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Raising Questions

Which former Phillies on the Hall of Fame ballot get inducted?

thome.jpgUnless you count Greg Maddux’s brother once playing for the Phillies or Ryne Sandberg coming up through the Phillies’ system, a player with legitimate Phillies ties hasn’t made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1996, when Jim Bunning made it in through the Veterans Committee.

That changes this year with one former Phillie a near-lock to the make the hall, another on the bubble and a likely candidate for future induction, another who isn’t getting love even though he should be and a hometown favorite who shouldn’t be getting any consideration, but will.

In other words, there could be some red in Cooperstown on the last Sunday in July next year.

Let’s break down the chances of the seven former Phillies who are on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, with their predicted percentage of induction votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America (75 percent necessary for induction):

Jim Thome

What gets him in: Thome was arguably the greatest pure power-hitting player of his generation who has never been attached to any official steroid talk. He fits the age-old “500 homers gets you in” unwritten requirement of the pre-Steroids Era, and since he never made it into the Mitchell Report or any other steroids rumors, you would think that automatically gets him in since, all told, he hit 612 of them. He’s also considered one of the nicest guys of the past two decades of baseball, and that’s always been the undeniable, yet unquantifiable, elephant in the room of BBWAA voting.

What keeps him out: He was never a great defender and played a lot of DH, which has gone a long way to keeping Edgar Martinez out of the Hall. He probably stuck around a year or two too long, but that’s never really hurt anyone before. He struck out a ton, but that’s baseball’s new normal. While the Ks might have been a little frowned upon 20 years ago, it’s not going to be now.

Vote percentage: 92. You never know where voters are going to go, especially in the last decade. But Thome is as much of a slam dunk as a power hitter these days could be and will be the first true former Phil since Mike Schmidt in 1995 to make the HOF. Though, yeah, he should be inducted as an Indian.

Curt Schilling

What gets him in: Schilling is universally praised as one of his generation’s best postseason pitchers, and the numbers bear it out (11-2, 0.968 WHIP, 2.23 ERA in 19 games). He has classics to his name (1993 World Series Game 5, the “Bloody Sock Game” of the 2004 World Series) and is up there with anyone when it comes to “guy you want on the mound in any playoff game.” He wasn’t too shabby in the regular season, either. In his prime from 1992-2004, Schilling won 180 games, which include some seasons on some pretty awful Phillies teams and prove why wins should never be counted as reliable stats. But his ERA+ in that period was 134, and he led the league in WHIP twice, strikeouts twice and ERA once. He’s the prototypical borderline hall of famer.

What keeps him out: What doesn’t at this point? His post-playing career has been a mess, with outspoken, controversial public banter; a suspension, then firing, from an ESPN gig; and a very public bankruptcy of a failed video game company. He’s managed to Twitter-offend just about everybody on the planet since he’s retired. This is not the behavior of a man who wants to be in the HOF.

Vote percentage: 55. This is Schilling’s sixth year on the ballot. While he reached a high point in voting in 2016 at more than 52 percent, he fell back to 45 percent in 2017, most likely a reflection of his outspoken nature during the 2016 presidential election. He’s been pretty quiet lately, and even is making a stab at getting back into baseball, so he probably grows a little bit, but still not enough. Maybe 2020. If not, the Veterans Committee would be a pretty good bet.

Scott Rolen

What gets him in: Let’s all take a breath here. Those who followed Rolen in his Phillies days (like me) still feel back-stabbed for the utter jubilation he felt in leaving town and never looking back. Charles Barkley demanded a trade out of town, but is still a king in Philly because of his adoration and understanding of the Philadelphia mindset. It’s something you either get or you don’t. Rolen never did, and never cared to. Rolen became the poster child for Philly hating, and probably is still held up as the example for every rookie that comes into town, regardless of the franchise. “Don’t do what Rolen did!”

But his negligence to ever understand Philadelphia doesn’t disqualify him from Hall of Fame distinction. Wait, does it (thinking …)? Shoot, no it doesn’t. So let’s start with the fact that Rolen is probably a top five defensive player of his generation. Not just at third base, but in all of baseball (seven Gold Gloves). He was a feared middle-of-the-lineup star whose baseball acumen was nearly unparalleled most of his career and he hit an average of 28 home runs with a .903 OPS from 1997 to 2004.

What keeps him out: Injuries. His balky back caught up with him early as a nagging thing and really caught up with him later as a career-ender. While his big linebacker’s body may have been built to be a power-hitting baseball player, it probably wasn’t meant to stand up to the rigors of being an everyday third baseman for more than a decade, part of it on the Vet turf, no less. It severely limited his longevity, and even in his prime, he only finished in the top 10 of MVP voting once (2004, when he helped the Cardinals into the World Series, also his career high in home runs at 34 and the only season he posted an OPS over 1.000). His career OPS of .855 and OPS+ of 122 don’t jump off the page. Those just aren’t HOF credentials, whether I’m a scorned, former Rolen fan or not.

