This is Part 2 of my Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame trilogy. The ground rules have been laid out in Part 1, so let’s jump right into it.
Class of 2001
Andy Van Slyke
Five inductees in this class sets a new single season high.
Dave Winfield is a shoo-in. Although relatively “boring,” his run was unquestionably great. He provided above-average batting averages and appeared regularly in the league leaders in homers, RBI, and runs. Sometimes he contributed useful steals totals to boot. Despite his peak beginning before 1980, he kept up this elite level of production for a good dozen FBHOF-eligible seasons. Frankly, it mystifies me how many fans see him as a “compiler.” Winfield was an absolutely elite baseball player, and one of the most remarkable athletes of his generation; he was drafted by the NFL and NBA in addition to MLB.
Kirby Puckett was a batting average monster who usually offered very helpful homer, RBI and runs totals. He had three absolutely awesome fantasy seasons; ’86, ’88, and ’92. From ’86 through ’95, he was probably at home in the top 30 or so fantasy players, even in his less impressive seasons. That’s enough of a balance of peak and career value to earn my nod.
Donnie Baseball really tests my stated preference for peak in this exercise. His fantasy career is nearly unworthy of mention outside of ’84 – ’89, aside from two roster-worthy campaigns in ’92 and ’93. His run from ’84 – ’87 was pretty amazing though, and while there were other legitimate power producing corners, few also hit over .330 over a four-year stretch. A four-year run as a probable first-round player is enough to earn my vote.
Dave Stewart had four really noteworthy seasons, punctuated by his averaging 21 wins per season over that span. He was also a horse, racking up 260-plus innings a year throughout that run. Unfortunately, his strikeout totals and ERA marks over that same stretch were good, but not outstanding. He had very little outside of those seasons to fill out his resume. He gets a thumbs down, but a tip of my cap.
Lou Whitaker is one who, like Willie Randolph, has more Hall of Fame support than many realize. For me, he just misses the cut in a pretty strong class. He produced very good run totals and some very respectable homer totals for a middle infielder of his era. He rarely accrued meaningful stolen base totals and was basically batting average neutral. Though the skill sets are different, I would guess that his value in his era was similar to that of Brian Roberts in his. He is something of a tough omission for me.
Kirk Gibson was basically the Bobby Abreu of his era, quiet, unsexy, and just super valuable. He was good for very good run totals, an above average batting average, 80 – 100 RBIs, and 50 – 60 combined homers and steals every year for five seasons. While a balanced set of skills is less valuable than it is normally thought to be in actual baseball, five-category contributors are gold in fantasy baseball. I can see that a quick glance at his numbers might provoke debate with my choice here, but I’m willing to wager that those who played fantasy baseball in Gibson’s heyday will rush to defend this choice.
Before looking at his numbers, I thought I’d support Parrish. Surprisingly, when I did, my opinion soured. He was a great source of dingers at a thin position, but his other counting totals weren’t much more than good and he was semi-regularly a batting average liability.
Tom Henke gets my vote. Henke got his career started a bit before closers with gaudy numbers became ubiquitous. He posted high saves totals along with elite rate stats, and struck out batters like it was going out of style for eight consecutive seasons.
HoJo falls short for me. To get in on a stretch of five or six years, they really have to be amazing. Johnson did have two absolutely fantastic seasons in ’89 and ’91, but that wasn’t enough to tip the scales for me.
Class of 2002
Following 2001’s record-setting election, 2002 pitches a shutout.
I’m actually going to go out on a limb here and not vote for Andre Dawson. He was basically done as a difference-making basestealer by 1983. His putrid on-base skills resulted in unimpressive runs totals. He also eclipsed 25 homers three times after ’83.
I thought Trammell would earn my vote as well. But upon looking at the numbers, I’m not biting. Trammell had an absolutely sensational season in 1987, and probably a second-round season in ’86. Otherwise, he probably has no Top 25 seasons to speak of.
Class of 2003
The class of 2003 offers two inductees as well as some players who didn’t earn my vote, but are worthy of careful consideration.
Steady Eddie Murray was a force in Major League Baseball for more than 15 seasons. He was also somewhat surly and menacing looking and black, this is presumably relevant to people like Dan Shaughnessy who concludes, contrary to what empiricism would dictate, that Murray and Rice were better and more feared hitters than Edgar Martinez. Really, there’s nothing much to say about Murray, so I figured I’d use the space to attack a Boston charlatan whose goal is to promulgate absurd sports-related notions with the intent to provoke discussion and dissent, thereby increasing his own popularity through hyperbole and sensationalism as opposed to the more conventional and honorable approach of dedication to mastering one’s craft.
Who were we talking about again? Ah, yes. Eddie Murray. Here’s my favorite tidbit on Murray. In what almost appears an attempt to caricature his own consistency of excellence, from ’81 – ’84, he posted the exact same 156 OPS+. Mr. Murray, please stroll leisurely and unobstructed into your spot in the Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame.
