Who Should Be In the Hall of Fame

They’ve released the 2018 ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame and I thought it would be fun to look at all the candidates and explain to you who these guys are and why they should or shouldn’t be in… oh no, a baseball post!

I’ll just go through the list, starting with guys who are holdovers from previous years.  For those of you who don’t know how the Hall of Fame works,

  1. A player is eligible 5 years after retirement, if they played for ten years and were good enough to be a regular player most of their career.
  2. They are elected if 75% of the voters – members of the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America, which despite the name includes Canadian writers) vote for them.  Each person can vote for any number of players up to a maximum of 10.
  3. If a player doesn’t get 75% but gets at least 5% they remain on the ballot for another year, up to a maximum of 10 years.

Well, let’s see:

Barry Bonds 

Barry Bonds was one of the three or four greatest players of all time. Yes, he was not always a pleasant man. Yes, he used steroids. He’s deserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

If you excluded everyone who took steroids or some other performance enhancing drug – well, it just wouldn’t be fair.   There’s no doubt you’d miss some people and where do you draw the line?   Hank Aaron took amphetamines, do we kick him out?  Bonds was great.  Let’s just get over this.

Roger Clemens 

Basically the same argument as Barry Bonds. Very unlikeable – I am quite sure Clemens is the only player in living memory to try to hit another player with a bat and not be disciplined for it – and steroids certainly made his career longer and even more impressive, but he was a Hall of Famer anyway; one of the five greatest pitchers who ever lived.

Vladimir Guerrero 

Guerrero has a pretty good shot at being elected. I am not actually a huge fan of his candidacy. He was a very good player but I am quite unconvinced he was ever a really super great player at any one time, and his career was not especially long. I know that’s a weird thing to say about a career .318 hitter who hit a lot of home runs, but in the offensive context of his career you have to discount the raw numbers a little.

Look at it this way; how many times did Vlad Guerrero lead the league in homers? Batting average? RBI? Or more advanced analytical stats, like WAR, OPS+? Zero.  (I’ll explain WAR later.)

Don’t get me wrong, I think he’d be a decent choice, but I’m a little on the fence when comparing him to a lot of these guys.  He was certainly a COOL player; aside from being an Expo, he was just fun as hell to watch.  He swung at everything, but he had these weird long arms and could reach everything.  His son is a big time prospect for the Blue Jays.

Trevor Hoffman

Hoffman got 74 percent of the vote last year so his election is very likely. In my honest opinion if he is elected it’ll be one of the worst selections the BBWAA has ever made. He was a really good pitcher but he pitched 1089 innings in his entire career. He just was not that valuable.

I think maybe I’m unfair to relief pitchers but I just can’t get over the fact they don’t play much.  Hoffman would pitch about 70 innings a year, which is essentially a part time player.  (A starting pitcher pitches about 200 innings a year.)  Hoffman’s entire career was less than Roy Halladay pitched in four years; 1089 innings is maybe one third of the median Hall of Fame starting pitcher.  I quite honestly believe the only relief pitcher who ever lived who is definitely a Hall of Famer is Mariano Rivera.

Jeff Kent 

Jeff Kent was the most awkward looking second baseman I ever saw. When he first came up with Toronto it was as an injury fill in for Kelly Gruber at third base and I thought he looked stiff and awkward playing third. I didn’t even know he was a second baseman. But somehow he was actually pretty good at it. You never know.

Jeff Kent was probably as good a player as Vladimir Guerrero, really. His numbers aren’t quite as flashy, but like Guerrero, he was an MVP and a hell of a player in a career about the same length. His being an infielder adds to his value. I don’t think he’ll get in, in no small part to the fact that he, too, was a complete dickhead, but he’s on the fence for me, too.

Edgar Martinez 

A designated hitter woith no defensive value, but a truly, truly great hitter. I’m a bit more positively inclined towards him than I used to be and I think he’s more of a yes for me than a no. See Larry Walker.

