Hall of Fame season is upon us! MLB will announce the former players who have made the cut on Wednesday, and based on Ryan Thibodaux’s invaluable research, it looks like more than a few have a chance at induction.
Us plebes at Beyond the Box Score aren’t BBWAA members, but that won’t stop us from making our voices heard. We surveyed our writers and our readers to see which players they thought deserved a spot in the Hall of Fame. We’ll break down the results from the latter group in a couple of days; for now, let’s focus on the former.
The 18 writers who took part had some differences in opinion, but we all agreed on one thing — there are a ton of great players on this ballot. Overall, eight men surpassed the 75 percent standard for enshrinement, and a few others came close. Let’s look at those players whom the BtBS staff thought were deserving of a spot in Cooperstown.
BtBS writers: 94.4 percent
BtBS readers: 56.0 percent
Question No. 1: Is Barry Bonds
arguably the greatest hitter of all time?
Question No. 2: What is the purpose of the baseball Hall of Fame?
Answer: To enshrine the greatest baseball players of all time.
Okay, so what’s the holdup, then?
If you need to stare at the numbers for some crazy reason, have at it. Let us arrange for orange and black petals to rain down upon the main thoroughfare as Barry Bonds struts triumphantly through the Hall of Fame’s gilded doors, posthaste!
Oh, yes. Still hung up on that, are we?
Listen. Barry Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs at some point during his (late) career. Everyone knows it. Everyone also knows that the particular era that housed Bonds’ greatest feats, known colloquially as the “Steroid Era,” was full of such players. We don’t have an exact figure on the peak of usage, but we do know that many players of the period have claimed it was rampant.
The main argument against steroid users being inducted is that the drugs gave a player an advantage over his peers. Well, how many of Bonds’ peers were dabbling in the cream and the clear? 10 percent? 30 percent? More? What if it were determined that, on average, Bonds’ faced one starting pitcher and one reliever a series who was also on steroids? Would that change the perception of him as a gigantic cheater?
It’s not that I don’t think we shouldn’t recognize that his lofty numbers were forged with a little bit of illicit help. Just slap an asterisk next to his plaque and be done with it.
BtBS writers: 100 percent
BtBS readers: 54.9 percent
Roger Clemens is arguably the greatest pitcher ever. He’s certainly the greatest pitcher of the live-ball era. His Hall of Fame merits need no discussion, but let’s discuss them anyway for fun.
His 70 ERA- ranks second all-time among pitchers with at least 3,000 IP since 1920. His 23 percent strikeout rate is one of the best ever, and his 4,671 strikeouts are the third-highest ever. Those numbers are incredible for a short career. The fact that Clemens did that for 4,916 2⁄3 IP over 24 seasons… there are just no words to describe that level of dominance. He won a whopping seven Cy Young awards, and it should have been more. He even won an MVP as a pitcher!
Clemens’s ~140 WAR is the third-highest ever, and the highest of the live-ball era over Tom Seaver by almost 30 WAR. He had two seasons over 10 WAR, six seasons over 8 WAR, and ten seasons over 7 WAR. His 66.3 WAR7, the sum of his best seven seasons by WAR, is the best ever in the live-ball era.
There is no baseball argument against putting Roger Clemens in the Hall of Fame. The problem is that the Hall of Fame’s morality clause has always been inconsistently and arbitrarily applied to a disastrous degree.
Chemicals cannot make a Roger Clemens nor a Barry Bonds — the incredible baseball talent is what carried them to stardom. Furthermore, the claims of anabolic steroids as performance enhancers in baseball do not come close to passing even the lowest standards of scientific rigor.
But what do I know? These voters keeping Clemens out are bona fide sports journalists. I’m just an experienced medicinal chemist.
BtBS writers: 77.8 percent
BtBS readers: 78.2 percent
Vlad, as he was known to fans, was something out of this world. As Jonah Keri wrote in Up, Up, and Away, he defied “everything you thought you knew about baseball.” Here was a man who literally swung his way off the Dominican Republic after trials with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Expos led him to join the latter club. At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Vlad was in the majors in no time.
As the years went by, Vlad became the face of the Expos — to quote Keri again, he was “a powder keg of talent who reminded old-time baseball fans of Roberto Clemente.” Before the franchise finally moved to Washington, D.C., Vlad had already moved on to the Los Angeles Angels, giving pitchers a reason to fear coming to Anaheim.
