Should Lou Whitaker be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame? In short, yes. Below is a statistical look at how he compares to Hall of Fame averages, and to some of his HOF contemporaries.
The chart starts with the averages of the 19 second basemen already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. This group represents the 19 players who were elected as players only, and were enshrined because of their MLB playing careers, and it includes Rod Carew. Carew ended up playing more games at first than second base however five of his eight peak seasons were played at second, so I’ve included his numbers with these averages.
An interesting note about this group of 19, 11 of them started their careers before 1945. 7 of those players started before 1925. Modern second basemen are under represented in the Hall of Fame, that’s one of the reasons I think Whitaker is deserving.
Next on the chart are a look at Whitaker’s career numbers.
Whitaker exceeds the Hall of Fame standard in bWAR (Baseball-Reference) and meets them in fWAR (FanGraphs). He also exceeds standards in UZR, having saved 77 runs over his career, 8.5 more than the Hall of Fame average. Whitaker also comes very close to the standards in OPS+ and wRC+, and just about all of his counting numbers land above the averages.
Next on the chart are the averages for every position player enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Again, this group of players are the Hall of Famers who were elected as players only, for their MLB career.
Whitaker exceeds the overall Hall averages in bWAR, fWAR, and UZR. His wRC+, and OPS+ fall short however with numbers like that it’s more important to compare him against the standards at second base. No one expects a player like Whitaker (or any second basemen for that matter) to put up the offensive numbers of the Hall of Famers who played first base or in the outfield.
The last set of numbers on the chart above are the Hall of Fame averages for players who started their career from 1945-present. I like looking at these numbers more than the overall averages because of how much the game has changed over the past 140 years. Comparing Whitaker (or any modern player) to the players who played in a segregated league when the game was still developing, doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Whitaker approaches the modern standards in both bWAR & fWAR, and meets them in OBP.
In addition to the numbers listed above, Whitaker also comes very close to the standards in C-WAR. C-WAR is a Hall of Fame monitoring system I created using career and peak WAR. C-WAR is the career WAR(P) totals from Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus added up and averaged out, plus an eight year peak (five best years in a row, plus 3 best additional years) from Baseball-Reference. Click here for more information on C-WAR.
The average C-WAR line for a Hall of Fame second baseman is: 70.1 career average/47.1 peak/117.1 C-WAR. C-WAR. Whitaker’s line looks like this 67.3 career average/40.6 peak/107.9 C-WAR. Whitaker’s 107.9 C-WAR is a greater number posted by nine second basemen enshrined in the Hall, including Roberto Alomar who is at 106.8.
Whitaker’s OPS+ (117) and wRC+ (117) are also nearly identical to Alomar’s 116 and 118. According to UZR, Whitaker bested Alomar by 87 runs saved over their careers. I’m not trying to make a case against Alomar, I think he’s deserving and would have voted for him, but it’s strange to see how narrative for two similar players doesn’t quite match up to what their statistics actually represent.
Although Whitaker falls slightly below C-WAR standards, this is where I give him the benefit of the doubt because of the position he played. When it comes to the Hall second base in a mess. The position is flooded with segregation era players and the standards for enshrinement are the most inconsistent. Whitaker ranks 6th in career bWAR for second basemen, ahead of Hall of Famers that include Frisch, Gordon, Sandberg, and Alomar. From 1980-1989 Whitaker’s bWAR of 41.6 ranked 14th in all of baseball, first among second basemen.
Whitaker had four seasons with a bWAR of 5 or more, but none above 7. Whitaker was never dominant, never the best player in the game, but he was consistently very good for well over a decade. He had six full seasons with an OPS+ of 120 or higher, to put that number in perspective that ties him with Ryne Sandberg. Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio each had five.
Speaking of Sandberg, Alomar, and Biggio below is a chart for how Whitaker’s career numbers match up with those guys. I wanted to include a chart like this because I understand that looking at the overall Hall of Fame averages isn’t a perfect mechanism. Different eras greatly skew the averages, as do some of the undeserving members at each position. Comparing Whitaker to Nap Lajoie doesn’t make much sense, but comparing him to Sandberg, Alomar, and Biggio does.
Whitaker tops the group in both bWAR & fWAR. He was the best defensive player of the four saving 77 runs over his career, and has the highest OPS+ at 117. Adding Whitaker’s OPS+ and wRC+ together (new stat!) you get 234, tying Roberto Alomar with the highest number of the group. I think all four are deserving of enshrinement, their numbers are very similar. Sandberg and Alomar are in, Biggio appears on the ballot for the first time in 2013. Whitaker somehow fell off the ballot his first year on it receiving 2.9% of the vote. 75% is needed for admission, something went wrong there.
Whitaker may not have been the best second basemen ever to play, but that’s not what the Hall of Fame is. His traditional counting numbers (RBI, hits, runs, XBH, TB) meet or exceed Hall of Fame standards, and new metrics like WAR help to paint a more accurate picture of his true value.
Whitaker was a better player than at least seven second basemen enshrined in the Hall of Fame and including him would help balance out some of the discrepancies in eras represented, and with the inconsistent admission standards at the position. It’s important that the Hall of Fame represents each era evenly, or as close to even as possible. Some positions do that better than others, second base needs a lot of help, Whitaker is part of the solution.
One other note, because the numbers used to the compile the Hall of Fame averages are MLB stats only, it makes it impossible for me to include players who played exclusively in the Negro Leagues. Nothing has diluted stats and the integrity of the game like the exclusion of black players for over fifty years. While I can’t include them with these averages, I encourage you to visit the websites for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame to find out more about the many great players who were shamefully excluded from the game because of the color of their skin.
Many thanks to the incredibly smart people who work at Baseball-Reference, and FanGraphs, without their tireless efforts to improve and maintain their sites and information none of this research would be possible. It’s also worth noting that sometimes FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference have slightly different numbers for the same player. For example, FanGraphs has Willie Mays with 12,493 plate appearances, Baseball-Reference has him at 12,496. These slight differences are common with historical players, the differences aren’t enough to skew the averages but it’s worth mentioning that the statistics represented in the chart above were compiled using data mostly from Baseball-Reference.
Follow Ross on twitter @Rosscarey
Images used courtesy of the Detroit Tigers
Originally posted 11/13/12