About that long gap between posts. I started writing this about a month and a half ago. I put it aside for a bit to write something else and then put that aside to write another something. I ended up completely scrapping that and turned my attention back to this. Then Murray Chass wrote that thing that I just HAD to write about. That took up a whole day. Now I’ve turned my attention back to this. Mix in some general procrastination and sprinkle in some holiday business and BAM, you’ve got a month with no posts. I’ll try not to let that happen again.
In case you missed the news, Deadspin bought a Hall of Fame vote. One voter agreed to fill his or her ballot based on the results of Deadspin’s reader polls. Power to the people. This means my lifelong dream of voting of the Hall of Fame has kinda sorta came true.
There were over 550 ballots cast for the Hall of Fame last year. I have no idea how many people voted on the Deadspin poll. Let’s say two million. If we use those numbers, that would mean I contributed to .000000091% of the Hall of Fame vote. Lifelong dream reached.
I said before that I didn’t want to write things you could find everywhere else. It might seem odd, then, that I’m writing about my sorta-not-hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot when seemingly everyone is doing the same. I’m writing this because I have a soft spot for the Hall of Fame. That’s an understatement. I can’t get enough of this stuff. I’ll read any Hall of Fame write-up from anybody, whether it’s Joe Posnanski or Joe Shmoe. This post is for the people like me out there. Hopefully there are a few. Besides, if somebody can write this and get paid for it, surely nobody will begrudge me writing this for free.
These are the guys who I’m giving a vote of no and who have no steroid stank on them. The only thing we need to talk about is their play on the field. It’s not exhaustive. I only picked a select few, some more deserving than others. It’s not necessarily in any particular order.
1st Year on Ballot
I’m only talking about Nomo here because I want to see if anybody else remembers the Kids Say the Darndest Thing episode with the five-year-old Cubs fan. Bill Cosby told him the Cubs had traded Sammy Sosa to the Dodgers for Hideo Nomo and nine players to be named later. Sosa showed up and the kid had to tell him that he’d been traded. I sadly can’t find a video of it but I’m almost positive I didn’t imagine it.
Also, Nomo had a pretty good career. Look him up some time.
1st Year on Ballot
Another guy who we don’t really need to discuss why he’s not a Hall of Famer, but another one with a good career worth remembering. I’m guessing that Alou’s Cubs career will be remembered more for his outrage on the Bartman play than it will be for him as a player. That’ll be a shame, as he was a legitimately good player and a key piece to the NLCS team. Alou hit over .330 three times and finished with a career line of .303/.369/.516. Here’s a Fangraphs piece which takes a short look at the five best games of his career by win probability added. Three of them happened when he was on the Cubs.
1st Year on Ballot
Gonzalez is one of those guys, like Bagwell and Piazza, who has no known connections to PEDs, but gets lumped in with them. Unlike those two, he’s not a Hall of Famer regardless of whether or not we penalize him for suspected PED use. Also unlike them, he was in the majors for quite a while before he started playing at a high level. In that sense, he’s more similar to Sammy Sosa.
I do want point out a few things that gets lost about Gonzalez. His monster 2001 season in which he hit .325/.429/.688 with 57 home runs and a wRC+ of 173 was sandwiched between four other years where he had a wRC+ of over 130. His peak started in 1999, the second year of the Diamondbacks/Devil Rays expansion. Expansions have been known to inflate offensive numbers due to the extra number of pitchers that just a couple years before had not been considered good enough to be in the majors. Also worth mentioning is Gonzalez’s ages during those years, 27-32. Those are often the ages in which players experience their primes. (That’s what conventional wisdom says, at least. The data say players usually peak earlier.)
So maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to throw the S word at Gonzalez. Maybe it was a perfect storm of a player’s prime coinciding with an historic offensive era. In that sense, Gonzalez was the Roger Maris of the 2000s.
Or maybe he used steroids. Who knows?
(For a good read about how expansions can inflate numbers, check out this Baseball Prospectus piece from last Friday. It kinda makes me want to scrap this whole thing and start over. Fortunately, I don’t hate myself enough to do that.)
15th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 67.7%
Much of the case for Morris is built on the idea that he was a “winner.” He did, after all, win three World Series and had one of the most legendary pitching performances ever with his 10-inning shutout to clinch the 1991 World Series. No one can take those away from him. But one game doesn’t make a Hall of Famer and neither should being on good teams. Let’s see if we can find anything to support the idea of him being a winning player. Below are the regular season and playoff numbers of Jack Morris and another pitcher, one who didn’t come close to making the Hall of Fame. Names are removed.
|Player A Regular Season||3824.0||254-186||5.83||3.27||3.90||1.30||95|
|Player B Regular Season||3439.0||239-157||5.76||1.88||4.13||1.27||93|
|Player A Playoffs||92.1||7-4||6.24||3.12||3.80||1.24||92|
|Player B Playoffs||125.0||10-5||5.98||1.80||3.17||1.13||69|
Player A has about two seasons worth of innings pitched over Player B. Other than that, it’s hard to give him much of an edge in the regular season. If you were to give one of those players the label of “winner,” it would have to be Player B. Player A was a little bit better than average in the regular season and remained a little bit better than average in the playoffs. Player B, meanwhile, had similar results in the regular season but was near ace-like come October. It might not have been sustainable performance, but it is what it is.
