JAWS and the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot Part III: More stray hitters
The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2014 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here.
On Wednesday, I ran through a quartet of players making their debuts on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. Their stays as candidates are likely to be short ones, as they’ll be hard pressed to receive even the five percent of the vote necessary to remain on the ballot for a second chance. That’s no great injustice, given that their JAWS are at least 20 points below the standards at their positions. The same more or less goes for this trio of players — Moises Alou, Ray Durham and Jacque Jones — one of whom barely finished inside that 20-point margin but whose chances for election are no better. All the same, these players’ careers are worth another look before they head off into the sunset.
|Avg HOF 2B||69.5||44.5||57.0|
|Avg HOF LF||65.0||41.5||53.2|
|Avg HOF RF||73.3||42.9||58.1|
Moises Alou (1990-2008)
In the 1950s, the Giants sought to counteract the sizable advantage the rival Dodgers had reaped by breaking the major league color line via the signings of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and others. They wound up being the early leaders in mining the Dominican Republic for talent, introducing Ozzie Virgil as the first Dominican-born player in the majors in 1957, signing future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal that same year and stockpiling a trio of outfield-playing brothers —Felipe, Matty and Jesus Alou — over the second half of the decade.
Felipe, the second Dominican player to reach the majors after Virgil, spent 17 years in the bigs (1958-74) while twice leading the NL in hits and accumulating a total of 2,101 along the way. He had three sons by his first wife, two of whom went on to play professional ball, Jose (b. 1963) and Moises (b. 1966). Raised in Redwood City, Calif., the latter was chosen as the second overall pick by the Pirates in the January 1986 draft.
With outfielders Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla keying a three-year run (1990-92) atop the NL East, Pittsburgh didn’t carve out space for the younger Alou until it was too late. He played in just two games for the Bucs before being sent to the Expos — for whom father Felipe was the bench coach — as the player to be named later in a deal for starter Zane Smith, and thus wasn’t on hand to take over rightfield after Bonilla departed via free agency following the 1991 season.
As it was, a rotator cuff injury that required surgery cost Alou all of the ’91 season, delaying his official rookie season until 1992. Though initially he played sparingly, he hit .282/.328/.455 with nine homers and 16 stolen bases, and his playing time ticked notably upward shortly before manager Tom Runnells was fired in favor of his father, who kicked off what would become a 10-year run as Montreal’s skipper. The younger Alou finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Eric Karros that year, then improved to .286/.340/.483 with 18 homers in 1993 as the Expos won 94 games but lost out in the NL East to the 97-win Phillies.
It appeared in 1994 as though the tide had turned. Bursting at the seams with talents such as Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and Alou, Montreal bolted to a major-league best 74-40 record by early August. Alou hit a searing .339/.397/.592 with 22 homers, compiling 5.1 WAR and driving in the winning run with a walkoff double in his first All-Star Game. Alas, the players’ strike in August not only wiped out the remainder of the season, but the Expos’ run as contenders. The lack of playoff revenue forced general manager Kevin Malone to dismantle the team, so Walker left via free agency, while Grissom was one of several players traded. Alou stayed, but hit a much less impressive .278/.340/.458 over the next two years before departing via free agency himself.
He signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Florida Marlins, who stockpiled so much talent themselves that they wound up winning the NL wild card and the World Series. Alou hit .292/.373 /.493 with 23 homers and made another trip to the All-Star Game, but like so many other Marlins, he was traded after the team won it all. He went to Houston, where he put up monster numbers in the Astrodome — 38 homers, 124 RBIs, a career-best 6.2 WAR and a .312/.399/.582 line — en route to a third-place finish in the 1998 NL MVP voting behind Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Alas, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament the following February when he fell off a treadmill. A setback suffered while riding a bicycle quashed any hopes of a late-season comeback, and he wound up missing a prime season. Despite battling lesser leg injuries over the next two years, he continued his torrid hitting, batting a combined .342/.405/.586 with 57 homers in 262 games in 2000 and ’01.
Alou signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Cubs in December 2001. He struggled in his first year, but rebounded in his second while helping the team come within one win of a trip to the World Series. Alas, it was his failed pursuit of a Luis Castillo foul ball in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS that paired him with fan Steve Bartman in one of the most infamous incidents in Cubs lore. After a career-best 39 homers the following year at age 37, Alou reunited with his father, by then managing the Giants, having taken over for Dusty Baker in 2003 when the latter left for the Cubs.
While the son hit .321/.400/.518, he was limited to 123 games by two trips to the DL due to leg injuries, and San Francisco won just 75 games. It was a portent of things to come. He continued to rake at a .323/.372/.537 clip over the next three seasons with the Giants and Mets — his age 39-41 ones — but played just 98, 87 and 15 games, respectively, due to even more leg injuries.
With luck and better health, Alou almost certainly would have topped 2,500 hits and perhaps challenged 3,000 as well as 400 homers. As it was, he averaged just 107 games a year from 1991-2008, missing just over one-third of the possible games in that span (some of which were lost to the strike). Prorate his per-game totals over that stretch to a modest 145 games per year and he’d have finished 2,890 hits and 450 homers, numbers that would have garnered strong consideration for Cooperstown. While he still finished with very respectable numbers, and even surpassed his old man’s hit total by 33, it’s just not enough.
