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Friday, December 30, 2016

2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame Vote

On Wednesday, January 18, 2017, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) vote for enshrinement to the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be revealed. The BBWAA holds the keys to such an elite fraternity, which must be a daunting task. They are voting on players to proverbially sit next to Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Mathewson and the like.  As done in years past, I will provide my ballot as if I were a BBWAA member.

Here is the full 2017 Ballot (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)

There are a few major factors that cannot be ignored when it comes to voting.

1) The specter over the Hall will continue to be Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) use in baseball primarily in the 1990s, for which many players accused are now appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot.  There are players whose performance clearly merits first ballot election, however because of their associated with substances that enhanced their performance, members of the BBWAA has been hesitant to cast votes their way.  Because the official voting rules include the words "integrity, sportsmanship, and character" and integrity, so their reluctance is justified in my mind.  For my selection, I will not presume guilt, but if there is legal (including Mitchell Report) or anecdotal evidence of PED use, I will strongly weigh against voting.  I'm not alone, since fewer than half of voters have written in Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, who no doubt Hall of Famers if not for PEDs.

2) A batch of candidates making their way onto the ballot or relief pitchers who specialized in finishing games in which their team was winning by 3 or fewer runs.  In other words, closers.  To date, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, and Goose Gossage are the modern day versions in the Hall.  Three candidates on the ballot have more saves than each of them.  It's a measure of how the game has changed (with the advent of the specialty closer0 whether or not they get strong consideration from the BBWAA.

3) A final point of discussion is how to handle starting pitching.  Whereas the 300 win plateau used to be a norm, it's become increasingly more difficult to get wins in the era of specialty relievers with starters leaving the game before the end of the sixth inning many times in close games.  Conversely, however, one would think this would benefit starting pitchers ERA by seldom going through a lineup more than 3 times.  In the end, I strongly weigh dominance over a discernible period of time, along with Cy Young Awards, All-Star games, Win titles, and ERA.

4) There is also first and last ballot bias.  First ballot some BBWAA voters will hold their vote to protect some sort of integrity of being a "first ballot hall of famer".  Evidence, three voters who did not include Ken Griffey Jr. last year.  Likewise, when a player is on his last ballot, voters who previously withheld tend to pay a bit more attention to their candidacy considering it's a final shot.  So a bump is normal (not significant, but 5% ish).

With a limit of ten players on a ballot, here are the players I would put on my ballot (in order of credibility).  I don't use all ten votes.

1) Vladimir Guerrero - A five tool player (.319 average. 449 HR, top arm/glove in the league, and plus speed). Nine All-Star Games, an MVP, and a hit title.  His career numbers fall short of some major benchmarks (like 500 HR) as he retired at age 36.  If he had taken PEDs he might have played another 5 years and approached 600 HR.  No doubt one of the most feared hitters for a decade or so.

Factors against him: Lack of single team identity, no World Series titles, first ballot bias

To me, he meets all of the criteria and should get in with about 80% of vote.

2) Jeff Bagwell - He was an offensive machine in the mid-1990's, career numbers reflect that (.297, 449 HR, 1529 RBI). More walks than anyone else on the ballot besides Bonds and Sheffield (fear factor and eye), .408 OBP.  He also stole 200 bases and was an above average 1B (Gold Glove in the closet). No hard evidence of PED's, although suspicion without evidence seems to be an argument against.  His numbers are nearly identical to Vlad yet he sits here in his seventh year on the ballot.

Factors against him: Perceived use of PEDs, playing in a small market, lack of postseason success.

At 71.6% last year, it would be historic if he dropped back from that.  He'll get in this time (just barely, not much over 77%).

3) Trevor Hoffman - One of two members of the 600 career save club (and we know the other will get in first ballot).  That's 40 saves per year for 15 years (average).  Seven All-Star appearances and twice finished runner up in the Cy Young, which is rare for a reliever.

Factors against him: reliever bias, played in a small market, was probably never the number one reliever at any given time

At 67.3% last year, the first ballot bias should be overcome. The NL reliever of the year award is named after him, he'll get in with 81% of the vote or so.

4) Ivan Rodriguez - The only think moving him from number 1 to number 4 is potential PED suspicions.  Note that for Rodribues, the evidence against him is mostly anecdotal (from Jose Canseco).  I suspect he was using, but not extensively.  That behind us, his numbers as a catcher are elite:  .296 average, 311 HR, an MVP, best arm behind the plate in the game and a great teammate.  Ten straight Gold Gloves (six of those years he won a Silver Slugger).

Factors against him: Perceived PEDs, first ballot bias

Tough to forecast if he'll make the cut due to PED suspicions.  There might be enough to hold back their vote to keep him in the 65% range.  Most interesting total to see on the ballot IMO.

5) Larry Walker - He was another 5-tool player, finished his career with a .313 batting average, higher than anyone else on the ballot besides Vladimir Guerrero.  Let me repeat that, second highest batting average of anybody on the ballot. Also stole 200 bases, also hit 383 home runs. He has so many gold gloves he probably had to build an extra section on his trophy case. Like Bagwell, he won one MVP. He's also a member of the .400 OBP club (with Bagwell, Manny Ramirez, Bonds, and Edgar Martinez the only four on the ballot).

Factors against him: Perceived higher numbers due to playing in Colorado, soft-spoken personality, injury-prone (only 4 seasons of 140+ games).

He only received 15.5% of the vote last year (regressing), that needs to trend up significantly for people to start noticing. He's not going to make it.

