Known as baseball’s best bad ball hitter, Vladimir Guerrero is ready to state his case for Hall of Fame consideration. The former Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Angels great — who also spent time with the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers — is on the ballot for the first time after playing his final game in 2011, and he’s immediately become one of the more fascinating names on a loaded ballot.
For most of Guerrero’s 16-year career, he was a true five-tool player with very strong numbers to back it up. For the entirety of that same career, he had a knack for producing memorable moments. Whether it was an incredible throw from the outfield or a base hit on a pitch that bounced in front of home plate, you knew you couldn’t afford to miss his highlights.
Playing in Montreal did hurt his exposure early on. It wasn’t like today, where MLB Network and other outlets make sure we never miss a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper moment as it happens. But Guerrero’s talents, accolades and highlights definitely stand the test of time.
In the overall Hall of Fame discussion, Guerrero has been somewhat overlooked given his first-year status and the focus that’s been put on Tim Raines, who’s eligible for the final time, and the other more controversial subjects, such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. So far anyway, he hasn’t been overlooked by voters. Guerrero has been hovering just above the required 75 percent plateau as the early ballots have flooded in, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker, giving him a strong shot to make it. At worst, he will comfortably remain on the ballot for next year.
WHAT THE SUPPORTERS SAY
• Over his 16 seasons, Guerrero was a .318 hitter. Only 55 players all-time have a higher career batting average, including one active player, Miguel Cabrera.
• If you’re looking for consistency, Guerrero hit .302 or better tweleve straight seasons and never hit worse than .290 in what would be considered a full season. Most impressively, he did that while seemingly swinging at anything and everything the opposing pitchers threw at him. He was impossible to solve, which made him a constant threat.
• Guerrero’s counting stats are no less impressive. He racked up 449 homers, 477 doubles and 2,590 career hits.
Of course, Guerrero might be best remembered for his cannon right arm, which often changed the strategy of opponents . He was an intriguing mix of talent, energy and quirkiness that melded beautifully and made him one of the most entertaining player to watch in MLB history.
WHAT THE SKEPTICS SAY
As dynamic and exciting as Guerrero was, his style shouldn’t be described as fundamentally sound. He could hit the ball a mile, sure, but his pitch selection led to many empty at-bats. His 277 double plays hit into are the 18th most all time. And while he was known for throwing the ball, he often struggled picking it up, committing 125 errors in the outfield. That’s an extraordinary high number for an outfielder and led to consistent discussion over changing his position.
Despite his 181 career stolen bases, Guerrero was actually an inefficient base stealer and poorly rated base runner by just about every measure. He was caught stealing 94 times during his career, including 20 times in 2002.
The Big League Stew writers don’t have Hall of Fame votes, but if we did, here’s where we stand on Vladimir Guerrero:
Yes — Wow, this is where it gets tough. Vlad’s traditional numbers are somewhat similar to Bagwell’s (who I supported), but the advanced stats aren’t as kind to Guerrero. There are reasons for this. Guerrero wasn’t a great base-runner. Sure, he stole bases early in his career, but he also got caught a lot. And once his speed left him, he became a double-play machine. While his arm was incredible, Guerrero lacked range and wasn’t regarded as a great defensive outfielder. If you need proof of that, just look at how much time he spent at DH later in his career. With all that said, his stats are good enough for enshrinement. However, Guerrero finds himself on a crowded ballot this year. The BBWAA can only vote for 10 players maximum on their ballots. In a situation where I was limited to just 10 players, I don’t know that I could vote for Guerrero this year. I would likely vote for him moving forward, but I think there are 10 more qualified candidates this year.
Yes — I wrestled with this quite a bit, but ultimately, I feel like Vlad should be in. Unlike my colleagues, I found myself comparing Vlad to someone whose Hall of Fame votes aren’t as strong as Jeff Bagwell — and that’s Gary Sheffield. They’re not exactly the same, but they’re pretty close in career WAR (59.3 for Vlad, 60.3 for Sheff) and their scores using Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system are similar (49.1 for Sheff, 50.2 for Vlad). What stands out beyond that, is how little voters seem to care about Sheffield (just 11.6 percent last year). Sheffield has his own issues — like PEDs and such — so maybe that says more about Sheffield than it does about Vlad. But I do at least have to wonder why one guy is barely staying on the ballot while the other is polling near 75 percent. The numbers say Vlad is borderline, which is what makes him a tough and fascinating case. The eye-test and the fondness with which we remember Vlad makes it easier to picture him as a Hall of Famer. On a ballot with a 10-vote limit, I might have trouble voting for Vlad this year. In a simple yes-or-no debate, I say yes.
Yes — I come down on the “yes” side for Vlad because his stats so closely resemble Bagwell’s, and it feels unfair to vote for one and not vote for the other. But this one was hard — those stolen base numbers really gave me pause. But the Hall of Fame is full of imperfect players who are excellent enough in other areas, and that’s why I think Vlad qualifies.
Yes — As noted earlier, it’s a little crazy how similar some of his traditional numbers are to Jeff Bagwell. If I’m putting Bagwell in, then I certainly have to put Guerrero in. And I feel comfortable doing so because Guerrero brings that little extra to the table that can’t be measured by stats. He was as good for the game simply from an entertainment standpoint as he was playing the game, and that counts for something.
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