Hall of Fame standards vary by position, but a C-WAR score of 100 is usually the minimum of being Hall worthy. Ideally a player’s peak is 40+ (averaging 5 or more wins a year during their eight year peak) and his career average is 60+. The average C-WAR line for a Hall of Fame center fielder is: 73.8 career average/47.1 peak/121.0 C-WAR. Those are by far and away the highest standards at any position, only five center fielders enshrined in the Hall actually meet them. So many all-time great players played center field, Mays, Mantle, Cobb, and Speaker all greatly shift the averages up. Obvious Hall of Famers like Duke Snider, Billy Hamilton, and Richie Ashburn fall short of those standards, that doesn’t mean they are not deserving, they are, as are several others. There are 20 center fielders currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame, three played exclusively in the Negro Leagues.
How to read the chart below:
The player’s name is followed by their career WAR from Baseball-Reference (BR), FanGraphs (FG), and Baseball Prospectus (BP). Those three numbers (or two, BP doesn’t publish historical WAR data prior to 1950) are averaged out (AVG). The AVG is the first half of C-WAR. Next you will find the player’s five best years in a row (BR-5), followed by the player’s three best additional seasons (BR-3), both according to Baseball- Reference’s WAR. Next to that is the total peak value (PK) of the five best years, and three best additional years added together. PK is the second half of C-WAR. Adding AVG+PK=C-WAR. The seasons next to PK are the five best years in a row (5 YEARS), followed by the three best additional years (3 YEARS +). The last number is C-WAR. Players highlighted in gold are members of the Hall of Fame. Players in blue are still active. You can zoom in and out of the chart with the magnifying glass symbols on the right, and download the entire PDF.
Please note that Baseball Prospectus’ WARP system is very unstable and produces frequent changes to a player’s value. The numbers below are up to date as of 11/24/12
Below is the chart for center fielders:
Some notes on the chart:
1. Willie Mays 159.3 AVG/80.3 PK/239.6 C-WAR
Willie Mays averaged an incredible ten wins a year during his eight year peak, a peak that ranks 2nd all-time trailing only Babe Ruth’s. Mays finished with a slash line of .302/.384/.557 with an OPS of .941 and a OPS+ of 156, while also being one of the greatest defensive players the game has ever seen. Mays led the National League in home runs four times, stolen bases four times, on-base percentage twice, OPS five times, and OPS+ six times. Mays is one of just four players in history to finish his career with at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Using Baseball- Reference’s WAR Mays has six of the top 12 seasons a center fielder has ever had. From 1960-1969 Mays led the majors in WAR (Baseball- Reference) at 81.7. Mays remains the greatest combination of power, speed, and defense the game has ever seen, many consider him to be the best ever to play, looking at his advanced and traditional numbers, it’s hard to argue that.
2. Ty Cobb 154.4 AVG/74.4 PK/228.8 C-WAR
Ty Cobb averaged 9.3 wins a year during his eight year peak. Cobb led the American League in batting average 11 times, on-base percentage 7 times, slugging percentage 8 times, OPS 10 times, and total bases 6 times. Cobb’s career average of .366 ranks first all-time, he also ranks top ten in wOBA, wRC+, and OBP. Cobb hit over .400 three different times (only two of those led the league), and his 4,189 hits ranks 2nd trailing only Pete Rose’s 4,256. From 1910-1919 Cobb led the majors in WAR (Baseball-Reference) worth 81.8 wins, eight more than the 2nd best player during that stretch, Tris Speaker. There is no disputing Cobb’s dominance, however he played his entire career in a segregated league when the game was still in it’s infancy. Taking all of his numbers at face value is a mistake.
3. Tris Speaker 135.2 AVG/66.9 PK/202.1 C-WAR
Not quite as good as his contemporary, Cobb, but still an all-time great Tris Speaker averaged 8.4 wins a year during his peak. In 1916 Speaker led the American League in batting average (.386), on-base percentage (.470), slugging percentage (.502) OPS (.972), and OPS+ at 186. Speaker finished his career with the most doubles ever hit (792), and is one of just 28 players to reach the 3,000 hit plateau. Among center fielders with at least 5,000 plate appearances Speaker ranks 2nd in batting average (.345), 4th in wOBA (.436), and third in wRC+ at 158. Speaker played his entire career in the segregated era.
4. Mickey Mantle 115.7 AVG/69.3 PK/185.0 C-WAR
Mickey Mantle averaged 8.7 wins a year during his eight year peak. From 1950-1959 Mantle’s WAR (Baseball-Reference) of 65.4 ranks 1st in all of baseball, ahead of fellow inner circle Hall of Famers, Stan Musial and Willie Mays. In 1957 Mantle posted a WAR of 11.1 (Baseball-Reference), that ties him with Ty Cobb as the best single season a center fielder has ever produced. Using Baseball-Reference’s WAR Mantle has three of the top ten seasons at center, including two of the top three. Mantle won the triple crown in 1956, and posted a WAR of 11.0 while doing so. Among center fielders with at least 5,000 plate appearances Mantle ranks 4th in on-base percentage (.421), 5th in wOBA (.431), and tied for 1st (with Cobb) in wRC+ at 171. His .977 OPS also ranks 1st, tied with Joe DiMaggio, but Mantle’s OPS+ of 172 stands alone.
