There will obviously be a lot of debate over yesterday’s Hall of Fame voting results and the fact that nobody was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America for the first time since 1996. I think that you could go pretty much anywhere on the web today and have a debate about steroid users, suspected steroid users, and whether or not they should be in the Hall of Fame. I’m not going to bother discussing that right now, because it’s literally everywhere. I don’t mean to ignore this complicated issue, but I see no reason to add yet another opinion to Opinion Mountain – there’s been an avalanche for approximately the past 24 hours.
Instead, I’d like to talk about Kenny Lofton. It’s not like I expected Lofton to be elected to the HOF this year, or possibly ever. I did think that he’d cross the 5% threshold required to remain on the ballot for another year; unfortunately, with just 18 votes, Lofton falls below the magic 5% figure. I know some people may say that if he wasn’t going to get into the Hall anyway, does it even matter how many years his name appears on the ballot? For me, it’s the principle of the thing – he at least deserved further consideration. There are players that still pop up on the ballot year to year that I think are inferior when compared to Lofton.
Rather than reinventing the wheel and writing my own defense of Lofton’s statistics, I figured I would share two other very good arguments with you. One is from fellow ESPN SweetSpot affiliate blogger Bill Baer, who runs the Phillies blog Crashburn Alley, the other is from Chris Jaffe at The Hardball Times. Both look at Lofton’s value beyond offense alone, taking into account defense and stolen bases. I highly recommend looking at both, but here are some of the good points from each:
- When you look at Lofton’s career WAR, it comes out at 64.9. As a comparison, Tony Gwynn’s career WAR is 65.3.
- If you look at current Hall of Fame outfielders, Lofton would come in 21 out of 56 in terms of WAR. That means his WAR is higher than 35 other outfielders already enshrined in the Hall.
- If you use weighted on base average (wOBA), Lofton has a career figure of .352, which ranks in the top quarter of outfielders from 1992-2007. As Baer explains, the high value comes from his high batting average (he hit .300 or better in eight different seasons), base stealing ability (50 or more stolen bases in six different seasons and a 79.5% success rate), and excellent defense.
- As Jaffe points out, Lofton was very good in multiple aspects of the game, not just offense. He had no major holes, a great prime, and he aged well.
- Consistently high OBP – four seasons at .400+ and a career figure of .372.
- Lofton led the AL in steals for five straight years from 1992-1996 – something no player has accomplished since Lofton. During his career he had 622 steals, enough to rank him 15th of all time; 8th if you look at just the live ball era.
- Lofton provided an additional 90.6 runs due to his steals. That means he added about nine wins for his teams just through base stealing.
- In his career, Lofton grounded into just 111 double plays in 9,235 plate appearances. As a comparison, Jim Rice grounded into that many in a three and a half year slice of his career.
As I mentioned, it’s likely Lofton never would have made the Hall of Fame anyway. In a ballot that was full of scandal and debates, to me it seems to be an additional scandal that there were solid players lost in the tidal wave of outrage and debate. Some, like Craig Biggio, probably should have made the Hall of Fame. For Lofton, he should have at least survived to see another ballot.