Fred McGriff 

From 1985 to 1990 or so the Toronto Blue Jays came up with a ridiculous number of quality first basemen; Fred McGriff, Cecil Fielder, John Olerud, and finally Carlos Delgado. Fielder was the worst of the bunch and he was a pretty good ballplayer.

McGriff, like Olerud and Delgado, was a very, very good player, but not really HOF level. He was headed there around age 24-25, at which point he was one of the best hitters in baseball for a couple of years, but he was never really quite that good again.  McGriff and another nearly-but-not-quite Hall of Famer, Tony Fernandez, were of course the goods traded away by the Blue Jays to get Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, the former of whom IS in the Hall of Fame.

Mike Mussina 

Absolutely a Hall of Famer, all the way. Rock solid pitcher for a reasonably long time, and he gets an extra point from me for retiring on top; he finally won 20 games in a season, and promptly quit. His career lacks highlights – no Cy Young, no World Series victory – but he went out and put up one hell of a season after another for 15 years.

Manny Ramirez 

The worst defensive outfielder I have ever seen who played for a really long time.  Manny was just a comically horrible outfielder; I once watched a game in Toronto in which he wasn’t charged with an error but was personally responsible for five runs scoring that would not have had a decent outfielder been in left. Baseball Reference says he cost the Red Sox about 12-15 runs a year out there. I think it was twice that.  Holy crap though the guy could hit. The finest swing I have ever seen. Manny Ramirez’s swing is what you should show kids if you want to see a perfect swing.

Manny, during his career, was renowned for being kind of a dingbat.  The phrase they would often use was “Manny being Manny” when he’d say something daffy, or forget how many outs there were, or walk into the Green Monster scoreboard door in the middle of the game.  But he couldn’t have been that much of a flake to hit that well for that long.  His hitting prowess and technical excellence came from a LOT of extra batting practice.

I think he’s a Hall of Famer. He as terrible with the glove but he made up for it and then some with the stick, and he hit 29 home runs in the playoffs, the most ever.

Curt Schilling

Analytical stats will tell you Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer; BB-Ref gives him 80 WAR, which is way, way over the Hall of Fame mean. A lot of people have a problem with that because

1. His career W-L is 216-146, which is meh for a Hall of Famer, and
2. He’s a truly gigantic asshole.

I do see the reasoning though. Don’t be fooled by the win-loss record.  Schilling was a dominant pitcher who just wasted some great years on horrible teams. In context his career 3.46 ERA is simply excellent, better than most Hall of Fame pitchers. He struck out a lot of batters and had world-class control. You have to give him points for his brilliant playoff performance; 11-2, 2.23 ERA in 19 starts (and he was MVP of the 1993 NLCS despite not being the winning pitcher in either of his starts. He was that good.) I think he’s a Hall of Famer, even though I would not want to be his friend or business partner.

Here’s a question for you; how do you consider playoff performance into a player’s HOF credentials? The thing is that until recently, I cannot think of any player for whom it really mattered.   Off the top of my head I cannot think of a single player prior to the wild card era for whom playoff performance was really a consideration.  Ted Williams played very badly in his only World Series but he’s still a Hall of Famer; Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson also did not have great postseason records, but they’re still clearly Hall of Famers. Conversely, Devon White played extremely well in the playoffs but obviously he is not a Hall of Famer, nor are Gene Tenace, say, or Allie Reynolds.

But with playoffs being a bigger part of the picture now, we’re going to start having some arguments here. To my mind, Mariano Rivera is a case where his playoff performance puts him clearly over the top; he was awesome in the regular season but in limited innings, which makes him borderline. But his playoff numbers are eye-popping; he is the greatest player in baseball playoff history, hands down. His playoff career – 8-1, 0.70 ERA in 141 innings –is better than any one regular season he ever had, and obviously disproportionately valuable. In my opinion, that changes Rivera from a marginal HOF choice (about 57 WAR) to a no brainer – that playoff performance is worth 5-6 WAR just measured normally and given that it was the playoffs, I’d count it as 12.

What I am getting around to here is that Schilling was one of the best playoff pitchers of all time, and you have to add that to his resume, and consider what that astounding 19 start stat line is worth. Those games do count, and you have to consider them to be fair.

