Debunking the Sammy Sosa, HOFer myth -- Part 1

Throughout this season, Sammy Sosa has been referred to as "future Hall of Famer Sammy Sosa."  

To the extent that any doubts are expressed over his candidacy, they generally center around the doubts over the legitimacy of his numbers, the assumption that many people have that Sosa used steroids (or some sort of Performance Enhancing Drugs) during his career.  There seems to be no questioning, though, about whether his performance throughout his career is Hall of Fame caliber.  The question seems to be whether the numbers are tainted...because the numbers themselves, it seems to be assumed, are Hall of Fame caliber.

But in looking at Sosa's career, I don't think it is such an obvious slam-dunk that he's a Hall of Famer.  I don't mean in the sense of whether he'll be elected or not...rather, I mean in the sense of whether he deserves to be elected, given his body of performance.

Regardless of the steroid cloud, I don't think Sammy Sosa was a good enough player in his career to warrant enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

So, over the next week or two, I'm going to do a multi-part series, looking at this from several angles.  

Part 1, after the jump, is an application of the Keltner test in weighing Sosa's candidacy.

1.  Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No.  The only time period he might have even been in the discussion was from 1998 through 2002, but even then, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey, Jr., were generally considered the top players in baseball.

2.  Was he the best player on his team?
Until 1998, Mark Grace was probably the best player on what were generally not very good Cubs teams.  From 1998 through 2002, he was the best player on the Cubs, although only one of those teams (the 1998 team) was a playoff team.  On the first place 2003 Cubs team, he was, at best, the fourth best player on the team, behind Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano.  Alex Gonzalez was also ahead of him that season in WARP.  

So Sosa was the best player on his team for a stretch of five years, and otherwise was not.

3.  Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Other than from 1998 through 2002, the answer is an easy "no."  

From 1998 through 2002, the best right fielders in baseball included Sosa, Vlad Guerrero, Juan Gonzalez, Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu, Shawn Green and Larry Walker.  Sosa was first among RFs in VORP in 1998, fifth in 1999, first in 2000 (although virtually tied with Guerrero and Manny), first (by a mile) in 2001, and second in 2002 (in a virtual tie with Bobby Abreu, well behind Vlad Guerrero).

Sosa was easily the best right fielder in baseball in 2001, although for that five year stretch, the edge probably goes to Vlad Guerrero, who was about equal to Sosa offensively and much better defensively.

4.  Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

No.  Sosa's Cubs teams were generally not very good.  He was the best player on the 1998 Cubs team that won a one game playoff against the Giants to earn a wild card berth, and Sosa was 2 for 4 with 2 runs scored in the 5-3 Cub victory in that game.  However, the Cubs only ended up in a one game playoff because of a 9-11 stretch to end September, during which Sosa put up a .271/.361/.565 line that was well below his performance the rest of the season.

The Cubs game from behind in 2003 to take the N.L. Central, but Sosa's impact was minimal, as he went .206/.268/.490 in September as the Cubs were making their push.

5.  Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

No.  He was pretty much done as an effective everyday player by age 35.

6.  Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No.  Among those who are eligible, Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo, among others, were better players than Sosa.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Yes.  Of the 10 most similar batters to Sosa, there are 7 HOFers, 2 active players who are likely HOFers (Ken Griffey, Jr., and Gary Sheffield), and one controversial borderline case (Fred McGriff).

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

This is where it gets tricky...the HOF tests put him in the middle of the pack, but realistically, the only HOF caliber numbers he has are his home runs and RBIs.  His career OPS is not that impressive...he trails, among others, Moises Alou, Bobby Abreu, Jim Edmonds, and Nomar Garciaparra in career OPS.  He's not in the top 100 in career hits.  He's got the homers, but almost nothing else.

9.  Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Well, there is the PED cloud that hangs over everything that happened in baseball during Sosa's career, and particularly during the time frame from 1998 through 2002, when Sosa put up his huge numbers.  He's widely considered one of the poster kids for steroid use in baseball.  So one could certainly argue that Sosa's statistics might be tainted.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

No.  Among outfielders, Dick Allen, Albert Belle, and Dwight Evans are better.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Sosa had MVP-caliber seasons in 1998 (9.9 WARP3, .324 EQA, 4th in the N.L. in OPS) and in 2001 (14.1 WARP3, .368 EQA, 2nd in the N.L. in OPS), although he wasn't the best player in the N.L. either year (Mark McGwire and his 11.6 WARP3 was better in 1998, Barry Bonds and his 16.2 WARP3 was better in 2001).  Those were the only two MVP-type seasons Sosa had.

Sosa finished 1st in the MVP voting in 1998, 2nd (to Bonds) in 2001, and otherwise, never finished higher than 8th in the balloting.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Sosa was a 7 time All Star, making it in each year from 1998 through 2002, plus 1995 and 2004.  1998 through 2002 were all All-Star caliber seasons, 2004 wasn't, and 1995 was borderline.  His only clear All-Star caliber seasons were from 1998 through 2002.

I'd guess 5-7 All Star appearances puts you on the fringe of HOF candidates.

13.  If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

The 2001 version?  Absolutely.  The 1998-2000, or the 2002, version, that had WARP3s of 8.8-9.9?  Maybe.  Any other version, with a high WARP3 of 6.7?  No.

As noted earlier, the only Cub team that came close to winning the pennant was the 2003 Cubs (they of the famous "Bartman" episode), and Sosa was the 5th best player, in terms of WARP3, on that club.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

15.    Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

I'm lumping these two together.  And given that everyone here is familiar with Sosa's history, and the cloud hanging over him, I'll leave it at that.

So...under the Keltner test, Sosa appears to be a fringe HOFer, at best, rather than the slam-dunk HOFer that many seem to consider him.  

Next up...comparing Sosa's career to some true HOF-caliber right fielders.

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