Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hall of Fame Ballot (Old Names)

About a week and a half ago, I ran through the first-timers on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, and rendered my judgments here.  On to the returning players...

Bernie Williams (1991-2006) - 9.6% last year
.297/.381/.477, 2336 H, 287 HR, 125 OPS+, 45.9 rWAR, 47.5 fWAR
A fine center fielder during the Yankees' most recent dynasty years, Williams won a batting title, made five All-Star teams, and won four Gold Gloves, and was the only player from last year's crop of first-timers to make a second ballot.  But that batting title (1998, .339) was the only time he led the league in anything.  A very good, but not great, player.  OUT.

Rafael Palmeiro (1986-2005) - 12.6% last year
.288/.371/.515, 3020 H, 569 HR, 132 OPS+, 66.1 rWAR, 74.2 fWAR
Omitting Palmeiro's name from their ballots must give a lot of the more sanctimonious voters lots of warm fuzzies, given his finger-wagging denial of steroid use in front of Congress.  Whatever.  Raffy was an incredibly consistent first baseman, both with the bat and the glove, from 1990 through 2004, getting invited to four All-Star games and winning three Gold Gloves (infamously winning one in 1999 despite playing all of 28 games at first base).  Palmeiro took good advantage of playing most of his home games in the hitters' paradises of The Ballpark at Arlington and Camden Yards, clubbing between 38 and 47 home runs every year between 1995 and 2003.  And he had a killer mustache.  IN.

Larry Walker (1989-2005) - 22.9% last year
.313/.400/.565, 2160 H, 383 HR, 230 SB, 141 OPS+, 69.7 rWAR, 73.2 fWAR
Walker is the great test case of the pre-humidor Coors Field era, when the offensive numbers at that park were just absurd.  Playing at altitude certainly helped Walker.  A very good player in Montreal in his youth, he had something of a breakout during the 1994 strike year, hitting .322/.394/.587 and leading the league with 44 doubles (in just 103 games).  He signed with the Rockies as a free agent once the strike was over and turned into an absolute masher for the Blake Street Bombers, winning three batting titles, a home run crown, and posting an OPS over 1.000 six times.  He won the 1997 NL MVP with a cartoonish .366/.452/.720 slash line and a league-leading 49 bombs, coming up six points and ten RBI short of taking home a Triple Crown.  He was named to five All-Star games and collected seven Gold Gloves for his defense in right field (particularly his arm).  As with so many other former Expos, especially outfielders, the years spent on the brutal Olympic Stadium turf made him injury-prone and ate into his counting stats significantly.  Only in his MVP year did Walker play in 150 games, and three times played in fewer than 100 games.  But no matter.  He did enough when he did play, and remained an effective player to the end of his career.  IN.

Jeff Bagwell (1991-2005) - 56.0% last year
.297/.408/.540, 2314 H, 449 HR, 202 SB, 149 OPS +, 76.7 rWAR, 83.9 fWAR
In my view, it is absolute horseshit that some voters have pointedly left Bagwell off of their ballots because they have completely unfounded suspicions that he used steroids, just because he happened to have big muscles.  If he had, wouldn't he have been likely to keep slugging until he was 40, like Palmeiro, instead of hanging 'em up after an injury-plagued 2005 at the age of 37?  Bagwell has a strong case as the best first baseman of the past fifty years, as his WAR numbers (unusually high for a first baseman) attest.  In fact, here is the list of first basemen since 1900 with a higher career WAR than Bagwell: Lou Gehrig (108.5 rWAR); Jimmie Foxx (92.5 rWAR); Albert Pujols (88.5 rWAR).  That's it.  I feel like a lot of people are unaware of exactly how good Bagwell was, given that playing just over half of his career in the cavernous Astrodome depressed his numbers.  The Red Sox thought little enough of him that they gave him away as a minor-leaguer in 1990 for a half-season rental of Larry Andersen, one of the most one-sided trades in baseball history (because, the story goes, he was blocked by Wade Boggs at third base).  Bagwell promptly won the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and within two years was an elite player, winning the MVP in the strike year with a .368/.451/.750 line and 39 homers in just 110 games, and did I mention he played half of those games in the Astrodome?  Bagwell was also a terrific fielder and baserunner (two 30-30 years, a rarity for a first baseman) who did all of that mashing despite perhaps the ugliest batting stance in the history of professional baseball (feet spread impossibly wide, squatting as if to take a dump).  And until his last year he was durable as well, playing the full 162 four times.  This is an easy call.  IN.