Vlad never seemed to age. For most years of his career, he was among the best in the majors in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and true average. Let’s make one thing clear: Vlad was never average.
If I had to highlight one at-bat of his career, it wouldn’t be one of his homers but his bounced-pitched single against the Baltimore Orioles:
That right there was what Vlad was capable of: hitting pitches way off the plate for singles, doubles and, of course, home runs.
Vlad retired with 449 home runs — though the way he targeted the pitches he hit, you’d think he have more — a .318/.379/.553 slash-line, a .303 True Average, and 63.9 career WARP to go along with it.
Nothing was normal of Vlad. He was beyond this world, and baseball fans were lucky to have him. His place in the Hall of Fame is more than deserved, even if it’s just because he captured our hearts and imagination.
BtBS writers: 88.9 percent
BtBS readers: 89.2 percent
Chipper Jones is one of the greatest third baseman to ever play the game. He ranks second all-time in offensive runs above average at the position, according to FanGraphs, and he’s tied for fifth all-time in WAR. Jones’ rise to the top offensively is unique in that he (to our knowledge, at least) remained clean in a time when other superstars either took or are under suspicion of using performance enhancing drugs.
An eight-time National League All-Star and 1999 MVP, Jones was the perennial offensive star on a Braves team that won 11 straight NL East division titles from 1995 to 2005. Chipper wasn’t just good at getting on base and creating runs — he was great when it mattered most to his team. Based on Win Probability Added (dating back to 1974), Jones tops all third basemen and is fourth among all hitters behind only Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols and Rickey Henderson.
How does Chipper compare to the third basemen already in the Hall of Fame? Based on slugging percentage and on-base percentage, he’s one of the greatest offensive third basemen to ever play the game. Wade Boggs has him beat in on-base percentage, but by OPS, Jones is way in front of any other third baseman in Cooperstown.
The only knock against Jones is that he was never great in the field, which resulted in negative defensive value over the course of his career. But that should not take away from his superb play at the plate.
Jones has a career WAR of 84.6, which is tied with George Brett. Given the era Jones played in and all his accomplishments with the Braves, he is a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer.
BtBS writers: 94.4 percent
BtBS readers: 65.2 percent
The argument against Edgar Martinez has been made crystal clear: From 1995 on, his glove was used about as often as one of those cheap foot-bath massage things that you probably gave your mom as a child. And just like kids who don’t know anything about quality gift-giving, BBWAA voters who want to keep Martinez out of the Hall of Fame are failing to properly recognize a transcendent offensive threat.
He spent much of his career as a designated hitter, and when he did take the field it wasn’t pretty, but Martinez’s bat was so great that none of that matters. It’s not that defense shouldn’t factor into a Hall of Fame selection; it’s that an elite designated hitter such as Martinez should be enshrined regardless of his glove work.
Starting pitchers don’t hit, and not only do relief pitchers not hit, they don’t start. Yet no one has any problem admitting them into Cooperstown. Can you really pretend that Trevor Hoffman provided more value to his teams than Edgar Martinez?
Martinez had a career 147 wRC+. By that metric, he’s a top-40 hitter of all time. ALL. TIME. If you’re looking for traditional baseball card stats, he posted a career .312/.418/.515 slash line, he led the majors in batting average twice and on-base percentage three times, and he made seven All-Star teams.
You can believe that defense is important and still vote for Martinez. His bat was that good.
BtBS writers: 83.3 percent
BtBS readers: 54.7 percent
BBWAA members are making a huge mistake by failing to elect Mike Mussina. He may not be the flashiest candidate, but he is a surefire Hall of Famer.
Mussina didn't win 300 games or a Cy Young, he made only five All-Star teams and won 20 games just once, and he never struck out more than nine batters per nine innings over a full season.
Despite all of that, Mussina finished with 82.2 fWAR, which puts him 16th all-time among pitchers. On the all-time list, he's just 0.4 fWAR behind Bob Gibson and 2.3 fWAR behind Pedro Martinez, two inner-circle Hall of Famers.
Mussina was one of the most consistent pitchers in history. He had 11 seasons with at least 15 wins. He finished with over 150 innings pitched every season from 1992 to 2008. He never finished with a fWAR above 6, but also never finished with a fWAR below 1.7.
