HOF Case: Jeff Kent
Updated: Jan 9
Jeff Kent is on the ballot for the final time this year. He managed to get to 32.7 percent last year and would need a historic boost to make the 75 percent needed for induction. Kent was one of the best offensive second basemen in history. So why doesn't he get respect from the BBWAA? Let's take a look at his case.
Be sure to check out our other Hall of Fame cases: Bobby Abreu | Alex Rodriguez | Todd Helton | Carlos Beltrán
Jeffrey Franklin Kent was selected in the 20th round in the 1989 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of California. He made his major league debut in 1992 and played well for the Jays. Toronto was chasing down their first championship that season and decided to trade Kent (along with Ryan Thompson) to the New York Mets for David Cone. While Kent didn't hit particularly well in his first 37 games in New York, he did well the following season.
In 1993 for the Mets, their new second baseman hit 21 HRs, drove in 80, and hit a solid .270. He was consistently good for the Mets until the trading deadline in 1996. That's when Kent was traded to the Cleveland Indians with Jose Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza. After the 1996 season, Kent was once again traded along with Vizcaino. This time it was to the San Francisco Giants for Matt Williams.
At 29 years old, the future MVP was just getting started. In a new home and batting behind Barry Bonds, Kent hit 29 bombs and drove in 121. The following season saw him break both of those marks with 31 and 128 along with batting .297. Another good 1999 season would precede his best year in 2000. Kent won the MVP with 33 home runs and 125 RBIs. He also walked 90 times and had an impressive 1.021 OPS. Kent went on for two more seasons in San Francisco and even set a career-high in homers in 2002 with 37 helping the Giants to a World Series appearance.
Kent signed a two-year deal with the Houston Astros after the 2002 season and continued his great play hitting 49 HRs and driving in 200 for the Astros in those two years. He finished his career with four seasons playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He still did what he always did but in 2008, his final season at 40 years old, he finished with a sub-100 OPS+ for the first time in his career. His final at-bat was a single off Matt Cain on September 27, 2008. He was replaced by Nomar Garciaparra in the fifth inning of that game.
What Helps His Case
As everyone knows already, Kent hit the most home runs as a second baseman in history. He also wasn't nearly as bad defensively as many have discredited him for. According to Total Zone Rating on Baseball-Reference, Kent had a solid -3 in his career at second base. Many people tout Roberto Alomar, and to a lesser extent, Craig Biggio as being far superior in the field. But Alomar had a -30 TZR, and Biggio checked in with -32. The idea that Kent was a far inferior defender is simply not true. Kent is comparable offensively and even in fWAR.
What Hurts His Case
Along the same lines of comparison, Alomar and Biggio were superior baserunners and also had hardware. Kent never won a Gold Glove, a World Series ring, or had any "black ink" aside from his MVP award in 2000, which he arguably didn't deserve anyway. His bristly attitude with the media is likely another ding against Kent. Check out the extensive article on Kent by Chris Bodig over at Cooperstown Cred as he explains why being a "late bloomer" may also hurt Kent.
Amazingly, Jeff Kent has only gotten up to 32.7 percent of the vote. The second base position always seems to be a conundrum for the BBWAA as they seem to wash their hands of many candidates. They have rarely voted in anyone at the position as old-timers Bill Mazeroski, Red Schoendienst, Tony Lazzeri, and Johnny Evers have gotten the honor by way of the Veteran's Committee. The committee has also turned to snubbing such players as Willie Randolph, Bobby Grich, and Lou Whitaker. While Kent deserves to get more support, it is likely he will not make it to Cooperstown via the BBWAA.