Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 10/11/11

Today we examine the career of an underrated AL Central outfielder through the lens of Mr. Huey Lewis.

After game one of the ALCS, the Detroit Tigers announced that Magglio Ordonez would be shut down for the rest of the postseason due to a broken right ankle – his second ankle ailment of the campaign. According to the Detroit Free Press, he was considering hanging his spikes up “three or four months ago” because his “ankle wasn’t responding” to treatment and his play wasn’t where he wanted it to be. Statistically, this season was a new low for Ordonez, as he hit .255/.303/.331 with only five round-trippers and an uncharacteristic 41/23 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Not only was the ankle injury sustained in the ALDS Ordonez’ second of the season, Tigers trainer Kevin Rand noted that this fracture was of a completely different nature than the first (horizontal rather than the initial vertical), which appears likely to require surgery and extensive rehabilitation.

In light of these reports, it seems apt to assess Ordonez in terms of what his legacy will be once he officially retires. After all, even if he opts to return, there’s no guarantee he’ll bolster his Hall of Fame case, considering he’ll be 38-years-old on opening day in 2012, and has pretty much experienced a steady decline physically and output-wise since his scintillating .363/.434/.595 season in 2007. With a .634 OPS this season, there’s also no guarantee to be a market for Magglio beyond maybe occasional DH/PH duties.

With a tip of the hat to Aaron Gleeman of NBC’s Hardball Talk, we find a list of the top active right-handed hitters – with more than 5000 plate appearances – OPS-wise. This list contains stalwarts such as Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez*, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, and Vladimir Guerrero. Sixth on the list is Ordonez, who’s .871 OPS has only garnered him one top-10 MVP finish and three Silver Slugger awards, and really hasn’t made him the household name his career marks probably has deserved. That’s pretty incredible company to be in, especially considering Ordonez is clearly in his decline phase, while Pujols and Cabrera haven’t shown a hint of slowdown, and Rodriguez is still producing relatively well. For what it’s worth, Ordonez’ OPS has tumbled 20 points since he entered his ‘decline phase’, which I’d consider the past three seasons.

An additional perusal of Ordonez’ credentials finds that he’s somewhere among the 200 or so best hitters of all time. His wOBA and wRC+ marks each rank in the top 175 among hitters with 5000-plus plate appearances, and he’s top 150 or better in batting average, slugging, OPS, RBI, extra base hits. Among active players, Ordonez is 11th in batting average, 33rd in on-base percentage, 24th in slugging, 15th in hits, and is just six big flies short of 300 for his career.

So, other than playing in the relative anonymity of two American League Central clubs, why exactly is Ordonez not considered among the elite right-handed hitters of our time?

Well, it’s not too difficult to see how Ordonez flew under the radar. His career started in the McGwire-Sosa-Thomas era of right-handed hitters, passed through the Rodriguez-Ramirez-Guerrero era and ended in the Pujols-Cabrera-Braun era. In that sense, Ordonez was never quite measured up. Still, he’s among the handful of best right-handed sluggers we’ve seen in the last couple of decades or so, and I think he’ll garner more Hall of Fame attention that most might think – not that Cooperstown also-rans sleep better at night.

Still, injury riddled age-30 and 31 campaigns – coupled with a career of adventuresome outfield work – will probably cost him what was still a shaky shot at the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Make no mistake; even with really good seasons in the two he largely missed, he’s still likely ticketed to the upper chamber in the Hall of Very Good. His comparables lists from BaseballReference.com would tend to agree, including names such as fellow HoVG members Dave Parker, Moises Alou, Paul O’Neill, and Fred Lynn appear, along with Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

Still, those injury plagued seasons came back-to-back on the heels of four straight campaigns which saw Ordonez post a .900-plus OPS with an average of 33 home runs, 42 doubles, and 118 runs batted in. If Ordonez continues that string through those two season, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say he’d warrant HOF consideration.

*Ramirez still technically active due to his brief 2011 stint with the Tampa Bay Rays.

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