Bagwell Right For Hall

added 12/2/2010 by Patrick Hajovsky

I think it goes without saying that Jeff Bagwell should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The home run totals, batting average, OPS, defensive prowess and team leadership all scream out a fellow who deserves induction with the game's so-called "immortals". Heck, I'm even growing a goatee in support of his candidacy, which will be shaved off either January 5, 2011 (when the election results are announced) or July 24, 2011 (when Bagwell will hopefully be inducted).

Actually, I'm not at all sure that Bagwell's credentials for induction are a topic of great debate, but for the subject-which-cannot-be-spoken (more on that below). So for this issue of "Fun With Baseball-Reference.com", we'll take a look at Baggy's statistics. Doing so, I might add, is like stepping into the middle of a galaxy and saying, "Hey, there's a few stars around here."

The individual numbers are too numerous to mention, so let's permit baseball-reference.com to aggregate things into four categories - Hall of Fame Standards, Hall of Fame Monitor, Gray Ink Test and Black Ink Test. Most of these tests are Bill James' creations, with a tweak from Baseball-Reference.com here and there.

The HOF Standards test is designed to measure the player's quality over an entire career, as opposed to one or two seasons, by awarding a single point for certain statistical accomplishments. For example, one point for each 100 runs over 900 (limit 8), one point for each 100 RBI over 800 (again, limit 8) and so on. It should be noted here that first basemen get a small defensive value bonus in the point total when compared to other positions (i.e., catcher gets 20 points while a first baseman gets 1 point). Here, Bagwell scores a 59, while the average Hall-of-Famer merits only a 50. Advantage Bagwell.

The HOF Monitor test is similar, but it measures a player's likelihood of making the Hall of Fame. This test awards more points and adds other “likelihood” categories, such as points for playing on a division or league championship team. An average Hall of Famer would garner 100 points using this measure, while a virtual lock is 130 points. Jeffrey Robert Bagwell's total? 150 points. Huge advantage Bagwell.

The Gray Ink and Black Ink tests are merely accumulators of every time a player finished in the top 10 in a statistical category and first in that category, respectively. Baseball-Reference.com has a host of statistical categories, probably more so than what Bill James looks at, who originated this test with the Baseball Encyclopedia. Average Hall-of-Famers clock in at 144 and 27 on these tests. Bagwell shows up with 157 and 24.

The Black Ink test is the only category where Baggy falls below the average Hall-of-Famer, which is not surprising given that he played in the Astrodome for the first two-thirds of his career, and battled the arthritic shoulder in the last third once he moved into a more normative ballpark. So again, advantage Bagwell.

For any dedicated fan of the Houston Astros from the 1990's onward, and by dedicated I mean a fan who watched a great majority of the games during that time and thus had the opportunity to enjoy Bagwell's performance day in and day out, three things jump out about his brilliance (other than the obvious power numbers).

First, I would contend that almost nobody ran the bases with as much intelligence as Bagwell. I have vivid memories of him cutting the bag going from first to third, or second to home, with intelligent speed, and the stats bear out these memories. Bagwell led the league in Runs Scored three times, finishing in the top 10 eight times. As well, in the "Runs from Baserunning" stat, Bagwell bests the average player by far every year of his career in the Astrodome (1991-1999), and only has 2 years below the average player (2000 and, understandably, 2005). More advantage Bagwell.

Second, I'd like to ask you how many times did you see Jeff Bagwell with an 0-2 or 1-2 count, only to rally to get on base in some kind of way? His batting eye was second to none, prompting Jim Deshaies at one time to laugh and say, "Pitchers ought to just go ahead and throw a strike at 0-2. They won't win any other way with him." For his career, Bagwell had an OPS of an incredible .783 with an 0-1 count, and an equally incredible .577 when the pitcher held all the cards at 0-2. Also, when there were two strikes in the count, Bagwell clocked in with an overall OPS of .719. This, and the fact that Jeff is 27th all-time in the number of bases on balls shows the man had an eye!

Third, and you have to look to the 1990's for this one, before the shoulder injury took hold in 2001, the defensive range and arm strength was unparalleled. How many runners do you recall being gunned down at second base after Bagwell charged the bunt and threw over? Worst percentage play ever for an opposing team? Close. His assists ranking from 1992 - 1999 in the National League placed him 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd and 3rd (with a 4th place finish in his rookie year of 1991). His Range Factor per game in that period was almost as good, placing 5th, 5th, 3rd, 2nd, (below top 5), 2nd, 3rd and 5th. Now, imagine doing most of that on the hard and fast Astrodome turf as well. Simply amazing.

