Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lattanzi Land 2012 Hall of Fame Ballot

Every year the Baseball Writers Association of America has the opportunity to put retired or deceased players into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. The rules for election require that a player needs to be named on seventy-five percent of all submitted ballots. He can remain on the ballot if he does not gain election for up to fifteen years, provided that the player has received at least five percent of the ballots. I have written about changing this process but this is the system we have.

I did a full ballot for last year's vote, discussing which players I felt deserved Hall of Fame election if I actually had a BBWAA vote; I don’t obviously, but this isn’t stopping me from sharing my opinion on the issue. Just as last year, I am separating into four categories – 1) HELL-No, 2) No, 3) Borderline, and 4) Yes.  The first two involve merely the lists of the players (there are 27 players on the ballot for this year), and the latter two involve explanations. What I am doing for the players who were on the ballot last year is excerpting what I wrote last time along with any kind of notes that should have been added since then.

If you want to look up stats - go here - the Baseball-Reference complete ballot, with links to each player's page.  When I cite stats, I use Baseball-Reference's plethora.  We begin the ballot after the jump...

The HELL-No Class - these guys are only on the ballot because they met the bare-minimum requirements to be on it, i.e. they played for ten years and have been retired for five. Every group will be done alphabetically, so there is no bias or hint as to who is favored over the others.

Brian Jordan
Javy Lopez
Bill Mueller
Terry Mulholland
Phil Nevin
Brad Radke
Tony Womack
Eric Young

All of these guys had a couple of seasons here and there that were decent, but none of these guys could even be considered toward the top of their position even in their own era, never mind of all time.

The No Class – the ones who had nice careers but just aren’t Hall-worthy for various reasons.

Jeromy Burnitz
Vinny Castilla
Tim Salmon
Ruben Sierra
Lee Smith

These players are a step above the “HELL No” group in that they all had nice careers; some may even get some vocal support for the Hall, but a complete look into their careers shows they are just short of what it takes to get into Cooperstown. The other primary difference between this group and the first one is I would raise an eyebrow if any of these guys got in. I would be INSULTED if any of the first group got in. There are a few that were in this particular class of player last time, but I moved up into the Borderline status – mostly because I want to address their merits rather than just shove them onto a list, especially ones that have a noisy and vocal minority agitating for their election to the Hall of Fame. I want to do the “new” Borderline players first (i.e. the ones I didn’t cover last year), and then get to the Yes players.

Juan Gonzalez – he was lucky to have stayed on the ballot at all, gaining just 5.2% of the vote last year (need five percent to stay on the ballot). He was a nice player, and a feared hitter. That fear won him two MVP awards (1996 and 1998). He hit over four hundred home runs (hitting over 40 five different times), scored and drove in over one-thousand (1,061 R – 1,404 RBI). His OPS was a career .904 with an OPS+ of 132. But there are three main problems with his candidacy: 1) His high-powered numbers didn't last long enough – and because he played in an era of offensive firepower, this doesn’t boost him like it did Jim Rice. 2) He was a one-dimensional player – he wasn’t so dominant that we can overlook this aspect. 3) He is a suspected steroid user – now, for me, this will never be a reason to deny people entry, but do not be surprised if he fails to tally even the meager five percent required to stay on the ballot. Verdict: No.

Don Mattingly – like Gonzalez, he had hit the one-thousand milestone in runs and RBI (1,007 R – 1,099 RBI), and while he is a beloved figure in Yankee lore, there seems to be too much of the blinders being put on by the Yankee faithful with regard to him. Let’s face it, Mattingly is not even in the same class as a Fred McGriff or a Mark McGwire (both of whom I would not vote in), and he had better contemporaries who will not get into the Hall either (Dale Murphy). Mattingly was a good and solid player for about eight to ten years. With the exception of 1984-86, there just isn’t enough to put him in. Hall of Very Good, perhaps? I am not even sure about that. Like I said above, there are much better players who won’t be making it into Cooperstown. It’s for the very best, and Mattingly doesn’t hit that criterion. Verdict: No.

Alan Trammell – Trammell is a tough one, because in our recent offensive-fueled era, he was on the downside of his career when it started, so his numbers aren’t going to be flashy by any stretch. A deeper inspection finds Trammell’s numbers to be a series of peaks and valleys without a lot of consistency to them. He was a very good fielder (four Gold Gloves) and added a lot of value to his teams (5.0 WAR or better six different times), but is it enough for the Hall of Fame? Verdict: No.

