Is Jeff Bagwell That Much Better Than Carlos Delgado?

Like many fans, I’ll take any baseball I can get this time of year, and that means I spend a lot of time thinking about the Baseball Hall of Fame and who I would select if I had a vote. This year, I’d check off Trevor Hoffman, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Barry Bonds (which hurts my soul), Roger Clemens (which makes me hate myself), and Jeff Bagwell.

Thinking about Bagwell got me thinking about former Met and fellow first baseman Carlos Delgado. Delgado was booted off the ballot in one year making him perhaps the most obvious victim of the ballot clogging the steroid era created. Bagwell is in his seventh year on the ballot. In his first year, he received 41% of the vote; last year he just missed getting in, and this year, it’s looking like a lock. Was Bagwell that much better than Delgado?

Let’s look at some counting stats first.

Player A: 2150 Games, 9431 Plate Appearances, .297 BA, 449 HR, 488 2B. (I like doubles)

Player B: 2035 Games, 8657 Plate Appearances, .280 BA, 473 HR, 483 2B.

Based on these numbers alone, Player A is probably a slightly better than player B. He certainly hit for a higher career average, but Player B hit for more power in about one less season leaving him close to the magic number of 500 home runs.

More stats!

Player A:  .408 OBP, .540 SLG, .948 OPS, 202 Stolen Bases

Player B: .383 OBP, .546 SLG, .929 OPS, 14 Stolen Bases

Player A distances himself here somewhat.  Clearly, he got on base more (higher average—duh!) and once he got there, he could steal a bag—though he was no Tim Raines.

Finally, let’s look at some modern stats (complicated constructs that they are), which, even though I’m not crazy about, I’m unable to ignore.

Player A:  79.6 career WAR, 48.2 7 year peak WAR, 63.9 JAWS.

Player B:  44.3 career WAR, 34.5 7 year peak WAR, 39.4 JAWS.

These numbers tell a different story, and, I think, exaggerate the difference between the two players remarkably.

On top of these figures, it’s worth pointing out that Player A won Rookie of The Year, MVP (of the strike shortened 94 season), and a Gold Glove. He was selected to four all-star teams and won three Silver Slugger awards. He played in one World Series and did jack.  He made it to several other playoffs where he sometimes excelled but often tanked.

Player B won three Silver Slugger awards and was selected to two all-star teams. He won the Roberto Clemente award. He never made it to the World Series. He played in one postseason and tore the cover off the ball in 10 games.

All of that said, Jeff Bagwell (Player A) is probably more deserving of enshrinement than Carlos Delgado (Player B), though I remain unconvinced that he was that much better. How do they hold up to the best first basemen of all time?

  • In terms of home runs, Delgado and Bagwell are ranked 13th and 14th Everyone ahead of them is either in the Hall, active, or disgraced due to steroids. A handful of HOF first basemen have fewer home runs.
  • OPS tells a similar story.
  • WAR again drops Delgado down quite a few notches, below all but two old-time baseball players.

Clearly, Delgado and Bagwell are similar players. There’s no doubt that both should be in the Hall of Fame conversation. By most methods of statistical analysis, Bagwell wasn’t that much better than Delgado. I’ve got to wonder if it weren’t for the clogged ballots of a few years ago, would Carlos Delgado also be on Cooperstown’s doorstep right now?

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