Player A is Jack Morris, who was on 67.7% of ballots in the last voting and could be on the cusp of enshrinement. Player B is David Wells, who got exactly five votes last year. That translates to 0.9%. I don’t get it either.
The pro-Morris contingent (henceforth referred to as the Morris Mafia), led by none other than Jon Heyman, have defended Morris’s less-than-elite run prevention by citing his durability.
Baseball Reference looked into this deeper and found that Morris allowed runs at a worse than average rate for every length of outing longer than one inning pitched. As that piece says, “Now there is a value to pitching late into games and Morris should be credited by that value, but it certainly looks to me that a big reason Morris went late into games was the astronomical run support he was getting not because he was pitching so much better than the average pitcher.”
So the argument for Morris comes down to him winning three World Series and being willing to pitch late into games. He wasn’t particularly dominant in the playoffs, so that shouldn’t push him in. He also wasn’t exactly breaking innings pitched records. He led the majors in innings pitched once, when he threw 293.2 in 1983. That’s tied for the thirteenth-highest single-season total since Morris debuted in 1977. He finished with over 3,800 innings pitched for his career. That’s good for the 7th-most since 1977. None of those are accomplishments to sneeze at, but they don’t make someone a Hall of Famer.
12th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 47.8%
I’m going to keep Lee Smith simple. The question of “Should Lee Smith go into the Hall of Fame” is basically the questions “Should relief pitchers go into the Hall of Fame” and “Is the standard for Hall of Fame relievers good enough as is?”
Here’s a table comparing Lee to other notable relievers. The bolded ones are already in the Hall of Fame. The bottom three will get at least some support with Rivera obviously being a slam dunk.
Bruce Sutter appears to be the bottom for modern Hall of Fame relievers, and Smith has him beat with near-equal run prevention over 200+ more innings. If that’s the baseline, then Smith is in. Look again at John Franco, though. His numbers are incredibly similar to Smith’s. He even has over 400 saves. If Smith is a Hall of Famer, Franco should probably be as well. But because the world makes perfect sense, Franco was off the ballot after just one year when he received only 4.6% of votes in 2011. It’s another version of Jack Morris and David Wells.
I lean towards believing that relievers shouldn’t make the Hall of Fame except for very special circumstances. By that I mean pretty much just Mariano Rivera. However, I’m not as hard in that stance as I used to be. After seeing how rare it is for a relief pitcher to give consistently high play over the course of an entire career, I’ve started thinking that maybe they should get more recognition. That’s about where my change of heart ends. I still think it would take an incredibly special player to go into Cooperstown as a relief pitcher. Smith doesn’t meet that cut.
Back to my two questions.
“Should relief pitchers make the Hall of Fame?”
Sure, if they’re good enough.
“Is the standard for Hall of Fame relievers good enough as is?”
No, I want a higher standard.
14th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 13.2%
I considered not even bringing up Mattingly after his voting dropped from 2012’s 17.8%. Mattingly’s support was strongest his first year on the ballot. That was in 2001 when he received 28.2% of votes. He dropped to 20.3% the next year and hasn’t topped 20% since. I decided to include him because his prime was so great that it deserves to be recognized.
From 1984 to 1987, Mattingly hit .337/.381/.560 for a wRC+ of 152. That includes 119 home runs, just a hair under 30 a year. His wRC+ is tied with Wade Boggs for the highest over that stretch (min. 2,000 PA). After that, he hit .293/.348/.425 with a wRC+ of 110 and only 92 home runs over seven seasons. And remember, he was a first baseman. That’s not a Hall of Fame career by any stretch, but he was a special player for several years.
5th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 20.7%
I always forget how great of a hitter McGriff was until I look up his numbers. From 1988 to 1994, he hit .288/.390/.545 with a wRC+ of 153. He trails only Barry Bonds in wRC+ over that stretch (minimum 3,000 plate appearances). His 242 home runs during those seven years were the most by a wide margin. Only Bonds and Joe Carter are within 30.
It’s a similar peak to Mattingly’s with the benefit of lasting three more seasons. And unlike Mattingly, McGriff didn’t fall off a cliff when he began to regress. The next 10 seasons after 1994 saw McGriff hit .288/.371/.489 with a WRC+ of 122. That’s not a bad way for a first baseman to end his career at all. Two of those years were even quite good, 1999 and 2001. That gives him nine very good to great seasons at the plate for his career.
McGriff is a tough one for me. I give him a no because I don’t think his prime was quite good enough or quite long enough to push him in. He didn’t dominate at the level of guys like Frank Thomas or Jeff Bagwell, and it wasn’t a decade-long peak like Edgar Martinez’s. For me, a first baseman or designated hitter has to meet one of those criteria.
