As a child who grew up in the 90s, my first memory of Fred McGriff was his elaborate finish to his powerful swing from the left side of the plate. While it wasn’t a bat flip, his “helicopter” style finish was exciting at the time.
In addition to his skills at the plate, McGriff garnered one of the more badass nicknames of his era: Crime Dog. He was also known for his endorsement of Tom Emanski’s All-Stars defensive training videos. Now, none this has any impact on whether or not McGriff deserves to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but it has certainly helped him become a more household name. McGriff played 19 seasons in the Majors that included stints with the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs, and Dodgers. In those 19 seasons, McGriff was a five-time All-Star. But more than that, he was somewhat of an iron man; from 1988 through 2002 (excluding the strike-shortened season of 1994), McGriff averaged nearly 152 games per season.
Digging into the statistics, we find some impressive numbers that, on the surface, warrant Hall of Fame consideration.
Clearly, McGriff posted superb offensive statistics over the course of his career. However, to date, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) has not felt that McGriff was worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, as evidenced by a peak vote of 23.9% back in 2012. That year was just his third year on the ballot. Why so little acclaim? As mentioned earlier, McGriff played so many seasons and a tremendous number of games (2,460) but never really stood out amongst the elite talents of his era. McGriff finished inside the top 10 for MVP voting six times, but only once finished in the top five. Then there’s the impressive home run total that fell just short of 500, a total that surely would have netted him more attention, especially if he played a decade earlier. Unfortunately, McGriff was a victim of the era in which he played. When McGriff retired in 2004, there were only 19 members of the 500 home run club that spanned over 130 years. Since then, eight more players have joined this “elite” club. Yes, steroids and performance-enhancing drugs played a role, but nonetheless, McGriff failed to distance himself from other very good players in any capacity.
First base typically consists of middle-of-the-order sluggers, like Hall of Famers Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, and Jim Thome, among others. In order to properly evaluate McGriff’s Hall of Fame case, we need to compare him to others at his position. When evaluating defensive statistics, first base is not where we see the most agile players with great range and defensive ability. While defensive statistics are still evolving and certainly were far from accurate during the era in which McGriff played, his values graded out below-average. This is the case in terms of Range Factor at Baseball Reference, Defense rating at FanGraphs, and Total Zone Runs at Baseball Projections. In fact, during his 19 seasons, McGriff only once ranked inside the top five in Total Zone Runs (1994). Therefore, McGriff’s defensive statistics do not positively contribute to his Hall of Fame case.
Over the last five years, the BBWAA has voted in the aforementioned trio of Thomas, Bagwell, and Thome, all of whom primarily played first base during their careers. How does McGriff stack up against these Hall of Fame first basemen who played alongside him during their careers?
|Player||WAR (FanGraphs)||WAR (BRef)||JAWS||OPS+||wRC+|
|AVG 1B HOF||72.3||66.8||54.7||144||142|
Unsurprisingly, McGriff’s greatest Hall of Fame case is his bat, as it is with most first basemen. By the measures above, McGriff falls short no matter which statistical measure you prefer. In terms of offensive performance only, you can see McGriff sits about 34% above league average, but does not compare to his colleagues at the position. Personally, I feel Jay Jaffe’s JAWS is the most rational measure of a player’s Hall of Fame credentials. It’s an average of a hitter’s seven-year peak WAR (not consecutive seasons) and his overall career WAR. It’s a fair representation of a player’s success because it balances peak performance with longevity. Unfortunately for McGriff, his JAWS is nearly 20% below the average Hall of Fame first baseman’s, and his overall WAR has a gap that’s even larger.
McGriff had a hell of a career. Some may argue that his numbers are good enough for the Hall of Fame. But “good enough” should not be how we describe players who reach the ultimate enshrinement in the baseball Hall of Fame. It appears the Pitcher List Staff agrees with me. Sure, McGriff’s numbers may be overshadowed by an era that was tainted, but the fact remains; McGriff was a very good ballplayer, but not deserving of the Hall of Fame. In terms of his home runs, hits, RBI, etc., McGriff more or less compiled them over the course of his 19-year career. And while the inclusion of Harold Baines, who recently was voted in by the Era Committee, means there’s hope for McGriff, he’ll likely continue to receive 15 to 25 percent of the vote until his 15 years are up in 2024. He could eventually get the call, but for now, the Crime Dog will need to continue to do time before knowing his ultimate fate in baseball history.
(Photo By John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)