Hall of Fame 2017: Brent’s Ballot

It’s wrong to call this a Hall of Fame ballot. I don’t have a Hall of Fame ballot. I’m not allowed to vote (I should be, but they tend to ignore me despite this absolute certainty). It’s best to get that out of the way first.

Also, I want to give each name his due diligence. To me, that’s the best part of the HOF discussion, or at least it should be. This is the time to reflect on the careers of the non-obvious guys. The legends deserve their discussion as well, but we’ll be talking about them for generations. That’s why they’re legends. With that in mind, I’ll share my process with you, player by player, with my ultimate pretend-ballot at the conclusion.

Jeff Bagwell

7th year on ballot
71.6% last year
Career comb. WAR: 79.3

Jeff Bagwell (Photo: Tom DiPace, USA TODAY)

Few players overcome such team-affiliated heartbreak as did Bagwell. Born in Massachusetts, Bagwell was a diehard Red Sox fan whose favorite player in history was Carl Yastrzemski. He attended the University of Hartford and was drafted in the 4th round of the ’89 draft by, in a dream-come-true moment, the Boston Red Sox. He rewarded them instantly by mashing his way up the ladder. He was a AA MVP in 1990. Few kids, even major leaguers, see their career play out the way they envision, but Bags was on that path. Nothing but success, and with his favorite team to boot.

As we saw with the Cubs and Indians in 2016, the pressures of ending a streak, the slaying of a curse, can lead you to overpay for personnel, even if it’s helpful personnel. The Cubs and Indians certainly overpaid, respectively, for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, but a flag trumps any sub-optimal decisions that lead to hoisting it. The Cubs know this now. Such was the case for the 1990 Boston Red Sox, who awoke on August 30 72-57, 6 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays for first in the AL East. Looking for relief help, the Sox turned to a near mirror opposite, the Houston Astros of the NL West, who sat at 58-72, 7 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves, who were in dead last. Boston had the makings of a great team, but bridging the gap between its excellent starters to closer Jeff Reardon had proved difficult. Dennis Lamp, Wes Gardner, Rob Murphy, Jeff Gray, and Jerry Reed all finished the year with at least 29 relief appearances and at least a 4.44 ERA. Houston’s Larry Anderson, a 37-year old career reliever, had posted a 1.54 ERA the previous year and was at 1.95 so far in ’90. What’s more, Anderson had pitched in two postseasons, and over 9 innings, had allowed 5 hits and one run. He checked all the boxes. The price for acquiring him, unfortunately for both Boston and Boston’s biggest fan in the Eastern League, was Jeff Bagwell.

It played out disastrously. While Anderson was brilliant down the stretch, his brilliance ran out in the ALCS, where in game 1 he took over a 1-0 lead from Roger Clemens, the league’s best pitcher that year (yeah, Bob Welch‘s w-l record, you heard me), and promptly gave up the tying run, followed by putting the winning run on the following inning. And Bagwell, well, you know how that went.

Jeff Bagwell was the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year. He was the 1994 NL MVP. He was a Gold Glove winner and a Silver Slugger recipient. It’s a really good year when a player accumulates 30 HR, 100 RBI, 100 runs, and 100 BB. Jeff Bagwell is the only major leaguer ever to do that 6 straight seasons. He’s the only 1B to be a two time member of the 30-30 club. He ranks in the top 50 in MLB history in OBP, SLG, Home Runs, extra-base hits, etc. Frankly, if you need convincing that Jeff Bagwell, one of the 10 best 1B to ever play the game, is worthy of a spot in the HOF, you probably have irrational views of what Hall of Fame standards are or should be.

Casey Blake

1st year on ballot
Career comb. WAR: 22.7

Just getting onto the ballot has to be a major success for Blake, considering that he made his MLB debut at 25, got his 100th plate appearance at 27, and didn’t play regularly until age 29. He was never a great player, and only occasionally even a good one, but he did have a really nice 2009 season with the Dodgers (5.3 WARP, .280/.363/.468) at age 35. It’s nice to know you can have your best year midway through your thirties. Gives me hope that I can as well.

By wRC, he created 656 runs in his career at the plate. Against league average, his wRC+ of 106 suggests he was slightly better than league average. Does that make him the best Casey at the Bat ever? Almost. Here’s every other first-name Casey to play, ranked by runs created:

It seems the Old Perfessor is in fact the best Casey at the Bat in MLB history, but Mr. Blake is pretty clearly #2.

