How I voted for the Hall of Fame
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
I just mailed in my Hall of Fame ballot for 2018. Here are the top 10 I checked, plus the next 10 I felt worthy of consideration. The Hall is for the best players in history. Thanks to those with whom I have consulted in the industry, and to all others who passionately make their cases.
1. Barry Bonds
His voting record the first four years was 36.2 percent in 2013, 34.7 in 2014, 36.8 in 2015 and 44.3 in 2016. I then wrote a year ago: “If he keeps climbing into the 50s, I believe the conversation and the pressure will grow more serious among holdouts.”
Indeed, Bonds drew 53.8 percent of that vote in 2017, and that along with Roger Clemens’ increase explain Joe Morgan’s email to us voters. Bonds is now officially in the back half of his voting eligibility years, but he is in position to move to the doorstep now.
Even if you still devalue Bonds with the character clause, he is so far outside this galaxy of other position players on the ballot that it is a no-brainer. Bonds won seven Most Valuable Player awards, four more than anyone else. Only Willie Mays (1) and Babe Ruth (2) top him on my own all-time list of all-time players. Bonds’ 162.4 WAR and 117.6 JAWS are far beyond any left fielder. Home Run King with 762, like it or not, and with Henry Aaron’s own blessing.
Bonds is the all-time leader with 2,558 walks and 688 intentional walks, proof that no one ever freaked out pitchers (and opposing managers) more.
That’s just the offense. Bonds earned eight Gold Gloves and his defense was legendary in his prime. He liked to talk — when he talked — of keeping batters out of “my house,” as he called left field. And they did. Opposing managers like Bobby Cox knew this.
I have voted for Bonds since he first became eligible, and I was one of the few voters who — going back to Mark McGwire’s first year of eligibility — stated that I would be voting with no regard to PED speculation. As I said back then, journalists cannot be put in a position of being moral police regarding matters that happen unbeknownst to them. It is an altogether different matter when considering candidates such as Manny Ramirez, who were punished after the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program was instituted by MLB and the MLB Players Association. I am glad to see that the trend among voters has inched more toward my initial thought process, and it has resulted in increased voting percentages for Bonds and Clemens.
I was unaffected by Joe email, which I thought was unfortunate and unflattering to an important and beloved institution. But I thank him for being part of my new book.
2. Roger Clemens
Most dominant starting pitcher in baseball history, above Big Train and the Ryan Express, maybe behind only former teammate Mariano Rivera among overall pitchers all-time. Seven Cy Young Awards, followed by Randy Johnson with five and Carlton/Maddux with four. The only other pitcher with three or more who is not in the Hall is Clayton Kershaw (yet).
Only Walter Johnson (165.6/127.5) and Cy Young (168.5/123.9) had higher WAR/JAWS among starters and they worked in an era when starters pitched all the time and had outsized impact. Clemens won 354 games and struck out 4,672 batters despite the end-to-end era of specialized relievers forcing him out of games that those guys would have finished, and some of those departures resulted in no-decisions and losses. Clemens’ dominance extended from rookie excellence to the very end through Houston’s first World Series.
In the postseason, Clemens pitched in six World Series and won two rings but should have had three (Mookie/Buckner). There were many Division Series struggles, but he typically improved deeper into the playoffs. Overall: 199 innings, 12 wins, 173 Ks in postseasons with three clubs.
I still think it is unfair that Clemens and Bonds are inextricably linked in this annual exercise, because one (Clemens) was a postseason stud and the other the opposite, save for a 2002 aberration.
Voting record: 37.6 percent in 2013, 35.4, 37.5, 45.2, 54.1. If recent trend continues, he and Bonds should be in the 60s this time. Again, hence Joe’s email.
3. Chipper Jones
The unique four-year Induction streak of “lifers” — started by Jeff Bagwell last year and surely to be extended by Rivera in 2019 and Jeter in 2020 — continues now with Jones. Atlanta fans should show up strong as Larry Wayne goes in on the first ballot.
Jones hit .303/.401/.529 with 468 homers and 1,623 RBIs, winning the 1999 NL MVP Award along the way. With a 85.0 WAR (on BR), he ranks among the greatest third basemen of all time. Above him are Mike Schmidt (106.5), Eddie Mathews (96.4), Adrian Beltre (93.9), Wade Boggs (91.1) and George Brett (88.4). Behind him is Brooks Robinson (78.4). His JAWS is 65.8, well above the average Hall third baseman’s 55.2.
