For some time, we’ve told you that we’d be sharing longer lists so you can see where all of your favorites land in the game’s history. So it’s time we welcome you to our top-125, the best players at each position by Eric’s CHEWS+ and my MAPES+. At the end of this series these lists will find a permanent home on our site so that you’ll be able to refer to them whenever you would like.
Before we get there, you may see some surprising inclusions or omissions. Let me explain. Eric places players at the position at which they had the most value. His reasoning can best be seen in a guy like Ernie Banks. Banks is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. That’s clearly based on his time as a shortstop where he had six seasons of 5+ WAR, including four of 7.9+. At first base, he never topped 3.5 WAR, averaging only 1.3 per season over a decade at the position. While Eric’s theory makes total sense, not every player is as easy to understand as Banks. Should we break down each season? What if the guy played 80 games at two positions in the same season? I just use games played with no preference for value. Just games played. It’s simpler. I don’t think either decision is incorrect, but I do want to point out the reason you may not see certain players. For example, you’ll see Deacon White, Jack Rowe, and Mike Napoli on Eric’s list below. For me, White is a third baseman, Rowe is a shortstop, and Napoli is a first baseman.
Here are our complete lists.
Stop by again on Friday when we’ll look our similarities and differences at first base.
How in the world do you decide what pitch to throw? And who decides? It is the manager? The pitcher? The catcher? A bit of all three? We will answer none of those questions below.
We know that sometimes the catcher decides what pitch should be thrown. And if the pitcher has both command and control, maybe the right pitch goes to the right location, and the batter fails. That’s if the catcher/pitcher/manager chooses the right pitch and location. And if the batter also fails. There’s merit to the idea that the best catchers ever are the ones best at calling games, if they’re actually the ones responsible for calling the games. I don’t think we really know who had such responsibility. And there’s no way to really know if they got the most out of their pitchers. There are just so many variables that we can’t control for.
The best receiver in history would have to have all of the physical attributes, and he’d have to be an expert on game theory, someone in league with the world’s best poker players. We just can’t measure that.
I’d like to note two more things before we get started. First, neither one of our numbers puts Johnny Bench on the top of the catcher list. And second, it’s extremely hard to figure out what’s right at this position. We’re trying our best.
Mauer is a made man. Unless he turns in a few -2.0 WAR seasons in a row, he’s over the line for good. The question is whether he can gain ground on the rest of the field. Given recent history, his peak appears locked in, so it’s about chasing down the career value of guys above him on the totem pole. Bill Dickey feels like his top end to me. After my various adjustments, Dickey’s ahead by 9 career WAR, but their peak is exactly the same. Mauer certainly could catch up, though as a thirty-five year old with a history of concussion syndrome, the wear and tear of catching, and an overall long-term decline in performance, especially in power, I’m not sanguine about his odds to hit on that prop. He’ll pass Joe Torre this year, but Charlie Bennett is a pretty far in the distance, let alone Hartnett and Dickey.—Eric
There’s actually quite a bit going on here. After three years when it seemed Mauer was done as a plus hitter, he rebounded nicely last season. On the plus side, his K-rate fell to pre-concussion levels. He also made more hard contact than he had in four years. Maybe he’s back??? I know that’s not the way aging works though. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of data we have on people who have recovered from concussions. In the last four seasons, he’s averaged over 138 games, 18 more than his previous four. In terms of wear and tear on his body, perhaps he’s looking better than a few years ago? Then again, the last four years have seen him with a 106 OPS+, while the previous four were at 134. And his 116 from last year isn’t really too impressive. He’s 35 now, and it’s quite possible his surprise 3-win campaign of 2017 was the last year of that quality he’ll ever have. That’s what I’m guessing. If we plug in seasons of 2.2, 1.1 and -0.4 WAR, he gets by Joe Torre, and that’s it. I say he finishes at #12.–Miller
This is one incredibly healthy catcher we’re looking at, a guy who’s played in at least 140 games every year since 2012. What’s more, he’s been worth over 4 wins each season. He’s 31 now. As he ages, the Giants can move him out from behind the plate more and more. If he can maintain last year’s level in 2018 and then decline slowly, he can get to #14. Maintaining a little more value and playing until age 38, he’ll battle Mauer for that #12 spot. I’ll take the more positive run out in this case.–Miller
It has to be Gary Carter, right? Everyone calls Johnny Bench the best MLB catcher ever. Well, everyone except me and Eric. I have to admit to being unsure of how catcher handling should be interpreted, and I think my catcher ratings are less likely to be “correct” than those at any position. I use Max Marchi’s handling numbers, albeit at a reduced rate, which vaults Carter to the top. Somehow, it’s actually not very close.–Miller
We could make a baseball TV comedy show called That 70s Catcher. Bench, Fisk, Simmons, Munson, plus big hunks of Carter’s career. Oh, and Gene Tenace. Gino Fiore Tenace is one of those analytical darlings who walked a lot, hit for power, moved around the diamond a bit, and whose excellence was hidden by baseball’s traditionalist mindset until the last twenty or so years. There’s that and the fact that his career was very short, under 6,000 plate appearances, and that defensively he wasn’t an outstanding backstop. I’m pretty sure that given the opportunity to name the twenty best catchers ever, a supermajority of baseball watchers and sports journalists wouldn’t include him. Especially when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, Yadier Molina, and a few other more famous catchers rank below him.—Eric
I have Charlie Bennett 28% over the line, while Eric sees him only 13% over. The difference between 10th best and 12th best, however, really isn’t a big deal. Perhaps Johnny Bench is our biggest disagreement? We are in lockstep on #1 and #2 at every other position, so when my #2 is his #5, we might say that it’s a big difference.–Miller
Yes, just about anyone. We use the handling numbers we have, which we think makes sense. Unfortunately, those numbers don’t exist for the first 80 or so years of the game, nor the last six. We’re not guessing. We’re doing the best we can, and we think we’re reasonably close. It’s just that the error bar at catcher is greater than at any position. Far greater, I think.–Miller
You know, Buck Ewing bugs me. I know that some folks in his own time considered him the best player in the game, but the second-best catcher of all time? I’m not so sure. Could be an issue with how I’m extrapolating playing time. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re overcommitted on Ewing. Miller is absolutely correct that among all nine positions on the diamond (ten if you want to consider the DH separately), catcher is the fudgiest. We have all the usual things to account for such as schedule length, league quality, in my case standard deviation, differing defensive systems. Then we also have to introduce a ton more uncertainty because no defensive system captures catchers well, and the developers of those systems will tell you so. No system has successfully figured out how to add framing because framing is dependent on the umpire and the pitcher as well as the catcher. No system has incorporated pitcher handling either. Is plate blocking included in any of them? Where does pitch calling fit into this? Plus we have to account for the negative impact catching has on playing time so that we can bring catchers as close to other positions as possible. It’s not a cluster, not a whack-a-mole, more like those Russian nesting dolls. You’re trying to get down to the smallest doll, but there’s just so many other dolls ahead of it that eventually your hands get crampy from all the twisting apart of the dolls. And they are all wearing masks!—Eric
Next week we’re back with the next 20 catchers. And unless you’ve studied this subject, a bunch of names will be at least a little surprising.
