Andre Dawson is in the Hall of Fame. I’m glad for him, he deserves it, even though a few superior players fell short and will have to wait to get in. Dawson debuted in 1976, the same year as Dale Murphy, and two years after Fred Lynn. All three were at times great players, gold glove winning center fielders who hit for power. All three moved to right field in mid career.
My WAR totals say Dawson was the best of the three, 57 wins above replacement compared to 47 for Lynn and 44 for Murphy. That probably isn’t the best way to judge the greatness of a player though. A player who plays four seasons of 2 WAR each (in other words, average) may have the same value as a player with one 8 WAR season and nothing else, but the 8 WAR player demonstrated greatness. Exactly how to balance peak vs. career value is not an easy call, and I’m not going to suggest there is one right way to do it. Here are a few others:
Fred Lynn won the MVP award in his 1975 rookie year, but he was even better in 1979. He hit 333/423/637 that year, hitting 39 homeruns, and won a gold glove for his work in center field. He was absolutely robbed by Don Baylor, who spent almost half his time as a DH, and the other half as a poor fielding left fielder. He had a great year at bat, but didn’t lead the league in any of the rate triple crown stats. Obviously, since Fred Lynn led in all three categories. His season was good for 8.4 WAR. Dale Murphy’s best by WAR was 7.5 in his 44 homerun, .580 SLG 1987 season. His best season also might have been his second MVP year of 1983, 7.2 WAR. Dawson’s best season was worth 7.3 WAR, in 1981. He had a .553 slugging percentage, a 157 OPS+, 24 homeruns, and 26 steals in 30 attempts. This might have been the best all around season of the three players though, since he did it in only 103 games during a strike shortened season. Dawson averaged 4.5 WAR per season the four years previous, so my estimate of what he would have done playing another 1/3 of a season is another 1.5 WAR, putting him around 8.5, very close to Lynn. I’ll rank Lynn’s 1979 first since he actually put up those wins, but move Dawson 1981 to #2 ahead of Murphy.
Five year peak:
Dawson, for 1979 to 1983, had 30.6 WAR. Murphy, for 1983 to 1987, had 26.6, and Lynn had 24.7 from 1975 to 1979. Lynn never had five great years in a row, between his two MVP-caliber seasons he had two very good years, 1976 and 1978, and a so-so 1977. Dawson wins this battle. You could go with best three year peak, best six year, look at non-consecutive or consecutive, or any number of combinations. Five year peak is just one commonly used measure.
Wins Above Excellence:
Time to introduce a new junk stat. For this measure, I’m looking at how many wins a player has above three in a season, though his season total can never be below zero. This gives a player credit for great seasons, and ignores anything where a player is average or below, it neither adds nor hurts a player’s case for greatness. A great player should not be penalized if he hangs around past his peak contributing a only little bit to his teams. For this measure, Murphy pulls into the lead, with 20.7, compared to 18.3 for Dawson and 15.5 for Lynn.
I used to make the argument that Dale Murphy was less deserving for HOF honors than Fred Lynn. Lynn has the better rate stats (283/360/484) compared to Murphy’s 265/346/469. Murphy did have about 1000 more plate appearances though. Now I’m not so sure, Murphy did have more great years than Lynn did. Lynn had more good years, and Murphy almost instantly dropped from a great player to a replacement level one. At one time he looked like a lock for 500 home runs, and in the end he failed to get 400.
Lynn received little support for the Hall of Fame, lasting only two years on the ballot. Murphy is still on the ballot after 12 years. He had decent enough initial support, reaching 23% in his second year, but has failed to gain any ground, getting between 8 and 13 percent each of the last seven years. He’s a very unlikely candidate at this point. In my opinion, the writers have made the correct decision regarding this group of players. I can’t say the same for some of their other choices.