November 26, 2017

2018 Hall of Fame Ballot Rundown

The 2018 Hall of Fame ballot has been released – along with some “unofficial” guidance from the Vice Chairman of the Hall – and the arguments started before the first ballot was even submitted.

Here’s our two cents.

Ty Cubb Hall of Fame

The discussion around many of these players stems from the topic of Joe Morgan’s ill-conceived letter: PED usage. Other writers have already addressed the issues inherent in Morgan’s stance, with Jeff Passan going so far as to abstain from voting to protest its logical inconsistency and rank hypocrisy.

The short of it: There are already cheaters in the Hall of Fame and there are already PED users in the Hall of Fame (Morgan’s choice of ‘Steroids’ vs. ‘PED’ was quite intentional). The Hall of Fame has already admitted men of men of low character and men of despicable character. And these inductions are not limited to the past:

Our position: Morgan is an all-time great ballplayer (underrated until the Sabermetrics revolution he so despised) and a bad several other things (announcer, analyst, Vice Chair of the Hall of Fame). It’s not a position that can be defended. It’s a desperate attempt to avoid the dialogue about an era in which MLB was wholly complicit.

Our advice: Embrace the shadowy reality of the PED era and deal with it the same way we have to deal with the segregated era and all the other shady crap in baseball’s past. Choose Bull Durham over Field of Dreams, because the latter is a myth at best, a lie at worst.

That said…

Ranking the 2018 Hall of Fame Ballot Players

There are 33 players on the ballot this year. Here’s all 33 roughly ranked from greatest to least.

No (valid) question

BarryBonds1993Barry Bonds
Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he turned 30. His post-30s career is worthy of the Hall of Fame as well, though almost certainly fueled by PED use. That’s the only argument to keep him out and, as we mentioned, it’s not a sustainable argument.

He’s an all-time pantheon player, PEDs or otherwise. He’s also a colossal jerk, but so are multiple other people in the Hall. Unless we’re going to purge every cheater from the Hall of Fame, he should be in.

062707 267 Roger ClemensRoger Clemens
Clemens is Bonds, except he’s a white pitcher instead of a black position player. They’re both all-time greats based on their careers, with only the wobbly PED argument against them (they’re even both complete toolsheds in terms of personality).

If you’d vote for one v. the other, I can’t wait to hear your reasoning.

Chipper Jones in San DiegoChipper Jones (1st time on ballot)
Top-30 in WARWins Above Replacement. A stat that attempts to measure a player’s contributions in all facets of the game and quantify how many more wins that player contributed than a “replacement level” player would have (a replacement level player being a hypothetical “AAAA player” every team has in its farm system. in the modern era. One of the greatest 3B of all time. Crushes the Hall of Fame MonitorThe Hall of Fame Monitor is specifically designed to predict whether or not a player will be elected to the Hall (and is thus most useful when discussing active players or candidates). A score of 100 predicts a good chance for election and a score of 130 predicts the player is essentially a lock. For reference, the highest all-time score for position players is Stan Musial with a score of 452 and the highest score for a pitcher is 364 for Walter Johnson. and Hall of Fame StandardsThe Hall of Fame Standards measures a players score on a series of accomplishments or milestones (i.e. standards) by which greatness is often judged. It is essentially a long checklist of the things a Hall of Famer “should” have done in his career. The average Hall-worthy player will answer yes to 50 of the 100 questions. For reference, the highest all-time score for a position player is 79 for Babe Ruth and the pitcher with the highest score is Christy Mathewson with 84. . Possibly racist and conspiracy-theory gullible (hey, people keep talking about the character clause – Sandy Hook ‘truthing’ has to be in that neighborhood, right?).

He’s a clear first ballot guy, even if you might not want him at your dinner party.

I guess you can’t make an argument against…but you shouldn’t

Mike Mussina
We just discussed why he should already be in the Hall. Primary thing keeping him out is a lack of accounting for his career environment.

Jim Thome on June 9, 2012Jim Thome (1st time on ballot)
Country strong. Hit 612 Home runs without a whiff of PED suspicion (beyond the reasonable default for the era). Maybe Thome sits sort of near the borderline separating the great from the “really good,” but to our eyes, his HR total and 145 wRC+Weighted Runs Created Plus: A comprehensive measure of offensive production relative to the league. 100 is average and each point above or below is a percentage better or worse than the average player. put him in the category of “Generational Great’ that belongs in the Hall.

Larry Walker
Mussina suffers from voters not accounting enough for his setting, Walker suffers from voters accounting *too much* for his setting. Yes, he played in Coors field. Yes, he played in the PED era. He was still a stud regardless.

His career wRC+ (which accounts for park effects) was 140, with a career wRC+ over 120 in away games. He was a stud in Montreal before coming to Colorado, and in his one season after leaving the Rockies, he posted a 135 wRC+ in St. Louis at age-38. Add in his superb defense and he should pretty clearly be in.

