Next week the BBWAA will announce the results of this year’s Hall of Fame election. This year is in many ways the last calm year we’ll have for a while. Next year, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa are on the ballot, among others. In 2014, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, among others. In 2015, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz. For us, this means we get one more year of relative calmness before endless steroid related teeth gnashing. For those on the current ballot, it means this year is their last chance to gain any traction before the ballot gets flooded with great and/or controversial players.
Obviously, I’m not a member of the BBWAA and thus do not have a Hall of Fame ballot. However, I do think way too much about this than I should, so here are my thoughts on this year’s candidates. To give a quick primer on my philosophy:
1.) I tend to be statistically inclined, and base my arguments on them. No, I won’t give you a players’ WAR, but don’t expect the word “RBI” to show up here.
2.) I have no problem with the 15 year rule. I find the calls for the vote to be one and done incredibly shortsighted. The time frame for balloting allows for new information to come out, and for the electorate to argue amongst themselves and the fans. It allows minds to change, or at least think about the candidates more than a knee jerk response. If it helps a guy I wanted to see get in, like Bert Blyleven, great. If it helps a guy I didn’t want to see get in, like Jim Rice, so be it.
3.) I don’t try to think of the Hall all encompassing. I try to keep it to each player individually. As Joe Posnanski documented, the Hall “standards” have changed so much that there really aren’t any standards. I also don’t label myself as a Big or Small Hall guy, but I’m guessing once you see my picks, you’ll say Big.
With that, let’s get started, and when you’re done reading, remember to take our poll if you haven’t already. This is Part One. Part Two will come later this afternoon.
Jeff Bagwell: YES
Let’s get one thing straight from the start. At no point in time has any evidence come up that Jeff Bagwell used steroids. To withhold voting for him because of “suspicions” based on the era he played and his physical appearance is unfair and wrong. With that said, Bagwell could mash, highlighted by his 1994 MVP season, where he hit .368/.451/.750. His overall batting line for his 15 year career was .297/.408/.540, good for a 149 OPS+. Also, until the very end, Bagwell hit year after year similar to those career rates. Even with the glut of first basemen from the 1990s, Bagwell stands out.
Juan Gonzalez: NO
Juan Gone won two MVPs. In 1996, he hit .314/.368/.632 and just beat about A-Rod, who had a .414 OBP and should have won. In 1998, he won easily after hitting .318/.366/.630. It’s more understandable than 1996, but Nomar and Jeter had similar average and OBP numbers playing a more defensive position. Gonzalez had a nice peak slugging wise, but was no-OBP maven, brought no defensive value, and basically fell off a cliff, hurting his career counting stats. He barely survived his first year on the ballot, and could easily drop off this year.
Barry Larkin: YES
Larkin’s two big shortstop contemporaries were Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken. He wasn’t as good as defender as Ozzie (although it’s close), and he wasn’t quite the offensive player as Cal was in his prime. Larkin was a career .295/.371/.444 hitter. He was the 1995 MVP, and of the hitters, deserved it (it could be argued Greg Maddux deserved it). He was also a career Red, spending 19 seasons there, 13 of those with at least a 103 OPS+. Given the offensive standards of shortstops, plus Larkin’s defensive skills, this is a fairly easy yes. Larkin last year received 62.1% of the vote, most of those not elected. If anyone does get elected, it’s probably Larkin.
Edgar Martinez: YES
It is without doubt that Edgar Martinez could tear the cover off the ball, hitting .312/.418/.515 in his career. After he broke in for good in 1990, Edgar OBP’ed at least .400 11 of 15 years, and led the league three times. At the same time, there is no doubt that Edgar provided no defensive value due to being a DH most of his career (he wouldn’t be the first primary DH in the Hall though, that was Paul Molitor). It’s also true that Edgar didn’t break in for good until he was 27, stunting his counting stats. For a guy that could hit like him, 309 homers and 2247 hits aren’t good. These are both legitimate reasons for not voting for him. I, however, come down on the side of Martinez being the best DH ever, and an incredible force with the bat for 15 seasons.
Don Mattingly: NO
Every year I put out the FanIQ version of the ballot, and every year Mattingly gets around 60% of the vote. To a point, I see it. From 1984 to 1987, he was one of the best players in baseball, and of course, who doesn’t like Donnie Baseball? There’s also the very similar numbers to Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, as seen below.
Mattingly: .307/.353/.471, 2153 hits, 222 HRs
Puckett: .318/.360/.477, 2304 hits, 207 HRs
There is one big difference though. While Puckett was a centerfielder, Mattingly was a first baseman. The standard of offense for these two positions is very different. What hurts Mattingly was his back problems hastened his decline, especially power-wise, which is very important for first base. With a true peak of only four years, his career numbers just don’t cut the mustard.
Fred McGriff: NO (but close)
From 1988-2000, Fred McGriff hit between 27 and 37 home runs every year but two. His average those years was always between .273 and .318. His OBP was always between .353 and .405. Crime Dog was almost metronomically consistent, which in a way hurts him, as there aren’t any seasons that jump off the page. The high standards of first base, especially given the era, don’t help McGriff either. For me, he’s a close no, meaning more than anyone else, my mind could change.
Mark McGwire: YES
Two things. One, I’m not taking his disastrous Congressional testimony into account, for reasons I explained the last time I wrote about the Hall of Fame. Two, no matter what your reasons for opposing McGwire, please don’t compare him to Dave Kingman. McGwire had a career OBP of .394, which is very un-Kingman like. In addition to his 583 homers, McGwire hit .263/.394/.588, good for an OPS+ of 162, the 12th best mark of all time. The way I see it, the history of baseball can not be told without McGwire, especially since we’ll never know how many people were on steroids and how much they exactly benefited from them. Of course, McGwire isn’t anyone close to election and probably never will be.
Tune in later today for Part Two.