Barry Bonds

5th year on ballot
44.3% last year
Career comb. WAR: 162.9

I am not going to try to change minds here, but I am going to explain my own thought process.

There are two problems I run into with logically trying to keep the steroid users out of the Hall of Fame. There are two common lines of logic, and both run into inconsistencies with me.

  1. Steroid users were attempting to gain an unfair advantage, to cheat the spirit of competition, and therefore we shouldn’t reward them. This is the most common platitude I run into, and it’s a perfectly acceptable one if the one making the claim is really willing to go through with it. Yes, Bonds used whatever he could get his hands on to make himself a better player. So did Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, and many of our heroes of yore. What Bonds had available to him was certainly more effective than Mays’ and Mantle’s amphetamines, and whatever odd concoction Ruth devised to propel himself through a hangover, but the effectiveness of the improvement has no bearing on the moral judgments we impose on the act. We don’t teach our children that it’s OK to cheat as long as it doesn’t help too much. We teach them not to cheat at all, and all cheating is (un-)ethically equal. If we’re going to disown Bonds for trying to gain an edge the way his godfather and many other legends of the game did, we’re going to have to disown them as well. The one thing we can’t really do is look each other in the eye and pretend that Bonds is different in this particular way.
  2. Steroid users broke the rules. We should punish them for it. Again, a perfectly acceptable platitude. However, rule-breaking punishments really ought to be determined by those that set the rules, shouldn’t they? MLB commissioner Fay Vincent sent out a memo in 1991 declaring steroids to be against the rules, but the thing is, they weren’t. It was just a memo, and it had no effect on the collective bargaining agreement, no effect on the actual law of the land. Fay Vincent was Commish, but Commissioner doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did when Kenesaw Mountain Landis helmed the sport. So, until MLB began testing in 2002, steroid users really weren’t breaking any written baseball rules. Their use was more or less the same as the pill-poppers who preceded them.

So, we punish them instead because we’re emotional about it. We punish them because we feel cheated, not really because they violated any rule. We punish them because when I grew up, 755 was a venerable number, and Hank Aaron a venerable figure. Barry Bonds was always a bit of an asshole, a guy you never ever rooted for. We’re mad, understandably, that Bonds set a new record, a number that we occasionally have to look up – is it 762? 765? 759? Do we even care anymore? We’re mad that Bonds did that, and worse, that he robbed us of our enjoyment of it by having the steroid allegations swirling as it happened.

These, in my opinion, aren’t valid reasons for a baseball museum, in its room of greatest players, to omit one of the two or three best to ever take the field. They’re valid reasons to hate Bonds, sure. They’re valid reasons as to why, when I think of Bonds’ career, instead of his glories, I think of his noodle-armed attempt to prevent Sid Bream, who zoologically qualifies as a ten-toed sloth, from scoring in game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. I think of him pouting on the grass in left field. It was a spot I still visited in the Green Lot from time to time (I would also look for Andy Van Slyke‘s butt impression in the CF pavement, to no avail).

But put him in already. In 50 years, he’ll be in and our moral posturing will look silly, especially since we’ve enshrined some legitimately bad human beings in the past. Most importantly, we can move on from Bonds, the greatest player of a generation, and spend our time debating about guys who weren’t Hall of Fame jerks.

Pat Burrell

1st year on ballot
Career comb. WAR: 21.4

I always disliked Burrell, mostly because he had a great nickname, and I hated great nicknames being wasted on Braves opponents, specifically the Phillies. In 2002, it looked like Pat the Bat might have the career his college and minor league hype portended (he was a Golden Spikes winner and #1 overall pick). He slashed .282/.376/.544 with 37 bombs at the age of 25. He won’t be enshrined in the HOF, but he had 9 straight 20-HR seasons and won 2 WS rings, and that’s pretty nice.

Orlando Cabrera

1st year on ballot
Career comb. WAR: 23.4

During his best years, with Montreal from 2001 until his trade in 2004, Cabrera was a pretty underrated player, mostly because he had no dominant skill. He could hit for average, but only some. He could hit home runs, but topped out in the teens. He could steal bases, but he wasn’t Kenny Lofton. His defense was mostly fine, but it wasn’t award-worthy. He just did lots of things well for a few years, and in ’04 was traded to Boston in the 4-team trade that sent Sawx legend Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs. He was one of the better players down the stretch for that curse-breaking ’04 Boston team, helping torch the Yankees in that memorable ALCS, and delivering a key Game 2 hit in the World Series. No one is going to mistake him for a HOF-er, but it surprised me to find out he is in the top 100 all-time in doubles, with 459.

