On Wednesday, we found out who will make the Hall of Fame this year: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. Both men earned this honor, without a doubt, but the announcement still felt underwhelming. Many other deserving candidates— some of whom won't receive many more opportunities — fell short. For next year's voting and beyond, the logjam will only get worse.
Here at Beyond the Box Score, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We polled 20 of our writers, using the same ballot that the BBWAA had, to make our hypothetical 2016 Hall of Fame class*. This year's BtBS election put nine players in theoretical Cooperstown: Jeff Bagwell (20 votes), Barry Bonds (20), Roger Clemens (20), Griffey (20), Piazza (20), Tim Raines (20), Mike Mussina (18), Edgar Martinez (16), and Curt Schilling (15).
Our choices would add seven top-notch players to the already-elite duo that the BBWAA elected, making for a formidable class. Sure, this exercise doesn't actually solve the issues that the Hall faces in reality — but it helps to soothe the ire of us fans, and that's what matters most. Maybe someday, as the older generation gives way to the new, the higher-ups will recognize these players' respective greatness and reward them accordingly.
How should you feel about each of these players, though? BtBS writers have written up summaries for them all, explaining the justification for their (imaginary) enshrinement.
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It's a travesty that Jeff Bagwell isn't in the Hall of Fame already. You can say that about a lot of people still on the ballot after Wednesday's announcement (and some not on the ballot; you deserved better, Jim Edmonds), but with Bagwell, it's hard to understand why. He absolutely has the stats — 449 career home runs and eight straight seasons with at least 30 long balls; positive defensive and base running contributions, a rarity for slugging first basemen; and a total of 80.2 career fWAR, 35th all-time and 7th among first basemen — and unlike other statistical darlings, none of the taint of a positive test for banned substances or a mention on the Mitchell report.
Still, it's hard to identify anything other than unfounded rumors of steroid use as the driving factor behind Bagwell's surprisingly low vote totals. He did admit to taking androstenedione in 1998, a now-banned substance nonetheless allowed at the time, but also campaigned for increased testing in 2001. The BBWAA has never let logic stand in the way of their obstinacy, though, so Bagwell is left out after his sixth year of eligibility for no discernible reason. Because Bagwell was truly great!
Maybe he hasn't been sufficiently recognized because of playing in a relatively small market, or spending most of his career in the offense-suppressing Astrodome, but that didn't prevent Craig Biggio from getting elected last year, and the Killer B's led the Astros to the playoffs multiple times and to one World Series. I compared his career to the newly-inducted Ken Griffey Jr.'s on Twitter the other day, and while that drew some flack, both had incredible early careers cut short by injury. Bagwell's youth wasn't quite as electric as Griffey's, but the shoulder injury that effectively ended his career also came later than the onset of Junior's injuries.
The fact that one was just inducted almost unanimously on his first year on the ballot, and the other is still waiting after six years, is baffling. The good news is Bagwell is close — just 3.6 percent short of the required threshold — and if our voting at Beyond the Box Score is any indication of the tendencies of younger BBWAA members, 2017 looks very promising for Bagwell. One can only hope, since he's as deserving a candidate as any.
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The general purpose of hitting, at its most basic level, is to avoid making an out. It’s not to hit the ball into a neighboring body of water or even at the very least over the outfield wall. Barry Bonds cleared the outfield wall 762 times. He did it more than anyone else. But let it be noted that Bonds also did much more than hit home runs.
From 2001 to 2004, Bonds posted OBPs over .500. He reached base more often than he made an out for four years. In a world where a .400 OBP is considered excellent and a sign of truly fortuitous plate discipline, Bonds put up a .609 OBP in 2004. Between his insanely acute batter’s eye and the fear of the almighty that he instilled in opposing pitchers, he walked in 32.4 percent of his plate appearances that year. 120 of his 232 walks were issued intentionally. One could argue that was the year we saw peak Barry Bonds, if not for the fact that he hit 45 homers that year and 73 in 2001.
