Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2011 Hall of Fame: Just missing it (aka "The Hall of Very Good")

Today: players who merit serious consideration from me, but still get a "no."

  • Note: I was originally going to pare my "players I'd vote for" entry down to just ten, because that's what the Hall voting dictates, but I couldn't do it.  There are eleven players I'd actively advocate voting for.  When I post that article (probably tomorrow) I'll indicate which one I view as a weaker candidate than the other ten; but I'll still put them all together in one post since I view all eleven of them as stronger than the nine players featured below.
  • UPDATED: Now with even more Fred McGriff!

1. Kevin Brown, SP (LAD): 211-144/2397 K/127 ERA+
Brown, who is now best known for being the cautionary tale against seven-year deals for pitchers, actually had a really solid career.  His low win total distracts from his other accomplishments, including a stretch where he posted an ERA+ greater than 130 in eight out of nine seasons.  His K/9 (6.6) is not at a Hall-making stat by itself, but it's plenty high, and he might have gotten to 3000 strikeouts had he not tailed off, mostly due to injuries.  However, while a period of dominance is sometimes good enough to get you into the Hall, Brown's wasn't good enough to stand alone.  That would be okay if the surrounding years were still above average, but for the most part they unfortunately weren't.  In his career he only won twenty games once, and didn't post an ERA+ above 119 in any season outside of his good stretch.  In a year with a less full ballot, Brown would be a borderline candidate; but in a strong year such as this one he's a no.

2. Juan Gonzalez, RF (TEX): 434 HR/132 OPS+/2x MVP
As a kid, I remember thinking that Gonzalez was one of the best players in baseball.  When he didn't sign with the Mets prior to the 2002 season I was crushed.  Apart from my younger sentiments, however, Gonzalez was not an all-time great player.  That home run total is pretty impressive, and his 1996-2001 (save for 2000) seasons were all pretty good, especially his MVP years of 1996 and 1998.  When you consider his position and the era in which he played, however, his numbers lose a bit of their shine.  His OPS+ ranks 23rd all-time among right fielders--behind such notables as Danny Tartabull and Brian Giles--and he didn't really do much besides hit home runs.  His career OBP was .343, which is good for 100th on the all-time RF list, tied with Reggie Sanders.  He only played in more than 81 games in eleven seasons, and only played in more than 130 games eight times.  His career average, .295, is also uninspiring.  While I appreciate Gonzalez' power, his lack of a well-rounded game earns him a no vote from me.  (Side note: he should have only won one of those MVPs: Alex Rodriguez was much better in 1996.)

3. Edgar Martinez, DH (SEA): 309 HR/.312 AVG/147 OPS+
Another toughie, this. The problem here is that, while I have nothing against voting a DH into the Hall of Fame, I do hold that position to a higher standard. If you're going to play a completely offensive game, you had better back it up with some elite numbers. While Martinez was certainly a great player, I don't think his game was sufficiently elevated above the other players of his time. His OPS+ is certainly stellar, and if that were the only criterion for Hall membership I'd definitely vote him in. Additionally, his nine seasons of a WAR greater than 5 ties him for 22nd all time, alongside Albert Pujols and George Brett, among others. But he only played thirteen full seasons, and even in those he took quite a few days off. Maybe there was some medical thing I'm not aware of, but my anti-DH bias tells me that that's not completely acceptable. Was Edgar Martinez a great player, maybe even a hall of famer in another year? Yes, definitely. I'm not willing, however, to exclude any of my top ten to make way for him. I'm pretty sure he'll stick around on the ballot all fifteen of his years, so there will be ample worse years in which I'd be happy to take another look at voting for him.

4. Don Mattingly, 1B (NYY): .307 AVG/127 OPS+/9x GG
Had he not played for the Yankees, Donnie Baseball wouldn't have made it to his eleventh year on the ballot. Unfortunately, he did, so we're stuck talking about him every year.  Seriously, though, Mattingly was a very solid player for twelve out of his thirteen full seasons.  The problem, though, is that out of those "solid" years, only three could truly be considered great.  His lifetime OPS+ isn't nearly enough for a first baseman, let alone one from the 1980s/90s.  Yes, I'll admit that those nine Gold Gloves are impressive, but his true fielding value, according to Fangraphs, was only 32--way below other first basemen of the time.  Try as I might, I can't find anything that makes up for the fact that Mattingly was merely a very good player who just happened to play in the largest media market in the country.

5. Fred McGriff, 1B (TOR): 493 HR/2490 H/134 OPS+
I go back and forth on McGriff, but I lean away from giving him a plaque.  The reasons for him being in the Hall are certainly numerous and strong: his ten seasons of 30+ HR rank tie him for 14th all-time; his ten seasons with an OPS+ greater than (or equal to) 130 tie him for 48th all-time; and .  Things counting against him: the fact that he finished in the top five of MVP voting only once (though he really should have won it in 1989); his career WAR of 50.5, which compares terribly to other first basemen of the era, despite the fact that he played in more games than Giambi, Olerud, and Helton (among others); the fact that he never hit more than 107 RBI in a season (and hit more than 100 only eight times); and his career OPS+ of 134, which is 19th all-time among first basemen.  The end of McGriff's career, something that's often counted against him, was actually a lot stronger than I thought.  In his age 38 season (2002) he hit 30 HR with an OPS+ of 125, a pretty good year.  Still, though, despite his numerous good years, his career just failed to come together like it could and should have.  He was good at hitting home runs, that's true, but he was never as elite at that as his peers (yes, I know, steroids--more on that tomorrow).  His best years are nice and flashy, but none of his seasons were truly outstanding.  He was always well above average.  Maybe I would change my mind if he had a season in which he ran away with MVP (that is, was clearly the best and most dominant offensive player in the game).  What it comes down to is the fact that McGriff was never considered the best player at his position, and it could be argued that he was never even in the top three.  The overall stats just aren't there, so I'm forced to issue a very slight "no."

