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Andre Dawson's Hall of Fame candidacy sparks a good deal of debate, and not the kind of obviously-right-versus-obviously-wrong debate that guys like Jim Rice and Omar Vizquel cause. Even among the statistically-minded community, Dawson has his supporters. I got involved in a discussion about Dawson when I said that Jim Rice's election to the Hall of Fame next year will lower the Hall's standards for outfielders, making it much more likely Dawson will be elected; the implication, of course, was that Dawson didn't belong, either.

Andre Dawson was a better baseball player than Jim Rice. But then, so were a lot of guys. I don't see a Reggie Smith bandwagon rumbling down the interstate these days.

My point here is that I have come out against Andre Dawson's candidacy to the Hall of Fame, mostly on the merit that he didn't do other things (hit for power, play defense, run) well enough to offset his .320 OBP. That's a poor OBP even by the standards of any everyday baseball player. For a Hall of Famer, it's atrocious.

In order to provide more focus on the subject and see whether I was right or wrong about Dawson, I did a Shannon Stewart List on him. The Shannon Stewart List takes each year of a given player's career and ranks him among all major-league players at his position, using VORP as our statistic for comparison (and making slight adjustments for defense where clearly warranted). It's a useful way to see the shape of a player's career and where he ranks among his peers. Peer groups change, of course; you can be no better than fourth-best at your position over your career and still be a perfectly well-qualified Hall of Famer (Richie Ashburn), but it's rare. Usually, if you're a Hall of Famer, you stand above your peers.

OK, Andre Dawson.

Dawson's first full season was 1977:

1. Lyman Bostock
(Huge gap)
2. George Hendrick
3. Ron Leflore
4. Cesar Cedeno
(Huge GAP)
5. Al Bumbry
6. Mickey Rivers
7. Andre Dawson

Being the seventh-best CF in baseball at age 22 is a pretty impressive feat. Andre's off to a good start, though a glance over this list shows that right now his peer group isn't very tough. Hendrick's #2 figure was 48.8 VORP, which isn't really that great.

1978:

1. Amos Otis
(Huge gap)
2. Ron Leflore
3. Fred Lynn
(gap)
4. Gorman Thomas
5. Chet Lemon
6. Lee Mazzilli
7. Garry Maddox
8. George Hendrick
9. Dan Ford
10. Andre Dawson

So Dawson barely cracks the top ten, but still, two top-tens in your age 22-23 period... that's still a very promising start. Bet you didn't know Amos Otis was, at least for a year, the best center fielder in baseball, by a big margin.

1979:

1. Fred Lynn
(GIGANTIC gap)
2. Chet Lemon
3. Lee Mazzilli
(gap)
4. Gorman Thomas
5. Ron Leflore
6. Amos Otis
(gap)
7. Al Oliver
8. Ruppert Jones
9. Andre Dawson
10. Ken Landreaux

At this point Dawson has well established himself as a good-not-great center fielder, holding basically the same value his first three years. Right now, it looks like the best center fielders in baseball are some order of Fred Lynn, Ron Leflore, Chet Lemon, Amos Otis and Lee Mazzilli. If you asked 50 people in 1979 who was more likely to eventually reach the Hall of Fame, Fred Lynn or Andre Dawson, 39 of them would have immediatey answered "Fred Lynn," and the other 11 would have simply stared at you as though you were an idiot. Isn't baseball great?

But then we have 1980...

1. Al Bumbry
(gap)
2. Andre Dawson
3. Cesar Cedeno
(gap)
4. Mickey Rivers
5. Dale Murphy
6. Chet Lemon
7. Fred Lynn

After that the list drops off and gets uninteresting. Dale Murphy showed up this year; it'll be interesting to see how he and Dawson compare going head-to-head, since Murphy is often put forward as a superior player to Dawson.

The next time a young player seems to be spinning his wheels after three seasons, remember: This happens. Dawson stepped up in his fourth season, his age 25 season, to become one of the very best center fielders in baseball.

And we would see that it was no fluke in 1981:

1. Andre Dawson
(Huge gap)
2. Chet Lemon
3. Ken Griffey
4. Dwayne Murphy
(gap)
5. Jerry Mumphrey

Everyone's VORP total is low, of course, because this was the strike year. Dawson doubled everyone else's VORP except Lemon's and Griffey's (and he was close to doubling Griffey's, 47.8 to 25.4). Now, it's likely that had the full season been played, the gap would have closed some, but 1981 was a great, great season for Dawson, his very best by WARP3 (10.5 WARP3, which adjusts for the strike). He was one of the best players in baseball, and if you asked that same question vis-a-vis Dawson and Lynn after 1981, you would have found the answers had swiftly changed.

1982 provided nothing but more fuel for the Dawson bandwagon:

1. Dale Murphy
2. Andre Dawson
(gap)
3. Fred Lynn
4. Gorman Thomas
5. Jerry Mumphrey
(gap)
6. Dwayne Murphy
7. Rudy Law

Murphy and Dawson were very close in VORP (48.5 to 48.2) but Murphy killed Dawson in WARP3 (10.1 to 9.0), making it no contest. Still, that was a great year for Dawson, and right now, we're looking at a 27-year-old who has been the best center fielder in baseball for three years running, and exceptionally durable to boot. No, the peer group isn't very impressive, but that's the beginning of a runaway Hall of Fame career.