Mike Cameron

1st year on ballot
Career comb. WAR: 47.2

A good hitter and defender, Cameron was a better player than I remember him being. Maybe it’s because he bounced around, playing for 8 different MLB teams. But he was good, cracking the 4 win mark 4 times and the 2 win-mark another 7. If you’ve spent over a decade as a guy worthy of starting and occasionally worthy of acclaim, that’s a really good career. Also, he once fouled a ball into the stands at Turner Field and nailed me in the leg. I made no attempt for the ball, because I have terrible depth perception when it comes to things like that. It left a hall of fame bruise, so that’s something.

Roger Clemens

5th year on ballot
45.2% last year
Career comb. WAR: 139.5

While he’s certainly not my favorite pitcher of my lifetime (hello, Mad Dog), Clemens is the most dominant. Doing what he did, in the parks he did it, is so impressive. The argument is the same as Bonds’. If Clemens isn’t enshrined, the Hall of Fame simply doesn’t enshrine the greatest players.

J.D. Drew

1st year on ballot
Career comb. WAR: 43.8

Similar to Burrell, Drew entered pro ball with a massive amount of hype. If there was a 90’s version of Bryce Harper, it was J.D. Drew. His major league debut came in the game Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris‘ single-season HR record, and he was instantly a good player. For Drew, long-term questions of his value always depended on how healthy he could stay. If he was in a lineup, he was productive. It wasn’t always flashy, but a career line of .278/.384/.489 ain’t bad at all. While he was always a good player, only a few times was he truly a great player. He broke out in 2001 with St. Louis, and was one of the league’s best hitters, but played in just 109 games. In 2006, with Los Angeles, he had an All-Star caliber year (despite not appearing at the game), slashing .283/.393/.498 and driving in 100 runs. Drew’s best season, by far, however, was a year that many of his fans that year still regret, and they really shouldn’t.

In 2004, Atlanta traded prospect Adam Wainwright and big-leaguers Ray King and Jason Marquis to St. Louis for Drew and Eli Marrero. He was acquired to replace the departing Gary Sheffield, and to help extend Atlanta’s run of division titles to 13 in a row. The Georgia native delivered the best season of his career. He batted 645 times, his only time cracking 600. He had career highs in home runs (31), triples (8), extra base hits (67), runs scored (118), hits (158), walks (118), OBP (.436), and wins above replacement (8.1). Atlanta paid a high price for him, but he didn’t disappoint. He played like an MVP. 8-win seasons aren’t easy to come by. Unfortunately, Drew didn’t perform in the playoffs, and Atlanta suffered its 3rd straight Division Series exit. Adam Wainwright did what few other traded Braves prospects did – reached his ceiling. Sure, Wainwright would’ve provided more value to Atlanta, but here’s why you shouldn’t hate that trade as much as you probably do: as we’ve learned since, a team’s window isn’t always open. When it’s open, you absolutely should go for it. Chicago went for it this year, acquiring Aroldis Chapman. When you can win a title, I don’t fault teams for improving their odds of winning it. And acquiring an MVP isn’t going to hurt those odds. Ever. It was the right move at the time. It’s the same reason I don’t wholly fault Detroit for trading John Smoltz to Atlanta in 1987. An attempt to win a ring, if it’s a reasonable attempt the day the trade is made, should be celebrated, even if it doesn’t work out.

Vladimir Guerrero

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 59.1

Vladimir Guerrero is one of those guys that seems like a Hall of Famer either without really knowing his statistics, or fully knowing that they’ll likely look a bit short on the milestone side of things. But he is the best kind of baseball legend – he was unique. You know what made Vlad great – the arm, the ability to hit pitches that even little leaguers should be above chasing, and his “Vlad the Impaler” nickname.

While I think his run as an elite defender was somewhat short-lived, he remains one of the most impressive hitters of my lifetime. He never had a Mike Trout-type season, so I don’t know if you could ever have really called him the best in the game, but he lived in the top 10 for a decade. He accumulated 58 wins above replacement (WARP) from 1998-2007, with each year falling between 4.3 and 7.1. That’s remarkably consistent, and he belongs in Cooperstown. For a player once afraid to speak to the media because he didn’t trust his grasp of the English language, it’d really be something to watch him accept enshrinement.