Many voters do not check Bonds’ little box on their ballot because of his inescapable ties to steroids. For most of his career, Bonds was a large but wiry man made of TNT. Then he ballooned into a baseball golem composed of C4 with nuclear warheads for biceps. Though Bonds never tested positive, the specter of PEDs hangs over him.
Yet consider this. If Bonds only juiced when he got big, he was still far and away one of the best players in baseball before that. The wiry Bonds was a dinger-smashing, base-stealing, walk-taking weapon. The two segments of his career combined give him an fWAR of 164.4. Only Babe Ruth bests that number.
Nobody gave a damn about PEDs when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were saving baseball with their home run chase, or when Bonds was dazzling us with his fireworks displays. Though the drugs may have swelled his body to unnatural levels, Bonds still had to be able to make contact with the baseball. He still had to decide when to swing and when not to, when to swipe the bag or stay put. Barry Bonds was still a generational talent beneath all those muscles. Steroids were acceptable until they weren’t. The baseball media turned the other cheek and held their tongue until they didn’t. To now assume that the voters should be baseball’s moral police while operating from a base of hypocrisy is nothing short of self-aggrandizing foolishness.
He’s the best hitter to ever walk the Earth. He’s the home run king. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.
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Based on credentials alone, Roger Clemens had by any measure a Hall of Fame career. In 24 years, he amassed all of the totals in both traditional (354 wins) and advanced (139.4 rWAR) stats that should have made him a slam-dunk first-ballot selection. His expansive trophy case includes seven Cy Young Awards, an MVP, 11 All-Star Game appearances, two World Series championships, and one of the greatest moments in New York Yankees radio history.
But then again, there’s the issue of steroids. Though it has never been proven despite Congressional inquiries and court cases, there exists plenty of circumstantial evidence that Clemens did in fact use performance enhancing drugs. If the allegations of PED use are true, the drugs likely contributed to Clemens’ high level of performance well into his early 40s. Still, his overall greatness deserves recognition, steroids or not. As the years go on and the BBWAA (or the Veterans Committee) feels he has served his penance, Clemens will eventually get into Cooperstown where he deserves to be.
Ken Griffey Jr.
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As one of the two players to actually make the Hall of Fame this year — and as the highest vote-getter of all time — Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't need anyone to argue on his behalf. I'll do it anyway, though, just to stick it to those three anonymous BBWAA members who left him off their ballots. (Apparently, the organization hasn't purged enough voters yet.)
Griffey batted 11,304 times in his career, compiling a 131 wRC+ that places 167th all-time. Hall of Famers who posted similar marks include Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn — men whose candidacy no one has debated. Overall, his defense didn't live up to its elite reputation; by Total Zone, he cost his clubs 17 runs in the field. Nevertheless, his body of work netted him 77.7 fWAR and 83.4 rWAR, which respectively rank 40th and 35th among all position players. Since 16,775 men have had at least one major-league plate appearance, this means Griffey finishes in the 99.8th percentile in both regards.
Not enough evidence for you? Let's talk peaks. Griffey spent his first 11 seasons (1989-1999) in Seattle, where he accumulated 68.5 fWAR and 70.4 rWAR in 6,688 plate appearances. If he had decided to retire during the following offseason — when he turned 30, mind you — his career WARs would still beat:
- Barry Larkin (67.0 fWAR, 70.2 rWAR)
- Tony Gwynn (65.0 fWAR, 68.8 rWAR)
- Ernie Banks (63.3 fWAR, 67.4 rWAR)
- Ryne Sandberg (60.8 fWAR, 67.5 rWAR)
None of these players receive much scrutiny, so why should Griffey? Like them, he played well enough, long enough to earn a spot in the Hall. Even if he'd pulled a Sandy Koufax, his play would still make a strong case for induction.
