Just based off of holdovers, the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot will feature a trio of former Phillies with interesting Hall of Fame cases; Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen and Billy Wagner. And in a year with only one obvious Hall of Famer set to become eligible for the first time – Derek Jeter – three players who made All-Star Game appearances as Phillies will become eligible for the ballot for the first time in 2020.
Cliff Lee, who had two noteworthy stints with the Phillies, will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2020. Lee, now 40, was initially acquired by the Phillies from the Cleveland Indians in July of 2009, as the club looked to defend their World Series title. Lee, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, went 7-4 with a 2.83 FIP in 12 regular season starts for the Phillies, who won their third consecutive National League East title in 2009.
Lee wasn’t able to help the Phillies win a second consecutive World Series, but he did everything in his power to do so. Lee opened the 2009 postseason by tossing a complete game against the Colorado Rockies. It was the first of two complete games Lee would throw in the postseason, as he would dominant the New York Yankees across nine frames in Game 1 of the World Series in the Bronx as well. And that says nothing of the eight, three-hit innings that Lee turned in at Dodger Stadium in Game 3 of the NLCS.
In December of 2009, the Phillies acquired Hall of Famer Roy Halladay (that has a nice ring to it, huh?) from the Toronto Blue Jays. In a corresponding trade, Lee, entering his free-agent walk year, was traded to the Seattle Mariners. All he would do that season – which he ultimately split between the Mariners and Texas Rangers – was turn in one of the most efficient seasons in recent memory, going 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA, 2.58 FIP, career-high 7.0 fWAR and just 18 walks.
After pitching the Rangers to their first World Series appearance, Lee spurned both the Rangers and Yankees (Cole Hamels says it was more the Rangers than the Yankees) and returned to Philadelphia on a five-year/$120 million free-agent contract. It made for one of the most magical Holiday seasons in Philadelphia ever, with the phrase “Merry Cliffmas and Happy Halladays” being heard quite frequently in the Delaware Valley.
Lee would make two All-Star appearances across his five-year deal (2011 and 2013). In 2011, Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA, 2.60 FIP and 6.8 fWAR. He finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2011, behind Clayton Kershaw and Halladay. The Phillies – led by a super rotation that included Lee, Halladay, Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley – won a franchise-record 102 games.
But while Lee’s historic month of June 2011 helped propel the Phillies to their most successful regular season in franchise history, he wasn’t able to hold the four-run lead the Phillies spotted him in Game 2 of the NLDS. Had he, the Phillies likely would have swept the St. Louis Cardinals, because they won Game 1 and Game 3 of the series. Instead, the series went five games and the Phillies lost a classic Game 5, with Chris Carpenter outdueling Halladay in a 1-0 loss. Instead of the Phillies winning a second title in four years, the Cardinals ultimately won the 2011 World Series.
Still, Lee was a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher at his peak. Between 2008 and 2013, Lee posted a league-high 37.3 fWAR, topping Halladay, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, all of whom are either in the Hall of Fame or figure to receive serious consideration after their respective careers conclude. That, however, is unlikely to propel Lee to Cooperstown.
For as great as Lee was at the height of his powers, he only pitched 13 seasons in the majors. His 3.52 ERA and 3.45 FIP would warrant serious Hall of Fame consideration if he pitched three or four more seasons, but even Halladay, who pitched 16 seasons, was on the lower end in terms of total numbers when compared to Hall of Fame starting pitchers. Lee’s WAR7 (39.8) falls well short of the average Hall of Fame starting pitcher’s WAR7 (50.1) and his bWAR and JAWS aren’t even in the ballpark of a Hall of Fame starting pitcher.
You could make the case that Lee actually had a better overall Phillies career than Halladay or Jim Thome, which would seem to make him a Phillies Wall of Fame candidate since both of the latter two are already Wall of Famers. But that’s where it ends.
Speaking of players with great resumes for the Phillies Wall of Fame, Bobby Abreu will also become eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2020. Will Abreu be elected to the Hall of Fame? Almost certainly not, but his case is probably better than you would think.
By a comfortable margin, Abreu tops Phillies icon Chuck Klein, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980, in bWAR, WAR7 and JAWS. Klein was a career .320 hitter (Abreu finished his career with a .291 batting average), but Abreu finished his career with 2,470 hits, nearly 400 more than Klein did.
For a more recent comparison, let’s look at the last right-fielder elected to the Hall of Fame: Vladimir Guerrero. By a much smaller margin, Abreu actually tops Guerrero in bWAR, WAR7 and JAWS. So what separates Guerrero, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018? He finished his career with a .318 batting average, while also topping Abreu in hits, home runs, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+.
Guerrero also had a star factor that Abreu didn’t. He hit one-handed home runs, home runs on pitches that were literally in the dirt and he had one of the strongest throwing arms in baseball history. He won an MVP Award, while Abreu never finished in the top 10 in MVP voting. Guerrero was the last great Expo, and then starred in Los Angeles for the Angels for much of his peak. Abreu ultimately played for both New York and Los Angeles franchises, but that was after spending his peak with the Philadelphia, where the Phillies never reached the postseason with him.
For as consistently impressive as Abreu was at the plate during his career, he wasn’t a good fielder. Despite winning a Gold Glove Award in 2005, Abreu finished his career with a -141.3 defensive WAR and -62 defensive runs saved (defensive runs saved wasn’t even tracked until 2002). For much of his career, Guerrero was also a liability in the field – he finished his career with a -115.0 defensive WAR and -25 defensive runs saved – but what people remember about him in the field is a world-class throwing arm.
Make no mistake, there will be at least a percentage of voters that get behind Abreu. He’ll top the five percent mark needed to stay on the ballot for more than one year. Lee may too. But both are longshots for the Hall of Fame, and that probably should be the case.
Raul Ibanez – who made his first All-Star appearance at age 37 with the Phillies in 2009 – will also become eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot in 2020. Remarkably, Ibanez’s 19 seasons are the most of the trio discussed in this piece. Abreu played more total games than Ibanez, but Ibanez’s clubhouse presence made him such a valuable piece even after he was no longer an effective player. It’s why Ibanez, currently a special assistant to the general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has a very good chance to be a manager in the future.
Depending on how the Hall of Fame cases of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins ultimately play out, Halladay, Thome and Pedro Martinez may ultimately be the only players that played for the Phillies between 2001 and 2011 to be elected to the Hall of Fame. But the amount of players with Phillies connections in that era that figure to have some staying power on the ballot speaks to the run of National League dominance that the Phillies had during what is considered by most to be the organization’s golden era.
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