Changing My Mind on Fred McGriff
Overall, I have decided to vote for Vladimir Guerrero, Jeff Kent, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Larry Walker on my IBWAA ballot. If they were up for IBWAA vote, I would have also voted for Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell while not voting for Edgar Martinez. In looking at Kent, Mussina, and Walker, I went back over their careers, and I re-assessed whether or not I should vote for them. Ultimately, I did. I did the same with players I did not vote for, and as a result, I added one to my ballot:
Fred McGriff, 1B
Stats: 19 seasons, .284/.377/.509, 2,490 H, 441 2B, 24 3B, 493 HR, 1,550 RBI, 38 SB
Advanced: 52.4 WAR, 35.8 WAR7, 44.1 JAWS
Awards: 3X Silver Slugger, 5X All Star
During Hall of Fame voting, many times you will hear about a player being a compiler. There are two ways you can define compiler: (1) someone who put up a number of counting stats over a very good but not great long career; or (2) Fred McGriff.
Arguably, McGriff was never a truly great player. In fact, from a WAR perspective, he only had three seasons that you would rate him at superstar or MVP level. If you take out the partial seasons he played in his first and last year, McGriff averaged a 3.1 WAR. Basically, this means for most of McGriff’s career, he was a very good, but not quite All Star caliber player. In that sense, his five All Star appearances seem right on the money.
Like Guerrero. McGriff’s advanced statistics were held down by his perceived poor base running and defense. Certainly, McGriff was no Keith Hernandez out there. In fact, despite his appearance on the Tom Emanski videos, McGriff was not a particularly good first baseman. Certainly, his .992 fielding percentage was nothing special as far as first baseman go. It goes a long way in explaining why McGriff had a -18.1 dWAR in his career. With that said, I am not sure how reliable that -18.1 figure is.
One of McGriff’s contemporaries at first base was the man who replaced him at first base in Toronto – John Olerud. In Olerud’s playing days, he was considered a very good first baseman who won four Gold Gloves, and in reality, probably should have won more. That notion has been reinforced by some advanced metrics. For his career, Olerud’s dWAR was -2.
When reputation and advanced metrics agree a players is a good defensive player at his position, and dWAR completely disagrees, it gives you pause as to whether the calculation is entirely correct. Assuming McGriff was only half as bad as dWAR suggested, his career WAR would increase to 61.5, which would leave him only 4.4 WAR short of what the average Hall of Famer was. In fact, you could conclude McGriff was a poor first baseman that merited a negative dWAR and still have him reach the average WAR for a first baseman.
Despite all this hand wringing, the fact remains McGriff probably falls short of being a Hall of Famer due to his defense, and yes, defense matters. With that said, there are two other factors which give McGriff the benefit of the doubt.
First, McGriff was a money player that was typically at his best when there was a lot at stake. Using the baseline of his .284/.377/.509 career slash line, here are McGriff’s stats in big situations:
- RISP: .277/.403/.479
- RISP, two outs: .241/.399/.421
- High Leverage: .290/.385/.500
Typically speaking, McGriff was at a minimum slightly better in pressure situations.
Another example of how good McGriff was in pressure situations was the 1993 season. At the time the Braves acquired McGriff, the Braves trailed the San Francisco Giants by nine games in the National League West Standings. Over the final 68 games of the season, McGriff would hit an astounding .310/.392/.612 with 19 homers and 55 RBI. Essentially, McGriff was Yoenis Cespedes before Cespedes was Cespedes. The Braves needed each and every single one of those homers as they finished one game ahead of the Giants in the standings.
Granted, that was just one season. However, McGriff’s clutch hitting was also evident in the postseason. In 50 postseason games, McGriff was a .303/.385/.532 hitter with 10 homers and 37 RBI. His clutch postseason hitting helped the Braves win their only World Series with the vaunted Greg Maddux–Tom Glavine–John Smoltz rotation. In the 1995 postseason, McGriff hit .333/.415/.649 with four homers and nine RBI.
Overall, his postseason play combined with the question marks surrounding the defensive statistics that push his WAR outside Hall of Fame averages is enough for him to get my vote even if it is my the narrowest or margins.
There is one other small factor at play. Anyone who saw McGriff towards the end of his career knew he was sticking around to try to get to 500 homers. At the time, 500 homers was a golden benchmark which led to almost automatic Hall of Fame induction. Well, McGriff didn’t get there as he fell seven home runs short. He fell seven home runs short because he began his career in a de facto platoon with Cecil Fielder. He fell seven home runs short because of the 1994 strike. He fell seven home runs short because there were pitchers juicing while he wasn’t. He fell seven home runs short because he was washed up at age 40. Ultimately, he fell seven home runs short because he just wasn’t good enough to get those seven home runs.
Do you know where he would rank on the all-time home run list with those seven extra home runs? 11th. Do you know where he currently stands on the list? 11th. Ultimately, seven home runs over the course of a 19 year career is about one-third of a home run per season. One-third of a home run per season doesn’t amount to much. If that is the case, seven home runs should not be the line of demarcation between him being a Hall of Famer and him not garnering much support.
With or without the seven home runs, you can justify voting for McGriff who had a good career for almost all of his 19 seasons. He has certainly done enough to justify being inducted into Cooperstown.