There’s also not that much to say about Ryne Sandberg. He was an elite fantasy second baseman for most of his career. From ’84 – ’92, he hit better than .300 seven times, scored at least 100 runs six times, hit 20 or more homers five times, drove in more than 80 runs five times, and stole no fewer than 15, but as many as 54 bases in a season. In 1985 he went .305/113/26/83/54! In 1990, he posted a line of .306/116/40/100/25. Ryno probably had as a stranglehold on the top spot at second base in the fantasy game of his era as Chase Utley continues to hold in his. Sandberg earns an easy yes.
Lee Smith was a very solid relief pitcher for a long time, but he lacks a run of truly standout seasons. He posted very nice and consistent saves totals and often offered a very nice strikeout rate. In extrapolating his value however, I see more of a prolonged Bobby Jenks than a Joe Nathan. So, Smith does not earn the nod.
Fernando Valenzuela was a very tough omission for me. I strongly considered giving him my vote on the strength of a high peak. But, unlike the people of Southern California in 1981, I was able to resist Fernando-mania. At the end of the day, Valenzuela provided great strikeout numbers and tossed a ton of innings. However, he only won more than 15 games three times (though his 13 in the strike-shortened 1981 season should be mentioned), posted ho-hum WHIP numbers, and did not eclipse a 141 ERA+ throughout his run, which included several campaigns in the 100 – 120 range. I may get skewered for saying this, but frankly without the hype, Javier Vazquez has basically put together a similar run, a bit longer and a bit flatter.
Brett Butler was a very good major league baseball player. Though he’s probably most well-remembered for being one of the best bunters of the last 50 years, he had many other skills, including speed (though he posted some very ugly SB/CS ratios) and great on-base abilities. Surely, Butler helped a lot of fantasy teams in his day, in the runs, batting average, and stolen bases departments specifically. But, his contributions didn’t reach a level meriting induction.
When thinking about this exercise, I dreaded one player more than any other — Vince Coleman! Here he is, the firecracker-tossing speedster who freely admitted that he had no idea who Jackie Robinson was. If I wasn’t writing this at 8:30 in the morning, I’d run to the liquor cabinet and pour myself a glass of Scotch to sip on while I mull this over. Since it is 8:30, bourbon will have to do.
This is the one case I really felt I had to do at least a little mathematical diligence for. I wasn’t comfortable just guesstimating the value of Coleman’s steals in his time. I’m focusing on 1985 – 1987, as that encompasses the vast majority of Coleman’s case. If these three seasons are as impressive as it may seem on paper, then ’88- 90 should probably bookend it well enough to provide cause for Coleman’s election. I looked into the stolen base rates over those years and compared them with 2007 – 2009. From ’85 – ’87, Major League Baseball averaged about .8 steals per game. (There was a huge disparity in favor of the NL in terms of steals per game, which would actually weaken Coleman’s relative case in NL-only formats, as there were far more relative steals to go around.) Over the last three seasons there’s been approximately .6 swipes per Major League game. So, to put Coleman’s totals from ’85 – ’87 in today’s perspective, we can reduce them by 25 percent. This adjustment has him averaging 81.5 steals per season over than run. This is still a truly elite total, but when coupled with virtually no homers or RBIs, and an often weighty albatross of a batting average, some of the luster of those campaigns begins to chip away. His strong runs totals are really the only other positive in Coleman’s case.
It is worth noting that in ’85, ’86, and ’87 respectively, only four, four and three other players stole as many as half of the bases Coleman did. The other side of total steals is the nature of the distribution of those steals, especially among fantasy-relevant regulars. Since I have to look at so many players in this exercise, I’ve stopped short of seeing if there is any key insight to be gained from analyzing the distribution of steals. I’m confident in giving Coleman the thumbs down without further exploration. In fact, I hypothesize that such an activity would actually further weaken Coleman’s case because there were so many other truly outstanding fantasy assets at the same time who provided considerable speed contributions, including Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines, to Sandberg Eric Davis, Paul Molitor, and Darryl Strawberry.
Danny Tartabull deserves more consideration than many might think. He had a number of 30-plus homer seasons and eclipsed 100 RBIs five times. The run scoring context was beginning to pick up a bit in the late ‘80s into the early ‘90s though, so 30/100 wasn’t exactly what it was a half-dozen seasons prior. Tartabull missed time regularly, though, and had he been able to amass those additional 100 ABs per season, he would have had some really nice campaigns and made a good case for himself.
Mickey Tettleton provided a lot of pop with catcher eligibility. His batting average was consistently awful, though, and his runs and RBI totals don’t stand out. He’s worth a mention, but not a vote.
Class of 2004
The 2004 class boasts three inductees and not too many marginal candidates.
“In Canada, PM used to stand for Prime Minister, but now it stands for Paul Molitor,” or something extremely similar remarked the wizard of wordsmithing, Tim McCarver, during the broadcast of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Thirteen years later, my girlfriend wore this shirt to her 26th birthday party. I’m very conflicted with Molitor; he’s difficult to evaluate. He had all kinds of positional eligibility throughout his career, having played the outfield, first base, second base, and third base, in addition to DH-ing. (He also played some short pre-1980.) He regularly posted very good batting averages and awesome runs totals. He also had many seasons with rather pedestrian homer and RBI totals. He stole more than 500 bases in his career, but only swiped 40 or more four times. I’m going to give him the nod on the basis of his regular presence on the leaderboards in runs, batting average and stolen bases. But, this is nowhere near a no-brainer.
