Ed. note: Once a year, Mac used to write up a Keltner List for a retired Brave, as a way of debating whether he deserved to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. A few years ago, I wrote one for Kenny Lofton; two years ago, Sansho wrote one for Deacon White, who played for the Boston Red Stockings in the National Association and the National League, the team that is the forerunner to the modern Braves; and last year, Kevin Lee wrote one for Barry Bonds, who was nearly a Brave before the Pirates nixed the deal.
Here’s Mac’s standard preamble to Keltner lists: The Keltner List was developed by Bill James as a device to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy. In The Politics of Glory James says that it is probably his favorite tool to do that. (You can read about the background in that book, or do a Google search, for further information.)
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
No. Andruw was considered the best defensive outfielder of his generation, routinely argued to be the best defensive player at any position during his prime, and arguably the best defensive centerfielder of all time. He was also clearly one of the best offensive players at his position for about 10 years. But in a league that included Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey among other notable superstars, Andruw was never, and never should have been described as “the best player in baseball.” At his peak, in 2005, he came in second in MVP voting to Albert Pujols.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
Probably not. Always a core piece of the puzzle, he was nevertheless overshadowed by “the other Jones boy” or the “Big Three” in the rotation. You could make an argument for 2005, a year where Chipper was hobbled with injury and lacked the additional defensive value Andruw provided and only John Smoltz and Tim Hudson were around to compete on the pitching side, but the question isn’t if he was ever the best player on his team for a single year. Andruw was usually the second or third guy in the lineup (behind Chipper and someone like McGriff or Andres or Gary Sheffield) and, of course, there was always Greg Maddux to account for.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Again, a more difficult question than we as fans might like to assume. Andruw was always in the conversation, but he played against Griffey in his early days, and he played against Jim Edmonds in his later years. You can make arguments that he was the best CF in the game for certain years, but it’s hard to say he was better than Junior across the entirety of his career.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Yes. Absolutely, yes. Andruw was a core component of every Braves team from 1996-2006, which rather obviously includes pennant drives through 2005.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
Uh…. No. No he was not. I mean, yeah, he plugged along as a league average DH/1B in the AL and Japan after the debacle in LA, but he was done as a regular contributor to pennant worthy teams by the age of 30.
6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Barry Bonds still exists.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
According to B-REF’s similarity scores, Andruw’s most similar historical comp is…Dale Murphy. Yeah. That seems about right.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
As noted in the comments of a previous thread, the Hall regularly undervalues defense and regularly underrepresents center fielders. Andruw’s core case for the Hall is that he was a world historical defensive talent who crushed 400+ homeruns out of CF. I personally think the Hall should recognize those types of players (inclusive of Edmonds and Murphy.) The Hall voters seem to ignore my suggestions on the matter. Perhaps my rhetoric is not civil enough for their delicate ears.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
This depends, once again, on how you value defense and how you rate defensive stats. I think Andruw is underrated by voters (or will be) because they underrate historic defensive value outside of pet project players (i.e. Ozzie Smith.)
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
You know, now that Junior is in, he very well may be. Edmonds has a case, with Murphy and Kenny Lofton sliding into the conversation after them.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Received MVP votes in 5 seasons, but only broke into the top 5 vote totals once. (2005.)
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
Was an All-Star in all five seasons he received MVP votes (2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006.) Was generally undersold as an All-Star due to the glut of Braves represented during those years, the glut of slugging OFs from other teams, the fact that Mike Cameron’s teams occasionally needed a representative, and/or the fact that people of the time really, really over estimated the value of Steve Finley.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
A team led by peak Andruw could win the pennant. It could be argued that Andruw led his team to the pennant in 2005.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Aside from vaguely educating a subset of MLB fans to the existence of Curacao and the Dutch Antilles in general, no.
UPDATE 12.22.2016: There’s a nice conversation in the comments thread below regarding whether or not Andruw’s manner of playing defense – playing very shallow to steal singles that other fielders let drop, and racing to the gaps to cover balls over his head – “changed the game.” I am not convinced it did, because I’m not convinced other fielders without Andruw’s instincts and preparations to read the ball off the bat can get the same jumps on the balls over their heads to replicate his defensive alignments. That is to say, I’m not sure he “changed the game” so much as he was simply better than anyone else and could play it differently himself. That said, it’s a good question without a definitive yes/no answer…
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Andruw was always trailed by complaints about his conditioning and competitive desire, almost entirely due to the fact that his resting facial expression was a smiling smirk. Bobby Cox once pulled him from a game for “loafing” when he was 19, and that stuck for years as a “thing.” He got a giant contract from the Dodgers in 2007, showed up out of shape and had a disastrous season, and folks don’t seem to be willing to look past that either. All of this is generally crap reasoning IMHO, but they don’t let me vote.