Carlos Guillen

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 26.5

Guillen had two really good years, 2004 and 2006, and in the latter, his performance helped push the Tigers into a fairly unexpected World Series. Guillen wasn’t the reason they lost that Series, batting .353/.450/.529 over the 5 games. Besides that, he’s most notable for being the worst hitter on the best regular season team of his generation, the 2001 Mariners, and arriving in Seattle as the centerpiece of the 1998 Houston trade for an actual Hall of Fame player, Randy Johnson.

Trevor Hoffman

2nd year on ballot
67.3% last year
Career Comb. WAR: 26.9
Win Probability Added: 32.8

I would like to see some compromise on both sides of the aisle when it comes to discussing relievers for the Hall of Fame. On the one hand, the statheads are right about this – relievers, particularly those reserved only for one-inning appearances with the lead, simply aren’t as value to the big picture as guys who pitch 3 or 4 times as many innings in a season, or players that play every day. They’re also right that, when it comes to converting saves, there’s not a big difference between the best and the worst.

Take Atlanta, for example. When Billy Wagner arrived in Atlanta, he fixed what was a perceived and admitted problem, and his solution continued in the form of his successor, the amazing Craig Kimbrel. From 2010 until Atlanta traded Kimbrel before 2015, Atlanta was 373-14 when leading after 8 innings, a .964 winning percentage. In the two years before Wagner arrived (after the departure of John Smoltz), Atlanta went 140-10 in those games, a .933 rate. Since the Kimbrel trade, the record is 112-6, a .949 rate. That’s a difference of, maybe, a couple of games a year, which could be the difference in making the playoffs, but it’s not the difference in being a good or bad team. A star at any other position can make that kind of difference, but a reliever can’t. If all they’re doing is pitching 9th innings with a lead, they’re the baseball equivalent of a kicker.

On the other side of the coin, like kickers, relievers are very much part of the game, and they can excel at what they do. There are different sets of standards for every position that’s well-represented in the HOF, so why shouldn’t there be for relievers as well? I don’t think anyone thinks Ray Schalk is as good a player as Joe Dimaggio simply because both have plaques in Cooperstown. Inducting someone like Hoffman doesn’t mean you’re equating him with Sandy Koufax.

I do think Hoffman deserves eventual induction. He’s iconic, something I value. The playing of “Hell’s Bells” meant something for over a decade, and it added to the lore of baseball. Hoffman owned one of the best changeups in the history of the sport, and he’s probably the 2nd most beloved San Diego Padre ever. He’s important. Put him in. His inclusion isn’t more necessary than bigger, better players, but I find it necessary nonetheless.

Jeff Kent

4th year on the ballot
16.6% last year
Career Comb. WAR: 55.7

The discussion of Kent in the Hall of Fame is another casualty of the stubbornness over Bonds & Clemens. Players like Kent deserve a few years of fun, spirited debate. Instead, he’s in danger of falling off the ballot. Is he a slam dunk choice? Of course not. Is he the kind of player who deserves a look? Absolutely.

He had two great seasons, in 2000, when he won the NL MVP, and again in 2002, as part of the NL Champion Giants. For the rest of his career, he seemed to reside somewhere between solid starter and all-star type player. The counting stats don’t blow you away, but he is top 50 all-time in extra base hits. I feel like Kent is very much where the borderline for the HOF is, not the far too restrictive definition the writers tend to live by these days (and which is historically inconsistent). If Kent played in an older era, perhaps he’d be headed for Cooperstown.

If we don’t induct him, let’s at least make some Cooperstown space for his speech after getting booted from CBS’ Survivor:

Derrek Lee

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 34.9

Not a HOF-er, or really even that captivating of a player, but my goodness, Lee had one hell of a year in 2005. .335/.418/.662. 50 doubles. 46 home runs. 120 runs, 107 RBI. If there’s a Hall of Fame for career years, that’s a first ballot inductee.

Edgar Martinez

8th year on ballot
43.4% last year
Career Comb. WAR: 65.9

He got on base at a higher rate than Wade Boggs and is one of the 25 toughest outs in MLB history. He’s easily one of the 100 best hitters to ever step to the plate, and yet we have to debate whether we can expand a list of MLB players that’s 217 names deep to see if we can include him. Every year we have to mention Edgar in these types of articles is another year of evidence that the BBWAA just might not be cut out for this kind of decision-making.