Gary Sheffield 

Great hitter for a long time but a very poor defensive player and, again, you have to adjust those numbers down a little for context. There are way worse players in the Hall of Fame. I wouldn’t vote for him over a lot of these guys.  He had exactly 60 WAR.

I promised I’d explain WAR, which is Wins Above Replacement.  WAR is basically an attempt to turn all of baseball into one statistic.  Baseball players re measured a million ways, by batting average and doubles and stolen bases and on and on; WAR, which is a very complicated thing to figure out, says “Alright, take absolutely everything into account; how this guy hit and how he ran and how he fielded, how that relates to the league he was in, the park he played in, everything; how many games did his team win as a result of the guy that they would not have won if they’d had to replace him with some schlub?”

The cool thing about WAR is that it allows you to compare very different types of players, like a defensive wizard versus a big slugger, or to compare people who played at different times (the statistical standards of 1913 are very different from 2013, but WAR accounts for that.)  The disadvantage is that I don’t think WAR is a totally perfect measure.

Anyway, Sheffield’s 60 career WAR is very high.  It’s more than twice as high as Joe Carter, who a lot of you probably remember.  It makes Sheffield somewhere in the vicinity of the 180th best baseball player of all time; given that there are more than 180 players in the Hall of Fame (I think there are about 260) it’s above the minimum line, but on the other hand, there are players with more than 60 who are not yet in.  Some a LOT more than 60.

In case you are, the record for a career is 184, by Babe Ruth, of course.

Sammy Sosa 

Slammin’ Sammy had a hell of a run from 1998 to 2002 but outside of that stretch he was not actually a great player. His case is not, if you consider context, much different from that of Dale Murphy. I wouldn’t vote him in, steroids or not.

Sosa had three seasons with more than 60 home runs; in all of baseball history there have been just eight 60-homer seasons and Sammy has three of them. He also won two home run titles.  Those two sets do not intersect. Isn’t that weird?

Billy Wagner

Trevor Hoffman is almost certainly going to be elected to the Hall of Fame and Billy Wagner is almost certainly going to have to keep buying tickets to get in, and yet to my eyes they are obviously about the same. Hoffman pitched a bit more, but Wagner was much better when he pitched – in fact, I believe he has the second best ERA+ in baseball history for a pitcher who pitched as many innings as he did. (Mariano is first.)

So why is Hoffman going in and Wagner not? SAVES. HOFFMAN HAS SAVES! Saves are a stupid, stupid statistic.

Wagner was absolutely terrible in the playoffs, maybe the worst player in playoff history as compared to his regular season performance. He appeared in 14 games across eight different playoff series and got absolutely torched; 11.2 innings, 21 hits, 3 homers, 13 earned runs. I wouldn’t put him in the Hall even if he’d been good but I found that interesting.

Larry Walker 

One of the most underrated players in modern baseball history. I have said this before and will again; if you vote for Edgar Martinez but not Larry Walker, I’d like some kind of reasoned explanation as to why. Coors Field or not Walker was an outstanding hitter, AND he was a very good defensive player (which obviously Martinez wasn’t.) I guess Walker would be in by now had he not gotten hurt a lot.

Walker was the second-greatest Canadian baseball player of all time.  The top seven:

    1. Fergie Jenkins
    2. Larry Walker
    3. Joey Votto
    4. John Hiller
    5. Terry Puhl
    6. Jeff Heath
    7. Justin Morneau

Votto will surpass Walker if he stays healthy; he’s still one of the greatest hitters in the world.  Canada has produced a lot of decent hitters, actually, but not a huge number of glove wizards or, aside from Jenkins and Hiller, pitchers.  Brett Lawrie could have been on this list if he hadn’t drank ten gallons of Red Bull a day.

Chris Carpenter

Had some very good years with St. Louis, but, obviously, didn’t have very many of them.

Carpenter, when he was with the Blue Jays, decided to have the worst year of his life in 2000.  If he had pitched halfway as well as he was capable, they’d have won the division.  The Jays in 2000 could not find a decent pitcher to save their lives and they didn’t miss the playoffs by much because they hit great.

