Fans of this site know that Hall of Fame arguments are among my favorite baseball topics to write about. This year’s Hall ballot brings a mix of excitement and frustration that will keep giving for years to come. You’ve probably read enough about the problems that will only get worse as sanctimonious writers keep pretending they know who took steroids and punishing them as if they were the only ones. In reviewing the players on the ballot, I’ll try not to bore you with another screed about the shortcomings of the Hall’s gatekeepers.
I will make one general comment though. As the ballot becomes overstuffed with players far north of the established Hall of Fame borderline, the ten-player maximum imposed on voters becomes more restrictive than ever. I would support the candidacies of more than ten players on this year’s list of candidates, but since this represents the ballot I would turn in if anyone sought my opinion (and I expect the Baseball Bloggers Alliance to do so any day), I’ll limit my selections to the ten most worthy.
As I did last year I’ll divide my thoughts on these 37 players between the easy ones on both sides and those worth some discussion.
Sandy Alomar- One of my favorite things about the annual Hall of Fame ballot is looking back on the careers of players I remember watching when I was a kid. I collected baseball cards in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so I remember guys like Alomar in visage and as groups of numbers. Alomar was a rookie of the year, a regular All-Star, a good hitter, and a good defensive catcher. That doesn’t make a Hall of Famer, but it makes a guy who deserves to see his name on the ballot.
Jeff Cirillo- Cirillo batted .296 for his career, but well into his thirties, his career average was still over .300. I remember seeing his name on the active batting average leaders list several times, right alongside the Garciaparras and Heltons I expected to see on that list. Of course, this was in the early 2000s, and I knew enough by then not to take much from batting average. Decent hitter, though, with a good glove at the hot corner.
Royce Clayton- Clayton played for nine different teams in the 2000s, which says that he was good enough that somebody always wanted him, but not good enough to play a key role for any real amount of time.
Jeff Conine- His middle name is Guy. He is one. I don’t have much else to say.
Steve Finley- Probably among the more underrated players on the ballot, Finley hit well enough and stuck around well enough to show up on a lot of “active leader” lists. Every time I visit the Hall of Fame, I check out the third floor if for no other reason than to learn who the active leaders in various stats are. I know about the legends, but I’m always surprised to learn that Carl Crawford leads active players in triples or that Mike Timlin once led active players in games pitched. Finley’s 449 doubles, 124 triples, and 320 stolen bases kept his name somewhere in the museum for several years. He’s not worthy of bronze, but he certainly justified some ink.
Julio Franco- Franco retired? When I imitated his batting stance as a kid, I never would have guessed that he’d finish in the top 50 of all time in games played and in the top 100 in plate appearances and hits. A career as long as Jimi Hendrix’s life didn’t hurt.
Shawn Green- I grew up a Blue Jays fan, and was just falling out with the Jays when Green started leaving his mark on the game. I considered listing him in the “worth a discussion” section below, but 2,003 hits and 328 homers for a steel-gloved corner outfielder don’t beg to be discussed in the same breath with Edgar Martinez.
Roberto Hernandez- Given the fickle nature of the closer’s role, it’s rare for any pitcher to spend a whole decade accumulating saves, as Hernandez did. Hernandez only started three games in his career, but he finished 667 of the 1,007 he entered as a reliever, which speaks at least to the confidence various managers had in him, if not to his pitching ability, which was particularly impressive in the late ’90s. Five two-win seasons don’t make him Lee Smith, though, let alone Goose Gossage.
Ryan Klesko- Ryan Klesko was often an above-average baseball player.
Jose Mesa- Like Hernandez, Mesa saved a lot of games. Also like Hernandez, meh.
Jack Morris- Writers of my ilk probably spend too much time bashing Jack Morris as a Hall of Fame candidate and too little time praising Jack Morris as a very good pitcher who pitched a lot of innings for a lot of good teams. He’s not even close to a Hall of Famer, but if the 2013 Red Sox could find five Jack Morrises, they would contend for a championship, and we can’t say that about just anyone.
Reggie Sanders- In 1995, Sanders hit .306/.397/.579 for a Reds team that went to the NLCS, earning 6.4 rWAR. Does anyone remember this?
Aaron Sele- I remember Sele best as part of the rotation of the 116-win 2001 Mariners, when he went 15-5 with a 3.60 ERA. Sele also had a 4.31 FIP that year and earned fewer than 3 WAR according to both keepers of the stat.
Lee Smith- Great closer. Not Mariano Rivera. Not a Hall of Famer.
Mike Stanton- Like Giancarlo, this Mike Stanton’s middle name is Michael (his first is William). He pitched in the postseason a lot. On a related note, I disliked him a lot. Good reliever. Half as many career WAR as Rev Russell.
