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My Choices for Cooperstown, 2013 Edition



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It’s that time of the off-season again.

At 2 p.m. ET, the MLB Network broadcasts the results of the Hall of Fame votes cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Before the announcement of last year’s election, I indicated what my picks would be if I were a rumpled, gray-bearded sportswriter clutching a BBWAA ballot tighter than Charlton Heston ever gripped a Sharps rifle. Below are the candidates on this year’s ballot and how I would vote.

Jack Morris: No
Jay JaffeSports Illustrated:

Morris’ supporters dismiss his high ERAs by noting that they’re distorted by the 5.91 mark he put up over his final two seasons; through 1992, he stood at 3.73, with a 109 ERA+ but “only” 237 wins. This is hardly unique, even among Hall of Famers. [Jim "Catfish"] Hunter yielded a 4.52 ERA and an 86 ERA+ while battling injuries over his final three seasons; he finished with a 105 ERA+, one percentage point better than Morris. [Steve] Carlton was rocked for a 5.72 ERA over his final three seasons. [Phil] Niekro was lit for a 6.30 ERA ERA in his final year. [Bert]Blyleven posted a 4.35 ERA and a 90 ERA+ over his final four seasons, a span that included a full year missed with injury; he had one stellar year (17-5, 2.73 ERA) and two with ERAs above 5.00 in that span. All of those pitchers elevated their win totals by hanging on, but with the possible exception of Blyleven, none enhanced their Hall of Fame cases. Even if one merely focuses on his good seasons, Morris cracked the top 10 six times in raw ERA, but never ranked higher than fifth, and only four times ranked in the top 10 in ERA+, never higher than fourth.

Supporters have tended to dismiss Morris’s high ERAs with claims that he “pitched to the score.” The research efforts of Greg Spira and Joe Sheehan have long since put the lie to this claim. In studying his won-loss record through 1993 (his second-to-last season), Spira found that Morris was just four wins ahead of his projected record based upon run support. Sheehan, who pored over Morris’s career inning-by-inning via Retrosheet, concluded: “I can find no pattern in when Jack Morris allowed runs. If he pitched to the score — and I don’t doubt that he changed his approach — the practice didn’t show up in his performance record.” Morris’s record is more a product of strong run support than it is special strategy.

Jeff Bagwell: Yes
Larry GranilloBaseball Prospectus

He truly was a corner infielder who could do it all. While he is compared to his contemporaries like Frank Thomas and Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell was a more complete player than either ever was, contributing to the Astros success with his power, his patience, his speed, and his defense. He also played in the stingiest ballpark amongst those peers. Bagwell continued to perform at a high level well into his thirties, hitting 39 home runs and scoring 109 runs in 2003 when he was 35 years old. His steals disappeared as he aged and his career average finally dipped below .300 in 2004, but it’s not enough to take away from the best all-around first baseman of the 1990s and one of the best of all-time. It’s such a shame that Hall of Fame voters haven’t been able get past their prejudices against the high-offense era in which he played (or any other, more nefarious issues some may be grappling with) to give him his due.

Lee Smith: No
Ken Davidoff, New York Post:

It’s not as hard to find a closer as you think. As Tom Verducci wrote here, in the past 10 seasons, 91 different pitchers have recorded 25 or more saves in a season. That’s why closers don’t score well at all in value equations like WAR and JAWS. The obvious exception is Mariano Rivera, because he has been so elite for so long.

Smith pitched long enough to collect 478 saves. But he’s no Rivera. No one is.

Tim Raines: Yes
Brian Kenny, Clubhouse Confidential:

 

Jon Heyman, CBS Sports, Eye on Baseball, on Raines:

The second greatest leadoff hitter of his era walked a lot and rarely was thrown out trying to steal (second best steal percentage for those with 300 steals). Works for those who want to see greatness (like myself) with seven superb years to start the career, but also for those who like career numbers since he hung around for 16 mostly good to very good seasons after the initial seven great ones. Should take a big jump and eventually get in.

#more#

Alan Trammell: Yes
Kurt Mensching, Detroit News:

Trammell’s OPS+ — basically a batting equivalent of ERA+ — of 110 leads [Ozzie] Smith’s 87.

