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Hall of Fame picks, predictions, and problems

Making picks and predictions for the 2023 Hall of Fame class while looking at some problems about the whole process.

St. Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals Photo by John Williamson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

On January 24th, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will unveil what players they’ve chosen for Cooperstown. Whoever gets the nod will be inducted, alongside Fred McGriff (more on him later), on July 23rd.

This year’s ballot has 28 names on it, half of which are first-time nominees. To get elected, a player’s name must appear on at least 75% of the ballots. A voting member can vote for up to 10 players.

Below are the nine players for whom I’d vote, my prediction on who will actually get enough votes, and a discussion about just a few of the problems the Hall currently faces.

My Hall of Fame Ballot

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In alphabetical order.

Carlos Beltrán

Starting off with the only player of the group who starred for the Royals seems right. It seems that those voting against Beltrán are doing so because of the role he played in the sign-stealing catastrophe during his season with the Astros. Two things about that: a) Weren’t the players supposed to not be harmed by that? b) Hasn’t he paid enough for it by immediately losing his managerial gig? Let’s not overthink this: dude played electrifying baseball for years, posted a career .837 OPS while accumulating north of 70 bWAR, won two Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves, made nine All-Star teams, and won Rookie of the Year. Beltrán screams Hall of Famer.

Todd Helton

Helton posted an even higher OPS (.953) than did Beltran while patrolling first base for the Rockies for a whopping 17 years. Sure, he played half his games every season in hitter-friendly Denver, but is that really going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame? He did more than enough to overcome that including posting 61.8 bWAR, making five All-Star Games, and finishing in the top 10 of MVP voting three times.

Andruw Jones

While his career nosedived once he left Atlanta, those first 12 seasons are enough for Jones to get elected. From the time he debuted, he was one of the most fun players to watch as he roamed center field for the Braves. He nearly won the MVP in 2005 when he earned 23 of the Triple Crown while posting a .922 OPS. For his career, he was worth 62.8 bWAR while going to five All-Star Games, winning one Silver Slugger, and capturing 10 Gold Gloves in a row.

Jeff Kent

Baseball writers love to acknowledge who hit the most home runs while playing a certain position, so why is Kent, who hit more homers than any other second baseman, still awaiting induction? I’m not one to be beholden to the “morals clause” or whatever the Hall sanctimoniously calls it, but I think that “clause” would have to be more than just “he wasn’t nice.” And I think that’s what is keeping Kent out. He won the 2000 MVP as a member of the Giants, reached five All-Star Games (I’m sensing a theme) and earned four Silver Sluggers.

Andy Pettitte

Pettitte wound up winning a whopping 256 games over 18 years, and while wins is a sort of archaic pitching stat these days, it’s still worth mentioning. Over his career, Pettitte reached three All-Star Games while winning five World Series with the Yankees. Four times (including once with Houston), he finished in the top five for the Cy Young, and another time finished sixth. His career 3.85 ERA is 17% above league-average for that time period, and his FIP was even lower. He posted 60.2 bWAR.

Manny Ramirez

God forbid the BBWAA vote in someone with a bit of character these days. Ramirez blasted 555 home runs over his illustrious career that included helping the Red Sox break The Curse in 2004. (He was also part of the 2007 championship team.) After leaving Boston, he bounced around a couple of teams as his career died, but those first 15-and-a-half years with Cleveland and Boston were mesmerizing. Overall, he finished in the top 10 for the MVP nine different times while reaching a dozen All-Star Games, winning nine (!) Silver Sluggers as well as the 2002 AL batting title. He finished oh so close to a career OPS of triple digits.

Alex Rodriguez

Yes, yes, I know all about why he won’t get in, but it’s really odd to keep a guy out just because he’s sort of owning the Timberwolves. Anyway, you can’t tell the Story of Baseball without mentioning A-Rod, who would’ve reached 700 home runs had the Yankees not screwed him over, and who still posted 117.6 bWAR. Let me just say this: if Bud Selig is in the Hall of Fame, then so should Alex Rodriguez (as well as a host of other players).

