Tim Raines’ case for the Hall of Fame

Last year, I started a website dedicated to the baseball idol of my youth, Tim Raines. I invited several like-minded fans to contribute their thoughts and analysis to the site and we also scoured the Internet for articles that highlighted his achievements. I contributed three articles to make the case for putting Raines into the Hall of Fame, and I’ve merged them into one article here. I hope it helps you understand Raines’ strong case for the Hall.

Leadoff hitters

Tim Raines is regarded first and foremost as a leadoff hitter. But is being considered one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all-time enough to warrant being in the Hall of Fame?

In order to answer that question, we need to know what is a Hall of Fame leadoff hitter. Thanks to Retrosheet, we have play-by-play statistics from 1957 to 2006 (except 1999). (Author’s note: since that was written, Retrosheet has expanded by a couple of years.) What if we grabbed all the Hall of Fame leadoff batters for the Retrosheet years? (I put in a minimum of 300 career plate appearances as the No. 1 hitter to exclude part-timers, pinch hitters, and pitchers.) There are actually 17 Hall of Famers who batted leadoff, with a total of 41,181 plate appearances, led by Lou Brock‘s 8,644, Paul Molitor‘s 7,291, Luis Aparicio‘s 5,740, and Wade Boggs‘ 4,360. These four Hall of Famers account for 63 percent of the totals. Included in the 17 are such stars as George Brett (614 plate appearances) and Willie Mays (307 plate appearances). Remember, we are only looking at performances while batting in the leadoff position.

Some may not be happy with that kind of definition. Notably absent are Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose, so I created a second group of Hall of Fame type players. The criteria was: (1) at least 2000 plate appearances in the leadoff slot, (2) in the Hall of Fame or likely to be in the Hall of Fame, (3) excluding shortstops and Richie Ashburn. I included this last requirement because shortstops are voted in large part for their fielding, and a large portion of Ashburn’s career took place prior to the Retrosheet years. Based on these criteria, here are the ten best players to satisfy this Hall-worthy list:


Leadoff PA
12,605 Rickey Henderson (21 percent of the total)
10,686 Pete Rose
8,644 Lou Brock
7,291 Paul Molitor
6,111 Craig Biggio
4,367 Ichiro Suzuki
4,360 Wade Boggs
2,117 Joe Morgan
2,084 Derek Jeter
2,068 Barry Bonds (3 percent of the total)

Henderson will be easily voted into the Hall in the upcoming election. Rose would have already been voted in, if eligible. Biggio’s milestones should eventually place him in the Hall. Ichiro’s career, if given some allowance for his Japan days, could enshrine him. Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter. And Barry Bonds, while not quite the star as a leadoff hitter, is Barry Bonds.

After these players, we have some solid players, like Brett Butler, Kenny Lofton, Willie Wilson, and Johnny Damon. Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that these 10 players are the best leadoff hitters of the Retrosheet years. Note that even if you quibble with some of the players lower down for whatever reason, they comprise a small total (3 percent for Bonds). The bulk of the leadoff plate appearances from this group were accumulated by Rickey Henderson (21 percent).


How does Raines compare to the Hall group and the Hall-worthy group?


Batting Average
.296 Hall-worthy
.295 Raines
.289 Hall

Raines holds his own with the Hall-worthy leadoff hitters of the Retrosheet years. And Raines’ batting average wasn’t an empty .295 either:

Slugging Percentage
.428 Hall-worthy
.428 Raines
.400 Hall

What pushes Raines above the Hall-worthy hitters are his walks:

On Base Percentage
.386 Raines
.378 Hall-worthy
.355 Hall

Leadoff hitters are at a disadvantage with RBIs, because they come up so often with no men on base. However, since we are only looking at performances of leadoff hitters, we can now make a fairer comparison. Tim Raines had 5,620 at-bats and sacrifice flies. If we prorate our two comparison groups to that number, here’s what we get:

RBIs (prorated)
531 Hall-worthy
523 Raines
469 Hall

Raines was also a fantastic baserunner. Here is how often Raines scored, along with his comparison groups (prorated to Raines’ 6500 plate appearances):

Runs (prorated)
1010 Raines
997 Hall-worthy
894 Hall

Raines scored 13 more runs than the Hall-worthy group, and drove in eight fewer runs. That’s about as dead-even as you’ll find. Tim Raines performed above the level of Hall of Famers, and at a similar level to Hall-worthy players. Take a big part of Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose, add a good size part of Lou Brock, Paul Molitor, and Craig Biggio, and stir in some Ichiro Suzuki, Wade Boggs, Joe Morgan, Derek Jeter, and Barry Bonds, and you get a composite that is a shade inferior to Tim Raines.