If you were a hitter who debuted in the 1970s, you’ve had a harder time getting into the Hall of Fame than you should have. From 1971-1992, an era that encompasses the careers of almost all of the players in this series, only once did scoring top 4.47 runs per game. And three times it was 3.99 or below. In contrast, the era from 1921-1941 saw scoring higher than 4.47 every single year. Yes, different eras have different levels of offense. And when we use counting stats to make Hall of Fame decisions for hitters, we fail to take into account those lower run environments. Since 1950, five of the eight seasons with the fewest home runs per team were in the 1970s, and half of the bottom-24 occurred from 1971-1984.
You can’t expect huge offensive numbers in that era, but Hall of Fame voters still seem to. It’s that failure, plus the misunderstanding of base on balls, the misunderstanding of defensive value, and the misunderstanding of greatness versus inner circle Hall of Fame talent that has helped keep Ted Simmons and others who debuted in the 1970s out of the Hall.
Ted Simmons is a catcher who played a bit on the corners and some designated hitter. He got started with a cup of coffee at just 19 for the 1968 Cardinals. By 1970, he was sharing time behind the plate with Joe Torre. In 1971, Simmons pushed Torre to third.He was shipped to the Brewers with the next two AL Cy Young winners, Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich, in a 1980 deal that brought the Cards four players, including top prospect David Green. It was a terrible trade for the Cardinals. After five years in Milwaukee, he was sent to the Braves in a deal for Rick Cerone. Simmons was all but done at that point, and he ended his career in Atlanta in 1988.
Simmons had power, which is evidenced by his 11th place standing in home runs by someone who played more than 50% of his career at catcher. And he could hit for average too; he’s 14th on a similar list among backstops.
The greatest problem Ted Simmons has is when he debuted. His first full season was 1970. Johnny Bench had his in first full year in 1968, Carlton Fisk in 1972, and Gary Carter in 1975. All three of those catchers were clearly better than Simmons. It’s not easy to get a lot of attention when there are three clearly better players who debuted right around the same time, not to mention the excellent Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Jim Sundberg, and Darrell Porter.
The only time Simmons appeared on the BBWAA ballot was 1994 when he received just 3.7% of the vote. Far inferior players like Steve Garvey, Rusty Staub, and Dave Concepcion fared better.
To get an idea of Simmons’ greatness, we need to compare him to all catchers, not just his contemporaries. There are only 39 catchers ever with at least 5000 plate appearances, 100 homers, and a .300 on base percentage. If we move those numbers up to 150 homers and a .325 on base clip, we’re down to 23 catchers. And if we move to 200 long balls and a .340 OBP, it’s just a dozen guys. Simmons absolutely did not play during a good offensive era, yet only Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra, and Jorge Posada can match him in both HR and OBP. He’s also one of three catchers ever with 200 HR and 400 2B. The other two, Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodgiruez are in the Hall.
Simmons has 50.1 career WAR, which is better than six Hall of Famers. To me, he is so clearly superior to Hall mistakes Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell. Schalk is 42nd in career WAR among catchers, while Ferrell is 36th. Simmons is 12th. And he’s debatably better than Hall of Famers Roger Bresnahan and Ernie Lombardi.
I’m making Ray Schalk the choice here because he and Simmons both played in eras with depressed offense. In fact, the AIR number at BBREF, which measures the offensive level of the leagues and parks the player played in relative to all-time, is the same 96 for both of them. Let’s look at some stats.
Simmons Schalk ================================ Hits 2472 1345 Runs 1074 579 Home Runs 248 11 RBI 1389 594 OPS+ 118 83 Remember, they played in equally difficult offensive eras. ========================================================== Rfield -33 46 DRA -20.5 -17.1 The first is the defensive number at BBREF. The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more. ===================================================================== Actual WAR 50.1 28.5 My Conversion 54.7 35.5 MAPES C Rank 17 45 MAPES is my personal ranking system.
Have I convinced you that Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame? Maybe not. But I hope I’ve convinced you that if the Hall could have only one of Simmons and Schalk, it should absolutely be Ted Simmons.
Tune in next Monday for the second part of this series, Keith Hernandez.
You might have heard that Curt Schilling’s tweeting and talking have gotten him into some hot water over the last couple of years. And if you haven’t, how in the world did you find your way to this blog? Welcome! Look to the right. Anyway, Schilling has drawn the ire of many voters, and Eric recently put together an elegant and nuanced argument as to why it might be acceptable to exclude a clearly deserving player from your ballot. What I want to do today is, through the great work of Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs), examine Schilling voters and non-voters to see if anything jumps out – to see if we can classify or categorize these voters.
I’m sorry, friends, but there’s absolutely no good reason to leave Curt Schilling off your ballot if you judge by what he did on the field. Was he dominant? Yes! Of retired pitchers who pitched after the era where you had to throw underhand, Schilling has the best K to BB ratio ever. And he struck out 300 or more on three occasions. Did he pitch well when it counted? Yes! You might remember the bloody sock game or the World Series MVP performance in 2001. Schilling posted an 11-2 career playoff record with a 2.23 ERA. But was he durable enough? Yes, there are 22 Hall of Fame pitchers who threw fewer innings. The only thing Schilling doesn’t have enough of is wins. Except that he does! There are 23 Hall of Fame pitchers with fewer wins. And in terms of WAR, a simple enough and accurate enough go-to for a quick answer, Schilling is 26th all time among pitchers. He beats Tom Glavine, Jim Palmer, John Smoltz, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, and a bunch of other Hall of Famers.
Those who supported Schilling for induction made what I think was the correct decision. Generally speaking, I believe Schilling voters to be thoughtful voters who consider a player’s value and put non-baseball issues aside. Based on that, I suspect they’d support deserving players more than the BBWAA as a whole. And I suspect they’d support undeserving players less than the BBWAA as a whole. Let’s talk a look at those who received at least 20% of the vote by one constituency or the other. First, those who would have received my vote and then those who wouldn’t have.
Deserving Player Schilling Voters Total Voters Jeff Bagwell 93.7% 86.2% Barry Bonds 65.8% 53.8% Roger Clemens 66.5% 54.1% Edgar Martinez 70.9% 58.6% Mike Mussina 72.8% 51.8% Tim Raines 91.8% 86.0% Manny Ramirez 24.1% 23.8% Ivan Rodriguez 82.3% 76.0% Larry Walker 25.9% 21.9%
So what we see here conforms perfectly to my hypothesis. Each of the nine other players on my ballot received a higher percentage of votes among those who voted for Schilling than they did among those who voted against him. Manny is quite close, essentially a dead heat, but Manny is my toughest call. Now let’s examine those who I don’t think deserved support.
Undeserving Player Schilling Voters Total Voters Vladimir Guerrero 70.3% 71.7% Trevor Hoffman 69.0% 74.0% Fred McGriff 12.0% 21.7% Lee Smith 25.3% 34.2%
Once again, every single one of these vote percentages is lower among Schilling voters than among total voters. Again, my hypothesis that Schilling voters are more likely to look at advanced metrics and put aside his post-career nonsense is supported.
