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Is Jeff Kent A Hall Of Famer? Yes And No

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Let the Hall of Fame debate begin. With Jeff Kent’s announcement that he will retire from baseball after 17 seasons in the game, the career of arguably the most powerful second baseman ever to swing a bat draws to a close. He is the all-time home run leader at his position with 377 dingers, but his career statistics will undoubtedly re-ignite the long running disagreement between Hall of Fame voters regarding whether to judge a player against those who played his position or against all those who have played the game. The majority consensus that prevails when Kent reaches eligibility will undoubtedly determine whether or not he ultimately gains induction.

There are solid arguments on both sides, with each perspective presenting a definitive conclusion on an otherwise borderline player. First lets examine the argument supporting his induction, operating under the premise that a player should be judged against predominately those who have played the same position as he.

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An Argument for Kent’s induction:

Jeff Kent’s most obvious claim to Hall of Fame status is his power production. The mere fact that he hit more home runs than any second baseman in the history of the game is arguably enough to warrant induction on its own merrit. Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg — perhaps the most comparable second basemen to Kent, as they were both known for their rare power at the position — gained induction with 95 less home runs and a .452 slugging percentage, compared to Kent’s very solid slugging mark of .500. Kent also trumps Sandberg in OBP (.356 to .344), hits (2461 to 2386), and batting average (.290 to .285), clearly showing that, if Sandberg is worthy of induction, then Jeff Kent very obviously is.

Kent was also an absolute RBI machine over the course of his career. His glutinous total of 1518 places him at 47th on the all time list among players of every position. For some perspective on this number, the total is nine more than Yankee legend Mickey Mantle, and 67 more than newly elected Boston slugger Jim Rice. He is also the only second basemen to have 100 or more RBIs in six consecutive seasons, a massively productive run with the Giants from 1997 to 2002 during which he accumulated a grand total of 689 RBIs, averaging 115 a season. Within that stretch he also notably garnered the NL MVP award in 2000, a season in which he hit .334, with 34 home runs, 125 RBIs, a .424 OBP, and a 1.020 OPS; composing one of the greatest offensive seasons by a second basemen ever.

While Kent failed to reach the typical Hall of Fame career plateaus that usually ensure induction (3,000 hits, 500 home runs, etc) he was an offensive force relative to many of the other players that have played his position throughout history. If Ryne Sandberg and especially Bill Mazeroski are Hall of Famers there is no possible logic that the voters can utilize to deny Kent, the second base home run king, his rightful induction. Examining the career stats of Kent compared to other Hall of Fame second basemen this becomes even more abundantly clear.

Kent: .290/377/1518 .356 OBP, .856 OPS, 123 OPS+

Hall of Fame Second Basemen

Sandberg:    .285/282/1061     .344 OBP, .796 OPS, 114 OPS+
Nellie Fox:            .288/35/790         .348 OBP, .711 OPS, 93 OPS+
Mazeroski:     .260/138/853       .299 OBP, .666 OPS, 84 OPS+

An argument against Kent’s induction:

There are not separate wings in the Hall of Fame for the different positions in baseball. When you are judging the offensive output of a player you must compare that player against the greatest of all time, not simply against those who also happened to play a certain position.

Under this perspective of scrutiny Kent’s stats just don’t add up. While his 377 home runs are — as previously noted — the most among second basemen, that total is only 62nd all time, tied with Norm Cash, and one below Matt Williams. Add to this his .500 career slugging percentage (lower than Darryl Strawberry, Ellis Burks, and Richie Sexson to name a few), his very mediocre 123 OPS+, a .356 OBP, and his .290 career batting average, and it is evident that his offensive numbers, while strong for a second basemen, are mediocre when compared to a solid majority of players elected to the Hall, especially those enshrined based predominately on their offensive output.

While he may have put up better numbers than some second base Hall of Famers, his numbers fall short of the greatest hitting second basemen of all time; Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby and Charlie Gehringer. These men may not have hit as many home runs as Kent but — as illustrated below — they trump him in nearly every other measurement.

Kent:             .290/377/1518       .356 OBP/.856 OPS/123 OPS+ (2461 hits)

Hall of Fame Second Basemen

Lajoie:            .338/83/1599         .380 OBP/.847 OPS/150 OPS+ (3242 hits)
Collins:         .333/47/1300         .424 OBP/.853 OPS/141 OPS+ (3315 hits)
Gehringer:   .320/184/1427       .404 OBP/.884 OPS/124 OPS+ (2839 hits)
Hornsby:     .358/301/1584       .434 OBP/1.011 OPS/175 OPS+ (3315 hits)

Jeff Kent is definitely one of the greatest hitting second basemen of all time — this is inarguable — but unlike Lajoie, Collins, Gehringer, and Hornsby, he is not one of the greatest hitters period. Like many of the men excruciatingly wavering on the edge of induction, Kent’s career totals just aren’t prolific enough to garner enshrinement.

