It's the new year, and in baseball news that means one thing: months of dead space. The Winter Meetings in December seem like ages ago, and it feels like ages until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. But there's still some pretty nifty stuff to talk about until then, starting with the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot. This year adds a couple serious contenders in Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmerio as well as an old friend in Juan Gonzalez.
In anticipation of Wednesday's Hall of Fame announcement, I've put together my ballot here. For those who want to play along in the comments section, remember that you have 10 slots to work with. The eligible players on the 2011 Hall of Fame can be found here. Other than the time in which players get on the ballot, there are no real criteria for who makes the Hall. Players must have played 10 seasons and must face a screening committee, but people constantly debate over what makes a player a Hall of Famer.
Personally, I think that the Hall should be reserved for the select few players who were truly great. All Hall of Famers should improve the Hall by their election, and should generally be judged against players of the same position. I also don't really care about the Steroid Era: character matters but if a spitballer can be in the Hall then a guy who juiced (and faced pitchers that were juicing) shouldn't really be punished. I'd call myself a "small Hall" type of guy but that's kind of a lie; I "voted" for 8 players here and I could see cases for two others even though I landed up passing on both players. I like the Hall of Fame, I like when my favorite players make the Hall of Fame and I like when under-appreciated players get to have their careers examined (can't wait to fight for Todd Helton). Anyways, my ballot lies after the jump. Feel free to chip in on your own!
1) Alan Trammell: I'll put a piece out later on Trammell's case for the Hall of Fame (so I'll keep this brief), but I think he's criminally underrated. He was a good defender and had the misfortune of playing alongside Cal Ripken Jr for most of his career. And when he finally made the Hall of Fame ballot, baseball was in a Golden Age of Shortstops in which players like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez looked to become the new normal. Tram is a victim of bad timing more than anything else.
2) Bert Blyleven: If you want an in-depth case for Blyleven, it isn't hard to find one (or seventeen). So I'll try to keep it brief here. Blyleven was one of the best pitchers of the 1980's. His strikeouts alone put him at fifth all-time. He is ninth all-time in shutouts and is 13th in pitcher ERA (ahead of Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Bob Fuller among others). That is especially impressive considering he is 14th all-time in innings pitched. Blyleven wasn't a perfect pitcher: his career strikeouts per 9 is around 6.7, and he also walked a lot of batters. But it seems that the case against Blyleven is that he only got 287 wins instead of 300. Had he hit 300 wins, he would have made the Hall easily. So 13 wins is enough to keep a guy with over 3000 strikeouts out? I don't think so.
3) Jeff Bagwell: How good was Jeff Bagwell? He has the 17th highest career OPS of all time. If you drop his short 2005 season, Bagwell never hit less than 15 homers in a season, and if you drop his first two seasons, he never hit less than 20. He was good for at least 30 bombs every year from 1997 to 2003, and almost good for 30 in 2004 (he hit 27). Bagwell's strike-shortened 1994 was so good (.368/.451/.750) that it convincingly won him an MVP. His slugging percentage in 1994 was good for 11th all time and the 20th best OPS of any season ever. Bagwell's career: .297/.408/.540 and the seventh best Baseball Reference WAR of any first baseman of all time (min 7500 PA). I don't care how much the 1990's inflated offense: a player that hits .300/.400/.500 (in a ballpark that favors pitchers, no less) is special. Bagwell's career ended prematurely due to arthritis in his shoulder, which prevented him from getting to 500 homers, but his offensive prowess is still pretty obvious. Bagwell is a sure yes.
4) Mark McGwire: The question with McGuire has never been one of ability: McGuire's 1998 (the year McGuire and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris's single season home run record) featured the 16th best single-season OPS and 10th best single season slugging percentage of all time, By WAR, McGuire was the best player in the National League in 1998 and deserved an MVP for his performance. For his career, McGuire is eighth in slugging percentage, 10th in OPS, and the 19th best first baseman of all time by Fangraphs WAR (min 7500 PA) though his poor defense brought him down- he was the 10th best offensively. He hit 583 home runs. He walked 1317 times and his OBP is good for 12th all time among first basemen (min 7500 PA).
Instead, the question with McGuire revolves around steroids. Did McGuire's use of steroids mean that his numbers should be discounted? Joe Posnanski goes into a pretty in-depth discussion of this issue in one of his most recent blog posts on the Hall of Fame, and comes to the conclusion that steroid use was just part of the era (well, that was kind of his conclusion... read JoePo. He makes the case much more eloquently than I ever could) . Personally, I don't think that McGuire's successes were all based on the use of steroids or performance enhancing drugs. His ability to hit homers that make men and women stand with mouths agape is less drugs and more God-given talent. I vote yes on McGuire, happily.
