Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 Hall of Fame: My votes

On January 5, we will learn who will comprise this year's Hall of Fame class.  There is an unusually large number of qualified candidates this year, so I personally am more excited than usual to see who makes it.
  • Note 1: For those of you who aren't familiar with HoF balloting, each voter can pick up to ten candidates, so I adhered to that silly rule as well.
  • Note 2: As you might notice, there are eleven players listed below.  As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, I think eleven players deserve it, so I've decided to argue all of their cases here.  The player with the weaker case is marked with an "*" (hint: his name is Tim Raines).
  • Note 3: Relating to note 2, if you buy into the steroids = no HoF argument, then just subtract McGwire and Palmeiro and boom: you've got a nine player list.  But more on that logic in a minute....
And now, I am happy to present my 2011 Hall of Fame ballot (if only I got a real vote...):

1. Roberto Alomar, 2B (TOR): 2724 H/10x GG/12x AS
How on earth did Alomar miss the 75% mark last year?  He received 73.7% of the vote--just eight votes short of election.  He was the premier second baseman in baseball for eleven of the seventeen years of his career.  He was named to twelve straight all-star games, starting nine of them.  I know that all-star games shouldn't be the foremost measure of a player's quality, but you don't get elected to that many games by accident.  Alomar's 116 OPS+ may seem a tad pedestrian, but it is the fifteenth highest such total of all-time among second basemen, and would rank him ninth among hall of fame second basemen.  Also, his hit total would rank fifth among that same group.  His offensive statistics would probably be enough to enshrine him on their own, but Alomar's case is bolstered (and finalized) by his defensive credentials, which include ten Gold Glove awards.  His incident with umpire John Hirschbeck is often cited as evidence of Alomar's supposed lack of grace and professionalism (or something), but the two combatants have since reconciled and there is no evidence to suggest that Alomar had any character problems.  One of Bill James' primary Hall of Fame eligibility questions is whether a player was ever the best player at his position.  In the case of Alomar, we can resoundingly answer yes.  He is a clear hall of famer, and should gain election this year.

2. Jeff Bagwell, 1B (HOU): 449 HR/149 OPS+/79.9 WAR
It seems as if every slugging first baseman from the 1990s is up for election this year.  Unfortunately, I don't think any of them will actually make the cut.  That's a real shame, especially for Bagwell, who's definitely the best of the bunch.  His power was impeccable, and his OPS+ is seventh all-time at first base.  He was not only a power hitter, however, and hit over .300 six times in his career (and has a .297 career AVG).  He was even pretty speedy, and has a surprisingly large number of stolen bases (202).  Had he not retired young, at the age of 37 after an injury plagued and underwhelming 2005, he would have easily hit 500 home runs, and maybe even gotten 3000 hits.  As it is, his WAR ranks as fourth all-time at first base, beating such all-time greats as Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray, and Johnny Mize.  As for Bagwell's defense, he only won one gold glove, but Fangraphs gives him a pretty decent 59.1 fielding value.  Honestly, there's not that much more to say.  Bagwell was clearly an outstanding player who doesn't get as much recognition as he should due to his abbreviated career.  I think he'll miss the cut this year, but will make it eventually as more voters come to appreciate just how good he was.

