By Mikee Salud
It's been quite awhile since I have talked about baseball, and I figured what better way to get back into it than talking about the Hall of Fame. Tomorrow, the BBWAA is going to announce which retirees have reached the oh-so-precious 75% voting threshold to become the next inductees in Cooperstown. Within the past year or two, I've become quite interested with the ballot and the players now that I'm at the age where I have seen most of these players play for a good amount of years. Take for example last year, when Vladimir Guerrero got elected. Being a huge Angels fan since I started watching baseball around 2006, Guerrero was one of the first players that made me realize my love for the game, and seeing him get elected last year almost made me tear up. This year a new batch of players have been added to the ballot in addition to those who have not quite reached that 3/4 majority. In this article, I am going to identify who I would put in my theoretical Hall of Fame ballot.
The "Just Happy to be Here" Group
To get entered into the ballot, all you really need is ten years of MLB experience. So while there are a decent amount of first-year ballot members who will either make it into the Hall or will at least get an extended look, there are many other first-year members who will leave the ballot as quickly as they entered and will not get to the 5% voting threshold needed to be on the ballot next year. That being said, it would be unfortunate for them to go without a mention. Here are some lightning-quick opinions of them from yours truly.
Rick Ankiel: He probably has one of the most interesting baseball careers of the 21st century. It's a shame what happened to him as a pitcher, but it was truly inspiring to see him reinvent himself as a hitter.
Jason Bay: Back in 2009, he was truly terrifying. Unfortunately, he signed with the Mets.
Freddy Garcia: Solid innings eater.
Jon Garland: Solid innings eater. (Garland gets bonus points from me for being an ex-Angel)
Travis Hafner: I was actually shocked to find out he never made an All-Star team in his career. His run from '07-'09 was really good.
Ted Lilly: He perpetually looked like an old man every time I saw him pitch. He was alright.
Derek Lowe: His career is probably what the worst-case scenario would have been for John Smoltz.
Darren Oliver: The fact that he managed to stay in the league for 20 years by being an okay reliever is very impressive.
Juan Pierre: If there was a Hall of Fast, he would get automatic entry.
Placido Polanco: His 2007 season and defensive skills were great, but had a ho-hum career otherwise.
Vernon Wells: Why the Angels decided to trade Mike Napoli for you is beyond me.
Kevin Youkilis: If you haven't already, check out his batting stance. It's great. He also got walks for days.
Everyone has their own methodology when determining who belongs in the Hall. Here are some of mine:
My Unofficial Ballot
Mariano Rivera is going to be inducted this year. No doubt about that. The only thing that will be interesting to see about Rivera's case is whether he is going to be unanimously voted in — something that has never been done before.
His career resume is about as impressive as there ever has been for a relief pitcher. He is widely known as the greatest closer in the history of baseball, and there's good reason for that. Rivera is a 13-time All Star, 5-time World Series Champion, 1999 World Series MVP, 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year, and is the All-time saves leader with an astounding 662 saves.
The average JAWS score for a relief pitcher is 32.3; Rivera has a JAWS score of 42.5, the second highest JAWS score among all relief pitchers. Rivera's Adjusted ERA+, which adjusts a pitcher's earned-run average to the ballpark and the era in which they are playing in, is 1st all-time at 205. Elsewhere, Rivera is 3rd all-time in WHIP at 1.00, and fifth all-time in Win Probability Added (WPA) at 56.59. During his peak years from '97 - '11, he averaged a 2.01 ERA and 40 saves, clearly being a cut above the rest. In fact, he also managed to be in the top five in Cy Young voting 5 times in his career, an amazing achievement considering that relief pitchers almost never win the Cy Young award. But even with all of these achievements, he actually proved his worth by rising to these already lofty occasions in the postseason. In the playoffs, Rivera was on another level:
I understand that since Rivera is a sure-fire induction, some voters might feel swayed to vote for others who aren't as safe. If that is the case, I will only slightly be annoyed at you. Other than that, Rivera deserves to be unanimously voted in for his dominance and longevity as the best closer ever.
Roy "Doc" Halladay had a rough start to his career and had an abrupt ending to his career. Sandwiched in between these tumultuous edges, however, was a ten-year stretch that was as dominant as any pitcher in this modern era. Roy Halladay was an 8-time All Star and 2-time Cy Young winner, and has pitched both a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter.
