Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins Hall-of-Famers?

For years, the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans were lucky: They were reaching the Playoffs, largely due to having the greatest 1st baseman, the greatest 2nd baseman, and the greatest shortstop in team history, all at their peaks at the same time.

But now Ryan Howard has fallen victim to injuries that have rendered him not even ready to be a designated hitter, Chase Utley developed an old man’s knees, and Jimmy Rollins is no longer as effective as he once was.

There are other facts in the Phillies’ collapse from reaching 5 straight postseasons, including back-to-back Pennants and a World Series win, but this one is the most shocking.

It looks like this Big 3 is nearly finished, at least as regular contributors to a winning team. Is any of them worthy of Hall of Fame election?

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Ryan Howard. He has a lifetime batting average of .267 (not good), on-base .356 (better), slugging .532 (very good), OPS+ 131 (very good). Hits, 1,259; home runs, 326; in each case, good, but not nearly enough.

He’s had only 1 season batting at least .300, but has had 6 seasons of at least 30 homers, 4 of at least 40, and topped out at 58, the most of any National League lefthanded hitter ever, and tying Jimmie Foxx of the old Athletics for the most in Philadelphia history. He had 6 seasons of at least 100 RBIs; for comparison’s sake, Mickey Mantle had just 4. Still, given that Citizens Bank Park is a hitters’ park, he should have bigger numbers, both seasonal and career.

He has 3 All-Star berths and the 2006 National League MVP, and 3 other times he has finished in the top 5 in the MVP voting. That’s not enough.

Baserunning doesn’t help him: 12 stolen bases for a career, although his 75 percent success rate (12 out of 16) is good. Nor does fielding help him: He's never won a Gold Glove.

In postseason play, he came through in the 2008 NLCS and World Series, the 2009 NLDS and NLCS (winning the MVP in the latter), and the 2010 NLDS and NLCS. But in four other postseason series, he was poor, including a World Series record 13 strikeouts in 2009.

Baseball-Reference.com’s Hall of Fame Monitor, on which 100 is a "Likely HOFer," Howard is at 98, just short. On their Hall of Fame Standards, which is more weighted toward career stats, and on which 50 is the "Average HOFer," he's at 25, well short.

B-R also has 10 “Most Similar Batters.” Howard's are Richie Sexson, Prince Fielder, Cecil Fielder, Hank Sauer, Tony Clark, Jay Buhner, Travis Hafner, Justin Morneau, Kevin Mitchell and Danny Tartabull. None of those are currently in the Hall, and nly Prince Fielder has a legitimate chance to make it.

There’s no serious evidence that "Big Piece" used performance-enhancing drugs, but he does fit the profile: From ages 25 to 31, he was one of the best sluggers in the game; since then, he’s been plagued by injuries and just hasn’t been getting it done.

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Chase Utley. Lifetime BA .287 (good), OBP .371 (very good), SLG .493 (good), OPS+ 126 (good). Hits, 1,519; home runs, 225; in each case, decent, but not nearly enough.

He’s batted .300 twice, and has had 3 seasons of at least 30 homers, and 4 of at least 100 RBIs. Given his ballpark, there should be more.

He has 6 All-Star berths, including this season. But his highest place in the MVP voting has been 7th. Baserunning doesn’t help him much: Only 133 career steals (though with an 88 percent success rate). Fielding doesn’t help much: No Gold Gloves.

He has been inconsistent in postseason play: He was great in the NLDS in 2009, ’10 and ’11, in the NLCS in 2008, and the World Series in 2009. However, in 4 other series, he was nearly invisible. In the 2008 World Series, he only got 3 hits, but 2 were home runs, for 4 RBIs.

B-R has him at 77 on their HOF Monitor, and 33 on their HOF Standards; in both cases, well short.

His most similar batters include interesting players like Nomar Garciaparra, Carlos Guillen, and the still-active Robinson Cano, David Wright, Hanley Ramirez and Victor Martinez; but the only one of the 10 already in the Hall is Joe Gordon.

There’s no evidence that he cheated, but, as with Howard, there is a big statistical dropoff and injury tendency from age 31 onward.

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Jimmy Rollins. Now, we’re talking about a different kind of player: J-Roll is known as a contact hitter, a good baserunner, a good fielder, and a team leader. He's more a Derek Jeter type than a big boomer, Miguel Cabrera type like Howard; or a scrappy but powerful middle infielder, Robin Yount type like Utley.

He has a lifetime BA of .268; OBP, .327; SLG, .424; OPS+, 97; hits, 2,265; home runs, 212. Aside from the career hits, none of those statistics suggests even All-Star status, let alone Hall of Fame. He’s never batted .300 in a season (only twice topping .290), has 4 20-homer seasons but only 1 reaching 30, and has never had a 100-RBI season.

He has, however, led the NL in triples 4 times and in runs scored once. He’s had 10 seasons of at least 30 doubles, and 4 of at least 40. That suggests a little power, and good baserunning. That thought is backed by his 444 career stolen bases (83 percent success), including 10 seasons of at least 30 and 4 of at least 40. However, he has only led the League in stolen bases once.

His fielding also helps him, as he’s won 4 Gold Gloves. But he’s only made 3 All-Star teams, none since 2005. He has won an MVP, in 2007, but that’s the only time he’s come close in the voting. He’s been the Phils’ sparkplug, their leader on the field and off, getting them to postseason play 5 times and nearly 2 others.

He excelled in the 2008 NLCS, and hit well in the 2011 NLDS. Other than that, he hasn’t been a positive factor, including batting .222 with just 2 RBIs in his 2 World Series (11 games).

B-R's HOF Monitor has him at 104, meaning he makes it; but their HOF Standards have him at 38, putting him well short. His 10 most similar batters provide an interesting look: 2 of them, Barry Larkin and Pee Wee Reese, are in the Hall; a 3, Alan Trammell, has some supporters for his election (including me). In each of the 4 cases (counting Rollins himself), the defense helps a lot.

Just in the last year, there has been talk of disputes between Rollins and Phillies’ manager Ryne Sandberg, and it has coincided with a statistical decline. From ages 22 to 33, he was one of the leading figures of National League baseball. After that, he’s been just another player.

My conclusion: Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are good guys, and were once great sluggers. And Jimmy Rollins was one of the most exciting players of our era. They were once winners. But, barring big-time comebacks at late ages, none is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

And that’s something I never would have expected to say as recently as 2011.

1 comment:

Scott MacGregor said...

I would Say Rollins has a good chance, the other two prob not