Fred McGriff

8th year on ballot
20.9% last year
Career Comb. WAR: 50.2

An extremely likeable player, even if he may not quite match up to the standards of the HOF. He really never had a MVP-type season, though the argument could be made that he had one of the greatest half-season cases for the award ever put together, his 1993 late summer in Atlanta (he finished 4th).  Like Kent, he’s somewhere around the borderline, and McGriff deserves a more prominent debate. But instead we had to spend multiple years deciding if Mike Piazza, maybe the greatest hitting catcher ever, belonged. When we clog up the ballot year after year by letting obvious inductees remain, we make it significantly less likely for guys like the Crime Dog to get the attention they deserve.

Melvin Mora

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 28.9

There’s not a ton to say about Mora, clearly not a HOF-caliber player. From 2002 to 2005, he was an All-Star type player, one of the more underrated in the game at the time because he didn’t have eye-popping leaderboard stats.

Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina. (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

4th year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 90.2

Moose will soon become a cause celebre of the Twittersphere, if he’s not already. Poised to be the Bert Blyleven of his generation, a guy who will take far too long to earn induction despite being one of the 50 best starters in baseball history. In the late 90’s and early 00’s, he wasn’t just a perennial Cy Young candidate. He should’ve been an MVP candidate, piling up massive workloads with ERAs that belied the difficulty of his parks and division. Similar to how Tom Glavine probably wasn’t quite as good as his milestones suggested, Mussina was better than his (and probably better than Glavine). Purveyor of perhaps the best knuckle curve to cross a plate, Mussina is clearly deserving of Cooperstown’s call.

Magglio Ordonez

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 34.8

At first glance, Ordonez’ 2007 (.363/.434/.595) looks like another candidate for the Hall of Career Years, but by that point, he was pretty useless defensively, so it sapped a bit of his value. The defense was never strong, and to have a case for the Hall, he needed more years of offensive stardom than he provided to overcome that. But still, a really nice hitter for a bit there.

Jorge Posada

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 40.0

Posada’s will be an interesting and frustrating candidacy. He’s very much a borderline player for me. He’s below average for HOF catchers, but not so far below it’s an easy “no”. But, if he winds up with an easy path just by playing for the Yankees, it’s going to be frustrating to see him enter before Ted Simmons. Considering how hesitant the voters were to enshrine Piazza, who was Posada’s superior in every way other than teammate talent, it may not be an issue. Posada is one of the better hitting catchers ever, but unlike others, his defense was pretty bad. If Magglio Ordonez had better teammates and played a position writers value more, he’d have Posada’s vote tallies.

Tim Raines

10th year on ballot
69.8% last year
Career Comb. WAR: 68.6

Does getting on base 3977 times, being top 40 in walks, and 5th in stolen bases equate to a Hall of Fame leadoff man?

So far, the answer has been ‘no’. So far, the answer has been wrong.

Manny Ramirez

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 70.6

When I said Magglio Ordonez needed more total years of phenomenal hitting to overcome a career of poor defense in terms of building his HOF case, Manny Ramirez’s career is exactly what I had in mind. Manny is one of the greatest hitters in MLB history, and he also happens to be one of the greatest characters in MLB history. He’s on the shortlist for greatest right-handed hitter ever, he’s top 10 all-time in slugging percentage, and he’s a clear HOF-er for me.

My favorite Manny stat has to be that he compiled over 4 WAR in 2008 with the Dodgers. He appeared in just 53 games for LA that year. When Mannywood ceased to be a home for Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball was less fun. Let’s not rob Cooperstown of that permanent joy.

Edgar Renteria

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 33.3

Renteria was always pretty underrated, in my opinion, coming along during the era of big offense shortstops and instead playing kind of an old-school game. He had two of his three or four best seasons as an Atlanta Brave, so that made me like him all the more. He’s not a Hall of Fame shortstop, but he deserves being remembered as an awfully good one.

Arthur Rhodes

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 17.0
Career Win Probability Added: 13.1

Rhodes started as a three-named starting prospect of some esteem – I recall his early baseball cards referring to him as Arthur Lee Rhodes. Then he became a multi-inning reliever that actually earned him MVP votes in 1997. His third act was as one of the better LOOGYs in the game. He wound up having a much more successful career than it seemed like he would at the beginning of the 1996 season, when he was a 26 year old with a 5.70 ERA over 344 career innings in 5 seasons.

