Just about two years ago I kicked off the Hall of Good Enough with a mock Hall of Fame ballot. Two Hall of Fame classes later and six of those ten players, Vlad Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Jim Thome were inducted and Fred McGriff dropped off the ballot after his ten years were up. That leaves three guys, two that I still have on my mock ballot and Gary Sheffield who I now have bumped out my ten, he would probably be my #12 or #13 guy.
There are no hard and fast rules for who should be a Hall of Famer but there is a character clause that is up to the discretion of individual voters, and statistical benchmarks where voters either worship the new gods of Sabermetrics or the old gods of the triple crown stats and milestones. I think the question of the character clause doesn’t necessarily mean a guy was either a nice guy or wasn’t ever implicated with PEDs, but whether the player ever betray the fans in those regards. Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) were so widespread that it is assumed that former users are already in the Hall. There are guys on my ballot that got caught, there are guys that were widely suspected and never repented. It’s impossible to not be a hypocrite in some way when picking some players and excluding others, but the statement of voting for zero suspected PED guys as a punishment to some or voting for all and no one else as a nihilistic statement that the ballot doesn’t matter if they’re on it is much more of a mockery of the game than picking and choosing.
Hall of Fame voting season has become an enjoyable way to follow the off season. Between coverage and debate on MLB Network, the Veterans Committee vote, and the tracking of Baseball Writers votes there are a lot of chances to look back at the great players of the past. This year, Derek Jeter has his first year on the ballot and will be a shoe-in, Curt Schilling fell just short last year, and Larry Walker was close and could gain a lot of votes in his last year on the ballot.
Average HOFer benchmarks
I figured it would be pretty handy to get a sense of the stats of average Hall of Famers to compare to the guys on the ballot and to supply comparable Hall of Famers to those numbers.
Perhaps the smoothest shortstop ever, according to the eye test, Vizquel crashed the post-Ripken class of great shortstops including Jeter, ARod and Nomar. He was a fixture on the great Indians team that lost to the Marlins in the ‘97 World Series. He would take risks barehanding gunning the ball to first so he wasn’t an error free fielder, but statistically speaking he was an elite SS even in his early 20’s and still had his best statistical season compared to shortstops around the league the year after his last Gold Glove Award, at the age of 40 for the Giants when he limited his errors but still had as many chances as any other time in his career. He didn’t quite have the same range, but he wasn’t taking as many risks on plays. Known as a defensive player, he still racked up 2877 hits over his 24 seasons and stole over 400 bags. His legacy will always be in his eleven Gold Gloves during an era of great shortstops.
The bias against his time playing at altitude will make Walker’s induction harder than it should. He was more than just a four-time All-Star for the Rockies, the Canadian Walker started his career in Montreal where he was an All-Star, earned MVP votes twice, won two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger and led the league in doubles in '94. It was his time in Colorado that made him a marquee player in the league, leading the league in hitting three times and home runs once. He retired with seven Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, he was a the '97 NL MVP, 383 home runs, 2160 hits, a .313 AVG, .400 OBP and .565 SLG and a WAR of 72.7 over 17 years. He was a five-time All-Star and provided a classic Mid Summer Classic moment when Randy Johnson threw a pitch over his head with the first pitch so Walker turned his helmet around and batted righty.
One of the most well rounded players of his time, Abreu had nine seasons of at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases as well as over 100 RBI in eight seasons and double digit outfield assists eight times as well. He was excellent at getting on base, getting on at a much higher rate than a batter with his AVG should expect. Never hitting more than 31 homers, he had a knack for doubles, leading the league with 50 in 2002, and also hit double digit triples in ‘99 and 2000. Abreu seemed to be a silent star, never quite a headline star, but he was a guy who would play every day, 13 seasons with 150 or more games played, and he could do everything, hit, hit for power, get on base, steal bases, field and throw.