Larry Walker – he is an interesting case for the reason that he was a good player who became a great player, potentially due to pre-humidor Coors Field in Denver. He was always a good all-around player no matter where he went (seven Gold Gloves, three Top-Ten MVP finishes), but it wasn’t until he went to the Rockies that his numbers really took off. Some of them are absolutely jaw-dropping, like his 1997 and 1999 stat lines…observe (click to enlarge):

He has a career OPS of .965 (OPS+ of 140), with five full seasons of over 1.000 OPS. His career OBP of .400 is nothing at which to sneeze. He has three batting titles, a career BA of .313 and over 1,300 runs scored and driven in. But I just can’t get past the gnawing feeling that it is somehow cheapened by both the place he played and the era in which he played. In some ways, he is in the same class as Juan Gonzalez, although he was a much, MUCH better player than Gonzalez. I do not exactly fit into Joe Posnanski's criticism of the BBWAA as an attempt to be a ‘gatekeeper’ of the Hall of Fame, but I am sympathetic to the notion that Cooperstown ought to be for the best. Walker – Hall of Very Good, even above guys like Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff, but not Hall of Fame. Verdict: An extremely long considered No.

Bernie Williams – a linchpin of the great Yankee dynasty of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, there is a lot of like about what Williams did – he hit .300 or better for eight straight seasons (1995-2002), won a batting title (1998) scored 100 runs eight times (including seven straight seasons), drove in 100 runs five times, and four Gold Gloves as a center fielder. It’s interesting because in some ways, Williams is the ‘forgotten man’ of the dynasty in which people like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are forever praised and worshipped. Williams played well without a lot of the glamour that accompanied the others. He was the number three hitter in a lineup that didn’t have a lot of big boppers, but would beat teams into submission with a barrage of hits. That being said, two things work against him: 1) he was never really the most valuable player even on his team. He had five seasons of at least a 5.0 WAR (and a sixth at 4.9), but those were almost always dwarfed by Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, or someone else. 2) He had a precipitous drop off after 2002. So in reality, he had eight good to very good seasons. There is nothing that blows the mind in his numbers, and I am of the belief that postseason success shouldn’t guarantee a nod (his ALCS numbers are much better than his World Series numbers, by the way). A good and solid player, but not a Hall of Famer. Verdict: No.

Now I want to do the rest of the Borderline No's – these are reprinted from last year's post on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Fred McGriff
He has some very good numbers, nearly 500 HR (493 to be exact), 1550 RBI, a .284 BA, 134 OPS+, and almost 2,500 hits. He’s a tough one to gauge, though. In a lot of ways, he mirrors Rafael Palmeiro, although he did lead the league in HR twice (1989 – AL, and 1992 – NL). The key difference between McGriff and Palmeiro is that McGriff never reached either milestone that Palmeiro did – and I would say that 3,000 hits ranks over 500 HR. The other knock against McGriff was that he was never truly a transcendent player in any way – in that era of power hitting first basemen (Bagwell, Thomas, McGwire, and so forth), it would be hard to even consider him a top five player in his own position. Verdict: No. Hall of Very Good? Yes, just not Hall of Fame.
Mark McGwire
This is another one people will argue over until the cows come home, mostly over his denial and apology of steroid usage. I think that argument misses the whole point, that McGwire was a completely one-dimensional player who could hit a baseball far. He was a transcendent player…for five seasons, 1987 and 1996-99, because he could hit a baseball far. I’ll be the first to admit that during 1998, I was transfixed to my TV whenever McGwire came up to bat. However, once the fog is removed from his 583 HR, you see that he was a .263 hitter that had only 1,626 hits in his career (36% of his hits were HR) and was a defensive liability that was only great for five seasons and good for two, maybe three others. He did have an OPS+ of 162 for his career, which is twelfth all-time. He had only seven seasons driving in 100 runs, which is actually one less than Fred McGriff had. For a guy who was on base nearly 40% of the time (career .394 OBP), he scored less than 1,200 runs. Keep in mind that he scored half the time on his own hits. You put all of this together and it just doesn’t add up. Mark McGwire brought a lot of thrills to a lot of people for a while, but it just doesn’t make him Hall-worthy. Verdict: No.
Jack Morris
There hasn’t been a player that has evoked more passion in favor of a candidacy than Jack Morris. I understand why – he won 254 games, was an ace pitcher on some championship teams (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, and 1992 Blue Jays), and pitched one of the most iconic games of all time – Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, a 10-inning shutout to win it all. One moment makes not a Hall of Fame career, although I wonder sometimes with Bill Mazeroski getting in (he was a Veterans’ Committee selection, though). Ok, numbers – he never had a season below a 3.00 ERA. His ERA+ was only 105, and this was in a fairly depressed offensive era, the 80’s, when speed was the commodity teams were after. In other words, one moment tends to make Morris an incredibly overrated pitcher. His WHIP was pretty high year after year and he threw a lot of wild pitches. His reputation as a ‘big game pitcher’ and as a durable one tends to put weight behind his candidacy, but the perception doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny. Good pitcher for a long time and even great at times, but not enough to get in. Verdict: No.
Dale Murphy
This is actually a simple one, and I was debating whether to put him in the ‘No’ category or borderline category. Therefore, you can pretty much figure out how this is going to go. Murphy was great for about six seasons (1982-87), winning two HR titles and driving in 100 runs five times and scoring 100 runs four times. He won five Gold Gloves and two MVP awards. I think it is that last one that moves him to borderline. What separates him from, say, Juan Gonzalez is the era and the defense. Murph was a converted catcher who became a good outfielder. He keeps hanging around the ballot with between ten and twenty percent of the vote. I would guess he will be on it for all fifteen years (this is year 13). Nice player, nice man, but not a Hall of Famer, although he was one of the subjects of John Kruk’s more famous quips about how the 1991 Phillies consisted of ‘twenty-four morons and a Mormon’. Verdict: No.
Now we move on to those who get my Yes votes – they are unequivocal yeses and unlike last year, there are no “Borderline Yes” votes. They are all holdovers from last year’s ballot – there are no first ballot Hall of Famers this year for my fictitious ballot.

