Going to Bat for Bags

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

Jeff Bagwell v. Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell were born on the same day, won MVPs the same year (1994), were both incredibly similar offensive players and even went into the Hall of Fame together. We’re using the term “together” rather loosely here because, inexplicably, Thomas is in the Hall of Fame while Bagwell is not, which, as we’ll soon detail, is indefensibly silly.

(And before we get too far into this, this seems like a good place to emphatically state that we believe Frank Thomas is a no-doubt, slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Our comparison is not intended to denigrate his career at all; we’re only trying to expose hypocrisy and laziness. If Thomas is in the Hall of Fame, there’s no rational reason Bagwell shouldn’t be, as well. We good? Cool.)

Where were we? Ah, yes – offense. Here are their career offensive numbers:

Frank Thomas
.301/.419/.555
521 HRs; 1,704 RsBI; 1,494 Rs; 10,075 PAs
OPS+ 156; WAR 73.7

Jeff Bagwell
.297/.408/.540
449 HRs; 1,529 RsBI; 1,517 Rs; 9,431 PAs
OPS+ 149; WAR 79.6

Keep in mind that Thomas totaled 644 more plate appearances than Bagwell, which isn’t irrelevant – Thomas was still a (mostly) above-average baseball player his final two seasons (he essentially put together a single good year: 34 HRs, 125 RsBI, 90 Rs). Clocking in every day (or, in Thomas’ case, 644 more times) absolutely has significance – so we don’t want anyone to think we’re dismissing this.

But while Thomas used those additional plate appearances to total more counting stats than Bagwell (home runs, RsBI), in terms of rate stats (batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, etc.), there’s no discernible offensive difference between the two players.

Here, we’ll prove it: if Bagwell had totaled a mere 31 more hits over the course of his 15-year career – so, two more per year – he would have finished with the same batting average (.301) as Thomas. We’ll keep going (we could do this all day): if Bagwell had collected 107 more hits/walks/hit-by-pitches over the course of his 15 seasons, he would have finished with the same on-base percentage (.419) as Thomas. Let’s make sure we properly contextualize how tiny the difference is: it’s roughly 7 more hits/walks/hit-by-pitches a season over a 15-year career. And if Bagwell had totaled just 75 more bases (in other words, roughly 19 more home runs, which amounts to just over one per season), his slugging percentage would have also been the same as Thomas’ (.555). Bagwell didn’t and the Hall of Fame isn’t about potential and projection; we get that and we agree. Again, Thomas’ 644 additional plate appearances have considerable merit. But in terms of illustrating just how fundamentally close the two were offensively – it paints a much clearer picture.

And while Thomas was unquestionably one of the era’s best HITTERS (which means, by extension, so, too, was Bagwell), he was NOT one of the era’s best PLAYERS; not if base running and defense are still a part of the game (hold on, checking… they are). Thomas’ game consisted of neither. Bagwell, on the other hand, was arguably the greatest running first baseman in baseball history and a reliably good defensive first baseman.

Consider that Bagwell is the only first baseman to record 30 home runs and 30 steals in a single season (a feat he actually accomplished twice), and the only first baseman with 400 home runs and 200 steals (and one of only 12 players ever). His stolen base success rate of 72%, while not terrific, is not too far removed from Lou Brock’s success rate (75%).

Altogether, Bagwell scored 1,517 runs in 15 seasons, an average of 101 runs a year. His total ranks 63rd all-time. And between 1994 and 2003, nobody in baseball scored more runs than Bagwell, who totaled 1,160. He ranks 36th overall in Bill James’ power-speed metric (which essentially can be boiled down to players who hit a lot of home runs and stole a lot of bases), two slots behind Rickey Henderson. He is the only first baseman ranked in the top 50. He was an exceptionally efficient and smart base runner.

Advanced statistics (which are admittedly fuzzy when it comes to defense) estimate that his defense saved 54 runs over his 15-year career. In 2,111 games at first base (the 10th highest total in baseball history), Bagwell committed 129 errors while ranking 2nd in fielding assists and 26th in putouts among all first basemen. Bagwell would play 1,279 more games at first base than Thomas – while winning a Gold Glove – despite Thomas playing in 172 more games overall.

In other words, Bagwell very nearly matched Thomas swing-for-swing while playing the field – at a high level, no less – each and every night, which makes him a better PLAYER than Frank Thomas who, again, is in the Hall of Fame while Bagwell is not. We would love for someone to explain this indefensible incongruity…

2 thoughts on “Jeff Bagwell v. Frank Thomas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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

Copyright 2016-17 Bags4HoF