Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hall of Fame Thoughts - 2019 Edition

Most of the recent Hall of Fame talk has centered around outfielder/designated hitter Harold Baines who was recently voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans or Eras Committee.  Baines was a very good hitter for a long time, but almost nobody outside the committee thinks he belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Baines' inclusion makes it more difficult to ignore some of this year's borderline candidates - such as Andruw Jones, Todd Helton and Lance Berkman - who were far superior to Baines.  And I can't write a Hall of Fame article without plugging Lou Whitaker who was about twice as good as Baines according to WAR.  

Anyway, I am going to just file away the Baines vote as a mistake and not change my Hall of Fame Evaluation based on that.  Whitaker is not eligible by any means this year, so let's take a look at this year's candidates.  There have been 18 new Hall-of-Fame Inductees in the past five years including 2018 inductees Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.  This alleviated the log jam on the ballot which was due largely to confusion and division on how to deal with players linked to the Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED).  Many holdovers and a few worthy new candidates still make the vote a challenge though.  There are 35 eligible players and writers can vote for up to 10 candidates.  I, of course, do not have a vote, but will fill my theoretical ballot here.

My selection process involves comparing players to their contemporaries, other players at the same position and current Hall-of-Fame members.  I value peak performance and career performance equally.  I use many traditional and advanced statistics, most of which can be found on Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.  Some of my favorites are plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging average, batting runs, wOBA,and WAR for hitters and innings pitched, ERA, pitching runs, strikeouts and WAR for pitchers.  I used multiple WAR statistics in my analysis, but any reference to WAR cited below is Baseball-Reference WAR.

In earlier years, I did not bring PED use into my thought process.  The use of PEDs was very widespread, not only in the 1990s and 2000's, but all the way back to the sixties and even further.  It was impossible to know which players stayed clean and which used and how much it affected their performance.  Eliminating or even judging players based on suspicion seemed very unfair to me.  It also seemed pretty obvious that the game turned a blind eye to the problem for many decades.  Thus, I considered PED use to have been part of the game and choose players solely based on their on-field performance.  

Starting in 2005, Major League Baseball players and owners accepted a new policy banning steroids and issuing penalties to steroid users.  The policy has been expanded in recent years to include amphetamines and other PEDs.  Now that it is accepted by all parties that steroid use is absolutely prohibited, this makes the process more complicated.  I think it's fair to penalize players who tested positive under the agreement starting in 2005, but I do not believe these offenders should be banned from the Hall of Fame entirely. They did, after all, already serve their time through suspension.  However, the qualifications for inclusion in the Hall of Fame do include integrity, sportsmanship and character as illustrated by the following clause:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.
Those things are very subjective and near impossible to measure, but failed drug tests are objective.  Thus, I shall use proven drug use as another data point feeding my decision process.  Since I do not believe PED use turns a player into one of the game's all-time greats, I would still vote for an elite player such as Alex Rodriguez when his time comes. However, I might drop a borderline player from the ballot.  

The PED question first became an issue for me when first baseman Rafael Palmeiro appeared on the ballot in 2011.  He was a legitimate candidate, who had tested positive in 2005.  He was not a particularly strong candidate though and, given that the ballot had more than ten deserving candidates that year, it was not difficult to dismiss him.  

Outfielder Manny Ramirez who tested positive for PEDs in both 2009 and 2011 is eligible this year on a ballot that is not quite as loaded as previous years.  Based on his numbers, 69 WAR and a 154 OPS+, Ramirez was one of the best hitters of his generation and would surely make it if he were clean. 

However, the PED data point exists for Ramirez (twice!).  Ramirez was a very one dimensional player and not a slam dunk choice of the magnitude of ARod.  He is more comparable to designated hitter Edgar Martinez, another viable candidate who is a one dimensional hitter.  In the end, I decided that Martinez makes it and Ramirez doesn't.  

Now, for my ballot:

Barry Bonds: The greatest player of his generation and on a very short list of the best players ever.  You can't have a Hall of Fame without him.  

Roger Clemens: As with Bonds, the Hall-of-Fame would not make much sense if it excluded Clemens.  He is one of the five best pitchers in the history of the game.

Mariano Rivera: I am very stingy about voting for relief pitchers because they are generally failed starters and pitch far fewer innings than starters.  However, Rivera is the best closer in the history of the game and there is not much debate about that.  If you like saves, he had 652 of them which is 51 ahead of runner-up Trevor Hoffman.  If you want something more sophisticated his 56 WAR tops among relievers (Dennis Eckerley was 62 WAR but more than half of that came as a starter).  If you want to get even more esoteric, he is also the runaway leader in Win Probability Added (WPA) and WPA/LI as well.  

Roy Halladay: Did not have gaudy career counting stats having pitched fewer than 3,000 career innings, but he was inarguably one of the elite pitchers of his era.  He won two Cy Young Awards in 2003 and 2010 and finished in the top five in voting seven times.  He led his league in complete games 7 times and shutouts, innings pitched and WAR four times each. 

Mike Mussina: Might get overlooked because he never won a Cy Young award, but had a 123 ERA+ in over 3,500 innings and his 345 Pitching Runs was an impressive 13th all-time.

Curt Schilling: Not a very bright person and I wish he would keep his shallow opinions to himself, but that has nothing to do with his Hall of Fame worthiness.  Arguably the best post-season pitcher ever, but was a lot more than that.  He had a 127 ERA+, 3,116 strikeouts (15th best ever), 81 WAR (21st best).  

Edgar Martinez: Gets knocked down by some because he was primarily a designated hitter. On the other hand, some of his supporters think he belongs because he was one of the best ever at his position.  This is not a good argument because the position is limited to a pool of players who were among the worst fielders in the game.  For a designated hitter to make the Hall of Fame, he needs to be an elite hitter and Martinez's 147 lifetime OPS+ (32nd best ever) shows that he was.  He also accumulated 68 WAR with virtually no fielding contribution. 

Larry Walker: A bit controversial because his numbers were inflated by the Denver altitude, but he had a 141 OPS+ and 73 WAR and was also an excellent fielder.  

Scott Rolen: The Alan Trammell/ Lou Whitaker of his time, had a long distinguished career, but was never regarded as a superstar.  His 122 OPS+ and outstanding defense at third base helped him accumulate 70 WAR.

Honorable Mentions: Lance Berkman, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones and Manny Ramirez (mentioned above).  I could maybe be talked into including any of them, but I am leaving them out for now.  

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