5. Joe DiMaggio 83.6 AVG/54.2 PK/137.8 C-WAR
Joe DiMaggio averaged 6.8 wins a year during his peak. DiMaggio finished with a slash line of .325/.398/.579 with an OPS of .977 and an OPS+ of 155. Among center fielders with at least 5,000 plate appearances DiMaggio ranks 1st in slugging percentage (.579), 3rd in wOBA (.439), and 5th in wRC+ at 153. DiMaggio missed all of his age 28-30 seasons (43-45), due to his military service in World War Two. All of his numbers both traditional and advanced would be significantly higher had he never served
6. Ken Griffey Jr. 80.8 AVG/56.6 PK/137.4 C-WAR
Ken Griffey Jr. averaged 7.1 wins a year during his eight year peak. Griffey led the American League in home runs four times, and total bases twice. From 1990-1999 Griffey’s WAR of 65 (Baseball-Reference) ranks 2nd in all of baseball trailing only Barry Bonds’ 77.9. Griffey finished his career with 630 home runs, ranking 2nd among center fielders, and 6th all-time. Griffey was a complete player during his peak, however injuries robbed him of both his offensive dominance and defensive greatness later in his career. Griffey has no suspicions or whispers of steroid use against him, so he need not worry about the BBWAA moral police keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. Griffey will be inducted his first year on the ballot, rightfully so.
7. Duke Snider 67.4 AVG/52.4 PK/119.8 C-WAR
Snider averaged 6.6 wins a year during his peak, and led the National league in total bases three times. Snider’s slugging percentage of .540 ranks 5th among center fielders with at least 5,000 plate appearances, his .919 OPS ranks 8th. Snider suffers from the comparisons to Mays and Mantle, he wasn’t as good as either of his Hall of Fame contemporaries but that doesn’t mean his enshrinement in the Hall is undeserved.
8. Andruw Jones 63.4 AVG/49.4 PK/112.8 C-WAR (and counting)
Andruw Jones averaged 6.2 wins a year during his peak. Jones is one of five center fielders with 400 or more career home runs, but it’s Jones’ combination of defense and offense that makes him a deserving Hall of Famer. Using the defensive metrics at FanGraphs, Jones ranks as the best defensive center fielder of all-time saving 280 runs over his career, a number that trails only Brooks Robinson’s 294. Jones belongs in the company of other all-time great defensive players/Hall of Famers like Robinson, and Ozzie Smith. Jones is a better hitter than Smith, that much is for sure, and he ranks higher than Robinson in several key offensive categories as well, but again neither Smith or Robinson are in the Hall because of their offense. They were both elected to the Hall of Fame with over 90% of the vote their first year on the ballot because of their defensive excellence, somehow I doubt Jones will be given the same treatment. Perhaps it’s because Jones petered out by the time he hit 30, he fell off the cliff in a way most Hall of Famers don’t. When Jones hit 30, he got out of shape and no longer had the speed to cover ground in the outfield like he used to, or the bat speed necessary to be an elite power hitter anymore. However Jones broke in when he was 19, and started just about every game when he was 20. From 1997-2006 Jones’ first ten full seasons in the league, his WAR was 55.5 (Baseball-Reference) ranking third in all of baseball trailing only Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. Jones won’t get into the Hall of Fame, at least not by the BBWAA, his omission will be a mistake and serve as another example of the inconsistent admission standards.
9. Richie Ashburn 63.9 AVG/47.2 PK/111.1 C-WAR
Richie Ashburn averaged 5.9 wins a year during his eight year peak. Ashburn led the National League in batting average twice, and on-base percentage four times. From 1950-1959 Ashburn’s WAR of 48.3 (Baseball-Reference) ranked 6th in the majors, behind only fellow Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, and Eddie Mathews.
10. Jim Edmonds 63 AVG/45.4 PK/108.4 C-WAR
Jim Edmonds averaged 5.7 wins a year during his eight year peak. Edmonds was an excellent defensive player and power hitter. He finished his career with 393 home runs, 6th among center fielders. Among center fielders with at least 5,000 plate appearances Edmonds ranks 8th in slugging percentage (.527), and 10th in OPS at .903. Edmonds has no black ink on his Hall of Fame resume, that doesn’t help his case. I would vote him in, but his credentials are borderline.
