National_Baseball_Hall_of_Fame_and_Museum (1)

Picture from Wikimedia

The  Hall of Fame will announce the 2013 class today, thus ending one of the biggest yearly debates surrounding baseball outside maybe the end of season awards. This year is especially contentious with a slew of new candidates with ties to performance enhancing drugs.

As a fun exercise I thought it would be fun to go through the guys and try to make my own ballot. In fact, you all should join in with your list of up to 10 guys in the comments.

Before we get started it might be best to lay out my general thoughts. I am a proponent of a fairly inclusive Hall of Fame. I don’t think it should be just for the only transcendent players of the game but it should also include the guys that were among the best of their era. I put more weight on a player’s peak years, so I would rank a dominant player for five years ahead of a guy who was merely good for 10. My general rule of thumb is that a player’s inclusion shouldn’t reduce the average talent level in the Hall of Fame when compared to the other players at his position.

With concern to the elephant in the room in all of the Hall of Fame discussion, I don’t view PEDs as an automatic disqualifier. To me it is more important what they did in the context of their era than what they put into their bodies (remember, even the guys in the past used amphetamines like it was nothing; those are among the banned drugs now). If a guy is borderline it might be a tiebreaker, but it isn’t something that I would put a lot of weight on.

Paring down the list

Right away I feel comfortable eliminating Rondell White, Ryan Klesko, Aaron Sele, Roberto Hernandez, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Mike Stanton, Sandy Alomar, Jose Mesa, Todd Walker, Reggie Sanders, Jeff Cirillo, Shawn Green and Woody Williams without really feeling the need to explain. Basically they were good players but no one really said while they were playing “that’s a future Hall of Famer.”

That leaves the following 23 guys for the 10 spots on my ballot, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Bernie Williams, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton, Craig Biggio, Sammy Sosa, David Wells, Steve Finley and Julio Franco.

Second elimination round

Narrowing down the list a bit further to guys that I think deserve more than just a passing glance gets us closer to the 10 people allowable on a ballot. The guys in this cut for me are: Lee Smith, Jack Morris, David Wells, Julio Franco and Steve Finley.

Smith was one of the most consistent and dominant relievers of the ’80s and early ’90s. He was one of the last of the breed of relievers that regularly went more than one inning and was the all-time saves leader when he retired. All that being said, I just don’t think that he quite cuts it with a crowded ballot and the disadvantage of being a relief pitcher.

Morris is a fixture of my childhood baseball memories. When I was growing up my dad had a Sports Illustrated “The Year in Sports” VHS for 1991 that featured his World Series performance with the Twins prominently. Childhood memories aside, his career stats leave something to be desired. He was always a good pitcher, but never had a truly dominating stretch where he would be considered one of the top couple of pitchers in baseball. David Wells for me is a lot like Morris — a good pitcher who had some memorable moments along the way, but Wells was never quite was able to break through and be among the elite pitchers of his time.

Franco is not worthy of the Hall of Fame, but he makes an interesting case. The amazing thing with him was the he played forever. His career spanned three decades and 23 seasons, playing until he was in his late 40s. The thing that gets lost in his longevity was that he was a pretty amazing player in the late 80’s and early 90’s; not Hall of Fame good, but he was certainly deserving of his multiple All-Star selections.

Steve Finley did this, I don’t need any reason other than that to leave him off a ballot.

The “almost Hall of Famers”

The next grouping of guys would probably be fighting for the last few spots and be right on the cusp of making my hypothetical ballot. This year with so many qualified guys they come in a tier below. The people in this spot are: Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff.

Williams was a Good Yankee™ but in my opinion he falls just short of the qualifications for the Hall of Fame. When compared to his peers in center field he would be one of the worst guys in the Hall, in addition I never really saw him as a dominating force.

Mattingly is another tough case. For a good stretch he was one of the best players in the league, but once he hit his late 20s back problems dropped him from an elite talent to just an average player, eventually ending his career in his mid 30s. I am a proponent of placing more weight on a player’s prime, but unfortunately Mattingly’s was just too short because of injuries to allow me to hypothetically fill in the bubble next to his name.

Murphy is another case similar to Mattingly. He played longer (and had a higher peak), but had several below average years at the beginning and end of his career. I would love to be able to vote for both but they just fall short for me. In a brief aside there is an excellent eBook that covers many of the players that fall just short of my ballot called ‘The Hall of Nearly Great’ that was written by a number of excellent writers covering many players that deserve to be remembered (here is an excerpt from Grant Brisbee of McCovery Chronicles on Will Clark).

