This year’s ballot is extremely crowded, due to a host of players who should have been elected previously combined with a strong freshman class. It’s only going to get worse next year and unless the BBWAA starts electing people who are clearly qualified or the Hall of Fame changes it’s rules on who is eligible and how many people voters can pick on a given ballot – it will continue to be a huge problem in the foreseeable future.
If I could, I would vote for 15 players on this ballot and there are a handful more who at the very least deserve consideration. Of course, everything is up in the air because of the steroids issue, as writers seem confused about how to handle known and suspected abusers of substances of undetermined benefits.
For what it’s worth, here’s how The Hall of Fame describes itself on its Web site:
“The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is an independent, non-profit educational institution dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of baseball and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime.”
Here are the 10 players I would honor for their outstanding contributions.
Jeff Bagwell – In 2011, voters took a wait-and-see approach with Bagwell as he received just 41.7 percent of the vote. Last year he improved but only to 56 percent. So while having slam dunk credentials he’s back for his third year on the ballot. In 15 years in the majors, Bagwell had a lifetime .948 OPS, which translates into a career 149 OPS+. The only reason not to vote for Bagwell is if you think he did steroids but there’s been no failed drug test and no accusations from Jose Canseco or anyone else.
Let’s start with his monster 1994 season, when he won the MVP, had a 213 OPS+ and posted 300 total bases in 110 games. Then add in five more seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or greater. Seven times he finished in the top 10 in the league in home runs and his 449 homers ranks 34th on the all-time list. Seven seasons he had 100 or more walks and he ranks 27th all-time in the category.
He also has top 100 finishes lifetime in OBP (40th), slugging (35th), OPS (21st), runs scored (62nd), total bases (66th), doubles (60th), RBIs (45th), hit by pitch (39th) and times on base (55th). Bagwell also has a Gold Glove Award to his credit. It’s hard to imagine what more a player could do for his Hall of Fame resume.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens – Strictly on the merits of their playing careers, Bonds and Clemens are slam dunks so there’s no reason to go into their individual cases. It seems there are only four ways for people to think about them:
A. Dismiss them completely for steroids
B. Invoke a wait-and-see approach/one year abstention as a protest
C. Apply a steroids discount but conclude that they made it despite this
D. Vote on what actually happened.
I choose “D.”
Edgar Martinez – Before last year I did not vote for Martinez but given more time to examine his case, I think that was a mistake. Martinez is hurt because his career got off to a late start, as he spent three years in Triple-A. Then Martinez suffered some injuries which forced him to become a full-time designated hitter. Martinez did not move because he was a poor fielder. Instead, he moved to keep him healthy. He deserves to be docked for not playing in the field. But I think I was penalizing him too much.
Martinez’ Hall of Fame case rests on his hitting and I think it’s strong enough to deserve induction. Here is his seven-year peak by OPS+
185, 166, 165, 164, 160, 158, 157
That is tremendous hitting, seven years worth of stats that would look at home in Albert Pujols‘ career. But let’s compare him to Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, who was a first-ballot pick. Here are their stats for their age 27-40 seasons:
Boggs – 8,614 PA, 1,213 R, 2,391 H, 100 HR, 812 RBIs, .326/.415/.444 131 OPS+
Edgar – 7,843 PA, 1,148 R, 2,053 H, 295 HR, 1,168 RBIs, .317/.426/.531 153 OPS+
That’s 14 years where he averaged a 153 OPS+. He stands toe-to-toe with Boggs, although to be fair Boggs had 2.5 years before this stretch where he also was a great hitter. Boggs also made himself into a Gold Glove winner at third base.
Boggs was better because of his longer track record, was more durable and the ability to play the field. But it does not seem right that Boggs is a first-ballot pick and Martinez is on the outside. I think Martinez is Hall of Fame worthy.
