Jeff Bagwell: Hall of Famer?

In Alyson Footer’s Inbox today, Miriam G. of Houston asked the following question:

What is all this talk about Biggio getting into the Hall of Fame on
the first ballot and not Bagwell? People actually seem to believe that
Biggio was always the better player and bigger star! Am I the only
person here who grew up idolizing Bagwell, and thinking of Biggio as
“the other guy?” Don’t get me wrong, I love Biggio as much as any other
Astros fan, but this just isn’t justice! As far as I can see, all
Biggio has on Bags is having outplayed him by a few years.

Craig Biggio.jpgLet’s say something right up front: Craig Biggio is an absolute first-ballot Hall of Famer.  There is absolutely no doubt about that.  Second, let me point out that the fact that “Biggio… outplayed him by a few years” is absolutely important.  Career longevity is very important to the Hall of Fame.  It’s what may keep end up keeping the great Todd Helton out, if the Rockies do not do right by this legendary man and let him continue to play every day.

Craig Biggio, despite coming up as a catcher and playing in the outfield for several years to make room for another Hall-of-Fame second baseman in Jeff Kent, was a second baseman.  He played over 17,000 innings there, and approximately 6,500 elsewhere on the diamond (6,483, but who’s counting? Oh, right. I am.)

There are 18 playes currently listed in the Hall of Fame as second basemen, plus recent Veteran’s Committee inductee Joe Gordon. Looking at the statistics of the Hall of Fame second basemen who have played since 1950, plus likely Hall-of-Fame second basemen Roberto Alomar, Jeff Kent, and Craig Biggio, we get these numbers:

SEASONS: 1. Joe Morgan (22); 2. Craig Biggio (20); 3. Rod Carew (19); Nellie Fox (19); Red Schoendienst (19)

GAMES: 1. Craig Biggio (2850); 2. Joe Morgan (2649); 3. Rod Carew (2469); 4. Roberto Alomar (2379); 5. Nellie Fox (2367)

AT-BATS
: 1. Craig Biggio (10876); 2. Rod Carew (9315); 3. Joe Morgan (9277); 4. Nellie Fox (9232); 5. Roberto Alomar (9073)

RUNS
: 1. Craig Biggio (1844); 2. Joe Morgan (1650); 3. Roberto Alomar (1508); 4. Rod Carew (1424); 5. Jeff Kent (1320)

HITS
: 1. Craig Biggio (3060); 2. Rod Carew (3053); 3. Roberto Alomar (2724); 4. Nellie Fox (2663); 5. Joe Morgan (2517)

DOUBLES
: 1. Craig Biggio (668); 2. Jeff Kent (560); 3. Roberto Alomar (504); 4. Joe Morgan (449); 5. Rod Carew (445)

HOME RUNS
: 1. Jeff Kent (377); 2. Craig Biggio (291); 3. Ryne Sandberg (282); 4. Joe Morgan (268); 5. Joe Gordon (253)

RBI
: 1. Jeff Kent (1518); 2. Bobby Doerr (1247); 3. Craig Biggio (1175); 4. Roberto Alomar (1134); 5. Joe Morgan (1133)

SB
: 1. Joe Morgan (689); 2. Roberto Alomar (474); 3. Craig Biggio (414); 4. Rod Carew (353); 5. Ryne Sandberg (344)

SB%:
1. Jackie Robinson (86.8%); 2. Joe Morgan (81.0%); 3. Roberto Alomar (80.6%); 4. Craig Biggio (77.0%); 5. Red Schoendienst (76.7%)

WALKS
: 1. Joe Morgan (1865); 2. Craig Biggio (1160); 3. Roberto Alomar (1032); 4. Rod Carew (1018); 5. Bobby Doerr (809)

OBP
: 1. Jackie Robinson (.409); 2. Rod Carew (.393); 3. Joe Morgan (.392); 4. Roberto Alomar (.371); 5. Craig Biggio (.363)

GIDP
: 1. Joe Morgan (106); 2. Jackie Robinson (113); 3. Ryne Sandberg (139); 4. Craig Biggio (151); 5. Joe Gordon (159)

HBP
: 1. Craig Biggio (285); 2. Nellie Fox (142); 3. Jeff Kent (125); 4. Jackie Robinson (72); 5. Roberto Alomar (50)

As you can see, Biggio ranks in the top five in every single one of these categories (and fares pretty well in the others, too).  He ranks second all-time in HBP (which brought about an hilarious website to cheer him on to the record), fifth all-time in doubles, and ninth all-time in Power/Speed Number (behind only Joe Morgan at the position).  He produced at a very high level for a very long time, and that is the profile of a Hall-of-Famer.

