If I had a ballot
One of the most powerful positions in all sports is to be a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA).
Not only do they get a say in who wins a particular award for the MLB season, but they also get to tend to the gates of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. That kind of power is the kind that’ll make any ordinary fan envious, and why wouldn’t it? Many of these players we grew up watching. Some are the reason we even got into baseball, to begin with. As a result, many preconceived notions and biases come out when a writer releases a ballot.
“Well, why didn’t you vote for Mark Buehrle? He might’ve been the last of a dying breed of the iron men of baseball.”
“Who cares if Omar Vizquel was a below-average hitter? He played for more than 20 seasons and was one of the best defensive shortstops ever.”
“Todd Helton played at Coors his whole career. He got help offensively.”
Those are a few of the takes I’ve seen on Twitter since the voting process has begun. While each comment, at face value, holds next to zero weight, they raise points that are worth examining––particularly in the case for Buehrle and Helton.
With that in mind, here would be my ballot if I was fortunate enough to have one.
Note: I feel that this is a museum to recognize baseball achievement. I only weigh the character clause on players that I think only had a borderline Hall of Fame career.
I am starting mine off with a guy who appears to be on track to receive roughly 10 percent of the vote this season. Just enough to stay on the ballot, but far from the 75 percent needed for enshrinement.
However, why are 10 percent (not including my hypothetical vote) viewing Abreu as a Hall of Famer?
When you look at the hardware, you only see two All-Star appearances and a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger apiece. However, it would help if you established context as to why he’d miss out on personal accolades. Abreu came up in 1996 but didn’t prove himself until he was in Philadelphia for the 1998 season. In his seven-year peak between 1998 and 2004, he slashed .308/.416/.525 with a wRC+ of 142, as well as an fWAR of 41.5. The latter of those numbers was third among all outfielders in that stretch––trailing only Barry Bonds and Andruw Jones. His .416 OBP ranked tied for fourth with Lance Berkman, and only behind two Hall of Fame hopefuls (Bonds and Manny Ramirez) and Hall of Famer Larry Walker.
His All-Star Game tracker for that span moved just one space. In layman’s terms, the All-Star Game is nothing more than a popularity contest. Ask yourself, who is more likely to get voted into that exhibition? Bobby Abreu, who played for zero playoff teams; only above .500 thrice? Or Sammy Sosa, who everyone remembers for his home run races with Mark McGwire? Even though they had similar numbers, fans want to see their ‘marketable’ stars getting the limelight.
Punishing Abreu for merely not being Sammy Sosa, or Barry Bonds, or Larry Walker is just not fair. The numbers are there for him when all is said and done. Across 18 seasons, the Venezuelan slashed .291/.395/.475 with a wRC+ of 129 and an fWAR of 59.8 (rWAR of 60.2). He even took a year off in 2013, came back, and was a league-average hitter for the Mets despite posting a slugging percentage of just .338 in 78 games. Sure, he finished the season with -0.2 fWAR, but consider how difficult it has to be to miss your age-39 season, come back at age 40, and be a semi-productive player.
The numbers are there.
The league didn’t care enough about performance-enhancing substances enough to suspend him; why should I care about him being far-and-away the best player of that era, PEDs or not?
The numbers speak for themselves.
The last time that man struck out more than he walked was 1988––he played until 2007. He had 762 home runs, stole over 500 bases, had 601 doubles, had more seasons with a wRC+ above 200 (four) than below 120 (two).
He’s a Hall of Famer.
Clemens was a Hall of Famer before he even left Boston. I don’t know if it can be concretely determined when he used PEDs, but it’s worth noting he had a Hall of Fame career in Boston, was worse in his time post-Boston, and still put up a Hall of Fame career then.
In Boston: 192 wins, 3.06 ERA, 144 ERA+, 2.94 FIP, 2,590 strikeouts
Post-Boston: 162 wins, 3.21 ERA, 140 ERA+, 3.28 FIP, 2,082 strikeouts
But again, if the league didn’t care to suspend him while he played, I believe we should operate under the mindset that he shouldn’t be barred for using PEDs. The numbers, much like Bonds’, speak for themselves.
I consider Helton to almost the same degree as I do Abreu, except Helton has more personal accolades. Across his 17-year career, Helton slashed .316/.414/.539 with a wRC+ of 132.
Sure, Helton played half of his career in an environment that strongly favors the bat. However, he still slashed .285/.391/.442 away from Coors Field. While an OPS of .833 and a 121 wRC+ aren’t Hall of Fame worthy, when have we ever only judged someone’s career based on their numbers away from home?
Overall, Helton also put it together with the counting stats: 2,519 hits, 592 doubles, 33 defensive runs saved (era began in Helton’s sixth season). He also accumulated 61.8 rWAR.
Meanwhile, please look at who played first base during his career alongside him: Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Jim Thome, and Jeff Bagwell. Don’t discredit him because first base was an absolute juggernaut during his career. Especially considering he ranked third in OBP among first basemen, ninth in slugging, seventh in wOBA (.405), and fourth in fWAR (54.9) during his career.
Andruw Jones was somebody I never thought of as a Hall of Famer before I got into analytics. He just didn’t ‘wow’ me on more than a defensive scale.
However, in the last couple of seasons, I have examined Jones’ case a lot closer and have determined that he deserves the nod. In 17 seasons, Jones slashed .254/.337/.486 with a wRC+ of 111 and 67.0 fWAR.
