May 13, 2003

Raffy versus The Crime Dog

Yesterday's entry about Rafael Palmeiro's Hall of Fame resume generated the most visitors in the history of this blog. It got its own "Clutch Hit" over at Baseball Primer, and I received a ton of emails about it.

So, since the majority of you guys seem to have a lot of interest in Palmeiro's Hall of Fame candidacy, I figured it would be worth devoting a second entry to it. But what could I cover that would be interesting and that I had not already covered in the 5,000 words I wrote yesterday? To be honest, I wasn't quite sure. I was trying to think of a different Palmeiro "angle" to discuss and I wasn't coming up with any brilliant ideas. Then I checked my email and saw the following:

Hi Aaron -

I enjoyed your Palmeiro entry today and I agree with your assertion that Palmeiro is a Hall of Famer. However, I was wondering what you thought about Fred McGriff's Hall of Fame case? At first glance they appear to be very similar players with similarly valuable and lengthy careers. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


I also got this one:


It isn't the "Hall of Very Good" it is the Hall of Fame! If we let Palmeiro in then we have to let guys like Fred McGriff in and then where do we draw the line?


Thanks for the emails fellas. I agree with Sam that, at first glance, the careers of Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff are very similar to this point. However, I disagree with two things in Matt's email:

1) That letting someone into the Hall of Fame automatically starts some sort of "slippery slope" that leads to undeserving players being let in.

2) That Fred McGriff is necessarily someone that should not be "let in" anyway, regardless of Palmeiro.

So, with all that in mind, let's take a look at the careers of Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff...

Here are their career stats, prior to this season:

Player         G       PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     HR     2B    OPS+

Palmeiro 2413 10319 .293 .373 .522 490 522 135
McGriff 2347 9764 .286 .380 .514 478 424 136

Basically, Palmeiro and McGriff are about as close as two players can get.

Palmeiro's OPS+ is 135 and McGriff's is 136. Palmeiro is a .293 hitter, McGriff is a .286 hitter. Palmeiro got on base 37.3% of the time, McGriff got on base 38.0% of the time. Palmeiro slugged .522, McGriff slugged .514.

Even the offensive environments they played in are remarkably similar. Adjusting for the leagues and parks they played in, the "league-average" for Palmeiro's career thus far is .269/.339/.418 and the league-average for McGriff's career up to this point is .269/.338/.417 - virtually identical.

Palmeiro has an edge in the "counting stats" because he has about one additional full-season's worth of plate appearances over McGriff (10,319 to 9,764).

According to, Rafael Palmeiro's #1 most similar player in baseball history is Fred McGriff and Fred McGriff's #2 most similar player in baseball history is Rafael Palmeiro.

These are two players playing the same position, in the same era and their career totals and "rate" stats are essentially identical. How do we distinguish between the two and decide who the better player is? Well, one way to do it is to examine how they accumulated those nearly identical career totals.

For the sake of simplicity, let's take a look at each player's "full" seasons (550 or more PAs, except in strike years) and stack them up, best to worst, according to OPS+:

(Conveniently, both players have played 15 full seasons thus far, making this a whole lot easier)

    Palmeiro        McGriff

160 165
155 161
150 157
145 157
144 157
142 147
141 142
136 142
134 142
133 125
131 120
124 119
121 109
113 108
104 106

(The better OPS+ is in bold)

Okay, so what does that little chart tell us? Well, basically, Fred McGriff has a whole lot more "upper-level" hitting seasons. Each of his top 9 seasons are better than the same season of Palmeiro's career. What does that mean? For instance, McGriff's top season is a 165 OPS+ and Palmeiro's top season is 160. McGriff's 5th best season is 157, Palmeiro's 5th best season is 144. And so on, for each of their top 9 seasons.

However, Palmeiro's 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th best seasons and better than McGriff's 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th best seasons.

Here's another way of looking at the same numbers...

OPS+ - seasons:

160+ - McGriff 2 / Palmeiro 1

150+ - McGriff 5 / Palmeiro 3

140+ - McGriff 9 / Palmeiro 7

130+ - McGriff 9 / Palmeiro 11

120+ - McGriff 11 / Palmeiro 13

110+ - McGriff 12 / Palmeiro 14

100+ - McGriff 15 / Palmeiro 15

All of that stuff pretty much tells me that Palmeiro was a more consistently "good" player, but that Fred McGriff's "peak" was better. McGriff had more seasons over 140, 150 and 160, but Palmeiro had more seasons above 110, 120 and 130. I would definitely give the edge to McGriff here.

Another, similar way to look at their careers is to examine their "Win Shares" (again, stacked from best to worst, for full seasons).