If McGriff does one day go into the Hall of Fame, I hope he goes in not as a Blue Jay or a Padre or a Brave, but as a member of Baseball World.
1st Year on Ballot
I changed my mind about Jeff Kent at least three times before finally deciding to stick him with the Nos. At a glance, Kent’s 10-year prime appears more than Hall worthy. From 1997 to 2006, Kent hit .295/.367/.525, wRC+ of 130. That was good enough to make him the best second baseman in the game for a stretch lasting a decade.
But the game isn’t all offense. If it were, Miguel Cabrera would have won MVP each of the last two years (wait, what?). By Fangraphs’ wins above replacement (fWAR), Kent was worth 5 wins only two times in his career. Baseball Reference’s WAR has him with only three. That doesn’t sound like a Hall of Famer at all.
This is hard for me, because even with defense, Kent was quite clearly the best second baseman for a ten year stretch. Being the best at your position for a decade is a good Hall of Fame case in and of itself. But I still don’t know if it’s enough in Kent’s case. Fangraphs has him worth about 4.4 wins above replacement a year for his 10-year prime. Baseball Reference has him between 4.2 and 4.3. If you knew a second baseman would give you that kind of production over a decade, you’d sign him to a huge extension in a heartbeat. You wouldn’t put him in the Hall of Fame, though.
As you can surmise, I’m now switching gears by covering the players who I give a vote of yes. Again, these are only players who aren’t connected or kinda-connected to PEDs. Those guys get their own sections.
1st Year on Ballot
1st Year on Ballot
When initially planning this post, I had tentatively put Glavine in with the Nos. Fangraphs has him at 64.3 WAR for his career. That’s about what you’d expect to see from a borderline Hall of Famer. Glavine, however, accumulated that over 4,400 innings. A Hall of Fame pitcher with that many innings pitched should have well over a borderline WAR total. Was Glavine great or was he just pretty good for a long time?
Then I noticed something. Glavine’s FIP, on which fWAR is based, was routinely higher than his ERA. Nine times in his career he had an ERA over half a point lower than his FIP. It was a full point lower in six of those. Maybe fWAR isn’t the best indicator of Glavine’s value.
That brings us to another stat, one with an even worse name, RA9-WAR. Despite its confusing-looking name, RA9-WAR is easy to understand. It’s based on runs allowed and that’s about it. It’s all runs, not just earned runs. It doesn’t factor in the defense behind a pitcher or the supposed repeatability of the pitcher’s results. The only adjustment is for run environment.
Glavine’s RA9-WAR for his career is an even 88. That looks more like a slam dunk Hall of Famer. The difference between his RA9-WAR and fWAR is 23.7, which is quite large. Since 1919, that ranks as the fifth-highest positive difference. Above Glavine are Jim Palmer, Carl Hubbell, Warren Spahn and Whitey Ford. All four of them are in the Hall of Fame.
Why the difference? Was there something about the way Glavine pitched that prevented runs but isn’t picked up by FIP? Was he just lucky? For the purposes of the Hall of Fame, I don’t care. I understand the idea of valuing pitchers based on peripherals, as Fangraphs does. But after twenty years and 4,000 innings, I don’t care how he prevented runs, only that teams didn’t score often when he was on the mound.
Glavine didn’t strike out many batters. His walk rates weren’t particularly low. For one reason or another, that didn’t stop him from keeping opposing players from reaching home plate. That’s good enough for me.
13th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 33.6%
It’s time for another game of Player A vs. Player B.
Player A was a shortstop who played for parts of twenty years, all with the same team. In 2,239 games, he had 9,375 plate appearances and amassed 185 home runs, 1,231 runs, 1,003 RBIs and 236 stolen bases. He was known as a great fielder.
Player B was a shortstop who played for parts of nineteen years, all with the same team. In 2,180 games, he had 9,057 plate appearances and amassed 198 home runs, 1,329 runs, 960 RBIs and 379 stolen bases. He was known as a good fielder.
Before I give it away, does one of those look remarkably better than the other? I’m just giving counting stats, so it’s hard to be too sure. They seem fairly even given the numbers above. Let’s add some more information.
Player A had a career slash line of .285/.352/.415 and a career wRC+ of 111. That’s a good career average for a shortstop, especially one who had a long career and played good defense.
Player B’s career slash line was .295/.371/.444 and his wRC+ was 118. That’s even better.
To compare, Player B probably has a better case for the Hall. He was a better hitter and presumably added more value on the bases. They still appear similar, and you would think they’d have similar reputations.
You obviously know one of those players is Alan Trammell, what with this text being directly below his name in bold. Trammell is Payer A. Player B is Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.
Trammell is in his last few years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot. The best result he’s ever gotten was 36.8% in 2012, less than half of what he would need for enshrinement. The voters put Larkin into the Hall of Fame that same year when he was on 86.4% of ballots. It was just his third year of eligibility and he was never on fewer than 50% of ballots.
