Recently glancing over at Drunk Jays Fans and their overall ambivalence of Toronto Blue Jays bullpen maestro Jason Frasor, there was a small mention on John Olerud’s first time appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2011. DJF doesn’t believe Olerud is Hall of Fame material, and even the esteemed Joe Posnanski seems to indicate the same conclusion amongst others. But how close is John Olerud to Cooperstown?
Regarding John Olerud’s chances for the Hall, Beyond the Boxscore went over historical WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for First Basemen not too long ago. Aside from the utter ridiculousness of Lou Gehrig, John Olerud’s career WAR comes out to 56.6, which ranks him 23rd all-time. As Fangraphs also elaborated in a previous article (and much better than I could ever write), Olerud has a career wOBA .376 in an era where the average wOBA was only .330 to .345. A career OBP of .398 ranks Olerud 65th all time, right around players like Joe Dimaggio, and higher than much more popular players such as Don Mattingly. While Olerud did not play at a premium position, his value on defence (97 runs above replacement) exceeds above average corner outfielders and below average infielders. Whatever measure one uses, Olerud’s defensive skills are top notch.
Though Olerud achieved 6.0 WAR only two times (6.0 WAR is a good baseline for an MVP type season), he exceeded 6.0 WAR by a fairly big margin (4.3 total points). As comparison, Rafael Palmeiro achieved four 6.0 WAR seasons, but he only exceeded 6.0 WAR by 1.6 total points. Fred McGriff had a career WAR of 50.5. and he only exceeded his two 6.0 WAR seasons by 0.7 total points. Once again, BtB’s recent inclusion of Weighted WAR illuminates the aforementioned point quite nicely.
Recently inducted Andre Dawson’s career WAR was 56.8. Dawson’s selection into the Hall, rightly or wrongly, can only help Olerud’s case. The path for great, but not necessarily historically great players into Cooperstown became that much more palatable. With the increased hesitancy to vote for players under steroid suspicion, John Olerud appears to fit into that criteria of “good enough”.
However, in the end, John Olerud will likely not enter Baseball’s Hall of Fame without a full admission ticket. Admittedly, Andre Dawson’s MVP award in 1987 really helped his cause in terms of optics, despite comparative career values. With low career home run and RBI totals, especially for a First Baseman, Olerud’s peripheral statistics lead many observers to skip over his credentials. Unfortunately, that would mean ignoring one of that era’s best players at getting on base and fielding his position in John Olerud.
John Olerud really does deserve a longer look than a cursory glance because he differentiates from players of his era by being that much better. More importantly, Olerud could be the first player immortalized onto the Hall of Fame plaque wearing a batting helmet. That’s pretty sweet, no?