Monday, January 6, 2014

Examining Trammell's Cooperstown Case

There's more to Trammell's case than meets the eye (MLB)
Last year, when I was reviewing the candidacies of all the players up for Cooperstown induction, I had a hard time coming to the conclusion that Alan Trammell was Hall of Fame material.Hall of very good? Absolutely. But the Hall of Fame? I wasn't so sure. His numbers were the very definition of borderline, and for me fell a bit short. This year, after taking a closer look, I feel differently. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.

So why wasn't I as convinced last year? Looking back, I think the initial problem I had with Trammell (which I suspect is quite common) is that he just doesn't feel like a Hall of Famer. His numbers are good but don't leap off the page. The main issue I had, and still have, with him is that he's woefully short on black ink, as in he has none. He never led the league in any traditional metric. He twice led in sacrifice hits (he was a good teammate, I guess?), once in oWAR and a couple other advanced defensive statistics. But he never hit 30 home runs in any season, and just once reached 100 RBI (but no other seasons with more than 90), 200 hits, 300 total bases, 30 steals, a .400 OBP, and a .500 SLG. Except for the steals, all of those seasons are one in the same--his magnificent 1987 campaign.

I also couldn't get past the fact that Trammell was a below average hitter more often than he was an above average one, with an OPS+/wRC+ under 100 in 11 of his 20 seasons. That means for more than half his career, Tram was a liability on offense. So because he had a lot of pedestrian seasons hitting-wise and didn't dominate when he was at his peak, Trammell doesn't pass the eye test, the smell test, or whatever test one uses to determine Cooperstown worthiness.

But if one digs a little deeper, it soon becomes clear that Trammell is very much worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame. For starters, his resume is impressive, with six All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and a second place MVP finish in 1987. Throw in his postseason heroics--1984 World Series MVP--and Trammell's case looks even better. All those accolades support the notion that Trammell was one of the best shortstops of his time, at least before Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada came along and redefined the position with their videogame numbers.

But Trammell  was more than just one of the best shortstops of his era: he was one of its best players period. According to FanGraphs, between 1980 and 1990--the meat of Trammell's career--he was the fifth most valuable position player in baseball, behind only Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt, and Cal Ripken Jr.--all first ballot Hall of Famers, a truly remarkable feat when you think about it.

What made Trammell so valuable (and underrated at the same time) was that he did everything well rather than one or two things exceptionally well. He hit for power, eight times belting at least dozen home runs and six times topping 30 doubles. He stole bases--13 times in double digits. He hit for pretty good averages and walked enough to get on base at a good clip (.352 career). On top of all that, he played a tremendous shortstop into his mid-30s. He was a six-win player five separate times, peaking at 8.2 WAR in his MVP-caliber 1987. The voters were swayed by George Bell's big power numbers, but Trammell was more deserving as the superior all-around player on a team that made the playoffs.

Even if you feel that WAR overrates Trammell, which it may, you still can't deny how well his achievements stack up to Barry Larkin's. Larkin, you may recall, sailed into the Hall in 2012 on his third try. See for yourself:

Larkin: 1,329 R, 2,340 H, 441 2B, 198 HR, 960 RBI, 3,527 TB, 116 OPS+, 70.2 bWAR
Tram: 1,231 R, 2,365 H, 412 2B, 185 HR, 1,003 RBI, 3,442 TB, 110 OPS+, 70.3 bWAR

Could they be any more similar? Larkin comes up as Trammell's second closest comp (after Edgar Renteria) while Trammell rates as Larkin's closest match. Their Hall of Fame monitor scores are almost identical as well, with Larkin at 120 and Trammell at 118. Like Trammell, Larkin never led the league in any old school stat but was a superb all-around player. Larkin was a slightly better hitter (more power and walked a bit more) and a better baserunner (379 steals to Trammell's 236), but Trammell made up most of that ground with his glove.

According to JAWs, Trammell actually comes out slightly ahead of Larkin because of his better peak. Trammell rates as the 11th best shortstop of all-time, while Larkin comes in at 13 (between them is the still-active Jeter). Looking at it another way, Trammell is the eighth best shortstop to begin his career after 1900, and the sixth best that debuted after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Of the 21 shortstops elected to Cooperstown thus far, Trammell rates better than 13 of them. He's one of only 14 players to spend at least ten seasons at shortstop and post an above average OPS+ while doing so. 

But Trammell is on the ballot for the 13th time this year, and his chances of getting voted in by the writers are non-existent at this point. He polled 33.6 percent last year, meaning he needs to more than double his vote total to get in, and that's going to be impossible with the overflow of worthy candidates on the ballot. He'll have to wait for a Veteran's Committee to vote him in some day, which seems like a good bet given the increased attention paid to the sabermetrics that rate Trammell so highly.

They changed my mind. Maybe they can change yours.

1 comment:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. I think if the electors can elect Barry Larkin and several others under the excuse that they set records in fielding but not much else(look no further than Ozzie Smith),than there's room for decent hitters like Trammel.