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True Total Bases: A Counting Stat for the Current Era

Counting stats are simultaneously going the way of the Dodo and one of the great things about baseball. Miguel Cabrera just hit his 500th home run! That's a great accomplishment. Apart from people with major performance enhancing drug concerns or active players, everyone who has hit 500 home runs is in the Hall of Fame. It was considered one of the greatest benchmarks for performance.

3000 hits is another great landmark. Cabrera should also reach that landmark. However, counting stats in general have lost a lot of their reputation. While Cabrera's decline has not yet reached the point of Albert Pujols (prior to his joining the Dodgers, anyway) he has been below average for most of the past five seasons. Plus, 3000 hits rates equally a singles hitter such as Ichiro Suzuki and a triple-crown winner like Cabrera.

I've advocated for using total bases as a good counting stat before, but this also eliminates walks from consideration. Thus, I present what I call True Total Bases (tTB), a formula which includes walks and times reaching on error (a necessary correction when comparing eras, as it seems that scorers of the past were extremely reticent to give an error when a legend was at the plate. Do we really think a player of Ty Cobb's speed only reached via error 57 times for his entire career, by today's standards? Everyone agrees that fielding is better, but the only baseball player I'm certain I could beat in a footrace has reached via error more than twice the number of times Cobb did.)

Yes, this suffers from the weakness common to all counting stats: it doesn't account for the fact that a player can simply accumulate as long as he finds a team willing to play him. However, it does take into account all of the favored counting stats, making it a milestone that encompasses more than those of the past and accounts for changes in the way the game has been played.

But how does this work in practice? Are the best players the best? And where do certain great Diamondbacks rank? (Hint: by this stat, a Hall of Fame argument could be made for two former Diamondbacks.)

The 8,000 True Total Bases Club

As with Total Bases, there's a leader who is well ahead of the player in second place. Unlike Total Bases, that player is Barry Bonds. His 8,737 tTB is well ahead of Henry Aaron (8,493) and even further ahead of Babe Ruth (8,006). It is unlikely that anyone will join this club in the future; Mike Trout isn't even halfway there yet, and he probably has the best shot of anyone.

The 7,000 True Total Bases Club

This group is larger, but still only contains ten members. Among the ten are many who are regarded as among the best hitters ever, such as Ted Williams (7,031), Stan Musial (7,917), as well as the two members of the 4,000 hit club (Ty Cobb and Pete Rose, if anyone needs reminding.) Also in the 7,000 tTB club is the active leader, Albert Pujols. He's currently in 7th, with 7,603. He'll likely pass Pete Rose for 6th this year, and if he plays another season (to be honest, given his average offensive production since moving to the Dodgers, I wouldn't be surprised if he does) he could pass Willie Mays for 5th on the list. But he's not joining the 8,000 tTB club.

Also here are names that might be surprising at first glance, like Rickey Henderson. The greatest leadoff hitter of all time hit his share of home runs, although not as many as others on the list. But he did hit over 500 doubles and draw over 2,000 walks, placing him currently in 12th, just ahead of Williams.

Full 7,000 club: Musial, Mays, Rose, Pujols, Yastrzemski, A-Rod, Cobb, Frank Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Williams.

The 6,000 True Total Bases Club

This club is again larger, but still clearly elite. Every member of the 6,000 tTB club is either already a Hall of Famer, will be a Hall of Famer, or is only not a Hall of Famer because of the steroid era crackdowns. The final member of the club might also wind up on the outside of the Hall because of sign stealing concerns.

The 6,000 club: Mel Ott, Rafael Palmeiro, Eddie Murray, Gehrig, Junior, Tris Speaker, Dave Winfield, Foxx, Thome, Cal, Gary Sheffield, Reggie, Cabrera, Beltre, Chipper Jones, Frank Thomas, Mantle, Jeter, Kaline, Manny, Biggio, Brett, Ortiz, Molitor, Schmidt, Beltran.

The 5,000 True Total Bases Club

This club contains 57 more members, bringing the total of players with 5,000 or more tTB to 96. That's still a small club. Keep in mind that 5,000 tTB is basically the equivalent offensive production to getting 3,000 singles and 500 home runs. This list includes legends of the game, like Honus Wagner, Harmon Killebrew, Joe Morgan, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Wade Boggs, and Vladdy (Senior, of course.) Not inner circle Hall of Famers to be sure, but no one would argue that any of those players shouldn't be in the Hall.

