I don’t, nor do I suspect I will ever, have a Hall of Fame vote. But I do have a blog, so I can certainly pretend! I won’t go into too much pre-discussion, other than to say I believe that peak value is more important than overall career value, but you gotta have both. The other thing I’ll say is that if you get in the Hall you are forever a Hall of Famer. So whether someone gets in on their first ballot or their 15th is completely irrelevant to me. I didn’t go through all of the 37 players on the ballot this year, but I tried to look at the ones that are getting real consideration. Without further ado…
Barry Bonds – YES
I’ve shown my hand immediately, as I’m voting for a known steroid user. With Bonds, let’s get this part out of the way – saying he is one of the best players in the history of baseball might be an understatement. He’s one of the 5 best hitters ever. For 8 seasons he hit .305/.438/.600 with 327 HRs and 328 SBs. And that was from 1990-1998. Then for four seasons, after starting to use steroids, he hit .349/.559/.809. Yeah, we know there are asterisks next to those numbers but… his OBP was 559! Of course, what comes with this is that he’s a big fat cheater, and he was obnoxious. I am of the school of thought that he should be allowed to join the other obnoxious cheaters in the HoF. If he’s not in, the Hall is incomplete.
Roger Clemens – YES
Similar to Bonds. I think he’s probably the second best right handed pitcher in the history of baseball. He allegedly started using in ’97, after an already HoF-worthy career, so can you separate that out? From 1986-1992, he had a 2.66 ERA, and struck out 1673 while only walking 486 in 1799 1/3 IP – his ERA+ was 160! Then, after he supposedly started on the roids, he went 149-61 with a 140 ERA+ from 1997-2005. Unlike Bonds, no matter what I may believe (and I believe he used steroids) the only evidence against him is the word of one man who doesn’t really strike me as incredibly honest. I don’t think you can exclude the best starting pitcher since World War II.
With both Bonds and Clemens, I understand the heartburn that people experience over putting them in the Hall. I get the issue (although with Clemens you still don’t have proof, you are just sure he did it), but I think a Hall of Fame without those two doesn’t tell the story of baseball. They are two of the best players ever, and were so even before the transgressions. I won’t get into the other cheaters throughout the history of the game, I’ll just say that I don’t think they should be thrown out of the HoF, either. I think the Hall is incomplete without them, despite the negatives.
Jeff Bagwell – YES
He was one of the best first basemen of all time (JAWS puts him 6th!), an MVP winner, runner up, and third place finisher. Great combo of peak and career value, his links to steroids are ridiculous. Whether he used or not, it’s hard to link someone because they have muscles. I’ll reference Keith Law here, who said “omitting him due to unfounded suspicions is unethical.” In his first 13 seasons, he hit .300/.411/.549 with 419 HRs and 197 SBs. He had 2 unimpressive seasons after that, which helped propel him to bigger counting numbers (1,500 RBIs and 1,500 Rs, if you’re into those things). But he had an extended peak (OPS+ of 167 over 7 seasons) and enough around that to make him an all time great and a definite for the HoF.
Curt Schilling – YES
It probably pains me to vote for him more than the other guys on the list. I found him annoying as a player, and I still find him annoying as a talking head. Surprise surprise, he felt the need to say that he wouldn’t vote for the guys who used steroids (how self serving is that – “Hmmm, eliminate anyone who is suspected of cheating. Who’s left on my list… oh how about Schilling?” I mean, from a guy who’s already in, fine, but from a borderline candidate who’d be aided immensely by a movement to exclude users… come on). Despite this aversion to his personality, I must admit, I think he has the requisite qualifications. A career ERA+ of 127 is nice, and he finished #2 in the Cy voting 3 times. He had a long career, and during his peak he spent four or five years as a top candidate for “best pitcher in the game.” If you can make an good case that someone is the best player at their position for half a decade, he’s probably got my vote, as long as that wasn’t the only time in his career he was very good. On top of that, what he did in the postseason needs to be acknowledged, and he was incredible. He also sits on top of this list among modern players, which is pretty nice.