Johnny Damon

Certainly one of the ugliest players in MLB history.

Ew

He’s not THE ugliest – he’s not even close to Willie McGee, of course, who is universally regarded as the ugliest ballplayer of modern times.

Dear God.

There’s also Otis Nixon, who was a fascinating mix of ugly and old-looking,  When Otis was 30 he quite honestly looked like he was 60.  How old do you think he is here:

He looks like a grandfather whose kid insisted he wear a team cap to the game.  Actually, he’s only 32 in this photo.   But lest you think I am a racist because I’ve only mentioned two black guys and (insert ethnic term for people from whatever planet Johnny Damon hails from) behold the glory that was Zane Smith:

And. of course, the absolute King of Ugly Ballplayers, the great master himself, Don Mossi:

I have to stress that this is not Photoshopped. This is an actual man who really played major league baseball.

Of course there may have been even uglier guys, but these players were all good enough for their hideous mugs to be remembered, so in a way it’s an honor; I’d never remember an ugly guy who played five games.

Damon was a very good player for a long time, but not a Hall of Famer in my opinion.

Livan Hernandez

Primarily famous for the NLCS game where Eric Gregg struck out a bunch of hitters for him.  Gregg was a terrible umpire, and he started getting knd of excited and into the game, and by the latter stages of the game he was calling pitches a foot out of the strike zone for strikes; the series went seven games and, sadly, will be forever tainted by the fact the Braves hitters had no chance whatsoever because the ump was nuts.  We should really let computers call balls and strikes.

Livan went 178-177, missing by one fewer win or one more loss the chance to have the biggest .500 record in baseball history. He wasn’t a great pitcher but he pitched a long time and he had some good years.

Orlando Hudson

An underrated player; Hudson was a decent hitter and an outstanding glove man at second base. He got started late, not becoming a regular until age 25, and his health went on him early.

In 2005 the Blue Jays traded Hudson and Miguel Batista to the Diamondbacks for Troy Glaus, because Glaus was a big, scary guy who hit home runs, and also because the Blue Jays in those days had no idea what they were doing.  I thought at the time that the trade was very, very stupid. Glaus had flashy power numbers and once won a World Series MVP Award, but at that point Orlando Hudson was just as good an overall ballplayer and, being younger and more athletic, would probably provide more value over the rest of his career. My guess was correct; Glaus was good enough for a few years but Hudson was just as good, and he lasted a few years longer.

Aubrey Huff

Aubrey Huff received some mentions on the MVP ballot three times, but was never named to All-Star game. I think the fans and All-Star managers were smarter than the MVP voters in this regard.

Jason Isringhausen

Led the league in saves once. Not as valuable as player as Orlando Hudson.

Andruw Jones

The poster child for being careful about assuming a guy is going to the Hall of Fame. Jones was one of the best defensive center fielders who ever lived and a big power threat, started at the age of 19 – increasibly young for a ballplayer – was was an All Star more years than not right up to the age of 29, and then he just fell apart. He is actually a marginal Hall of Fame choice all the same; most sources put him around 62 WAR, which is a decent candidate, and he contributed to many championship teams. He really was as good an outfielder as you have heard. But there’s better candidates. Had he just played OK until he was 32-33, he’d be a no brainer.

During his career it was often whispered that Jones’s age was a lie, that he was actually a few years older than he was.  This is often said of players from the Caribbean, that they falsify their ages to make themselves look like better prospects than they are, and indeed there are cases where that definitely happened, even sometimes using false names.  I am unaware of any evidence that Jones’s birth certificate (from Curacao) was not authentic, but his weird career trajectory – a major league player at 19, and suddenly terrible at 30 – fits the norms of baseball a lot better if you think he was actually three or four years older.

Chipper Jones

Should be elected on the first ballot. One of the ten best third basemen in major league history.

