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.) So let’s run it for Andres Galarraga…
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. In 1993, he won the batting title and hit .370, and the profoundly ignorant might have been impressed by that, but even they knew something fishy was going on in Denver.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
He was the best player on the Rockies for the first two years of their existence, until they brought in Larry Walker. He was also the best player on the Expos for one year, 1988, but that was a fluke in which he played well and Tim Raines had a bad season — Raines was the “true” best player. He was the best hitter on the Braves in 1998, though their best players were Maddux and Glavine.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Galarraga was the 2000 starter at first base for the NL All-Stars, but that was basically a sympathy vote after he’d missed the last season recovering from cancer. The real best first baseman in the league was Helton or Bagwell. He did win two Silver Sluggers, eight years apart, in 1988 and 1996. I would say that there never was a time when he was recognized as the best first baseman in the NL, that it was Will Clark early in his career, Bagwell or McGriff later, then Bagwell or Helton.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
For most of his career, Galarraga’s teams were also-rans. In 1987, he played well as the Expos finished third, just four games behind the Cardinals, but did most of his damage in the first half, hitting only .270/.320/.382 after the break. If he’d played better, it’s conceivable that the Expos might have caught the Cards, or (more likely) taken it to the wire before losing. This is the only year in which he was really a key player in making it or not. He played well in three seasons in which his team made postseason, with the Braves in 1998 and 2000 and as a backup/platoon player with the Giants in 2003, but those teams weren’t pressed. His 1995 with the Rockies was below-average, not that anyone noticed (he slugged .510, but who didn’t?) but they won the wildcard anyway.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Galarraga’s prime is hard to find, and not just because of the distortions of park effects in his Colorado years. His two best seasons (by OPS+) are at age 37 with the Braves and age 27 with the Expos. Galarraga missed the season after his best year, but played three years after that, pretty well. For his last four seasons, he was one of the oldest players in the league.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Of course not. He’s not close to it.
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
This is probably the strongest part of Galarraga’s case. The most similar player to Galarraga, by far, is Orlando Cepeda, with a similarity score of 940. There are all sorts of reasons why this is a bad comparison, having to do with the era, Galarraga’s park effects, and stature in the game. The fact is that they do have similar stats, and Galarraga has more homers and RBI. Two of the three next-most similar players, Jim Rice and Willie Stargell, are also in the Hall, and the third, Joe Carter, probably will be some day; I think Carter is a much better comp than the others. Nobody else on Galarraga’s comp list is in, but it includes Bagwell, who should sail in, and Murphy and McGriff, who are popular candidates, around here anyway.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Galarraga meets 35 percent of Hall of Fame standards, which is a low total for a candidate, though there are a few in who are lower than that. In the other “standards” categories, he is on the low side but qualified: 115 on the Hall of Fame Monitor, 21 in Black Ink (27 is average for a Hall of Famer) and 122 in Grey Ink (144 is average).
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Park effects, park effects, park effects.
Galarraga spent five seasons in Denver, coming at a point in his career when he appeared to be spiraling out of the league. During these seasons, he hit .316/.367/.577. That looks awfully good, but it’s in a league contest of (numbers by Baseball-Reference) .295/.367/.560. Adjust the context for historically average offense, and you get .286/.334/.525. Basically, he hit for a lot of power, but his on-base wasn’t anything special. However, we’re not talking a huge number of home runs; he got about eight extra playing in Colorado. And to be fair, he spent most of the rest of his career in pitchers’ parks. Also, he was considered a fine glove man, though my impression is that defensive statistics don’t necessarily bear this out.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
He’s not the best in his class, Fred McGriff is. There are also two holdover candidates, Mark McGuire and Don Mattingly. McGuire is a special case, and everyone pretty much would agree that he outrates Galarraga if you don’t have to take [redacted] into account. Mattingly was a similar type of player to Galarraga, actually, a high-average first baseman with pop who didn’t walk a lot. His best years were better, but he didn’t have as many good years, and I’d give the edge to Galarraga, who is also obviously far ahead of the other first basemen on the ballot, Eric Karros and David Segui. All of these guys will be looking up at Bagwell when he becomes eligible.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Galarraga never won an MVP or drew a first-place vote; his best finish was sixth, and he drew votes in seven different years. He did lead the league in home runs and RBI in 1996 (finishing sixth in the vote) and that’s always been the sort of thing that wins MVP awards, but his team finished eight games back and everybody knew to take at least a little air out of the numbers. His 1998 is also an MVPish sort of season in a year in which Mark McGwire doesn’t hit 70 homers and Sammy Sosa doesn’t hit 66.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
Galarraga started one All-Star game and was named to four more. This is low for a HOF candidate, but the same number as McGriff.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Depends upon your definition. At his absolute best, in 1998, I would say yes. The problem is that he never established that level; he had, as mentioned, two seasons that good, but ten years apart. I think that other than in those seasons, it would be very unlikely that a team with Galarraga as its best player could win a pennant.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Coming back from cancer was an inspiring story, though I don’t think it changed the game in any way. His biggest impact was as the big hitter on those early Rockies teams. The benefit that he and Charlie Hayes got from Mile High Stadium was so extreme that nobody could deny its impact.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Yes sir. Again, coming back from a season off recovering from cancer, at the age of 39, is the sort of thing that these guidelines are supposed to be about.
I’m sorry, I just can’t see it. Galarraga had a couple of years of Hall of Fame numbers, but if you take the air out of the Denver stats, his other seasons aren’t at that level, and his case is borderline to begin with. I am a Big Hall guy, but I don’t think mine is quite big enough. I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.