Larry Walker – NO
I have a tough time with this one. He was certainly one of the best players of the 90s (MLB Network called him the best RF of the decade). His peak value was incredible, he hit .340/.437/.621 from 1997-2004. That is 8 years of being one of the best players in history. But I think we were still trying to learn to deal with Colorado. I think it was a bigger advantage than steroids. His OPS+ would suggest that Colorado helped him much more than the OPS+ is letting on. He was significantly better in Colorado than in Montreal, and he really started playing great when he hit 30. I don’t know what he would have done if he’d played elsewhere, but his home/road OPS splits give a hint. Over his career, which include home games in Montreal and St. Louis as well as Colorado, he had a 1.068 OPS at home and .865 away. That’s scary different, and obviously the altitude played a huge factor. I’m not comfortable voting for him, but if you haven’t figured it out already, I am not afraid of having a “big” Hall of Fame, so I could be convinced that he belongs. But right now, I’m not there.
Alan Trammel – YES
Trammel was an incredible shortstop who happened to play in the 80s, when Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken played. He is highly underrated in part because of that. He was an exceptional defensive player, but who notices that when Ozzie is playing? And he hit better than most shortstops, but with Cal playing, who notices that? From 1983-1990, he had an average of a 125 OPS+. Two of those seasons weren’t that good, and in 5 out of 6 of the other years his OPS+ was above that average. In other words, for half a decade, he was one of the best hitters in all of baseball, which is normally not enough to sway me, except when you do it while playing SS. At his peak, which lasted for quite a while, he had power and got on base. If he doesn’t make it in, he’ll eventually be the first SS out when ranked by JAWS. He is not a surefire definite guy to me, but I think when you combine the defensive prowess with the hitting, he should probably be in there.
Tim Raines – YES
I think the SABR community has tended to overrate him a bit, but not nearly as much as everyone else has underrated him. He was the definition of a great leadoff hitter. Unlike Rickey Henderson, who would have been a great anything hitter, Raines was built for leadoff. His career OBP was .385, and for 11 years from 1983-1993 he hit .301/.391/.437. He also stole 808 bases, enough for 5th all time, but on top of that, he was really good at not getting caught. His SB% of 84.7% is better than anyone with at least 306 steals (Carlos Beltran is at 306 – other than Beltran, nobody with more than 144 SBs is above him). The #2 base stealer with a really large number of steals is Willie Wilson, who’s career percentage is 83.3%. Raines also scored a ton of runs – there are all of 3 players with 1,500 or more Runs scored that aren’t in the Hall (one is Bagwell, although one is Palmeiro, who I just voted no on). He was a spectacular player, but his numbers evoke another era, and that may be his biggest problem. I think it really belongs, and it’s not even really close.
Kenny Lofton – NO
My first thought on him was that it’s not even close, but unlike Raines, in the “no” direction. Then I took a look at his stats. The ones that jump out are AVG, OBP and SBs. If you take away his age 24 season and it’s measly 79 PAs, his career AVG sits right at .300. You don’t have to do any messing around to see a career OBP of .372. And he wasn’t a slouch with power, either, with 130 career HRs helping his career OPS sit at .794. All that from a very good defensive center fielder and suddenly you have a great player. But Lofton is one of those guys who looks to me like he’s great but not HoF-worthy. His career numbers are not quite eye popping. He never had that peak where he was one of the absolute best in the game. His best attribute is probably his ability to steal bases. He is 15th all time in SBs, and his SB% is strong although not spectacular. However, after 1998, he had already stolen 2/3 of his career bases, giving him 9 more seasons as a good but not top tier base stealer. It all adds up to a very good player for his time, but not a Hall of Famer.
Edgar Martinez – YES
I won’t take anything away from Edgar for playing DH, but I won’t add anything for his defense either. So he gets considered, in my mind, similar to a ho hum fielding first baseman. Almost anyone can do that. And he did put in about 4 1/2 seasons of playing (I presume poor) defense at third base. But what he did with the bat, almost nobody could do. For 12 seasons he was an on base machine with serious power, hitting .321/.429/.537. Yes that’s right a .429 OBP over 12 seasons. I don’t know if people considered him a candidate for best hitter in baseball, but from 1995-2000, he was one. He wasn’t an all time slugger, hitting “only” 309 HRs in an era when career HR records were being smashed.However, his numbers were some of the best for any hitter of any era, including his own, and I think he will get in, eventually, and deservedly so.
