December 2, 2023

Just How Good was Jeff Bagwell?

March 13, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Jeff Bagwell appeared on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year (2011).  He should have been a first-ballot inductee into the Hall.  Instead, he received only 42% of the vote.  This is a result that defies rational explanation and, unfortunately, only reinforces the perception that the BBWAA at times does not know what it is doing.  (The “rumor” was that some writers “suspected” Jeff of taking steroids – even though he has never seriously been named in any of the steroids stories.)

The CAWS Career Gauge suggests that Jeff Bagwell had the #7 best career of any first baseman in the modern era (since 1920).  And he is the #36 best position player of the same era.  These are conclusions that cry out for induction into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Bill James’ Win Shares system is the most comprehensive tool available to understand how good a season a player had.  It includes offensive and defensive contributions and adjusts for all relevant factors.  The CAWS Career Gauge (Career Assessment/Win Shares) uses win shares to measure how good a career a player has had.

Here are the top ten first basemen of the modern era (since 1920).  The first number is career win shares, the second is core value (the win shares for the ten best seasons) and the third is the CAWS score (the career score) [CAWS = CV + .25(CWS – CV)].  Hall of Famers are in bold type.

Player Years CWS CV CAWS
1. Lou Gehrig 1923-1939 489 384 410
2. Jimmie Foxx
1925-1945 435
3. Albert Pujols
2001- 347 347 347
4. Willie McCovey 1959-1980 408 285 316
5. Dick Allen 1963-1977 342 304 314
Eddie Murray 1977-1997 437 273 314
7. Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 388 287 312
8. Johnny Mize
1936-1953 339 296
9. Harmon Killebrew
1954-1975 374 279 303
10. Mark McGwire 1986-2001 342 283 298

You will note that Jeff Bagwell is ranked ahead of Hall of Famers Johnny Mize and Harmon Killebrew.  This puts him in very good company indeed.  You will note that Mark McGwire is #10 on this list.  Of course, his involvement with steroids is preventing him from even coming close to election to the Hall.

And your eyes are not deceiving you.  That is Dick Allen (baseball’s most under-appreciated superstar) tied with Eddie Murray for 5th place.

Now, the question is: Where does this score place Jeff Bagwell in comparison to the best position players of the modern era? As I mentioned above, he is #36 on the complete list.  Here are the players who are ranked just above and just below him.

33. Eddie Murray 1B 437 273 314
34. Cal Ripken Jr. SS 427 276 314
35. Robin Yount SS 423 278 314
36. Jeff Bagwell 1B 388 287 312
37. Al Kaline RF 443 268 312
38. Ken Griffey Jr.
CF 403 278 309
39. Johnny Mize 1B 339 296 307
40. Charlie Gehringer 2B 383 280 306
41. Paul Molitor DH 414 270 306
42. Duke Snider CF 352 289 305

One look at these names and even a casual baseball fan recognizes that Jeff is in very select company.  You will note that Bagwell’s core value of 287 is behind only Johnny Mize and Duke Snider on this list.  We are not talking here about a marginal Hall of Famer.  Bagwell is the real deal – a true baseball superstar.

Let us hope that by the next election the BBWAA gets its collective head together and elects Jeff Bagwell to the Hall of Fame – where he certainly belongs.

Thank you for your time.

Mike Hoban
Professor Emeritus – City U of NY
Author of A GOOD CAWS: A Hall of Fame Handbook (2011)


One Response to “Just How Good was Jeff Bagwell?”
  1. David Nathan says:

    Well said.

    Jeff Bagwell was undoubtedly the best ballplayer in Astros history (Biggio is 1A for her versatility and longevity), but for sheer ability, Bagwell was tops. He hit for power in a cavern that was the Astrodome, played first base with flair (especially for a converted third baseman), and even though he wasn’t a speedster he was the smartest baserunner around (he stole 202 bases–more than Pete Rose, Jackie Robinson, and Ken Griffey Jr and Sr.) He played in at least 156 games for 10 seasons, had a career OBP over .400 and just missed hitting .300 for his career (.297).

    If the HOF wants to be extra sure that players from the Steroid Era are clean, then change the waiting period from 5 to 10 years, but don’t exclude players like Bagwell who get lumped in with convicted and admitted cheats.

    And don’t give me that “it’s okay that Bagwell didn’t make it this time so maybe he can get voted in with Biggio in two years” nonsense. Bagwell should be in now. Biggio should get in for 2013, and I’ll make two trips to Cooperstown instead of one–they each deserve their own moment without having to share the spotlight.

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