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The consideration of Jeff Kent’s Hall of Fame candidacy is notably interesting because very few players’ induction chances have rested so heavily on the perspectives and philosophies of the voters. Second base is a position that, throughout its history, has seen very little offensive production beyond a few legendary players. Because of this, Kent’s numbers tower above many of his predecessors and most of his contemporaries, at the position he manned.

There is always an argument for subjectivity in the Hall of Fame voting process, most recently revitalized in defense of the ridiculous election of Jim Rice. Ironically, in the year of Rice’s election, Kent’s retirement brings into consideration a case that is one where subjectivity is actually the final tool that must be used to ultimately decide his induction. His stats literally and simultaneously prove and disprove his worthiness of enshrinement, and depending on how the voters feel players should be considered and compared (to each other as a whole or in regards to their position) an incredibly strong argument can be made either way.

Kent’s case once again calls to attention the negative effects of the lack of structure involved in the Hall of Fame voting process. A player like Don Mattingly is kept out of the Hall of Fame because he played first base and did not post numbers comparable to that of Gehrig, Foxx, or Greenberg, and yet a player like Mazeroski is bestowed induction and excused for his pitiful offensive production, because he played second base, and yet is not penalized for falling critically short of the top second basemen that have been elected.

Depending on which method voters use to judge players, the exclusivity of the Hall of Fame will be affected one way or the other, but whether the standards tighten or loosen, the process will be far more acceptable as the exclusivity level established would finally represent a solid and standard scope and/or frame of reference by which voters could structure their analysis of the credentials of players under future consideration.

On a final note concerning Kent’s career; whatever one’s opinion of his worthiness for the Hall, a main factor that should never cloud his election is the steroid haze that muddles the reliability of the stats produced by many of the players who played against, and notably alongside, Kent throughout his career. An outspoken advocate of strict drug testing in baseball and a sharp critic of players who cheated, Kent noted about the era in which he played, “The integrity of the game has been jeopardized for so many years and I’m just so embarrassed about the steroid era.”

Yes, the integrity of the game during the bulk of Kent’s career has been irreparably tarnished. The one thing though that will never be in “jeopardy” is Jeff Kent’s integrity as a ball player and his contributions to the game, testaments in themselves to his greatness; whether the voters choose to recognize him or not.

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About Anthony Tobis

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Jeff Kent will be an interesting HOF study. If for no other reason, he won’t get in because he’s not being voted in by his peers, he’s being voted in by the BBWAA, and a lot of the media types aren’t a huge fan of his. He and Blyleven can form a support group. Which is funny, because you’d think a guy who also didn’t get along with Barry Bonds would learn to make natural allies. (Also, he had an old school mustache, which most 60-year-old fedora-wearing types should love about him. They could even swap stories about where to get the best ‘stache combs.)

    But on the other hand, Bill Mazeroski is a neat comparison, although I think they put in Maz because he was simply a demon on defense, probably the best ever to turn a double play, then made his most famous moment something he was traditionally horrible at, which is why he got in. But the best 2B to hit a home run … might as well reward someone for being the tallest midget. (Admittedly, the tallest midget is probably how Pee Wee Reese got in.)

    But Kent’s numbers as a baseball player, not just as a 2B, stack up pretty well. Hell, he got the MVP in 2000, when home runs were everything, and he just had 33, which was 11 fewer than baseball legend Richard Hidalgo.

    (Sidebar: Wait, Richard Hidalgo hit 44 home runs? In one season? Holy shit.)

    Also working against him: he didn’t really didn’t become an above average player until probably 29, when most superstars peak. A lot of players hit their prime in their mid-20s and just stuck around amassing enough career numbers and played the longevity card. He’s the anti-Koufax and the reverse Gale Sayers. He’s baseball’s Betty White.

  • Brunelleschi

    I don’t care about all those stats, but I would vote for Kent!

    I admit I’m biased, because I was asked to help a friend with a product do some ad photos-and long story short-the shoot was at dirt bike track, and the model was Jeff Kent, some baseball player.

    We had a blast. Kent is a gem. His team wanted him to stay off the bikes, but he said screw it, I do what I enjoy!

