The thirty-four-man Hall of Fame ballot is choked with great players. On Friday we reviewed the pitchers, today the hitters. Let’s dive right in.
ERIC: We don’t want to waste a lot of our readers’ time, so here’s one-and-done hitters for 2015: Rich Aurilia, Tony Clark, Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Cliff Floyd, Mark Loretta. I remember them, which is a nice reminder that I’m maintaining cognitive function.
However, there’s one position player who doesn’t require much in the way of brains to elect…depending on how you view a certain issue.
- Key strengths: Best player since Mays and maybe better than him; has no alleged ties to Idi Amin, New Coke, or the destruction of Alderaan.
- Key flaws: Steroids and being a big jerk
- Key question for voters: Are the discovery papers that Roger Clemens’ is trying to keep out of Brian McNamee’s hands more trashy than that book about Bonds?
- Something I didn’t know about him before: If about 250 of his intentional walks had instead been at-bats, and he’d hit in them at his career batting average, he’d have reached 3,000 hits.
- Best-case scenario: Inches up to 40%, and there’s less talk about how bad, bad, bad he was.
- Worst-case scenario: Loses a few percentage points.
MILLER: As you know, we’re on the same page regarding the PED issue. Bonds is in for me too. There are three other players on this ballot who are going to be one and done. You’re right not to have mentioned them with the Aurilia group, but they’re pretty clearly below the line.
Carlos Delgado hit 473 home runs and put up 44.3 WAR during his career. However, he has neither enough greatness nor depth to his career. Nomar Garciaparra was off to a Hall of Fame start. Through age-29, he was up to six 6-win seasons. Adjusting defensive numbers, the two-time batting champ sees a couple of those years drop to five wins. The problem is there’s nothing else, not even four more WAR in his entire remaining career. Nomar finished with 44.2 career WAR. Finally, Brian Giles, an on-base machine who was just great when he played. The trouble is, he was stuck behind Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez in Cleveland and didn’t play his first full season in the bigs until he was 26. With 50.9 career WAR, he’s close. But right field is a stacked position. He’s not that close.
ERIC: There’s another ballot newbie whom you don’t particularly like.
- Key strengths: Offensive terror, 500 homers
- Key flaws: Terrifying defense, off-the-field terror, BALCO associations, 500 is the new 400, might have made intentional errors early in career
- Key question for voters: Do I hate this guy as much or more than Kevin Brown and Barry Bonds?
- Something I didn’t know about him before: Sheff is Mr. Expansion 500 Homer Guy: First Marlin to reach 500 homers, second Padre, second Brewer, second Met
- Best-case scenario: Bests McGwire’s percentage
- Worst-case scenario: Gets Kevin Browned
MILLER: C’mon, Sheffield can’t get Kevin Browned. He maybe could get Kenny Loftoned, but he wasn’t great enough to get Kevin Browned.
Jeff Bagwell was great enough, but clearly that’s not happening to him.
- Key strengths: By WAR, the most valuable player over the course of his career who is not linked to PEDs. He won an MVP, the Rookie of the Year, and never led his league in HR. Yes, that last characteristic is probably a good thing.
- Key flaws: Some are on a witch hunt. And he’s not as good as Lou Gehrig.
- Key question for voters: Am I so closed-minded as to deny everyone in a particular era, even those with no ties to PEDs?
- Something I didn’t know before about him: He and Barry Bonds are the only two players ever with a .400 OBP, 400 HR, and 200 SB.
- Best-case scenario: Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz, and Biggio all get in. Piazza gets close. And Bagwell inches back up after losing ground on a packed ballot last year.
- Worst-case scenario: Since he’s only third among the backlog on another packed ballot with some great newcomers, he could possibly see another drop in his vote total, maybe even below 50%.
ERIC: If Bagwell does fall below 50%, here’s hoping he’s passed by this guy.
- Key strengths: Best player in NL in mid/late-1980s, lots of steals at a high percentage, plenty of hits, and legions of nerds like us rooting for him
- Key flaws: Didn’t reach 3,000 hits; second half of career was merely good not transcendent; comparisons to Rickey
- Key question for voters: Who would I rather have on my team, Tim Raines or Jim Rice? (If you respond with Rice, keep trying until you get the correct answer.)
- Something I didn’t know about him before: Raines was walked intentionally 102 times from the leadoff spot. That’s respect. And warranted because while Raines was a career .810 OPS hitter, in close-and-late situations he was at .856.
- Best-case scenario: Biggio and Smoltz are elected, Piazza gets near 70%, Raines gets back to 50 percent, and there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.
- Worst-case scenario: Biggio and Smoltz don’t make it.
MILLER: I think there’s a better scenario for Mike Piazza than 70%.
- Key strengths: He’s the best hitting catcher ever. Every eligible catcher with his overall value or even close to it is in the Coop.
- Key flaws: Someone mentioned bacne at one point, and that completely ruined his chances in the minds of some voters. Otherwise, there’s no real flaw other than his throwing arm.
