Jesse Barfield and The Level Of Excellence
I got into a discussion involving the Blue Jays Level of Excellence the other day because I said something that was highly controversial. I said that Joe Carter did not belong. This view is something the statistical measures seem to bear out. While performing well in the Triple Crown statistics of his day, he amassed merely 7.4 fWAR as a Blue Jay (by far the worst total of anyone on the Level of Excellence) while being a 101 wRC+ (.308 OBP) hitter and a -32 (Total Zone) defender. Adding in positional adjustment, Carter was -175.7 runs above average on defense as a Blue Jay. Of course, he does have one of the two most significant home runs in Blue Jays history: a walk-off home run to clinch the 1993 World Series and, for what it is worth, the first home run by a Blue Jay in World Series play. As a Facebook friend pointed out, Carter also acts as a vocal ambassador for the franchise and he has done so for many years since his playing days came to an end.
I started thinking about who else belongs on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence and I encountered a notable omission: Jesse Barfield. Barfield was a mainstay in the Blue Jays outfield from late 1981 to the early part of 1989. Noted for having the best arm in Blue Jays history, Barfield was also a strong hitter as well (amassing a .334 OBP, .357 wOBA and a 118 wRC+). These numbers rank ninth, fourth and fourth respectively for a Blue Jays hitter (minimum 3000 PA). He also ranks seventh in RBI and ninth in runs scored Unfortunately, his 12th ranked batting average acts as the major case against this compounded by his playing in the shadow of George Bell, who posted better Triple Crown stats (including holding the franchise single-season home run record from 1987 to 2010).
Despite the common thinking that Triple Crown stats reign supreme, the Blue Jays and their fan base entertain an entirely different mindset. The understanding of how to quantify defensive and baserunning value as well as vastly improved methods of valuing batting contributions have allowed teams and savvy fans to view baseball performance in a whole new light.
This more revealing perspective clearly leads to a surprising and possibly unpleasant conclusion: Barfield was better. As Blue Jays Barfield held a one point edge in wRC+ (118-117), meaning they were essentially the same hitter, albeit with different value shapes. It was defense that truly set them apart. Not only did Barfield have a terrific arm, but he also was a positive overall defender in every season he was with the Blue Jays. His four year defensive peak of 90 Total Zone between 1985 and 1988 is higher than any total defensive contribution by a Blue Jays outfielder in team history. His 125 Total Zone is stronger, by comparison, than the often acclaimed Devon White who amassed 72 Total Zone with a four year peak of 77. Scaling for playing time differences, Barfield was worth 15.2 TZ/1000 innings compared to 12.8 for White. Barfield and White are the only outfielders to post a Total Zone over 21 and the players ranked second through fifth cannot match Barfield’s total (120 total for them to Barfield’s 125) in over 21000 innings (compared to just over 8200 for Barfield).
George Bell not only couldn’t match Barfield, but he was much, much worse. His -8 Total Zone in 9167innings represents a -0.9/1000. Certainly not the worst defensive OF the Blue Jays have seen (surprisingly, Vernon Wells and Reed Johnson are on that list, while Joe Carter’s inclusion is no surprise at all).
The extreme difference in defense is plenty more than enough to erode any equality that Barfield and Bell had with the bat.
With this revelation, the conversation once again turns to the fans. A large portion (although a minority) of fans would be aware of these discrepancies. However, there is something that all fans can agree on. Ceremonies are fun. These ceremonies give fans a unique opportunity to connect with the players of yesteryear and introduce young people to players whose names they may have heard, but whose faces they have never seen. A window into a more pleasant time will only serve to strengthen interest in the Blue Jays among the youth as they have the opportunity to see the greats of their favourite team. These events also serve a purpose that any club can appreciate: an increase in attendance. In 2011, when Roberto Alomar became the first player to have his number retired by the Blue Jays upon his induction to the Hall of Fame, a crowd of 45,629 came to see a sinking Blue Jays team (ten games out of the wild card on July 31) hang his number 12 from the rafters and to hear Alomar address the fan base. When Carlos Delgado’s name was added to the Level of Excellence in July 21, 2013 41,247 came to see game and ceremony. The team, just like two years prior, was ten games out.
With Roy Halladay retiring this winter, the Blue Jays have a chance to do this again. Although nothing has been announced, the greatest pitcher the Blue Jays have ever known could easily join the group of greats in the summer. Any Blue Jays fan knows he deserves it. The Blue Jays could continue this sequence of events by inducting Barfield in the summer of 2015. Barfield could go up now, but Halladay deserves to go up by himself and waiting until 2015 would allow the Blue Jays to have another major event.
Regardless of the exact timing, these two players should be inducted onto the Level of Excellence in the near future because that is what they both represent to the Blue Jays franchise. The Blue Jays should make every effort to give Halladay his due immediately, and then take an opportunity to correct the largest snub in franchise history. The fans will thank them.