McGriff was probably a guy who was under-appreciated during his era. He hit a fair amount of home runs but he didn’t hit the eye popping amounts that other players did. He spent his best years in Toronto and San Diego where he wasn’t in the national spotlight often enough. That being said, he falls short in both his peak years and doesn’t measure up well against his Hall of Fame peers at first base.

Final cuts

The last grouping before the ballot was the hardest to deal with. In my opinion all of these guys probably should be in the Hall of Fame, but because of the ballot rules and how long it seems to take to get deserving players in there is a glut right now. The people just off my ballot this year are: Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Kenny Lofton.

Sosa is probably the closest out of all of these guys. He was an amazing power hitter but that was about it. He had a five-year peak where he was among the best hitters in baseball, but outside of that only a few where he was more than 20% better than league average. On top of that he didn’t really add much value with his glove. Sosa was one of the game’s best home run hitters but he was kind of a one-trick pony. With numerous candidates who are also deserving of enshrinement, Sosa falls just short for me.

Palmeiro put together a very long and very good career. He is a member of the very exclusive 500 home run, 3,000 hit club to go along with a career adjusted OPS that was 32% better than league average. The problem for me with Pamerio is that he is right on the fence between a compiler and a guy with an excellent peak. He had just one season where he surpassed the 6 wins above replacement barrier and had just one top 5 MVP season. It was hard to say that while he was playing he was ever truly one of the dominant players in the game. Palmeiro put together an amazingly consistent career, one which fell just short of great.

McGwire is in a way very similar and forever linked to both Sosa and Palmerio. All three were active at the height of the steroid era, all three have the cloud of suspicion, admitted guilt or a failed test hanging over their accomplishments. McGwire’s career is a tough one from a Hall of Fame perspective; he was one of the game’s greatest sluggers with the seventh best slugging percentage of all time, but struggled with injuries in his prime years that could have pushed his candidacy from borderline to solid Hall of Famer. With the games lost to injury I just don’t think that there is enough here have his name replace someone else on my ballot.

Lofton was one of the best center fielders of his era and perhaps because he spent time with so many different teams at the end of his career he always seemed to be underrated. Lofton had elite speed and combined it with an above average ability to get on base where he could utilize it. At his peak from 1992 to 2000 he averaged over 5 wins above replacement, but after that he went from elite player to just an average player. Normally I would be willing to elevate a player like Lofton, but there wasn’t room for him on this year’s ballot.

Bay Area Stats Guy’s Hypothetical Hall of Fame Ballot

So now that we have gotten to all of the guys that didn’t make the list it is time to say who did. I used all 10 spots and would have used more if the rules allowed it. Without any further adieu, the ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.

Bagwell was one of the best hitters of his era who fairly easily surpasses nearly every hurdle most people would have for a Hall of Famer. He had an excellent peak — culminating in an MVP in 1994 — that lasted for several years. From 1993 to 2000 he averaged an adjusted OPS 64% above league average. He missed out on some round number milestones by only playing 15 seasons, but should have done more than enough to compensate for that.

Biggio was actually the last guy to make it on my ballot but he still has a pretty strong case to belong in the Hall of Fame. By the traditional numbers Biggio should make it into the Hall pretty easily — he collected over 3,00 hits, nearly 700 doubles and nearly 300 home runs all while spending the majority of his career at up-the-middle defensive positions. The one real knock on Biggio is that he was a poor defender, and defense does matter (no matter what the AL MVP voters thought this year). When you look at his defense his late years look much less impressive, but I don’t think that overshadows the accomplishments he had during his peak seasons from 1991 to 1999.

Bonds is a no-doubter. I understand the argument people make against PEDs, but I don’t think this generation of players is all that different than what any other generation has done before in looking for an edge. There are already numerous people in the Hall of Fame who used  amphetamines to enhance performance and the Hall hasn’t fallen apart. It happened, baseball turned a blind eye, the Hall is a museum dedicated to the best players in the game. So let them in.

Now getting down to Bonds, even with the PEDs he was the best player at a time when it sure seems like a lot of people were using the same things he was. Taking the time to look at his baseball reference page is amazing, a pastime you can get lost in. One quick rather random fact I found while looking at his stats: in 2001 he hit a home run in every National League park that season. You can find cool things like that for hours.

