Red Sox RF: Reggie Smith
There is a common theme for underrated players who haven’t gotten their due by the BBWAA. These players generally had a high on-base percentage, were great defenders, or were overshadowed by high-profile players on their own team or around their league. Reggie Smith fits each of those categories.
Owner of a .366 career OBP and 25 defensive runs saved, Smith never got the same attention as other outfielders of his time. He wasn’t as great a hitter as Carl Yastrzemski, as clutch or powerful as Reggie Jackson, or as consistently brilliant as Hank Aaron. Yet Reggie Smith was a terrific player in his own right, a true five-tool talent who could do anything he wanted on a baseball field.
Through his age 33 seasons, Smith looked to be on a fast track to Cooperstown. By that time, he had accumulated 55.6 WAR, more than Hall of Famers outfielders Tony Gwynn, Billy Williams, and Larry Walker had at the same point of his career.
He had hit more than 20 home runs eight times, batted over .300 six times, and had a remarkable 138 OPS+. Smith needed only a couple more good seasons to be a shoo-in for Cooperstown.
Smith, however, would never again put together a complete season. Over the last four years, he averaged just 77 games a season and accumulated just 2.9 WAR after the age of 35. All the injuries ultimately took their toll, and Smith was out of baseball at age 37.
Injuries, unfortunately, are a huge part of Smith’s story. Over the final 11 seasons of his career, Smith played more than 140 games only twice. Because of his relatively short career, his counting stats (2020 hits, 314 home runs) are below Hall of Fame standards.
On a rate basis, though, Smith was a phenomenal player. His WAR/162 is higher than many Hall of Famers, including Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken Jr., and Mike Piazza. His 137 OPS+ meanwhile, a combination of his elite batting eye and consistent power, is greater than Griffey, George Brett, and Orlando Cepeda.
Even with a career plagued with injuries, Smith’s cumulative value is comparable to Hall of Fame outfielders. His 38.6 peak WAR and 51.6 JAWS are both within five of the HOF standards for right fielders and greater than contemporaries Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Dave Winfield. And while his aforementioned hits and home runs totals are indeed low, they are still higher than 54 and 126 Hall of Famers, respectively.
How many Hall of Fame-level seasons does one need to be a Hall of Famer? I’ve always believed that if the minimum number of years to be eligible for election is ten, then a player should have at least ten seasons at least at an All-Star level. Smith, who had 13 seasons with a WAR above 2.5, meets that criteria. In the end, Smith should be judged more for what he did do than punished for what he didn’t do.