Cleveland Indians OF Kenny Lofton deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but is still stuck at just 3.2% of the votes.
Former Cleveland Indians star Kenny Lofton is a player well known by fans of the Tribe. Outside of Cleveland, the only thing most people have probably heard about him was that he was a speedy base runner. However, many people probably don’t know how good he really was beyond just the base paths.
I am not just talking All-Star good, I am talking about borderline Hall of Fame good. When you put his numbers up against other Hall of fame outfielders it is hard to believe how he was completely looked over in his first, and only, ballot year of 2013.
One player that Lofton closely compares to is outfielder Tim “Rock” Raines who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017. While their numbers aren’t too far apart, Raines went into the Hall of Fame while Lofton struggled to get more than 3.2% of the vote.
Before I continue, the point of this story is not to say that Kenny Lofton is without-a-doubt a Hall of Famer or not. It is simply to bring to light how similar these two players could be, yet so far apart when it comes to being entered into baseball’s most prestigious club.
Lets start with some of the more mainstream stats to give us a nice base to build off. Over 17 years in the majors, 10 in Cleveland, Lofton accumulated 2,428 hits on 8,120 official at-bats. During that span he slashed .299/.372/.423 with an OPS of .794. He was also able to score 1,528 runs while stealing 622 bases. As for power, he had just 130 home runs, but tallied 781 RBI.
Now, for Raines who played 23 seasons, six more than Lofton. Over that time, Raines logged 2,605 hits in 8,872 at-bats for a slash line of .294/.385/.425 with an OPS of .810. He was also able to cross home plate a total of 1,571 times while swiping 808 bases. In the power department he had 170 round-trips and registered 980 RBI.
So, while Raines played an additional six seasons, he had less than 200 more hits in over 700 more at-bats than Lofton. Raines’ batting average was lower, he barely scored more runs and only had 40 more home runs. The only big differences were that Raines had 186 more stolen bases and 199 more RBI.
In todays game, Lofton would be a superstar, mostly due to the obsession with WAR, or wins above replacement. According to baseball reference, Kenny Lofton had a career WAR of 68.4. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a huge fan of this way of measuring a ball players ability. It’s hard to call something a stat when different sites have different numbers, but for this argument’s sake I will refer to it.
Lofton played in 399 less games than Raines, who had a very comparable career WAR of 69.4. Lofton was one of those players that would get on base and drive a pitcher mad with his ability to swipe a bag at any moment. With the changes in the game it would be hard to imagine that many more players come anywhere close to 600 steals again.
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Sluggers such as Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar and the rest of the Cleveland players from that incredible 90s bunch have a lot more RBIs because of Lofton as well, essentially making him a great team player on top of everything else.
But all jokes aside, Kenny Lofton deserves more than 3.2% of the vote to get into the Hall of Fame, even if it was his first year on the ballot. That’s just 18 votes. As I previously stated, most people who know about Kenny Lofton pretty much think of him as the speedy base-stealing leadoff hitter for the powerful Cleveland Indians of that era.
However, he was much more than just that. He hit for average and had an on base-percentage of .372 for his career. Most shockingly, he never stuck out 100 times in any one season. Better yet he never struck out 90 times in any single season. Today, 90 strikeouts is common over a three-month stretch for most of game’s elite superstars.
When it comes to the defense side of the game, Lofton was able to finish his career with four gold gloves while Raines finished with zero. I understand that Raines was voted in by the BBWAA in 2017, but to see hardly any voters give a second thought about Kenny Lofton, making him a one and done ballot name, is insane. He was such a unique talent with incredible skills that got lost in an era of the long ball.