Thursday, November 12, 2015

2016 Hall of Fame Ballot Newcomers

Griffey's going into the Hall of Fame next summer (Yahoo Sports)
This year's Hall of Fame ballot was released on Monday, adding 15 newcomers to the list of 17 holdovers. While the incoming class isn't as strong as previous years, which saw three first-timers inducted in both 2014 (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas) and 2015 (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz), by my count there's still a pair of surefire Hall of Famers as well as a couple more with very strong cases for induction. Let's take a look:

Hall of Famers
How could you note vote Ken Griffey, Jr. into the Hall of Fame? For the first half of his career he was Willie Mays, and while he was more like Mickey Mantle in the second half (the late-career version of Mantle), he still did enough to wind up with tremendous counting stats. His 630 long balls and 1,836 RBI are second only to Mays among center fielders, and his 83.6 bWAR (77.7 by FanGraphs) place him comfortably above the Hall's standards.
Few players were ever as good as peak Griffey, a dazzling center fielder and .300 hitter with 50-homer power and 20-steal speed.  Looking at his numbers, especially the late '90s ones, it's hard to believe he won only one MVP (at least it was unanimous). Even so, he was one of the decade's most decorated players. An All-Star and Gold Glove winner every year during the '90s, he also won seven Silver Sluggers and that MVP in '97, which he won unanimously despite a 1.067 OPS from Frank Thomas and a 12-win season by Roger Clemens (wins above replacement, that is).
Griffey dominated the '90s, a decade in which he hit more home runs than anyone not named Mark McGwire, drove in more runs than anyone besides Albert Belle, and compiled more fWAR than every position player who wasn't Barry Bonds. Despite beginning the decade as a 20 year-old, losing time to the strike in '94 and getting hurt in '95, he still averaged 38 homers, 109 RBI, and 6.7 bWAR per season during the '90s. Junior was already a Hall of Famer before he left Seattle in 2000; the only question was whether he would be able to challenge Hank Aaron's home run record. Injuries and normal age-related decline prevented him from doing so, though he did end up with more dingers than all but five men in baseball history.
No, he wasn't Mariano Rivera, but there's no shame in being the second-greatest closer of the wild card era. A seven-time All-Star, Hoffman compiled a 2.87 ERA (141 ERA+) despite pitching his entire career during an inflated era for offense. That wasn't a fluke, either, as he punched out more than a batter per inning and maintained a 1.06 career WHIP.
While Hoffman had many great seasons, his best was undoubtedly 1998, when he finished runner-up to Tom Glavine in the NL Cy Young race (Hoff would also finish second in 2006, behind Brandon Webb). In the year that Mark McGwire smashed 70 homers, Sammy Sosa slugged 66, and balls were flying out of ballparks at dizzying rates, Hoffman had a microscopic 1.48 ERA (265 ERA+) and 0.85 WHIP to go along with his major-league leading 53 saves. Perhaps more impressively, he allowed just two home runs that year in 73 innings of work.
That was the middle year in a five-year stretch where Hoffman was the best reliever in baseball. He sustained his success nearly a decade beyond that, keeping his ERA under three in all but two seasons during the 2000s. He had his last great year in 2009, posting a 1.83 ERA (226 ERA+) and 0.91 WHIP at age 41. He hung on in 2010 to get his 600th save and retired as the all-time saves leader with 601, a record that lasted just one year before Rivera broke it. Still, there's no question Hoffman was one of the best relievers of all-time, and for that he deserves first-ballot induction.
Edmonds made too many highlight-reel catches to count (SB Nation)
On the Fence
Edmonds has an interesting Hall case. With 60.3 bWAR and 64.5 fWAR, he's right on the bubble (60 WAR is the low end for a Hall of Famer). In fact, he has a very similar Hall case to another player on the ballot, a former teammate of his.

Jim Edmonds: 17 yrs 2,011 G 393 HR 1,199 RBI 132 OPS+ 64.5 fWAR
Larry Walker: 17 yrs 1,988 G 383 HR 1,301 RBI 141 OPS+ 68.7 fWAR

Edmonds earned eight Gold Gloves, Walker won seven. Walker made five All-Star teams, Edmonds four. Not surprisingly, Walker rates as Edmonds' seventh-most similar batter while Edmonds is Walker's fifth-closest comp.

Both had several phenomenal years and fantastic rate stats, but they rarely played full seasons and thus ended up with good-not-great counting stats. Both were excellent fielders, Edmonds more so since he played center, though Walker was a better baserunner. It would also seem that Walker was the better hitter since his raw OPS is 62 points higher, but I honestly believe that if Larry Walker had never played in Coors Field, he would have had the same career as Jim Edmonds.

Sure enough, if you neutralize Walker's numbers...

Walker 1,159 R 1,994 H 444 2B 348 HR 1,129 RBI .289/.373/.522 (.895 OPS) 1,325 RC

Then compare those to Edmonds' actual numbers:

Edmonds 1,251 R 1,949 H 437 2B 393 HR 1,199 RBI .284/.376/.527 (.903 OPS) 1,199 RC

There you have it. Edmonds is Walker, and Walker is Edmonds. I feel Walker's Hall-worthy, so therefore I feel that Edmonds is as well. Unfortunately, Walker's barely polled 10 percent the last two years, so that doesn't bode well for Edmonds. I think he'll get a little more credit since he was such a great center fielder, but I'd be shocked if he gets more than 15-20 percent.
When I first saw Wagner's name on the ballot, I immediately dismissed him as a serious candidate for Cooperstown. Then I took a closer look, and, well, I think he deserves a close examination
For starters, Wagner was way more dominant than Hoffman, with an ERA (2.31) that was more than a half run lower as well as a superior WHIP (1.00), strikeout rate (11.9), and K/BB ratio (3.99). Hoffman had more longevity, which helped him rack up 179 additional saves, but saves are a silly stat to begin with. Hoffman pitched about 180 more innings than Wagner, which amounts to roughly three extra seasons worth, but I'm guessing Wagner was so much better when he did pitch that his peak offsets Hoffman's longevity.
Lo and behold, Wagner's bWAR was 27.7, while Hoffman's was 28 on the nose. A vote for Hoffman is also a vote for Wagner, so I'd say yes to both.
We're Not Worthy:
Everyone Else. Jason Kendall had a Joe Mauer-ish start to his career but fell off a cliff after 30. Troy Glaus and Mike Sweeney had some huge seasons but not enough of them, kind of like Nomar Garciaparra. Mike Lowell was a very good player, but nobody's idea of a Hall of Famer. Garrett Anderson had a good run there in the early 2000s and a Tino Martinez-esque career, but that's not getting him into Cooperstown anytime soon. Luis Castillo and Randy Winn had better careers than you might remember, but they were nothing more than good complementary players. As for the rest, well, I guess you could say the same about them.

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