The first matter I want to address here is the whole PED issue. That is, some players on the ballot who otherwise would already be in the Hall of Fame were connected to performance-enhancing drugs in their careers and many voters and non-voters alike believe they should be kept out of Cooperstown because of the “character clause.”
No one else on this ballot was suspended for PED-related reasons, so I’m only looking at their playing records. I’m fine with those who disagree, but I’m proceeding without further considering the matter.
As for Vizquel, who enjoys pretty solid support and looks like he’s headed toward Cooperstown eventually, I’m just not seeing it. He was an excellent defender at shortstop several seasons, but he ended up with an 82 OPS+, only made three All-Star teams in 24 seasons and is well below the average Hall of Fame shortstop in WAR and JAWS. Did it feel like I was watching a Hall of Famer when he played? Not really. It felt like I was watching a good defender who occasionally hit well.
For now, here’s my hypothetical ballot…
I did get five spots opened after last year, and I’m only adding Jeter from the newbies, so I’m going to circle back to Walker and Rolen.
I can vote for a maximum of 10 players, and, while I’m a Big Hall Guy, I wouldn’t always necessarily vote for 10 inductees. There’s a line for me and, sorry, but it comes before Omar Vizquel. We’ll get to that later. As for the ballot as a whole, I should reiterate that this is the least strong I’ve felt with my down-ballot guys in years. The backlog of worthy Hall of Famers has been somewhat cleared due to exceptional work by the collective BBWAA Hall of Fame voters the past several years since the no-inductee debacle in 2013. I would have been fine with stopping at Walker (seven votes). And with more spots being cleared before next year, it’s possible my hypothetical 2021 ballot doesn’t include 10 names.
Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
With that in mind, I would have votes for Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and would consider Bobby Abreu if it was a binary (yes or no) ballot. It’s not, though, so I have to pick two.
Next year, Jeter certainly comes off after getting enshrined while Walker does regardless since it’s his last year on the ballot. That might be it. Given that there are no worthy candidates coming on (the best are Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson), it looks like I’ll be adding two names from the Wagner, Kent, Abreu mix. Maybe more, if Sosa and/or Jones get less than five percent of the vote and leave the ballot (Sosa got 8.5 percent last year while Jones got 7.5 percent). If more than three come off the ballot, I won’t be using my maximum of 10. I’m not even certain on Abreu just yet. I just haven’t had to consider him much since I know he’s not close to my top 10.
Years ago, I discussed how muchby Hall of Fame voters and while there has been progress — Mike Mussina! — Curt Schilling‘s playing career remains worthy of enshrinement. He hasn’t helped himself in recent years with many public comments that go beyond the pale. His stance that he’s not yet in due to his views is laughable, but I only care about the playing career. Some differ and I’m fine with that. What I see in the Hall of Fame case for Schilling is 3,116 strikeouts in 3,261 innings against only 668 unintentional walks as one of the greatest strikeout-control artists we’ve ever seen. I see possibly the greatest postseason pitcher of all time at 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 120 strikeouts against 25 walks in 133 1/3 October innings. I could keep going, but the bottom line is I see an obvious Hall of Famer.
Todd Helton also probably gets dinged by Coors Field backlash with his career .316/.414/.539 line, but that’s a 133 OPS+ and 132 wRC+ and those are ballpark-adjusted. He hit .287/.386/.469 on the road and, again, we have to keep in mind how much the Coors factor harms hitters on the road. He scores slightly below the average Hall of Famer in JAWS, though he’s above average with his peak seven years. Remember his prime? From 1999-2005, Helton hit .341/.442/.621 (153 OPS+) with an average of 48 doubles, 34 homers and 115 RBI. Also, there’s an intangible here that I want to consider since, again, it’s the Hall of Fame. He’s the best Rockies player ever to this point. Maybe Nolan Arenado passes him, maybe not. For now, it’s Helton.
We’re gonna skip the discussion about whether Derek Jeter was overrated because it simply doesn’t matter. He hit .310 with 3,465 hits, 1,923 runs, 544 doubles, 358 steals while playing for five World Series champions and slashing .308/.374/.465 with 200 hits, 111 runs and 20 homers in 158 career postseason games. He’s an easy and obvious pick and — now that his teammate Mariano Rivera cleared the way — will flirt with 100 percent in voting. Fun fact: Nine of his 10 most statistical similar players are Hall of Famers (Craig Biggio is No. 1). The one who wasn’t? Former adversary-turned-teammate Johnny Damon.
