Sometimes inspiration trickles in, sometimes it hits like a thunderclap. The announcement Sunday night that Harold Baines (and Lee Smith) was elected to the Hall of Fame was such a bolt from the blue. My first reaction was, “What?” Next, “Is some White Sox fan trolling the internet?” Alas, no. The election of Harold Baines to the National Baseball Hall of Fame is in fact, real.
If you exclude (and this is a BIG exclusion) news involving the president, the news of Baines election is one of the biggest Twitter shitstorms I’ve had rumble through my timeline. The reaction has been almost entirely negative. Even some fans of Baines have been saying, “uh…no.”
But, here we are. Harold Baines, Hall of Famer. Good on Harold! I’m happy for the guy. If this gets him a few more bucks at card shows and Soxfest, cheers to Harold. You’re in Harold! Everyone saying you don’t deserve it can kiss your plaque.
Here’s the thing though. If Harold is the benchmark for the veterans committee (this year it is the Today’s Game subcommittee), and there is no evidence they have a benchmark, then there are A LOT of players better than Harold Baines that should be in as well.
Now, I’m a fan of advanced metrics, though to be honest, I don’t quite completely understand them. After looking at the membership of the election committee, I’m guessing they aren’t fans, more of a traditional bent among them. As a matter of fact, most of the press releases about Baines’ election centers on his traditional numbers.
I don’t quite agree with Rob Neyer’s assessment that the election of Baines and Smith is a big F*** YOU to the advanced crowd, maybe a little. Rather, I think it’s a bunch of older baseball folks who get together and talk about their favorite players, in terms they can understand (including, “ooh I liked him!!”) and decide who should get the nod.
So, I won’t be using advanced metrics to make my cases. I will be using the fifth grade (maybe sixth grade depending on your school district) mathematics to make the case for players currently on the outside of the great ash doors of the Hall of Fame. So, counting, percentages, addition, averages are all fair game. Feel free to recommend others, but remember they need to be pre-algebra at the very most, and that’s pushing it.
Which leads to my first nominee to the “Better than Baines” Hall of Fame. The bar is Harold Baines’ fifth grade math numbers. Harold is on top, nominee (Kenny) on the bottom. My nominees are in no particular order, just names that came to mind as better but not in the Hall of Fame. They may or may not deserve the Hall of Fame, but now with Baines as the bar, they should be in if they are better than Harold. First up is…Kenny Lofton!
Baines Batting Average: .289
Lofton BA: .299
Home Runs: 384
Stolen Bases: 34
Looking at the offensive numbers, I would give a slight edge to Lofton, but only slight. Baines and Lofton were different hitters. Baines had more power, Lofton more speed. both got on base at a good clip and collected a lot of hits. Baines did play 5 more seasons than Lofton, so that has to be part of the equation.
Offense, however, is only part of the equation. Defensively, again, not going beyond fifth grade math, Lofton is far superior. Kenny had four Gold Gloves compared to Harold’s zero. Lofton had a .984 fielding percentage, at a harder position to Baines’ .978. Baines also spent most of his time as a designated hitter, which adds no defensive value.*
*I don’t hold that against Baines and I think DHs should be considered on their merits. the DH has been a part of baseball for my entire life. It seems silly to penalize a player for being used at his best position as the rules dictate.
The Veterans Committee seems like the type of folks that are impressed by awards and contemporary consideration of awards. As you might have seen, Baines received MVP votes in four different seasons, never finishing higher than ninth. Lofton also received votes in four seasons, reaching fourth. Both were All-Stars six times. Lofton was second in Rookie of the Year, losing to Pat Listach. Baines won a Silver Slugger Award. So that is pretty even overall.
Finally, the Veterans Committee seems to be impressed by appearances in the post-season (see: Morris, Jack). Though the post-season changed between Baines career and Lofton’s, there was a fair amount of overlap in their time. Baines made it to the post-season six times, Lofton eleven. Baines made it to one World Series, Lofton two. to parse it further, Baines was in eight playoff series and Lofton twenty. For lack of a better phrase, Lofton had more of a post-season impact than Baines.
Overall, I’d say Kenny Lofton was a better player than Harold Baines. On the basic stats, it’s close. Both players had different strengths, Baines power, Lofton speed, but Lofton was hands down the better defender. So, Lofton is better than Baines and has a moderately strong case for the Hall of Fame.