Craig Biggio – YES
He got 3,000 hits by playing way too long, maybe two or three full seasons. That being said, from about 1993-1999 he was a great player, hitting .303/.397/.473 – a great ability to get on base and no slouch in the power category. On top of that he was an excellent defensive second baseman. With Trammel above, I gave serious credit for the defense because he was considered so damn good. Biggio got Gold Gloves, but we know how much they actually measure, so I just don’t know about Biggio. I do know that he made an All Star game as a catcher in 1991, then he moved to second base. So I’m guessing he was pretty gifted at defense. I’m not sure if he ever was the best player in the game, but his 10x top 10 MVP votes make me think he was considered the best second baseman for a long time. I don’t think he’s an overwhelming candidate, but I have a hard time keeping him out.
Mike Piazza – YES
Maybe it’s my age, but I barely remember he was on the Dodgers. I mean I know he came from there, but how about five seasons batting .337/.401/.583 in that stadium? Incredible numbers, and I don’t care how bad his defense was, any team would take that right now. Imagine what those numbers would have looked like if he played his home games in any of about 25 other stadiums. In those 5 years, he finished 9th, 6th, 4th, 2nd and 2nd in the MVP voting. That’s in order, and the first year was his rookie season. He had another 4 or 5 spectacular seasons with the Mets, including two more top 10 MVP finishes. He also checks one of the most important boxes to me – you can legitimately make the argument that he was the best player in baseball for several seasons, and, oh yeah, he has more career HRs than any catcher ever. Best catcher ever? No, because of the defense. Legit top 10 all time catcher? Definitely.
David Wells – NO
Wells was an extremely fun player to watch, with a ton of wins. He pitched a long time and was a valuable pitcher for much of that time. His best seasons were probably the only 2 seasons that he finished in the top 10 Cy voting (both times finished third), in 1998 and 2000, first with Toronto and then with New York. The problem is, those great seasons are few and far between. And while we do have to consider league and timeframe, in his 2000 season with the Yankees he went 20-8 and had a 123 ERA+ but his ERA was 4.11. I think he was occasionally great, usually entertaining, but not nearly a Hall of Famer.
Sammy Sosa – NO
Mark McGwire – NO
I’ll take these two together because they always go together. PEDs aside, the fact that they both assaulted and broke the Maris record at the same time makes me think twice about the legitimacy. I am just as happy to accept expansion, horrible NL pitching, or juiced baseballs as I am juiced players. (On the expansion front, Maris and McGwire both broke the records right after new teams were added). But whatever the reason it makes it less impressive to me. And just like I don’t think Maris belongs in, I wouldn’t put these guys in for that alone. Regardless of the reason, the career HR totals aren’t impressive either. If you look at their other career totals, McGwire is the stronger candidate. JAWS ranks Sosa 18th among RFers alone, which means he’s probably not even a top 30 outfielder even if you count all those HRs. He’s ranked right behind Bobby Abreu and Reggie Smith, who probably don’t belong in either, and most guys he’s ahead of are from different eras. McGwire has a better case, ranking 16th among 1Bs, right behind some big names. But he wasn’t a spectacular player in Oakland except for maybe 2 seasons scattered among his first 10, just a source of power and HRs. Then in 1999, his last year in Oakland, he did hit a peak, but that only lasted 4 seasons, 1 1/2 in Oakland and 2 1/2 in St. Louis. His peak was actually pretty short, even though it was spectacular, and the rest of his career was pretty much just ok. I don’t think it would be a statistical travesty for McGwire to be in, by any stretch, but I’m not ready to vote for him.
Jack Morris – NO
I know it’s fashionable to bash him, but I think he really was a solid pitcher. Unfortunately, he only had a couple of great seasons. He gets way too much love for one incredible postseason game (nobody feels the need to put Don Larsen in the HoF), and while I don’t think he was bad, his peak wasn’t that long or special. What surprised me most about looking at his numbers was that about half of his career was spent as an innings eating, league average or below starter with a big name. He had 8 seasons with at least 20 starts and an ERA+ of 101 or below. He had 4 seasons with an ERA+ between 125 and 133 (as comparison Jordan Zimmermann‘s ERA+ was 134 in 2012), another couple of strong years with ERA+ of 115, 117, 122 and 124. But that’s it. There isn’t a single season where he was truly dominant, although he was great from 1985-1987, and there are a couple of other very good to great years you can pepper in there. I think he was a very good pitcher for a while and a very average pitcher for a while, and there is nothing that would suggest he deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Lee Smith – NO
I’ll first admit that I have trouble with relievers as Hall of Famers. I differ with many of the real stats guys who think that anyone can close, but I don’t differ by much. He has a ton of saves, but that has more to do with consistency, longevity and setting than dominance. I think Smith was a great reliever, but he only had a few truly spectacular seasons, even for a closer. He was almost always good, even great, but he just wasn’t really dominant. There is one closer who was dominant enough that I’d vote to elect to the Hall, but he’s still planning on pitching this year at age 43, so it’ll have to wait.
