Monday, December 28, 2015

What My Theoretical Baseball Hall Of Fame Ballot Would Be

When I was younger I had an interest in sports journalism, but I was so painfully shy and anxious that I wasn't able to interview anyone on the school basketball team for articles in my middle school paper, and that was the end of that.  Now that I am older, less shy, and a better writer, I think about an alternate universe where I am a beat writer for a major league baseball team.  That job would, of course, give me a baseball hall of fame ballot.

All hardcore baseball fans have their own opinions of how they'd vote, and this year I thought I would actually lay out my own, and hopefully generate some thoughts about why criteria ought to be used to make such a decision.  Before breaking down the ballot, I'd like to offer my own considerations:

Did They Used To Be A "Future Hall of Famer"?
Some players are routinely called "future hall of famers" when they're still playing.  This usually means that they are so good that no one really doubts their worth.  Except for certain exceptions (see: PEDs) I think players who were assumed to be going to the Hall when they retired ought to be the first candidates considered.  This year I look at Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey, Jr and say, "yeah, well duh!"  I know this applies to a small number of players, but that small number was so great that it seems insulting to have to put them through the wringer like we do with borderline players.  This is also why I hate the practice of certain sportswriters not letting players in on the first ballot.  No player has been a unanimous first ballot hall of famer, which is just a joke.  

Comparison To Others At Their Positions In Their Era
I think one major thing to think about when voting for the Hall of Fame is the value of the players relative to their own time.  This is why I don't like the use of milestone stats.  If a player plays in an era of high offense, 3000 hits is not as important.  If a player was the best at their position for the greater part of their career, they should be an automatic induction.  This is why I hated that Ron Santo was kept out for so long.  In a vacuum his numbers look borderline, but he was the best third baseman in the National League in his time, and along with Eddie Matthews he was the best ever in the National League before Mike Schmidt.  I think the idea that baseball stats are comparable over time is a useful myth for baseball fans, but it is still a myth nonetheless.  All stats should be adjusted according to era, which is perhaps a better way to look at the likes of Sosa and McGwire, rather than getting in a snit about PEDs.

Longevity And A High, Sustained Peak
I think hall of fame players should have both played long careers and had a significant, multi-year peak.  This was why it took Jim Rice so long to get in. During his peak he was the best hitter in the American League, but he fell off and retired fast.  Had he played three more quality years, there would have been little doubt about his candidacy.  In his case the height of his peak canceled out his lack of longevity.  This standard can be a little cruel.  JR Richard, like a lot of power pitchers, had control issues in his youth, but then became an absolutely amazing pitcher before having to retire due to a stroke.  He probably would have put up Randy Johnson-level numbers, but never had the chance.  Longevity alone also isn't enough. I love that LaTroy Hawkins has pitched in 21 seasons and in more games than all but nine other players in MLB history, but just doesn't have hall of fame stats otherwise.  To judge peaks I tend to look at how players rank in certain statistical categories.  I am still not sure if a player who is very good throughout a very long career but never the best at any time, like Bert Blyleven, is fit for the Hall.

Ignoring Awards and All-Star Votes
I should also be clear about things I do not consider, namely awards and All-Star nods.  The latter is totally erroneous, because 1. The voting is based on only half a season 2. The starting nods from fans are largely a popularity vote and 3. Managers have to pick a player from each team and to fill holes, meaning the All-Star teams are NEVER the collection of the absolute best players.  As far as awards go, these are often correct, but often just wrong, especially if we are talking about MVP, Silver Slugger, and Cy Young votes in a pre-Sabermetric age when stats like wins, saves, RBIs, and batting average were given far too much weight.  As far as Gold Gloves are concerned, they were long a notoriously subjective award until very recently.  I hate it when a player isn't named and someone says "but they won X number of Gold Gloves and were on X number of All Star teams!" So what?

A Floor Standard
If player is not clearly better than the worst players in the Hall, they should not be inducted, since this would both be a sign they aren't worthy for the Hall, and would also keep standards for the Hall of Fame from being lowered.

