On Jan. 18, with all the BBWAA ballots collected, we’ll find out which former players will make the Hall of Fame in 2017. If their decisions are as stingy as they were last year — when only Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza made it in — we’ll have a smaller class than we deserve, the ballot will grow more crowded next year, and some players could even fall off it entirely.
Fans can’t really alter this asinine and unfair voting system. That’s why, here at Beyond the Box Score, we decided to relieve our burning rage by hosting a mock vote among our writers. 24 of us evaluated the same Hall of Fame ballot that BBWAA members received, picking up to 10 of the 34 players. When all was said and done, eight players had surpassed 75 percent of the vote to join the (imaginary) Hall of Fame:
- Jeff Bagwell (95.8 percent of ballots)
- Barry Bonds (95.8 percent)
- Tim Raines (95.8 percent)
- Roger Clemens (91.7 percent)
- Mike Mussina (91.7 percent)
- Ivan Rodriguez (83.3 percent)
- Edgar Martinez (83.3 percent)
- Larry Walker (79.2 percent)
This is the sixth straight year we’ve done this vote — check out our results from 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 — and each year, our class has dwarfed that of the actual Hall. (Bagwell’s made the cut in all six years; hopefully, the BBWAA will take the hint soon.) Here’s a complete breakdown of our voting this year:
Below, our writers defend each of the eight selections. Reading through each of the entries, you’ll see each of the players has a strong case for induction. As the BBWAA grows and advances, hopefully they’ll start to come around, and all eight of these players will get their day in Cooperstown. Until then, well...
2017 may finally be the year Cooperstown comes calling for Jeff Bagwell. During his playing career, Bagwell was one of the premier first basemen in the game and a key cog on the contending Astros teams of the late 90’s and early 00’s. He was a member of the “Killer B’s,” which consisted of Bagwell, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, and Lance Berkman.
Bagwell finished his career with 449 home runs, a .297 batting average, a 149 wRC+, and a career fWAR of 80.2. Also, he made the All-Star team four times and won the MVP in a strike-shortened 1994 season. In that campaign, Bagwell had 39 home runs, 116 RBI, a 205 wRC+, a career best 213 OPS+, and a 7.8 fWAR in a mere 479 plate appearances. 1994 saw Bagwell win his only Gold Glove award as well.
When looking for a Hall of Famer, many will prioritize durability and length of career. Bagwell played for 15 seasons and was extremely durable. He played in 162 games four times in his career, and played in over 150 games in ten of his 15 seasons. Also, he played in 150 games or more in eight of his final ten seasons. Now if we look at Bagwell’s 162-game average statistics, they show Hall of Fame numbers. The average campaign looks like this for Bagwell:
.297/.408/.540, 34 HR, 115 RBI, 174 Hits, 149 OPS+
The all-important question when looking at a Hall of Fame candidate is how do they compare to fellow Hall of Famers at the position? Here is how Bagwell looks when compared to the averages of the first basemen in the Hall of Fame:
|Avg. 1st Base HOFer||2156||9054||0.308||298||1453||2439||148||5||1||67||138|
Bagwell has an advantage in some key categories. The only area he falls short would be in hits (a little over 100), and only one All-Star appearance. His career fWAR of 80.2 leaves him behind only Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Cap Anson, and Roger Connor, so if elected, Bagwell would fall into the top five when looking at fWAR.
Really, the only argument against Bagwell is the “suspicion” of PED use, and there were never failed tests, a la Manny Ramirez, or concrete examples of Bagwell cheating the game. Once you look at the numbers in Bagwell’s career, you can’t tell me he isn’t a Hall of Famer, especially when compared to the first basemen already in the Hall of Fame.
The other element in a HOF evaluation is the eye test. While I was able to watch Bagwell play as a young kid and teenager, I was fortunate enough to see him in person at Shea Stadium a few times as well as on TV whenever possible. I can remember watching him and saying he was one of the best players in the game and a “force” in the lineup. When his name first appeared on the HOF ballot, my initial reaction was “yes,” and upon further review of Bagwell’s stats, he is indeed Cooperstown worthy.
Barry Bonds is the greatest hitter the vast majority of us have ever seen. That should be enough to convince anyone he should be in the Hall of Fame, but my editors want at least 300 words, so fine, Dad, we’ll do it your way.
