I don’t get to the vote for the Hall of Fame. It’s a prestigious honor reserved for full-time writers, one that many, like Joe Posnanski, take very seriously. But I can certainly have an opinion on who should be in the Hall of Fame! And so can you!
First, let’s get some ballots from some real Hall of Fame voters. Here’s Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star.
Here’s MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan.
Mailed this earlier, @NotMrTibbs . By the way, I have always been in favor of a binary voting system for the HOF over the 10-player limit one. Hated leaving Rolen/McGriff off. OK, commence the insults and happy holidays. pic.twitter.com/YvOchXr5Q3— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) December 19, 2018
First, let’s start with the guys that should not merit much consideration.
Rick Ankiel got off to a brilliant start, but flamed out rather quickly, and frankly I’m surprised he lasted the ten requisite seasons required to be on the ballot. But his ability to transition from really good pitcher to decent hitter is really quite remarkable if you think about it. He’s a member of the “What If?” Hall of Fame class.
Jason Bay was a pretty good player but he only made three All-Star games. He and Cliff Lee are likely going to be the last two Expos draft picks ever to be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Lance Berkman has a better case than you probably think. He was a beast in his prime, hitting .303/.415/.563 from 2000-2008. He does pretty well in the Baseball Reference Hall of Fame Monitor and Standards, but his counting stats are well short, and he was a poor defender at first base and the corner outfield positions. I can see him getting a second look by a committee down the road, but he’ll get overshadowed on the BBWAA ballot.
Freddy Garcia was owned by the Royals in his prime, and if those 2000s Royals teams own you, you’re not a Hall of Famer. In all seriousness, he had a 107 ERA+ which seems ridiculous to consider for the Hall of Fame, but it is actually better than Jack Morris (105) so whatever.
Jon Garland was a member of the 2005 World Champion White Sox. From 1900 to 1996, every single World Champion has had a Hall of Famer, except the 1981 Dodgers. Those Yankees dynasty teams will have Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the 2000s Red Sox clubs have maybe David Ortiz, the 2001 Diamondbacks have Randy Johnson and maybe Curt Schilling. But there are a lot of recent champs that don’t have anyone that looks HOF bound - the 1997 Marlins, the 2002 Angels, the 2005 White Sox, and even our 2015 Royals.
Travis Hafner was top ten in MVP voting back-to-back years, but also finished with fewer career hits than Jim Eisenreich.
Ted Lilly is not a Hall of Famer but was a big leaguer, so he was definitely better at playing baseball than I was.
Derek Lowe led the league in wins one season and saves in another which is pretty cool. John Smoltz did it too, but I can’t imagine too many other players have.
Darren Oliver is fourth all-time in WAR among players born in Kansas City, Missouri, behind David Cone, Smoky Joe Wood, and Tom Henke.
Roy Oswalt finished top-five in Cy Young balloting five times, but never won the award. He had a 133 ERA+ through age 33 but was pretty much finished after that. Had he lasted a bit longer, he might have a decent argument for the Hall.
Juan Pierre has more career hits than Joe DiMaggio, with a 84 OPS+ compared to Joltin’ Joe’s 155.
Placido Polanco was a similar player, just with less speed. Of the top 20 lowest strikeout rates among players with 5,000 plate appearances in the divisional era, Pierre and Polanco are the only ones to spend their primes in the 2000s.
Miguel Tejada won the 2002 MVP in one of the more mystifying votes to me. Alex Rodriguez had an OPS almost 150 points higher, topped him in HR and RBI by a large margin, played the same position, but played on a last place team while Tejada won the division.
Vernon Wells is in the Hall of Fame of terrible contracts.
Kevin Youkilis is in the Hall of Fame of weird batting stances.
Michael Young actually has a better case than I thought, finishing with 2,375 hits and a .300 batting average and does well in the Hall of Fame Monitor. He also had very little power and had an 104 OPS+ in his career.
Here is who I would vote for if I had a vote for Hall of Fame.
Barry Bonds almost certainly used some performance-enhancing drug. He is also the greatest hitter I have ever seen. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum to recognize the best to ever play the game, and to not have the all-time leader in home runs or hits (Pete Rose) for that matters, is ridiculous.
Roger Clemens is almost also certainly a PED user. This is open to a lot of debate, but my stance has been that what matters is what these player did on the field, and while we can add asterisks and consider the context of PEDs, we cannot deny what actually happened, To have a Hall of Fame that doesn’t recognize Roger Clemens as one of the most amazing pitchers of all-time is Orweillian erasing of history. Clemens was the most dominant pitcher of my childhood, and won a ridiculous seven Cy Youngs. Not to pick on Morris again, but Clemens has over three times as much career WAR as Morris. To have Morris in and Clemens out would make for quite a silly Hall.