I’ve said that Larkin was probably better than Trammell. In and of itself, I don’t have a problem with Larkin being in the Hall of Fame and Trammell being on the outside looking in. If you consider Larkin a borderline candidate, then Trammell probably just misses your cut. The voters didn’t view Larkin as borderline, though. They viewed him as a slam dunk and have barely given any support to Trammell. How can they view two similar players so differently?
A quick glimpse at each player’s Fangraphs page might help us understand why. Take a look at the wRC+ columns. Trammell had some great years at the plate, but he only once strung together three consecutive above-average seasons. Now look at Larkin. He had thirteen consecutive seasons above 100. That might be why Trammell isn’t thought of as being at the same level of Larkin. That’s not unfair. Consistency should probably be considered. Much of Trammel’s value came from his defense, and as Kenny Lofton showed us last year, it’s hard to build a Hall of Fame candidacy on defense.
(I found something curious while looking up these two. A fun feature of the Sports Reference sites is the EloRater, which uses fan voting to rank the best players ever. As of this typing, Baseball Reference’s EloRater has Alan Trammell as the 50th best non-pitcher player ever, just below Chipper Jones, Yogi Berra and Pete Rose. Barry Larkin is all the way down 118, two spots above… Barry Bonds? I guess the Hall of Fame electorate isn’t the only one yielding confusing results.)
For Trammell himself, he gets a firm yes from me. He had enough good seasons to make up for the lack of consistency. Both of his WARs are higher than Ernie Banks’s, and it’s not really unreasonable if you believe Trammell’s defense was as good as the numbers say. I can’t provide much insight there, but I’m not going to dismiss them just because of skepticism.
7th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 52.2%
You know that Raines is one of the best base-stealers ever. To review, he’s one of only five players with 800 career steals. Raines leads all players with at least 400 steals in stolen base percentage, being successful in 84.7% of his attempts. Rickey Henderson himself was only successful in 80.8%. Only Carlos Beltran has more than 300 steals and is more efficient than Raines, and Raines had 800.
You probably also know that Raines was a very good hitter. His career line was .294/.385/.425 with a wRC+ of 125. He had a ten-year prime of .302/.391/.439 with a wRC+ of 133. Add his base-stealing prowess and you have downright elite offensive production. And in case I haven’t mentioned it, he stole over 800 bases.
Here’s my least favorite thing ever. Last year, ESPN ranked the 125 greatest players ever. Here’s their write-up for Raines.
“There is a strong argument to be made that Raines is the most underrated player ever, and a lot of that is because he played in the shadow of Rickey Henderson (No. 14 on our list), the greatest leadoff man ever. Raines reached base safely more often than Tony Gwynn (No. 61), a contemporary corner outfielder, while providing far greater offensive value.” (emphasis added)
Tony Gwynn ranked as the 61st-best player ever. Tim Raines provided “far greater offensive value” and ranked… 96th. Did Gwynn make up for Raines’s offensive advantage with defense? Google Image search “Tony Gwynn” and you’ll have your answer. They call Tim Raines the most underrated player ever and still underrate him.
5th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 35.9%
Speaking of underrated…
Martinez has a couple things going against him. Like Ron Santo, he played in the shadow of three players who were Hall of Famers in their own right (insert whatever A-Rod caveat you find appropriate, if any). He didn’t excite people the way Ken Griffey, Jr. did and he wasn’t as obviously dominant as Randy Johnson. All he did was hit baseballs stupidly well.
And there it is. All he did was hit. As in he didn’t field. Martinez played over 2,000 games in his career and played in the field in fewer than 600 of them. He was too busy being the greatest designated hitter ever.
I agree that designated hitters should be held to higher standards. That’s where new school and old school thinkers can agree about Martinez. His staunchest opponents use the criticism that Martinez “only played half the game,” and therefore doesn’t belong in Cooperstown. I have to imagine that even people who believe that would still admit that a DH should be a Hall of Famer if he were good enough. But where is that line? Albert Pujols? Stan Musial? Babe Ruth? How good does a hitter have to be before he’s good enough to shake the DH stigma?
Wherever that line is, it’s below Edgar Martinez. Martinez finished his career with a line of .312/.418/.515 with a wRC+ of 147. That’s the 19th-highest career wRC+ since 1919 (minimum 7,500 plate appearances), nestled between Jeff Bagwell and Mike Schmidt. He has twelve seasons with a wRC+ of at least 134 (one with fewer than 100 games played, all the others with at least 130). He topped 150 eight times, including seven in a row from 1995 to 2001. In his best season in 1995, he hit .356/.479/.628.
Martinez is at least one of the forty best hitters ever. Yes, he should be held to a higher standard, but if Edgar Martinez isn’t good enough, you need to lower your standards.
(Also, where is this standard for relief pitchers? Last I checked, they play way less than half the game.)
2nd Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 68.2%
With the exceptions of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and maybe Frank Thomas, Biggio is the most unanimously-supported candidate on the ballot. While he never had a season at the plate as good as Jeff Kent’s 2000, he still had one of the more impressive primes you’ll see from a second baseman. He strung together eight consecutive seasons with a wRC+ of at least 120, four of them were over 140.
