Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Keltner List -- Jeff Kent

This is the second installment of the Keltner List saga, this time starring Jeff Kent. 2014 is Kent's first year on the ballot.

Jeff Kent Player Page at BBRef

1. Was Kent ever regarded as the best player in baseball?

No. Kent was one of those players that no one paid much attention to, but who consistently put up excellent numbers. He was never considered to be the best player in baseball, to my knowledge.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Let us look at the various teams which employed Jeff Kent for more than a partial season.
  • 1992-1996 New York Mets: on these rotten teams, Kent or Eddie Murray were the best players. Bobby Bonilla was hurt most of the time, and Gooden was at the mid point of his career implosion.
  • 1997-2002 San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds was the best player on all of these teams, but Kent was second best.
  • 2003-04 Houston Astros: Kent was in the top three. Even though the Astros had Craig Biggio, they got Kent and installed him at second base. The Astros had Morgan Ensberg at third, and he provided 25 home runs in 2003.
  • 2005-08 Los Angeles Dodgers: On the 2005 Dodgers, a team which featured Hee Seop Choi and Olmedo Saenz at first base, you bet Jeff Kent was the best player on the team. What it means to be the best player on a team that lost 90 games, I have no idea.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position?

Between 1997 and 2005, Kent was the best offensive second baseman in the game. He did not have the defense of Alomar or Biggio, but he hit a ton and drove in runs in bunches. Alomar stole more bases, as did Biggio. Kent certainly feasted on the pitchers avoiding Barry Bonds, but on teams such as the 1993 Mets (21 HR, 80 RBI) and the 2005 Dodgers (65 XBH, 105 RBI with little offensive protection) Kent was the most dangerous or second most dangerous player in the lineup. If not, he is in the top three with Biggio and Alomar.

4. Did he have an impact on pennant races?
  • Traded to the Indians in 1996, Kent slashed .265/.322/.428 and played little part in the race.
  • In 1997, the Giants overtook the Dodgers in a three game series in September at 3 Com park. Kent went 1-11 with six strikeouts. Against the Dodgers for the year, Kent hit .105 with 16 strikeouts in 38 at bats. If anything, this could have been a negative impact.
  • In 2000, the Giants moved into first on July 29th, and Kent hit like a machine for the rest of the year, .300 with 16 HR and 36 RBI over his last 57 games. He then went 6-16 in a four game NLCS loss to the Mets.
  • In the 2002 World Series, Kent hit three home runs and had 7 RBI. This was lost in the "is this Bonds' moment" stuff, but he had a very good series.
  • In 2003 with the Astros, Kent slashed at a .330/.398/.526 clip in September and October. In a key series with the Cardinals from Sept 12-14, Kent went 4-9 with three doubles as the Astros moved a game ahead in the central; they wound up 1 game behind the Cubs
  • In 2004, the Astros finished with the NL wild card. Kent hit .366 with 3 HR and 14 RBI against the first place Cardinals.
5.Was he a good enough player that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Absolutely. Kent's last very good season was in 2005 at age 37. He still put up an .875 OPS at age 39 with the Dodgers. In his last season at age 40 he hit 12 HR but was almost immobile in the field.

6. Is he the very best player in history who is not in the hall of fame?


7. Are most players with comparable statistics in the hall of fame?

No players are truly comparable to Kent, which is a point in his favor. The closest is Adrian Beltre (873).  The only second baseman in his top ten list is Ryne Sandberg (802) who is in the hall of fame. Most of the rest are third baseman and outfielders, with two (Jim Rice and Ron Santo) in the Hall. Kent was the inheritor (along with Brent Boone) to Ryne Sandberg's mantle of the best power hitting second baseman in baseball. Kent was not close to Sandberg defensively, however.

8. Do the numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Kent scores a 51 on the standards list, with a likely hall of famer being at 50. Kent remains 49th in history in RBIs, and is third all time among second basemen. He is the career leader in HR for second basemen.

9. Is there evidence to suggest that the player was better than his statistics show?

Kent did not have great range as a second baseman, but his defensive stats show that he was solid up the middle until his mid 30s. His offensive stats are very good, but he was playing in a period of high offensive numbers.

10. Is he the best player at his position eligible for the Hall of Fame who has not been enshrined?

I would argue he is second, behind Bobby Grich and virtually tied with Craig Biggio.

11. How many MVP type seasons did the player have? Did he ever win an MVP award? How many times was he close?

Kent was the NL MVP in 2000 (.334/.424/.596, 33 HR 125 RBI) and was in the top ten in voting three times (1997, 1998 and 2002).

12. How many All Star seasons did he have? How many all star teams did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the hall of fame?

Kent started four all star games and was selected for five. This is a fairly low total for a prospective hall of famer.

13. If this man was the best on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

I don't think so, but Kent in his prime years (1999-2002) would make a team interesting. The 2005 Dodgers lost 90 games with Kent as the best player with JD Drew injured. in Kent's defense he was 37 years old.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Kent helped Bonds along the road to breaking Aaron's record, but not as much as the steroids. The same could be said of Matt Williams, however.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?

Before he left the Giants, Kent broke his wrist in a motorcycle accident but claimed he fell from his truck while washing the bed. This violated his contract at the same time that he and Barry Bonds were publicly feuding. He also appeared on Survivor, but many people have made that mistake. He did win the 1998 Willie Mac Award from the Giants through a vote by his fellow players. Kent would be no worse (and perhaps a quite better citizen) than many members of the hall.

I would argue that Kent deserves a lot of consideration; he and Biggio will probably split votes this year, with Biggio getting elected before Kent. Biggio had a better relationship with the media and (most) of his teammates. He would not be a bad selection for the Hall.

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