Now that all the anger and frustration stemming from last Tuesday’s Baseball Hall of Fame vote has died down somewhat, it’s time for one last article until we pack the topic of Cooperstown away for the next six months.
The purpose of this article, as the title suggests, is not for me to express my outrage that Craig Biggio or Mike Piazza weren’t elected, but rather to review the Hall of Fame resume of Mets captain and third baseman David Wright.
To start, let’s have a look at Wright’s trophy case: In 10 seasons, Wright has seven All-Star Game appearances, MVP votes in six years (including four top-10 finishes, and got robbed in 2007), two Gold Glove Awards and two Silver Sluggers.
He also is a leader in the clubhouse who “plays the game the right way” and has stayed out of trouble to this point. That will probably count for something with the voting body of the BBWAA.
His career .301/.382/.506 slash line is pretty darn close to the .303/.401/.529 one posted by Chipper Jones, and OPS+ puts him at the top of a category with Hall of Famers John McGraw, George Brett, and Frank “Home Run” Baker.
Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, which averages a player’s career WAR with their 7-year peak WAR (WAR7), has Wright 25th all-time among third basemen (though really 22nd since Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor and Cabrera are considered third basemen). That places him behind non-Hall of Famers like Dick Allen and Sal Bondo, but ahead of McGraw, Deacon White, George Kell, Pie Traynor and Freddie Lindstrom, all of whom are in Cooperstown.
To better illustrate where Wright currently ranks, consider the following table, comparing Wright to other Hall of Fame third basemen, sorted by their JAWS (eliminating Molitor because he was a DH).
A note: this table uses bWAR as opposed to fWAR which I used earlier. I did this because the JAWS rankings come from Baseball-Reference, which was giving me troubles when I tried to run the report on players from 2004-2013. I apologize for the inconsistency. From here on out I’ll be using bWAR.
|7||Home Run Baker||62.6||46.8||54.7||0.307||0.363||0.442||135|
Of course this table is imperfect because it doesn’t include players likely to be in the Hall of Fame by the time Wright becomes eligible: Jones, Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen all have strong arguments, and should be enshrined. Their eventual election will bring up the average numbers a little bit, but that’s not something that we’ll concern ourselves with right now. As things currently stand, Wright needs to produce at a high level for a few more years before he can be considered a serious candidate.
But just how much Wright will produce over the rest of his career is yet to be seen. We can try to project that, though.
Using the 5/3/2 approach, where you weight last year’s WAR .5, the year prior .3 and two years ago .2, Wright is a true 5.4 bWAR player. Considering the circumstances, he is probably closer to a true 6.4 bWAR player (I’ll explain how I got that in a bit).
For fun, let’s run a career progression with both of those numbers and see what we come up with. Let’s call the 5.4 bWAR projection “Projection 1,” and the 6.4 bWAR projection “Projection 2.”
Tom Tango and Jeff Zimmerman’s research concluded that as a general rule of thumb, a player loses .5 WAR each season from ages 28-32, and .7 WAR every season thereafter. Since that’s the standard used for an aging curve, we’ll use that.
|Year||Age||Projection 1||Projection 2|
|Total WAR Added||24.3||31.3|
|Projected career bWAR||WAR7||JAWS|
Comparing the final numbers shows how big the difference in Wright’s career could be, depending on what you believe his true level of play right now is. Valuing Wright as a 6.4 bWAR player today adds an extra 7 wins onto his career totals through age 37 as opposed to the 5.4 bWAR projection.
If I were to put more stock into one of these projections, I’d trust the second one more. Considering the nature of his injury in 2011 and how that affected his performance, 5/3/2 weighted average is not fair to Wright’s true abilities as a ballplayer.
Take what Bill Petti wrote on Fangraphs shortly after Wright was signed to his extension last fall. Going into last season, Wright was considered a true 5.3 fWAR player (4.6 bWAR) by the 5/3/2 methodology. Wright, of course, put up 6.0 fWAR in 112 games, indicating that his true skill level was underestimated by the 5/3/2 weight. This is also part of why ZiPS projects Wright as a 4-win player in 2014.
That’s why I prefer the method that got me the 6.4 bWAR value. (If you’re not interested in reading about my methodology, skip the next five paragraphs.)
A fairer way to evaluate Wright’s current skill level would be to use a two year weighted average. In this case, I used a 6/4 weight, with 2013 being weighted .6, and 2012 getting a .4 weight. I realize that using a two-year weighted average is unorthodox, but considering the circumstances in this case, I don’t think it’s uncalled for.
