Is Kenny Lofton a Hall of Famer?

Thanks to a lack of support for those suspected of steroid use in their Hall of Fame pursuits, a set number of players have used their squeaky clean record in a push for Cooperstown. We can now add Kenny Lofton to that list based on his comments upon being elected to the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame:

In light of Mark McGwire’s admission to using steroids and human-growth hormone while setting home run records, and with other high-profile players being suspended for banned substances, Lofton’s statistics may be viewed differently by Hall of Fame voters once he becomes eligible for induction.

Lofton hopes so…

“I was not a cheater, so hopefully they’ll take a look at that and see what I did under that period and hopefully they take that into account.”

Lofton’s biggest challenge is most likely going to be the fact that he doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer. What does this “feel” nonsense mean? Here’s Hall of Fame voter Mike Nadel to explain:

How strongly should the “feel test” be used, especially pertaining to Steroid Era candidates? Along with a long, hard look at stats, this always has been part of my process: Does so-and-so “feel” like a Hall of Famer? Maybe guys I eliminated before, such as Baines and Murphy, rate a better look now in relation to the juicers who put up ridiculous numbers.

Two interesting positions are expressed here by Nadel that each line up on different sides of the debate. On one hand, Lofton certainly doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer (at least outside of the Cleveland area), which may be due to a few factors:

1) He played for eleven different teams
2) Had a skill-set extremely similar to, but dramatically overshadowed by, Ricky Henderson
3) Hit singles and stole bases in an era in which homeruns were the main source of offensive prowess
4) Had a skill-set that has been typically pegged for solid “contributing players,” and not the stars that follow later in the lineup
5) Was relatively quiet in the clubhouse and with the media
6) Never won an MVP
7) Never won a World Series

I wish voters would realize that it is reasons like these that contribute to “feel,” and not some intricate, instinctive light bulb above their heads. Lofton doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer because many of the traits listed above are not ones you typically find with Hall of Famers; that’s all.

Anyway, back to Nadel. He does give credence to the reexamination of players with new steroid evidence emerging, but with so many high quality players becoming eligible in the upcoming years, Lofton still may be pushed to the back. Chris Jaffe recently explained the hill Lofton would have to climb:

Then comes 2013-14. when arguably the greatest glut of candidates in history arrive. The first wave in 2013 will feature Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton, David Wells, and Julio Franco. The next year has a class about as strong with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Jim Edmonds, and Luis Gonzalez arriving.

In judging his numbers, Lofton has 65.1 WAR according to Rally’s BaseballProjection.com, which puts him 80th all-time, in between Willie McCovey and Tim Raines, and above Ozzie Smith, Ernie Banks, Roberto Alomar, Mark McGwire, Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, and Harmon Killebrew. He’s fifty spots above Andre Dawson.

Unfortunately, we don’t have UZR numbers for Lofton during his prime, but Total Zone (TZ) really likes him. He only won four gold gloves, but was well known as a terrific defensive outfielder with blazing speed. I’ll take the minor gamble that TZ and the public perception were correct and Lofton was good defensively.

Offensively, Lofton had a career line of .299/.372/.423 with a wOBA of .359. Over the course of a long career those are solid numbers, especially for a centerfielder. What also cannot be overlooked is Kenny’s speed on the basepaths. He stole 622 bases at an 80% success rate, obviously excellent numbers. Rally gives Lofton eighty-one Base Running Runs for his career, indicating talented basepath ability apart from steals (i.e. moving from first to third on a single, scoring from first on a double, etc.).

The case for Lofton is pretty strong statistically, but as Jaffe noted earlier, the upcoming Hall eligible class is crazy good. Sure, Lofton doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer, but if he makes Cooperstown one day, he’ll sure as hell look like one.

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Comments

  1. Ted said...

    I wouldn’t put Lofton in until Edmonds gets in. Better player all around and has a higher career WAR total

    Edmonds: 66.6
    Lofton: 65.1

  2. Sean Smith said...

    Agreed.  Put them both in.  And hopefully Raines picks up some support by the time they are eligible too.