Ray Durham (1995-2008)
Short in stature at 5-foot-8, Durham was all too often overlooked during a 14-year major league career in which he earned All-Star honors just twice. A switch hitting fifth-round draft pick out of a Charlotte, N.C., high school, he still stands as one of the best offensive second basemen of the post-1992 expansion era, combining good speed and ample pop. Despite being retired for five seasons, his 43.2 offensive Wins Above Replacement still stands as the fifth-highest total among second basemen from 1993 onward, behind only Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, Roberto Alomar and Chase Utley. Alomar is already a Hall of Famer, Biggio is a strong candidate for induction this year and the other two will get plenty of consideration. Shakier defense and a shorter career prevent Durham from being considered in their class overall, but he was certainly a useful player in his day.
Durham reached the majors in 1995, but struggled as a rookie, hitting just .257/.309/.384, though he did steal 18 bases. He swiped 63 bags over the next two years, the latter of which saw him slip into Chicago’s leadoff spot, where he would spend most of the next five years. He earned All-Star honors in 1998, hitting .285/.363/.455 with 19 homers and 36 steals in 45 attempts, good for a career-best 4.3 WAR. Defense (-11 Total Zone that year, −73 for his career) just wasn’t his strongest suit — the Sox would toy with moving him to centerfield on several occasions — but the bat was fairly representative of his peak. From 1998-2002 he hit a combined .283/.362/.451 while averaging 17 homers, 29 steals, 115 runs scored and 3.7 WAR. He helped the White Sox to the 2000 AL Central title, making the AL All-Star team for the only other time that year.
With Durham approaching free agency, Chicago traded him to the A’s on July 25, 2002. Oakland had the much more defensively adept Mark Ellis at the keystone, so Durham slid into the DH role and batted a robust .274/.350/.457 in 54 games, helping the A’s reach 103 wins — their highest total since 1988 — and make the playoffs for the third straight year. He hit .333/.417/.762 and homered twice in the Division Series against the Twins, but alas, Oakland did not advance. In December he moved across the Bay, signing a three-year, $20.1 million deal with the Giants, who were fresh off an agonizing loss in the World Series. Durham expressed a willingness to move to centerfield if San Francisco re-signed the free agent Kent, but the latter soon opted for a two-year deal with the Astros instead.
Durham had been a particularly durable player up to that point, averaging 154 games a year from 1996-2002, but as he crossed into his 30s, he struggled to stay in the lineup; his bat maintained its level but he played in just 230 games in 2003-04 due to ankle, hamstring and knee injuries that significantly sapped his speed. After exercising a $7 million player option for 2006, he hit .293/.360/.538 for the Giants, setting career highs for slugging percentage as well as homers (26) and RBIs (93).
That of course led San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean to show his typical vulnerability to aging veterans; he signed Durham to a two-year, $14.5 million deal just days past his 35th birthday, only to watch him fall apart. Hampered by another hamstring injury, he hit .218/.295/.343 and was nine runs below average according to Defensive Runs Saved, finishing with −1.1 WAR despite respectable counting stats (11 homers, 10 steals, 71 RBIs). He rebounded in 2008, enough so that the Giants traded him to the Brewers for two minor leaguers in late July. Filling in for Rickie Weeks against righties, he hit .280/.369/.477 with three homers in 122 plate appearances down the stretch while helping the Milwaukee to its first playoff appearance in 26 years. Alas, that was his swan song; he didn’t receive a single major league offer the following winter, quietly forcing him into retirement at age 37.
Jacque Jones (1999-2008)
A second-round pick out of USC in 1996, Jones was part of a bumper crop of players who helped the Twins climb back to respectability in the early 2000s. Alas, he was no Torii Hunter, one of his teammates in Minnesota, with either the bat or the glove, so his bat was always stretched by playing an outfield corner. Protected from same-side pitching by manager Tom Kelly in his early years, he was all too often overexposed once Ron Gardenhire took over; Jones was just a career .230/.278/.350 hitter against southpaws.
Jones broke in with Minnesota during its 97-loss 1999 campaign, the team’s seventh consecutive losing season since winning the 1991 World Series. Sharing centerfield duties with fellow rookie Hunter and finding additional time at the outfield corners, he hit .289/.329/.460 with nine homers but just 17 walks in 95 games. Hunter eventually asserted himself as the superior fielder, so Jones settled into the leftfield job. He hit .276/.335/.417 with 14 homers in 2001 as the Twins broke their losing streak with an 85-win season. With Gardenhire taking over for Kelly in 2002, Jones became Minnesota’s regular leadoff hitter, and he broke out by setting career highs in on-base, slugging percentage and homers (27) via a .300/.341/.511 season, helping the Twins win the AL Central for the first time. Not only was his 5.4 WAR a career high, it was more value than he would put together in any three other seasons.
Jones hit .304/.333/.464 in 2003, but slipped to 16 homers; his walks declined from 37 to 21, and via Total Zone, his defense swung from +15 to −14. He spent two more seasons in Minnesota, fading even further with the bat (a combined .251/.317/.432) as he grew more expensive, even as he did finally learn to take a walk. He left the team via free agency following the 2005 season, signing a three-year, $16.5 million deal with the Cubs. He initially flourished with the bat, matching his career high in homers (27) while hitting .285/.334/.499, but from there it was all downhill.
While he moved back to centerfield and played respectably (+5 DRS), Jones lost 99 points of slugging percentage in 2007 (.285/.335/.400). The Cubs traded him to the Tigers that winter for Omar Infante, but he got off to such a terrible start in Detroit (.165/.244/.253 in 25 games) that he was designated for assignment in May, and his bat didn’t revive in a brief trial with the Marlins. Though he tried to catch on with the Reds and Twins the following two springs, and took detours to the Atlantic League (2009) and Triple-A (2010) once he failed, he never made it back to the majors.