You've probably seen that commercial about how a certain brand of trucks doesn't just raise the bar, it is the bar. I don't get those commercials at all. I don't see why you ever would want to be the bar. High jumpers, pole vaulters, none of them want to be the bar, they want to go over the bar. That's the whole point of bars; to raise them and go over them and put drinks on top of them. I'm probably just missing something.
That said: Fred McGriff is the bar.
In all the years I have been writing this series, the one guy that to me sits most directly on the Hall of Fame line is McGriff. I could absolutely defend voting for him. I could absolutely defend not voting for him. I could compare him to a substantial list of great-hitting non-Hall of Famers (Dick Allen, Carlos Delgado, Jack Clark, Dwight Evans, Larry Walker, Albert Belle) and make the strong case that, hey, if they are not Hall of Famers, he is not a Hall of Famer.
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And I could compare him to a substantial list of actual Hall of Famers (Billy Williams, Eddie Murray, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez) and make the strong case that if they are in the Hall, you really have to put McGriff in there, too.
This guy IS the bar.
Everyone loves McGriff. It is not possible to dislike McGriff. He was a great player with a fun and inscrutable nickname (the "Crime Dog"). He did those awesome Tom Emanski instructional videos, he hit 493 home runs in his career and he's top 50 in career RBIs. He had that incredibly cool swing, where the bat waved over his head. How can you not love McGriff?
So what's the problem here? Great guy, great player, put him in.
The problem is that by various other measures -- say, Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which measures a player's peak and career value -- he falls well short of the Hall of Fame.
McGriff's career WAR is 52.4 -- 12 wins shy of the average Hall of Fame first baseman.
His peak WAR (his seven best years) is 35.8 -- seven wins shy of the average Hall of Fame first baseman.
His JAWS score combining them both is 44.1 -- 13.5 wins shy of glory.
He doesn't quite have 500 homers, doesn't have 3,000 hits, didn't win an MVP -- it's a guy who in every way seems to be on the cusp but not quite in.
The reason for his relatively low WAR and JAWS scores is simple: McGriff's value came as a hitter. All of it. He was a poor baserunner. He hit into a lot of double plays. He was a below-average defender, especially in the later years of his career. And he particularly gets dinged because he was a first baseman. WAR adjusts for position because it's much harder -- and much more valuable on various levels -- to be able to play shortstop. If McGriff could have been a good shortstop (left-handed throwing aside), he would have been a shortstop. If he could have been a good outfielder, he would have been an outfielder. But first base was really the only position he could play at the big league level. This limits his value significantly as a player. How significantly? Well, take a look at these two careers:
McGriff: .284/.377/.509, 441 doubles, 24 triples, 493 homers, 1,550 RBIs, 1,349 runs, 134 OPS+.
Pee Wee Reese: .269/.366/.377, 330 doubles, 80 triples, 126 homers, 885 RBIs, 1,338 runs, 99 OPS+.
I think you get an idea which one was the better hitter. It's not close. And yet their Baseball-Reference oWAR (Offensive Wins Above Replacement) -- which excludes fielding -- looks like this:
McGriff: 55.5 oWAR
Reese: 55.6 oWAR
How is that possible? How could those two have the same oWAR? Well, I'll show you the math:
Rbat is the based on pure hitting and is the number of runs a hitter is better than average. Look at this and be amazed:
McGriff: 400 Rbat
Reese: 31 Rbat
Yeah, that's right: It's 400 to 31. McGriff was a much, much, much better hitter than Reese. Well, if we know that: How in the world does Reese make up 369 runs?
Well: He makes up 65 in baserunning (Reese 43, McGriff minus-22). That seems fair: Reese was a fantastic baserunner, McGriff not so much.
Reese makes up 12 runs by not hitting into as many double plays. That too seems sensible enough. So he has made up 77 of the 369 runs necessary. But what else is there?
Well because Reese was a shortstop and that's the hardest and rarest position, so he has 132 runs added to his oWAR as a positional adjustment.
McGriff, because he was a first baseman almost exclusively (he spent 174 games as a DH), has his oWAR adjusted 143 runs downward.
That's a 277-run difference, if you are scoring at home. And that more or less squares them up.
And so, McGriff's WAR is badly hurt. He loses 212 runs -- more than half the runs he accumulated batting -- for his baserunning, defense and inability to play any other position. That's roughly 21 wins lost.
But purely as a hitter, well, McGriff stands with Hall of Famers. His 400 Rbat puts him in a very select group.
Hall of Famer Duke Snider: 390 Rbat
Hall of Famer Al Simmons: 391 Rbat
Hall of Famer Murray: 392 Rbat
McGriff: 400 Rbat
Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn: 403 Rbat
Hall of Famer Rod Carew: 407 Rbat
Hall of Famer Dave Winfield: 416 Rbat
All Hall of Famers, all around him. The only eligible non-Hall of Famers with more Rbat than McGriff are numerous players who have not been elected because of suspected or confirmed PED use, plus Edgar Martinez, Allen and Walker.
But is Rbat enough? This is the question. All the others on that list played more demanding positions except Murray, who we will talk about in a minute. Winfield was a good baserunner and he won multiple Gold Glove Awards. Gwynn was a good baserunner and he won multiple Gold Glove Awards. Carew was a good baserunner and he played numerous positions. Snider was a good baserunner, and he patrolled center field.
Did those things push them over the top?
Then there is Murray, who is the best comp because he was a first baseman, too. Trouble is, Murray also has advantages:
1. Murray was a slick-fielding first baseman; he won three Gold Glove Awards. McGriff, as mentioned, was probably a below-average fielder.
2. McGriff had a long career. But Murray played 500 more games than McGriff, and so he was able to achieve milestones (3,000 hits, 500 homers) that McGriff could not.
3. Murray never won an MVP Award, but he finished second twice and finished in the top five for five years in a row. McGriff did not get that kind of acclaim in his playing days.
And this is what makes McGriff the Hall of Fame bar. He's a Hall of Fame hitter -- not a no-doubt, slam-dunk Hall of Fame hitter like Ted Williams or Frank Robinson or Frank Thomas, but he hit like a mid-level Hall of Famer.
And that's the whole case. Without those other Hall of Fame milestones, with good defense or versatility or baserunning to enhance his case, he lingers right on getting 20 to 25 percent of the vote, inspiring angry columns from his supporters and yawns from the rest.
I would absolutely like a Hall of Fame with McGriff in it. But with only 10 votes, I couldn't do it on this ballot. If given an unlimited number of votes, I've come around to thinking that I would vote for McGriff. The Hall of Fame would be better with the Crime Dog in it.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.