Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Analyzing the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Vote

Randy Johnson: 534 votes, 97.3 percent. Over 300 wins and over 4,000 strikeouts, more than any lefthander in history, and one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. A jerk, but he belongs.

Pedro Martinez: 500 votes, 91.1 percent. Over 3,000 strikeouts, and one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. A jerk, but he belongs.

John Smoltz: 455 votes, 82.9 percent. Over 3,000 strikeouts, and won 213 games despite essentially missing 2 years and then spending 3 years in he bullpen, where he had 154 saves. And, by all accounts, a nice guy. He belongs.

Craig Biggio: 454 votes, 82.7 percent. Over 3,000 hits. It took a few years, but the voters finally recognized that he belongs.

There can be no reasonable objection to any of these. Even Don Zimmer, had he lived 1 more year, would have agreed with that.

As for those who didn't make it:

Mike Piazza: 384 votes, 69.9 percent. Whether I like him, or his teams (I despise both the Mets and the Dodgers) is irrelevant. There are only 3 questions as to whether a player gets in. First: Does he have the stats? Second: If he doesn't quite have the stats, are there other factors that might put him over the top, such as winning, historical significance, or character? And, third: Is any of the preceding compromised by cheating?

In Piazza's case: First, yes, he has the stats; second, since the answer to the first was yes, we don't need to consider this; and, third, that's the $64 million question. He needed 412 voters to say, "I don't see enough evidence that he cheated, so he should be in," and fell short by 28. Is he paying for his own sins, or for those of others?

It could be that, since there is no method (at least, not that the general public knows of) for expelling a member once he's already elected, the voters of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) don't want to put someone in who might later be exposed as someone who should be kicked out. Hence, while proof of performance-enhancing drugs has never been publicly shown for either Piazza or his 2000 bête noire Roger Clemens, the writers may still think that the proof is out there, just waiting to be found.

Until that proof is found, they should be in. If that's not good enough for you, then put in a procedure for kicking out the unworthy -- and I don't mean the statistically unworthy, as some people believe is the case for certain honorees. (I won't name names here.)

Jeff Bagwell: 306 votes, 55.7 percent. He won a Rookie of the Year, an MVP (and nearly 2 others), and a Gold Glove. From 1993 to 2003, he was one of the top 5 hitters in the game -- and from 1993 to 1999, he had to do that in the pitching-friendly Astrodome, not the homer-happy Minute Maid Park. He batted .297 lifetime, hit 449 home runs, and (while this is generally not a stat Hall voters look at, it should be) his OPS+ was 149, meaning he was 49 percent better at producing offense than the average player of his time.

Like Piazza, he is being denied because he did it in the Steroid Era; unlike Piazza, against whom there is some evidence (if inconclusive), there is no serious accusation against Bagwell. True, he had many years of good production and then dropped off precipitously, but he was 37. That's hardly unusual. It wasn't due to suspicious injury, and he hasn't had health problems since. I don't think he used PEDs. Put him in.

Tim Raines: 302 votes, 55.0 percent. .294 BA, 2,605 hits, 7 All-Star berths, 2 World Series rings, 808 stolen bases. Let me say that again: Eight hundred and eight stolen bases. Drugs? Orlando Cepeda and Ferguson Jenkins battled drugs, and they're in. Raines overcome drugs, too. There is no logical reason to keep him out.

Curt Schilling: 215 votes, 39.2 percent. Again, whether you like a player is irrelevant. You don't like his attitude? You don't like what he did to your teams? You don't like his politics? Fine, but we're not deciding whether to elect him to the Hall of Friends, it's the Hall of Fame. Curt Schilling is an ass on multiple levels. But he has over 3,000 strikeouts, won 216 games in the Five Man Rotation Era (a few pitchers with fewer, in the Four Man Rotation Era, are in), made 6 All-Star Teams, and was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in postseason play.

Does he have sufficient achievements? Yes. Did he come by them honestly? Ah, now we're getting into a gray area.

There are people who, once he becomes eligible, would keep out Andy Pettitte for his admission of a small mistake. Schilling was every bit the Roger Clemens acolyte that Pettitte was, and he played on the most steroid-boosted team of all time, the 2004-08 Boston Red Sox. And he started having suspicious injuries at 36. And he went bald quickly. And he developed cancer (which is now in remission). All symptoms of steroid use. And still, nobody has tested the blood on that sock.