The list of Bonds’ accomplishments is a long one, and listing all of them would require multiple posts, but we can make our argument using just a few of them. You already know he’s the all-time leader in both home runs and walks. His career OPS was an absurd 1.051. He’s the only member of the 500/500 club. He was the NL MVP seven times. Per Baseball-Reference, only Babe Ruth was worth more wins above replacement among hitters. On and on we go.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Jay Jaffe’s JAWS rating, which encompasses both a player’s career accomplishments and his seven-year peak. Bonds finished his career at 117.2 in JAWS. The next best left fielder is Ted effing Williams, at 96.2. Even if you cut Barry Bonds’ JAWS score in half, he’d still be 5.3 points above the average JAWS score for Hall of Fame left fielders.
Basically, there is no statistical argument for not having Bonds in the Hall of Fame. Of course, it’s not stats that have kept him out for this long. We can blame that on his alleged PED use. But I’m not here to tell you that Bonds didn’t use; he admitted to some isolated usage, and just look at how his body changed over the course of his career.
Considering the era he played in, however, Bonds was not alone in using PEDs. Steroid use was rampant across baseball, and while that doesn’t necessarily make it okay that Bonds used, it does make the frothy-mouthed cries of “Cheater! Cheater!” ring a bit hollow. Is it really cheating if everyone else is doing it?
Steroids didn’t make Bonds a Hall of Fame player anyway. Bonds had that kind of talent even if he’d never touched the cream or the clear. In Pittsburgh, he was worth 50.1 rWAR in just seven seasons, a total that was better than the career totals of 49 Hall of Famers, including Jim Rice and Lou Brock.
Of course, it was his performance in San Francisco that we’ll all remember most. Aside from prime Ruth, there’s really never been anything quite like Bonds’ 2001-2004. You simply could not throw the dude a strike, because he would park that thing in the bleachers if you did. It’s the most amazing thing anyone but literally the oldest baseball fans on the planet have ever seen.
On reputation alone, Bonds should have been in on the first ballot. Combine that with the stats, and there’s really no argument to be made against Bonds’ inclusion. Stop the moral grandstanding and give him a plaque.
Ideally, an emergency room will be able to treat every patient who needs it. In the subpar American healthcare system, though, that often doesn't happen, as overcrowding has become an increasing problem. The most trying scenarios, with far more victims than the staff can handle, will require a process called triage. In short, this means the patients will receive care based on the severity of their ailments. Most people would intuitively agree with this logic — a person having a heart attack requires prompt attention, while someone with a broken leg can wait. In a perfect world, we would tend to everyone, but sometimes the conditions demand we make hard choices.
No matter how you scrutinize his case, Tim Raines deserves to make the Hall of Fame. Of the 34 players on the ballot this year, he ranks eighth in rWAR (69.1), ninth in fWAR (66.4), and eighth in WARP (70.4). Moreover, he’s superior to current Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn (68.8 rWAR/65.0 fWAR/63.3 WARP), Ernie Banks (67.4/63.3/57.8), and Ryne Sandberg (67.5/60.9/59.1) — men whose cases didn’t receive much debate — in all three of those regards. He’s kept a clean record off the field, so we don’t have to worry about the “character clause” here. All of this is to say: By any definition, Raines deserves to make the Hall of Fame.
But let’s say you don’t want to vote for him this year. He does trail at least seven other players in career value, and by individual metrics, Manny Ramirez (69.2 rWAR), Ivan Rodriguez (68.9 fWAR), and Gary Sheffield (76.7 WARP) are ahead of him; perhaps you think those players should be enshrined before Raines. Or maybe you’re one of those people who really likes Proven Closers, and you want to give Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, and/or Billy Wagner a vote. (Hey, you do you.) Why should you prioritize Raines over them?
It’s simple: Raines doesn’t have much time left — or rather, any time left. After a rule change in 2014, players can stay on the ballot for a maximum of 10 years; Raines, a 2002 retiree, first became eligible in 2007, meaning this will be his final shot. With the exception of Smith, who’s also in his last year on the ballot, each of the aforementioned players has at least seven years left; they can afford to wait until 2018 and beyond. For Raines, it’s now or never, and even with the gains he made last year, he still has shaky odds.