But what about Bagwell? I hear you asking.  It’s a fair question.

Certainly, of the “Killer B’s” in the nineties, Bagwell was the power bat that commanded respect, whereas Biggio was more of the silent threat.  He was Rookie of the Year.  He was MVP – Biggio never finished closer than 4th (and even that year, Bagwell finished ahead of him.)  He was a consummate team leader and brought a multi-faceted game.

And he may very well end up being a Hall of Famer.  But his numbers are nowhere near as convincing when compare to his peers.

Jeff Bagwell.jpgJeff Bagwell played in 14 full seasons from 1991-2004, and part of a 15th in 2005.  Aside from seven innings in right field and 10 games as a Designated Hitter, they were all at first base. 

During that time, thirty-six first basemen (if one includes designated hitters Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez) represented their leagues in the MLB All-Star game.  For the sake of argument, we’ll call this group Bagwell’s peers.  Though many are still playing, we’ll put their numbers up against his and see where we end up.

Nine of these players – John Jaha, Ron Coomer, Mo Vaughn, Shea Hillenbrand, Dmitri Young, Richie Sexson, Tony Clark, Ken Harvey, and Cecil Fielder – get thrown out for not being in the top ten in any offensive category.

Even still, this is where Bagwell sits on the list:

SEASONS: 1. Eddie Murray (21); Paul Molitor (21); 3. Rafael Palmeiro (20) … 17. Jeff Bagwell (15)

GAMES: 1. Eddie Murray (3026); 2. Rafael Palmeiro (2831); 3. Paul Molitor (2683) … 10. Jeff Bagwell (2150)

AT-BATS: 1. Eddie Murray (11336); 2. Paul Molitor (10835); 3. Rafael Palmeiro (10472) … 8. Jeff Bagwell (7797)

HITS: 1. Paul Molitor (3319); 2. Eddie Murray (3255); 3. Rafael Palmeiro (3020) … 8. Jeff Bagwell (2314)

DOUBLES: 1. Paul Molitor (605); 2. Rafael Palmeiro (585); 3. Eddie Murray (560) … 8. Jeff Bagwell (488)

TRIPLES: 1. Paul Molitor (114); 2. Will Clark (47); 3. Mark Grace (45) … 8. Jeff Bagwell (32)

HOME RUNS: 1. Mark McGwire (583); 2. Rafael Palmeiro (569); 3. Jim Thome (541) … 8. Jeff Bagwell (449)

RBI: 1. Eddit Murray (1917); 2. Rafael Palmeiro (1835); 3. Frank Thomas (1704); 4. Fred McGriff (1550); 5. Jeff Bagwell (1529)

STOLEN BASES: 1. Paul Molitor (504); 2. Jeff Bagwell (202); 3. Gregg Jefferies (196)

WALKS: 1. Frank Thomas (1667); 2. Jim Thome (1550); 3. Jeff Bagwell (1401)

OPS+: 1. Albert Pujols (170); 2. Mark McGwire (162); 3. Frank Thomas (149); 4. Jeff Bagwell (149)

BtRuns: 1. Frank Thomas (754.9); 2. Jeff Bagwell (620.2); 3. Mark McGwire (589.2)

BtWins: 1. Frank Thomas (69.6); 2. Jeff Bagwell (58.4); 3. Mark McGwire (54.9)

Bagwell has some interesting peripherals – his baserunning ability and his ability to draw walks, for instance – that make him an interesting candidate.  But for a first baseman in the late 20th century, it’s all about power, and Bagwell simply didn’t play long enough at a high enough power plateau to earn his spot.

Will he still make it?  Possibly, but the debate is nowhere near as open-and-closed as Biggio’s is.  Several of his biggest competitors – Frank Thomas and Jim Thome, for instance – continue to play in the majors and solidify their own standing.

Had Bagwell been able to play for 3-4 more years, there’s little doubt that he’d be at the top of the class.  But because he wasn’t able to do that, hi
s Hall of Fame status is very much in question.  Unlike #7, who played long enough to silence all doubts and ensure first-ballot entry into the Hall.

