Baseball Hall of Fame debates 2013: Jeff Bagwell
Part 8 of a 10-part series that looks at prominent potential Hall of Famers for the Class of 2013 and the reasons to vote them in -- or keep them out.
Jeff Bagwell is in his third year on the ballot, getting 56 percent of the vote in 2012 (75 percent is needed for election). The former Astros slugger was constantly in the National League MVP discussion, consistently hitting more than 30 home runs and driving in and scoring at least 100 runs per year. But an injured shoulder cut his career short at 37 following a miserable 2006 season.
Did he need more time to become a Hall of Famer? Or are his numbers enough for election?
THE CASE FOR THE HALL
Bagwell had only 2,314 hits. He hit only 449 home runs. He never won a World Series. But lost amid falling short of several "magic" numbers is this: He was one of the best first basemen in the game. Ever.
His 83.9 WAR is sixth among first basemen in the modern era (since 1900). He ranks ahead of Rod Carew (80.4) and Eddie Murray (78.8).
His .408 on-base percentage is 13th all-time at the position.
His .540 slugging percentage is 16th among first basemen, ahead of Willie Stargell (.529) and Harmon Killebrew (.509).
His 202 stolen bases rank 14th all-time, but he's the only first baseman with at least 144 home runs and 200 steals, a rare combination of power and speed.
He's eighth in runs scored with 1,517, ahead of Carew (1,424) and Ernie Banks (1,305).
He's one of seven first basemen to hit at least 400 home runs, drive in 1,500 runs and score 1,500 runs. Four are in the Hall of Fame (Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Murray).
Bagwell was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1991 when he hit .294 with 15 home runs and 82 RBIs. He was the NL MVP in 1994, hitting .368 with 39 home runs, 116 RBIs and a league-leading .750 slugging percentage during the strike-shortened season. He was in the top 20 of MVP voting 10 times during a 15-year career. He was a four-time All-Star, won three Silver Sluggers and picked up a Gold Glove in 1994.
For his career, Bagwell posted a 59.1 UZR, an advanced metric that measures a player's ability to get to balls hit in his fielding zone. That ranks 15th all-time among first basemen, second among those who hit at least 400 home runs.
Power. Speed. Defense. Bagwell was one of the most well-rounded players at his position in the last 112 years.
THE CASE AGAINST THE HALL
As a fan, your heart wants to vote Bagwell into the Hall. He was a Houston lifer who, along with fellow Hall of Fame candidate Craig Biggio, was one of the Astros' "Killer B's."
But Bagwell -- or rather the length of his career -- falls just short.
If he'd played another two or three seasons, it's likely he would have finished with more than 500 home runs and around 2,700 hits. Those numbers are Hall of Fame worthy. But fewer than 2,400 hits and 450 home runs?
Statistically minded folks have argued in recent years that the Hall of Fame is lowering its standards by inducting the likes of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson. Why then do they make the case for Bagwell?
It's certainly possible to get into the Hall with a shorter career. Sandy Koufax pitched only 12 seasons. But then again, he was also one of the best pitchers to ever pick up a baseball. Not many would argue that Bagwell was one of the best to ever clutch a bat.
Additionally, he was not a distinguished postseason performer, batting .226 and slugging only .321 in 106 at-bats spread across nine series.
Bagwell has been hurt, as well, by guilt by association. He played during the "steroid era," was a muscular slugger and put up double-digit home run totals for 14 consecutive seasons before his body broke down and he retired.
But aside from the skepticism some voters will have about any powerful hitter who played during the 1990's or 2000's, that's not reason enough to keep him out of the Hall. There's never been a shred of evidence to suggest Bagwell juiced.