|Garvey almost never took a day off (RantSports)|
No wonder they called him Captain America.
But despite all the accolades, all the awards and big hits and West Coast glamor, despite his immense popularity and movie-star looks and middle-of-the-order presence, despite his many Midsummer Classic and Fall Classic appearances, Steve Garvey is not in the Hall of Fame, nor should he be. 15 times he was on the writer's ballot, and 15 times the BBWAA said no.
In 2013 he was given another chance at induction via the Expansion Era Committee, and once again he did not receive the necessary votes. When I reviewed his case then, I concluded he was not Hall of Fame worthy, something I stand by today.
A good place to start is his career WAR total, which Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs both place at just under 38. That's way below the 60 usually needed to even be in the conversation for Cooperstown, and very weak considering he played in 2,337 games and compiled nearly 9,500 plate appearances. It's less than fellow first basemen Mark Grace, Dolph Camilli, and Bill White, all players who clearly fall short of the Hall's standards. Ditto Fernando Valenzuela and Carl Furillo, the two Dodgers he falls between for career bWAR. As far as I can tell, the only first basemen to be elected with fewer WAR are Jim Bottomley and High Pockets Kelly, both flawed Veteran's Committee selections. WAR also says Garvey was never the best player on his team.
Even if WAR's not your cup of tea (it's not, nor should it be, the end-all be-all method of player evaluation), Garvey still falls short by other metrics. His Black Ink score, which measures how frequently he led the league in something, is 12, well below the established HOF score of 27. His Gray Ink, which scores how often a player appears in the top 10, is closer but still falls short. And by Hall of Fame standards, which sets the bar at 50 for an average Hall of Famer, Garvey is well-shy at 32. He does pass the Hall of Fame monitor (which assesses the likelihood a player makes the Hall, not his worthiness), with his 130 score indicative of a "virtual cinch," but one out of four (six including JAWS and Hall of Stats) ain't too good.
Don't like those metrics? Okay then, but know that Garvey never slugged .500 in any of his 19 seasons, and never had an OBP above .365. He never led the league in home runs, RBI, total bases, OPS, or any meaningful statistic besides hits (twice), games played (seven times), double plays grounded into (twice), and sacrifice flies (once). He never scored 100 runs, clubbed 40 doubles, legged out 10 triples, smacked 35 home runs, or stole 20 bases in any season.
Sure, Garvey got loads of hits--2,599 of them, in fact--but hardly ever walked. Only once did he work even 50 walks in a season, and it was 50 on the nose. He only had one other season with as many as 40, and again it was 40 on the nose. His career walk rate barely cracked five percent (the league average is around 8.5), and when you subtract out his 113 intentional walks (which account for nearly one-quarter of his 479 career walks) that rate plummets below four percent. So really, Garvey wasn't even half as good as the average played at working a walk.
As such, Garvey's career on-base percentage is shockingly bad for someone who almost batted .300 for his career. At .329 it's better than average, but not by much.
Garvey also didn't hit for much power. He only had the one season with more than 30 home runs and managed just 272 for his career, or one every 32.5 at-bats. He hit a good number of doubles, but overall his pop barely stood above league average; his .152 ISO isn't much better than usual league average of .140.
|Garvey pictured here with the Padres, with whom he finished his career (SBNation)|
By overrated, flawed statistics, Garvey does well. He has lots of hits, RBI, and a high batting average. But in the statistics that really matter--WAR, OPS, runs created--he fares poorly.
Still, it crossed my mind that the voters may have actually undervalued Garvey. He was a righthanded hitter who spent his entire career in pitcher's parks, at a time when the game very much favored pitchers and speed. But his time on the BBWAA ballot coincided with the crazy offensive environment of the Steroid Era, which no doubt made his numbers seem less impressive. It's weird that he debuted with 41.6 percent of the vote and then stalled out, gradually losing support over the years and finishing up with a mere 21.1 percent of the vote in his last year of eligibility. The proliferation of advanced metrics in the early 2000s couldn't have helped his case either.
Sure enough, Garvey's neutralized numbers look much better. His career batting line rises to .306/.343/.463, giving him a 31 point boost in OPS. He has more than 2,800 hits and 1,300 runs, nearly 500 doubles, 300 long balls, and 1,500 RBI. If those were Garvey's actual numbers, I think he might have made it in. Then again, those are Dave Parker numbers, so maybe not.
I'm still saying no to Garvey, though. A first baseman needs great offensive statistics to be Hall of Fame-worthy, and Garvey's resemble more of a really good shortstop's like Derek Jeter or Alan Trammell. Garvey was a nicely packaged ballplayer with good longevity and a solid peak, but didn't do enough of anything to stand out. He didn't hit for enough power, get on base frequently enough, run well enough, or play good enough defense to earn a trip to Cooperstown. He was a lot like Gil Hodges--another classic borderline case and superb all-around first baseman for the Dodgers--only Hodges was better.
Hodges has waited over 50 years for Cooperstown to call his name, and at this point I'm starting to think it never will. Garvey, who never polled as high as Hodges, is an even greater longshot. His place in the Hall of Very Good is secure, but I'll be shocked if he ever sees his day in Cooperstown.