2021 MLB Hall of Fame: The Intriguing Case of Jeff Kent

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2021 MLB Hall of Fame
WASHINGTON - AUGUST 26: Jeff Kent #12 of the Los Angeles Dodgers bats during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals on August 26, 2008 at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

The 2021 MLB Hall of Fame voting is underway and nearing the home stretch. The final vote will be announced on January 26th, and it has players and fans alike on edge. The annual question of who gets in and who doesn’t is an annual ritual for many.

Every year, there is a passionate debate about just who should be elected to Cooperstown. Invariably, when the results are announced, the emotions among fans range from sheer joy to utter devastation. The 2021 MLB Hall of Fame vote is no exception.

The Intriguing Case of Jeff Kent

While there are several former players worthy of debate this year, the focus here will be on Jeff Kent. The former second baseman, who played with the Giants, Dodgers, Astros, Mets, Blue Jays, and Indians. He is known for his outstanding hitting, and that is what keeps him in the Hall conversation.

Kent is on the ballot for the eighth time in 2021, so his election chances are running out. He has not gotten the traction that many feel he deserves. In fact, based on early results, he is sitting at just 27.6%. This mirrors his tally last year, which was 27.5%. So, Kent is likely not headed for Cooperstown any time soon. After the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame votes are counted, he will only have two more years on the ballot.

2021 MLB Hall OF Fame Vote: The Criteria

The criteria for the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame are clearly stated but are rather subjective. There are several different interpretations as to what qualifies a player for the Hall. Younger voters bring different perspectives to the table, as well. So, what are the criteria for selection into the Hall?

Criteria #1

There are two key criteria specified in the official rules for the Hall Of Fame. The first is the most critical: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Criteria #2

The second is actually one that disallows automatic selection into the Hall. “No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.”

Looking at the above, voters have a lot of leeways. Additionally, not all voters always carefully consider integrity, sportsmanship, and character. So, voters are left to consider the value of each player and come up with their own criteria. Again, very subjective. So, like every year, the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame vote will surely be a cause for heated debate among fans.

Criteria #3

This is where we take the main factors, “player’s record, playing ability, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played,” and get creative with them. Our creative criteria will help to determine how we think the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame voting should go.

So, one criterion would seem to be how one’s performance compared to his peers. Looking at Jeff Kent’s 17-year career, he led the NL in sacrifice flies twice. He was a five-time All-Star, won four Silver Sluggers, and was the NL MVP in 2000. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting on three other occasions. This suggests a very solid career, although perhaps not elite.

Criteria #4

Here is another way to look at Jeff Kent’s career numbers. Since he played virtually all his career at second base, we can compare his numbers to other second basemen in the Hall. Again, this is one subjective area for comparison. It isn’t perhaps the best measure, but, it is a measure.

There are currently 20 players who were predominantly second basemen in the Hall of Fame. The four most recent inductees are Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Robbie Alomar, and Craig Biggio. Let’s take a look at their numbers, as compared to Kent’s, and see if they may help him in the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame vote.

Among these five players, Kent’s .290 batting average is second only to Alomar’s .300. Kent’s career OPS of .855 is highest and is .33 higher than the next closest Morgan. Kent has the most home runs with 377, and nobody else is even close. His 1,518 RBIs are well ahead of Biggio’s 1,175.

Kent scored 1,320 runs, fourth out of five, just ahead of Sandberg. However, the others generally batted higher in the order, whereas Kent was more of a run producer. So, overall, he is second only to Biggio in runs accounted for in his career. Kent was also fourth on the list in hits, with a solid total of 2,461.

Criteria #5

For further consideration for the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame ballot, it is at least worth a moment to consider other second basemen in the Hall. Yes, comparing players from different eras is tough, but it does have some value. So, here are some numbers from more Hall of Fame second basemen.

Only five second-basemen have produced more runs than Kent. They are Biggio, Eddie Collins, Charlie Gehringer, Rogers Hornsby, and Nap Lajoie. These are all-time players and represent an exclusive group of guys. So, one could make the case that Jeff Kent is the fifth most productive second baseman ever to play the game.

On the flip side, here are numbers from some other members of the Hall. Bill Mazeroski hit .260, scored less than 800 runs, and had less than 900 RBIs. Yes, he did walk-off a World Series, but his number are pale in comparison to Kent. Joe Gordon hit. 268, and Johnny Evers hit .270. Neither of them reached 1,000 RBIs or 1,000 runs scored. Food for thought, at the very least. Looking at these numbers would suggest that Kent should be competitive in the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame vote.

Criteria #6

In considering the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame vote, there is value in looking at a player’s contribution to his team. Perhaps the best measure of this is to see how many times his team made it into the postseason.

Jeff Kent’s teams went to the playoffs seven times in his 17-year career. He had a career postseason OPS of .840. with nine home runs and 23 RBIs. These are solid numbers, the type of which would be strong contributors to his team.

Criteria #7

This is likely the most subjective of the criteria, as it is hard to quantify. The question here is: Did a player dominate his era, or was he one of the dominant players of his era? Maybe another way of asking this question would be: Was a player the type of player that was always on the minds of large numbers of fans? In this area, the answer for Jeff Kent would have to be no.

2021 MLB Hall Of Fame: Does Jeff Kent Belong?

This is the burning question we have tried to answer here. There are several players on the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame ballot who will certainly get more votes. As stated, he is languishing with 27.6% of the votes. However, the question is: does he belong?

Looking at all the data above, it seems that there is a good case to be made for his candidacy. His numbers compare favorably to the most recent inductees. He has helped his team get to seven postseasons. No, he never won a Gold Glove (for good reason), but he produced a ton of runs consistently.

The biggest challenge here would be that comparing players from different eras is difficult, at best. Additionally, the argument that others who may have been less qualified have been selected will not wash for many fans. The Hall should be reserved for those who truly among the very best to play the game.

Yet, it seems to some that the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame voting is somewhat unfair to Jeff Kent. After 17 years of solid contributions, to get less than 30% of the vote (at this point) just doesn’t sound right. Statistically, he is clearly in the top ten all-time for second basemen. He should be getting serious consideration for the 2021 Hall of Fame.

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main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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