Tag Archives: shortstops

Alan Trammell and What We Want the Hall of Fame to Look Like

I was six when Alan Trammell played his final game. I can’t say I remember seeing much of him with my own eyes. But I come from a family of Tigers fans, so much so that my parents had a dog before I was born named, you guessed it, Trammell.

So the issue of Alan Trammell’s Hall of Fame candidacy is of some importance to me, my family, and the majority of the state of Michigan. Trammell is a beloved figure from the ’84 World Series team and a less beloved figure from a less than perfect managerial stint prior to Jim Leyland’s (he’s found a better home as Kirk Gibson’s bench coach in Arizona).

But is he a Hall of Famer? He’s a great Tiger, but does he make the cut for baseball’s highest honor?

First, I guess I should make clear that the Hall of Fame voting and the BBWAA in general are a joke. Stubborn, self-righteous writers won’t vote for suspected steroid users despite no proof and some refuse to vote for anyone on the first ballot simply because Babe Ruth didn’t make it in unanimously on the first ballot, so no one should. Lots of things about the voting are silly, but let’s leave that aside and ask if Trammell should be in the Hall of Fame assuming the Hall of Fame is actually a good measure of real baseball value.

For a long time, I thought no. And so have most of the voters. 36.8% of the 2012 voters put Trammell on their ballots, which is a far cry from the necessary 75% needed for induction. But in recent years I’ve become a more sophisticated fan, especially in the area of comparing eras and positions.

Trammell doesn’t have any universally accepted counting stat thresholds like 3000 hits or 500 homeruns to rest his candidacy upon, but those marks aren’t necessary for induction, they are merely sufficient. Let’s examine Trammell’s candidacy.

Over 20 big league seasons, he played 2293 games, hit 185 homeruns, drove in 1003, scored 1231, and stole 236 bases. He hit .285/.352/.415, good for a .343 wOBA and 111 wRC+. With good defense, Fangraphs puts his WAR at a healthy 69.5 (Baseball Reference says 67.1).

I’m not going to go through the arguments for or against Trammell made by others, but rather I’m going to construct a case based solely on the evidence.

Let’s start my putting Trammell in the context of major league shortstops. In the simplest terms, Trammell in 16th in career WAR for a shortstop. Every retired player on the list ahead of him is in the Hall. Some behind him are in. Based on the players already in the Hall at short, it seems like Trammell has a strong case. But past decisions aren’t necessarily right, so we can’t just say Trammell should make it because other undeserving players have made it.

By all of the main counting stats, Trammell is somewhere between 14th and 21st all time for shortstops with no controls for era. He’s outside the top 30 in all of the rate stats, however. Again, we’re not controlling for era here. This is the crux of the problem with Trammell’s candidacy. If you look at his numbers, it looks like he played for 20 years and accumulated a lot of counting stats without ever rising to the to the rate levels of the other past greats.

But like I said, this ignores context. Offense shot up right as Trammell’s career was ending and only in the last few years has it headed back down. Let’s look at Trammell’s contemporaries. Shortstops who played from 1970 to 2000 (adding five years on each end). These are arbitrary end points, but during that 30 year span, only Cal Ripkin, Ozzie Smith, and Robin Yount have higher WARs.

Trammell’s case rests on being a very good shortstop at a time of lower offense. He wasn’t the best of his era and he isn’t the best at anything. He played well over a long career and had a peak that looked like a Hall of Fame peak. Trammell’s best seasons are Hall of Fame worthy, but some of his worst seasons drag down the overall resume. Trammell is a good study in what you think the Hall of Fame should be.

I’ve always been a “story of the game” guy. The Hall of Fame to me is a museum to the game’s history and it should include the players who are vital to understanding the game. For this reason, I’m for admitting the suspected steroid users. But where does that leave Trammell?

By counting stats, he should be in. By rate stats, he’s probably not good enough. But that’s before you factor in the context of his position and his era. If the threshold for induction is that you have to be better than the worst player who is in, Trammell makes the cut. If there is a more ideal definition I think his case is less clear.

Trammell is vital to the story of the Tigers, but I don’t know how much he matters to the game as a whole. The fourth best shortstop of his era and a top 20 or 30 shortstop all time. If you like a big Hall of Fame, there is room for him. If you’re an exclusivity fan, he’s probably on the outside looking in.

Despite the quirks of voting, the Hall is still sacred ground. It does matter who gets in and who doesn’t. I’m left wavering on Trammell because I’m a story of the game guy and an exclusivity hawk. I want to induct players who were great and players that mattered. Greg Maddux is going in the Hall soon because he was great (and mattered), but I’m also more favorable toward Jack Morris because of his role in one of the great pitching classics of all time (Game 7, 1991 World Series) even if his raw numbers don’t warrant an inclusion in my book.

