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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hall of Fame Part 1: Ron Santo

The Veterans Committee recently announced ten candidates which the committee will review for inclusion in baseball's most exclusive club- the Hall of Fame- in 2012. Of those ten- Ken Boyer, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Charlie Finley, Buzzie Bavasi, Luis Tiant, Allie Reynolds, and Ron Santo- one really sticks out, Ron Santo. Santo has for a long time been the best eligible player outside the Hall of Fame. In reality, he was probably only passed when Jeff Bagwell failed to gain entry in 2011. So I will be taking a look, one per day if possible, at the ten candidates on the Vets Committee ballot.

There are currently only ten third basemen represented in the Baseball Hall of Fame- Mike Schmidt, Eddie Matthews, Freddie Lindstrom, George Kell, Pie Traynor, Wade Boggs, Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Frank Baker, and Jimmy Collins. Strictly by these third basemen, Santo ranks probably 6th or 7th, ahead of Collins, Traynor, and Kell for sure.

There are many knocks against Santo, but his illustrious career is easily deserving of the Hall of Fame, in my opinion, and I'm going to make my case. Santo's career statistics:

PA: 9396
Runs: 1138
H: 2254
2B: 365
HR: 342
RBI: 1331
AVG: .277
OBP: .362
SLG: .464
OPS+: 125
Total Bases: 3779
rWAR: 66.4
fWAR: 79.3
wRC+: 125
wOBA: .366
wRAA: 391.3

A few notes on these statistics. Even though his pure counting stats are merely decent (342 HR, 2254 H, 1331 RBI, .277 AVG), Santo is an excellent player and it's clear if you delve into his statistics. He played from 1960 to 1974, a heavy pitching-dominated era. He played in an offensive ballpark, but in such a pitching-dominated era that he still played in an environment which, historically, suppressed offense. He played a quite valuable position and played it extremely well, to boot. He wasn't quite the human vacuum that Brooks Robinson was, but he was a plus defender year in, year out. OPS+ is OBP and SLG adjusted for park and era and put on a linear scale where 100 is average. wOBA is a statistic scaled to OBP which used linear weights to measure offensive production fairly accurately. wRC+ is wOBA scaled to OPS+, and wRAA is wOBA and wRC+ scaled to a number which measures runs above average. fWAR is the fangraphs version of Wins Above Replacement, a statistic which measures how many wins a player contributed more than a replacement (think AAAA) player. It uses components- hitting, which is a park-adjusted wRAA, fielding, replacement runs, which is 20 per 600 PA, and positional runs, which adjusts for difficulty of position. This figure, known as runs above replacement, is converted to Wins Above Replacement based on a conversion scale of 10 RAR per 1 WAR. rWAR is a similar figure which used baseball-reference runs above average instead of wRAA, and different replacement runs figures based upon league. It also doesn't condense all aspects of offense into one number but rather includes double play runs, baserunning runs, and runs on errors, in addition to batting runs.

The following is a list of the top third basemen based on total fangraphs WAR. I didn't include Alex Rodriguez because he spent a significant chunk of time as a shortstop.

1. Mike Schmidt: 111
2. Eddie Mathews: 107
3. Wade Boggs: 95
4. Brooks Robinson: 95
5. George Brett: 92
6. Chipper Jones: 88
7. Ron Santo: 79
8. Harmon Killebrew: 78
9. Paul Molitor: 75
10. Scott Rolen: 74
11. Graig Nettles: 72
12. Edgar Martinez: 70
13. Dick Allen: 68
14. Darrell Evans: 68
15. Tony Perez: 68
16. Buddy Bell: 67
17. Frank Baker: 66
18. Ken Boyer: 63
19. Sal Bando: 63
20. Robin Ventura: 61
21. Tommy Leach: 61
22. Ron Cey: 59
23. Stan Hack: 59
24. Bob Elliott: 56
25. Adrian Beltre: 56
26. Jimmy Collins: 55
27. Heinie Groh: 54
28. Larry Gardner: 52
29. Toby Harrah: 51
30. John McGraw: 51

Santo ranks seventh among all third basemen ever in fWAR. He had an incredible peak from 1963 to 1969: 4815 PA, .292/.380/.502, 204 HR, 727 RBI, and 2071 TB. He racked up 51.4 rWAR and 56.9 fWAR, averaging an excellent season. Generally, 70 fWAR and 60 rWAR are good cutoffs for Hall of Fame deservedness. I haven't done an actual study, but I beliebe it's something in the 80s as far as the percentage of players with over 60 rWAR who are in the Hall of Fame. The only eligible players with over 70 rWAR who aren't in the Hall of Fame are Jeff Bagwell and Bill Dahlen, now that Bert Blyleven has been elected.

Just to sure Santo's case up, here is a Keltner List for Santo:

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, suggest that he was the best player in baseball? I would say nobody suggested it while he was active but it's possible Santo was the best player in baseball for a time. He was almost definitely the best or one of the best two or three from '64-'67.