Todd Walker- One of my favorites among the revolving door of Red Sox second basemen in the 2000s. Not much with the glove. Fewer WAR (8.2, per b-r) than anyone else on the ballot.
Rondell White- White hit for a decent average (.284) with some power (198 HR), a little speed (94 SB), and good defense for a corner oufielder (1.5 dWAR, position-adjusted). He’s about half of a borderline Hall of Famer.
Woody Williams- Started Game One of a World Series. Was better in his thirties in St. Louis than in his twenties in Toronto. Was called Woody.
Jeff Bagwell- Do I really have to write about Bagwell again? Will I have to do this again next year? Gehrig, Foxx, Pujols. No other post-1900 first baseman earned more fWAR than Bagwell’s 76.7. He could hit for average and power, draw walks, steal bases, and play excellent defense. He was more valuable than most Hall of Famers.
Barry Bonds– 762 home runs, 73 of which came in 2001. 514 stolen bases, 52 of which came in 1990. 2558 walks, 232 of which came in 2004. Fourteen seasons with on OPS over 1.000. Seven MVP awards and, for what they’re worth, eight Gold Gloves. Say what you will about how Bonds earned those numbers in the second half of his career, but he was two Hall of Famers: one who earned 71.6 WAR through 1995 and another who earned 86.5 WAR after 1995. He was Johnny Bench and George Brett.
Roger Clemens- 4,672 strikeouts, 292 of which came in 1997. 46 shutouts, 8 of which came in 1988. A career 143 ERA+, including 226 in 2005. Seven Cy Young Awards and an MVP. Say what you will about how Clemens earned those numbers in the second half of his career, but he was two Hall of Famers: one who earned 70.3 WAR through 1995 and another who earned 62.8 WAR after 1995. He was Jim Palmer and Tom Glavine.
Mike Piazza- The best-hitting catcher ever. 427 homers and a career .308/.377/.545 slash line. He’d be a Hall of Famer if he never threw a batter out from behind the plate.
Tim Raines- Career stolen base leaders since Caught Stealing has been tracked, and their success rates and on-base percentages.
1) Rickey Henderson, 1406/1741, 80.8%, .401 OBP
2) Lou Brock, 938/1245, 75.3%, .343 OBP
3) Tim Raines, 808/954, 84.7%, .385 OBP
4) Vince Coleman, 752/929, 80.9%, .324 OBP
5) Joe Morgan, 689/851, 81.0%, .392 OBP
Lou Brock is in the Hall of Fame. Raines got on base 12 percent more often than Brock and stole 130 fewer bases in 291 fewer attempts. Brock was worth 42.8 rWAR. Raines was worth 66.2 in 114 fewer games. Being better than Lou Brock may not make Tim Raines a Hall of Famer, but being more valuable than Duke Snider, Eddie Murray, Ryne Sandberg, and Tony Gwynn does.
Curt Schilling- Schilling may have to wait a while to get in the Hall because he pitched for a lot of bad teams and therefore didn’t accumulate a lot of wins (though his 216 are more than Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Hal Newhouser, among others). This is a bit ironic, because a good portion of Schilling’s Hall case comes from the postseason record (11-2, 2.32 ERA, 120K/25 BB in 133 1/3 IP) he put together when he did pitch for good teams. The postseason record probably overstates his talent, and voters who use that as a basis for inducting him might be misguided. On the other hand, many voters who don’t punch his name will miss his 3,116 strikeouts and 711 walks, the greatest ratio in modern baseball. That list:
1) Curt Schilling, 4.38
2) Pedro Martinez, 4.15
3. Mariano Rivera, 4.04
Alan Trammell- Why are we still talking about Alan Trammell? The best (retired) shortstops in baseball history, by rWAR:
1) Honus Wagner, 126.1
2) Cal Ripken, Jr., 90.9
3) George Davis, 79.8
4) Ozzie Smith, 73.0
5) Robin Yount, 72.4
6) Bobby Wallace, 71.6
7) Bill Dahlen, 70.9
8) Arky Vaughan, 70.5
9) Luke Appling, 69.9
10) Alan Trammell/Barry Larkin, 67.1
12) Pee Wee Reese, 63.1
13) Ernie Banks, 62.5
14) Joe Cronin, 61.9
I’ll stop there because I don’t know what to do with Monte Ward. 12 of these 14 men are in the Hall of Fame, as are several lesser shortstops. The other two are Trammell and Bill Dahlen, who was just passed up by the Pre-Integration Committee. Larkin, a Trammell doppelganger whose career overlapped with Trammell’s, was inducted last year. Why are we still waiting on Trammell?