Given that I think the pro-Schilling position is the correct one, and that I think pro-Schilling voters are more enlightened than voters on average, you can probably predict that I think the 55% who voted against Schilling will be more likely to support the undeserving candidates, particularly Fred McGriff and Lee Smith. I can’t make a particular prediction as to how deserving candidates will make out, though the WAR candidates who don’t have much narrative, guys like Edgar and Walker, I think will be dinged among the anti-Schilling crowd. Let’s see.
Deserving Player Non-Schilling Voters Total Voters Jeff Bagwell 82.6% 86.2% Barry Bonds 54.2% 53.8% Roger Clemens 52.9% 54.1% Edgar Martinez 53.5% 58.6% Mike Mussina 42.6% 51.8% Tim Raines 84.5% 86.0% Manny Ramirez 25.2% 23.8% Ivan Rodriguez 76.1% 76.0% Larry Walker 18.7% 21.9%
There’s actually not a lot to see among this group. Yes, Edgar and Walker took a little hit, but I would have predicted it would be a bit higher. The guy who took the biggest hit among non-Schilling voters compared to overall was Mike Mussina. I certainly should have seen that coming. The BBWAA does an incredibly poor job as a group understanding what constitutes greatness among starting pitchers of the last 30 years. Yes, they can identify Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, but they don’t do well among absolute no-brainers, and they don’t do well among guys short of 300 wins. I should have known Mussina would do poorly with this group.
Undeserving Player Non-Schilling Voters Total Voters Vladimir Guerrero 73.5% 71.7% Trevor Hoffman 78.7% 74.0% Fred McGriff 23.2% 21.7% Lee Smith 40.0% 34.2%
All four of the players I’m calling undeserving did better among non-Schilling voters. To my surprise, McGriff did just a little better. On the other hand, as I expected, Smith did a lot better. The votes that should go to the game’s best starters are going to the game’s best relievers. And I think the answer as to why is pretty clear. Relievers of the last 30 years have the best save totals of all time; starters of the last 30 years lack strong win totals compared to pitchers of earlier eras. I think the BBWAA misunderstanding can be explained that simply – they’re paying far too much attention to counting statistics that do a poor job describing greatness.
This is an interesting class of 35 voters. On one hand, they voted for Schilling to begin with, which makes me think they’re smarter than voters on average. On the other hand, they very possibly based their opinion to drop him on actions having nothing to do with baseball many years after his retirement.
Of these 35 voters, 22 (62.8%) had 10-man ballots. That’s compared to just 51.8% of overall voters who filled up. What I’m suggesting here is that this group of writers might have just decided to punish Schilling once, or they might have decided that there are more than ten deserving candidates on the ballot And since they’re not allowed to vote for all deserving players, they’re just going to vote for ten they choose. In other words, I’ll give this group a pass on Schilling (for a moment). I’m concerned with the 13 un-full ballots that dropped him.
These voters, generally speaking, I’d identify as playing morality police. I expect that they’ll be lower than average on nearly everyone and that they’ll be especially low on Bonds and Clemens, two players who certainly are having their vote totals deflated by a moral, ethical, or character objection.
Player Schilling Droppers Total Voters Jeff Bagwell 84.6% 86.2% Barry Bonds 15.4% 53.8% Roger Clemens 15.4% 54.1% Vladimir Guerrero 69.2% 71.7% Trevor Hoffman 84.6% 74.0% Edgar Martinez 84.6% 58.6% Fred McGriff 23.1% 21.7% Mike Mussina 69.2% 51.8% Tim Raines 92.3% 86.0% Manny Ramirez 7.7% 23.8% Ivan Rodriguez 61.5% 76.0% Lee Smith 23.1% 34.2% Larry Walker 23.1% 21.9%
So it’s no surprise that this group is indeed voting for fewer players overall. Whenever you eliminate all full ballots, that’s going to happen. You can see above, though, that some of the percentages are close, while others are quite divergent. Bonds and Clemens were crushed among this group. Manny also did quite poorly. And Pudge wasn’t well represented either. PED use and speculation really hurt all of them. On the other hand, there’s little to point to regarding why Mussina did well and why Edgar was a star among this group.
I wish the moralizers didn’t vote.
Still, some made sense, in what they wrote, if not in their decision.
And others were clearly about politics, or something.
Hmm, I have very little idea what to think about this group. I suspect they they had pretty full ballots. I also suspect they voted for Mussina in large numbers. If there were only a few such voters, I might think they share Schilling’s political views, but there are 18. I can’t imagine there are so many voters who share his views and would vote based on politics. I just can’t predict how this group will vote. Let’s take a look at some numbers.
Player Schilling Adders Total Voters Jeff Bagwell 94.4% 86.2% Barry Bonds 61.1% 53.8% Roger Clemens 66.7% 54.1% Vladimir Guerrero 61.1% 71.7% Trevor Hoffman 77.8% 74.0% Edgar Martinez 55.6% 58.6% Fred McGriff 16.7% 21.7% Mike Mussina 50.0% 51.8% Tim Raines 100% 86.0% Manny Ramirez 11.1% 23.8% Ivan Rodriguez 93.3% 76.0% Lee Smith 33.3% 34.2% Larry Walker 16.7% 21.9%
Well, one thing is for sure – this group did vote for a lot of players. Two-thirds of them had full ballots. Mussina didn’t have big numbers overall, but seven Schilling adders also added him. Seven Schilling adders also added Bagwell, six added Raines, and five added Edgar. Unfortunately, none of them explained why they added Schilling this year. In fact, I found something resembling a Schilling add explanation from only one voter, Jeff Schultz, who said he’s gone back and forth on Schilling, having nothing to do with the guy’s politics. That’s something, I suppose.
Not surprisingly, the story of Curt Schilling is complicated. Guys who voted for Schilling, predictably, were better than the average voters. Guys who voted against, predictably, were worse. I suspect Schilling will gain a number of votes he lost this year and that he’ll begin to climb his way toward election. However, he’s already exhausted half of his BBWAA eligibility. I don’t know that he’ll be able to reach the magical 75% in the next five years.
With the Hall of Fame’s 2017 election a few weeks past, now it’s time that we turn to the 2017 election at the Hall of Miller and Eric. As you may know, the HoME is exactly the same size as the Hall, so when the Hall elects, so do we. We had hoped the committee known as “Today’s Game” would have elected a deserving player or two. No such luck, just a couple of executives. And then we hoped the BBWAA would elect four or five. Again, no such luck. But at least there were three.
Fortunately for us, we have already elected Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, and Larry Walker. So we don’t have a ballot as crowded as the BBWAA. Hey, we’ve done our job.
And we continue to do it today. Like the Hall, we stock our ballot with a list of new candidates each year. Unlike them, our ballot also, basically, includes all other players in baseball history who have previously been eligible. Sure, we write obituaries for guys when we decide we won’t elect them, though nothing, not even HoME death, is necessarily forever.