Eck earns my vote for his run from ’88 – ’92. He posted inhumane rate stats, bolstered by averaging more than a strikeout per inning and averaging 44 saves over that same period.
Dave Stieb was one of the top pitchers of his time, but rarely gets talked about. From 1981 – 1990, he won more than 15 games six times, had an ERA better than 80 percent of his league eight times (leading in ERA+ twice), made sporadic appearances on the strikeout leaderboard, and was a mainstay on the WHIP board. However, it is with true hesitancy that I give him my vote. I believe that a player rater would bear out Stieb’s consistently top-tier value. I think Stieb was most likely at the back end of the top starting pitcher tier for a considerable length of time.
Juan Samuel was Alfonso Soriano-esque. With a few more seasons remotely similar to ’84 – ’87, he would have had a fairly decent shot.
Cecil Fielder’s peak was too short to earn serious consideration, but I’m sure anybody who owned him in 1990 or 1991 was very glad to, especially since he came out of nowhere in ’90.
Wade Boggs gains entry. But, like Molitor, his candidacy isn’t as strong as I thought it was going to be. Boggs was an absolute beast in the batting average and runs departments. Throughout his peak, though, he hit double-digits homers only once (a seemingly anomalous 24 in 1987). In many respects, Boggs is similar to Ichiro, who I also consider overrated for fantasy purposes. Boggs was an even batter bet than Ichiro to hit .350 and was a better run scorer than Ichiro. However, Boggs was a corner infielder and Ichiro is an outfielder. Boggs also didn’t steal bases while Ichiro contributes very well in that category. Boggs did contribute in the RBI category in some campaigns and was probably neutral in others. Ichiro is actually a liability in the RBI department most seasons.
One other interesting similarity is that, anecdotally, both Ichiro and Boggs have been identified by their teammates as among the best batting-practice home run hitters around. This has led many to believe that both players could have hit more homers, but were unwilling to suffer the presumed drop in batting average that would accompany such a change in approach. This seems plausible and similar claims have been made throughout history about a number of different players. Ty Cobb homered twice in a game allegedly just to prove to others that he “could,” but chose not to emulate Ruth. Regardless, Boggs hit .363 the year he launched 24 homers, so it doesn’t appear that the supposed either-or dynamic to his approach advanced by these third-party theorists necessarily existed. Another fun fact about Boggs is that over a 162-game stretch of the Red Sox schedule (Boggs played in 160 of them) from June of 1985 through June of 1986, Boggs hit .400.
For a span of nine seasons, from 1983 – 1991, Darryl Strawberry averaged 31 homers and 22 stolen bases a season. In the heart of than run, from 1984 – 1988, he missed averaging 30/30 for over a five-year span by less than one steal (29.2). He turned in pretty good to very good RBI and runs totals from season to season, and offered a relatively neutral batting average. Strawberry most likely spent the mid- to late-’90s as a first-round draft pick. Congrats Darryl, this small piece of redemption is yours!
Jeff Montgomery is one of the more forgotten high-caliber closers of his era, and he often posted great ERAs and saves totals. He didn’t accumulate strikeouts at a particularly high rate, and his WHIP was very inconsistent.
Mark Langston merited some consideration as well. He led the AL in strikeouts three times in a span of four seasons (he was injured the other one) and fanned 190 or more seven times in his career. He also posted several wins totals in the mid-teens, and a smattering of strong ERA totals. His WHIP numbers were often way too high for an elite pitcher, though, and he put it all together too infrequently.
So, let’s see where we stand right now, through 11 classes.
Number of players elected: 19
Number of players elected who have been eliminated for real HOF consideration: 6
Members by position:
SS: .5 (Yount is really split)
3B: 4 (including Molitor)
It looks like I may be shortchanging middle infielders, which may lead me to rue my snub of Lou Whitaker. However, it is too early to worry about these things because random distributions in regard to talent waves at positions and retirement dates haven’t begun to work themselves out yet. In other words, all patterns thus far are not yet significant or predictive.
Nearly a third of the players I elected have been officially snubbed by the actual Hall of Fame (and Mattingly will not make it, but officially remains on the ballot, so he’s not included in the six).
Several players fared better than I would have predicted they would, including Kirk Gibson who I didn’t think I’d be voting for at all, and Dave Stieb whose candidacy I knew would merit close consideration, but was initially pessimistic about. On the flip side, I thought I’d be electing Dawson and Trammell, and to a lesser extent Valenzuela.
As I deal with more close calls, I am even more appreciative of the amazing reservoir of stats we have for the real sport and the level of assurance they provide me when I make similar determinations for actual Hall of Fame worthiness. The dearth of similar, but fantasy-specific metrics, makes this exercise rather difficult and somewhat uncomfortably subjective. As a result of that, I may be erring on the side of conservatism. Again, the case of Whitaker comes to mind.
Good riddance, Vince Coleman. I’m sure I will encounter other tough cases, but perhaps none that will perplex me more than Vincent Van Go.