Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Arguing Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame Candidacy

Initially, I was going to write a piece breaking down my non-existent Baseball Hall of Fame vote, with the announcement of the 2012 inductees just days away. Instead, I have been flabbergasted by the lack of support for the one player on the ballot that I believe should be the biggest slam dunk, and instead will take to my keyboard in his defense. The player in question is Jeff Bagwell, and anyone who doesn't think he is a worthy Hall of Fame candidate are clearly out of their collective minds.

The best and simplest argument in favor of Bagwell, are like most Hall of Famers, found in his numbers. In 15 major league seasons, he played in 2,150 games, hitting .297 with 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI. Other notable Bagwell stats include his 2,314 base hits, 488 doubles, 202 stolen bases, 1,401 walks, and .948 OPS.

Bagwell’s numbers are even more impressive when placed into historical context. His 79.9 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is good for 37th all time amongst position players and 57th among all players. He also places high all time in OPB (22nd), home runs (35th), RBI (46th), walks (28th), runs created (37th with 1,788), and extra base hits (41st with 969).

Offensive numbers are not the only highlights on Bagwell’s Hall of Fame resume, as he was also an excellent fielder. His 2,111 games at first base represent the 10th highest total of all time. Additionally, he ranks highly in other defensive categories like putouts (25th) and assists (2nd), while only committing 129 total errors, good for a .993 career fielding percentage.

I have seen a variety of arguments stating why Bagwell doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, but they are all easily debunked.

He was probably one of the “steroid guys”: It is true that Bagwell played during the height of PEDs in baseball. Is it possible that he did use performance enhancers that positively impacted his career? Sure. However, there has never been a shred of evidence connecting him to such substances, and any allegations to the contrary are rumor and innuendo until proven otherwise.

When Bagwell first came up to the majors, he was a slender hitter without much power, but he eventually developed into a muscular slugger. Suggestions that this was achieved by weight lifting and hard work are typically met with raised eyebrows, sarcasm, or both. However in the absence of contrary evidence, that explanation is as plausible as any.

Not only is there an absence of proof linking Bagwell to PEDS; there is no scientific evidence quantifying the impact they have on users. Additionally, voters and fans concerned with unfair advantages never mention major leaguers who prior to 1947, were prevented from competing against black players.

He “only” made four All-Star games: Shockingly, Bagwell was an All Star in just four seasons- 1994, 1996-97, and 1999. However, this reflects more the deep first base position in the National League, and how lesser candidates were sometimes chosen because of popularity, or the need to represent every team on each squad. Bagwell played during the primes of star first basemen like Mark McGwire, Todd Helton, Andres Galarraga, and Fred McGriff; making competition stiff for All Star berths.

Bagwell was also outright stiffed at times when it came to All Star selections. In 2000, Bagwell hit .310 with 47 home runs, 132 RBI, 107 walks, and a league leading 152 runs scored. In 2001, he hit .288 with 39 home runs, 130 RBI, 106 walks, 43 doubles, and 126 runs scored. He failed to make the All Star squad in either season; while first baseman like Sean Casey and Ryan Klesko made it. While they had fine seasons, they were nowhere near Bagwell’s production- and tellingly were their team’s lone representative.  

His production came from playing half his games in a hitter’s stadium: Bagwell did play his home games in hitters’ parks and his numbers were better there- but not by much. In 1,083 home games he hit .303 with 234 home runs, 779 RBI, and a .978 OPB. Conversely, his 1,067 road games resulted in a .291 batting average with 215 home runs, 750 RBI, and .919 OPB; a more than respectable split, and proof he was a dangerous hitter no matter where he played.

He didn’t win enough awards or big games: I agree that Bagwell didn’t get all the recognition he deserved awards-wise during his career, but he still did okay for himself. He won the 1994 MVP Award and was a top-10 finisher in five additional seasons. He was also the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year, a three time Silver Slugger recipient, and while I don’t put much stock in them, also won a Gold Glove.

Bagwell never won a championship, but was part of six playoff teams. In 33 career playoff games he struggled, hitting .226 with 2 home runs and 13 RBI, but was not the primary reason his teams didn’t advance further. As long as Houston had an offense led by the Killer B’s of Bagwell and Craig Biggio, their lineup was always sufficient. However, their teams were often limited by their lack of pitching depth.

2004 and 2005 were Houston’s best chances of winning championships during Bagwell’s era, as they had Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, and Andy Pettitte in their rotation. Unfortunately these seasons were the last two of Bagwell’s outstanding career, and 2005, the year the team finally went to a World Series, was his last; an injury plagued campaign that saw him play in only 39 regular season games.

There have been 229 former major league players inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 159 being position players. With statistics making such a strong case that Bagwell is among the 50 most productive players of all time, how can there be any argument that he does not deserve his own enshrinement?

Increasingly, campaigns have surfaced against some players as they become Hall of Fame eligible. Unfortunately, Bagwell has fallen into this grouping. He inexplicably received only 41.7% of votes cast last year, his first year of eligibility, and he faces an uphill battle going forward to improve upon that number, which flies in the face of his qualifications. 

I have shown through just facts that Bagwell is a Hall of Fame player. In fact, I defy anyone to present a logical counter argument. Instead of reaching for shaky reasons to exclude him, people should review the information that demands his inclusion. 


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