MLB Hall of Fame voting is underway and San Francisco Giants second baseman Jeff Kent has seen an early uptick in support. He still has a long way to go to gain enshrinement.
After years of stacked Hall of Fame ballots, the field of candidates is finally beginning to thin, and that could bode well for a few former San Francisco Giants players.
Among the biggest beneficiaries of a thinner ballot is former second baseman Jeff Kent.
Here’s a look at the latest balloting results:
Outside of Derek Jeter, there are no assurances that anyone else will be joining Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller as part of the 2020 Hall of Fame class.
Kent is entering his seventh year on the ballot, and thus far, he has not come close to the necessary 75 percent needed for enshrinement:
- 2014: 15.2%
- 2015: 14.0%
- 2016: 16.6%
- 2017: 16.7%
- 2018: 14.5%
- 2019: 18.1%
Players can only remain on the ballot for 10 years, so Kent has an uphill battle ahead to reach the 75 percent threshold, but momentum is building.
As a player, Kent’s calling card was his bat.
He was one of the most potent power-hitting second basemen in baseball history, and he ranks highly in a number of meaningful offensive categories at his position.
For starters, he ended his career with 377 home runs, which is the most ever by a second baseman. Robinson Cano will likely pass Kent at some point, but he remains 54 home runs behind him heading into the 2020 season.
Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Kent are the only players to lead their respective position in career home runs and not be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Rodriguez retired in 2016 and is not eligible to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot until 2022.
Kent was not just a home run hitter, either, as he had gap-to-gap power. He ranks fifth all time among second basemen with 560 career doubles. Three of the four players ahead of Kent on that list are in the Hall of Fame.
He was a middle-of-the-order threat at a position that has never been known for offensive prowess, tallying 1,518 career RBI. There are several Hall of Famers whose RBI total sits below that mark, including Mickey Mantle (1,509), Vladimir Guerrero (1,496), Eddie Mathews (1,453) and Jim Rice (1,451).
In fact, Nap Lajoie and Rogers Hornsby are the only second basemen to eclipse Kent’s 1,518 figure with 1,599 RBI and 1,584 RBI, respectively. It should be noted that both Lajoie and Hornsby played in a much earlier era, and no player at the position besides Kent has reached the 1,500 RBI plateau since 1937.
One of the perks of being a power hitter is being able to drive yourself in, and Kent scored plenty of runs as well. He crossed home plate 1,320 times in his career, which ranks 12th among all-time second baseman.
Not surprisingly, 10 of the 11 second basemen ahead of Kent in runs scored have a plaque in Cooperstown. Ryne Sandberg is 13th on this list, and he is also in the Hall of Fame.
Continuing on, his 2,461 career hits also ranked 12th all-time at the position, and every retired second baseman with more hits is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Four of the five second baseman behind Kent in all-time career hits are in the Hall of Fame as well, with Lou Whitaker being the lone exception.
In terms of home runs, doubles, RBI, runs, and hits, there were few players like Kent. He demonstrated unique power at his position, and accumulated impressive career stats.
However, he was not just an accumulator.
The term “accumulator” often gets thrown around when dissecting a player’s Hall of Fame credentials. It’s essentially a player who accumulated historically great statistics during his playing career due to longevity. That was not the type of player Kent was by any means.
Granted, his career did span 17 seasons, which included stints with the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
However, his 123 OPS+ and 123 wRC+ make it clear he was a well above-average hitter, producing at a level 23 percent above average..
The OPS+ is the 17th highest mark among retired second baseman. It is higher than several recent Hall of Fame inductees, including Roberto Alomar (116 OPS+), Ryne Sandberg (114 OPS+), and Craig Biggio (112 OPS+).
Part of the reason Kent has seen limited support could be that he got a late start to building his Hall of Fame resume. He was known as a quality offensive contributor early in his career, but he did not really find his groove until he reached San Francisco.
The Giants acquired Kent along with Julian Tavarez and Jose Vizcaino in a 1996 trade that sent fan-favorite Matt Williams to the Cleveland Indians. The trade was widely ridiculed by the Giants fan base at the time, which prompted general manager Brian Sabean to proclaim, “I am not an idiot!”
History will side with Sabean on this one as Kent put together one of the most impressive six-year stretches by any second baseman in baseball history.
It included 175 home runs, 689 RBI, and a .903 OPS (136 OPS+). That run included three All-Star selections and National League MVP honors in 2000. He never had a season with less than 100 RBI while wearing a Giants uniform.
He was also part of a core that reached the playoffs in three of those six seasons, including one World Series appearance. In his final home game with the Giants, which was a Game 5 victory in the 2002 World Series against the Anaheim Angels, he helped ignite the offense by swatting two home runs.
And he did it all with the enthusiasm of someone washing their truck.
Despite his strong offensive production, the biggest knock against Kent is his defense.
He did not have the range or athleticism of the modern-day middle infielder. However, he was able to turn a double play about as well as anyone.
In 17 seasons, Kent committed 236 errors, which included 194 at second base. That sounds like a lot, but it only comes out to about 12 errors per season. Admittedly, errors are generally not a great statistic to measure a player’s defensive ability, as a player cannot receive an error on a ball he did not get to.
It is difficult, though not impossible, to evaluate Kent’s defensive ability through modern-day analytics. However, defensive metrics such as DRS and UZR, which have inherent flaws, were not developed and applied until 2002.
As a result, these metrics show that Kent generated -52 DRS and -5.1 UZR in his final seven seasons as a second baseman. By today’s standards, that is difficult to stomach even with his potent bat.
However, these metrics unfairly capture Kent’s work with the glove in the latter stages of his career. Every player’s defense regresses as they age, and Kent was no exception.
According to Baseball Reference, Kent posted -0.1 defensive WAR for his career, meaning was a hair below replacement-level based on that metric. Similar to DRS and UZR, dWAR has its limitations, and should be looked at as a small piece of broader analysis.
With all this being said, long-time St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons was just elected to the Hall of Fame by the Modern Era Committee due in large part to his offensive contributions. That included 2,472 hits, 248 home runs, 1,389 RBI, and a .785 OPS across 21 seasons.
On the surface, those do not look like Hall of Fame numbers. However, when viewed in the context of his position, Simmons ranks as one of the better offensive catchers in baseball history.
His election could be a precedent for Kent. On the surface, Kent may not have the resume to get elected. However, when viewed in the context of his position, he was one of the best offensive second baseman in baseball history. That is especially true when looking at second basemen over the past 75 years.
At this stage, Kent has not received the type of support that puts him on a trajectory to eventually be enshrined by the BBWAA voters. He may need to wait until he appears on the Modern Era ballot. That committee consists of former players, front office executives, and baseball historians.
One way or another, Kent deserves to have his name etched into Cooperstown, and the voters should help him get there.