Tim Raines, as things stand right now, seems like a good bet to finally get into Cooperstown. Finally, because it’s his 10th year on the ballot and if he makes it to the fabled 75 percent, he’ll have tripled his voting percentage since he started.
Finally, because it’s taken years of the pro-Raines crowd writing articles and sending tweets and citing stats about why all the other voters are missing it on Raines. Finally, because it’s his last year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, so it’s enshrinement or nothing.
Raines’ case is a tough one, though, and after this long, nothing is a sure thing. He toes the line of Hall of Fame and Hall of Very Good, partially because while he was really good at what he did, he played in the same era as the player who was the best at what he did. There’s no shame in the being No. 2 to Rickey Henderson, though.
Now, after a 23-year career in which he became the most valuable player in Montreal Expos history according to Wins Above Replacement, and nine years on the ballot, it’s time for the last word on Raines. To prep you for the voting results — which are coming Jan. 18 — here’s a look at Raines’ Hall of Fame case and how our writers would vote.
It’s been a steady climb up the ballot for Raines, who debuted in 2008 with 24.3 percent. By 2011, he was at 37.5 percent, exactly half of the necessary 75 percent. In 2015, he landed at 55 percent and last year finished at 69.8 percent. Generally, if a player gets above 65 percent, they’re getting in eventually. Raines’ case is a little more accelerated, though, since this is his final year of eligibility.
So far, things appear to be in Raines’ favor. The fantastic Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker compiled by Ryan Thibodaux has Raines at 91.5 percent through the 184 public ballots. That number traditionally comes down by the time results are announced. That figure includes 25 voters who didn’t check Raines’ name last year. Based on his 2016 vote totals (307 votes out of 440 ballots) an additional 25 votes would put him above 75 percent.
WHAT THE SUPPORTERS SAY
Raines was fantastic at a two main things: getting on base, then stealing the next one. He wasn’t a power hitter or a superstar, but a very good player who was among the most valuable players in his baseball at his peak.
Let’s look at some bullet points:
• Raines is best known for the stolen bases, so we’ll start there. He finished his career with 808, which ranks fifth all-time. He led the NL in steals four years in a row and had six straight seasons where he had 70 steals or more. Beyond that, his stolen-base rate (84.7) ranks No. 1 all time for players with more than 400 attempts.
• When Raines burst onto the scene in 1981 at age 21, he immediately made a mark. That season was the first of seven-straight All-Star selections. During that span, he hit .310 with a .396 on-base percentage and an .844 OPS, which is quite good for a leadoff man. Twice in that span, he led the league in runs. He was a dynamo, there’s no denying it.
• The number-crunching favors Raines, whose career WAR of 69.1 ranks bests the average Hall of Famer at his position (65.1). Raines also ranks favorably, according to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, which gives Raines a score of 55.6 compared to 53.3 for the average Hall of Famer at his position.
• Perhaps the best way to look at Raines’ often-underestimated value is through a blind comparison.
Player A = 68.8 career WAR, 3,955 total bases and a .388 OBP.
Player B = 69.1 career WAR, 3,711 total bases and a .385 OBP.
Pretty close, right? The difference is Player A is Tony Gwynn and he has a .338 batting average and 3,141 hits compared to Raines’ 2,605. But when you’re talking about a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Gwynn who earned 97.6 percent of the vote and a guy like Raines is crossing his fingers in year 10, the differences aren’t really as big as reputation might have you believe.
WHAT THE SKEPTICS SAY
Raines has a few things going against him. More bulletpoints? Sure.
• He publicly admitted to using cocaine while he was player, even carrying it in his pocket during games. Now, cocaine isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, but people are pretty liberal about what falls under the character clause nowadays (see: Schilling, Curt) so Raines’ candidacy has no doubt been hindered by being baseball’s version of The Weeknd.
• He doesn’t have a significant moment of achievement that can be the calling card of his Hall of Fame case. He didn’t get to 3,000 hits and he doesn’t hold any of the top stolen-base records.
• The latter half of Raines’ career didn’t do him any favors. He peaked early — those seven straight All-Star games came before he turned 27 — and by the time he got to his mid-30s, Raines had declined sharply. After his age-34 season in 1994, he played seven more seasons without registering more than 1.5 Wins Above Replacement.
• Raines’ career coincided almost completely with Rickey Henderson’s, so it’s a little tougher to stand out as one of the greatest leadoff men of all time when you’re playing at the same time as the hands-down greatest lead-off man of all time.
The Big League Stew writers don’t have Hall of Fame votes, but if we did, here’s where we stand on Tim Raines:
Yes — The second-best leadoff hitter of all-time deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Raines had everything you could want out of a No. 1 hitter. He hit for strong batting averages, posted exceptional on-base percentages and was successful on 84 percent of his stolen base attempts. It may have taken voters the full 10 years on the ballot to realize Raines’ greatness, but it finally looks like he’ll get the call.
Yes — Raines isn’t a cut-and-dry case, but the more you look at his career and use some of the value-based rankings, you really start to see the impact he had. I think it’s tougher for voters to reconcile someone like Raines, who doesn’t have the 3,000 hits and whose game was primarily getting on base and stealing more bases. You can’t just look at the same five statistical categories and pass judgment on Raines, because that’s not the type of player he was. But the comparison to Gwynn tells me a lot. Maybe he didn’t have the hit total of Gwynn, but his overall impact was close enough for Cooperstown.
Yes — Raines’ stats really have something for everyone. He’s got speed, he’s got average and his on-base numbers are strong. Plus, his nickname is “Rock.” How can you not love a player like that? I think it’s crazy that he hasn’t made it in yet, but hopefully this is the year. And if it is, I’ll be thrilled.
Yes — A true game-changer in every sense during his prime and a rock (pun intended) solid contributor into his 40s, Raines fits the Hall of Fame bill. I get why not everyone is sold though. He never had a 200-hit season and it‘s tough to see his as more than a speed guy. That speed was elite though. It made him a threat, and then he reinvented his game in order to survive and continue producing.
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