In mid-career, the Braves decided to make Jones a left fielder. To this day I’ve never understood why. Jones wasn’t Brooks Robinson over there but he was good enough, and a bat like his is more valuable at third than in left. He was not a very good outfielder. The Braves replaced him at third with the dessicated husk of Vinny Castilla, who was old and so it’s not like they had the next Mike Schmidt pushing Jones out. Jones moved back to third a few years later so he was clearly capable of playing there, and he played decent third base the rest of his career, until he was 40. It was odd.

Carlos Lee

I confuse all the first basemen and left fielders named “Lee.” There’s Carlos Lee and Derrek Lee and Lee May and Cliff Lee.   Actually Cliff was a pitcher, but that’s how easily confused I am.  They’re all kinda the same. This was the Lee who hit home runs for the White Sox, and then hit some for the Brewers and then the Astros. He ended up hitting 358 home runs, which is a lot, but there are at least 358 players better than him who aren’t in the Hall of Fame.

Brad Lidge

Lidge had a short and not especially noteworthy career and I’m surprised he made the ballot, actually. Not that he wasn’t a good pitcher, but they left better players off.

Lidge was a huge man who threw the ball extremely hard; he could get up around 97, 98 MPH.  When I was a kid, pitchers who could throw that hard were very rare.  There were Nolan Ryan and Goose Gossage and that might basically be it; if a guy could throw 95 that was really, really fast.  Now it’s common.  Baseball is full of Brad Lidges now.  Once hardly anyone had a guy who could throw 98; now every team has two or more guys in the bullpen who throw that hard. Brad Lidge was a harbinger of things to come; we are now in an era where many pitchers who lack the skills necessary to be starters are trained to simply throw hell bent for leather for one inning, and as a strategy, it works; there are Lidges on every team, guys who throw 98 and strike out 9-10 men per 9 innings.

Lidge did have two memorable playoff moments.  One good; he struck out Eric Hinske to win the 2008 World Series.  One not so good; he gave up a ninth inning home run in an NLCS game to Albert Pujols that might have been the hardest-hit home run in the history of playoffs.

Hideki Matsui

One of the few good nicknames of modern baseball, “Godzilla.” Nicknames have gone to shit. Most players are known by their name, or a part of it, with a “Y” attached to it. Not Godzilla, though.

Matsui, of course, did not come to North America until he was 29, so it would have been nearly impossible for him to have a shot at a HOF career, and he wasn’t the most durable player and couldn’t play defense – well, I guess he wouldn’t have been a Hall of Famer anyway. But he had some good years and won a World Series MVP Award.

Kevin Millwood

Pretty good pitcher and all, but of course he isn’t a Hall of Famer.

Jamie Moyer

Jamie Moyer won 235 games AFTER he turned 30. Isn’t that amazing? That is the fifth highest total in baseball history;

Cy Young, 316
Phil Niekro, 287
Warren Spahn, 277
Gaylord Perry, 238
Randy Johnson, 235
Jamie Moyer, 235

Of course no one thinks of Moyer as a Hall of Famer like those other guys. Fair enough, he was never at any one time a truly great pitcher. You have to be impressed with his durability and perseverance, though.  Moyer didn’t throw very hard and his career looked over in his 20s, but he kept trying, got back to the majors, and kept himself in shape and pitched into his late 40s.

Scott Rolen

According to the powers that be, Scott Rolen was worth 70 WAR over the course of his career, which is well on the “should be in” line by HOF standards. If you think “gosh, maybe, but I never really thought of Rolen as a Hall of Famer,” join the club.

Much of that value is ascribed to his glove; statistically, Rolen reads as a great third baseman, and that certainly squares with my recollection of him, cause he sure LOOKED like a hell of a third baseman. Maybe he is a Hall of Famer, but I think he will have trouble getting in.

Johan Santana

The Dale Murphy of pitchers, a great player for 6 years or so and then his arm died. 3 or 4 more years like that and he’d be a good choice, but he didn’t do it, so he’s not.