- Key question for voters: Sure some BBWAA members will say that a flaw is his work behind the plate. And they’ll ask themselves if Piazza is truly as valuable as some of their favorites because of his work while wearing the tools of ignorance. It’s a silly question. Value is value is value. And Piazza has plenty.
- Something I didn’t know before about him: He never had a single sacrifice hit in his career. Johnny Bench had 11, Carlton Fisk 26, Pudge Rodriguez 31, and Gary Carter 33.
- Best-case scenario: There aren’t many tough calls this election. John Smoltz is no sure thing. Neither is Craig Biggio. And Piazza seems like he’s only the fifth favorite to get in. Last season he polled at 62.2%, so he has a bit of a jump if he’s going to make it this election. I think that Unit and Pedro will get almost exactly the same support that Maddux and Glavine did, and that Smoltz won’t get quite as much as the Big Hurt did in 2014. There are, however, 351 Jack Morris votes that could go somewhere else, and even 25 Rafael Palmeiro votes that are likewise up for grabs. Unfortunately for Piazza, Gary Sheffield is also on this ballot. And he may take a chunk of the Morris votes that are available. But I want to be positive here. I want to be hopeful. I’m going to say that the BBWAA increases from an average of the 8.39 players they included on their ballots last year and that Piazza moves up from 62.2%. I put him at a 50.00001% chance to get in.
- Worst-case scenario: If Sheffield polls much better than I think he will, and Biggio somehow fails to make it this year, Piazza could fail to get in for some time as more bats hit the ballot in the next few years.
ERIC: Well, we know one voter who will not vote for anyone not named Jack Morris, so let’s say there’s 350 Morris votes out there.
MILLER: But we won’t say his name because we don’t want to give him the clicks. On a happier note, Biggio’s going to get in. Right, Eric? Right? Even you think Biggio is going to get in.
ERIC: I do. But I won’t totally trust this electorate until all precincts report in, and the election is certified.
- Key strengths: Needs 2 guys to flip their vote to him; oh, and 3,000 hits
- Key flaws: Three strong candidates enter the ballot this year…just like last year
- Key question for voters: Do I want to be THAT guy? The one whose no vote keeps him out again?
- Something I didn’t know about him before: Biggio is fifth in career doubles. I don’t know what rock I’ve been under, but I didn’t realize he was fifth! He’s also got more doubles than any right-handed hitter in history.
- Best-case scenario: An early morning long-distance call from Cooperstown in early January
- Worst-case scenario: 74.99% of the vote
MILLER: I’ll take that as agreement. And here’s another guy on whom we agree.
- Key strengths: He was a terrific hitter with wonderful plate discipline who could still rake at 40. And he has two batting titles.
- Key flaws: He homered “only” 309 times in an era when everyone homered. Plus, he wasn’t exactly the picture of health, and he didn’t nail down a starting gig in Seattle until his age-27 season. All of that, and he’s a DH. In all, there are a lot of reasons not to vote for Edgar.
- Key question for voters: Perhaps the greatest one is what to do with a ballot that is absolutely loaded. A WAR voter, if such a thing existed, might go with Bonds, Rocket, Unit, Pedro, Moose, Schilling, Bagwell, Walker, Trammell, and Smoltz. That leaves out Raines, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Sosa, Kent, and Edgar. This is an incredibly tough crowd.
- Something I didn’t know before about him: Only Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig top Edgar in each of BA, OBP, doubles and homers.
- Best-case scenario: Maybe he inches back over 30%
- Worst-case scenario: He could decline into Don Mattingly land and just hang around the bottom of the returning ballot for the next decade.
And speaking of Mattingly.
- Key strengths: Little boys who loved Mattingly now have Hall of Fame ballots.
- Key flaws: A balky back makes him a weak candidate.
- Key question for voters: Will I throw Donnie Baseball a bone in his final year on the ballot?
- Something I didn’t know before about him: Mattingly smacked 222 homers and whiffed 444 times, making him one of 35 players to strikeout exactly twice as many times as he homered. Of course, he’s the only one with over three round trippers.
- Best-case scenario: He gets a great hand at Old Timers’ Day.
- Worst-case scenario: To be honest, there’s only one scenario. Mattingly falls off the ballot after this season no matter what. The question is whether it’s because his 15 years expire or he simply falls below 5%.
ERIC: Another guy who could fall off the ballot this year is Slammin’ Sammy.
- Key strengths: 609 roundtrippers, a really nice peak, and a very good outfielder
- Key flaws: Unwillingness to speak English during Congressional testimony on steroids; non-peak seasons aren’t much to write home about
- Key question for voters: If I fill my ballot, could he, Sheffield, or McGwire get my 10th vote?
- Something I didn’t know before about him:Sosa and Ernie Banks are the only two 500 home run hitters who didn’t walk 1,000 times.
- Best-case scenario: Keeps the 5% hellhound off his trail for one more year.
