Looking at the Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot (Part Three): The Second Half of the Newbies
Kenny Lofton: NO (but close)
No seriously, Kenny Lofton has a Hall of Fame case. A leadoff man’s primary job is to get on base, with stolen bases as an extra plus. From 1992 to 2000, Lofton had an OBP of at least .362 every year, with three of years over .400, making him the perfect leadoff guy on those famous 1990s Indians squads. Lofton also led the league in stolen bases five years in a row during that span. The second half of his career wasn’t as good as his prime in Cleveland (plus one year in Atlanta), but he was still a solid leadoff man for hire, posting OBP above average seasons with multiple teams well into his 30s, while still stealing 20 to 30 bases at a good success rate. In the end, after 17 seasons with 11 teams, he hit .299/.372/.423 with 622 stolen bases, 15th all-time. He was also a plus defender at center field in his prime and a 4 time Gold Glove winner. If it weren’t for the overcrowded ballot, I might have given him a vote. As it stands, I hope that overcrowding doesn’t cause Lofton to fall off the ballot. He deserves a real debate.
Jose Mesa: NO
I try not to be one of those people who says things like “Why is this guy on the ballot?” but seriously, why is Jose Mesa on the ballot?
Mike Piazza: YES
Piazza has a claim to being the best hitting catcher of all-time. He has the most homers ever by a catcher, with 396 (out of his 427 total). His career slugging percentage of .545 dwarfs every other catcher. He had an OPS over .900 every season from 1994-2002, and that was done at pitchers parks Dodger Stadium and Shea Stadium. If it weren’t for the issues discussed in Part One of this series, Piazza would be a lock for induction. That probably won’t happen, but I still think he’ll have the one of the better showings of the new players.
Reggie Sanders: NO
For a few years near the end of his career, Sanders seemed to find himself on different playoff team every year. He was another solid outfielder most of his career, but only in 1995 (155 OPS+) was he really spectacular.
Curt Schilling: YES
Evaluating 90s and 2000s pitchers will be different that in the past, because of the differences in usage that have developed in modern baseball. 5 man rotations and expanded bullpen usage mean it’s harder for starting pitchers to rack up high career win totals. Curt Schilling won 216 regular season games, which would be near the bottom if you ranked the legitimate starting pitcher Hall members by wins. What Schilling does have is over 3200 career innings with a 3.46 ERA, a 127 ERA+, and over 3100 strikeouts, 15th all-time. Multiple times he led the league in complete games (4 times), innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP (all twice). Schilling was never considered the best pitcher in baseball per se, but for most years from 1992 (his breakout year with the Phillies) to 2004 (his first with Boston), he was in the argument. We all of course also know of his postseason heroics. A 2.23 career postseason ERA, plus the Bloody Sock game, put a cap on a great career. I don’t much like the man personally, but I can’t deny he’s a worthy Hall of Famer. Outside of Biggio and maybe Piazza, Schilling is probably the most likely first timer to get in this time around.
See the next page for the rest of the first time balloters, including yet another one of those controversial sluggers.
Aaron Sele: NO
In my mind, Aaron Sele was a decent mid-level starter most of his career. What surprised me is that after his first three seasons, he only had one other season with an ERA under 4, a 3.60 in 2001 with the 116 win Mariners. He went to the Angels after that and was never close to that good.
Sammy Sosa: NO
This ballot makes it very hard to be fully objective, and it shows here. Part of it is there are returning players I want to vote for, and if I’m keeping with the 10 yes votes only rule, someone has to get bumped. Sosa’s main qualifier for induction is his 609 career home runs, 8th all time. Despite that, his career line of .273/.344/.534, good for just a 128 OPS+. That’s not everything of course, but it’s interesting to note. Early in Sosa’s career he was a low power, low OBP flailer. Sosa’s OBP problems continued until the famous 1998 season. The year before he hit just .251/.300/.480 (in fairness, he had three pretty good years before hand). 1998, of course, started a six year run as a Superman. If this were a less crowded ballot, I’d stop making excuses and say Yes, but there are players I want to vote for *more* than Sosa.
Mike Stanton: NO
Stanton pitched for 19 years in the big leagues, which is what happens when you are a reasonably competent left handed reliever. Obviously, reasonably competent left handed reliever does not equal Hall of Famer.
Todd Walker: NO
Todd Walker has the lowest career WAR of anyone on this year’s ballot, with 8.3 according to Baseball Reference. If it weren’t for his time in the fishbowl that was the 2003 Boston Red Sox, I doubt many of us would remember him.
David Wells: NO
A first ballot Hall of Personality inductee, Wells could throw a lot of innings, and didn’t walk anybody. However, he had surprisingly few great years, a heck of a lot of slightly above average ones, and finished with a career ERA of 4.13, which doesn’t cut it even in such a high offensive era. I didn’t think Wells was a Hall of Famer by any means, but before I looked I thought he was closer than that.
Rondell White: NO
This ballot is full of outfielders who were above average for a good long time. White is the final one of those on this ballot. It’s nice to see him, Conine, Finley, Green, Sanders, and Klesko get a hat tip before they fall off the ballot for good in a few weeks.
Woody Williams: NO
I’ll be honest. I had no idea Woody Williams had been retired for 5 years already. A career 4.18 ERA obviously isn’t close to enough.
Tomorrow we conclude with a look at the returning players. To review, so far I’ve voted yes on 5 players: Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, and Schilling.