Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Handicapping the HOF Ballot

Always an interesting day when the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot comes out. There are 37 names on the ballot this year, including some fairly prominent and controversial figures. Some of the most prominent of the Steroid Era figures are appearing for the first time, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.  Some of the guys on the ballot clearly aren't all-time greats, but others are. Let's take a spin through the names -- unless otherwise indicated, the candidates are on the ballot for the first time:

Sandy Alomar, Jr. His brother Roberto is already in the HOF, elected in 2011. Roberto was one of the greatest second basemen of all time. Sandy Alomar, Jr. was a catcher who had a long career in the major leagues, but never was a great player. No chance.

Jeff Bagwell. This is his 3rd year on the ballot. He got 56% last year and will likely make the HOF in the next few years. Probably not this year, though. A great player who played in obscurity in Houston. Some suspect he might have used performance enhancing drugs, but there is no solid evidence.

Also a catcher
Craig Biggio. First year on the ballot. If Roberto Alomar isn't the greatest second baseman since Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg, it's likely that Biggio is. His credentials are impeccable -- well over 3000 hits, over 400 stolen bases, 4 Gold Gloves and not a whiff of scandal. He's the best bet of the first year candidates to make it and I think he will. Was a teammate of Bagwell for most of his career.

Barry Bonds. Based on sheer numbers, probably one of the top five players in baseball history. Of course, he cheated. It's too bad, actually. If his career had ended in 1998, he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Now, he might not get in for a very long time, if at all. His nasty disposition doesn't help him, either. Still, a genuinely great player.

Jeff Cirillo. A long, distinguished career, including a few stints with my beloved Milwaukee Brewers. Not a Hall of Famer, though.

Royce Clayton. A very good player but like Cirillo, not a Hall of Famer.

Roger Clemens. Of the cheaters (or suspected cheaters), potentially the hardest case. Based on the numbers, he's probably one of the ten greatest pitchers in the history of the game. And like Bonds, if he'd quit before 2000, he would already be in the Hall. He beat the criminal rap, but the jury of the baseball writers is far less likely to give him the nod. I suspect he could make it some day, but it's going to be a long time coming.

Jeff Conine. See Jeff Cirillo. Same story -- a distinguished career but not HOF worthy.

Steve Finley. To me, one of the most underrated players of his era. An excellent outfielder and a very good hitter, but in the end he falls short.

Julio Franco. If you want to talk about a long career, this is the guy. He first broke into the majors all the way back in 1982. He fell out of the majors for a while but returned three times. He was pushing 50 when he finally retired. A solid player, especially with the bat, but not a Hall of Famer.

Shawn Green. A great player for a few years either side of 2000, but after that he fell off quickly. Not a Hall of Famer.

Roberto Hernandez. A hard-throwing right handed relief specialist. He had a long career and was very good from time to time, but he's not a Hall of Famer by any means. Kind of a right-handed Arthur Rhodes.

Ryan Klesko. Solid player, power hitter, similar in some respects to Shawn Green. Was a factor on a lot of very good Atlanta Braves teams, but not a great player. No shot.

In love with his glove
Kenny Lofton. An interesting case. One of the best center fielders of the era, but at the end of his career he was a real vagabond. His overall credentials are pretty good -- he stole over 700 bases in his career and won four Gold Gloves. I think he'll have a chance to make it some day, but he'll have to wait a while. I'd certainly want Tim Raines in the HOF first.

Edgar Martinez. This is his 4th year on the ballot -- last year, he got 36.5% of the vote. The issue with Martinez is simple -- he was a career DH and rarely played in the field. He was a tremendous right-handed hitter, arguably the best of his generation, but at this point the baseball writers seem reluctant to put a DH in the Hall. He has time and he might make it in a few years, but not this year.

Don Mattingly. This is his 13th year on the ballot. He was a hell of a player in the 1980s, but he wasn't a traditional first baseman because he didn't hit for a lot of power. I also think he's punished a little bit because he was the face of the New York Yankees at a time when the Yankees weren't making the World Series. His credentials include a batting title and nine Gold Gloves, along with a career batting average of .307. Still, he's a borderline case. If you take Mattingly, you probably need to consider someone like Mark Grace as well. And I don't think Mark Grace is ever going to be in the Hall of Fame. If he wins a World Series as a manager, that might help him with the Veteran's Committee some day.

Fred McGriff. Like Martinez, this is his 4th year on the ballot. McGriff was a power hitter and a totally solid citizen who had a long career without even a whiff of scandal. Still, you never thought of him as a great player while was playing. One guy who had a similar career was Eddie Murray, but Murray was a better player. McGriff got about 24% of the vote last time. He may make it some day, but it's going to take a while.

Mark McGwire. This is his 7th year on the ballot. He's a cheater and he's paid for it -- he got 19.5% of the vote last time. By the numbers, he's a Hall of Famer for sure, but he'll be waiting for a long time.

Jose Mesa. Essentially the same career as Roberto Hernandez, although with a little more controversy along the way. A good pitcher, but not a Hall of Famer.

Black Jack
Jack Morris. This is his 14th year on the ballot. I'm a partisan on this one, because I think Morris was the best big-game pitcher of the 1980s, but when you look at his overall numbers they aren't as good as you would think, especially his pedestrian career ERA of 3.90. Still, I think he was a dominant player at times and his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is one of the greatest moments in baseball history. He got 66.7% of the votes last time, so I think he'll be going over the top this year. And he'll deserve to be there.