6) Edgar Martinez - He's of the mold of the previous two players. Hit for high average, good (but not awe inspiring) power, gets on base all the time. While I am not a fan of the DH, if MLB has it as a position, you can't hold that against him. With the previous two, defense pushes their case, for Edgar it can't but he still deserves it. Career .312 hitter, .418 OBP, slugged .515 (more than Fred McGriff). He's also a member of the 300 HR club for a guy who didn't try to lift the ball as much as others.

Factors against him: Primarily a DH, played in small market, lack of speed

He was voted for the affirmative on 43% of last years ballots he's moving up slowly.  He needs to get closer to 50% to continue the momentum, now in his eighth year probably not going to make it now

7) Billy Wagner - This pick might raise some eyebrows, but when comparing to the four major relief pitchers already in the Hall (Eckersley, Sutter, Fingers, and Gossage), he has 30 more saves than each of them.  And a lower ERA.  And a better K/9 IP.  His 7 All Star Game appearances are comparable to all as well.  He sits sixth in career saves and his stuff was dominant.  I noted above we're teetering on how to treat relievers, I believe we're going to see fewer relievers going forward with huge career numbers because so many are going to flame out with arm problems given their use.  Wags should get strong consideration.

Factors against him: relief pitcher bias, lack of postseason success

Only in his second year (10% vote last year), he's more likely to fall off the ballot than to surge to even more than 25%.  I'm guessing he never gets in during the 10 year window, but may get in on a veteran ballot in decades to come once the Hall figures out how to handle relievers.

8) Lee Smith - As mentioned, the Hall of Fame is still figuring out how to accommodate closers, it's my opinion that they are indeed a key element to the game and the best of the best should be included. With Smith, it's not about the numbers (ERA, W-L) as much as the raw pile of saves he accumulated (478, which was tops for a long time after his retirement). No matter where he played, he never seemed phase by a momentary lapse of success. Fourteen seasons in a row of 25 or more saves shows a level of consistency matched by few. If there are going to be closers in the HoF, Smith should be there.

Factors against him: relief pitcher bias, wasn't overpowering, lacks team identity

Languishing around 35% of the vote last year, he'll need more than double to get in in this, his last and 15th year.  He might get to 50% and like Wagner, maybe get in later once relievers get their due.

9) Jeff Kent - Quietly one of the top offensive second basemen of all time.  His line across the major stats is .290, 377, and 1518.  He has an MVP in his closet, and three other Top 10 finishes.  Add to that six All-Star appearances.  His power numbers dwarf Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, but is getting very little buzz or momentum.

Factors against him: Very average on defense, played in a power era in which his home run numbers aren't considered extraordinary, cold to media

With below 20% of the vote last year, no reason to think he'll move significantly now, or over the next six years.

First four out

10) Tim Raines - Rock falls just short on the numbers. Besides SB's (of which he is more than deserving), his average and power are lackluster, no Gold Gloves. He did accumulate 2,600 hits playing to the age of 40.

Factors against him: mostly small market teams, average defense, never was higher than 5th in an MVP vote, not a feared hitter.

At 69.8% last year and in his last year, wow this is going to be close.  How much of a last ballot bump will he get?

11) Mike Mussina - Without 300 wins or a dominant ERA, he's not quite Hall worthy in my opinion.  No Cy Young Awards, a one-time 20 game winner, five All-Star games.  Career ERA is 3.68, not spectacular even in the power era (considering he didn't face line ups four times in most starts). 

Factors against him: Doesn't have 300 wins, not dominant, played on winning teams but never won a World Series.

At 43%, surprising he's below Schilling.  Won't move much until he approaches the end of the ballot.  Not likely to get in during the 10 year window.

12) Fred McGriff - You can't ignore the near 500 home runs, but he hung on a while to get so close and wasn't elite enough in his prime to warrant the Hall. Average defense, below average speed, not an outstanding OBP. He also never broke 110 RBI in a season.

Factors against him: Unspectacular batting average, lack of dominating seasons, lack of speed

At only 21% last year, he's not moving much. I doubt he gets much closer in this, or the next two years.  Could be a veteran ballot candidate, was very popular with teammates and media and did things the right way.

13) Curt Schilling - Seems to get way more media discussion than others as deserving (like Kent or Mussina or even a Bagwell).  3.46 ERA and barely over 200 wins (216).  For careers starting after World War II, only Don Drysdale has fewer wins in the Hall (six fewer seasons, ERA half a point better).  Postseason success aside, it's not a strong case at all.

Factors against him: Low wins, unspectacular ERA

At 52% of the vote, he could make a move (fourth highest returning).  If he can get to 60% now he could eek across 75% by year ten.

The remaining repeat candidates fall into the PED category.

Steroid specter (stats more than deserving, even before they might have juiced, but would not get my vote): Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield.  Ramirez gets his first consideration, it will be most interesting to see how he fares.  Sheffield was surprisingly low last year considering he's a member of the 500 HR club with a batting average over .290.  Goes to show the PED mountain is too high to climb.

Newcomers that might stay on the ballot (besides those mentioned above and Ramirez): Jorge Posada

So my opinions aside, here's who I think gets in (in order by vote percentage).
Trevor Hoffman
Vlad Guerrero
Tim Raines
Jeff Bagwell

They will join "Today's Game" enshrinees John Schuerholz and Allan H. “Bud” Selig, along with J.G. Taylor Spink Award (writers) winner Claire Smith, and Bill King as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting excellence.  The induction ceremony is a homecoming of baseball elite, and will be July 30, 2017.

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