While the MLB offseason is dominated by trade talks and free agent signings, much of this time is shared with balloting for the upcoming Hall of Fame class. Accounts like Ryan Thibodaux track public ballots throughout the offseason (while the rest of us argue over which of them are actually good). I’m far from ever getting an official ballot, but in an alternate universe where I did? This is who I’d vote for.
Let’s start with the most obvious pick:
Mr. November is a lock for the Hall of Fame, and will probably be its second unanimous inductee – as of this writing, he’s gotten 100% of the ballots currently made public. Could you name a dozen guys who deserve a unanimous induction before Jeter? Sure. Did he accumulate -152 DRS at SS, by far the worst of any player at any position since that data was tracked in 2003? Also true.
It’s equally true that among SS since 1946 (my cutoff for the “Modern Era”), he’s 3rd all-time in fWAR and tied for 8th in wRC+. He slashed .320/.391/.466 (124 OPS+) from ’98 to ’09, a span over which he produced 32 doubles, 22 steals, and 17 homers a season and averaged 5.0 rWAR even with his poor defense. This is all before you address his playoff numbers which, if combined as a single season, would likely net a top-10 MVP finish. There’s no denying it: Jeter is a Hall of Famer.
This is a guy who’s a no-brainer for the Hall but is somehow hanging on in his final year of eligibility. His career rWAR (72.7) beats the average HOFer in RF (71.5) or LF (65.5). His WAR7 likewise surpasses both groups and his true peak – an 11-year span where he slashed a monstrous .327/.410/.602 and compiled 56.5 rWAR – is one of the all-time great runs at his position.
“But what about the Coors Effect?”
It’s absolutely true that Walker’s career .965 OPS would have been lower if he played at sea level, but his 141 OPS+ (which is league and park adjusted) puts him above Raines, Winfield, Clemente, Yastrezemski, Gwynn, Reggie, *and* first year inductee Vlad Guerrero, a player that Walker also has +13 wins over in only 1 more season. Put this man in the Hall of Fame, please.
I don’t envy a guy who spent his entire career in the shadow of Chipper Jones. Or one who’s had to follow up players like Schmidt, Boggs, and Molitor. Hell, Rolen’s 9-win 2004 season, one of the 10 best for a modern 3B, has been lost to history behind a steroids-infused Barry Bonds and the rise of an upcoming future HOF 3B in Adrian Beltre.
Comically unlucky as he was, Rolen was also an excellent defender. His first 5 Gold Glove caliber seasons pre-date DRS tracking, but he’s still 3rd all-time at 3B. He averaged 4.9 rWAR and 1.4 dWAR over a 14-season stretch, making him a remarkably consistent player who, at his peak, still managed to hit an impressive .287/.380/.532 (age 23-29). He couldn’t break 20% on his 2nd ballot, but with the highest gains of anyone for 2020 I think he has a strong chance of cracking the 75%-mark one day.
It’s tough to evaluate relievers for the HOF, but when looking at multiple factors I don’t see a case against Wagner. Outside an injured 2000 season in Houston, he’s never had an ERA above 2.85. His adjusted ERA+ is 187, behind only Mariano and Kimbel. While both saves and WAR are imperfect metrics for career relievers, he’s 6th and 8th all-time in each category. Hell, he’s even got 3 seasons where he cracked CYA or MVP voting. While Bell, Putz, and Valverde are easy passes on this ballot, Wagner absolutely deserves to be inducted.
Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, and Bobby Abreu
These 3 each have an uphill battle to make it into the Hall. Helton probably has the best case here, though the Coors stigma will hurt him as it has Walker. Still, over his true peak (’00 to ’07) he put up a very strong 6.1 rWAR/yr with a 150 OPS+ to match. His WAR7 is the 3rd highest of any modern 1B, behind only Mize and Bagwell, while his 2519 hits trail only Murray and Perez.
Andruw has bigger shoes to fill than Rolen, especially considering that current HOF voters see Mike Trout for 140 games a year. He’s a longshot, but his once-in-a-generation defense alone deserves consideration: he’s 1st all-time in CF UZR since they began tracking in 2002, and totaled 67 DRS over just 5 years from ’03 to ’07. A guy with five seasons of 6+ wins, a career OPS of .823, and truly elite fielding should get a fairer look from voters.
Bobby Abreu might be a head scratcher for some, but he’s earned consideration. Like Walker, his rWAR and WAR7 both outpace Guerrero, sliding just behind Winfield and the LF average for the career rWAR. He also maintained a 143 OPS+ over that peak, played in 150+ games for 13 consecutive seasons, and is one of only 13 players to put up a 30-30 season more than once.
I list this with an asterisk because… well… I don’t want Schilling to get in. The man is a vile piece of shit whose firing from ESPN was long overdue and did little to correct his behavior. I don’t want him in the HOF. I don’t want him standing in Cooperstown making an acceptance speech…
…but on paper? Yea. His stats warrant an induction. My personal belief is that this should come posthumously, with a plaque that acknowledges the reality of who he was as a person, on and off the field.
What About Bonds, Clemens, etc?
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now – there’s no credible PED users on this list. At some point I’ll dedicate a full post to my stance on the Steroid Era, but the long/short is that I think what these guys did was disqualifying for the HOF. I am, however, open to a posthumous induction for Bonds and Clemens, clearly marking their plaques with the fact that they used PEDs.
For better or worse, the BBWAA, the HOF, and MLB are manipulating the voting pool to ensure Bonds and Clemens are inducted. After the changes for 2016 to alter eligibility, almost all new writers have voted for both: 13/15 in 2017, 12/13 in 2018, 8/10 in 2019, and (so far) 5/5 in 2020. With each player hitting 62.2% last year and having 3 more ballots left, it’s almost inevitable that they’ll both be inducted.
No Jeff Kent/Omar Vizquel?
I would pass on both, but I see why folks want them. Kent does have the HR record at his position – unfortunately, he’s still only 75th on the full list. He also didn’t put together a really great year until he was 32, the only time he broke a 150 OPS+. That “peak” only lasted a couple more seasons, and not to guilt-by-association the guy but they did overlap with Barry Bonds (his teammate at the time) using steroids. He fell off after he left the Bay.
Vizquel supporters rave about his defense, but his dWAR (which uses other metrics before DRS and UZR were available), never crossed 2.5 in a season. For comparison, Andrelton Simmons did that every year from 2013-18, starting with an insane 5.5 dWAR in 2013. Offensively, Vizquel had an abysmal .688 OPS for his career, only crossed the 100 OPS+ line twice, and his 70.7 SB% makes it hard for me to credit his 400+ career steals. He’s ultimately a pass for me.
So, what are your thoughts? Angrily tweet at me if you feel different – it’s a modern baseball tradition!