You should support Raines’s cause on its merits: He was a great player by any measure, and by pulling for him, you’d avoid the wrath of his enforcer. If that’s not enough, though, let the belabored medical metaphor make his case even clearer. Manny, Pudge, and Sheff have minor injuries — some bruises and maybe a few broken bones; sure, the doctors should tend to them, but they’ll live without immediate aid. Raines, on the other hand, needs attention now. After seeing nine of his opportunities be torn to shreds, he’s suffered four simultaneous heart attacks, and he won’t make it without an AED, stat. Even if you think other players outshined him on the field, Raines’s urgent cause makes him a necessary choice.
Temporary insanity is a plea designed to keep someone out of a certain building, but today — in sports’ grand tradition of backwardness — we will use it for the opposite. Indeed, in the matter of Roger Clemens and the Hall of Fame, we intend to use the maneuver to absolve all doubt in his case. The evidence is as follows:
- Observe Roger Clemens in the heat of “battle” AKA a start. In this instance, a World Series start.
- Observe that when a shard of Mike Piazza’s bat makes its way to him, Clemens does something unnatural, flinging it sidearm toward the base path, a location that one never throws anything toward.
- Observe that he then claims, “I thought it was the ball,” as he backs away from a fight that the previous action would seemingly initiate.
- Observe that after the game, Clemens said, “I was running extremely high. I had to go and calm down. I was extremely fired up. I had to calm down and stay focused.”
- Observe that Clemens did just that, firing eight shutout innings, with nine strikeouts and no walks — defined by both RA/9 and DIPS theory as a REALLY AWESOME START.
- Observe that Clemens did demonstrate this trance-like state on multiple occasions. Twice, he struck out 20 batters in a single game. Sometimes, he lost limb control and did this.
- It is our contention that this sort of dead-eyed focus could only be a sign of a type of insanity, and that Clemens’ transgressions are almost wholly attributable to it.
It may seem frivolous, but this is how you address the case against Clemens, because a baseball-focused case does not exist.
Sharing an era with mind-bending talents such as Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, Clemens looked comparatively like a pitching instructional video, his dominance a product of brute force. Man of a million contemporaries and none at all, Clemens captured ERA titles in both 1986 and 2005. He won a record-tying seven Cy Youngs, and should rightfully have gotten at least one more (lookin’ at you, Bob Welch). He snared an MVP, and perhaps deserved another of those, as well. Use whichever WAR model you want — no modern pitcher has been more productive than Roger Clemens. He was everything people think Nolan Ryan was, except far, far better.
In sports, we implicitly ask for displays of aggression that would be untoward in any other walk of life, then handsomely reward athletes who succeed in creating eye-catching spectacles of it. As baseball clawed its way back into the public consciousness after the strike with sometimes drug-assisted feats of strength, this was perhaps especially and excessively true. Clemens was a product of this time — every “bad” thing he did a reasonable adaptation to the incentives presented to him.
The temporary insanity gripped us all.
Perhaps unfortunately, the most unstoppable force we’ve seen on a mound happened to reach his athletic prime during this morally conflicted (possibly regrettable) era. Attempting to scrub him from the most prominent record of the game won’t make it all go away, and it won’t absolve us of our role in whatever wrongs may have been done to the game. It would just turn a blind eye, which is what got us here in the first place.
It’s easy to see why Mike Mussina gets a lot of love from the saber community. From his debut in 1991 to his final season in 2008, he posted a 3.68 ERA and a 3.07 DRA while accruing 105.6 WARP. That total is eighth among the 215 pitchers who tossed at least 2,000 innings since 1951. By era-adjusted DRA-, Mussina is sixth all-time. His fWAR of 82.2 and bWAR of 82.7 each prove how valuable he was for both the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees.
Though hits were common, with a career H9 of 8.7, Mussina kept his walk rate low with a BB/9 of 2.0 and struck out plenty, recording a SO/9 of 7.1. He also had a fairly good strand rate of 72.7 percent, which then went on to make a lot of hits and walks irrelevant. His K-BB% was better than Greg Maddux’s total. Mussina’s numbers are on par with the average Hall of Famer’s stats, if not better.
Outside the realm of numbers, though, Mussina isn’t someone many think of as a surefire Hall of Famer. He never won a Cy Young award, although Pedro Martínez and Roger Clemens didn’t exactly make it a fair fight. He never won a World Series, having joined the Yankees the year after they won their 26th title, and retiring the year before they won their 27th. He didn’t have the postseason narratives that grew into legend. He existed as a ballplayer, but not one whose success catapulted him to stardom. By all known accounts, Mussina had no character flaws, unless you count falling short of being high school valedictorian. He’s even a crossword puzzle enthusiast.
