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Looking Back: Robin Ventura

Whenever the Hall of Fame vote comes around, I can't help but feel sorry for the guys who appear on the ballot but really don't have a chance at sticking around. Sometimes these guys really are barely worth a thought; other times I think players are written off as being barely worth a thought when they deserve at least a little celebration for what they were able to accomplish over their careers. For instance: why does somebody like Tony Fernandez disappear with nary a vote while Dave Concepcion—a very comparable player—sticks around for 15 years? I don't believe either one deserves the honor, but I wish people would at least talk about Fernandez a little more.

This year, there's a handful of former Mets on the ballot, and I thought it might be fun to focus on a few guys who will otherwise go unnoticed. Roberto Alomar is the most attractive new candidate on the ballot, so he'll generate plenty of discussion. As for everyone else? I doubt they'll get more than one sentence written about them anywhere, unless you count Todd Zeile's fact sheet. But I wish somebody really would think about, say, Andres Galarraga's career, because it was a unique, wonderful career, even if it wasn't one begging entry into Cooperstown. We'll start with Robin Ventura and catch up to the others (Kevin Appier, David Segui, Todd Zeile, and maybe Robbie Alomar) later on in the week.

Many Met fans have fond memories of Robin Ventura. Most would probably say he has no business in the Hall of Fame. But you could fashion an argument that he belongs. It's not a good one, but it is an argument. By my count, there are ten career third basemen in the Hall of Fame, plus Paul Molitor who played more games at third base than any other position. I've compiled those players below along with their career WAR, their WAR in their top three seasons, their WAR in their best set of five consecutive seasons, and their average WAR per 162 games (this is essentially the same method Bill James used to rank players with Win Shares). Here's how Ventura fits in:

Player Career Top 3 Top 5 Per 162
Mike Schmidt 108.0 29.2 41.8 7.28
Eddie Mathews 98.2 25.5 38.2 6.65
Wade Boggs 89.0 26.4 43.1 5.91
George Brett 84.9 25.9 39.0 5.08
Paul Molitor 74.9 18.1 26.8 4.52
Brooks Robinson 69.2 22.4 31.7 3.86
Home Run Baker 63.7 27.7 39.2 6.55
Robin Ventura 55.1 18.6 24.1 4.29
Jimmy Collins 52.9 21.0 22.3 4.97
Pie Traynor 37.0 12.9 15.8 3.09
George Kell 33.5 13.6 14.9 3.02
Freddy Lindstrom 29.1 16.7 18.9 3.28

As you can see, Ventura accumulated more career value than Collins, Traynor, Kell, and Lindstrom, at least according to WAR. He was more valuable on a per game basis and had a more valuable peak than each of the last three, and he's at least comparable to Collins despite a longer career. So, if you remove Molitor, who played only about 29% of his career games at third base, Ventura was responsible for more wins than 40% of the third basemen currently in the Hall of Fame. Considering there are obviously too few third basemen compared to other positions, you have an argument for Robin's enshrinement.

There are, of course, two obvious problems with this line of thinking. First, while he's comparable or better than the bottom four third baseman on the list, he's really not comparable to anyone above him. All were significantly better players. Sure, he was more valuable per game than Brooks Robinson, and his peak was very comparable to Molitor's, but he had neither player's longevity.

Second, Traynor, Kell, and Lindstrom are three of the least deserving players in the Hall of Fame. If you were to start adding every third baseman better than those three, you'd have to make room for Ron Santo, Darrell Evans, Graig Nettles, Sal Bando, Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer, Stan Hack, Ron Cey, Bob Elliott, Tommy Leach, Toby Harrah, Heinie Groh, Lave Cross, Larry Gardner, Doug DeCinces, Gary Gaetti, Eddie Yost, Tim Wallach, Al Rosen, and maybe even guys like Bill Madlock, Harlond Clift, Carney Lansford, Bobby Bonilla, Denny Lyons, Ken Caminiti, Bill Bradley, Billy Nash, Ken Keltner, and Heinie Zimmerman. In other words, you'll be there all day.

So what's the real standard where the Hall begins? And how far away is Ventura from that boundary? Let's take a look at some non-Hall third sackers. Again, we'll use WAR, mainly because it's available, comprehensive, and easy. Using the same format as the previous graph, here's how Robin compares to other Hall-eligibles:

Player Career Top 3 Top 5 Per 162
Ron Santo 66.4 26.4 39.7 4.80
Graig Nettles 61.3 19.8 27.0 3.68
Buddy Bell 60.7 19.2 28.5 4.09
Sal Bando 60.5 22.5 33.6 4.85
Ken Boyer 58.3 20.2 30.4 4.64
Darrell Evans 57.0 20.7 23.6 3.44
Robin Ventura 55.1 18.6 24.1 4.29
Stan Hack 54.8 18.7 19.6 4.58
Bob Elliott 52.2 16.5 22.5 4.28
Ron Cey 51.8 18.1 21.7 4.05
Tommy Leach 51.0 17.5 18.1 3.83
Toby Harrah 47.0 17.5 16.1 3.53
Heinie Groh 46.4 17.8 18.8 4.48

And here the problem with Ventura as a Hall candidate is perfectly illustrated. All these men got a raw deal during the voting. Santo—an obvious Hall of Famer in my opinion—went 15 years without election. Boyer stuck around for a while, too, but the others got barely a nibble, for the most part. Furthermore, it's also clear that Ventura isn't really at the top of the list of eligible third basemen (even ignoring Santo). Where exactly would I put him? Personally, I'd put him in after Santo, Boyer, Nettles, Evans, Hack, and Bando, but probably ahead of the others with the possible exception of Heinie Groh, who was better than Robin but who enjoyed a very short career (plus his name was Heinie).

While there is a severe lack of third basemen in the Hall—and, as a result, another half dozen or so deserve the honor—the actual line is probably just beyond Ventura's reach, at least in terms of merit. In reality, he has no chance at staying on the ballot for another year; he may be lucky to get five votes. What I can definitely say about him is this: his career deserves a much longer look than most will be willing to give.