3. Bert Blyleven, SP (MIN): 287-250/3701 K/118 ERA+
When he retired, Blyleven had the third-most strikeouts of all-time.  The fact that, two decades later, he's still in the top five speaks to this accomplishment.  That is, of course, Blyleven's most notable statistic, and in my opinion it's enough to punch his ticket to Cooperstown, but for some reason the BBWAA hasn't come around to that viewpoint yet.  After coming only five votes short of election last year, it seems safe to say that Blyleven will make it this time around, but I'm not so sure.  True, his numbers have been climbing ever year, but he didn't make 20% of the vote until his fourth year on the ballot, and didn't make 50% until his ninth year.  Well, anyway, that's not the point of this article.  Why do I think Blyleven deserves election, aside from his strikeout total?  It's easy to argue that he got that number purely due to longevity, but his 6.7 K/9, as well as his 60 shutouts, would both rank as the eighth-highest total among HoF pitchers, proving that he can truly be considered a great power pitcher.  His WHIP (1.198) and ERA+ would both rank 29th (out of 52).  His most-quoted drawbacks are that he never won twenty games in a season and never won a Cy Young Award (though he finished in the top five three times).  My retort to the first point is that he had the misfortune of playing on a number of bad teams, and so his win total clearly suffered, though no fault of his own.  To the latter, I'll cede the point, but I just don't buy its importance.  Even if Blyleven never utterly dominated on a year-by-year basis, his overall numbers are clearly Hall-level.  He's a clear yes, and I look forward to when he (hopefully) finally gets the call, even if it is fourteen years late.

4. John Franco, CL (NYM): 424 SV/138 ERA+
Maybe it's my Mets bias talking, but I see no reason why Rich Gossage or Bruce Sutter should be in the Hall, while Franco might not even make the 5% cutoff this year.  In fact, I'll go ahead and say that I'd even vote for him.  This might come at a surprise, but let's look at the data.  His 424 saves is his most notable stat, but for those who reject the validity of the save statistic, there's still ample reason to vote in Franco.  His career ERA+ actually ranks higher than four of the five closers in the Hall of Fame (Hoyt Wilhelm had a 147), and his K/9 (7.0) is only lower than Gossage's and Sutter's.  Out of the twelve seasons he spent as a closer, he had an ERA lower than 3.00 ten times.  There are those who don't think that closers should be in the Hall of Fame at all, but I am not one of them.  Over the past forty years, the closer has become an integral part of any team's strategy, and Franco was one of the best of his generation.  He should be rewarded accordingly.  He wasn't flashy, like Eckersley, Rivera, or Hoffman, but that doesn't mean he wasn't good.  Maybe if he'd stuck around as the Mets' closer for a few more years (he was replaced by Armando Benitez before through the 1999 season, though Franco still got 19 saves that year) and reached 500 saves he would get more consideration.  However, since he didn't reach that arbitrary plateau, I'm happy to cast a surprising yes vote for him based on--gasp!--other statistics.

5. Barry Larkin, SS (CIN): 2340 H/9x SS/69 WAR
Larkin's a borderline candidate at first glance, but his is a fairly easy case to make.  The crux of his argument rests on the contention that he was an excellent hitter for his position, which is notoriously weak-hitting.  Case in point: there are seven shortstops in the Hall of Fame with an OPS+ lower than 100.  Larkin's is 116, and he won nine Silver Sluggers for his troubles.  In fact, his OPS+ would rank fifth on the list of Hall of Fame shortstops, ahead of contemporaries such as Robin Yount and Cal Ripken.  Larkin's case suffers because he never got more than 185 hits in a season, but his 2340 hits for his career would still put him at eighth among HoF shortstops.  He also stole 379 bases, which would be fourth among HoF shortstops.  Larkin never overwhelmed (I don't really know why he won the MVP in 1995...), but was a perennial all-star (twelve appearances, give starts) and the anchor of some pretty good Cincinnati teams.  He won't make it in this year, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't get it within five years.  The sooner, the better.

