Monday, January 6, 2014

Lattanzi Land 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

Every year the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) 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 have done ballots for the past three years (2011, 2012, 2013); no, I don't possess a BBWAA ballot, but this is how I would vote if I did.

There are thirty-six men on the ballot this year, and we have never seen this kind of jam-packed potential Hall of Fame class.  At least, if the idiot gatekeepers who make up a large amount of the BBWAA writer-voters actually did their jobs without passion or prejudice. There is a plethora of returning members of the ballot - one only needs five percent to remain on the ballot (as stated in the preface), although that did not seem to be enough to keep good players like Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton on it, to the eternal shame of the BBWAA voters.  Thus, there are nineteen new names on the ballot, and they range from laughable to worthy of consideration to what-are-you-thinking-NOT-voting-for-that-guy?

As always, I divide my ballot here at Lattanzi Land into four categories:

1) HELL-No.
2) No
3) Borderline No
4) Yes

If you are looking for stats - GO HERE - this is the Baseball-Reference complete Hall of Fame Ballot, complete with the breakdown of numbers for each player on it.  There are also links to each player's page. When I mention stats, I use the numbers from Baseball-Reference. The ballot begins 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.

Armando Benitez
Sean Casey
Eric Gagne
Jacque Jones
Todd Jones
Paul Lo Duca
Hideo Nomo
Richie Sexson
JT Snow
Mike Timlin

These players may have even had a nice season or two, but no one is ever going to remember any of these guys for their dominance in any capacity.

The No Class - these players all had nice careers and even a singular very good season, but they just aren't Hall-worthy for various reasons.

Ray Durham
Kenny Rogers
Lee Smith (12th year on the ballot)

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.

We move on to the other "No" votes, but these players are all "Borderline No" votes. While they are "No" on the fictitious Hall of Fame ballot, I take the time to look at and judge the merits of why they are not ultimately Hall-worthy. We will start with the new names, and then get back to previous names on the ballot who are still, in my estimation, a "Borderline No".

Moises Alou - At first glance, I was going to place him in the "No Class", but as always, the numbers need to be looked at a little more deeply. Alou had a nice career, with a .303 career batting average, .885 OPS (128 OPS+), 332 HR, close to 1300 RBI, and three top-ten MVP finishes. Certainly worthy of consideration rather than an out-of-hand dismissal. But… (And you knew there would be one!)…let’s consider the lack of dominance on his part. There were only two seasons when Alou finished with a WAR above 4.0. He was very rarely even the best player on his own team (which is not the same as saying Lou Gehrig was rarely the best player on his own team), and this was during an offensively explosive era. He is probably worthy of a spot in the Hall of Very Good, but as I have always maintained, the Hall of Fame is for the best.

Luis Gonzalez – his numbers are similar to Alou’s, although if you take out the five-year stretch from 1999-2003, what you have is a middling type of player. There have been quite a few players who have had five year stretches like Gonzalez who didn’t get in to the Hall of Fame, and to be fair, that stretch is skewed by the crazy 2001 season, when Gonzalez hit 57 HR and drove in 142. If one is to be a stat compiler, it would behoove the player to reach certain milestones, such as 3,000 hits or 500 HR. Gonzalez did neither and would be a borderline Hall of Very Good candidate. I considered him here because he did have close to 2600 hits and over 1400 RBIs and 1400 runs.

Jeff Kent – he is the toughest one to consider out of the first-time members on the ballot. Let’s consider the numbers…

.290 Average
377 Homers
2500+ Hits
1500+ RBI
1300+ Runs
560 Doubles
Eight straight seasons of .500 slugging
MVP Award (2000)

Those are impressive numbers, to say the least.

Three seasons of 5+ WAR and a 55 career WAR are a little low, though, less than Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire (both of whom I wouldn’t put in the Hall either). In my family Kent is known for two things – “washing his truck”, and ragging on my father for insisting that Chase Utley was going to be as good a fielder as Kent, which is to say, not good at all. The other big thing that takes Kent out of the running (in my opinion) is that he was a late bloomer who had 8-9 good or very good seasons. There was nothing “WOW!” about Kent’s career, although being a second baseman pushes his case closer to Cooperstown. If the voters want to put him in the Hall, I wouldn’t be offended, although if it were up to me, he wouldn’t go in.

