My Hypothetical Hall of Fame Ballot
Three years ago I wrote about the Hall of Fame quagmire as well as included my hypothetical ballot. The primary issue the Hall faced at the time was a significant logjam of qualified candidates, 15 in my estimation that were deserving for the potential class of 2014. Of course that was due in large part to the unwillingness of many voters to vote for players either known or suspected of PED usage. Fast forward three years, and nine players have been elected (7 on the first ballot), including one largely suspected of PED use, a few noteworthy players have fallen off the ballot (Trammell, Morris, McGwire, Palmeiro), and Bud Selig was elected by the Today’s Game Era committee. The players getting elected or falling off the ballet has helped with the ballot congestion, but Bud Selig getting into the Hall is looking to be especially impactful on the players known or suspected of using steroids as many voters are now including players like Bonds and Clemens on their ballots because they feel that if the man that presided over and mostly turned a blind eye to the steroid era is in, it is hard to keep the best players of that era out. Although I am not ecstatic about Bud being enshrined, since I have always felt that PED usage and especially suspicions should not keep a player from the Hall, I will embrace this apparent side effect. If you want to read more about my stance on PEDs and the Hall of Fame, click on the aforementioned link, but without further ado, here is my take on a thankfully less crowded ballot:
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
1. Barry Bonds
The case can be boiled down to this: the best player of the 90’s (mostly before suspected PED usage), the best player of the first half of the aughts, and one of the very few best players of all times. And yes, PEDs were obviously a factor in his late career dominance, but lots of others guys were also using PEDs, including players in their primes, and none soared to the heights of Bonds. Bonds won 7 MVP’s, had the most homers ever for a season and for a career, is second all-time in rWAR, third in OPS+ and runs, fifth in RBI, and first in walks. He also stole over 500 bases. My favorite single season stat isn’t the homer record, though, it’s his .609 OBP in his age 39 season. He also walked 191 more times than he struck out that season!
2. Roger Clemens
Like with Bonds, his hall of fame resume is unquestioned, it is just a matter of the PED accusations that has kept him out. He has a case as the best pitcher ever with 7 Cy Young awards, the third most strikeouts ever, and third most rWAR ever (easily the most of anyone that started their career after World War I broke out). I must confess that I never liked Clemens, and he did throw a broken bat in the direction of Mike Piazza once, but he still has the best career of any pitcher in my lifetime, so yeah, a no brainer.
3. Jeff Bagwell
Here is yet another player that has been hurt by PED accusations, although in the case of Bagwell, they are flimsy at best. Bagwell lacks the traditional counting stats that guarantee election and was often overshadowed by some other great players at his position, but his great all-around game during his somewhat short career makes him well worth enshrinement as evidenced by being the sixth best first baseman ever according to JAWS (the great Hall of Fame resource developed by Jay Jaffe). Bagwell hit 39 or more homers 6 times in his career and was known for his great patience (.408 career OBP), but what you may not recall is stole 30 bases twice in his career.
4. Mike Mussina
I am biased as a lifetime Orioles fan, but Mussina was and still is criminally underrated. He pitched in an environment that was extremely unforgiving, which hurts his case with those that look at wins and non-adjusted ERA and then see how he stacks up to players that pitched in easier situations. He also pitched during an era with some especially great pitchers (Clemens, Pedro, Randy Johnson, Maddux), which made it much more difficult for him to win awards or garner attention. Some other pitchers that were no better than Mussina have recently overcame this on the ballot likely because they spent their careers on the consistently contending Atlanta Braves teams that were venerated for their starting pitching, but despite pitching for some good O’s teams and then the Yankees, Moose stayed relatively under the radar during his career and has thus faced an uphill climb with the voters. Part of his issue is the lack of 300 wins or a Cy Young award, even though he outpitched Roger Clemens, his teammate in 2000, yet the award went to Clemens because of win-loss record. Poor reasons used to determine award winners should not continuously be held against players after we collectively realize the logic was lacking in that vote, but clearly they are. Mussina is better than the average HOF starting pitcher and should be rewarded as such.
5. Curt Schilling
Yes, Curt Schilling is a jerk with despicable views, but his comments post playing career should have no bearing on his Hall of Fame candidacy. His career value is similar to Mussina’s and he may just be the best post-season pitcher ever. He also has the best strikeout to walk ratio ever. While his political and social commentary won’t help him this year, he should have already been elected, but likely has suffered from some of the same poor logic that has hurt Mussina.
6. Ivan Rodriguez
A great defensive catcher that had a 7 year peak of very good to great hitting (at least a 120 OPS+ each year), Pudge also some solid years surrounding that peak, especially pre prime, and longevity to go with it. Rodriguez didn’t walk much, but he did hit .320 or better four times and slugged over .500 six times. He also won the MVP in 1999. If you care about the steroid allegations, Pudge may fall short for you, but otherwise, he is a clear cut hall of famer that belongs in that next tier of great catchers below Gibson and Bench.
7. Tim Raines
This is the last go around for the sabermetric darling and it is looking promising for Rock. So much has been written about Raines that I will keep this brief: Raines was an on base machine and arguably the best base stealer ever, making him of the best pure leadoff hitters in modern baseball history, and JAWS rates him as the eighth best left fielder ever. That is a strong case.