And this is where things get interesting from a Diamondbacks perspective. As we know, there is only one player enshrined as a Diamondback, and that is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. But the 5,000 tTB club contains two players who, if not for their era, would have merited serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. And I'd argue that their total production and signature moments merit a second look.

First, Luis Gonzalez. Suffice to say that, had he gotten his series-winning hit for the Yankees rather than against them, he would have gotten more than five votes in his lone season on the ballot even if he'd been a lifetime .200 hitter with no power who never drew a walk. Also, there have been questions about potential PED usage, raised by none other than Ken Kendrick himself. However, my counterpoint is that he had one outlier of a season in his career, and then his power numbers returned to what had been his normal for a few years. Testing hadn't started yet. So if PEDs enabled him to hit 57 home runs in 2001, then he quit without being forced to. (Also of note is that Bonds hit 73 that year, and similarly fell off thereafter. Did MLB mess with the ball in 2001? We may never know.)

By traditional stats, Gonzo didn't look good. A .283 career average. 354 career home runs. 2,591 career hits, over 400 short of the 3,000 mark. While he had some speed early in his career, he never stole more than 20 bases.

But he drew 1,155 career walks. Walks were just starting to be recognized as a useful skill as his career was winding down. The walks and the hits give him 5,735 tTB, good for 56th in MLB history, and sandwiched between McCovey and Banks on that list. Here are the other people within 100 tTB of Gonzo: Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Paul Waner, Todd Helton, Harold Baines, Dwight Evans, Billy Williams, Sammy Sosa. They aren't all in the Hall of Fame, sure. But of the people within that range, only Gonzo seemed to merit no discussion, despite postseason heroics, which are generally enough to push a fringe candidate over the top. And consider the list of names ranked 57th-70th: Banks, Perez, Dawson, Rusty Staub, Charlie Gehringer, Wade Boggs, Cap Anson, Bobby Abreu, Darrell Evans, Al Simmons, Vladdy, Goose Goslin, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi. Only Staub, Abreu, Evans, Damon, and Giambi are not in the Hall. Every one of them has more support than Gonzo.

Now consider Steve Finley. Finley, to my knowledge, never was connected to PED usage. He was also substantially better defensively than Gonzo. He also merited only a single vote when he was on the ballot. He is also part of the 5,000 tTB club.

When considering the people around Finley on the list, it becomes mind-boggling that he wasn't at least slightly considered. He's sandwiched between two Hall of Famers, Edgar Martinez (who had a tough time getting in) and Ivan Rodriguez (who did not.) He finished his career with 5,143 tTB. Once again, a list of the other players within 100 of him on either side: Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar, Chili Davis, Lou Brock, Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew, Paul Konerko, Nap Lajoie, Sam Crawford, Carlton Fisk, McGwire, Vada Pinson, Ron Santo, Robinson Cano, Harry Heilmann. Yes, Finley had more plate appearances than most of these names. But only Davis, Konerko, McGwire, Pinson, and Cano aren't in the Hall. Finley played a premium defensive position and played it well. Adjusted for plate appearances, Finley was worth 49.2% of a base every time he came to the plate. Carew was worth 49.3% of a base. Gwynn was worth 50.9% of a base. Ichiro, who falls short of the 5,000 tTB club, provided just 45% of a base per plate appearance. Finley provided more defensive value than either Carew or Gwynn, although far less than Ichiro. He deserved better.

Finley didn't have the postseason heroics. But he was the first Diamondback to get a hit off of Rivera on that fateful night. He had also singled and scored the first run of the game in the sixth inning. He was a useful postseason performer.

Both Finley and Gonzo merited more consideration from the voters. While it's possible that neither of them should be in the Hall, they both achieved a remarkable figure: 5,000 tTB, a number achieved by fewer than 100 people. Hopefully the committees will take a good look at both of them, but, again, they didn't play in New York or Boston, so I'm not going to hold my breath.

Next in line to join the club

Joey Votto is the active player likely to join the club in the coming years. He's currently 119th on the list, with 4,828. If Nelson Cruz continues to drink from the fountain of youth, he could reach it as well (currently 4,407), but certainly after Votto, if at all. As far as Diamondback interest is concerned, Paul Goldschmidt is currently at 3,630, making it quite questionable that he could reach that point. Mike Trout is close to a lock, but is at 3,724, so he has a long ways to go. Votto needs 172 more, and has 254 so far this year, so he has a slight chance to get there this year with a big hot streak, but most likely he will become the 97th member of the 5,000 tTB club early next season.