Tuesday, January 7, 2014

This Year's HOF Ballot, Part 4

We're 2 days away from learning who makes Cooperstown.  My money is on Maddux and Biggio with no one else getting 75% of the vote.  I also think some major names (McGriff, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro) will be taken off the ballot because they don't reach the 5% threshold.

Kenny Rogers (1st):  219-156, 4.27 ERA 107 ERA+ 4 All-Star games, 1 Top 5 Cy Young finish, 51.1 WAR

The second best well-known Kenny Rogers, this Kenny will probably best remembered for having questionable material on his baseball cap during the World Series.  I still wonder how/why that was never challenged during the game.

Prediction:  No votes

Curt Schilling (2nd):  216-146, 3.46 ERA 127 ERA+ 6 All-Star games 2 2nd place Cy Young finishes, 1 other top 5 finish.

Curt got 38.8% of the votes his first time on the ballot.  He won't get as many this time since a couple  300 game winners have joined the ballot, but one might argue that he was as good as Glavine.  Glavine pitched for teams that were generally better, at least earlier in his career.  I remember a game I was at in 1997 when Schilling pitched against the Yankees.  The Yankees were great; the Phillies threatened the Mets' record for futility in the first half of the season (at 23-60 in the middle of the season, there were serious questions about whether they could win 40).  In early September, the Yankees visited Veterans Stadium...where the Phillies swept them.  No one could have predicted it, but Schilling set the tone Game 1 when he pitched 8 innings and struck out 16.  He was dominating, and he loved the center stage.

Needless to say, Philadelphia in the late 90s was NOT center stage.  He was probably the best pitcher in the league during those years, but he occasionally stayed in the game too long because the relief staff had blown a few wins for him, and out of frustration he asked for a trade.  Three World Series championships later, that reputation for performance in big moments was secured.

Some might question his length of production, but of either pitcher, I think Schilling did more to convince voters of his Cooperstown credentials in the post-season than one Jack Morris.  Morris was average in October, save the incredible Game 7 he threw for Minnesota (and horrific in 1992 for the Blue Jays).  Schilling was great in 2001, great in 2004, and did it again one last time before he retired.

Curt will get in...but not this year.

Prediction:  28%

Richie Sexson (1st):  .261 306-943  2 All-Star games, 17.9 WAR

I always wonder how some players wind up with a nickname...or name.  Did Richmond sound too official?  Was he always called "Richie"?  Don't some people outgrow certain names?  Does Richie still get called Richie if he's an insurance salesman instead of a ballplayer?  At what age is Richie not appropriate?

These are the things I think about when I have spare time.  Ugh.

Prediction:  0 votes

Lee Smith (12th):  47.8% of the vote last year.  71-92  3.03 ERA  478 saves, 7 All-Star games, 3 top 5 Cy Young finishes (top 2nd to Tom Glavine in 1991)

Smith's case is going to look weaker and weaker the further we get away from his career.  Just like the starting pitchers of the 70s and 80s win totals look better and better, I think most view Lee Smith's save totals as impressive (and they were) but he's already been passed by Rivera and Hoffman.  With the number of quality players appearing on the ballot over the next few years, Smith is going to have to wait for the Veterans Committee...and by then, Kimbrel, Nathan et. al. may have passed him.  More importantly, the newer voters are recognizing the limited value a one-inning pitcher actually has in a game.  I think Lee Smith is going to be waiting a while before he gets in...if he get in at all.

Prediction:  26%

J.T. Snow (1st):  .268 189-877 No All-Star appearance (but he did win 6 straight Gold Glove awards)

Baseball Reference calls Snow's career most similar to Dan Dreissen's.  I'm not sure I'd argue against that, though Snow was better defensively.

Prediction:  0 votes

Sammy Sosa (2nd):  12.5% last year.  .273 606-1667 234 SBs, 7 All-Star games, 1998 MVP (5 other top 10 finishes) 58.4 WAR

Sammy killed his chances for Cooperstown in Congress, though I'm not sure without steroids he would have had much of a chance anyway.  He was a free-swinging outfielder with a bit of speed whom I had on my fantasy team along with Luis Gonzalez.  I loved him - I could count on him for 20-20 or 30-30, and lived with his batting average.

His "peak" in the late 20s was great...but in his early 30s, he suddenly got astronomically better.  At age 32, he hit 160 RBIs, which is the highest in the National League since 1930, when they might as well have used a SuperBall:  Hack Wilson set the all-time record with 190, and Chuck Klein hit 170 to boot.  If he hadn't used, he probably would've hit 400 HRs, and maybe 1250 RBIs.  His OPS+ might be 120 rather than 128...and he may have gotten quite a bit of support for the Hall.

Not now.

Prediction:  less than 5%, off the ballot.

