Note: John Grochowski wrote a wonderful piece on advanced stats and Santo's place in the Hall of Fame in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times.
Roberto Clemente. You know the name. If you have any grasp on baseball, or grew up around it with any reverence for the game, you know exactly who he is. He is considered one of the best hitters of all time. It should be noted that in the stories that are told about the history of Wrigley Field, one is that during batting practice one day, Clemente actually hit a ball that missed the scoreboard off to the side.
Nobody has ever hit the scoreboard before. It's clear over 515 feet to dead center field.
It's arguable that Clemente's statistical prime was between the years of 1964 and 1969. He won the MVP award in 1966. His WAR* during those years was 46.0 during those years.
(*WAR is an advanced stat, meaning Wins Above Replacement. It takes the concept that your basic 25th man on a Major League Roster, or player that gets called up and sent down depending on injuries at the Major League Level. These players don't help you and don't hurt you. Their player WAR is 0.0. From that number, a formula is used to determine how many wins you add to your team over the course of a season. WAR is a way to judge offense and defense in both current and historical terms to compare players. For example, since the start of the 2010 season, the leader in WAR is Joey Votto, who in that time has an MVP under his belt and was a leading contender for another one this year before a knee injury sidelined him for three to four weeks.)
According to WAR, Roberto Clemente was the best player in the league during his prime years. But you know who the second best player in Major League Baseball during that time was?
His WAR during that time was 45.9. That means he was 1/10 of 1 game less valuable as a ball player than Clemente. Of course, nobody is saying that Santo was ever in the class of Clemente, only that for a statistical period of time, Ron Santo was on that level of play.
This weekend, Ron Santo will enter the Hall of Fame. Posthumously. Unfortunately. Santo dreamed of two things: To make the Hall of Fame, and for the Cubs to win a World Series. He saw neither. Which is too bad.
For many years, Santo was considered to be a level below Hall of Fame status. The reasons were as such: You can't have 4 Hall of Famers on a team that never won a World Series (Banks, Jenkins, Williams all in the Hall), Santo wasn't the best 3rd baseman of his era, Santo wasn't likeable to the media.
Lets break down a couple of those. Lets look at the career WAR of the other players on the Cubs teams during the Santo era that ARE in the Hall of Fame:
- Ferguson Jenkins Career WAR 50.2
- Ernie Banks Career WAR 57.2
- Billy Williams Career WAR 61.1
- Ron Santo Career WAR 63.6
With the batters, that is Offensive WAR. If you take into account career Defensive WAR, Santo is the only one among the 3 that made the top 10 in Cubs history.
Statistically, when all things are taken into account, Ron Santo might have been the best player on that Cubs team during the era. Ernie Banks will always be considered Mr. Cub. He was only the 8th player(I think) at the time to hit 500 home runs. But there is certainly a reason Santo has a place in every true Cubs fans heart.
As for the other component: Lets look at all the players in the Hall of Fame at 3rd base under the following stats.
Player OWAR DWAR OPS+ HR RBI AVG.
Frank Baker: 56.9 9.6 135 96 987 .307
Wade Boggs: 78.4 12.9 131 118 1014 .328
George Brett: 80,4 1.2 135 317 1596 .305
Jimmy Collins: 39.1 16.8 113 65 983 .294
George Kell: 32.2 1.6 112 78 870 .306
Freddie Lindstrom: 25.0 2.6 110 103 779 .311
Eddie Matthews: 89.3 5.4 143 512 1453 .271
Brooks Robinson: 42.3 38.8 104 268 1357 .267
Mike Schmidt: 87.6 17.6 147 548 1595 .267
Pie Traynor: 37.7 2.0 107 58 1273 .320
NOW LETS TAKE A LOOK AT RON SANTO.
Ron Santo: 62.4 8.6 125 342 1331 .277
He is fifth among the 11 players in terms of Offensive WAR, sixth in terms of Defensive WAR, 6th in OPS+(On Base Percentage + Slugging, weighted to reflect stadiums played in, pitchers played against), 3rd in Home Runs, 5th in RBI's, and 8th in .AVG.
It must be taken into account that Baker, Collins, Lindstrom and Traynor played in an era when, not only did advanced stats not exist, the popular dance at the time was the Charleston, and the popular thing to hate on was prohibition.
George Kell is widely considered to be one of the worst inclusions in the history of the Hall of Fame. Brooks Robinson wasn't exactly a world beater offensively.
It's arguable that there are only two great third baseman of all time. Mike Schmidt and Eddie Matthews.
George Brett would rank just below them, mostly because he was atrocious defensively, and defense is still a thing you need to be a baseball player. Brett, Santo, and Brooks Robinson all fall in the second tier of Hall of Fame second basemen.
When you take a long view at the advanced stats, it's very simple to conclude that, not only does Santo deserve to be in now, but Ronnie should have been in years ago. He shouldn't have had to accept this trophy from beyond the grave.
But, like most Cubs fans, I'll take a moment on Sunday, and raise a toast to the man that personified being a Cub better than anyone who ever put on the uniform. He made you care about Cubs baseball long after hope had failed. He identified with the die hard fans that never gave up on their team.
He was a fan. But he was also a legend. And Sunday, he will take his rightful spot with the rest of baseball's greatest players.