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For whatever reason, I’ve never gotten into Hall of Fame debates… but I think that will change as more and more players that I grew up watching become eligible. Lately, my interest in Hall of Fame stuff has been peaked by Adam Darowski‘s wWAR ranking system. Basically, it awards players with extra credit for seasons in which they accumulated WAR greater than 3 (termed Wins Above Excellence – WAE) and WAR greater than 6 (termed Wins Above MVP – WAM). You can read Adam’s full description here, but he explains:

We’ll count WAR above 3.0 twice and WAR above 6.0 three times. Let’s call it Weighted WAR (wWAR). The formula is simply WAR+WAE+WAM.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at the Saint Louis Cardinals’ career leaders in wWAR to see how they rank against each other and those already enshrined in Cooperstown. To start, I used Baseball-Reference’s Play Index to generate a list of career leaders in WAR. Since this only displayed each player’s WAR accumulated while playing for the Cardinals, I then calculated their wWAR from player pages and included their entire careers. You’ll notice I added a few players of personal interest (McGwire, Walker, and McGee). After the graph, I’ll comment on my favorite observations.

  • My favorite observation? Ray Lankford (49.4 wWAR) ranks favorably to Lou Brock (47.8 wWAR). Fun fact: Lankford’s career wOBA is twenty points better than Brock’s (.366 to .346). Brock lost quite a bit of value from poor defense (minus ~4 wins) and harsher position adjustment. Amazingly, even without the wWAR system, Lankford is within one WAR of Brock. However, FanGraphs does not agree with this assessment as it has Lankford’s career WAR being roughly ten wins worse than Brock’s. With that said, I think it’s safe to conclude that Lankford is pretty under-appreciated while Brock is probably overrated.
  • The whole “Retire 51″ campaign was probably a little silly, wasn’t it? McGee will always be a fan favorite, but he’s clearly one of the weaker players in the graph above.
  • Scott Rolen’s career 98.6 wWAR puts him on par with Brooks Robinson. If he retired today, his wWAR would be good for sixth best 3B in the HOF. If healthy (always a big “if” with Rolen), his past three seasons of 3+ WAR indicate that he should easily pass Robinson in 2011.
  • Jim Edmonds’ candidacy for the HOF is eagerly anticipated around these parts. The wWAR system only fortifies an argument for his induction. Out of the seventeen center-fielders currently enshrined in Cooperstown, Edmonds would rank eighth in this system (short of Bill Hamilton by one-tenth of a point). I’ll leave it at that. Rumor has it that Mr. Darowski will be gracing us with a guest post on this very topic. Be sure to check back often. You won’t want to miss that.
  • Of the thirteen backstops already in the HOF, Ted Simmons would rank 7th. Refer to our previous roundtable for more on Simmons.
  • No, Albert Pujols isn’t “The Man” just yet, but he’s well on his way, already surpassing 150 wWAR (161.6 to be exact) in just his tenth season. Stan accumulated 207.5 wWAR in twenty-two seasons. As you can see, Pujols’ WAE is more than the WAR total of many of Saint Louis’ all-time greats. He already has more WAM (24) than Stan (20.8). Wow. He’s going to make a lot of money.

What did I miss? Anything else worth mentioning?

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Erik: The Veteran’s Committee has some interesting choices to make this winter with 12 people on their ballot, including former Cardinal great Ted Simmons. The backstop with the caveman hair of amazing-ness never got the credit he deserved, having played his career in the shadow of Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter.  Simmons also played for some forgettable Cardinals teams and suffered a bum wrap for his defense, which I don’t think is as horrible as critics make out.

I’ve covered Simba in more depth in an earlier post. Then I thought he wasn’t quite up to snuff, but I’ve softened my stance. Why? Simmons ranks 9th among catchers on Baseball Reference‘s WAR leader board. The 8 players ahead of him: Bench, Pudge Rodriguez, Fisk, Gary Carter, Yogi, Piazza, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane, all Hall of Famers or very likely future Hall of Famers. A total of six 6 Hall of Fame catchers are below Simmons. My objection to Simmons making the Hall might be that out of the 21 seasons he played, only 6 of them were seasons he posted 4 WAR or higher. He also never really had an MVP caliber-season, although he was excellent in ’77-’78. ( around 6 WAR per season)

To close, he’s no slam dunk, but because Simmons was a one of the best offensive catchers ever to play the game, I say “aye” for induction, not that it matters. What say you fellas?