Roy Halladay was the most dominant pitcher in baseball from 2002-2011, finishing top ten in Cy Young balloting seven times, winning it twice. He was a bit of a late bloomer and was done by age 36, so he was only really good for ten seasons, but that was an amazing ten seasons, one where he averaged 17 wins per seasons, had an ERA of 2.97 and an ERA+ of 148.
Jeff Kent was a bit of a jerk to the media, which is the only explanation I have for why he doesn’t have more support for going into the Hall of Fame. Well that, and second basemen seem to get overlooked in Hall of Fame voting (I think Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich should be in, but they barely sniffed consideration). No player in baseball history has more home runs as a second baseman than Kent’s 351. Compare him to slam dunk Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg. Kent has more hits (2,461 to 2,381), home runs (377 to 282), and OPS+ (123 to 114). Sandberg has an edge in WAR (68 to 55.4) because he was a tremendous defender while Kent was a bit of a statue, but Kent’s offensive contributions should get him in.
Fred McGriff is a guy I have had out, despite being a big fan of his as a kid. But the more I look at his career - 493 home runs and a 134 OPS+ with 52.6 WAR - I’m more convinced he’s among the greats. He finished top ten in MVP voting five straight years and won three Silver Slugger Awards before the 90s came and everyone else dwarfed his consistent numbers. He was a poor defender, which hurts his case, but I think his bat makes up for it.
Mike Mussina has a bit of a high ERA (3.68) for a Hall of Fame candidate, but he has 270 wins and if John Smoltz is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, isn’t Mussina as well? Both threw around 3,500 innings. Moose’s ERA+ is 123 to Smoltz’s 121, due to pitching in the tougher American League. Smoltzie has a slightly higher strikeout rate. Mussina was top five in Cy Young voting six-times, Smoltz just three times (Smoltz won it though, Mussina never did). There are 25 pitchers with 3,000 innings and a 123 ERA+ or better, and all but Mussina, Ed Cicotte (banned from baseball), Roger Clemens (PEDs keeping him out), Curt Schilling (maybe Hall of Famer) and Kevin Brown (fell off the ballot too quickly) are in the Hall of Fame.
Manny Ramirez is a guy I’m not totally sure what to do with. Like Bonds and Clemens, he did PEDs, but unlike those guys, he was suspended after MLB put drug testing in place, branding him a cheater. By the numbers, his case is strong - career OPS+ of 154, 555 home runs, 2,574 hits, 12 All-Star Games. He was one of the most feared hitters in the league, but it is curious he never won an MVP, instead finishing top five in voting four times. He was also a comically bad defender. I think we still need to acknowledge what Manny Ramirez (and Alex Rodriguez for that matter when he comes up) were suspended for, but you can’t deny what they did - those home runs were hit, PED or not. Should he be out because he was suspended late in his career? I don’t think so.
Mariano Rivera is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. I don’t even think that many relievers should be in, but Mariano Rivera is the best one-inning closer of all-time and it’s not close. If you take all the relievers that never made more than 20 starts in their career, second all-time is Lee Smith, who was just elected to the Hall of Fame, at 29.4 WAR. Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner are close behind. Rivera tops the list at 56.3 career WAR. The guy was the most dominant at his position by a good margin.
Curt Schilling had a weird career going from a 113 ERA+ in his 20s to a 134 ERA+ in his 30s and 40s. He never made an All-Star Game or earned a Cy Young Award vote til age 30, then went to six All-Star games and was runner up to the Cy Young four times, never winning it. He is known for being one of the greatest post-season pitchers of all-time. He is also known for having abhorrent views, generally being a jerk, and for bilking the taxpayers of Rhode Island out of millions of dollars. I don’t think any of that should matter though, as awful as I find his views, he was one of the greats.
Larry Walker is a guy I’ve had out, probably due to Coors bias, but he was a fantastic hitter in Montreal, and his road numbers are nothing to sneeze at. Twice he led the league in OPS, including his MVP season of 1997. His 72.7 career are 56th-most among position players all-time, and the only ones ahead of him not in the Hall that are eligible are Barry Bonds, Lou Whitaker, and Bill Dahlen. He had a great arm, winning seven Gold Gloves. It looks like support is building for him, and I’ll join the bandwagon.
Here are the guys I had just on the outside.
Todd Helton deserves a long look for anyone that put Larry Walker in. Like Walker, Helton was a bit of a product of Coors, with a career line of .316/.414/.539 that was .287/.386/.469 on the road. He had 2,519 hits and 369 home runs. He finished top ten in MVP voting three times, making five straight All-Star teams. He had a ridiculous peak from 1999 to 2005, but it didn’t last long enough for me, especially considering he didn’t add much defensively or on the bases.