Scott Rolen (1st time on ballot)
Rolen will likely get in eventually, but almost certainly not on the first ballot. His case is an odd mix of factors that cloud voting. He played the position least represented in the Hall (3B), a significant chunk of his value was from defense, and he played for some bad teams in some of his most productive seasons.

He’s a borderline case, but being one of the most valuable defensive players of all time while also being 20%+ better than league average at the plate for your career looks like a Hall of Fame guy to us.

Curt Schilling
Another case of strong (mis)perceptions coloring the vote. If Mussina suffers from lack of context and Walker from over compensation for context, Schilling suffers from the perception that he was little more than a super high peak and post-season heroics. He wasn’t.

Curt Schilling PitchSchilling was already an ace before arriving in Arizona, it was just under-recognized because the Phillies were bad. He was a giant for the Diamondbacks, but no one noticed because he was paired with a rotation-mate who was a literal giant in addition to a figurative one.

He then went from pitching with the 2nd-best pitcher in the league (depending on where you rank Clemens in those years) to pitching with the best (reminder: no one was better than Peak Pedro™).

His career is roughly comparable to Mussina though (and thus Smoltz & Glavine as well) and has the advantage of some of the some of the best post-season performances ever on his resume. His somewhat lackluster win totals (as we said, he played for some awful Phillies teams) and PED-era-inflated ERA (see Mussina above) have hurt him, as has the fact he seems like a really odious and hate-filled human being.

However, as we mentioned above, we’ve already got awful humans in the Hall, and Schilling isn’t a borderline case otherwise. He belongs in the Hall (and definitely doesn’t belong at your dinner party).

Edgar Martinez
Martinez’s case is as David Ortiz’s will be: If DHs ever belong in the Hall, then Martinez (and Ortiz) belong in. If no DH should ever be in the Hall, then Martinez (and Ortiz) should be out. We view DHs (and relief pitchers – more on that in a second) sort of like the NFL treats kickers and punters – only the absolute best of them should be in. By that standard, Martinez (and Ortiz) should be the first (and only, so far).

Special Cases

Trevor Hoffman
Relief pitchers pose a quandry for many Hall voters. They’re obviously important – anyone who watched Mariano Rivera close out games for the Yankees dynasty could see that. At the same time, even the best reliever of all time (Rivera again) began as just a failed starter. Only the absolute best relief pitchers ever approach the value of even a good #2-3 starter.

On top of that, the focus on the “save situations” in the past 20-30 years has made closers (and the save stat) less valuable than the “fireman” approach of the 1970s and 80s (or the “bullpenning” of the past few years). How then to evaluate relief pitchers? As we said above, we think they’re the equivalent of DHs (or kickers/punters in the NFL) – they belong in, but only the best.

Trevor Hoffman 01What about Hoffman then? By the save stat, he’s one of the best ever, second only behind Rivera. By bWARWins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference. A stat that attempts to measure a player’s contributions in all facets of the game and quantify how many more wins that player contributed than a “replacement level” player would have (a replacement level player being a hypothetical “AAAA player” every team has in its farm system. (which values relievers more highly, and we think more accurately) however, he’s 13th, with half of Rivera’s career total.

Hoffman’s got only 2/3 the career total of noted curmudgeon and greatest relief pitcher of the Fireman-era, Goose Gossage. His JAWSA measurement of a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness. It stands for “Jaffe WAR Score” and was developed by Jay Jaffe for Baseball Prospectus. It works by comparing a player to the players currently in the Hall of Fame at his position.
JAWS looks at the player’s career total WAR and combines it with the WAR from the player’s seven peak years. The stat does make adjustments for the statistical differences between eras. Players are classified by the position where they played the most games (so, for instance, Robin Yount is classified as a shortstop, since he played 1479 games there v. 1150 in centerfield).
ranks him 21st among relief pitchers. Even if we bump him up a few spots to account for the starter-reliever mixes in those rankings, Hoffman just wasn’t one of the best compared to his peers.

Short version: if saves are all that matters, he should be in. If we care about the rest of the picture, he shouldn’t be.

Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez 1996Manny was one of the greatest hitters not only of the PED era, but in all of MLB history. He’s also one of the few true stars to test positive for PED use. And just to make it that much more complicated, it wasn’t just a one time thing – he tested positive twice.

As good as Manny was at the plate, he was often a disaster in the field. His career value reflects this, as his fWARWins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs. A stat that attempts to measure a player’s contributions in all facets of the game and quantify how many more wins that player contributed than a “replacement level” player would have (a replacement level player being a hypothetical “AAAA player” every team has in its farm system. and bWAR totals of 66.4/69.2 mark him as a generational great, rather than the all-time great his hitting alone suggests.

Without overwhelming career totals, and with the stink of the PED tests and suspensions tainting everything (including his membership in the 500 HR club), we’d bet that Manny ends up being the line voters draw on PEDs.

