February 06, 2014

Good-bye Ralph Kiner

Ralph Kiner. Photo via
Baseball-Reference
Somebody will probably kick me for writing another speak ill of the dead post-mortem, but really, as I look at his career? Ralph Kiner may have been a nice guy up to the day of his death today, but he shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame.

Home run titles is the only reason he's in now. He had no career-ending injuries (more on that in a moment), just a brief Roman Candle peak that flamed out. And, if we had today's vote standards, he'd been off the ballot after his first year, missing the 5 percent cutoff margin.

Statistically? He falls short on both counting and sabermetric stats, and seemingly shouldn't be in. Let's unpack the numbers a bit.

On OPS+, a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, it seems, with his career 149 well above my minimum of 110 for most positions. But, this is why Baseball-Reference handicaps for runs from different positions. For his career, he ranks at -62.

Plus, he was a bad fielder. For his career, a -40 at fielding runs shows that OPS+ is just a starting point.

And, even more than WAR, his career WAA is telling. He finishes at just 25.8. For me, 30 is a minimum, and really, 35 is what you need to get into my discussion.

The statistics foursome at the bottom of the page gives him two thumbs up, one down, one borderline. And his JAWS is not good. Setting aside Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez for their various baggage, and presuming Tim Raines gets in, that still leaves one non-HOFer and a couple of borderline HOFers above his 18th place.

But there's a flip side.

Like a Dizzy Dean or Sandy Koufax on the player side, or a Kirby Puckett among fielders, he gets an injury-related pass, at least of some sort. Maybe, with a chronic condition, painful but unlike Koufax, not as severe, Don Mattingly is somewhat of a comp. (That said, it's arguable that, even without his back problems, Donnie Baseball wouldn't be in the Hall.) Both had their careers shortened. How much, in Kiner's case, the injury affected his career before retirement, I don't know. Per what I said above, sciatica (Kiner) isn't in the same class at all, even if bad sciatica, as Koufax's arthritis.

There's a third side, though. Being a broadcaster, and in the New York market, may have given him a visibility bump.

I didn't have him on my original blog post of position players whom I'd vote back out of Cooperstown, but maybe I need to add him. He's borderline, to stretch it, and maybe "borderline of the borderline," to be honest.

Also, even B-R readers can succumb to fandom or whatever. He's not the 96th-best position player of all time, I don't think. (And Dale Murphy isn't No. 98, either.)

He's also the subject of a bit of trivia. A lot of people probably don't know where his birthplace of Santa Rita, N.M. is. (I do; I've been there more than once.) And, people who look at it on a map probably assume he's its most famous native. Well, especially if you don't bury your nose only in sports news, you'd be wrong, quite arguably.

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