Thursday, January 10, 2013

HOF Ballot Review

In a year in which roughly half of the 37 candidates on baseball's loaded Hall of Fame ballot have compelling cases for enshrinement, the BBWAA somehow managed to not elect any of them. That hasn't happened since 1996, though it's worth mentioning that six of the top eight vote-getters eventually made it into Cooperstown (Phil Niekro, Tony Perez, Don Sutton, Ron Santo, Jim Rice, and Bruce Sutter).

This institutional failure means the induction ceremony six months from now won't include any living people for the first time in 50 years. Jacob Ruppert (New York Yankees owner who paid Harry Frazee to take Babe Ruth and the rest of the Red Sox dynasty off his hands), Hank O'Day (umpire), and Deacon White (1800s infielder) are going in this summer, but their inductions will undoubtedly take a backseat to the detailed explanations for why several players with mind-boggling resumes aren't. Do people really want a Hall of Fame that lets these three men in but is determined to keep Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Mark McGwire out?

Grantland's Jonah Keri wrote an excellent article analyzing the flawed mindset that allowed this travesty to take place. I'm more concerned about the ramifications of this year's shutout than the causes. The BBWAA's shutout means the ballot will be even more backlogged next year, when Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Jeff Kent make their debuts. Unless the association shapes up and gets its act together, attaining 75 percent of the vote is going to become increasingly difficult. Deserving candidates are going to be left out in the cold, and borderline guys who need some time to have their candidacies reviewed will fall off the ballot altogether. The BBWAA made this mess for themselves, now they have to clean it up.

They can start by removing the arbitrary ten-player limit on the ballot. Most people won't vote for more than ten anyways (but the smart ones will), and letting writers vote for as many players as they want helps keep guys like Kenny Lofton and Bernie Williams on the ballot. They might as well lower the percentage needed to gain entry while they're at it. 67 percent is more reasonable, but 50 percent--a simple majority--would suffice as well. Every player not named Gil Hodges who polled at least 50 percent eventually got in, though time will tell if Tim Raines, Jack Morris and Lee Smith gain entry. I know 50 percent seemingly dilutes the Hall of Fame and doesn't sound as exclusive, but for all intents and purposes it has the same effect as 75 percent.

There's a lot wrong with the Hall of Fame, from people mailing in blank ballots out of protest (just abstain from voting!) to others not voting first-timers in because Joe DiMaggio wasn't a first ballot Hall of Famer (the process was different back then, and if a player is worthy for the Hall just vote for him). There's more than I could possibly write about at the moment, and I don't have all the answers.

Anyways, on with the review:

-Newcomer Craig Biggio was the leading vote-getter with 68.2 percent of the vote (39 votes short of induction), meaning he's a mortal lock to get in sooner or later. With his 3,060 hits, 1,844 runs, 668 doubles, 291 homers and 414 steals, all attained without so much as a whisper of PED use, he did more than enough to earn his plaque, but I understand why some voters felt uncomfortable making him a first ballot Hall of Famer; he never won an MVP award or World Series ring, played poorly in the postseason and got stuck with the reputation as a compiler by hanging on too long. He was terribly underrated and few thought of him as one of the best players. He becomes the first member of the 3,000 hit club, besides Pete Rose, to not get elected on his first ballot appearance.

-Jack Morris was right behind him with 67.7 percent. Some felt Morris would get in on his 14th try (as sabermetric darling Bert Blyleven did in 2011) after receiving check marks on two-thirds of the ballots last year, but the 1980s wins leader picked up just three additional votes/ jumped only one percentage from 66.7 to 67.7 percent. Next year will be his final year on the writer's ballot, and for him to come so close would be a cruel blow delivered by the BBWAA. I don't think Morris and his 3.90 career ERA belong, but I'm a big Hall guy and won't object if he's elected. It's going to be difficult for him to find 42 additional votes next year given the strength of the ballot, especially in terms of pitchers. His numbers aren't going to look very good compared to those of Maddux, Glavine, and Mussina, who all compiled superior statistics despite pitching when run-scoring levels went through the roof.

-Jeff Bagwell leapt from 56 percent to 59.6 percent but continues to be dogged by suspicions that he juiced, even though there is no evidence to support them. The National League's finest all-around first baseman pre-Albert Pujols should be in already but has been victimized by the everyone-is-guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality of the post-Steroid Era. Voters are coming around on him, but he may lose some support next year with the Big Hurt's debut.