Sure, Griffey wore down from this peak as he aged, but his total accomplishments speak for themselves. Excellence at the plate and acceptable play in the field can be a fearsome combination. Griffey showed the world just how fearsome it could be, and for that he gets my — and most everyone's — vote.
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Truthfully, I don’t know why I’m here. Mike Piazza’s Hall of Fame candidacy is not an issue to be discussed by rationally-minded adults. There are no substantive arguments against his candidacy to be enshrined among the game’s elite. As fine a hitter as almost any during his time in the league, Piazza also donned the tools of ignorance readily, and if there’s one thing that sabermetrics has taught us over the last four years, it’s that the value of the catcher has probably been understated historically. Mike Piazza had the hardest job in baseball, and performed it while hitting as well as David Ortiz, Reggie Jackson, and Jason Giambi.
Any problem that a voter might have with Piazza probably comes from narrative, and in a way that makes sense. From his debut into the league, Piazza has been an easy target for non-performance narratives. From his draft slot and relationship to Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers, to the PED thing, to the incredibly weird rumors about his sexuality, wherever Piazza went, there were stories.
But, more importantly, wherever Piazza went, there were numbers. His 140 wRC+ is good enough for 69th* all time among qualified big league hitters, and proof he was 40% better than league average over his career. Among qualified catchers, Piazza carries the second-best wRC+ of all time, and the only player ahead of him is Buster Posey. Posey still has the worst years of his career ahead of him (time makes fools out of us all), so there’s a case to be made that Piazza is the greatest-hitting catcher of all time.
The good counting stats are there too … Piazza’s 427 homers lead all players who predominantly played catcher, and his history-best slugging percentage of .545 is a good .045 ahead of his next-closest competitor, Roy Campanella. His best years were in Los Angeles, including a 9.1 fWAR campaign in ’97, but his work with the Mets was solid as well. Even in San Diego and Oakland, as his career tapered off, Piazza remained a good-enough hitter, never dipping too far below league average, even as his career wound down.
As usual, Ben Lindbergh does a fine turn by baseball in his piece outlining just how good Piazza’s defense was over the years. But even if Piazza was a butcher with the leather – a regular Ryan Doumit – he’d still be worthy of Cooperstown. His offense was that good, and the catcher position that important.
Come on, I get the arguments against Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds deserving Hall-of-Famer status, even if I don’t agree with them. These are players who were censured by the league and the law for breaking the rules of the game. But guys like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell are worthy of the Hall and free from definitive evidence that PEDs were used, as such they have to be considered the same as other players who haven’t tested positive.
It’s not clear to me that Piazza was the greatest catcher of all time; Johnny Bench makes an excellent claim, and the numbers will never tell us just how good Josh Gibson was. But it is very hard to argue that he isn’t one of the five best backstops in baseball’s history, and the finest hitter ever to don a chest protector. It’s silly that it has taken four years for Piazza to get his due in Cooperstown, but 2016 will see him finally take his rightful place in baseball history.
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It is surprising to me that Tim Raines remains unelected and therefore heads into an elect-or-go-home year in 2017. The 10-player limit of the ballot may hold some responsibility for Raines not surpassing the 75% threshold, as voting for him is hardly controversial. For example, by Jay Jaffe's JAWS, Raines' 55.6 surpasses the level of an average hall of fame left fielder (53.3), meaning, if elected, he would raise the quality of bronzed left fielders in Cooperstown.
Raines did everything well on a baseball field. For his career, Raines was an above-average hitter (125 wRC+), above-average baserunner (100.4 BsR), and average fielder (-4 Total Zone). Even if we move away from saber-y measures, comparing Raines to other Hall of Fame outfielders on more commonly known/understood stats, it becomes all the more difficult to understand why Raines remains on the outside looking in. While he did not amass 3,000 hits, he was an on-base machine (career .385 OBP), reaching base safely more than Lou Brock and Tony Gwynn, among others. Once he reached base, Raines was a considerable threat. He currently ranks fifth all time in stolen bases with 808, behind players like Brock (938) and stolen base legend Rickey Henderson (1406). While Raines did not reach the totals of his fellow base stealers, he was much more efficient. Raines was only caught stealing 146 times! His 84.7% success rate is the best all time among players who made 500 attempts. This sort of skill has not been as valued recently as it was when Raines played because the game has turned to an offensive approach that is more power-driven. But Raines should be appreciated for what he did during his time in the league.