For a generation of Braves fans, Jones consistently dominating was a fact of life, like the tomahawk chop. He played in 12 postseasons, leading Atlanta to its only world championship as a rookie in 1995. In that first postseason combined — the year a playoff round was added — he was 20-for-55, playing like he was on an American Legion team.
From 1996–2003, Jones played at least 153 games every year. Injuries limited him to an average of 120 games per year over his last eight seasons (2005–12), so he was shy of traditional hit and home run milestones. But the media favorite is guaranteed immediate Hall entry nonetheless.
See Chipper Jones in Diamonds from the Dugout
4. Edgar Martinez
I’ve got the new Edgar Martinez Light Bat Bobblehead prominently on my desk at MLB.com, and I’m leaving the light on until he gets into Cooperstown. The battery might run out, but I’m doing it anyway. “Gar” is now in his eighth year of eligibility, so let’s no waste any more time and create unnecessary late bottleneck drama in the next couple of years.
Edgar hit .312/.418/.515 with 514 doubles and a 147 OPS+ in 2,055 games. 7-time All-Star. He spent his whole career with one team (Seattle), like Ripken, Gwynn, Brett and others who gained unquestionable HOF favor from such loyalty. Being the best DH ever is a baseball honor and worthy of induction, not penalization. Go sit through half of a baseball game and try to come off the bench fresh and in the flow of a game and be as productive as this guy was; it’s harder in some ways.
He is exactly at the average batting rank for HOF players. One can always argue that if he was a DH, then being average in batting should exclude him. Fair enough. But you can’t blame Edgar for that, in hindsight. Lou Piniella found a great formula as the Mariners’ manager, using him as his DH and it stayed that way. Nevertheless, Edgar still ranks 11th all-time among third baseman with a 68.3 WAR), just ahead of Scott Rolen, whose case is made after a few more paragraphs here.
The DH has been a fact of life in the AL since 1973 and it is going nowhere. Just as closers have been celebrated for their specialty craft, so too should the best DHs of all-time be feted. Edgar ranks strong at 3B and only David Ortiz was better at simply being a DH.
Let’s not forget what happened on Oct. 8, 1995, either. In the bottom of the 11th inning in the decisive Game 5, Edgar swung effortlessly at a Jack McDowell pitch and ripped it into the left-field corner for a two-run, walk-off double, ending a thrilling AL Division Series against the Yankees. Martinez was a dazzling 12-for-21 (.571) with three doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in that series.
See Edgar Martinez in Diamonds from the Dugout
5. Jim Thome
While Jones is an automatic first-ballot entry, Thome is “probable.” He ranks eighth on the all-time list with 612 home runs, 26th with 1,699 RBIs, and he had a dazzling career 147 OPS+. I would vote for him even if there were PED allegations or rumors in his past, but they are nonexistent so I do not expect voting peers to hold him back. If you want a “great guy” on the ballot, this is it, the slugger from Peoria, Ill., who came up with the Tribe in their big ‘90s.
Yes, he hung around two or three years two long, should have quit after No. 600, or should have quit with Cleveland on the second go-round. But no matter. There’s a statue of him outside Progressive Field, and it’s for a Hall of Famer. Tarry not.
See Jim Thome in Diamonds from the Dugout
6. Scott Rolen
Over a 17-year career from 1996–2012 with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds, Rolen slashed .281/.364/.490 with 316 homers, 2077 hits and 1,287 RBIs. He was a seven-time All-Star and eight-time NL Gold Glove winner. He helped lead the Cardinals to the 2006 world championship and is viewed by many experts as the best defensive third baseman of his era.
Those numbers alone, at least in the old days of voting, would not have been enough for a plaque in the Gallery room. I did not perceive him as a Hall of Famer during his career, and I lived in St. Louis at the time. I would have told you then that Cooperstown is for “the elite of the elite,” for someone like Albert Pujols. But Rolen is a classic example of how perceptions have had to change in the age of sabermetrics. It makes his case now.
