Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hall of Fame Ballot Holdovers

The other day I looked at the 24 players making their first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, so today I evaluate the 13 holdovers who have appeared on previous ballots. Next to the players' names in parenthese I have included the number of years, including this one, that a player has been on the ballot.

As before, I judge each candidate objectively and by the numbers, discounting any steroid use or suspicion.

Jack Morris (14)-No
The classic borderline case. Won a lot of games, thew a lot of innings and delivered arguably the best postseason start of all time. By traditional measures, he was outstanding, but advanced metrics tell another story. His ERA and WHIP are too high, his K/9 rate and WAR are too low. His JAWS score ranks 167th among all starting pitchers. 167th! I'm sorry, but that is not a Hall of Fame pitcher, especially not when you could make the case that guys like David Wells, Kevin Brown, Jim Kaat, Wes Ferrell, and Rick Reuschel are more Hall-worthy. Those who claim Morris pitched to the score are simply wrong, and those who point to his playoff record don't mention his unspectacular 3.80 ERA in October, or that his ERA exceeded 6.50 in three of his seven postseason series. If Morris pitched for a lesser team that didn't make the playoffs or provide him with as much run support, he wouldn't be in the Cooperstown conversation.

Jeff Bagwell (3)-Yes
His numbers speak for themselves. His .948 OPS ranks 22nd all-time and his 76.7 bWAR ranks 36th among position players. The only reason he hasn't gained induction is because many suspect he used performance enhancing drugs. There is no evidence to support this unfounded claim, and I was under the impression that in America one is innocent until proven guilty. I have the feeling some voters are trying to wait Bagwell out, that if they delay his induction long enough some proof of 'roiding will turn up. Maybe it will, but maybe it won't.

Lee Smith (11)-No
Only Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman have saved more games than Smith, who compiled 478 of them over the course of 18 year-career and led the league four times in that department. However, his 3.03 ERA is not particularly exceptional considering a) that spent many years in the National League and b) his peak coincided with a period of low run-scoring levels and his career wound down just as the Steroid Era took off. Furthermore, his 1.26 career WHIP is also good but not great. He failed to win a Cy Young award even though (by my count) eight different closers took home the trophy between 1974 and 1992 (and three--Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez, and Dennis Eckersley--won MVP!).

Tim Raines (4)-Yes
The second best leadoff hitter of modern times was also the most efficient basestealer in the history of the sport. Raines wasn't appreciated because his incredible peak overlapped with Rickey Henderson's, the player with whom he's most frequently compared, and because he spent the first half of his career in Montreal where his exposure was limited. Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton, and Ty Cobb are the only players with more career thefts than Raines' 808.

Alan Trammell (12)-Yes
I don't believe that Trammell, in a vacuum, is Hall-worthy. His numbers don't jump off the page and while he was very good for a long time, he was rarely elite. However, because Trammell compares favorably to other shortstops (probably one of the ten best that ever played the position) and because so many inferior shortstops have already been inducted into Cooperstown (Phil Rizzuto, Luis Aparicio, Joe Sewell), then Trammell definitely belongs. His resume stacks up well against Barry Larkin, who was inducted last summer. Like Larkin, the lifelong Tiger did everything well but did not stand out in any facet of the game. Finished runner-up to George Bell in the 1987 AL MVP race but clearly deserved the award. Unfortunately for Trammell, when he came up for election players like A-Rod, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Tejada had revolutionized the position and changed baseball's perceptions about shortstops. People saw them winning batting titles and home run crowns, so Trammell's numbers paled in comparison. During the '80s, Trammell ranked with Cal Ripken Jr. and Robin Yount as the top-hitting shortstops of the decade.

Edgar Martinez (4)-Yes
A good comp for Bagwell, except his case is hurt by the fact that he played the vast majority of his games as Seattle's Designated Hitter. His counting numbers don't blow anyone away but his .312/.418/.515 batting line is exceptional. That OBP ranks 21st all-time and his 147 OPS+ ties him with Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and Mike Schmidt. The best Designated Hitter of all-time (though David Ortiz may eventually pass him), E-Mart was one of baseball's best pure hitters for more than a decade, and that should count for something.

Fred McGriff (4)-Yes
Enjoyed many good years and was a model of consistency, but the knock on him is that he never had that stand-alone, MVP-worthy breakout season. The truth of the matter is that the 1994 strike cut his finest year short.  He was tearing the cover off the ball at the time and was well on his way to setting career highs in home runs and RBI (projected to finish the year with 48 dingers and 134 ribbies). It's reasonable to assume that had he played out the season he would have tacked on the ten base knocks and seven moon shots he needed to reach the 2,500 hit and 500 home run clubs. Ranks inside the top 50 all-time in home runs, total bases, walks, RBI, runs created, and extra base hits. One problem with McGriff is that he spent multiple seasons with five different teams so he never established a loyal fan base to actively campaign for his enshrinement. He can't identify with one team and doesn't have the groundswell of support that Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo had.

