The MLB Network will broadcast the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Hall of Fame voting results on Monday at 2:00 p.m.
If I were a rumpled, gray-bearded sportswriter, clutching the BBWAA ballot tighter than Charlton Heston’s grip on a Sharps rifle, here’s how I would vote on those players eligible for induction into Cooperstown this summer.
The knock on Larkin is simply his durability — he only played 150 games in a season three times. But he was a fabulous player from 1991-98. That’s eight seasons when he posted a 134 OPS+ (Take Cal Ripken’s eight best seasons — not even in a row — and you get a 132 OPS+), he stole 206 out of 240 bases, he won two Gold Gloves, he slugged .487. There are not many shortstops in baseball history that can give you eight seasons like that. And he offered value in other years too.
Bagwell has denied using steroids. He never tested positive once testing was initiated late in his career. He wasn’t mentioned in the Mitchell report. He played 156 or more games in 10 of his 15 seasons. Other than his freakishly awesome 1994 season in which he hit .368 in the strike-shortened season, his career shows a rather normal curve of improvement, peak value and slow decline starting in his mid-30s. . . .
Since it would seem presumptuous to assume guilt without evidence, I’ll assume the majority of voters somehow missed Bagwell’s greatness, as they did with Mathews for a few years or with Blyleven for so long. These things happen, but fortunately they usually correct themselves. Bagwell didn’t reach the magic 3,000-hit barrier, and he didn’t even hit 500 home runs. Some of his value is tied into being an excellent baserunner and solid defensive first baseman, things that can be overlooked in Hall of Fame voting.
I assume the voters will eventually come around and realize Bagwell is just one of 22 players with 1,500 RBIs and 1,500 runs scored since World War II — his 152 runs scored in 2000 are the most in one season since the 1930s. Of those 22, he ranks seventh in OPS and eighth in adjusted OPS (behind guys named Bonds, Mantle, Musial, Aaron, Mays, Ramirez and Robinson).
The one place where Tim Raines stands head and shoulders above the group is in basestealing. Tim Raines not only stole 808 bases, but he was caught stealing only 146 times. The net bases gained on steals is 662. The best basestealers from this Hall of Fame group are Lou Brock (938 SB, 307 CS, 631 net bases) and Joe Morgan (689, 162, 527). If Tim Raines stole 130 more bases and was caught stealing 161 more times, he’d equal Lou Brock’s performance. That’s how bad a basestealer Raines would have to be to bring himself down from his high perch, down to Lou Brock’s very high level.
What baffles me is the argument that Edgar Martinez isn’t a Hall-of-Famer because he was a designated hitter. It’s like not voting for Greg Maddux because he didn’t rush for enough yardage. It’s a total non sequitur — it’s an invented reason that makes no sense. A reprise of the facts from above:
The rules of baseball have, since 1973, required that every team in the American League fill a position known as “the designated hitter”
Edgar Martinez was the best designated hitter in the history of the sport
Relievers don’t pitch every day, and when they do, they usually pitch a small portion of the innings in that game. Can you imagine a writer expressly refusing to vote for a reliever?
While Trammell’s skillset was different, he’s damned by comparison to all-time greats. He wasn’t as good a defender as Ozzie, didn’t last as long or slug as much as Ripken, and didn’t post the numbers of the generation of shortstops who followed him. Much of his value came from aspects of the game we have only recently learned to quantify.
But the Hall of Fame isn’t just for the “best” at everything. If it were, there would be a lot fewer trips to Cooperstown and no reason at all for the Veteran’s Committee. Considering his entire body of work, Alan Trammell was one of the best shortstops of all time, one of the best players on this year’s Hall ballot, and one whose induction ceremony is long overdue.
Yup, he enjoyed playing in Coors Field for a long time, and his home-road splits are noticeable. The beauty of OPS+, however, is that it accounts for ballpark factors. And you can see that, even when Coors Field was factored into his production, Walker still comes out looking like an elite player.
He could play the field and run well too, and if you look at how he did on the bookends of his career in Montreal and St. Louis, he was quite successful there, too.
In short, I hope Walker’s numbers don’t get overlooked because of when and where he achieved them. They’re awesome overall. He’s not just a product of his environment.
And I finally decided that, for me, that last part — the greatest home run hitter the world had ever seen — merited my Hall of Fame vote. I don’t know what part steroids played in his historic home run performance, and I would suggest nobody else does either. If people believe steroids was the biggest factor, the crucial factor, then they will not vote for McGwire, and I get that. I believe steroids were probably not as big a factor as others believed. Yes, I think they helped him keep healthy. Yes, I think they helped him increase his strength. But, I also think McGwire made himself into a rare hitting talent. There were a lot of advantages to being a power hitter in the 1990s that had nothing to do with steroids (smaller strike zones, smaller parks, harder bats, perhaps even livelier baseballs). Also lots of players — hitters and pitchers — were using steroids. Only McGwire hit a home run once every 10.6 at-bats. It’s a better percentage than Ruth, better than Bonds, better than Mantle and better than Kiner. McGwire also walked a lot, offered some defensive value early in his career and put on an unprecedented show in 1998 just when baseball really needed something to capture America’s attention again.
