Examining the Hall of Fame case for New York Yankees legend Graig Nettles

BRONX, NY - OCTOBER 1981: Graig Nettles #9 of the New York Yankees fielding during Game 2 of the 1981 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 21, 1981 in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - OCTOBER 1981: Graig Nettles #9 of the New York Yankees fielding during Game 2 of the 1981 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 21, 1981 in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images) /
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It’s not often that someone that played for the New York Yankees for over a decade is underrated. However, there is at least one player that falls into that category: third baseman Graig Nettles. But as you may expect, part of it is because of the time period that he played in.

Graig Nettles played in the majors for parts of 22 seasons 1967 through 1988, with 11 of them coming with the New York Yankees from 1973 through 1983.

Third base is a position that is vastly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. Part of it is because a lot of players move away from the position (Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones, Paul Molitor, George Brett, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and other Hall of Famers played third base in the majors or minors and then moved to another position. Schmidt and Jones returned to third base, though. )

Nettles, though, spent 96 percent of his career (2412 of the 2504 games he played) at third base.

New York Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles was passed over by the BBWAA for the Baseball Hall of Fame for one main reason.

Despite playing for the New York Yankees, Graig Nettles never got more than 8.3 percent of the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame, dropping off after his fourth ballot, when he received 4.7 percent of the vote. Why was he passed over? Offensive numbers.

Especially at the time, Mike Schmidt was at third base. From 1974 through 1987 (Schmidt’s best years), he averaged 36 homers and 104 RBI per season. In that span, Schmidt only had two seasons with an RBI total below 90 and only one season with a home run total below 31. He won three MVP awards and was a great defender. He had 127 Total Zone Runs (TZ or Rtot), which is the predecessor to Defensive Runs Saved, in his 18-year career.

Nettles, on the other hand, was not the offensive player that Schmidt was, nor was he Schmidt, in general. After all, Schmidt is the best third baseman of all time.

In his career, Nettles hit .248/.329/.421. Especially looking at those numbers now, those are not great but for the 1970s and 1980s, that brings his OPS+ to 110. Not off the charts but still very good.

He only had 90+ RBI in four seasons and 30+ homers in two seasons.

However, Nettles was a great defensive third baseman. He had 140 TZ in 22 seasons, or an average of 6.36 per season. He was even better in the 1970s as in the decade, he had 159 TZ, or an average of 16 per season. By either way of looking at it, he was a better defender than Schmidt. But Nettles got two Gold Gloves and Schmidt had 10.

Overall, in addition to the two Gold Gloves, Nettles was a six-time All-Star, two-time World Series Champion (1977-78) with the Yankees, and was the ALCS MVP for the Yankees in 1981. In the two World Series-winning years, Nettles came in 5th and 6th in AL MVP voting.

Combine it all and Nettles has a career rWAR of 67.9. That includes nine seasons with an rWAR of at least 4.0.

That WAR is also the fifth-highest among non-Hall of Famers who have been on at least one HOF ballot, made their debut after 1901, and without a “character” clause issue (PED users, Pete Rose, and Curt Schilling). He’s behind Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Rick Reuschel, and Kenny Lofton.

Next. Examining the Hall of Fame case for Kenny Lofton. dark

Nettles (and some other third basemen of the era) deserve to get a closer look for the Baseball Hall of Fame with the Era Committee because when you dive in further, Nettles does have a resume that is worthy of the Hall of Fame.