WORTH A DISCUSSION
Because I’ll only have ten names on my official ballot, I’ll have to compare the players below to each other, rather than to the established Hall standard. To help, I’ll include each player’s Hall Rating from the Hall of Stats next to his name. In case you aren’t familiar with the HoS, Hall Rating is a combination of peak and accumulated value, scaled to a baseline of 100, representing a borderline Hall of Famer.
Craig Biggio (126)– I’ve always thought of Biggio as a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, but after the seven definites above, I’ve only got three spots left on my ballot, so Biggio will have to earn it. His 62.1 rWAR are nestled between Hall of Fame second basemen Roberto Alomar and Jackie Robinson. Robinson’s a short-career guy, so he’s not a perfect comp, but the next 2B down the list is Joe Gordon, who was worth 8.1 fewer wins (and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2009). Biggio’s actually closer to Ryne Sandberg’s 64.9 than to Robinson or Gordon, but I should note that Willie Randolph was worth 63.0 WAR and is not in the Hall.
Putting WAR aside, Biggio appeals to the traditionalist with his 3,060 hits and 414 stolen bases. He appeals to the more sophisticated voter with his 112 career OPS+ and surprising power (291 homers) for an up-the-middle player. He played 1,989 games at second base, 428 at catcher, and 255 in center field, and while he wasn’t particularly adept at any of them, he was good enough to stay up the middle, where his bat was immensely valuable.
Verdict: Worthy, but not top ten
Kenny Lofton (130)- Like so many fans and surely a number of the real voters, I didn’t think of Kenny Lofton as a Hall of Famer when he played. He seemed like more of a role player on those great Indians teams of the mid-to-late ’90s, and was more of a hired gun late in his career than a stalwart of one team’s lineup, as perhaps we’ve come to expect from Hall of Famers. Let’s validate those memories:
Lofton’s best season offensively was 1994, when he hit .349/.412/.536 with 60 stolen bases in a strike-shortened season. He earned 7.1 fWAR in just 112 games. The prior year, he hit .325/.408/.408 (yup, one homer, 81 walks) and stole 70 bases, good for 7.3 WAR in 148 games. Lofton stole more than 50 bases in five straight seasons on his way to 622 (with an 80% success rate) in his career. He hit .299/.372/.423 over 2,103 games, earning more rWAR (64.9) than teammate Manny Ramirez and Hall of Fame outfielder Al Simmons.
Now, much of that WAR comes from his excellent center field defense, which is easy to question given the uncertainty around some defensive metrics. Let’s say the metrics are all wrong and Lofton was an average fielder. He earned 54.5 WAR with his bat alone. Among center fielders, that’s a tenth of a win better than Richie Ashburn and well ahead of Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Kirby Puckett. It’s also within a few wins of non-Hall of Famers Jim Wynn and Reggie Smith, along with active players like Jim Edmonds and Johnny Damon, who won’t fly into the Hall when they’re eligible. Trust the defensive metrics and Lofton shoots almost five wins ahead of Ashburn and is well ahead of Smith and Edmonds and closer to Joe DiMaggio than to Damon or Wynn. Like it or not, defense is a huge part of baseball, and Kenny Lofton earned a lot of his value with his glove.
Verdict: Worthy, but not top ten
Edgar Martinez (133)- Martinez and seven of the eight players after him were on the ballot last year, so I’ll copy and paste what I wrote about them then (in quotes), with updates where relevant.
“The one guy I endorse every year about whom I couldn’t have a heated argument. One of the best hitters in baseball from age 27-40, Martinez was hampered by a late start and no defensive value. If anyone’s case is hurt by the WAR revolution, it’s Edgar’s, as his 67.2 rWAR are almost all offensive, so while his offensive numbers compare favorably with Paul Molitor’s and Reggie Jackson’s, his total contributions look more like Alan Trammell’s and Ron Santo’s. Everyone that I mentioned in this paragraph should be in the Hall.”
Update- I could probably have a heated argument about Edgar’s Hall of Fame case now. He hit like Johnny Mize and Willie Stargell.
Don Mattingly (77)- “A great hitter with a sweet glove for a few years whose career fell of a cliff by the time he was thirty, Mattingly’s case requires a bonus for his “Donnie Baseball” personality. I actually liked the guy, but I wouldn’t give him that bonus, and a first baseman with 222 homers is not a Hall of Famer without it.”
Fred McGriff (91)- “Like (Bernie) Williams, McGriff was better than a few Hall of Famers at his position, but he was also worse than a few contemporary first basemen, namely Will and Jack Clark, who are out.”
Mark McGwire (123)- Last year, I put McGwire on my “Definitely In” list. I still support his candidacy, but with at least seven better options on the ballot this year, I had to look at him under a different lens. Last year’s blurb:
“I addressed steroids in last year’s post, so I’d rather not talk about them again. I still watch baseball because of the summer of ’98. McGwire hit 583 homers and got on base 3,018 times. I can’t picture a Hall of Fame without him.”