6. Jack Morris, SP (DET): 254-186/2478 K/105 ERA+
I'm so tired of hearing about Jack Morris.  I'm sorry, I'm sure he's a swell guy and all, but out-pitching John Smoltz during the World Series does not gain you entry to Cooperstown.  Being a so-called "big game pitcher" is nice to read when it's on the pages of the New York Times, but any serious Hall of Fame voter should not seriously consider using that as their sole criterion for voting for Morris.  A simple look at his ERA numbers should immediately disqualify him.  His career ERA (a painful 3.90) is higher than any other HoF pitcher, and his ERA+ would be second lowest.  Just because the bar has been lowered by admitting other good-but-not-great pitchers doesn't mean we should keep lowering it.  Jack Morris was an above-average pitcher who racked up good stats by pitching for a long time, but was never dominant and doesn't deserve entry into the Hall of Fame (game seven in 1991 be damned).

7. Dale Murphy, RF (ATL): 398 HR/2x MVP/7x AS
I originally had him as a "yes," but changed it to a "no" for a myriad of reasons.  One was that I thought Fred McGriff deserved my final spot more than Murph (more on that tomorrow).  Another was that Dale Murphy wasn't as good as you remember.  Oh yes, he was admittedly great during the 1980s.  His run from 1980-1987 was fantastic, but I think it's often blown out of proportion.  His two MVPs are nice, but they don't guarantee you enshrinement (see: Juan Gonzalez).  While everybody seems to glorify Murphy's 1980-1987 stretch as god-like, it wasn't that good.  Over that period he had an OPS+ of 140, hit 264 home runs, and was elected to seven All-Star Games.  (Keep in mind that Murphy's case solely rests on those eight years.  Everything else he did was way sub-par.)  If he had extended that for three or so more years, then maybe he'd have an easier case.  But when the crux of your argument says that you're only as good as Larry Walker, except with a worse batting average, worse defense, and only for an eight-year span, you're not making it in.  Sorry, Dale.

8. John Olerud, 1B (TOR): 2239 H/128 OPS+/3x GG
While Murphy's case for the Hall is perhaps overrated, it's very easy to overlook Olerud's case.  No, I'm not going to "vote" for him; but Olerud did have a very good career, and should be considered one of the elite first basemen of the 1990s.  It's mildly perplexing how he lost the MVP award in 1993 (he led the league in AVG, OBP, and OPS, as well as the less flashy statistic of 2B), and has continued to be overlooked ever since.  Don't let his small number of gold gloves fool you: he was a defensive whiz.  His career fielding value, according to Fangraphs, was 100.5--30 points higher than Mark Grace's, and 68 points higher than Don Mattingly's.  He was the best-fielding first baseman of the 90s, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise.  His .295 AVG and 128 OPS+ are both very good, but alas neither stack up well enough for a first baseman.  In the theoretical "Hall of Very Good," I'd definitely vote for Olerud.  For the Hall of Fame, however, I have to issue a sad and reluctant "no."

9. Dave Parker, RF (PIT): 339 HR/2712 H/121 OPS+
"How can Jim Rice be in while Dave Parker isn't?!"  Yes, it's a fair argument.  True, Rice hit more home runs and had a higher OPS+ and AVG, but Parker had almost 300 more hits than Rice.  Unfortunately, I don't think Jim Rice belongs, so I'm not sympathetic to that argument.  Parker, like Rice, was one of many sweet-swinging outfielders of the 70s/80s about whom current journalists like to smile and nod wistfully.  "Remember when he hit that homer back in his MVP season of '78 (yes, both Parker and Rice won their respective league's MVP in 1978)?  Those were the days...."  I, however, am not so kind.  An OPS+ of 121 at right field is downright pathetic.  That ties Parker with Jeff Burroughs and Vic Wertz for 67th on the all-time list.  I'm sorry, Dave.  Your 339 home runs (although you only hit more than 30 in a season three times) don't fool me.  You played for a while and racked up some nice stats, despite the fact that you were never an elite player.  You'll have to settle for joining the other players in this entry in the Hall of Very Good.


  1. Amen. I'm so tired of hearing about Jack Morris too. He just might get in within the next couple of years, and I'll be happy for him if he does, but any pitcher who gave up 3.90 earned runs for every 9 innings of work doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame.

    I can't wait to see various members of the "he was a big game pitcher" crowd vote for Morris, and then exclude Curt Schilling three years from now. Not only was Schilling a much better overall pitcher, but he was perhaps a better "big game" pitcher than Morris was. It'll happen.

  2. I think Edgar gets in eventually, just might take him a few years....

  3. Parker was an elite player. Ask any player of his generation, he was maybe the most physically gifted guy that they played against. Insanely strong arm, hit for average and power. Won an MVP + should have won again in 85. Was also the most dominant player on a world series champion. Drugs and injuries derailed his career, but he wasn't just some guy plodding along in anonymity with decent nummbers. I don't think he should get in because being the best player anyone has ever seen for a couple years is never good enough... otherwise Eric Davis or Dwight Gooden would be in, but Parker was a star.

  4. Now that Bert Blyleven is in the Hall, how do you keep out Tommy John and Jim Kaat? Not a good vote this year.