About half of the eligible Hall of Fame voters won't think Barry Bonds deserves induction, and my job later today will be to describe why that's a good thing. Because it is. It's still a weird thing to put a positive spin on, but any progress will be good progress.
The hidden story is that Jeff Kent's chances have basically flatlined. He was at 15.2 percent in his first year, 14 percent last year, and while he's up to 18.6 percent in Ryan Thibodeaux's online tally, I'll guess that Kent comes in around 14 percent of the voting again. A great deal of that has to do with the overstuffed ballot and the dippy 10-player voting limit. But there's a bit of revisionist history that goes along with that, suggesting that Kent wasn't that good.
Jeff Kent was very, very, very good, and he was that good for the better part of 16 seasons.
The most common complaint has to do with his defense.
Jeff Kent was a fantastic hitter, among the best ever at 2B, and an absolute butcher in the field. The glove ultimately did him in.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 13, 2015
Now, fans are biased. We watched Jeff Kent play second for six years and no one else, so there really wasn't anyone to compare him to, other than the opposing second basemen who would usually flit in and out of our consciousness after a few routine play every series. Not to mention, Kent was followed by Ray Durham, who was probably even less adept at second.
But I think I would have remembered an absolute butcher. Anecdotally, I remember a second baseman who wasn't very good at balls hit up the middle, was pretty strong going to his left, and who was excellent on double play pivots. And while the stats tell a somewhat-conflicting story, but there's a pretty clear pattern to his career according to the metrics:
When he was with the Giants, he was either average or comfortably above-average in the field according to every advanced metric available. When he was with the Astros, it was more of the same. And when he was with the Dodgers, he was absolutely appalling.
That last one unquestionably strengthens his Hall of Fame credentials in my opinion, but I guess I can see how some people would disagree with that.
In his last three seasons with the Dodgers, Kent was worth -31 UZR, -3.4 dWAR, and -40 DRS, all of which ruined the defensive goodwill he'd built up in his statistical career before that. Is it possible for a player to be so horrible at the end of his career that it negates the value he provided his teams before that? I suppose so, but it would be almost impossible. Consider how bad Steve Carlton was for his final years, or any number of Hall of Famers.
Fair enough, but the argument for Kent also hinges on him being a productive hitter in those final years. You can't just ignore the defense, which made him average or worse, and that means those final years don't mean what we thought they meant. I can accept that. For his career, though, he was just fine in the field. He belonged at second base. It's where he helped his team the most. At least until he was with the Dodgers, and who cares about that period of his dumb career?
The argument for Kent is roughly something like this:
- Clearly the best hitting second baseman of his era
- One of the best hitting second basemen of all-time
- The career leader in home runs from a second baseman
- As good as Ryne Sandberg, at least offensively
- A unique player at an underrepresented position in the Hall
- Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich were robbed
That last one probably doesn't have much to do with this, but I felt like pointing it out.
It took 15 years for Jim Rice to get in, and he started with almost twice as much support as Kent. Bert Blyleven started with about the same support, but it took an Internet campaign and groundswell to get him in. And those players had 15 seasons, not 10 like players today. Even though the ballot will lighten up without these Maddux and Griffey types clogging up the works, it's still not looking good for Kent.
Kent isn't a clear, unambiguous Hall of Famer. I respect that. If you go by raw WAR, there might be 30 or 40 better players above him who won't get in, and a few of them are second basemen. But I'm a supporter of him getting in the Hall, if only because I'm a greedy Giants fan. The odds aren't looking so hot, though. The odds aren't looking so hot.