Not only was he one of the best regular-season pitchers of all time, Mussina was also an outstanding postseason pitcher for some of the best teams of the 1990s and 2000s. Mussina posted a 3.42 ERA in 23 playoff games across 16 series, including two World Series.
Add all of these accomplishments together, and you get a Cooperstown-worthy starting pitcher. Still, the absurd standards for Hall of Fame-worthy starting pitchers have kept Mussina from being enshrined.
As the voting pool becomes more progressive and lax in its evaluations of starting pitchers, Mike Mussina should be able to sneak in before he falls off the ballot. If and when he does, he will become the poster boy for the many starting pitchers who faced — and ultimately didn't overcome — unreasonable expectations when it came to the Hall of Fame.
BtBS writers: 94.4 percent
BtBS readers: 79.6 percent
Jim Thome should be in the Hall of Fame, period. His numbers speak of his place as one of the best hitters ever to play this game.
First, almost everyone in the 600-home run club is in. The ones who are not are Thome, who just became eligible; Albert Pujols, who’s still playing and is a shoo-in once he retires; and players who are either ineligible or have been kept out by the Hall of Fame’s morality police (AKA the BBWAA).
Let’s look at Thome’s career numbers:
Jim Thome career numbers
Among players who have played at least 1,500 games, Thome ranks eighth all-time in home runs, seventh in ISO, 28th in on-base percentage, 20th in slugging, 33rd in wOBA and 28th in wRC+. Perhaps his strongest attribute was his walk rate, which puts him eighth all-time, ahead of Hall of Famers like Frank Thomas, Lou Gehrig, and Jeff Bagwell. In fact, his walk rate is identical with Joey Votto and higher than Jose Bautista — two active players notorious for earning free passes.
Not only does Thome meet the criteria statistically, he also passes the longevity test. He’s 50th all-time in games played for a position player. Over 21 seasons, he posted 5 fWAR or more on five separate occasions. Given that his defense was mediocre-to-bad, harming his overall value year-over-year, it goes to show how incredible of a hitter he was to accumulate 69 fWAR over his career.
Thome may not be a name that jumps out at you like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez, but he’s every bit as good as his predecessors in the Hall of Fame, and is certainly deserving of a spot in Cooperstown.
BtBS writers: 77.8 percent
BtBS readers: 41.1 percent
There are few debates more polarizing in baseball than who should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but by all statistical measures there should be no debate: Larry Walker deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Over the course of his 17-year MLB career, Walker hit .313/.400./.565 with a wRC+ of 140 and bWAR of 72.6. Twelve times in his career, Walker led the league in an offensive statistical category, as seen in the black ink feature of his Baseball-Reference page. This includes pacing all players in home runs (49), batting average (.363, .379 and .350), OBP (.458 and .458), SLG (.720 and .710) and OPS (1.172 and 1.168), demonstrating his ability to hit for both average and power.
Jay Jaffe’s JAWS scoring system, which uses advanced metrics to measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness in comparison to players at the same position who are already enshrined, clearly demonstrates that Walker deserves the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a player.
Walker vs. the average Hall of Fame right fielder
|Avg. HOF RF
His career WAR, by the way, puts him behind only 46 Hall of Fame players.
There is also this gem, courtesy of Hot Stove Stats:
There have been 19,180 players to play Major League Baseball.— Hot Stove Stats (@HotStoveStats) November 22, 2017
Just one of them has 350 HR, 200 SB, .300 BA, and .400 OBP in their career.
His name is Larry Walker. #WalkerHOF
Walker also got things done on the other side of the ball. The seven-time Gold Glove winner had a cannon for an arm — his 150 outfield assists as a right fielder ranks him 17th all-time at that position. Walker had wheels as well, with 230 stolen bases.
Simply put, the man could do it all.
The two biggest knocks against Walker are the fact that he played the majority of his career at the very hitter-friendly Coors Field and his injury history. Walker’s career numbers were stellar in Colorado, but only 31 percent of his career at-bats took place there. Any inflation that is attributable to Coors Field may be partially offset by the fact that Walker missed more than two full seasons’ worth of games due to injuries, which undoubtedly hurt his overall production.
Penalizing a player for where he played or his health does not seem to be within the spirit of the Hall of Fame, particularly when you consider that there are enshrined players who no doubt benefited from a variety of circumstances. The stats don’t lie and, by all statistical measures, Larry Walker is worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.
To check out the ballots for the 18 BtBS writers who voted, click here.