Alejandro Cruz (2B, Seasons 10-26): I'm leading off with Cruz because he's the classic "overlookable" candidate - for one thing, he's listed as a RF. If you're like me, you usually take a quick scan of the HOF candidates, look at their position and stats, and make a snap decision. I guarantee a few people will look at Cruz as a COF and decide his .840 OPS and 341 HR's doesn't cut it.
Hold everything. Cruz played 12,300+ innings as a 2B to only 4,000 as a corner OF.
Not only that - he was a superb defensive 2B. 4 Gold Gloves, plus 178 plus plays (our all-time leader at 2B, by the way) and a .983 fielding percentage.
Now how does that .841 OPS look?
Here are our 3 current HOF 2B and Cruz
Career OPS 2B +/- Plays 2B Fielding % Seasons 2B Sil Sluggers
Dicky Scharein .991 5/17 .977 1-15 2
Derrin Davenport .920 12/25 .980 4-20 1
Jae Nakano .911 49/18 .980 3-21 9
Alejandro Cruz .840 178/1 .983 10-26 6
Remember, everything before Season 14 was a much better hitting environment than the time since; I don't know how you'd adjust those OPS numbers to get true comparisons, but however you did it Cruz would look better. And if you look at # of Silver Sluggers as some indication of offensive dominance at a position, Cruz compares quite well (bonus: he picked up 2 SS's at CF as well).
Finally, throw in the 57 + plays Cruz turned in as a CF and COF, and you have one of the best all-round defensive players in Major Leagues history.
I think it's a close race between Nakano and Cruz as the best 2B in league history. I'd go with Cruz because he was a very good hitter + maybe the best defensive 2B ever; Nakano was a great hitter and a solid defensive 2B.
In any event, Cruz should be in the Hall.
Catchers Pedro Caballero (Seasons 12-28) and Butch Reed (Seasons 10-25): Since we haven't inducted a C into the Hall so far, I'm making the big assumption here that these 2 are the best catchers in ML history who have finished their careers. I'm also assuming that after 31 seasons, we've seen enough C's that the best one should be in the Hall.
One or both of these assumptions could be wrong. But I'm proceeding as thought they're correct...I'm saying based on that, one or both of these guys should be in.
It's essentially a power vs. on-base comparison. Caballero put up a superlative .395 OBP vs. Reed's good .366; Reed compiled a .533 Slugging % with 468 HR's to Pedro's .439 with 236 HR's.
The only real defensive stat we have to compare is caught stealing: Pedro caught 27.9% to Butch's 24.4%.
I'd be happy with either or both in the HOF. For this year, I'm going with Pedro; I might vote for Butch in subsequent years.
Power Hitting COF's Mark Payton (Seasons 14-28) and Bernard Evert (Seasons 8-25): Major Leagues is unusual in its relative paucity of power-hitting 1B's and COF's in its HOF - Adams and Heffner and that's it. 2 of our 3 2B and all 4 3B were sluggers as well. Maybe we just haven't had great OF's or maybe we've been more discerning than most worlds...I don't know.
But I do know that in most worlds, both these OF's would be in without a thought based on their 600+ HR's.
What do we do with them?
Here are Payton and Evert with our HOF sluggers:
Slug % OBP HRs Sil Sluggers* Seasons
Scharein (2B) 612 379 553 5 1-15
Norton (3B) 531 328 657 1 1-17
Davenport (2B) 573 347 684 3 4-20
Heffner (RF) 565 359 672 7 3-20
Adams (1B) 554 370 564 7 12-28
Payton (COF) 559 351 654 3 14-28
Evert (COF) 521 346 612 0 8-25
I scratched out Mendoza, Sanchez and Wood because they weren't elected as pure sluggers. All 3 were very good (or better) 3B's.
All the others are pretty much in the Hall because they were power hitters. The 2B's (Scharein and Davenport) were middling-to-poor fielders, and the other 3B (Norton) was a bad fielder (and our only HOF mistake, in my opinion).
Payton looks like he belongs in this list. His Slugging, OBP and HR's all hold up to the competition. If we somehow adjusted for the era, he'd look better.
Critics might argue that Payton benefitted from the Colorado ballpark and its power alley jet-streams (+4 and +4) for 5 seasons. He did, but he played the rest of his career (9 more full seasons) in HR-punitive parks (mostly Pittsburgh and its -2, -2).
Evert is close, but looks more like the mistake Norton than the others (they're the 2 lowest Slugging and OBP's on the list). He got few more seasons at the outset of his career in the hitter -friendly Transition Era. Finally, he was a sub-par LF with 4/56 +/- plays (Payton was 36/32 as a RF).
I won't vote for Evert. Too much of a 1-trick pony with nothing else but HR's. Payton would be my 6th vote, so he's a maybe for future years.
Sean Westbrook (RF, Seasons 11-30): This year's longevity candidate (20 seasons), and more importantly, this world's all-time hits leader (3,691).
I have mixed feelings about HOF candidates who are candidates only because of longevity, and Westbrook is certainly one. Had he been a 22 year-old college draftee, and/or missed a season or 2 to injury, and or started declining at age 35 instead of 38, we wouldn't be talking about him. His .379 career OBP is very good, but his Slugging % of .448 is nothing special for an OF. And he wasn't an inspiring defender with his 1/125 +/- in RF.
But counting stats do matter, and he has been the best ever at accumulating a pretty important stat.
He gets my 5th vote, a shade ahead of Payton.