Raines was the ninth-best player in the game during the '80s, the period that included his peak (1983-87 with the Montreal Expos) in which he posted seasons of 6.0, 6.7, 7.2, 6.0, and 6.7 fWAR. During the '90s, he was more of an average player (averaged 1.96 fWAR per season 1990-99), but he still had a standout season in 1992 when he provided 5.5 fWAR for the Chicago White Sox. Raines never won an MVP or Gold Glove, but he was selected for the All-Star game seven times. He was consistently good and often great.
One thing that may be hurting Raines' Hall of Fame cause is that he bounced around at the end of his career, playing for five teams in his final four years at essentially replacement level. However, a player who was almost unanimously selected as a Hall of Famer on Wednesday night did the same, even a fair amount worse.
Tim Raines was a well-rounded player for a long time, with a tremendous peak that is on par or better than many already enshrined left fielders. He was not Rickey Henderson or Tony Gwynn, but those facts should not be held against him. Raines was fantastic in similar and slightly different ways. For me, he has earned a spot in Cooperstown.
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If you rounded up 100 baseball fans from all viewpoints, and asked them if Mike Mussina was a Hall of Famer, the answer would likely be a resounding no. To many fans, Mussina doesn’t hit enough of the arbitrary benchmarks to qualify for the most prestigious honor this game can bestow on any one player. He doesn’t have 300 wins; he didn’t strike out 3,000 batters; and he never won a Cy Young award.
However, to cast him aside because he didn’t meet those criteria would be incredibly unfair and dismissive of Mussina’s Hall of Fame-worthy career. Mussina reached 270 wins; he struck out 2,813 batters; and placed in the Cy Young voting 9 times. Pitching his entire career in the AL East during the height of the steroid era, he still managed to produce a FIP of 3.57, an ERA+ of 123, and only allowed a HR/9 of 0.95.
Mussina even compares favorably to some already elected members of the Hall. According to Baseball Reference’s similarity scores, Mussina is comparable to Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, and Carl Hubbell. His Hall of Fame monitor score is 121, where a score of 100 means that pitcher is a "likely HOFer".
Thanks to James Smyth, we also know he ranks 28th among the 62 HoF starting pitchers in wins; 30th in ERA+; and 22nd in overall WAR (82.7). Smyth also tallied up every pitcher in the Hall for those three statistics, and found that the average stat line produced is 271 wins, an ERA+ of 123, and a WAR of 73.9.
There’s no chance Mussina will get in this year: Thus far in the voting process, he’s gained only 25 votes from last year and is currently sitting at 52.6%, which will undoubtedly drop once the official announcements have been made. This is only Mussina’s third year on the ballot, and with seven years of eligibility left, it seems likely that he’ll eventually receive the call that he very rightly deserves.
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Here at Beyond the Box Score, we focus on numbers — it's kind of our thing. If that’s the route you want to go for assessing Hall of Fame worthiness, it’s easy enough to make the case for Edgar Martinez. Once he became a full-time player, he had fourteen consecutive years of well-above-average hitting (by OPS+), falling under 100 only in his final season and averaging 148 over that 14-year streak. His WAR total is in the 65-70 range, depending on the flavor you prefer, right in line with (or just behind) recent inductee Frank Thomas and well above the next-to-come major DH Hall of Fame candidate, David Ortiz. His wOBA is the third-best all time among designated hitters, behind Thomas and Jim Thome. If old-school stats are more your thing, his slash line is .312/.418/.515 – one of only 18 players in history to achieve the .300/.400/.500 for an entire career. He was a seven-time All-Star and a five-time Silver Slugger. Pedro Martinez named him as the best hitter he ever faced. He was so incredibly good that at the end of his career, MLB decided to name the annual award for Best Designated Hitter the Edgar Martinez Award!
