With Major League Baseball engaged in a lockout with its players, there has been a pause of offseason activity such as trades and free agent signings. The lack of current offseason activity has lead to more concentration on the Hall of Fame debate that typically occurs this time of year, especially on the internet. Not only is the Hall of Fame ballot a major talking point, but this year marks the final year of eligibility for the controversial Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and the first year of eligibility for Alex Rodriguez. There is plenty of baggage for great players on the ballot this year, and I do not envy the baseball writers who have to choose who will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York next summer. Even though I am not a voter, below is where I will display who I would vote for if I were a member of the BBWAA, and attempt to justify my choices.
The Initial Omissions
Narrowing a ballot with 30 great players to 10 is always a challenge, especially with the accolades that many of these players have won. From the outset, I was able to immediately determine 17 players that I believe should be in the Hall of Fame, eliminating 13 in the process. With all due respect to the following players, I do not believe that they are Hall of Fame caliber players.
- Bobby Abreu
- Carl Crawford
- Prince Fielder
- Ryan Howard
- Tim Hudson
- Torii Hunter
- Tim Linceucum
- Justin Morneau
- Jake Peavy
- A.J. Pierzynski
- Jimmy Rollins
- Mark Teixeira
- Omar Vizquel
A notable early omission is Omar Vizquel. Vizquel’s reputation did not come from his bat but with his glove as a shortstop. Only Ozzie Smith won more Gold Gloves at the shortstop position than Vizquel, with 13 to Vizquel’s 11. Vizquel also boasts the highest fielding percentage among shortstops at 0.985, and 2,877 hits, sixth among all shortstops. Another major accomplishment of Omar Vizquel is his longevity, as he played more games at shortstop than any other major leaguer. Despite his credentials, Vizquel has a problematic Hall of Fame case that stems from multiple off the field issues and his spotty offense. His career 82 OPS+ would be tied for the lowest career OPS+ of position players in the Hall of Fame, along with Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville.
The advanced defensive metrics are not as friendly to Vizquel’s reputation either. Since Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating data only date back to 2002 (Vizquel’s age 35 season), the best way to compare his defense with players from any generation is with Total Zone, which is a defensive statistic that is calculated with play-by-play data and thus can be used for any player. For his career, Vizquel has 132 runs saved via Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved combined, and 134.8 runs saved via Total Zone and Ultimate Zone Rating, which indicates that he was a good defender, but not the caliber of defender that Smith (+239) and Mark Belanger (+238) attained. In simpler terms, Ozzie Smith saved approximately 100 more runs from his fielding at shortstop than Vizquel despite Vizquel playing nearly 200 more games and 1,200 more innings at shortstop. Belanger also saved approximately 100 more runs from his fielding at shortstop than Vizquel despite Vizquel playing roughly 750 more games and over 7,500 more innings at shortstops than Belanger. Ultimately, Vizquel’s defensive reputation, while great, does not rate him as one of the greatest defenders at shortstop ever, and combined with poor offense keeps him off my ballot.
The other major omission (at least in my opinion) is Bobby Abreu. Abreu is a favorite amongst the fans who are more well-versed in analytics and sabermetrics. The main reason (and I realize this may be foolish) that I did not pick Abreu to be on my ballot is that he is not famous enough to be enshrined. Abreu never finished in the top-ten in MVP voting and was only elected to two All-Star games. At his peak, Abreu was an excellent hitter, but my issue with putting him on my ballot is that he was never considered to be a top right fielder in the majors or a top player in baseball. Before moving on, I will say that next year when the ballot inevitably loses some big names, he makes it on there, but for now Abreu will have to wait.
Trimming the Ballot
After determining the players that I believed to be worthy of Hall of Fame enshrinement, it came down to trimming the ballot. Despite my belief that there are 17 Hall of Fame caliber players, there were only ten slots that I could fill. To start, the first player that I cut from the ballot is the ever-controversial Curt Schilling. The character clause can justifiably keep Schilling out, but I left him out because Schilling did not want the writers to vote for him. Schilling has previously stated that he does not want to remain on the Hall of Fame ballot, and in a crowded ballot, someone who does not want the privilege of being elected to the Hall of Fame should not be, and Schilling is evidently at peace with this.