Update- WAR and Hall Rating tell us that McGwire has to get in line behind Lofton and Biggio, in a virtual tie with Palmeiro. This is where I’m going to break from the value stats and remember the guy who hit a rookie record 49 homers in 1987, long before steroid rumors swirled around him. He hit a then-record 70 homers in 1998, with bud Selig and Major League Baseball celebrating his every move. His .982 OPS is tenth of all time, right ahead of Mantle, DiMaggio, and Musial on the all-time list. He’s my last pick, because I still can’t imagine a Hall of Fame without him.
Dale Murphy (84)- “Mattingly as a center fielder. Murphy’s closer to the Coop than Mattingly, with two MVPs and 44.2 rWAR, but he’s not quite there.”
Rafael Palmeiro (122)- “Last year, I voted “No” on Palmeiro. Without saying much, Jonathan Mitchell swung my vote to the other side. However they were accumulated, Palmeiro’s numbers are enormous. 569 homers. 585 doubles. 3020 hits. 66 rWAR. He cheated. His teammates cheated. The pitchers he faced cheated. On a somewhat level playing field, he was among the best. That’s a Hall of Fame case.”
Update- I still think Palmeiro’s worthy, but Lofton was more valuable without the steroid rumors, and I couldn’t find room for him on my ballot.
Verdict: Worthy, but not top ten
Sammy Sosa (114)- The smitten hyperbole with which I closed my argument for McGwire applies here too. A quick comparison of the two men who kept me watching baseball in my late teens:
McGwire hit 583 homers, peaking with 70 in 1998; Sosal hit 609, with three seasons of 60 or more, none of which led his league. He led his league twice, with 50 and 49.
McGwire slashed .263/.394./.588, good for a 163 career OPS+. Sosa hit .273/.344/.534, good for a 128 career OPS+. McGwire’s extra 388 walks are the primary difference between them.
McGwire earned -12.8 dWAR per baseball-reference, while Sosa earned -1.0. McGwire’s dWAR suffers slightly from a harsher positional adjustment (-111 runs, to Sosa’s -102), but most of the difference is performance, as Sosa grades out above average as a right fielder. They were identically bad baserunners (-15 career baserunning runs)
Add it all up and McGwire was worth 58.7 WAR to Sosa’s 54.8. Sosa’s defensive advantage doesn’t negate McGwire’s patience. I think Sammy Sosa is a Hall of Famer based on the established standards, but unfortunately, I can’t compare him to the all-time greats; only to his peers on this ballot.
Verdict: Worthy, but not top ten
Larry Walker (150)- “Last year, I considered Walker’s case the least black-and-white of anyone on the ballot. This year, I’m completely convinced that Larry Walker was a Hall of Famer. He hit well in Montreal. He hit historically well in Colorado. He hit well in St. Louis. He fielded and ran well everywhere he played. He earned more WAR (which is park-adjusted) in a nine-year span than Hall of Famers Jim Rice and Lou Brock earned in their careers. He’s one of the great on-base machines of all time. He’s a Hall of Famer, and not necessarily a borderline one.”
Update- the Hall of Stats helps to illuminate Walker’s greatness and reaffirms my last sentence from last year. This is a guy who led his league three times in batting average, twice in OBP and twice in slugging. He also played strong defense and stole 230 bases. He’s not Todd Helton; he’s Reggie Jackson.
Bernie Williams (91)- “Inarguably the best new player on the ballot, Williams was a classic .300/.400/.500 hitter and a center fielder on four championship teams. His .381 career OBP is identical to Raines’s, and he hit more homers (287) than Mattingly. The Hall seems to have higher standards for center fielders than corner guys, and Bernie might be a top-20 all-time fielder. The argument against him is that contemporaries Ken Griffey, Jr., Jim Edmonds, Andruw Jones, and maybe Kenny Lofton were better, and among them, only Griffey is a surefire Hall of Famer.”
David Wells (98)- I can’t say I ever liked David Wells, but I kind of feel bad for him. He was a very good pitcher, better than many Hall of Fame pitchers. He pitched for a long time for a lot of great teams, winning two World Series. He won 239 games, struck out 2,201 batters, and earned 49.4 WAR, a total within one win of Sandy Koufax’s and better than Catfish Hunter’s or Dizzy Dean’s. But there’s no way he’s among the ten most worthy players on this ballot for induction to the Hall of Fame, and because of that, he’ll probably drop off the ballot after one year.
Punishing the steroid users and suspecting steroid users doesn’t just hurt them. It hurts David Wells and Kenny Lofton and dozens of other borderline Hall-worthy players who will enter the ballot over the next ten plus years.
My ten-man ballot:
Worthy candidates outside my top ten: