Does Kenny have a case?

ALCS: Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians - Game 4In a recent conversation with a voting member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, this year’s Hall of Fame ballot naturally came up. I was curious who this person voted for, and even more curious to hear the thought process.

After all, this year’s ballot contains an incredibly star-heavy, yet complicated, list of eligible candidates. I am not going to get too detailed about my own thoughts on the issue of the so-called Steroid Era, suffice to say that my stance falls in the neighborhood of these excellent articles from Joe Posnanski and Richard Justice.

If you ever run into me at a local watering hole, feel free to bring it up and we can debate the subject at length. Right now, I want to take a moment to dive into the case of former Cleveland star Kenny Lofton. In this recent chat, I learned that this voter checked the box next to Lofton’s name, doing his part to try to get the center fielder to Cooperstown.

My initial gut reaction was that Lofton is a fringe Hall of Fame candidate, and I wanted to take some time to consider this voter’s choice, and see if I agreed that Kenny belonged among the game’s all-time greats. When I take my son to Cooperstown someday, should he read a plaque honoring Lofton’s career?

After some research done this morning over coffee — Santa brought me a Keurig machine for Christmas! — I’ve decided that, sure, Lofton indeed has a case for the Hall. Do I think he will get in? Well, if I had a vote (which I don’t), he wouldn’t crack my list of 10 possible votes on the 2013 ballot. So, no, I don’t think Lofton will get in this year.

The more appropriate question is, “Should Lofton get in?” Eventually, yes, I think so. First, though, I personally think the BBWAA needs to put Tim Raines in the Hall to further cement Lofton’s case. On this year’s ballot, I believe Raines is deserving of a vote, and I’d have him clearly ranked above Lofton for enshrinement.

Let’s take a look at Raines compared to Lofton…

Lofton: 17 years (2,103 games)
Raines: 23 years (2,502 games)

Lofton: .299/.372/.423/.794, 622 SB (160 CS), 107 OPS+
Raines: .294/.385/.425/.810, 808 SB (146 CS), 123 OPS+

Lofton: 130 HR, 383 2B, 116 3B, 781 RBI, 1,528 R, 2,428 H
Raines: 170 HR, 430 2B, 113 3B, 980 RBI, 1,571 R, 2,605 H

Lofton: 64.9 WAR (14.7 dWAR) – per baseball-reference
Raines: 66.2 WAR (-9.5 dWAR) – per baseball-reference

Raines clearly has an edge over Lofton in virtually every category, though Lofton scored more runs on average each season and was clearly a superior defender. In Posnanski’s piece, he does a great comparison between Raines and Tony Gwynn, who is in the Hall. I tend to agree that, if Gwynn is in, Raines is also a deserving candidate.

Along those same lines, it could be argued that if Lou Brock is in the Hall of Fame, Lofton deserves to have his own plaque, too. Here is a look at Lofton’s numbers again, but this time let’s compare him to Brock, who made it into the Hall on his first try in 1985:

Lofton: 17 years (2,103 games)
Brock: 19 years (2,616 games)

Lofton: .299/.372/.423/.794, 622 SB (160 CS), 107 OPS+
Brock: .293/.343/.410/.753, 938 SB (307 CS), 109 OPS+

Lofton: 130 HR, 383 2B, 116 3B, 781 RBI, 1,528 R, 2,428 H
Brock: 149 HR, 486 2B, 141 3B, 900 RBI, 1,610 R, 3,023 H

Lofton: 64.9 WAR (14.7 dWAR) – per baseball-reference
Brock: 42.8 WAR (-17.2 dWAR) – per baseball-reference

Brock hit the magical 3,000-hit plateau, and made the most of those 513 games he has on Lofton in terms of extra-base hits and stolen bases. Lofton was the better defender in the outfield. And, it could be argued, based on on-base ability, run production and WAR, Lofton was the better offensive player as well.

As for Lofton’s defense, I’m not going to pay his four Gold Gloves much mind — there are too many flaws in the voting for those awards each year. His defensive WAR (noted above) obviously stands out, though. And, upon looking into it further, it could easily said that Lofton was a top-five (or top-10, depending on how you slice it) all-time center fielder.

If you use the “runs from fielding” metric found on baseball-reference.com, Lofton ranks tied for second all-time (with Willie Davis) among players with at least 2,000 games played and 80-percent of their action in center field. First on the list: Willie Mays. If you drop it to 1,800 or more games, only Mays, Devon White and Paul Blair rank ahead of Lofton.

Defense can’t be overlooked in evaluating a player and Lofton is statistically among some of the game’s all-time greats in that regard. His offensive production also stacks up against Brock, who was enshrined as soon as he became eligible. If Raines is eventually enshrined, as I believe he should be, then Lofton’s case will become even stronger.

I didn’t view Lofton as being worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame when I started this. In fact, I dug into the numbers with the hope of showing my BBWAA-voter friend that Lofton did not belong among the game’s greats. What I found is that Lofton does have a case, and maybe more voters will agree as time provides more perspective.

–JB

3 Comments

As I look over the list of Hall Of Fame Already In, I see several that shouldn’t even be in, So To Rely One One man’s opinion or Vote, Shows They All Screw Up When Voting, Sooner or later the drug infested players will get in, And These Voters will Make excuses for Why They Voted Them In, But If The hall Is Infested with drugged up Players, And criminals, And All Pro sports Let Convicts back Into The Game, Well Pro sports Has Lost All It’s Integrity and The media Lost There’s Even longer Ago. Hell They Vote Anyone In, Fact Is Our sports Our Media Are As Corrupt and criminal Injustice Of Sports As A Whole Is Disgraceful. And I for One No Longer BY The Spin the Lies and The cheating, And The excuse by media to forgive! NO THANK YOU!!!

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Pingback: While We’re Waiting… The Lofton HOF case | WaitingForNextYear

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