There are 268 former MLB players in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Twenty of them are second basemen.
And if you watched the Detroit Tigers in the ’80s, you’d probably say Lou Whitaker, whose number will be retired by the team on Saturday, should be one of them — and you’re probably right.
Ranked by career wins above replacement* (WAR), Whitaker has the highest total (75.1) of any second baseman not in the Hall. Several players who lag behind Whitaker in WAR, a metric whose popularity and application have evolved over the past two decades — but who may not carry enough weight for current voters — are in the Hall.
So what’s the problem ?
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The Detroit News looked at the career numbers of three Hall of Fame second basemen — and a snub — whose careers overlapped with Whitaker’s (1977-1995) to find out where his case might fall.
*All references to WAR are calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, otherwise known as bWAR.
► Bobby Grich (Not in the Hall of Fame)
MLB Career: 1970-86
Of all the pure second basemen who have a legitimate complaint about not being in the Hall of Fame, former Baltimore Oriole and California Angel Bobby Grich — a Muskegon native — is the only one whose case mirrors Whitaker’s.
Grich is a four-time Gold Glover, six-time All-Star and World Series champion. He racked up a 71.1 WAR over his 17-year career. One thing these two guys have in common: Fielding wasn’t enough to overcome their lack of power. Grich only passed 20 home runs twice in his career; he boasts a career OPS of 0.794. Whitaker, by comparison, has hit 244 homers and has a career OPS of .789.
Of WAR’s top 10 leaders at second base, Whitaker and Grich are the only two in MLB history not to have finished in the top 5 in MVP voting; between them, they have just three top-10 finishes overall.
► Roberto Alomar (Class of 2011 HOF)
MLB Career: 1988-2004
Alomar’s career war (67.0) sits at the bottom end of Hall of Fame second basemen, but, much like the next guy on this list, the other accolades he’s earned over the course of of his career finally gave him a stronger case. Alomar was a 12-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, 10-time Gold Glove winner, four-time Silver Slugger and an ALCS MVP award.
Why isn’t Alomar’s lack of raw power (210 career homers) held against him like Whitaker and Grich? Probably because his other tally stats — especially in categories that held more value in a less-analysis-prone era — are so solid as to render them irrelevant: Alomar had a .300 career average for accompany 2,724 hits and 474 stolen bases.
But despite leading in several tally stats, Alomar’s career OPS+ (116), which factors in factors like baseball stadiums, is a notch below Whitaker’s (117), and Alomar has won seven more Golden Gloves than Whitaker despite owning the exact same field percentage. (.984) over their career.
► Ryne Sandberg (2005 HOF class)
MLB Career: 1981-1997
Although his career WAR (68.0) is 7.1 points behind Whitaker, Sandberg got the praise for bringing home his HOF case. He’s a one-time MVP, 10-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove winner, and seven-time Silver Slugger.
But despite the full row of Silver Slugger awards in his trophy case, Sandberg’s career OPS is actually the same as Grich, just above Whitaker – and, again, his career OPS+ (114 ) is lower than that of Whitaker. Sandberg, however, led the league in home runs (40) in 1990; his 344 career stolen bases are also 201 more than Whitaker, and while he may not have been as handy in turning a double play (he had 1,158 to Whitaker’s 1,527), his career percentage (.989) is a bit higher than Whitaker’s (.984).
► Craig Biggio (HOF Class of 2015)
MLB Career: 1988-2007
Of all the players on this list, Biggio is probably the most questionable nod to Whitaker. It’s not that Biggio deserves; rather, it’s more, “How could Biggio be a Hall of Famer if Whitaker isn’t?”
Biggio’s career war (65.5) trails Whitaker by nearly 10 points. Aside from Whitaker’s Rookie of the Year award, he and Biggio have won all the same awards over their careers, but Biggio beats Whitaker in every category: seven-time All-Star, four Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers.
To be fair, Biggio was a much bigger threat on base paths (414 stolen bases) and, perhaps most importantly (in the eyes of voters, anyway), topped the vaunted 3,000 hit mark. . Of the 33 players in MLB history who have batted 3,000 hits and are eligible for the Hall of Fame, only Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, two hitters whose HOF cases are marred by the use of steroids, n failed to enter.