6. Mark McGwire, 1B (OAK): 583 HR/162 OPS+/12x AS
Oh boy, here we go.  Okay, so let's get this out of the way: no, I don't endorse McGwire's steroids usage.  I think it was wrong, and those who continue to take them now deserved to be punished harshly.  That said, McGwire played in a different era, and it would be wrong to punish him for something that, by all accounts, everybody was doing.  There's a big difference between admitting to something after the fact, even though it wasn't banned by the sport or that big of a deal when he played, and being caught while testing and bans are in effect (see: Palmeiro, Rafael).  McGwire's dumb congressional testimony notwithstanding, he's been forthright and apologetic about his PED usage.  Therefore, while I agree with McGwire's statement that he wishes he had never touched steroids, we must still look at him as one of the premier power hitters of all-time.  Completely disregarding steroids, however, McGwire is still not a shoe-in candidate.  He only had 1626 hits in his career (36% of which were home runs!), and only hit over .300 during one full season.  His defense was atrocious (a -30 value, according to Fangraphs) and his twelve stolen bases would be the second-lowest among all hall of famers inducted as position players.  His career WAR of 63.1 is a tad underwhelming, though it still puts him at 9th all-time among first basemen.  However, his OPS+ is fourth all-time among first basemen, and he led the league in both SLG and OPS+ four times in his career.  Power hitting is an important facet of the game, and McGwire clearly excelled at it like few other players in the history of the game.  I doubt he'll ever make the Hall (maybe via the Veterans Committee), but I'd have no trouble voting for him.  I'd be more likely to hold out on voting for him due to his lack of a well-rounded game, rather than based on his PED usage.

7. Rafael Palmeiro, 1B (TEX): 569 HR/3020 H/132 OPS+
Speaking of PED usage, here's the most notable player to ever be suspended for a positive test!  Unlike McGwire, though, I don't feel as if the allegations directed at Palmeiro have been completely fair.  What we know is this (c/o Wikipedia): he tested positive, and was refused an appeal.  He had never tested positive before this in his career, and a test three weeks after his positive was also negative.  Palmeiro continues to deny having intentionally used steroids, and you know what?  I just might believe him.  He's never been a "bad guy" (I'm looking at you, Barry Bonds), and his reputation would probably be rehabilitated by admitting to having taken PEDs.  Therefore, while I'm not ready to completely accept his version of the facts, I think the events are inconclusive enough to claim that we don't really know much of anything.  Also, even if he did take steroids (question: why would he be taking them during his last season in the majors, but not in years prior?), should I care?  My answer, like with McGwire, is a qualified no.  Unlike McGwire, however, Palmeiro was an extremely well-rounded player.  He hit for power (569 HR, career SLG of .515), for average (all those hits, a lifetime .288 AVG), and was a great defender (a 46.1 fielding value, despite having been a DH for a while).  His 132 OPS+ seems curiously low, and it is for a first baseman (he's tied for 23rd all-time at his position), but I'm willing to look past it due to the evidence I just cited.  It's sad, really.  My first baseball love was the 1997 Orioles, and Palmeiro--not Ripken, though he was good too--was my favorite player.  It's really unfortunate to see one of my childhood heroes, and one of the best baseball players of the past two decades, be so publicly reviled.  Ah well.  I'd still proudly cast my Hall vote for him.

*8. Tim Raines, LF (MON): 2605 H/808 SB/123 OPS+
For Raines, I will adopt a more conventional approach and list the pros and cons to his case.  Pros: the seventh highest all-time WAR at LF (64.6); 808 stolen bases, fifth all-time; he stole 70+ bases in six straight seasons he was elected to seven all-star games out of Montreal, no mean feat; and his .294 lifetime average.  Cons: his 123 OPS+ is pretty low at LF (though Rickey Henderson's was actually lower); he didn't reach 3000 hits, despite playing for twenty-one seasons; he only hit over .300 in five full seasons; and he was only a starting player for twelve seasons, and only had a WAR of 6.1 over his final eight seasons.  I'm inclined to let the pros outweigh the cons here, as Raines was clearly one of the best speedy outfielders of all-time.  If Rickey Henderson hadn't been in the league, Raines would be seen as the premier speedster of the 1980, and he might have even been elected already (well, probably, not; but he'd be doing better than 30% of the vote). He earns my asterisk of doom (aka he's my eleventh vote) due to the sheer quality of the field around him.  I think he deserves to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and will argue with anybody who says otherwise, but I don't believe in his case as strongly as those of the other ten candidates whom I've discussed on this page.  Hopefully a few of them will be elected this year so people who think there are too many good candidates can safely vote for Raines in the future.