Trammell leads his in most offensive categories — traditional or sabermetric.

He trails Smith in stolen bases and defense, but his defensive WAR, as noted by CBSSports.com’s Dayn Perry, still ranks among the best 10 of all time at the position to go along with four Gold Glove awards.

Larkin and Trammell trade blows in offensive categories — and [Barry] Larkin’s OPS+ of 116 is slightly better — but Trammell leads him in defensive ability.

Edgar Martinez: Yes
Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports:

I know, he was mostly a DH. But what a DH (maybe the best ever) and one of the best right-handed hitters of his era, period. Since World War II only Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Frank Thomas have finished their careers with OBPs higher than Martinez’s .418.

Fred McGriff: No
David Schoenfield, ESPN SweetSpot:

In the end, however, McGriff remains borderline. The biggest problem is that there are three first baseman on the ballot who are better Hall of Fame candidates in Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Obviously, there are complicating issues around those guys. Plus, there are first basemen such as Keith Hernandez, John Olerud and Will Clark, who arguably had similar value to McGriff, albeit compiled in ways that didn’t appeal to Hall voters (on-base percentage, defense). For now, I say McGriff is just short. And that’s not an easy assessment to make for a guy with 493 home runs and over 1,500 RBIs.

Larry Walker: Yes
Joe Posnanski, Sports on Earth:

There is no question that Walker’s home-road splits are over the top:

Home: .320/.374/.546 Road: .277/.330/.459

But still . . . oh, wait, those aren’t Larry Walker’s home-road splits. Those are Jim Rice’s. Sorry.

Home: .348/.431/.637 Road: .278/.370/.495

Ah, right, those are Walker’s splits. But since those are just super-sized versions of Jim Rice’s splits anyway — and Rice just got voted into the Hall of Fame — I don’t think they are disqualifiers. Walker was a terrific all-around player who stood out in a crazy offensive era.

Mark McGwire: No*
Al Yellon, Bleed Cubbie Blue:

Everyone with as many home runs as McGwire has is in. He eventually came clean about his PED use, and has become a respected hitting coach.

Posnanski on McGwire:

I still believe Mark McGwire should be in the Hall of Fame. But this year’s ballot, in my mind, is overstocked. And with a 10-player limit — a limit I feel certain the Hall of Fame and BBWAA will at some point reconsider — he does not make the cut.

* McGwire is a “no” this time since, as noted above, no more than ten candidates may be chosen.

Don Mattingly: No
Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports, Hardball Talk:

Nope. People say “but for the injuries . . .” I say “he had a lot of injuries.” The Hall should be about the career a guy had, not the one he would have had if x, y, z didn’t happen.

Dale Murphy: No
Jaffe:

Even by the most generous standard, measured against all Hall of Fame hitters, he’s 2.3 WAR shy of the average Hall of Famer on peak value, and 22.1 WAR shy on career value. Among centerfielders, he ranks 25th in JAWS, below 12 Hall of Famers as well as several other very good players including Kenny Lofton, Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran, Jim Edmonds, Jimmy Wynn, Willie Davis, Cesar Cedeno, Vada Pinson, Chet Lemon, Johnny Damon and Fred Lynn.

Rafael Palmeiro: No
Dayn Perry, CBS Sports, Eye on Baseball:

Apply context to Palmeiro’s rate of production throughout his career, and you find he doesn’t compare favorably to Hall of Fame first basemen as a corps. It’s little wonder, then, that his career WAR is below the average of the enshrined first basemen. Keep in mind that Palmeiro’s career value is the driver for his case. With Palmeiro, you have a player whose counting stats are far, far more impressive than his context-adjusted indicators.

There’s also the matter of Palmeiro’s peak. By the very lofty standards of Hall of Fame first basemen, Palmeiro’s peak — i.e., his very best seasons — is a bit lacking. That sounds absurd to say about a player who thrice put up an OPS+ of 150 or better, but again, we’re talking about Hall of Famers who manned the position at which the offensive bar is the highest. In part, that’s why JAWS rates Palmeiro as having a seven-season peak that’s a tick or two worse than the average HoF first baseman. The standards are ruthless and exacting, but they’re supposed to be.