So, he’s got all that going for him, which should be more than enough. For the last part of this, though, I want to go beyond the box score in a different direction than we usually do here.
Ken Griffey, Jr. is going to make the Hall of Fame this year; he set the record for getting the highest fraction of votes. He deserves it, and in my opinion deserves to be a unanimous inductee, but this isn’t about him. Inevitably, you’re going to see the famous photo of him at the bottom of the dogpile after the M’s beat the Yankees in 11 innings in game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. It’s maybe the all-time best Mariners moment, but only the photo is about Griffey. The play itself, The Double, was all about Edgar. His hit was sincerely credited with saving baseball in Seattle, and with that hit he inspired an entire generation of baseball fans in the Emerald City. I don’t know any real Mariners fan (old enough to remember it) who doesn’t get a little choked up when they think about the following call, which they (like me) can recite from memory:
"Swung on and… lined down the left field for a base hit! Here come Joey! Here is Junior to third base! They’re going to wave him in! The throw to the plate will be… late! The Mariners are going to play for the American League Championship! I don’t believe it! It just continues, my oh my!!"
Edgar deserves a place in the Hall.
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If you judge Hall of Fame candidacy through the scope of traditional stats, Schilling is your guy. In an era of five-man rotations and expansive bullpens, Schilling topped 250 regular-season innings on three separate occasions. Only five other pitchers have ever reached the 300-strikeout plateau while starting 35 games or fewer; Schilling did it thrice. Schilling also posted three 20-win seasons in a four-year span, not to mention the fact that these were his age 34-37 seasons. He ended with a career 3.46 ERA and 1.14 WHIP that looks even more impressive when you consider that he pitched in the most dominant offensive era of all time. In fact, when you adjust for his era, that 3.46 ERA translates to an ERA+ of 127, identical to that of Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver.
In addition to stats, voters often look towards postseason performance, rings, and memorable or heroic moments, and Schilling has all three of those on his résumé. Schilling is a career 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in the playoffs, including four wins in seven career World Series starts. He has three championships and is still known to this day for his "bloody sock" game in the 2004 playoffs.
If you judge Hall of Fame candidacy through the scope of more progressive stats, Schilling is also your guy. First of all, he owns the best career strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher since 1900. Schilling’s career FIP is 3.23, which translates to an elite FIP- of 76. For reference, Sandy Koufax’s career FIP- is 75, and Greg Maddux’s is 78. In 2002, at the age of 35, Schilling put together one of the greatest seasons we have ever seen. He struck out 316 batters and walked just 33, leading to a mind-boggling K/BB ratio of 9.58. That was the earliest season for which FanGraphs has batted ball data, and he pitched to an unbelievable 2.21 xFIP and 2.18 SIERA.
No pitcher with a higher career bWAR than Schilling has ever been through the HOF-voting process and not made it in. Only Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina amassed a higher bWAR, and they’re also currently on the ballot with strong cases of their own. Schilling’s JAWS score is also above the average HOF starting pitcher.
If you didn’t appreciate Schilling’s greatness during his career because his best seasons were spent playing second fiddle to teammate Randy Johnson, that’s understandable. If you dislike Schilling because of the content of his questionable tweets, that’s also understandable. But if either of these reasons are the reasons that you don’t think he’s a Hall-of-Famer, well, that’s not so understandable.
For the individual ballots by writer, click here. (Unlike the BBWAA, we go with complete transparency.) Here's the basic summary of our votes:
To Griffey and Piazza, congratulations on a well-deserved honor. To Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Raines, Mussina, Martinez, and Schilling, hopefully you'll get justice in the years to come.