Sammy Sosa
Major League Baseball's Sammy Sosa watches as a member of the Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs lands in Boston's Fenway Park prior to a Red Sox GameHere’s the other player possibly straddling that line. Sosa’s HR total is higher than Manny’s but he was a much less complete hitter (.273/.344/.468 & 124 wRC+ v. .312/.411/.585 & 153 wRC+) and while Sosa was more valuable on defense, he was never known for his glove so it’s unlikely that will bolster his case with voters.

There is also a sense of “He was nothing without the PEDs” with Sosa that just doesn’t exist with Manny. His one true Hall credential – his 600+ home runs – is inexorably tied to the PED era, and Sammy’s post retirement behavior likely hasn’t endeared him to any of the voters.

If the line isn’t drawn at Manny, Sosa seems a probable runner-up.

Locks for the “Hall of the Really Good”

Gary Sheffield
Sheffield’s career numbers would be a lock had he played in any other era. Playing in the 1990s and 2000s, he’s worse off than Manny and Sosa. He lacks Sosa’s big HR totals, just making it into the 500 HR club (in the era that made the number meaningless). He lacks Manny’s all-time great bat as well as his post-season shine. Add in Sheff’s mercenary reputation and prickly relationship with the journalists that make up the voters, there’s almost no chance he ever makes it.

Omar Vizquel
The new player on the ballot that seems to be causing the most discussion. Some say he’s a clear Hall lock, others say his reputation has been over-inflated. We’re going to delve deeper into Viquel’s case later in the week, but we’ll let others do the talking:


Fred McGriff
McGriff was a great player, but he was essentially league average or worse for the 2nd half of his career. His JAWS puts him 31st among First basemen, a good amount below the average of those already in the Hall, though he does barely reach the averages for the Hall of Fame Monitor and Standards.

Someone could make an argument that his career numbers show he wasn’t juicing when everyone else was, but without some way to prove that definitively, the speculation isn’t enough to raise him out of “50-ish WAR and I remember him being awesome when I was growing up” territory.

Vladimir Guerrero
Very similar to McGriff except exchange a higher peak for a shorter career. He was awesome to watch, and a great player, but he falls just short of whatever magic makes the Hall.

Johnny Damon (1st time on the ballot)
Damon1If rose tinted memories were all that mattered, Johnny Damon would cruise into the Hall of Fame on a wave of Chowdah-flavored good-will.

They’re not though, and Damon was a ‘bit-better than league average’ guy for his career with some great postseason moments on his resume. Maybe he’ll make it in when whatever the future form of the veteran’s committee is becomes stacked with his former teammates.

Billy Wagner
Everything we said about Hoffman, but 10% more because Billy Wags lacks the gaudy save total (even though he was the more dominant of the pair at his peak).

If it were the “Hall of Awesome Guys,” he’d be in

Jamie Moyer (1st time on the ballot)
Moyer is a great story, pitching until the age of 49. Unfortunately, in all of those seasons he only posted one in which he delivered 4+ bWAR and only two with 4+ fWAR. That’s not a hall of fame career, no matter how cool it was to watch him make MLB hitters look stupid with a fastball slower than ours.

The fact he’s already received more votes that Lou Whitaker pisses us off

Jeff Kent
Kent was known as an “offensive” middle infielder, but his stats were racked up during the PED era. He was only a bit more above league average than Lou Whitaker – a player who didn’t even rate 5% in his first ballot *or* consideration by the ‘Modern Era’ committee – while playing significantly worse defense.

Lou Whitaker was much better than Jeff Kent

Whitaker belongs in the Hall, Kent doesn’t.

Good, but nowhere near good enough

Chris Carpenter (1st time on the ballot)
Carpenter was a legitimate ace at his peak, unfortunately his peak was too short and his decline too steep. Five good-to-great seasons, five average seasons, and five ‘lost’ seasons is not a Hall of Fame career.

Kevin Millwood (1st time on the ballot)
Carpenter with a lower peak and a higher valley.

Hall guys in a parallel “what if?” universe

Kerry Wood (1st time on the Ballot)
Man, he was awesome before his arm blew up.

00077342 Andruw JonesAndruw Jones (1st time on the Ballot)
The first part of his career was so good he’s actually a borderline case, but he lacks the milestones that are so tempting to voters. It’s not impossible, but it’s very unlikely.

Johan Santana (1st time on the Ballot)
Was it the injuries or was it just playing for the Mets? The world may never know. His career was really nine seasons, just not enough.

Carlos Zambrano (1st time on the Ballot)
What if he hadn’t been a head case? He was though. His career was really just eight seasons.

Voting for them should cause you to forfeit future votes

We’ll forgive you if you’re a hometown voter stumping for your guy – just make sure you don’t leave someone truly deserving off while you do it.

Hideki Matsui

Not unless we count his numbers from Japan, and probably not even then.

Carlos Lee

Jason Isringhausen

Livan Hernandex
Please stop.

Aubrey Huff
Go read a textbook.

Orlando Hudson
The Hall is trolling us with this one.

Brad Lidge
Is honored just to be on the ballot (no, seriously)

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