2. Was he the best player on his team? He ranks first by over 10 WAR among Cubs position players throughout his career, owning all of the best four seasons by fWAR by a Cub in the '60s. So definitely.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position? Brooks Robinson had more good seasons, but Santo peaked higher. Regardless, Santo is bar none in the National League at his position for his era.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races? His team answers that question.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime? He had his final 5-win season at age 32 and retired after his age-34 campaign. So no.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame? He, Pete Rose, Bill Dahlen, Jeff Bagwell, and Barry Larkin are probably the five best. I'd say Bagwell is the best baseball player not in the Hall yet, but he should be in the Hall within a few years, maybe even this year.

7. Are most people who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame? None of his top ten comps are, but strong cases are heard regularly for Scott Rolen, who isn't eligible yet, and Graig Nettles, Dale Murphy, and Ken Boyer. Adrian Beltre also has a shot at an absurdly valuable career coupled with outstanding hit totals and home run totals, with over 2000 and 300 through age 32.

8. Do the players numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? Going strictly by B-Ref Hall of Fame standards test, he scores a 41, where the average Hall of Famer scores a 50.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest the player was significantly better or worse than suggested by his statistics? As previously mentioned, the 1960s was a pitching explosion, and Santo's ability to absolutely demolish the baseball was largely masked by this. Defense is always criminally underappreciated and, unfortunately for the late Ron, so is third base. So yes, there is evidence, and this evidence is largely the reason that Santo isn't already in.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame, but not in? Yes, he is. He is better than Nettles, Darrell Evans, Bando, Buddy Bell, or any other eligible third baseman. Rolen and Jones are similar/better, though Chipper will no doubt get in.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP-award? If not, how many times was he close? As far as actual voting, he finished 4th once, 5th once, 8th twice, 12th once, 18th once, and 24th once. As far as his standing amongst National League Position Players in rWAR, he finished 1st once, 2nd twice, 3rd once, and 8th three times. Among all NL players, he finished 1st in 1967, 4th in 1964, 5th in 1966, and 6th in 1965. So yes, he was elite by this peak measurement of greatness.

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 elected to 9 All-Star games. I define an All-Star season as one of at minimum 4 WAR. Santo has nine such seasons, and was actually an All-Star in seven of these nine (Excluding his best at 10.2 and worst at 4.2) but was additionally an All-Star in a 2.7 win season and a 2.1 win season.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would in be likely his team could win a pennant? Most definitely. His supporting cast wasn't his fault, but he could have been the premier player of a pennant winner any given season in his prime.

14. What impact did this 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? None, no, no, and no.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider? Yes, he most certainly did.

I think the Keltner List makes it clear Santo deserves. To punctuate the point even more clearly, here are the top ten position players in MLB each season of Santo's career in descending order, and Santo's placement each season:

1960: Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Ken Boyer, Frank Robinson, Dick Groat, and Luis Aparicio. Santo ranked 139th.

1961: Mickey Mantle, Norm Cash, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rocky Colavito, Jim Gentile, Al Kaline, Roger Maris, Ken Boyer, and Frank Robinson. Santo ranked 51st.

1962: Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Rocky Colavito, Mickey Mantle, Tommy Davis, Eddie Mathews, Johnny Callison, and Norm Siebern. Santo ranked 204th.

1963: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bob Allison, Eddie Mathews, Carl Yastrzemski, Dick Groat, Johnny Callison, Elston Howard, Vada Pinson, and Ron Santo. Santo ranked 10th.

1964: Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson, Ron Santo, Dick Allen, Ron Hansen, Jim Fregosi, Frank Robinson, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison, and Pete Ward. Santo ranked 3rd.

1965: Willie Mays, Ron Santo, Hank Aaron, Zoilo Versalles, Billy Williams, Jimmy Wynn, Don Buford, Dick Allen, Roberto Clemente, and Willie McCovey. Santo ranked 2nd.

1966: Willie Mays, Ron Santo, Frank Robinson, Dick Allen, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, Tommie Agee, Felipe Alou, and Jim Ray Hart. Santo ranked 2nd.

1967: Carl Yastrzemski, Ron Santo, Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Al Kaline, Paul Blair, Orlando Cepeda, and Dick Allen. Santo ranked 2nd.

1968: Carl Yastrzemski, Brooks Robinson, Bill Freehan, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Bert Campaneris, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Felipe Alou, and Ron Santo. Santo ranked 10th.

1969: Rico Petrocelli, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Willie McCovey, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Paul Blair, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Boog Powell. Santo ranked 19th.

1970: Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Willie McCovey, Jim Fregosi, Rico Carty, Tommy Harper, Billy Williams, Tony Oliva, and Bobby Tolan. Santo ranked 40th

1971: Willie Stargell, Graig Nettles, Joe Torre, Hank Aaron, Bobby Murcer, Sal Bando, Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Bonds, and Brooks Robinson. Santo ranked 58th.

1972: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Cesar Cedeno, Dick Allen, Bobby Murcer, Billy Williams, Pete Rose, Carlton Fisk, Chris Speier, and Willie Davis. Santo ranked 13th.

1973: Darrell Evans, Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell, Bobby Grich, Bobby Bonds, Pete Rose, Cesar Cedeno, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, and Sal Bando. Santo ranked 63rd.

1974: Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Jimmy Wynn, Darrell Evans, Bobby Grich, Rod Carew, Willie Stargell, Reggie Smith, and Dave Concepcion. Santo didn't rank in the top 500.

I think it's fairly obvious via the methods I have shown that Santo deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully the voters agee - EdGenGar

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