Examining the Hall of Fame case for Cleveland legend Kenny Lofton

CLEVELAND - 1995: Kenny Lofton of the Cleveland Indians runs the bases during an MLB game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1995 season. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - 1995: Kenny Lofton of the Cleveland Indians runs the bases during an MLB game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1995 season. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Throughout the history of baseball, there have been some players who have been given the short end of the stick in regards to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Among other reasons, they may have had a Hall of Fame career but the BBWAA voters didn’t have all of the statistical info as we do now. One of the players that definitely falls into that is former Cleveland Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton.

Lofton played in parts of 17 seasons in the majors, with 10 of the seasons coming in Cleveland in three separate stints. Amazingly, he played with 10 other teams as well but he never played in more than one season with any of them. He was also traded six times in his career.

Cleveland Indians legend Kenny Lofton has a resume that should have him in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In his career, Cleveland Indians legend Kenny Lofton played in 2,103 games and he hit .299/.372/.423 with a career OPS+ of 107. From an OPS+ perspective, it’s a bit lower than most Hall of Famers because Lofton didn’t hit for much power. However, the average and the on-base percentage are more than worthy of being in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lofton was a leadoff hitter so that on-base ability was a big factor. Lofton also stole 622 bases in his career and was only caught 160 times, meaning he was successful 79.5 percent of the time.

From 1992 (his first full season) through 1996, he led the American League in stolen bases each season and he led the majors in 1993, 1994, and 1996. Even in his final season (2007), he was 40 years old and still stole 23 bases.

He had 10 seasons with an rWAR of 3.5 or above and seven of those 10 seasons were 5.0 or above.  If it wasn’t for the strike in 1994, he could have (and still should have) won the AL MVP award as his 7.2 rWAR led the AL. Instead, he came in fourth in AL MVP voting. That rWAR was his second-highest rWAR season ever, despite only playing in 112 games due to the strike.

Defensively, he won four Gold Glove awards but the numbers back it up. For the majority of his career, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) was not a stat yet so we have to look at its predecessor, Total Zone (TZ or Rtot), which isn’t quite as accurate but it does the job. In his 17-year career, he had 115 TZ, or an average of 6.76 per season.

For comparison, Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Walker (who also played in 17 seasons but won seven Gold Glove Awards) had 99 TZ.

Overall, Lofton was a six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. He had a career rWAR of 68.4 and a JAWS of 55.9. The WAR puts him as the ninth-best center fielder, smack in the middle of some Hall of Famers (noted in bold) and potential future Hall of Famers.

  1. Mays
  2. Cobb
  3. Speaker
  4. Mantle
  5. Griffey, Jr.
  6. DiMaggio
  7. Trout
  8. Beltran
  9. Lofton
  10. Snider
  11. Dawson
  12. Ashburn
  13. Hamilton

For JAWS (which averages WAR and WAR7), Lofton’s is 10th all-time among center fielders. That’s above 13 Hall of Famers that are considered to be center fielders, including Richie Ashburn, Andre Dawson, and Kirby Puckett.

Overall, among players who have been on a Hall of Fame ballot before, made their debut after 1901, and don’t have a “character” clause issue (suspected PED users, Pete Rose, Curt Schilling), Lofton’s rWAR is fourth-highest among non-Hall of Famers and the highest among any outfielder.

Despite him having a very good career, Lofton received only 3.2 percent of the vote on his first (and only) Hall of Fame ballot in 2013.

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The Era Committees need to further examine Kenny Lofton’s case for the Baseball Hall of Fame in for the Class of 2023 when they look at people in the “Today’s Game” era, which is from 1988 to the present day because he should at least be on that ballot.