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The Case for Don Mattingly

Hall of Fame voting is ridiculous. Why is Jim Rice good enough to be elected now, but not in 1994 (when he was first eligible)? He was the same player. He hasn't hit any more homers or won any more games.

(I know the 'reason' is two-fold: it's his last eligible year, and the steroid controversy made voters look at hitters differently. But both of those are, for lack of a better word, stupid; how should his year of eligibility have any influence on whether he gets in? And his first eligible year was before the offensive explosion, and offense has declined the last three years and he still hasn't gotten in.)

Don Mattingly got just 12% of the votes this year. Rice got over 76%. They both won one MVP. Mattingly's OPS+ was one point below Rice's. Donnie's highest OPS+ (161) was higher than Rice's (157).

Rice was about average in the field. Mattingly won nine Gold Gloves (they're not the end-all, be-all of defense, but still). Going by Zone Rating (suggested by Sky Kalkman), Jim Rice was 13 runs above an average fielder for his career. Mattingly was 42. The difference in defense more than makes up for the one point of OPS+.

If we include postseason and clutch hitting, Mattingly looks even better. Rice hit best in low leverage situations and worst in high leverage. Mattingly was the exact opposite. Rice played in 18 post-season games, batting .225/.313/.366 (which even makes Arod look good). Mattingly (albeit in just five games), hit .417/.440/.708.

If you want to use longevity, Rice played just two more seasons than Donnie (and those two seasons were below average).

And perhaps most of all, we should face the fact that it just isn't the Hall of Fame anymore. It's the Hall of the Very Good.

Nothing against Phil Rizzuto, Don Sutton, Tony Perez, etc., but they don't deserve to be in the same building as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson. But that's an argument for another day. We can't go back and take players out of the Hall. Those very good players are there to stay.

So since the bar has been lowered, a very good player like Mattingly deserves to be enshrined. After all, Jim Rice got in.