    The TZ for most of the 90’s uses the project scoresheet hit location data.  This is more fielding detail than we have for recent seasons, and is actually the same source MGL used to run his early (and I believe unpublished) UZR data.  So for that time frame, TZ and UZR are likely very similar, with the only difference being the details of the methodology.

  3. Joe R said...

    I think Edmonds and Lofton should be Hall of Famers. If the voters really want to make a statement against steroids, they should reward two players whose skills were overshadowed by the era.

    Unfortunately, Tim Raines is serving as a good litmus test. So far, not so good.

  4. Joe R said...

    Also, sure Lofton played on 11 different teams. But 10 of those seasons, over 60% of those games, and 62.44% of those PA’s came on one team, the Indians.

    But hey, voters often love them some .300 batting averages. Lofton hit .299. Close enough for government work?

  5. D Leaberry said...

    Lofton, Edmonds, Walker, Bagwell, Evans, Raines, Campaneris, Kent, Chipper Jones and Trammell are borderliners who deserve in.  Dawson, Parker, Lynn, Howard, Concepcion and Biggio seem to be borderliners who shouldn’t be in.  On another note, Hodges and Torre should get in when their managorial careers are added to their playing careers, which were borderline Hall of Fame.  I guess one could argue this all day over a few beers.

  6. Jim Gagne said...

    D – here have a beer -
    I wouldn’t let in Walker, Evans or Camperneris, but I would Dawson, Lynn and Parker. Those last three were close to complete players. Power, average, defense and speed (although Lynn and Parker weren’t really base stealers). Sure, all three held on too long and their averages suffered, but in their prime, they were awesome players.
    I’m assuming you meant Dwight Evans, who to me was a above-average, solid player. Some power and great defense, but not a HOFer. It occurs to me that you might mean Darrell Evans, who I might be more apt to put in. Great offensive numbers and a good defender earlier in his career. Borderline, though.

  7. Joe R said...

    Jim, whoa whoa whoa.
    Walker was a much more complete player than Parker. Using Total Zone, Walker was a +44 in his career vs. a -25 for Parker. Walker’s career BB rate was 11.37% vs. 6.70% for Parker. Adjusting their career to the same 750 run environment gives you a .305/.391/.550 line for Walker v. a .297/.347/.482 for Parker.

    Davenport Translations also favor Walker by a ton, to the tune of .289/.381/.531 v. .294/.346/.515. So yeah, Parker had plate appearances over Walker and…well, that’s it. Walker was better than Parker.

  8. D Leaberry said...

    Top reasons for Campaneris is that he stole nearly 700 bases, played shortstop(with catcher and centerfield, the most important field positions), and was a vital cog of the great A’s teams of the 70s who won two World Series.  Two arguments against was his lack of power and his .259 batting average.  However, he played in a pitchers’ era.

    An argument against Walker, and possibly Helton in the future, is that he compiled much of his stats in Denver.

    Dwight Evans does not get in on his hitting alone but his superior defensive skills combined with a decent stick.  Darrell Evans with his .248 average doesn’t get in but arguments for him are his 400 home runs, a great batting eye who earned many walks and his effectiveness very deep into his career.  He hit 34 home runs, drove in 99 runs and walked 100 times at the age of 40.

    Question 1- Even if Michael Young continues to hit .300-.315, does he reach the Hall if he no longer plays shortstop?

    Question 2- Does John Smoltz get in the hall with 215 wins and 3 years as a superior closer?

  9. Resolution said...

    Yes to Smoltz, no to Michael Young.

    Also, is it just me, or are the only guys who “feel” like hall of famers the no-doubters? – at which point the feel-test (horrible name) becomes useless…

  10. Joe R said...

    Michael Young for the Hall of Fame?
    No effing way, he’s been a slightly above average hitter his career, and any benefit he’d get from playing SS is taken away from how badly he actually played SS. If he made the Hall of Fame simply by keeping his BA over .300, it could go down as one of the all time bad picks. He MIGHT make it to 40 WAR on baseballprojection.com, which would put him in the company of Steve Finley, David Justice*, and Carney Lansford

    *Even though he was pretty damn good in his 6600 career PA’s, also played a nifty RF

    I digress, no na no na no no no no no.

