Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Hall of Fame Picks

I realized Saturday morning that, despite the fact I advertise myself as being a blog about all Pittsburgh sports, its been 19 days since I lasted posted anything about the Pirates or about baseball (not counting my 2008 Pittsburgh athlete of the year column, which mentioned Nate McLouth in passing). Well, I decided I needed to post something at least sorta connected to the Pirates, but there was no way I was going to spend a few hundred words talking about Rocco Baldelli or Derrick Turnbow or Chris Gomez or anyone else the Pirates didn't sign, so had to think up something else. And while I love the baseball hot stove and the offseason and what not, I just wasn't feeling that, either, because you aren't going to come to this website for info on the baseball hot stove when you could go to one of 10,000 different baseball guys at

So, instead of that, I surfed around a few baseball websites and decided to put together my own Hall of Fame ballot. As irrelevant as this is, I love baseball history, so figured this would be fun for me.

One precursor to all this: I am a big-time stat head who relies heavily on things like OBP and SLG and OPS and other statistical measures to make my decisions. Maybe someday I will even go through and decide who I want to throw out of the Hall of Fame, but that's a mighty big project, so for now, let's just break down the Hall candidates.

So let's break this puppy down:
Rickey Henderson- The greatest leadoff hitter of all-time is a no-doubt-about-it selection to Cooperstown. Any test for a Hall of Famer you can think up, he passes. Not even worth my time to dissect this one it's so obvious.

Tim Raines- Probably the greatest Montreal Expo ever, Raines made 7 straight All-Star teams in the 80's, and is in the discussion as one of the few best leadoff hitters ever, though he's not in Rickey Henderson's class. His candidacy is hurt by the fact that he missed an awful lot of games over the years and spent the last 5 years of his career as a part-timer. Still, how he only got 24.3% of the vote last year is beyond me. He'll get in eventually, but probably won't get enough votes this year.

Bert Blyleven- Bert's been waiting over a decade to hear his name called since his initial candidacy, and he has inched closer over the past few years to the cusp. He is the ultimate argument over whether being consistently good and never great is Hall of Fame worthy. In this case, being THIS consistently good I think should get you in. The guy made just 2 All-Star teams and only had 4 top 10 appearances in the Cy Young voting despite playing 23 seasons. Still, he had ten 15 win seasons, sixteen 200 inning seasons (including 10 in a row!), twice led in innings, was top 10 in WHIP 11 times, top 10 in K/9 IP 14 times, top 10 in total strikeouts 15 times, and three times led the league in K/BB ratio. And for the statistically inclined of us, was in the top 10 in Adjust ERA+ 12 times (leading the league once). Lastly, of the 10 most similar pitchers in history, 8 are in the Hall of Fame, with Jim Kaat and Tommy John (see below) being the only two not in. And, his HOF Standard Rating is 50 which is basically the equivalent of the Hall of Fame standard. So, he's definitely a bubble guy, but I think its incredible how far up he is in many of these career measures, so he gets my vote. And also, I didn't really realize just how bad some of the teams he played for were in his career. If he had a little better luck he would have blown past 300 wins and been in the Hall a decade ago.

Mark McGwire- This one is quite obviously a very special circumstance. Really, it's the first of very many special circumstances that are on the way. McGwire gets docked heavily for his steroid use, but I just can't keep him out because of that. I mean, yeah he cheated, and he was one of the few that got caught, but there's going to be no way to know just who cheated, and to only go on the info that leaked out seems foolish to me. Big Mac's numbers are too great to ignore, and he should be in the Hall, no question about it.

