This post is not particularly Phillies-related but it is a highly-relevant topic. This year’s Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot is one of the larger in recent memory at 37 players and a lot of folks are predicting the logjam will continue to grow. Of the 37 players, 14 pop out to me as players who I would vote for for the Hall of Fame if I had a vote. Because of the rules stipulating that voters can only select up to ten players, a relic from a time when balloting logjams were not as frequent, practically non-existent, this means quite a few deserving players will be either once-and-done or simply fall off the ballot.
Yesterday, we reviewed the five of 37 players who had spent at least some time with the Phillies while reviewing their chances that the exit polls from Baseball Think Factory gave them. Since we went live with that post yesterday, Craig Biggio‘s projections improved by nearly 10% but still is just under 4% short of induction. Tim Raines projects at 61.3% as of today, in what would be a 12.6% jump from 2012 and definitely putting him on the proper trajectory. The official results will be announced at 2 PM, EST.
Obviously, the taint of steroids, or simply playing in the steroid-era, is preventing the immediate induction of players with some of the automatic numbers. The all-time home run king, and second all-time in fWAR behind Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds obviously tops this list, and is joined by Roger Clemens (354 wins, 4672 Ks), Sammy Sosa (609 HRs), Mark McGwire (583 HRs), Rafael Palmeiro (569 HRs, 3020 hits), and Biggio (3060 hits) as players who hit or cleared the No-Doubt-About-It, “magic numbers” for what used to be first ballot Hall of Fame Induction. These players now not only may not get inducted on the first ballot, but perhaps not at all.
If I had a ballot, which I aspire to, I would not judge these players based on a suspicion of whether or not they took steroids. Other than Palmeiro, the above group of players has never formally been convicted of or proved that they have used steroids. For those that say it is obvious based on body transformation that a player like Bonds or McGwire used performance enhancing drugs, I can use the same evidence to say that other players did as well, which of course is all pure speculation.
Because one player is assumed clean while another is assumed dirty, this year could see Biggio head to the Hall alone while the other players who hit the magic marks and are among the all-time greats be left out. I won’t argue that Biggio took steroids, but I am also not entirely on board that he did not take them either. Arguing that he, Bonds, or, as in the case of our comments section yesterday, Jim Thome were clean or not is a useless exercise; the only evidence anyone has is empirical, and again, outside of Palmeiro, nothing has been proven and no tests were failed.
To me, the constant of the so-called Steroid Era is steroids or performance enhancing drugs. In division, ratios, and comparisons, constants wash away; if I had a Hall of Fame vote, any proof, suspicion or link to PED use would be washed away, also, like a constant. One of the biggest misconceptions about PEDs is that they are used solely to get stronger and that its users will be as obvious as an eye test. PED use isn’t as obvious as an eye test: PED use can improve a player’s longevity, strength, speed, muscular definition, focus, or simply shed a few extra pounds. Remember: a supplement such as the weight-loss supplement J.C. Romero took, Ergogenix, was a fat-loss supplement that was tainted from the factory. Because it was tainted, and contained ingredients not listed on the bottle that violated the MLB policy, that’s a PED, too.
Take the example of Raines. Raines is rightfully gaining traction as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate as he should. But he notably overcame an addiction to cocaine. Cocaine was such a big part of his life that he often used it before games and kept it in his pocket while playing so that it would not be discovered in his locker. Athletes, such as tennis great Martina Hingis, have been banned from their sports for using cocaine and some have attempted to make the connection that cocaine, while used as a recreational drug, can also enhance performance: an increasing sense of energy and alertness, an extremely elevated mood, and a feeling of supremacy are all results of taking cocaine. Should voters penalize Raines not because of his presumed immoral use of cocaine but perhaps because five of his best production years line up directly with what has been made public of Raines cocaine use and presume that it enhanced his performance? Over-counter-stimulants, such as the once popular Stacker, were presumed safer but are now banned by Major League Baseball but provide some of the same performance-enhancing effects.
With that being said, if I had a Hall of Fame ballot, I would take every player’s stats at face value. I would not assume anyone is guilty or innocent, just judge the numbers against their own contemporaries. This year, I would also exhaust my ballot at ten players. Without further ado, here are the ten players I would vote for.
Bonds is the all-time leader in home runs, is second all-time in fWAR, and is the all-time leader in both intentional and non-intentional free passes. Easy yes, next.
Clemens is the closest out of the group I would vote for that I would vote no based on the character clause, not based on assumed steroid use but because of his behavior off the field. The alleged affair is horrible but Clemens wouldn’t be the first or last adulterer in the Baseball HOF. Clemens won seven Cy Youngs, 11 All-Star, the 1986 MVP, won two World Series, and has plenty of other hardware. Not as easy for Bonds, but still a relative no-brainer for me.
