— The 2014 Hall of Fame ballot keeps getting stronger.
Jeff Kent, the game’s all-time leader in home runs as a second baseman, has retired as expected after 17 seasons. With today’s final goodbye, Kent will join Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina as first-timers in the 2014 Hall class (with Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr. still looking for teams to play for in 2009).
How do we evaluate Kent’s career and Hall candidacy? It is one that includes a handful of interesting debate points:
First, the obvious: Any time you’re the all-time leader at a position in an important statistical category, you have to like your Hall of Fame chances.
And Kent doesn’t just lead second basemen with 351 homers; he’s got a 74-homer advantage over runner-up Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Famer.
Kent also had eight 100-RBI seasons in a nine-year stretch (1997-2005), including six in a row — and no other second baseman ever did that.
There also were three .300-plus seasons, and 11 at .289 or better, five All-Star selections, four Silver Slugger Awards, three years with 100-plus runs scored, the 2000 NL MVP award and three other top-10 MVP finishes.
And here is the impressive career numbers line: .290 BA, 377 HR, 1,518 RBI, .356 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage, 1,320 runs, 560 doubles.
In case you’re wondering, that’s more homers than Ralph Kiner, more RBI than Mickey Mantle, and as many doubles as Eddie Murray. In fact, there are many Hall of Famers with similar numbers, and some with smaller ones.
It all adds up to a strong case for being one of the game’s all-time top-five slugging second basemen.
Now, a couple of points about context:
Among Hall of Fame second basemen, Kent’s numbers most closely resemble those of Sandberg. (And, it should be said that Kent has him beat in every slugging category, but trails considerably in steals, and of course, Gold Gloves). Primarily, that’s because in an earlier era, Kent would have been a third baseman.
The second base position and its requirements changed with the game’s move into the slugging era — in short, put a run producer at the position, at the expense of some defense and aspects of "little ball."
And that makes it tougher to compare Kent’s accomplishments to those of Joe Morgan, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie and Charlie Gehringer, universally regarded among the top handful of second basemen. It’s simply a case of different eras, different players.
And while Kent was a strong advocate late in his career for stronger drug testing, there’s no debating he was a product of the slugging era — which included smaller stadiums with little foul territories, and for awhile there around the turn of the century, more-tightly-wound baseballs.
All of which begs the comparison of Kent to second basemen of his era. Bill James did so in his Historical Baseball Abstract, first published in 2001.
Among all-time second basemen, here’s how those from the 1980-2005 era ranked: Craig Biggio 5th, Sandberg 7th, Roberto Alomar 10th, Lou Whitaker 13th, Chuck Knoblauch 21st, Tommie Herr 40th, Steve Sax 44th, Billy Doran 45th, Jeff Kent 48th.
Granted, Kent was just more than halfway through his career at the time, but he did have the MVP season under his belt.
It will be interesting to see how the candidacies of Alomar (eligible for the first time next season) and Biggio (who will be on the mega-ballot of 2013 along with first-timers Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza) affect Kent’s candidacy, if at all.
Which brings us to Kent’s relative shortcomings, primarily defense. Kent wasn’t a bad second baseman by any means. But compared to some Hall of Famers, he doesn’t look good. He caught what he got to, although he got to far fewer balls than rangier second basemen of his era, especially Alomar, who changed how the position was played.
Finally, there is the personality issue. The plus side — Kent developed a reputation as an intense hard worker who was committed to winning — old school, if you will.
But the downside included run-ins with teammates throughout his career: The often-replayed dugout battle with Barry Bonds, problems with Milton Bradley in Los Angeles, and the late-2007 revelation of frustration with the lack of integrity and dedication of younger Dodgers teammates.
It’s one thing if a Hall candidate didn’t get along with the media. No voter holds that against a candidate — or shouldn’t. But not being a leader, or worse, being a divisive force isn’t a good thing.
Bottom line: Kent most likely will get in the Hall. But he may have to wait a few years to do so, especially given the number of high-caliber candidates who will be coming on the ballot in and around his debut.