That’s four. Unlike Walker, Scott Rolen has no blank ink. He never led the league in anything of note. That’s not a Hall of Fame requirement, though, and I’ve come around on Rolen. He was also a five-tool guy (did you know he had 10 or more steals five times?) and rates incredibly well in the all-around stat family. Among third basemen, he’s 10th in JAWS behind nine Hall of Famers (OK, eight, but Adrian Beltre is gonna get in easily) and ahead of the average Hall of Famer. In terms of the somewhat inane “did he feel like a Hall of Famer when he was playing?” question, I’m not 100 percent sure. But he was definitely a big deal. I’d be comfortable voting for him and also would be OK with him not making it. There’s a reason the threshold is 75 percent.
Finally, forget about your lasting memories of late-career Andruw Jones and remember his Braves years. Some think he was the greatest defensive center fielder in history and he ranks 22nd in MLB history in defensive WAR. He owns 10 Gold Gloves. From 1998-2006, he hit .270/.347/.513 (118 OPS+). He was the MVP runner-up in 2005 when he led the majors with 51 homers and led the NL with 128 RBI. In terms of JAWS, Jones rates out as slightly below the average Hall of Fame center fielder, though like Helton his seven-year peak is above the average.
Yep, circle me Sosa and Sheffield. I’m at six.
In the cases of Helton and Jones — and to a lesser extent Rolen — I’ll reiterate that I don’t feel strongly that these three candidates should be Hall of Famers. I feel that they deserve continued consideration and that the 75 percent threshold is awfully high and likely keeps them out anyway. As a Big Hall guy, I would throw them votes and let the cards fall where they may.
Players such as Larry Walker and Scott Rolen have been darlings for the advanced metric types while Omar Vizquel appears a favorite of the old guard. I’m a mix of those, but I also can’t shake the Hall of Fame and not Hall of WAR aspect. Sometimes the “he was feared” or “he was such a big deal” aspect is applied laughably, but I remember watching both of these guys in their prime and know what a huge deal they were. I’d vote for Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield.
Next up, two controversial picks. Here’s what I said about them when I did this exercise last year:
On the heels of this discussion, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are unbelievably easy picks. There’s an argument that Bonds is the best position player of all time and Clemens is the best pitcher of all time, statistically speaking. Even if you disagree with the arguments, Bonds won seven MVPs (and should have won at least nine) while Clemens won seven Cy Youngs and an MVP. If those aren’t Hall of Famers, there isn’t a legitimate Hall of Fame. The only discussion here revolves around PEDs and I already gave my stance.
Larry Walker slashed .313/.400/.565 in his career with three batting titles. He led the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage twice. He led in doubles once and homers once. He won an MVP, seven Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers. That’s an awful lot of black ink and hardware for someone who never got serious support in Hall voting until last year (54.6 percent). He has been dinged, I think, for a good portion of his home games being played at Coors Field in Denver. He slashed .282/.372/.501 away from Coors in his career. In the context of players generally being better at home than on the road and that Rockies hitters are generally among the worst in baseball at hitting on the road due to the change in atmosphere, that’s pretty damn good. Walker was a five-tool superstar through his prime and should be in the Hall of Fame. Sheffield ranks 29th with 10 more RBI, owns a 140 OPS+ and hit 509 homers. Who among us never mimicked his batting stance with the fearful waggle? I know, I know … that shouldn’t count. But it kind of does a little, you know? And, again, I can’t imagine going back in time to their primes and telling myself Rolen was more a Hall of Famer than Sheffield.
Here’s the portion of Hall of Fame voting guidelines I’m talking about:
December for baseball writers is most certainly Rumor Season, but it’s also Hall of Fame Voting Season. BBWAA writers who qualify as voters must send in their ballots before the turn of the new year. I’m a BBWAA member, but my first year was 2015 and we’re required to be members for 10 consecutive years before being a Hall of Fame voter. I do, however, go through the process of making a hypothetical ballot every year so I’m in practice once I am a voter. Yes, I take this very seriously.