Hall of Excellentitude: Keith Hernandez
I’m starting a new feature here at the blog I’m dubbing the Hall of Excellentitude. Don’t hate it because you didn’t think of the name yourself. It’s a tribute to the accomplishments of St. Louis players of years gone by, Cardinals and Browns. Some players will be Hall of Famers, others will be those I consider to have at least a Hall of Fame case. What all players will share in common is that much of their impact on the game happened while they were playing with a St. Louis club. We’ll start with Keith Hernandez.
A few things pop to my mind when I think of Hernandez. Whitey Herzog just said no to drugs (and still adamantly does) and traded the coke-loving Hernandez for two nobodies. Bad decision. While Hernandez is remembered as a Met, his best days actually were in St. Louis: 35.1 WAR compared to 26.5 in New York. What also comes to mind are those ridiculously cheesy Just for Men ads, and my two favorite episodes of Seinfeld, ever.
Then there’s the fact that Keith Hernandez was a tremendously talented baseball player, one who I think is worthy of Cooperstown. His J-Hoffa scores rightly predicted him falling far short of reaching the Hall, but his WAR numbers tell a different and more accurate story of his worthiness. (J-Hoffa is basically a fun little tool Bill James invented that looks primarily at the counting stats and other things the voters love. We’re not referring to the missing Teamster.)
Black Ink Batting – 14 (166), Average HOFer ≈ 27 Gray Ink Batting – 118 (167), Average HOFer ≈ 144 Hall of Fame Monitor Batting – 86 (198), Likely HOFer ≈ 100 Hall of Fame Standards Batting – 32 (248), Average HOFer ≈ 50
As you can see from the graph, Hernandez is right in the “HoF” zone for most of his 17-year career. Unfortunately, he turned into a pumpkin at the age of 35. Let’s compare Mex with the current first-sackers in the Hall of Fame.
Glossary: WAR = Wins Above Replacement, a measure of total career value; WAR/700PA is WAR converted into a rate statistic, or WAR per full player season; BtRuns = batted runs above average, including all offensive events including detailed baserunning; FldRuns = Fielding runs saved above average, based on TotalZone or JAARF; Fld/700PA = FldRuns converted to a rate stat; Batting/700 = Batting run converted into a rate stat. 5-Y is their five-year peak seasons, which are consecutive. WAE is Wins Above Excellence, or every WAR above three in a given season. It doesn’t add for hinder a player’s case for greatness and doesn’t handicap a player for his decline. Stats were derived from Rally’s WAR database.
The chart is sorted by Wins Above Excellence, thus the name Hall of Excellentitude. Mex is closer to the middle of the road in most of these categories than I expected, and is miles ahead of anyone in terms of defense. It’s no wonder he won 11 consecutive Gold Gloves. +1 win per season over an entire career is impressive for anyone, first baseman or not. There’s some debate about whether Mex is the best defensive 1B of all time. I’d like to think he was and his TotalZone numbers seem to bear it out. Here’s some of the other multi-Gold Glove winning 1B Total Fielding Runs per 1,250 innings, per Baseball-Reference.com.
Take that, Rawlings. While his batting is not in the elite of the elite, Hernandez has better per season numbers than Murray and the overrated Sisler. (We’ll talk about Sisler in a future post). Mex had six seasons where he posted an OPS+ of 140 or better.
I have to say, I’m a little surprised that Hernandez received such little support for his Hall of Fame candidacy. You would think that he would have got at least some of the backing Don Mattingly has received. Let’s end with one more WAR Trajectory graph.
That pesky defense. It’s what almost puts Hernandez on equal footing with a couple of the best power hitters of all time. Mex Roolz. While the Cardinals in the forgiving mood towards drug users, they should consider maybe having a Keith Hernandez day of their own.