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Nobody Asked: How I’d Vote for Baseball’s Hall of Fame 2015

January 5, 2015

(“Nobody Asked” is a recurring feature in which your author shares opinions of questionable merit, largely about baseball.)  

BBWAA 2015 ballot

I’m only mildly surprised that I care as much about the Baseball Hall of Fame as I do now, and more specifically that I find that I care a little more about it every year. It would seem like the kind of things the Hall does for the average fan (save for visiting, which I haven’t done and would like to remedy sometime soon) is inspire comparisons and discussions of “clutch” performances or “egregious” omissions. However, as I get older, players I watched and revered now come up for enshrinement. I can trust my eyes and selective memory as much as the Baseball Reference page and opinions of those I respect and admire. This year, two of my favorite players of all time are on the ballot in addition to two of the best players to ever play in any era. With the early hum of the offseason slowing down, it’s the perfect way to fill my commute.

As I keep reading articles with different ballots, I figured the best way to appreciate what these writers with actual weight in the BBWAA must do in an overloaded ballot (not to mention the Hall of Fame making changes that only heightens the problem by shrinking the window of eligibility), I wanted to go through the process on my own. Since I don’t have a vote (BBWAA members become eligible after ten years of membership, so I’m hypothetically ten years away from my own vote), I’m going to be somewhat lazy and not dig deep on a lot of statistics. That said, I can recommend two great resources: Ryan Thibbs’ spreadsheet of all of the public ballots (this is especially interesting if you read this in the few hours between when I publish this and the results are announced) and Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric (JAWS aims to compare a candidate’s career and peak statistics to those already enshrined; Jaffe says that JAWS measures who should be voted in, not who will be voted in).

A couple points before I begin:

  • In addition to the resources above, I’m going to use Baseball Reference for statistics unless otherwise mentioned.
  • To appreciate the process, as many note that the restriction of ten names is too few for the deserving, I’m going to rank my candidates and produce three hypothetical ballots: my “without restrictions” ballot, my “strategic / pragmatic” ballot, and my “if the BBWAA miraculously made me a voting member tonight” ballot.
  • Without getting into it too much, here’s my stance on PED users: without a positive test or a federal drug conviction, I’d vote them in. Regardless of MLB’s stance on steroids, most of them are illegal and buying them is against the law. That said, I also believe that without hard evidence, I can’t hold it against the player (see my entry on Bonds below). I’m in favor of a Hall that acknowledges these players and the era.

On that note, my rankings:

  1. Barry Bonds (OF) – Bonds is likely the best player I’ve ever seen or will ever see. He most likely took performance enhancing drugs, and most likely lied under oath about doing so (and was convicted of perjury, which isn’t quite the same thing). He’s probably not someone I’d like to spend a lot of time around. You’ll see how this plays out below, as Bonds makes my “perfect world” ballot, but likely wouldn’t make my other ballots largely for strategic reasons.
  2. Roger Clemens (SP) – More or less everything I said about Bonds above applies to Clemens. He’s below Bonds because I think Clemens has peers (see next entry) during his era while Bonds was unparalleled during his era and belongs in the discussion with the greatest hitters of all time (again, leaving the PED issue aside; it’s more complex than that). I also hate him far more than I hate Bonds. Like I said above, this is a personal, subjective list.
  3. Randy Johnson (SP) – Johnson probably had the most overpowering stuff I’ve ever seen. He has longevity, post-season success, individual season numbers in addition to career numbers, the key statistics (300+ wins, in particular), FIVE Cy Young Awards (Clemens won SEVEN). He’s in Clemens’ neighborhood, and if Johnson figured out his mechanics earlier (or Clemens tailed off at the end of his career closer to Johnson’s arc than his own, likely PED aided twilight), their case would look similar. They both belong in, and Johnson likely has his flight booked for July. (Question: does the Hall spring for flights? You’d think so, right?)
  4. Pedro Martinez (SP) – The only question is longevity, as his accumulating stats aren’t as impressive as Johnson or Clemens, and his peak was likely shorter. That said, Pedro has perhaps the two greatest pitching seasons of my lifetime and perhaps the highest peak of any pitcher I’ve ever seen. If you promised me Peak Clemens, Peak Johnson, or Peak Pedro for a game or a season, I’d take Pedro every time. Like Koufax, he’s the great “what if he stayed healthy” candidate (and, like Koufax, was so good for long enough to warrant enshrinement). In addition to his credentials on the field, he’s been a joy in retirement. TBS was wise to snatch him up, and his appearance on Jonah Keri’s podcast last summer was one of the best interviews I’ve heard in ages. I can’t wait to read his book, and as my gratuitous use of his first name belies, he’s the player on this list I’d love to meet the most.
  5. Mike Piazza (C) – In retrospect, Pedro Martinez might be my favorite baseball player. I adored his injury raddled tenure with the Mets, and I’m convinced that his arrival opened that brief window that brought the Mets to a pitch away from the 2006 World Series. That said, Piazza is the player I’m most personally invested in. Jose Reyes and David Wright went on to be my favorites throughout their whole career, but Piazza’s arrival in Queens coincided with my renewed interest in baseball. This is all without mentioning that Piazza is perhaps the greatest hitting catcher (and, conservatively, the second or third greatest) and, as Jaffe points out in the SI piece linked above, is the fifth highest rated catcher on JAWS. As for his PED whispers, terrific Mets blogger and writer Greg Prince had a series of tweets earlier this evening that captured it perfectly. (These three in particular are great).
  6. Jeff Bagwell (1B) – Like Piazza, Bagwell suffers from whispered accusations. As Jaffe points out (which is so staggering that I’m linking again), Bagwell is the sixth best offensive first baseman, and after World War II he trails only Albert Pujols. (He’s ahead of the recently enshrined Frank Thomas, and this list on Baseball Reference gives serious merit to Jim Thome’s eventual appearance on the ballot and, to a lesser extent, Todd Helton’s, but I digress).
  7. Tim Raines (OF) – Raines was a little before my time, so I’m trusting numbers and YouTube highlights. Also, he’s (probably?) the only candidate with a website devoted to his enshrinement. Ultimately, all of the baseball minds who I trust put him in, and the numbers validate it (plus Raines was the type of player who wasn’t always captured adequately in the box score, for what that’s worth). If he played for the Yankees his whole career, he’d be internationally famous. If he played now, sabermetricians would lose their minds over him. Jonah Keri sums it up well: “It comes down to this: Tim Raines kicked ass, and too many people missed it.”
  8. Edgar Martinez (DH) – Sure, he didn’t play the field. As a counterpoint, the best DH annually gets an honor named after Martinez. I hope this gets sorted out in time for Martinez, an exceptional hitter, to be enshrined and early enough to induct David Ortiz when he comes up for election. Then, we should get rid of the DH altogether (or, more realistically, bring it to the National League. I think I’ve upset just about everyone in the last sentence and a half).
  9. Alan Trammell (SS) – I didn’t see Trammell either, and like Raines he seems like a victim of the pre-internet, pre-offensive boom (and pre-PED?) era. His numbers hold up, and it seems like the strongest case against voting for him is, as Jaffe suggests, that he’s a “lost cause” being so close to the end of his eligibility. I don’t really know what I’d do with him if I was voting.
  10. John Smoltz (SP / RP) – I don’t know what to make of Smoltz. JAWS doesn’t love him, but that’s largely because it looks at his numbers as if he started his whole career. When Smoltz went to the bullpen, he was one of the best relievers in the league, and perhaps might have still been one of the best starters during those years (edit: Smoltz also won a Cy Young, unlike the pitchers below (who were logjammed behind Clemens and Johnson for much of their careers) and I errantly attributed it to Schilling). However, a reasonable counterpoint could be that his stint in the pen helped him survive that long). My gut instinct is that he deserves to get in, although not as overwhelmingly as it seems like he might be voted in (Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece that looked at this). I’ll be polite as long as he doesn’t poll higher than Pedro or Randy Johnson.
  11. TIE: Curt Shilling (SP) and Mike Mussina (SP) – I’m cheating by lumping them together, but they seem to complement each other well. Mussina had a longer, more consistent career, while Schilling had the higher points (a Cy Young stronger Cy Young consideration (thanks, Mike) and several memorable post-seasons). If push comes to shove, I’d likely vote Mussina largely because I’d privilege regular season over post-season (I think Peak Mussina would have put up strong enough post-season numbers, perhaps not Schilling-like, but strong enough to nudge him closer). I also don’t really care for Schilling for a number of reasons I won’t go into here.
  12. Craig Biggio (2B / C / OF?) – This is where I have to stop and think. Biggio has the career numbers, but he earned them largely by sticking around well past his expiration date, and did so in an era with inflated offensive statistics. I’m sure someone has run what his numbers would look like were he to play when Trammell played, and I’d venture to guess they wouldn’t hold up. Then again, he wasn’t a power bat in a power era, and he played catcher (a position that saps up offensive numbers) for three and a half seasons, but unlike Smoltz who dominated in this alternate role, Biggio had one strong year of these first four. Also, he was so close last year, and he seems to suffer from being teammates with Bagwell (which would make that “second hand whispers,” I guess?) I guess I don’t fault anyone voting either way.