The ghost that haunted the Moneyball A’s was the production lost when Giambi went off to the Yankees. During his time with the Yankees he made himself a face of the PED era with a 2004 admission. He ultimately endeared himself in the league again in his 40’s when he nearly became a player/manager for the Rockies. Giambi was with the A’s from ‘95 to ‘01 and the Yankees from ‘02 to ‘08 before pinch hitting and DHing with the Rockies and Indians for the last six seasons of his career. From ‘99 to ‘06 he hit 30 or more homers, and had an OBP over .400 seven out of eight seasons and had 100 or more RBI six of those seasons. The one season where he did not make any of those marks, Giambi spent half a season recovering after having a tumor removed. He was a big slugger, but he wasn't a selfish hitter, "walks are integral to the game." He would adjust his swing for the circumstances in his career. He hit for all fields in Oakland, but when he came to the Yankees he changed to a pull hitter because a ball he would hit to left center in Oakland for a homer would be an out at The Stadium. A student of hitting, he was always making adjustments to make up for whatever weakness he had. At the end of his career, he finished with 440 homers, 2010 hits, a .277 AVG and .399 OBP.
It’s kind of expected that Jeter will be only the second unanimous vote for the Hall of Fame. He was the face of baseball even though he never won a league MVP or led the league in hitting, home runs or stolen bases. He was the guy who could find the intangibles needed to win, whether it was diving into the stands at Fenway Park (although that precipitated Nomar Garciaparra being traded away and the Red Sox getting over the hump to beat the Yankees later in the ALCS and sweep the World Series), or to intercept a cutoff for a game saving play at the plate. He didn’t just become the first player with 3000 hits as a Yankee, he shattered it with 3465. The last of those hits came in his last game as a game-winning walk off in his final at bat. He was able to do a little bit of everything, kind of like a gift basket.
It was a career that late to bloom, cut short by injury but Lee had a stretch of six seasons. In his Cy Young season of 2008 Lee led the league in wins, ERA and shut outs, two years later he led the league in Complete Games with seven and WHIP, and the year after that he led the league in shut outs with six. A master of the strike zone, he led the league in Walks per 9 innings four times in six years and in 2010 he averaged 10.28 strikeouts for every walk he allowed. Over his great four year stretch Lee played for four teams and took two of those teams, the Phillies and Rangers to the World Series in back-to-back seasons, 2009 and 2010, although neither team won it all.
Third base is the position with the least members of the Hall of Fame, and Scott Rolen was a consistent hitter with a great glove from the hot corner who was able to make the All-Star Game as a member of the Phillies, Cardinals and Reds over his long career. He was not a player who landed the statistical milestones of the old gods of 3000 hits or 500 home runs, but his advanced statistics and elite glove stand out.
During his playing days Helton would be referred to as a “Future Hall of Famer” by broadcasters and that sure sounds like he passed the “eye test” for the people who watched him play. He led the league in hits (216), doubles (59), RBI (147), AVG (.372), OBP (.463), SLG (.698) and OPS (1.162) and racked up 42 dingers in 2000 yet he still finished fifth in NL MVP behind Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza and Jim Edmonds. He led the league in almost everything, but the bias against the thin air of Denver could only get him a fifth place finish. That bias looks like it’ll make things hard for him with Hall of Fame voting, when he did everything he could in the circumstances given to him, got onbase at an incredible clip over his whole career and was the leader of the Rockies for 17 years.
This is the stickiest argument there is on a Hall of Fame ballot. Bonds never failed a test, and was widely assumed to be a user of PED’s for half of his career due to his ever expanding head and monster shoulders well before anything came out about the “cream and the clear.” The thing was, he was a hall of famer in his skinny guy days as the only 400-400 player in baseball history (later, the only 500-500 player in history). He was a 40-40 player in ‘96 and 40-37 the next year. The year he hit 73 home runs he also swiped 13 bags. A Gold Glover, base stealer, a master at getting on base, an MVP, a guy with only one season with more than 49 home runs, yeah that one year was an MLB record 73, but also always a wrestling villain of a player. His PED use was part of his personality, a prickly man who refused to cooperate with the media because of how poorly his father was treated during his own playing days. He was a bit of a scrooge, refusing his likeness in video games, one game replaced his name with the name of the investigator that took down Pete Rose. Bad behavior wasn't a betrayal because he was the bad guy. Even though he broke every home run record in the book, he also shattered every record for picking up walks and intentional walks that there is. At the age of 39 he set the record for walks in a season with 232 (the record for hits in a season is 262), and his on base percentage for that season was .609. If a player has a .300 AVG, they could be expected to have an on base percentage of .360. His OPS that year was 1.422 and the OPS in his 73 home run season was 1.379. He was a muscled up monster, didn’t really try to hide how he got to that state, and although he was hitting bombs, his greatness over his career wasn’t necessarily because of how hard he was hitting the ball. These arguments could open the door for Clemens, Manny and Sosa, but something just didn’t stick right to me about Clemen’s court case, Manny’s multiple failed tests, and Sammy’s sudden loss of the english language when facing Congress. Schilling avoided suspicion, was a postseason hero, but then made an ass of himself, sullying his character. The difference with those players is that they betrayed expectations of character and Bonds had low expectations.