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.
NOTEWORTHY “NO” VOTES:
The argument I’ve heard most for Morris is that he was “the best pitcher of the 80s.” That’s not entirely true. Baseball Reference’s fantastic Blog, High Heat Stats, compiled a list of rolling 3-year WAR leaders for pitchers for the last century. In the 1980s, Dave Stieb had a 4-year run in first or second place. Jack Morris was not listed. While WAR is far from a perfect statistic, it is useful and gives food for thought in this instance. Of all pitchers in the 1980s, Dave Stieb leads MLB with 45.2 WAR. Jack Morris checks in all the way down at #12 with 27.9. . . .
Morris aplogists [sic] often point to the fact that he “pitched to the score” and “knew how to win” and as a result, Morris’ ERA was artificially inflated. This pitching to the score myth implies that because a pitcher is handed a lead by his teammates, he will then put far less effort into his pitching because he has extra run support. This theory has been debunked by the late, great Greg Spira. Joe Sheehan performed a similar study, concluding: “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.
In the end I see Smith as a very good reliever, but also the ultimate compiler. Considering the coddled nature of the position, to even consider a closer you need to at least be the man for a period of years, and Smith never had a run of dominance like Rivera or Goose Gossage or Billy Wagner or Joe Nathan.
Poz on Fred McGriff:
It’s not enough to be a very good hitter as a first baseman. No, you have to be extraordinary. And as good as those career numbers look, if you look on this ballot, McGriff is at best the fourth most productive first baseman behind Bagwell, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Edgar Martinez was a DH, but if you throw him in this discussion, well, he was a better hitter than McGriff. Don Mattingly’s career was too short, but few would say that McGriff was as good a player as Mattingly at their best. I wouldn’t.
He basically stopped being elite after he turned 27. Saying that he was effective for 10 full seasons actually overstates the case because he only played at a star level for about half that period. He was the Yankees’ most or second-most valuable position player in just five seasons: 1984-87 and 1989. The rest of the time, he was below — and often far below — players like Winfield and Henderson, Hall of Famers on his own team whose cumulative production far outstripped his own. The four seasons in which he finished in the top 10 of the MVP vote, 1984-1987, were really his only truly elite-level seasons; they were the only seasons in which he slugged over .500, had an OPS over .850 or finished with more than 5 WAR.
The only way you can justify Murphy as a star is to use pure counting stats. His 394 homers are the most during that time period, his 1183 runs are sixth, and his 1229 RBI are fourth. But keep in mind, these counting stats are the *prime of Murphy’s career*. The other players that played during this time period had years outside of the range. Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray may have had fewer homers during Murphy during that stretch of time, but they both finished with more than 100 more than Murphy for their careers. If you’re going to continue to focus on counting stats, why not point out that during my cherry picked time period, only Murray played in more games than Murphy, and only Murray and Yount had more plate appearances? He had more of a chance to set himself apart from the rest of the pack, and he couldn’t. Plain and simple.
Will his failed steroids test of 2005 disqualify him permanently on my ballot? Not necessarily, no. I want to keep thinking about it, assuming that Palmeiro gets the five percent of the votes necessary to return to next year’s ballot. . . .
I separate him from McGwire and Brown, intellectually, because Palmeiro committed his transgression during a different time, under different rules. When Palmeiro made the decision to use an illegal PED, he did so knowing that he faced potential real consequences, consequences that had been collectively bargained by his union.
That’s a big difference from Brown, who essentially chose the wrong dealer, and McGwire, who got “caught” only because he hit too many homers and Congress summoned him for the same, infamous 2005 hearing in which Palmeiro jabbed his finger and swore his cleanliness.
Rest assured, I am under no illusions: Of the eight I support only Larkin, in his second year of eligibility, is sure to receive votes on 75 percent of the ballots cast after earning 62.1 percent in 2011. I suspect that Morris, who received 53.5 percent in last year’s tally, will fall a bit short.
EDIT: Davidoff alerted me that the Palmeiro thoughts quoted above actually are from his 2011 vote. He changed his mind for this year’s ballot, writing in part:
Yup, he cheated, he was caught and he served the time, all fair and square – and for what it’s worth, that ‘05 positive test pretty much ended his career. But should that be a disqualifying factor for his Hall of Fame candidacy, or merely a damaging one?
I’m going with “damaging.” Next year, with the influx of candidates, I might find myself with a surplus once more and keep Palemeiro off. Right now, though, he’s a Yes.
I remain a dissenter.