Andy: I won’t pretend to be an expert on Hall of Fame credentials and who is deserving of entry, but type, “catcher hall of fame standards,” into Google and the first result is an article about Ted Simmons’ worthiness.  Maybe it’s because I sought out sabermetric analysis, but it seems just as hard to argue against Ted Simmons’ credentials than deny him HOF enshrinement.  Some argue that he spent too much time playing DH/1B to be considered a full-time catcher, but his numbers were slipping when he occupied the DH spot in the latter years of his career.  It’s not as if he was just padding his statistics during those years.  In fact, Simmons actually lost 26.8 batting RAR from 1984-1988.  Offensively, Simmons posted a career wOBA (.346) right in line with Fisk (.354) and Carter (.341).  Although Carter and Fisk’s defense are universally regarded as better than Simmons, I feel uncomfortable denying him entry into the HOF based on defensive metrics that are even more tenuous for catchers than other defenders.  Thinking more like the voters, Simmons’ traditional stats even seem HOF worthy.  Judged against his peers (Berra, Fisk, Carter, and Bench), Simmons tied Berra for the highest AVG (.285) and only trailed Berra in RBI’s.  I see how voters would be on the fence about his induction, but he certainly deserves more consideration than he’s received to date.  If I had to go one way or another, I’d vote yes.

Steve: Like Andy, I’m not a Hall expert, but I do have access to Baseball Reference just like my two colleagues.  As Erik mentioned, Simmons sits behind only Hall of Famers on the career totals for catcher rWAR.  I think this graphic portrays the situation rather well

The graph shows the WAR totals (ranked best season to worst season) of the players 2 above and 2 below Simmons on the career catcher rWAR list.  As mentioned, Dickey and Cochrane are in the HOF, as is Hartnett.  It seems to me that Simmons is in a dead heat with those that are in the Hall (I’d say he’s better than Hartnett, with the other two questionable).  My personal opinion is that none of these guys probably should be in the hall, but that’s an argument for a different day.  Given that 3 of the 5 are though, and have set the standard for inclusion, I have to vote yes on Simmons as well.

Cro-Magnon, switch-hitting catcher. Oog.

When you bring up the subject of Ted Simmons’ Hall of Fame worthiness, the consensus among fans I get is a resounding “uh, I’m not sure. I guess he’s worthy.” It’s not like anyone is really incensed that he’s not in. He has some nifty baseball card numbers. Simba has more hits (2,472) and doubles (483) than any catcher in the Hall of Fame, and he’s second to Johnny Bench in RBI (1,389).  He also was an 8-time All-Star, hit over .300 seven different times in his career, and slugged over .500 four times in a row.

Simmons’ OPS+ of 117 is equal to Carlton Fisk’s and slightly higher than Gary Carter’s (115). Because of his hitting accomplishments, Simmons’ Hall of Fame Monitor score is 124. That ranks him 109th overall, slightly ahead of Andre Dawson and even Carlton Fisk. That doesn’t mean he’s the 109th best baseball player that ever lived; it’s just a predictive tool that says Simmons should have been a near lock for the Hall based on the voter’s tendencies. You know the story – Simmons instead got bounced off the ballot in his first year of eligibility, getting just 3.7% of the vote. How lame of the BBWAA for not living up to their own goofy, little predilections. Looking back, Simmons got overlooked for a few reasons, most of which you’ve heard by now -

  • Simmons played in a Golden Age of catchers – Bench, Fisk, Carter and even Munson.
  • Simmons played on some forgettable Cardinal teams.
  • Simmons’ defense rated somewhere between iffy to crummy. He did allow a high amount of passed balls, and his CS% is lower than the average catcher in his time.

