Hall Watch 2004-The First Basemen-Carlos Delgado

Wednesday, November 10 2004 @ 09:04 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

Carlos Delgado, Hall of Famer. It has a nice ring to it. Whether that will come to pass in 15 years is an open question.

The details of Carlos Delgado's career and 2004 season are so familiar that they hardly need repeating here. He was signed at the age of 16 by the Jays as a catcher. He worked his way up through each level of the minors- St. Catherines, Myrtle Beach, Dunedin, Knoxville and Syracuse, laying waste to pitchers and gathering hardware. Along the way, he injured the shoulder of his throwing arm, and so the Jays, who had John Olerud at first, made him into an outfielder and later DH. When Olerud left the club, he took over the first base job, and it has been his since. He arrived as a big-time hitter in 1998, had a great season in 2000 (.340/.470/.664), and was again one of the best hitters in the league in 2001-2003. He struggled mightily in the first half of 2004, but rebounded in the second half to post a .269/.372/.535 line for the season.

Carlos is an average defender at first, and has only slightly below average speed. He has not seen post-season action yet.

Before we turn to the chart, a word about comparables. Baseball Reference lists Willie McCovey as Carlos' closest comparable. That would be great for Carlos, but BR's similarity scores fail to account adequately for the differences between the hitting environment of the 90s and that of the 60s. With that in mind, here's Carlos' chart:

Player    G     AB     H     HR    W     BA    OBP   SLUG   OPS+
Delgado 1423 5008 1413 336 827 .282 .392 .556 140
Palmeiro 1620 6097 1792 271 656 .294 .364 .496 130
McGriff 1450 5129 1466 317 812 .286 .383 .530 145
Murray 1820 6845 2021 333 857 .295 .371 .500 141
Vaughn 1346 4996 1479 299 652 .298 .387 .533 135

Delgado is closest to the Murray/Palmeiro/McGriff line of players, and if he can sustain his excellence as they did, he has a reasonable chance at the Hall. He has not been as dominant a hitter as Thomas and Bagwell were in the 90s. Subjectively, I have always felt that Delgado might be the type of athlete who produces best in his mid-30s, and I wondered if a pattern arose from his career to date. I studied first baseman, using 3 year weighted averages of their OPS+, to see if there was something special in his career path that might give a hint. Here are the results of that study:

             24-26                  27-29              30-32         Career
Player PA wt.OPS PA wt.OPS PA wt.OPS
Delgado 1776 127.9 2096 153.6 1889 147.9 140
McGriff 1961 158.4 1914 151.3 1773 129.6 145
Palmeiro 1997 131 1885 136.6 2048 129 130
Bagwell 1785 158.9 1975 165 2109 159.7 159
Thome 1820 159.8 1850 141.5 1955 169.5 151

To my surprise, it's not only Delgado whose performance at age 30-32 exceeded both his age 24-26 and his career marks. That's also true of Bagwell and Thome, neither of whom are likely candidates for a late career peak.

Will Delgado end up in the Hall of Fame? I think so. It's as likely as not that he'll end up with a similar career to Fred McGriff in actual value, but a flashier home run number, and that would make the difference.

For the Green projection method today, huevos rancheros, saute onions and tomatoes, add optional chilies, and then scramble in eggs. Savour and pronounce:

Carlos Delgado's final statistics-550 homers; .276/.389/.550

Next up: Jim Thome

Other first basemen in this series: Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff