Let’s call this an open letter to the members of the BBWAA who did not, last year, vote for Tim Raines on their Hall Of Fame ballots. It’s easy–too easy–for some sabermetrically-slanted bloggers, writers and fans to cast a stone and make accusations about intelligence when it comes to stuff like this. This is not going to be an assertion of superior intelligence, or the value of sabermetrics entirely over the value of traditional stats. It’s going to, I hope, appeal to BBWAA members and statheads alike without alienating either, and if just one BBWAA voter reads this, and considers Raines a little closer when he’s filling out his or her HOF ballot, I’ll consider that the best thing I’ve done on this blog outside of having a dumb contest to rename my buddy’s Ottoneu team.
While the “open letter” genre is typically a sarcastic and arrogant piece of mockery full of faux-sincerity best left in the realm of McSweeney’s and hipster kids’ tumblrs, this one is going to be sincere and heartfelt. I certainly hope at least one BBWAA writer–and I apologize for the onslaught of Twitter mentions to draw you here in advance–will have a look and give it some thought.
Dear BBWAA Member Who Did Not Vote For Tim Raines Last Year,
Tim Raines was, I believe, a Hall Of Fame worthy player. I believe this based on how good Raines was at his peak and over the long haul of his careeer, and how Raines compares to players already enshrined in Cooperstown. And I would like to sincerely request that you give his Hall Of Fame case very close review before completing and mailing in your ballot this winter.
You and/or your predecessors voted by 97.61% to put Tony Gwynn in the Hall Of Fame on his first ballot, the 7th-highest percentage in history. Tim Raines has been on the ballot for five years and has not achieved even a 50% vote yet. I would submit to you that Tim Raines was more valuable than Tony Gwynn, possibly by more than 10% more valuable overall. To see that we need just look past the single-stat of batting average, which I very respectfully submit to you was one of only two criteria, along with hits (which is basically the same thing) used for electing Gwynn for induction. If you’re not into it we don’t need sabermetric mumbo-jumbo, WAR, wOBA, UZR, or anything else to see that Raines was more valuable, we just have to look at some actions and skills long considered to be valuable at which Raines was much better than Gwynn, his peers and a lot of other players currently in the Hall.
Gwynn was a career .338 hitter. That’s a heck of a mark, and it puts him 18th all-time. But it’s the only mark Gwynn has going for him. He was not a very good defender. He was not notable on the basepaths, especially once he hit 30 years old. And for every three bases he stole, he was caught a little over once.
One thing about Gwynn is that he didn’t walk very much. Only 7.7% of his plate appearances resulted in a walk. Another is he didn’t slug the ball very much–76% of Gwynn’s career hits were singles.
Raines, on the other hand, walked a lot. He walked in 12.8% of his plate appearances. He also slugged the ball better than Gwynn (probably as a result of the patience displayed with the walks), with 72% of his hits being singles.
Because of the walks, Raines almost made fewer outs than Gwynn as a percentage, despite Gwynn having a 44-point advantage in batting average. In his career, Tim Raines made an out in 61.5% of his PA. Gwynn, by contrast, made an out in 61.2% of his PA. Raines went to the plate 10,359 times, Gwynn 10,232. In the entirety of their careers, Raines made 41 more outs than Gwynn if my math is correct, in over 120 more plate appearances. They got on base at a virtually identical rate.
Sure, Gwynn was a fraction better at avoiding outs than Raines. But there’s more.
What is the impact of Raines’ advantage in power and speed? in 127 more career PA than Gwynn, Raines had 113 fewer doubles than Gwynn, but had 28 more triples and 35 more home runs than the Padre. If we take their Total Bases + Walks the score comes out Raines 5101 – Gwynn 5049. Raines produced more bases out of the batters box, while making outs at an almost identical rate. Tony Gwynn’s singles and batting average, if they were more valuable than Tim Raines’ walks, extra base hits, and secondary bases, were more valuable by such a slim margin that it’s impossible to place one of these players as a 97% slam-dunk into the HOF while the other gets less than half the vote. There’s not that much separation between them, out of the batters box. And since baseball is more than the batters box…
What did Raines do when he was on the bases? Raines stole 489 more bases than Gwynn, and he was caught stealing 21 times more, which is incredibly out of balance in Raines’ favor due to his very high stolen base percentage.