9. Lee Smith, CL (CHC): 478 SV/132 ERA+
Smith, like Franco, is a tough case.  If we're going to put closers in the HoF, shouldn't we only put the ones who were clearly the best of their generation?  Lee Smith has the third-most saves of all-time, but nobody really remembers him; besides, Eckersley was better.  Like I said in my entry on Franco, I'm sympathetic to that argument, I just think that Franco and Smith were elite enough to be given rare closer Hall passes.  Basically (the CW goes), for a closer to be in the Hall, he has to be remembered as really dominant.  Sutter, Gossage, Eckersley, and Fingers, despite having varied careers, are all remembered as being fierce and unhittable.  Smith's K/9, a good measure of "unhittability," is 8.7--more than a point higher than Gossage's K/9, which is currently the highest among the five closers in the Hall.  Smith's ERA+ is better than Gossage's and Fingers', and his WHIP is only .024 higher than Gossage's.  One of the most common reasons why people argue against Smith is the number of teams for which he played (eight).  That's funny, because that happens to be one less than the number of MLB teams for which Gossage played (plus the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks).  Also, I know stat-lovers enjoy arguing against the validity of the save, but that doesn't mean that it should be stripped of its value.  Among all the HoF closers, plus Franco, Smith has the second-lowest blown saves percentage (21.5; Eckersley's is 18.2).  The save may be arbitrary, but out of the 581 times Lee Smith was called on to do his job, he did so successfully 78.5% of the time.  In a game where 30% accomplishment is seen as above-average, we should applaud Smith's accomplishment, not discount it.  For being one of the best closers of the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, Lee Smith earns my vote.

10. Alan Trammell, SS (DET): 2365 H/185 HR/66.9 WAR
Trammell's case is similar to Larkin's: no, he wasn't a great slugger, but wasn't he great for his position.  And, like with Larkin, I have to concur that Trammell was indeed an outstanding shortstop.  Let's look no further than his WAR: his 66.9 would put him at sixth among Hall of Fame shortstops, and he is currently ninth on the all-time list (just behind Larkin).  Everybody ahead of him, and even a few players behind him, is in the Hall--why not Trammell?  The case against him seems to boil down to his seemingly lackluster offensive numbers, but even traditionalists can appreciate his 2365 hits.  Everybody who has more than that, and is eligible, is in the Hall of Fame, though Trammell would be at the very end of that group.  His fielding, however, was well above average.  He had a fielding value of 76, which isn't at a Ripken or Smith level, but is still good enough to bolster his case.  It's a tough case to make, but I'm sold by taking a close look at his offensive numbers, which show that he was one of the best shortstops of his generation, as well as all-time.  He was a smooth-hitting and -fielding shortstop who played a solid and under-appreciated game for a very long time.  He deserves a Hall call.

11. Larry Walker, RF (COL): 383 HR/.313 AVG/140 OPS+
God, Larry Walker was good.  From 1997-2001, during which he won one MVP award, he was perhaps the best player in baseball.  Over that stretch he hit .357, 156 home runs, and had an OPS+ of 157.  Outside of that five year period, he was still an exceptional player.  His career OPS+ would rank eighth all-time among HoF right fielders, and his batting average would be tenth.  To go along with his fantastic hitting, he won seven gold gloves, and registered a fielding value of 86.  Some of his hitting prowess can be attributed to Coors Field--and indeed, he had a lifetime .381 average at his home stadium in Colorado--but that's no reason to deny his excellent statistics.  At Olympic and Busch Stadiums, his other two home fields, he hit a still-respectable .293 and .294, respectively, with 84 home runs (though keep in mind that his years in those parks came at the beginning and end of his career).  While playing in the thin air of Denver certainly padded his numbers, there is no question that Walker was an elite talent, and one of the best players of the past twenty years.  It'll be a tough road for him to Cooperstown, partially based on that anti-Coors Field bias, but I think he should (and will) make it.

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