As we move past the all-time greats we move back to a place where we can look more critically at the Hall of Fame. The Veterans Committee broke up the game into time periods with each time period rotating over several years to get their turn at “righting a wrong” as it pertains to Hall of Fame snubs. I was roasted online earlier for snubbing Gil Hodges. I profiled him somewhat, but I thought would return and look at him more in depth.
The Hall of Fame Index works a lot like Bill James’ similarity scores. In the book, I broke each position into tiers of similar players. So, one of the ways we can objectively look at a beloved player (and there is no doubting that Hodges is beloved) is to compare him to similar players. If you honestly believe those similar players belong in then that player likely does. The reverse is also true.
To make matters even more fair, I went with JAWS as a way to determine who is similar and who isn’t. So, I compared Hodges with the two players above him and below him on the JAWS list for first basemen. As you might expect, the index results will be similar, but not exactly the same. Perhaps looking at two different systems will give us a clearer picture.
The beauty of a source like the index is that you don’t need to be a mathematician to understand it. Hodges is similar to these four guys. Whether he is better or worse at this point is really immaterial. He is similar. Some fans don’t know who Ed Konetchy is and I know I certainly had to look him up. Yet, we are all familiar with the other three guys. Granted, Mattingly has people that will argue ardently for him. Yet, you won’t find too many people arguing for Gonzalez or Grace.
Career value is only one dimension though. Maybe something happened that shortened their careers. We certainly know that’s true in Mattingly’s case and it has been true in Gonzalez’s case as well. Maybe Hodges was good at the right time. Serendipity certainly plays a role in baseball history, so we should dive into peak value. For those just joining us, peak value is defined as the best ten year stretch of a player’s career.
Hodges and Mattingly are eerily similar players. Mattingly was a god in the latter part of the 1980s. From 1984 to 1990 he might have been the best all-around player in the game. Of course, guys like Rickey Henderson and Tim Rains would have a lot to say about that. Still, in terms of offensive numbers there weren’t many better and he was a perennial Gold Glove winner as well. Hodges famously drove in 100 or more runs in seven consecutive seasons. Maybe that is why both players fare better in JAWS since it uses a seven year peak.
Yet, Hodges is third in career value and third in peak value in this group. He’s fourth overall, but only a couple of wins separate him from both Mattingly and Grace. That seems like a decent enough place to start. Are either of those two really Hall of Famers? I think most of us would go a hard no on both which leads you to wonder why Hodges is getting all the love.
The first three offensive numbers are all adjusted for eras and ballparks. The last number is just adjusted for ballparks. So, we see initially one reason why Hodges has a better reputation. He played in a better offensive time period than most of these guys. Add to that the fact that he played with four other Hall of Famers and you can begin to see why he had those seven consecutive 100 RBI seasons. This is why we use normed data in the first place.
This doesn’t reveal anything new necessarily. It simply explains why these players were similar according to the index. They were similar offensively when we allow for the prejudice of time and place. That makes perfect sense. Much of a first baseman’s value is going to be tied to what he does with the bat. Some will also come from the glove as well.
Again, we have five guys that are fairly similar. All five were somewhere between above average and good defensively. They brought similar defensive value to the table. When you have guys that are similar offensively and similar defensively it shouldn’t be a surprise when they are similar overall. Of course, neither the offensive nor the fielding numbers tell you how long the players did it for. They also don’t tell you how good they were when they were at their best.
Mattingly comes in last defensively when he had the best reputation in the group. That could partially be explained by pointing out that reputations are not always earned. Of course, that might not be the only explanation. If we looked at his fielding during his prime, we might find that he was legitimately as good as the others when they were at their best. The overarching conclusion is that they are all similar offensively and defensively.
Playoff numbers were not a part of the index. You won’t find them in the book for position players. However, it would be hard to deny that they play a role in deciding who gets in the Hall of Fame and who doesn’t. Of course, there is always a significant debate over how much weight they should be given. Are we going to conclude that Mattingly was a big game performer on the basis of five or six playoff games? Are we going to call Konetchy a choke artist based on the same sample size?
Hodges and Gonzalez had similar track records and had similar opportunities. Both played on teams that didn’t get over the hump. Hodges has one title as a prominent player and Gonzalez has none. Still, are we going to give either of them credit based on numbers that look okay, but aren’t really the kind that stand out?
BWAR MVP Points
No matter how you slice it, Hodges ends up in the middle of the pack of this group. He is there in career value. He is there in peak value. He is there offensively and defensively. He is there when you look at his postseason performance. Finally, he is there when we look at the MVP points. There is nothing wrong with being in the middle of this group. These were some pretty darn good first baseman. The question is whether any of them belong in Cooperstown.
So, I was dismissive the last time I looked at Hodges and the Hall of Fame. This is because I want to spend my time on guys that are really tough calls. This one really isn’t a tough call. I know people like him and he was on one of the greatest teams of all-time, but there really is nothing in the evidence that pushes him beyond that.