- Plus: Why MVP votes could have a bearing on the Hall of Fame candidacy of one of baseball's best defensive players, and who Mike Trout considers the best pitcher he's ever faced.
To appreciate the unique Hall of Fame brilliance of Tim Raines, ask yourself this question: Who plays baseball today the way Raines did in the 1980s? Raines was an on-base and stolen-base machine who swiped 70 or more bases six straight years in the 1980s—more times than all players put together over the past 20 seasons.
Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton has game-changing speed like Raines, but he doesn’t get on base nearly as often and has yet to steal 60 bases. (In fairness, teams defend the stolen base far better today than they did in the 1980s, and a generation of analytics-raised executives has devalued attempts.) The Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury once stole 70 bases, but he was never in Raines’s class as a consistent offensive threat (career OPS+: 103).
The fact that there is almost no one today who is a close facsimile to Raines should tell you the rare impact he made on the game. But there is one player who has a chance to be the next Raines: Trea Turner of the Nationals.
Like Raines, Turner has the speed to out-run the baseball on steals and the smarts to optimize his jumps. Last season, including his time in the minor leagues, he stole 58 bases in 69 attempts, including 33 of 42 in the majors after he was promoted for good in mid-July. Like Raines, Turner also has extra-base power and, in a small sample, looks to be much better than average at getting on base. Turner’s 2016 major league stats in his 73-game breakout season (.370 on-base perecentage, .937 OPS) resemble those from Raines’s 1981 88-game breakout (.391, .829).
No one is putting Turner in the Hall of Fame yet. But Turner, as the closest comp to Raines, is a special impact player in the game today. That’s why it’s so amazing that the Padres agreed to include Turner in a three-team deal in 2014 just a few months after drafting him with the No. 13 pick of the first round.
Let’s expand the search even more to appreciate Raines and look for active players who in their best years—in their 20s—looked even a bit like Raines in his 20s. To do that, we have to find high-average, high-OBP players who could run and posted an OPS+ in the 130s in their 20s.
One of the closest and most surprising comps is Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez, if only because we have forgotten what a dynamic young player he was. Also in the Raines look-a-like picture: Turner, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and Mets third baseman David Wright. Take a look at the active players who were or are Rock-like, based on their career stats at age 29 and younger.
Now let’s parse them according to their rates of stolen bases and runs per 162 games in those years.
Ramirez rates surprisingly high again, including a higher rate of scoring runs than Raines. Turner is the best comp (with the small-sample caveat), though no one could run like Raines, who in his 20s stole bases almost at will with an 87% success rate.
It took Raines 10 years to get into the Hall of Fame. But with every passing year, as so few like him come along, he looks better and better.
Why Omar Vizquel Faces Tough Hall of Fame Road
Can you play 24 years in the major leagues and get a total of just three MVP voting points and still be a Hall of Famer? That’s one of the key questions about Omar Vizquel, who goes on the next ballot with a smaller MVP footprint than Hank Blaylock, Raul Ibañez and Felix Rodriguez. Vizquel was named on one ballot—a single eighth-place vote in 1999—for three career MVP points. (Ozzie Smith, his otherwise statistical comp, had 226 MVP points.)
MVP voting has its own flaws, but it has some value as a loose measurement of great seasons and historic impact. Each vote since 1998 has included room for 300 names (30 writers multiplied by 10 ballot spots). A Hall of Famer is bound to show up there from time to time.
Take Vladimir Guerrero, for instance. He should be a Hall of Famer, and MVP points underscore his huge impact. He was consistently viewed as being among the most valuable players in his league. Take a look at the players who received the most MVP points from 2000 to '09. Guerrero ranks behind only Albert Pujols among the decade’s most valuable players who were not connected to steroids.
1. Albert Pujols: 2,640
2. Barry Bonds*: 1,998
3. Alex Rodriguez*: 1,665
4. Vladimir Guerrero: 1,111
5. Ryan Howard: 1,025
6. David Ortiz*: 981
7. Manny Ramirez*: 824
8. Jason Giambi*: 810
9. Joe Mauer: 691
10. Gary Sheffield*: 662
11. Lance Berkman: 658
12. Derek Jeter: 646
13. Carlos Delgado: 622
14. Justin Morneau: 580
15: Jeff Kent: 563
16. Miguel Tejada*: 544
17. Ichiro Suzuki: 533
18. Miguel Cabrera: 527
19. Prince Fielder: 498
20. Andruw Jones: 497
*connected to PEDs
If Bill James’ MVP Win Shares are more to your liking, Guerrero rates highly here, too. Here are the MVP Win Shares leaders among Hall of Fame eligible players not connected to PEDs and not elected.
1. Dave Parker: 3.19
2. Vladimir Guerrero: 2.94
3. Steve Garvey: 2.46
4. Albert Belle: 2.38
5. George Foster: 2.37
Notes from the New York Baseball Writers Association of America dinner
• Who is the toughest pitcher Mike Trout has ever faced? He said it’s teammate Garrett Richards. “I faced him in spring training intrasquad games,” Trout said. “Absolutely filthy. When he’s healthy he’s a Cy Young candidate.” Richards last year opted for stem cell therapy instead of Tommy John surgery to address a UCL tear in his right elbow. After Richards threw off a mound three times in their fall Instructional League—two, three and then five innings—the Angels expect him to be at full strength when camps open next month.
• Because of the World Baseball Classic, spring training is a bit longer this year. After his staff worked all the way to the seventh game of the World Series, Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway plans to be extremely careful with how much his pitchers throw this spring. “I’ve already mapped out the first six [spring training] games, and none of the big guys [in the rotation] are in there,” he said.
• Good line from World Series champion, NL MVP and recent newlywed Kris Bryant of the Cubs: “I think we just slept in for the first time in months—and we came to New York for it. It’s been crazy busy.”
• Four of the top 11 hitters all time as ranked by total bases are not in the Hall of Fame (No. 4 Barry Bonds, No. 6 Alex Rodriguez, No. 8 Pete Rose and No. 11 Rafael Palmeiro), and somehow the institution remains not only standing but also more talked about than ever. Here are the Hall-eligible players not connected to steroids with the most total bases and still not in the Hall: Harold Baines (1), Guerrero (2) and Fred McGriff (3).
• Congratulations to Spink Award winner Claire Smith, a former colleague of mine on the Yankees beat, but more importantly, an inspiration for how to do a difficult job with integrity.
• Good story from Angels owner Arte Moreno about how his team wound up signing Guerrero in 2004. The Dodgers nearly signed Guerrero, but financially embattled owner Frank McCourt could not close the deal. Angels GM Bill Stoneman saw an opening in January 2004 and asked Moreno for the money to sign him. “On one condition,” Moreno told him. “You’ve got until 5 p.m. tomorrow to get a deal done.” Stoneman got it done: five years, $70 million. It is the best free-agent contract in club history. Guerrero won the MVP in his first year with the Angels, and over his six years with the club, he hit .319/.381/.546 and averaged 29 homers and 103 RBIs.