A Consideration of PED Use
This has been one of the biggest issues in recent Hall of Fame classes.  I do not follow either extreme.  I will not disallow players because they played in the Steroid Era, nor will I pretend as if PEDs have no effect on a player's status.  In the first place, if a player would not have been able to get into the hall without PEDs, they're out, no matter how contrite they are. This means that despite his big milestone numbers, Rafael Palmeiro is out.  (Look at his power number before and after 'roids.)  In the second place, players who were not known to have used PEDs until AFTER they had already built HOF careers should be considered.  Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens obviously fall into this category.  But I have another consideration: genuine contrition and honesty.  If players keep lying about it even after they got caught, and then maybe apologize or come clean due to ulterior motives, I am not inclined to let them in.  For players who are speculated to have used, but where no evidence exists, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, but only if they are not borderline cases for induction.  That sucks, but the Steroid Era has consequences.  Those who say let them all in apparently think it's okay to punish those players who played clean twice over.  The juicers got the records, the status, and the contracts that came with it.  If they wanted the Hall of Fame too they shouldn't have cheated.

Without further ado, here are the players I've picked from the 2016, grouped into separate categories:
players I would definitely vote for, players I would certainly not vote for, and players I wouldn't vote for this year but would consider in future votes.

Hall of Fame
I would vote for:

  • Ken Griffey, Jr: No duh! One of the best all-around players of his era, one of the greatest power hitters of all time, and never a hint of rumor about PEDs
  • Tim Raines: Best leadoff hitter in the National League in his era and over 800 stolen bases in an era when the game had less scoring and thus both of those things were very valuable
  • Mike Piazza: maybe the best offensive catcher ever with a carrier OPS+ of 142 (rumors of PED use unsubstantiated)
  • Jeff Bagwell has never been directly linked to PEDs despite suspicions. His numbers alone merit induction, especially his career 149 OPS+, attained at a time of high offense
I would definitely not vote for:

  • Brad Ausmus, David Eckstein, Jeff Kent, Mike Sweeney, Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Lowell, Garret Anderson, Randy Winn, Luis Castillo, Mike Hampton, Troy Glaus, and Jason Kendall on pretty obvious grounds
  • Billy Wagner, Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman, who were excellent closers but are also beneficiaries of the save stat
  • Sammy Sosa for the fact that his homer numbers would have been impossible with his pre-PED wiry physique
  • Mark McGwire both for use of PEDs as well as being a one-dimensional player, a kind of supercharged Dave Kingman
  • Fred McGriff, whose numbers don't quite measure up, but should get some recognition as an excellent player
  • Nomar Garciaparra for not having a long enough career of full seasons
  • Jim Edmonds: fine all around player, but never really had a truly great season
  • Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens for PEDs, though Clemens and Bonds had HOF careers pre-PEDs
    Players I wouldn't vote for this year, but think are worthy of extra consideration and perhaps might get a future ballot:

  • Edgar Martinez, whose numbers are borderline, but who also was the first designated hitter to be great at that job, rather than being a cast-off outfielder or first baseman.  My issue boils down to whether "DH" is a position or not.  Because I am inclined to say no, I doubt I could vote for Edgar, as much as I loved him as a player.
  • Larry Walker did not have great longevity and had numbers inflated by playing in Denver in the Steroid Era, but he was also the best hitter in the National League from 1997 to 1999.  Also a great fielder.
  • Mike Mussina's most impressive stat is his win total, which is an arbitrary stat.  That said, he showed a lot of consistency over a long period of time as a top flight starter. Then again, he never led the league in ERA, strikeouts, or WHIP.
  • Curt Schilling was clutch in the postseason, but his regular season stats are borderline for the Hall
  • Alan Trammell's case is really, really hard.  His offense is not quite good enough (110 career OPS+) but he was a fine fielder.  However, he was not ever a leader in any season in any fielding category.  It's tough, but this is a case where you have a tremendous player who is not quite Hall worthy.

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