Why? Because, if true, it would be the final nail in the coffin of the myth of the wonderful Red Sox story: We already know that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were dirty lowdown lying cheating bastards, even if some of "us" choose to let that go; "we" don't want to hear that Schilling cheated, too. "We" don't want to hear the answer, so "we" don't want to ask the question.

Roger Clemens: 206 votes, 37.5 percent;
Barry Bonds: 202 votes, 36.8 percent;
Gary Sheffield: 64 votes, 11.7 percent;
Mark McGwire: 55 votes, 10.0 percent;
Sammy Sosa: 36 votes, 6.6 percent;
Rafael Palmeiro: Already once got less than 5 percent, off the BBWAA ballot permanently.

Bonds and Palmeiro got caught, it's been reported that Sosa was as well, McGwire confessed, and Sheffield implicated himself, so they never get in.

Clemens still denies it, and the evidence against him (that we've seen) has thus far been a flop. "Innocent until proven guilty," and nobody has proven a thing against him. Statistically, it's an easy choice. So unless you've got better evidence than we've yet seen, to hell with your personal feelings about him: He should be in. Last year, despite the feelings of betrayal that many Red Sox fans still have about him, the Sox put him in their team Hall of Fame. If they can do it... Not that I want the Yankees to put him in Monument Park...

Lee Smith: 166 votes, 30.2 percent. The argument in his favor was that he was the all-time leader in saves. He hasn't been that for many years. He doesn't get in.

Edgar Martinez: 148 votes, 27.0 percent. A .312 BA, 514 doubles, a 147 OPS+... but just 2,247 hits, 309 homers, and never appeared in a World Series. Maybe he, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and the unrelated Tino Martinez saved Major League Baseball in the Pacific Northwest in 1995. That's reason to elect them to the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame has a higher standard. The Big Unit has made it, and, barring a shocking set of circumstances, Junior will make it when he becomes eligible next year. Edgar and Tino will never make it.

Alan Trammell: 138 votes, 25.1 percent. One of the best shortstops in baseball from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, but the only way he gets in is if the Hall brings back the only-used-once "multiple entry" standard. It was used for Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. It can also be suggested that Don Drysdale didn't quite have the stats, and that the only reason he got in was to complete a dual entry with Sandy Koufax. Separately, Trammell and Lou Whitaker don't get in; together, with the impact they had, they could. (This could also be used to let in the Yankee pitching triad of Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat and Vic Raschi, not that I expect either event to happen.)

Mike Mussina: 135 votes, 24.6 percent. He won 270 games in the Five Man Rotation Era, despite being a righthanded pitcher in parks that were heavily titled toward lefthanded hitters: Camden Yards and the old Yankee Stadium. Come on, this should be a cinch. That he didn't get in this season, with 3 worthy first-timers and the already-denied easy case Biggio, is understandable. But not even 25 percent? That's a slap in the face to one of the best pitchers of a hitting-happy era.

Jeff Kent: 77 votes, 14.0 percent. He hit more home runs at the position of 2nd base than any player in history. And, again: Likability isn't supposed to be an issue. But his career home run total is 377; if that's all you got, then you need more stats. BA, .290; OPS+, 123; hits, 2,461; not enough. Doubles, 560, a good figure, but not enough to drag him over the line. All-Star berths, 5, also not enough to make a difference. Never renowned for his baserunning or his fielding. Reached the postseason with 4 different teams, but only 1 Pennant and no rings.

By the standards that uses (this post is already long enough, so I wont' get into those here), he should be in. But I don't see it. No, Kent doesn't get in.

Fred McGriff: 71 votes, 12.9 percent. He hit 493 home runs, as many as Lou Gehrig, and as far as anyone knows, he did it honestly. And he didn't even crack 13 percent? He, too, is paying for the sins of others. If he got the 7 more he needed for 500, would he be in? It shouldn't matter: He should be in.

Larry Walker: 65 votes, 11.8 percent. A tougher call than Edgar. BA, .313; OPS+, 141; home runs, 383; doubles, 471. And while he benefited from Coors Field in Denver, he also had to hit in the Montreal Olympic Stadium.

Now, in this era, 383 isn't a lot of home runs, but it's 1 more than Jim Rice, and he's in. And Walker was a better all-around player than Rice. He won 3 batting titles (peaking at .379 -- guys just haven't hit like that in the post-World War II era) and 7 Gold Gloves. He also won an MVP, which, unlike Rice, he deserved. (Rice hit 46 homers in 1978? Walker hit 49 in 1997. Rice had 406 total bases? Walker had 409. And Rice is basically in because of that one season, when Ron Guidry was the most valuable player any team has ever had for a single season, and should have gotten the award -- and he's not in the Hall.)