Statistically minded fans have taken worthwhile looks at Simmons’ Hall of Fame case in times past, but now we have The Uber-Stat, WAR. You know I am going to go there, but first, let’s look at the defensive part of Simmons’ WAR and see if Simmons was a butcher behind the plate.

Innings Catch Catch/1000
I-Rod 19159.1 155 8.1
Bench 14488.1 97 6.7
Carter 17369 106 6.1
Yogi 7620.2 33 4.3
Freehan 13437 26 1.9
Fisk 18511.2 30 1.6
Simba 15092.1 -10 -0.7
Piazza 13555 -61 -4.5

This is only catchers who have their innings count available on Baseball-Reference.com.  This list includes some surefire Hall of Fame catchers (Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez), and Bill Freehan, who is in the Hall of Merit. As it turns out, at least according to this measure, Simmons’ defense is hardly awful, just a little below average. Simmons had two good years where he was a +6 defender. 1975 was his worst year, in which he posted a minus 10.

“Catch” is defined as:

Catcher ratings based on stolen bases allowed, caught stealing, errors, wild pitches, passed balls, and pick-offs. Catchers are compared to the yearly league average, with the averages splits catching left-handed and right-handed pitchers.

You can read more on Sean Smith’s catching metric here.

Now let’s look at the bigger picture, their various WAR figures:

Name WAR WAR/600 5-Y WAE
Bench 71.2 5 31.9 31.3
Fisk 67.5 4.1 22.8 17.8
Carter 66.2 4.5 31.6 28.2
Berra 61.6 4.5 27.7 19.2
Dickey 54.3 4.6 28.4 14.2
Ewing 51.8 5.4 22.6 13.8
Cochrane 51.2 5 27.3 17.9
Simmons 50.8 3.2 24.3 14.4
Hartnett 50.2 4.2 18.6 8.3
Bresnahan 41.5 4.7 22.3 10.2
Lombardi 39 3.7 17.6 4
Campanella 36.3 4.5 27 13.5
Ferrell 22.9 2 12.1 0
Schalk 22.7 2.2 13.7 0.4
Average 49 4.2 23.3 13.8
Glossary: WAR is career wins above replacement. WAR/600 is WAR per 600 plate appearances, or WAR per season. 5-Y is their five-year peak, which are consecutive. WAE is Wins Above Excellence. It’s how many wins a player has above three in a season, though his season total can never be below zero. We’re using this to give credit for great seasons while disregarding any season where a player is merely average or below. It doesn’t add for hinder a player’s case for greatness and doesn’t handicap a player for his decline.

The Veterans Committee and their favorite pets. Sigh.  Without the two Hall of the Average Catchers, the averages go up to 53.7, 4.6, 25.2 and 16.2.  Quick thoughts:

  • Simmons is slightly below average the Hall of Fame average for career WAR, and the bar will only go up when Piazza (59.1) and I-Rod (66.6) eventually find their way in.
  • Simmons per season average is completely unimpressive, as he played a few too many years past his expiration date. The fact that Simba was the Brewers’ designated non-hitter in 1984, a season in which he hit like Jason LaRue, didn’t help.
  • The “Greatness” stats don’t really set him apart. Sure, he’s better than the Bresnahans of the world, but does that prove Simmons was a Hall of Fame player? It’s iffy.  Simmons was more of your “very good” type of player whose WAR total is a bit enhanced by him having a career that spanned three decades.

Finally, a WAR graph.

No, he didn’t deserve to get bounced off the ballot so quickly. Yes, he’s better than a handful of Hall of Fame catchers, but there’s just not any one aspect that sets Simmons apart. He is by far the far the best catcher ever to don the Birds on the Bat, and by reason that he’s in some solid Hall company is enough for me to enshrine him into the Hall of Excellentitude. But as for the Hall of Fame, I’ll just say that Simmons’ induction wouldn’t really lower the bar for future Hall of Fame catchers, but it wouldn’t really raise it, either.

It will be up the Veteran’s Committee to decide upon in 2011. Godspeed, Simba.

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