More than two years ago now, we explained why we made a mistake writing an obituary for Roy Campanella. Only a few weeks later, we elected him. Well, much to our surprise and due to some quality research and estimation by Eric, we’re at it again. Sort of. There’s a player we’re electing today who was part of our backlog, never received an obituary, but was never elected either. Keep reading.
When we add the three from today, we will have elected 220 players to the Hall of Miller and Eric.
Here’s how we voted in 2017.
Miller Eric ================================== 1 Ivan Rodriguez Ivan Rodriguez 2 Manny Ramirez Manny Ramirez 3 Sam Rice Sam Rice
To the surprise of some (many?), Ivan Rodriguez made it into the Hall of Fame in his first year eligible. He becomes only the second catcher ever elected on his inaugural ballot, joining Johnny Bench. Voters not only avoided an error of temporary omission they had made several times over, but they also, I suspect, largely ignored the PED accusations made by Jose Canseco. The real truth, I think, is that they elected the guy they believe to be the best defensive catcher of all time, which shouldn’t really surprise anyone. As for the HoME, Pudge was a no-brainer. We don’t care much about the 1999 MVP, the 14 All-Star Games, or the 13 Gold Gloves. What we care about, mainly, is the career equivalent WAR that’s about the same as Johnny Bench and peak/prime numbers that put him near the elite in the game’s history. He might well rank among the top five catchers ever, and he’s certainly among the best ten.
I don’t suppose that anyone is too surprised that Manny Ramirez didn’t get the love from the writers that Pudge did. He was pretty lousy defensively, and the PED suspensions turned off some writers, perhaps forever. Still, since we at the HoME don’t know exactly who used and who didn’t, and we don’t feel comfortable speculating, we judge a player just based on his record. And Manny’s record may just be that of a top ten left fielder in history. A placing anywhere from seven to fifteen is something I could buy. Manny did it with flair, though he did it without truly great seasons. With just one season over 6.7 WAR, according to Miller’s equivalency, he doesn’t make a great peak case, but with ten above 4.8, his extended prime numbers are outstanding. For his career, it’s only Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Carl Yastrzemski, Ed Delahanty, and Fred Clarke who top him at the position in career WAR. Given our PED stance, Manny was an easy “yes” vote.
There were three outstanding newbies on the BBWAA ballot, so clearly today we’re electing Vladimir Guerrero. Except we’re not. We’re actually electing Sam Rice. Miller has Rice as the 25th best right fielder ever, and Vlad is just 27th. Eric used to have Vlad at #23 and Rice at #25. To be fair, they’re extremely close, too close to really make a distinction unless forced. Vlad is a shade better in peak and prime, but Rice has a career advantage based on more depth, what Eric likes to call shoulder seasons. When it comes to electing to the HoME, however, there’s no such thing as too close to call. The reason we made the call we did, ultimately, is because of Eric’s in-depth review of BBREF’s baserunning numbers. Simply, based on what we suspect he accomplished on the bases, it seems that Rice is considerably better than we previously believed, as high as #16 at the position according to Eric. He’s going to share that analysis a week from Friday. For today and forever though, Sam Rice is a member of the HoME. And Vlad, well, he becomes part of the backlog.
How’s that for an exciting and surprising election? Trust me, we were surprised too. There are now 220 members of the player wing of the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Miller and Eric. Our backlog player election due to the categorization of Joe Torre as a manager will take place on February 24. And the 2018 election will take place about a year from now.
As after every election, we hope you’ll check out the Honorees page to see all of the HoME members, whether players, managers, or pioneers/executives. Enjoy.
Well, we got the easy two right…. And one of us, whose name starts with E, might have been a tad overconfident about Trevor Hoffman’s back-bench support. Still, the Hall’s results were very good, even if we rooted for a five-person election. Here’s your chance to eavesdrop on our conversation about this week’s results.
ERIC: Bagwell and Raines are in as expected. Bagwell’s path to glory was more conventional than Raines’. He started off at 42% and slowly gained steam. It was too long a wait for such a great player, but that’s the BBWAA for you. Raines on the other hand kicked things off in 2008 with ann uninspiring 24% of the vote. I’m frankly surprised he did that well. He slipped to 23% the next year, made halting upward progress and suddenly vaulted into position in year nine to reach the holy grail in his final election on the ballot. That’s pretty amazing.
MILLER: As is often the case with the BBWAA, I have a bit more faith than you. I don’t mind that Bagwell took a while, even though he’s one of the ten best first basemen ever, and on a career level probably better than Frank Thomas. As for Raines, I don’t want to call his rise amazing. Consensus among a body that doesn’t formally discuss players on the ballot can take a long time. And the electorate really is improving. Slowly they’re improving.
Before we get into deeper conversation about the guys who weren’t near-certainties before the election, I’d like to get your view on the stray votes for the Jason Variteks and Edgar Renterias of the world.
ERIC: While I disagree strenuously with actually voting for Varitek, at the least the voter, Jay Dunn, expressed a line of thinking about it. Namely that Tek was the catcher for a whole mess of really good teams, and that catching is a subtler art than any other fielding position. On the other hand, one could use that argument to elect someone like Bob Boone or Tim McCarver, both of whom should pay admittance fees to get into the Hall. At least Dunn had the good sense to vote for Posada and Rodriguez for consistency’s sake. On the other hand, he had the terrible sense to drop Edgar Martinez, keep Lee Smith, and keep Fred McGriff, and not vote for Mike Mussina or Larry Walker or Jeff Kent, all of whom could have had a place on his steroid-free ballot and are light years better than Varitek or Posada.
The vote for the other Edgar is simply stupid. Look, I get that courtesy votes are a kindness that writers give favorites, but look at Jim Molony’s ballot! He dumps Curt Schilling and Billy Wagner to accommodate Vlad, Manny, and I-Rod plus the added Jeff Kent. He fails to vote for Mussina and doesn’t vote for Bonds and Clemens despite other steroid-whisper players on his ballot. Oh, and he voted for Lee Smith. It beggars the mind why he wouldn’t check off the name of someone who clearly deserves it instead of this sycophantic/cronyistic throw-away vote. I guess he should have his children taken or something like that.
MILLER: Just his kids? Rob Gillies, a person who calls himself “Chief of Bureau for The Associated Press in Canada” voted for just Vladimir Guerrero and Larry Walker. He’s going to be thrown out of the country for not supporting Expo great Tim Raines as well.
ERIC: He must be the Dan Shaughnessy of the North. The kind of voter whose first priority is getting it right. Only “it” refers to getting as much attention as he can no matter what by being super contrarian. In other words, that’s a clown ballot, bro.
MILLER: Back to the subject at hand, Pudge is in. I’m happily surprised. Your thoughts?
ERIC: I’m surprised and impressed. The BBWAA has elected one first-ballot catcher (Johnny Bench) since the voting was reorganized four decades ago. But it has presided over at least four who should have been in the first time around: Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza. Absent any steroid whispers, I-Rod should have been right up their alley with the most hits of any catcher, a closet full of Gold Gloves, an MVP, a jillion All-Star appearances, and lots of narrative around that arm. That they converted on the opportunity despite Jose Canseco’s book says good things about the electorate’s more sophisticated understanding of what makes players great and the “value” of hearsay evidence.