Frank Thomas (1st):  .301 521-1704.  2 time MVP (4 other top 5 finishes) 156 OPS+, 73.6 WAR

Forget Edgar Martinez; The Big Hurt should be the first DH in the Hall of Fame.  Quick story:  I've asked this question of a lot of my friends:  what were the 5 most significant historical sports events you've seen live?  Milestones, famous games, etc.

My list is horrible.  Number 1 by a mile is the 1994 Game 6 Conference Finals between the Devils and Rangers, also known as "Messier's guarantee".  I'm a huge Devils fan, and I had seats 1st row on the blue line.  We had a chance to close the Rangers out, and took an early 2-0 lead.  We could taste victory...but then Messier scored.

The crowd went nuts - even though the Devils were home, about two-thirds of the fans were Rangers fans, and we could feel the Devils lose their momentum.  Ritcher made some great saves, but Messier had a night to never be forgotten.  I was destroyed; I thought the Devils had no chance in Game 7, but Brodeur showed he had arrived by pushing the eventual champions to double overtime.

After that?  Can I count the Rutgers-U Mass men's basketball game that was cancelled at halftime due to the African-American protest at center court?  I might include Schilling's game against the Yankees above...or maybe Jayson Werth's walk-off HR against the Dodgers in 2009.  I've never seen a no-hitter; I haven't been to any memorable playoff games (does a Jets-Jaguars game count?).

Why this story?  Because in 2007, friends and I were touring the Midwest watching a bunch of baseball games at various stadiums.  When we arrived in Minneapolis for our last game on tour, they were playing the Toronto Blue Jays - and Frank Thomas was on 499 HRs.  I've never seen a milestone of such stature; I hoped.  And hoped.  And hoped.

It didn't happen.

Prediction:  65%

Mike Timlin (1st):  75-73 3.63, 6th place Rookie of the Year.

I got nothing.

Prediction:  0 votes

Alan Trammell (13th):  33.6%, .285  185-1003, 6 All-Star games, 4 Gold Gloves, runner-up in 1987 MVP (a complete rip-off, he should've won).  110 OPS+, 70.3 WAR

Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame, unfortunately, he played in the same league as Cal Ripken, at the same time as Ozzie Smith, and when he retired, his numbers were quickly dwarfed by the Steroid Era and the trio of offensive shortstops who were playing in the AL:  A-Rod, Jeter and Garciaparra.  It's unfortunate that so many years of balloting happened while people were falling over themselves over the new powerful shortstops; Trammell was equal to that in his era.  (And for those who suggest those 3 played in the same era as Trammell, Trammell was in Detroit in 1977, when A-Rod was 1 year old).

If the revamped Veterans Committee ever starts voting players in again, rather than coaches and 19th century catchers who didn't wear a glove, Alan Trammell is the type of player they should look at, not those who received more support or were more famous.  For that matter, I'd love for them to look at his double-play partner Lou Whitaker as well.

We can dream.

Prediction:  25%

Larry Walker (4th):  21.6%  .313  383-1311 (230 SBs), 5 All-Star games, 7 Gold Gloves, 1997 MVP (1 other top 5 finish), 141 OPS+, 72.6 WAR.

While Walker will end up with much more support than Dale Murphy ever did, I'm not sure how much better Walker was, and within that context comes the eternal question, what makes a Hall of Famer?  Is it longevity and reaching certain benchmarks as a player (i.e., 300 wins, 500 HRs)?  Or is it those peak years where one can consider the player the best in the league, or maybe in baseball (i.e., Koufax, Rice)?

Due to injuries, Walker never achieved the benchmark totals, so he needed to be the best in the league.  For one year, he was...and he had 3 other great years.  But Walker got injured a lot, and he played in Colorado, which everyone discredits the hitters.  The difference between Murphy and Walker is that while Murphy's peak was better (2 MVPs, twice a runner up), he 9 years of his career he was considered equal to or worse than a replacement player.  His value is wrapped neatly into about 8 years, Walker's spread across almost his entire career (in only 2 years was Walker within 1 WAR of replacement level).

What's my point?  Look at the percentage of votes Murphy got, and look at what Walker is getting.  I think neither of them deserve the Hall (and it would seem the BBWAA feels the same way), but what if we combined Murphy's peak with Walker's injured-checkered but valuable length?   I might be off-base here, but in my opinion I think that would be a base-line Hall of Famer.

Prediction:  12%

To summarize:

Elected:  Biggio, Maddux

Eliminated from the ballot:  Alou, Benitez, Casey, Durham, Gagne, Gonzalez, J. Jones, T. Jones, LoDuca, Mattingly, McGwire, Nomo, Palmeiro, Rogers, Sexson, Snow, Sosa, Timlin

Most likely to get voted in next year:  Thomas, Glavine

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