Keith Hernandez Hall of Fame Case

With Mike Piazza hinting more numbers are going to be retired, there were renewed calls for Keith Hernandez‘s 17 to be retired. Previously, the Mets had only retired the numbers of players who wore a Mets cap on their Hall of Fame plaque meaning the Mets first captain did not have his number retired.

One of the biggest issues with that is Hernandez should have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by now.

To put things in perspective, according to Baseball Reference, the average Hall of Fame first baseman has a 66.9 WAR, 42.7 WAR7, and a 54.8 JAWS. For his part, Hernandez is just a hair behind those marks with a 60.3/41.3/50.8. However, that is part of the story.

Currently, there are 24 first basemen in the Hall of Fame. Of those 24, only 10 of those players were above the 66.9 WAR mark. There were 11 above the WAR7 mark, and there were nine above the JAWS mark. The main reason for this is because Lou Gehrig, Cap Anson, and Jimmie Foxx skewed those numbers upwards. Notably, Gehrig’s and Anson’s careers were over before World War II, and Foxx has already played 16 years out of a 20 year career before the war began.

When you look at it, Hernandez has a higher WAR mark than eight of the first baseman inducted in the Hall of Fame, and he is 0.1 WAR behind Harmon Killebrew. Hernandez has a higher WAR7 mark than nine of the first baseman in the Hall of Fame including his being 1.2 ahead of Eddie Murray. His JAWS is better than 10 of the first baseman in the Hall of Fame including his being 0.4 behind Hank Greenberg.

When you look at the numbers of first baseman inducted into the Hall of Fame whose careers occurred post World War II and post Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Hernandez is right in the mix of that group. In many ways, the two things that hurt Hernandez was he did it a different way than most of those first baseman.

Hernandez was not a slugger at the position in a traditional sense. Rather, he was more of a gap hitter who hit for average. Still, he was a good hitter with a 131 wRC+. That mark is good enough to tie him with Orlando Cepeda and put him ahead of Murray and Jim Bottomley.

Looking at traditional numbers, Hernandez had 426 doubles putting him ahead of players like George Sisler and Willie McCovey. His OBP is higher than Sisler and McCovey as well as Killebrew. The only ding against Hernandez is the power numbers you see with homers, RBI, and SLG where he would trail most Hall of Fame first baseman.

That said, all of those first baseman are a clear step behind Hernandez defensively. In fact, Hernandez was the best defensive first baseman to ever play the game.

This isn’t just the eye test, although when you look at plays like that, it helps. Hernandez is the all-time leader in Total Zone with a 121 mark. That puts him significantly ahead of Roger Connor, who has the second best mark at first base.

Keep in mind, when looking at defensive stats, Total Zone is the best one to look at when analyzing players across generations. On that note, here is the TZ leaders for each position across baseball history:

With the exception of Bonds, who is not in the Hall of Fame purely due to steroids, the best defensive player at each position is in the Hall of Fame. Well, that’s everyone except Hernandez.

It’s not just the stats. There is also Gold Gloves. Again, we see Hernandez and Bonds as the only players to have the most Gold Gloves at their position not be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

Really, when we look at baseball history, we have seen a number of players inducted into the Hall of Fame due to their ability to play defense at a virtuoso level. Smith is the classic example. It was the argument for inducting Bill Mazeroski. Yet, for some reason, that argument has not been advanced to push Keith Hernandez into the Hall of Fame.

Remember, Hernandez wasn’t just a glove at first base. As noted above, he contributed offensively. He won the 1979 batting title. He led the league in runs twice. In his career, he also led the league at one point in doubles, walks, intentional walks, and OBP. In his career, he won two Silver Sluggers. Hernandez was also an 11 time Gold Glover, five time All-Star, and the 1979 NL MVP. Hernandez also won two World Series titles in his career.

Another important point was Hernandez was seen as a leader in his playing days, and he was the first captain in Mets history. When you look at Hernandez, he had a Hall of Fame caliber career in every single sense of the word. As you see with his broadcasts on SNY, this was a player who loved baseball and understood it better than just about everyone.

All told, Hernandez is one of the best defensive players in baseball history, and he is one of the best first basemen to ever step foot on the field. He did it different than most others at this position, but all told, he did it better than almost everyone. Next time he is eligible for the Hall of Fame, he should be inducted.

 

4 Replies to “Keith Hernandez Hall of Fame Case”

  1. Metsfan67 says:

    Agree 100% The fact that he is not in is a travesty…

  2. Jeff Dunetz says:

    Hernandez was a great player. But he brought cocaine into the Mets clubhouse introducing it to Gooden and Strawberry ruining the careers of two potential Hall-of-Famers. To be honest, because of that I can never support him

    1. metsdaddy says:

      Was it Keith who did that? I haven’t heard proof of that

  3. John says:

    No, Keith was clean by the time he joined the Mets. It’s ironic because Whitey Herzog traded him mostly due to the cocaine scandal, but he traded him for Neil Allen who was horribly addicted to the same drug ! So Whitey made a bad blunder !

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