Where does Tim Raines rank among the greatest leadoff hitters?

Tim Raines is on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot for the ninth year, and last year he got 55 percent of the vote. It was the high-water mark for him, but he still needs 20 percent more to get in and only has two remaining votes to make up that ground.

Dave Brown has discussed the Hall of Fame case for Tim Raines, but I'll make things a lot more simple: Tim Raines should be in the Hall of Fame because he was one of the greatest leadoff hitters in baseball history.

We couldn't do that for every spot in the order (the greatest eighth hitter ever probably wouldn't sway many people), but leadoff is a very important spot. It's the table-setting spot for the middle of the order and there are at least four Hall of Famers who could be considered leadoff hitters. Another, Ichiro Suzuki, is also headed to Cooperstown once he's retired for five years. Raines ranks very well when matched up against these guys. In fact, he's probably the second best ever.

To illustrate as much, let's use Baseball Reference's play index. We'll look for what great leadoff men do. They get on base, steal bases and score runs. Using only data from the leadoff spot, I sorted for players with a career .340 or better on-base percentage, at least 200 steals and at least 800 runs scored. The data goes back to 1914 and we get only 16 names.

Here they are, sorted by career OPS+ (this includes all spots in the batting order, but I felt like it was the best way to measure the differences in eras).

Asterisks denote Hall of Famers.

Player
On-base percentage
OPS+
Runs
Steals
Plate appearances
Rickey Henderson*
.401
127
2,244
1,384
13,122
Tim Raines
.385
123
1,011
584
6,514
Paul Molitor*
.365
122
1,131
370
7,291
George Burns
.365
114
918
242
6,266
Craig Biggio*
.370
112
1,128
238
7,297
Brett Butler
.374
110
1,198
483
8,432
Lou Brock*
.343
109
1,254
762
8,653
Brady Anderson
.367
109
874
256
6,122
Ichiro Suzuki
.366
108
1,156
433
8,280
Kenny Lofton
.371
107
1,317
552
7,929
Chuck Knoblauch
.378
106
934
331
5,964
Jose Reyes
.341
105
914
438
6,293
Johnny Damon
.354
104
1,179
307
7,411
Rafael Furcal
.348
96
993
280
6,481
Eric Young
.359
92
824
388
5,784
Juan Pierre
.340
84
857
473
6,675

Quick snapshot for sure, but the landscape of what we see above is that Raines was only noticeably worse than the greatest leadoff man in history. He's got Lou Brock by more than 40 points in OBP while scoring runs at a higher rate (note the difference in PAs) and stealing bases at a similar rate.

On the Brock front, this is worth a mention ...

Raines is similar to Biggio and Molitor overall, it's just that he didn't get to 3,000 hits. Of course, he hit .294 with a .385 OBP compared to .281 and .363 for Biggio.

Raines' case is much more than just his skills as a stellar leadoff man, but there's a case to be made that he was the second-best leadoff man in history. His greatest crime appears to have been that he played during the time that the greatest ever was dwarfing what Raines did. No Rickey, and we wouldn't still be having this Rock conversation.

Bad timing shouldn't keep someone out of the Hall.

Tim Raines (r.) was one of the best leadoff hitters in history. (USATSI)
Tim Raines (r.) was one of the best leadoff hitters in history. (USATSI)
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