Posted December 18, 2012

JAWS and the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot: Alan Trammell

Alan Trammell, Detroit Tigers, Hall of Fame, JAWS
Alan Trammell was MVP of the 1984 World Series. (John Iacono/SI)

Alan Trammell was MVP of the 1984 World Series. (John Iacono/SI)

The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here.

Once upon a time, shortstops didn’t hit. In the 1970s, when Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra were still wearing short pants, the idea that a slick-fielding defensive wizard could be a total zero with the bat and still help his team reached its zenith, which is to say that shortstops’ collective offensive production reached its nadir. In 1977, when major league teams averaged 4.47 runs per game on .264/.329/.401 hitting, shortstops hit a collectively appalling .248/.299/.330. The player most closely embodying that line that year was the Padres’ Bill Almon, a former No. 1 overall draft pick who hit .261/.303./336 with two homers, 20 steals and 20 sacrifice hits — a line as ugly as his brown-and-yellow uniform.

In the early 1980s, things started to change, as the American League produced a trio of talented two-way shortstops who could field their position and pose a substantial threat to pitchers. The Brewers’ Robin Yount, who debuted in the majors in 1974 at the tender age of 18, evolved into a top-notch hitter, and earned MVP honors in 1982, as the Brewers won the pennant. The Orioles’ Cal Ripken kicked off a stretch of 10 straight seasons with at least 20 homers in his official rookie season in 1982 — as well as a record-setting consecutive games streak — and the next year, he too claimed an MVP award as the Orioles won a world championship.

Debuting between those two, in late 1977, was the Tigers’ Alan Trammell. He didn’t win the MVP award in 1984 — that honor went to reliever Willie Hernandez, a teammate — but he hit .314/.382/.468 while helping the Tigers to a world championship. Trammell would spend 20 years with the Tigers, and while he wouldn’t reach 3,000 hits like Yount (who eventually had to move to the outfield) or Ripken (who moved to third base in his final years) to receive a virtually automatic berth to Cooperstown, he would make six All-Star teams and win four Gold Gloves in his career, even while competing for attention with the other two.

Despite his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers, the BBWAA voters have given Trammell little recognition in 11 years on the ballot. His candidacy deserves a closer look while he’s still got at least a puncher’s chance.

Player  Career Peak JAWS HR  SB  AVG OBP  SLG  TAv
Alan Trammell 67.1 43.3 55.2 2293 2365 185 236 .285 .352 .415 .278
Avg HOF SS 63.1 41.1 52.1

A native of San Diego, Trammell was the second pick of the second round of the 1976 draft, straight out of high school. Though their first-round pick, Pat Underwood, wouldn’t amount to much in the majors, it was still a banner draft for the Tigers, who landed pitchers Dan Petry in the fourth round and Jack Morris in the fifth; who knows what might have happened had they been able to sign sevneth-round pick Ozzie Smith, a shortstop who elected to return to school and was chosen the next year by the Padres (he replaced Almon, but wasn’t much of a hitter himself).

Despite Trammell’s youth, the Tigers advanced him quickly; after 41 games in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, he jumped straight to Double-A Montgomery of the Southern League, and spent the following season there before being recalled by the Tigers in September, still just 19 years old. On Sept. 9, 1977, he and second baseman Lou Whitaker, a 1975 fifth-round pick who was his double-play partner in Montgomery, both made their major league debuts; they would be partners in the middle infield through 1995. They joined catcher Lance Parrish, a first-round 1974 pick who had debuted on Sept. 5, and Morris, who had debuted in July — a homegrown quartet that would anchor the team for nearly a decade.

Trammell hit .268/.335/.339 with three homers and three steals en route to a 2.6 WAR season in 1978. He tied for fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting, with Whitaker taking home the honors. In 1980 — the Tigers’ first full season under manager Sparky Anderson — Trammell had his first big campaign, earning All-Star and Gold Glove honors by hitting .300/.376/.404 with nine homers, good for 4.6 WAR even if his defense was just a couple runs above average. Not bad for a 22-year-old. He added a Gold Glove the following year, but it wasn’t until his age-25 season in 1983 that he advanced further with the bat. That year, he hit .319/.385/.471 with 14 homers and 30 steals, both career highs; his 5.8 WAR ranked eighth among position players.

A virtual carbon copy season with the bat, and a 16-run improvement on defense led to a 6.5 WAR (fourth in the league) in 1984. More importantly, the Tigers jumped out to a 35-5 start, finished 104-58 and won the World Series for the first time since 1968. Trammell won MVP honors, going 9-for-20 in the five-game series, swatting a pair of homers in a Game 4 win in which he drove in all four runs.