-In spite of similar skepticism surrounding Mike Piazza, the best hitting backstop of all time made a strong showing, debuting with 57.8 percent. Upon further review, it also appears that many have overrated Piazza's struggles on the defensive end. Baseball-Reference credits him with one dWAR for his career due to his consistently good range factors, and he handled the position well enough to deserve a Gold Glove during his Rookie of the Year campaign. He was still a subpar defender because of an inability to throw out potential basestealers combined with his mediocre pitch-framing capabilities, but it seems his reputation may be a bit exaggerated.

-Tim Raines received increased support for the fourth consecutive year and crossed the 50 percent threshold. Every player, minus Hodges, who broke the barrier ended up in Cooperstown, so that bodes well for the prolific basestealer who played second fiddle to Rickey Henderson during their overlapping peaks.

-Lee Smith, on the other hand, topped 50 percent last year but slipped to 47.8 percent this year, marking the seventh time in his eleven years on the ballot that he polled between 40 and 50 percent. He just hasn't been able to gain any momentum and, barring a late surge, will likely fall short of induction. It's difficult to evaluate his candidacy because a) there are no established benchmarks like 500 home runs, 3,000 hits and 300 wins for closers, and b) there are only a handful of Hall of Fame relievers. There's Sutter, Rich Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, and Rollie Fingers. Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman will join them in the not too distant future, but for now there's just half a dozen, so saying Smith is one of the best ten relievers of all time really isn't saying much. I'm on the fence about him, but leaning towards "No."

-Not much love for Curt Schilling, who pulled a disappointing 38.8 percent in his first year on the ballot. Not sure what I'm missing here. Sure, he has "only" 216 career wins, but we know those are team dependent and affected by many factors outside a pitcher's control (luck, bullpen, run support, his defense, etc.). He never won a Cy Young, but neither did Juan Marichal, Nolan Ryan, or Phil Niekro. Besides, he had three second-place finishes, ranks 18th all-time in terms of award shares and has the most of all pitchers without one in their trophy case. Throw in his postseason heroics and the best K/BB ratio of any pitcher with at least 1,000 career innings, and he's a no-brainer. He'll get in eventually but, like Morris, he'll probably struggle next year because he doesn't stack up well to the impressive career totals of Glavine, Maddux and Mussina.

-Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, essentially the same case, finished eight votes apart. I'd love to pick the brains of those eight people who checked off the Rocket and not Bonds. To me, these two have the exact same case. Both were Hall of Fame caliber players long before they ever touched steroids, smashed records and took their games to unimaginable heights once they started doping, then lied about it. I guess the only difference is that Bobby Bonds' son tested positive and Clemens hasn't, but there's enough evidence to assume Clemens juiced. They're going to get in, but it will take awhile, which is ridiculous given that Clemens was the modern day Walter Johnson and Bonds was like his godfather (Mays) with the hitting ability of Ted Williams.

-On his final year on the ballot, Dale Murphy polled 18.6 percent, his highest take since 2000. I could see a Veteran's Committee opening the door for the Murph someday as it did for Ron Santo. I wouldn't vote for him with my mind based on his credentials but deep down I feel bad that he's not in. He was such a great guy and outstanding player at his peak. I'd rather see him in the Hall than not, but there are quite a few players (Dick Allen, Dwight Evans, and a few named below) in line ahead of him.

-As expected, many "borderline" candidates lost support this year. Smith, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, and Don Mattingly all saw their vote totals decrease. Trammell has only three years left on the ballot and is running out of time. Even if he doubles his vote total (33.6 percent), he's still going to fall short.

-Mark McGwire's support deteriorated for the third straight year. Big Mac is one of the few players to step forward and confess to past steroid use, but if anything his honesty has worked against him in recent elections. Since coming clean in 2010 his support has gradually waned, when if anything it should be improving. The man owned up to his mistakes and apologized. Shouldn't that count for something?

-Sammy Sosa received just 71 votes (12.5 percent), a bit lower than I expected. I figured Sosa's 609 home runs to get a little more love, somewhere in the 15-to-20 percent range. He's not getting in anytime soon. Imagine traveling back in time 15 years and telling people who just saw Sosa and McGwire shatter Roger Maris's single season home run record that the two combined would receive fewer Hall of Fame votes than the likes of Trammell and Raines. Think they'd believe you?

