Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ken Boyer Belongs in Cooperstown

Okay, so this long-winded post is admittedly a few years overdue, but better late than never.

Now that Ron Santo has taken his rightful place in baseball's Hall of Fame, shouldn't Ken Boyer get to as well? I mean, they were pretty much the same player when you get down to it. Both were slick-fielding, power hitting third basemen that had 15-year careers in which they won five Gold Gloves apiece and were perennial All-Stars during their heyday. Each was voted one of the National League's 10 most valuable players 4 times, and together they won 10 of 11 NL Gold Gloves handed out at the hot corner between 1958 and 1968, with the stray trophy going to Jim Davenport in 1962.

The similarities don't end there, either. They both spent the majority of their careers with a Midwestern National League club (Boyer with St. Louis, Santo in Chicago). Heck, their careers even overlapped for ten years from 1960--Santo's rookie year--to Boyer's last season in 1969. And just look how similar their career numbers are!

Boyer: 1,104 R 2,143 H 282 HR .287/.349/.462 .810 OPS 116 OPS+ 62.8 bWAR
Santo: 1,138 R 2,254 H 342 HR .277/.362/.464 .826 OPS 125 OPS+ 70.4 bWAR

It should come as no surprise that Boyer rates as Santo's fourth-most similar batter, behind a pair of third basemen who deserve to go into the Hall someday--Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen--and a classic borderline case in Dale Murphy. With almost identical career slugging percentages, their power was certainly comparable. Boyer enjoyed 12 straight seasons with at least a dozen long balls, one fewer than Santo. Both men had eight years with upwards of 90 RBI.

Santo, because of his advantages in power and on-base ability, has the edge as a hitter, but Boyer was a better baserunner and, according to the metrics, a superior defender as well. Though both played for 15 years, Santo was more durable and thus squeezed about an extra 209 games out of those years. Thus, his counting numbers are more impressive and closer to traditional Hall of Fame levels, whereas Boyer's would seem to fall short.

Boyer has other things in his favor besides better glovework, though. He won an MVP award and a World Series championship, two things Santo never achieved. Boyer also had a bit of speed as well, swiping 105 bases in his big league career with a high of 22 in 1955, his rookie season. Boyer is one of only seven third baseman with more than 250 big flies and 100 stolen bases. Santo, with only 35 career steals, was never the threat on the bases that Boyer was.

Boyer beats the throw home to Yankee catcher Elston Howard in the '64 Series
An excellent two-way third baseman for a decade, Boyer was basically Santo before Santo. He made seven All-Star teams, won five Gold Gloves, and should have cemented his Hall of Fame status when he was named MVP in 1964 after playing all 162 games, leading the major leagues in RBI with 119 (becoming the first third baseman to do so since Home Run Baker in 1912), and batting .295/.365/.489 with 24 home runs for the World Series-winning Cardinals. He came up big in that year's Fall Classic against the Yankees, fueling the Cards' Game 4 victory with a grand slam and stroking three hits--including a double and a homer--to back Bob Gibson in Game 7 (Clete Boyer also homered, marking the first and only time in baseball history that brothers have homered in the same World Series contest). Unfortunately for Santo, he never had the opportunity to prove himself on the game's biggest stage.
That proved to be Boyer's last hurrah, as his career quickly went downhill after the '64 Series (ditto Mickey Mantle). The primary problem with Boyer, as it is with so many guys who seemed to fall just short of the hall, is that he stopped hitting in his early 30s. He had ten great years, the last coming in his MVP year at 33, and then was essentially done. The same thing happened to Jim Rice, Vada Pinson, Tony Oliva, Dale Murphy, Dick Allen, and many others who find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to Cooperstown.

Boyer was also cursed with being boring. Never a flashy player, Boyer was consistent, and consistency is underrated. He hit 24 home runs four years in a row, batted over .300 four years in a row, and ended up with between 90 and 100 RBI six times in the seven seasons spanning 1956 to 1962. Had he come up with the handful of additional RBI necessary to push past 100 those years, he could have finished his career with eight 100 RBI seasons instead of two. I have to think that would have made a big difference in his Hall of Fame case. Voters back then loved big RBI totals and it would have been hard to ignore someone with eight seasons over 100. Likewise, if even just a few of his 24 homer seasons had been 30 homer seasons instead, Boyer would have eclipsed 300 career homers. As it were, he only had one season with more than 28 and managed just 40 over his final five seasons, falling 18 shy of 300 for his career.