After a down 1985, Trammell rebounded with a 21-homer, 6.1 WAR season in 1986. In 1987 he had a monster year for a Detroit team that was the class of the league, winning 98 games and the AL East flag. Even in a lineup with heavy hitters Matt Nokes, Darrell Evans, Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon, Trammell stood out via a .343/.402/.551 showing with a career-best 28 homers, not to mention 21 steals in 23 attempts. His 8.0 WAR was not only a career high, it was second in the AL behind only Wade Boggs’ 8.2. Alas, the Tigers lost the ALCS to an 85-win Twins team that had actually been outscored by their opponents by 20 runs, and Trammell lost a very close AL MVP vote to George Bell, who hit 47 homers and drove in 134 runs for Toronto but compiled just 4.6 WAR. He was robbed!

Trammell’s offense had its ups and downs over the next several years — big seasons in 1988, 1990 and 1993, interspersed with mediocre ones — and he became more injury-prone, with trips to the disabled list preventing him from surpassing 128 games in all but one season for the rest of his career, which ended in 1996. Even so, strong defense buffeted his value; excluding the 1992 season, when he was limited to just 29 games due to a broken right ankle, he averaged 4.6 WAR in 122 games over the 1988-1993 span.

The Tigers couldn’t get back to the playoffs for the rest of his time in Detroit, plunging from 88 wins in 1988 to 59 in 1989 and posting just one more winning season through the remainder of Trammell’s career. In 1993, he hit .329/.388/.496, albeit in just 112 games; that year, he made 27 starts at third base, and eight more in the outfield, largely to make room for Travis Fryman, a slugging third baseman who had been able to hold down the shortstop position in Trammell’s increasingly frequent absences. After three more seasons of part-time duty, Trammell retired at age 38.

On the traditional merits, Trammell looks like a solid Hall of Fame candidate, with 2,365 hits and 185 homers, numbers that aren’t Ripken- or Yount-like but are still substantial when accompanied by his All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, if not that missing MVP award. He scores 118 on Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor metric, which measures how likely (not how deserving) a player is to be elected by awarding points for various awards, league leads, postseason performance and so on, with 100 representing “a good possibility” and 130 a virtual cinch.

Relative to the other Hall of Fame shortstops, Trammell surpasses the career and peak WAR standards at the position with room to spare, and winds up 3.1 points above the JAWS standard, good for 11th on the all-time list. Of the 10 players above him, all are in the Hall except Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, both of whom are still active; Ripken, Yount and Smith are among them, which does suggest that Trammell was the fourth-best shortstop of that bunch, though not by a huge amount; his peak score is actually higher than those of Smith and 2012 inductee Barry Larkin, whose career ran from 1986 through 2004:

Rk  Player Career Peak JAWS  HR  Avg OBP  SLG  TAv TZ
3 Cal Ripken 90.9 54.6 72.8 3184 431 .276 .340 .447 .280 181
6 Robin Yount 72.4 45.8 59.1 3142 251 .285 .342 .430 .285 -47
7 Ozzie Smith 73.0 40.9 57.0 2460 28 .262 .337 .328 .250 239
11 Alan Trammell 67.1 43.3 55.2 2365 185 .285 .352 .415 .278 81
13 Barry Larkin 67.1 41.7 54.4 2340 198 .295 .371 .444 .282 28
Avg HOF SS 63.1 41.1 52.1

Trammell lags ever so slightly behind all but Smith as a hitter, but he was the third-best fielder of the bunch according to Total Zone (I’ve included time at other positions in this as well, since they all wind up as part of each player’s overall value). In short, there doesn’t seem to be anything to suggest he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown if those four contemporaries are in.

The switch from Baseball Prospectus’ WARP to Baseball-Reference’s WAR as the underlying value metric for JAWS has helped Trammell. In last year’s breakdown, Larkin outranked him, mainly because the most recent Fielding Runs Above Average metric had Trammell 26 runs below average, a marked contrast to previous iterations of the system, which at various points had him more than 100 runs above average, and well above the JAWS standard in all of my previous evaluations dating back to the system’s inception. While I’ve thrown up the caution flags with regards to the candidacies of Larry Walker and Kenny Lofton given how their much more favorable fielding ratings in the new system push them into the vicinity of the JAWS standards at their position, I’m more comfortable with the idea that Trammell belongs at this level based upon my past analyses.

