Monday, June 2, 2008

Hall of Fame Watch: Jeff Kent

I was watching the Mets/Dodgers game on ESPN last night, which featured Jeff Kent, and I got to thinking about Jeff Kent's Hall of Fame chances.

I have a tenuous personal connection to Kent in that we both attended U.C. Berkeley around the same time. He finished his junior year while I was a freshman, so I got to watch him play for the Bears that season. What I remember about him is that he was one of the top players on a decent team. However, it's pretty safe to say that no one watching him at the time would've predicted that he would be the topic of a Hall of Fame discussion 20 years later. (The same couldn't be said of another player from that era who I got to watch: Mike Mussina. He pitched for Stanford at the time and I watched him absolutely overwhelm the Bears on at least one occasion. But I digress.)

In fact, no one watching Jeff Kent as recently as 2000 would have pegged him for a Hall of Famer. But Kent has quietly continued to put up big seasons from a key defensive position (second base), and he's creeping up on 400 homers. He's clearly at least on the cusp of the Hall of Fame. But does he belong?

The Case for Jeff Kent, Hall of Famer

1. Power. He's the greatest slugging second baseman in baseball history, with 370 career home runs, including 344 at the position (as of today). He's way ahead of Rogers Hornsby, Ryne Sandberg, and Joe Morgan. There's nobody active who's even close. Maybe Chase Utley will make a run at the record, but that's many years away.

2. RBIs. Since being traded to the Giants, he's become one of the most consistent RBI men in modern baseball. Beginning in 1997, he drove in at least 100 runs in 8 of his next 9 seasons (with 93 during the other one), and even into his 40s, he continues to deliver big hits in the middle of the order.

3. Position. If he were a left fielder or first baseman, none of these stats would mean much, but since he's a second baseman, he stands out all the more. He's never been a particularly great fielder, but who cares when you hit as well as he does.

4. MVP. He won the 2000 MVP award over teammate Barry Bonds. Bonds deserved it more, but Kent got the hardware.

The Case Against Jeff Kent, Hall of Famer

1. Not an all-time great. Other than his MVP season in 2000, Kent was never really regarded as a truly special player. His HOF credentials are mostly the result of playing the bulk of his career driving in Barry Bonds.

He also wouldn't really rank all that high on the list of the all-time greatest second basemen. Off the top of my head, he would rank below Morgan, Hornsby, Collins, Sandberg, Lajoie, probably Gehringer and Biggio, probably Alomar and Frankie Frisch.

2. Post-season disappointments. Kent played in one World Series, which his Giants lost. He played in two LCSs and went 1-1. I'm not saying it's Kent's fault -- he played well in most of his playoff appearances. I'm just saying that there is no lasting impression of Kent as a post-season hero.

3. Impressions. The honest truth is that Kent just doesn't "feel" like a Hall of Famer to most fans. My impression is that if you were ask fans to name a list of active players, Kent's name simply would not -- or would rarely -- come up.

Bottom Line

It's an iffy proposition. Do I think Kent belongs? Yes, probably. He certainly wouldn't dishonor the Hall of Fame, and he's played well enough for a long period to earn his place.

Do I think it will get in? Not for a long time. He probably won't be a first- or second-ballot HOFer. If he makes it, it'll be in a year in which no absolute-lock Hall of Famer is on the ballot. Ultimately, though, I think people will look at the numbers and decide that he should be in. My hunch: Class of 2024.

1 comment:

realfun said...

1500 rbis 32 alltime extras 21 doubles .289 avg and still adding no one at any position has been excluded at any position. Better fielding % than half in the hall avg 10 stolen bases in his prime. Top 50 in sacs,hbp 63 in hrs 61 in total bases More doubles than Mays,More extre bases than Mantle and if not flashy very good fielder 1350 dps at second and some when he played first.Active leader in rbis in exta innings and years of 10 plus hrs. plus still an excellent player. Lost time with crazy Met organization. Look at his numbers they are declining slightly this year but has hit in really tough luck. To exclude Kent as a first ballot second basemen would be tantamount to saying Hank AARON was an average player. First W.S. 3hrs 7 rbis lat league series 6-9 with a hr.Please look at the numbers they are quite unreal especially losing so much time with the Mets stupidity.