Hall of Fame, 2014

It’s a new year, which means it’s again time to talk about the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I won’t recreate my deep dive into last year’s candidates (which can be found here, here, here, here, and here) - since none were elected, most of what I wrote at the time still applies.  Regarding the guys who were carried over to this year's ballot:

In:  Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds

Close, but not quite:  Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling

Out:  Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, Dale Murphy, Sammy Sosa

Obviously, it’s a mixed bag of PED guys there.  My approach on those guys is pretty simple – if, in my opinion, they were valid HOFers before they hit the juice, and would have likely made some major milestones with ‘normal’ career decline, they’re in (Barry Bonds is the clearest example; he was in the HOF years before he bulked up.  Ditto for Clemens).  If the juice made them great players (Sammy Sosa), or allowed them to extend their careers long enough to become candidates (Mark McGwire), then they’re out.  As always, results may vary.

On to the “clearly out” first-timers for 2014, comments where they pop into my head:

Closers:  See my thoughts on closers in general here.  Neither Todd Jones nor Armando Benitez were ever really considered to be elite players, but the ridiculous use of closers over the last 20 years allowed them to pile up some big numbers (they are 16th and 17th all-time in saves, respectively).  Mike Timlin didn’t even do that much.  Greg Gagne is a slightly different case from the other three; he at least won a Cy Young and finished in the top seven two other times and got some MVP consideration.  He was as good as there was for three years there, which makes his case only slightly better than Willie Hernandez’, and he ain’t gettin’ in.  Plus he was a juicer.

Hideo Nomo:  Won a Rookie of the Year, got some Cy Young votes, but was essentially a spare part by the time he was 28.

Kenny Rogers:  Had a nice long career, but his peak was never all that high and didn’t get a single CYA vote until he was 41 (!).  Plus he was a legendary a-hole.

Jacque Jones

Paul LoDuca:  Paul LoDuca lasted for 11 seasons?  I can’t honestly say I remember any of them.

Ray Durham

J.T. Snow

Sean Casey:  Was a pretty good hitter for average, but not much power, was deeply, deeply slow, and didn’t walk.  A good player, but clearly out.

Richie Sexson:  I was expecting to dismiss Sexson as a classic home run or strikeout guy, and surprised to see that he had a lifetime OPS of 851, which is about 50 points higher than I expected.  Couldn’t run, but had really good power, drew a bunch of walks.  Better than I remember, but still clearly out.

Next, the grey area guys:

Moises Alou:  I remember thinking he was pretty overrated while he was still playing.  I think that’s true, but he did do a few HOF-type things.  Got some meaningful MVP consideration a couple of times (in the aborted 1994 season, he was the lead dog for the best-in-baseball Expos, but he finished behind Bagwell, and in 1998 he was third behind Sosa and McGwire.  Not sure if that one is meaningful or not).  Made a bunch of All-Star teams.  Still, his comps are guys like Magglio Ordonez, Ellis Burks, and Shawn Green, good players all but also all clearly out.  Verdict – Out.

Luis Gonzalez:  I have no idea if he was ever fingered as a user, but it’s pretty easy to see when he started taking them.  His per-162-game averages until age 30, when the Tigers traded him for Karim Garcia during one of their “what the hell are we doing here” seasons:  .341 OBP, .432 Slugging, 16 HR, 80 RBI.  A decent player, but nothing special.  He’d keep his job on most teams.  His next five years in Arizona:  .405 OBP, .564 Slugging, 34 HR (including a completely ridiculous 57 in 2001), 115 RBI, four All-Star teams.  Go ahead, tell me the PEDs didn’t get him there.  Verdict – Out.

Jeff Kent:  The flip side of Moises Alou, in that I remember thinking he was way underrated, despite the fact that he consistently showed up in the MVP voting during his 6-year peak and won in 2000.  Terrific numbers, especially for a second baseman - .550 to .600 slugging, solid .290 average with some walks, solid 850 to 1000 OPS, didn’t strike out a lot.  Good home run power, but very good double / triple power.  Reached 2400 hits, 375 HR (most ever by a second baseman) scored 1300 runs, knocked in 1500.  Similar to some others, though; if he’d gotten to 2500 hits and 400 HR he’d probably be in, but he just missed both.  I don’t generally like to do the “this guy first” argument, but in this case, Craig Biggio, Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich were better players who should go in first.  Verdict – Out, barely.

