Hall of Very Good: The 10 Most Overrated MLB Hall of Famers
The Hall of Fame is a weird place.
Every year, BBWAA members explain to the reader what their own views of the Hall are. Some like a big one and would welcome a fringe player like Harold Baines. Some believe in a small hall.
Some believe in WAR and FIP; some prefer major milestones.
Some base their selections on the postseason; some base theirs on just the regular season.
Hence lies the slippery slope of saying a certain player is "definitely not" Hall of Fame-caliber. Andre Dawson and Jim Rice, for example, are questionable picks to many, but obviously popular enough to gain entry.
However, there is a major difference between a fringe Hall of Famer making it in and a player with really unimpressive career numbers stumbling in based on hype. Unfortunately, hype has been, ultimately, the No. 1 criteria for acceptance into the Hall of Fame.
As well as I can, here are my top 10 most overrated Hall of Fame players of all time.
No. 10: George "High Pockets" Kelly
Who, you ask? Well, "High Pockets" Kelly was one of former Veterans Committee kingpin Frankie Frisch's ex-teammates and friends.
Frisch was notorious for stumping for ex-teammates like Ross Youngs and Travis Jackson, but Kelly was no doubt the worst of this group and possibly the worst Hall of Famer ever.
Kelly was a first baseman with a wRC+ of 113. He also only accumulated 6,565 PAs. For comparison, J.T. Snow had a career wRC+ of 109 in 6,553 PAs.
Kelly is only No. 10 because, frankly, barely anyone remembers him. His career was not particularly distinguishable.
No. 9: Phil Rizzuto
Those post-WWII Yankee teams sure were something, right? Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Whitey Ford, Joe Collins—those teams were loaded.
No one's legacy benefited more from all of this than a Mr. Fiero "Phil" Rizzuto, though. While he deserved his 1950 MVP, he was overall a 104 wRC+ hitter. That puts Rizzuto in the same company as players like Jay Bell and Maury Wills with the bat.
Terrible for a SS? Of course not. But most people can agree that Rizzuto is not in the Hall if he did not play for a legendary team.
No. 8: Pie Traynor
Of all the major milestone criteria used frequently by Hall voters, the hallowed .300 average has usually been the most criminal.
For example, at least 300 wins usually signify a sustained period of excellence, as you do not last to 300 wins without being good. The .300 club, however, horribly favors players in hitter's eras and ones that did not contribute enough with other skills.
Traynor is one of these players. Playing in the heavy-duty '20s and early '30s, Traynor amassed a .320 batting average. Which is good. Of course, it was also accompanied by a 5.7 percent walk rate and a .115 ISO, good for a 113 wRC+.
His career was long enough, with 8,293 PA. Unfortunately for him, both Robin Ventura and Graig Nettles amassed over 8,000 PA, with better wRC+s.
More criminally, third base has been historically underrated by the voters. The fact that there's only 10 third basemen in the Hall of Fame, and that Traynor is one, is, for lack of a better word, embarrassing for the voters.
No. 7: George Kell
What was said about Traynor before applies to Kell now.
Well, not quite. Kell was a bit better than Traynor, as he could actually take a walk at a decent rate (8.2 percent). His wRC+ was a 116—still the same as the previously mentioned Ventura, in a shorter career.
There have been a lot of great third basemen in MLB history. Why players like Kell and Traynor deserved glory when players like Stan Hack and Ron Santo did not, I just do not know.
No. 6: Nellie Fox
Well, he sure could field, right? I agree. So, what's the problem here?
A 101 wRC+ is the problem.
I have noticed a trend in the last three men I picked for this (less than) scientific list: a low strikeout rate. It is amazing how as recently as the '80s, a player like Doug Flynn could be given full-time opportunities despite a career .238/.266/.294 line, partly due to low strikeout totals (0.083 K/AB).
But I digress. While Fox had his seasons of brilliance, he made the Hall of Fame with a few great seasons sprinkled into a career filled with mostly average seasons. Willie Randolph had more great seasons than Fox and is an outsider to the Hall.
No. 5: Ralph Kiner
Kiner is such a weird case. Back in his day, he was possibly underrated and is famous for being the person on the receiving end of Branch Rickey's famous quote: "...we finished in last place with you, we can finish in last place without you" (which has pretty much become baseball's version of "separation of church and state"—use it out of context and you can fit it into any argument).
When he squeaked into the Hall in 1975 with 273 votes (272 needed for induction), it was decried as one of the worst picks ever.
And yes, it was iffy. Kiner only played 10 seasons, he only amassed 6,256 PA, and he was never much of a fielder. While his .279/.398/.548 is very good, without a real decline phase or fielding skills, it becomes obvious why Kiner took 20 years post-retirement to make the Hall.