Alan Trammell- When I opened up Trammell's Baseball Reference page, I went in honestly expecting to vote No for him, as I knew the hitting numbers weren't anything special. But I was swayed by the overall impression of what I saw there. He was a better hitter than I thought, with a .352 OBP for his career, 2,365 hits, a .767 OPS, and 185 home runs. For a shortstop who played mostly in the 1980's, those numbers are quite good. He was also a 6-time All-Star, showing that he was pretty highly thought of back in the day. And this is all without mentioning his best attribute, his glove. Trammell won 4 Gold Gloves and probably should have had a couple more. Only 5 players have won more Gold Gloves at shorstop. Before the likes of Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken and other heavy-hitting shorstops came along, Trammell was really the first dual-threat hitter/fielder shorstop, and unfortunately because of the incredible numbers that are now put up by today's shortstops, his numbers pale, but he was absolutely a trend-setter.

Jim Rice- I held my breath when I went to Rice's page and went through his stats. Few players have ever been as hotly debated as Jim Rice as far as the Hall of Fame credentials go. If you were to look at his numbers up until the age of 33 and then assume he finishes his career out at a reasonable pace, or if he had say a career-ending injury at 33, then he's probably a Hall of Famer. He finished in the Top 5 of MVP voting six different times, was an 8-time all-star, was in the top 10 in slugging 8 different times, led in homers 3 times, and was in the top 6 in adjusted OPS+ 5 different times. All very impressive. However, his final 3 seasons, he fell off a cliff, and thus missed out on a number of the accomplishments older hitters accumulate over time after a long career. The final tallies were 382 home runs, 1451 RBI, 2,452 hits, a .352 OBP (better than I expected), and a .502 SLG. But you have to keep in mind that, in the 80's, very few players were able to hit with anything approaching the power we would see beginning in the mid-90s and continuing to today. On the flip side, he wasn't much of a contributor defensively, playing a mediocre left field as well as spending 530 games as a DH, which doesn't add the value to his candidacy that a guy like Allan Trammell gets. He also struck out quite a bit, twice led the AL in Outs, led the AL in GIDP 4 straight years and is 6th all-time in this dreadful stat. And of course, there's the Boston thing. As Keith Law (I think) pointed out in a chat the other day, if Rice had played in Minnesota or Kansas City or even our Pirates, he probably would've dropped off the ballot a decade ago. But, the Boston fans are insufferable and have some of the most high-profile (read: self-serving) sportswriters in the country beating the drum for the old BoSox players. In fact, this actually penalizes Rice in my mind and certainly doesn't help him. Also not helping is Rice's constant griping about belonging in the Hall. Hey, Jimmy, you are, at best, a fringe candidate. Just shut up already, will ya? Anyway, this one was really, really tough to decide upon, but despite the insistence of the statheads whom I greatly respect, when its a fringe case like this one (and I really think this is an absolute fringe case) I go to the tape, as they say, and there have been an unreal amount of stories from highly respected writers about Rice in his prime being among the very best hitters in baseball. For me, that's enough and he gets in.

Andre Dawson- This was also a tough one for me. Dawson had some very, very good seasons, winning an MVP, a Rookie of the Year, 8 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers, and making 8 all-star teams. However, he had a .323 OBP, which is absolutely dreadful and would greatly diminish his value in present-day. His OPS was obviously significantly lower, and thus looks quite pedestrian as well. What finally swayed me to a yes vote, though, was that fielding. By just about any measure, he's one of the better fielding outfielders in major league history, and when you combine that with good (not great) hitting numbers, that's good enough to get in on my ballot.

Maybe Next Year
Jack Morris- I've gotta be honest, I was leaning toward Morris when I first clicked on his page, partially because of the postseason heroics, which I think are a deciding factor in close cases. However, I was disappointed by the numbers I found in Morris. I think with Rice getting in, Morris may become the next case of a guy getting the media hype in the future, but he won't have my vote.

Tommy John- I debated this one quite a bit. I considered the historical importance of his impressive comeback from ligament injury (hence Tommy John surgery), but in the end, he was a slightly above average pitcher who pitched for about a million years and compiled impressive numbers.

Lee Smith As much as I appreciate Smith's great ability at the end of games, I can't give him my vote. The numbers, other than the saves, just really aren't there.