Yes, Raines made 41 more outs at the plate and 21 more outs being caught stealing than Gwynn, for a total of 62 more outs over two similar amounts of playing time. But those 62 surplus outs were overmatched I believe, value-wise, by Raines having taken 523 more bases on extra base hits and steals. This is before we even try to calculate how many extra bases Raines took going first-to-third, first-to-home, second-to-home, and how many outs he prevented by not stealing, when a less conservative player like Rickey Henderson would have tried to steal a base.
I think it’s reasonable to say that Raines was more valuable offensively than Gwynn over their careers, when we combine hitting and baserunning. I also think Raines was a superior defensive player, based on my memory of watching both.
In the context of Cooperstown being a museum of baseball history, I’d like to appeal to you as well. I know for many of you, character might play a part in your decision, and I’d like to take a moment to illuminate why character might be a positive in the case for Raines rather than a negative.
Raines was a cocaine user at a time when cocaine was rampant in the game. He took time away, at a young age, worked out his problem, and came back strong.
Now. Consider a father taking his son through Cooperstown. And they come across the Raines plaque. It’s in the same room maybe as the Gwynn plaque and the Rickey plaque, since they’re from the same era, Gwynn and Raines and Henderson separated by birth by 17 months. And the kid says “Who are these guys, dad?”
I really like the idea of Raines being there, and the dad getting the chance to be honest with his kid both about Raines’ performance and his character lapse as a kid of 23 years old.
“Well, Raines was amazing. He didn’t steal as much as Rickey, but he stole better than Rickey because he seemingly never got caught. He got on base about as much as Tony Gwynn, next to him here, but because he had a little more power and was such a good baserunner, he was probably a better offensive player even though his batting average was 44 points lower. Raines was maybe the best player in baseball in 1986, and became a free agent, but the owners decided to collude against him to keep him from making a high salary on the open market. He was kind of emblematic of the problem with collusion among owners, who were just cheating the players and lining their own pockets.”
“Yeah. He missed a month in 1987 because no one had signed him yet, then finally Montreal re-signed him, too cheap probably, and Raines, who didn’t have a spring training or anything, walked into the park the day after he signed, hit a triple in his first at bat, went four-for-five on the day, and was the best player in the National League the rest of the season. He scored 123 runs that year and did it without spring training or a month of the season.”
“Yeah. Also, Raines came of age when there were a lot of drugs being used in baseball. Like, before steroids, but after amphetamines were widespread, a lot of players were using cocaine. And Raines got caught up in that. But, he did the right thing. He admitted his problem, he got help and took some time away from the game, and he came back as good as before. He was honest about his problem.”
“Did these other guys have problems, Dad, or just Raines?”
“Yeah, sure. Rickey Henderson had a power spike when he was in his thirties in the middle of the steroid age and was 100% for sure using performance enhancing drugs. He also had an ego that was out of control. And Tony Gwynn went bankrupt at 27, then in 2012 we found out he owed the IRS $400,000. Plus after he was done playing he nearly ate himself to death. He had to have extreme weight-loss surgery and after the operation he ignored the diet and stayed fat. His extreme weight messed up his back and his leg. He had cancer, really sad, and lost 80 pounds while he was on treatment, but when he went back to solid food he gained the 80 pounds right back. It’s just really sad when you see him, how poorly he’s taken care of himself.”
“So who had the better character, Dad?”
None of this is meant to disparage Tony Gwynn, who was a great baseball player. It’s meant only to point out that Raines’ career was HOF-worthy, and that he was not alone in having demons as a person. I used Gwynn because he’s similar–same era, both outfielders, close in age, both National Leaguers, both top-of-the-order hitters. Also because Raines identified and addressed his problem at the young age of 23, while Gwynn went bankrupt at 27 then again in his retirement, and never did figure out how to control his appetite. We could pick character issues from any era, whether it’s Mantles’ drinking or Ruth’s drinking or Josh Hamilton’s addiction or Chipper Jones’ affection for those Affliction t-shirts. It’s not an issue that was Raines’ alone, and I don’t think it’s something that should count against him on a Hall ballot, especially since he got it fixed himself. The collusion thing is in there to point out that Raines may not have been as public or political as Flood or others, but he was a victim of a black eye in the history of the game, and he would be a good example in the museum as a player who is both HOF-worthy on a performance basis, and HOF-worthy from a living-history standpoint. Good luck with your ballots this year, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you will pick wisely, and will pick Raines.