Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Keltner List: Fred McGriff

The next installment is one of the more overlooked players of the last 30 years, Fred McGriff. Thank you, Crime Dog, for a lot of good baseball and memories.

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

Not to my knowledge. He wound up being the best player in one of the worst trades in Yankee history: Dave Collins, McGriff and Mike Morgan to the Blue Jays for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray

2. Was he the best player on his team?

I don't think McGriff was the best player on his best teams; maybe the best hitter on the Blue Jays in the late 1980s, even with the three very good outfielders. I would tab Chipper Jones as the best player on the Braves teams of the mid to late 1990s. He was the best player on the Tampa Bay team from 1998-2001, even counting Wade Boggs

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

When McGriff became a full time first baseman, there was some stiff competition in the AL. Eddie Murray was still with Baltimore, Mattingly was in New York, Wally Joyner was there, Frank Thomas in Chicago. In short, McGriff in the late 1980s with Toronto was probably not the best first baseman in his league. By the mid 1990s, the steroid explosion had dimmed McGriff's offensive contributions. He was among the top five first baseman of the 1990s, but not the best. Jeff Bagwell was the best.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

For his career, McGriff posted a .917 OPS in the postseason. In 1995, McGriff had a slash line of .333/.415/.649 as the Braves won the World Series. 

He was also the point of two trade deadline deals.

1993: the Padres traded McGriff to the Braves for three players (including Melvin Nieves) and the Crime Dog responded with 19 HR  in 255 AB, leading the Braves to 50 wins in their last 68 games.

2001: the Cubs picked up McGriff for Manny Aybar. McGriff drove in 41 runs in 49 games but the Cubs tanked. 

In 1989, McGriff hit only .223 in September for a team that won 37 of its last 56 games. 

5. Was he good enough to contribute past his prime?

At age 38, McGriff had an OPS+ of 125 for the Cubs and parlayed that into a free agent deal with the Dodgers for 2003. He then went on the DL for the first time in his career in June with a groin injury. He also had a bad knee for most of that season. He signed with the Rays for 2004, but played only 27 games. McGriff was one of the most durable players of the 1990s, but when the end came it came fast. 

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

No, I would select Bonds, Tim Raines, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio ahead of McGriff. 

7. Are most players with similar statistics in the Hall of Fame?

This is where things get a bit interesting. McGriff does not have a "truly similar" comp, with Willie McCovey (887) being the most similar. Three of McGriff's comps (McCovey, Willie Stargell and Billy Williams) are hall of famers. Two others (Bagwell and Frank Thomas) will be in the hall of fame at some point. Another, Gary Sheffield, will get consideration.

I think the best comp for McGriff is probably McCovey; both are tall, lean, lefty line drive hitters who were good for 25-35 HR every year. McCovey hit 521 HR, McGriff 493. McCovey played in the 1960s when it was a pitcher's paradise and consistently hit. McGriff played in the steroid era and consistently hit. The top two comps for McGriff (Stargell and McCovey) have roughly similar raw hitting statistics, but McGriff was not dominant like McCovey or Stargell. McGriff was consistently good for a period of 15 years in a very hard hitting era. Bagwell and Thomas were better. 

8. Do the players number meet hall of fame standards?

McGriff's stats suggest a likely hall of famer, but somewhat below average for the hall itself: 100 on the Hall of Fame monitor and 48 on the standards list. 

9. Is there evidence to suggest he was much better or worse than his statistics?

McGriff was durable: between 1988 and 2000, McGriff played 95% of his teams games. He was also remarakably consistent:

Home OPS: .885, Away OPS .887
First half SLG %: .502 Second Half: .518

He was not helped that much by Fulton County Stadium  in Atlanta, or Turner Field for that matter. His OPS of 77 at Turner Field is one of his lowest marks; only Dodger Stadium is lower as far as stadiums in which he played more than 50 games. McGriff's calling cards were durability and consistency. His hitting numbers are also damaged by the large home run totals of the steroid era, as McGriff's steady contribution of .284-32-102 looks small compared to the numerous 40 HR and 130 RBI seasons of other players. 

10. Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?

I would have to say no, as he probably is not the best first baseman who is eligible and has not been inducted. 

11. How many MVP type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP? If not, how often did he come close?

McGriff finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 4 times and never won the award. According to WAR, in 1989 he was the most productive hitter in the AL (6.7 WAR) but finished finished 6th. His teammate, George Bell, finished 4th......because he had 104 RBI to McGriff's 92. In 1993, McGriff finished 4th. I can't say that McGriff ever deserved an MVP award. 

He was awarded the silver slugger award in 1989, 1992-93. He is still the last NL player to lead the league with fewer than 40 HR, with 35 for the Padres in 1992. 

12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?

McGriff started three AS games and was selected for 5 total. He was the MVP of the 1994 game, as his bottom of the 9th 2 run HR off Lee Smith tied the game, eventually won on a Moises Alou double in the 10th. Only one hall of fame first baseman was selected 5 or fewer all star games, but Hank Greenberg was selected 5 times in 13 seasons and lost three full seasons and parts of two others to military service. Jeff Bagwell appeared in only 4 ASG, one blot on his hall resume. 

When McGriff made his best showing in the MVP vote, the AS 1B for the NL were Andres Galarraga, Gregg Jeffries and John Kruk

13. If this man was the best player on his team, could his team win the pennant?


14. What impact did the player have on baseball history

In a sign of the free agent times, McGriff is one of two players to hit 30 HR in a season for five different teams. He hit the first HR in the Skydome, and is one of the few players to lead both the NL and AL in HR during their careers. McGriff is one of the first "deadline deals" in the ESPN era to pan out, as the 1993 Braves needed a power hitting lefty and McGriff raked after the trade. He, more than any other player, made baseball in Tampa Bay respectable when he came home in 1998. 

Plus, Tom Emanski. No person of my age (40) can think of ESPN in the early 1990s without that damn commercial. 

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

I should think so, as McGriff was never tainted by accusations of PEDs and outside the game is a large part of the Tampa community. 

The average career WAR for a hall of fame first baseman is 65.7. Fred McGriff is at 52.6, behind the following players: Will Clark, John Olerud, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Todd Helton, Keith Hernandez. First base is a far over-represented position in the hall, but I do think that McGriff would certainly not shame the hall if he were inducted. 

The problem is the ballot that McGriff appears on. In his first year of eligibility, the other first timers to get enough votes to stay on were Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and Edgar Martinez. The next year, Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro showed up, joining McGriff and Mark McGwire in a very crowded field as first base. I would argue that 2012 was McGriff's year, and it was his highest vote percentage (23.9%) but the voters were still trying to decide what to do with the steroid era players. Add in the idea that Barry Larkin was the best candidate and you still had several first baseman/power hitters to vote on (Mattingly, Bagwell, Martinez, Murphy) and McGriff got lost in the shuffle. 

McGriff may get there, but it may take the Vets Committee to do it. He is worthy, just not as worthy as some of the other players at his position on the ballot. Voting for 10 players is rough, and picking two first baseman is a rougher job still.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is spot on. McGriff is a HOFer whose numbers are a bit diminished by playing in the steroids era. He's not Frank Thomas but that isn't a reason to keep him out.