MILLER: Or if the glass is half empty, it only really says that they value the narrative surrounding being the greatest at something they consider important. Rodriguez is widely considered the greatest defensive catcher ever. Perhaps that’s what did it. Piazza being the greatest offensive catcher ever didn’t cut the mustard since offense isn’t something the BBWAA values as much behind the plate. I don’t know. Again, glass half empty.
Glass full, and just as an aside, that one knucklehead who voted for Tim Wakefield gave me a little tiny bit of joy.
ERIC: Knucklehead. I see what you did there.
MILLER: Wake is a personal favorite, but I’m particularly happy about the big gain from Edgar Martinez. Moving from 27.0% to 43.4% to 58.6% suggests to me that he has a great shot of being elected in 2019, his final year on the ballot.
ERIC: Edgar’s improvement is wonderful, and it’s mirroring Tim Raines’ ascension. Raines got into the fifties in year eight than made two sizable leaps to get his plaque. I’m concerned that the back benchers are unduly penalizing Edgar for being a full-time DH, but having recently voted in Frank Thomas, and with David Ortiz now primed for election, that line of thinking could be fading a bit. Of course, Ortiz and Thomas have vastly more narrative than Edgar, but his climb has been swift. He’s got no DH in front of him to block his way. The only thing that can stop him is, you guessed it, the ballot glut. But you know, Mike Mussina gained 11% too. His rise isn’t as meteoric, but he’s making exactly the kind of progress that should result in near-term election.
MILLER: I also feel good about Mussina’s eventual election now. His movement is actually a decent amount like Edgar’s – from 24.6% to 43.0% to 51.8%. Unlike Edgar, he still has six more shots at it, so even if his move isn’t quick, it is coming.
ERIC: Moose also has very little competition ahead of him. Besides Roger Clemens, who has his own issues, and Curt Schilling’s Twitter self-immolation the next few years bring only Dandy Andy Pettitte, Doc Halladay, Mo, and Tim Hudson.
MILLER: Don’t forget Johan Santana. You’ve already laid out why he has a legitimate case.
ERIC: I haven’t but the writers will. None of these guys, however, is necessarily a barrier to Mussina’s election, especially given his current level of support, the fact that eight voters said they’d vote for him if they had more room on the ballot, and another four who voted for 10 players dropped him from their ballot this year. So there’s 12 more low-hanging-fruit votes out there that we already know about and surely many more once the herding really takes hold.
MILLER: You know, I kind of wish the guy with 270 wins had the post-career political tweetstorm rather than the guy with only 216. I fear that writers will hide behind 216 as a reason not to vote for someone so fully qualified as Curt Schilling. Plus, he has narrative for days!
ERIC: Lately most of Schilling’s narrative is pretty bad…well, he’s dug his own grave. Or maybe it really is a conspiracy of failed liberal media elites to muzzle him? Sad!!! Anyhoo, being a jerk has given parts of the electorate cover of a sort and has changed his narrative from Bloody Sock to Red Meat Bigot. As you say he’s fully qualified for the Hall. But he’s woefully qualified for public life.
Switching gears, some of the biggest election news is steroid related. Bonds and Clemens both gained nine points for the second straight year after stalling in the 30s for a while. They have both breached the 50% mark. Manny Ramirez, who twice failed a PED test, didn’t get Palmeiroed, and is outpolling Slammin’ Sammy Sosa. Is this real movement? Is there some new standard in play?
MILLER: I’d be careful to equate Manny with Palmeiro and Sosa. Manny’s just better. I think we can make the argument that’s why he did better. With that said, I agree that the movement is a real thing. In the past two years they’ve elected two catchers who have some PED speculation. And there’s Bud, whose election, for one reason or another, is inspiring voters to support Bonds and Clemens. I can’t predict whether they’ll follow a typical trajectory though. There are some voters who are so staunchly against their election on moral grounds. That’s different from not coming around to Bagwell or Raines, for example, for a number of years.
ERIC: Downballot, we saw relatively little action. Larry Walker remains screwed. Fred McGriff remains where he should be, which is essentially no where. Jeff Kent, Sosa, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wags simply remain. Jorge Posada’s remains have been carted away. Do any of them (excepting Posada, of course) have hope to build a case before their shot clock runs out?
MILLER: Wagner and McGriff don’t, which I’m glad about. Kent, Sosa, and Sheffield don’t, which I’m okay with even though I support all three. Walker is the troubling one. The fact that he played about 30% of his career games in Coors and that 70% of writers don’t seem to understand pretty simplistic advanced statistics means there’s a 100% chance he’s doomed. And that’s awful.
So that brings us to Lee Smith. He received 34.2%, the 11th best he did in 15 years. Again, though Hoffman is very close, Smith’s decline over time gives me hope, at least relatively speaking. Despite peaking above 50%, Smith is off the ballot next year, but a bunch of new guys are on. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that Hoffman, Vlad, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome will all get in. I’m not as hopeful. Vlad and Chipper will go. I really think Hoffman will too, but unlike many who are against non-Mo relievers, I think there’s a tiny shot Hoffman takes a step back. And I don’t think Thome gets in on the first try.
What are you thinking for next year?
ERIC: For the Bayesians among us, my current p-values for these guys are
Everyone else is well below 50% in my current thinking. But if some huge pro-Edgar movement starts, why not. The more damning question is will Omar Vizquel reach 40%? The question I’m scared to know the answer to is how likely the qualified trio of Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, and Andruw Jones is to even make it to the 5% cutoff. At this point, I. Can’t. Even.
MILLER: So the prediction game is a lot easier thanks to the great work of Ryan Thibs and his Tracker. Based on names included in his collection of ballots, there was once some real speculation that we’d get five. Now it’s looking like maybe two? Only Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines?
ERIC: I may see more opportunity for a big election than you, but let’s look at this piece by piece. The probability of Bagwell and Raines gaining election verges on certainty in as much as these things can be certain. With about half the vote in as we write, they are both over 90%, they have both converted more nays to yeas than they likely require for election, and they are both 100% among the 12 first time voters.
MILLER: So we agree on those two. As for the next three closest, I’m not feeling great. Ivan Rodriguez, once looking good in the neighborhood of 85%, has been getting smacked lately. As votes come in with fewer names on them and with fewer or no PED users, his chances are looking less good. I suspect he’ll finish with over 70% of the vote but not enough to get in.
ERIC: I guess I’d say he’s probably a 3.5-1 for election. I concur that the loss of votes recently is very troubling. The back bench of that Hall electorate is much more conservative than the early revealers. If you want to build a scenario under which he just squeaks by, it goes like this: Many back benchers probably voted for him for the 1999 MVP. They remember his numerous Gold Gloves and annual All-Star appearances. And they think Jose Canseco is a freak. So just enough of them check the box to get him home. Yeah. it’s a long shot, but there’s a narrative there, and these guys love narrative. For example: SAVES!!!!