Fred McGriff (1986-2004) - 23.9% last year
.284/.377/.509, 2490 H, 493 HR, 134 OPS+, 48.2 rWAR, 61.0 fWAR
The Crime Dog is an excellent test case of whether you are a "big Hall" or "small Hall" kind of person.  On Bill James' Hall of Fame Monitor system, McGriff scores a 100, which is the benchmark for "likely Hall of Famer."  McGriff starred in relative obscurity in Toronto for a few years (no All-Star selections with the Jays, although he did finish 6th in the 1989 MVP balloting) before being sent to San Diego in December 1990 with Tony Fernandez in a blockbuster trade that netted the Jays Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, putting Toronto on a path to its two World Series titles.  He achieved more fame in the National League, getting named to five All-Star teams after that trade, the middle three with Atlanta.  Despite a pair of home run titles, McGriff was more of a supporting player than a real star, although I suppose if he had juiced up his lanky 6'3", 200-pound frame he probably would have added 50-100 home runs to that total.  As much as I am tempted to vote for him just for the famous commercial, I can't quite bring myself to do it right now.  OUT.

Edgar Martinez (1987-2004) - 36.5% last year
.312/.418/.515, 2247 H, 309 HR, 147 OPS+, 38.6 rWAR, 69.9 fWAR
How do you feel about the designated hitter?  Do you think it benefits the game?  Or do you believe that it's a travesty because it prevents fans from being forced to watch weak-hitting pitchers bunt (under the guise of "baseball tactics")?  Your answer probably goes a long way towards determining your feelings on Martinez's presence on the ballot (and David Ortiz's sometime in the next few years).  Edgar was essentially a full-time DH by his 30th birthday, a move that allowed him to be a strong hitter past his 40th birthday.  For several years, he was the second-best hitter on the Mariners after Ken Griffey, winning a pair of batting titles and making seven All-Star teams.  In his best season, 1995, he hit .356/.479/.628, leading the league in doubles (52) and runs (121), and finishing third in the MVP voting.  Edgar was not the same type of power threat as other hitters of his era, only once hitting more than 29 home runs (37 in 2000), but he was a terrific gap hitter who hit 515 doubles.  My feelings about designated hitters in the Hall of Fame are similar to my feelings about relief pitchers; they absolutely have to be the best of the best to make it.  As evidenced by that incredibly high fWAR for someone who rarely donned leather, Edgar Martinez was.  IN.

Tim Raines (1979-2002) - 48.7% last year
.294/.385/.425, 2605 H, 170 HR, 808 SB, 123 OPS+, 66.2 rWAR, 70.6 fWAR
Rock Raines played his last game after his 43rd birthday, an astounding amount of longevity for someone who a) derived a lot of his value from his speed, b) played twelve and a half seasons on the Olympic Stadium turf in Montreal, and c) slid headfirst because for several years he was carrying vials of cocaine in his hip pockets.  An on-base machine (only once, in 1999, did his OBP dip below .350) who not only had speed (six straight seasons of 70+ steals) but knew when to use it (career success rate of just under 85%, second all-time among players with any significant amount of attempts), Rock probably would have been acknowledged as the best leadoff hitter of his generation had he not played in precisely the same era as Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff man of all time.  Still, he was an All-Star for seven consecutive years (1981-87), and won a pair of rings in a part-time role with the Yankees in 1996 and 1998.  I happen to agree with Joe Posnanski that Raines is one of the most under-appreciated stars in baseball history.  IN.

