Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hurts so Vlad

With the Jays' release of Vladimir Guerrero today his career has mercifully come to an end. I hope. I originally predicted that Vlad wouldn't play a single game for the Jays, but as much as I wish that Vlad would go gently into the good night my gut tells me that there's at least one more failed minor league stint in his future. Guerrero still thinks he can play (and had a few choice words for Jays' management) and there's never a shortage of desperate GMs looking to give a once major power threat a few at bats. For today though we're going to play out the fantasy and act as if this is it for Vlad. That means in five years time voters will need an answer on whether or not he's Hall worthy. Let's save some time and get an answer now.

Let's get the shiny numbers out of the way first. Vlad hit .318/.379/.553 for his career with 449 HR. He finished with 2590 hits, 972 of them for extra bases. He was no slouch on the base paths, having stolen 181 bases, although perhaps not the most efficient base thief with only a 65.8% success rate. He won the MVP award in 2004 and finished in the top 4 in voting 3 other times. He won 8 Silver Slugger awards and was a 9 time All-Star. He finished with 55.2 rWAR and 60.0 bWAR.

For such a great player Vlad was remarkably consistent. From 1998-2007 there were few players in the league who could be as dangerous as the bat as he was. Vlad had a knack for putting any ball into play, no matter how far off the plate the pitch may have been (see video). Although for such a free swinger he still took his share of walks. His 8.1% walk percentage compares well to recent outfield Hall honourees, Andre Dawson (5.5%), Jim Rice (7.4%), Tony Gwynn (7.7%), Dave Winfield (9.8%), and Kirby Puckett (5.7%).

It's hard to talk about Guerrero's career peak since his peak lasted for about 10 seasons. From 98-07 Vlad batted above .300 in every season, had a minimum of 3 WAR in every season, and had 8 years with 30+ HRs. It's interesting to see how his 10 year stretch compares to other outfielders. The following table shows the best 10 year stretch and associated rWAR from all the HoF outfielders elected since 1970 plus a few other potential ones thrown in.

Vlad is in good company. I don't think anyone expected him to be close to the likes of players such as Mays or Bonds but he fits in well with a second tier of outfielders who are still HoF worthy. Just to compare Vlad closer to some of the more recently elected outfielders (excluding Rickey who I consider to easily fall into the top tier of HoF outfielders), the following graph shows that until his late career dropoff, Vlad was outpacing all of them. We see almost the exact same thing in the second graph when comparing him to more recent outfielders.

Through the prime years of his career Vlad beats out all his comparables. His career ISO mark of .235  ranks 49th all-time (min. 5000 PA) and his wOBA of .389 beats out outfielders such as Rickey Henderson and Junior Griffey. He's also one of only five players on the above list who has at least twice joined the 30-30 club.

Guerrero's bat and increasingly poor outfield defense eventually did him in, probably a few years earlier than most baseball fans would have hoped for. Throughout his career though there were few players more fun to watch hit and coupled with the evidence presented here I'd definitely consider him a Hall of Fame player. The image of him standing in the box barehanded and knowing that a pitch anywhere could be put into the stands will stand for many years to come. I think it should also be noted, that although there is obviously no way to prove innocence, Guerrero played through the steroid era and was never implicated in any performance enhancing drug scandal. There was also nothing like that chill that ran through your spine as Vlad was about to unload his cannon on a throw to the plate.

I'm wondering which team would be most appropriate to put Vlad into the Hall with, but I can't think of a better image for his plaque than him with a helmet so dirty the logo has been completely scratched off. Vlad parts of 8 seasons in Montreal compiling 32.9 WAR while his 6 years on the (Insert name here) Angels collected him 20.9 WAR. However his MVP season came with the Angels as well as five of his six trips to the post season. I always like to see Canadian teams pile up more plaques in the Hall but I couldn't complain with him going in as an Angel. I'm sure Vlad's input will be important here too. In the end he should eventually get in, although he'll probably have to wait a few years as punishment for the era and because of a backlog of other players facing the similar crime. Hopefully his 5 year wait period will start counting today.

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