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Making a Hall of Fame case for four players who couldn’t stay on the ballot

The common by-the-numbers view is that minimal support from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in itself shouldn’t disqualify a candidate from review.

Longtime Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker drew only 2.9 percent support in his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Longtime Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker drew only 2.9 percent support in his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Mark Phillips/Getty Images

When former Cubs closer Lee Smith and ex-White Sox outfielder Harold Baines are inducted Sunday into the Baseball Hall of Fame, there will be a lingering touch of controversy.

Baines fell off the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot when he received only 4.8 percent of the vote in 2011, missing the 5 percent cutoff to return to the ballot for another year. His 2,866 hits and 1,628 RBI never were enough to persuade more than 6.2 percent of voters to mark his name in six chances.

A question often heard after Baines’ election by the Today’s Game committee was, ‘‘Should a candidate who misses the 5 percent cutoff — a pretty resounding ‘no’ — get another chance from a different group of electors?’’

There’s less controversy around Smith, who got as high as 50.6 percent of the vote from the BBWAA and whose 478 saves made him the all-time leader until he was passed by Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman (601) and Mariano Rivera (652), who will enter the Hall this year as the BBWAA’s first unanimous choice.

The common by-the-numbers view is that minimal support from the BBWAA in itself shouldn’t disqualify a candidate from review. That doesn’t specifically endorse Baines and his 38.7 bWAR, which is on the low side for the Hall. Players can be victims of a crowded ballot, play in ballparks that mask their value or have value tied up in undervalued qualities, such as on-base percentage or defense.

Here are four players with quick ballot exits who are worthy of review:

Lou Whitaker: Whitaker drew only 2.9 percent support in 2001, his only year on the ballot. His 117 OPS+ ranks 16th and his 16.3 defensive WAR fifth among those who played at least 1,000 games at second base. His 75.1 bWAR tops the Hall average of 69.4 for second basemen.

Bobby Grich: Despite a .266 batting average in 17 seasons, Grich had a .371 on-base percentage, thanks to walks in 13.2 percent of his plate appearances. His 16.8 dWAR is fourth all-time at second. With a .796 OPS at home and a .793 OPS on the road, Grich didn’t get the 28-point average home boost American League hitters got in his time. A career 71.1 bWAR weighs all that, but it wasn’t available to voters who gave Grich only 2.6 percent support in one ballot.

Dwight Evans: Evans played right field while Jim Rice played left for the Red Sox in the 1970s and 1980s. Rice had the higher batting average (.298-.272), but Evans reached base more (.370-.352). Overall, bWAR sees Evans as a better player (67.1-47.7). But the BBWAA elected Rice, while Evans fell off the ballot with only 3.6 percent of the vote in his third try.

Kenny Lofton: A 20-year big-leaguer with a .299 batting average, 15.5 dWAR and 622 stolen bases (79.5 percent success rate), Lofton received only 3.2 percent of the BBWAA vote in 2013, his only year on a crowded ballot. His 68.3 career bWAR and 43.4 seven-year peak are within shouting distance of the 71.1 and 45.5 averages for Hall center fielders.

Like Whitaker, Grich and Evans, Lofton has middle-of-the-pack Hall numbers worthy of further consideration despite a quick exit from the BBWAA ballot.