Here's 1983:

1. Dale Murphy
(big gap)
2. Andre Dawson
3. Lloyd Moseby
(ENORMOUS gap)
4. Fred Lynn
5. Rudy Law
6. Chet Lemon
7. Ken Landreaux
8. Mel Hall

Murphy blows Dawson away, 10.2 to 7.9 in WARP3. Finishing second to Dale Murphy's ridiculous 1983 season is nothing to be ashamed of, mind you, and Dawson is still looking every ounce like he's on his way to Cooperstown.

That's where we unfortunately have to stop comparing Dawson to Dale Murphy, at least as center fielders, because in 1984 Dawson moved, permanently, to right field. The move was well-timed, as Dawson's defense precipitously declined in 1983, and the Expos had Tim Raines around. (Tim Raines would be the best CF in baseball in 1984). Now let's look at right fielders in 1984:

1. Dave Winfield
2. Dwight Evans
(big gap)
3. Harold Baines
4. Tony Gwynn
5. Kirk Gibson

Tougher peer group, no? As for Dawson, he was among the worst regulars in RF in 1984, down at 34th with a barely-replacement-level VORP. This is easily written off as a lost season, as obviously Dawson was far, far better than this up until now. It's instructive to run this list, though, to get a feel for what his peer group is now.

Here's 1985:

1. Kirk Gibson
(gap)
2. Jesse Barfield
3. Dave Parker
(gap)
4. Darryl Strawberry
(gap)
5. Mike Davis
6. Dwight Evans
7. Harold Baines

Yet another lost year for Dawson; he ranked 19th with a middling 12.9 VORP. This is the career-crisis portion of Dawson's career, when we were beginning to wonder whether his knees had finished him as an everyday player at the relatively tender age of 30.

1986 made us feel a little better, but only a little:

1. Jesse Barfield
2. Tony Gwynn
3. Joe Carter
(big gap)
4. Kevin Bass
5. Kirk Gibson
6. Dwight Evans
7. Darryl Strawberry

Dawson rebounded somewhat, but still only reached 13th on the list, just a tick ahead of Dave Parker and Rob Deer. His counting stats look good (20 bombs, 78 RBI) and his rate stats even look pretty good (.284/.338/.478), but we're letting his run context and SLG fool us: Dawson was not all that good when compared to the rest of the right fielders around.

And then came 1987. 1987 changed everything; it was the year Andre Dawson hit 49 bombs (a staggering number in the 1980s, when you could lead the league with 39), drove in 137 runs, and won the MVP award despite playing for a last-place team. (That should give you a hint as to his popularity and sympathy with the writers, who ordinarily refuse to consider anyone a candidate for MVP if their team didn't have a strong season.)

Surely Dawson was the number-one right fielder in 1987, right?

1. Tony Gwynn
(GIGANTIC gap)
2. Dale Murphy
3. Darryl Strawberry
(gap)
4. Danny Tartabull
(big gap)
5. Andre Dawson
6. Ivan Calderon

Hey, there's ol' Dale Murphy again!

After Calderon, the list becomes a quagmire of decent players like Candy Maldonado and Kevin Bass and Mitch Webster.

As you can see, Andre Dawson wasn't the best player in baseball in 1987, wasn't even close to being the best right fielder in baseball. Gwynn, Murphy, Strawberry and Tartabull had great years; Dawson, after you consider that he moved to Wrigley Field and 1987 was the rocket-ball year, had a good year, but not an especially great one (it wasn't even one of his own six best years by WARP3.)

1987 was a statistical anomaly. At the time, we didn't have VORP or Win Shares or anything like that to help us see through the illusion created by bandbox parks and juiced-up baseballs. We had home runs and RBI, and though we did have Bill James to tell us, even right then at the time, that Dawson was not especially great in 1987, Bill James was just a random loony as far as the media was concerned.

My opinion is that if 1987 had not happened the way it did, we would not even be seriously talking about Andre Dawson's Hall of Fame candidacy today.

Let's move on to 1988© (copyright ©1988 Orel Hershiser. All rights reserved.):

1. Jose Canseco
(huge gap)
2. Dave Winfield
(big gap)
3. Darryl Strawberry
4. Dwight Evans
5. Danny Tartabull
6. Andre Dawson
(gap)
7. Tony Gwynn
8. Cory Snyder

Dawson actually was better in 1988 than he was in 1987, if you don't let the counting stats fool you (8.0 to 7.2 WARP3). He's established a new level for himself now, that of good, not quite all-star caliber. Now, given his very nice peak, if he'd continued on being the 5th or 6th best right fielder in the game for another six or seven years, he might have ended up with a reasonably good Hall of Fame dossier. Did he? I don't know. I'm writing this as I look up the numbers. So let's find out.