Fred McGriff – NO
There are some significant accomplishments that stand out in the Crime Dog’s career. He lead the league in HRs twice, including a 1989 campaign with the Blue Jays in which he also lead the league in OPS and OPS+. His peak years, from about 1988 to 1994 were very strong, yielding a .288/.390/.545 hitter with a 155 OPS+. But he only finished top 5 in MVP voting once, and unfortunately for him, his great 1989 has his lowest average (.269) in any season that he appeared in over 103 games. If he had managed a few more base hits that year, he would have jumped from 6th place to maybe 4th or 3rd or… well, who knows. He was never dominant, and while he was great in his peak, he was only very good after that. JAWS sees him at the tail end of the HoF first baseman, not enough to get in, but not a travesty if he did. If his peak was as a truly dominant player, the rest of the career is probably enough to put him over the top. It’s close, closer than most people probably think, but I’m just not there with McGriff.
Don Mattingly – NO
It pains me to write this about Mattingly, my favorite player growing up. When I started paying attention to baseball, he had established himself as one of the best, if not the best, hitters in the game. From 1984-1989 he was incredible, hitting .327/.372/.530, and in an era of good pitching, that ended up being an OPS+ of 147 over 5 seasons (from 84-87 his OPS+ was 155!). He was a spectacular fielding first basemen, one of the greatest of all time, and he seemed destined for the HoF. But then he got hurt, and he was never the same. His peak was great, but from 1990-1995 he only hit .286/.345/.405, for a 105 OPS+, not really enough for a starting 1B, let alone an All Star or an all time star. I can blame the back injury and lament what could have been, but I couldn’t put him in the Hall.
Dale Murphy – NO
This guy is the NL Mattingly in my mind, so I’ll just compare the two here.. They played at the same time, and had similar high peaks and disappointing finishes. His 1982 and 1983 (voted #1 and #1 for MVP) were alot like Mattingly’s 1984 and 1985 (voted #1 and #2 for MVP). And like Donnie Baseball, he had a 6 year (not 5) peak (1982-1987) that was great, with an OPS+ of 145. And just like Mattingly, it was a precipitous decline after that, and from 1988 to the end in 1993 he had an OPS+ of 96. His peak was longer and not quite as high as Mattingly, his decline was worse. By his decline, he had moved to RF from CF, so he doesn’t get significant bonus points for that. And during Mattingly’s bad phase, his OBP was still .345, meaning he was never a hole in the lineup. Murphy lost his power like Mattingly, but his OBP was only .307 over that 88-93 span. To me, Murphy is slightly (but not much) less deserving than Mattingly, so I don’t think either belongs.
Rafael Palmeiro – NO
It’s hard for me to look at Palmeiro as anything but a compiler. His compiled numbers are eye popping though, with 569 HRs and 3020 hits. Just looking at that makes me think maybe… just maybe… But then I think about his peak value, and I think peak is more important than career value. I’d rather have Mattingly or Murphy in the HoF than Palmeiro; Raffy was never the player that Donnie Baseball was. And I don’t think Donnie or Dale did enough after about 1989 to get in. So using that comparison, I’m a no on Palmeiro.
Bernie Williams – NO
This is an interesting one. I think he had an incredibly underrated career, and he had 7 seasons where he averaged .323/.408/.538 while playing very good CF defense (forget about the decline later, he was good back then). He also had quite a bit of individual postseason success to add to it. But the peak value was probably too short, and I’m a bit surprised, but JAWS ranks him as only the 26th best CF. He is behind the next closest Post-WWII HoFers Puckett, who many say got a sympathy vote, and Doby, who was a great player and a pioneer, but not the best all time. Looking at the list brings me to another guy, who maybe does deserve to get in, and that’s Jim Edmonds, the first guy on the list after a bunch of HoFers, Griffey and Beltran. But that’s a discussion for another day.