Will Fred McGriff make it in to the Hall of Fame? The case for and against him
Is consistent excellence and longevity enough to get McGriff into Cooperstown? It hasn't so far
Leading up to the announcement of the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame class on Jan. 18, we're examining each of the 34 candidates on this year's BBWAA ballot. By way of reminder, a candidate must be named on at least 75 percent of submitted BBWAA ballots in order to be elected into the Hall of Fame.
We've already looked at the numerous candidates who are certain to fall off the ballot after only one year (candidates receiving less than five percent drop off the ballot). Now we're looking at those hopefuls who figure to have meaningful support and perhaps even earn induction at some point. Up this time around is the powerful Fred McGriff.
Originally drafted by the Yankees, McGriff played 19 seasons in the big leagues from 1986-2004, though never more than five with any one team. He went from the Blue Jays (1986-90) to the Padres (1991-93) to the Braves (1993-97) to the Devil Rays (1998-2001) to the Cubs (2001-02) to the Dodgers (2003) and back to the Devil Rays (2004). Five times in those 19 seasons McGriff was an All-Star.
The case for McGriff
During his peak from 1988-94, ages 24-30, McGriff was one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball. He hit .288/.390/.545 (155 OPS+) those years and averaged 148 games played, 35 home runs, 95 RBI, and 5.0 WAR per season. Remember, the 1994-95 work stoppage cut into his playing time, so McGriff's counting stats could have been even better.
During that seven-year stretch, McGriff led all players in home runs -- Barry Bonds was a distant second with 218 -- and was fourth in RBI and eighth in WAR. McGriff never did win an MVP award, but he received MVP votes every year from 1988-95, and finished in the top 10 every year from 1989-94. He topped out at fourth in the voting in 1993.
McGriff did not stop being a productive player after his peak ended in 1995, of course. He still managed a very productive .288/.371/.489 (122 OPS+) batting line from 1995-2002, during which time he averaged 150 games played, 27 home runs, 99 RBI, and 2.0 WAR per season. There was a drop off from his peak, no doubt, but McGriff was productive and durable right up until his age 38 season.
Add it all together, and McGriff retired as a career .284/.377/.509 (134 OPS+) hitter with 2,490 hits, 493 home runs, 1,550 RBI, and 52.4 WAR. Here is where he ranks among all players since the 1961 expansion:
Games: 44th (5th among first basemen)
Hits: 49th (8th among first basemen)
Home Runs: 18th (6th among first basemen)
RBI: 26th (5th among first basemen)
Extra-Base Hits: 35th (8th among first basemen)
OPS+: 53rd (11th among first basemen)
WAR: 98th (12th among first basemen)
On top of that, McGriff was a monster in the postseason, hitting .303/.385/.532 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 50 career postseason games, almost all with the Braves. He won a ring with the 1995 Braves and also played in the Fall Classic with he 1996 Braves as well. McGriff was great in the regular season and he elevated his game in October.
I think it's fair to say McGriff is one of the 10 best hitting first basemen -- and one of the 50 best hitting players overall, regardless of position -- of the expansion era, which spans more than a half-century now. McGriff had a tremendous peak -- and a tremendous nickname, "Crime Dog" -- and was consistently productive for nearly 20 years. He had the peak and the longevity.
The case against McGriff
McGriff never did reach the counting stats typically associated with Hall of Fame sluggers, meaning 500-plus home runs and 2,500-plus hits, things like that. The arbitrary round number milestones are kind of silly -- do seven extra homers and 10 extra hits really make that much of a difference? -- and my colleague Matt Snyder argued the 1994 work stoppage may be keeping McGriff out of Cooperstown. The strike hurt his counting stats.
There's also this: McGriff was never really considered the best first baseman in baseball. He was always overshadowed. In the 1980s it was Don Mattingly and Will Clark. In the 1990s it was Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell. In the 2000s it was Albert Pujols and Jason Giambi. There's a "fame" component to the Hall of Fame and McGriff didn't really have it. Heck, he might be most well-known for a commercial:
McGriff was a great player for a very long time. There's no doubt about it. Most players dream of having a career as long and productive as McGriff's. The bar for Hall of Fame first basemen is quite high, however -- Jay Jaffe's JAWS system says McGriff falls short of the established Hall of Fame standards for first basemen in terms of both peak and career value -- and while McGriff was consistently excellent, he was never the best player at his position.
Will he make it?
It's unlikely. This is McGriff's eighth year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and in the first seven, he never received more than 23.9 percent of the vote from the BBWAA. According to Ryan Thibodaux's tracker, McGriff has appeared on only 14.5 percent of the public ballots this year (as of this writing) and has already been mathematically eliminated from receiving the 75 percent.
At this point it appears McGriff is destined to remain on the Hall of Fame ballot all 10 years of eligibility -- a great accomplishment in and of itself -- but never receive more than 20 percent or so of the vote. If McGriff is to one day make it into Cooperstown, it'll have to be through one of the Hall of Fame's relatively new Today's Game Era committee, descendant of the Veteran's Committee, which meets and votes every few years.