John Lepore | January 2nd, 2020
As members of the BBWAA deliberate individually over whose name they will put that check next to, debates abound on social media. Each year we attempt to look back to evaluate and decide who should join the greats in the hallowed halls in Cooperstown, NY. I don’t have a vote, but if I did, here are the players that would get my check.
I would like to preface this article by saying there are more than 10 players, in my opinion, that deserve to be inducted. My ballot reflects that, and I am strategically voting for certain players.
Barry Bonds – His numbers are truly ridiculous. Bonds is simply one of the greatest players ever. He is the all-time leader in HRs (762) and walks (2,558). In an eight-year stretch from 1987-1994, his first eight full seasons, he averaged 30 HRs and 30 SBs with a slash of .291/.400/.549. In that time he won three MVP awards, five Gold Gloves and put up 62.9 rWAR. I get the steroid argument from a character issue standpoint. I don’t agree with it, but that’s for another article. The people who irk me are the ones that say Bonds wouldn’t be a HOFer without steroids. Although the impact of PEDs on performance cannot be accurately quantified, I’ll concede some production. Let’s try an exercise, and let me say, I believe PEDs have much less impact than what will be allowed in this equation. If you took away a third of Bonds’s counting stats in his career and dropped his rate stats by 10% he would still have 508 HRs, 343 SBs, 1,331 RBI, and 1,485 Runs and he would have a slash of .268/.400/.547. That .947 OPS he is left with would be tied for 20th all-time with Mel Ott and his 164 OPS+ would rank 11th right behind Ty Cobb at 168. In other words, if you think Bonds is only a HOFer because of steroids, you don’t know baseball. More on Bonds here.
Roger Clemens – The Rocket was simply one of the best pitchers ever. Basically the pitching version of Bonds. His seven CYAs match Bonds’s seven MVPs. The argument again is steroids so let’s try the same exercise with Clemens. Let’s take away a third of his counting stats and 10% of his rate stats. The Rocket still has a 3.43 ERA, 236 Wins, 1.29 WHIP, and 3,115 strikeouts. His 129 ERA+ would be tied with Justin Verlander for 28th all-time among pitchers with more than 2,000 IP. Again, if you think Clemens is a HOFer strictly because of steroids, baseball isn’t for you. More on Clemens here.
Andruw Jones – Jones is one of only four players with 400 career HRs and 10 Gold Gloves. The others are Mike Schmidt, Ken Griffey Jr., and Willie Mays. Jones is the greatest fielding center fielder of all-time. If we talk about defense being a big part of a player getting into the Hall then his defense certainly checks that box. His hitting was good with a career wOBA of .352 and a wRC+ of 111 and that warrants induction. I wrote more on Jones here.
Jeff Kent – He hit the most HRs of any second baseman in MLB history. He is second in ISO all-time among second basemen with a .210 (Rogers Hornsby). His defense was about average during his prime and fell off later in his career. His peak was as good as any second baseman in history. For a nine-year stretch from 1997-2005 Kent slashed .296/.365/.529 and averaged 94 Runs, 110 RBI, and 28 HRs even throwing in eight SBs a year. He’s waited long enough. More on Kent here.
Scott Rolen – He is a top-10 third baseman of all-time. I personally have him eighth behind:
…and I could honestly put him as high as five as he was a better hitter than Robinson and a better fielder than Jones. Check out his comparison to Beltre, who is likely a first-ballot HOFer, and you may be surprised.
Curt Schilling – The only pitcher in history to have a 5/1 K/BB rate in seven seasons. The bloody sock moment also just adds to his incredible postseason resume. Schilling started 19 games in his postseason career and had as many losses (2) as shutouts and a 2.23 ERA with a WHIP of 0.968. As for his regular-season stats, Schilling had a 3.46 ERA (3.23 FIP), a 1.137 WHIP, and 3,116 strikeouts. His political views have been what has kept him out. Agree or not, that is a ridiculous reason to deny the big righty induction. More on Schilling here.
