Let’s Talk: MLB Hall of Fame

The MLB Hall of Fame vote has been a topic of much discussion since 2007 when Mark McGwire, and to a much lesser extent Jose Canseco, became the first high profile steroid users to become eligible for Hall of Fame consideration. That year Canseco was dropped from the ballot after garnering just 1.1% of the votes. McGwire stuck around before being dropped off the ballot after failing to meet the 75% threshold after 10 years of eligibility. The conversation of the Hall of Fame really caught fire in 2013 when arguably the greatest pitcher and greatest hitter of the generation both made the eligibility list for the first time, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Since 2013 it has been a heated debate every January as to whether or not those two, as well as others from the Steroid Era, should be included in the Hall of Fame or not.

We will get into the candidates this year and the case for and against the “Steroid guys” later on, but let’s first take a look at the flawed structure of the Hall of Fame vote. While it is certainly a better system than other leagues—I’m looking at you, NFL—it isn’t without its flaws. The first class of the Hall of Fame was in 1936 when five players were enshrined by the BBWAA. No Hall of Fame class has matched that number of inductees. In the 75 years of Hall of Fame voting between 1937 and 2013 there was a total of seven years (1937,39,54,72,84,91,99) that has seen three inductees and just two years (1947 & 55) that had four inductees. Needless to say, these cases were few and far between. Yet since 2014 we have already seen two years (2014 & 17) with three inductees and in 2015 there were four inductees. Now, in 2018 we are looking at the potential for another year with three plus inductees voted in by the BBWAA.

One major flaw was addressed in 2016 when they lowered the maximum years of eligibility from 15 down to 10. Let’s face the facts here: if you haven’t convinced 330 out of 440 individuals that you deserve to be in the top 10 out of roughly 35 candidates after five years, let alone 15, then you probably don’t deserve to get in. However, the 10 year maximum is a start and may need to be reduced again if we continue to consistently see Hall of Fame classes of three plus players while still excluding guys like Bonds and Clemens.

Another flaw of the Hall of Fame is the minimum vote yield before being dropped from the ballot. Garnering five percent of the vote is ridiculously low when talking about eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Most years the ballot consists of 440 ballots. Meaning a player only needs 22 votes to stay on the ballot for up to 10 years. This leaves too many guys who statistically have no shot at reaching the 75% plateau hanging around and crowding the ballot. I would like to see this percentage raised to at least 15% to rid the ballot of bottom feeders like Sammy Sosa and Billy Wagner. And to save us from the embarrassment of a player like Don Mattingly who had that hope of making it dangled in front of him for 15 years despite only cracking 20% in his first two years on the ballot. His final 13 years on the ballot he failed to crack 15% 10 times.

Now that we got that off our chest, let’s discuss the 2018 candidates:

The No-Chance Group:

Each year there is a slew of first year candidates on the ballot and every year a majority of them fall off the ballot with good reason. Going off of history, the BBWAA does not think highly of relief pitchers, evidenced by the omission of Trevor Hoffman the past two seasons despite being the first pitcher to reach the 600 saves plateau and posting a career 2.87 ERA. With that being said, Brad Lidge and Jason Isringhausen will be among the first to drop off the ballot. Pitchers with short careers are also looked down on. Kerry Wood fits into this category, and despite his spectacular rookie season in which he struck out a record 20 batters in one game, he will also drop below that five percent.

One last group of pitchers that will likely drop off the ballot after their first year are those that simply weren’t effective enough to be considered. Kevin Millwood served well in his role as the number four pitcher of the dominant Braves of the late 90s, but his 4.11 career ERA doesn’t exactly scream Hall of Fame worthy. Same can be said of Livan Hernandez who had a career 4.44 ERA and never led the league in any major pitching category, but he did lead the league in losses, hits allowed and earned runs.

As far as hitters go, there are certain milestones that Hall of Fame voters look for as reference points. A player who reaches more than one of these milestones is considered a likely candidate. Those milestones are 2500 hits, 400 homeruns, 1500 RBIs, 1500 runs scored, 400 stolen bases, .300 career batting average. The further a player is from these milestones, the lower their chances are for entering the Hall.

The player furthest from these reference points is Orlando Hudson, who has had an uneventful career in the Majors and will likely fall off the ballot this year. Aubrey Huff will join him.

Bottom Feeders

There will certainly be players that stick around a few years with five-to-ten percent of the votes who don’t merit true consideration to make it. There are also others who should make the five-percent cutoff, but may surprisingly be left off the ballot.

Two players nominees that may just crack five percent, but should drop off the ballot will be Carlos Zambrano and Chris Carpenter. With the ballot being top heavy this year, this will be the year that Billy Wagner falls below 10%. Sammy Sosa may as well buy a condo in this area since he will be here until he loses eligibility in four years.

Carlos Lee‘s 358 homeruns, .285 average and 1363 RBI may save him from dropping off the ballot, but by no means worthy of the Hall. Jamie Moyer is also in this category despite his 269 career victories due to his horrendous 4.25 ERA and 209 career losses.

