Hall of Fame: Middle infielder dilemma

Other than infielder Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, every player remaining on the ballot from the 2017 election picked up fewer votes in 2018, when Hideki Matsui and Tomoaki Kanemoto were both voted in on the first ballot.

After Tatsunami, who was named on 65.8 percent of last year’s ballots, and reliever Shingo Takatsu, who was named on 45.9 percent, Yomiuri Giants shortstop Masahiro Kawai’s 35.9 percent is the third highest of players remaining on the ballot from 2018’s election.

Kawai was celebrated for his baseball smarts, leadership, team play and defense at shortstop. He was the master of the sacrifice bunt, getting down an NPB-record 533, and thus spent most of his career batting second.

He would have been better suited to batting leadoff since he generally had better OBPs than the leadoff guys the Giants often employed ahead of him.

Kawai was a six-time Golden Glove-winner, but it is hard to see how he compares favorably with Tatsunami. His rival with the Dragons is an intriguing pick in a Hall of Fame that has favored big-hitting corner infielders and outfielders, but while Kawai was a decent offensive player, he was not on the same level with Tatsunami, and it’s hard to see where he fits.

For the books, there are 38 position players in the Hall of Fame were voted in primarily on their merit as players. This list does not include Tatsunori Hara. The Giants skipper missed being elected as a player by the tiniest of margins (73.2 percent in his final year of eligibility) but needed just two ballots in the expert division — where voters could consider his seven pennants as manager.

Of those 38, the breakdown is:
Catcher: 3
First Base: 7
Second Base: 2
Third Base: 4
Shortstop: 3
Outfield: 19

Primarily, selection to the Hall of Fame has been a comparison of batting numbers with some tiny recognition for fielding. The question then, is will this trend continue, or will voters find space in the hall for above-average run producers with extreme defensive value?

But even if it is the latter, it’s hard to see how Kawai finds a spot.

Next time, a look at the other middle infielders on the new ballot.

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