Going to Bat for Bags

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

Jeff Bagwell v. Everybody Not Named Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell are incredibly similar baseball players with one notable exception: one (Thomas) is in the Hall of Fame while the other (Bagwell) is not. But the Hall of Fame is filled with “this player/why not that player” inconsistencies; it, by its lonesome, doesn’t necessarily merit a deeper examination of a snubbed candidate. So let’s expand our scope and look at how Bagwell stacks up historically.

The eight best first basemen already in the Hall of Fame are some combination of Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Johnny Mize, Eddie Murray and George Sisler. (No, we did not list Thomas; he wasn’t a first baseman. He was a designated hitter – see above). Let’s rank those eight, first by WAR, next by OPS+, and see how Bagwell stacks up.

(Please note: we’re not suggesting War and OPS+ are absolute – though we think they tell a more complete story than, say, batting average. Here, they’re being used as an easy shorthand to make our larger point about Bagwell’s place in history. Frankly, we could have picked a variety of different offensive categories because Bagwell rates well in virtually of all of them.)

WAR
1. Lou Gehrig 108.5
2. Jimmie Foxx 92.5
3. Jeff Bagwell 79.6
4. Johnny Mize 67.8
5. Eddie Murray 63.4
6. Willie McCovey 60.7
7. Harmon Killebrew 55.8
8. Hank Greenberg 55.1
9. George Sisler 51.1

OPS+
1. Lou Gehrig 179
2. Jimmie Foxx 163
3. Hank Greenberg 158
4. Johnny Mize 158
5. Jeff Bagwell 149
6. Willie McCovey 147
7. Harmon Killebrew 143
8. Eddie Murray 129
9. George Sisler 125

Comparing Bagwell to the eight best first basemen currently in the Hall of Fame, he ranks third in WAR and fifth in OPS+. Again, this is a list of all-time, certified great first basemen. And Bagwell is 3rd and 5th.

Even if you want to expand your scope and include every first baseman ever, including those who spent their careers knee-deep in PEDs (allegedly, we mean – and don’t worry, we cover the whole PEDs issue) and/or are not yet Hall-eligible, Bagwell drops to 4th in WAR (Albert Pujols jumps into the top 2) and 8th in OPS+. In this scenario, where we broaden our scope to include all first basemen, ever: Jeff Bagwell ranks 4th and 8th all-time. Again: ALL-TIME.

And what that means is that Jeff Bagwell might very well be the second greatest National League first baseman in Major League Baseball history (Pujols is unquestionably first). If you favor Johnny Mize, which has merit, then Bagwell’s the third greatest National League first baseman ever. And when you add the best of the American League, he’s a strong candidate to inch his way into the bottom half of the top 10.

Expanding our scope even further, Bagwell ranks in the top 45 all-time – among every position player ever – in a host of offensive categories* (minimum 5,000 plate appearances):

20th all-time with a .948 OPS, ahead of Ty Cobb and Willie Mays;
25th all-time with a .408 on-base percentage, ahead of Rickey Henderson;
27th all-time with a 149 OPS+, ahead of Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey;
28th all-time with 1,401 walks, ahead of Reggie Jackson and Willie McCovey;
32nd all-time with a .540 slugging percentage, ahead of Duke Snider and Frank Robinson;
35th all-time with a 79.6 WAR , three spots ahead of Joe DiMaggio;
38th all-time with 1,788 runs created, ahead of Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt and Cal Ripken, Jr.;
39th all-time with 449 career home runs, ahead of Andre Dawson and Cal Ripken, Jr.;
44th all-time with 969 extra base hits, ahead of Tony Perez and Robin Yount
45th all-time with 1,529 RsBI, ahead of Mickey Mantle and Jim Rice.
45th all-time with 74 offensive WAR, ahead of Joe DiMaggio and Dave Winfield
You’ll note, each and every player not named Jeffrey Robert Bagwell in the preceding bullet points has a plaque in Cooperstown.

How is a player that ranks among the 45 greatest baseball players of all-time in a multitude of vital offensive categories (11, to be exact) who was also a plus defender and excellent base runner, not in the Hall of Fame? There is no logical explanation.

* – statistics/rankings are accurate as of November 1, 2015

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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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