The announcement for the newest members of the Hall of Fame is scheduled for January 9, and the emotional overreactions that follow will likely keep the community abuzz until pitchers and catchers report. And up until now I’ve avoided throwing my hat into the proverbial ring. The view from the outside — away from the insanity — was simply far too enjoyable.
Forgive me, however, for giving into temptation and wanting to ruffle a few feathers myself.
There are really two points I take issue with when it comes to the Hall:
- The Voting Limitations
I’ll begin with the easiest, the voting limitations. The 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot has 37 total players, ranging from perhaps the greatest player of all time, Barry Bonds, to career middle reliever Mike Stanton. The problem, however, is that the voters can select up to 10 players. But why just 10? Modest arguments could be made for as many 20 players on this year’s ballot alone.
Did you know, for example, Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders are two of just eight players in MLB history to have 300 homeruns and 300 stolen bases? Are they really Hall of Famers. Well, no, probably not. But Finley does have a slightly higher JAWS total than Jack Morris, who’s being touted by a number of writers. And while Finley likely falls from the ballot after one year, Morris could conceivably finally make it in. Why? Because voters got to stew on Morris’ achievements for more than one season.
The point is simple: this class is loaded, potentially as much as any previous one in history. And, yet, a voter can only chose ten players. And why 10? Why not 11? Or 12? Or 37?
The second argument is one that’s frothing at the mouth: what to do about performance enhancing drugs and the players that may, or may not, have used them?
To that and to all the self-righteous writers out there I respond, simply, by saying it’s just another era in baseball history.
How is it different from the Dead Ball era? Or the segregation era? Or the Live Ball post-segregation era?
It’s not. And it needs to be looked down upon in the same manner.
Would Babe Ruth have hit 714 homeruns if black players were allowed to play in the all-white Major Leagues? Probably not; the talent was watered down. What if, say, the he faced Rube Currie, a Negro League great, instead of Milt Gaston, owner of a career 4.55 ERA (in the 1920s and 1930s!) who happened to surrender 13 homeruns to the Bambino?
Every era needs to be viewed separately. And the Steroid Era is certainly no different. Oh, and it’s absolutely ludicrous to think that A: past players wouldn’t have used them had they been available or B: there aren’t players in the Hall right now that did use them. And, really, how different can they be viewed from Gaylord Perry, an admitted cheater? Finally, enough with the finger-pointing and behind the back accusations. I’m tired of it. And it amounts to nothing more than character assassination.
So from here on out I try to avoid the S-word as much as possible. And I make my own ballot, with 15 players I would put into the Hall (in order from most to least deserving).
#1. Barry Bonds
The offensive numbers — tainted or not — are ridiculous, absurdly ridiculous: a .298/.444/.607 career hitter, 762 homeruns (1st of all time), 514 stolen bases (20th), a total offensive production 72% better than the league average (tied for 4th), walked in 20.3% of his plate appearances (2nd), and totaled 168 wins above replacement (2nd, FanGraphs’ version). Plus, his peak years totaled 18 seasons, beginning in 1987, his second season, and extending through 2004.
But what made Bonds so dynamic was the fact that he was an asset on both sides of the ball. According to Total Zone, or TZ, he saved 177 runs above the league average, the highest total for a left fielder since 1920, more than 40 runs more than runner-up Carl Yastrzemski.
Barry Bonds was, quite simply, the most complete player in history.
#2. Roger Clemens
A fierce competitor, something along the lines of a modern-day Ty Cobb, who was also known for his incredible work ethic, Clemens compiled the pitching equivalent of Bonds’ career: 354 wins (most since 1920), 8.55 K/9 (8th since 1920), 145.5 fWAR (most since 1920), superb control (2.98 BB/9), 118 complete games (2nd most since 1980), and 46 shutouts (most since 1980).
His 1997 season — 264.0 IP, 292 K, 68 BB, 2.05 ERA, 2.25 FIP and 11.1 fWAR — is the fourth best individual pitching performance since 1920, which led to his fourth of seven Cy Young Awards.
And like Bonds, Clemens was dominant for an extraordinarily long time (1986 – 2006).
#3. Mike Piazza
Really a first baseman masquerading as a catcher, Piazza did turn in the best offensive career at the position, hitting .308/.377/.545 during his 16-year career, 15 of which he spent at least 50 games behind the plate. A former 62nd round draft pick who, quite famously, was nabbed as a favor to his father by Tommy Lasorda, had one MVP-type season (1997), though he finished second, and six additional seasons in which he totaled more than five wins.
And that 1997 season was, simply, the greatest offensive season for a catcher. He hit .362/.431/.638 with 40 homeruns, 201 hits, 32 doubles, 124 RBI, 104 runs and five stolen bases. His total offensive production, per Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 80% higher than the league average that year. Oh, he also owns the third and fifth best offensive seasons at the position as well.
