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Friday, January 6, 2012

Bernie Williams Keltner List

I'd like to change gears here for a couple of days and remind everyone that it's baseball Hall of Fame season.  My favorite way to analyze retired players is with the Keltner List and I've done a few Keltner Lists on this blog to decipher candidates voters are divided on (Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, Jim Rice).  As a reminder the Keltner List is a systematical method used to determine the Hall of Fame eligibility of a Hall of Fame candidate created by Bill James.  It is comprised of fifteen non-numeric questions that allow the voter (or fan) to evaluate how the player is viewed both historically and when compared to others of his era.  This year's most discussed candidate is Bernie Williams.
In Bernie Williams' 16-year career, he played in the postseason  twelve
times including six World Series. His career postseason OPS is .850.

  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? No, though he was selected to multiple All-Star games and batted in the heart of the order for baseball's best team nearly his entire career.
  2. Was he the best player on his team? He was the best position player from 1995 through 1997 on an up and coming Yankee dynasty. He was the second best everyday player from 1998-2000 when some guy named Jeter became a superstar.
  3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position? Bernie had the unfortunate circumstance of being a contemporary to Ken Griffey, Jr. He and Kenny Lofton were often regarded as the next best American League center fielders.
  4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races? Absolutely.  Bernie Williams played in the postseason every year from 1995-2006.  He won a batting title in 1998, hit 20-30 home runs every year during his prime, and won four gold gloves.  He batted third in the lineup for the majority of the Yankee dynasty.
  5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime? Yes, but the wheels came off quickly.  In 2002 at the age of 33 he hit .333/.415/.493 for .908 OPS and finished tenth in the MVP voting. His next (and final) four years his OPS numbers were .778, .795, .688, and .768.  While not awful, they were a far cry from his younger days.
  6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame? No. Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Mark McGwire are all clearly better.
  7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame? According to Baseball-Reference, Bobby Abreu and Paul O’Neill are his two most similar comps.  Both players were excellent in their own right but not clear-cut Hall of Famers though Abreu’s case will need some further evaluation.
  8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? While he only led the league in one category his entire career (won 1998 batting title), he finished in the top ten in hits three times, runs scored three times, on base percentage five times, and slugging percentage twice.  He finished in the top ten in WAR three times. He scored 100 or more runs eight times including seven straight seasons from 1996-2002 and only struck out 100 times once in 1993.  He finished with a career .297/.381/.477 batting line, 2336 hits, and 287 home runs.  Solid but not spectacular.
  9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics? Though he won four gold gloves, modern defensive metrics show he was probably only an average defender at best for most of his career.  He was underrated offensively since his on base skill wasn’t fully appreciated until late in his career.
  10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in? If we’re considering players that are strictly center fielders then I think a case can be made.  He had greater longevity than Dale Murphy but his peak wasn’t as flashy.  Unlike Murphy he played his entire career in center until his final season which works to his advantage when comparing the two.
  11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? Bernie had four seasons in which he should have garnered some serious MVP love but never finished higher than tenth.  Part of this was due to playing on a team with other great players and part of it was just due having a skill set that was not valued the way it is today.  He was definitely an underrated player. 
  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? He was selected to five midsummer classics which seems to be a low to moderate amount for a potential Hall of Fame candidate.
  13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant? Clearly. The Yankees went to the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Bernie was the best player on two of those teams (’96 and ’98) and each time they won it all.
  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? He is one of the five or six greatest switch hitters in baseball history.
  15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider? Bernie Williams was considered a team player and was a favorite of Joe Torre.  There are no character issues that should detract from his candidacy.
Conclusion
The Yankees would not have been the dynasty they were without Bernie Williams in the middle of their lineup.  While his power stats may be scrutinized and considered underwhelming due to playing in the “Steroid Era,” he's eligible for the Hall of Fame in a time where his other skills will be properly recognized.  If push came to shove I would not vote for him though I may change my mind in the future. There are several Hall of Fame outfielders I’d take Bernie before such as Lloyd Waner, Earl Combs, Lou Brock and even last year's inductee Andre Dawson.  If his career had been just a bit longer he would have my vote.  As it is I just believe he falls short of most benchmarks that make him a Hall of Famer .
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