Raines was an All-Star in seven straight seasons, overcoming an addiction to cocaine in 1986 to lead the league in batting and OBP. Raines ranks 67th on Baseball-Reference’s WAR All-Time rankings among position players and 83rd on FanGraph’s version. If Raines could have kept it together longer, or found regular playing time long enough, to reach 3,000 hits, this would be an absolute no-brainer. His 808 steals rank fifth all-time and is 46th all-time ranked in times on base. Raines got on base and scored runs. Raines’ case is gaining steam and is starting to feel like an inevitable candidate. He’d get my vote.
Biggio put up big numbers at three premium spots up the middle (catcher, second base, and center field). He’s a member of the 3,000 hit club, which has always signaled automatic induction and for ten years or more, was recognized as easily the best second baseman in the National League. Biggio has seven All-Star appearances, is fifth all-time in doubles, 15th in runs scored, 31st in extra base hits, and 32nd in runs created. Biggio will likely get the “grit” vote, too: he is second all-time in being hit by pitches and it is hard to forget his pine-tarred helmet for long.
Bagwell is perceived to be one of the more marginal candidates, and is followed by whispers of steroids and the fact that he did not reach 500 HRs. He should not be in the marginal group. Bagwell ranks 36th all-time among positional players on B-R’s version of WAR and 40th in FanGraph’s version, directly in-between two no-doubt-about-it HOF-caliber players: Ken Griffey Jr. and Johnny Bench. Bagwell has the hardware (two MVPs, three silver sluggers), the power (449 HR), the speed (202 SB), and the plate discipline (14.9 BB%) to make him a HOFer.
Piazza is the greatest offensive player ever at his position, period. The all-time leader for HR by a catcher (427), Piazza was a 12-time All-Star with a career .308/.377/.545 line. He’s dogged by his assumed link to steroids, his lack of pedigree (62nd round pick by a family member, anyone?), and by the fact that he was not exactly a defensive wizard. Yet, Piazza was the definitive offensive catcher of his generation and an easy yes.
To self-plagurize from yesterday:
Schilling’s 216-146 win/loss record isn’t as sexy as it could be, in part, because of his time on bad Phillies’ teams, but the following stats are: his 4.38 to 1 K/BB ratio is the best ever since 1884 and his 11-2 record with a 2.23 ERA in the postseason is the stuff of legends. Yes, Schilling never won the Cy Young, but his two of his three second place finishes came behind two even historically greater years from Randy Johnson. Schilling is 17th all-time in Baseball-Reference’s version of Win Probability Added and 26th all time among pitchers for bWAR, 63rd among all players. An easy yes.
As discussed yesterday, Lofton runs the legitimate risk of slipping off the ballot in his first year. From yesterday:
Lofton runs the risk of being one of the least deserved “one and done” Hall of Fame ballot appearances ever. Lofton racked up six straight All-Star appearances, four straight Gold Gloves, ten years of 30 steals or more, and a career triple-slash line of .299/.372/.423. How does a lead-off hitter who got on base nearly 40% of the time not get in the Hall?
Lofton is 104th among players all-time in bWAR and 113th among hitters all-time for fWAR, just ahead of Billy Hamilton and Shoeless Joe Jackson and just below Richie Ashburn and Mike Piazza. Lofton’s second most comparable player according to B-R is Tim Raines – should Raines get in, which I believe he will, Lofton’s candidacy in turn will get stronger. But Lofton faces the very real possibility of falling off of the ballot completely this year with the glut of deserving first-time eligible players.
Trammel’s case for the HOF has been slowly gaining steam. Getting 36.8% of the vote last year, Trammel has slowly climbed from a 15.7% starting point in 2002. Trammel ranks 61st in bWAR among offensive players and 96th in fWAR, above Hank Greenberg and below Manny Ramirez. A six-time All-Star, Trammel gets overshadowed by Cal Ripken Jr. because he was not the top shortstop in the AL in the 1980s. This is particularly unfortunate is Ripken is one of the best ever at any position. When compared to his contemporaries at other positions in his time period, Trammel compares quite well and is definitely a Hall of Famer.
For my tenth and final vote…
Smith retired as the all-time saves leader and was the first true closer in the modern era. Smith’s dominance metrics (8.732 K/9 IP) are good enough for 15th all-time and is ahead of every reliever not named Trevor Hoffman and Dan Pleasac. He is 11th all-time in games played and third all-time in games finished. Smith would get my tenth and final vote.
If I had more votes, I would vote include the following players: Palmeiro, Sosa, Edgar Martinez, and Larry Walker. So sorry, Dale Murphy. For a complete list of the 37 players who are eligible for the HOF this year, check out B-R’s 2013 HOF Voting Guide.