Well, it’s that time of year again – time for Hall of Fame discussion. It is one of my favorite things to talk and write about, because there are so many sides and angles to each player – and there is no one right answer. I enjoyed filling out a mock ballot last winter, and so I thought I would do it again this year.
There is so much to talk about on the 2013 ballot – so many factors, so many blurred lines, so many shades of grey. It is a fascinating discussion. And, for the first time, I actually saw these players for many years. I only have numbers and old video clips to judge guys like Jack Morris and Alan Trammell – but Bonds? Clemens? Piazza? Biggio? I saw these guys in their prime and remember very clearly what it was like. The players of my youth are just starting their foray onto the ballot – and I, for one, am very excited about that.
Before I dive into each player (there are 37 on this year’s ballot – you might be here for awhile), I should say that I am a ‘big Hall’ kind of guy, meaning that I usually vote for more players than the average Hall voter. I am in agreement with writers like Joe Posnanski and Jayson Stark – I think, in general, more players deserve to get into the Hall each year.
As you’ll see, I would vote for eight guys on this year’s ballot – far more than most writers (the maximum you can vote for is ten). I do think there is a very good chance that no players are elected this year, which would be a shame. But 75% is just too high of a threshold, especially when PED’s are involved, and there are already writers out there that are sending in blank ballots.
The ballot is divided into three sections: the players I would vote for, the players I would probably not vote for, and the players I would definitely not vote for. Here we go:
The players I would vote for
Barry Bonds: Ok, let’s start with this – Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he allegedly starting taking steroids. At the end of the 1998 season, his career slash line was .290/.411/.556 with 411 home runs, 445 stolen bases, eight gold gloves, three MVP’s, and seven Silver Slugger awards. His OPS+ of 164 was, at the time, the tenth highest ever – this was, remember, before his head ballooned to the size of a blimp, before he hit 73 home runs and shattered records for on-base percentage and walks and slugging percentage and OPS. Bonds’s career will always be a black eye on the game, and it is unfortunate that many of the game’s most hallowed records are his and will be nearly impossible to duplicate. And yes, character is a component of the Hall, and Bonds was one of the most selfish players of all time.* But his numbers are too good to ignore. He gets my vote. I’m curious to see if the voters agree – but I think it’s safe to say that he will not get 75% of the vote this year.
*But it’s important to remember that the Hall of Fame is littered with guys who were not exactly upstanding citizens – racists and spitballers and guys who would slide with their spikes up.
Roger Clemens: You could make the argument that Roger Clemens was the best pitcher of all time. Not one of the best – the best. Seven Cy Youngs, 354 wins, and 4672 strikeouts. Most pitchers in the Hall of Fame have a WAR that hovers between 60 and 70. Clemens’s career WAR was 133 – meaning that he essentially had two Hall of Fame careers.
But, of course, there is the issue of steroids. This is the first time where a pitcher’s candidacy will come into question because of them, and unlike hitters, we don’t have home runs or slugging percentage to go by. Would Clemens have been as dominant without them? When did he start using them? How long did he use them for? These are impossible questions to answer. But even if you look at his career before he came to the Yankees in 1999, his numbers are still Hall worthy – 233 wins, a 2.95 ERA, 3153 strikeouts, and a 151 ERA+. I know many will disagree, but Clemens gets my vote.
Jeff Bagwell: His WAR is 36th all time for position players. His OPS is 22nd all time. Few players can duplicate his career .408 on-base percentage and .540 slugging percentage. This is a guy who dominated the league for many years – his seven-year peak from 1994 to 2000 was as good as anyone during that time – .309/.433/.593 with an average of 37 home runs, 110 walks, and 119 runs scored. In six of those seven years, his OPS+ was 150 or higher. Bagwell didn’t hit 500 home runs or .300 for his career, but a deeper look into the numbers suggests that he was one of the most dominant players of his generation. And he had a great batting stance. He gets my vote.
