Last Updated: 2017-12-31
I don’t have a Baseball Hall of Fame vote and this isn’t a betting article, but the voting has been a hot-button topic in the sports world, so why not open up some discussion here at BangTheBook.com by posting who I would vote for if given the chance?
If you regularly read the site know that baseball is my number one passion when it comes to sports and these dark, cold winter days have me staring out the window waiting for spring, to paraphrase the great quote by Rogers Hornsby. I miss my summer nights on the Home Run Porch at Progressive Field with a beer in my hand, my wife to my nine o’clock, and friends to my three o’clock and six o’clock.
Before I break down my ballot, there are some general things I’d like to discuss about the voting process. Voters are Baseball Writers of America Association members (BBWAA) and received that privilege from having 10 consecutive years on the baseball beat. There is a large contingent of voters who have a vote, but haven’t actively covered baseball in decades, which is one of the many problems with the process.
Ballots do not have to be made public. The voters’ names are made public, but they can choose to have their ballots private. Great work is being done by people like Ryan Thibodaux to track ballots as writers post them and their accompanying columns. All ballots should be public. Writers should have to stand up for and defend their opinions. Transparency in the voting process would go a long way.
Voters are instructed to vote for no more than 10 players. Players can remain on the ballot for up to 10 years, as long as they receive at least five percent of the vote. It takes a 75 percent vote to approve a player for the Hall of Fame.
Players are placed on the ballot based on several criteria. They must have started their careers at least 15 years prior to the vote and have to have played their final games at least five years prior. Players must have played for at least 10 seasons.
There is a character clause, but it is loosely applied and is largely left up to the voters, which I discuss later in the case of one specific player.
Many who have a HOF vote have earned it. Many treat the process as they should, with careful consideration and a lot of thought. Some do not. Some push an agenda. Some are staunchly anti-steroid users and others will invoke personal character clauses because they don’t like Player X or were mistreated by them in the past. Some voters believe in the “Small Hall” concept and will only vote for the most elite of the elite. Others are more lenient in their requirements.
The process will never be perfect. Some very simple alterations would help, like public ballots and the removal of the 10-player rule, but we haven’t seen any positive changes to the process in recent years and we probably won’t.
Let me provide a little bit of context before I unveil my ballot. I grew up watching baseball in the steroid era. As such, you could make an argument that I am biased. My first baseball memories include players that were implicated as steroid users or implied as steroid users. Steroid speculation about players from the 1990s and early 2000s weighs heavily on the minds of voters that watched baseball in the 1970s and 1980s and still have votes. I certainly cannot sympathize with their positions because the game I grew to love was “tainted”, as some would say, by rampant steroid and PED use in the ‘90s.
To me, it doesn’t matter. The Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in Major League Baseball was not adopted until 2006. Steroids were technically banned in 1991, but testing did not begin until 2003. It is naïve to think that players, despite the ban, ignored the opportunity to get a competitive edge, but there were technically no penalties in place and not a whole lot of oversight other than a blanket ban.
Keep in mind that performance-enhancing drugs, like amphetamines and “Greenies”, are not a new concept in baseball. Players were using amphetamines in the 1940s and beyond to try and gain an edge.
There is also a lot of debate in terms of how much steroids helped. Sure, players were stronger, faster, and better-equipped to handle the rigors of a 162-game schedule, but how much do steroids help hand-eye coordination? Are they more effective for a batter than a pitcher? We haven’t heard much about pitchers using them, but it would be extremely short-sighted to believe that the number of pitchers looking for an edge was dramatically lower than the number of hitters.
Furthermore, is it different to use steroids to return from an injury or quicken the rehab process than it is to use them for a competitive advantage? No players are healthy by the end of the season, but expediting rehab with a little bit of help doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Basically, in my mind, there is too much grey area to definitively shun players from the Steroid Era when it comes to Hall of Fame voting.
