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Sunday, December 31, 2017

2018 National Baseball Hall of Fame Vote

On Wednesday, January 24, 2018, 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 2018 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, an era 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.  This may have taken a turn in the 2017 vote when Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two who have the most clear credentials, surpassed 50% for the first time.  This could be in response to the induction of Mike Piazza who many believed used PEDs but was not directly linked.  Many believe the same for Ivan Rodriguez, who was implicated by Jose Canseco, a source who has proven reliable at times, and not so much other times.  Will this break down the mental conundrum that may writers have?  Early returns show more support for Bonds and Clemens.  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 strong anecdotal evidence of PED use, I will strongly weigh against voting. 

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.  Two 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 closer) 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. in 2016.  Likewise, when a player is on his last ballot, as Tim Raines was last year, 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 (up to 15% for a candidate close to election).

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) Chipper Jones - One of the best third basemen of all time, one of the best switch hitters of all time, and he played plus defense.  He won an MVP, a batting title, and eight All-Star games.  Consistent post-season hitter (And tons of post-season at bats).  He would have been rookie of the year if not for the imported Japanese veteran Hideo Nomo.  It's hard to find a flaw in his game.  Chipper was well loved and respected by the media, he should have no problem getting on his first ballot with a very high percentage of the vote.

Factors against him: Short of 500 HR, could have won more World Series titles, first ballot bias

Chipper is pretty much a slam dunk.  First ballot bias may keep him around 95%, but there is hardly a case against him (the above is pretty weak).


2) Jim Thome - Power power power.  His 612 HR sits eight on the all-time home run list (and two ahead of him have been implicated for PED usage).  While like many power hitters, he did strike out a lot, he also walked a lot, having led the league in bases on balls three times and finishing with an on base percentage over .400 (despite a pedestrian .276 career batting average).  His career seemed to be steady for about 15 years, where he wasn't among the Top 3 or 4 in the game, but always among the Top 10

Factors against him: Never won an MVP, never won a World Series, only led the league in HR once, never led the league in RBI, first ballot bias.

Because of the power era in which he played, some may discount his power.  He never looked the part of a PED user.  He won't get as many votes as fellow 600 HR member Ken Griffey Jr., but should finish in the mid to upper 80% range and get in on the first ballot.





3) Vladimir Guerrero - I'm surprised he did not get in last year.  Clearly has the numbers, so it must have been first ballot bias.  Vlad was 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, short of 500 HR

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




4) Trevor Hoffman - Another one who should have gotten in last year and was just five ballots short.  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 best reliever in the game at any given time

This is his year. The NL reliever of the year award is named after him, he'll get in with 81% of the vote or so.




5) Larry Walker - I've been pushing Walker for several years now.  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 2017 inductee Jeff Bagwell, he won one MVP. He's also a member of the .400 OBP club (with Manny Ramirez, Jones, Thome, Bonds, and Edgar Martinez the only six 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 22% of the vote last year (very slight up tick), 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. Edgar was a career .312 hitter, with .418 OBP (highest on the ballot besides Bonds), 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 59% of last years ballots, moving up 15% which was a big jump.  I've seen more buzz about Edgar this year than in years passed.  This is his penultimate appearance on the ballot and I think he falls just short at 73%.  Then gets in on his last ballot.



7) Billy Wagner - The more I see Billy the Kid, the more I think he's getting short changed.  Especially when comparing to the four biggest specialty relief pitchers already in the Hall (Eckersley, Sutter, Fingers, and Gossage) as he has 30 more saves than the best 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

He got about 10% vote each of his first two years.  He needs to start climbing or I don't think he can ever reach the top.  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) 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 about 17% of the vote the last two years, no reason to think he'll move significantly now, or over the next five years.

First four out

9) 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 52%, he has surpassed Curt Schilling and may be on a trajectory for eventual induction, which was not looking as good last year. 

10) 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 22% last year, he's not moving much. I doubt he gets much closer in this, or his final year on the ballot in 2019.  Could be a veteran ballot candidate, was very popular with teammates and media and did things the right way.

11) 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.  His willingness to share his unpopular political views also seem to reduce his support.

Factors against him: Low wins, unspectacular ERA, political opinions

At 45% of the vote, he took a step back in 2017.  While sharing of ones political opinions, whether popular or controversial, should not be a factor in the Hall election, it seems to be.  The more he talks, the less support he gets.  I think he will never cross the 75% threshold and is also unlikely to get in on a veterans ballot.

12) Andruw Jones - Power, speed, and defense, he was a 5-tool player.  Started his career at 19, but wore out at Age 35, he still hit well over 400 HR.  His .254 batting average really drags him down, with a lack of huge walk numbers it leaves him only .337 OBP.  His defense was his calling card, but also won a Silver Slugger and narrowly missed the MVP in 2005 to Albert Pujols.

Factors against him: Low batting average, barely was a factor after age 30.

The remaining repeat candidates fall into the PED category.  Their stats are 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.  All would easily be in without it.

Newcomers that might stay on the ballot (besides those mentioned above): Scott Rolen, Johan Santana

So my opinions aside, here's who I think gets in (in order by vote percentage).
Chipper Jones
Jim Thome
Trevor Hoffman
Vlad Guerrero

They will join "Modern Baseball" enshrinees Jack Morris and Alan Trammell along with J.G. Taylor Spink Award (writers) winner Sheldon Ocker and the Ford C. Frick Award (broadcasting excellence) winner Bob Costas.  The Modern Baseball ballot is intriguing in the recency of the inductees to the writers ballot and may be discussed on a future Blog.  The induction ceremony is a homecoming of baseball elite, and will be July 29, 2018.

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