Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening–whichever is applicable to you. The 2018 Hall of Fame class is set to be announced on January 24th. Over the last five years. the process of what is and what isn’t a Hall of Fame player has completely changed. In a simpler time, the determining factors could either be found on the back of a baseball card or within the historical headlines of the game… I see you, Bill Mazeroski. Words like character and integrity weren’t ballied about when the bigot Ty Cobb was enshrined in the inaugural Hall of Fame class.
Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a more stringent moral compass than some of the Hall of Fame members and some of those responsible for the voting process. Take for example Joe Morgan. Morgan is so appalled by the steroid era that he took it upon himself to urge voters not to condone such actions when voting. This letter was sent out on behalf of the Hall of Fame and Museum. Oddly enough, Morgan has spent the last decade plus campaigning for the inclusion of Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame.
As a big fan of the analytical movement, I applaud the open-mindedness of many voters. Despite this, I have growing concerns that moving forward, the voting process will become more clouded, and with it a point of too much inclusion. A prime example of this occurred in November as the Veterans Committee welcomed Jack Morris and Alan Trammel into the Hall. Morris was a throwback vote. Career wins over 250, most wins in the 1980s, won multiple World Series, and was the starring act in one of the greatest games ever played.
Meanwhile, Trammel seems like a comp pick with analytical numbers at the forefront of the decision. Basically, Trammell got lost in time in many ways. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, if you will. Trammell was a better hitter than the flashy gloved Smith, yet he wasn’t at the level of Ripken. A few years later, Barry Larkin would take the offensive prowess of the position up another level. In time, A-Rod would make Trammell’s offensive prowess all but forgotten. While Ripken and Trammell were contemporaries, their career numbers wouldn’t necessarily suggest it. Yet analytically, the story was a much easier sell.
In reality, it’d be hard pressed to convince me on either Morris or Trammell. Trammell would be the easier sell — he just didn’t do it long enough. Morris has an ERA+ that is bested by Mat Latos (mic drop!). The inclusion of these types of players only leads to a lowering of the bar. For years to come, SP numbers will be compared to Morris’s. Meanwhile, shortstops from an offensive era will have Trammell’s career marks used for comparison.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why so many from the Hall of Fame, its members, and the BBWAA work so hard to keep so many deserving players out solely based on moral fiber while simultaneously working so hard on getting so many borderline players in.
Around this time last year, I posted my hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot. It was likely at this time last year that most of you said, “Who cares about his Hall of Fame opinions? This is a fantasy site!” Though I completely agree, I still can’t help myself. At the end of the day, we’re all fans of the game and most likely have been since our youth.
One of the cool things about getting old is that I’m finally able to have a more educated retrospect into the careers of newly appointed Hall of Fame hopefuls. For those of you scoring at home, here were my 2017 honorees: Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, Tim Raines, Sammy Sosa, and Jeff Bagwell. With Bagwell, Raines, and Rodriguez off the ballot, here is my 2018 Hall of Fame honorees.
Barry Bonds – As if being the best hitter of a generation isn’t enough, Bonds deserves the honor of greatest ever. Steroids/PED or not, one cannot argue the fact that in a game where they were used frequently, Bonds still managed to significantly separate himself from his peers. As the years pass, I feel that more and more fans will be willing to acknowledge Bonds place in the game. In turn, voters will become more willing to acknowledge the greatness of Bonds even if the period wasn’t the game’s brightest moments.
Despite all of his career statistics, perhaps the best support as to just how good Bonds was came from Greg Maddux, who summarized the best way to pitch Bonds was by throwing him four balls.
Curt Schilling – The BBWAA works so hard to discredit many of the hitters from the steroid era. Still, they’ve yet to embrace many of the pitchers from the era that had to deal with them. During this era, Schilling managed to win 215 games while averaging 15 wins per season. This was accompanied by a 3.46 ERA that was well over a half a run better than the league average during his tenure. Also, I’m a sucker for the moments, and Schillng’s postseason success is a little more than just a bloody sock — 11 Wins and a 2.23 ERA, to be exact.