Rolen ranks 10th all-time among third basemen with a 56.8 JAWS, and he boasts a 70.0 career WAR. The average Hall third baseman has a 55.2 JAWS and 67.5 WAR. I remember his monster 2004 season (9.2 WAR), and he also had seasons of 6.7, 5.8 and 5.5 WAR — plus five more between 4.1 and 4.7. His career OPS+ of 122 pales in comparison to the great Mike Schmidt’s (147), but it is still legit when you factor in his defense.
Tony La Russa, who famously feuded with Rolen during their time together in St. Louis, said on MLB Network recently that he “would vote for Rolen in a heartbeat.” He said the only reason someone might omit Rolen would be durability, noting injuries that nagged him late in his career, but he compared Rolen to Brooks Robinson defensively at third base and touted his role as a “leader” on teams like those La Russa managed.
7. Curt Schilling
Due to lunkhead status as a citizen, Schilling actually fell in the voting last year, from 52.3 percent in 2016 to 45 percent in 2017. His “lynching journalists” comment was a primary cause of that drop, and I voted for him because he’s not my problem. Not many people look forward to whatever he would have to say in a Hall of Fame induction speech, but he must do it anyway.
Schilling’s strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.38 is better than any pitcher with at least 3,000 innings since 1893, when the distance from the rubber to home plate was lengthened to 60-foot-6. He is one of 16 pitchers in the 3,000K club (15th with 3,116), and the only one of those not in the Hall is . . . you guessed it, Rocket.
Schilling was the guy you wanted on the mound in a postseason. Led the Phillies to the 1993 World Series, handed it over to Mitch Williams and buried face in towel. Led Red Sox to famous 2004 ALCS comeback and World Series title, bloody sock and all. Led Arizona to 2001 World Series title. Three rings with three teams is a very strong Hall qualifier. In fact, the number 5 BBWAA rule given to us voters with the ballot packet ends with this clause: “…and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Those were the ultimate contributions.
According to FanGraphs, Schilling ranks third on this ballot only to Bonds and Clemens when you go by Best Five Seasons of WAR (39.5). Schilling’s 64.5 JAWS rating is 27th overall among starting pitchers, and only Clemens and Jim McCormick (circa 1878–87) are unenshrined above him. (Mike Mussina is immediately below Schilling on that JAWS list, as he is on this ballot.) And here’s another example of Schilling’s extended excellence: At least five innings pitched in 74 consecutive starts from 2004–06, the longest such streak by any Red Sox pitcher since 1913.
It seems like some voters hold grudges pretty well, and remember that there are a ton of old curmudgeons still sending back these ballots in the mail each year. Schilling didn’t say anything in the past year to make them feel better, although at least he didn’t say anything about lynching journalists again in 2017, unless I missed it. Anyway . . . there are a lot of dunces in the Hall.
8. Mike Mussina
Fifth year on the ballot. He jumped from 20.3 percent in 2014 to 24.6 in 2015 and then leaped to 43 percent in 2016 and 51.8 in 2017 as the analytics campaign revved up, voters got younger and more people took notice. I was among those who voted for him for the first time last year, after overhauling my ballot approach. Mussina turns 48 on Dec. 8 and I think he’ll be a Hall of Famer by 50.
Mussina spent his 18-year career entirely in the tough AL East. He lacks the individual honors (Cy Youngs, strikeout titles, etc.), but his 83.0 career WAR ranks 23rd all-time, just behind Pedro Martinez and just ahead of Nolan Freaking Ryan. In the all-time top 25 WAR for starting pitchers, Clemens is the only other not enshrined. It’s better than more than half of the enshrined starters. Ranked in the AL’s top five six times in strikeouts and seven in ERA. Five-time All-Star. Pinpoint control; his 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is second only to Schilling among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings since 1893. Base Out Runs Saved: Ranks ninth all-time (412.921), between Jim Palmer and Whitey Ford. Again, everyone but Clemens above him on that list is enshrined.
Had Mussina returned for one more year with the Yankees, maybe he would have had his first World Series ring, because they won it all in 2009. Nevertheless, he still went out on top in a way. Shortly before turning 40, the right-hander became a 20-game winner for the first time. Only three other pitchers had reached that mark in their final seasons: Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams in 1920, before Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them for life for their involvement in the Black Sox Scandal, and Sandy Koufax in 1966, when he retired because of elbow trouble. Mussina’s 270 wins were below the old magic number for starters, but still more than Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266), Bob Gibson (251) and 29 other HOF starting pitchers. Not that wins matter as much today than they used to, mind you.
