Keith Hernandez > Don Mattingly

2009 December 29

This post brought to you by Jon Heyman’s Hall of Fame Ballot, provided by Twitter.

just mailed Hall of Fame ballot, beating deadline yet again. voted for alomar, dawson, larkin, parker, morris & mattingly

The first half of those are respectable, even if I would possibly only vote for one. But then it just gets worse as it goes along. Actually no, that’s unfair to Mattingly, as his peak was legitimately great. Jack Morris? His case boils down to, “Did you see Game 7 of the 1991 World Series?!?!”

But Joe Posnanski has been going on, and on, and on, about Bert Blyleven > Morris, so I figured I’d go with a New York flavored debate. Even if there technically isn’t any debate, considering Keith Hernandez isn’t on the ballot anymore. He almost didn’t make it past the first ballot! He only received 5.1% of the votes first time around — that’s 0.2% away from being totally snubbed.

I’m not even sure if I’m arguing here if Hernandez should be in the Hall of Fame or not. I’d probably put him in, but I think you can make the case for keeping him out. What I can’t see making a case for is Mattingly over Hernandez. Mattingly is all peak, and his peak isn’t even THAT amazing. It’s not like he was Albert Pujols for the 4 years he was truly great. Hernandez has a more steady and unconventional career, one with a barely discernible peak. In the end, Hernandez accumulated more total hitting value and is actually the better career hitter. But as a first baseman, I’m sure hitting a dozen home runs a year doesn’t exactly impress Hall of Fame voters.

If you want to go by OPS+, Hernandez has Mattingly beat 128 to 127. Mattingly’s top 3 seasons do beat Hernandez’s: 161, 156, 156 to 151, 147, 143. But OPS undervalues OBP. Let’s use wRC+, the new-fangled stat on Fangraphs that utilizes wOBA and park and league adjusts it. It’s superior to OPS+ for sure. Hernandez gets a boost here. Career 131 to 128, and his best seasons stack up better, too. But hey, this is all just stats! Hall of Fame voters won’t listen to that. When they look at Mattingly they see more home runs and a career average beginning with a 3. Game over.

What about fielding? I think anyone who saw them both play would say that Hernandez was the better fielder, but I guess I’ll have to pull out more stats here. Total Zone (there’s no UZR data that far back) has Hernandez blowing Mattingly out of the water. Hernandez contributes a win a year with a glove, while Mattingly is just above average. But you don’t need to look at the stats, everyone thought Hernandez was phenomenal — he has the most Gold Gloves of any 1st basemen (11). Admittedly, Mattingly is second with 9.

So we’ve established Hernandez was more valuable over his career both at the plate and in the field. The extent of the latter could be left for debate, I guess? It was never a debate for my dad, but he’s a Mets fan.

But let me do some typical sportswriter bullshit now. I already started it by talking about Gold Gloves, so I’m going to continue. Mattingly has more All-Star game appearances (6-5) and more Silver Sluggers (3-2). He also had 145 RBIs one season! Hernandez only broke the 100 RBI barrier once. But Hernandez was on not one, but TWO World Series Champions! Mattingly managed to play for the NEW YORK YANKEES for 14 seasons and he only reached the playoffs once. And once he retired and was replaced with a player with a functioning back, they won the World Series! If that’s not a loser, I don’t know who is. But apparently, a loser can still be a TRUE YANKEE.

In other bullshit arguments, Mattingly and Hernandez both have 1 MVP award, they both were in the top-5 in voting 3 times, in the top-10 4 times, and in the top-20 7 times. I think that qualifies as a wash.

I really think any sort of debate comes down to Mattingly’s peak versus Hernandez’s fielding. Mattingly’s peak just isn’t impressive enough or long enough to outweigh Hernandez’s ridiculous fielding. Total Zone gives Hernandez about 10 wins or 100 runs over Mattingly. Even if you want to cut that in half, that’s still 50 additional runs saved by Hernandez’s fielding. You could take those runs and spread them over his five 90-something-RBI seasons and he’d have six 100 RBI seasons instead. Perhaps that would impress the BBWAA more.

Notice how I haven’t mentioned WAR this entire post? Well, here we go. Straight from

Hernandez 61.0 WAR
Mattingly 39.8 WAR

And now here’s a handy graph. Really, I would have rather not done this (I’m lying), but I feel like people like pretty graphs!

Hernandez is so awesome, Seinfeld needed a two-part episode to contain him. I rest my case.

Oh, and vote Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines in, you fucking dolts.

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