Mark McGwire (1986-2001) - 19.5% last year
.263/.394/.588, 1626 H, 583 HR, 163 OPS+, 58.7 rWAR, 70.6 fWAR
McGwire put the baseball world on notice during his first full year (1987), when he set the rookie record for home runs with 49 (in the titanic Oakland Coliseum, no less).  With the exception of a weak 1991 (.201/.330/.383 with 22 homers, which didn't keep him from one of his dozen All-Star selections), Big Mac was among the league leaders in home runs every year through 1999.  1998, of course, was the year that he shattered Roger Maris' record with 70 blasts, after hitting 58 and 52 the previous two years.  McGwire hit a home run every 10.61 at bats, the best mark in baseball history.  Of course, he will probably have to wait until the Hall of Fame either changes the voting rules or for the Veterans' Committee in another decade or more.  IN.

Lee Smith (1980-1997) - 50.6% last year
3.03 ERA, 1289.1 IP, 1251 K, 486 BB, 132 ERA+, 71-92, 478 SV, 27.9 rWAR, 29.0 fWAR
The pre-eminent closer among those who saw their role evolve from 100-inning firemen in the '80s (which he was from 1982-86) to one-inning specialists a decade later, Smith for a while held the all-time saves record despite only notching 40 or more on three occasions, a  testament to his longevity.  A big dude (6'5", 220) with a beard (and occasionally jheri-curls), he was an intimidating presence on the mound, but still something of an afterthought in any "greatest closer ever, non-Rivera division" discussion, behind the likes of Eckersley, Hoffman, Gossage, and Fingers.  I think for a relief pitcher to make the Hall of Fame, he has to be truly special.  OUT.

Alan Trammell (1977-1996) - 36.8% last year
.285/.352/.415, 2365 H, 185 HR, 236 SB, 110 OPS+, 59.3 rWAR, 69.5 fWAR
Although not nearly as big as many modern all-around shortstops like A-Rod, Jeter, and Nomar (he checked in at 6'0" and 165 pounds), Trammell was the forerunner of those players, the original prototype of the power-hitting, base-stealing shortstop who could also play excellent defense.  He was a key figure on the dominant Tigers team that steamrolled everything in its path in 1984, and half of one of the longest-tenured double-play combinations in baseball history (he and Lou Whitaker, who happens to be Trammell's #4 comp on Baseball-Reference, were in Detroit together for an amazing NINETEEN seasons).  Trammell was a seven-time All-Star and MVP runner-up in 1987 (.343/.402/.551 with 28 home runs, 21 steals, and 205 hits with his usual stellar glovework).  Among players from his era, he's in the same class as Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, and Ozzie Smith, all Hall of Famers. IN.

Jack Morris (1977-1994) - 66.7% last year
3.90 ERA, 3824.0 IP, 2478 K, 1390 BB, 105 ERA+, 254-186, 39.3 rWAR, 56.9 fWAR
It would be impossible for me to do the same justice to the "Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame" argument as Joe Posnanski, who has probably written 50,000 words on the subject, but I will try to condense it.  Basically, the pro-Morris argument boils down to the following factors: he won more games than any pitcher in the '80s, he was a gamer, he had a long career, he won 20 games three times, and he pitched perhaps the clutchiest of clutchy clutch performances in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series, a contest which I remember with perfect clarity, despite being all of eight years old at the time.  We'll set aside that game for now and deal with the rest.  So Morris led the '80s in wins and won twenty games thrice? That has more to do with pitching on a very good Tigers team than anything else.  He was a gamer?  You could argue that almost all professional athletes are gamers; they wouldn't be where they were if they weren't extraordinarily competitive and driven.  Unconvincing arguments all.

