Baseball's Big Honor, 2015

As is my custom for one of my favorite-est subjects, it's time to run down the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame.  Previous rundowns can be found elsewhere on the site.

Steroids will continue to be an issue.  My original approach was that if I thought a player would have made the HOF without using PEDs, he was in.  Barry Bonds is in this category - Barry was on the verge of being an all-time great before he started using, but PEDs extended an already-great career and pushed his totals much higher than they would have been with normal career progression.  Ditto for Clemens.  On the other hand, if I thought they pushed someone from good to great, then no dice...McGwire and Sosa being the obvious examples.

That said, my thinking has evolved, at least partially due to the fact that obvious first-category HOF players - Clemens, Bonds, Biggio - have failed to make it.  I'm starting to think it's time to just acknowledge that the game was drowning in PEDs and that some of the stats from the period are ridiculous, but that these were still elite players.

It gets tricky with guys like Sosa and McGwire...my attitude has circled around to the point where I wouldn't just dismiss them for steroids alone.  I still don't think they should be in, FWIW.

Repeating my thoughts on holdover candidates:

  • In - Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mike Mussina
  • Close, but no:  Tim Raines, Curt Schilling
  • Out:  Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Sammy Sosa

So, to the obvious outs, with comments when I feel like it:

  • Eddie Guardado - I honestly have no recollection of this guy even existing, let alone for 17 seasons.  Wait, what?  17 seasons?
  • Tony Clark - a good player, could be a contributor on a championship team, never great.
  • Aaron Boone - Had one of the biggest home runs in Yankee history, but also never a great player.  Had more power than I remember.
  • Troy Percival - Closers.  Yuck.
  • Rich Aurilia - Blech.
  • Jermaine Dye - A nice career, but never all that elite.
  • Cliff Floyd - There was a time when Cliff Floyd was in high trade demand as a bat for hire.  Good times.
  • Jason Schmidt - had two straight huge seasons for the Giants, but mediocre otherwise.
  • Tom Gordon - A real good pitcher...if you think wins and saves are of equal value (they're obviously not), then Gordon had a hand in 296 wins, which is pretty good.
  • Darin Erstadt - A famous hard-ass, also had one of the all-time PED seasons in 2000, hitting .355 (his only season over .300) with 25 HR, 100 RBI, 121 Runs (second-best totals:  19 HR, 82 RBI, 99 Runs).  Voters of the time were so impressed that they voted him...eighth in the MVP voting.  Man, 2000 was a joke of an offensive season.
  • Brian Giles - more power than I remember (like all these guys, I guess, including the pitchers), got on base quite a bit, could definitely be in the center of a great offense, but a notch below elite.

I guess I felt like making lots of comments.  As usual.

The grey area guys:

  • Carlos Delgado - I spoke earlier about 2000.  In 2000, Carlos Delgado had 57 doubles, 41 HR, 137 RBI, walked 123 times, had 15 HBP, and hit .344, for an OPS of 1134.  He had 378 total bases.  He finished FOURTH in MVP voting.  For a time - let's say 1998 to around 2003 - he was an absolutely devastating hitter, as menacing a guy as you could find, even more so than guys like Jason Giambi or Rodriguez.  I don't remember much chatter about him being a druggie, but he does get tarred with the brush of the era, and if he's the first guy from the era that we let in, we're going to have problems down the road.  Verdict - I think of his candidacy like I think of Larry Walker's - terrific, but not quite, at least for now.
  • Nomar Garciaparra - Came up around the same time as Rodriguez and Jeter and appeared to be every bit the offensive player of either.  There's black ink all over the place through his first four full seasons, put an absolute ton of runs on the board.  Always injury-prone (steroids are a bitch, man), he hurt his wrist early in 2001 and his entire career changed.  He still had some pop and still got on base, but lost 50-60 points on his batting average, 70-80 points on his slugging.  In 2002 Theo Epstein took over the Sox, and a guy who didn't walk much (never had) and wasn't all that great with the glove who wanted a gigantic contract simply didn't fit in...he bounced around after 2004, and played well at times, but he never again played over 123 games in a season after he turned 30 and his career numbers aren't all that great.  Think of him like Cesar Cedeno - an unbelievably great start, but couldn't sustain it.  Verdict - out.
  • Gary Sheffield - see above, re: Carlos Delgado, in that he was as intimidating a guy you could find.  He'd stand there, stock upright, waving his bat like he just couldn't *wait* to beat holy hell out of something...a ball, a catcher, the hot dog guy, whatever.  He had probably the fastest bat I've ever seen, which gave him scary power.  Could hit for average, could run, drew a ton of walks...but something of a difficult head case that the Brewers couldn't figure out and bounced around defensively to the point where he wasn't really good anywhere.  But he hit, and hit, and hit, both pre- and post-PED era.  A tremendous offensive player, for a long period of time (his 2009, at age 40, is worth noting - superficially meh, with .276 / 10 / 43 triple crown numbers in 100 games, but he spiked it with 40 walks for an OPS of 823).  Verdict - out, but barely.

