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.