    And also, you forgot some big big kickers on Darrell Evans, most notably that he simply didn’t play in a good hitter’s era. His career hitting AIR is 97 (100 is an average hitting era), and his modern adjusted batting line (750 run climate) is .269/.386/.465. Also, third basemen have been chronically underrated over the course of baseball history. Ron Santo immediately comes to mind, too. Stan Hack, Graig Nettles (I know, it’s amazing a championship-winning Yankee can be underrated, but people forget he played a long time, hit well, and fielded exceptionally). Matt Williams, thanks to the recent love of OBP, is even kind of underrated (.221 career ISO, very good fielder).

    Notice a theme here? Very good fielding 3B not named Brooks Robinson have been horribly mistreated by the BBWAA. Robin Ventura is the latest victim of it.

  11. Joe R said...

    Paul:

    Good point. But like I said, if the voters really want to make a point, they’ll reward guys who had the traditionally complete skill set like Lofton and Edmonds, and enshrine them.

  12. DWC said...

    I would put Lofton in ahead of Edmonds, just because I’m convinced Edmonds was a juicer as well. At least that’s my “feel”.

  13. Joe said...

    Lofton had two seasons greater than a six ‘WAR.’  Let’s take peak into account rather than just racking up ‘wins’ over a long period of time…

  14. Joe R said...

    Whoa whoa whoa, Edmonds was ISO’ing in the 200’s way before his 5 year peak. His 03-04 years were obscene, sure, his ISO’s those years were over .340. Hank Aaron never ISO’d .340 until he was 37, though.

  15. Joe R said...

    @ Joe

    okay:

    Lofton, 1993-1997:

    3009 PA, .326/.398/.451, 119 OPS+, 286 SB (76.4% success rate), and b-r has him as +62.4 RAA defensively. So, it’s not an awesome peak, but it’s good for about +157 runs above average total for offense and defense. +100 for replacement, +257 total, or +51.4 per season.

    So that’s 5 straight years of All Star caliber performance. Sean Smith says he was +29.5 over that time frame. And he racked up 45.9 of his career 65.1 marginal wins in the 90’s, or 70% of his value came in 54% of his career. He had a peak, and it was good. We just forgot about it because of the monsters hitting 450 foot moonshots.

  16. Kyle said...

    I don’t think Lofton is a Hall of Famer, but feel that Belle and Jim Edmonds are. As for some saying Michael Young isn’t, he’s had 200 hits or more 5 time.  Last year, before being derailed by injury, he was on pace for it again. 

    Right now I don’t think Young belongs to even be mentioned for the Hall, but in 4 or 5 years depending on if he puts up a few insane seasons(with added power and run production), who knows?  If he stays healthy, he could get 3,000 hits.  However, Young has not just been a slightly above average hitter for his career.  He wasn’t a full time player until almost 26 years old, and already has 311 doubles and 1662 hits. 

    But since pitchers no longer get 40 starts a season or the longevity of their predecessors, wins shouldn’t even matter.  You look at overall career, ERA, k’s, and Smoltz is a lock for the Hall of Fame.

  17. Paul Moehringer said...

    To determine if Kenny Lofton is a Hall of Famer, I’ll ask my two questions.

    Is there at least a five year time period where Kenny Lofton was a dominating player?

    I would say from 1993 to 1997, yes he was.

    Does he have a decent career outside of those five years?

    After 1998, he becomes an upper .290 hitting, center fielder, still with a good glove, can still steal 20+ bases a year, so I would say yes.

    If you can answer those two questions, that’s good enough for me, so yes Kenny Lofton should be in the Hall of Fame in my book.

    Will Kenny Lofton get in?  I would say with reasonable certainty under current conditions that he along with many other deserving candidates from this era have no chance.

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