Curt Schilling (From the 2013 Ballot)
This is a tough one, and in many ways he has a much better case to be made than Jack Morris (who I also think should not get in) for going to Cooperstown.  Some of the case against him is the result of circumstances beyond his control (i.e. playing for bad teams early on, injuries, and generally being a late bloomer), but part of the issue is that many people are making the case for him on the basis of a few isolated postseason heroics (1993, 2001, 2004), which ironically, is the case people make for putting Morris in the Hall of Fame as well.  Schilling won twenty or more games three times and had an ERA+ of 127 in an offensive era, while being completely dominant at times - leading the league in strikeouts a couple of times.  What brings him down is the fact that he had only five really good seasons and two more decent seasons.  He was a horse and a very good pitcher on a couple of championship teams, but his case is ultimately Hall of Very Good rather than Hall of Fame.
Don Mattingly (From the 2012 Ballot)
He 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.
Alan Trammell (From the 2012 Ballot)
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?
Larry Walker (From the 2012 Ballot)
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.
Fred McGriff (From the 2011 Ballot)
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.
Mark McGwire (From the 2011 Ballot)
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.
Jack Morris (From the 2011 Ballot)
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.
This is Morris' final year on the ballot. He received close to 68% of the vote - I suspect we will see close to 75% for him in the name of "a better time", which is code for "Morris didn't play in an era of CHEATERS!!! and he is soooooo clutch!!!" It makes me sick, but it is what it is (to use the cliché) and it would render the BBWAA even more irrelevant than it already is.

Now we move on to the Yes votes. These are all unequivocally yes. There are no borderline yes votes (as I did the first time around). The BBWAA rules only allow ten names on the ballot, but there are more than ten worthy men here, so I am going to name all the players who are deserving of induction to Cooperstown, beginning with the new ones.

Tom Glavine - it is easy because he hit an important benchmark for pitchers: 300 wins. I like Sabermetrics, but I still recognize that certain statistical accomplishments matter, especially in the age of more careful watching of pitchers' workloads and the like. Glavine won two Cy Young Awards, won twenty or more games five different times and had over an 80 WAR for his career. The big knocks against Glavine during his career were that he was never really a dominant pitcher like some of his peers and he was (allegedly) the beneficiary of a generous strike zone. Not many could paint the corners of a strike zone quite like Glavine, though, and he was a mainstay of that great Atlanta rotation for many years.

Greg Maddux - let's look at some numbers here:

355 Wins
4 Cy Young Awards (consecutively, no less - 1992-95)
3378 Strikeouts
9 Seasons of sub-3 ERA
106.8 WAR
11 seasons of 5+ WAR (All-Star)
18 Gold Gloves

Maddux was a lot more dominant than his long-time teammate Tom Glavine, although Glavine won 20 games more frequently (Maddux did so twice).  There was a stretch of time (from 1992-98) when most teams looked helpless against Maddux. And...let's not forgot, he didn't ever do any of this with overpowering stuff. Greg Maddux has a case to be made that he may be the greatest pitcher of all time.

Mike Mussina - many will look at the fact that had *only* 270 wins and *only* one twenty-win season and *no* Cy Young Awards and decide he isn't worthy of Hall consideration. I think that is wrong. In fact, Mussina's biggest hurdle is probably the fact that he pitched in the American League rather than the National League for the entirety of his career. And aside from the wins, Mussina actually had a better career than Tom Glavine. Let the facts speak for themselves (click to enlarge):

Mussina is better in almost everything, and even the ERA is inflated due to American League hitting, but a look at Adjusted ERA (ERA+) shows that he was better than league average at a higher clip than Tom Glavine. Keep in mind also that Glavine started ~150 more games than Mussina, so had Mussina continued to win at his career norms (a possibility) with 150 more starts, he'd be sitting close to 335-340 wins, which would have made him an instant first ballot Hall of Famer. I would be surprised, though, if he got even 40% of the vote, which is a travesty, considering that Jack Morris (a vastly inferior pitcher) is on the doorstep.

Mike Piazza - I wrote the following last year:
This is a tough one, because he does lead some of the categories for catchers on offense, but in a generally offensively explosive era.  This may be one that I may reconsider in the future, but on the surface at present, he doesn't strike me as quite a Hall of Famer. Part of it is something similar to Lofton, in the sense of not good enough long enough, but he was dominant in many ways.  He had an OPS of 1.000 or better four different times, which is quite phenomenal for a catcher.  However, what turns the case (in my view it is important), that he was a so-so catcher, throwing base-stealers at a below-average rate (23% for his career - league average was 31%) and allowing an inordinate amount of passed balls.  A good rule of thumb for a one-dimensional player is that he has to be so overwhelmingly dominant to get in. Piazza doesn't quite pass that test, and thus is on the outside looking in.
I was wrong. Mike Piazza deserves to go to the Hall of Fame. I feel kind of foolish re-reading the above. Part of what convinced me was his catching and how while he wasn't the most optimal at throwing out base-stealers, his handling of the pitching staffs was very underrated, and a second look at his offensive numbers (especially as a catcher) cause me to reverse my thought on him.

Frank Thomas - with a nickname like "The Big Hurt", he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer anyway, but let's look at numbers, some of which are in the top 25 of all time:

2 MVP Awards and 9 Top-Ten finishes
521 HR (18th All-Time)
1704 RBI (22nd All-Time)
1494 Runs
1667 Walks (10th All Time)
.301 BA
.419 OBP (20th All-Time)
.555 Slugging (22nd All-Time)
.974 OPS (14th All-Time)
156 OPS+ (20th All-Time)
7 Seasons with 1.000 OPS or better
8 Seasons with 5.0+ WAR
9 Seasons with 30+ HR
9 Seasons with 100+ Runs
11 Seasons with 100+ RBIs

And the best reason - I had a poster of him above my bed for five years, with him in outer space hitting the Earth like a baseball.