9. Larry Walker
Walker ranks 12th in WAR (72.6) and 10th in JAWS (58.6) among all-time right fielders. That sentence alone means you have to give him strong consideration for a top-10 pick. Quantum leap time has arrived. It is Walker’s eighth year on the ballot, so if he is going to make a legitimate run, the time is now to be taken seriously. The only people higher than him on that list are in Cooperstown. Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, and legend after legend follow him.
I don’t want to fall in lockstep with altitude-bashers who diminish his feats due to playing much of his career with Coors Field as a thin-air, high-power home ballpark. That would be ignoring the fact that Walker crushed road pitching. Consider these two similar road slash lines:
Ken Griffey Jr.: .272/.355/.505
Walker was the NL MVP in 1997, batting .366/.452/.720 with 49 homers, 130 RBIs, 143 runs, 409 total bases. Two years later, he led the NL with all of this: .379/.458/.710 and a 1.168 OPS. Walker won three NL batting crowns, hitting .350 or better in each of them. His career average was .313 over 17 seasons in Montreal, Colorado and St. Louis. He also won seven Gold Gloves and never needed the AL’s DH crutch.
Fourteen players in MLB history have hit 300 homers with a career slash line of .300/.400/.500, and Walker joins Jones, Martinez and Manny Ramirez as others with that claim (also Todd Helton, not eligible yet).
Walker’s durability within seasons was not great, one key reason I did not vote for him last year. Also, his postseason body of work was not that big, although his 2004 postseason with St. Louis was one for the ages. He was a special guy. The analytics era advances his consideration, but will it be too little too late?
10. Vlad Guerrero
Guerrero nearly became a first-ballot Hall of Famer last year, finishing with a shocking (to me) 71.7 percent of the vote. The only reason I would not include him on my ballot is because it is only his second year of eligibility, and thus I could come back to him after doing my part to help ensure that Trevor Hoffman nudges into the Hall. But that is not part of my voting style. You’re a Hall of Famer now or you’re not. I think. We voters are human, and I marveled over covering both Guerrero and Hoffman in their glory days. I have flip-flopped so many times between 10 and 11 on this ballot, and eventually I have to just check it and hand it in, unless someone expands the ballot (which they should). Hopefully Hoffman will not come up one vote short and I take the blame, but I can’t in good conscience leave Vlad off my ballot.
In 2015, Pedro Martinez became the only Dominican Republic native to be inducted other than fellow pitcher Juan Marichal 32 years earlier. No Dominican position player had made it yet. I’m sure that Albert Pujols and David Ortiz will get there, but in considering Guerrero’s candidacy, I am reminded what Pedro said during his Induction Weekend:
“I don’t think we’re going to wait 32 more years for another representative. Vladimir Guerrero is right on the edge of becoming the next Hall of Famer. And there are guys who are still playing and posting numbers that I think are going to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m talking about Albert Pujols. Maybe David Ortiz. Adrian Beltre. I think those are guys who will make it right away on the first ballot.’’
More than a third of MLB rosters today are comprised of Latin players. A Dominican position player should be represented in the Hall, just as Ivan Rodriguez went in last summer. Guerrero had to make a big personal culture change in this process, one I certainly would be scared to make. We take it for granted. See Vlad in that light, instead of through the prism of an American voter. It makes a difference to me.
Pros: The 2004 AL MVP and owner of 449 career homers as well as a .318/.379/.553 slash. . . . Routinely among outfield assist leaders, unwise to try to run on his cannon arm. . . . In 2002, he was basically a 40–40 guy (40 steals, 39 homers). Only four players — Bonds, Canseco, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano — are in that actual club. That ’02 season was with Montreal, where he played the first half of his 16-year career, before finishing up in the AL, ultimately a gimpy DH. . . . With the notable exception of his first World Series for Texas in 2010 (1-for-14), Guerrero was a strong postseason player.
Cons: He ranks 22nd among all-time right fielders in WAR (59.3) and 21st in JAWS (50.2). In that regard, you can see why I have Walker above him. . . . Guerrero was a below-average baserunner, and famously swung at just about anything.
11. Trevor Hoffman
As my own voting approach continues to evolve and improve based on mass awareness within the industry and social, and based on consultation and fun debates among colleagues and friends, I find a few surprises along the way and that includes ranking this guy off my ballot.
