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Is Ted Simmons a Hall of Famer?

I stumbled across this topic the other day over at The Hardball Times and thought it would make for some pretty good discussion around here. My understanding has always been that, despite Simmons’ excellent offensive exploits, his defensive shortcomings prevented him from being strongly considered for the HOF. Indeed, most HOF voters seemed to agree as he received votes from just 3.7% of the voters the only year he was on the ballot. Rusty Staub, Vada Pinson, Thurman Munson, and Mickey Lolich all received more HOF votes than Simmons did. Dave Concepcion, a nice player to be sure, but hardly a Hall of Famer, was on the ballot for 15 years to Simmons’ 1. Did Simmons really deserve the cold shoulder he received from the voters?

Let’s acknowledge first off that we’re all Cards’ fans here and predisposed to believing that Simmons probably does belong – at least more so than fans of the Cubs or Mariners might be. I want to try and look at this objectively and to assess his candidacy from a non-Cards’ fan standpoint.

We have to begin by understanding what a truly great catcher Simmons was. His career OPS+ is 117 – better than Gary Carter and tied w/ Carlton Fisk for 9th among Hall of Fame catchers. For those who argue he spent too much of his time at DH, Simmons caught 1771 career games – more than Berra, Bill Dickey, Piazza, and Bench. His career wOBA is .346 and he had seasons of .393, .339, .386, .387, .370, and .384. Just for comparison, Brian McCann had the highest wOBA of any catcher in baseball this year at .387. So imagine putting up 6 straight seasons of the highest wOBA in baseball from behind the dish. Chase Utley’s wOBA this year -- .391. Simmons was better than that in 1975. He was an outstanding offensive player. Compare him to other catchers who’ve entered the Hall in the last 15 or so years.

Simmons .346
Bench .361
Fisk .354
Carter .341

Geoff Young, in the THT article linked above, goes to great lengths to compare Simmons to Hall of Famer Gary Carter. For most of their careers, Simmons OPS+ is better than Carter’s. Simmons had more great seasons at the plate than Carter did. Now, FWIW, Carter is in the Hall as much b/c of his defensive accomplishments as his offensive ones but it’s fair to say that Simmons compares favorably to another Hall of Famer and, in fact, was likely a better offensive player than Carter. Young isn’t convinced that Carter’s even deserving of entrance to the Hall but Jay Jaffe at BP calls Gary Carter "#2 among all Hall catchers, behind only Johnny Bench." According to Bill James’ ranking – referenced in Young’s article – Simmons is the #10 catcher of all time. His is the highest ranking for any catcher eligible but not yet in the HOF. He has more career win shares than Hall of Famer Bill Dickey.

One knock against Simmons’ candidacy is the aforementioned time he spent at DH. To me, that doesn’t hold a lot of water considering the number of games he spent behind the dish. And Paul Molitor – who is deserving, by the way – is in the Hall of Fame and he spent 44% of his career resting every half inning. Simmons spent 76.5% of his career games behind the dish.

A second knock against Simmons is that the last several years of his career were spent playing positions other than catcher. He wasn’t really a full-time catcher, so goes the argument, those last few years so any numbers he put up during those years don’t really count. Young squashes this argument by comparing him, once again, to Carter. Carter gets credit for staying behind the dish toward the end of his career but he was so awful during his last few seasons that it shouldn’t get any more credit than Simmons playing 1B, 3B, and DH. Remember, Bench played a grand total of 13 games behind the plate after he turned 33, instead playing 76 games at 1B and 149 games at 3B.

Over at BP, Jaffe has created his JAWS system (defined in the BP article linked above) to evaluate the candidacies of prospective Hall of Famers. It involves taking the average of a player’s WARP3 and their PEAK, which is sum of their WARP3s in their 5 best consecutive seasons. Then he compares them to the average Hall of Famer at the player’s position.

Avg HOF C 406 197 61 94.8 41.3 68.1
Simmons 560 271 -16 94.9 38.1 66.5

Going by the JAWS scores, Simmons may fall just a tiny bit short but his all-time WARP3 can keep up w/ anyone. It seems that, if anything, Simmons loses a little b/c his peaks weren’t as high as his competitors and he gains points for longevity. Jaffe seems to agree w/ that assessment saying that Simmons, along w/ a few others "had longer careers with lower peaks than the average enshrinee." Still, if you add BRAA to FRAA for total runs above average – the average HOF catcher had 258 (197+61) and Simmons had 255 (271-16). Pretty close.

It’s tough to argue that Simmons clearly belongs in the Hall but it seems to me, as it does Young and Jaffe, that the voters in 1994 gave him short shrift. He was clearly a notch below Fisk and Bench but seems to be pretty comparable to Carter. If you look again at the wOBA table at the top, you see Simmons finished 3rd among the 4 catchers. I mentioned earlier that one of the primary critiques of Simmons’ candidacy was that maybe he stuck around too long – becoming less of a catcher and more of a DH. However, his last 5 wOBAs were .260, .327, .298, .319, and .272 – all 5 well below his career average. But what if he had hung it up after 1983 – his age 33 season?

If he didn’t have those 5 down (for him) years on his record, his career wOBA would be around .356. Now he’s ahead of Fisk and just a few points behind Bench. I’m not so stupid as to believe that most Hall voters consider (or even know what the hell wOBA is) but voters might have better memories of him as a great catcher rather than as a player who hung around playing every position except catcher. He still wouldn’t have the MVPs or Gold Gloves on his record, but I think it’s a lot more likely he’d have stayed on the ballot for a while and then, who knows…

Jaffe said, of Simmons and some others (Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Dwight Evans – just to name a few), that "they may not all belong in the Hall of Fame, but their cases deserved better airings than they got." I think that’s where I stand, too. I’m not at all convinced he belongs. In fact, I might lean to the he-falls-just-short side. But 3.7%? Are you f-ing kidding me? If he doesn’t belong, he’s pretty damned close. He certainly deserved a better fate than he got, Cards’ fan or not.