Here's a bulletin for you: They don't make leadoff hitters like Tim Raines anymore.
Maybe you'd already noticed that. Maybe you hadn't. But I've always thought that the coolest part of voting on the Hall of Fame is the way it helps connect the dots between baseball's past, present and future.
You spend hours studying the great players of the past. And you get a benefit out of it that you might not expect -- a jolt of perspective on the sport you're watching today.
I've spent way too much time reflecting on why it took so long for Raines to get elected. Wrote about that just the other day, in fact. But one theory I never got to in that piece was this:
When Raines reached the ballot a decade ago, I think voters looked at him as a classic case of a guy who just did what leadoff hitters are supposed to do.
If you built, say, a leadoff hitters factory in Moline, Illinois, what would you roll off that assembly line? A bunch of players who could run and steal a million bases -- and be really good at finding ways to get on base. That's what.
Well Tim Raines sure had that skill set down. To the tune of 808 stolen bases, the greatest stolen-base success rate of all time (84.7 percent) and a .385 career on-base percentage. Yeah, that'll work!
But if that's such a typical leadoff skill set, I have an important question for you. How come nobody has it anymore?
Seriously. Who, in this era, in 2017, approaches the classic definition of "prototypical leadoff hitter?"
Billy Hamilton? His career on-base percentage is .297.
Dee Gordon? Had a .305 on-base percentage last year.
Jonathan Villar? He's coming off a fabulous year (62 steals, .369 OBP). But he has spent eight seasons in professional baseball -- and never once had an on-base percentage in any of those seasons, major league or minor league, as good as Raines' career on-base percentage.
Jean Segura? Also coming off a fantastic year (33 SB, .368 OBP). Except it raised his lifetime big league on-base percentage, over a five-year career, to .319, which would be lower than Raines' OBP in any of his 21 full seasons.
Or how about we look at this another way. You know how many active "regular" leadoff men have a career on-base percentage out of that No. 1 hole that's as high as Raines' OBP? That would be one, according to Baseball-Reference.com's awesome play index: Matt Carpenter, of those St. Louis Cardinals (.387).
(This footnote: Our definition of a "regular leadoff man" is someone who led off in at least 100 games last year and has racked up at least 1,000 career plate appearances at the top of the order.)
But the similarities between Carpenter and Raines drop off a cliff the moment you leave the old OBP column. In six big league seasons, Carpenter has stolen 13 bases. Total. Raines once stole 13 bases in a week and a half.
Oh, and one more thing. The Cardinals just signed Dexter Fowler, which means Carpenter isn't even their leadoff hitter anymore.
But maybe that does mean Fowler is now the closest thing we have to a prototypical leadoff man. He did have a .393 on-base percentage last year. His career OBP hitting first (.367) is fifth among all active players. And he has had eight seasons in a row with double-digit stolen bases. So he's an excellent choice to hit No. 1 in anybody's lineup.
On the other hand, Fowler's career high in stolen bases is 29, back in his rookie season. He stole 13 last year. Raines, on the other hand, averaged 38 steals a year over his 21 full seasons -- and averaged 50 steals per 162 games.
So -- see what we mean? You can still find some guys who steal bases. You can still find guys who understand how to get on base. But who does both at a rate even close to as well as Tim Raines did both? That would be pretty much nobody.
And here is the final proof of that.
Raines had eight seasons in which he stole at least 40 bases and had an on-base percentage of .380 or better. Yep, eight. (In most of them, by the way, he swiped a lot more than 40 and had an OBP 20, 30 or even 40 points higher than that. But we’re about to compare those numbers with the players of this era, so we didn’t want to make this too tough. You’re welcome.)
So how many active players would you guess have ever even had one season like that as a leadoff hitter? That would be exactly three. And none of them did it more than once -- or even regularly hit leadoff anymore:
But let's go further. Raines stopped playing baseball after 2002. In the 14 seasons since, all the leadoff hitters in this sport combined have had a season like that three times. There were Mike Trout and Hanley Ramirez, obviously -- plus Chone Figgins in 2009 (42 SB, .395 OBP).
So there you go. There's Tim Raines, prototypical leadoff man. And there's basically everyone playing baseball today, who can be summed up as "not your prototypical leadoff men."
Maybe we'd all have stumbled upon that revelation even if Raines hadn't been elected to the Hall of Fame this week. But either way, it's a reminder of what he's doing in the Hall of Fame in the first place -- and about how dramatically baseball has changed since he stopped being so "prototypical."