The Ten Players on My Fictional 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot
I do not vote for the Hall of Fame, but if I did, this would be my ballot:
The No-Brainers: This category is reserved for the players who should be on every voter’s ballot. Most people have two players on this list this year. I believe a third is also warranted.
Randy Johnson – The Big Unit has a career ERA of 3.42, won over 300 games (302), and averaged 10.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings throughout his career. He won five Cy Young Awards and was in the top five in voting another four times (and should have won in 2004 – compare his statistics with Roger Clemens here). Aside from having the “numbers,” Johnson was also the most feared pitcher of his era.
Pedro Martinez – While Martinez may not have the “counting stats” that Johnson has (Martinez only has 219 wins in roughly 1200 less innings pitched than Johnson), Martinez’s peak was much higher than Johnson’s. From 1997 until 2003, Martinez was simply the best pitcher in baseball. During that span, he had a 2.20 ERA, .940 WHIP, and struck out over 11 hitters per nine innings. He won three Cy Young Awards (and should have beaten out Barry Zito for a fourth in 2002). Over 400 games started and a lifetime ERA under 3.00 (2.93) while pitching the bulk of his career in the American League East translates into a no-doubt hall of fame career.
Mike Piazza – While some may quibble over his defensive capabilities, very few challenge the fact that Piazza was the greatest hitting catcher of his generation and, arguably, of all time. In his prime (1993-2002), Piazza averaged 35 home runs and 107 RBI per season and slashed .322/389/.579/.969, while catching in all but 29 games during that span. Further evidence that Piazza belongs is the realization that he ranks fifth all time in career WAR, trailing only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, and Carlton Fisk.
Definitely Yes: This category is for the players who are surefire Hall of Famers but are just shy of the legendary status of the players listed in the preceding category.
Craig Biggio – I know people love to hate on Biggio by referring to him as a “Hall of Very Good” player and contending that his biggest qualification is one rooted in longevity (3,000 hits) rather than ever being a truly dominant player. Such contentions are, however, flat wrong. During his prime years (1991-2000, before he tore his left ACL in 2000), Biggio was an epic offensive talent, contributing on so many levels as noted by his average season totals (110 runs, 15 home runs, 67 RBI, 33 stolen bases, 5.6 WAR) and his slash lines (.299/.391/.451/.842) during that span. He was an all-star catcher and second baseman before converting to the outfield in 2003 to make room for All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent. Biggio’s statistics alone justify enshrinement, but Biggio’s other unique contributions to the game (most all-time hit-by-pitches, only player ever to be named as an all-star at catcher and second base, leading – along with Bagwell – the Astros to the playoffs in 1997) solidify his candidacy in my mind.
Mike Mussina – I do not really understand the hesitancy with Mussina’s Hall of Fame worthiness. He has the career numbers (270 wins, 3.68 ERA, 1.192 WHIP) and the accolades (five-time all-star, 8-time gold glove award winner). I guess for some voters, Mussina does not “feel” like a Hall-of-Famer because he never won a Cy Young Award and does not possess that indelible legacy defining moment (such as a bloody sock). However, the entirety of Mussina’s career should be considered his “legacy defining moment” as his biggest attributes were his reliability and consistency, having totaled more than 200 innings pitched eleven times and finishing in the top-five voting for the Cy Young award six times. The fact that Mussina accomplished all this while pitching his entire career in the treacherous American League East confirms Mussina as Cooperstown worthy.
Tim Raines – In recent years, the drum for Raines’s inclusion in the Hall has beaten much louder, and rightfully so. In much the same way as Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker, Raines’s candidacy has suffered from a bit of misremembering. Raines wasn’t simply a good player in the 1980s – he was extraordinary. From 1981 to 1989, Raines batted .304/.392/.443/.835 with an OPS+ of 133, and he averaged 96 runs, 10 home runs, 54 RBI, and 64 stolen bases per season. He was named to the All-Star team seven times and finished in the top-ten for MVP voting three times. Due to injuries and age, Raines was not the same player during the second half of his career, as he only accumulated 78 stolen bases after his age-32 season. But, his ability to get on base never departed, which still made Raines a valuable contributor to some very good Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees teams in the 1990s. Raines’s candidacy has been unfairly hurt by being compared to Rickey Henderson because Henderson’s peak was higher, his stretch of dominance was longer, and he stuck around long enough to reach 3000 hits. However, there is no doubt that Tim Raines was the best leadoff hitter in the National League in the 1980s. Being dubbed the second best leadoff hitter during a decade in which the best leadoff hitter of all time was playing at his peak should not be viewed negatively. Rather, this description should be considered further evidence that Raines belongs in Cooperstown.