Here are the holdovers (who all should be in Cooperstown already):

Craig Biggio (From the 2013 Ballot)
There are twenty-eight players in the history of Major League Baseball who have made the milestone of 3,000 hits. Biggio is one of them. In my book, that is as close to an automatic bid as you will get (300 wins for a pitcher is the other - and yes, I am aware of my sabermetric leanings that normally make me anti-win). However, let's look at what else he accomplished. He is fifth all-time in doubles, he stole 414 bases - pretty damn good for a converted catcher! He scored 100 or more runs eight times. He had a 125 OPS+ in the ten years he played in the Astrodome, which is no small feat. Throw in three Gold Gloves, and you have a pretty good case for Cooperstown.
Barry Bonds (From the 2013 Ballot)
You knew this was coming, right? Let's just get this out of the way. If you think that Bonds should be kept out of the Hall of Fame because he may or may not have used performance enhancing drugs, please spare me your selective moral outrage. I honestly don't give a damn. We can talk about morals 'til the cows come home, but the fact remains that it wasn't against the rules, just as amphetamines weren't against the rules in the so-called "Golden Age of Baseball" about which infantile idiots like Bob Costas love to bloviate. Apparently, Bonds is a criminal of the highest order, but drunks like Mickey Mantle and scores of amphetamine users get a pass (nay, are glorified). Right. Nothing to see there. Let's get this straight - no steroid will ever help a player hit the ball better. It won't help them make better contact. Merely taking it actually doesn't help a player in the same fashion that taking, say, amphetamines would. And yet, we have alleged sportswriters submitting blank ballots in "protest" of the "Steroid Era" (so-called). It just makes me very tired arguing against people who will not be consistent in their outrage over alleged wrongdoings.
Now, to the case for Barry Bonds. I present without comment the following career numbers:
OBP - .444 (6th All Time)
Slugging - .607 (6th All Time)
Runs - 2,227 (3rd All Time)
Total Bases - 5,976 (4th All Time)
Home Runs - 762 (Most All Time)
RBI - 1,996 (4th All Time)
Walks - 2,558 (Most All Time)
OPS+ - 182 (3rd All Time)
WAR - 158.1 (3rd All Time)
Gold Gloves - 8
MVP's - 7 (Most All Time)
Throw in the fact that he was also the most dominant hitter in a generation and inspired fear that had never been seen before and will never be seen again. Really, 120 intentional walks in a season?? Intentionally walked with the bases loaded??
I didn't even mention the 30-30 and 40-40 seasons, or the 73 homers, or the 232 walks in a single season. Or the THIRTEEN STRAIGHT SEASONS of 1.000 or better OPS. Or the batting titles. Or the mere fact that he was the best all-around baseball player of an entire generation.

A Hall of Fame without this man is no Hall of Fame, period, and it is not a place I would want to visit. The "Gatekeepers" say that putting in Bonds would cheapen the Hall; they are projecting. It is they who cheapen the Hall by NOT putting in the best players, alleged warts and all. I hope they are ready and willing to strip the known cheaters (Gaylord Perry), the entire era of amphetamine users, and the players who got in against weak competition (pre-integration). Of course, they won't, because that would inconvenience their selective invective.
Roger Clemens (From the 2013 Ballot)
Another of the boogeymen of the so-called "Steroid Era" (which by the way, seems to actually get fuzzier in its definition in each passing year). He was also one of the most dominant pitchers in both his era and of all time. Let's see here. 7 Cy Young Awards, 7-time ERA leader, 6 seasons of 20 or more wins. 354 career wins, career ERA+ of 143, 4,672 strikeouts. Everything I said above concerning Bonds also applies here to Clemens. It will be a sad day when it is inevitably announced on January 9th that neither of these guys got in this year.
Sammy Sosa (From the 2013 Ballot) 
He is the forgotten man in all this, but he gets in on the strength of 8-10 WOW-type seasons. And 600+ homers, and 1600+ RBI. Yes, he struck out too much, but he was a much more well-rounded player than his great home-run counterpart, Mark McGwire. McGwire got the record in 1998, but Sosa won the MVP. 60+ homers three times? Unmatched.
Jeff Bagwell (From the 2011 Ballot)
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.
Bagwell will end up being the whipping boy and the one ultimately denied entrance to pay for the alleged sins of others. This is still angering me and it's been two years.
Edgar Martinez (From the 2011 Ballot)
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 (From the 2011 Ballot)
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.
Actually, forget Bagwell being the scapegoat, Palmeiro is the real one here. He has the numbers, but people will never forgive the finger wagging. Go ahead Gatekeepers, enjoy your amphetamine-fueled Hall of Fame.
Tim Raines (From the 2011 Ballot)
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.
Thirteen players who should  be in the Hall of Fame, and a BBWAA who ever-increases the chances of making the National Baseball Hall of Fame a complete irrelevance in our society. Sad and pathetic indeed.

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