Dale Murphy. This is his 15th and final year on the regular ballot. It's always puzzled me that Murphy has had so much trouble getting traction for the Hall. He was a hell of a player and his credentials are pretty good, especially given that he pre-dated the Steroid Era. He hit nearly 400 home runs and won five Gold Gloves. The knock on Murphy, I suppose, is that he played much of his career in Atlanta, where he was the star of a very bad team and played in a ballpark that was known as the Launching Pad. He's never received more than 23.5% of the vote and almost fell off the ballot a few years back. He's not going to make it in the regular process, but perhaps the Veteran's Committee will give him a look some day.

Rafael Palmeiro. This is his 3rd year on the ballot. Same problem as McGwire -- Hall of Fame numbers, but a cheater. He won't get there any time soon.

Mike Piazza. Arguably the greatest hitting catcher in history and might be the best right handed hitter of his era other than Edgar Martinez. His credentials are in order offensively -- a lifetime batting average of .308 and over 400 home runs, which puts him up there with Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra. Defensively, he wasn't much, though, and although he's not been directly linked to performance enhancing drugs, he's suspected by some of doing so. He might find himself in the same boat as Jeff Bagwell in that he might have to wait a few years before he gets in, but I think he will. I think Craig Biggio has a better chance of making it this year than Piazza.

The Rock
Tim Raines. This is his 6th year on the ballot. Raines has two problems, neither of which are his credentials, which are rock solid. Raines had a drug issue, but not steroids -- he had well-documented trouble with cocaine during his career. More importantly, he was a direct contemporary of Rickey Henderson, who had the same skill set but was the superior player. I personally think Raines is the best player who has been eligible for more than one year who is not in the Hall of Fame. He's getting closer; last year he made about 37% of the ballots. I think he'll get there in the next few years, but not this year. I'll be complaining about the injustice of it all until he makes it, however. Raines was a hell of a player.

Reggie Sanders. Nice player, nice career. Not a Hall of Famer by any means.

Curt Schilling. Actually, a lot like Jack Morris -- a big game pitcher and a big personality who was dominant at times but whose overall credentials are less than optimal. I don't think he'll make it this year, but he should have a chance at some point, although as other contemporaries of his become eligible (Mike Mussina, to name just one), he may have some trouble getting traction.

Aaron Sele. Nice pitcher, nice career. Not a Hall of Famer.

Lee Smith. This is his 11th year on the ballot. He's been moving up the list and last year he received 50.6%, so I think he's eventually going to make it. He was a dominant relief pitcher in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was a time of transition between the old school relievers like Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers and the newer specialists like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Smith's biggest issue, I think, is that he was so consistent that it was easy to take him for granted. He also played for a lot of bad teams, which doesn't help. Probably not this year.

Sammy Sosa. Suspected by all of being a cheater, but not proven. By the numbers, a Hall of Famer for sure, but he's not going to make it any time soon. If you doubt that, read this report from the Chicago Tribune, where they know him best.

Mike Stanton. Unless you assume that Darren Oliver or Arthur Rhodes is a Hall of Famer, and I assume that you don't, Stanton has no shot. Similar player, similar career.

Don't forget Lou Whitaker!
Allen Trammell. This is his 12th year on the ballot. Personally, I think Trammell is a great player and should have been the HOF years ago. His problem, I suspect, is that he was an exact contemporary of two other shortstops who were better -- Ozzie Smith and Robin Yount. Yount in particular was a longtime rival and was a better player. Still, Trammell was very, very good and his overall credentials are excellent. He's never gotten the traction he should with the voters and last time he got 36.8% of the vote. I think he'll continue to fall short and that a future Veteran's Committee will put him in the Hall with dispatch. Aside from Morris and Raines, the best long-time candidate.

Larry Walker. This is his 3rd year on the ballot. He suffers because he played in the Steroid Era and he also played for a long time at Coors Field, which inflated his numbers. He had a distinguished career but he might have the experience as Dale Murphy, where his support (about 23% last time) wanes over time. Personally, I think Murphy was a little better player, although Walker is close.

Todd Walker. Professional hitter, terrible infielder. Had a nice career but is the least qualified candidate in this cycle.

David Wells. An interesting case. More career wins than Schilling and threw a perfect game. A larger-than-life figure in some respects, but let me put it to you this way -- of all the fine pitchers that the Toronto Blue Jays developed in the 1980s, he was certainly less worthy than Dave Stieb and only slightly more worthy than Jimmy Key. No one thinks Key is a Hall of Famer and Stieb isn't going to make it, even though he was awfully good. Wells will get some votes, but I don't see him in the Hall.

Rondell White. Underrated player, but certainly not a Hall of Famer.

Bernie Williams. This is his second year on the ballot. I think a lot of Bernie Williams, but in his first year on the ballot he didn't get much support -- he only got 9.6% of the vote. He's probably not as good a player as Kenny Lofton, but he was very good. His support might grow, but he won't be there this year.

So my guess -- two new members of the HOF this year; Craig Biggio and Jack Morris, with Mike Piazza, Lee Smith and Tim Raines having a chance. We'll know soon enough. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

1 comment:

Brad said...

I believe Morris, Schilling and Biggio should all get in. But that may end up being different from who is actually voted in.

If I have to predict, I believe it will only be Biggio and Morris.