That said, 383 homers shouldn't, by itself, get you in. And Walker doesn't have the career hits (2,160) or the postseason success (only 1 Pennant, and the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals got swept by the Red Sox). But by the standards Baseball Reference uses, he should be in, and I agree.

Don Mattingly: 50 votes, 9.1 percent, 15th and last year on the ballot, so he's done. From 1984 to 1989, he was one of the 3 best players in baseball. From 1990 to 1995, he was just another good player. And then he was done. Having one-third of a career as an all-time great, one-third as less than that, and one-third not at all only works if you're as good as Sandy Koufax. Mattingly was not as good as Koufax. Perhaps the Veterans' Committee will put him in, once he becomes eligible for them.

Nomar Garciaparra: 30 votes, 5.5 percent. From 1997 to 2003, he sure looked like a future Hall-of-Famer: Who bats .372 as a righthanded hitter in the post-World War II era? But he just dropped off the map. A brief return to nice stats in 2006 didn't save him, he was only 34 when he was last a regular, and played his last game when he was 36.

BA, .313; OPS+, 124; hits, 1,747; homers, 229; batting titles, 2; All-Star berths, 6; Gold Gloves, none; baserunning, also not a boost; postseason berths, 5, with 3 different teams, but no Pennants -- indeed, the Red Sox didn't win a Pennant and a World Series until they got rid of him. No, Nomar doesn't make it to Cooperstown.

The following players, each in his 1st year on the ballot, got less than 5 percent of the vote, and will not be on next year's ballot:

Carlos Delgado: 21 votes, 3.8 percent. He hit 473 home runs, more than Carl Yastrzemski and Dave Winfield, and slightly less than Stan Musial and Willie Stargell, despite playing his entire career in pitchers' parks: 12 years at the SkyDome/Rogers Centre in Toronto, 1 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, 3 at Shea Stadium in New York and the last few games of his career at Shea's successor, Citi Field.

As far as we know, he was clean. Seems to be a nice guy. Anytime prior to the 1994 strike, without evidence of steroid use, 473 homers would have gotten you in. Since then, everybody's a suspect. (You'll notice that, in this rare year when 4 players got in via the BBWAA, 3 were pitchers.)

Troy Percival: 4 votes, 0.7 percent. For the moment, with Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, each League's all-time leader in saves, not yet eligible, we don't really know what gets a reliever in. There are currently 5 pitchers in based mainly on what they did as relievers -- not counting Smoltz, who's in mainly for what he did as a starter: Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley.

Eck has 390 saves, Fingers 341, Gossage 310, Sutter 300, Wilhelm 227. Percival has 358 saves, more than all of these except Eck. If we're talking combined wins plus saves, it's Eckersley 587, Fingers 455, Gossage 434, Percival 393, Wilhelm 370, Sutter 368. World Series rings: Fingers has 3, the rest, 1 each.

If it's about Percival having a career losing record, so does Fingers, and he wasn't kept out. Wilhelm can be explained by being the pioneer who really made relief pitching something to focus on. But if Sutter is in, why not Percival? Maybe he just wasn't great enough for long enough.

Aaron Boone and Tom Gordon: 2 votes, 0.4 percent. One home run, no matter how significant, does not get you into the Hall of Fame. And while Gordon was a very good relief pitcher, he was not a Hall-of-Fame quality player.

Darin Erstad: 1 vote, 0.2 percent. From 1997 to 2000, he was one of the best players in the game. But from 2001 to 2005, despite 2 Gold Gloves (at 2 different positions: Center field in 2002 and 1st base in 2004) and a ring (2002 Anaheim Angels), he was just another good player. And then, in 2005, at age 30, his stats dropped precipitously, and starting in 2006 he played far fewer games, due to injury. He played his last game at just 35. Throw in an outlier of a great season in 2000 (shades of Brady Anderson), and he sure looks like a steroid case. There's no serious charge against him, but he does fit the profile. Even if he didn't cheat, statistically, he's not close to Cooperstown worthiness.

Brian Giles, Jason Schmidt, Cliff Floyd, Jermaine Dye, Rich Aurilia, Tony Clark and Eddie Guardado: No votes, 0.0 percent. The only surprise here is that Dye got no votes. He hit 325 home runs, made the All-Star team twice, had 4 100+ RBI seasons, reached the postseason with 3 different teams, and won the 2005 World Series with the Chicago White Sox. That's not enough to make it, but he should have gotten at least a few votes.

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