There are many excellent references available for reviewing the candidates on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, such as the ballot page at Baseball-Reference and short bios on the candidates from the Hall of Fame itself. The beauty of baseball is it's a meld of hard data and scrubbed hagiography, no matter what the people who decry the intrusion of analytics claim. The argument of scouting vs. analytics is a straw man argument, the same regarding Hall of Fame discussions -- no serious person ever states it has to be one way or the other, but avails himself of every tool available to make an informed decision.
There are numerous players on the ballot not worthy of serious discussion, for example, Jermaine Dye, Rich Aurilia, B.J. Ryan and Joe Crede. This is not to denigrate their careers or belittle them in any way, but they met the barest of qualifications for inclusion on the ballot by playing at least ten seasons. The 2015 ballot contains around twenty or so first-year candidates who have a very good chance of receiving zero votes, and if they get any, will almost certainly not reach the five percent threshold required to be listed on future ballots. These players had solid-to-good careers, which will have to be their reward, along with the tens of millions of dollars they earned.
Four players deserve some discussion. I'm not even going to waste space on Randy Johnson since his induction is such a foregone conclusion. He is quite likely the last 300-win pitcher baseball will ever see (for those who care), and my only interest will be in the tortured excuses from voters who don't list Johnson on their ballots. Likewise, I discussed Pedro Martinez at some length a couple weeks ago.
Gary Sheffield and John Smoltz will generate significant discussion. I think Smoltz is the easier choice of the two as he pitched on one of the best teams in modern baseball history and is part of a Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance troika with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. His four years as a closer might muddy the issue for voters with an unnatural fascination with wins, but even there he's in the top 100 of all time, and with 154 saves as well. In the three full years he was a closer, he was the second-best reliever in FanGraphs WAR, not too shabby for a pitcher in his mid-to-late 30s. His problem might be the crowded ballot, an issue I'll return to in my next post.
What will voters do with Gary Sheffield? He hits many of the magic numbers with over 10,000 plate appearances, 500 home runs and 2,500 hits. This chart shows the number of players in baseball history who met any of these thresholds, let alone all, and how many were voted into the HOF:
|10,000 PA||81||52||13 not yet eligible|
|500 HR||26||10||4 not yet eligible|
|2,500 H||98||36||14 not yet eligible|
Playing the favorite game of journalists everywhere, what about the pool of players who achieved all three of these thresholds?
|Ken Griffey Jr.||1989||2010||2671||11304||1662||2781||630||1836||.284||.370||.538||.907|
I'm sure a list like this won't start any arguments.
Gary Sheffield will generate no shortage of discussion due to on and off-the-field behavior. He was passed around like a hot potato early in his career despite his enormous potential and took some time to find his real position, but most of these issues dissipated as he matured. Even in a hitter's era he delivered, ranking 65th in wRC+ for his career, and anytime a player is in the top 100 of something, particularly a measure that is park-adjusted and can be used to effectively rate players across generations, it's worthy of serious discussion.
Sheffield will definitely have a full ballot problem. I have around 14-15 people worthy of inclusion (I'm on the fence on a couple and keep changing my mind), and when the max that can be elected is ten and the reality is that rarely more than four are chosen, it will be a difficult for Sheffield to be selected this year. I'll do it at some point, and I suspect Beyond the Box Score might do its own HOF voting (we did it last year), and at this point I'm not yet sure he'd be on my ballot this year. But since I wrote about him, I guess I have to choose, so give me a sec to fill out my hypothetical HOF ballot . . .
Okay, I'm back. Sorry, he didn't make the cut. I look for players who were considered among the best in baseball over a 5-7 year at a minimum, and while I'll make special carve-outs for shortstops and catchers (and to a lesser extent, center fielders and second basemen), just being a bopper in a hitting era isn't enough -- everyone put up stratospheric power numbers. Sheffield was in the top ten in MVP balloting six times, including three years in a row from 2003-2005, but in the end, it's not enough for me.
So, of the four I discussed in this post, three are in -- Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz are in, Gary Sheffield isn't. My next post will discuss the holdover candidates and my thoughts on why some of them are excluded.
*** Click here to view this data in a Tableau data viz***
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.