As we continue our trek through the 2022 BBWAA Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, let’s take a look at some of the outfielders on the ballot. Specifically, some outfielders that seem to be gaining steam but still face an uphill battle to make the Hall of Fame. We’ll zero in on Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones and Bobby Abreu. Do they belong? Is there a path? Let’s go.
One of the most consistently great hitters in the league for two decades, Sheffield had the fear factor and an iconic stance (the bat wiggle!). In parts of 22 seasons, he hit .292/.393/.514 (140 OPS+) with 2,689 hits, 467 doubles, 509 homers, 1,676 RBI, 1,636 runs, 253 stolen bases and 60.5 WAR. He walked 1,475 times compared to 1,171 strikeouts, which was truly a feather in his cap given the era in which he played and that he was a slugger. Though he never won an MVP, three times he finished in the top three. There’s really little doubting his volume or rate stats. He’s easily there as a hitter.
Detractors might point to Sheffield’s defense. Just to throw this out there as one example of the shortcoming, his offensive WAR was 80.7 and defensive WAR was -27.7. Yes, negative 27.7. Yikes.
Here I’ll point out several things. First off, there’s no requirement that a player be good at everything. Not only are there plenty of bat-first Hall of Famers, there are DHs (David Ortiz is likely to make it, too) and there are also a litany of soft-hitting players in the Hall based upon defense. Sheffield’s bat more than makes up for his less-than-stellar defense.
The other thing hanging over Sheffield’s head is the character clause and performance-enhancing drug ties. He has the BALCO connection — even if it was loose, it’s enough for some voters to avoid him — and was named in the Mitchell Report.
For a much more in-depth study of Sheffield’s case, jump over to my 2017 piece. The only thing that’s changed is his skyrocketing vote total.
Speaking of which, Sheffield was a bit of an afterthought in Hall voting for five years, but then jumped from 13.6 percent to 30.5 percent and took another leap to 40.6 percent last year. This is his eighth time on the ballot of a possible 10 and he needs to get to 75 percent. It’s doable. Let’s see if he can get over 50 percent this time around and I think I’d be confident he’ll make it.
Through his age-29 season, Jones as a Hall of Famer was almost a foregone conclusion. Then he gained a bunch of weight, lost his seemingly supernatural defensive ability in center field and stopped hitting. From his age-30 season through the end of his career, he hit .214/.314/.420. In his last five seasons, he was worth just 1.7 WAR. He had five individual seasons with at least 6.5 WAR before that.
It seems like the memory of a bloated Jones with a bloated salary has stained him for a good portion of voters, though the tide may be turning. In four voting cycles, he’s gone from 7.3 to 7.5 to 19.4 to 33.9 percent. That’s some real momentum and perhaps those of us who believe he should be a Hall of Famer have been successfully getting our message out.
Jones ended up with 434 homers and was north of 1,200 RBI and runs. He was a good to very good offensive player who in 2005 led the majors with 51 homers and led the NL with 128 RBI. He topped 30 homers seven times and 100 RBI five times.
But his offense is only a supplement. As noted above with Sheffield, nowhere is it written that a Hall of Famer has to be great at everything. There’s an argument to be made that Jones was the single greatest defensive center fielder of all time (I went more in depth on this issue last year, for those interested).
Just as a jumping off point, let’s look at Total Zone Runs. This stat attempts to put a number of runs a player was above or below average. Jones ranks second in MLB history behind legendary third baseman Brooks Robinson. Here’s the top five in total zone runs in center field:
1. Jones, 230
2. Willie Mays, 176
3. Paul Blair, 171
4. Jim Piersall, 128
5. Kenny Lofton, 117
He’s even blowing out Mays!
Jones sits 11th in center fielders in JAWS, ahead of Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn, Andre Dawson, Billy Hamilton (no, not that one), Kirby Puckett and Hack Wilson, among others. He only trails Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Mike Trout, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Duke Snider, Carlos Beltran and Lofton.
Team that with being the best ever on defense at the position and he should be an easy yes, the terrible last part of his career notwithstanding.
In Joe Posnanski’s excellent book, The Baseball 100, he mentions that we sometimes have a tendency to overrate players who are exceptional at one thing while underrating players who are just good or even very good at many things. He wasn’t talking about Abreu, but it occurs to me that it applies to Abreu.
Abreu only made two All-Star teams and never finished higher in MVP voting than 12th. He also hit .291 in nearly 8,500 at-bats and got on base at a .395 clip in over 10,000 plate appearances. He slugged .475 and checked in with a 128 OPS+. He racked up 2,470 hits and 1,476 walks, placing him 49th in MLB history in times on base. He sits 82nd in runs, 89th in RBI, 61st in extra-base hits and 88th in total bases. His 574 doubles are 25th. He stole 400 bases, too.
So there it is. Abreu was very good at so many different things, but he wasn’t elite at any, save for maybe his on-base ability in his prime (then again, he never finished higher than third in his league in a season).
Abreu is 20th in JAWS among right fielders. He’s actually ahead of Sheffield and Hall of Famers Vladimir Guerrero, Chuck Klein, Tony Oliva and a few others, but he’s below the standard and trails the likes of Dwight Evans, Reggie Smith and Sammy Sosa.
I did a much more in depth case on Abreu last year, for those interested. I came down as a “no” on Abreu, but I’m open to changing my mind moving forward.
Abreu got 5.5 percent of the vote in his first year and 8.7 last year in his second stint on the ballot. He appears to be gaining steam again and is likely to sit somewhere in the mid-teens in 2022, I’d bet.
Obviously, Sheffield, Jones and Abreu aren’t the only outfielders on the ballot this year. We’ve already covered Barry Bonds. Sammy Sosa is in his swan song and I’ve covered him plenty (I have a parting shot for when I reveal what my ballot would have looked like). Carl Crawford had an admirable career, but he’s a one-and-done. Manny Ramirez will continue to linger in no-man’s land due to his two failed PED tests and their resulting suspensions, so I don’t feel like there’s much to discuss there.
And then there’s Torii Hunter. It surprised me that he got 9.5 percent of the vote last year in his first try. The five-time All-Star won nine Gold Gloves and was long a very productive player. In parts of 19 years, he hit .277/.331/.461 (110 OPS+) with 2,452 hits, 498 doubles, 353 homers, 1,391 RBI, 1,296 runs and 195 steals.
Hunter sits 36th in JAWS among center fielders, in the ballpark of players like Brett Butler, Curtis Granderson, Andrew McCutchen, Ellis Burks, Willie Wilson, Mike Cameron and Steve Finley. Quite simply, that’s a good career that is short of Hall of Fame worthiness.
Jones and Sheffield aren’t short, however, in my view, and Abreu deserves a long look.