Ivan Rodriguez

Ivan Rodriguez. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 64.9

I think some of Pudge’s acclaim might be a tad overrated due to The Ballpark in Arlington helping a bit with his offense over the years. But even if he might not be the best catcher ever, he’s one of the 5 best, and the former MVP who caught more games than any player ever should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame.

Freddy Sanchez

1st year on ballot
Career Comb. WAR: 14.0

Another Hall of Career Years candidate is Sanchez’ 2006 season, where he won a batting title (.344), led the league in doubles (53), and was by WARP more than twice as valuable as any other season in his career.

Curt Schilling

5th year on ballot
52.3% last year
Career Comb. WAR: 89.9

Schilling should be very happy about my Bonds decision to still vote for bad people. Bonds isn’t really a bad guy as much as he’s just a jerk who you wouldn’t want to be around. Schilling seems like a bad person.

But, he was one hell of a pitcher, and frankly a pretty important one. A museum of the greatest players needs to include him, even if his acceptance speech would no doubt be utterly cringe-worthy. Give him the plaque, and sabotage his mic.

Gary Sheffield

3rd year on ballot
11.6% last year
Career comb. WAR: 66.4

He’d probably do better with voters if he had stayed anywhere long. Atlanta didn’t give him the opportunity to earn as much money, but he was so beloved and pleasant while playing for Bobby Cox, I think his legacy would have a different shade had he stuck around. I never begrudged Sheff for leaving Atlanta, and I still really like him for what he brought to the Braves, but it didn’t help his legacy. He was the best player on a World Champion (1997), one of the better hitters of his generation, and a borderline-at-worst candidate for the Hall of Fame. Here’s hoping he makes it onto future ballots, because he more than earned the discussion.

Lee Smith

15th year on ballot
34.1% last year
Career comb. WAR: 27.7
Career Win Probability Added: 24.0

He’s similar to Hoffman in terms of counting stats, but he lacked the iconic stature, idyllic pitch, and general effectiveness. Hoffman was just a bit better. I wouldn’t have an issue with a Hall that included Smith, but it requires attention elsewhere. There is no good reason to include Smith but not someone like Sheffield.

Sammy Sosa

5th year on ballot
7% last year
Career comb. WAR: 59.9

Sosa’s candidacy hasn’t only stalled because of his steroid use and bizarre appearance changes. It’s that, despite his milestone dominance, his career really wasn’t THAT good. It was very good, no doubt, but it’s not comparable to the more compelling steroid-related cases. I would probably include him in the Hall of Fame, but I’d consider him below-average for HOF right fielders.

Matt Stairs

1st year on ballot
Career comb. WAR: 15.0

In the late 90’s, he was pretty good for an everyday starter, and that was pretty much the apex. He played for 12 teams, so if he ever participates in the Old-Timer’s Game (is that even still a thing?), he’ll have a logo patch game that puts Gaylord Perry to shame.

Jason Varitek

1st year on ballot
Career comb. WAR: 26.2

He had 4 or 5 years that were All-Star type seasons, but for the most part, he was never actually as good as he seemed like he should be. A superstar coming out of the North Avenue Trade School, Varitek was a pretty good player for a while, and he was the captain on a streak-busting championship team. It was a nice career, but as far as champion catchers go, his was more Elston Howard than Yogi Berra.

***Javier Vazquez***

Not on the ballot, because the BBWAA just flat-out forgot the man
Career comb. WAR: 53.9

I don’t know why Javy ain’t on the ballot, but he ought to be. He was an exceptionally effective starter who piled up innings and strikeouts. His W/L totals never impressed, but with better teammate luck, he could be the topic of a more interesting and widespread HOF discussion. We’ll always have your magical 2009, Javy.

Billy Wagner

2nd year on ballot
10.5% last year
Career comb. WAR: 27.0
Career Win Probability Added: 28.4

Like Smith, Wagner has more career WAR than Hoffman, but with less of an iconic status, and that’s what works against him. When it comes to relievers, actual value really doesn’t matter, because if it does, they’re closer to the Matt Stairs end of the spectrum. There’s one aspect of Wagner’s game that deserves some conversation – among pitchers of a certain inning threshold, he’s the most dominant strikeout artist in the game’s history, and it’s not close.