What I just wrote about Bonds and PEDs applies to Clemens. When compared to his peers from the same era it was like he was playing a different game. Clemens  is one of the very best pitchers to ever take the mound and was able to pitch at a high level for a very long time. His inclusion in the Hall is a no-brainer.

Martinez is another guy who just barely made my ballot. Martinez was a pure hitter with an amazing eye. He didn’t put up gaudy home run numbers (partly due to spending so much time in The Kingdome and SafeCo Field) but he did have 20-25 homer power and pelted the gaps with doubles, plus his counting stats are hurt by not becoming a full-time player until he was 27. The knock on him was that he was primarily a designated hitter and that should be held against him. I don’t think that is the case. The DH is a real position in the sense that the rules allow it, so that shouldn’t be held against him any more than a left fielder should be compared to a center fielder in terms covering the same amount of ground. Martinez is one of the best ever to play his position and I think that should be recognized.

Piazza has an argument that he is the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Sure, he was horrible on defense. However, his weaknesses behind the plate came nowhere close to canceling out all the good that he added with his bat. His career triple slash line compared to Johnny Bench isn’t even really close: .267/.342/.476 for Bench vs. .308/.377/.545 for Piazz. I hated him when he played for the Dodgers, but you knew when you were watching him you were watching a true once in a generation type of player. His type of dominance at a position is what the Hall of Fame is all about.

I unfortunately never got to see Raines during his prime years, but in looking back at his body of work and watching videos of him he is the type of player who I would have loved. One of the best base stealers of all time combined with an awesome ability to get on base, plus a bit of power to go along with it — that is just an awesome package. If you want to find out more about Raines I suggest you check out the website that has been set up to support his Hall of Fame campaign. For too long Raines has gotten the short end of the stick for not being Rickey Henderson and/or not having monster batting averages, but sure seems like the electorate is coming around to him and that he will eventually get into the Hall.

The talk about Schilling only being a borderline candidate really bugs me. He was one of the best pitchers of an era when offense was inflated and did some truly amazing things. In his 20-year career he averaged an adjusted ERA that was nearly 30% better than league average. His ability to hit his spots was simply amazing, perhaps second only to Greg Maddux, and to top it all off he induced swings and misses with the best of them. Oh, and we haven’t even gotten into the postseason yet where he added nearly another season’s worth of pitching where he was downright spectacular. If Schilling was the probable pitcher against your team you started looking at the other games in the series to see if the team could win those. He was like that for close to 20 years. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Trammell is another guy that I didn’t get to watch in his prime and I feel robbed as a result. He was an excellent hitter and fielder, but was probably overshadowed by the likes of Robin Yount and Cal Ripken Jr. who came up around the same time. Looking at him compared to the other shortstops in the Hall of Fame he has a very good case to be included. He had an excellent peak, he had several good seasons outside of that peak, and he would raise the average talent level at his position if he were to make it in to the Hall. In my book he checks off all of the boxes that I am looking for.

Last but not least is Walker. He was another tough choice to make it on a crowded ballot. Ultimately he came in eighth place when I ranked everyone from 1 to 23, and I think deserves a spot. Looking at things from a big picture perspective, Walker’s stats should make it a pretty easy case to make it into the Hall, but the big question for him was how much his numbers were affected by playing in pre-humidor Coors Field. I do my best to not try to get caught up in the counting stats because those are the hardest to compare between eras. I prefer to look at rate stats and things relative to the league, and when possible adjusted for the park played in. When you do that you can mitigate some of the effects of Coors Field and have a more fair conversation about Walker. In this light he still comes out as one of the best right fielders to play the game. He was an amazing hitter with a fair amount of power, and defensively he had a cannon for an arm and played a great right field. His career adjusted OPS of 41% better than league average is amazing, his peak even adjusted for Coors Field was outstanding, and he was a complete player. I can understand people not wanting to include him, but I think Walker has done more than enough to merit a plaque in Cooperstown.

Thanks for sticking out all the way to the end as I went through the list of candidates. This year’s ballot is packed with more talented guys than I can ever remember seeing. The worst part is that it will probably only get more crowded in future years. I sure hope that doesn’t hurt too many guys that deserve to get the honor.

Now that I have laid out my ballot, feel free to post the 10 guys you would vote for in the comments.