Alan Trammell – I previously outlined the reasons why Trammel is clearly worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown here. As a snapshot, Trammell and Cal Ripken, Jr. were the two best shortstops in the American League in the 1980s. Trammell’s game was well-rounded, combining great defense at a demanding position with tremendous offensive production. He was the MVP of the 1984 World Series and rightfully should have won the American League MVP in 1987, having batted .343/.402/.551/.953 with 28 home runs, 105 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and 8.2. WAR. Finally, Trammell’s career numbers mirror those of Barry Larkin, who was elected on his third year of eligibility.
Closer Calls: These are players who, for various reasons, are just a step below the aforementioned players. Ultimately, these players are all worthy of enshrinement, but some careful assessment was required before making this determination.
Jeff Bagwell – There are certain characteristics of Bagwell’s career that jump off the page and scream “First Ballot Hall of Famer”: rookie of the year in 1991, National League MVP in 1994, finished in the top ten in MVP voting another five times, slugged 449 home runs, and totaled 100 RBI eight times. He was also a stellar defensive first baseman and was an underrated baserunner (he stole thirty or more bases twice). However, Bagwell was only named to the All-Star team on four occasions during his fifteen year career and his lone MVP award was saved by the 1994 strike. Bagwell was lost for the season after being hit on the hand on August 10th, which meant that had the season continued, it was likely that one of Matt Williams, Moises Alou, Greg Maddux, or Tony Gwynn would have compiled sufficient statistics to overtake Bagwell. The other hesitancy with Bagwell’s candidacy is that, even though he was a feared slugger, he only accumulated 449 home runs and 2314 hits during his career. In the end, however, Bagwell consistently produced at an all-star level over a fourteen year stretch and, discounting his last injury-shortened seasons, the following was Bagwell’s average season during that span: .297/.408/.542/.951, 108 runs, 32 home runs, 108 RBI, 14 stolen bases, and 150 OPS+. These numbers speak for themselves and outweigh any concerns regarding Bagwell’s failure to reach the typical milestones.
Curt Schilling – Schilling did not really hit his stride as a starting pitcher until his age-28 season with the Philadelphia Phillies, which means that, when viewed in isolation, his win total (216) is not all that impressive. Additionally, Schilling never won a Cy Young Award, having finished second three times. But, it is hard to argue with Schilling’s dominance from 1995 to 2007: 180-109, 3.43 ERA, 2612 strikeouts in 2572 innings pitched, and a 1.112 WHIP. Schilling is the rare player whose peak five years occurred after his age-32 season (2000-2004: 3.24 ERA, 25 complete games, 1.064 WHIP). In an era where the complete game was endangered, Schilling amassed 83 of them (which is more than either Mussina or Martinez), leading the league in that category four times. Schilling’s bloody sock game will reside alongside some of the most legendary performances of all time, and Schilling’s postseason dominance (three-time World Series champion, 11-2 with a 2.23 in 19 starts, 2001 co-World Series MVP) is a major factor supporting his enshrinement. In sum, while Schilling may not have the requisite win total, his post-season performances and years of dominance with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox make him a Hall of Fame pitcher.
John Smoltz – Smoltz is a very interesting case for the Hall of Fame. After a rough rookie season, Smoltz had a terrific eleven-year run with the Braves. From 1989 to 1999 Smoltz went 155-106 with a 3.29 ERA, and 2061 strike outs in 2350.1 innings pitched. He was also named to the All-Star team four times and was awarded the Cy Young in 1996 with a truly dominant year (24-8, 2.95, 276 strikeouts in 253 innings pitched). However, elbow problems forced him to pitch out of the bullpen for four seasons (2001-2004), and while his counting numbers look pretty good (2.65 ERA, 154 saves), the reality is that Smoltz was not as valuable to his team in that role (7.4 total WAR during that span). Smoltz ultimately returned to the rotation and had three very good years in 2005-2007 (3.22 ERA, 1.172 in 100 games started). In the end, Smoltz was an eight-time All Star and a Cy Young Award winner with a 213-155 record, 154 saves, 3084 strikeouts, and a 3.33 ERA. For me, Smoltz is the closest call out of the ten players listed but, ultimately, his bookended success as a starter coupled with his stellar postseason statistics (15-4 with a 2.67 ERA) carries the day.