No. 3 hitters

As we’ve seen, Tim Raines compares favorably to Hall of Fame leadoff hitters. But, Raines also spent a substantial portion of his time as a No. 3 hitter. Surely, he can’t hold his own with those hitters, right? Wrong.

There have been 26 Hall of Fame players who hit in the No. 3 slot in the Retrosheet Years with at least 1500 career plate appearances. Of those, there are eight that we can classify as non-power hitters:


PA of No. 3 non-power hitters
5,760 Roberto Clemente
5,517 Kirby Puckett
5,196 Tony Gwynn
3,897 Paul Molitor
3,564 Joe Morgan
3,045 Rod Carew
2,451 Robin Yount
2,314 Wade Boggs

The other 18 we’ll call the power-hitting No. 3 Hall of Fame hitters.

A hitter tries to accomplish three things: get on base, move runners over, and not make an out. He needs to get on base to score runs, and he needs to move runners over to drive home runs. All the while, he’s trying to minimize his outs to keep the inning alive.


Tim Raines, as a No. 3 hitter, made 978 batting outs. Here is how our two Hall of Fame groups and Tim Raines did as a No. 3 hitter, pro-rated to 978 batting outs:


Runs RBIs (pro-rated)
226 222 Hall of Fame Power Hitters
245 189 Tim Raines
218 207 Hall of Fame non-Power Hitters

Raines, compared to the non-Power Hitters, scored 27 more runs, and drove in 18 less runs. Compared to the Power Hitters, Raines scored 19 more, and drove in 33 fewer runs. Based on Runs and RBIs, Tim Raines is clearly between the two groups. He’s above the group led by Clemente, Puckett, and Gwynn, while being below the more “traditional” No. 3 hitters. Being smack in the middle of No. 3 Hall of Fame hitters makes you, well, a great hitter.


For those who prefer Runs Produced (i.e., Runs Participated In, R+RBI-HR), here you go:


RP (pro-rated)
405 Tim Raines
392 Hall of Fame non-Power Hitters
379 Hall of Fame Power Hitters

Now, Raines stands above both groups!


How did Raines manage to hold his own with such great hitters? Here are their batting averages, SLG, OBP, and modified OPS (modified OPS is 1.8*OBP + SLG, a measure that more closely aligns itself to overall run production than OPS):


BA SLG OBP mOPS
.292 .513 .379 1.195 Hall of Fame Power Hitters
.318 .449 .409 1.184 Tim Raines
.320 .470 .384 1.162 Hall of Fame non-Power Hitters

We can see that while the non-Power Hitters and Raines had a very similar batting average, Raines’ OBP was outstanding. He has a 25 point advantage in OBP against this group, compared to their advantage of 21 points in SLG over Raines. Because a point of OBP has more impact to overall run production than a point in SLG, Raines’ overall performance exceeds that of these Hall of Famers.


And even when compared to the Hall of Fame Power Hitters, Raines can hold his own. He has a 30 point advantage in OBP, compared to a 64 point disadvantage in SLG. That small difference (remember, an OBP point is worth 1.8 times more than a point in SLG) evaporates when we consider Raines’ superiority in basestealing. It’s this overall combination of getting on base, moving runners (including himself) over, and not making an out that allowed Raines’ to participate in more runs than your standard No. 3 Hall of Fame hitter.

Contemporary Hall of Famers

So far, we’ve compared Tim Raines as a leadoff hitter and as a No. 3 hitter to other Hall of Famers in those batting slots. We focused only on their respective hitting stats in those batting slots. And he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

Now, let’s compare the entirety of Tim Raines’ career to those of contemporary Hall of Famers. I drew a line at anyone born since Brock was born. This gives us a list of 22 Hall of Famers. Here they are ranked by Runs Produced (i.e., Runs Participated In, R+RBI-HR):


Runs Produced, All Contemporary Hall of Famers
3208 Carl Yastrzemski
3040 Eddie Murray
3037 Dave Winfield
2911 Cal Ripken
2861 George Brett
2855 Paul Molitor
2787 Robin Yount
2690 Reggie Jackson
2553 Mike Schmidt
2545 Tony Perez
2515 Joe Morgan
2409 Wade Boggs
2386 Tony Gwynn
2361 Lou Brock
2347 Rod Carew
2260 Willie Stargell
2230 Carlton Fisk
2097 Ryne Sandberg
2078 Johnny Bench
2022 Ozzie Smith
1949 Kirby Puckett
1926 Gary Carter

You can find their complete stats at Baseball-Reference.

