The 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame class was a special one from a Philadelphia Phillies perspective, because Wall of Famer Roy Halladay was elected in his first turn on the ballot. Nationally, Mariano Rivera – widely considered to be the greatest closer of all-time – became the first player to ever be unanimously inducted into the Hall of Fame. Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Harold Baines and Lee Smith also were part of a rather large Hall of Fame class.
2020 may perhaps be the most interesting Hall of Fame class in recent memory. Derek Jeter is the only likely Hall of Famer to appear on the ballot for the first time next year, which means that 2020 is likely to be the defining year on the ballot for those connected to performance-enhancing durgs, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens specifically.
Here’s a look at some of the most notable names that will appear on a ballot that’s likely to define the future of the most famous museum in sports.
Phillies On The Ballot
- Cliff Lee (first appearance): Was Cliff Lee as good or better at his peak than some players that will get serious Hall of Fame consideration or even be elected? Yes. Between 2008 and 2013, Lee posted a 38.1 fWAR, made four All-Star teams, won a Cy Young Award and became one of the better postseason pitchers the game has ever seen. But, in the end, his career was only 13 years, and outside of the aforementioned stretch, there wasn’t a ton of production. His 3.45 FIP is a reminder of just how good he was for a stretch, but he’s not going to be a Hall of Famer.
- Bobby Abreu (first appearance): MLB Network‘s Brian Kenny is among sabermetrically-inclined baseball observers that think Abreu has a legitimate Hall of Fame case. In terms of bWAR, WAR7 and JAWS, he tops 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Vladimir Guerrero. Multiple former teammates of Abreu have told me that he was one of their favorite teammates ever and they truly appreciated how great of a hitter he was at his peak. That’s why he was inducted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame last summer. But considering his defense was largely viewed as a negative throughout most of his career – and he rarely played in the postseason, even if that wasn’t his fault – he’s probably going to struggle to gain legitimate traction.
- Raul Ibanez (first appearance): Ibanez didn’t play in over 130 games in a season until his age-30 season. That he played until he was 42 is a rather remarkable achievement.
- Curt Schilling (eighth appearance): Schilling comfortably tops the average Hall of Fame starting pitcher in bWAR and JAWS, and is just below the average WAR 7 of the average Hall of Fame starting pitcher. There’s also a case to be made that he’s the greatest pitcher in postseason history. Schilling deserves to be a Hall of Famer, but his controversial political and social views (which he hasn’t been shy about sharing) have alienated some voters. There’s also some older school voters that hold his 216 career win total, which is relatively low by Hall of Fame standards, against him. But Pedro Martinez finished his career with 219 wins and Roy Halladay finished with 203 career wins. There’s not a good argument against Schilling the baseball player being a Hall of Famer.
- Billy Wagner (fifth appearance): Wagner is sixth all-time in saves at 422. He made seven All-Star teams in 16 seasons. His 187 ERA+ is third all-time among closers, trailing only Rivera and Craig Kimbrel, who is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Though he has less total saves than Hall of Famers Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith – he also had less opportunities – he was perhaps more dominant, with a lower ERA and FIP than both. I’m not sure Smith should have been voted into the Hall of Fame. Hoffman’s longevity made him a Hall of Famer in my mind. But perhaps we’ve been too strict on relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame. Wagner was one of the most accomplished closers ever.
- Scott Rolen (third appearance): Now that Edgar Martinez has been elected to the Hall of Fame, Rolen may become the sabermetrically-inclined voters darling. He would get my vote; he tops the average Hall of Fame third baseman in bWAR, JAWS and WAR-7. He won the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year Award, was a seven-time All-Star and won eight Gold Glove Awards. In my lifetime, at least until Nolan Arenado, he was the best defensive third baseman I had ever seen. He got 17.2 percent of the vote in 2019, we’ll see if he takes a step forward in 2020 with a less crowded ballot.
Notable First Time Eligibles
- Derek Jeter: Jeter was a 14-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove Award winner, five-time Silver Slugger Award winner, American League Rookie of the Year, World Series MVP and five-time World Series MVP. He never won a regular season MVP, but he played a majority of his peak in the the Steroid Era or he likely would have won the award multiple times. Jeter is a near lock to get over 98 percent of the vote, but the interesting thing to watch will see if he gets 100 percent of the vote. There’s no legitimate case to be made that he isn’t worthy of getting 100 percent of the vote, but there will likely be a voter or two that doesn’t vote for Jeter just so the first two players to ever get unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame aren’t both Yankees.
- Jason Giambi: History suggests that players connected to PEDs that aren’t considered one of the best five or ten players at their position ever aren’t seriously considered. Heck, Sammy Sosa has over 600 home runs and isn’t seriously considered (more on that in a minute). Even if Giambi wasn’t connected to PEDs, he hit 440 home runs and falls shorts in terms of bWAR and JAWS when compared to the average Hall of Fame first baseman. He may make it to a second year on the ballot, but that’s about it.
- Josh Beckett: Beckett isn’t going to be a Hall of Famer, but he had a very nice career. He made three All-Star teams, won World Series titles with the Marlins and Red Sox and pitched a no-hitter at Citizens Bank Park in May of 2014, while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
- Paul Konerko: Konerko had a much better career than you remember – he made six All-Star teams and hit 439 home runs in 18 seasons, the bulk of which were spent with the White Sox. He isn’t going to be a Hall of Famer, but he had remarkable longevity.
