The case for and against Simmons for HOF

Catcher is among 10 finalists on Modern Baseball Era ballot

December 4th, 2019

Ted Simmons is one of 10 finalists on the Modern Baseball Era ballot for the Hall of Fame. This is his third time being considered for election. Simmons debuted on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 1994, but he fell off after after receiving just 3.7% of the vote.

Then Simmons was reconsidered by the Modern Baseball Era committee that last time it convened. In that election, he fell one vote shy of the 12 needed for election. That committee elected Jack Morris and Alan Trammell to the Class of 2018. Given how close Simmons came, it stands to reason he may have a good chance this time around -- though there is new company on the ballot and other deserving candidates. The results will be announced from the Winter Meetings in San Diego on Sunday at 7 p.m. CT on MLB Network.

Simmons’ career was, in many ways, overshadowed by other players of his generation, especially at his own position. But if you dig into stats for catchers -- including doubles, hits and games played -- you will no doubt find his name. In fact, Simmons' name came up recently, when Robinson Chirinos homered in back-to-back World Series games, becoming the first catcher to do so since Simmons in 1982.

Here's a look at the case both for and against Simmons’ induction into the Hall of Fame.

The case for Simmons
• RBIs have been an official statistic since 1920, and in that span, only one catcher has amassed more RBIs than Simmons’ 1,389. The only catcher ahead of him is Yogi Berra, who had 1,430. That’s right, Simmons drove in more runs than Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza and Iván Rodríguez -- all of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown. Though RBIs are not an end-all, be-all stat, there’s no question that they demonstrate a certain involvement in that team’s offense and show that the player contributed in a countable way. Another stat in which Simmons is among the top catchers in history? Doubles. He had 483 in his career, second among catchers only to Rodríguez, who had 572. The same is true for Simmons' ranking among catchers in hits, as his 2,472 are second only to Rodríguez.

• Longevity is another strong point in Simmons’ favor. He debuted as a 19-year-old in September 1968 and played until the end of the '88 season, at the age of 39. More than 85 percent of his career starts were at catcher, which is widely accepted as the most taxing position on a player’s body. Simmons played in 2,456 regular-season games, which is more than all but two players who were primarily catchers in their careers. The only catchers to play more games? Rodriguez (2,543) and Fisk (2,499), both of whom have plaques in upstate New York.

WAR is of course not a stat that existed when Simmons appeared on the writers' ballot, but the metric has been retroactively calculated and could factor into the committee's assessment. Simmons accumulated 50.3 WAR in his career, a mark that is within the top 200 among position players all-time. In fact, he’s one of nine catchers with 50 or more WAR in their careers. The other eight are all in the Hall of Fame: Bench, Carter, Rodríguez, Fisk, Gabby Hartnett, Berra, Piazza and Bill Dickey. In all, there are 14 players in the Hall of Fame who played primarily catcher. That means Simmons recorded a higher WAR than six Hall of Fame catchers.

• There are many other metrics that put Simmons among the 14 Hall of Fame catchers. He also hit 248 home runs, which would rank seventh among that group. Simmons hit .285 for his career, which would be tied for seventh. He was walked 855 times, which would rank fourth. Simmons scored 1,074 runs, which would rank fifth. He wasn’t known as a home run hitter, but in addition to the 248 regular-season homers, he also homered three times in the postseason -- including in back-to-back World Series games in 1982. Simmons is one of just six catchers to homer in two straight World Series games, and three of the four to do it before him are in the Hall of Fame.

The case against Simmons
• One of the first things that is typically mentioned when discussing Simmons’ case is the era in which he played. He played during a golden age for catchers -- overlapping with Gary Carter, Fisk and Bench -- and his resume doesn’t quite have the luster of those three, even if he did lead them in a few individual categories, especially counting stats. Simmons was an All-Star eight times in his career -- while Carter, Fisk and Bench each were All-Stars at least 11 times. Simmons won one Silver Slugger Award (1980), while Carter, Fisk and Bench captured that honor at least three times each. Each won at least one Gold Glove, too -- something that eluded Simmons.

• In terms of awards and honors on the mantel, there’s little comparison between that trio and Simmons. Perhaps that was because those three were busy winning all of the awards -- precluding Simmons from doing so -- but the fact remains that he has fewer to his name. One phrase often thrown around in Hall of Fame discussions is “best player of his generation” or “best player at his position when he played.” Whether you think its fair to consider that factor, based on stats and notoriety, Simmons is widely considered to have been the fourth-best catcher of his era.

• Simmons’ lack of power compared to the other three is probably the biggest differentiator. Bench, Fisk and Carter didn’t just hit more home runs than Simmons, they eclipsed the 300-homer plateau. The lowest career total among the three is 324, by Carter. So while Simmons compares pretty favorably to other Hall of Fame catchers, he finished behind the ones who were his most immediate peers. The same can be said of WAR. While Simmons did reach that 50 mark that has enshrined eight other catchers, he lagged behind Bench’s catcher-record 75.2, Carter’s 70.1 and Fisk’s 68.5.

• Simmons wasn’t considered a great defensive catcher. Certain defensive metrics back this up, including Runs Fielding, which assesses the number of runs better or worse than average that player was worth on defense. Simmons’ number is negative. Simmons led the Majors in passed balls twice and led his league a third time. He also struggled to throw out basestealers later in his career.