Now, let's look at some numbers.  First, notice above the numbers of strikeouts and walks.  That works out to 1.78 strikeouts to every walk, good for...424th all-time.  Okay, so there are two other Hall of Famers in the 400s (Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn at 406 and 405), so let's see how they did on a per-inning basis.  Morris had a career 1.296 WHIP (basically, baserunners per inning), which is 447th in baseball history.  If you scroll up, the first Hall of Famer that you find is Lefty Grove at 377.  But you must judge players in the context of their respective eras.  Grove pitched during the best offensive era in baseball history, including a year during which THE ENTIRE FREAKING LEAGUE HIT .300 (1930), whereas Morris pitched primarily in the offense-challenged '80s, something that is reflected in their respective rWAR (Grove's 103.7 is almost triple Morris).  Scroll further and the next Hall of Famer is Eppa Rixey (357), who is enshrined because he was tight with former Veteran's Committee chairman Frankie Frisch.  Keep scrolling.  Phil Niekro (344)? Knuckleballers naturally allow lots of baserunners, and are a different case entirely.  Scroll again.  Nolan Ryan (274)?  Sure, Ryan issued a lot of walks, but he also happened to be the best strikeout pitcher in the history of the game, with almost two and a half times as many punchouts as Morris (pitching during the same era, mind you).  In fact, the lowest Hall of Fame pitcher who a) didn't strike out a ton of people, b) played after 1900, and c) wasn't on Frisch's "nice" list was 173 (1.217 WHIP).  That is a huge gap.  I mentioned historical context.  ERA+ considers that context, and Morris' 105 ties him with Ralph Branca, Scott Kazmir, R.A. Dickey, and a bunch of guys you've never heard of, and for that matter, that I've never heard of.  Ultimately, Morris was an above-average pitcher for his career, capable of great moments, but not nearly dominant enough to merit induction into the Hall of Fame.  OUT.

Don Mattingly (1982-1995) - 17.8% last year
.307/.358/.471, 2153 H, 222 HR, 127 OPS+, 39.8 rWAR, 45.8 fWAR
An excellent hitter and fielder throughout his fourteen-year career, Donnie Baseball won an MVP in 1985 and was named to six All-Star teams, but injuries shortened his career (he retired after his age-35 season).  At his four-year peak, he was one of the best hitters in the game, but it is telling that a left-handed hitter like Mattingly couldn't hit more home runs than he did while swinging at Yankee Stadium's inviting short porch for his entire career.  I'm sorry, first basemen need to bring a bigger bat than that.  OUT.

Dale Murphy (1976-1993) - 14.5% last year
.265/.346/.469, 2111 H, 398 HR, 161 SB, 121 OPS+, 42.6 rWAR, 47.8 fWAR
This may be the toughest call of the bunch, and that's without considering that this is Murphy's fifteenth and last year of eligibility.  On the surface, Mattingly seems like a reasonable comparison: Murphy had a lower average and more home runs, but they played during the same era and did not last into their late thirties.  Here's the big (and I mean BIG) difference: Murphy was a center fielder (a converted catcher, in fact), and an excellent one at that.  In his four-year peak (1982-85), Murphy was not just one of the best hitters in the league but probably the best player in the National League, period.  He played all 648 games over those four years, hit 145 home runs (helped by his home stadium, dubbed "The Launching Pad"), won four Gold Gloves, and consecutive MVPs in 1982 and 1983.  For an encore, he hit 44 bombs in 1987, at the age of 31.  And then...he fell off of a cliff.  His batting average fell almost 70 points the next year, and his OPS plummeted from .997 to .734.  And that was that.  Murphy gamely hung on for a few more years, trying to make it to 400 career home runs, but he was basically decomposing by the time he called it quits in 1993, unable to hit the two home runs necessary, not even at Mile High Stadium as a member of the expansion Rockies.  So should someone who was an elite player at his peak, but lacked the longevity of some of his peers, make the Hall of Fame?  Murphy's 45.8 fWAR in the '80s ranks 13th.  Of the dozen players above him, only the underrated Trammell and Raines, and the criminally underrated Dwight Evans, are not enshrined.  Below him (including far below him) are eight Hall of Famers: Andre Dawson (14), Paul Molitor (17), Ryne Sandberg (26), Dave Winfield (27), Tony Gwynn (29), Jim Rice (34), Carlton Fisk (35), and Kirby Puckett (40).  Wow, this is a tough call, made tougher by my having essentially no memories of seeing Murphy play.  But I have to make a decision, and that peak is just too high to ignore.  IN.