Induction into any Hall of Fame is subjective. Individuals vote, and those who receive enough votes are allowed in the Hall of Fame (HOF). Over time, Major League Baseball voters have recognized certain statistical benchmarks as qualifiers into the Hall of Fame. These benchmarks are 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and 300 wins. There are only 31 players with 3,000 hits, 27 players with 500 homers, and 24 pitchers with 300 wins. Yet there are 323 individuals in the MLB Hall of Fame; so these benchmarks are not the end-all be-all in the eyes’ of voters. With the rise of sabermetrics, the importance of preserving the longevity of players’ careers, these benchmarks may be impossible to reach for the next generation of ballplayers. So what should voters pay attention to for future HOFers?
3,000 hits to 2,500 hits. Two active players have over 3,000 hits, Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre; and Albert Pujols is 12 hits shy of 3,000. Behind Pujols are a pair of 35 year-olds in Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano. They have 2,648 and 2,391 hits respectively. After them, there is not a single person under the age of 34 with 1,700 hits making it highly unlikely someone will reach 3,000. Vlad Guerrero received enough votes to get into the Hall with 2,591 hits; so 2,500 is an acceptable milestone.
500 HRs to 450 HRs. Pujols has 617 HRs and Beltre and Cabrera each have 463 HRs. The next closest is 35 year-old Edwin Encarnacion with 351. To put 450 HRs in perspective, in order for Giancarlo Stanton, the premier power-hitter in the majors, to reach 450 home runs, he will need to average 20 HRs per year through his age-38 season.
300 wins to 225 wins. The likelihood that there is another 300-game winner is miniscule. Since 1990 only four pitchers have eclipsed 300 wins. This can be attributed to a few things. Managers are more cognizant of when a starting a pitcher is fading in productivity, so they bring in fresh relief pitchers. As a result, starting pitchers are throwing less innings as shown by the graph below.
Also, Athletic trainers and front office executives are aware of the strain that pitching ‘X’ number of innings on ‘X’ number of days rest can put on a young pitchers arm. Additionally, with so much money invested in these pitchers, preventing and lowering the risk of injury is paramount to ensure a return on the investment. This awareness and shift in thinking will certainly curtail the chance of there being another pitcher winning 300 games.
With the rise of sabermetrics, new statistical numbers need to be considered for induction. The most widely regarded new-age statistic is Wins-Above-Replacement, or WAR. WAR is a calculation of how many more wins an individual is worth to their team in comparison to a run-of-the-mill bench player. In addition, the aim of WAR is to be able to compare a power-hitter against a defensive specialist, and every player in between, and determine which is more “valuable.” Below is a reference chart for WAR for position players.
WAR is an imperfect metric, but it is the best available statistic in quantifying total value of a player, and one that should be considered by voters.
Accolades, Longevity, and Dominance
An example of someone who was in the Hall of Fame based on this formula is Jeff Bagwell. He was a four-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, and won one Gold Glove. His career numbers were: a .297 batting average, 449 HRs, and 1,529 RBIs. These accolades and statistics were combined with one season of pure dominance. In 1994 Bagwell hit .368, blasted 39 homers, and have 116 RBIs. That season was capped off with the NL MVP award. Another player to follow this path was 2018 inductee Chipper Jones.
There may never be another ballplayer achieve 3,000 hits, 500 HRs, or 300 wins, but there are other metrics and acknowledgments that can determine if a player is Hall of Fame worthy.