Biggio’s counting stats are just as impressive. He scored over 1,800 runs, drove in over 1,000 RBIs, stole over 400 bases, hit nearly 300 home runs and probably most importantly is one of only 28 players in the 3,000 hit club. He also won three Gold Gloves. This one is easy, so let’s take a break from all this and spend a little time appreciating this video.
1st Year on Ballot
2nd Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 38.8%
Schilling’s career wasn’t quite as long as some of his more peers, but it was still impressive. Just check out these screenshots.
His baseball career was also pretty good. Although he ended his career with just 216 wins and around 3,200 innings pitched, he had some of the best seasons of any pitcher of his generation. He had six seasons with an ERA- under 70 and finished with a career mark of 80. His peripherals match the run prevention; his 4.38 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is the best of any pitcher who threw after 1900.
Perhaps Schilling’s most impressive feat was his prowess in the playoffs. Scroll back up to the Jack Morris section remind yourself of his and David Wells’s playoff numbers. Morris was all right. Wells was very good. Here’s Schilling in those same criteria.
ERA-: 50 (!!!)
Whether or not that constitutes him being a winner, it’s certainly more impressive than Morris, the supposed “winner.” What’s more is Schilling’s bloody sock game is one of the few performances which can rival Morris’s 10-inning shutout.
That might or might not mean anything to you, but Schilling has the credentials to impress everyone except for the “Small Hall” thinkers who are only comparing him to the likes of Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, etc. Schilling had the peak. He had enough longevity. He had the stories and the “clutch” tag. Here’s hoping he’ll soon have a plaque.
1st Year on Ballot
Glavine’s biggest strength was his longevity. Schilling’s was his great peak. Mussina is like a split between the two.
Mussina had eleven seasons with over 200 innings pitched, the same number Jack Morris had. He also had eleven seasons with an ERA- at 80 or lower, two more than Glavine had. From 1995 to 2003, Mussina only fell short of 5.0 fWAR once, when he had 4.7 in 2002.
While he wasn’t exactly a perennial Cy Young candidate (he never won the award but finished in the top 5 six times), Mussina was a great pitcher. By my count, Mussina had twelve very good to great seasons. Even in his last season in 2008, he had a 3.37 ERA over 200.1 innings. He also won 20 games, for whatever that’s worth to you.
Like Glavine and Schilling, Mussina can’t be put in the same category as Maddux or other elite, elite pitchers. However, those kinds of pitchers are not the standard for Hall of Famers. They’re very special exceptions. Mussina meets most any standard for a Hall of Fame pitcher. While his prime isn’t quite as strong as some, his longevity and consistency push him in for me.
4th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 21.6%
Walker is a unique case. It’s not PED allegations that are hindering him (or, at least, they’re not the only things in his way), but rather his home ballpark. Coors Field has been a hitter’s haven ever since its construction and that was especially true in Walker’s time (for an extreme example of this, check out Dante Bichette’s bizarre 1999 season). Walker was a fine hitter in his early years with the Montreal Expos but really exploded after he landed in Colorado with the Rockies. People have used this against him to say that he wasn’t really as good of a hitter as he appeared. As a Rockie, Walker did hit much better at Coors than he did away, but luckily today we have tools which can hold park effects constant.
From 1995, Walker’s first year in Colorado, to 2003, his penultimate year as a Rockie*, Walker hit .334/.425/.618 with a wOBA of .439. Those are ridiculous-looking numbers. From them alone, he looks like a slam dunk Hall of Famer. The only players to out-wOBA him over that time frame are Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. Right behind him is teammate Todd Helton.
* – I stopped in 2003 instead of 2004 because he was traded to the Cardinals that year. I have no way of factoring out his time with the Cardinals in 2004 while still comparing him to the league as a whole.
Now let’s switch our weighted aggregate stat of choice from wOBA to wRC+. Walker falls from third down to thirteenth with a wRC+ of 147. That’s still very, very good. Using the same criteria as Edgar Martinez above (minimum 7,500 plate appearances after 1919), Walker ranks 32nd in wRC+. Again, not uber-elite, but still awesome.
Can we confidently say that Walker is one of the top fifty hitters ever the way we can Martinez and Bagwell? If he’s not in the top 50, he’s near it. If you’re particularly Small Hall, I can understand leaving out Walker. For me, though, Walker was real baseball greatness even after adjusting for ballpark, and I want that greatness to be immortalized. I’ve only talked about his ability as a hitter. He also stole over 230 bases and won seven Gold Gloves. We all know that Gold Gloves aren’t the best barometer of a player’s true defensive value, but it’s probably safe to say he wasn’t killing his team in the field. All things told, this is a yes, even if it isn’t the strongest yes.
1st Year on Ballot
I love when it’s easy.
Frank Thomas had a wRC+ of at least 168 for the first eight years of his career. Granted, one of those was his rookie year in which he only played 60 games. However, that just shows what a great hitter he was right off the bat (pun?).