10 Comments

You raise an interesting argument for Bagwell to be elected into the HOF. I’ll have to follow him.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Wow, glad I found this blog through your comment on mine (thanks for that by the way). Great analysis of Biggio and Bagwell. I think you’re right, career longevity means a lot. I have so much respect for Biggio, but like Julia, I’ll have to follow Bagwell as well.
-Elizabeth
http://redsoxgirl46.mlblogs.com

Lots of good analysis and thanks. I don’t like to say how I will vote years from now, because we live an era where so much obviously can change. But as of right now, I’d be checking Bidge on my first ballot and Bags did not play long enough. Bags was a great player, part of the Killer B’s. They were both on a JOINT collision course for Cooperstown, for a long time. But then one train stopped on the tracks and the other kept moving. Just the way it is, we all saw it. Have said it over and over: Cooperstown is for the ELITE OF THE ELITE, and when you walk into the Gallery room and look at the plaques on the wall (you MUST do that), that is where you make the judgment in your gut; you know who belongs. You understand, and you remind yourself, why there is a Hall of Fame. You remember the responsibility to accept no fringe. I agree with your last paragraph, except for the part that assumes Bags has a shot. I don’t need a long statistical discourse to decide. Bidge yes, Bags no.

Mark/MLB.com
http://www.mlb.com
http://mlblogs.mlblogs.com
HOF voter, BBWAA lifetime honorary

BTW, I used to cover Kevin Bass on a daily basis when he went on to play for the Giants. He was a class guy to be around each day. I always marveled at his new gloves and how he would break them in, how he carried himself. Good luck to your ‘stros.

Mark/MLB.com

The thing that struck me about the email was that this person was SO convinced that Bagwell was a more legitimate Hall of Famer than Biggio… it’s a common misconception among Astros fans. Bagwell was, after all, the “big bat” we counted on during the nineties. When it was crunch time and we needed a hit, Bagwell was more often than not the guy who came through.

But his career came to a scratching halt. It didn’t end the way he wanted it to; it didn’t end the way we, the fans, wanted it to. Biggio, on the other hand, quietly worked his way to 3,000 hits and beyond. He made himself a no-doubt Hall of Famer and likely first ballot guy. The fan inside me wants to think Bagwell has some sort of chance, though the purist in me knows he doesn’t.

Still, if Tony Perez can get in, there’s a chance for Bagwell. It may come down to the Veteran’s Committee or some such. I’m with you, though. I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer. It’s too bad, because he sure played like one. He just came up a few seasons short.

Great piece. In my book they’re both first ballot HOFers. I think one of the best arguements for Bagwell to get in on his first ballot (2011) is the lack of other potential HOFers in his class or 2010 leftovers for that matter.
2011 class Juan Gonzalez, John Franco, Tino Martinez, Rafael Palmiero, BJ Surhoff and Larry Walker could all have pretty interesting cases. Of course Palmeiro is probably screwed by his *involvement* with PEDs, possibly the same with Gonzalez. The others, I think are clearly behind Bagwell. What could trip him up in 2011, would be if the voters are very split between these guys, and how many of them are still withholding votes from anybody who played during the PED years.
Ben
http://badseed57.mlblogs.com

No doubt on Biggio – first ballot. I’ve never been to Cooperstown – I’ve been waiting all these years for someone to make it in wearing an Astros uni. Biggio is the ticket.

As for Bagwell (Disclaimer: He’s my favorite player EVER), I think he’s got a great chance to make the HOF due to his very impressive mix of skills and stats (the hitting, the baserunning, the fielding) and his fine reputation as a leader and sportsman. I could see him not being voted in the first year. But I’m thinking that Bagwell and Biggio are so linked in the minds of people who’ve followed baseball over the past 20 years that there may be kind of a sentimental urge to bring them in together. So I could see Baggy being voted in on Biggio’s first year on the ballot.

Biggio is actually my favorite player ever. As a former mostly-defensive infielder with some speed and the ability to draw walks, I tend to identify strongly with the scrappy guys who gut their way through a major league career. There’s no doubt that the sentimentality factor would be massive if Bagwell was up for election when Biggio’s turn came around. Especially if he’s crawling up the voting results. That would certainly be a trip to Cooperstown I’d HAVE to take.

http://houston.mlblogs.com

I’m sorry, but Bagwell is a First-Ballot Hall of Famer. Name me the best NL First Baseman in history. Go! Having trouble? Well Albert Pujols and Willie McCovey/Stargell are the only three guys who compare to Bagwell. Thomas, Thome are AL Guys. Palmeiro? AL. Gehrig and Foxx are AL players. At this point I’d rank Bagwell ahead of Pujols in career and peak value, so the NL list goes:
1. Bagwell
2. McCovey
3. Pujols
4. Stargell
right now..
He has a 149 OPS+ over 9431 PA. He’s a clear-cut HoFer and he’ll breeze in in 2011, I think..

Consider this: Jeff Bagwell used steroids…. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, nor Jeff Bagwell deserve to be in the Hall. As far as being a hitting coach… steroids can’t COACH hitting — take for example the fact that the Cardinals aren’t even CLOSE to making the playoffs this year (and who is their hitting coach?)

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