Making sense of the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot
By ALEX PUTTERMAN
College Contributor Network
This year's Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is stuffed beyond capacity with candidates arguably deserving of enshrinement. Based on Hall of Fame precedents, somewhere between 14 and 19 candidates warrant consideration for 2015 Cooperstown class.
Of course, the Hall of Fame's rules dictate that Baseball Writers Association of America voters may vote for no more than 10 players per year. Under normal circumstances, this rule is relatively unencumbering, but with accused steroid users clogging the ballot, the limit has become a hindrance for many voters and likely cost Craig Biggio his induction last year.
It's up to voters to sort through the mess however they deem fair.
With apologies to Lee Smith and Don Mattingly, candidates who've hung around the ballot but whose credentials falls well short in my view, here are the players I would consider if I had a Hall of Fame vote, including the 10-player ballot I would submit:
Of the 19 players we'll look at, McGriff's candidacy is the least inspiring. He was a one-dimensional slugger in an era full of them. He'll likely never be a Hall of Famer and I don't think particularly deserves to be one, but 493 home runs and a 134 wRC+ earn him some consideration.
Kent is one of the top offensive second basemen of all-time. Although some of the sheen comes off his .855 OPS and 377 home runs when accounting for the offense-heavy environment he played in, a 123 wRC+ at second base is certainly Hall-worthy when coupled with solid defense. Unfortunately for Kent, he did not offer solid defense and ends up just on the wrong side of borderline.
Sosa's candidacy comes down to a single number: 609, his home-run total. Sammy had a solid peak but limited longevity and did only one thing well. Plus there's the steroid factor (more on that soon). If there were room on the ballot, he'd be borderline. Since there's not, he gets only passing consideration.
By the numbers, Sheffield looks like McGriff on steroids... oh wait. I don't get too moralistic over steroids, but I do think drug implications can bump someone off the borderline, hence why Sheffield and his 509 home runs and 141 wRC+ don't make the cut for me.
On the fence
I tend to think of Martinez and Walker similarly because they both have Hall of Fame numbers with one major caveat: For Walker it's the time he spent in high-altitude Colorado. For Martinez it's the time he spent as a designated hitter.
It's difficult to know exactly how much advantage Walker and Martinez derived from Coors Field and the DH role, respectively. Wins Above Replacement (on both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs) accounts for those factors and still deems the duo Hall-worthy, but the positional and ballpark adjustments are inexact, especially at the extremes, and have their doubters. I would likely vote for both Walker and Martinez given unlimited space but with significant reservation.
This category is unfortunate. If I had a vote, I would vote for this trio without pause, but the 10-player limit means cutting them out.
Unlike Sosa, McGwire's numbers alone place him firmly in the Hall. The first baseman ranks tied for 10th all-time (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) in OPS+ and tied for 12th in wRC+, both park- and era-adjusted measures of offensive production. Even knocking him down a couple pegs for losing time to injuries and for benefitting from PEDs, he's still a Hall of Famer to me.
Trammell has become a sabermetric darling, with a case very similar to that of fellow-shortstop Barry Larkin, who was inducted in 2012. He hit very well for a shortstop and was an excellent fielder. I don't feel too bad withholding my hypothetical vote from Trammell due to space constraints because after 13 years of receiving less than 40 percent of votes (75 percent is required for induction), he's not earning induction through the BBWAA anyway.
Smoltz may or may not be one of the 10 best players on this ballot, but it's only his first year of eligibility and he's likely to be inducted anyway, so he seemed like a reasonable guy to leave off. He's Hall-worthy with a 125 ERA+ in almost 3,500 innings pitched but also potentially a tad overrated thanks to his association with former Braves teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
Biggio fell only two votes short of induction a year ago, with several writers saying he was 11th on their ballots (and thus left off). This year, he will likely sneak in and deservedly so. He was a good player for a long time with a better prime than he sometimes gets credit for, finishing top-five in the National League in offensive WAR (per Baseball-Reference) four of five years between 1994 and 1998.
Raines was overshadowed during his career by Rickey Henderson and might suffer by comparison, but he was a Hall-of-Fame-worthy player in his own right. Few players in Raines' day were better at getting on base, and even fewer were better at stealing bases. In his eighth year on the ballot, Raines is running out of time, but with a 125 wRC+ and 808 steals over a long, productive career, there's no doubt he's Hall-of-Fame-worthy.
When Mike Mussina retired I'm not sure I instinctively pegged him as a Hall of Famer, but the stats are undeniable. He was one of the league's top pitchers throughout his career despite facing fierce American League East opposition from start to finish. He threw more innings than Smoltz with similar rate stats in a tougher division. Mussina has become somewhat of an internet cause célèbre, the next Bert Blyleven in a sense, and deserves all that support and more.
Unlike Mussina, Schilling had a high profile and marquee moments to go with Hall-worthy stats. He pitched fewer innings than Mussina or Smoltz but with a better ERA+ (127) than either. And Schilling gets substantial bonus points for his 2.23 ERA in 133.1 career postseason innings. Somehow he only received 29.2 percent of votes last year. Hopefully that figure goes up in coming elections.
Piazza got 62.2 percent of the vote last year and should be elected soon, especially as the backlog clears. He'll deserve his eventual induction, given that he's one of the greatest offensive catchers of all-time, with a record 396 home runs at the position (and 427 long-balls overall) as well as an impressive 140 wRC+ and 143 OPS+. The big bat makes up for subpar defense behind the plate.
Bagwell's extremely compelling Hall of Fame case necessitates looking past home run, hit and batting average milestones. With a .408 on-base percentage, .540 slugging percentage, 202 career stolen bases and stout defense at first-base, Bagwell was an all-around player in a way McGriff, Sheffield, Sosa and McGwire certainly weren't. He should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will hopefully get there soon.
These guys have the same exact cases. Both have all-time great numbers but allegedly began taking steroids midway through their careers, potentially allowing them to maintain their high levels of performance much longer than they otherwise could have. Both have seen their Hall of Fame percentages hover in the 35-percent range during their three years on the ballot.
There's little question Bonds and Clemens would have had Hall-worthy careers even without PEDs. In fact, they had Hall-worthy careers before PEDs. So withholding votes from them is really just taking a moral -- as opposed to pragmatic -- stand against steroids. But given all the racists and cheats and overall bad guys already in the Hall, character has clearly played little role in who has been honored.
Bonds and Clemens were cheaters no more than Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry and bad guys no more than Cap Anson and Ty Cobb. There's no reason they shouldn't be in.
Now we reach the guys everyone agrees on. Pedro submitted two of the best seasons ever pitched in 1999 and 2000 and finished his career with a 154 ERA+, best ever among starting pitchers. He'll be a well-deserving first-ballot Hall of Famer this year.
Johnson didn't become a star until age 29, then somehow became arguably the best left-handed pitcher of all-time. Over 4,000 innings pitched, a 135 ERA+, a Major League-record 10.6 K/9 rate, five Cy Young awards, etc., etc. No one is unanimous in Hall of Fame voting, but the Big Unit should be as close as they come.
Alex Putterman is a junior Journalism major at Northwestern University and sports editor of the Daily Northwestern student newspaper. He has fairly eclectic interests but loves baseball above all. Follow him on Twitter: @AlexPutt02