How does Lou Whitaker stack up against contemporaries in, just outside Hall of Fame?

Detroit News

There are 268 former MLB players in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Twenty of them are second basemen.

And if you watched the Detroit Tigers in the 80s, you’ll probably argue Lou Whitaker, who will have his number retired by the team Saturday, should be one of them — and you’re probably right.

Ranked by career wins above replacement* (WAR), Whitaker has the highest total (75.1) of any second basemen who’s not in the Hall. Several players who lag behind Whitaker in WAR, a metric that’s evolved in popularity and application over the last couple decades — but still might not hold enough weight for current voters — are in the Hall.

So, what’s the deal?

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The Detroit News examined the career numbers of three Hall-of-Fame second basemen — and one snub — whose career overlapped with Whitaker’s (1977-1995) to find out where his case may be falling short.

*All references to WAR are calculated by, otherwise known as bWAR.

► Bobby Grich (Not in Hall of Fame)

MLB career: 1970-86

Of all the pure second basemen who have a legitimate gripe for not being in the Hall of Fame, former Baltimore Oriole and California Angel Bobby Grich — a Muskegon native — is the only one whose case mirrors Whitaker’s.

Grich is a four-time Gold Glover, a six-time All-Star, and a World Series champion. He accumulated a WAR of 71.1 over his 17-year career. One thing these two guys have in common: Fielding hasn’t been enough to overcome their lack of power. Grich only surpassed 20 home runs twice in his career; he owns a career OPS of .794. Whitaker, by comparison, hit 244 home runs and has a career OPS of .789.

Of the top-10 WAR leaders at second base, Whitaker and Grich are the only two in MLB history without a single top-5 finish in MVP voting; between them, they have just three top-10 finishes total.

► Roberto Alomar (HOF Class of 2011)

MLB career: 1988-2004

Alomar’s career WAR (67.0) is on the lower end of Hall-of-Fame second basemen, but, much like the next guy on this list, the other accolades he acquired over his career ultimately gave him a stronger case. Alomar was a 12-time All-Star, a two-time World Series champion, 10-time Gold Glove winner, four-time Silver Slugger and an ALCS MVP award.

Why isn’t Alomar’s lack of raw power (210 career home runs) held against him like Whitaker and Grich? Probably because his other counting stats — especially in categories that held more value in a less analytically inclined era — are so solid that they make it irrelevant: Alomar had a career .300 average to go along with 2,724 hits and 474 stolen bases.

But despite holding a lead in several counting stats, Alomar’s career OPS+ (116), which takes factors like ballparks into play, is a tick below Whitaker’s (117), and Alomar won seven more Gold Gloves than Whitaker despite owning the exact same fielding percentage (.984) over their careers.

► Ryne Sandberg (HOF Class of 2005)

MLB career: 1981-1997

Although his career WAR (68.0) is a full 7.1 points behind Whitaker, Sandberg had the accolades to bring home his HOF case. He’s a one-time MVP, 10-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove winner, and a seven-time Silver Slugger.

But despite the full row of Silver Slugger awards in his trophy case, Sandberg’s career OPS is actually the same as Grich, right above Whitaker — and, again, his career OPS+ (114) is lower than Whitaker’s. Sandberg did lead the league in home runs (40) in 1990, however; his 344 career stolen bases are also 201 more than Whitaker, and while he might not has been as handy turning a double play (he had 1,158 to Whitaker’s 1,527), his career fielding percentage (.989) is a bit higher than Whitaker’s (.984).

► Craig Biggio (HOF Class of 2015)

MLB career: 1988-2007

Of any player on this list, Biggio is probably the most questionable nod over Whitaker. It’s not that Biggio is deserving; rather, it’s more, ‘How could Biggio be a Hall of Famer if Whitaker isn’t?’

Biggio’s career WAR (65.5) trails Whitaker by nearly a full 10 points. Aside from Whitaker’s Rookie of the Year award, he and Biggio won all of the same awards during their career, but Biggio bests Whitaker in each category: Seven-time All-Star, four Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers.

To be fair, Biggio was a much bigger threat on the basepaths (414 stolen bases) and, perhaps most importantly (in the eyes of voters, anyway), surpassed the vaunted 3,000-hit mark. Of the 33 players in MLB history to break 3,000 hits and are eligible for the Hall of Fame, only Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, two hitters whose HOF cases are marred by steroid use, have failed to get in.

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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