Analysis

John Olerud: Perhaps Punished by Old-School Voting

Whenever a well-known and well-respected player hangs up the spikes, we often reflect on their career and the many things that made them great.

That reflection is emphasized five years post-retirement when they’re up for Hall of Fame voting. Some players get elected first-ballot, others are forced to wait around for several years before getting the call to the Hall. Others are very deserving candidates who manage to fall off the ballot in one season.

Today, we take a look at one of those players who was highly-coveted in his playing days, produced at all-time rates, yet fell off the ballot after receiving less than one percent of the vote in 2011.

That player is first baseman John Olerud. The man who donned the protective helmet while in the field due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage he suffered in 1989 at Spokane.

Olerud played 16 seasons (plus six games in 1989) in his major-league career. His time in baseball featured stints with the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox.

Throughout his playing days, he was highly regarded as one of the best hitting first basemen in the league but was far from a slouch with the glove, as he won 3 Gold Gloves in 2000, 2002, and 2003.

However, what separates Olerud from the rest of the pack is his bat. And his bat was one of the best we’ve ever seen.

Olerud was a two-time All-Star, a two-time World Series champion, as well as the winner of the 1993 batting title when he hit .363 and finished third in MVP voting.

In 9,063 plate appearances, he slashed .295/.398/.465 with an .863 OPS. He also posted a .377 wOBA, 58.2 wins above replacement (Baseball-Reference), and a 130 wRC+.

Comparing him to any first baseman with a minimum of 7,500 plate appearances, Olerud ranks tied for 27th in wOBA, tied for 28th in wRC+, as well as 40th in ISO (.170). Combine that with his .398 OBP (11th all-time among first basemen) and a 14.1 percent walk-rate (tied for 13th), and you’ve got one of the top 25-30 first basemen of all-time.

He was recognized as one of the best players to play in Canada of all-time, as he will be getting inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020 for his time with the Jays. So why was he only a recipient of four votes (0.7 percent) in his one season of Baseball Hall of Fame eligibility?

I guess you can chalk that up to the era of voting. Even though it’s been less than 10 years since Olerud walked on the ballot, you’ve seen a lot more advanced stats-thinking go into the voting process –– which is how you see someone like Larry Walker get inducted.

But perhaps the most glaring example of new-age voting is the support of Bobby Abreu this past voting period. Abreu was able to stick around, receiving 5.5 percent of the vote, making himself eligible by two votes.

But outside of the difference in position, you’ll see that Olerud and Abreu were one in the same hitter.

How can two guys with very similar offensive numbers get extremely different results in Hall of Fame voting? Perhaps the pre-advanced stats period of the early-2010s is what caused the lack of Hall of Fame support. However, we’d be irresponsible to forget about how great of a hitter John Olerud was.

Perhaps the Veteran’s Committee will be kinder to the two-time World Series Champion.

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