Mark McGwire –Admitting his steroid usage did not help McGwire at all with the Hall of Fame voters. In 2010, he drew 23.7 percent of the voters but in 2011 that number dropped to 19.8 percent and it went down to 19.5 last year. So I think it’s fair to say that a few voters were giving him the benefit of the doubt but once they found out for sure, they instituted a penalty. On the flip side, we have roughly 20 percent of the electorate who are going to judge a player on his production.
The two most important stats for offense are on-base percentage and slugging. McGwire led the league in OBP twice and SLG four times. He was a 12-time All-Star, a Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove Award winner and he’s 10th on the all-time home run list (583). McGwire is 8th all-time in Slugging (.588) and 12th in OPS+ (162). That’s a Hall of Famer, despite what revisionists might say.
Rafael Palmeiro – In 2011 Palmerio debuted with 11 percent of the vote and he made a slight increase last year to 12.6 percent. The good news is that he’s still on the ballot but the bad news is that he’s not going to make any significant ground the next few years.
Everyone remembers his finger-waving performance in front of Congress, which was followed by a failed steroids test. Palmeiro has maintained his innocence and after what happened with McGwire, he is unlikely to change that tune as long as he is still on the ballot. But Palmeiro does have both a solid peak and outstanding career totals. His seven best seasons by OPS+ are:
159, 155, 150, 146, 145, 144 and 141
Those are numbers that match perfectly with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who like Palmeiro also cleared 3,000 hits and 500 HR. And Palmeiro was a better fielder, with a defensive reputation so good that he famously won a Gold Glove Award in a year where he mostly played DH.
Mike Piazza – With an OPS+ of 143, Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history. You hear over and over again how he wasn’t a great defensive catcher but Piazza had the misfortune of being poor at the most visible aspect of catcher defense – throwing out baserunners – yet average or better at a host of other things required from catchers. Among those are blocking the plate, avoiding wild pitches and passed balls and the way he handled his pitching staffs.
Max Marchi of Baseball Prospectus examined all catchers since 1948 (the first year with sufficient data). Piazza ranked tied for third with 205 runs prevented. Now, this study is not the end-all be-all of catcher’s defense but it is a point to show that the sum of Piazza’s defensive efforts is way, way better than what most people think of when they think of “Piazza + defense.” And, if his defense is not historically awful, there’s no reason not to elect the greatest offensive player at a position. At the end of the day, he’s a slam dunk HOFer.
Tim Raines – I already laid out the case for Raines in this article. To summarize, Raines was neck and neck with Mike Schmidt as the best player in the National League from 1981-1987, was an above-average defender in left field who would have been a center fielder if not for the presence of Andre Dawson and one of the greatest leadoff hitters and base stealers of all time.
Curt Schilling – Jack Morris might get twice as many votes for the Hall of Fame than Schilling, which goes to show why the voting needs to be overhauled sooner rather than later. If all you look at is Wins, then Morris “wins,” with a 254-216 advantage. But if all you look at is Wins – then you’re, for lack of a better word, an idiot.
Wins are an attempt to put a team accomplishment on the record of an individual. A pitcher can certainly be instrumental in winning a game. They can also be in the right place at the right time and pick up a victory. Or, in Morris’ case, they can be supported by both a good offense and good defense.
In 1992, 37-year-old Morris won 21 games with a 101 ERA+ because he got an average run support of 5.56 runs per game. The AL average was 4.32 runs per game. And with fielders like Roberto Alomar, Devon White and Manny Lee up the middle – the Blue Jays were an excellent defensive team. And Morris had similar advantages the bulk of his career with the Tigers, who had Lance Parris, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Chet Lemon as up the middle fielders.
So, we need to put things in context. Despite pitching in a much more hitter-friendly environment, Schilling has a 3.46 to 3.90 edge in raw ERA. In ERA+, it’s 127 for Schilling and 105 for Morris. In 2012, Cliff Lee had a 127 ERA+ while Aaron Harang had a 105 ERA+. Imagine the benefits of having Lee over Harang for 18 years and you get the lifetime edge for Schilling over Morris.