Tim Raines: Whenever I discuss Tim Raines’s Hall of Fame candidacy with people, I bring up the point that he was the most valuable player in the National League from 1983 to 1987. No one believes me. But you know what? It’s true. Judge for yourself:
Tim Raines: .318/.406/.467, 142 OPS+, 31.4 WAR
Mike Schmidt: .278/.387/.537, 151 OPS+, 29.7 WAR
Tony Gwynn: .338/.395/.448, 134 OPS+, 27.4 WAR
Dale Murphy: .290/.383/.536, 146 OPS+, 26.5 WAR
Keep in mind that Raines also averaged 71 stolen bases per year with a ridiculous 88% success rate. I think this more than makes up for his slightly lower OPS+ (and is one of the many reasons why his WAR is higher). And if you want to include the American League, only Boggs, Ripken, and Henderson were more valuable over those five years.
Raines had low power numbers but an impressive .385 career OBP. For a guy who was mostly known for stealing bases, his 123 career OPS+ is higher than Ernie Banks and Paul Molitor and Tony Perez. He gets my vote.
Edgar Martinez: The best DH of all time and one of only fifteen players with a career .310/.410/.510 batting line. Two-time batting champion, three-time on base champion, and seven straight years with a .420+ OBP. From 1995-2001, he never had an OPS+ lower than 150. Only twenty players in the history of baseball have reached base at a higher rate than Edgar. He should be in.
Mike Piazza: I will be very disappointed if Piazza isn’t elected in his first ballot this year. It wouldn’t be because of the numbers – he is one of the greatest catchers of all time (and probably the best offensive catcher). No, it’s because Piazza faces a similar problem to Bagwell: high steroid suspicion without ever really being connected to them.
If we ignore steroid suspicion, the numbers are absurd: Piazza is a career .308/.377/.545 with 427 home runs, a 143 OPS+, 12-time All Star appearances, and ten Silver Slugger awards. Piazza was the best catcher of his generation (along with Ivan Rodriguez) and should be voted in.
Craig Biggio: Every non-steroids player with 3,000+ hits is in the Hall of Fame. Biggio was never as dominant as some of the other guys on this list, but his consistency and longevity merit selection. 21st all time in hits, 5th in doubles, 15th in runs scored, and 14th in WAR for second basemen.
Curt Schilling: There are only 16 pitchers with 3,000 career strikeouts – it is a rarer feat than 3,000 hits. Schilling’s 3,116 strikeouts not only puts him in rare company, but he also has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher in the club. People who won’t vote for Schilling will point to his low win total (216), his lack of Cy Young, and his good-but-not-great 3.46 ERA. But his WAR is 26th all time for pitchers (higher than Jim Palmer, Don Sutton, Tom Glavine, and Bob Feller), his K/BB is second all time, his K/9 is 18th (higher than Roger Clemens), and he was one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time. He gets my vote.
The guys I would probably not vote for:
Jack Morris: Morris was one of the most consistent pitchers of the ’80s, and he threw one of the best World Series games of all time. But he also pitched in a pitcher-friendly time and finished with a career ERA of 3.90, which was roughly the league average. He never won a Cy Young, never had an ERA under 3.27, and finished with a career of WAR of just 39.3, well below a typical Hall of Famer. Morris has gotten closer to election each year, and I think there is a good chance he gets in this year, his 14th year on the ballot.
Lee Smith: Smith’s saves record stood for over a decade, but I don’t think he did quite enough to merit selection.
Alan Trammell: I wish I was old enough to see him play. The numbers suggest he was one of the best defensive shortstops of all time. This is a tough one for me, but I don’t think he did quite enough offensively to merit selection.
Fred McGriff: McGriff had one of the coolest helicopter follow-throughs of all time. But he never reached as dominant a level as many of his peers in the ’90s. He was certainly a consistent performer, but as a first baseman he wasn’t quite at a Hall of Fame level.
Kenny Lofton: Lofton was one of the fastest guys of his generation (led the league in stolen bases every year from 1992 to 1996) and was one of the catalysts for those great Cleveland offenses in the ’90s. Believe it or not, his WAR is the seventh-highest ever for a center fielder. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t put him on the ballot.
Bernie Williams: Bernie will always be a Hall of Famer to me: he was one of my favorite Yankees of all time, and I hope the Yankees retire his #51 soon. But unfortunately, he doesn’t have the career numbers to merit selection.
Sammy Sosa: It is unfortunate that it will come down to the writers to be moral arbiters and decide how much of a player’s career was affected by steroids. But here’s the thing with Sosa: he was very clearly not a Hall of Famer before he, allegedly, began taking steroids.
Sosa, 1989-1997: .257/.308/.469, 207 home runs, 107 OPS+
Sosa, 1998-2007: .287/.372/.588, 402 home runs, 145 OPS+
I loved Sosa growing up. He hit 60 home runs three times, had an awesome home run trot, and was one of the most enthusiastic players in the game. But I can’t bring myself to vote for him.
Rafael Palmeiro: I think he is the only player on this list that was actually suspended for steroid use. One of the most consistent hitters of his generation, and one of only four players with 3,000+ hits and 500+ home runs.
Larry Walker: Perhaps no player in the history of baseball was more affected by his home park than Larry Walker.
Walker at home: .348/.431/.637
Walker on the road: .278/.370/.495
This included a career .710 slugging percentage at Coors Field, the highest ever for a player in any park.
There is no doubt that Walker had some epic years, including a stretch where he hit .360 in three straight seasons, but these numbers were very much affected by the thin, Denver air (pre-humidifier). Walker was a great player, and a nice guy, but he doesn’t get my vote.
Mark McGwire: One of the few guys (maybe the only one?) on the ballot that has admitted steroid use. No one in the history of baseball had a better home run to at bat ratio than McGwire. But he’ll have a hard time getting in, as the writers have shown since his first year of eligibility.
Don Mattingly: A great Yankee, but his career was too short.
Dale Murphy: One of the best hitters of the ’80s, but he fell off after he turned 31, hitting .234/.307/.396 in his final six seasons.
The guys I would definitely not vote for
David Wells: Here’s an interesting comparison:
Player A: 254 wins, 105 ERA+, 1.78 K/BB, 39.3 WAR
Player B: 239 wins, 108 ERA+, 3.06 K/BB, 49.4 WAR
Player A is Jack Morris. Player B is Wells.
David Wells was always one of my favorite players. And, you could make the argument that he was a better pitcher than Jack Morris. But I don’t think either of them are worthy of the Hall.
Steve Finley: I’ll mostly remember Finley for killing the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
Julio Franco: One of the all-time great batting stances. And he almost made it to 50.
Reggie Sanders: Teams Reggie Sanders played for from 1998 through 2006:
That’s a lot of moving expenses.
Shawn Green: One of the more consistent hitters from 1998-2005 (appeared in 150 games every year).
Jeff Cirillo: At the end of his first eight seasons, Cirillo was a .311 hitter. Then he hit .249, .205, and .213 in his next three years and fell off pretty quickly.
Woody Williams: Pretty much a league-average pitcher who only once won more than 15 games.
Rondell White: I was really excited when the Yankees signed White before the 2002 season. And then he hit .240, and that was the end of that.
Ryan Klesko: I was fairly surprised to discover that Klesko had a career .500 slugging percentage and 128 OPS+.
Aaron Sele: I loved Aaron Sele because the Yankees beat up on him in the playoffs every year: they beat him in the 1998 ALDS, the 1999 ALDS, the 2000 ALCS, and twice in the 2001 ALCS. People credit Jeter and Bernie and Rivera for the Yankees’ dynasty, but I credit Aaron Sele.
Roberto Hernandez: The original Roberto Hernandez (not Fausto Carmona). Take a look at this:
Hernandez: 326 saves, 131 ERA+
Bruce Sutter: 300 saves, 136 ERA+
Neither should be in.
Royce Clayton: A great name. Also a career 78 OPS+.
Jeff Conine: The only player to play in both the 1997 and 2003 World Series with the Marlins.
Mike Stanton: One of the best Yankee relievers of the ’90s. Only Jesse Orosco pitched in more games.
Sandy Alomar: A great catcher and a huge part of the ’90s Indians. Also a career 11.6 WAR.
Jose Mesa: 321 saves, but also finished 80-109 with 4.36 ERA.
Todd Walker: A very reliable second baseman in the early part of the 2000s. I’ll remember Walker for killing the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.