Among pitchers with at least 900 innings, Wagner’s 11.92 K’s per 9 innings is #1 all-time. Second is Octavio Dotel at 10.82, more than a full strikeout behind Wagner. As you lower the inning threshold, the answer remains Wagner for a while. At 700 innings, it’s not only still Wags, he still has a considerable lead of 0.99. At 600 innings, Brad Lidge makes the race considerably tighter, but Wagner remains #1. At 500 innings, it’s still Wagner. To find a #1 that isn’t Wagner, you have to lower the innings threshold to 477, at which point Rob Dibble‘s 12.17 K/9 leads. Wagner’s dominance in the category is particularly impressive because no one within 400 innings of him can match him.

Tim Wakefield

1st year on ballot
Career comb. WAR: 26.5

Knuckleballers last forever, even without being especially good. Wakefield had spurts of real excellence, but they never seemed sustained. He pitched a long time, stymied my Braves during the ’92 playoffs, won some rings, and is the winningest Red Sox pitcher ever. But he’s not remotely close to a HOF-quality pitcher.

Larry Walker

Larry Walker. (Brad Mangin/National Baseball Hall of Fame)

7th year on ballot
15.5% last year
Career comb. WAR: 69.1

The argument against Walker is Coors Field, and it’s a only a somewhat valid one. MLB games do actually take place at Coors Field, and Coors hasn’t always even been the most favorable park for hitters (though it usually is). Also, if we’re not going to adjust equally for, say, the Dodger Stadium effect (Sandy Koufax had a Ravine ERA of 1.37 and a career road ERA of 3.04), why are we adjusting for Coors?

And it’s not like Coors completely made Walker. His career road splits were .278/.370/.495. That OBP/SLG split of .370/.495 is pretty similar to George Brett‘s career line of .369/.487. So yeah, Walker was better at Coors than he was away from it, where he was merely George Brett. If the argument against Walker is that he’d have only been George Brett without the effects of Coors, that’s not a compelling argument.

He was an MVP, three time batting champ, 5 time all-star, 7 time gold glove winner, and 3 time silver slugger. In his only World Series, he slashed .357/.438/.929. The guy was a hell of a player, but discussion of his candidacy never seems to get out of Coors Field, which is really a bit lazy. Walker certainly got out of Coors, and he was still a Hall of Fame type hitter when he did. He’s not a shoo-in, but he’s ahead of Vlad in the line for my vote.

 

My Ballot

First, there are the no-brainers. The guys who are among the best players in MLB history: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Without them, my ballot doesn’t even seem serious.

Next, I’d like to vote for a guy whose candidacy is unassailable and at its end: Tim Raines.

Next are 3 players who, while they may not be the very best to ever play, seem like no-doubters to me: Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Jeff Bagwell.

After that is a bevy of similar players, all of which I’d include, so Hall of Fame politicking will come into play a bit. Larry Walker is one of the best players remaining, and one who needs some vote support. Edgar Martinez is deserving and running out of time. Both get my vote. That leaves 2 spots for me to pick. Pudge Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Vlad Guerrero are all deserving players, but I think Pudge and Vlad will get considerable voter support already. They don’t really need mine. Neither does Trevor Hoffman, who has both support and plenty of time. In order to hopefully extend his time on the ballot, I am voting for Gary Sheffield. I wouldn’t put him ahead of others, but I don’t want him to fall off the ballot (and I’m not sure Sosa’s candidacy is saveable at this point). It’s a strategic vote. That leaves me with one vote, and I’m using it on Manny Ramirez. By a hair, he’s the best of the 1st year guys, and he’s the one that will be least likely to get the votes he deserves. I’d like to vote for Ivan Rodriguez, but I only have 10 spots, and Pudge will get the love he deserves. Sheff and Manny, not as much.

Again, this isn’t my ordering of the most deserving Hall of Famers, but simply the ballot I would cast within an ecosystem of voters who have clear patterns.

Whether you agree or disagree, the Hall of Fame debate is always a fun one. No one is right or wrong, because the Hall is just some museum that outsources its decision-making to people who don’t all even routinely follow the sport. If it fails to take itself seriously, perhaps we should too, and just treat the annual Hall of Fame talk for what it really is – just a reason to yell at our friends and tell them how wrong they are. That’s as American a pastime as baseball.

About Brent Blackwell 139 Articles
Brent Blackwell also writes for College Football By The Numbers at www.cfbtn.com.

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