But something weird happened along the way to now, in that Kiner became revered. Kiner went from being decried as one of the worst picks ever to being ranked No. 90 in Sporting News' best 100 players of all time (ahead of players like Wade Boggs and Paul Molitor). A little bit of a reach for a one-dimensional player, no?
No. 4: Rube Marquard
The Hall of Fame has generally done well with pitchers. Obviously, it is easy to judge a pitcher's body of work to his peers compared to a hitter, as no single player's individual contribution to winning is more evident than a pitcher.
That being said, there is always one that will leave your head scratching. Marquard is that one for me. His K/BB of 1.86 was, even for his time, not tremendously impressive. His ERA+ of 103 is even less so.
Marquard was a star from 1911-13 and in 1916. It was in these four seasons that Marquard accumulated an impressive 21.2 WAR according to his baseballprospectus.com card. His career WAR total? 28.5.
For one-third of a career, he was lights out. For two-thirds of it, he was sub-average.
No. 3: Ernie Lombardi
A huge catcher with a career batting average over .300 and enough pop to hit 190 HR—but of course, there were a lot of problems with Lombardi as a player.
For one, he was a terrible defender. Baseball Prospectus' FRAA lists him as a -118 for his career. Also, he wasn't much for taking a walk, walking in only 6.8 percent of his PAs.
While his 127 wRC+ does look good for a catcher (even one as deficient defensively as Lombardi), that does not count the horrific baserunning he likely committed regularly. He also had a short career with 6,349 PAs.
I highly suspect the VC just could not help but put in a .300 hitter like Lombardi.
No. 2: Lou Brock
Brock is very possibly the worst first ballot Hall of Famer ever. I honestly cannot think of a worse one in any of the major sports.
Harsh assessment? Perhaps. Brock was a notable demigod in the postseason and had 3,000 hits and huge base-stealing numbers in his career.
He was probably the team MVP for the 1964 WS-winning Cardinals, though Tim McCarver, Orlando Cepeda, Curt Flood, and Dick Hughes were all more vital to the Cardinals' success in 1967.
But despite the flash and the winning teams, Brock had many issues in his game that he did not address nearly enough.
Stolen base success rate: His 75.34 percent for the career, while not terrible, takes a lot of gloss off his high stolen base number. He made a lot of basepath outs.
Walk rate: 6.8 percent could be passable in a corner OF spot. Of course, you need some power to balance that out, which leads to...
Power numbers: A career .118 ISO is low for a player in his position of left field.
Defense: Proof that speed does not make an outfielder, he was very average in left field.
Tim Raines had a slightly shorter career (11,235 PAs v. 10,359 PAs for Raines) but a far better wRC+ (137 for Raines v. 121 for Brock).
Make no mistake, Brock was a key cog of title teams and was an exciting player. Unfortunately for him, from about 1969 on, he was a very average player, and one who held the record for worst OBP among corner outfielders in the Hall (and still does, depending if you consider Dawson a center fielder or not).
Knowing what we know now, there really is not much of a case for Brock being better than a player like Tim Raines, or at least to a point where Brock is a Hall of Fame lock while Raines needs grassroots campaigning.
No. 1: George Sisler
First basemen have been overrated by the Hall of Fame voters for years. .300-plus batting averages have been overrated just as much.
Makes sense that a first baseman with a high batting average and no other real star-quality skills would top this list, correct?
Sisler was rated No. 33 all-time on the previously mentioned Sporting News top 100 players ever. I know it was 1998, where OBP was still a mysterious term and a player's defense was determined by the jersey he wore and how much the commentator liked him, but still, No. 33?
Gorgeous George, despite the flaws, like a low walk rate and unimpressive power, was a monster from 1917-1922, going .377/.420/.541, good for a 161 OPS+. However, Dick Allen had a nine-year stretch of 164 OPS+ hitting and is not considered an all time great by many.
Overall, Sisler accumulated a 50.4 WAR, good for 166th all-time among positional players, about the same territory as Fred McGriff.
Sisler took 1923 off and went on to OPS+ 97 from 1924-1930, good for just 4.2 WAR. Fact of the matter is, there have been plenty of 1Bs who have hit for a few seasons like an elite player and then declined. Sisler is special to many for his career .340 batting average.
It should also be noted that Sisler never participated in a postseason game. Obviously it is intellectually dishonest to blame Sisler for not helping the Browns break through in the Babe Ruth era, but it is something to consider when people try to list Sisler in the top 35 all-time players again.