- Alfonso Soriano: Though he was a defensive liability more often than not in his career, Soriano hit 30 or more home runs six times in his career. He also had the first great offensive season in Washington Nationals history, when he hit 46 home runs and stole 41 bases in 2006. He’s probably going to fall off the ballot, but at his peak he was a very valuable offensive player.
- Adam Dunn: Despite hitting just .237 for his career, Dunn was actually a much better player than most realize. In this era – where strikeouts are less of a taboo and big power is coveted – Dunn probably would have had a better reputation as a player. A true slugger, Dunn hit 40 or more home runs six times. He hit 34 or more home runs in a season nine times. He finished his career, which spanned 14 seasons, with 462 home runs and 1,168 RBIs. He’s not a Hall of Famer (and wouldn’t be even if he finished with 500 home runs), but he was a much more valuable player than most people remember.
- Barry Bonds (eighth appearance): Bonds doesn’t necessarily have to get elected this year, but we’ll have a pretty good idea whether he’s going to get elected based on how he does on the ballot this year. There’s no a debate about whether Bonds’ play was Hall of Fame worthy – he may be the greatest player of all-time. But the fact that he’s suspected of using performance-enhancings drugs on his way to becoming the Home Run King led to him getting just 59.1 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 2019, which was his seventh year on the ballot. Personally, I wouldn’t vote for PED-connected players, but it’s perplexing that of players connected to PEDs, others got in before him. He needs to take a big leap towards 75 percent in 2020 if he’s going to be elected in the coming years.
- Roger Clemens (eighth appearance): Clemens is in his eighth year on the ballot, and received 59.5 percent of the vote in 2019. Derek Jeter, his long-time teammate, is the only certainty on this ballot to be elected. Even if reaching 75 percent is an unrealistic goal in 2020, Clemens needs to make some serious hay.
- Larry Walker (tenth appearance): Walker won seven Gold Glove Awards, three batting titles, a National League MVP and was a five-time All-Star. That his Hall of Fame case is just now getting appropriate attention is a major mistake by the BBWAA. He’s been penalized by some for playing his home games at Coors Field, but that’s a major league stadium. Is no Rockie ever allowed to be in the Hall of Fame because Coors Field is a hitter’s ballpark? The reality, though, is that Walker saw a gigantic increase in his vote totals in 2019 and still only got to 54.6 percent. In his final year on the ballot, it’s hard to imagine him getting 75 percent of the vote.
- Sammy Sosa (eighth appearance): Sosa has over 600 career home runs – something that only nine players in MLB history have done, and is the only player in baseball history to hit 60 or more home runs in a single season three times. In my mind, it’s hard to justify voting for any candidate connected to performance-enhancing drugs, but leaving him off of your ballot because of those same connections.
- Manny Ramirez (fourth appearance): I understand Hall of Fame voters that don’t vote for anyone connected to performance-enhancing drugs. I understand Hall of Fame voters that vote for all players deserving of Hall of Fame induction that are connected to PEDs. I don’t grasp those who pick and choose which players connected to PEDs they are going to vote for. Yes, unlike Clemens and Bonds, Ramirez failed multiple league-sanctioned tests. But MLB broadly banned “Steroids” in 1991, 12 years before they began testing players, and you would be hard-pressed to convince pretty much anyone that something you could classify as a “Steroid” didn’t enter the bodies of Bonds and Clemens after 1991. Ramirez was caught, but his numbers – .312/.411/.585 with 555 home runs and a 66.3 fWAR – are slam-dunk Hall of Fame numbers. So it’s hard to imagine how Ramirez got just 22.8 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 2019 and likely won’t ever approach induction.
- Omar Vizquel (third appearance): I can’t overstate how kind Vizquel was to me when I got the chance to interview him when I was first trying to break into online sports media. He is one of the greatest fielding shortstops ever and had remarkable longevity given how quickly many great fielders decline. However, offensively, he falls considerably short of the production that Nomar Garciaparra, Jimmy Rollins and Troy Tulowitzki put up at their peaks, and none of that trio would receive my vote.
- Todd Helton (second appearance): There will be some that just look at names on the list and vote by feel that scoff at the idea that Helton could be a Hall of Famer. I do much more extensive research than that, though my initial reaction when looking at his name last year – and this is rare – was to be really unsure. In the end, though, he had a WAR-7 higher than the average Hall of Fame first baseman, while having a bWAR and JAWS that is just shy of the average. He finished his career with a .316 batting average, a .539 slugging percentage and a 133 OPS+, which tops the OPS+ marks posted by the aforementioned Palmeiro, Eddie Murray, Keith Hernandez and Harmon Killebrew. His 2,519 career hits top Hall of Fame first basemen Willie McCovey, Jim Thome, Frank Thomas, Johnny Mize, Dan Brouthers, Jeff Bagwell and Roger Connor. Did he benefit from playing his entire career at Coors Field? Probably. Although that perhaps will even out with the fact that his peak came during the Steroid Era and he didn’t play for a team that had a ton of success during his career. He received 16.5 percent of the vote in 2019, his first year on the ballot.
- Gary Sheffield (sixth appearance): Sheffield falls into the Sosa category as well. He is connected to performance-enhancing drugs, but he swatted 509 home runs and drove in 1,676 runs in his 22-season career. If you’re willing to vote for anyone connected to performance-enhancing drugs, Sheffield has a Hall of Fame resume.
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