The lone knock on Piazza is his defense, which typically ranged from slightly below-average to awful. Only once did he post a positive TZ, though catcher’s defense is even more fluid than anywhere else.
#4. Curt Schilling
Just a fun little comparison:
- Pitcher A (ages 29 – 37): 3.32 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 141 wins, 3.04 FIP and 60.9 fWAR.
- Pitcher B (ages 29 – 37): 3.28 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 126 wins, 3.34 FIP and 55.1 fWAR.
Pitcher A, of course, would be Curt Schilling. And Pitcher B — who had slightly worse numbers across the board – was none other than fellow right-hander Roger Clemens.
The chink in Schilling’s Hall of Fame case is that he didn’t really develop into Curt Schilling until the age of 29. Otherwise, his numbers before were rather up-and-down with more than half of his games coming as a reliever. And while this skews his career totals — mainly his wins (216) — he became one of the most dominant post-season pitchers of all-time, going 11-2 with a sparkling 2.23 ERA and will forever be remembered for his bloody sock. His career wins above replacement, 96.1, ranks 14th of all time, ahead of such names as Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts, Juan Marichal and Bob Feller.
#5. Jeff Bagwell
Arguably one of the top five first basemen of all time — along with Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols and Johnny Mize — Bagwell developed from a promising all-bat, no-glove third base prospect in Boston’s system to a dominant, do-everything player across the diamond for the Astros. And at his peak — 1996 through 1999 — he hit .302/.439/.578 with 150 homeruns, 101 stolen bases and totaled the second highest WAR in baseball, narrowly trailing Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr.
Consistently throughout his career, Bagwell was an astute defender (he was 35 runs above the league average), an above-average runner, and finished with a career mark of 83.9 fWAR while performing 49% higher than the league average offensively.
Unfortunately for Bagwell — and baseball fans in general — his career was cut short due to shoulder injuries, playing just 39 games after the age of 36.
#6. Tim Raines
An explosive player during the often overlooked 1980’s, Raines is, quite simply, the game’s second best leadoff hitter since the Live Ball Era, perhaps of all time, trailing only Rickey Henderson, who overshadowed his left field counterpart.
One of the most prolific base stealers in history, Raines swiped 808 bases in just 954 attempts. His career success (84.7%), for comparison’s sake, was topped by Henderson only six times in his entire career.
While his peak was quite as long as other Hall of Famers’ — he topped only 6.0 wins six times, the last being in 1992 – his overall numbers are comparable to some degree to Tony Gwynn’s:
- Raines: .294/.385/.425, 808 stolen bases, 170 homeruns, 1571 runs, 980 RBI
- Gwynn: .338/.384/.461, 319 stolen bases, 135 homeruns, 1383 runs, 1138 RBI
Raines ran more, clearly, scored more often, and hit more homeruns. Gwynn had a higher average and more RBI.
Overall, Raines’ offensive production, according Weighted Runs Created Plus, was just six percentage points lower than Gwynn’s (126 vs. 132). But because of his superior defense, Raines was actually the more valuable player over the course of their respective careers (70.6 vs. 67.8).
#7. Alan Trammell
Similar to Raines, Trammell is another vastly underrated — and equally underappreciated — player in baseball history. And, again, similar to Raines, Trammell was often overshadowed by another far more popular player (Cal Ripken Jr.).
During the ages of 25-36, Trammell was actually the better bat (.295/.361/.448 vs. .271/.342/.437). And his overall career WAR total, 69.5, is almost identical to several Hall of Famer shortstops including Barry Larkin (70.5), Ozzie Smith (70.1), Lou Boudreau (69.7) and Pee Wee Reese (69.7).
In total, the lifetime Tiger finished with an above-average bat (.285/.352/.415) and glove (80 runs saved, ninth best mark during the Live Ball Era) at a position that typically relies on a singular source of production.
#8. Edgar Martinez
The lone knock on Martinez is the fact that his career was so dependent on such a one-sided position, designated hitter. But, damn, he could hit the hell out of the ball.
He hit over .330 four times during his career and over .300 another six times. He led the league in doubles twice (1992 and 1995), RBIs once (2000), average twice (1992 and 1995), OBP three times (1995, 1998 and 1999), OPS once (1995), and slugged over .500 eight times. Overall, he hit .312/.418/.515. And his total offensive production was 48% better than the league average, a higher mark, for example, than Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Matthews, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Jim Thome, Nap Lajoie, and Ralph Kiner.
My take on the designated hitter: Like a place kicker, special teamer or punter in football, if there is a position designated in the rules of the game why limit their inclusion into the Hall of Fame? If that’s the case, then just do away with them all together.
Either way, however, Martinez was an elite bat, one that ranks among the history’s best.