Tim Raines had 2381 Runs Produced, which places him in the middle of the pack of greats, between Tony Gwynn and Lou Brock.

These Hall of Famers averaged 10,862 plate appearances, which is extremely close to Raines’ 10,359 plate appearances. Raines earned just 503 fewer plate appearances than the group average, and puts him between Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn’s career. If not for his battle with Lupus, he would have certainly come to bat more often.

Tim Raines also reached base 3977 times, via hit, walk, or hit batter. (He actually exceeded the 4000 level, if you include reaching base on error.) The Hall of Fame group average was 3908, which is 69 less than Raines, despite those players having 503 more plate appearances than Raines. The players ahead and behind Raines in times reached base are Reggie Jackson and Tony Gwynn, respectively.

You notice a repeating trend here? Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines, while somewhat comparable on a skill-by-skill basis, end up being extremely equal when looking at their impact to generating runs. And Tony Gwynn was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

These 22 Hall of Famers had a .288 batting average, compared to Raines’ .294. While they had a 30 point advantage in slugging percentage (.455 to .425), Raines had a 24 point advantage in OBP (.385 to .361). Again, Raines is right in the middle of the Hall of Famers. He is simply getting there in different ways.

The one place where Tim Raines stands head and shoulders above the group is in basestealing. Tim Raines not only stole 808 bases, but he was caught stealing only 146 times. The net bases gained on steals is 662. The best basestealers from this Hall of Fame group are Lou Brock (938 SB, 307 CS, 631 net bases) and Joe Morgan (689, 162, 527). If Tim Raines stole 130 more bases and was caught stealing 161 more times, he’d equal Lou Brock’s performance. That’s how bad a basestealer Raines would have to be to bring himself down from his high perch, down to Lou Brock’s very high level.

One objection to being compared to these 22 players is that they are not necessarily the best comparison group. After all, can we really compare Raines to Gary Carter and Ozzie Smith? We can try to whittle the list down a bit. Let’s remove all catchers, shortstops, and first basemen, players who earn a substantial bonus for their fielding, or have to overcompensate with their hitting to make up for plugging up the first base position. We do away with Carter, Bench, Fisk, Ozzie, Ripken, Stargell, Murray, and Perez, leaving us with 14 Hall of Famers. If we pro-rate the performance of the remaining 14 (shown as HOF14 below) to Raines’ 10,359 plate appearances, this is what we get:


Raines HOF14
2381 2409 Runs Produced

3977 3819 Times On Base
2605 2699 Hits
713 840 Extra Base Hits
1330 1079 Walks
662 188 SB – CS

.294 .296 BA
.385 .370 OBP
.425 .457 SLG
1.119 1.124 modified OPS (1.8*OBP + SLG)

Raines is just 28 runs produced behind these players, despite playing a substantial portion of his career as a leadoff hitter (runs produced slightly favors middle-of-the order hitters). While these more offensive-minded hitters had a 32 point advantage in slugging, Raines had a 15 point advantage in OBP. “Modified OPS” is a measure that more closely aligns itself to overall run production than OPS, and we see that the 32 points on one side almost perfectly match the 15 points on the other. And this disregards Raines’ basestealing completely.

Conclusion

The difference between comparing to groups, as opposed to one-on-one comparisons, is that we are no longer fascinated by milestones like 3000 hits, or .300 batting average. Immortality is not about achieving some arbitrary rounded-number milestone. This is especially true in this case, since baseball is not about getting hits, but about generating runs. It’s runs that leads to wins, not hits. Hits is just one component of creating runs. Extra base hits, walks, and steals are the other main components.

While individually, Raines is unlike his peers, overall, it’s hard to distinguish them. Any time we compare Raines to a reasonable group of Hall of Famers, we always end up with the same thing: Raines is just like them. If you have a group of players worthy of the Hall, and an individual player compares very favorably to that group, you have a Hall-worthy player by definition. That is what Tim Raines is: the definition of a Hall of Famer. Whether Raines is compared to the best of the best leadoff hitters or the best No. 3 hitters or the best players of his era, he stands among them. And they stand in the Hall of Fame.

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