The next way I went about trimming my ballot was to look at the three relief pitchers that I had initially included: Billy Wagner, Jonathan Papelbon, and Joe Nathan. Among pitchers with at least 900 innings pitched, Billy Wagner is first in strikeout rate, and has more strikeouts than Mariano Rivera despite a difference of over 300 innings between them, making Wagner a safe choice. Nathan also pitched a little over 900 innings, but had less strikeouts, more walks, a higher ERA and higher FIP than Wagner, which is how I dropped him from the ballot. Papelbon’s main issue is a lack of innings pitched, and no one in the Hall of Fame has less than 800 IP, and Papelbon finished at 725.2 IP, which eliminated him from my ballot as well.
With four more names to be crossed off the list, I looked at the remaining starting pitchers. Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Mark Buehrle were all aces for World Series winning teams. Pettitte and Buehrle both had a career 117 ERA+, but Pettitte had an advantage in fWAR by the tune of 68.2 to Buehrle’s 52.3. The conundrum is that both Pettitte and Buehrle had good careers, but neither were nearly as dominant as Clemens, and become casualities in a crowded ballot.
The Final Ballot
At this point there were 12 players left on the ballot and instead of looking for players to leave off the ballot, I decided to look for players to have on the final ballot. Scott Rolen was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame as he is one of six third basemen to acculumate over 300 home runs, 2,000 hits, and an OPS+ above 120, joining the likes of all time greats George Brett, Chipper Jones, Eddie Mathews, Ron Santo, and Mike Schmidt. Todd Helton was another easy choice for me, as he posted a 133 career OPS+ while playing in the hitter friendly environment Coors Field, which to me validates his high counting numbers. Andruw Jones has the reputation of one of the greatest defensive center fielders of all time, ranking in the top two in Total Zone, DRS, and UZR, and also hit over 400 home runs, locking himself on the ballot as well. David Ortiz and Gary Sheffield both hit over 500 home runs and had a career OPS+ above 140, marks that only 20 other players surpassed.
Alex Rodriguez was suspended for his usage of steroids for the entire 2014 season, and Manny Ramirez was suspended twice, in 2009 and in 2011 before he retired. I do not condone these players using steroids, but their career statistics stack up with the best players in baseball history. In major league history, only 8 players have had over 2,500 hits, over 500 home runs, and had a batting average over .300 for their career; Henry Aaron, Miguel Cabrera, Jimmie Foxx, Willie Mays, Mel Ott, Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams. As for Rodriguez, there are only four players with over 600 career home runs and 3,000 hits; Aaron, Mays, Albert Pujols, and Rodriguez. The statistical company that Rodriguez and Ramirez have made them easy choices for my ballot despite the steroid suspensions.
Clemens and Bonds were not suspended for their steroid usage, yet have become the poster boys for the steroid era in Major League Baseball. The stats that Bonds and Clemens put up would make them easy choices for the Hall of Fame, but the steroids and other off the field issues for Bonds and Clemens are currently keeping them out. The reason why I chose to put them in despite their issues was because of the lack of regulations surrounding steroids while Bonds and Clemens were playing. Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig was elected to the Hall of Fame shortly after his retirement in 2015 despite turning a blind eye to steroids during his career, and if he can get in with that controversy as a part of his legacy, then so should Bonds and Clemens.
With my support of Wagner mentioned earlier, that brings my ballot to ten, with Sammy Sosa and Jeff Kent both being the final cuts. Sosa had a similar resume to Ortiz, but I put Ortiz on my ballot instead of Sosa only because I never had the opportunity to watch Sosa in his prime while I did for Ortiz, and Kent just did not have the numbers that the rest of these players had and could not crack my final ballot. The final choices for my ballot are as following: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton, Alex Rodriguez, and David Ortiz.
*Author’s Note: In this article, I attempt to be as subjective as possible when evaluating players. However, some of the allegations against Omar Vizquel troubled me more so than some of the other baggage that the other players have. I am not a qualified enough writer to describe the crimes that Vizquel allegedly did, but I can say that they bothered me to the point where I could not overlook it. While I do believe that he did not have the statistical case to be a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was mostly his off the field issues that pushed him off my ballot.
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated