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Lindor & Jose Remain On Track to Cooperstown

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Before I begin it should be noted: there are numerous paths to earning induction to the Hall of Fame outside of this exercise. You can become a World Series hero, as Jack Morris did in 1991. You can represent the glory of a bygone era, as Jim Rice became the face of 'old school' sluggers. You can remind players of famous heroes, like Omar Vizquel. Or, in far less tasteful fashion, you can become friends with Hall bigwigs and Veteran's Committee bureaucrats like Harold Baines. Less fortunately, you can lose out on induction in spite of resembling other Hall of Famers like Kenny Lofton, Kevin Brown and Bobby Grich.

Each player charts their own path to Cooperstown, numbers can only provide a guide and there's rarely a 'right' or 'wrong' opinion (Mariano Rivera and Lou Gehrig excepted of course). With that being said, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez look like strong candidates to earn induction early on in their career.

Francisco Lindor

Starting with our superstar shortstop (granted, almost assuredly, not for much longer): Lindor's youthful start, and surprisingly strong hitting early in his career, gives him a powerful start to a potential Hall of Fame career. The average Hall of Fame shortstop relies heavily on their 20s to post most of their value, with 56% of their average career bWAR coming in this decade. Lindor, at age 26, has 28.3 bWAR. He's averaging a little over 5 bWAR per 650 plate appearances. This is higher than his weighted average by season, but it's a fair judge of his value: he eclipsed 650 PAs in every full season of his career, and led the league in plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. 2020 put a decent damper on his career path, he only projected as a 2 win player in 2020 had he played a full 650 PAs (which he likely would have, he played every game in 2020) which cost him about 1.2 bWAR.

2020 can either be a minor setback (which is not uncommon for even Hall of Fame caliber players), Cal Ripken Jr posted a similarly down season at age 26 & age 28 (OPS+ of 105 each year), and Jose Ramirez also bounced back after a full season of middling play as well. If 2020 is a new normal, or even a split difference, for Lindor: he falls off pace. ZIPs seems to think Lindor will be a 6 win player (granted in fWAR) in 2021, which is good. However, let's assume for now that 2020 is not Lindor's new normal, and assume he bounces back to his pre-2020 levels. He average 5.5 bWAR per 650 plate appearances before 2020, if we had three 5.5 bWAR seasons to his current total he'd finish his 20s with 44.9 bWAR in his 20s, slightly ahead of for the average Hall of Fame shortstop. In fact, this total places Lindor ahead of the pace set by Hall of Famers: Dave Bancroft, Joe Sewell, Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Ozzie Smith, and Luke Appling.

It would also mean Lindor, assuming he plays until he's 35 (which is not unreasonable) would only need to average 3 bWAR a season to reach 60, a good baseline for most Hall of Fame caliber players.

Lindor is, in short, in pretty good shape. This also assumes Lindor does not improve as he ages, or posts another 2017-esque season. Remember: Cal Ripken Jr, Ernie Banks and Lou Boudreau posted their best seasons when they were older than Lindor is now. Lindor is also helped by the fact he remains a superb fielding shortstop, with two Gold Gloves to his name, so far. This helps because it reduces the amount of offense he needs to produce to remain an average, or above average player. If Lindor can retain his excellent glovework, he potentially can post average, to slightly above average, seasons well into his 30s (as Omar Vizquel did).

Lindor's comparable players in Baseball-Reference have dropped off on the top end, but remain largely strong. Lindor still compares reasonably well to Derek Jeter & Cal Ripken (although he has not, quite, reached the highs of either: yet). This does not guarantee Lindor's induction, but does provide insight into the strong start Lindor posted to his career.

Jose Ramirez

Jose Ramirez is slightly older than Frankie, but also started slightly younger. However, this earlier start did not necessarily translate into an edge in career bWAR, partially hurt by his transition from second base to third base. Third basemen, historically, rely less on their 20s than shortstops, which places Jose Ramirez on slightly better footing compared to other third baseman, although he has less time to catch up. On the flip side, Jose's recent pace outstrips Frankie's: Jose is averaging 6 bWAR per 650 PAs since 2016. Unfortunately for Ramirez: he averages fewer plate appearances than Lindor, largely due to where he bats in the lineup. Jose also averaged slightly fewer games played than Frankie since becoming a full time player in 2016. However, while Jose's durability might be slightly worse than Frankie's: it's still good enough to assume he can average 650 plate appearances, or close enough to make no matter, into the near future.

The short season in 2020 also cost Jose a lot more than Lindor in terms of career value. Lindor only projected to finish the year with 2 bWAR in a full season: Jose projected to finish with 5.6. That makes much more of a difference for Jose than Lindor's additional 1.2. It also assumes both players would maintain their current pace (in either a good or bad direction) which is, of course, quite uncertain.

At age 27, Jose only gets two more chances to improve his lot, however if he picks up his pace from 2017 & 2018: he can still gain plenty of ground. If Jose posts two more seasons on his current 650 plate appearance pace he'd finish his 20s with 40 bWAR. That would put Jose ahead of just five Hall of Fame third basemen, granted one of those third basemen is Chipper Jones. It does mean Jose will have to stay a great player longer, play longer, to reach 60 bWAR. Using the same age 35 cap as we did for Lindor: Jose would need to post 4 bWAR to age 35 to reach 60, a far more difficult number at a less challenging defensive position.

Jose's skill set is different than Lindor's. Jose is the better hitter, and the superior baserunner, but Lindor has the edge in fielding. On the other hand, Jose has played third base almost exclusively since 2018 which hurts his value. The most interesting question for Jose is where he'll play going forward. If (when) Lindor is traded or departs: does Jose Ramirez take over shortstop, or perhaps move over to second base? This would increase Jose Ramirez's value (and consequently his bWAR). For Hall of Fame purposes there isn't much of a difference between second basemen and third basemen in terms of when players accumulate their value.

One, potentially, concerning trend for Jose is the status of his fielding. After posting positive values every year he posted a surprising -6 DRS in the short 2020 season. If Jose Ramirez's fielding deteriorates, or remains this weak, going forward it will crater his value and force him to hit even better to even maintain on pace.

Looking at Baseball-Reference's similarity scores is also mildly more concerning for Jose: while Frankie had two of his position's best players on his list, the only Hall of Famer on Jose's list is Joe Gordon. Granted I suspect Jose switching positions muddled the system for him at least somewhat. Jose Ramirez does have about as man RAA as Adrian Beltre did at age 27 for instance (158 for Jose compared to 167 for Beltre, with their offense and defense numbers flipped).

Conclusion

Both Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are on pace to earn induction into the Hall of Fame. Of the two I'd give Lindor a slight advantage over Jose: Lindor is both younger, and plays the more important defensive position. I'd also add Lindor's current hardware in Gold Gloves (two Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove in 2016) are likely far more important in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters than Jose's three Silver Sluggers. Granted, a potential shift to either shortstop or second base for Ramirez could change this calculus when Lindor eventually departs either this offseason, or the next.

This all being said: I'd bet both of them wind up with strong cases for the Hall of Fame before either of their careers finish (hopefully more than a decade into the future for both of them).

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