Chicago White Sox: Hall of Fame case for Paul Konerko

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 28: Paul Konerko statue in left field before the Chicago White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals September 28, 2014 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 28: Paul Konerko statue in left field before the Chicago White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals September 28, 2014 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images) /

The former Chicago White Sox slugger probably won’t win enshrinement this year, but his credentials deserve a serious look.

Among the first-year candidates on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, Chicago White Sox slugger Paul Konerko presents a singular case.

Konerko is hardly a slam-dunk pick on the level with Derek Jeter. In fact, there’s a real possibility that he fails to gain the five percent support needed to keep his name on the ballot.

That would be a shame because at minimum a plausible case can be made for Konerko’s serious consideration…and possibly for his induction.

That case hinges on two career aspects: His performance measured against historical peers and his place in the history of the Chicago White Sox.

The Hall of Fame has inducted eight first basemen whose careers unfolded since the 1960s…essentially the expansion era.  That makes them plausible comps for Konerko. Here’s a table measuring Konerko’s career numbers in a half dozen basic categories against the career numbers of each of those eight.

Player                                   Avg.       OB            SA           Hits         HR           RBI

Jeff Bagwell                        .297        .408        .540        2,314     449         1,517

Orlando Cepeda                .297        .353        .499        2,351      379         1,131

Harmon Killebrew            .256        .379        .509        2,086      573         1,584

Paul Konerko                     .279        .354       .486       2,340      439         1,412

Willie McCovey                  .270        .377        .515       2,211      521         1,555

Eddie Murray                     .287        .359        .476       3,255      504         1,917

Tony Perez                         .279        .344        .463        2,732     379         1,652

Frank Thomas                   .301        .419        .555        2,486     521         1,705

Jim Thome                          .276        .402        .554       2,328      612         1,699

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Nobody would claim that Konerko stands out among this crowd of peers. His numbers are uniformly below the average of the other six. They are, however, competitive. Konerko’s batting average is just three percentage points below the group average and is higher than Thome, McCovey or Killebrew. He ranks ahead of Cepeda and Perez in on-base average, and ahead of Murray and Perez in slugging.

Counting all nine, he stands dead-center fifth in hits, but only seventh in home runs and eighth in RBIs.

Perhaps the biggest weakness obstacle looming for Konerko’s backers is the utter absence of black type: In 16 seasons with Chicago, he never led the American League in any hitting category. He did, however, gain election to a half dozen American League All-Star teams.

He arguably also saved his best for the critical moments. During Chicago’s 2005 World Series-winning season, Konerko hit 40 home runs with 100 RBIs. He was the Most Valuable Player of Chicago’s ALCS victory over the Los Angeles Angels, delivering two home runs and driving in seven runs.

Konerko’s strongest  Hall of Fame credential is probably the lofty place he holds in Chicago White Sox history. Although the Sox have produced numerous Hall of Famers, most earned the honor either with their arm or their glove. Only a select few – think Frank Thomas and Harold Baines – were honored primarily for their offense.

In the nearly 120-year franchise history, here is a selection of his franchise all-time rank in various offensive categories of note.  Hall of Famers ahead of him are indicated.

Category              Total      Rank          HOFers ahead of him

Offensive WAR   34.4         6th           Thomas, Appling, Collins, Fox

Slugging               .491        10th          Thomas, Thome

Games                  2,268        2nd          Appling

Runs                      1,141       4th           Thomas, Appling, Fox

Hits                        2,292       3rd           Appling, Fox

Total bases          4,010       1st

Home runs          432           2nd          Thomas

Runs Batted in   1,383       2nd          Thomas

Bases on Balls    904          4th           Thomas, Appling, Collins

Runs created      1,417       2nd          Thomas

Extra base hits   846          2nd          Thomas

Win Prob. Add.   12.7          7th           Thomas, Appling, Baines

In Chicago White Sox franchise history, Konerko’s 28.9 WAR ranks 21st. But the Sox have historically been a pitching/defense-oriented franchise. Among non-pitchers, it stands 11th, and among those elected primarily as hitters, it ranks fifth behind only Luke Appling, Thomas, Minnie Minoso and Robin Ventura.

Measured against  Hall of Famers generally, Konerko’s career numbers do not stand out. The Jaffe WAR  Score System (JAWS) rates him at 24.6, well below the average for a Hall of Fame electee. The Bill James Hall of Fame Standards measure also leaves him well short at 36 against an HOF average of 50.

He is, in other words, the longest of long shots to actually win election, and may not even make it to a second term on the ballot next season.

That would be a shame. Baseball-Reference lists the five best  comps to Konerko as Andres Galarraga, Jason Giambi, Cepeda, Willie Stargell, and Fred McGriff. Cepeda and Stargell are already enshrined, Giambi is on this year’s ballot, and many believe McGriff’s omission is a significant oversight.

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Combine that with Konerko’s status as one of the elite offensive forces in franchise history and his resume at minimum deserves serious consideration.