This year’s Hall of Fame ballot is packed with people who deserve consideration. Rules limit voters to 10 choices and I believe there are 12 players who are worthy of enshrinement. In case you missed it, check out Part I of my series, detailing the guys who failed to make my ballot.
Roberto Alomar – For 14 seasons, Alomar was a star both at the plate and in the field. And then he got traded to the Mets and became old overnight. But I’m not going to hold that against him today. Among 2B, Alomar is fourth all-time in steals (474), seventh all-time in runs (1508), 11th all-time in AVG (.303), 13th in SLG (.443) and 16th in OBP (.371). Just from an offensive point of view, Alomar is one of the top 15 2B in MLB history.
But he moves up even further once we consider defense. A 10-time Gold Glove Award winner, Alomar handled all of the balls hit to him and had a very good arm. Unfortunately, we do not have UZR of plus/minus for his career. Because of the makeup of the Blue Jays pitching staffs, his RF numbers look below average. But once he joined the Orioles, we see his RF numbers improve immediately to above average, fitting in with our observations.
The only reason Alomar did not get elected in his first shot was because voters penalized him for the “spitting incident”. Alomar spit on umpire John Hirschbeck after a disputed called third strike. Alomar claimed that the umpire had uttered a racial slur and some have speculated that Hirshbeck might have made a reference to Alomar’s sexual preference.
But the two publicly apologized to each other prior to a game the following season. Both have done charity work together and it appears on the surface that there are no hard feelings on either side. Now that voters have lodged a protest over this incident and denied Alomar first-ballot status, I expect him to get elected here in his second year on the ballot.
Jeff Bagwell – 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 and you are a moral crusader against them. But there’s been no failed drug test and no accusations from Canseco or anyone else. So, Bagwell might be the top candidate on this year’s ballot.
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.
Bert Blyleven – I remember reading a baseball card back during Bert’s career which suggested he could become the first pitcher with 4,000 strikeouts. He “only” got 3,701, the fifth-best mark of all time. Then there’s the 4,970 innings, which ranks 13th all time. Then there’s the 60 career shutouts (9th) and 287 wins (26th). Plus he had one of the best curveballs of all time. For a tremendous article on Blyleven’s Hall case, check out this Rich Lederer article.
Kevin Brown – He is the anti Jack Morris, at least in terms of his Hall of Fame candidacy. Morris’ case rests on wins and a couple of big post-season performances. Brown has 43 fewer wins and no shining moment in the post-season. But hands down he was a better pitcher than Morris.
Brown’s ERA is significantly lower than Morris’ at 3.28 to 3.90 and that’s before taking into consideration that Brown pitched in a much higher run environment. ERA+, which factors that into account, has Brown at a 120 for his career while Morris is at 105. Morris’ career high ERA+ is 133, a total which Brown exceeded seven times and matched another.
Again, despite playing in a tougher environment for pitchers, Brown had a better WHIP (1.222 vs 1.296), a better BB/9 (2.5 vs 3.3), a better HR/9 (0.6 vs 0.9) and a better K/9 (6.6 vs 5.8). In the things that a pitcher controls – walks, strikeouts and HR – Brown was better.
Brown beats Morris 2-0 in ERA titles, 3-2 in leading the league in starts, and 2-0 in league-leading WHIP seasons. In 1992, they tied for the league lead in wins (21) but Morris had a 4.04 ERA that year while Brown’s was 3.32
And while Morris has more wins, Brown bests him in winning percentage, .594 to .577 in their respective careers. Morris has more IP, but that’s mostly a function of when he was active. In the heart of his career from 1979-1992, Morris led all pitchers with 3,378.1 IP. From 1989-2000, Brown was fourth in the majors with 2,632.1 IP. In the years when they were both active and full-time starters (1989-1994), Brown had 1250.1 IP and Morris had 1201.1 IP.
Morris is likely to be one of the top vote getters this year in the Hall of Fame balloting. Brown is in danger of falling off the ballot. But if you gave them the same teammates, the same run support and the same defensive backing – Brown would give you more wins.
Barry Larkin – Injuries kept Barry Larkin from putting up an even stronger Hall of Fame case but what he did is plenty good enough to earn him a ticket to Cooperstown. A nine-time Silver Slugger Award winner, a three-time Gold Glove Award recipient and the winner of the 1995 National League MVP Award, Larkin did it all on the field and was hands down the best SS in the National League for a decade or more.
In 17 games in the post-season, Larkin posted a .338/.397/.465 line. In the 1990 World Series, he batted .353 and had a .950 OPS as he helped the Reds to a shocking win over the A’s. Unlike Alomar, Larkin played his entire career with one team and should pick up bonus points for his loyalty to the Reds organization.
Mark McGwire –It will be interesting to see if McGwire’s vote total goes up now that he has admitted his steroid usage.
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 – The voters are not likely to be kind to Palmeiro over steroids, either. His famous finger wag in front of Congress, followed by the failed drug test was bad enough. But then he refused to admit usage, instead claiming that it must have been a tainted injection given to him by a teammate. I cannot imagine that going over well with the PED police among the electorate.
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.
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.
Trammell played 20 seasons and Ripken played 21 seasons. Trammell played in a more pitcher-dominated era, although their careers overlapped many years. Trammell won four Gold Gloves and Ripken won two. Trammell had 236 steals while Ripken had just 36 with 39 caught stealings. Trammell batted .333 with a .404 OBP and a .588 SLG in the playoffs and was a World Series MVP. Ripken batted .336 with a .411 OBP and a .455 SLG mark in the playoffs.
Now Ripken’s a slam dunk because of the streak but why does Trammell have to be on the outside? Ripken was more durable and had more power, but Trammell got on base better, was a better defensive player and was faster. I think Ripken’s durability made him a more valuable player, but the overall difference between the two was not that great. I don’t think the line for Hall shortstops should be drawn at Trammell.
Ripken was the dominating shortstop of their era, but how does Trammell compare with another Hall of Fame shortstop – Ozzie Smith? Bill James came up with a stat called Win Shares, which puts all of a player’s accomplishments (offense and defense) for a year into a single number. Let’s compare Ozzie, Trammell and Ripken and their best 10 seasons:
Ripken – 36.7, 35.3, 33.7, 27.7, 25.6, 25.4, 25.4, 23.1, 22.3, 20.9
Smith – 32.9, 25.2, 25.2, 24.7, 24.2, 23.7, 23.4, 22.3, 20.4, 20.3
Tram – 35.1, 29.2, 28.6, 26.2, 25.6, 22.8, 20.5, 16.7, 16.2, 15.8
Ripken is clearly the best of the three, but Trammell has a higher peak than Smith. Trammell’s durability problems limited him to seven big seasons (over 20 win shares) but five of those were over 25. I think he has both enough career peak and enough career length for the Hall.
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 Alex Rodriguez and Marlon Byrd 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.
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.
I used all 10 spots on my ballot and would have voted for 12 players if I was allowed. I expect that far fewer players will be elected this year. My guess is that we see two players elected in 2011 – Alomar and Blyleven. Last year Alomar received 73.7 percent of the vote while Blyleven had 74.2 percent. Hopefully, Brown gets the 5% he needs to remain on the ballot.