Even mustering up 434 home runs in his career wasn’t enough to make his case for him, as offensively, he was just 11 percent above league average. That being said, there are six years of defensive value that can’t be measured through DRS, but he still amassed 60 for his career in center field. Ten Gold Gloves, easily one of the best defensive outfielders of all-time, yet was a productive hitter.
He also had nine seasons where he accumulated at least 4.9 fWAR, managed to have a season where he finished with -1.1, and still pushed 70 wins for his career. Between 1996 and 2012, only Barry Bonds had more wins above replacement among outfielders than Jones did. When you look at the fact that guys like Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jim Edmonds all played the bulk of their career simultaneously, that goes to show how impressive Andruw Jones was.
Of the PED guys on my ballot, Manny Ramirez probably garners the most explanation. I could argue that the league didn’t care they were using PEDs for guys like Bonds and Clemens. However, Ramirez served two suspensions for performance-enhancing substances––plus was linked to them in the 2003 Mitchell Report.
While I don’t believe PEDs create the player, I can understand why Ramirez would be left off of many ballots––likely never seeing Cooperstown.
But you cannot argue against his numbers, as Ramirez was a monster for the duration of his career. His first 22 games and final three were terrible, but it’s like the world’s most remarkable book with terrible front- and back-covers.
From 1994 to 2010, Ramirez led all outfielders in home runs (553), was second in fWAR (67.3), second in wRC+ (154), and third in wOBA (.420). Not that it needs to be included, but he also slashed .285/.394/.544 with a 140 wRC+ and 29 homers in 111 playoff games.
Again, I hold no prejudice against those who used performance-enhancing substances, but I can understand why many do–especially those who served suspensions.
To me, Rolen is an absolute no-brainer. In 17 seasons, he slashed .281/.364/.490 with a wRC+ of 122. He also is one of the best third basemen of all-time––racking up 114 DRS in his final 11 years.
Between 1996 and 2012, only two players put up more fWAR at third base. Those two were Alex Rodriguez (Hall of Fame hopeful) and Chipper Jones (already inducted). Rolen also ranked 11th in wRC+, eighth in wOBA (.368) and second in def. value (180.3).
He deserves enshrinement, even though he missed at least 30 games in nine of his 17 seasons.
Easily one of the best pitchers to never win a Cy Young Award, Curt Schilling is the next player to receive my vote.
The man largely responsible for three World Series championships has been left off of a lot of ballots over the years for stuff he posts on social media, not to mention the issues surrounding his failed video game company.
However, I believe the Hall of Fame is a museum to recognize baseball achievement, which Schilling’s resume oozes. Between 1988 and 2007, Schilling ranks fifth in fWAR among starting pitchers––Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens are the only ones ahead. He also ranked eighth in FIP (3.23) among starters with at least 1,000 innings.
All-time, Schilling ranks 20th among pitchers in fWAR, has a better FIP and xFIP than Maddux, and is fifth all-time in strikeout percentage (min. 2,500 innings).
Note: Strikeout rate hasn’t always been measured.
Many are worried about what Schilling would say in his speech should he be inducted. I don’t think he’d say anything that would take the attention away from his baseball career.
Sheffield couldn’t field at all and probably could’ve benefitted from not playing the first 16 seasons of his career in the NL.
However, he hammered the baseball.
In his career, Sheffield slashed .292/.393/.514 with a .391 wOBA and a wRC+ of 141. He also accumulated 62.1 fWAR, hit 509 home runs, stole 253 bases, and hit 467 doubles.
During his era (1988 to 2009), he ranks tied for sixth among qualifying outfielders in wRC+ with Vladimir Guerrero. He also ranks ninth in wOBA, ninth in OBP, and fifth in home runs.
Sheffield has some speculation about his use of PEDs, but it’s kind of hard to ignore his case while simultaneously voting for Bonds, Clemens, and Ramirez before him.
There’s a lot of anti-closer bias when it comes to the Hall of Fame. In fact, of the six closers to eclipse the 400-save plateau, only three of them are in Cooperstown (Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith).
Guys like Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, and Rollie Fingers are all in as well, but typically closers get the short end of the stick.
None more blatant than longtime left-handed closer Billy Wagner. The 16-year vet netted 422 saves across his illustrious career, posted a 2.31 ERA, a 2.73 FIP, and a strikeout rate of 33.2 percent. Among relievers with at least 900 innings, Wagner ranks sixth in fWAR (24.0), second behind Rivera in ERA and FIP, is sixth all-time in saves, and has a 4.7 percent lead on Francisco Rodriguez in strikeout rate.
In the worst season of his career (min. 40 appearances), Wagner posted a 3.09 FIP. And in his final season, he posted a 1.43 ERA, a 2.10 FIP, a 1.63 SIERA, and a strikeout rate of 38.3 percent.
It is criminal that he is not in the Hall of Fame already, as he is one of the most dominant pitchers this game has ever seen. The very definition of lock-down.
That’s my Hall of Fame ballot. Now I know one of the biggest questions will be: How can you vote for Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, and Sheffield but not Sosa?
Simply put, I didn’t feel Sosa was a good enough hitter overall to make the cut, even with 609 home runs. While he had a higher fWAR than Abreu and Helton, he was inferior on a rate basis. While he had a higher wRC+ and wOBA than Rolen and Jones, those two blow him out of the water defensively.
If I could stretch my ballot to 11, Sosa would be a toss-up with someone like Andy Pettitte. While I believe Sosa has a strong case to get in, he doesn’t crack my top 10––debatably my top 11.