On Sunday in Cooperstown, Andre Dawson will -- think about this -- become the eighth outfielder of the 1980s to join the Baseball Hall of Fame. The voters hemmed and hawed over Dawson's Hall of Fame case for years until finally voting him in the ninth time around, and the debate started before he even finished playing.
Let's take a look at how Dawson stacks up against other Hall of Fame outfielders of his era from a purely statistical basis.
Andre Dawson (1976-96)
|162 Game Avg.||664||612||85||171||31||6||27||98||19||7||36||93||.279||.323||.482||.806||119|
Vs. Reggie Jackson (1967-87)
|162 Game Avg.||656||567||89||148||27||3||32||98||13||7||79||149||.262||.356||.490||.846||139|
Reggie Jackson struck out more times than anyone in the history of the universe, but as is typical of many strikeout-prone power hitters, Jackson also walked a lot -- more than twice as often as Dawson, in fact. As a consequence, his on-base percentage is better.
Defensively, Dawson was overwhelmingly better: based on total zone data, he was 70 runs above average in the field, whereas Jackson was 23 runs below average. Defense is probably only accountable for around 10% of an outfielder's total value, however, and all things considered, Jackson is statistically better.
Vs. Dave Winfield (1973-1995)
|162 Game Avg.||673||600||91||169||29||5||25||100||12||5||66||92||.283||.353||.475||.827||130|
Winfield struck out only slightly more than Dawson did, but drew twice as many walks. Apart from this, the two were remarkably similar in terms of plate production.
But Dawson, despite knee problems that hampered him on the basepaths, stole more bags than Winfield, and while Winfield did win several Gold Gloves, his 91 defensive runs below average suggest that his range was light-years away from Dawson's. If one of these men is statistically superior, he isn't by much.
Vs. Robin Yount (1974-1993)
|162 Game Avg.||695||624||93||178||33||7||14||80||15||6||55||77||.285||.342||.430||.772||115|
Yount didn't play outfield until his career was half over, and like most outfielders, he was no Andre Dawson. Yount was helped by his status as a one-team player and member of the 3,000-hit club. Offensively, Dawson's OPS+ is actually a little higher than Yount's 115, and it's worth noting that while Dawson had to wait for his phone call for nearly a Decade, Yount was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Vs. Rickey Henderson (1979-2003)
|162 Game Avg.||702||576||121||161||27||3||16||59||74||18||115||89||.279||.401||.419||.820||127|
Henderson is one of the only players on this list whose outfield ability approaches Dawson's. His career OPS+ of 127 would have been five points higher if he had hung up his cleats after 21 season like a mere mortal would have, and he dominated the stolen base category in more profound fashion than any other baseball player has ever dominated any statistical category. Very few players have put up numbers as valuable as Henderson's, and Dawson wasn't one of them.
Vs. Jim Rice (1974-1989)
|162 Game Avg.||702||638||97||190||29||6||30||113||4||3||52||110||.298||.352||.502||.854||128|
Rice brings up an interesting question. Injuries prevented him from playing more than 16 seasons, and it seems as though four or five extra seasons would have put his plate numbers right up with Dawson's. Longevity is a virtue, though, and thankfully, the BBWAA didn't make Dawson wait as long as it did Rice.
Vs. Tony Gwynn (1982-2001)
|162 Game Avg.||679||617||92||209||36||6||9||76||21||8||52||29||.338||.388||.459||.847||132|
Gwynn, like Henderson, was a one-of-a-kind talent, and despite having hit more than three times as many home runs, Dawson can't really touch him.
Vs. Kirby Puckett (1984-1995)
|162 Game Avg.||712||658||97||209||38||5||19||99||12||7||41||88||.318||.360||.477||.837||124|
Since Puckett's career was cut short by glaucoma, a comparison of his cumulative statistics wouldn't be very relevant, but I'm posting them here anyway for completion's sake.
As long as there is a Hall of Fame, it will inevitably include some players who are less deserving than others. Dawson was not quite as good as many of the above players, but does his induction lower the statistical bar? Given his outstanding defense, I don't think so.