Jim Thome

What a wonderful player. Thome was a big muscular guy whose approach to playing baseball was “Hit the ball really hard.” He was so fun to watch in batting practice; he’d just ping 500-foot home runs like it was nothing.  People would stop talking and stare in wonder at the SkyDome as he bounced monstrous home runs off the restaurant and the fifth deck.  He was never the best player in baseball but he was a very valuable hitter for a very long time, and should be in the Hall of Fame.

Omar Vizquel

A very common argument to put Omar Vizquel in the Hall of Fame is to say that if Ozzie Smith is in, Omar should be in, because they were so alike. I would say with exaggeration that I have heard or read this argument made by 25 different people. I think the fact their names both start with O helps people make that connection, though I guess no one ever compares then to Onix Conception so maybe not.

The problem with this argument is that Omar Vizquel simply WASN’T the same as Ozzie Smith. He was a shortstop who played a long time and won many Gold Gloves, but when you look deep into the facts, Smith was a much greater player:

1. Omar’s hitting numbers superficially appear to be as good as Ozzie’s, but they are not. When you adjust for the leagues and times they played in, Smith was a substantially more valuable hitter.

2. Omar Vizquel was a truly great fielder. Ozzie Smith was the GREATEST fielder. Omar was awesome, and remained awesome for a long time, but Ozzie Smith was the best shortstop ever. It is hardly an insult to Omar Vizquel to admit Ozzie was better; I mean, Frank Robinson was a great hitter, but we all agree he was not Ted Williams, right?

Overall, I think Omar falls short of the Hall. Consider this; Ozzie Smith was in the All-Star game every year, usually elected by the fans. Omar Vizquel made three All Star games. Omar appeared on an MVP ballot once, Ozzie six times and in all honesty he should have won it in 1987. Contemporaneous observers seemed to think a lot more of Ozzie Smith, and those observations are supported by the stats. I think that while Ozzie is clearly a worthy Hall of Famer, Omar is not.

Kerry Wood

Kerry Wood played for ten years? I’ll be damned.  Wood is the living embodiment of the old saying that there are more pitchers who would be in the Hall of Fame if they had not gotten injured than there are actual pitchers in the Hall of Fame.  Wood was awesomely talented and constantly hurt.

Carlos Zambrano

Zambrano is now largely famous for being a good hitter for a pitcher; he hit 24 home runs in 693 career at bats. He also struck out 240 times and walked 10 times, so the “for a pitcher” part is the operative term there.  He’d be a very bad hitter for an outfielder, but for a pitcher he was terrific.

Zambrano was an extremely large, strong man, and his philosophy on hitting was “As long as I’m up here, I may as well try to hit the ball to the moon. Nobody expects anything, so what the hell.” This strategy clearly worked – not only did he hit homers, but by hitting the ball as hard as he could he pushed out some other hits, too. This is important to note: his contact rate actually wasn’t even good for a pitcher; he missed the ball and struck out just as often as most pitchers. The difference between Zambrano and most pitchers is that when he hit the ball he hit it very, very hard, as opposed to most pitchers, who seem to be largely trying to not be embarrassed by striking out, and kind of feebly wave at the ball, so when they hit it they pop out or dribble one to the second baseman.

Youtube Carlos hitting, and you’ll see his hitting form is clumsy. If he was a position player you’d think “hoo boy, that does not look good.” So it’s not like he was a brilliantly skilled batsman; he just refused to give up and tried to absolutely mash the ball.

If you think about it, all teams should be teaching their pitchers the Carlos Zambrano school of hitting; just have fun up there and swing hell bent for leather and if you’re lucky enough to hit it you might hit a home run.  There is no point in hitting the ball softly in major league baseball; a weak grounder to the first baseman is no better than striking out.  So why not take a big rip and if you do hit it you might get something?  Most pitchers are very big and strong; they are bigger, on average, than their position player counterparts. If they tried to crush it on every pitch they’d still kinda suck, but they’d suck less because they’d belt a few homers every year. There’s no point in giving those at bats up for nothing, and if your batting average is going to be low anyway, why not knock a couple of dingers now and then?

Anyway, Carlos was also a really, really good pitcher for about 4-5 years but then his arm gave out.

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