Bernie Williams: No*

Lincoln Mitchell, Faster Times:

The arguments against Williams are clear.  He was not great defensively, was never one of the best hitters in the game, was surrounded by better players and did not play much past his prime.  The arguments in favor of Williams candidacy are less obvious, but also very powerful.  Williams was a very good hitter who had a very long prime.  Between 1995-2002, a period of eight years, he hit .321/.406/.531, good for an OPS+ of 142.  He did this while playing a key defensive position decently.  Although he retired at age 37, thus truncating the decline phase of his career, he remained a useful player until the end hitting .281/.332/.436 during his last year with the Yankees.

Another way to assess Williams candidacy is to determine how many center fielders in the history of the game had clearly better careers.  The list is shorter than one might initially think.  Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jim Edmonds are on the list, but after that it is hard to find a better all around center fielder.  Many other players were better with the glove, a few like Dale Murphy were better power hitters and some good leadoff men, like Richie Ashburn played center field, but it is not obvious that any put together better careers than Williams.

One way to see this is that Williams played 1,924 games in center field during a career where he posted an OPS+ of 125.  In the history of the game, only eight players have played 1,700 or more games in center field with an OPS+ of 115 or better.

* Williams is a “no” this time since, as noted above, no more than ten candidates may be chosen.

Sandy Alomar Jr.: No

Craig Biggio: Yes
Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated:

Biggio’s value resides not so much in his 3,000 hits as much as it does a seven-year prime that began soon after he moved to second base and his power suddenly spiked (.303/.397/.473). He also was an exceptional baserunner and adept fielder. Like [Robin] Yount, Biggio figures to fall right around the 75 percent threshold. (Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin were better players, and neither made it on first ballot.) It’s a close call, but if he does have to wait, it won’t be for long.

Barry Bonds: Yes
Davidoff:

Bonds was far from the only player who likely was using some illegal help during the latter part of his career, and that he nevertheless dominated his era.

And really, let’s get over ourselves here. Bonds is the all-time leading home run hitter. Number two Hank Aaron has confessed to using amphetamines, also an illegal PED. Number three Babe Ruth did his offensive damage in a time when only white players were allowed. There is evidence that number four Willie Mays used amphetamines. Number five is Alex Rodriguez.

There’s no such thing as a “clean” statistic. Every statistic reflects its era.

Jeff Cirillo: No

Royce Clayton: No
The 43-year-old former shortstop is more likely to earn an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor (Moneyball) than pick up the 5 percent of the vote required to remain on the ballot next year.

Roger Clemens: Yes
John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus

These achievements can’t be misremembered: a record seven Cy Young Awards, seven ERA titles, five strikeouts titles and 11 All-Star Game appearances.

Peter Abraham, Boston Globe, on Clemens:

Before there were pink hats, seats on the wall and Red Sox Nation, there was The Rocket. His turn in the rotation was an event that caused everybody to take notice. Clemens had a 3.06 ERA and 192 wins with the Sox before there was a hint of improper behavior. His perjury acquittal aside, Clemens probably did some things he regrets. But there is no discounting his place in history. Clemens is one of the three or four best starters the game has seen.

Jeff Conine: No

Steve Finley: No

Julio FrancoNo

Shawn Green: No

Roberto HernándezNo

Ryan Klesko: No

Kenny Lofton: No
Jason Lukehart, Let’s Go Tribe:

Still, if you’re looking at a player’s hitting, Lofton doesn’t have the portfolio of a Hall of Famer. An OPS+ of 107 would be among the lowest in the Hall, most of the players below that mark are among the most questionable inductees. Those below a 107 who most modern fans might agree are deserving Hall of Famers tend to be among the greatest defensive players in history, guys like Brooks Robinson (104 OPS+) and Ozzie Smith (87 OPS+). If you’re looking to make a case for his induction, you must argue he was a special player in other aspects of the game. . . .