Mussina’s career as a pitcher wasn’t perfect, but whose was? It was pretty telling that, in 2008, a 39-year-old Mussina went out and pitched a 20-win season (pitcher wins are useless, yes, but hear me out); was worth 5.2 WARP, 4.6 fWAR, and 5.2 bWAR with a 3.18 DRA; and got some AL Cy Young and AL MVP votes — only to call it a career at the end of it. Yes, he could’ve gone out and tried to build something on that season. Yes, he could’ve tried to go for as long as he could. The fact is that he didn’t, and instead went out on top.
It is not uncommon in sports to keep pushing yourself further, even if you become dangerously close to becoming a shell of your former self. Knowing when to call it a career at the top of your game and, if Wikipedia is to be trusted on this, become a tractor and vintage car collector (but also become a basketball coach at a high school in his hometown) is an indication of character itself. This, combined with his numbers, only scratches the surface of why Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame.
—Jen Mac Ramos
For those of us who are familiar with Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame case, I’m not about to say anything new. Nothing has changed in the hard numbers since Edgar’s retirement in 2004. What may be changing is how BBWAA voters are viewing his resume.
Ryan Thibodaux, who does yeoman’s work tracking Hall of Fame ballots, has Martinez presently running at 70.1 percent with 108 ballots cast, which if it stood would be his highest garnered vote yet but still fall slightly short of the 75 percent needed to get him in.
According to FanGraphs, Edgar Martinez is 47th all-time in bases on balls (1218), 53rd in doubles (514), 21st in on-base percentage (.418), 69th in slugging percentage (.515), 33rd in wRC+ (147), and 86th in fWAR. These numbers are impressive considering that of the 18 seasons in which Martinez played, two were cut short by injury (1993 and 2002), one by a strike (1994), and three by a Mariners ball club that simply mishandled their burgeoning young star (1987-1989). Martinez was held out of a starting spot by the Mariners for the first three seasons due to the presence of Jim Presley, whom you might know for...well, whom you simply may or may not know. As a result, Martinez did not become a major league regular until the tender age of 27, and his ability to accumulate a more impressive statistical resume was (likely) hindered by this. You could say that he made the most of the time he had.
Martinez’s career triple-slash line of .312/.418/.515 puts him in some pretty exclusive company: Only 20 other ballplayers with a minimum of 5,000 plate appearances can boast of at least a .300/.400/.500 career line.
Martinez played the majority of his career as a designated hitter, and the voters thus far have seemingly held that against him. Frankly, it’s something I’ve never understood. True, he didn’t have to play in the field for much of his career, but that simply speaks to that quality of hitter that he was.
Cubs Manager Joe Maddon had this to say about the designated hitter position back in a 2015 CSN Chicago article:
“The DH is a really difficult position to acquire a really good player … It’s normally a very expensive position and there’s not many guys that could sit around for a half hour and come up and give you a good at-bat consistently on a nightly basis. So it’s a tough animal to find.”
People around baseball recognize that it isn’t easy to be a designated hitter, sitting between innings and watching while everyone else is staying warmed up playing in the field. Martinez used that extra time in the dugout, meticulously studying his opponents. The designated hitter award is rightfully named after him; there is no one who did it better. Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez both called him the greatest hitter they ever faced.
Although Martinez never won a ring or even appeared in a World Series, he had some memorable postseason performances, particularly as the catalyst of one of the greatest plays in divisional series history:
As a young baseball fan for whom this was a defining moment, I hope Edgar finally gets the Hall of Fame nod he rightfully deserves.
Iván Rodríguez Torres is a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. He was once of the greatest defensive catchers of all time (if we don’t count pitch framing), and his 28.7 dWAR is the highest all time among catchers. Among all position players, his dWAR is eighth all-time. Yadier Molina has a chance to catch him at 21 dWAR, but if not him, Pudge’s mark is going to stand for a long time.
(For you Cardinals fans out there, if you factor in framing runs, Molina comes out way, way ahead of Rodríguez in terms of defense.)
Pudge led the league in caught-stealing percentage nine times, and he threw out at least half of would-be base stealers in a season nine times, maxing out at 60 percent in 2001. He is also the lifetime leader in games played at catcher with 2,427 contests over 21 seasons. That is extremely impressive to accomplish such a feat at the trying position of catcher.