11. Billy Hamilton 63.4 AVG/46.3 PK/109.7 C-WAR
Billy Hamilton averaged 5.8 wins a year during his peak. Hamilton led the National League in on-base percentage five times, and OPS twice. Among center fielders with at least 5,000 plate appearances Hamilton ranks 3rd in batting average (.344), 1st in on-base percentage (.455), 2nd in wOBA (.447) and 6th in wRC+ at 150. Hamilton played his entire career when the game was segregated and still developing, taking his numbers at face value is a mistake.
12. Kenny Lofton 62.3 AVG/45.8 PK/108.1 C-WAR
Kenny Lofton averaged 5.7 wins a year during his eight year peak. Using the defensive metrics at FanGraphs, Lofton ranks 7th among center fielders with 114 runs saved, he also ranks 6th in stolen bases with 622. That’s what Lofton was, an elite combination of defensive and speed. He also was a career .299 hitter with a .372 on-base percentage. Lofton played during a time when the home run was king and people weren’t noticing defensive and base running like they had in years past. The BBWAA has since discredit (unfairly) most of the home run hitters who played in the 90’s and early 2000’s. One would think with power being devalued, Hall of Fame voters would put more weight on defense and speed, and turn their attention to players like Lofton. 2013 will be Lofton’s first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and unfortunately, likely his last.
13. Reggie Smith 66.6 AVG/40.5 PK/107.1 C-WAR
Reggie Smith averaged 5.1 wins a year during his eight year peak. Smith was undervalued for much of his playing career, but was a consistent performer for nearly fifteen years. From 1967-1980 Smith’s WAR of 58.6 (Baseball-Reference) ranked 7th in baseball. There are several reasons why players can get undervalued or overlooked during their careers. Overshadowed by a better teammate (Yastrzemski), late bloomers (not in this case), not excelling at any one thing (yup), played in a small market (nope), no clear primary position (mostly OF some 1B), several other great players playing your position league wide (not really). Whatever the reason, Smith was seemingly never given the credit he deserved when he played. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer, who was a better player than at least eight center fielders enshrined in the Hall, that’s pretty good.
14. Carlos Beltran 61.5 AVG/45.3 PK/106.8 C-WAR
Carlos Beltran averaged 5.7 wins a year during his eight year peak. Beltran is one of just eight players with 300 or more home runs and stolen bases. Beltran is an elite base runner, among integration era (1947-present) players with 300 steals or more, Beltran’s stolen base percentage of 87% ranks 1st. From 2000-2009 Beltran’s WAR (Baseball-Reference) of 48.8 ranked 6th in the majors, ahead of people like Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Vlad Guerrero, and Manny Ramirez. For some, Beltran is that guy who never lived up to his massive contract, that guy who didn’t swing at the final pitch of the 2006 NLCS, or that guy that was too often injured to ever be considered great, that’s a shame if that’s all they see, they are missing a Hall of Fame career.
15. Jimmy Wynn 60.7 AVG/45.3 PK/106.0 C-WAR
Jimmy Wynn averaged 5.7 wins a year during his peak, and twice led the National League in walks. Wynn like Smith was underrated when he played. From from 1965-1974 Wynn’s WAR (Baseball-Reference) of 47 ranked 5th in baseball behind only Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, and Roberto Clemente. Wynn’s career batting average of .250 was likely the main reason why he fell off the Hall of Fame ballot his first year on it without receiving one vote. I wouldn’t put Wynn in the Hall but he is borderline and was a better player than at least seven center fielders enshrined.
Since Baseball Prospectus does not publish WAR data for players before 1950, this does create a bit of unfair advantage for those players. This is because of the three sites, Baseball Prospectus tends to have the lowest WAR values for a player (especially with pitchers), so it puts modern players (1950-present) at an unfair disadvantage. So to adjust for this, below is the center fielders chart excluding Baseball Prospectus’ WAR altogether.
Kenny Lofton experienced a significant bump up on this list. His C-WAR score went from 108.1 to 111.4, and he moved up three places.
Since I calculated peak using only rWAR, below is the chart using just Baseball Reference’s WAR. Another words this is a player’s career WAR plus his eight year peak using on Baseball-Reference. FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus are not factored in to the chart below at all.
This list produced only modest changes from the previous one, I fine all three valuable to look at.
Because C-WAR focuses only on WAR, it makes it impossible for me to include Negro League players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Nothing compromised the numbers or integrity of the game like the exclusion of black players for over fifty years. While I can’t include them in C-WAR, I do want to mention Cristóbal Torriente, Turkey Stearnes, and Cool Papa Bell all were elected to the Hall of Fame as center fielders. Who knows how great they could have been, or how different the record book would look if they were all simply allowed to have played in the majors.
Many thanks to the incredibly smart people who work at Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. Without their tireless efforts to improve and maintain their sites and information none of this research would be possible.
Any questions or comments about the Hall, or a player listed or not listed above, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @Rosscarey
Originally posted 8/8/12