Scott Rolen

Somewhat surprisingly, over his career, Rolen posted the same bWAR as did Beltrán: 70.1. Rolen dashed out of the gates with the Phillies, winning Rookie of the Year in 1997, and then saw his star grow even brighter after a trade to the Cardinals in 2002. During his time in St. Louis, he made four All-Star Games, won three Gold Gloves, and went to two World Series, helping the 2006 Cardinals win the team’s first championship in 24 years. Following a trade to Toronto, his career slowed, though he did make two more All-Star teams as a member of the Reds. He finished his career with eight Gold Gloves at the hot corner and one Silver Slugger.

Gary Sheffield

Sheffield hit the hardest hit ball I’ve ever seen in person, and that also happened to be at the coldest game I’ve ever attended. Anyway, he also blasted over 500 career home runs while collecting dang near 2,700 hits. Sheffield was a wee bit of a liability in the field (Baseball-Reference docks 27.7 WAR for his, uh, lack of defense), but man, could he hit. That’s why he lasted 22 years and still posted a career 60.5 bWAR.

I wanted to vote for a 10th player, but after digging into the numbers, I just couldn’t do it. I would’ve gone with Mark Buehrle, the longtime lefty pitcher for the White Sox (and, evidently, the Marlins and Blue Jays) over guys like Billy Wagner (#closersareoverrated), Torii Hunter, and Jimmy Rollins. However, looking more closely at Buehle’s career, I scrapped the idea, and left my ballot at nine.


Wisconsin v Penn State Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

There really is no lock for any of the 28 nominees getting elected this year, which is weird. Guys like A-Rod and Manny have no shot. Beltrán probably won’t make it this year, but should eventually. I’m not so sure about Kent and Sheffield, though I, obviously, think both are more than deserving.

The player with the best shot is Scott Rolen. A dude named Ryan Thibodaux tracks Hall of Fame ballots, and right now, Rolen is on 81% of them with 31% of the ballots turned in. Helton is also above the 75% mark, but just barely, at 77.9%. I hope both guys make it this year, but I’m more confident in Rolen.

One out of 28. That’s not great.

Hall of Fame Problems

Well, there are several.

The First-Ballot Problem

One reason why one-out-of-28 isn’t great is because more than one of these particular 28 players will eventually make the Hall of Fame. So why not vote those guys in now? Why wait?

For reasons that escape me, there is a sanctity associated with making the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. It’s like those players get special treatment once in the Hall of Fame compared to all the others who had to wait a time or two. That is a bizarre, and false, concept. There exist no tiers inside Cooperstown. You’re either in or out. If you’re in, you’re in.

The McGriff Conundrum

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That, in turn, leads to another problem, one exemplified by the unanimous election of Fred McGriff by the Contemporary Era committee, which consists of former players and former or current executives and others inside the game:

The writers and the Hall of Fame members are not on the same page on who should be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Again, look at McGriff. He was on the BBWAA ballot for the maximum number of 10 years. In 2019, his 10th and final year on the ballot, he received only 39.8% of the BBWAA’s vote. I’m not a mathematician, but I can confidently tell you that 39.8% is not close to 75%.

And yet, when McGriff is on his first committee ballot, not only does he make it, he makes it with 16 out of 16 votes. That is [checks math] 100% of the ballot.

When you look at the current ballot, there are Hall of Famers on there. Maybe not the nine for whom I would vote. But there’s at least one guy on there, probably more than that, who deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown. The BBWAA is getting in the way of these guys making it in sooner than later. Thankfully, the Hall of Fame may eventually fix such a wrong, but the BBWAA owes it to the sport, players, and fans to get it right the first time around.

The Selig Hitch

Finally, my last problem with the Hall of Fame is Bud Selig.

Seriously: if he’s in the Hall of Fame (which he is and has been since 2017), then guys like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, etc. deserve to also be in the Hall of Fame.

Call it the Bud Selig Wing for all I care.

Time’s running out for A-Rod and Manny, but the BBWAA can still do right be them.

For others, it’s time for the Hall to look itself in the mirror and recognize that it’s being hypocritical.

After that, induct the stars who thrived during Selig’s time as commissioner.