Thursday, January 6, 2011

Despite Steroids, McGwire Doesn't Belong

The Hall of Fame voting provides fodder for endless discussion at work with fellow baseball fans and one thing I keep hearing around the water cooler AND among the bloggers/articles is this notion that McGwire is somehow being denied a shot at the Hall of Fame. The din regarding this subject was less this year than last, but I'm still hearing it. I'm here to say that even with steroids, McGwire's numbers were not Hall of Fame caliber. He stands out as a player in your mind because of a couple of magical seasons in the late '90s, but aside from that brief period, his stats are underwhelming.

Here are the numbers (click the pic for a larger view or visit here):
Alright, so obviously the 583 career HRs pop out. The .982 career OPS is not bad either. McGwire was clearly a HR hitter from the very start of his career and, in fact, his rookie record of 49 homeruns remains the record to this day. I suspect (and McGwire has said as much) that he started taking steroids as a result of injury-riddled seasons from 1993-95 in attempts to heal his body more quickly. It worked because he played in almost every game from '96 to '99.

For the sake of my argument, I'm going to lead you through an exercise. From 1987 to 1992 McGwire played in most of the games during those seasons and averaged 36.16 HRs and 99.8 RBIs per year. From 1996 to 1999, McGwire again played in a vast majority of the games in those seasons but his averages went up to 61.25 HRs and 132.5 RBIs. So, let us assume that steroids accounted for that increase in production (even though I'm not entirely sold on that idea). That's ~25 less HRs per year and ~32.7 less RBIs per year. If you make those adjustments to McGwire's career numbers, 100 less HRs and 130 less RBIs, McGwire's numbers, though still admirable, do not look Hall worthy.

483 HRs, 1,067 Rs, and 1,284 RBIs aren't nearly the eye-popping numbers we see now on the stat sheet. Not only that, you'd have to make subsequent adjustments to the SLG% and OPS numbers. Towards the bottom of the Baseball-Reference page is a short summary of a given player's HOF credentials. Among the 4 categories, McGwire's numbers as they stand make him a pretty average HOFer, but if you take away some of the possibly enhanced figures, I bet his credentials would be a little more shaky, especially since the HOF monitor takes into account things like, "leading the league in HRs" and other similar "stats." The bottomline for me is that none of the numbers I quoted above (483/1067/1284) are HOF worthy, especially given the inflation some of those numbers have gone through over the past several years. The bar is generally thought to be 500 HRs, 1200Rs or 1500 RBIs and even with some inflated numbers, McGwire only meets the standard in one of those categories.

I think until Cooperstown itself comes out with a statement on the Steroid Era, there will continue to be this divide amongst the writers. Even if Cooperstown comes out with something there will still be a divide, but it will be lessened. The issue is going to come to a head here within a few years because eventually we're going to have the likes of Bonds and A-Rod on the ballot and it will be impossible to keep them out of the Hall (not they should be kept out anyway). So if some known Steroid users are allowed in the Hall but others are not because of Steroid use, there is going to be this very odd double-standard which creates a big mess. The Hall should nip this all in the bud and address it now.

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