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The Hall of Fame case for Tim Raines

Dec 5, 2012, 1:44 AM EDT

Tim Raines

I’ve long hesitated to make the Tim Raines Hall of Fame pitch, simply because there’s a website already dedicated to the cause that does a far better job of it than I can here. Still, I figure I can have a quick go at it, and if nothing else, it means a few more people might check out Raines30.com for the better pitch.

Raines’ Hall of Fame problem is Rickey Henderson. Raines might be the second best leadoff hitter off all-time, but he played at the same time as the best. Also, he was a left fielder without much power and he never won an MVP award or came particularly close.

On the other hand, Raines was quite possibly the NL’s best player in a five-year span from 1983-87.  WAR thinks so, placing him ahead of Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn and Dale Murphy. Raines hit .318/.406/.467 during that span and averaged 114 runs scored and 71 steals per year. During those five years, only Henderson scored more runs (572-568) and only Wade Boggs had a better OBP (.443 to .406). And those two were playing in the other league.

Raines led the NL in average and OBP in 1986, but 1987 may well have been his best season. After sitting out the first month because of baseball’s collusion against free agents, he hit .330/.429/.526 with 123 runs scored in 139 games. He was so feared that he was intentionally walked 26 times, even though he was one of baseball’s premier basestealers.

Unfortunately, Raines ceased being a superstar pretty young, and while he was still an asset as a role player into his upper-30s, he’s not getting much Hall of Fame credit for those years. The entire body of work is worthy, though. While Raines wasn’t Rickey Henderson, he was a very good match for Tony Gwynn.

Raines finished his career with a .385 OBP, a .425 SLG and a 123 OPS+ in 10,359 PA
Gwynn finished his career with a .388 OBP, a 459 SLG and a 132 OPS+ in 10,232 PA

Raines scored 1,571 runs and drove in 980
Gwynn scored 1,383 runs and drove in 1,138

Raines stole 808 bases and was caught 146 times
Gwynn stole 319 bases and was caught 125 times

B-ref WAR has Raines at 66.2, good for 97th all-time. It has Gwynn at 65.3 wins, 102nd place all-time.

Obviously, it’s commonplace throughout history to trump up one Hall of Fame candidate by matching him with another, typically one barely over the borderline. Gwynn, though, was a sure-fire Hall of Famer, getting in on the first ballot with one of the all-time highest percentage of the votes. And the one real difference between him and Raines was hits. Raines had 2,605 hits and Gwynn had 3,141. That’s a difference of 536. However, Raines had 1,330 walks to Gwynn’s 790, a difference of 540.

I think Raines is also well over what should be the borderline for Cooperstown. He mixed in five years of true greatness into long career in which he was almost always an asset. It’s a career that’s clearly worthy.

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