Surprises: The early voting has released just over half of the ballots and they are a bit shocking. While all the names listed above—with the possible exception of Sosa had he not been involved in steroids—all deserve to be dropped from the ballot, there are a few who may get dropped off the ballot who I believe deserve at least five percent.

At this moment, four first timers are at risk of falling off the ballot this year. They are Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, and Johan Santana. Had Hideki Matsui played his entire career in the MLB it may be a different story as he was a nine-time All-Star and three-time MVP before starting his career in the MLB. He also made a splash in the MLB as the World Series MVP for the Yankees in 2009.

Johnny Damon may not have the flashiest numbers, but his 2769 career hits and 408 stolen bases should be enough to gain five percent of the votes. Andruw Jones wowed baseball fans with his constant inclusion on the Top 10 plays. He won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards in Atlanta and hit 434 career home runs. As for Johan Santana, at one time he was the most dominant pitcher in baseball. Few could match him between 2004 and 2008 winning two Cy Young Awards while leading the league in ERA and Strikeouts three times a piece and winning the pitching Triple Crown in 2006. His career 3.20 ERA is also comparable to other recent Hall of Fame inductees. Yet he may be a case of too little as he only won 53 games outside of that incredible five-year span.

Each of these four players being at risk to fall below five-percent and dropping off the ballot in their first year of eligibility is certainly a surprise, but then again none of them truly deserve to be enshrined in the Hall anyway, so I am all for cutting the fat.

Also-Rans

The next set of players had solid careers and even some spectacular moments that put them above the previous grouping, but is also not enough to garner any real consideration for the Hall.

Jeff Kent and Scott Rolen both had solid careers, but neither of them was among the best despite Rolen’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and Kent’s MVP in 2000. Neither of them ever led the league in any hitting category, except Jeff Kent leading in the C-Level category of Sacrifice Hits twice.

Undoubtedly the best fielding shortstop of his generation, Omar Vizquel will muddle around the 30% range due to his lack of offense. There is hope that he may get in one day as his offensive numbers are comparable to another great fielding Shortstop and first ballot Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Gary Sheffield and Larry Walker are both products of the steroid era. Their statistics certainly deserve consideration, but with the confusion over their potential involvement in PEDs and Walker playing his career in the hitter-friendly Coors Field has held them back in the past and will hold them back again this year.

Fred McGriff is also a product of the steroid era, and despite respectable power numbers, they pale in comparison to the others of his time. McGriff has also not earned more than 25% of the votes in his first-eight years on the ballot, and there is no reason to believe that he will this year.

Steroid-Linked and Controversial

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have steadily gained support for their induction into the Hall of Fame and rightfully so. PEDs or not, these two players were without a doubt among the greatest of the generation. Both men currently have 147 of 227 votes, so they may see a slight increase from last year and possibly even break 60%, but will need to wait until next year before entering the Hall.

Curt Schilling has upset many people with his comments and that has hurt him in Hall of Fame support. BBWAA are not the type to easily forget these things, but Schilling should see a slight increase in support to get him just over 50%.

Manny Ramirez has the statistics to merit Hall of Fame consideration, but his PED issues will leave him out of the Hall indefinitely while the likes of Bonds and Clemens will get some slack due to the grey area with PEDs not being officially banned by MLB. Manny was suspended not once, but twice for breaking the rules for banned substances. He will likely stay were he is, hovering around 25%.

The Real Nominees

All the players listed above have their arguments for getting votes, but none of them truly have a chance at being inducted in 2018. In fact, there are just five players with a real shot along with one other with an outside shot at making the Hall of Fame this year.

Trevor Hoffman – Hoffman is the first closer to reach the 600-saves milestone and is still second place behind Mariano Rivera in saves and did it while maintaining a 2.87 ERA. He also missed the Hall by four votes last year. At this moment he has 78.4% of the votes which will make it close.

Vladimir Guerrero – Vlad earned 71.7% of the votes last year and currently has 94.8% of the released ballots, making him all but a sure thing to get enshrined this year.

Chipper Jones – The golden child of Atlanta brings with him an MVP award, 468 career home runs, and a .303 career average. Though he rarely led the league in hitting categories, he showed great consistency throughout his career. Batting over .300 in 10 of 13 seasons and hitting over 20 home runs in every season from 1996 through 2008, he will surely get in this year and likely earn the most votes as well.

Jim Thome – Often overshadowed throughout his career, Thome hit 612 home runs in an untainted career. He also has a .402 OBP and 1699 RBI as supporting evidence. I put him in the category of sure-thing.

Edgar Martinez – He has gained much support in recent years as he comes near the end of his eligibility. In the last two years he made a huge jump from 27% to 53.8%. He has earned 77.1% of the released ballots. He may have a shot at getting in this year, though it is unlikely with the top-heavy ballot of the previous four players.

Mike Mussina – Another player who has gained a lot of support in recent years, Mussina jumped from 24.6% in 2015 to 51.8% in 2017 and has earned 70.1% of the released votes this year. He will fall short, but it will be interesting to see if he continues to gain support over the coming years and finds himself in the Hall one day.

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