On the players who I wouldn’t vote for, but could be persuaded were I given lifetime BBWAA membership:

  • Larry Walker – if he put up the numbers he put up playing somewhere other than Colorado, I think I’d consider him more strongly. That’s probably unfair of me.
  • Garry Sheffield – He could tear the cover off the ball, but I don’t quite remember him as dangerous as long as some of the other players.
  • Lee Smith – I don’t really know what to do with closers aside from the complete elites, and Smith largely pitched before I appreciated him.
  • Fred McGriff – I spent his tenure with a strong anti-Braves bias, and I’m willing to concede that my view of him is myopic were someone to make a compelling case.

As for the rest, they either weren’t good long enough (Mattingly) and/or don’t seem as impressive when adjusted for PED use (McGwire and Sosa in particular). Shouts to Cliff Floyd, though, who I loved watching play.

And now, how I’d vote:

“In a Perfect World” ballot (unlimited entries):

  1. Bonds
  2. Clemens
  3. Johnson
  4. P. Martinez
  5. Piazza
  6. Bagwell
  7. Raines
  8. E. Martinez
  9. Trammell
  10. Smoltz
  11. Mussina
  12. Schilling
  13. Biggio

“Strategic / Pragmatic” Ballot (leaving off those unlikely to be elected)

  1. Johnson
  2. P. Martinez
  3. Piazza
  4. Bagwell
  5. Raines
  6. E. Martinez
  7. Trammell
  8. Smoltz
  9. Mussina
  10. Biggio

(Note: This drops Clemens and Bonds, since they are unlikely to be elected this year, leaving me with 11. When it came down to it, I wanted Biggio in more than Schilling, largely for personal preference. Like I said, I’m voting subjectively)

If I were given a “One Time Only” BBWAA ballot, my ten Hall of Fame votes for the history books:

  1. Bonds
  2. Clemens
  3. Johnson
  4. P. Martinez
  5. Piazza
  6. Bagwell
  7. Raines
  8. E. Martinez
  9. Trammell
  10. Smoltz

(Note: I went with who I thought are the ten most deserving. I sat for a long time trying to decide between Smoltz and Mussina, and while part of me thinks that Mussina is the pitcher I’d rather have on my team knowing their career arcs, I think Smoltz overall is the better candidate. I might change my mind tomorrow.)

Finally, as a bonus, what I think will happen tomorrow (not necessarily in this order)

  1. Johnson
  2. P. Martinez
  3. Biggio
  4. Smoltz
  5. Piazza (wishful thinking, probably).
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One Comment
  1. For what it’s worth, I have no time for the “gimmick” balloters, or anyone who refuses to vote for first ballot candidates, or anyone who only votes for one candidate. To paraphrase Jay Z, they only get half a bar (in this case, relegated to the comments).

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