The Rest of My Ballot
8. Manny Ramirez
I know he was terrible defensively and was suspended twice for PED use, but Manny was also one of the very best hitters in baseball for a 15 year period, where his slash lines would generally look something like this: .320/.420/.600, translating into an OPS+ of around 165. Manny would have likely helped his team more at DH, but he was not in love with that idea and he played much of his career with David Ortiz or at the end, in the NL. He was a more productive hitter than Edgar Martinez, though, so he deserves a spot in the Hall.
9. Edgar Martinez
Edgar is tied for 42nd best ever in OPS+ and has a career slash line of .312/.418/.515. He was a better hitter than David Ortiz. He also probably should have been given more of a chance to add counting stats early in his career, but he didn’t really get much of an opportunity until his age 27 season. Edgar won two batting titles and led the league in on-base percentage three times. He was elite enough with the bat to merit enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.
10. Billy Wagner
Closers rarely get into the Hall of Fame, especially ones that didn’t spend some time starting, but of course Mariano Rivera will walk in the first ballot in two years, and Trevor Hoffman will likely make it as well. However, Billy Wagner is quite the underdog to get voted in after only garnering 10.5% of the vote last year. Rivera is an easy yes for the HOF, while Hoffman and Wagner are borderline. The reason I go with Wagner over Hoffman, or the other arguably worthy candidates is sheer dominance. Wagner falls short of the 1,000 innings needed to qualify for best ERA+ ever, but of qualified pitchers, only Rivera bests Billy’s 187 ERA+, and no one else is better than 159. You may be thinking that some other closers without 1,000 innings are in the same ballpark, but I could not find evidence of that. Besides Rivera, no one has been close to Wagner in terms of run prevention, which is the whole goal of pitching. If you are wondering about Hoffman, his ERA+ is 141, so to me, his extra 186 innings, while significant, do not overcome that advantage. Peak is more important to me than longevity, and Wagner was basically at his peak his whole career, at least when healthy.
11. Larry Walker
I am going against the sabermetric crowd on this one, but Walker remains a borderline candidate to me. I am not against his enshrinement by any means, but while this ballot is not as jam packed as some of the previous ones, it still is stuffed full of arguably deserving players, which leads to Walker just missing out here. Walker was a very good all-around player, and certainly not simply a product of Coors Field, shown by his park adjusted 141 OPS+, which is basically the same as fellow candidates Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield. But the other issue for Walker that doesn’t get talked about as much is that he did not play all that much compared to most hall of famers. All that said, his WAR is HOF worthy, so he is a solid candidate.
12. Vladimir Guerrero
Vlad was one of my favorite players and he was immensely talented, a true 5 tool player, but he did not quite refine all of those tools, most notably displayed by his disappointing defense and poor stolen base percentage. He did not hit the magical milestone numbers, nor is his JAWS rating helping (21st out of 24 right fielders), but his .318 career average is hard for more traditional fans and voters to ignore, and he was a feared and beloved player. I think Vlad’s defense may have been a little better than rWAR gives him credit for and that may be enough to justify a vote for Vlad, but it seems he will get in regardless.
13. Gary Sheffield
Despite having a similar case to Guerrero’s, Sheffield looks to be an extreme longshot to get voted in. He actually has an important milestone number with 500 homers (509 to be exact), and due to playing longer, he was easily more productive offensively than Vlad was over the course of their careers, and even more productive than Walker. The problem for Sheffield besides the PED issue, is his defense was rated terribly by advanced metrics. I don’t think Sheffield was a good defender, but I am also highly skeptical that he cost his team 28.6 wins over the course of his career compared to a replacement level player. Bring that down to what I’d deem a more realistic number, and Sheff is probably more deserving than Vlad and right there with Walker.
14. Trevor Hoffman
I already touched on Hoffman, who is likely to get in, but to me is a very borderline candidate that is benefitting greatly from accumulating a ton of saves (2nd most ever), while for the most part, not being a dominant reliever.
15. Lee Smith
Pretty much the same as Hoffman, but pitched 200 more innings while his ERA+ is 9 points worse. I would not have much of a problem with either of these players getting in, but neither candidacy excites me. Both are reasonable candidates given the bar that has been set for relievers given the induction of Sutter and Fingers.
16. Jeff Kent
It’s that time in the article where I’m going to get lazy and plagiarize myself:
A case can certainly be made for Kent and I may be swayed in the future with him as well, but as of now he missed out by a small margin. His rWAR is only 55.2, his peak was short lived, and he did not bring much to the table other than the strength of his bat relative to his position. His bat was good enough for a second baseman with a 123 OPS+, but I would have liked to have seen a little more production elsewhere or stronger durability to push him over the top.
17. Fred McGriff
The Crime Dog still lingers on the ballot, held back by his Tom Emanski’s Defensive Drills commercial. On a serious note, he was a very good player, but falls a little short for me as he’s basically a lesser version of Palmeiro and Murray.
18. Jorge Posada
Posada was a great hitting catcher, but not great enough for long enough to merit enshrinement, especially given the lackluster throwing arm behind the dish.