Sunday, June 24, 2018


So here again we pick up the saga of the one and only Brock Hanke, rogue owner of Ye Olde San Antonio Trotters--and, if the numbers below are taken "as if real." a pretty nifty hitter to boot. The question we left you with last time: are these career numbers (repeated below, with slight corrections in the OPS column...) the stuff of Cooperstown?

A wrinkle that we must consider in such an evaluation is the time frame in which Hanke played, and the exact year in which he would have become eligible for the Hall. Hanging up his cleats and cashing in his franchise for whereabouts unknown at the end of 1995, he'd appear on the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2001. We would not expect him to come close to induction on that first ballot, but his basic traditional stats (3000+ hits, nearly 1700 RBI, .321 BA, and .414 OBP) would certainly keep him from falling off the ballot the first time around.

In 2001, Forman et fils (Baseball Reference) was in its infancy, and the WAR method was not nearly so ingrained in the brain stems of those who were fulminating in the post-Bill James era of statistical systems. (To the detriment of much and many, however, this would soon change.) 2001 brought us 9/11 and the beginning of a cascading quagmire, and baseball was just about to blow up too, thanks to Barry Bonds hitting 73 HRs and cementing the steroid witch hunt (yes, there really have been witch hunts in America, but they don't involve the Orange Menace, who is the biggest loud foul in the nation's history).

Hanke, then, would be only as controversial as the Trotters had managed to become within that alternative scenario, but he'd also be seen as a guy who'd never been close to being the best player on his team. (Not with that Mule the Trotters stole away from Charlie Finley--but that's another tall tale.)

Our job here is to look at various "traditional" (actually, "non-technical") stats--those that don't require complicated formulae and modeling assumptions--in conducting a preliminary evaluation of Hanke's Hall of Fame case. (We'll get to the "technical stats" in Part 3.)

So--hits. 3000 hits has been a bellwether stat for Hall of Famers ever since Cooperstown was invented. Only three players with 3000+ hits are likely not to be inducted in the Hall, at least for a good while: Pete Rose, Alex Rodriguez, and Rafael Palmeiro. We can expect the others (Derek Jeter, Adrian Beltre, Ichiro Suzuki, and Albert Pujols) to get the nod rather quickly once they are eligible for induction.

And, as you can see, down there in 29th place on this list, is Hanke.

Now it's true that it took him longer than anyone on the list to reach the 3000 hit plateau (twenty-five years), and for some that might raise a red (or possibly just a pink) flag. But that league-relative on-base plus slugging (OPS+, a stat just on this side of the "non-technical" least in our book) is (as noted earlier) quite robust. We have to remember that Hanke played mostly in a low-to-average run scoring era (the seventies and eighties). So the quality of his hitting is not subject to doubt.

Next: doubles. While Hanke was not a power hitter per se (he wound up with just over 200 HRs, but this averages out to only about nine per year due to his egregious longevity), he was exceptionally proficient with the two-bagger. He was what we might term a "precision gap hitter," with sufficient bat control to foil whatever outfield positioning was deployed against him. Even late in his career, the percentage of his total hits that went for doubles remained consistently around 22%, a very high percentage; his lifetime D/H ratio ranks 21st all-time.

On the lifetime doubles leaders chart, then, it's not surprising to find Hanke (with his 669 lifetime two-baggers) residing in the #5 slot on the list.

Next: runs batted in. Here's a stat that gets no respect any more: the arguments have been talked through until the listener is bluer in the face than those doing the take-down spiel.

All that said, however, you can see that the lifetime RBI leaders list contains a lot of Hall of Famers. Bonds, Rodriguez, Palmeiro and probably Manny Ramirez are going to remain "tainted" for some time to come, but the chart clearly shows us that hitters who can amass 1600+ RBI are, by and large, going to wind up in Cooperstown.

Again, there's the fact that Hanke took those twenty-five long years to compile his 1685 RBI; he has, as a quick look back at his stat line will show, only one season (1987) where he actually managed to amass 100+ RBI in a season.

But something else to consider is that Hanke's lifetime RBI/TB ratio is .387. Among hitters with 1600+ RBI, that ranks fifth all-time. And which hitters are on either side of Hanke's RBI/TB ratio? Why, Jimmie Foxx (.388) and Babe Ruth (.382), that's who. And those two hitters were able to generate a lot of RBI via HRs--something that Hanke mostly didn't do.

A small but notable aspect of the above stems from the fact that Hanke became a dangerous pinch-hitter in the latter stages of his career. (The "alt-universe" stats indicate that he was 6-for-13 as a pinch-hitter in his rookie season, and just kept delivering in the pinch for the next two dozen years. While he was never a pinch-hit specialist like Manny Mota, Jose Morales or Jerry Lynch, he did amass over 500 lifetime PAs as a pinch-hitter, hitting a sensational .353 and driving in more runs (150) than his total number of pinch hits (146). It's only a footnote in his career, but it's a boisterous one.

Next: on-base percentage. Here's a stat that can't be overlooked in terms of its correlation to offensive value. Our table at left shows the 35 hitters with more than 7000 lifetime plate appearances who compiled a .400+ OBP.

And sliding in at #20 on the list is Hanke, with .414. Of the 19 players ahead of him, 16 are in the Hall of Fame--and one of those not there is Bonds, still suffering from "the taint." (It also shows us that OBP is the key reason why Edgar Martinez is so tantalizingly close to being inducted, and appears to have a solid chance to make it in the 2019 voting. It's also quite likely that Todd Helton will eventually make it, though it might be via the Vets Committee.)

And, finally: adjusted OPS (OPS+). We've shown you Hanke's lifetime OPS+ of 143. What you haven't seen (yet) is where that ranks amongst hitters with at least 7000 PAs, and how many of them are in Cooperstown.

Hanke ranks 39th on the lifetime OPS+ list. Of the 38 players who are ahead of him on this chart (at right), 30 of them are in the Hall. The only exceptions are Bonds, Mark McGwire (both "tainted"), Dick Allen (he's listed in the dictionary as a synonym of "star-crossed"), Ramirez (likely "tainted"), Pujols and Miguel Cabrera (still active), Martinez, and Lance Berkman (most likely too short a career to make the cut).

Underneath him, the hitters with 140-142 OPS+ are thirteen in number. Eight of these are in the Hall, while four of the five who aren't are David Ortiz, Larry Walker, A-Rod, and Sheffield. (Frank Howard is the fifth, and the one most likely to remain on the outside looking in.)

SO...the prima facie case for Hanke is actually rather strong. He's weak on black ink and grey ink, but key counting and rate stats place him among the elite. In 2001, he might well have gotten 40-45% of the vote from the BBWAA.

But--of course--in our "real" world, we have WAR. And while that has yet to become the method of "denying due process" to all other statistical formulations, its proponents--like the Orange Menace--are hard at work trying to do so. In order to bring Mohammed to the mountain, we're going to have to walk through the valley of death and confront WAR.

Which is just what we'll do next time. Stay tuned...