The patchiness of Trammell’s late career, combined with a disastrous stint managing the Tigers from 2003-2005, including their 43-119 season in his first year and sub .500 records all three seasons, probably hasn’t helped his candidacy. He debuted on the 2002 ballot at 15.7 percent, and slipped even lower the next two years; for awhile it seemed he might be subject to Whitaker’s undeserved fate of falling entirely off the ballot. He has hung on, however, finally breaking 20 percent in 2010 (22.4 percent) and gaining 12 percentage points last year to surge to 36.8 percent in his 11th year of eligibility. With a voting share that low, it would be unprecedented in the annals of modern BBWAA voting (since 1966, when it returned to an annual basis) to rally to 75 percent over the next four years. That said, three other infielders with similar shares at that juncture (Phil Rizzuto at 38.4 percent, Red Schoendienst at 36.8 percent and Bill Mazeroski at 33.5 percent) gained eventual entry via the Veterans Committee, and the same can be said for Nellie Fox and Richie Ashburn when the polled in the low 30s in their 12th year.

While that’s reassuring as far as justice eventually being served, Trammell deserves better than to have to wait. He held his own among the great shortstops of the 1980s and ’90s in his day, and he deserves his spot alongside them in Cooperstown.

15 comments
WillieBallgame
WillieBallgame

My only problem with grading against the average HOFer is that there are SOOOO many bad players in, it brings the average down. 

Michael10
Michael10

I'm on board for using WAR or JAWS or other single stat metrics as a baseline for HOF arguments, but all this should really be used for is creating a shortlist -- a short list that gets much shorter when it come time to decide who actually gets in and who gets a nice parting gift. There's a reason it's called the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Metrics or the Hall of Measurable Productivity or the Hall of Quiet and Underappreciated Excellence. The guys who make the cut should be the ones who transcended the numbers, or put up such unbelievable numbers as to not be ignored. Yes, we need to look at the numbers, but then we need to look at everything that ISN'T in them -- the MVPs and championships, the All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, the streaks, the records, the highlight reels, the face of a team for a generation. This is what widens that mathematical gap between Trammell and Ripken/Ozzie/Yount, what allows Larkin to leapfrog him on that shortlist. This is why guys like Willie Stargell and Dizzy Dean and Roy Campanella and Ryne Sandberg belong while saber-darlings like Dwight Evans, Rick Reuschel, Gene Tenace and Bobby Grich do not. During the exact 20 year window of his career (1977-1996) -- as favorable a sample as possible -- Trammell still lags behind the three great shortstops of his era. Despite the "greatness" of the Tigers teams he played on, he made only one postseason appearance in those 20 years outside of 1984 when he was part of a "Hall of Merit" ensemble that included Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, Darrell Evans and Chet Lemon (who finished half a win behind Trammell). The team was great -- for a single season -- but none of its individual components were (the MVP and CYA actually went to their closer Willie Hernandez). Trammell has two less MVPs than Ripken or Yount and exactly as many runner-up finishes as Ozzie (who was also "robbed" in '87, by a much less worthy slugger than Bell). As much as Tiger nation will protest, this is likely how most fans outside Detroit remember Trammell: a solid hitter who won a few AL Gold Gloves before Tony Fernandez came up, then took turns with him backing up Cal Ripken at the All-Star game. With Lou Whitaker, he was part of an infield tandem that was better than Tinker/Evers or Mattingly/Randolph, but not quite Yount/Molitor or Ripken/Murray or Robinson/Reese or even Bagwell/Biggio. Without Whitaker (and Morris), he might have fared better, would have been the undeniable face of the franchise for two decades -- but then he wouldn't have those two post-season appearances either. All three will get in eventually via the VC (Morris may just sneak in the front door with Biggio while every is arguing over PEDs), which is perhaps not palatable to either side of the debate, but far better than a parting gift...

MattBugaj
MattBugaj

I think the thing that most holds Trammell back is his association with Whitaker.  Tinker, Evers, and Chance all got in because of a poem.  Trammell will continue not to receive respect because his double-play partner didn't make it.

CaptainJeffff
CaptainJeffff

With JAWS I'd like to see a ten-year peak rating added.  Seven years is a great metric, but I'd like to have more deciding for The Hall. 

 

 

 

 

 

RobPollard
RobPollard

Agree that Trammell deserves to be in the Hall.

 

It's strange that one of the best 20 (if not even higher) teams of all time does not have a single player in Cooperstown. That will probably change this year if/when Morris gets in, but Trammell was the best player on that team.

kyyled5
kyyled5

Trammell deserves to get in, same as Larkin.