- Worst-case scenario: Gets Palmeiroed, aka: becomes second 500-homer guy to fall off the ballot. The potential exists for any or all of Sosa, Sheffield, and McGwire to get that treatment this year.
MILLER: Man, I would hate for Sosa to fall off the ballot, but here’s a guy who should.
- Key strengths: With 493 homers plus no steroid taint, lots of guys really want to like him. He’s about as good as Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda.
- Key flaws: He’s about as good as Norm Cash, Ed Konetchy, and Dolph Camilli too.
- Key question for voters: Do I hate PEDs so much that I’ll throw a power hitter a vote because he didn’t use, not because he actually deserves it?
- Something I didn’t know before about him: He’s the only player to hit 465 or more homers without a season of 110 RBIs. In fact, Reggie Jackson is the only player with more homers who never drove in 120 in a season.
- Best-case scenario: He hangs around the bottom of the ballot for fifteen years.
- Worst-case scenario: He doesn’t.
ERIC: That’s pretty much the same scenario for a few of our remaining players. When there are so many outstanding candidates, voters who won’t fill their ballots, and voters who dole out courtesy-vote lagniappes, players with legitimately good cases that deserve years of review may not get them.
- Key strengths: MVP, power-hitting second baseman with nice career totals for his position
- Key flaws: Defense (depending on whom you ask), truck washing
- Key question for voters: If Barry Bonds’ steroid-fueled on-base abilities were tainted, should Kent really get all that credit for his RBIs?
- Something I didn’t know before about him:Talk about uncanny consistency, Kent’s OPSes vs. lefties and righties were .855 and .855. Not a misprint. His OPS split for home and away was .853/.857, in 1149 home games and, you guessed it, 1149 road games.
- Best-case scenario: Biggio gets bronzed and Trammell leaves the ballot after next season, leaving Kent as the only serious middle infielder on the ballot before Derek Jeter in 2020.
- Worst-case scenario: Falls off the ballot, caught beneath the landslide of a candidate supernova
MILLER: If the best case for Kent is being the only serious middle infielder on the ballot, Alan Trammell and I have some bad news for him.
- Key strengths: He’s probably better than more than half of the shortstops in the Hall.
- Key flaws: Shortstops at Trammell’s level don’t get elected by the BBWAA unless they’re famous for their gloves. Also, he didn’t win that 1987 MVP that he probably should have.
- Key question for voters: Is he really any better than Lou Whitaker, a guy who was one ballot and out?
- Something I didn’t know before about him: Shortstops with 2000+ hits, 150+ homers, 150+ steals, and an OPS+ of over 100 include Derek Jeter, Robin Yount, Barry Larkin, and Alan Trammell. That’s it.
- Best-case scenario: He gets someone to write a long series of articles about him with comparisons to Hall of Fame shortstops.
- Worst-case scenario: He’s forever compared to fellow 15-year ballot guy Dave Concepcion.
ERIC: Trammell is a terrible omission, and this guy may end up that way too. As soon as this year.
- Key strengths: He did pretty much everything well or exceptionally well…except stay in the lineup; won an MVP; triple-slash triple crown, three batting titles; never been associated with PEDs
- Key weakness:Coors Field, not because it inflated his numbers but because it casts doubt on them, especially due to the effect Coors has on the Rockies’ oft-cited road numbers. In fact, it’s an open question whether Denver’s altitude also contributes to higher injury rates.
- Key question for voters: Can I vote for someone so famously brittle, or did he do too little to give him a pass?
- Something I didn’t know before about him: Walker’s amazing arm was no illusion. He is 17th in career assists by a right fielder (for those years when position-by-position outfield assists data is available). He’s the only player in the top 20 whose career started in the 1990s or later.
- Best-case scenario: Returns to the 20% level
- Worst-case scenario: Falls off the ballot…with only 10.2% of the vote last year, three strong, new candidates this year (plus Sheffield), Biggio likely to pick up sympathy votes, and Piazza making progress, Walker could slip under 5%.
MILLER: We lost a famous PED guy last year. Maybe we’ll lose another one this year.
- Key strengths: Strength? No matter how you slice it, those 583 balls left the yard.
- Key flaws: He was so incredibly brittle, averaging only 106 games per season over his final nine campaigns. Oh, yeah, and the PEDs.
- Key questions for voters: Do I really know the impact of PEDs? Do I really know how widespread their use was?
- Something I didn’t know before about him: He never had a season with as many as 30 doubles, and he was never driven in by a teammate more than 60 times in a year.
- Best-case scenario: Writers choose not to talk about the past.
- Worst-case scenario: He keeps losing support and loses his chance for election by the members of the BBWAA.
ERIC: That’s our watch list of batsmen. Join us tomorrow morning before the results are announced. We’ll reveal our official unofficial ballots and tell you with unerring accuracy and uncanny clairvoyance exactly who will win the day and who will lose their slot on the ballot.