Vote percentage: 26. Defensive metrics are coming more and more into view as evidenced by the campaign to elect Omar Vizquel, but Vizquel was a transcendent defensive player for a longer period of time. Rolen just doesn’t have that one superior thing that gets him serious consideration.

Billy Wagner

What gets him in: Trevor Hoffman blew away Wagner in career saves (601 to 422) and is considered to be pretty close to making the HOF. Last year, Hoffman appeared on 74 percent of voting ballots (75 percent needed for induction), and Wagner appeared on just 10.2 percent. Yet, Wagner beats him out in nearly every other career category other than saves, including WHIP, ERA, ERA+ and strikeouts (in almost 200 fewer innings). Their WAR is almost exactly the same (28.4 for Hoffman, 28.1 for Wagner). I don’t necessarily like the guy, but if you’re a BBWAA voter putting Hoffman on your ballot, you better darn well do your research and think about voting for Wagner.

What keeps him out: Closers are never going to get a fair shot at the HOF until some of the old-timers at the BBWAA age out. And still after that, since closer roles are changing now more than they have in the last 30 years, it might be another generation before relief pitchers are truly appreciated. If Trevor Hoffman isn’t in, it’s almost impossible for Wagner to get it. There seems to be an opinion that Mariano Rivera is the only closer of that generation worthy of the HOF, but Wagner was as dominant as Rivera for nearly as long a time. He just doesn’t have the finger jewelry.

Vote percentage: Big jump to 31. Wagner certainly deserves more of a look than people have given him. It won’t come this year, but there will be a year when someone writes a full-on “Why isn’t Billy Wagner getting more HOF votes?” piece and he’ll get closer. If he wasn’t such a cranky-puss during his playing days, that campaign would have more of a chance.

Jamie Moyer

What gets him in: Longevity and being an A-plus guy. He nearly made it to his age-50 season, retiring after 10 nondescript games in Colorado in 2012 during his age-49 season. He amassed 269 wins and 2,441 strikeouts, despite never being a strikeout pitcher. He won 20 games twice in an age when 20-game winners were about as common as an Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance (reverse jinx).

What keeps him out: No one has ever given up more home runs (522) in baseball history than Moyer. While that’s easy to dismiss with, “Well of course, he played for so long!” that argument also then discounts his wins and strikeouts, which are borderline HOF level to begin with. The National League record holder in home runs allowed is Warren Spahn, who gave up 434 in his career and made the Hall. So it’s not like it’s unprecedented, but Moyer was only an All-star once, never had more than 158 strikeouts in a season, spent 13 years in the league before ever making the top 10 of a Cy Young vote and he never had a seasonal ERA under 3.27 (lowest FIP = 3.61). HOF voting is purely objective, but one word seems to always come up: dominant. Jamie Moyer was never dominant, not even for a season.

Vote percentage: 10 percent. You can bet at least one writer in each of the cities Moyer spent any amount of time in will throw him on the ballot if they can’t figure out a tenth vote. It’s been well-documented he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to meet, and his career resurrection at 33 was remarkable and a great story. But a HOF’er Jamie Moyer is not, no matter how much we owe him for 2008 (and it’s more than you remember).

Kevin Millwood

What gets him in: Really? We have to do this? OK, here we go. He twice finished in the top-six in Cy Young balloting, coming in third as a member of the still-stacked Atlanta Braves rotation of 1999. He led the league in WHIP that year before people really knew what that meant unless you played fantasy baseball. Even with a 9-11 record, he lead the American League in ERA at 2.86 in 2005 and finished sixth in Cy Young.

What keeps him out: That season he had in 1999? That was the only year Millwood struck out more than 200 (at 205). He played 13 more seasons and never struck out more than 178. 1999 was also his only all-star year. I can go on, but those two things tell us all we need to know for a starting pitcher.

Vote percentage: 0.2, because someone voted for Tim Wakefield last year.

Brad Lidge

What gets him in: Let’s start with anyone who plays 10 years gets on the ballot. So that’s why he’s here. After that … I don’t know what gets him in. He did have two top-8 finishes in the Cy Young voting, and once he even made the top 30 of the MVP vote. That’s kind of cool.

What keeps him out: Even in his “perfect” season of 2008 where he went 48-for-48 on save chances, there were flaws, like 35 walks in 69.1 regular season innings. I’ll never understand why people forget it, but especially in the second half of that year, Lidge was somewhere between “sneaky scary” and “Mitch Williams.” Lidge was a pretty good closer who will never pay for a beer in Philadelphia. But no career stat he possesses is good enough for the HOF. When there is outrage over a writer who leaves someone like Ken Griffey Jr. off their HOF ballot, there should probably be as much outrage for anyone who puts Lidge on it. And if that writer puts Lidge on without including Wagner, then we should just tear the whole museum down, because it won’t mean anything anymore.

Vote percentage: 0.0.

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