Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Four Tabbed for Cooperstown

Biggio, Johnson, Martinez, and Smoltz are headed to the Hall of Fame (CBS)
Congratulations to Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz; baseball's 2015 Hall of Fame class.

Not since 1955 has the BBWAA elected four players off the writer's ballot to Cooperstown, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Given the glut of (over-) qualified candidates on recent ballots, it's good to see the BBWAA make some headway as far as clearing out the most deserving names. Since pitching an unforgivable and indefensible shutout two years ago, they have responded by electing seven players over the past two years.

Even so, I'm not going to applaud the BBWAA for doing their job; putting Hall of Fame players in the Hall of Fame. The aforementioned names were all easy choices. No-brainers. So were Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. The BBWAA must do a better job of electing players who are not so obvious. They've fallen behind--way behind--and have a lot of catching up to do.

Quick aside, can we please find out who failed to put a check mark next to the Big Unit and Pedro strip them of their voting privileges forever? I don't care if they were trying to vote strategically, i.e. purposefully leaving off Martinez and voting for Larry Walker instead to help keep him on the ballot. Frankly, that serves no purpose because if a player needs every vote he can just to meet the minimum five percent, then he's not getting elected from the writer's ballot anyways. There's no point in letting someone hang around on the ballot (looking at you, Don Mattingly) who just sucks up votes with no real chance of being elected. Better to let the Sammy Sosas, Mark McGwires, and Fred McGriffs of the world fall off the ballot and into the hands of a hopefully more-forgiving veteran's committee.

Speaking of Mattingly, Donnie Baseball made a quiet exit from the ballot this year, polling a paltry 9.1 percent in his 15th and final try. He fell below 20 percent during his third go-round and never recovered, failing to reach even 18 percent in any of his final 13 ballot appearances. It's just too bad he wasn't able to sustain his tremendous peak for a few more years, because he was certainly a Hall-worthy player in his prime.

Like last year, three players were inducted first-ballot. Unlike last year, all three were pitchers. This year's ceremony will also include one position player, however; the third time was the charm for Biggio, who somehow was not elected on either of his first two ballot appearances despite his 3,060 hits. Biggio's induction ceremony will come two years too late, but better late than never.

Smoltz was not the slam-dunk the electorate made him out to be, but was a Hall of Famer nevertheless. Furthermore, his premature election (I'm still amazed he made it in right away) should help pave the road for Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, both of whom are considerably more qualified but haven't received nearly as much support. Both saw their vote percentage increase this year, which should become a trend given the dearth of surefire starting pitchers on upcoming ballots.
Piazza came close and figures to get over the hump next year (CBS Sports)
Mike Piazza appears to have a great shot at getting in next year after being named on nearly 70 percent of the ballots this year. Like Biggio, he should have been a first-ballot guy, but what's one more year, right?

Tim Raines also made a big leap forward, jumping from 46.1 percent last year to 55 percent this year--his best showing yet. Next year is going to be huge for him, as he only has two more cracks at Cooperstown. I like his chances if he can eclipse 60 percent next year, and if he surpasses 65 then I'll really like his chances. I'd wager a bet that he barely missed the cut on more than a few ballots (thanks to the needless 10 player maximum, which hopefully is eradicated or expanded by next election), so I definitely think he makes a similar leap next year.

Jeff Bagwell did better than last year, but still has yet to crack 60 percent in his five tries. With his stay on the ballot now halfway over, he needs to start making some sizable jumps. This year was a big year for him, but next year will be even bigger. I'm starting to have serious doubts that the BBWAA will elect him; if he's not elected in the next few years I'll really start to freak out.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens continue to hover in the mid-30s percent-wise, though both enjoyed slight upticks over last year. The BBWAA has made it clear that they're not going to re-elect them, unless its mindset shifts radically over the next five years. I don't see it happening.

Mark McGwire's support continued to dwindle, which it has every year since its peak in 2010. Apparently the BBWAA values lying and deception more than honest, remorseful confessions (Bagwell probably used, ditto Piazza), so they can take their character clause and shove it up their you know where. Gary Sheffield, another admitted PED user, did better than some expected by polling 11.7 percent, ensuring at least one more year on the ballot. That's still a really poor showing for somebody with 509 career home runs and a .907 OPS (140 OPS+), though hardly surprising given his troubled relationship with the media.

Surprisingly, Sammy Sosa stayed on the ballot despite seeing his vote totals take a small hit. Next year might be the year he falls off for good, but I think his 609 home runs and three 60-homer seasons are just too overwhelming for 95 percent of voters to say no. Even more surprising was that first-timer Nomar Garciaparra was able to stay on the ballot by nabbing 30 votes, or 5.5 percent. He's the shortstop equivalent of Sandy Koufax, but that's not getting him into Cooperstown anytime soon.

As always, there were a few misguided votes for the clearly undeserving, but thankfully not too many. Still, two votes for Aaron Boone? Really? He didn't have anything approximating a Hall of Fame season (best year produced 3.1 bWAR), let alone a Hall of Fame career. Darin Erstad (one vote) didn't have a Cooperstown-caliber career either, but at least he had one year (2000) that smacked of vintage Willie Mays. (Tom Gordon didn't deserve two votes either, but at least he was a solidly above average starter and closer--essentially a homeless man's John Smoltz).

All in all the voting results were as expected. I would have liked to see Piazza go in this year as well, but figured he wouldn't. Look for him to go in next year alongside Ken Griffey Jr and perhaps Trevor Hoffman.

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