During those years, 1990 to 1997, Thomas had a line of .330/.452/.600, wRC+ of 177. For comparison’s sake, Miguel Cabrera has a wRC+ of 176 over the last four years. Cabrera has become recognized as one of the best hitters ever due mainly to those four years. Thomas was just as good for a longer period of time.
The rest of the Frank Thomas story isn’t as eye-poppingly awesome. By the time he retired in 2008, his time as a premier hitter seemed a distant memory. That’s not entirely fair, though. He had another vintage Big Hurt season in 2000 and solid years in 2003, 2004 (albeit shortened by injury) and 2006. He didn’t fall off a cliff. He just had some valleys. That can be forgiven considering how high his peak was.
1st Year on Ballot
Here we go.
Maddux had an ERA under 3.00 for seven consecutive seasons, 1992 to 1998. It was under 2.00 in two of them. The league ERA over that stretch was 4.33. Maddux’s ERA was 2.15. The next-lowest starter was Jose Rijo (?!) at 2.82. The next-lowest with 1,000 innings pitched was Tom Glavine at 3.02.
All that is good for an ERA- of 53 over seven years. The next-lowest was Roger Clemens with 65.
Maddux’s walk rate from 1993 to the end of his career in 2008 was 3.8%. In the more common rate of walks per 9 innings, it’s 1.37. He has five of the forty lowest single-season walk rates of the live ball era.
He is one of only thirteen pitchers with 5,000 career innings pitched. Six of the others pitched in the dead ball era. Among the seven live ball era iron men, Maddux has the third-lowest lowest career ERA at 3.16 and the lowest career ERA- at 76.
That durability stayed with Maddux to the end of his career. After 1987, his first full season in the majors, to 2008, his last season, Maddux only missed 200 innings pitched three times. His totals in the seasons he missed that mark: 199.1 (2002), 198.0 (2007), 194.0 (2008).
The hardware: 4 Cy Young Awards, 18 (!!!!!) Gold Gloves, 8 All Star appearances, 1 World Series Ring and 0 MVPs because people suck.
Using fWAR, Maddux was worth at least 6 wins in all but one seasons from 1991 to 2001. The one year he fell short was 1999, when he was worth 5.6 wins. He also had 5.4 WAR in 1990.
You could make a not-terrible case that Maddux was the best pitcher ever. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but he should legitimately be in the discussion.
I can’t think of a poetic way to end this, so here’s Greg Maddux’s Twitter picture to remind you that he’s still awesome.
Some people refuse to vote for these guys because something doesn’t feel right about him. For an extended look at why I think that’s stupid, go here.
4th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 59.6%
Bagwell came up through the Red Sox system as a third base prospect and ended up being arguably one of the five best first basemen ever. You can etch the first three in stone: Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Albert Pujols. After that, you’d have to give serious consideration to ranking Bagwell next (Frank Thomas is there as well). His career line is .297/.408/.540 with a wRC+ of 149 and 449 home runs. He is in elite company from an historical perspective, and is up there with Thomas and Edgar Martinez as one of the 40 most prolific hitters in history.
You only have to look at Bagwell’s minor league numbers to figure out where the suspicions come from. He hit a total of 6 home runs in his two years in the minors. He topped out at 20 homers over his first three years in the majors before hitting 39 in the strike-shortened 1994 season. On the surface, that does seem like a “suspicious” jump.
Credit to this comment on a Rob Neyer piece to thoroughly debunk that. I’m just going to quote the whole thing.
“Jeff Bagwell was always a power hitter, and the only ones who don’t realize it are too lazy to actually form their own opinions. My reasons:
A) He was a first baseman. He wouldn’t have played there if people didn’t think he could hit.
B) Baseball America named him the #32 prospect in 1991 at the age of 23. Again, he wouldn’t be considered a top first base prospect if people didn’t think he could hit, as the only way for Baseball America to consider you a serious first base prospect is if you hit.
C) He hit 15 home runs as a 23 year old IN THE ASTRODOME. The home runs increase at a pretty standard rate from there.
D) The only other “no power” anecdote that I hear is that he only hit 4 home runs at AA. Everyone ignores that he had 34 doubles and 7 triples with that, or that that ENTIRE TEAM only had 31 home runs and the team leader only had 5. But no, it’s much more likely that the entire 1990 New Britain team had no power, then all of them discovered steroids after leaving for other stadiums.
Not even going to get into the ‘he had no power after arthritis that forced him to retire set in’. By that metric, can we also just accuse Sandy Koufax?”
That commenter writes on the blog Hot Corner Harbor. The comment alone was enough for me to check out the site. Well worth the visit.
So with that eliminated, what’s left of the evidence for Bagwell’s PED use? That he was big and hit lots of home runs in the steroid era? Yep.
I’m going to end this with another quote, this one from Bagwell himself.