MILLER: Trevor Hoffman should be easier to track. As I write this, he has 147 of 200 votes. That’s three shy of being on pace. Looked at a different way, with 46% of the vote estimated to be in, he’s converted 44.4% of the net non-supporters from a year ago. He’s going to be incredibly close. I’m thinking he’ll finish between 74% and 78%. Right now I think he’s more likely than not to get elected.
ERIC: Believe it or not, I think he’s a shoe-in. It doesn’t matter what his percentage is once he’s in, and hanging this close to 75% among the known ballots is big for him. The back bench voted him at a higher rate than the public voters, and I expect more of the same. I won’t call it a mortal lock, but I would be shockedshockedshocked if those save lovers out there don’t put him over by simply doing what they did last year. That said…I hate that he’s being elected, but I love that it’s this year. Hoffman is merely the best of the rest among closers. After Mariano, there’s just everyone else. Yeah, he allowed crazy few inherited baserunners to score. That’s great! Yeah, he’s got the saves record. That’s nice. He did his job well. He’s kind of like the highest mountain in Colorado versus Everest. On the other hand, I want this vote-sucking machine off the ballot so we can find some room for other candidates.
MILLER: Along the same lines, part of me is happy that Vlad Guerrero is doing so well because his election would also help the ballot glut. Another part of me wonders if he even deserves enshrinement. He’s right around my in/out line. To date, he’s received two votes more than Hoffman, so he’s a mere single vote behind pace. Predicting what the BBWAA will do is anyone’s guess, so I’m going to take mine. I think he’s the type of big narrative candidate who they’re going to like. Unlike most every non-reliever on the ballot, I think he’s going to improve on ballots that aren’t revealed before the election. I’d put his range at about 72-78%. If he edges in, we may have four sharing the podium with Bud Selig and John Schuerholz this summer.
ERIC: If I think that Hoffman’s odds are really strong, I think that Vlad’s are merely very good. Like you, I can’t get a strong read on what the private voters will do. I totally concur that they will love his narrative. He’s kind of like Jim Rice. Rice had THE FEAR, Vlad has THE SAVANT.
MILLER: But unlike Rice, there’s some evidence Vlad was feared. More than a third of his career walks were intentional. Of all players with 1000 trips to the plate for whom we have IBB data, only Vlad, Aaron, Gwynn, Ichiro, and Oliva have even 25% as many intentional walks as total walks. When we get up to 30%, Vlad’s the only one on the list. And Vlad’s just shy of 34%. That’s feat! Also, it’s very bad plate discipline.
ERIC: THE FEARED SAVANT!!!! HE COULD HIT PITCHES THAT BOUNCED LIKE YOGI!!!!
MILLER: Anyway, back to your point.
ERIC: Right. Like I-Rod, many of the silent voters would have been active during Vlad’s early prime when he was garnering plenty of MVP support as well as oohs and ahs over his raw ability. Like you, I think he’s borderline; in a clump with the likes of Bobby Bonds and Sammy Sosa. If we take a longer term view of Guerrero as a candidate, there could be a reason to vote for him even as a borderliner. He, Ichiro, and Bobby Abreu are the only right fielders even close to being Hall worthy, and I, personally, wouldn’t support Abreu. Ichiro will be rightly elected about six or seven years from now. But for many years after that, there’s a big hole in right field. Just look at the right fielders in today’s game. Are any of them realistic Hall members? I don’t see ’em if so. By the time another Hall-worthy right fielder comes along, the Hall will be large enough that Vlad would be electable. The Hall is also stacked with right fielders, and in this way, it could be reckoned that no electing Vlad would help. But even so, electing him and Ichiro over the next 20-odd years will still slow the growth of right fielders and let some other groups catch up. Well, if the BBWAA is appropriately obliging with third basemen and catchers, and especially if the Vets should ever elect a player ever again.
MILLER: You mentioned Sosa, a guy who’s likely to land in the neighborhood of 8-10%. I kind of think that’s someone who should be removed from the ballot in his fifth try. I’d be happy if the Hall gave them back 15 years but made the standard to stay on the ballot a bit more difficult after the first year, maybe 3% in year one, 6% in year two, and increasing by 3% each year. That way Sosa would need 15% this year. I could be persuaded to something like 2%, 5%, 9%, 14%, 20%, 25%, and increasing by 5% each year. Anyway, there are lots of ways to build a better mousetrap. On that, I’m sure we can agree.
What do you make of gains for those outside the big-5 on this ballot?
ERIC: I’m very excited to see Edgar Martinez making so much progress. I’d have guessed that it would be Mussina who picked up a huge chunk like that, but instead it’s the greatest DH ever. Don’t get me wrong, Mussina is making progress and setting himself up for a nice run to the Coop, but I would have put the money on the wins.
MILLER: I’m also happy to see Edgar move. I don’t know what I would have guessed, but I would have certainly hoped for more progress from Mussina. And Larry Walker! I know. I shouldn’t be surprised so frequently that the BBWAA does a poor job understanding things more complex than wins, saves, and runs batted in. Yes, of course Walker’s raw numbers are inflated. That’s why you should largely ignore raw numbers. But I digress.
ERIC: Of course, the most shocking news is the surge by Bonds and Clemens. You’ve nicely laid out elsewhere on our site why this is batsh*t crazy logic, but it does appear to be operative for many of voters.
MILLER: I’m not so shocked with the Bonds/Clemens surge as I am by its timing. I thought the hold-outs would hold out a little longer. But I did think those two would eventually get support. You’re certainly right about the lack of logic in voting them in just because another group voted for Bud Selig though.
Anyway, this is a predictions post, so let’s get back to those. We agree that Bagwell and Raines are in. We agree that Pudge is the biggest longshot of the other three near 75%.
ERIC: Despite, ironically, being the leader in the clubhouse.
MILLER: We agree that Hoffman is more likely than Vlad, though I’m less certain than you are of his induction. And we agree that nobody else has a shot of getting in this year.
ERIC: So we can turn this into some probabilities, right? Let’s make the following assumptions about the electoral probability of the remaining five with a shot:
With a little multiplication:
That’s a heckuva lot better odds for five some than I’d have predicted at the outset of this election. Which is of huge importance for several candidates in 2018, 2019, and beyond. With Raines and Smith guaranteed gone, knocking out three other high-level vote getters would really open the field. In fact, Hoffman, Guerrero, and Rodriguez would represent 900+ newly open ballot slots among them in addition to the 900 or so guaranteed to open with Bagwell, Raines, and Smith’s departures from the ballot.
MILLER: Well, the ballot is going to need those spots next year. Chipper Jones should be on everyone’s. Jim Thome is going to get a ton of support. Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones will deserve a good deal. And Omar Vizquel will soak up votes.