Mike Mussina:  I loved Mike Mussina, even before the Yankees got him.  The guy just never seemed to have a bad year, cranking out 18-6s one after another.  That made him extremely valuable – the “problem” was that he had all those good years, but never had a truly great one, up to and including his final season, the only time he topped 20 wins.  What he did do was fire out 220 innings, striking out 180 with a 3.54 ERA and winning 18 and finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting, just about every single season (by the way, I totally pulled those numbers out of the air and they are almost exactly his norms per 162 games during his 10 years in Baltimore).  Drumbeats, over and over, with enough depth in the numbers to put him in relatively easily.  Verdict – In.

And the big names:

Frank Thomas:  An easy one, and a personal favorite.  Thomas was as devastating an offensive player as there was for about eight years there.  Consistently hit .320 or so with 120 walks and 40 doubles and 40 homers, scored 100 and knocked in 120, just generally put an absolute shitload of runs on the board.  Won a couple of MVPs, probably could have won a couple more without if everyone hadn't been juicing around him.  “Only” 2468 hits, primarily due to the fact that he was taking 100 walks a year; he almost certainly could have gotten to 3000 if he’d been more aggressive at the plate, which seem silly, since he was a hugely intimidating hitter.  What he did was work the count until he got a pitch that he that he could smash to bits.  Couldn’t run much, not a great fielder, but man…what a hitter.  Verdict – In.

Tom Glavine:   Easier than Frank Thomas – won 2 Cy Youngs, finished top-3 four other times.  Won 20 five times, leading the league each time.  Was also terrific in the World Series, unlike some of the other Braves pitchers – went 4-3 (including a 1-hitter in the 1995 clincher) that included 3-2 and 2-1 hard-luck losses.  An easy one.  Verdict – In.

Greg Maddux:  Even easier – won 355, despite having only two 20-win seasons (by the way – I know it’s unfashionable to cite wins as a statistic, but despite my love of the new numbers I’m still an old fart), which is mind-boggling for a couple of reasons; first, because I could’ve sworn he had at least six 20-win seasons.  Second, because it’s 355 freaking wins.  The current active leader is Andy Pettite, with 256, followed by Tim Hudson and CC Sabathia at 205.  Anyone think any of those guys will get to 300, let alone 355?  The highest guy under 30 is Felix Hernandez.  With 110.  It’s just a huge number that might never get reached again unless the current approach to starting pitching takes a 180-degree turn.  Thing is, he didn’t do it by dominating anyone, ever.  What he did was hit every single spot he tried to hit, and then he’d push it outside an inch, and then another inch, and before you knew it you were swinging at balls that were hitting the fungo circle.  When he was on, it really was a beautiful thing.  Between Maddux and Clemens, it’s pretty obvious that the greatest right-handed pitcher of the last 50 years is on the current HOF ballot…but I have no idea which one that is.  Verdict – In, obviously.

SO.  My ballot this year:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Fred McGriff
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Craig Biggio
  • Mike Piazza
  • Roger Clemens
  • Barry Bonds
  • Mike Mussina
  • Frank Thomas
  • Tom Glavine
  • Greg Maddux

Yes, that’s 11 guys.  Apparently the Hall limits voters to ten per year – in that case, I’d probably drop McGriff...and probably Palmeiro (I'm starting to pull back from that one, but i'm not all the way there).  I suspect that Biggio, Thomas, Glavine, and Maddux will make it, along with Jack Morris.  

The hall is rapidly approaching a tipping point on the PED era:  there are probably 18 guys who can make a legit case this year, and Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz come on next year.  I don't know if they'll ever reach the "put him in, just put his steroid use on the plaque" stage, and I've generally rejected that argument, but I'm starting to come around.  If they only let Maddux and Glavine in this year I think I'll swing to that side of the fence.