Certainly Lofton does not have the defensive reputation of those two, or of Willie Mays or Andrew Jones, but just about any fan old enough to remember him would tell you Lofton was an excellent fielder. He won four Gold Gloves, finished in the top five among A.L. outfielders in putouts four times and in the top five among A.L. outfielders in putouts five times. Lofton scores well on the newer fielding metrics at both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs too (though Baseball Prospectus is not as bullish on his defense). . . .

Except in extreme cases like Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith, the Hall of Fame voting body has shown a strong tendency to value hitting far above all other parts of a position player’s body of work, which isn’t the way Lofton’s case needs to be viewed.

José Mesa: No

Mike Piazza: Yes
Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Piazza didn’t approach [Sammy] Sosa’s power numbers but did consistently hit 30 to 40 per season while driving in 100 runs, which as a catcher made him an elite player. Some have questioned his candidacy merely on numbers alone (427 HRs, 1,335 RBI, 2,127 hits) and that’s all well and good but he was a 12-time all-star, won 10 Silver Sluggers, was 1993 rookie of the year, placed in the top 10 in NL MVP voting seven times and finished with a major-league record of 396 homers as a catcher (396).

Abraham on Piazza:

He is one of the best-hitting catchers ever, if not the best. He also played the bulk of his career in Dodger Stadium and Shea Stadium, two tough parks for hitters. Piazza hit .320/.389/.575 from 1993-2003 while catching. That’s insane. Piazza also was a better defensive player than he is generally given credit for. He had a flair for calling games and he blocked balls in the dirt very effectively.

Reggie Sanders: No

Curt Schilling: Yes

Bill, Platoon Advantage:

Look, I don’t like him any more than you do (or maybe you like him, in which case I like him a lot less). But he clears the bar pretty easily. He had a long career with a lot of good years. He had a stretch of absolute dominance, totaling 30 wins above replacement from 2001-2004 (not his fault that the only guy who may have [been] better in that span — though with a very nearly identical 30 wins — was his teammate for three of those years). He was a fantastic postseason pitcher. The only way to justify keeping him out is a slavish devotion to the pitching “wins” stat, which is to say, punishing him for pitching for a lot of pretty poor Phillies teams.

Aaron Sele: No

Sammy Sosa: No
Posnanski:

Sosa’s Hall of Fame case is mostly built around home runs . . . he hit only .273 for his career, and did not get on base. He did flash some speed and defensive talent as a younger player, but really it’s about the homers. It’s an interesting case that should be discussed for a while, I think. But this year, there are at least 10 more worthy players in my mind.

Mike Stanton: No

Todd Walker:  No

David Wells:  No

Rondell White: No

Woody Williams: No

As you may have noticed, I am not particularly interested in giving much weight to the question of performance-enhancing drugs, particularly for those players who may have used steroids before MLB instituted league-wide testing in 2003. (I didn’t always hold this view: When Bonds and the Giants made their first-ever regular-season trip to Washington in 2005, I and thousands of other fans at RFK derided the greatest slugger in the past half-century every time he strolled up to the plate.)

SB Nation’s Rob Neyer tackles the question head-on:

I do believe drugs did change the game. It’s the “how much” part that’s difficult to measure. It’s easy to say that steroids are like nothing else (true, literally) and that nothing else changes the body like steroids (I don’t have any idea, but will allow it anyway). But did steroids have a larger impact on professional baseball than spitballs? Larger than amphetamines? Anecdotes are not evidence. . . .

Again, the notion that baseball before steroids was a pure game, a fair game, is (to use one of [Tom] Verducci’s words) a canard. . . .

The character clause has never been used until now, with the arguable exception of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Nobody cared about Gaylord Perry throwing greaseballs between the lines, and nobody cared about hundreds and hundreds of players taking the field, between the lines, all hopped up on greenies. Competitive integrity, as defined right there by Verducci, has never been a factor in Hall of Fame voting. Until now.

Anyway, it remains to be seen if the writers give any of the candidates the three-quarters threshold required for induction. As of last night, Baseball Think Factory’s “Hall of Fame Ballot Collecting Gizmo” had accessed over 27 percent of the votes and projected that the BBWAA will vote in no one this time. (Biggio was in the lead with 68.6 percent.)

We’ll know for certain in a few hours.


Tags: MLB


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