As it is, Boyer is still a deserving Hall of Famer, albeit barely. His career bWAR score of 62.8 clears the threshold of 60 that typically defines a Cooperstown-caliber career. What's more, the average JAWS score of a Hall of Fame third baseman is 55.0, and Boyer's right there at 54.5. Though he falls a bit short on longevity, he makes up for it in peak value. He had six seasons where he was worth more than six wins, including two where he was over seven and two others with more than five. His peak WAR score ranks ninth at the position, better than Brooks Robinson and Miguel Cabrera and almost even with those of Adrian Beltre and Chipper Jones. A lot of that value stemmed from his defense, though he was still a terrific hitter. For those who prefer more traditional metrics, during his best seven-year stretch--1958-1964--Boyer averaged 155 games, 26 home runs, 101 RBI, a .303/.372/.500 batting line (128 OPS+), and totaled 45 bWAR.

That's a tremendous peak, something that's evident in his numerous All-Star appearances. Boyer's 11 All-Star Games (six starts) are the most of any third baseman not in Cooperstown, and everyone else who played in nine or more is in or will be (looking at you, Miguel Cabrera). It's one-fewer than Wade Boggs, Eddie Mathews, and Mike Schmidt, for God's sake, and two more than Santo. Obviously All-Star Games aren't everything, but they do reflect a player being recognized as one of the best at his position or in his league during a given year. And yes, Boyer's totals are skewed somewhat by the fact they played two Midsummer Classics per year from 1959 through 1962, so technically Boyer was an All-Star seven times. But still, seven All-Star nods is impressive.

The problem with Boyer is that he didn't have enough good years surrounding that peak. In two of the three seasons before it he clocked a 94 OPS+, and in the five years afterwards his aggregate OPS+ was 97. Boyer's case essentially rests on his first 10 seasons, and in two of those years he was actually subpar with the bat. So that leaves eight good seasons, and while they are very good, they don't jump off the page. I can see why many people don't view Boyer as a Hall of Famer, for the longest time I didn't either.

But now I see that in those ten years, Boyer was the second-best third baseman in baseball to Eddie Mathews. He was baseball's eighth-most valuable position player over that span behind seven slam-dunk Hall of Famers; Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Mathews, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, and Ernie Banks. Consider that five of them were in the Senior Circuit in the time, and Boyer being named MVP looks even more impressive.

More than anything else, though, this right here is what put me on Boyer's side once and for all (and no, it wasn't the endorsements of former teammates Stan Musial and Tim McCarver). And that is from 1900 through 1968, Boyer's penultimate season, he was, according to WAR, the best third baseman not named Eddie Mathews. That means until the end of of the '60s, he had a legitimate claim as the second-best third baseman of the modern era, which by that point was near the end of its seventh decade. Case closed. That's enough for me.

Third base has traditionally been an underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame. That Santo, one of the 10 best third basemen ever, had to wait almost 40 years after his last game to go in (posthumously) remains one of the Hall's biggest mistakes. There are several more behind him lined up to go in, namely Boyer, Graig Nettles, and Dick Allen. It's too late for Boyer, who passed away more than 30 years ago, but better late than never. That's what the Veteran Committees are for.

Of course it all comes back to my original argument; if Boyer is basically Santo or just a tick below, and Santo's a deserving Hall of Famer, then by transitive property Boyer is too. It's really that simple.


  1. except that santo, like phil rizzuto, got the extra votes for his post-baseball broadcasting career, as joe torre got extra votes for his post-baseball managing career.

    you can certainly make the argument that each of these players deserves in based solely on playing career, but that's not how it worked out- and ken boyer doesn't have the same back door into hof. hope he makes it anyway, though.

  2. The person above is a scumbag. Ron Santo did not get in because of his broadcasting career or because of his annual campaigning and the sympathy vote. If anything, his post-baseball career and his campaigning and all the hubbub over it kept him OUT of the hall during his lifetime - he got snubbed as an act of resentment, imo, despite being extremely deserving - basically middle of the pack among hall of famers who played 3rd base.

    To say Santo took a back door route into the Hall or got in for some reason other than his play is offensive and baseless.

    1. Agreed. It's fair to say Santo's broadcasting career certainly helped maintain his visibility, but he's a worthy Hall of Famer without it. Just a shame it took the voters so long to realize that.

    2. considering you just called someone "a scumbag" for stating a fairly mild opinion, one that made no insult toward santo, and said he deserved to be in the hof based solely on his playing career, i'd say you know a thing or two about being offensive and baseless. what strange anger has warped you?

  3. Good piece on Boyer. Hope he makes it. All star game stat slightly misleading though....baseball in early sixties held two ASG each year.

  4. Yup. Agree with everything you wrote. Boyer was great.

  5. brooks robinson was so good with the glove especially in the ws that unless you hit like matthews or schmidt
    you couldn't get attenetion