Roger Clemens – 354 career Wins, 4672 Ks, and one very uncomfortable showing in court. Behind Bonds, this is baseball’s most glaring omission.
Vladimir Guerrero – My first instinct on Guerrero was a surefire lock for the Hall of Fame. When you dig deeper, Guerrero has some statistics that don’t necessarily provide the most clarity for his Hall of Fame case. Take for example Guerrero’s career OPS+ of 140, which is only the 7th best total on the ballot. His WAR of 59.3 ranks just 13th best, his WAR7, which totals his 7 best WAR seasons, is still only good for 13th best. And keep in mind this is just among this year’s ballot.
For me, Guerrero’s status among the games greats goes beyond the boxscore. I can visualize those lasers thrown from the right field corner to third base. I can see those low and away balls in the dirt finding outfield grass. I can visualize this tall, lanky kid who would ferociously swing this caveman club without those darn batting gloves.
His case isn’t without substance either. During a time in which home run hitters began to embrace the “swing hard in case you hit it” approach, Guerrero was a 30 HR threat who struck out more the 80 times only twice during his career that earned a .318 batting average with a .931 OPS. along with 1 MVP and three other top-5 seasons in the MVP voting.
Sammy Sosa – I never bought into the “Baseball’s been very, very, good to me” guy. The faux “love life,” throw-peace-signs player who’d run out to right field was manufactured, and in many ways so was his career. Like Guerrero, most of the all-encompassing player evaluations aren’t in love with the player: Sosa’s WAR is 14th best on this ballot, while his seven best seasons were only good for 9th. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, which is a Hall of Fame comparison tool, ranks him 12th best on this ballot.
Sosa’s contributions to the game, however, were invaluable. Although MLB would like to erase the epic home run chase of 1998, the fact of the matter is it provided baseball with a pulse for the first time since 1994. The 609 career home runs is the only statistical support Sosa should need.
Chipper Jones– Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference in one’s career. Chipper Jones arrived in Atlanta during their decade run as the best team in the NL. Almost by default, there is this increased perception of value when people reflect upon that teams superstars. I suppose you could equate it by thinking back to all the MVPs who played on winning teams (e.g., Kirk Gibson, Dodgers; Terry Pendlton, Braves). So in reality, all Jones would’ve had to be was a perennial All-Star, and his Cooperstown plaque was a given.
For the most part, that’s kind of what Jones was. Jones has one MVP to his credit along with five additional seasons within the top 10. Jones made 8 All-Star games, compiled 468 home runs, had over 3,200 Runs and RBI, had more walks than strikeouts, and finished his career with a .930 OPS. Unlike Sosa and Vlad, most player evaluation tools love him. Jones’s WAR7 of 46.6 was 4th best on the ballot, and JAWS had his value as the 3rd best.
Jim Thome- I personally don’t hold Thome in the highest regard when thinking of the all-time best. Yet statistically it’s pretty difficult to argue against him. His 612 home runs in itself warrants inclusion, his OPS+ of 147 is good for 3rd best, and his JAWS rating of 57.2 is better than the average JAWS ranking of first basemen who’ve already been inducted.
Perhaps thought of as a compiler, Thome is more of an exception in that his game remained rather solid well into his late 30s; at 40, he still managed to hit 15 home runs in 324 PA while hitting .256.
So there you have it, my imperfectly perfect ballot — or at least, that’s how I view it. This ballot features a plentiful amount of players who’d I consider on the fence. Start me a bar tab and try to sell me on the likes of Edgar Martinez (if you’re arguing his place among the DH), Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, or Larry Walker, and it wouldn’t take much for me to change my mind. Players like Mussina, McGriff, and Kent may cost more on the tab, but I could turn around on each of them.
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