It will be a tremendous surprise if someone gets as close as Hoffman (74 percent) just did and fails to be inducted . . . but I can see it happening and I would unfortunately be one of those contributors. It wouldn’t be the first time I didn’t vote for an inductee: Jim Rice and Andre Dawson are just a couple of examples, although I don’t feel I gave them sufficient consideration or at least don’t feel I was armed with sufficient analytics at the time.
I never imagined during his career that I would not one day vote for Hoffman on my ballot, but it has come to that given the number of better choices and the validity of analytics. Plus, Guerrero drew 71.7 percent last year, so he’s knocking on the door like Hoffman.
It is difficult to retrofit Hoffman with modern metrics, as he is far down among all-time relievers in WAR (28.4/13th) and JAWS (24.0/T-21st). His ERA+ was 141, meaning he was 41 percent better than the adjusted league average, but that is a tremendous drop from Mariano Rivera’s 205, the best ever. I asked a colleague at MLB.com, and he has Hoffman at 16th, tops.
However . . .
Second only to Rivera in saves is like saying you’re the second-largest gas giant, which still makes you Saturn (sans rings). In his era, Hoffman knew his job was to come out of the pen in the ninth and close out wins, and he did what he was told to do. 601 saves = Cooperstown and trumps WAR. He spent virtually his entire career in San Diego in front of a devoted crowd that came to see not only Tony Gwynn hits, but also Trevor Hoffman entering to “Hell’s Bells” and then getting the job done.
For that, he still deserves strong consideration, and again I flip-flopped between him and Vlad at 10 and 11. I hope Hoffman gets in next summer, because I worry that if he starts to decline in voting percentage, he will never get back into position, as saves are infinitely less important now as an evaluation metric than they were before he retired. Do you base your vote on what was en vogue back then or what is known now as the best method of evaluating?
12. Billy Wagner
I believe this will be a rising name on this and future ballots, as a greater analytics appreciation for the left-hander is increasingly weighted. My esteemed colleague Mike Petriello made a strong case a year ago that he should have top-10 consideration, and I am coming around to that, although I think he’s still a bit outside the first 10. In fact, he may be a better choice at 11 than Hoffman, if you just compare the two as relievers on an all-around basis.
When he debuted on the ballot for the Class of 2016, Wagner humbly said he should be “highly considered” and cited several “big” numbers that mattered to him more than saves. For example, ERA: His was 2.31 ERA over 903 innings, second-lowest (to Mariano Rivera) in the modern era for pitchers with at least 903 innings. Also strikeouts: 1,196 of them plus an 11.92 strikeouts per nine innings ratio, the best rate of any pitcher with at least 900 innings since 1900. And WHIP (1.00) or opponents-against average (.187).
Wagner felt that those showed what the pitcher can control and speak more than saves, which have much to do with your teams creating those situations. Indeed, that probably fits with the current devaluation of saves in the industry. Nevertheless, he also converted 422 saves if you want to think that way, fifth-most all-time and second to John Franco among lefty relievers.
So far, Wagner has drawn 10.5 percent of the vote in 2016 and 10.2 last year. His percentage dipped when the final ballots came in last time, meaning more traditional voters were less apt to choose him. I think it’s time to look at him more seriously now, so keep an eye on his totals. Lee Smith is now off the ballot and Hoffman barely missed election last year, so he could be the best closer on the ballot in the near future, and his stats are eye-popping.
13. Andruw Jones
With him, you have to forget about the whole 30-something thing. It’s like he blew apart once he celebrated that birthday — maybe living large upon free agency — and he was nothing to write home about from that point on. So to vote for him means you are only considering his merits before then, and remember this is someone who burst upon the scene as a 19-year-old wunderkind in 1996, entering the record books by knocking baseballs out of Yankee Stadium at the start of that World Series.
Jones’ 54.6 JAWS ranks 11th all-time among center fielders; he was just passed by Mike Trout, who is now in the top 10 already. Only seven Hall of Famers at the position are above Jones on that list. As for WAR, Jones is 14th, and Carlos Beltran and Kenny Lofton are the only ones above him not enshrined. That, by the way, is another reminder that all of us were REALLY STUPID to let Lofton drop so quickly below the five-percent mark.
