So far, we’ve looked at the cases of Adrian Beltre, Edgar Martinez, Chase Utley, Trevor Hoffman, Dustin Pedroia, Roy Halladay, Yadier Molina, and Mark Teixeira. Clicking any of the previously mentioned names will take you to our Should or Shouldn’t for that player.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 24th as members of the 2016 class. It’s now time to look forward to 2017 and preview some of the players slated for HOF consideration.
Let’s take a look at Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
Pudge suited up for six different teams over the course of his 21-season career, appearing in MLB games in each of the last three decades. As a 19-year old rookie in 1991 with the Texas Rangers, Rodriguez played in 88 games and earned a fourth place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting. While you won’t be impressed with the statistics on the back of Pudge’s rookie card, your eyes will light up when you remember that he was selected to the All-Star game and earned the AL Gold Glove Award each of the next 10 seasons. He also won six straight Silver Slugger Awards from 1994-1999, and won the AL MVP in 1999. In his MVP season, Pudge slashed .332/.356/.558 with 199 hits, 35 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and 25 stolen bases (remarkable for a catcher!).
After retiring in 2011, Pudge boasted 14 All-Star selections (tied for second-most among catchers), one AL MVP Award, 13 Gold Gloves, and seven Silver Slugger Awards. He hit at least 19 home runs in eight of nine seasons from 1996-2004. Pudge ended his career with 311 career taters, good for 7th best all-time among catchers. Rodriguez also tallied 1,332 runs batted in, ahead of “notable” HOFers Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Ernie Lombardi, Buck Ewing, and Roy Campanella. Oh yeah, his 2,844 hits are the most of any catcher in MLB history.
On the surface, Pudge’s statistics are pretty gaudy; but his sabermetrics backup his case too. His career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 68.4 is third-best all-time among catchers, trailing only Johnny Bench and Carter. Even if you want to make the argument that he played much longer than other great catchers, Fisk played three more seasons than Pudge and amassed 68.3 WAR. Pudge’s WAR7 of 39.7 (sum of seven best WAR seasons) also ranks fourth-highest all-time behind Carter, Bench, and Piazza.
Pretty solid resume, right? Additionally, we can take a look at Rodriguez’ JAWS total. Developed by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe, the Jaffe WAR Score System seeks to measure a player’s HOF case by averaging a player’s career WAR with their seven-year peak WAR (WAR7). While only batting WAR is used in this specific calculation, his total of 54.0 ranks third all-time behind who else but Bench and Carter.
We can’t talk sabermetrics without talking defense. Pudge’s 28.7 dWAR rating is the highest career total of any catcher, and ranks tied for eighth-best of all players. The next closest catchers are Carter (25.5), Bob Boone (25.3), and fellow longtime Texas Ranger Jim Sundberg (25.0).
It’s clear that Pudge’s numbers, by any measure, warrant Hall of Fame induction. Perhaps the better argument should be whether or not he’ll join the illustrious class of first-ballot HOFers.
Voter projections are still murky as the possible inductions of rumored – or confirmed – PED users gains steam. Guys like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez all figure to hustle votes away from other worthy inductees. Jeff Bagwell (71.6% in 2016), Tim Raines (69.8%), Trevor Hoffman (67.3%), and Edgar Martinez (43.4%) have been affected by this phenomenon recently, and Rodriguez’ case may be negatively impacted too.
Piazza’s career represented one of the strongest cases for enshrinement among catchers, but it still took him four ballots to be inducted. In my opinion, this is largely due to 1) voter stupidity, and 2) his alleged PED use. In a 2002 New York Times article Piazza admitted to using Androstenedione early in his career.
Pudge could be “punished” similarly as his response to steroid allegations was more evasive, but just as confirming as Piazza’s blatant admission. After finding his name on the 2003 MLB steroid list along with 102 other players, Pudge was asked in an Associated Press interview whether or not his name would appear on that list. The catcher responded, “Only God knows.
Fact or fiction, it’s safe to assume Pudge, like most other players in the Steroid Era, were not 100% natural. Pudge was still dominant against pitchers who were also allegedly using steroids, so consider the playing field even. Pudge definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame, but he certainly does not deserve the “first-ballot hall of fame” distinction.
Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com