The Best Non-Hall Third Basemen, by WAR and WAE (Wins Above Excellence)

Sal Bando

I do love reading articles about the biggest Hall of Fame snubs. Joe Posnanski recently wrote a “Snubs” article featuring players in the Hall of Merit who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Wait, what’s the Hall of Merit? The Hall of Merit is curated by Baseball Think Factory. The description:

What is the Baseball Hall of Merit? A pantheon conceived of by our founder and commissioner Joe Dimino as an alternative to the Baseball Hall of Fame located in Cooperstown. Our purpose is to identify the best players in baseball history and thereby identify the omissions and errors that can be found in the other venerable institution.

Like catchers and relief pitchers, I’ve thought a lot about why third basemen trail behind others in terms of Hall of Fame population. Posnanski’s article actually mentions how third base is the one position that has the most Hall of Merit members not in the “real” Hall of Fame. What gives?

Armed with Wins Above Replacement and Wins Above Excellence as my tools, let’s take a look!

There are six third baseman in the Hall of Merit who are not in the Hall of Fame. They are (with career WAR):

While that’s a nice list, it leaves out two third baseman that actually ranked really well in terms of Wins Above Replacement—Buddy Bell (60.7) and Sal Bando (60.5). Adding them to the list, we have eight players in our conversation.

Looking at just those eight players by WAR, it becomes apparent why the Hall of Fame has an issue with voting these guys in. First of all, Ron Santo sits above the rest just about any way you look at it. He just might be the best offensive player not enshrined. It’s a shame. After him, however, from 61.3 to 57.0 (just a 4.3 WAR span), we have the next five players—Nettles, Bell, Bando, Boyer, and Evans. While there’s no excuse for Santo not being in the Hall of Fame, it seems that beyond Santo, nobody stands out from the crowd. Five guys that close together is a lot. It’s tough to put them all in, so voters have kept them all out.

Since I already added Buddy Bell and Sal Bando to the group, I felt I needed to make the table complete. So, three players—Bob Elliot, Ron Cey, and Toby Harrah—rank in between Hack and Groh while Robin Ventura actually ranks ahead of Hack.

The truth is, many of these players compiled great career WAR marks through consistent solid seasons. The Hall of Fame is as much about a demonstration of excellence as a long career, so Wins Above Excellence becomes a good way to help us distinguish between the third basemen.

In the below table, I’ve listed all of these players, ranked by WAR. I’ve added three columns for Wins Above Excellence—one that calculates all WAR over 3.0 runs (WAE3), over 4.0 runs (WAE4), and over 6.0 runs (WAE6). Sean Smith used 3.0 runs when he introduced WAE. I’m not sure, but it feels (to me) like 4.0 might be a better baseline. I included WAE6 because a 6.0 WAR season is a special season and it’s good to see who was capable of that.

And here’s the table (it’s sortable!).

Santo, Ron Yes 271 -3 -31 16 30 -7 -1 50 66.4 33.7 24.7 11.1
Nettles, Graig Yes 102 -1 5 -14 140 -1 2 42 61.3 19.3 10.8 1.9
Bell, Buddy No 111 -15 -8 1 173 4 -1 27 60.7 18.7 10.6 1.2
Bando, Sal No 208 11 5 17 28 8 0 38 60.5 27.2 18.4 4.7
Boyer, Ken Yes 148 12 3 23 70 4 -1 34 58.3 23.7 14.9 2.2
Evans, Darrell Yes 250 -3 7 -11 39 -1 -2 -51 57.0 15.9 9.2 3.8
Ventura, Robin No 146 -10 -9 -15 154 8 0 15 55.1 18.2 10.3 0.8
Hack, Stan Yes 240 24 0 0 2 0 0 15 54.8 16.0 9.7 1.0
Elliot, Bob No 260 1 0 0 -1 0 0 -22 52.2 15.7 6.6 0.2
Cey, Ron No 209 -11 -17 14 21 -2 0 31 51.8 16.4 8.9 0.8
Harrah, Toby No 173 26 4 8 -93 -4 0 70 47.0 11.1 5.5 0.6
Groh, Heinie Yes 157 3 0 0 35 0 0 44 46.4 14.0 6.8 1.1

In both WAE3 and WAE4, the top six goes:

  1. Ron Santo
  2. Sal Bando
  3. Ken Boyer
  4. Graig Nettles
  5. Buddy Bell
  6. Robin Ventura

In WAE6, Darrell Evans jumps to 3rd while Robin Ventura drifts off a bit from the pack. Evans’ leap was somewhat surprising since he is in the lower half for both WAE3 and WAE4.

What does this mean?

It’s still crazy how close together the career value of these players are. Ron Santo is obviously the leader of the pack in every single measure. He should absolutely be a Hall of Famer. Judging by WAR and the various flavors of WAE, if I was forced to rank someone second place here… it’s gonna be Sal Bando. And that surprises me. He’s been snubbed by the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Merit.

It’s fairly obvious to see why a guy like Buddy Bell is underrated. The vast majority of his career value came from his defense. While Bando was an above average defender (according to Total Zone), his offense was the major part of his game. It’s clear Bando is underrated because he is one of those guys with a lower batting average and an OBP about a hundred points higher than the batting average. His rates (.254/.352/.408) don’t look all that impressive. But in his era, that comes out to an OPS+ of 119. Add that to the fact that he did everything at an above average level and he played a position with an above average positional afdjustment, you get a player with a lot of value.

What I find the most remarkable about Bando is that he compiled this value in just 16 seasons (12 full seasons). That hurts his career totals (1790 hits, 242 home runs). But it also explains why his single season WAR totals were so high. That’s a lot of career value to pack into a relatively short time period. Another thing that jumped out at me about Bando was when I was looking for 3.0+ WAR seasons, all of his (11) were consecutive. Of all his full seasons, just one was weak—his last.

Is Sal Bando a Hall of Famer?

I don’t think I can endorse the induction of Sal Bando. And by saying that, I suppose I can’t endorse the induction of the rest of the players on this list (except for Santo). While Bando’s career WAR was great, he does miss that “Fame” factor that so many voters focus on first (and I’ll agree is needed in some form). It’s not the Hall of WAR or the Hall of Stats. It is the Hall of Fame. I think stats are a huge part of it, but Bando is missing that “something extra”.

Bando never won any kind of award, though he did finish in the Top 5 in MVP three times. He didn’t win any Gold Gloves (blame Brooks Robinson for that), though he was known as a steady fielder. I know that can be a flawed argument, but that goes a long way to explaining why he’s been snubbed. He led the league in games four times (and plate appearances once), but other than that he only led the league in doubles once and total bases once (both in 1973). In many important stats, he ranks somewhere between 200th and 240th all time (except walks, which he ranks 100th).

Bando was a great player—perhaps even the second-best third baseman not in the Hall of Fame. But the fact that he’s so close to about a half dozen players not inducted means one of two things—either none should be in or all should probably be in. Unfortunately for Bando, it looks like the former will hold true.

So anyway, how ’bout that Ron Santo?