Larry Walker (3)-Yes
It's no secret Walker's statistics are greatly inflated by his time spent at Coors Field, where he batted an absurd .381/.462/.710 for his career. Everywhere else, he was a .282/.372/.501 hitter. Good, but not Cooperstown-worthy. However, I don't believe it's fair to hold that against him considering many other Hall of Fame hitters have their plaques hanging in Cooperstown because of their home field advantage; Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, Mel Ott, Chuck Klein, and Duke Snider, to name a few. And while plenty of hitters have boosted their numbers in Denver's thin air, none of them dominated to the extent that Walker did. Besides, he was a great player both before he arrived in Colorado and after he left. If he doesn't get in, then I don't see how in the world Todd Helton will.

Mark McGwire (7)-Yes
Arguably the greatest right-handed power hitter in the history of the sport, on par with Jimmie Foxx and Harmon Killebrew. Big Mac owns the best HR/AB ratio of all-time, the eighth best slugging percentage, tenth best OPS and more home runs than all but nine men who ever played the game. Won the 1987 AL Rookie of the Year unanimously, made a dozen All-Star teams and teamed with Jose Canseco to lead the Oakland A's to three consecutive World Series appearances from 1988-1990. He and Sammy Sosa are the only players with four straight 50-homer seasons, and had McGwire gone deep one more time in '87 he'd be the only player with five 50-homer seasons.

Don Mattingly (13)-No
For much of the 1980s, Donnie Baseball sure looked like a future Hall of Famer. From 1984 through 1989 he was arguably the game's top player, a hitting machine who batted for power, drove in lots of runs and earned a reputation as the slickest fielding first baseman in the league. He was, for all intents and purposes, a rich man's Keith Hernandez/the second coming of Gil Hodges. But a bad back limited him during the second half of his career, sapping his power and forcing him into early retirement. He deteriorated into James Loney overnight;
1982-1989  .323/.368/.521  144 OPS+  32.2 bWAR
1990-1995  .286/.345/.405  105 OPS+   7.6 bWAR
Like Dale Murphy, his peak was spectacular but just didn't last long enough. His career only lasted 14 seasons, so he needed to manage several more elite seasons to compensate for his lack of longevity.

Dale Muprhy (15)-No
It's Murph's last time on the ballot, and he's not getting voted in. Had a great run from 1980-'87, but even that stretch is marred by a down year in '81 and a good-not-great '86. So basically his canidacy comes down to six seasons, and when your case rests on six years those need to knock your socks off, like what Sandy Koufax did. In the 1960s he was perhaps the most dominant pitcher the game has ever seen. While Murphy was outstanding during his peak they weren't all-time great seasons. Nobody's talking about his 1987 campaign in the same sentence as Mickey Mantle's 1956 or Ted Williams' 1941. Murphy didn't do anything out of the ordinary, such as put together a ten win season like Mike Trout just had. Yes, Murphy won back-to-back MVPs, but so did Roger Maris. Juan Gonzalez won two in a three-year span (awards that should have gone to Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra) and fell off the ballot after two years. Murphy had half a dozen great seasons, but so did Mattingly, Garciaparra, Dave Parker, Tony Oliva, Dick Allen, and countless other fringe candidates. During the 12 other seasons of Murphy's career combined, he was worth 6.4 bWAR. Total. In 2012, nine position players were worth no less than 6.7 bWAR. Murphy was not as good as Joe DiMaggio (as Nolan Ryan claimed), but he is the poster boy for the Hall of Very Good.

Rafael Palmeiro (3)-Yes
Played 20 years and amassed some truly remarkable counting numbers, none more impressive than his combination of 3,020 hits and 569 home runs. Eddie Murray, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are the only other members of both the exclusive 3,000 hit and 500 home run clubs. That feat alone merits induction. I'm especially impressed by his nine straight seasons with at least 38 home runs and 104 RBI from 1995 through 2003, even though that timeframe represents the heart of the steroid era. Some have deemed Palmeiro to be a "compiler" (like Craig Biggio), but if that's the case then Palmeiro is still one of the best "compilers" of all time. Even so, I wouldn't be surprised to see him fall off the ballot given the strength of this year's class and the negative emotions associated with his PED history.

Bernie Williams (2)-No
Was one of the home-grown cornerstones of the latest Yankees dynasty along with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. Spent his entire 16-year career in Pinstripes and helped lead New York to a dozen consecutive playoff appearances from 1995 to 2006, his final season. Produced a solid peak highlighted by five straight All-Star appearances, four consecutive Gold Gloves and the '98 batting title. Became a replacement level player after he turned 34 and fell short of several noteworthy milestones such as 300 home runs, 500 doubles, and 2,500 hits. Will probably fall of the ballot this year as well.

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