As to the subject-which-cannot-be-spoken, let's delve into that, comparing Bagwell to his contemporaries in this category. Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for illegal steroid use and was suspended. Mark McGwire has admitted the same usage. Barry Bonds has also admitted use, albeit "unknowingly" (riiiight).

While Jeff Bagwell forcefully denies any such use, he admitted in the Houston Chronicle in 1998 that he took creatine. In the first of an expansive series of articles about the effects of supplements, Alan Truex added extensive quotes from Bagwell and Craig Biggio, who both claimed to have "bulked up" from creatine usage. At the time, and even today, creatine is a legal, over-the-counter amino acid supplement used to help people work out and build up muscle. Both players decried the use of creatine during the baseball season, with Biggio citing the danger from dehydration during the summer while Bagwell indicated its impracticality due to a ramp up usage period to make the supplement most effective, but both used.

The next day, Truex reviewed the use of androstenedione (or "andro") by athletes, another then-legal, over-the-counter supplement. Andro, however, was much more serious than the relatively mild creatine. Here's the meat of the article (Houston Chronicle, 8/10/98):

Bagwell is not one of the home-run mashers rumored on the baseball circuit to partake of anabolic steroids, which were deemed to be potentially lethal and made illegal in 1990 (except by doctor's prescription).

But going the legal route, Bagwell has taken androstenedione, which is a close neighbor in the hormone chain to the illegal steroids. So close, in fact, that the International Olympic Committee banned it. Shot-putter Randy Barnes recently was suspended for using this substance.

While Bagwell [and Biggio] has had impressive results with creatine, a muscle energizer approved by the IOC, he said, "I took Andro-6 for a while, and I thought it worked."

Doctors say Andro-6 works because two of its main ingredients are tribulus and androstenedione - hot items on the gray market of "hormone precursors" that are legal, but tenuously so.

Dr. Lon Castle of the Baylor Sports Medicine Institute in Houston said Andro-6 "is definitely a little more worrisome than creatine. Androstene is a steroid, and it does make people stronger."

This is troublesome, of course, but not in the context of the times. Truex, it should be noted, was the Astros beat writer for the Houston Chronicle in 1998, giving us two possible motives for the first paragraph quoted above. Either Truex did not want to publicly slam local hero Jeff Bagwell, whom he had to face every day in the Astros locker room, and whom Truex presumably liked (as did almost everyone who was ever around Bagwell), or, Truex was telling the truth.

Assuming the truth of the statement, which has never been argued in any article I can find, Bagwell was one of the majority of Major League Baseball players, including Craig Biggio, who would take legal supplements to help them cope with the physical demands of the season.

Today, given what we know about Rafael Palmeiro's use of illegal steroids, as well as others, the use of andro is damning. But in the times in which this was done, taking a legal supplement to build up strength is hardly worth a mention. I would note that this puts Bagwell and Biggio in the company of Willie Mays (who admitted to asking his doctor for and taking prescription uppers for energy) and Nolan Ryan (continual use of Advil, for crying out loud) and Pete Rose and a host of others.

So, is my argument, "Well, everyone did it so it's okay"? Admittedly, partly. But mostly the argument is that if the use of over-the-counter supplements is somehow a bar to Hall of Fame entry, the criteria is going to become a much bigger joke than admitting Jim Rice last year. The Hall of Fame criteria is 10 years of playing and five years of retirement. From there, the writers are told to take into consideration playing excellence and character. If Jeff Bagwell doesn't fit that criteria, nobody does.

Clearly, this issue is not going away, and it's something that uninformed sports writers (as if there's any other kind) and Hall of Fame voters will obsess over for years. Any Bagwell fan has known this scrutiny will come during the Hall of Fame vote, but we don't know how much writers will permit it to overshadow his clearly deserving statistics.

So while my goatee continues to grow with optimism for good news on January 5th, I'm going to put the Over/Under vote percentage for Bagwell at 60% this go round, leaving him a bit shy of the 75% number needed for enshrinement. If he were a Red Sox or a Yankee, Jeff Bagwell would be a lock. But he’s not, so for now, he’s not.