Wrapped up in the Clemens PED scandal, Pettitte admitted to his use, apologized to fans and implicated Clemens. He had a good guy image and when it was tarnished, he was a good guy about it. His career was hardly defined by instances of injections, he was a workhorse who won over 250 games in his career, won five World Series, won eight pennants including one with his hometown Astros and was the 2001 ALCS MVP. He went to three All-Star games, one in each decade that he played. Part of the Yankees “Core Four,” Pettitte’s 3.85 ERA is even more impressive for the incredible lineups that he faced in the AL East over all those years, for the four and five hour games against the Red Sox and that he always had to succeed as the sidekick to one or two aces on George Steinbrenner’s teams of mercenaries.
Billy Wagner, RP
27.7 WAR, 2.31 ERA, 0.998 WHIP, 1196 K (903.0 IP), 422 SV, 7 ASG
Billy Wagner defied physics. Gravity mandates that at the speed that a human can throw a baseball from a mound at 60 feet 6 inches, the ball cannot rise. All accounts are that Billy Wagner was able to defy science with his rising fastball. From his first full season in '96 to '03, Wagner was the staple of the Houston bullpen saving 30 or more games five times during that span an ERA under 2.00 twice. He ultimately finished his career with a single season with the Braves at 38 years old where he saved 37 games, had a 1.43 ERA, 13.5 strikeouts per 9 innings, and a 0.865 WHIP for what is one of the greatest age 38 seasons or final seasons for a pitcher. He finished his career with 422 saves, 2.31 ERA, 11.9 strikeouts per 9 innings, a 0.998 WHIP and was a seven-time All-Star.
The most prolific home run hitting second baseman ever, Kent was an NL MVP, seven-time MVP vote-getter, four-time Silver Slugger, five-time All-Star. He had 2461 hits, 377 home runs and a .290 average and was one of the most vocal opponents of PED use in baseball. He has not been getting much traction in Hall of Fame voting after his career. A good chunk of that lack of interest might be his mustache, or his personality, but it also might be that he broke his wrist falling off his truck while washing it... or as he later admitted, while crashing his motorcycle while doing wheelies.
Andruw Jones was a new species of center fielder. Fueled by the yellow sun of Earth, he broke into the majors when he was just 19 years old and became one of the youngest players to homer in the World Series. He finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting at 20, and at 21 he won his first of ten straight Gold Glove awards. He wasn’t just graceful, or fast or have a strong arm, or play mistake-free baseball. He made the most difficult plays look simple, he would turn after a third out catch and calmly throw the ball out of the stadium. He was superhuman in the outfield and the numbers backed him up. In ‘98 he had 20 assists and only two errors in center. The next year he had 492 putouts, and an Rtot of 36, his career high. Jones didn’t have the best batting average in his career, hitting only .254, but he did compile 1933 hits, 434 homers, hitting 30+ in seven seasons, was a Silver Slugger and went to five All-Star games.
509 career home runs, 253 stolen bases, .292 career batting average and nine time All Star. He starred as a short stop, third baseman, left fielder and right fielder. He was known for his strong throwing arm and violent swing that was thought to be the highest mile per hour swing in the league in a time before StatCast. He lead the Marlins to the 1997 World Series Championship.