There’s no reason to examine Stephen Piscotty’s chances of making the Baseball Hall of Fame. No reason at all. It would be unfair, inappropriate, a waste of everyone’s time. Even if it wasn’t laughably premature to wonder if a player with just 905 career plate appearances was on the fast-track to the Hall of Fame, Piscotty - a very good baseball player - is not the player for such a diagnosis. Nothing about his trajectory points to Cooperstown. He’s not Mike Trout, who in his first 905 plate appearances was worth about nine more wins than Piscotty.
But...this is a Cardinals blog. We are smack dab in the middle of the Hall of Fame voting season. Last year the BBWAA robbed everyone of at least arguing the merits of Jim Edmonds’s candidacy for the next decade, and by doing so they robbed most of us at VEB of at least one early January column.
As such, we’re left without a candidate on the ballot with a primary nexus to the Cardinals. Lee Smith and Larry Walker were both mighty fine Cardinals, but they weren’t Cardinals the way Jim Edmonds was a Cardinal. Neither are likely getting into Cooperstown, at least not this year, but if they were Walker would most certainly not be in a Cardinals cap, and the same probably applies to Smith.
Let’s look in-house. For current Cardinals position players, Jhonny Peralta and Dexter Fowler haven’t had good enough careers for Cooperstown. Matt Carpenter was about three years too old when he started hitting the ball all over the park. Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong are young but flawed. Yadier Molina’s case is too complicated and polarizing. And Aledmys Diaz’s profile is incomplete, although if he could spend a career playing shortstop and hitting like he did in 2016, he might be the strongest candidate. Dating back to 1901, there are nine shortstops with at least 7,500 plate appearances and an OPS+ at 110 or above and seven are in the Hall of Fame. The outliers are Alan Trammell, who should be in, and Derek Jeter, who will be in soon.
That leaves Piscotty for this absurd, uncalled for exercise. So here we go.
Take Piscotty’s 2016 season (.273/.343/.457 - 115 wRC+) and extrapolate it over the span of 15 seasons (we’re going to be taking a lot of liberties here). That’s around 10,000 career plate appearances, 2,400+ hits, 340 home runs, 1,300+ runs scored and driven in, and about 42-45 WAR. For a good corner outfielder comparison, those are Luis Gonzalez or Dave Parker numbers, both of whom broke into the majors at age-22 and played for 19 seasons.
To hit those numbers Piscotty would need the type of luck that begets fourteen more seasons with 600+ plate appearances in each. It’s rare to have such fortune, and that includes Gonzalez and Parker, i.e., the 19 seasons for both. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system encourages an emphasis on a player’s peak and not just his longevity, but showing up early and staying late all the while putting up moderate to big stats is still a nice way to get to Cooperstown. To wit, if you aren’t Pete Rose, don’t have PED issues, and you eclipse the 12,000 plate appearance mark - you are sitting pretty. (Well, usually.)
That’s a problem for Piscotty because he didn’t take his first swings in the majors until he was 24. That doesn’t sound significant, but when it comes to the Hall of Fame it is.
There are currently 149 position players (including MLB only) in the Hall of Fame. Only 15 of them (10.1%) began their career at their age-24 season or later. They are as follows: Sam Rice, Dave Bancroft, Bill Terry, Kiki Cuyler, Earle Combs, Hack Wilson, Earl Averill, Luke Appling, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Carlton Fisk, Wade Boggs, Kirby Puckett, and Mike Piazza. Only four (Fisk, Boggs, Puckett, Piazza) of these careers began after 1948. Only two (Rice, Cuyler) spent a majority of their career at one of the corner outfield positions. (CORRECTION: Initially, I had incorrectly included Bob Lemon in this list, who was, in fact, a pitcher from 1946-1958.)
Let’s call Piscotty’s late start a side effect of the Cardinals’ lauded player development system. There’s worse news though. Parker and Gonzalez, the two corner outfield comps for Piscotty’s imaginary career, well, they’re not in the Hall of Fame and neither really came close. Parker lasted a full fifteen years on the ballot before falling off in 2011. He never got more than the 24.5% he received in 1998. Gonzalez, meanwhile, fell off the ballot in 2014, his first year, with just a pitiful 0.9% of the vote. The closest corner outfielder stats-wise to Parker and Gonzalez to be enshrined in the Hall is likely Jim Rice, one of the more controversial selections, and who Bill James Online once called one the most overrated players in recent memory.
The moral here is that getting a plaque in Cooperstown is tough, as it should be. For Piscotty to make it there he’ll need to outpace Parker, Gonzalez, and probably Rice in a condensed amount of time. Do that and he has a chance to be the first corner outfielder to put on a uniform since 1938 to break into the majors at age-24 or later and make it to the Hall of Fame. So good luck, Stephen. We are rooting for you.
Credit to the Baseball-Reference Play Index for introducing me to Kiki Cuyler and friends for this post.