Fred McGriff was one of the best sluggers of his time, yet he’s struggled to get significant Hall of Fame consideration. In 2013, he received only 20.7% of the vote for induction, a bit down from his peak of 23.9% in 2012. I decided to take a look at his qualifications, see how he compared to other Hall of Fame first basemen, and see if he warranted more serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.
Here are Fred McGriff’s career numbers:
.284 BA, .377 OBP, .509 SLG, .886 OPS, 493 HRs, 1550 RBIs, 134 OPS+, 48.2 WAR
It’s a mighty fine career. Fred McGriff also appeared in 5 All Star games and finished in the top ten of MVP voting 6 times. However, he only placed in the top 5 of MVP once. It’s not a statement that screams Hall of Famer. His career OPS of .886 is not too impressive. You would expect more offensive production from a first basemen, atleast surpassing the .900 OPS barrier.
His 493 HRs puts him 26th all time in home runs, tied with Lou Gehrig. Naturally, 500 home runs is a pschological threshold for voters. If McGriff had been able to break the 500 home run mark, he might have gotten more votes. However the 493 home runs are more than many other Hall of Famers such as Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken, etc. How do they compare to other Hall of Fame first basemen and several of McGriff’s recent peers?
Jim Thome: 612
Mark McGwire: 583
Harmon Killebrew: 573
Rafael Palelmeiro: 569
Jimmie Foxx: 534
Willie McCovey: 521
Eddie Murray: 504
Fred McGriff: 493
Lou Gehrig: 493
Jeff Bagwell: 449
Orlando Cepeda: 379
Tony Perez: 379
Johnny Mize: 359
Hank Greenberg: 331
So McGriff is close to the middle of the pack for Hall of Fame caliber first basemen. That’s pretty good. He has more home runs than four present Hall of Fame first basemen and a fair amount more than Jeff Bagwell (who got 56.9% of the vote in 2013).
I have a feeling that many voters consider McGriff’s numbers poor for a slugger during his time. Therefore, it may be better to look at McGriff’s performance relative to the rest of his league such as OPS+ and WAR. At initial glance, his career OPS+ of 134 is quite impressive. It indicates he had an OPS a significant amount above his peers in his career. Against the previous list, here is where McGriff places.
Lou Gehrig: 179
Jimmie Foxx: 163
Mark McGwire: 163
Hank Greenberg: 158
Johnny Mize: 158
Jeff Bagwell: 149
Jim Thome: 147
Willie McCovey: 147
Harmon Killebrew: 143
Fred McGriff: 134
Orlando Cepeda: 133
Rafael Palmeiro: 132
Eddie Murray: 129
Tony Perez: 122
He’s towards the bottom half of the list, not good, but not bad. Here is where McGriff places on WAR:
Lou Gehrig: 108.5
Jimmie Foxx: 92.5
Jeff Bagwell: 76.7
Johnny Mize: 67.8
Jim Thome: 67.8
Rafael Palmeiro: 66.1
Eddie Murray: 63.4
Willie McCovey: 60.7
Mark McGwire: 58.7
Hank Greenberg: 55.1
Harmon Killebrew: 55.8
Tony Perez: 50.1
Fred McGriff: 48.2
Orlando Cepeda: 46.1
Wow, Fred McGriff is the second worst first basemen on this list.
I have a personal opinion that many players gain entry into the Hall of Fame for their peak performance, not necessarily their career performance. A short stretch of elite performance can convince voters that a player was one of the best players of their generation, more so than a player who was pretty good for a long time. The following is how Fred McGriff measures against other first basemen on peak performance. The list below shows the number of times a player had a WAR greater than 5.0, 6.0, and 7.0 in a season, as well as their peak WAR ever.
Lou Gehrig: 12 / 12 / 10 (11.5)
Jimmie Foxx: 9 / 8 / 6 (10.2)
Johnny Mize: 9 / 7 / 2 (7.6)
Jeff Bagwell: 8 / 5 / 4 (7.9)
Hank Greenberg: 7 / 5 / 2 (7.5)
Willie McCovey: 6 / 4 / 1 (7.9)
Mark McGwire: 6 / 3 / 1 (7.2)
Jim Thome: 5 / 2 / 2 (7.2)
Tony Perez: 4 / 2 / 0 (6.8)
Harmon Killebrew: 4 / 1 / 0 (6.0)
Rafael Palmeiro: 4 / 1 / 0 (6.5)
Eddie Murray: 3 / 2 / 0 (6.8)
Fred McGriff: 3 / 2 / 0 (6.2)
Orlando Cepeda: 3 / 1/ 0 (6.6)
Again, Mcgriff is near the bottom of the list.
Based on the above lists, Fred McGriff seems closest to Eddie Murray, Orlando Cepeda, and Tony Perez. Why are they in the Hall of Fame? Eddie Murray is a member of the 3000 hit club and 500 home run club, which made his selection pretty easy. Orlando Cepeda appeared in 7 All Star games (two more than McGriff’s 5) yet only placed in the top 10 of MVP voting twice. However, in those two times he won one MVP and was a runner up the other time. Fred McGriff never placed higher than 4th in MVP voting in his career. Tony Perez appeared in 7 All Star games and placed in the top 10 of MVP voting only 3 times. Tony Perez may have been given extra consideration for being part of the Big Red Machine in Cincinatti.
There seems to be a pattern in the above analysis that may be a strong indication why so many voters are leaning against voting for Fred McGriff. While he had an excellent career, he doesn’t seem to have anything special going on to make something think McGriff is a Hall of Famer. He hasn’t surpassed any special career marks (e.g. 500 home runs, 3000 career hits), no advanced statistics stand out (not past .900 OPS, not a high career WAR), he never won or was close to winning any awards (e.g. MVPs), and he didn’t have famous playoff performance (although he performed very admirable with a career .917 OPS in the playoffs). At the end of the day, that’s the strong reason McGriff hasn’t been voted in and likely won’t be voted in anytime soon.
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“Baseball-Reference.com – Major League Baseball Statistics and History”, Baseball-Reference