19th century outfielder Tommy McCarthy was the most valuable position player on the 1890 St. Louis Browns. He had a nice little career from 1884 through 1896, with a slightly above-average for the era batting line and a total accumulation of 14.6 career Wins Above Replacement. For reasons which elude modern baseball historians, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
There is an entire section of McCarthy’s Wikipedia page about how he’s The Worst Hall Of Famer. Modern Hall of Fame inductees such as Jim Rice and Jack Morris are maligned by analytically-inclined baseball fans but each has more than triple the career WAR of McCarthy. When analyzing Hall of Fame candidates, baseball writer Jay Jaffe devised what is known as the JAWS system, which is scored by an average of a player’s career WAR and the combined WAR of his seven best seasons, which allows players to be evaluated by their career longevity and by their high peaks and McCarthy, who had neither, ranks 137th in JAWS among right fielders.
You know who, by JAWS, has been deemed a more deserving Hall of Famer than Tommy McCarthy? Well, a lot of players have. Bernie Carbo, who had two stints with the Cardinals in the 1970s and early 1980s, is the next player above McCarthy on the list, and he didn’t even make it onto a Hall of Fame ballot. Cody Bellinger, 25, is ahead of McCarthy. Although not a right fielder, Mike Trout passed McCarthy in his second MLB season.
Is the lesson here that, like, Trot Nixon should be a Hall of Famer? No, but Trot Nixon can say he was better than a Hall of Famer. When evaluating prospective Hall of Fame candidates, baseball fans and writers are more inclined to look at the best players not to make it rather than the worst to make it, and I’m not really sure why that is. Are we going to say Chase Utley shouldn’t make the Hall of Fame because Bobby Grich had a superior career and isn’t in Cooperstown? We shouldn’t! If this is your reason for objecting to Utley, put Grich in too! They both had vastly superior careers to Bill Mazeroski and he made it in!
There are five players on the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals who already have Hall of Fame resumés by the “a worse player already made it in at his position” standard (it wouldn’t surprise me if Dylan Carlson passes McCarthy and reaches this group by the time he reaches salary arbitration). Are they Hall of Famers? Well, at least one of them probably will be. But should they all be? …you know what, yes, yes they should be. Every one of them.
Before I continue on to the actual Hall of Famers, I do regret to inform everybody that, although Andrew Miller technically fulfills the requirements that I have set forth, I cannot in good conscience put Miller into Cooperstown, since the lone relief pitcher in the Hall as a player that Miller has bested by JAWS is Satchel Paige. Paige, though a successful MLB relief pitcher, did not debut until he was 42 years old and is in the Hall of Fame primarily for his accomplishments in Negro League baseball. Paige is anecdotally one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived, and the fact that he didn’t debut until he was 42 and nearly reached the JAWS score of Andrew Miller, a former starter who has earned over $81 million in his MLB career, isn’t the worst argument you could make for Satchel Paige.
But now, let’s look at the actual Hall of Famers. Well, “actual”.
At 30 years old, Nolan Arenado is not yet actually eligible for the Hall of Fame, as he would be required to play in ten MLB seasons and he is merely in season #9. But despite his relatively young MLB career and despite third base being a notoriously difficult position from which to make the Hall, Arenado is the 30th best player in the history of the position by JAWS and is ahead of four different men to make the Hall of Fame–Deacon White, George Kell, Pie Traynor, and Freddie Linstrom. Traynor was one of six third basemen to make the All-(20th) Century Team final ballot, and an objective measure of performance–one which contextualizes that Arenado spent most of his career playing in Denver, one which looks at strictly numerical and not anecdotal accounts of his fielding–says Nolan Arenado is better. Of course, it also says Gary Gaetti was better, so it’s possible Pie Traynor was just wildly overrated. But still!
Guess I might as well knock the other third baseman out now–he’s ahead of Freddie Linstrom, as the #77 third baseman in baseball history. Fun fact–the second-best third baseman in MLB history who isn’t in the Hall of Fame is Scott Rolen, and the top guy isn’t yet eligible. Put these guys (Rolen and Adrián Beltré) in the dang Hall! From there, the next few third basemen by JAWS are Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Buddy Bell, Sal Bando, and Dick Allen. While I have gone on the record to say that I think Nettles should be in the Hall, I know he never will be, and am content to see him lead this phenomenal group of Baseball Dudes.
JAWS punishes Yadier Molina in ways that using FanGraphs WAR metrics would not. Baseball Reference WAR is mostly fine but it has a near-fatal flaw when it comes to catchers, as the metric ignores pitch framing. It also ignores all of the intangible factors, like handling of a pitching staff, that absolutely matter and absolutely are real even if they cannot be properly measured, but I can forgive that limitation. Even so, Molina is still regarded as the #22 catcher of all-time. This puts Molina ahead of Ernie Lombardi, Ray Schalk, and Rick Ferrell. Here’s a fun fact that has somehow escaped me until just now–Rick Ferrell was worth 31.1 career WAR and made it to Cooperstown, while his younger brother Wes compiled 60 WAR as a pitcher and didn’t make it. Speaking of baseball brothers and being underestimated by Baseball Reference WAR, José Molina was worth 3.1 bWAR for his career and, because he was a capital-E Elite framer, he’s at 17.7 fWAR.
Adam Wainwright is the quintessential “Hall of Fame candidate for Cardinals fans” Hall of Fame candidate of the current team. Wainwright is absolutely not going to make it to Cooperstown, and the numbers say he shouldn’t, but you can squint and you can cherry-pick statistics to make an argument for Wainwright if you enter with an agenda. But it’s not like you have to make up numbers–he was really good and he’s definitely going to make a Hall of Fame ballot, at least. He is tied with Tom Candiotti and Fernando Valenzuela as the 172nd best pitcher in MLB history, which puts Wainwright ahead of Lefty Gomez, Rube Marquard, and Jesse Haines. Haines, a quintessential stat compiler who got into Cooperstown under the “Frankie Frisch sneaks all of his friends in through the back door in the 70s” Rule, is one of the more shameful Cardinals in the Hall, and Marquard isn’t far ahead, but Lefty Gomez actually has some juice. He made the Sporting News‘s Top 100 Baseball Players list and was an All-Century Team finalist in 1999 and was the best pitcher on teams with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. If you’re better than a legend of that esteem, you should certainly be a Hall of Famer, right?
Although he would obviously go in as an Arizona Diamondback, Goldschmidt ranks 34th by JAWS. He is just a hair behind Orlando Cepeda, a Hall of Famer, so he might expand to ahead of four Hall of Fame first basemen by the time Baseball Reference updates from where they stood on Wednesday night. But for now, let’s focus on the three first basemen that Goldschmidt leads by JAWS–Frank Chance, Jim Bottomley, and George “High Pockets” Kelly. Kelly was a Frankie Frisch inductee (there are so many terrible inductees that Frisch is responsible for that I consider it a relief that Tommy McCarthy made it independently of the former Cardinals second baseman), and Jim Bottomley was inducted around the same time under similar pretenses (though the former NL MVP is a far less embarrassing selection than Kelly). But Frank Chance retired before Frisch debuted; quibble with his induction if you must, but Chance didn’t get in by virtue of cronyism. Chance was a member of the most famous double play combination in history–the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance of the late 1900s, and he was the best player of the group. He also managed the Chicago Cubs to the 1908 World Series title. Perhaps starting a “DeJong to Edman to Goldschmidt” poem is in order for Cardinals fans who wish to fast-track his candidacy.