July 20, 2010

Kenny Lofton Is A Hall Of Famer

He only played for the Pirates for one season, and he's not eligible for voting so far. Yet it is time to point out that former Pirates center fielder Kenny Lofton should be in the Hall of Fame.

By the time Kenny Lofton made it to Pittsburgh, he was a 35-year-old mercenary who had seen better days. As the 2003 Pirates' center fielder, he hit .277/.333/.437 before being sent to Chicago in the Aramis Ramirez deal.

Certainly he didn't feel like a Hall of Famer at that point. But he should be.

In 17 seasons from 1991-2007, Lofton compiled an impressive statistical record. He hit .299/.372/.423, scoring 1528 runs on 2428 hits. He stole 622 bases and won four Gold Gloves. He had six 100-run seasons and 12 90-run years.

More importantly, Kenny Lofton was a winner. He was a guy who could bat leadoff for your playoff team. To that end, Lofton appeared in 11 (!) postseasons and 95 playoff games. Could all that be coincidence?

Strangely for a hitter who played in one of the great offensive eras, Lofton is hurt by his time. His career year took place in the strike year of 1994 when he hit .349/.412/.536 and scored 105 runs for the 1994 Indians.

Many players have scored 105 runs. How many did it in 113 games? Extrapolate that to a full season and Lofton would have scored 151 runs. That would have made him one of two players (Jeff Bagwell being the other one) who scored as many runs in the era of 1938-present. That is a pretty long goddamn era.

Indeed, during his eight year heyday from 1993-2000, Lofton scored 854 runs in 1065 games. That's 130 runs per 162 - an insane number for any era.

In his 1992 rookie year at age 25, Lofton hit .285/.362/.365 and scored 96 runs for a 76 win Cleveland Indians team. In his final year, 2007, at age 40, Lofton hit .296/.367/.414 and scored 86 runs while propelling the Indians to the ALCS. In the middle he was better. Look through the history of baseball. The list of players who were effective for 17 consecutive seasons is quite short. Almost all are in the Hall of Fame.

Judging by Wins Above Replacement, Lofton had seven years when he contributed over five. Joe Dimaggio had ten. Clemente had nine. Unless the Hall of Fame standard is that impossibly high, Lofton makes it.

You could win a pennant with Lofton in center, hitting leadoff. Many teams learned that. In fact, you would be quite unlikely to miss the playoffs.

In the worst year of Lofton's career, he scored 91 runs and helped the 2001 Indians to a first place finish.

Lofton wanted to play again in 2008, and was coming off an outstanding .296/.367/.414 season. Yet no one signed him because it was a collusion year. Can we then fault the player for failing to have the year when he increased his already HOF-worthy totals?

To a casual observer, his numbers may be diminished by the '94-'95 strike and the steroid use of his contemporaries. They should not be. Kenny Lofton, an extroardinarily effective player on offense and defense for 17 years, is a clear Hall of Famer.

1 comment:

  1. Lofton was one of the few off season pick ups offensively that was a pleasant surprise, pleasant in that he actually produced!

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