Also, to be even blunter about it, I don’t really care. Playing fields are never truly equal in sport. Pitchers were using. Hitters were using. Good hitters were already good with or without steroids. Good pitchers were already good with or without steroids. Maybe marginal or fringe players had actual careers with the help of some supplements. I’m just ambivalent to the whole thing for the most part and players have been using illegal edges forever, see greenies, spitballs, pine tar, sign stealing, and corked bats as just some of the many examples.
Oh, and one final point, Commissioner Allen H. “Bud” Selig, who was in charge from 1998 to 2015 did, eventually, get pushed into adopting stricter steroid testing and penalties, but he certainly benefited from the Steroid Era and only took action when it became a significantly scrutinized issue. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017. If he’s in, then the players should be, too.
Lastly, I am part of a new crop of baseball fan. The advanced metrics mean more to me than the traditional counting stats, though I do cite some in this article. Most of the new voters and those that will get votes in the coming years also come from this type of evaluation background. That will help a lot of players going forward, especially if we can get an increase in the number of players that you can vote for.
With that all out in the open, here is my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot (in alphabetical order):
The most polarizing figure on the ballot seems to be Barry Bonds. By now, everybody knows about his 2007 involvement in the BALCO investigation. We don’t know when Bonds, specifically, started taking steroids, but he wasn’t clean. I’m fully aware of that. I’m also fully aware that by the end of his age-27 season, Bonds had won two MVPs, finished second another year, and had compiled a .275/.380/.503 slash line in seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was also a terrific defensive outfielder and had 251 stolen bases. With the Giants, Bonds put up insane numbers. He slashed .312/.477/.666, won four more MVP awards, and eventually set the all-time home run record.
From 2001-2004, Bonds reached base more than he didn’t reach base. He had OBPs of .515, .582, .529, and .609. He reached base in almost 61 percent of his plate appearances in 2004. That is absurd. I don’t care that he was intentionally walked 120 times in 2004. That makes him the most feared hitter in MLB history.
He was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before the steroid usage came to light and he’s a Hall of Famer now, even given what we know. He is second all-time in Baseball-Reference’s calculation of WAR for position players and second in Fangraphs’s calculation of WAR. He is four wins above replacement behind Babe Ruth and 14.5 ahead of Willie Mays, who is third all-time.
Like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens’s legacy has been stained by allegations of performance-enhancing drugs. He was in the infamous Mitchell Report and had to defend himself twice in federal court on perjury charges. Over the course of his career, Clemens amassed 133.7 fWAR and had a career 3.12 ERA with a 3.09 FIP and a 3.50 xFIP. At present, Clemens is the only pitcher in the 300-win club without a plaque in Cooperstown. Say what you will about the pitcher win statistic, and Lord knows I don’t care for it, but his peers are all enshrined.
Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards. He is third all-time among pitchers in Baseball-Reference’s calculation of WAR for pitchers and first all-time at Fangraphs. He was a dominant force before the Steroid Era and during it. He won the ERA title seven times and ranks third all-time in strikeouts. He’s in.
Vladimir Guerrero was a remarkable talent. He was one of the best bad-ball hitters I’ve ever seen and I’d love to have seen Statcast batted ball data during his playing days because he hit that sphere with authority. Guerrero had a very good 16-year career with 449 home runs, a .318/.379/.553 slash, and was also blessed with a right arm that would make a Greek god envious.
Guerrero’s early accomplishments were overshadowed by his contemporaries, many of whom were under suspicion of steroid use. I can’t recall a time when Guerrero was under the microscope. Guerrero won the 2004 MVP.
His career was done after his age-36 season, when he only hit 13 home runs and had a career-worst .416 slugging percentage. He just ran out of gas. If he had 51 more home runs in him, he’d be almost a sure-fire Hall of Famer for being in the 500 club. I don’t think it’s right to penalize players for things like that. There are some voters out there that probably are. To me, Guerrero has the numbers and definitely passed the eye test in his playing days.