-Rafael Palmeiro dipped from 12.6 percent to 8.8 percent and is in danger of falling off the ballot. I'm fine with people not voting for him since he flunked his drug test in 2005 (though Miguel Tejada may be at fault for that) after baseball had implemented testing and started handing out suspensions in its first attempt to crack down on steroids. Something about Palmeiro that's hard for me to wrap my brain around is that he averaged 41 home runs and 121 RBI from 1995 through 2003, but never led the league in either category and finished second just once, in 1999 when his 47 bombs and 148 ribbies were outdone by Ken Griffey Jr's 48 and Manny Ramirez's 165.

-Kenny Lofton, like Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, and Kevin Brown before him, failed to crack five percent in his first year and will fall off the ballot. This saddens me because Lofton, like the aforementioned trio, had legitimate Cooperstown cases that will not be heard. JAWS rates Lofton as the eighth best center fielder all time, on par with Duke Snider and better than Richie Ashburn, Andre Dawson and Kirby Puckett. He was an elite basestealer, a plus defender at a premium position and one of the best leadoff hitters in recent memory (but was overshadowed by Cleveland's many sluggers such as Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Albert Belle). Lofton was criminally underappreciated during his playing days and continues to be underrated in retirement.

-As I predicted last year, Bernie Williams fell off the ballot. The '98 batting champ lasted just two years despite making five straight All-Star squads, winning four consecutive Gold Gloves and leading the Yankees to four World Series titles in five years.

-Really surprised Sandy Alomar received 16 votes, just two fewer than longtime teammate Kenny Lofton and nearly as many as Julio Franco, Steve Finley, David Wells, and Shawn Green combined. The 1990 AL Rookie of the Year won the Gold Glove that year and made the first of six All-Star teams, but he had an 86 OPS+ over his career and played 100 games just four times in his 20 seasons.

-Can't believe Aaron Sele managed to snag a vote that could have been used on more deserving candidates such as Williams, Lofton, or Mattingly. Sele's career ERA was a bloated 4.61, which translates to an ERA+ rates of 100, meaning he was the very definition of "average." His 1.49 WHIP, 1.76 K/BB ratio and 0-6 postseason record confirm his lack of greatness. The two-time All-Star had a couple nice seasons with big win totals pitching for good teams and even finished fifth in the 1999 AL Cy Young race (which Pedro Martinez won unanimously). Then again, I can't say I'm too surprised. After all, we are talking about a group of people that tossed Raul Ibanez and Hunter Pence an MVP vote last year.

-Shut-out--Nobody voted for Reggie Sanders (one of eight players with more than 300 homers and 300 steals), Jeff Cirillo (All-Star third baseman who batted .317 from 1996 through 2001), Woody Williams (2003 NL All-Star won 18 games that year), Rondell White (another '03 All-Star and poor man's Raul Mondesi), Ryan Klesko (.870 OPS despite spending second half of his career in San Diego), Roberto Hernandez (All-Star closer saved 326 games), Royce Clayton (slick-fielding shortstop), Jeff Conine (four years with at least 90 RBI), Mike Stanton (no relation to Giancarlo Stanton), Jose Mesa (led the majors in saves in 1995 and was AL Cy Young runner-up to Randy Johnson), and Todd Walker (solid second baseman).


  1. I;m a Small Hall guy, so I'm not bothered by the 75% threshold. The Hall is watered down enough as it is.

    But it's clear that this year's bizarre results create something of an overloaded ballot. I have always thought the maximum of ten choices was an arbitrary cutoff. At the very least, raise it to fifteen going forward.

    I expect that Jack Morris is toast - at best, he'll be the FIFTH best pitcher on the ballot, and next year is his last shot. Biggio and Piazza have a good chance - they broke 50% on their first ballot, which means they're locks to get in *eventually.* Otherwise, Maddux strikes me as the only sure-fire winner next year; Glavine and Thomas may have to wait a couple years to get over the top (though I think they belong).

    Bonds and Clemens look to have a long wait.

  2. You're right in that Morris is not going to look good compared to the pitchers on next year's ballot, but he's so close that I don't see too many of his supporters cutting him in favor of the new candidates (except for Maddux, who's a surefire first ballot HOF'er). Like Rice, he's been strung along and come too close that it would really be cruel of the BBWAA to get his hopes up like that, only to deny him in his final year on the ballot.

    Bonds and Clemens will take some time, but as time passes eventually the voters will come around. Biggio should've gotten in this year and will probably get in next year or the year after. Piazza might take a bit longer though...

    15 sounds like a good limit for the number of candidates too!