“If you played in my era and hit any home runs, you know people are going to sit there and say something. It’s just the state of the game now. The one thing I don’t understand is how people can talk about the era I played in and make it sound as if there weren’t any great players in the 1990s and 2000s. That doesn’t make any sense. Are you telling me that there were great players in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, but there weren’t any great players in the ’90s and 2000s? I mean, come on. That’s crazy.”
I mean, come on. That is crazy.
2nd Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 57.8%
Piazza’s suspicions aren’t hard to figure out. The Dodgers drafted him as an afterthought in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft, and he went on to become the single greatest offensive catcher the game has ever seen.
There’s no other way to cut it. He’s the best offensive catcher ever. It’s worth repeating again: The single greatest offensive catcher ever! His 1997 season might be the best season a catcher has ever had (.362/.431/.638). His career line is .308/.377/.545 with a wRC+ of 140 and 427 home runs. As a hitter he’s at about the same level as Walker, and he played catcher! Great hitters who can stick at catcher are uncommon. And yes, Piazza did eventually play some first base in the latter part of his career, but the vast majority of his games were behind the plate. Even if we believe Piazza was a shaky fielder, he’s still above the standards set for Hall of Fame catchers. Like Bagwell said, to not admit players like Piazza into the Hall of Fame is to say that great players didn’t exist for a decade.
Piazza did well in his first year on the ballot, even better than Bagwell did in his first year (41.7%). I think a bit much has been made about PED suspicions keeping these guys out. I say that as someone who’s been screaming about that ever since Bagwell has been eligible. They’ve both done well and figure to be inducted at some point although the increasing crowdedness of the ballot could get in their way. Voters should realize that and loosen up about their obsession over players being inducted in the xth year. They won’t. That’s still stupid, but at least it’s the stupid we’re used to.
Turds in the Punch Bowl
I’m not a PED-users-shouldn’t-be-in-the-Hall-no-matter-what guy. I’m also not a let’s-ignore-PEDs-completely guy. I don’t know what I am. Ideally, I would want to to answer the question “Would this guy be a Hall of Famer if he hadn’t have used PEDs?” That’s an annoyingly impossible question to answer. Basically I just hold them to a slightly higher standard. Is that unfair? I don’t think so. Is it unscientific? Yeah, probably. Does that make me a hypocrite? I hope not.
4th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 8.8%
Palmeiro didn’t dominate like Thomas or Bagwell. He didn’t even dominate like McGriff. What Palmeiro had was unbelievable consistency. From 1990 to 2002, a stretch of thirteen years, Palmeiro failed to reach a wRC+ of 130 only three times, and one of those was a mark of 129. Palmeiro produced a slash line of .294/.378/.540 over those years with a wRC+ of 137. That’s great but still one of the less impressive primes on this ballot, even when factoring in its longevity.
His final career rates are at about the same level as McGriff’s but with Palmeiro having the benefit of 2,000 more plate appearances. And unlike McGriff, Palmeiro was known as a great fielder (the most hilarious example of his reputation is in 1999 when he won the Gold Glove at first base despite only playing 28 games there).
Palmeiro is up there with Jeff Kent as the hardest guy for me on to decide. There were only a few years where Palmeiro ranked as one of the absolute best hitters in the game. Still though, his longevity and consistency make up for that, and his fielding ability helps to make up for his positional disadvantage of being a first baseman.
I’ve read and heard several people say that they’re fine with people using PED use as a sort of tiebreaker. That’s exactly what I’m doing here. Cop out? Nah.
2nd Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 12.5%
If Neifi Perez is the go-to guy for the crowd who believes that steroids do little to enhance performance, then Sosa is the go-to guy for those who believe they do. Sosa was a fine power hitter before 1998, four times hitting 30 and once hitting 40. He then had one of the greatest power stretches anybody has ever had. From 1998 to 2003, Sosa hit a ridiculous 332 home runs. That’s an average of 55 per year. Fifty-five per year! Babe Ruth hit 276 home runs in his top six seasons, and those weren’t consecutive. Sosa is the only player to ever hit 60 home runs or more in a season three times. For about five or six years, he was on top of the world. The problem is what happened in the other years of his career.
Before 1998, Sosa hit .257/.308/.469 with a wRC+ of 102. After 2003, he hit .243/.314/.459 with a wRC+ of 97. So we’re really only looking at six good years, at least at the plate. He did steal 30 bases a couple times when he was younger and might have even been a good fielder at one point. But I only call six of his seasons Hall of Fame-worthy.
From what I said about his home run totals, it might seem a given that Sosa’s prime years are enough for him to be worthy of induction, but the deeper I look the less sure I am. Over those six seasons, Sosa hit .302/.392/.635 with a wRC+ of 156. Those are near-MVP-type numbers, but for only over six seasons they might not be Hall of Fame-type numbers. I might be sounding like a stat head using less-used numbers to discredit what are otherwise amazing seasons, and well, I guess I kinda am here. The rest of his career drags his career rates to about the same levels of Tim Raines, but obviously without Raines’s value from baserunning.