A. Upton owners in keeper fantasy leagues around the country sure are hoping so, Donald.
B.J.’s younger brother certainly is an intriguing talent, and there appears to be no reason why he shouldn’t be one of the game’s best players down the road. The question is, how soon will that day come for the Diamondbacks outfielder?
Upton won’t turn 22 until Aug. 25, so he will play most of the 2009 season at 21. In 2008, he hit .250 with 15 homers, 42 RBI, 52 runs, one stolen base, .463 slugging percentage and 121 strikeouts in 356 at-bats.
The Bill James Handbook projection for Upton in 2009 is as follows: .263 BA, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 79 runs, six steals, .488 slugging percentage and 146 strikeouts in 506 at-bats.
I’m no sabermetrician, but those numbers seem about right, figuring Upton will improve with more experience and play more than last season — when he started with a bang in April, but missed 43 games from July 9-Aug. 28 due to a strained oblique muscle. So, he figures to be better than in 1998, but certainly not what he projects to be able to do down the road.
And just for comparison’s sake, here are the 21-year-old seasons for Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. — two other outfield phenoms from the recent past:
Jones (1998 — born 4/23/77): .271, 31 HR, 90 RBI, 89 runs, 27 steals, .515 slugging percentage and 129 strikeouts in 582 at-bats.
Griffey (1991 — born 11/21/69): .327, 22 HR, 100 RBI, 76 runs, 18 steals, .527 slugging percentage and 82 strikeouts in 548 at-bats.
A. Congrats, Zev. You’re the first questioner we’ve had from Jerusalem. But if you ask me, Andruw is very close to being finished. I just don’t think he can play anymore. So I think the Yankees would be wise to look in another direction.
It has been an alarming drop in production for one of the game’s better sluggers over the steroids era. And the weird thing about it is, there is no obvious reason for the decline — no substance abuse problems, no major injuries, and certainly not age, as Jones will turn 32 in April.
Last season, he looked so lost at the plate, it was sad — and the numbers show that: .158 BA, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 76 strikeouts in 209 at-bats. And his defense has slipped considerably, as well.
The Dodgers are on the hook for about $21 million left on the misguided, two-year, $36-million deal they gave him last winter, but have released him.
Somebody else — San Diego? Washington? Atlanta? — undoubtedly will give him a shot to keep his career alive. But the best I can see him doing is being a platoon player, facing left-handed pitching. I think his days as a regular — let alone a star — are in the past.
It’s too bad, because he was headed on a path to the Hall of Fame at one point in his career. Now, his numbers will fall short, even with the bushel of Gold Glove Awards he has won. Here’s where they stand after 13 seasons: .259 BA, 371 HR, 1,131 RBI, .339 OBP, .489 slugging percentage.
A. Another international question — gotta love it. And a timely one, too, as the arbitration process has begun. It works like this:
Only players who have at least three years of big-league experience but less than six years of experience are eligible. (Players with less than three years experience are pretty much stuck with what teams want to pay them, although in the case of young star players such as Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria, their teams lock them up with longer-term deals. And players with six or more years of big-league service time are eligible for free agency when their contracts expire).
Arbitration-eligible players are not free agents. They are bound to their current teams; just the salary is in question. The two sides file proposed salary figures, and then there is a period in which they can negotiate in an attempt to work out a deal. We’re seeing a handful of these agreements being announced daily of late.
Let’s look at Ryan Howard’s case as an example, since it is in the stratosphere money-wise. Howard filed at $18 million (which will be a record if he is awarded that salary), and the Phillies have countered at $14 million.
If no deal can be reached before a scheduled hearing date in February, the two sides will present their cases before an arbitrator, who picks one proposed salary figure or the other — nothing in between. Teams and players both prefer to avoid the hearings, which can get ugly.
The result of the process, which wisely was negotiated by the players’ union years ago, is that players get awarded salaries based on their statistics as compared to other players with similar statistics and experience levels. It has been a boon to players and a real drag on teams’ payrolls.