A friend of mine over at DBBP, Ryan, asked a question:
Could Goldy end up as a Hall of Famer? And if he does, is there a chance he might still go in as a Dback?
I thought this was a pretty interesting question, and in many ways it cuts right to the heart of the matter for most DBacks fans. For many, it feels like the decision not to resign Paul Goldschmidt to the DBack for life contract has not only robbed them of the joy of watching him play out his career, but also the potential pride in seeing a home grown product make it all the way to the Hall of Fame wearing a Dbacks hat.
My initial gut reaction to the the question was that Goldy will need to play a long time, remaining healthy and productive for at least another 8-10 years. As I looked closer some of the things I saw seemed to re affirm that reaction, but of course nobody has a crystal ball and things seldom turn out just like you think they will.
So the first thing I needed to do was take a look at First Basemen in the HOF, as that is who Goldy is going to be compared to by future BBWAA voters. However making a comparative analysis is a little tricky and not as straight forward as one might think. There are a number of players who played multiple positions, and while they may have played 1b more than any other position, in some cases played much less than 50% of their time at 1b. For example the leading HR hitter of the 1960’s, Harmon Killebrew played 3b and LF before moving to 1b and later DH. Just 40% of his PA came at 1b. But he is listed among 1b on the JAWS rankings. The Big Hurt Frank Thomas had his greatest seasons while still playing 1b, but ended up as a DH for over half his career. He is listed among 1b as well. However Rod Carew, who is listed as 2b in the JAWS listing, actually played more 1b than 2b, and his batting numbers at 1b are actually slightly better than at 2b. Then you have Ernie Banks, who had more PA at 1b than as a Shortstop, but clearly made his bones as a HOF’er while playing SS in the late 50’s and early 60’s, winning back to back MVP’s in 58-59, and accordingly is listed among the SS on the JAWS listing.
At the end of the day, each analyst, voter, pundit and fan needs to make their own subjective decisions for how they want to conduct a comparative analysis. Here are mine.
First click through to THIS LINK That is a listing of every player in the HOF who has played at least 39% of their time at first base. There are 23 in all. It’s important to go through that list and familiarize yourself with it, and also perhaps click on a few names you might not know.
However that is not the list I’m going to use for this analysis. One thing you may notice is that less than half the players on the list played the bulk of their careers after 1947, (Post WW2 and Integration). In evaluating Paul’s HOF chances, I don’t think it’s very relevant what High Pockets Kelly did in his career. BBWAA voters are going to be comparing Paul to Modern first basemen, and judging him by modern first basemen criteria. Remember I’m handicapping what I think the voters will do, and trying to guess at Paul’s chances of getting in. So lets modernize the listings. I’m going to also make some subjective choices, such as removing Banks and Carew. I’m also going to add Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, because they are locks for 1st ballot HOF. They will still add some to their counting totals to the detriment of their rate stats, but their cases have been made.
So here I think you start to see a clearer picture of what the voters are looking for, and what kind of mountain Goldy needs to climb. The two lowest ranked HOF’ers in this comparison, Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda, both hit 379 HR, well below the avg in the above table. Two questionable choices perhaps, and they drag down the averages a bit. But even with them included, the average HOF first baseman has been a 500 HR guy with well over 1500 RBI, and a .900 OPS. However, the recent induction of Jeff Bagwell, with “only” 449 HR and 1529 RBI is a good sign for Goldy that voters will recognize his all around play and excellence as a defender and base runner, which shows up in his WAR total. 15 years from now the BBWAA voting base will most likely consist of a higher percentage of voters willing to weight those things more heavily than in the past. That said, I don’t expect them to forget about the primary slugging requirements of a first baseman either.
I believe Goldy is going to need to play until he is at least 38 or even 40, and hit at least 250 more HR and drive in 800 more runs, bringing his totals up to about 450 and 1500 respectively. If he can play 8-10 more healthy years, the odds are he also adds about 25-30 WAR in the process, bringing his total to 65-70. I believe he will need to get very close to these thresholds to achieve HOF off the writers ballot.
I include several other players in the table above. Fred McGriff, with 493 career HR and 1550 RBI is going to miss getting voted in on his 10th and final chance, despite being perceived as a “clean” player. According to the Vote Tracker by @NotMrTibbs he in fact has less than 36% of the vote. (75% required) Some day a veterans committee will probably vote him in though. Todd Helton meanwhile has just 19.1% of the vote total so far on his first time on the ballot. With 369 HR and 1400 RBI, and perhaps the Coors Field Penalty coming into play, he is falling well short. His support could grow though. He has 9 more years on the ballot. So this should give you a pretty good idea of what it’s going to take. I include Joey Votto above as well, as he is also pretty good comp for Goldy, and will probably provide a good signal as to how the voters may treat Goldy, as Votto will hit the ballot several years ahead of Paul.
Back to Pauls pursuit of several milestones, some of you may be familiar with something called Bill James Favorite Toy. This is a little projection tool to help get a rough idea of the chances of a player meeting certain milestones.
When I plug in Goldy’s numbers for HR, I get a 31% chance of him reaching 450 HR, and a 52% chance of him reaching 400. The Chances for 1500 RBI are 27% , and 1400 RBI are 38%. Somewhat more encouraging perhaps, he has a 97% chance to achieve 60 WAR, a 57% chance at 70 WAR, and even a 30% chance to reach 80 WAR.
Overall, I would put Paul’s odds of getting into the HOF at roughly 50% as it stands currently. A big year for him in St. Louis in 2019 would push those odds over 55-60%. The only reason I handicap the odds that low is because it’s tough to remain fully healthy that late into your career. Thanks to years of watching him, we know about Paul’s work ethic and his ability to maximize his abilities, and this has been recounted beautifully by our other staff writers over the past week. If anyone is going to have a long productive career, it would seem to be Paul. But you just never know when a knee or back injury or something like that will pop up. Father time always wins, it’s just a matter of when.
The other factor to consider is how much of a bump Paul will get due to being the quality human being that he is. He is respected throughout the industry as being a high character player and teammate, and that will certainly weigh in his favor.
Finally, as to the question of who’s cap he may wear if he does make it, now we are really on the path of the unknown. It would seem if he plays 8-10 more years in another uniform, and achieves all those milestones elsewhere, then it might be a stretch for him to go in as a DBack. Especially if he signs a long term extension with the Cardinals, and plays out the remainder of his career there, making several post season appearances in the process.
On the other hand, who knows....maybe he plays one year in St. Louis, signs a 5 year deal with the Astros, and then comes back to the Diamondbacks for a final 2 year hurrah at the end of his career, and ends up a DBack in the HOF after all. The permutations are almost endless.
No matter what happens, I know we will all be rooting for him to do well, and continue along a healthy, Hall of Fame path. While it would be a gut punch for that to happen with another team, it’s still the best outcome.