THE CASE FOR KENT
In my opinion, the case for Jeff Kent to be in the Hall of Fame is an easy one. Yet for reasons that do not seem to fairly represent the type of player he was, the former MVP second baseman has not received more than 16.7% of votes since his first year on the ballot in 2014.
I understand that Kent was never a Gold Glover or even deserved the honor in a given season, but something needs to be said about the fact that he played second base for the entirety of his career and started 90% of his games at the position. Clearly, he was good enough to remain there. I also understand he was never a speed guy, but he never needed to be when he was such an elite run producer in the middle of those San Francisco Giants lineups for all those years hitting behind some guy named Bonds. Finally, I understand Kent never had the best relationship with members of the media, and had his share of tiffs with teammates over the years. But are we to believe that the Hall of Fame is filled with nothing but all-around great guys that are looked back at fondly as Jim Thome-like teammates? In my opinion, these debatable downsides to Kent’s game are pretty minuscule when you take a look at the numbers he was able to put up over his 17-year career.
So, let’s take a look at those numbers and where he ranks among all-time second basemen:
(Min. 8,000 plate appearances; >50% of games played at second base)
HRs: 377 (1st)
RBI: 1,518 (3rd; behind only Nap Lajoie and Rogers Hornsby, both HoFers)
SLG%: .500 (2nd; behind only Rogers Hornsby)
OPS: .855 (3rd; behind Hornsby and HoFer Charlie Gehringer)
Total Bases: 4,246 (6th; behind five HoFers)
Extra Base Hits: 984 (3rd; behind HoFer Craig Biggio and Hornsby)
And while accolades are certainly not the be-all end-all in terms of Hall of Fame candidacy, it is worth mentioning Kent was a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger, and won the aforementioned MVP in 2000 when he slashed .334/.424/.596. One thing I typically like to look at when determining the legitimacy of a Hall of Famer is their ten-year peak. From 1997-2006 would definitely be considered the best ten-year stretch of his career when looking at WAR and run production. Kent averaged a .295/.367/.525 slash line, while hitting 27 HRs and 106 RBI, with an OPS+ of 131 during that time. His 267 HRs and .892 OPS during that period were by far the best among second basemen.
His offensive WAR ranks 98th all-time… 98th! Of the hundreds of thousands of players who have graced the diamond, Jeff Kent ranks within the top 100 hitters of all time. In an era where power numbers were very skewed for one reason or another, Kent was as steady as can be.
The man was above and beyond the best hitting second baseman of his time, and strongly ranks among the greatest in history at the position offensively. Not only does he rank highly among others at his position, but Kent finished his career with a higher WAR than other Hall of Famers such as Kirby Puckett, Bobby Doerr, Orlando Cepeda, Ralph Kiner, Lou Brock, and Jim Rice.
Kent was able to do things at the plate that nobody had ever seen before from a second baseman, and, with the exception of maybe Robinson Cano, haven’t seen since. While the negatives to his game are apparent, there is no denying just how elite he was. The fact that Kent has not been able to even crack the 20% threshold on the ballot, to me, is a sin.
THE CASE AGAINST KENT
Jeff Kent is one of the best offensive second basemen of his era that includes Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Ryne Sandberg. Kent played 17 seasons with a number ball clubs including the Blue Jays (briefly), Mets, Indians (very briefly), Giants, Astros, and Dodgers. How many of you can honestly remember Jeff Kent as a Blue Jay, a Met, or with the Indians? If you honestly don’t, it might be because his seasons with those teams, which ranged from 1992 through 1996, were only moderately valuable at best. Kent averaged 1.84 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over those five seasons to start his career and never made an All-Star game. Similarly, and not surprisingly, Kent ended his career with comparable values posting an average of 1.6 WAR in his final three seasons. Again, typically players in their late 30s finish their careers with the arrow pointing down. Essentially, Kent packed in quite a bit of value into just 10 seasons of baseball. Let’s take a look at Kent’s career numbers and how he stacks up with baseball’s elite.