ERIC: Let’s map out the worst case scenario where Vlad, Hoffman, and I-Rod all miss by one vote. Just say that the difference between final and public voting percentages (pre-results) stays consistent for each candidate year over year and that newbies lose on average 2% from pre-results to final (which is the average of the previous three years for candidates who survived the 5% cutoff). And let’s give Chipper 90% of next year’s vote and Thome 80%. Next year would look like this in terms of known or estimated votes:
With an electorate of 450 or so, there are 4,500 ballot slots. We’ve now accounted for 3,520 of them. So there’s 1,020 left, or 2.3 per ballot. Two point three!!! That’s not many to split among the fifteen above, Rolen, Andruw, Vizquel, my pet candidate Johan Santana, and Johnny Damon who could cadge some votes. And one player can’t occupy more than one ballot slot. Now subtract out Vlad, Hoffman, and Pudge and we release 1,011 votes, upping the quantity available per ballot to 4.5. That’s a massive difference for players like Rolen and Andruw who are the kind of subtler candidates that the BBWAA hasn’t been kind to. AND THEN comes 2019 with Mariano the only lock for election, but joined by Doc Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, and Lance Berkman. The problem is there’s a lot of guys in 2018 and 2019 who aren’t no-doubt Hall honorees but who are likely deserving and need time and ballot space to build their case, the same way Tim Raines and Bert Blyleven have (or Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter for that matter). I’d hate to see them not get that lengthy scrutiny because…. Well, my blood pressure is going up, so let’s just say the glut is real and will have nasty effects on deserving players if the BBWAA can’t get itself together to put four or five of these guys over the line.
MILLER: There’s only one more meaningful question. Will Jorge Posada remain on the ballot for another year? I think he will.
ERIC: For all the vote-snatching reasons above, I surely hope not.
MILLER: I think he’s worthy of staying on the ballot. I’m still going to hope for justice, and that means I have to hope Hoffman doesn’t get in, the BBWAA wises up and stops voting for him, and the Hall changes its rules yet again so that writers can vote for up to 18 candidates.
My final predictions put Bagwell and Raines in, of course. Hoffman will get in too. Pudge won’t. And Vlad. Vlad. I just don’t know, so I’ll go with what’s best for the game. Vlad nails exactly 75% and gets in on his first try.
Enjoy the results, everyone!
In 2004 George Bush ran for re-election against the Democratic nominee, John Kerry. As most are, it was a contentious campaign. And there was one particular jab made quite frequently by the Republican side, one that shocked me by sticking. Kerry was labeled as a flip-flopper, someone who changed his view on issues. In contrast, Bush didn’t change his view, I suppose. To me, someone who doesn’t ever change their minds doesn’t really think. See, I’m not right about everything today. And neither are you. If we don’t change our minds about some things, it means we stopped thinking, stopped learning.
I’m not making an argument about Bush or about Kerry. I’m simply saying that particular criticism of Kerry should not have stuck.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as a flip-flopper. Oh, there is. Read on.
Unlike some followers of Ryan Thibs’ Hall Tracker, an absolutely indispensable link at this time of the baseball season, I think members of the BBWAA are doing a pretty good job. Collectively, they’re struggling to elect as many as they should, but there are tons of reasonable ballots. When trying to identify the worst ballot of the year, one should probably wait until they’re all in. I won’t do that. See, I knew the worst one when it came out. And there’s almost no ballot that could possibly exist that would be worse in my mind.
It’s not the ridiculous Steven Marcus ballot with just Vlad and Hoffman on it. It’s not Tony Massarotti’s ballot, which includes just Bonds, Clemens, Edgar, Manny, and Pudge. It’s not the idiotic Rick Morrissey ballot with only Hoffman, Raines, Schilling, and Walker on it. It’s not the Bagwell, Hoffman, Raines ballot of Bob Padecky. It’s not even the annual Juan Vene fiasco that includes Vlad, McGriff, Raines, Pudge, and Smith this year.
The worst ballot of the year, pretty unbelievably to me, is a ten-man ballot. It was, I assume blindly, constructed by the moronic George Willis of the New York Post.
(So the word “moronic” made it through two drafts of this post. If I’m being fair, Willis isn’t moronic. He’s almost certainly a better writer than I am, even though he seems to cover a lot of boxing and combat sports. At worst, it’s his ballot selections that are moronic. And I’m a petulant child).
Here are the ten names Willis included.
Any ballot that includes Bagwell and Raines seems like it should be at least okay, and on the surface, this ballot isn’t miserable. I wouldn’t vote for Posada, and I think support for McGriff and Smith is misplaced. I also wouldn’t get Vlad or Sheffield on my ballot, especially if my ballot has room for PED users – like Sheffield.
Here are the real problems:
Pudge Posada ============================================= BA .296 .273 OBP .334 .374 SLG .464 .474 OPS+ 106 121 H 2844 1664 R 1354 900 HR 311 275 RBI 1332 1065 ASG 14 5 GG 13 0 WAR 68.4 42.7
Rate stats say Posada was a better hitter. But that’s in part because he was relieved of his job because he wasn’t a good enough defender. I-Rod is probably the best defensive catcher ever. He hung on for an extra 1000 hits and 700 R+RBI because he was a good hitter with a great glove and arm. Posada is closer to Pudge’s greatness than he is to mine and yours, but only by a little. Take away his seasons in 2002 and 2003, and he’s closer in value to what we put up than he is to Pudge. Truly, this is a terrible decision.
It’s hard to suggest that any one ballot is worse that all others, especially when one writer included just Guerrero and Hoffman. But a ballot where its submitter changed his mind on eight returners without explanation and voted for an inferior corner outfielder and an inferior catcher without explanation merits that distinction.
I’m opposed to taking away someone’s right to vote for the Hall if they’re qualified by rule, but I’m tempted to make an exception in Willis’ case. Then again, maybe he’ll flip or flop his way to a better ballot next year.
Since we’ll soon be telling the Hall electors what a lousy job they did in the Hall of Fame voting, we should put our necks on the line too. This week we are by publishing our would-be ballots. They are welcome to hector us for our provisional selections. Hey, if you don’t like any of the following, you won’t like my ballot:
I approach this vote much as I would a ballot for the Hall of Miller and Eric. I use all the same stats, adjusted all the same ways. I even look for opportunities to support candidates at positions where the Hall of Fame lacks honorees. So let’s see what I’d do in the BBWAA’s shoes. Players are listed in alphabetical order.
The Mock Envelope Please
I look at the on-the-field performance. He’s got it.
If I’d had more room
Overall, I’m a full-ballot guy. There’s so many worthy would-be players on the docket that I’m left feeling bad for the guys I’d like to vote for. But, you know, that’s life. There’s a lot of voting needs doing to break up this crazy logjam. And the next several years offer little if any relief for it because many upcoming players fall into the in-between zone occupied by many of the men we’ve discussed above. To me they are simple decisions. I’d vote for Roy Halladay every day of the week and twice on Sunday. But fewer wins than Curt Schilling might not get him a second ballot. Who knows with this bunch!?!?!? But I know what I know, so I vote what I vote. Just like every BBWAA elector probably feels like they do.
It’s that time of the year again. The BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot is out, and the writers are sharing their annual articles and their annual ballots through the great Ryan Thibs. Today I’m sharing mine. On Friday, you’ll see Eric’s. So without any further ado…
Barry Bonds: He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen Mike Trout.
Roger Clemens: If liking the guy were critical, the Hall would have a very different look.
Curt Schilling: Take away the bloody sock. Take away the amazing playoff performance of 2001. He’s still an absolute no-brainer.