Jeff Bagwell
It’s amazing that people are even debating this. There is no group who is more sanctimonious about protecting their institutions than baseball writers. There are a few good ones, but a lot of the old-timers are coming out against Bagwell because of what is essentially guilt-by-association. Ok, so he played in the 90’s. It’s quite a jump to suggest that, without proof I might add, he used steroids. Let’s look at the numbers, which I believe, speak for themselves - .297 BA, .408 OBP, 149 OPS+, 449 HR, 1,529 RBI, 1,517 runs scored, and 1401 walks. At any point in his career, he had led the league in runs, doubles, RBI, HR, Walks, Slugging. He had five years of 1.000+ OPS, won an MVP, a Gold Glove, played above replacement level defense, and did this on a horrendous playing surface for most of his career in a pitcher’s park (The Astrodome). People want to rip on this because of insinuations that he could have been on steroids. Give me a break.
One year later, this is still angering me immensely. There is no reason as to why Bagwell shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, but just as Joe Posnanski said in his post linked above, the notion of being a ‘gatekeeper’ and keeping a ritually clean Hall of Fame overwhelms any sense of reason and duty. It’s aggravating and hopefully they do Bagwell right.

Barry Larkin
Larkin’s career is an interesting one. He played more than 150 games just four times. He also won an MVP, three Gold Gloves, and was a twelve-time All-Star. He hit .295 in his career with close to 1,000 RBI and over 1,300 runs scored. This is his second year on the ballot (he received close to 52% of the vote last year – 2011 balloting – J.L.). I think much has to be considered that he played shortstop (at least the first half of his career) in an era when that position was not considered a productive one, at least offensively.
Before you crap on me for including Larkin and not Trammell, Larkin had to play in the tougher National League and had a higher WAR than Trammell for his career while playing in one-hundred less games. He had more runs scored and about the same amount of hits (2,340 for Larkin – 2,365 for Trammell). A higher career OPS and BA and an MVP also push Larkin over the top while leaving Trammell short of the prize. Larkin received 62.1% of the vote last year and he could potentially get the call this year, if trends continue.

Edgar Martinez
The argument against Martinez is a pretty valid one: he was almost exclusively a designated hitter, a position that I loathe with every ounce of my existence. What gets ignored in that part, though, is that when he was a fielder, he was decent. The last two years he was a full-time 3B had him playing above replacement level defense. So, I think had he played defense for most of his career, it could not be held against him. On to his offense – for a 14-season period (1990-2003), Martinez had an OPS+ of 153. So even in an offensively stacked era, he was posting an OPS that was 53% better than league average. That’s mind-boggling. What else? Two batting titles, 500+ doubles, a .312 career batting average, five seasons of 1.000+ OPS. Others may have their hang ups about a DH in the Hall of Fame, but don’t count me in that.
Also factor in the pitching friendly parks (or at the very least neutral parks) in which Martinez has played – The Kingdome and Safeco Field. Look at Park Factors for Seattle vs. Denver (one of the arguments against Larry Walker). Put Martinez in Walker’s shoes, and he may have hit .400.

Rafael Palmeiro
I’m sure this will be a controversial pick. Yes, he tested positive for steroids, and he has also denied that he took them (knowingly or not). Ok, that is out of the way now. The big knocks against Palmeiro are these: he never won an MVP and he never led the league in any power category. Both of these are true, and yet the numbers overall don’t lie – it’s indeed hard to ignore the 500 HR-3,000 hit combination, no matter how much one tries. His OPS+ was 132 for his career and for the most part he was a plus defender. I think there are people who would like just to eliminate the entirety of the past twenty years of baseball. This cannot be done. The era has to be judged on its merits whether they like it or not.
Tim Raines
He spent his career in the shadow of Rickey Henderson, unfortunately, which masked what a great leadoff man Raines was. He led the National League in stolen bases four times, in runs twice, and showed a surprising amount of power for a man hitting at the top of the lineup. His OBP always hovered around .400 and he always walked more than he struck out. I think that Raines may be neglected again, as he has been for the past three years, but given what he did in the era in which he did it, he was definitely the premier leadoff man of the NL, and would have the best, save for Rickey Henderson.
Five players would make it in on my (fictitious) BBWAA ballot. The next 2-3 years will have an incredible glut of talent coming into first-time eligibility. It may get incredibly ugly with some of the 'gatekeeping' tendencies rearing their ugly head. It's not a battle I am necessarily looking for.

But until then, we shall see.

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