This one is a no-brainer. Larry “Chipper” Jones is one of the best switch hitters to ever play the game and posted a .303/.401/.529 slash line when it was all said and done. He won the MVP award in 1999 when he belted a career-best 45 home runs. Jones ranks sixth all-time in fWAR among third basemen. The guys ahead of him are Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, and George Brett. (Interesting side note, Adrian Beltre will pass Jones next season and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer for me)
Only eight third basemen all-time have been worth 80+ fWAR. Jones is one of them. All eight should be in the Hall of Fame. (Yes, A-Rod, too)
Edgar Martinez is a very interesting case. There are some who believe that Edgar is not a Hall of Famer because he did not play a position. Martinez played 2,055 games across 18 seasons and only played 592 games and 4,829.1 innings in the field. The dude could straight up rake, though. He slashed .312/.418/.515 over the course of his career and had 309 home runs.
He has been on the ballot since 2010 and just got more than 50 percent of the vote for the first time during last year’s voting cycle. He’s just outside the top-20 all-time in OBP and ranks 77th in B-Ref’s calculation of position player WAR, despite not really playing a position. As a pure hitter, he’s a Hall of Famer for me.
It wasn’t easy to be a pitcher in the Steroid Era. Offense was at an all-time high and Mussina had to deal with the rough-and-tumble AL East for the duration of his career. Moose finished with a 3.68 ERA, a 3.57 FIP, and a 3.68 xFIP. He never won a Cy Young Award, but finished in the top six on nine different occasions, including his final age-39 season. He won 20 games in 2009 and worked his first 200-inning season since 2013. He went out on top.
Mussina is in the top-25 in B-Ref’s pitcher WAR calculation. The only other top-25 pitcher in that department without a plaque in Cooperstown is Roger Clemens. Moose is 17th in Fangraphs’s pitcher WAR calculations. How can a top-20 pitcher all-time not be in the Hall of Fame? Keep in mind that the WAR formula does allow us to compare pitchers across different eras with relative ease.
The best right-handed hitter I have ever seen with my own two eyes. The end of Manny Ramirez’s career has been quite sad. The now 45-year-old had two positive tests for banned substances at the tail end. After his second test, which resulted in a 100-game suspension, he retired from baseball. He has played in Asia while holding on to the only thing that he knows.
Ramirez is a test case in using discretion. Did Manny use earlier in his career? We don’t really know. He was a freakishly good athlete that knew how to abuse a baseball while being as aloof as possible in the field. Yet, he had a really underrated throwing arm. I see a guy that popped his first positive test in 2009 and see a player trying desperately to hold on to his career. That doesn’t tarnish anything he did prior to that point.
ManRam wound up with a .312/.411/.585 slash line. He hit 555 home runs, so he has that round number that voters attach themselves to when looking at career. Manny never won an MVP, but was in the top 10 eight times. He had the best right-handed power to right-center field that I have ever seen. He hit premier closers. He’s in the top-10 in slugging percentage and OPS.
A positive test in 2009 and another in 2011 has no bearing on what he did over the first 15 years of his career as far as I’m concerned. There is no evidence he took anything as a younger player. He just simply hit and hit and then hit some more.
From a numbers standpoint, there is no doubt about Curt Schilling. He’s not in the Hall of Fame because many people believe that he is an asshole. Whether they disagree with his political leanings or disapprove of the way he conducts himself, people don’t like Curt Schilling.
According to voting guidelines, voters are instructed to consider a player’s “record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team” before submitting their ballots. Nobody will mistake Schilling for being the best teammate or the best human being, but most of the hold-ups about his character seem to be after his playing days. Those should be exempt from the record because we’re voting for these players on what they did from when they started playing to when they stopped.
In that span, Schilling, who is 26th in B-Ref pitcher WAR and 20th in fWAR, was a Hall of Famer. His career 3.46 ERA with a 3.23 FIP and a 3.17 xFIP during the Steroid Era is extremely impressive. He was second in Cy Young voting three times. Since people seem to weigh playoff performance as another primary piece of the equation, few were better than Schilling, who was a World Series MVP in 2001, won three of them, and posted an 11-2 record with a 2.23 ERA in 133.1 postseason innings.
