Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hall of Fame Ballot Newcomers

The BBWAA's Hall of Fame ballot results will be released two weeks from tomorrow, so expect plenty of debate in the meantime. There are two dozen first-time candidates in addition to the 13 holdovers, but today I'll focus on the newcomers. I judge each player objectively and by the numbers, disregarding steroid use or suspicion.

The Shoo-ins
The six players in this section scored above 100 on the Bill James Hall of Fame monitor and all but Schilling surpassed 50 on his Hall of Fame standards.

Barry Bonds
Even if you want to throw out all his numbers after 1998 and give Hank Aaron his home run record back, Bobby Bonds' son still has three MVPs, eight Gold Gloves, 411 home runs, 445 steals, 96.9 bWAR and a career .966 OPS. The Willie Mays of his generation, there was nothing he couldn't do on the ballfield.

Roger Clemens
If you toss out his numbers compiled after he left Boston and began seeing Brian McNamee, the Rocket still has his 1986 MVP, three Cy Young awards, four ERA titles and 192 wins. That's a Hall of Famer in my book.

Mike Piazza
He's the best hitting catcher of all-time, better than Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Ivan Rodriguez, and all the rest. That's more than enough to make up for his horrid defense, lack of an MVP award and steroid allegations. From 1993 through 2002, he averaged 35 home runs and 107 RBI per season while batting .322/.389/.579. His 1997 campaign is the greatest offensive season a backstop ever had, plus he made a dozen All-Star teams, won ten Silver Sluggers and earned 3.16 MVP shares.

Curt Schilling
The two greatest knocks against him are that he won "only" 216 games and that he never won a Cy Young award. Neither argument holds much water with me because a) Schilling spent a good chunk of his prime pitching for subpar Philadelphia Phillies teams and b) he finished second in the voting three times and threw in a fourth place finish for good measure. Some other points in his favor;
-Had three seasons with at least 300 strikeouts and narrowly missed a fourth in 2001
-Holds the best K/BB ratio of any pitcher since 1900 and led the league in this category five times
-His 76.9 bWAR ranks 26th all time among pitchers, more than Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal and Bob Feller
-Ranks 15th all-time in strikeouts
-The three-time World Series champion was stellar in the postseason. Went 11-2 in his 19 playoff starts with a 2.23 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Was named NLCS MVP in 1993 and World Series MVP in 2001 (which he shared with Randy Johnson). He also came to Boston and helped end the city's 86-year World Series drought in his first season with the Red Sox.

Craig Biggio
Biggio played 20 years and got the most out of them; only nine players have accumulated more career plate appearances. As he result, he finished his playing days with some gaudy counting numbers. The converted catcher-to-second baseman scored 1,844 runs, piled up 668 doubles, slugged nearly 300 home runs, swiped 414 bases and got hit by 285 pitches (the most of any player who began his career after 1900). That's statistical diversity. Yes, he hung on too long, but don't hold that against him. He's not the first player who played well past his prime to pursue a milestone and won't be the last. His teammate Jeff Bagwell deserves to be enshrined as well, but I'll talk about him at greater length soon.

Sammy Sosa
The only player in history with three 60 homer seasons, Slammin' Sammy ranks eighth all-time with 609 career blasts behind Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Thome. He strung together ten consecutive seasons with at least 35 long balls including six straight years with 40 or more. Mark McGwire outhomered Sosa 70-66 when both shattered the single season home run record in 1998 that Roger Maris had held since 1961, but it was Sosa who walked away with the MVP trophy that year. He was the runner-up to Bonds in 2001 and had five other top-ten finishes. Thome and Reggie Jackson are the only players with more strikeouts.

The Hall of Very Good
Everyone listed below scored below 100 on the Bill James HOF monitor and beneath 50 by his HOF standards. They had great careers but fall short of the Hall.

Kenny Lofton
The best leadoff hitter of the '90s was also one of the decade's more underappreciated players. He was baseball's premier base-stealer from 1992-'96 while setting the table for Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Belle in Cleveland's explosive lineup.  His 622 career thefts rank 15th all-time. He made six straight All-Star teams, won four consecutive Gold Gloves and was the 1992 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Pat Listach. Nobody bounced around more than Lofton, though, who suited up for eleven teams over the course of his 17-year career. I consider him a poor man's Tim Raines.

David Wells
Boomer pitched for 21 years and nine different clubs. The big, boisterous southpaw compiled nine seasons with at least 15 wins and struck out more than three batters for every walk over the course of his career. He also made three All-Star teams and finished third in the Cy Young voting twice. Wells earned a reputation as one of the best big game hurlers in recent memory and the numbers back it up; he went 10-5 in October with a 3.17 ERA that is nearly one run better than his career 4.13 mark.

Steve Finley
Like Dwight Evans and Luis Gonzalez, Finley was a late bloomer who produced most of his value in his thirties. Was an above average player for many years, but never reached greatness. Had just one season with 100 RBI, never batted .300 and made only two All-Star teams. Had 314 home runs, 320 steals and won five Gold Gloves, but his 104 OPS+ shows that he was nothing special as a hitter.

Julio Franco
The man played his first game in 1982, his last game in 2007 and retired at the age of 49. In between he won a batting title, collected 2,586 hits, won five Silver Sluggers and played for eight separate teams. He's like the Jamie Moyer of hitters.

Reggie Sanders
Similar numbers to Finley with 305 dingers and 304 thefts. Never had a season with 100 runs or RBI. He is the only player in major league history to have a 20 homer season with six different teams. Constant injuries derailed what could have been a great career; he never played more than 140 games in any of his 17 seasons.

Shawn Green
Green had a killer peak from 1998-2002, his age 25-29 seasons, when offensive numbers exploded across baseball. During that five-year stretch he cranked 192 homers, maintained a .914 OPS and enjoyed four seasons with at least 100 runs and RBI. He also stole 107 bases during that timeframe, won a Gold Glove and earned three top-ten MVP finishes. Like Dale Murphy he needed a few more good years to solidify his case, but Green retired at 34 and just didn't do enough before or after his prime years.

Ryan Klesko
One of the more underappreciated hitters of his generation, Klesko played second fiddle to Chipper Jones in Atlanta and was forgotten about in San Diego. He made his only All-Star team in 2001, the one year he eclipsed 100 runs scored and driven in. From 1994-2002 he averaged 25 home runs per year while batting .285/.372/.528. He had only one season with more than 150 games played so his career totals are underwhelming, bu he finished his playing days with an .870 OPS, good for a 128 OPS+.

Guaranteed to fall off the ballot
Thanks for playing Jeff Cirillo, Woody Williams, Rondell White, Aaron Sele, Roberto Hernandez, Royce Clayton, Todd Walker, Jeff Conine, Mike Stanton, Sandy Alomar, and Jose Mesa.

Also congratulations to Deacon White, Hank O'Day and Jacob Ruppert for getting into Cooperstown via the Veterans Committee.

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