Halladay's JAWS score is 57.5, which is below the average JAWS score for the average pitcher at 61.8. However, this has more to do with his relatively short career. What is more telling is his seven-year peak, which is about as good as any starter in the Hall of Fame. In a time when offense reigned supreme, Halladay was a cut above the rest. From 2002 - 2011, Halladay averaged a 2.96 ERA and 219 innings, as well as pitching a total of 63 complete games, 18 of which were shutouts. He topped the league in walks per 9 innings pitched (BB/9) 3 times, as well as leading the league in strikeouts per walk (K/BB) a whopping 5 times. His ERA+ of 131 is the 29th best mark among all starting pitchers in baseball history. He also finished within the top ten in WPA in 9 seasons throughout his career.
Long story short, Roy Halladay was the most durable, dependable pitcher throughout the 2000s. He is a definite Hall of Famer, and it truly is a shame that he passed away too soon to give a speech. Rest in peace, Doc.
In his final year on the ballot, Edgar Martinez is trying to become the first player to primarily be a designated hitter in his career to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Martinez is a 7-time All-Star, 5-time Silver Slugger, and 2-time batting champion.
Edgar's case, especially for older voters, is very controversial. He is the legitimate Hall of Fame-caliber player that spent most of his defensive career off the field. After two consecutive injury-riddled season, Martinez primarily became a DH in 1995. Overall, he has an elite batting slash line of .312/.418/.515 and a JAWS score of 56.0. Among all players who played from 1987-2004, Martinez had the 4th highest on-base percentage (OBP), the 10th highest weighted runs created (wRC+), and the 9th highest WPA. Among third baseman, which was his original position, he is 4th all-time in on-base plus slugging plus (OPS+). Furthermore, his seven-year apex from 1995 - 2001 saw him average a .328 batting average, 28 home runs, and 110 RBIs.
His legacy as the first, great designated hitter should add to the allure of adding him to the Hall. Many detractors believe that he only played one side of the field for many years, and while true, his hitting skills were about as pure and elite as there was. Heck, the award that recognizes best DH in the league is named after him. He'll get in this year.
The first three players are rather easy choices to be inducted this year, in my opinion. Now we are heading into more borderline candidates whose inductions this year, or inductions at all, look a lot more murky. Todd Helton, dubbed "The Toddfather" for the Colorado Rockies, is a first-time candidate who I'm not sure will be inducted at all. Helton is a 5-time All Star, 3-time Gold Glover, 4-time Silver Slugger, and was the batting champion and RBI leader in 2000.
Helton had a slash line of .316/.414/.539, all elite numbers to say the least. In his seven-year peak, he averaged lines of a .337 batting average, 33 home runs, and 113 RBIs. His JAWS score is 53.9, a tad below the average JAWS score of a Hall of Fame first baseman at 54.7. Along with Edgar Martinez, Helton was one of the purest hitters in the game, with a BABIP (batting average with balls in play) of .330 and a wOBA (weighted on-base average) of .405, both of which are higher than that of Albert Pujols, who is a surefire Hall of Famer by the time his playing days are over. Among all first baseman, he ranks 17th in batting average, 8th in OBP, 13th in Slugging Percentage, and 17th in wOBA. When you factor in his above average glove, it would look like he should be inducted eventually. However, a lot of his detraction comes from the fact he played his entire career in the notoriously hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado.
As one can see, Helton was tremendously aided by the friendly confines he played in. However, I do believe that a person should not be penalized because of a stadium, and his stats away from Coors are good enough for me to believe that he should be a Hall of Famer. From a non-statistical standpoint, Helton is also the face of the Colorado Rockies and the franchise's best player, which should give him an added bonus. The Coors factor is daunting though, especially considering the next person I am "voting" for.
Similarly to Helton, fellow Rockie Larry Walker is facing HoF uncertainty due to the friendly hitting confines of Coors Field. Walker is in his penultimate year on the ballot, but his voting totals have been steadily rising. Larry Walker is a 5-time All Star, 7-time Gold Glover, 3-time Silver Slugger, 3-time batting champion, and 1997 NL MVP winner.
Walker's JAWS score is 58.7, which is above the average for a Hall of Fame right fielder at 57.8. Batting a career slash line of .313/.400/.565, he was one the best hitters in the game during the early '00s. Among all right fielders in history, Larry Walker ranks 10th in OBP, 3rd in Slugging Percentage, 7th in wOBA, and 12th in WAR. And while advanced defensive statistics were not created until the latter stages of his career, we have every inclination to believe he was a great defender out in right field, shown by the 10 defensive runs saved in his age-36 season in 2003. When comparing Walker to a guy like Vladimir Guerrero, who got inducted last year, Walker blows him out of the water in in a number of categories, such as WAR, wOBA, and wRC+. So the question now is, why is he in the 9th year of his eligibility and he still hasn't been inducted?
