Hanging with Miss Cooper: Why not Lou?

The AP headline following the announcement Sunday that former St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons was one of two who will be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame: “Ted Simmons can thank analytics for Baseball Hall of Fame nod.”

It’s true Simmons, who received 13 of 16 votes by MLB’s Modern Era Committee, one more than was necessary for induction into the Hall of Fame, saw a jump in his candidacy thanks to advanced statistics. By WAR — Wins Above Replacement, a statistic used to represent how many victories a player provides his team versus what a “replacement level” player could provide — Simmons is one of just eight catchers in baseball history to have greater than 50 career WAR, finishing his 21-year career with 50.3.

“If it weren’t for the analytics people, my career as a potential Hall-of-Famer probably would have been shut down and forgotten about a long time ago,” Simmons told the AP. “When people started talking about on-base percentage and WAR, and explained how WAR comprised, then it became a real look into a real study, and then a real comparison started to develop.”
Sound familiar? It’s a thought that mirrors what Lou Whitaker, a former Detroit Tigers All-Star second baseman from Martinsville, told the Martinsville Bulletin last month.

In the traditional categories, Simmons finished his career with a .285 batting average, 248 home runs, and 1,389 RBIs. Great, but not earth shattering, which makes his original 3.7% of the vote on the Baseball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame ballot understandable.

Simmons and Whitaker’s numbers are similar — Whitaker finished his 19-year career with a batting average of .276, with 2,369 career hits, 244 home runs and 1,084 RBIs.

Whitaker also fell short of the 5% threshold needed to stay on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot and fell short on that same Modern Era Committee ballot that elected Simmons. Whitaker received just six votes.

This isn’t meant to degrade Simmons’ induction. He is, by all I’ve read, a very worthy candidate. But it’s hard to argue that a look at advanced analytics makes him a better candidate, while other players with better advanced analytics are still left out.

Right now, Whitaker is 75th all-time in career WAR among every baseball player who ever played in the major leagues. Only three players with higher career WAR are currently not in the Hall of Fame — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens (who also absolutely should be, but the reason for their absence is another column for another day) and Bill Dahlen, an apparent great for the Chicago Cubs and four other teams who finished his career in … 1911.

Let’s step away from comparing Whitaker and Simmons for a second. Let’s compare Whitaker to another player. A middle infielder who played 20 years with a career .310 batting average, 3,465 hits, 260 home runs, and 1,311 RBIs. Great numbers, especially the hits.

But, that same middle infielder had a career on-base percentage of .377 (Whitaker’s was .363) and a career WAR of 72.4, which is 88th all time.

That middle infielder? Derek Jeter, who next month will more than likely be just the second unanimous Hall of Fame selection. One Hall of Fame voter who has sent in a ballot voted only for Jeter (heavy eye roll). When you play in New York, make 14 All-Star games, win five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers and four World Series, you’re going to get recognition. But was Jeter really worth ALL that?

Heck, if you want to compare Whitaker to other Hall-of-Fame-worthy middle infielders, look no further than the one who played beside him for nearly 2,000 games. Shortstop Alan Trammell, inducted into Cooperstown by the Modern Era Committee last year, had a career .285 batting average, 2,365 hits, 185 home runs, and a .352 on-base percentage. His career WAR was 70.7, 95th all time.

Is Derek Jeter a Hall-of-Famer? Of course. Absolutely. No question. Was Alan Trammell? Probably. Was Ted Simmons? You could argue one way or the other until you’re blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is come next summer it won’t matter because he will have a plaque in Cooperstown.

But you can’t definitively say that players such as Jeter are a slam dunk and leave out other players who were statistically better in other categories. You really can’t put in Trammell and leave out his double-play partner of nearly two decades, who had nearly identical, if not better, numbers. That would be like saying Bert is an all-time great Sesame Street character while you ignore Ernie.

And you certainly can’t say advanced statistics give Simmons, No. 300 all-time in career WAR, a place in Cooperstown and ignore how much those advanced statistics also help the cause of others.

(This story originally appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin.)

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