Misopogon
Misopogon

 @Michael10 I mean, he WAS that kind of star--it's just that during the 1980s there was a lot less fan interest in the game, and while some of his contemporaries had their legends rekindled in the early aughts, that was when the Tigers were terrible. Since then the only reasons anyone have provided for not electing Trammel to the Hall have been rhetorical: Yes the STATS say he was awesome but was he transcendent? Yes he was a very good player but other than being better at baseball than all but three or four guys for a decade was he "GREAT?"He was a better player by Ozzie by any metric other than this one (which overvalues defense) and a better player than Larkin or Sandberg by every metric, including "Fame" during his day. Sportswriters, especially in the '80s, hardly ever cover more than one team plus maybe the going dynasty and a rival--they always have to rely on general fan sentiment to know, later on, who was really "great."If you want metrics beyond being an incredible baseball player, okay, Trammell was the face of the franchise, enough so most people my age in Detroit went to school with a truly staggering number of kids named Alan. Enough so that he was Michigan's most regular Sports Illustrated cover boy, and the face of all but one program I kept from his era (which was opening day and had all of the Tigers on it). Enough so that we say "Trammell" in answer to who was your favorite player growing up the same way our dads said Kaline and our granddads said Greenberg, and their dads said Sam Crawford (nobody liked Ty). If he wasn't nationally famous it's because nobody was until Griffey, who had the good fortune to play at the beginning of the cable era of national instead of local sports figures.I'm sick of Tram being judged on non-memories and standards other than his admittedly Hall of Fame credentials. Was he the greatest shortstop who ever lived? Well if you ask non-Detroiters then no of course not. What Trammell did was play a career that was just average for a Hall of Famer; by what other standard could he possibly be judged for?

Michael10
Michael10

@MattBugaj And Whitaker was probably the better of the two -- at least by the standards Jaffe sets...

Michael10
Michael10

@CaptainJeffff Jaffe discusses this in his explanation of the system. Given that many HOF career run 10-15 years, a peak span that broad is too redundant.

Michael10
Michael10

@kyyled5 Trammell and Larkin may well deserve the same thing for similar careers, but it ain't being in the Hall of Fame. Neither was better than the fourth or fifth best SS of their era. If they put in the 4-5 best guys at each position every twenty years or so, there'd be twice as many in the HOF. When everyone is special, no one will be. Trammell was good, but not an all-time great...

Michael10
Michael10

The problem is the stats DON'T say he was awesome.  His rate stats (.285/.352/.415) were nearly identical to Yount's (.285/.342/.430), which were good, but not great.  They would probably be enough if he had Yount-like counting stats, too, but Trammell's totals are much more similar to the supposed non-hitting Ozzie's (Trammell's edge is about 150 HRs and 200 RBI; Ozzie's is 350 SBs and 200 more BBs/300 less Ks).  He didn't have Ripken's power or durability, he didn't have Ozzie's glove or baserunning prowess.  He was GOOD at all of these things, but not great at any of them.

 

 And he wasn't the "face" of the 1980's Tigers anymore than Lou or Jack -- not to anyone outside Detroit, and that's what being the face of an organization is, really.  Fans DID know players outside their own teams in the 80's, that's how small market players like Dale Murphy and Ozzie Smith were perennial top AS vote-getters.  Mattingly, Boggs, Gwynn, Brett, Schmidt, Henderson, even guys like Gooden, Strawberry, Canseco and Bo Jackson were household names long before big TV contracts. 

 

His stats don't set him apart, nor does his legacy outside of his hometown.  He was very good for a very long time, but so were many of his teammates -- and at least a few will find their way in via the VC.  His case just does not stack up against the dozen or so guys voted in ahead of him...

CaptainJeffff
CaptainJeffff

Are the 7 and 10 year lists redundant?  That would surprise me.  If so then obviously there's no point in having both, but we know it's harder to have 10 great years than it is to have 7, so I wonder if there isn't a difference.  And if there is, it would of value in gauging Hall-worthiness. 

 

 

 

 

RobPollard
RobPollard

 @Michael10  @kyyled5 I don't get that reasoning at all. 

 

If they "let in" 4-5 for every 20 years, that would mean that over 100 years of baseball, that person would have been one of the Top 16-20 to play the position. If you're one of the 20 best at a position in over 100 years, that's exclusive company.

 

Besides, Trammell isn't #20. As shown on various lists, he's somewhere in the 10-15 range. If you're one of the best 10-15 to ever play a position which is arguably the most important in the infield, that HOF-worthy.

Michael10
Michael10

@CaptainJeffff No, the point is that ten years and a full career is nearly redundant. I would bet a very, very high percentage of all players (not just HOFers) produce 80-90% of their career value in ten select years.

Michael10
Michael10

@RobPollard @kyyled5 Major League Baseball is going into its 143rd season -- so that would be 30-40 players per position (even over only 100 years, that's 20-25). Trammell does rank in the top fifteen in algorithm-based systems like WARP, WAR and JAWS. But according to these rankings, half of the dozen best shortstops played at least part of theis career in the last twenty years. I'd agree that 12-15 players per position is a good number to maintain high HOF standards, but this list can't be compiled via raw data. There are many players that fall just below the arbitrary mathematecal lines that have much better HOF cases than those just above them. Historical context and other factors outside the numbers have to be considered...