The short and obvious answer: they are not in the Hall of Fame.
But there is another relatively simple thread connecting these five players that may partly explain why in spite of their seemingly unassailable career numbers they have not gotten the call.
On the ballot for the first time in 2011, Bagwell was deemed worthy by only 41.7% of the voters, a shocking total given his 79.9 career wins above replacement, ranking him fiftieth all time among players currently eligible for the Hall of Fame. With Bert Blyleven’s enshrinement all 49 players ahead of Bagwell—and an overwhelming percentage going quite a ways down the list behind him—are Hall of Famers.
In 1998 Jeff Bagwell was the most valuable player on a Houston Astros team that won 102 games and ran away with their division. He put up great numbers by traditional standards (.304, 34, 111), nineties era sabermetrics (.424 OBP, .981 OPS), or the newer WAR (6.7), he was a solid defender, and reportedly a clubhouse leader worthy of all the intangible points you want to hand out. Not that any of this means he actually deserved an MVP, but consider this: in 1998 Jeff Bagwell did not receive a single vote. For the record he finished behind Mickey Morandini.
In light of this I decided to compare Bagwell’s league rank in WAR to his finish in the MVP voting:
Note that every year until 1999 he was underrated, with the exception of 1994 when he was properly rated at the most valuable player in the league. After 2000, though, the rankings completely flip and he becomes overrated. No doubt a large part of the explanation is simply that award voting is largely influenced by a player’s reputation, but it suggests an interesting theory: are players who produce later in their careers more appreciated than players who put up similar numbers when they are younger?
To test this theory I looked at players, like Jeff Bagwell, who accumulated 40 or more WAR by the season when they were 29 years old and compared them to the players who accumulated 40+ WAR starting at age 30. There was one player in each group (Shoeless Joe Jackson in the young achievers and Pete Rose in the late bloomers) ineligible for the Hall. The pending column is made up of recently retired/on the ballot.
|Group||Total Players||Hall of Famers||non-Hall of Famers||Pending||Ineligible|
The upshot: it’s not just what you did but when you did it. In the baseball history Bob Johnson is the only player to ever accumulate 40 WAR after turning 30 who was not elected into the Hall of Fame. (His career total was a mere 53 WAR, having not reached the majors until he was 27.) On the other hand, there are ten players (including Ted Simmons and Ron Santo) on the younger list who dropped off the ballot, and three more (Raines, Trammell, and Bagwell) currently on the ballot who may not get in.
But as Sam Gamgee’s gaffer used to say, it’s an ill wind that don’t blow nobody no good, so perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in this for fans of Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker, the two members of the older group currently on the ballot.