Not that it is a sure thing. Not that he is Willie Mays or anything. But Jeff Kent seems to be a Hall of Famer. If Kent played any position outside of the middle infield–or catcher–he probably wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer. But since Kent was able to field the position, giving whichever team he played with at the time, a great luxury, then Kent deserves to be enshrined into Cooperstown.
Jeff Kent had a late start, as far as being great goes. There are players like Albert Pujols who bust out of the gate with great years from age 21 on. There are some players who don’t do much, then hit their prime and greatness surrounds them, See: David Ortiz. And there are others, Jeff Kent being one, that don’t do much, hover around average at the plate for a while, then all of a sudden at age 30, Boom! They take off. They learn how to be a great hitter, or so it seems.
In 1997, it was only the second time that Jeff Kent played 140 games or more in a single season. Kent played in 155 games that season and was merely average at the plate. But after that year, after the first 500 AB season of his career, Kent became a beast at the plate in 1998. His OPS+ of 142 that year was by far the best of his career until then. A previous best of 111 in limited time. In what I believe was the first season that Bonds apparently started juicing, if the book is true, Kent also became a much greater hitter. Not implying anything, it just happened to coincide with that. But Bonds may have been accused of using in 97′ too, I am not positive. But anyway, Kent was a great hitter that year, batting behind Bonds, and not in front of him. In 99′ Kent was again great, and again batted fourth while Bonds batted 3rd. 2000…same thing…and so on. Jeff Kent from 1998-2007 posted OPS+’s of 119 or better–a string of ten consecutive years of dominance at the second base position. In 2007, at the age of 39, Kent still slugged .500. Still got on base at a .375 clip. Still batted .302. The guy was a hitter, plain and simple.
To get back to why I made a point of saying that Kent hit “behind” Bonds…Some might say that since Kent played in the same lineup as Barry, that his numbers were enhanced because he saw more fastballs or whatever. The problem with that theory–if it even exists to begin with–is that the player benefiting from the “protection” supposedly must bat in front of whoever the truly great hitter is. Kent did not. So if anyone uses that argument to keep Kent out of the Hall, then I must disagree. And even if Kent did bat ahead of Bonds, then that argument still has little validity, because I don’t want someone being kept out of the Hall without some evidence that protection actually impacts individual hitters by any great measure.
The one problem with Kent is that his defense was…well…he was no Roberto Alomar. But Kent fielded the position, so if his glove-work was truly atrocious, if he truly hurt the team in a significant way, wouldn’t he have been moved somewhere else? Hate to bring up Derek Jeter again, but if Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then so be Jeff Kent. Currently Jeter is regarded as a below average SS, and probably has never been better than average. Seems reasonable to assume that Kent always hovered around average–or worse–most of his career, too. Jeter has some Gold Gloves to his name, but that does not mean he was a great SS, simply means that he may have been perceived as a great SS. Jeter’s average WARP1 throughout his career is 6.9. Kent’s, over a longer career is 6.6. Naturally, Jeter’s average WARP1 will decline as he ages. And since they are both middle infielders, and both limited defenders, I felt that they would be a good comparison. Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer at this point, Kent should probably be as well.
So when a 2B bats a little like this: .290/.356/.500. OPS+ 123. All in 2,298 games. Then the Hall will probably be calling, or should be calling anyway. Jeff Kent was not Barry Bonds…but then again, no one was Barry Bonds. But Jeff Kent WAS one of the best players in baseball for a long period of time, people just didn’t talk about him all that much. And just because the media didn’t seem to make everyone think that Jeff Kent was great, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t.