Going to Bat for Bags

The Case for Jeff Bagwell to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Jeff Bagwell v. 1998

Between 1980 and 1995, 30 players hit 40+ home runs and two hit at least 50. In 1998 alone, 13 players hit 40+ home runs, including four with at least 50.

Jeff Bagwell isn’t one of those players.

And yet, Bagwell’s career is so often lazily dismissed as being a product of the rampant performance-enhancing drugs that permeated baseball during his era. Here, in fact, is KBME’s Lance Zierlein perfectly articulating the sentiment:

Is Zierlein right? Was Bagwell just “another power guy in a power era”? Did he not distinguish himself the way Craig Biggio did?

Between 1991 and 2004, Bagwell ranked 5th in total home runs despite logging the third-most plate appearances during the era (9,308). His 446 long balls are actually closer to Matt Williams’ 311 than Barry Bonds’ major league-leading 586*. In terms of slugging, his .542 not only ranked 21st during the era (behind Jim Edmonds) but second among Astros (trailing Lance Berkman’s .563. And for the record, Moises Alou slugged .585 as an Astro 1998, 2000-2001).

* To put that in perspective; if Bonds had totaled 9,308 plate appearances over the same stretch, he would have hit 636 home runs; or 190 more than Bagwell.

Bagwell finished with 40, or more, home runs just three times in his 15-year career, the same number as Shawn Green. And his single-season career high of 47 was bettered by, well, Shawn Green, as well as Luis Gonzalez, Greg Vaughn and Brady Anderson (plus 12 other sluggers).

Specifically in 1998, when things went absolutely bonkers, Mark McGwire totaled more home runs at the All-Star break (37) than Bagwell did in nine of his 15 seasons, including 1998 when he finished with 34. Bagwell didn’t even lead his own team in long balls that year; Alou did with 38. Among all players, Bagwell ranked 21st in home runs in 1998, tied with Tony Clark and Dean Palmer (and trailing, yep, you guessed it: Shawn Green, by one). And he ranked 24th in slugging percentage, a full 25 points behind 36-year old Eric Davis, who was on his last legs.

Now at this point, you’re probably trying to figure out why, exactly, we started a campaign to try and get Bagwell elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Fair question. While being outranked by Eric Davis on his last legs does indeed seemingly invalidate the idea that Jeff Bagwell was just “another power guy in a power era”… it also means, you know – Jeff Bagwell ranked behind Eric Davis on his last legs, and that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. (Maybe we should see if @ED4HoF is available…)

(It is.)

To answer your question (which you may or may not have asked), we created this campaign, at least in part, to try and address – and, hopefully, refute – long-held misconceptions about Jeff Bagwell. And there might not be a bigger misconception than the idea that Jeff Bagwell was just “another power guy in a power era.”

And here’s why that misconception desperately needs to be corrected: it is the straw most often used to stir the “Bagwell used steroids” drink.

If the era was drowning in a pool of PEDs, marked by previously unimaginable power numbers that did irreparable damage to Major League Baseball’s record book, and Bagwell is perceived as just “another power guy in a power era,” then the trip to condemning Bagwell as a product of PEDs is a short one.

But that line of thinking throws a significant chunk of Bagwell’s not-so-powerful career accomplishments out the window.

During the same stretch (1991-2004), Bagwell ranked 2nd overall in WAR (79.3, trailing only Barry Bonds). (And outdistancing Eric Davis on his last legs by nearly 50 points, by the way). He ranked 2nd in runs scored (besting more distinguished teammate Craig Biggio by nearly 40) and 3rd in both hits (2,289) as well as walks (1,383). And you need just two fingers to count the number of players who totaled at least 400 home runs and 200 steals (Bonds and Bagwell). Oh, and he won a Gold Glove in 1994.

Those stats are not the stats of just “another power guy in a power era.” He was certainly powerful – but not suspiciously powerful, relative to the era. Again, he never hit 50 home runs in a season, and he topped 40 only after moving into Minute Maid Park, which, with its 315-foot fence in left-field, was specifically designed for right-handed hitters like Bagwell.

The battle lines have long been drawn in the debate over performance-enhancing drugs. And we certainly don’t have any delusions of moving anyone off of their entrenched beliefs that using steroids should not be rewarded. But if you’re not voting Jeff Bagwell for the Hall of Fame because he was just “another power guy in a power era” (or if you’re helping to perpetuate that false narrative), then you’re doing a five-tool stud of a baseball player a tremendous disservice.