Rodríguez was far from a defensive specialist. His overall offensive numbers don’t look too great, partially because he played five years longer than he should have. For his career, he hit .296/.334/.464, which is good for a 104 wRC+. His career offense doesn’t stand out when compared to his peers, but his defense more than makes up for the deficit. He was much better in his prime, having a 129 wRC+ over his best seven offensive seasons, though that number does include a few years when Rodríguez did not play the entire season.
Since this is supposed to a post in favor of Pudge, it should be noted that he won the 1999 AL MVP. However, that is considered to be one of the most controversial MVP wins in baseball history. It was rightfully Pedro Martínez’s to win, but two voters inexplicably left him off their ballots. Thankfully, the BBWAA has come a long way since then. [Editor’s note: The opinions expressed herein are solely those of Luis; BtBS does not take a position on whether the BBWAA has progressed in any way since 1908.]
In terms of the postseason, Rodríguez performed poorly, hitting 255/.314/.392 in 170 PA. However, he hit .313/.390/.522 in the 2003 postseason for the World Champion Marlins.
By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, Pudge’s case is overwhelming. He is ranked third all-time among catchers by JAWS, below Gary Carter and above Carlton Fisk (who, coincidentally, was also nicknamed “Pudge”). Fisk and the other four players below him in JAWS are all in the Hall of Fame. Again, it should be noted that bWAR does not factor in pitch framing.
It looks like Puerto Rico is getting another Hall of Famer. His case is strong enough that there is no excuse for not voting for him. He is currently polling at 85 percent on Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker. If Rodríguez does not get in this year, he will in the next year or two.
There are two players in the Hall of Fame donning Expos caps: Gary Carter and Andre Dawson. There will almost assuredly be at least one more in the next few years, with Tim Raines poised to make the Hall in his final year on the ballot, and Vladimir Guerrero polling well in the public ballots. Raines has a near-infamous lobby, and Guerrero is the poster boy for subjectivity in Hall voting. Such an assessment of the Québécois contingent on the ballot, however, leaves out the greatness of one Larry Kenneth Robert Walker.
Look: it’s hard to get excited about Larry Walker. He likely didn’t play for your favorite team, having spent almost his entire career in Montreal and Colorado, and he didn’t have one standout attribute that differentiated him from his peers. His totals and rate stats are very good, if not otherworldly: 383 home runs, 1311 RBI, and a round .313/.400/.565 slash line, replete with an NL MVP in 1997. He tallied seven Gold Gloves, but his defense was never a highlight of his game. His 17 major-league seasons were not enough to compile the counting stats, as Walker suffered numerous injuries throughout his career.
But the Hall is not only for the subjectively pleasing players; it’s also for the quietly great. While he was merely a solid defender, Walker was a great baserunner. He tallied 283 stolen bases, making him a fleet slugger a notch below Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, but good nonetheless. 383 homers seem paltry for someone who played most of his home games at Coors Field, but he supplemented “pretty good” power with a great approach at the plate, snagging two batting titles and two OPS crowns (which is totally a thing in my head). He was basically a .350-.370 hitter during his prime, with 30-40 home run power. It all added up to a refined game in all facets, a surprising and impressive development from someone who went undrafted as a hockey first, softball second player, baseball third from British Columbia.
Walker, in some ways, is the antithesis of Sosa, and I think they are an instructive comparison. While the Cubs slugger was a 30-30 player with fine defense early in his career, he supplanted the baserunning and fielding with legendary power in his prime, producing indelible highlights. Walker, despite his injuries, was remarkably consistent in his all-around game, and if one looks through the games missed, one can see a fascinatingly normal career arc for a great player.
Both men are bubble candidates who make voters’ ballots in the ninth or tenth spots. However, Sosa is in the lower echelon of Hall of Famers by holistic measures like WAR and Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, whereas Walker is solidly in the middle of average Hall of Fame right fielders. The two are a good barometer by which to measure a voter’s indebtedness to either “subjectivity” (i.e. Sosa’s masterful peak and electricity, with an otherwise oblong career) or “consistent excellence” (i.e. Walker’s round game and relatively normal arc).
Ultimately, Walker stacks up well against both his peers on the ballot and those already enshrined at Cooperstown. 72.6 bWAR, 68.7 fWAR, and 65.9 WARP are Hall-worthy, as are Walker’s batting line, glove, and baserunning. The Coors “effect” doesn’t dampen those numbers, and Walker should be the eighth Expo in the Hall — and the first Colorado Rockie.