Here's 1989:

1. Ruben Sierra
(big gap)
2. Dwight Evans
3. Von Hayes
(gap)
4. Ivan Calderon
5. Danny Tartabull
6. Paul O'Neill

It's funny how many names come and go from these lists. This is Ruben Sierra's first appearance here (but not his last; you don't remember how awesome Sierra was in his youth), and Von Hayes' and Calderon's and O'Neill's.

Andre Dawson got hurt in 1989 and missed about one-fourth of the season, so he's down at 14th. Had he played most of the year, he would be up around 10th, a bit of decline from his last two years. His knee problems were well-publicized, but this was actually the first time Andre Dawson ever missed a big chunk of the season, and he would follow this with three more full seasons. After 1983 Dawson took a lot of days off because of the knees, but 1989 was the only time in his career an injury forced him out of the lineup for an extended period.

Dawson rebounded strongly in 1990:

1. Jose Canseco
2. Andre Dawson
(gap)
3. Darryl Strawberry
4. Bobby Bonilla
(big gap)
5. Tony Gwynn
6. Jesse Barfield
7. Shane Mack
8. Ruben Sierra
9. Dave Winfield
10. Von Hayes

In terms of his rank among his peers, it was his best season since 1982. That was partially because no right fielders had a particularly good year in 1990 (only four cracked even 30 VORP, and none cracked 50), and Dawson's 6.4 WARP3 doesn't stand out. He hit .310/.358/.535 in 1990, though, and those are impressive rate statistics, especially if you don't consider (as most writers didn't) that they were Wrigley-inflated.

Now, once again, another two years like this and Dawson's right back in that Hall of Fame thing.

1991:

1. Danny Tartabull
2. Jose Canseco
(gap)
3. Ruben Sierra
4. Bobby Bonilla
(big gap)
5. Shane Mack
6. Joe Carter
(gap)
7. Darryl Strawberry
8. Felix Jose

Dawson played all year and slugged .488, but he OBP'd a terrible .302 and finished 17th in VORP.

It wasn't the end, though. Dawson's swan song, at least in terms of being a top-ten RF, came in 1992:

1. Larry Walker
2. Danny Tartabull
(gap)
3. Joe Carter
4. Rob Deer
5. Felix Jose
6. Tony Gwynn
7. Darryl Hamilton
8. David Justice
9. Andre Dawson
10. Ruben Sierra

The funny thing is, Dawson's rate stats appear to have plunged in 1992: He hit .277/.316/.456. But his WARP3 was higher than 1991's and actually equal to his .310/.358/.535 year in 1990. This is for a couple reasons: 1992 was a particularly hard year for hitters leaguewide (causing MLB to introduce the present-day juiced ball that led to the great home run explosion of 1993-1994, ushering in the modern era), Wrigley for some reason played harder on hitters than usual in 1992, and WARP thinks Dawson's defense was, somewhat oddly, vastly improved in 1992 over the previous few seasons. WARP may be misled about that, but we'll be kind to Dawson and assume it was accurate.

1992 was Dawson's last season as a regular. He got hurt again in 1993 and then hung around as a fringe player for a few years afterward, getting his home run total up over 400 and his RBI up over 1500.

So, what do we have?

Let's put his rankings in chart form:

1977   7
1978   10
1979   9
1980   2
1981   1
1982   2
1983   2

(Switch to RF)

1984   34
1985   19
1986   13
1987   5
1988   6
1989   14
1990   2
1991   17
1992   9

Now let's organize his 16 seasons by category:

TOP-3 SEASONS:
Five. (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1990.)
TOP-5 SEASONS: Six. (The aforementioned, plus 1987.)
TOP-9 SEASONS: Ten. (The aforementioned, plus 1977, 1979, 1988, 1992.)
MEDIOCRE SEASONS: Three. (1978, 1986, 1989.)
BAD/INJURED SEASONS: Three. (1958, 1986, 1991.)

I used top-9, not top-10 as you'd expect, because I was going for the top one-third of players at his position; there were 26 teams during Dawson's career. That's arbitrary, of course, but we have to draw the line somewhere. You may think that's unjustly categorizing 1978 as "mediocre" instead of "good", but I honestly think I'm giving him too much credit for being ninth in 1979.

What do we make of these rankings? Well, they're a little like his overall statistics: You have to be careful to interpret them correctly. Taken at face value, five seasons as the best player, or very close to it, at your position is impressive, even in a Hall of Fame discussion, and ten years in the top one-third of players at your position is pretty good, and this despite losing three prime seasons to injury problems.

The first half of his career was not a strong period for center fielders; the second half was a strong period for right fielders. The net result is that his rankings make him look a little better than he was during his CF years—because we're comparing him to his contemporaries and not to Hall of Fame center fielders, which is a very tough peer group—but not so much that you want to just dismiss him.

I'm going to hold off on describing where exactly I stand and why on Dawson's Hall of Fame case; that will be another article I'll do later, after I've done some more research. His Stewart List doesn't certify him worthy of a bronze plaque—it does that for very few players—but it shows Dawson is a candidate worth discussing further. That's the value of the Stewart List, much like the subjective Ken Keltner list: It helps you separate players worth discussing (like Dawson) from players not worth discussing (like Omar Vizquel).