Like Palmeiro, Sosa is close. It’s hard for me to come down on one side or the other. From the numbers alone, I lean towards no. Throwing in confirmed steroid use moves him to a hard no. His entire candidacy hinges on his prime, which was at least partially steroid-fueled.
8th Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 16.9%
Anybody else surprised that McGwire is already on his eighth year of eligibility? Has it really been that long?
McGwire is one of the few whose power prowess can match Sosa’s, and McGwire did it for much longer. He routinely hit for low averages but his on-base skills and power more than made up for it. He has a career wRC+ of 157, higher than anybody on the ballot except Bonds. On numbers alone, McGwire makes my cut. With PEDs, he probably still makes my cut. He’s not as borderline as Palmeiro and Sosa, and he’s less dependant on his insane peak as Sosa. Granted, McGwire did play with Jose Canseco in Oakland, so it’s reasonable to believe that he was using substances before many of his contemporaries.
I’d be willing to be talked out of supporting McGwire the same way I’d be willing to be talked into supporting Palmeiro and Sosa, but there’s too much uncertainty for me. Yeah McGwire did steroids, but he was also one of the best hitters in the game for a long time. In short, he was just too good.
2nd Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 37.6%
Speaking of just too good, the next two guys could have been their own section called, “Yeah These Guys Did Steroids but They Were Also Really Amazing Baseball Players so Let’s Just Put Them In.” Clemens was ridiculously good. He led the league in ERA seven times in his career, six times recording an ERA under 2.50. Of all pitchers since 1919 with at least 3,000 innings pitched, Clemens is 11th in ERA and is behind only Lefty Grove in ERA-. Since he entered the league in 1984, only Greg Maddux has thrown more innings.
Steroid allegations have haunted Clemens for the last several years. He’s been accused by former players and was named in the Mitchell Report. Call me naïve, but I don’t believe any amount of steroids or any other substances would give a not-great pitcher what was perhaps the greatest career any pitcher has had. Sure, Clemens might not have been a great guy, but he was still a great pitcher.
What’s more is we don’t know how steroids and other PEDs affect pitchers. If they really make a pitcher throw better, why aren’t other players like Randy Johnson and John Smoltz held to the same scrutiny that Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza are? Why isn’t every power pitcher of the era held to the doctrine of “guilty until proven innocent?” Maybe they just make them recover more quickly. That could be why Clemens pitched so well into his 40s, and that’s pretty reasonable to believe. But to borrow Bill James’s line about Rickey Henderson, if you could split Roger Clemens in half, you would have two Hall of Famers. Clemens would probably have been a Hall of Famer had he retired in 1993. He then pitched for fourteen more years. Clemens is one of the ten best pitchers of the live-ball era, and would likely still have been without steroids.
2nd Year on Ballot
2013 Results: 36.2%
We don’t know when Bonds used PEDs. Maybe he was using his entire career. We don’t know, but people tend to not question his career before around 2000. He didn’t really blow up until a couple years after the initial surge of insane power seasons. The 1998 season was when things started getting crazy, when 40-homer guys were starting to hit upwards of 60, but Bonds held steady at about 35 a year until 2000, when he hit 49, and 2001, when he crushed a record 73. Still, let’s use 1998 as a cut-off point, and look at what kind of player Bonds was before these controversial seasons.
From his debut in 1986 to 1997, Bonds hit .288/.408/.551 with a wRC+ of 159. That’s about as good as Sosa was during his incredible stretch, but Bonds did it for twelve seasons. He had 90.6 fWAR, about 30 more than any other position player. Mark McGwire was the only to out-homer him over that stretch. Only three guys stole more bases. Had Bonds aged normally and those rates dropped, he would still have been in serious discussion as one of the twenty best hitters ever.
He was already a member of the 300 home runs-300 stolen bases club and had already won seven Gold Gloves. His 1993 season, his last season as a Pittsburgh Pirate, is as good as any season Albert Pujols ever had. People of my generation love to talk about Ken Griffey, Jr. as the would-be greatest ever if it weren’t for injuries, but Bonds outperformed prime Griffey. In fact, Bonds was better than Griffey at the plate every single year and was a better baserunner and was at least a comparable fielder, and may have even been superior there too.
Again, this was all before 1998, before Bonds became the all-time single season and career home run king, before he became the only member of the 500 home runs-500 stolen bases club, before he became the first player since Ted Williams to post multiple seasons with an OBP over .500 and before he became the only one to ever have an OBP over .600.
Bonds became maybe the best baseball player ever. Before he became that, though, he was already one of the best ever. PEDs didn’t make that happen.
Let’s total all that up. The following get a no: Jeff Kent, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Lee Smith and the others that we don’t need to get into.
Here are our final votes of yes: Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.
That’s fourteen votes of yes. If I were lucky enough to have a real ballot, I would be forced to remove four of those guys. Without thinking much, I think I’d remove McGwire, Walker, Biggio and Mussina.
Fortunately, my vote of ~.000000091% didn’t have that limitation. Here’s hoping Deadspin buys another vote next year and my vote counts even more.