Answer: the voters ding a lot of his value to the fact that he played in Colorado.
His Away numbers may not look Hall of Fame worthy, but they at least are All-Star worthy. If you look at his career OPS, he has the second highest of all-time among right fielders, but if you use OPS+, which adjusts for a player's ballpark, he drops all the way to 17th all time -- which, while it is a decent drop, is still freaking impressive. Overall, Larry Walker's candidacy hinges on whether you believe Coors field turned him from a good player to an elite player. While I won't deny that playing in the lower altitudes of Colorado helped him, I do not think that it is fair to indict him for it. Walker belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Lost in the shuffle in the main debates surrounding the ballot this year is third baseman Scott Rolen, who is in his second year on the ballot. Rolen is a 7-time All Star, 2006 World Champion, 1997 NL Rookie of the Year, 8-time Gold Glover, and 1-time Silver Slugger in 2002.
Rolen's JAWS score is 56.9, higher than the average JAWS score for a Hall of Fame third baseman at 55.7. Rolen's offensive numbers won't wow you, but rather the consistency he displayed with the bat. His slash line was .281/.364/.490, and for a ten-year stretch from '97-'06 he averaged .287 with 27 home runs and 100 RBIs. Among all third baseman who played during Rolen's career, Scott Rolen is 9th in Slugging Percentage, 8th in wOBA, 11th in wRC+, and 3rd in WAR. While his offensive varied from solid to great, it was Rolen's defense at the hot corner that was his calling card. Rolen's eight gold gloves at third base is the third most among all third baseman, right behind Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt. From when advanced defensive metrics first were calculated in 2002, Rolen has 114 defensive runs saved and a 107.1 Ultimate Zone Rating from '02-'13, both of which are only behind future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. Put everything together, and you get a third baseman who was a two-way force for close to two decades. He will not get inducted this year, but his case should be interesting to dissect in the years to come.
Garnering a continuous wave of support, Mike Mussina has increasing odds of joining Cooperstown — if not this year, but next. Mike Mussina is a 5-time All Star and 7-time Gold Glove winner.
Mussina's JAWS score is 63.8, a whole two wins above the average Hall of Fame starter, which is 61.8. Mussina's ERA, 3.68, would be the third highest ERA among Hall of Fame pitchers, which would seemingly hurt his case. However, it is important to note that he pitched right in the middle of the steroid era with inflated offensive numbers, as well as pitching a majority of his games in Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium, both notorious hitters park. With ERA+, which adjusts for a player's ballpark, Mussina is in the upper echelon of pitchers with an ERA+ of 123. Mussina is one of the most durable pitchers in the history of the game, averaging 226 innings pitched over his 18-year career. Mussina was also among the best defenders on the mound, having 16 runs saved above average from 2003 to the end of his career in 2008. Among all pitchers who pitched from 1991-2008, his BB/9 of 1.99 was just outside of the top 20, his ERA of 3.68 was the 35th lowest, his FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 3.57 was the 22nd lowest, and his WPA of 37.67 was the sixth highest. Sure, he may not have been the best pitcher in the game at any point in his career, but I would argue that it's a lot easier to be the best pitcher in the game for a season, and a lot harder to be the sixth best pitcher in the game for close to 18 seasons. So while his stats may not look terribly impressive, within the time he pitched, he was as good as they come.
Now we are going to approach more controversial choices, starting with someone whose off-the-field comments have provided enough controversy to taint his production on the field. That being said, though, Schilling's career, especially during the postseason, garner more than enough attention. Schilling is a 6-time All Star, 3-time World Champion, 2001 World Series MVP, and 1993 NLCS MVP.
Schilling's JAWS score was 64.1, which is also higher than the 61.8 JAWS score that the average Hall of Fame starter has. Schilling's career was relatively average up until his age-30 season in 1997. After '97, Schilling averaged a 3.45 ERA and 206 innings pitched, displaying a dominance that was rarely seen during the steroid era. Additionally, Schilling had a 1.66 BB/9 IP (9th lowest among all pitchers from '97-'07), a 3.17 FIP (4th lowest), and a 33.05 WPA (3rd highest).
All this being said, none of this pales in comparison to his postseason numbers, where he rose to the occasion every time. From his World Series MVP performance in 2001 to his infamous bloody sock game in 2004, Schilling owned October. In 133 1/3 innings, Curt Schilling had an 11-2 record, a 2.23 ERA.
