Going to Bat for Bags

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

Jeff Bagwell v. Wait, What Looks Suspicious Here?

After hitting 15, 18 and 20 home runs in his first three years in the league, Jeff Bagwell hit 39 in the strike-shortened 1994 season, an admittedly eye-opening 95% increase from one year to the next. He hit 21 in 1995 (in just 114 games; his full-year pace was roughly 28), then 31, 43, 34, and 42 through 1999 when the Astrodome closed.

While the one year increase stands out, it’s not historically unprecedented. In 1994, Bagwell’s fourth full Major League season, he turned 26. Babe Ruth, the season he turned 25, saw his home run total jump 86% (from 29 to 54). Hank Aaron, in his fourth full Major League season, saw a 69% increase (26 to 44) while Ken Griffey, Jr. saw a 67% increase in his fourth full season (27 to 45). Three of baseball’s most revered power hitters – and they all saw their power take a giant leap forward at roughly the same age/level of Major League experience as Jeff Bagwell.

Altogether, Bagwell’s home run totals, other than the expected drop-off in ’95 (when he was hurt and missed 30 games), landed between 31 and 47, demonstrating a steady, expected ascension over a ten-season period that included the prime of Bagwell’s career, not to mention a move to a new ball park that was, more or less, built for Bagwell. Enron/Minute Maid Park’s short porch in left field (a mere 315 feet) was routinely abused by right-handed power hitters and it unquestionably augmented Bagwell’s power.

What should stand out here, frankly, is that nothing stands out. There are no egregious outliers during the prime of Bagwell’s career. There were 19 50-homer seasons during the course of Bagwell’s career; he had none of them. And only four times did he finish among the top 10 in home runs (1994, 1997, 1999 and 2000), and never higher than third. In an era marked by historic power surges, Bagwell never topped Ruth or Aaron’s single-season home run total.

His prime was followed, incidentally, by an equally expected decline as his body began to break down when he turned 36, which is the approximate age when most *normal* human beings begin to show signs of wear and tear. A steroid user, as we’ve been told repeatedly, can hold off the inevitable decline brought on by aging – isn’t that why Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs at age 36 or Roger Clemens winning his seventh Cy Young at age 41 put both of those players under such intense scrutiny? Even admitted steroid user Ken Caminiti’s power surge (in 1996) came at the age of 33. Bagwell’s power surge began at 26, stayed remarkably consistent for nine consecutive seasons, and then was done by 35 – what is incredibly suspicious about that?

You can’t have your cake and shoot it full of steroids, too.

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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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