Many want the HOF to drop the character clause. After all, the Hall of Fame has its share of cheaters, drug users, abusers, racists, and sexists. It’s too subjective to be part of the process. Schilling, per his playing days, is a Hall of Famer.
Jim Thome won’t be a unanimous selection, but he’s a lock to go in and he should be. There are some doubts about Thome, who really bulked up early in his career, but you won’t find many better power hitters than the Thomenator. Thome hit 612 home runs in his illustrious career and was extremely consistent. From 1994 to 2010, Thome had one season with fewer than 20 home runs. It was the 2005 season when he only played 59 games.
Despite the anger and outrage some Cleveland fans still harbor from when Thome signed with Philadelphia before the 2003 season, he did things the right way throughout his career. He has always been approachable and a good teammate. While it isn’t a big consideration for me, since I go by the numbers, it’s still relevant in terms of how popular he has been on the ballot so far.
Another interesting case is Larry Walker. Walker’s numbers are undoubtedly worthy of a spot in Cooperstown, but Walker’s production has been downgraded by those that play up the Coors Field factor. There is a big discrepancy between Walker’s first six years in Montreal with a .281/.357/.483 slash and his 10 seasons in Colorado with a .334/.426/.618 slash, but he also matured as a hitter in that span. Walker also swiped over 200 bases and was thought by many to be one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.
As we’ve studied Coors Field more, we’ve seen the negative impacts that playing for the Rockies has in terms of hitting on the road. As we study more about the climate in Denver and what it means overall, I think we have to look more favorably at a guy like Walker and the numbers that he was able to put up. His home/road splits are fairly dramatic, but a lot of players have something similar.
Walker has never gotten more than 23 percent of the vote and will fall victim to the anti-Coors bias. It’s wrong.
As mentioned above, I could only vote for 10 players, which is a big problem with the ballot. The 10-player rule forced Kenny Lofton, who had an outstanding career to be a one-and-done, among others. Johan Santana appears destined for that same fate this year. Santana’s peak was as good as it gets, but longevity is rewarded in Hall of Fame voting. Unfortunately, too many injuries derailed what was a Hall of Fame type of career.
Another player I hate that I can’t vote for is Scott Rolen. As I mentioned with Chipper Jones, third base is something of a black hole when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Rolen was a well above average hitter and a terrific defender. He’ll probably be a one-and-done on the ballot as well because there are 10 or more deserving candidate.
There are probably two names that you are wondering about – Omar Vizquel and Trevor Hoffman. Growing up in Cleveland, I saw how special Omar Vizquel was. I saw the plays that he made and the way that he was an emotional leader for an Indians team that, at any given time, featured six or seven Hall of Famers or borderline Hall of Famers in one lineup. It was the golden era of Tribe baseball.
But, Omar, to me, is not a Hall of Famer. He was not good enough offensively in the best offensive era we have ever seen. While there are a ton of highlight-reel defensive plays and he is undoubtedly one of the best all-time at his position, he’s no Ozzie Smith, which is the closest comp. If you adjust offensively for the eras, the Wizard was better in that department and nobody holds a candle to him defensively, though Andrelton Simmons may eventually get there.
The other is Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman was a great closer and one of the best at his position. Unfortunately, for me, he can’t make the cut with so many great position players that played every day or starting pitchers with triple or quadruple the innings pitched. Hoffman has the second-most saves all-time and nobody will challenge him for that spot with the specialization of the game. He’s going to get in because he is one of the best at his position. I just can’t vote for a closer. I do respect the K/9 of more than one batter per inning and the career that he had. If you extrapolate his yearly stats out to a 162-game average, he only appeared in 56 games per season. I can’t put a guy that appeared in about one-third of his team’s games into the Hall of Fame.
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