    I ran into him a few times after that, and he always stopped me to say hi. I don’t think I ever told him I didn’t know who he was before that shoot. :)

    I wish him the best of luck, and I hope he makes HOF…

  • Tony

    Bill Mazeroski may have been a great defensive player but if he doesn’t hit the World Series shot in 1960 he doesn’t get in.

    Take Wes Parker for example. He’s considered by many to be the finest fielding first basemen of all time and he’s got six gold gloves to prove it; every year from 1967 to 1972. He is also the only non-Hall of Famer on the All Time Gold Glove team. But he played first base so he doesn’t get in.

    Maz, on the other hand, gets in because he played second base, a position where less is expected offensively.

    That’s the greater point I was going for. You run into this problem if you judge players relative to their position. But on the other hand, if you judge all players against each other you’ll have a Hall of Fame dominated by the positions with the highest offensive output.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    The way I see it I think if you have a position in MLB, you have to usher in a certain top echelon of them. Most people won’t consider pitchers MVPs because of the number of games they play, but I don’t think a writer out there will say they don’t belong in the HOF because of the number of games they play. They compare them to other pitchers. (Same deal with closers.)

    Eventually once there are a number of career DHs, hopefully this top tier theory will come into effect. Then we can judge Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz based on people other than Harold Baines and Don Baylor.

  • Tony

    No, you don’t compare pitchers to position players because their function are entirely different. Position players all essentially do the same thing (field the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball) and they see regular plate appearances, facing the same pitchers as their counterparts.

    In the early 1900’s second base was actually a hitters position. Then, for a long period it wasn’t. Shortstop has now become a hitters position but for years it never was. There will always be fluctuations but they key here is, when you are at the plate, your position has no effect on how you hit the ball.

    You are either are great contact hitter, a great power hitter, or you are not a great hitter. Arguably, if you’re not a great hitter you don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. Nothing about playing the position of second base automatically makes you unable to hit as well as, say, a third basemen. Maybe you’re smaller and can’t hit for power, but you can still post high numbers in other categories.

    In a sense, Kent proves this by posting the power numbers he put up. Maybe, for many years managers put players at second base who were stronger defensively with less emphasis on hitting but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to lower the Hall of Fame standards for offensive output because of popular position profiles. I would argue, that to be a Hall of Famer, you should do everything well. I don’t think the Hall needs quotas on positions.

    That being said, when you do something exceptional like Kent becoming the home run champ at his position, that obviously needs to be taken into account. The reason it is important to not going over board with stats that look great in contemporary terms (Jeff Reardon all time saves leader) is because with changes in trends, basing a Hall vote on a singular category that is high for the position but not in an overall sense is dangerous. When players like Chase Utley retire will Kent’s home run numbers look as good?

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    Jeff Kent won MVP by batting behind Barry Bonds, who came in second that year and probably should have won the thing. Kent was only in the MVP Top 10 three other times in his career.

  • Tony

    Davis Ortiz hit behind Manny, Gehrig hit behind Ruth, McCovey and Mays in 1965 when Mays won his second MVP; any great hitter in history who played for a good team inevitably has someone great hitting behind him most of the time.

    Kent hit behind Bonds from 1997 to 2002 and still only won the one MVP. While that season was an aberration (in terms of batting average, OBP, and OPS) if it was caused by Bonds than what happened in the other seasons when he posted the typical very good statistics of the majority of the rest of his career.

    In that MVP season Kent did not set his career high in home runs (that was in 2002), did not set his career best in RBIs (that was 1998), and did not set career highs is doubles or triples.

    That season, Kent show more patience at the plate and this is most likely why he had the season he did. Kent did set a career high in walks (90, nearly 20 more than in any other season), OBP (his .424 was the only time he was over .400), and hits (195).

    Now lets look at Bonds. His 2000 season was one of his worst a Giant. I would think if Bonds was such a major influence on Kent’s stats wouldn’t 2001 or 2002 have been better seasons for Kent since Bonds was far more dangerous in those seasons?

    In 2000, Kent, for whatever reason, found a unprecedented (for him) level of plate patience. While his power numbers (the ones that would be most directly linked to Bonds’ influence) stayed essentially he same. It was OBP, walks, hits, and runs created that spiked dramatically. Its hard to argue that hitting behind Bonds, and seeing all those fat pitches after they walk him, would make Kent MORE patient.

    I get the argument but I think it falls flat.

  • dodgerfan

    i think kent is a hall of famer look at his stats people.. c’mon