This table shows players who had experienced a down year in their prime, then came back and played full time at their previous level. The sample was taken from the 1995-2010 seasons. I also wanted players who played a significant amount in year four, so that the projections would be match up better with the actual numbers posted. Players marked with an asterisk (*) did not play enough in year four, so their year five WAR was used instead
|Player (Year 1)||WAR 1||WAR 2||WAR 3||5/3/2 Model||6/4 Model||Actual WAR 4||5/3/2 Difference||6/4 Difference|
|Jay Bell (1995)||1||2||5.4||3.5||4.04||3.4||0.1||0.64|
|Jhonny Peralta (2009)||1.1||4.9||2.5||2.94||3.46||3.6||0.66||0.14|
|Corey Hart (2009)||0.7||3.1||3.8||2.97||3.52||2.2||0.77||1.32|
|Jack Wilson (2006)||0.6||2.4||1||1.34||1.56||1.9||0.56||0.34|
|Sean Casey (2002)||0.5||1||3.5||2.15||2.5||1.8||0.35||0.7|
|David Bell (2000)*||0.4||3.2||3.4||2.74||3.32||3.6||0.86||0.28|
|Moises Alou (1996)||2||3.3||6.8||4.79||5.4||3.2||1.59||2.2|
|Jermaine Dye (2003)||-2.1||1.9||2.3||1.3||2.14||3||1.7||0.86|
|Johnny Damon (2001)||1.9||4||2.3||2.73||2.98||4.3||1.57||1.32|
|Orlando Cabrera (2004)||0.3||3.7||2.7||2.52||3.1||4.7||2.18||1.6|
|Luis Gonzalez (1998)||1.7||6.6||4.7||4.67||5.46||8.9||4.23||3.44|
|Tim Salmon (1996)*||1.9||4.6||3.3||3.41||3.82||4.5||1.09||0.680000000000001|
|Andre Ethier (2010)||1.9||2.7||3||2.69||2.88||2.9||0.21||0.02|
|Will Clark (1996)*||1.8||3.2||2.8||2.72||2.96||3.8||1.08||0.84|
|Jose Valentin (1999)||0||4.5||3.3||3||3.78||3.5||0.5||0.28|
|Bill Mueller (2001)||1.7||2.3||4.5||3.28||3.62||1||2.28||2.62|
|Nick Swisher (2008)||1.2||2.9||4.2||3.21||3.68||3.4||0.19||0.28|
|Ray Durham (1999)||1.9||2.7||3.9||3.14||3.42||3.6||0.46||0.18|
|Mike Lowell (2005)||0.1||2.6||4.5||3.05||3.74||2.2||0.85||1.54|
|Aramis Ramirez (2002)||-0.8||2.3||4.2||2.63||3.44||3.2||0.57||0.24|
As we see from the sample, for players with uncharacteristically weak year one WARs, the 6/4 model is 0.12 wins more accurate than the 5/3/2 model. There is reason to believe that the 6/4 model would be even more accurate than that for Wright because of the stark contrast of his year one WAR to his year two and three WARs.
From a pure WAR standpoint, Wright closely resembles Luis Gonzalez, but of course there’s the steroid question with him that doesn’t exist with Wright, so it’s not a perfect match. That being said, the 6/4 was .79 wins more accurate than the 5/3/2, a significant value.
So for the rest of this article, I’ll be using the 6/4 model as the basis for my arguments.
So now that that’s out of the way, we can look at what it means.
By the time Wright finishes his age 37 season, he projects to basically have the same value numbers as Brooks Robinson (and perhaps Beltre too, who currently sits at 70.5 bWAR, 46.5 WAR7 and 58.5 JAWS).
At that point, it’s hard to imagine that Wright wouldn’t be a consensus Hall of Famer. Taking it a step further, if Wright plays until he is 40, he projects to put up an extra 3 bWAR, which would bring his JAWS up to 63.1, a leap that would put him behind Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett and Jones all-time among third basemen.
Given the current trajectory of his career, Wright seems like a lock for the Hall of Fame, but keep in mind that projecting the future of a player is risky business. There’s no way to tell what is in store for Wright in the future because the game is played by real people on a field, and not by numbers in a spreadsheet.
The numbers only serve as a general average for what we can expect, but some players age like Carlton Fisk, and others like Jason Bay, and there’s no way to tell which one a player will resemble until father time starts working his magic.
But for now, we can say pretty confidently that Wright does have a great chance of being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Joe Vasile is the voice of the Fayetteville (NC) SwampDogs. Follow him on twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.
P.S.- Thanks to Tom Tango for guiding me in devising and testing the 6/4 method.