Jeff Bagwell: This is the year.
Mike Mussina: If he pitched two more years, we might be looking at 300 wins and a place inside the top-20 in pitcher WAR. Borderline players aren’t two years away from those numbers.
Tim Raines: Fingers crossed.
Ivan Rodriguez: Who’s better at the position in history? Johnny Bench and Buck Ewing. Maybe Gary Carter. Maybe Yogi Berra or Mike Piazza or Bill Dickey or Mickey Cochrane. That’s seven catchers at an absolute maximum. Pudge has to go in.
Larry Walker: There are four types of voters: (1) those who use Coors Field as an excuse not to look deeply enough into Walker’s greatness, (2) those who don’t understand that WAR and OPS+ are context neutral and mention Coors Field as an example of their insight into the game’s nuances by voting for Walker anyway, (3) those who get it and vote for Walker yet still have to mention Coors Field as if it’s their contractual obligation, and (4) those who don’t mention Coors Field.
Come to think of it, there are only three types of voters.
Edgar Martinez: There are four types of voters: (1) those who ignore nearly a half-century of baseball history and act as if designated hitter isn’t a position yet talk about it as a reason not to vote for Edgar, (2) those who don’t understand that WAR takes position into account, mention designated hitter as if it doesn’t, and discuss Edgar’s position as an example of their insight into the game’s nuances by voting for him anyway, (3) those who get it and vote for Edgar yet still have to mention designated hitter as if it’s their contractual obligation, and (4) those who don’t mention designated hitter.
Come to think of it, there are only three types of voters.
This is where it gets tough. I have just one more vote for Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, and Vlad Guerrero, all of whom I think belong in the Hall. As far as I’m concerned, Manny has the best numbers. He’s the most deserving if you just look at his playing record. But I don’t think it’s just about his playing record. Sosa and Sheffield probably used performance enhancing drugs. The same is true with Bonds, Clemens, and Pudge. Manny absolutely used. He used when they were expressly banned by Major League Baseball. He used after his own Players Association negotiated their banning and suspensions for using. He got suspended. He used again. He got suspended again.
I’m of the opinion that if you do something wrong and are punished, you should have all of your rights returned to you once that punishment has ended. I think there should be a clean slate. Manny was suspended twice. You can say that he only served one of his suspensions and retired to avoid the other, but I don’t hold that against him. Manny ought to be free.
And if I could vote for fourteen guys on this ballot, Manny would get my vote. But since I can only vote for ten, I have to keep thinking about Manny.
He cheated. And I suspect he used performance enhancing drugs other than the times he was caught. I suspect his numbers aren’t totally real, though I don’t know how to adjust them. And since I don’t adjust them for anyone else, I won’t adjust his either.
I love Manny. I really do. I think my favorite live baseball moment came in Baltimore in 2008 when Manny took Chad Bradford deep for his 500th career homer. But I take my fake Hall of Fame ballot way too seriously, and Manny’s candidacy makes me uncomfortable when I compare him to other deserving players on this ballot.
Manny Ramirez won’t get my tenth vote.
That leaves Sosa, Sheffield, Kent, and Vlad. So to make the call, I’ll go to MAPES, my system for evaluating careers.
MAPES Rank at Position ========================================== Sammy Sosa 47.82 23 Gary Sheffield 48.94 20 Jeff Kent 45.15 23 Vlad Guerrero 46.79 26
One of the things that should make this process easy is that three of our contenders played the same position. To be honest though, that doesn’t help me. The difference between their positional ranks and their MAPES points is little enough that I want to look at other things. If I blindly follow my numbers, there’s no need to even write posts. I can just post numbers with a bit of context and be done with it. But that would be silly and a bit arrogant. So I have to keep digging.
One thing my numbers don’t take into consideration for hitters is playoff performance, so let’s look there.
Playoffs PA R H HR RBI BA OBP SLG Rings ================================================================ Sammy Sosa 67 8 13 2 7 .245 .403 .415 0 Gary Sheffield 202 27 40 6 19 .248 .401 .398 1 Jeff Kent 189 25 47 9 23 .276 .340 .500 0 Vlad Guerrero 188 17 45 2 20 .263 .324 .339 0
Overall, there’s not much to see here. Sheffield and Kent were very good in their only trip to the World Series. Vlad was awful in his. Sosa never went. Playoff performance won’t separate these four.
Sheffield and Vlad were better hitters than the other two, but Kent played an important defensive position passably, and Sosa was the only very good defender in the group. On one hand, I prefer the guy who played the more difficult position. On the other, I prefer the more complete player. And on my third hand, given that I trust offensive numbers more than those on defense, I should maybe take the best hitters. I’ve used too many hands, and I still don’t have an answer. Moving on…
Sheffield has no meaningful post-season hardware. The other three have one MVP each. Vlad has one that Ichiro or A-Rod or maybe Miguel Tejada deserved. Kent has one too, and I think it’s not terrible that he got it. I’d have preferred Todd Helton or Andruw Jones though. Like the others, Sosa has one that he doesn’t deserve. I’d have given his to Barry Bonds. The real truth of this paragraph is that there is no meaningful post-season hardware. In my Hall consideration, I don’t care who the BBWAA selected for their awards. Rather, I’m concerned with actual greatness.
By my count, only Sosa had a great season, one of 8+ WAR where you have a legitimate MVP case. They’re very close with All-Star type seasons. The right fielders have five each, while Kent has four. And a 2-win season represents the level of an everyday player. Sheffield wins that less important category by a decent amount. The chart below shows the total number of seasons each player had at a particular WAR level.
My Adjusted WAR 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 =============================================== Sammy Sosa 1 1 1 2 5 8 9 11 Gary Sheffield 0 0 0 3 5 8 11 16 Jeff Kent 0 0 2 2 4 5 9 13 Vlad Guerrero 0 0 1 3 5 9 10 11
There’s little that separates these guys. I can’t get one of them to stand out.
So I come back to Manny, which I said I wasn’t going to do. But I don’t like any of my other choices better than the rest.
Manny beats everyone on the list by seven MAPES points. He has two rings, more playoff homers and ribbies than everyone else combined, and a World Series MVP from 2004. Plus, he was just amazing in the 2008 playoffs when his Dodgers failed to get to the Series. In terms of seasonal WAR, he has only one 7-win season, but eight at 5+ and a dozen at 4+. There’s some real separation from all of these guys. It’s not be a little. It’s by a lot.
Manny’s company on my combined list is Ernie Banks, Sam Crawford, and Paul Molitor. The company of the other guys is, well, the other guys.
So, much to my surprise…
Manny Ramirez: He’s just about my favorite right handed hitter ever to watch swing a bat. He’s not going to make it to the Hall this year. He might not even see a second ballot. Honestly, we’ve never seen a player with Manny’s baggage considered by the BBWAA. Sure, Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for ten games, but that was a different time for steroids. MLB cared less than they seem to today. As for writers, I just don’t know. This writer is a little uncomfortable with a vote Manny. But what it comes down to is voting for the ten best players on the ballot. Manny is one of those ten. Kent, Vlad, Sosa, and Sheff aren’t.