When looking at Kent’s career as a whole, the numbers that jump out to me the most are where he ranks among fellow second basemen.
|Jeff Kent||377 HR||1320 Runs||1518 RBI||.500 SLG||.367 wOBA||123 wRC+||56.1 WAR|
|Rank All-Time Among 2B||2nd||13th||3rd||3rd||23rd||19th||19th|
I’ll admit, I’m impressed. The counting stats add up and certainly meet some of the criteria for a Hall of Famer. However, the value or rate statistics such as WAR or wOBA paint a slightly different picture. Some of those stats are cherrypicked in Kent’s favor, which is interesting for an article that argues against Kent’s merits for the Hall of Fame (HOF). I’ll explain later, for now, I want to discuss some of Kent’s other achievements. Jeff Kent appeared in five All-Star games and finished inside the top 10 for MVP voting on four occasions. Oh, and by the way, he won an MVP award back in 2000 with the San Francisco Giants. That’s a nice piece of hardware Kent can put at the front of his argument in consideration for the Hall of Fame. It’s a great accomplishment but doesn’t guarantee the player belongs in the HOF.
I mentioned the Giants and Kent’s MVP from 2000. Kent is most known for his time with the Giants for several reasons. First off, it was by far the most productive stretch of his career, the aforementioned MVP, and he played with this guy named Barry Bonds. It’s often said that great players can make others around them better. In no way is that sentiment more true than Kent’s situation in San Fransisco with Bonds. Prior to joining the Giants, Kent’s career high in runs and RBI was 65 and 80 respectively. Not only did Kent eclipse those totals in every season with the Giants, but he obliterated them with career highs of 114 runs and 128 RBI! Dusty Baker, the Giants skipper at the time, typically slotted Kent behind Bonds which meant, no other player in Major League Baseball had more RBI opportunities than the Kent for those several years. For context, between 1997 and 2002 (the years Kent and Bonds played together), Bonds had an OBP below .400 just once and twice had an OBP over .500! Knowing what we know now about counting stats such as RBI and runs, to some extent, have significant reliance on other players and factors. It’s no wonder Kent’s WAR, wRC+, etc are not as lofty as one would imagine given his impressive counting stats. That’s the reason that in 1997, Kent posted a wRC+ slightly above the league average of 100 at 104, but managed a whopping 121 RBI.
This seems to be a lot about Bonds in an article about Jeff Kent. It’s important to see while Kent certainly improved his game when he arrived in San Francisco, much of what inflated Kent’s numbers into elite territory in that timeframe was thanks to hitting in front of or mostly behind the best hitter of their era and arguably of all time. That cannot be discounted. As much as their talents helped each other, these two not so likable players very much disliked one another off the field and sometimes in the dugout.
While I did not vote for Jeff Kent to be in the Hall of Fame via the Pitcher List staff vote, I do believe there is justification for Kent to eventually make the cut. Personally, of the Hall of Fame vote list provided at PitcherList, I’d vote more than 10 players but of course, 10 is the maximum. Since we were capped, Kent was one that missed for my selection. That being said, I would still have players like Andruw Jones, Larry Walker, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield in ahead of him, so he’s got a ways to go. I think for Kent to eventually get in, the two most recent second base inductees, Ryne Sandberg (voted in after 3 years on the ballot) and Craig Biggio (voted in after 3 years on the ballot) appears to be his best bets for enshrinement. Have a look.
|Player||Top 10 MVP||JAWS||WAR||HR||SB||Top 5 Finishes in Total Zone Runs||OPS+|
|Jeff Kent||4||45.6||55.4||377||94||3 seasons||123|
|Craig Biggio||3||53.7||65.5||291||414||3 seasons||112|
|Ryne Sandberg||3||57.5||68.0||282||344||9 seasons||114|
Kent clearly belongs on the list with these two offensively but I’ve added the element of stolen bases and defense in terms of Total Zone Runs to show that Kent was not quite the complete player than Sandberg and Biggio were. To be fair, Biggio played only 12 seasons at 2B, he played several seasons behind the dish and in the outfield where he added a fourth top-five finish in Total Zone Runs. Add in the fact that active second basemen Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler have already surpassed Kent in terms of career WAR, JAWS and Total Zone Runs with Dustin Pedroia right on his heels. All three are likely to retire in the very near future which will only hurt Kent’s case for the HOF once eligible. It’s unfortunate, but Kent may have to wait for the Era Committee to ultimately solidify his inclusion into the Hall of Fame.
– Max Freeze