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HALL OF FAME VOTING

2017: 82.6% – BINGO!
2016: 71.6%
2015: 55.7%
2014: 54.3%
2013: 59.6%
2012: 56.0%
2011: 41.7%

BY THE NUMBERS

AVG .297
HR 449
RBI 1,529
R 1,517
H 2,314
SB 202
OB% .408
SLG .540
OPS .948
OPS+ 149
WAR 79.6

AWARDS

N.L. Rookie of the Year (1991)
N.L. Most Valuable Player (1994)
N.L. Silver Slugger Award (1994, 1997, 1999)
N.L. Gold Glove (1994)
N.L. All-Star (1994, 1996, 1997, 1999)

ALL-TIME RANKINGS

21st | .948 OPS
26th | .408 OB%
28th | 149 OPS+
28th | 1,401 BB
32nd | .540 SLG%
35th | 79.6 WAR
39th | 449 HRs
46th | 969 XBHs
47th | 1,517 R
48th | 1,529 RBI

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

(Tweet until your fingers bleed)

“There is nothing about (#JeffBagwell)’s performance that isn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame.” – Buster Olney | @Buster_ESPN

“There is little doubt that (#JeffBagwell) is deserving… unless you’re somehow unimpressed by his .408 on-base percentage and .540 slugging mark, not to mention his baserunning, defense at first base and leadership of the @astros during his 15-year career.” – Ken Rosenthal | @Ken_Rosenthal

“#JeffBagwell belongs in the HoF. Not on the 10th time on the ballot — he belongs on the podium in Cooperstown this summer.” – Peter Gammons | @pgammo

“#JeffBagwell is in that conversation as far as the best first basemen ever … there’s no way around that.” – Tim Kurkjian | @Kurkjian_ESPN

“(C)riminally undersupported… #JeffBagwell was, in a nutshell, one of the four greatest first basemen of the live-ball era.” – Jayson Stark | @jaysonst

“Does (#JeffBagwell’s) overall body of work warrant a plaque in the Hall of Fame? The answer to that question is yes.” – Jerry Cransick | @jcrasnick

“(L)et me say this as clearly as I possible can say it: #JeffBagwell, IMO, is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.” – Joe Posnanski | @JPosnanski

“I didn’t vote for (#JeffBagwell) last year but thought later that it was a mistake. Career percentages of .408 (on-base) and .540 (slugging) put him in elite class.” – Tim Cowlishaw | @TimCowlishaw

“#JeffBagwell, by any statistical measure, ranks among the most productive first basemen in major league history.” – Andrew Baggarly | @CSNBaggs

“The pride of the University of Hartford was durable, consistent and productive. (#JeffBagwell) hit for power, showed great patience, played an excellent first base and even stole 202 bases. His WAR is seventh among first basemen all time…. he’s an automatic choice.” – Peter Abraham | @PeteAbe

“There is no evidence. There is no proof. There is just suspicion. I will vote for… #JeffBagwell. Rumours shouldn’t dictate who gets a vote and who doesn’t.” – Steve Simmons | @simmonssteve

“The blackballing of… #JeffBagwell is nothing short of shameful. Thumbs up from Senator McCarthy’s ghost.” – Bob Klapisch | @BobKlap

“(#JeffBagwell) was durable, accomplished in the field, and hit for power.” – Sean McAdam | @Sean_McAdam

“#JeffBagwell should not be denied his bid to Cooperstown merely because he developed video-game arms.” – Ian O’Connor | @Ian_OConnor

“I was a little slow to come around on (#JeffBagwell), but a reader’s persistence worked; I’m now a firm believer he’s a Hall of Famer and underappreciated in his day.” – Susan Slusser | @susanslusser

“#JeffBagwell belongs in the Hall of Fame. How can anyone argue otherwise?” – Richard Justice | @richardjustice

“I’ll be proud to cast my Hall of Fame vote for #JeffBagwell.” – Jose de Jesus Ortiz | @OrtizKicks

“He’s one of the top all-time offensive first basemen, with a ridiculous 149 OPS-plus (meaning he was 49 percent better than the average National League hitter of his time).” – Ken Davidoff | @KenDavidoff

“(A)fter listening to and reading compelling commentary from highly respected baseball writers, I decided to… cast a vote for (#JeffBagwell) this time around.” – Tom Haudricourt | @Haudricourt

“I see nothing but blind accusations. Nothing but gossip in the rumor mill. So, I am now giving #JeffBagwell the vote I feel his career record deserves.” – Geoff Baker | @GeoffBakerTIMES

“(#JeffBagwell)’s incredibly well-rounded game makes him a blatantly worthy HoFer… and his exclusion from the HoF will remain a black mark against voters until they put him in.” – Jonah Keri | @jonahkeri

“His career WAR ranks 7th, his peak WAR ranks 5th and his overall JAWS ranks 6th. To mix sporting metaphors, that’s a slam dunk; #JeffBagwell unequivocally belongs in the Hall of Fame.” – Jay Jaffe | @jay_jaffe

“#JeffBagwell (is) one of the six or eight greatest first basemen who’s ever played this game.” – Rob Neyer | @robneyer

“(#JeffBagwell is) the perfect ballplayer: power, speed, on-base ability, terrific baserunner, durable, excellent defender.” – Dave Schoenfield | @dschoenfield

“Let’s hope the idiocy of not voting for #JeffBagwell based on evidence-free associations between him and PEDs ends this year.” – Joe Sheehan | @joe_sheehan

“Jeff Bagwell was one of the five to ten best first basemen ever.” – Emma Span | @emmaspan

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