Dave Parker- As a Pirate fan, of course I would love to see Dave Parker in the Hall of Fame. At least part of me would. And the numbers, in all honesty, are probably there to at least make an OK case for his enshrinement. 2,712 hits, 339 home runs, 1,493 RBI are all good numbers, he was a very good fielder, and from his breakout 1975 season to 1979, his numbers are probably among the best couple in all of baseball. Unfortunately, the drug issues derailed his career and caused a PR nightmare that helped badly damage baseball in Pittsburgh, and that's hard to get past.

Mark Grace- This guy basically defined the old "professional hitter" mantra. He had one of the best eyes in all of baseball, was a very, very good fielder (4 gold gloves), and had 2,445 hits. However, the power numbers just aren't there for a first baseman, the total hits aren't really there, and while the impressive .825 career OPS certainly wouldn't be the lowest one to ever get into the Hall, he was a consistently good guy, but just wasn't consistently good long enough, not breaking in until age 24, and losing his starting job at 37. That's a nice stretch, and if he was a second baseman the hitting would be enough, but not in this case.

Dale Murphy- I was surprised by the numbers here, and even though he's quickly running out of time, I think he may get some more consideration as time goes along thanks in part to his 2 MVPs. I won't vote for him, though, but do recognize he was quite the player in his time.

Mo Vaughn- For an 8 year stretch, from 1993-2000, Mo Vaughn was probably one of the 10 or 15 best hitters in the bigs. Believe me, I was surprised too, but look it up. He went over 30 home runs and 100 RBI 6 times, had two 200 hit seasons, had an OBP above .400 four times, and slugged over .500 ever year except for the last (which was at .498). Unfortunately, that about sums up his career as a whole, as he fell off the face of the earth after 2000 due to injury. His, ahem, personal appearance certainly didn't help matters either, as he was viewed (rightfully) as a fat slob during his Anaheim and New York Met days.

Harold Baines- As a DH, your numbers have to be very, very good to get into the Hall, and while Baines had over 2800 hits and 384 home runs, that's just not enough to overcome that he spent the majority of his career adding nothing of fielding value.

David Cone- Coney was a very good pitcher at the height of his powers, as evidenced by his 1994 Cy Young Award, but all in all, Cone was a good pitcher, but his numbers were never great, and will likely be a one-and-done on the HoF ballot.

Don Mattingly- Donny Baseball's candidacy is badly derailed by only playing to age 34, with only playing more than 140 games in a season 8 times. Had he managed to stick around a few more years, collect some more hits, and win a championship, he'd probably be there, but 2,153 hits and 222 home runs just don't do it.

Jesse Orosco- Yeah this guy pitched until he was about a billion years old, but that alone won't get you a Hall vote, and although he was a very good reliever, there is no way his numbers even remotely justify a selection.

Matt Williams- Williams was certainly a very feared hitter in his time, and did collect some lofty MVP finishes as well, but as a stathead, I can't take him seriously. A .317 OBP with a HOF Standard of 29.4? No thanks.

Are You F-Ing Kidding Me? Hell No!
Jay Bell- Listen, we all watched this guy as a Pirate, and while he was certainly a nice enough starting shortstop, it seems silly to me he's even getting consideration here. Plus there's that oh-so-shady 1999 year when he cracked 38 home runs at age 34 despite never having hit more than 21 in a season before or after.

Greg Vaughn
- Funny how so many guys went off in the home run department in that 1998-99 time span isn't it? From 1996-1999, Vaughn hit 154 home runs in exactly 2,000 at-bats, or one home run every 12.98 at-bats. In the remainder of his career, he hit 201 home runs in 4,103 at-bats, or one home run every 20.4 at-bats. No, that's not at all fishy. Sorry, Greggers, if you hadn't dipped into the juice you would have been a slightly above average player. Nothing wrong with that, but I can't vote for you in good conscience.

Ron Gant- Sorry Ron, you had a nice stretch in the early 90's where it looked like you might be a future superstar, but never recovered from that broken leg enough to reach that level. A nice enough player for many years, he doesn't sniff the Hall.

Dan Plesac- All I can say to this is, "What?"

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