Unfortunately, his outspoken political comments have soured his candidacy. However, what he says off the field should not affect the impact he made throughout his playing days.
Before we talk about Bonds (spoiler alert: we're also gonna discuss Clemens later on), we have to talk about the elephant in the room — steroid-users. The steroid era of the early 2000s have tainted the record books, negatively impacted the way we view baseball during that time, and, most importantly to this article, backlogged many would-be inductees into ballot-purgatory. However, we also cannot deny that the steroid era brought new excitement to the game. We choose to take away the merit of those players, but we cannot take away the memories that many felt watching players like Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and McGuire. If one asked me to describe baseball during the early 2000s, I would first think about performance-enhancing drugs, sure, but I would also talk about the feats that many of those players had. It would be impossible to not discuss Barry Bonds when talking about one of the best position players ever. If we also factor in the case that he would have made the Hall of Fame during his pre-drug days, I think he is worthy of an induction.
The accolades speak for themselves. Barry Bonds is a 14-time All Star, 7-time NL MVP, 8-time Gold Glover, 2-time batting champion, and 2-time home run leader. Oh, and he also is baseball's all-time home run leader with an eye-popping 762 total home runs. Several accounts believe that Bonds might have started to take steroids as early as the 1998 season; Bonds' career prior to '98 was Cooperstown-worthy by itself, with a slash line of .288/.408/.551. He also averaged 31 home runs, 91 RBIs, and 35 stolen bases during this time, and had a career WAR of 91.8. All-time, Bonds has the 5th highest wRC+ with 173, 6th highest OBP in .444, and the 2nd highest WAR in 164.4, right behind Babe Ruth. Defensively, his 8 Gold Gloves came before a time where defensive metrics weren't developed yet, but it is with good faith that Bonds was a great defensive player in his athletic prime. Regardless of everything, Bonds was the ultimate five-tool player and arguably the best player of the 1990s. His Frankenstein transformation during the 2000s tainted the overall view of his legacy, but with the reasons I highlighted above, Bonds should be a Hall of Fame inductee sooner or later.
Continuing with the worthy steroid users, Roger Clemens' resume, while tainted during the latter portion of his career, still stands as one of the most impressive in baseball history. Clemens is an 11-time All Star, 2-time World Series Champion, 7-time Cy Young Winner, 1986 AL MVP, 4-time Wins leader, 7-time ERA leader, and 5-time AL strikeout leader.
Like Bonds, we are mainly going to look at his career through the 1997 season, which still shows that he was an elite pitcher. From 1988-1997, Roger Clemens averaged a 2.97 ERA, 217 innings, and 206 strikeouts. During this time span, he had the 2nd lowest FIP at 2.88, the 5th highest K/9 IP at 8.54, the 8th lowest WHIP at 1.15, and the highest WPA at 50.13. All-time, Clemens owns the 3rd highest WAR among all pitchers at 139.6, and the 9th highest ERA+ at 143. All in all, Clemens was the greatest pitcher of the past 30 years -- with or without steroids -- and deserves induction just like Bonds.
One final note: I do believe at some point both Clemens and Bonds will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and with that, there will be a lot more leniency for other controversial candidates such as Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez, and future candidates like Alex Rodriguez. I thought about including guys like Sosa and Ramirez in favor of, say Scott Rolen and Todd Helton. However, Bonds and Clemens are undoubtedly the two best players who used PEDs, and until they get inducted, I will not vote other players who are in this drug limbo. Maybe it is an unfair and unjustified qualification, but if players on the magnitude of those two cannot get enough votes due to their complicated careers, then I believe no one like them ever will.
While these are the ten players that I would choose, this does not mean that no one else on the ballot is worthy of consideration. Players like Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Andy Pettitte, and Billy Wagner all have decent cases for Cooperstown, as well as previously mentioned steroid users like Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa. Maybe in another year, they'll be in my ballot, but for now, they will remain in the purgatory that is the Hall of Fame ballot. We should also give our condolences to Fred McGriff, who is in his last year of eligibility and will not make it.
Looking at how things are actually shaping up, we will have at least 3 inductees this year: Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, and Edgar Martinez. Mike Mussina is also above the 75% voting thresh hold, but with only about half of the ballots revealed, it is not a sure thing that he is safely in the Hall. After those 4, Clemens, Bonds, and Walker are knocking on the door, which should make things more interesting next year, especially with guys like Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu entering the ballot.
*Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs*