Barry Bonds. Here’s a thought from Joe Posnanski that I agree with: I don’t think the Hall of Fame should be a morally cleansed place where only the pure belong. I think the best baseball players should be in, plain and simple, and their stories — complete with their genius for the game and their moral failings — should be told. I think that’s the way history should be taught.
You can’t argue that Bonds wasn’t one of the greatest hitters ever – I think only Babe Ruth and Ted Williams were better. And, I would argue that Bonds had a Hall of Fame career before he started taking steroids. After 1998, Bonds was a career .290/.411/.556 hitter with 411 home runs, 445 stolen bases, and a 164 OPS+. Of course, Bonds then went on to destroy the record books and make a farce of the game – but even if you take out those years, Bonds should be in.
But the numbers alone are not enough for many voters. Bonds was arrogant, a jerk, just a terrible person in general. He is the antithesis of the Hall of Fame’s character clause. But it’s clear that after five years on the ballot, more and more writers are coming around to him.
And on this year’s version of the indispensable Baseball Hall of Fame tracker, he’s up to a whopping 69%.
Roger Clemens. If you divide all of Roger Clemens’ career numbers by two, he might still be a Hall of Famer: 177-92, 2458 innings, 3.12 ERA, 2336 strikeouts, 70 Wins Above Replacement, 3.5 Cy Youngs.
By WAR, Clemens’ 1997 (11.9) was the best season in the last 25 years, when he struck out a career-high 292 in 264 innings and had a 222 ERA+. Of course, Clemens had other legendary seasons:
1986: 24-4, 2.48 ERA, 8.9 WAR
1987: 20-9, 2.97 ERA, 9.4 WAR
1990: 21-6, 1.93 ERA, 10.6 WAR
1991: 18-10, 2.62 ERA, 7.9 WAR
1992: 18-11, 2.41 ERA, 8.8 WAR
1998: 20-6, 2.65 ERA, 8.1 WAR
Baseball-Reference considers a WAR over 5 to be at an all star level, and anything over 8 to be MVP level. Clemens had fourteen seasons with a WAR over 5 and six that were over 8.
A lot of younger fans will remember Clemens’ 2001 season, when he went 20-3 and won the Cy Young with the Yankees. It was a great season, yes, but that was when I first realized that wins don’t do a good job of measuring value. Mike Mussina should have won the Cy Young that year (really, you could make the case for a handful of other guys too). Moose pitched more innings, gave up fewer runs, walked fewer, struck out more, and had a much lower WHIP. But he went 17-11, which isn’t quite as sparkly as 20-3. Interestingly, Clemens had the reverse problem in 2005, when he had a 1.87 ERA but only went 13-8.*
*I remember that the Texas Rangers really wanted Clemens after 2005 and did this whole study where they determined that Clemens would have been 24-3 if he pitched for the Rangers that year. He would have undoubtedly run away with his 8th Cy Young.
Manny Ramirez. Right now, Manny is polling at around 28%, which is well below the 75% threshold and certainly due to his two failed steroid tests. Clemens and Bonds, for all of their faults, never failed a test.
My stance on steroids/PED’s is pretty subjective. I think most voters prefer to take a more black-and-white approach with failed tests and alleged violations, but here’s what I think: if someone is a transcendent talent, and (in my judgment) a no doubt, slam-dunk candidate, then I vote for them. So I put in Clemens, Bonds, and Manny. I leave out Sosa, McGwire, and Palmeiro.
Manny was, maybe, the best pure right-handed hitter of all time. He finished his career with a .312 batting average and .585 slugging percentage – only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg have done that.
Jeff Bagwell. Here’s a thought: Jeff Bagwell is the best first baseman in the history of the National League.
There is an argument to be made. By WAR, he trails only Albert Pujols in the modern era (and if you include the American League, he trails only Pujols, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx).
Bagwell dominated the league for the better part of a decade – from 1993 to 2002 he hit .306/.422/.574, a 158 OPS+ and averaged 35 home runs, 113 runs, 114 RBI’s, and 104 walks. He had a ridiculous 1994 season where he hit .368/.451/.750 and had 39 home runs in just 110 games. Bagwell is one of just six players to have a season with a .450 OBP and .750 SLG, along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, Rogers Hornsby, and Mark McGwire.
While Bagwell has fallen short in prior years, he’s polling over 90% and should easily get in this year. This is great news! His support has skyrocketed in recent years:
2017 (preliminary): 92%
Tim Raines. Raines is perpetually underrated. By WAR, he was the best player in the National League from 1983 to 1987. I would also argue that he was the best base stealer in baseball history – or at the very least, the most efficient.
Raines: 808 stolen bases, 146 caught stealing, 84.7% success rate
Rickey Henderson: 1406 stolen bases, 335 caught stealing, 80.8% success rate
Lou Brock: 938 stolen bases, 307 caught stealing, 75.3% success rate
There have been other efficient base stealers in history – Vince Coleman, Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Beltran. But of those that have stolen 400+ bases, Raines has far and away the best success rate.
If you couple his base running with a career .385 on base percentage, 123 OPS+, and 69.1 WAR, then I think Raines has a clear case for the Hall of Fame. Yes, he never won an MVP and never hit more than 20 home runs. He was never viewed as the best player in the league. But, consider this: he finished with the same career WAR as Manny Ramirez even though he had almost 400 fewer home runs. He reached base more times than Tony Gwynn.
Like Bagwell, support for Raines has skyrocketed in recent years. He’s currently polling at 92% and should get in.
Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge is on the Mt. Rushmore of catchers. 14-time All Star, 13 Gold Gloves, an MVP, a .296 career batting average. Only Bench and Carter finished with a higher WAR as a catcher. Despite alleged steroid use, he’s polling at 84% and should get in on his first ballot.
Vladimir Guerrero. Man, I love Vlad. Let’s just take a moment to watch this.
One of the best bad-ball hitters of all time. He finished his career with a .318 average, 449 home runs, and a 140 OPS+. You finish your career with a 140 OPS+ and you’re getting my vote.
Edgar Martinez. Finished his career with a .312 average, a .418 OBP, and a .515 SLG. Even though he played in a massive offensive environment, his OPS+ was 147, higher than:
…and many others.
Trevor Hoffman. I go back-and-forth on this one. Whatever you think of the save, I think Hoffman was one of the best relief pitchers of all time. He wasn’t as dominant as Billy Wagner, but he was more consistent and had a longer career. For what it’s worth, I think Wagner should be in too, but I don’t have enough room for him on my ballot.
Mike Mussina. Every pitcher (except Roger Clemens) with 100 more wins than losses is in the Hall of Fame. Mussina finished 270-153. And, sure, wins and losses are not a great way to evaluate pitching, but I do think they tell a story over 20 years.
Look, if Mussina finished his career with 300 wins, then he sails into the Hall of Fame. And, if he sticks around for a bit longer, he probably gets to 300. He retired in 2008 when he was 39 years old, but he was coming off a remarkable season where he won 20 games. If he sticks around for three more years, and puts up three mediocre seasons, then he gets to 300. And I don’t think three mediocre seasons should be the difference between the Hall of Fame and borderline.
Mussina finished his career with an 82.7 WAR.That ranks 24th in history, and that includes about a dozen pitchers from the deadball and early 20th century who threw 400 innings a year and died of dysentery. Of the 23 pitchers ahead of him, 22 are in the Hall of Fame. The only one missing is Clemens.