Schilling had the edge in WHIP – 1.137 to 1.296. Schilling had a huge advantage in strikeouts (3,116 to 2.478) and his K/9 of 8.6 dwarfs Morris’ 5.8 mark. If we look at FIP, Schilling comes out on top by a 3.24 to 3.94 edge. And if we look at fWAR, Schilling destroys Morris by an 86.1 to 56.9 margin.
Even in narrative, Schilling tops Morris. Supporters of the Tigers pitcher point to his 1991 World Series performance. But does that hold a candle to the “Bloody Sock” game? I think not. Without Lonnie Smith’s baserunning gaffe, the Braves win the game and no one talks about it. And maybe fewer people would trot out an above-average pitcher as a Hall of Famer
Larry Walker – The first thing most people do when they hear Walker’s name is to dismiss him as merely a product of pre-humidor Coors Field. But is that fair to Walker? Shouldn’t we judge him based on what he actually did?
Let’s compare Walker to Jim Rice, another corner outfielder recently elected to the Hall of Fame. Both players played similar numbers of years and games in the majors and both played in good hitting ballparks. Here are their overall numbers:
JR – 9058 PA, 1,249 R, 2,452 H, 373 2B, 382 HR, .298/.352/.502 58 SB, 315 GDP
LW 8030 PA, 1,355 R, 2,160 H, 471 2B, 383 HR, .313/.400/.565 230 SB, 153 GDP
That’s not fair to Rice, as Walker played in a time when more runs were scored. So, let’s look at their top 10 years in OPS+, which will neutralize for ballpark and run environment.
JR – 157, 154, 147, 141, 136, 130, 127, 123, 122, 120
LW 178, 163, 160, 158, 151, 150, 142, 130, 130, 127
So, how can it be that Walker does better than Hall of Famer Rice in OPS+, which takes home ballpark into account? Because Rice had big, giant, humongous home/road splits that never got talked about in the mainstream media, ones nearly as big as Walker. Here are Rice and Walker’s home/road numbers:
JR – .320/.374/.546 with 208 HR (54%)
LW .348/.431/.637 with 215 HR (56%)
JR – .277/.330/.459 with 174 HR
LW .278/.370/.495 with 168 HR
Coors in the pre-humidor days was a better offensive park than Fenway in Rice’s time, but not by all that much. In neutral road parks, Walker’s numbers dwarf those of Rice, to the tune of 76 points of OPS.
In reality, the edge is not that large due to offensive environments. In 1978, the AL scored 4.2 runs per game while the NL in 1997 scored 4.6 runs per game. But do you really think that less than half a run per game translates into 76 points of OPS? That’s the difference between David Wright and Ruben Tejada last year.
Let’s be exceptionally charitable and say that the run environment cancels out Walker’s road edge as a hitter, that the two are equals at the plate. Walker is still miles ahead because of his speed, because of his defense – Walker was a 7-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field while Rice was a below-average left fielder – and because he had half as many GDPs.
Finally, let’s use fWAR, which accounts for defense, too.
JR – 8.1, 6.6, 6.3, 5.9, 5.1, 4.3, 3.8, 3.1, 3.1, 3.0 = 49.3
LW – 9.4, 8.0, 5.8, 5.8, 5.2, 5.1, 5.0, 4.6, 4.5, 4.0 = 57.4
No matter if you prefer peak in three, five, seven or 10-year increments, Walker was simply a better player than Rice. Any sportswriter who voted for Rice absolutely has to vote for Walker if they are being honest with themselves. And any fan who dismisses Walker because of his home park really needs to take a deeper look at Walker’s adjusted stats.
If given the chance, I would also vote for Craig Biggio, Kenny Lofton, Fred McGriff, Sammy Sosa and Alan Trammell. While my ballot is overflowing, I do not expect the BBWAA to elect anyone this year. Perhaps this will motivate the powers that be at the Hall of Fame to adjust the voting process, either by giving more detailed instructions to the current voters, or by changing the people who are allowed to vote.