By my own standards, if I was redrawing the Hall of Fame, I think I would leave Trammell out. He doesn’t meet my own internal standards for the Hall, but he does mean the standards of the Hall as it currently stands.

Like I said, the Hall is a quirky place. Tim Raines isn’t in, but Jim Rice is. That doesn’t really add up. Hell, Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall. Voters have a lot of weird traditions and unwritten rules that don’t make sense. Certain voters see themselves as privileged gatekeepers to the point of ridiculousness. Bonds won’t make it because maybe he used steroids, but racists and wife beaters are just fine with them. The voters are the morality police without the moral compass.

As a Tigers fan, I want Trammell to get in. If I was designing my own Hall of Fame, I’d probably leave him out. But he belongs in this one. He has four years left of eligibility and he might get lost in the other battles raging over the Hall.

Given the criteria and the boundaries drawn by voters past and present, Alan Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Jhonny Peralta and a Lesson in Context

A decent number of Detroit sports personalities hate Jhonny Peralta. They think he’s a bad defender and unimpressive hitter. But they’re wrong and they’re wrong for an important reason. Position matters.

Peralta has been as durable as they come and hasn’t been on the DL in his entire career. He’s a lock for 145+ games and he’ll hit .250, walk a little less than average, and hit for average power. He’s not rangey, but he’s reliable on defense. He’s consistent. He’s shown the ability to hit .300 with a lot of power, but even if you don’t buy that ceiling, the floor is pretty stable and safe.

So if you look at a .264/.327/.422 hitter, you’re not thinking about a great player. But that actually depends. If that guy is hitting third and playing first base for you, you’re in trouble. But if he hits eighth and plays shortstop, you’re thrilled. This is a lesson in context.

In 2012, by WAR, Peralta was the 14th best shortstop in baseball with 2.6 (probably 13th if we don’t count Ben Zobrist who wasn’t a full time shortstop). Fourteenth is dead on average. In order to improve at shortstop, the Tigers would need to find a way to get a player who’s ahead of him on this list:

Alcides Escobar, Zack Cozart, J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Starlin Castro, Erick Aybar, Elvis Adrus, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Ian Desmond, and Ben Zobrist.

Those are the shortstops who were more valuable in 2012 than Peralta. Those are all big league starters and their teams aren’t giving them away. Those guys were better than Peralta in a down year for Peralta. In 2011, Peralta was third among MLB shortstops in WAR with 5.2, trailing only Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki.

From 2006-2012, Peralta was the 12th best shortstop in baseball. This, remember, is a lesson in context.

The context is the position you play. Peralta is not a great hitter. His .324 wOBA since 2006 is very average. But shortstops are lesser hitters as a group. Peralta’s average-ness is actually quite valuable from the shortstop position. You can’t compare him to everyone, just the players who play his position, and against them, he stacks up well.

He’s an average to slightly above average shortstop. You can’t replace him with Danny Worth or Ramon Santiago and get better. 15-20 teams would be very happy to take Jhonny Peralta from the Tigers and improve their middle infield.

You might think Peralta is lackluster on offense, but you have to realize the bar is lower for shortstops than it is for players on the corners.

His defense is also hotly debated. A lot of people think he’s terrible. The advanced metrics actually seem to love him. He’s posted a 9.9 UZR each of the last two seasons (meaning he’s been a win better than average at short each year). A lot of his critics read these numbers and scoff and say he benefits from good positioning by the coaching staff.

But you can’t deny what UZR is telling you. It might not mean Peralta is great on defense, but it does mean that he is getting to enough balls to be worth a win a season on defense. He might be getting aid from his coaches, but it is happening. Brendan Ryan would outperform him in the same context, but Peralta is performing well, even if someone else could take the Tigers’ coaches and use them even better.

I’ve read other metrics and watched with my own eyes and I think it’s fair to say Peralta is good going to his left and a little less rangey going to his right. He has good hands and generally makes accurate throws. With the help of good positioning, he’s helped the Tigers win on defense. He might not be miraculous himself, but remember, this is a lesson in context. In the situation he plays in, he is doing well.

So while a lot of people complain about Peralta, he’s clearly an average or better shortstop and is very durable. He’s also cheap at $6.5 million a season. Excellent shortstops are rare and expensive. Peralta is cheap, durable, and pretty good. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

The Tigers are a good team with a lot of star power. Peralta is a good compliment. He’s a good, cheap player at a position with few true stars. The people who want to get rid of Peralta need to take a long hard look at the rest of the league.

The league average production at shortstop in 2012 was .256/.310/.375. That looks an awful lot like the Peralta floor. You can’t compare him to Prince Fielder. Fielder plays first base and the league average first baseman in 2012 hit .257/.330/436. Way more walks, way more power. It’s a different position, so it’s a different set of expectations.

Jhonny Peralta is a guy you want to hang on to if you’re the Tigers, not a guy you need to replace.

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