Looking at the Hall-of-Fame Ballot: Gary Sheffield
Does Gary Sheffield belong in the Hall-of-Fame?
This is a complicated question and one that does not have an easy answer. The Iron Sheff is a borderline candidate with many compelling reasons to let him in. He, though, was also mired in some steroid allegations, which complicates things further.
Let’s take a look at the Hall-of-Fame case for Gary Sheffield:
The Low Bar (or the Harold Baines Test):
Regular readers will know that my first test for any player to be included in the Hall-of-Fame is what I call the “Harold Baines Test.” In short, a player must have a lifetime bWAR (Baseball-Reference) above that of Harold Baines. If the player’s lifetime bWAR is below that of Baines, it is my opinion that he does not belong in the Hall-of-Fame. Ranked by bWAR, Harold Baines comes in as the 552nd best player of all-time with a bWAR of 38.7. This is the low bar. There are literally hundreds of players better than Baines who are not in the Hall-of-Fame. We have no business electing players who rank lower than Baines.
Sheffield blows away the Harold Baines test. Sheffield’s bWAR is 60.5. He ranks 179th All-Time in bWAR.
Big Gary is off to a good start.
Awards, Honors, and the Like:
It seems logical to assume that a Hall-of-Fame player would have received a good deal of honors and awards during his playing days.
Gary Sheffield had his fair share here.
In nine different seasons, Gary Sheffield was an All-Star. That speaks to a lengthy period where he was seen as a premier player. Sheffield’s first All-Star season was 1992. His last was 2005.
Gary Sheffield never won an MVP, but he came close a few times. In 2004, he was second in the voting. On two other occasions (1992 and 2003) he was third in voting. In 1992, he was the Sporting News’ Baseball Player of the Year.
Sheffield won five Silver Slugger Awards.
Gary Sheffield led the league in batting once (.330, 1992) and On Base Percentage once (.465, 1996). For a possible Hall-of-Famer, that seems a little light.
Once again, Gary Sheffield makes a compelling case. He exceed 500 homers (509 total). 500 homers is a big time (or, at least used to be) mark for inclusion in the Hall.
He had over 1,500 runs batted in (1,676). Again, 1,500 used to be a benchmark test.
He also had 2,689 hits. That’s not 3,000 (obviously), but it exceeds 2,500.
Sheffield’s lifetime triple slash line is .292/.393/.514. His lifetime OPS is .907.
Whew. The man could certainly hit.
A Mover :
One could argue that teams would try to keep a future Hall-of-Famer on the roster, but that wasn’t the case with Sheffield. Gary Sheffield was sometimes known as a difficult player. He did not have a sterling reputation. I’m not sure how much that matters, but it does say something that a player with his ability couldn’t seem to stick with any team for any length of time.
In his career, Gary Sheffield played for the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, and New York Mets. If he was great, why did no team who had him seem to want to keep him very long?
Sometimes players that move a lot, especially at the end of their career, are seen as winners, players brought in to push a team over the edge and get to the playoffs. That wasn’t the case with Sheffield. He didn’t just move at the end of his career, he moved throughout his career though he moved more at the end.
Pennants and championships did not usually accompany Sheffield either. Sheffield reached the Major Leagues in 1988. His first post season appearance came in 1997. That year he was part of the World Champion Marlins team. That was his only championship.
Sheffield’s 2002 and 2003 Braves reached the NLDS and were defeated. The Yankees in 2004, 2005, and 2006 reached the playoffs. Twice they also lost in the Division Series round and once they lost in the Championship Series round.
Gary Sheffield was not a particularly impressive post season player. His lifetime batting average over 44 post season games was just .248. He hit six post season homers, but never more than one in any series. In the 1997 Division Round, his first post season series, he hit .556 (five hits in 9 at bats). Absent of that, he was a .230 post season batter.
JAWS By Position:
By JAWS, Sheffield ranks as the 23rd greatest right fielder of all-time. One would think that with the numbers he produced in his career that he’d be ranked higher.
What also hurts Sheffield is that he’s not close to being the best right fielder who isn’t in the Hall-of-Fame. He ranks behind numerous players in this regard.
The highest ranked right fielder not yet enshrined is Dwight Evans who is 15th. Shoeless Joe Jackson is 13th, but he’s not eligible for the Hall.
After Dwight Evans, but still above Sheffield are: Ichiro Suzuki (16), Reggie Smith (17), Sammy Sosa (18), Bobby Abreu (20), and Bobby Bonds (22). Of those players, it seems that only Ichiro is a lock for the Hall-of-Fame. (I’ll take a new look at Bobby Abreu’s case next week.)
When one looks at WAR7 which highlight’s a players seven peak seasons, Sheffield falls even lower. He ranks below all of the aforementioned players (absent Dwight Evans) plus Tony Oliva and Jose Bautista as well.
Most Similar Players:
Baseball Reference lists the ten most similar players to each MLB player for their career. This criteria seems to help Sheffield’s case.
Among the Hall-of-Famers most similar to Sheffield are Chipper Jones, Mel Ott, Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mickey Mantle, Billy Williams, and Frank Robinson. That’s seven of the ten most similar that aren’t just Hall-of-Famers, but some are true greats of the game.
The three that are not in the Hall, all also have solid cases. These are Carlos Beltran (not yet eligible), Fred McGriff (who gets some support), and Miguel Cabrera (not yet eligible).
It is very possible that the ten players most similar to Gary Sheffield will one day all be in the Hall-of-Fame. If that’s the case, how do you keep him out?
Gary Sheffield has a true mixed-bag case. In looking at some criteria, he seems like a Hall-of-Fame lock. Judging buy other criteria, his case seems weak.
Sheffield was a Yankee for three seasons (2004-2006). He was a fun player to watch play. Man, could he hit. As a Yankee, Sheffield batted .291/76/269.
Gary Sheffield’s case is compelling, but, it’s just a bit light. Sheffield ends up in the “very close, but not quite” category. He wouldn’t be the worst player in the Hall-of-Fame. In fact, he’d be with pretty good company, but…I am not including him on my Hall-of-Fame ballot.