ignorance to the cheating, and lets make no mistake it was cheating or Bonds and Clemens would have long ago admitted to what substances they ingested, is as moral a stance as demanding they go the way of Pete Rose.
    As for this impression you have that I think these guys should be drawn and quartered that is also not true. I just think they embarrassed themselves and the game and should not receive the highest honour the game can award as a result.
    Finally the HoF simply is not now nor has it ever been an objective enterprise. If it were then why don’t we just go ahead and set a WAR standard for each position and do away with the voting altogether. The HoF board says there is more to it than statistics alone. The voters would appear to agree.

  15. ben says:

    Why would anyone assume Fred McGriff wasn’t on PEDs? Because he didn’t “look” like a steroid user? Neither did Andy Pettitte, Felix Heredia, et al.

  16. Chris says:

    Tommy has no credibility. The anti-Bonds articles just show a petty and childish mind.

  17. Shad says:

    Am I the only one who is a little depressed by Verducci’s comparison? The fact that someone even thought of comparing McGriff to Mathews just demonstrates how underrated Eddie Mathews is.

    • invitro says:

      Nah, just how much of a doofus Verducci is.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Well, Mathews is underrated to some extent, largely, I think, because his best years (in terms of counting stats at least) occurred in the 1950s. His numbers went down, like most players, in the early 1960s and he was mostly done by the mid-sixties. Aaron, on the other hand, was able to largely maintain his numbers (except for 1968). Mathews was obviously not as good as Aaron and he mostly played in a small market (as did Aaron but he got a boost, first, from playing the Mets in the 1969 NLDS and then, obviously, from catching Ruth). The Braves were just not a terribly relevant team for a long time and that hurt Mathews.

  18. Armour T. Unrue says:

    What is “spitting image”? Is that something like “spit ‘n’ image”?

  19. ftghb says:

    One thing I think Verducci (and some people here) are completely mistaken about is when to draw the line for the “steroid era”. For as many accounts that steroid use was already pervasive in the 80’s, it would be disingenious to arbitrarily draw the line at 1994 or whenever verducci draws the line. As joe has pointed out, there were many other factors that led to the rise in offense during the era.

  20. I also thought that McGriff/Matthews compassion was crazy (in fact, I’d go as far as dishonest.) Since WAR is based on comparisons with other players, you could argue honestly that PEDs devalued offensive performance and as a result Matthews’s lead in OWAR is somewhat inflated, but 94 to 56 is still conclusive. McGriff’s best years in the supposedly pre-steroid era are 5s and 6s, where Matthews has seven years in the 7s and 8s. And Matthews wins in DWAR 6 to -18. It’s not close.

  21. denopac says:

    bb-ref says Mathews played 157 games in 1953. The Braves played the usual 154 that year, so I’m not sure what’s going on here.

    The Braves played three tied games that year, which in those days were replayed in their entirety. The individual stats from the ties still counted though.

  22. MikeN says:

    What would McGriff’s WAR and other comparison stats be like without steroids?
    It may be that some of the noncheaters are being robbed a second time.

  23. Brian Jesson says:

    I’m not a saber guy, just a long time baseball fan… but….
    This is very misleading – in fact, it uses the same technique of picking very specific stats (or even more, time ranges) to make the point.
    First of all, 1987 wasn’t a full season.
    So take ’88-94 – 242 HR
    95-02 – 213 (and yes, one more year there – but seven to eight is pretty equal, and yes, players age.

    Also, you choose 93 as a cutoff – but there’s a very good reason to use 95 – before 95, there is only one year in which the HR leader hit 50 plus HR’s. But for the rest of McGriff’s career, those eight years, a player hit 50 or more EVERY SINGLE YEAR. So while McGriff aged some but remained incredibly consistent, while his HR totals suffered very little, his difference between his total and the year’s leader became huge. Thus, hit WAR suffered tremendously.
    36.9 for the first seven
    19.2 for the next eight.

    Lastly, and this might be my own annoyance, but in the previous post, Joe compares McGriff to Delgado – but Delgado played entirely after 1995. In Delgado’s entire career, only three times did the HR leader hit less than 50 HR’s. And, yet, McGriff still led in career HR’s.

    That McGriff overlapped with the steroid era – that HALF his career was overwhelmed by a suddenly increasing offense, absolutely hurt his WAR and his HOF chances.

    • gyoung says:

      88-94 is the best timeframe to use, because that was the period where McGriff hit over 30 HR for seven straight seasons. At the time, it was considered a monumental accomplishment because only 8 other players in history had done the same — Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Matthews, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ralph Kiner, and Hank Aaron.

      Made this point on the first thread, but it bears repeating and is why Verducci should be using the 88-94 timeframe for his argument. McGriff didn’t just lead MLB in HR in that period, he met a standard only 8 other power hitters before him had ever achieved.

      Now there’s a list on Wikipedia of 17 players with 8 straight 30+ HR seasons, and McGriff and Kiner aren’t even on it. However, TEN players whose streaks started after the 1994 season are on that list.

  24. […] Joe Posnanski, another preeminent writer but not a McGriff supporter, responded with this: […]

  25. […] aging curve or the victim of the steroid era. One makes a lot more sense to me than the other. Joe Posnanski, as he always does, writes this better than I could. In short, Verducci’s arguments are […]

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