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Monday, January 10, 2011

Jeff Bagwell Keltner List

I'm going to do a series of Keltner list evaluations for players on the Hall of Fame ballot that were not enshrined. I've done this for Tim Raines and Jim Rice in the past.

  1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball? Jeff Bagwell won the 1994 NL MVP and was considered one of the game's top players for the remainder of the decade. There was a strong debate on who was the greater first baseman, him or Frank Thomas. Each was often compared to Jimmie Foxx as possibly the second greatest first baseman of all time.
  2. Was he the best player on his team? Bagwell was either the first or second best player on his team every year 1993 to 2001.
  3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position? Bagwell played at a time where most of the high profile names were also first basemen. Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Mark Grace, Will Clark, Jim Thome, and Fred McGriff are contemporaries who will all receive HOF consideration. It's safe to say that at worst Bagwell ranks third in this group behind the Big Hurt and Big Mac.
  4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races? Houston qualified for the playoffs six times with Bagwell as their first baseman.  They finished second in the division five other times. His performance in the playoffs, however, was the cause of much criticism. He's a career .226/.364/.321 hitter in nine playoff series with only two home runs. Furthermore he was just 1-8 in his only World Series appearance.
  5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime? Yes. As he slipped into his mid-thirties the Astros moved from the Astrodome (an extreme pitcher's park) to Enron Field (an extreme hitter's park) hiding his declining performance. His career came to a close as a result of constant, nagging injuries as opposed to declining performance.
  6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame? Quite possibly.
  7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame? Bagwell's 449 home runs fall within Hall of Fame standards and his .149 career OPS+ (.448 OBP, .540 SLG) would rank well ahead of other power-hitting first basemen Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, and Willie McCovey.  Needless to say these numbers also dwarf those of recent inductees Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.
  8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? Absolutely. According to Baseball Prospectus, Bagwell's career WARP (wins above replacement) is 91.2 whereas the average HOF first baseman's is 61.3.  In Bagwell's peak seasons (1994-2000) he averaged a .309 batting average with 37 home runs, 110 walks, and 20 stolen bases. Add in very good defense and you have one of the most well-rounded ball players in baseball history. 
  9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics? See number five.  It's likely his numbers are right about where they should be due to early offensive repression and late career inflation due to his home ball parks.
  10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in? That depends on how you view Mark McGwire, but I would say yes.
  11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? Bagwell won the 1994 N.L. MVP, finished second in 1999, and third in 1997. Additionally, he finished seventh in both 2000 and 2001.  1994 will go down as one of the greatest all round seasons in recent history as he hit .368/.451/.750  with 39 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and a gold glove in the strike shortened season.
  12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame? Bagwell was a four time all-star but had at least eight seasons that were good enough for an all-star spot.
  13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant? Yes, although Houston advanced to the World Series just once while Bagwell was a member of the team. From 1997-1999 Houston lost in the NLDS in just three or four games.
  14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? One thing I'll always remember about Bagwell was the huge elbow pad he wore over his left elbow. This allowed him to crowd the plate with little fear. He led the league in HBP his rookie season and got beaned at least ten times seven seasons in a 15 year career. Late in his career MLB began cracking down on the use of huge armor but Bagwell was able to keep his elbow pad.
  15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider? There has been a lot of speculation that Bagwell's performance was enhanced due to the use of steroids, yet there has been no proof or link to his name other than media speculation. Bagwell was not involved in the Balco scandal nor was he included in the Mitchell Report. Yes, he was a very large guy but so was Frank Thomas and we know he's clean. Other than that, Bagwell was considered a good teammate and was friendly with the media.
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