5) Roberto Alomar: Roberto Alomar was one of the greatest second basemen of all time. Among second basemen, Alomar ranks ninth overall in batting average, fifth in stolen bases, tenth in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging percentage and 11th in Fangraphs WAR among second basemen (min 7500 PA). Alomar's defense is a subject of some debate- Fangraphs has him costing a bunch of runs over his career, but ten Gold Gloves indicates a defensive reputation beyond that of most second basemen. While Gold Gloves aren't a good determination of overall defensive ability, offensively, Alomar rises to the level of a Hall of Famer. So the question of whether or not Alomar was an elite defender is, in some ways, irrelevant. Even if he wasn't, he should still be in the Hall.
6) Barry Larkin: Fun trivia fact: only 0.3 wins separate Barry Larkin from Alan Trammell in Fangraphs WAR rankings for shortstops. Larkin was certainly better offensively: he hit .295/.371/.444 for his career, but he had problems staying on the field (only playing in 150 games or more in four of his nineteen seasons). His 1995 was incredible: Larkin won the MVP with a line of .319/.394/.492 in 567 plate appearances. His 1996 was even better: Larkin hit .298/.410/.567 in 627 plate appearances. For me, the durability issues aren't enough to knock Larkin. I'd vote for him.
7) Kevin Brown: Yes. Kevin Brown is a Hall-of-Famer in my book. Fangraphs recently had an article taking up Brown's Hall case, and while it is based heavily on WAR (in this case from Baseball Reference) and other advanced metrics, the article is worth reading. I will say that Brown's run from 1996-2001 (and throw in 2003 while we're at it) was absolutely incredible. During that run, Brown won the ERA crown twice: in 1996 and 2000. Both times he just barely lost out on the Cy Young. In 1996, he finished second to Atlanta's John Smotlz (understandably- the Braves had won the pennant and the Marlins finished below .500). But Brown had the highest pitcher WAR in the National League in 1996 and arguably deserved a Cy Young. In 2000, Brown finished second in pitcher WAR to Randy Johnson but finished sixth in Cy Young balloting- probably because the Dodgers failed to make the playoffs. Brown got Cy Young consideration in 1998- he placed third even though he was first in pitcher WAR. He should have gotten Cy consideration in 1997 as well (especially after the Marlins won the World Series) but he got none despite finishing third in pitcher WAR, fifth in ERA and fifth in strikeouts.
Brown's case is a simple question of whether or not you believe that WAR is a viable way to select Hall of Fame candidates. Clearly, people who favor traditional metrics are more likely to vote against Brown, but he even has a case based on traditional merits (two ERA titles, decent rate stats and a really fantastic peak). Unfortunately, Brown will be fighting for a position on the ballot, let alone a spot in Cooperstown.
8) Edgar Martinez: I like the DH. So sue me. Forgive me for thinking that pitchers can't hit at all and that bunting isn't really exciting if everyone in the ballpark knows it's going to happen. Tactics be damned, a six year old knows that you bunt with the pitcher if there's a guy on base and that you walk the 8 hitter to get to him when you really need an out, and I fail to see how pinch-hitting late in a game is exciting. Really, getting a real hitter in to replace the pitcher excites NL fans? AL teams just leave the real hitter in: it saves time and energy, not to mention the pinch hitters are often better than the bench players used in the NL. It also means you can put the player with the stone glove on the bench while other, more exciting players play the field. Do Cards fans really want to see Lance Berkman lumbering around the outfield next year? Was watching Adam Dunn "play" left field really worth it to the Reds and Nationals?
This brings me to Edgar Martinez. Everyone always seems to trot out the same excuse with Martinez every time someone mentions his Hall of Fame candidacy. The excuse always involves some sort of whining about how DH's only play half the game. Frankly, it's garbage. Why do fans give more credit to players like Mark McGuire (terrible fielder but superb hitter) and then pan Martinez (superb hitter and terrible fielder that his team kept out of the field). What was Martinez supposed to do? Demand that Seattle play him at first or third every day (even though he was terrible at non-hitting related activities)? Funny, I thought Hall of Famers were supposed to help their teams.
Edgar Martinez hit .312/.418/.515 in over 8000 plate appearances. He is 22nd all-time in on base percentage. Martinez is tied with Roberto Alomar in career offensive WAR (at 64th) and is 71st all time in position player WAR. Martinez was a fantastic hitter who could hit for contact, get on base and hit for power. And yet because his manager had the common sense to keep him away from the glove he won't sniff the Hall.
Just Missed: Tim Raines (I'm open to his case, but I just don't see enough right now), Rafael Palmerio (even leaving aside steroids, he looks way too much like Fred McGriff- except that Palmerio has gained entry to the 500 and 3000 Clubs), and Larry Walker (too scared of Coors, but I'll probably revisit this one in the foreseeable future).