   Palmeiro       McGriff

31 30
31 27
30 26
26 25
25 24
24 24
24 23
22 22
22 22
21 20
19 19
18 17
17 16
17 14
17 13

I have to admit that, after seeing how McGriff dominates the top seasons of the OPS+ comparison, I was a bit confused as to how Palmeiro could have an edge in Win Shares. After thinking about it, I am pretty sure I know two of the big reasons:

1) Defense

2) Durability

Both players have played first base for almost their entire career. Palmeiro also played a little bit of left field early on and some DH, while McGriff played some DH also. While neither of them is a good defensive first baseman at this point in their career, Rafael Palmeiro was actually a very good first baseman. In fact, he won 3 straight AL Gold Glove awards, from 1997-1999.

According to Baseball Prospectus' fielding stats:

Fred McGriff is +115 "Fielding Runs Above Replacement" (FRAR) for his career, while Palmeiro is +261 FRAR. Judging their fielding above the "average" first baseman, instead of a "replacement level" first baseman, Prospectus says that McGriff has been -88 "Fielding Runs Above Average' (FRAR) over his career, while Palmeiro has been +55 FRAR. With either stat, that's a difference of well over 100 runs, which is not insignificant.

The other factor is durability. Each player has played 15 full seasons in the major leagues. During those 15 full seasons...

Fred McGriff - 2,237 games played / 149 per season

Rafael Palmeiro - 2,307 games played / 154 per season

Again, that is a difference of 70 games, which is definitely a significant amount. Palmeiro has averaged about 5 more games played per season, which, along with his better defense, is a big part of why his Win Shares are better than McGriff's.

According to Win Shares, Palmeiro has 352 career WS and McGriff has 333 career WS (prior to this year).

Calculating that for a per game rate, you get:

Rafael Palmeiro - 0.146 Wins Shares/game

Fred McGriff - 0.142 Wins Shares/game

At a per 162 game rate, you get:

Palmeiro - 23.6 Wins Shares/162 games

McGriff - 23.0 Win Shares/162 games

Like I said, they are about as close as two players can be after playing well over 2,000 games in the major leagues. I think that, any way you look at it, Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff are pretty damn close at this point in their careers. On offense, McGriff has more top-level seasons, while Palmeiro has been more consistently good. On defense, Palmeiro gets the nod and he has also been more durable.

As I said yesterday, I believe Rafael Palmeiro is a Hall of Famer. I think that, if you believe Palmeiro deserves a place in Cooperstown, then you should probably believe that McGriff does too.

The "wild card" in all of this is, of course, that both Palmeiro and McGriff are still productive players. Palmeiro is currently hitting .252/.377/.543 and has 10 homers in his first 36 games, while McGriff is hitting .271/.338/.443 with 5 homers and 9 doubles in 38 games (in Dodger Stadium). Both players are definitely showing signs of slowing down and are certainly nearing the end of their days as upper-level first baseman (particularly McGriff), but they are both still adding quite a bit of value to their careers.

So, to revisit the original questions that got me started on this whole entry: Yes, I do believe that Fred McGriff and Rafael Palmeiro are remarkably similar players, both in longevity and overall value. I also believe that the argument that the Hall of Fame is not "The Hall of Very Good" (as the emailer suggested) is ridiculous. Just looking at some recent Hall of Fame inductees from the last decade or so, I see guys like Bill Mazeroski, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Don Sutton, Nellie Fox, Jim Bunning, Dave Winfield - the list could go on and on. These are not players at the level of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Walter Johnson, but they are all in the Hall of Fame and the majority of them are certainly deserving of a spot among the all-time greats in baseball history.

Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff have had tremendously successful and valuable careers and deserve recognition among the special players in baseball history. I don't think the Hall of Fame will be any worse off for having them and I certainly don't think allowing 2 players with nearly 1,000 combined homers, over 5,000 hits, 3,000 RBI, 3,000 runs and OPS+ figures that match up with many other Hall of Famers is going to eventually lead to Travis Lee and Doug Mientkiewicz being voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 2030.


To read my entry from yesterday and about Rafael Palmeiro click on the following link:

"Raffy" (May 13, 2003)

For more Rafael Palmeiro discussion, head over to the Baseball Primer "thread" that was started about my entry from yesterday. Here's the link: (Clutch Hits) - "Raffy"

Also, if you have any opinions, questions or comments that you'd like to add to this discussion, feel free to email me with them and maybe later this week or early next week I'll do a special Rafael Palmeiro/Fred McGriff-edition of "Reader Mailbag."

Today's picks:

San Francisco (Foppert) -150 over Montreal (Vargas)

Arizona (Schilling) -130 over Philadelphia (Myers)

Detroit (Knotts) +260 over Oakland (Hudson)

Anaheim (Appier) +175 over New York (Wells)

Total to date: + $1,640

W/L record: 81-74 (2-2 yesterday for +50, including a nifty +220 on the Angels over Mussina and the Yanks)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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