Sunday, September 15, 2013

Vladimir Guerrero Retires: Is He A Hall of Famer?

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Vladimir Guerrero quietly announced his retirement from the game via a Spanish language newspaper earlier this month.  Guerrero ended his 16-year career with a .318 batting average, .553 slugging percentage and .931 OPS.  He also collected 2,590 hits, 477 doubles, 449 homers and 1,496 RBI, while scoring 1,328 runs and stealing 181 bases.

In addition to his offensive numbers, which earned him eight Silver Slugger Awards, Guerrero had a cannon for an arm, making him one of the most feared outfielders to run on.  Guerrero was a nine-time All-Star and finished in the top 15 in the MVP vote ten times, winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2004 while with the Anaheim Angels.

Guerrero led the league in hits once (2002), runs scored once (2004) and total bases twice (2002, 2004).  He had four seasons of 200 or more hits, scored 100+ runs in six seasons, had nine campaigns with 30+ doubles, reached 25 homers a dozen times and collected 100+ RBI ten times.  Guerrero even had two 30/30 seasons (30 HR, 30 SB), missing a 40/40 year by one home run in 2002.  So feared was Guerrero at the plate that he led the league in intentional walks five times, including four consecutive seasons from 2005 to 2008.  And for a free-swinging player who didn't walk much unintentionally, Guerrero made excellent contact, striking out 985 times in his 16 seasons and never fanning more than 84 times in any one season.

Only Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza and Barry Larkin won more Silver Slugger Awards than the eight earned by Vlad the Impaler.  (Bonds won 12, Piazza took home ten and Larkin earned nine.)  Of the 58 players with a higher career batting average than Guerrero's .318 mark, 42 of them are in the Hall of Fame.  Several of the 16 players who aren't in the Hall are either still active (Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Ichiro Suzuki) or ineligible (Shoeless Joe Jackson).  Of the 24 players with a higher career slugging percentage than Guerrero, half of them have plaques in Cooperstown.  Five of the other 12 are still active, two are not yet eligible for enshrinement (Jim Thome, Frank Thomas) and three are still on the Hall of Fame ballot (Bonds, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker).  And of the 34 players ahead of Guerrero in OPS, 16 are already in the Hall, while another 16 are either active, still on the ballot, not yet eligible, or ineligible due to banishment (Shoeless Joe, once again).

So does Vladimir Guerrero belong in the Hall of Fame?  Let's put it this way.  Does Roberto Clemente belong in the Hall?  Of course he does.  And Guerrero's numbers were superior to Clemente, the player who he most resembles both at the plate and with his arm in right.  Clemente hit .317 and produced a .475 slugging percentage and .834 OPS.  He also collected 440 doubles, 240 homers and 1,305 RBI.  Guerrero surpassed Clemente in all of those percentages and cumulative numbers.  Clemente also struck out more (1,230 Ks) and walked fewer times (621 BB) than Guerrero.  Although Clemente had more hits (3,000) and scored more runs (1,416) than Guerrero, he accomplished those lofty totals in almost 1,300 more at-bats than Guerrero compiled.  Surely, Guerrero would have surpassed Clemente in both hits and runs scored had he remained in the game past his age 36 season.  And that means Guerrero would have reached the 3,000 hit plateau, which all but guarantees Hall of Fame enshrinement.

When Guerrero left the National League following the 2003 season, Mets fans breathed a sigh of relief.  Although many of them wanted to see Guerrero in Flushing, at least they knew that his defection to the American League meant they would no longer have to see him as a division rival at Shea Stadium, as Guerrero had a career .311/.402/.578 slash line against the Mets, with 21 doubles, 23 homers, 17 stolen bases, 58 RBI and 70 runs scored in only 98 starts.  The 17 steals were the most he had against any team in the majors, while his doubles, homers and runs scored were his second-highest total against any team in the Senior Circuit.

Mets fans rarely saw Guerrero after 2003, but they should be able to see him in Cooperstown when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2017.  The only question left about Guerrero when it comes to the Hall is not whether he will make it, but what cap he will be wearing on his plaque.  Will he go in as an Angel or an Expo?  If he goes in as an Angel, he'd be the first to wear their cap on his plaque.  If he goes in as an Expo, he'd be the second to go in as an Expo after the team ceased to exist.

Vladimir Guerrero is most certainly a Hall of Famer.  Other than the cap on his plaque, there should be no other questions asked.


John said...

There's a pretty good chance that Tim Raines gets elected and goes in as an Expo before Vlad becomes eligible for election to the Hall of Fame, which would make him the second Expo in Cooperstown.

Ed Leyro said...

The problem with Raines is that voters haven't been kind to drug users, which is what Raines was back in the '80s. That's one of the reasons why Keith Hernandez didn't get as much support as he should have gotten.

Duke Michels said...

I agree. The video game generation that measures WAR and other shit (and never goes to go games or have ever played a game) will try to put guys like Helton before Vlad. The waters become muddy when you put Helton in. When you put Helton in, you almost have to put Mattingly, Thomas, Clark, Olerud in. That being said, Vlad has to be first ballot not only because of his hitting and arm, but because of his contributions to the game in terms of being Dominician.

Anonymous said...

First ballot hall of fame player, for sure. Now fewer players are ahead of his stats, as Pujols has fallen for one. Guerrero played the game with fun, so few players do. And yup, he was great. Notice how he joined Montreal, their win totals went up and up, last two years they were contenders, he goes and losses follow. Off to LAA, champions and playoff teams in 5 of 6 years, then he leaves and they miss three years after. Goes to Texas, they win their first ever League championship. Off to Baltimore and they learn to win.