With the flurry of the Winter Meetings feeling like a distant memory, many baseball writers have shifted their attention away from the hot stove league (albeit temporarily) to writing articles about the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. As with nearly every election, there always seems to be a bit of controversy surrounding certain candidates. Several BBWAA members will steadfastly throw their support behind a specific candidate, while the sabermetric community will write numerous articles providing myriad reasons why said candidate should not be elected and vice-versa.
While this back and forth exchange of rhetoric can sometimes be a little overwhelming, the overall net gain is positive. Even though their performance doesn’t change during their period of eligibility, the candidates are re-examined and re-evaluated; minds are changed; and cases become more clear. In a way, it’s somewhat of a learning process. Mistakes are certainly made along the way with certain players getting elected that probably shouldn’t have (Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, Tony Perez), and others have been criminally left out in the cold despite carrying credentials that are more than adequate (Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Dick Allen). For the most part tough, the electorate has done a good job in selecting their inductees; albeit occasionally tardy with some.
To kick off the Hall of Fame season, I thought I’d share my theoretical Hall of Fame ballot. I will follow the BBWAA’s criteria to the letter with the exception of the character clause. I’ll be ignoring that one entirely. With the number of unsavory characters already in the Hall of Fame, it seems incredibly silly to invoke it now for the purposes of passing moral judgment on known and especially suspected (but not proven) steroid users. Since I can’t state with any certainty the degree to which steroids enhanced a player’s production, it’s difficult to penalize them accordingly. Furthermore, there isn’t a great way to determine who did and did not do steroids without test results. As a result, I won’t be making any assumptions.
After much consideration, I’ve decided on “voting” for six candidates from the current pool of 27 eligible players. No one of the incoming class was selected from my ballot.
Jeff Bagwell – If there was one player on the 2011 ballot that should have been a “sure thing,” it was Bagwell. He was a tremendous hitter with immense power who played nearly the entire prime of his career in the immensely pitcher friendly environment that was the Astrodome. His MVP season in 1994 should go down as one of the greatest offensive performances of all time. With a .491 wOBA (207 wRC+), 32 doubles, and 39 home runs in the 110 game strike shortened season, Bagwell absolutely owned pitching that season. While 1994 was the only season in which Bagwell won MVP honors, he put together campaigns in 1997 and 1999 where he was certainly worthy of winning the award. In addition to his offensive production, Bagwell was a huge asset both defensively and on the basepaths. He finished his career with a .406 wOBA, 449 home runs, and 1529 RBI. His 83.9 fWAR is good for fourth highest among modern era first basemen behind only Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Albert Pujols. The fact he only received 242 votes (41.7%) in his inaugeral season on the ballot is an absolute disgrace. Hopefully, the voters will stop penalizing Bagwell for suspected steroid use despite the fact he’s neither tested positive nor been tied to use in any credible report.
Barry Larkin – In 2011, Larkin was the top vote getter among players who were not elected with 361 votes (62.1%); good enough for a 10.5% increase over 2010. Without any new compelling candidates coming on the ballot in 2012, this year looks like his best chance of being inducted. Larkin was an athletic, agile shortstop who had above average defensive abilities, great speed on the basepaths, an ability to hit for average, and good pop for his position. The only mark against Larkin was his durability. Despite only eclipsing the 150 game mark three times during his career, he still put together eight seasons between 5 and 7 fWAR, and won the 1995 MVP award. His .366 wOBA and 70.6 career fWAR are both good for tenth among shortstops during the modern era.
Edgar Martinez – Martinez might have been one of the greatest pure hitters I’ve ever seen. He could do it all. He had excellent power, which he used to hit 309 career home runs and 514 doubles. He was excellent at drawing walks, working counts, and getting on base. Lastly, he had the ability to hit for average, winning the batting average titles in 1992 and 1995 respectively. Unfortunately, his career didn’t kick off until he was 27; thus robbing him of any chance of reaching the 3000 hit and 400 home run plateaus. Had he met these marks, his Hall of Fame would look much stronger to the less statistically savvy voting block. Furthermore, he’s had to deal with the bias that stems from playing nearly 1500 games as a designated hitter. In most cases, I’d sympathize with this bias, but Martinez is different. His .405 wOBA and 69.9 fWAR show that he was able to provide a tremendous amount of production and value despite his role. Support for his case seems to be stagnant as he received only 191 votes (32.9%) of the vote in 2011, which was a decline of 3.3%. Hopefully, more people overlook the biases and recognize his talents in this election cycle to put him closer to receiving a much deserved induction.
Mark McGwire – In order to talk about McGwire’s case, we have to talk about PEDs since he was an admitted user. Let’s put that aside for a moment. During his career, he led the league in home runs five times, slugging five times, walks twice, OBP twice, and RBI once. He had eight seasons where his wOBA exceeded .400, including three that topped .480. Of course, how can we forget McGwire and Sammy Sosa during summer of 1998 where they chased and topped Maris’s home run record. The chase was not only exciting, but it brought millions of fans back to the game. Anyone without context to his situation would assume he’s a sure fire Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, he’s not. Initially the suspicion and later the admission of his steroid use has kept him on the outside looking in with regards to Cooperstown enshrinement. Though I understand the reasoning against voting for McGwire, I feel it’s based more so in morality than rational thought. Steroids, for better or worse, have been part of the game for the last 25-30 years (or longer). Rather than punish the great players of the steroid era, I’d rather we embrace them and adjust our perception of their stats for the era. If you do that and still don’t think McGwire is a Hall of Famer, that’s fine. I think he would have been, so I’m including him on my ballot. McGwire’s support has remained around the 20% mark each year he’s been on the ballot. Unless writer perception changes soon, his vote totals will probably remain at the same levels going forward.
Tim Raines – If we were to rank baseball’s greatest leadoff men, it would go: Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, and everyone else. That’s how good Raines was during his day. While he was best known for his ability to steal bases (808), it was his 84.7% success rate that sets him apart from his peers. For the sake of comparison, Henderson was successful in 80.8% of his attempts, Lou Brock (75.3%), Vince Coleman (81.5%), Joe Morgan (81.0%), Willie Wilson (83.3%), Kenny Lofton (79.5%), and Maury Wills (74.7%). His success rate remains a major league record for all players with at least 300 stolen base attempts. Additionally, Raines was an excellent hitter that could hit for average, get on base at a high rate, and hit for a little power. Though he was not thought of for his offensive prowess, he produced eight seasons with a wOBA above .370, including three that exceeded .400. Raines’s ability to work counts and draw walks may actually be one of the things holding his Hall of Fame case. As a result of his patience, he “gave up” multiple chances where he could have racked up the additional hits needed to reach the vaunted 3000 hit threshold. Interestingly enough, despite accumulating 536 fewer hits in his career, Raines reached base four more times than Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn (in a similar number of plate appearances). Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame electorate hasn’t been quite as impressed with Raines’s body of work as they have Gwynn and some of his peers. In 2011, his fourth year on the ballot, Raines received only 218 votes (37.5%), which is far short from the 75% required for induction. Still, there’s reason for optimism. Other than Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin, no candidate saw a greater bump in their overall totals. Hopefully, he’ll see another sizable bump this year, a weak year.
Alan Trammell – Before Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Tejada revolutionized the shortstop position in the late-1990s and early-2000s, Trammell (and Cal Ripken, Jr.) were baseball’s pre-eminent offensive minded shortstops. Starting in 1980 and running through 1993, he put together a string of seasons that were among the best in history among players at his position. While he never won an MVP award, incredibly strong, convincing cases could be made on his behalf for both 1984 and 1987. This is especially true with 1987 when a far inferior George Bell wrestled the MVP award from him on the strength of his RBI totals. Trammell was also incredibly strong both defensively and on the basepaths throughout his career, nearly adding 10 wins to his career WAR total as a result. Despite his incredibly strong production on all sides of the ball, his Hall of Fame candidacy has been woefully undersupported. He’s entering his 11th year on the ballot, and received only 141 votes (24.2%) last year. With five years of eligibility remaining, things aren’t looking good for Trammell. Still, he’s a player very much worthy of induction.