Will Vladimir Guerrero make it in to the Hall of Fame? The case for and against him
Vladimir Guerrero had a very impressive career, but is it worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown?
Leading up on the announcement of the Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2017 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 hard-hitting five-tooler Vladimir Guerrero.
Guerrero spent parts of 16 seasons in the bigs, 14 of those with the Expos and Angels. He boasted a powerful throwing arm in right field and bestowed some tremendous numbers at the plate. He's also rightly remembered as one of the great bad-ball hitters in baseball history. Yes, Vlad swung at anything, but he also hit anything ...
Yep, bad-ball hitter nonpareil. And now for the deeper look at Vlad's Hall credentials ...
The case for Guerrero
Across those 16 seasons, Guerrero batted a robust .318/.379/.553, which comes to an OPS+ of 140. He also cracked 449 homers and 477 doubles and tallied 2,590 hits. Along the way, he stole 181 bases and bested the league-average mark when it comes to taking the extra base. And, yes, there's also that arm ...
Don't run on that thing.
Thanks to those legendary and abundant baseball skills, Guerrero notched nine All-Star appearances and eight Silver Sluggers. He was also voted AL MVP in 2004. As for some historical context, here's a brief walking tour of some of Guerrero's all-time rankings in various measures ...
- .318 batting average, 56th all-time;
- .553 slugging percentage, 24th all-time;
- .931 OPS, 34th all-time;
- 2,590 hits, 85th all-time;
- 4,506 total bases, 49th all-time;
- 477 doubles, 85th all-time;
- 449 home runs, 38th all-time;
- 972 extra-base hits, 45th all-time;
- 1,496 RBI, 57th all-time;
- 140 OPS+, 79th all-time;
- 3,430 times on base, 115th all-time;
- 250 intentional walks (sign of respect, that), fifth all-time.
So, yes, that's an impressive dossier. Guerrero also never struck out more than 95 times in a season, which is remarkable given his power outputs and the high-K era in which he played. To boot, Guerrero also had strong clutch indicators throughout his career. His OPS was higher with runners in scoring position and runners on base than it was with the bases empty. He also had a significantly higher OPS in medium- and high-leverage situations than he did in less important low-leverage situations.
Speaking of clutch, we have Win Probability Added (WPA), which measures how much a player increases (or decreases) his chances of winning a given game. Add those together across the span of a career and you have an idea of how a player performed in big, needle-moving spots across the years. Guerrero, it turns out, ranks 50th all-time in WPA. Strip away some of the context, and you get WPA/Leverage Index, which is probably an even better measure of clutch performance. Guerrero ranks 45th all-time in WPA/LI.
The case against Guerrero
Guerrero ate away at some of his offensive value by hitting into a lot of double plays (277, 18th-most all-time) and by otherwise creating outs on the bases (he was caught stealing 94 times in his career). Also, as impressive as his throwing arm was, he made a lot of errors in the outfield (125 in all) and his fielding range in right degraded badly as he aged.
Because of those deficiencies, Guerrero ranks just 188th all-time in WAR and 125th in WAR among position players. That, in turn, is why he comes up a bit short in one leading measure of Hall worthiness: Jay Jaffe's JAWS system available at Baseball-Reference. Using WAR, JAWS compares a player, in terms of both peak value and overall career value, to those Hall of Famers who played the same position. Guerrero, as it turns out, comes up a bit short in career value, peak value and composite value relative to right fielders already in the Hall of Fame.
If you want to ding him further, you could point out that Guerrero generally performed below his established standards in postseason play, as he authored a batting line of .263/.324/.339 with just two home runs in 171 at-bats. Beyond that, what may hurt him is that he fell shy of the traditional Hall benchmarks for offense-first players -- i.e., 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.
Will he make it?
Yes, but it's possible he doesn't get in on the first ballot. Per Ryan Thibodaux's ballot tracker, we learn that Guerrero right now has been named on 76.0 percent of known ballots. That's enough to earn election, obviously, but the healthy majority of ballots haven't been disclosed yet. It's entirely possible that Guerrero will slip below the 75 percent threshold once the full results are in. That said, Guerrero's going to get in by 2018 at the latest. Perhaps his slightly lacking case costs him first-ballot status, but he'll be a Hall of Famer soon enough. Of course, it's entirely possible he maintains his current support levels and gets inducted in 2017. Either way, Vlad's headed to Cooperstown. Not bad for someone who, as the story goes, grew up drinking out of puddles.
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