These are easy:

  • Pedro Martinez - First of all, as a Yankee fan I couldn't stand Pedro Martinez, and the Don Zimmer thing still bugs me...but man, what a wonderful pitcher, just an absolute pleasure to watch.  I never saw Marichal, but I imagine he was something like Pedro; not overpowering, a dizzying array of speeds, arm angles, and tempo, and before you knew it you were swinging at balls that were landing in the third row of the stands...he had entire seasons where he was virtually unhittable and didn't walk anyone.  His 4-year stretch from 1997 to 2000 (yes, that same 2000 season) ranks among the best in history - 77-25, 2.16 ERA, 288 Ks / season, 11.5 Ks per 9 IP, .925 WHIP, 11 shutouts...3 Cy Youngs, and could've won a fourth.  Then he got hurt and missed most of 2001 but came back and tacked on three more seasons just like the others.  Brilliant.  Verdict - In, obviously.
  • John Smoltz - in 1987, the Tigers were in a tight division battle with the Blue Jays, finishing off what would prove to be the last hurrah in the mostly underwhelming era (save 1984) of Whitaker, Morris, Trammell, and Gibson.  Needing an extra starter, they sent as-yet unspectacular 20-year old Lansing native John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander, who promptly went 9-0 down the stretch and got the Tigers to a playoff that they lost to the first Twins World Series champs.  Alexander was a good pitcher, but he was done two years later as the Tigers' wheels fell off; he lost 18, the Tigers lost 103 and started a long, long spiral of terrible baseball.  Sparky Anderson, man...what an overrated hack.  But I digress.

Question:  would the Tigers still trade John Smoltz for that single division title?  You could probably still make that case through about 1992, when Smoltzie was a really good, if not quite elite pitcher with a 57-54 record and a couple of All-Star appearances but no Cy Young votes.  Maybe even through 1995 - 90-82 total with a couple of injuries and not quite the velocity he'd had earlier.  At that point, Smoltz was 28 and a good pitcher but you had to wonder if he'd ever be elite.  But the switch went on in 1996 and for the next 12 seasons he was brilliant...he missed one of those seasons with an injury that I've since forgotten, but he went 117-63 and struck out 8.5 per 9 innings.  For four of those seasons, he was a terrific closer.  Then he went back to starting and got a few more CYA votes that way, too.  The only hitch here is that his totals 213 wins, 3084 Ks, one Cy Young - aren’t as overwhelming as you might like, but he basically gave up four years as a starter.  Put him in the rotation for those four seasons and you're probably looking at 260 wins...as it is, he got 154 saves in those seasons; even if you don't give full credit for them, 367 wins + saves is a big number.  Verdict - It's interesting...he's obviously in, but as I said, it's not as overwhelming as I expected.  I think I have him mixed up with Glavine, which is part of the problem - that staff was so great that their accomplishments tend to run together a bit.

  • Randy Johnson - So, so obvious. The numbers - 303 Wins, 4875 Ks, 5 Cy Youngs (including 4 straight...just stop and think about that for a second) - are so spectacular that it's hard to overstate how great he really was.  He struck out a ton of guys, yes, but this was not Nolan Ryan-esque work, where he'd strike out 300 but walk 150 (which Ryan did.  Five times, including a remarkable 341 / 204 in 1977).  He'd consistently have K/W ratios of 4.5 and above.  He's 35th all-time, which for an extreme power pitcher is absolutely astounding.  I could keep rattling off numbers, but it's simple - he's one of the greatest left-handers in history.  Period.  Verdict - in, in, in.

So, my ballot this year:

  • Randy Johnson
  • John Smoltz
  • Pedro Martinez
  • Craig Biggio
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Fred McGriff
  • Mike Piazza
  • Roger Clemens
  • Barry Bonds
  • Mike Mussina

Ten on the nose, right in line with the maximum allowed.  My prediction is that the first four get in, Sheffield, Nomar, and Delgado stick around for another year, and Sosa falls off the ballot.

Made it, with an hour or so to spare!!!  The streak continues!

UPDATE:

Got it (mostly) right...Johnson, Smoltz, Pedro, and Biggio all made it in, Nomar and Sheffield stick around (although Nomar only stuck around by 3 votes), but Delgado fell 6 votes short of staying on for next year.  I'm okay with that.  Mattingly fell off after 15 years, maxing out at 28% of the vote in his very first year.

Piazza went from 62 to 69%, Raines from 46 to 55%, and Schilling from 29 to 39%, but most others stayed relatively stable.  Mussina and Trammell both got about 5 points, both to around 25%, still not in range of election, and next year will be Trammell's 15th year - he's not going to get there.

Some others from my 'yes' list above should get in next year, as the only obvious new candidate is Ken Griffey Jr.   Some people will make a case for Trevor Hoffmann and his 601 saves.  Those people are idiots, of course, but you'll see the case made.