#9. Larry Walker
Constantly gets bashed for playing a lot of games in an absurd home ball park (Coors Field pre-humidor), but let’s take two separate looks at Walker’s career.
First, the pre- and post-Colorado days: During his first six seasons, Walker was part of the juggernaut that eventually became the Expos, if ever so briefly. And during that time, he hit a combined .281/.357/.483 with 99 homeruns and 98 stolen bases. His production was 31% better than the league average. Then after his 10 seasons in Colorado, he spent a year and a half in St Louis, where he hit .286/.387/.520 as a 37/38-year-old.
Second, one of the finer things about Weighted Runs Created is that it is league and park adjusted, meaning that Walker’s production at Coors Field if weighted negatively. And what exactly does wRC+ say about Walker’s production while in Colorado? Well, that his production, as absurdly high as it was, was still 47% better than the league average. And that’s after the ballpark’s effects are removed.
All in all, Walker hit .313/.400/.565, which, yes, was impacted by playing in Colorado. But his total production scaled for all his ballparks was still 41% higher than the average. Plus, he saved a total of 99 runs defensively throughout his career. That, folks, is a Hall of Fame resume.
#10. Craig Biggio
Biggio spent considerable time at three positions – center field (255 games) catcher (428) and second base (1989) — and made the All Star game at the latter two. He owns an impressive .281/.363/.433 career line, to go along with 3060 hits, 291 homeruns and 414 stolen bases. His 668 doubles ranks fifth all time, which happens to be the most for a right-handed hitter.
Biggio was gritty and will forever be remembered for his pine-tar covered helmet and high leg-kick. But, simply put, he was an offensive force at three positions that typically lack production.
#11. Mark McGwire
He wasn’t the game’s most prolific homerun hitter — he finished with 583 homeruns, tenth all time — but McGwire did hit them at a pace unmatched by anyone. He averaged one homerun every 9.4 at bats, or in other words just about every third game — for his entire career.
Even through the down years in his career (1989-1991 and 2001), Big Mac never once dropped below the league average production offensively. And his career mark — 57% above the league average — ranks 12th all time.
McGwire led the league in homeruns four times (1987, 1996, 1998 and 1999), walks twice (1990 and 162), RBIs once (1999), and OPS+ four times (1992, 1996, 1998 and 1999). And most of McGwire’s detractors — outside of the whole steroid thing – often point to the fact that he was a one-dimensional player (i.e. just a homerun hitter). But he walked a lot – 17.2% of the time, to be exact — and he was generally a solid defender through his first ten seasons.
#12. Kenny Lofton
A potent leadoff hitter that, unfortunately, peaked during his first three seasons, Lofton hit .299/.372/.423 throughout his career, with 622 stolen bases (12th all time), 1528 runs and 116 triples. He also saved 115 more runs than the average center fielder throughout his career, the third best mark in history. Overall, his fWAR total, 66.2, ranked ninth all time among the position.
The knock on Lofton is that he mixed in several clunker years (2001, 2002, 2004 and 2006), particularly near the end of his career which will ultimately keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
#13. Sammy Sosa
Sosa, believe it or not, was once a legitimate five-tool player early in his career, becoming the Cubs’ first 30/30 man while playing damn near elite defense in right field. And, yes, he did hit a ton of homeruns in his career — 609 in total and topped 60 three different times. He also walked quite a bit (9.7%) and ended up with 234 stolen bases. But the overall value isn’t really what you’d expect it to be: his total offensive production for his career was just 23% better than the league average, which happens to be in the Garrett Jone-2012- neighborhood. And Sosa totaled just 64.1 wins in an 18-year career, two full wins less than Lofton’s career mark.
So it wouldn’t be surprising for Sosa to actually never make the Hall. Does he deserve it? Yes, I think so. But it’s not quite the slam dunk you would expect.
#14. Fred McGriff
OK. I’m a closet Fred McGriff fan. I always have been actually. I used to practice the way he would finish his swing with one arm over his head, though I could never do it like the Crime Dog. And while he never really had an elite season per say, his career numbers — .284/.377/.509 and 493 homeruns — are certainly noteworthy.
During his 18-year career (not counting his five plate appearances in 1986), he hit 30 homeruns 10 times and more than 20 five times. He was a model of consistency. And his offensive production was actually 11 percentage points higher better than Sosa’s. He finished with 61 wins for his career.
#15. Rafael Palmeiro
Big time career numbers: .288/.371/.515, 569 homeruns, 3020 hits and 74.2 wins above replacement. But like McGriff, Palmeiro really didn’t have a truly elite season; he only topped six wins in a season three times during his career.
Still, though, I’m in the minority when it comes to Palmeiro. The total numbers speak volumes, even if he did look like an idiot in the courtroom.
Photo of Tim Raines Courtesy of RazzBall