Andruw Jones is a guy I really hope doesn’t fall off quickly because I think we need to at least discuss him. If you go by Defensive WAR, he’s the greatest defensive outfielder of ALL-TIME and it’s not that close. Now defensive data can be unreliable especially across eras and I’m not going to argue he was really better than Willie Mays or Roberto Clemente with the glove, but Jones laps his contemporaries. He also hit 434 home runs, but didn’t have enough great offensive seasons during his prime, so I’m not ready to put him and his 111 OPS+ in, but I’m not ready to say he’s NOT a Hall of Famer either.
Edgar Martinez is a guy I have been on the fence on for a long time and I see a lot of people I think are smart advocating for him. He did play the field more than people remember (29% of his career starts). His career OPS is .933 which is phenomenal, even in the silly ball era (his OPS+ is a still-outstanding 147). But he got a late start to his career, hurting his counting stats. His peak was very good, but he only finished top five in MVP voting once, in 1995, the only year he finished top five in WAR. And is there that much difference between him and Lance Berkman? I could be persuaded to put Edgar in, but I’m not there yet.
Gary Sheffield has impressive totals - 2,689 hits, 509 home runs. But he has very little black ink on his resume (hardly ever led the league in anything) aside from a batting title early in his career, and leading the league in on-base percentage and OPS/OPS+ in 1996. He was a terrible defender, a bit of a malcontent that changed teams a lot (that doesn’t disqualify you - Dick Allen was a malcontent who should be in for sure). But Sheffield was a bit too one-dimensional and was not really considered among the best sluggers when he played.
Andy Pettitte has 256 wins and played for a ton of post-season teams. He pitched in a silly ball era, so his ERA is fairly high, but his ERA+ is 117 which is near Tom Glavine, but also near Mark Buerhle. Pettitte only made three All-Star teams and finished top five in Cy Young voting four times. He only posted a sub-4.00 ERA four times in qualified seasons. He was also busted for PEDs, which people seem to forget, probably because he was contrite once he was caught, and he’s a pitcher, not some muscle-bound slugger. PEDs aside, he is just on the outside based on his resume.
Scott Rolen is not a guy that screams “Hall of Fame”, but if you look deeper at the numbers his case is pretty strong. People forget what a tremendous defender he was. He won eight Gold Gloves and was worth 21.2 WAR with his defense alone, sixth among third basemen since 1900. He has over 70 career WAR overall, which would put him around Hall of Famer, and he fares well in Jay Jaffe’s JAWS formula. His bat was no slouch - he had a career line of .281/.364/.490 for a 122 OPS+ that puts him 12th among third basemen since 1900, around guys like Evan Longoria and Troy Glaus, and just a bit behind Hall of Famer Ron Santo. He has no black ink at all on his resume, and while he was a seven-time All-Star, only finished top ten in MVP voting once. I don’t think he was among the greats, but I’ll keep him under consideration.
Sammy Sosa doesn’t get nearly as much support as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens which is interesting, because I think without the taint of PEDs, the man with the ninth-most home runs all-time would be a lot closer to getting in. I think people think Sosa was more a product of PEDs as opposed to Bonds and Clemens who were great players well before anyone in baseball really knew what PEDs were. I think if you have Bonds and Clemens in, you should give strong consideration for Sosa. He wasn’t quite as one-dimensional as you think - he was a gifted defender early in his career, drew a lot of walks, stole 234 bases and hit over .300 a few times. His WAR total is 58.6, mostly due to defensive limitations and a slow start to his career. I admit, there isn’t a ton of daylight between Sosa and Ramirez, but Sammy’s peak, while amazing, was pretty short - just six seasons, which keeps him out in my mind.
Omar Vizquel can make some of the same arguments as Rolen - he was an outstanding defender (his 29.5 dWAR is sixth among all shortstops). But his bat was pretty subpar - he was only league average in two of his 24 seasons, by OPS+. He hung around long enough to compile 2,877 hits, but he only made three All-Star games. Sure, the AL was loaded with great shortstops, but it seems like if he was among the greats he would have made a few more appearances. People have made the case that since Ozzie Smith is in mostly for his glove, that Omar should be in too, but Ozzie was just heads and tails better (and better with the bat, when adjusted for the era). I don’t see the case for Omar.
Billy Wagner could benefit from a lot of relievers getting in lately - Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, and likely Mariano Rivera next year. Among all pitchers with at least 500 relief appearances, Wagner is third in ERA+ with 187 behind only Craig Kimbrel and Rivera. He struck out a third of the hitters he faced, the third-highest strikeout rate among any pitcher with at least 500 innings pitched, behind only Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. His 422 career saves are sixth all-time, behind three Hall of Famers, Francisco Rodriguez and John Franco. He made seven All-Star games, but I’m not sure I’m ready to start expanding the list of relievers in the Hall past Mo and the guys that are already in.
So that’s my hypothetical ballot, rip it apart! This was much tougher than I thought it would be and I have newfound respect for those that have real votes.
The Hall of Fame Class of 2019 will be announced on January 22. Who would be on your ballot?