Gary Sheffield – One of the most feared hitters ever. Sheff had over 1,600 Runs and over 1,600 RBI. He had 509 HRs and slashed an impressive .292/.393/.514 while walking more than he struck out. Sheffield also chipped in 253 SBs and had a 140 OPS+. Again the steroid issue comes into play, but he was extremely consistent throughout his career as he didn’t have a season with a sub-.870 OPS for a 12-year stretch from 1994-2005. More on Sheff here.
Billy Wagner – The short lefty was the second-best closer in the history of baseball. His regular-season stats match the great Mariano’s
There is no doubt Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time, but when you can match his stats for over 900 IP then there is at least an argument. Wagner deserves to be in simply on sustained dominance and being the best left-handed reliever the game has seen so far. More on Wagner here.
Larry Walker – Coors Field did not make Larry a great player. He was incredible regardless of where he played due to his all-around game. I really don’t know why Walker has had to wait until his final year of eligibility. He had 2,690 PAs with the Montreal Expos before he turned 28. In that time, he slashed .281/.357/.483 with a 162-game average of 24/24 with 89 Runs and 93 RBI with a 128 OPS+. He was well on his way to a HOF career having already established himself as a premier right fielder even before his prime. The “Coors effect” did not help him win five more GGs (he won two in Montreal) nor did it help him swipe 124 bags (he had 230 for his career). Do the right thing and get him in. More on Walker here.
Bobby Abreu – The man was about as consistent as they come. He played in at least 150 games each season from 1998-2010. In that time he slashed .297/.402/.492 with 273 HRs and 365 SBs. He also had 1,335 Runs and 1,238 RBI. When you add in over 2,200 hits, 513 doubles, and an OPS+ of 132, there is no reason for Abreu not to be in. Although he wasn’t a great fielder, his consistency, plate discipline, and power/speed combo should get him in. I give him my vote because I think he may struggle to get the required 5% to stay on the ballot along with believing he is a HOFer.
You may have noticed I’m not voting for Derek Jeter. That is simply due to the fact that he doesn’t need my vote. He will get in anyway and deservedly so. I also didn’t vote for Todd Helton or Manny Ramirez who I believe should be in. With the glut of deserving players, there needs to be a strategic vote. Abreu needs help staying on the ballot and deserves a second look from the voters. Helton is in his second year on the ballot and had over 16% last year which gives me confidence he can stick. Ramirez is in his fourth year and had 22.8% last year which also bodes well for at least sticking around. More on Helton and Ramirez.
A few players that just miss the cut for me are Omar Vizquel, Sammy Sosa, and Andy Pettitte.
Vizquel was a great defensive shortstop, but let’s not pretend he was Ozzie Smith. He wasn’t nearly the player Ozzie was. While I agree that defense is a big part of the game, Omar’s offense was just not good especially in an environment that was conducive to offense. Also, if you think Vizquel should be in but not Jones and Rolen, your logic is flawed.
Sosa made his historic run with McGwire back in 1998. He has the PED cloud hanging over his head also. While that doesn’t hold any weight with me, his career body of work is borderline. His peak (1998-2002) was excellent but short-lived. Outside of that five-year stretch, he was a slightly above-average hitter (108 OPS+), average fielder (pretty good early, not very good later), and despite the SBs, not a very good baserunner (200 SBs but thrown out 84 times). How much you value those peak seasons will determine if you think he is a HOFer. For me, he doesn’t quite cut it.
Andy Pettitte was good for a long time on a good team. He was never dominant or even close. While I value consistency, Pettitte was consistently just good and maybe if he had a shortstop with better range he could’ve avoided the subpar H/9 (9.4). His career stats aren’t really convincing:
The playoff record may win some voters over, but his resume just doesn’t quite get there for me.
For more in-depth HOF cases, go check out cooperstowncred.com. Chris does some great work there.
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