Jones was a defensive center fielder par none, and that also must be weighted. He had all-around strengths, and again he was fierce in his 20s while part of the Bobby Cox machine. But just curious, can you really just forget the post-30 thing? It’s the Hall of Fame, and the Gallery is filled with plaques of men who were strong into their 30s and 40s. It’s called a career. So far, I am unable to look past his performance beyond age 30, because he was often in uniform, for a batch of teams as a washed-up veteran.
Sort the all-time JAWS leaders at center field by OPS+, and look what happens: Jones plummets all the way down to №111, coincidentally with a 111 OPS+. That takes into account his entire career. And I have to do the same here. When you sort that way, notice that Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout have the top of the list covered.
I am sure this is one eligible whose case will be debated long and hard over coming years, and I look forward to being part of that debate. If you only go by JAWS and WAR he’s a Hall of Famer, but here’s a case where I don’t think you can. However, I have elevated both of those metrics to such a great extent that I am not completely sure I’m making the right call here.
14. Omar Vizquel
He was a joy to watch, and the pride of Venezuela. He was part of the nucleus of a powerhouse Indians club that should have won at least one title in the late ’90s, topping out with a 6.0 WAR and his only MVP consideration (16th) in ’99. Watching him barehand hot bouncers to shortstop and throw out runners at first, you could argue he was among the best shortstops defensively in history. The Gold Gloves back up that argument.
However, enough arguments already have been made across the voting populace as to why the first-year ballot arrival does not have the creds for Cooperstown. He was the definition of the trendy word “compiler,” and while one should not be penalized for making it to age 45 in a Major League uniform — you still have to win a job each spring — hanging on to roster spots is not exactly a Hall trademark. Vizquel’s JAWS was a mere 36.0, ranking 42 all-time among shortstops. His career WAR, according to Baseball Reference, was 45.3 and gave him a much higher ranking of 30th. I prefer the former metric to the latter if it’s either-or, and either way there are a lot of choices above him who aren’t in the Hall: Miguel Tejada, Jimmy Rollins, etc. Vizquel really suffers from the career metrics, and I don’t expect him to get past that.
Vizquel’s rookie year with Seattle was 1989, the year before I joined the BBWAA as a San Francisco Giants beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News. Let’s face it, once you latched onto a couple of Gold Gloves in the ’90s, you were probably going to hold onto them for a while. So I don’t overweight that individual prize in ballot consideration.
Having said all this, I hope he stays on the ballot and will watch for debates in the years to come. I won’t be surprised if he someday makes it in, either by BBWAA or special panel. I thought the same thing about Jorge Posada last year, and he failed to reach five percent. So good luck.
15. Manny Ramirez
I would like to see him stay on the ballot a while as voting evolves, but I cannot give him a check because my only application of PED consideration is with players who were caught after the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program was instituted. That is not to say I won’t vote for a player who was punished under the new program, as I fully plan to check Alex Rodriguez’s name. It will be a major knock against Manny, who has less to offset multiple suspensions.
“Manny Being Manny” was cute in his glory days, but it was not cute when he was juicing, even when he knew there was zero chance he would fool anyone. The degree of dumbness was mind-blowing and I just can’t look past it. He coulda been a contender. He debuted last year at 23.8 percent, and it will be interesting to see whether Joe Morgan’s letter will further stunt his ballot growth, and whether post-program-era mischief will be tolerated by others.
16. Jeff Kent
No second baseman ever had more homers (351), RBIs (1,389), doubles (508) or a higher slugging percentage (.509), and those statistics were just from games where he played at second. Look at the last 70 years, and his wRC+ of 123 trails only Jackie Robinson, Rod Carew and Bobby Grich among former second basemen.
Kent’s overall minus-0.6 dWAR, however, compares to 12.8 for Ryne Sandberg or 3.3 for Joe Morgan — second basemen who also hit for power. Maybe it’s a perception of defensive mediocrity, maybe it was his uneasy rapport with writers, maybe it was association with his former Giants teammate (and sometimes alter-ego) Bonds. Whatever the reason, this is Kent’s fourth year on the ballot, and his percentages have gone from 15.2 in 2014 to 14.0 in 2015 to 16.6 in 2016 and 16.7 in 2017. In other words, no movement, the same supporters.
“I’ve tried to eliminate a lot of drama from my life,” Kent said. “I don’t know why [the vote total isn’t higher]. I don’t get it. They come up with these WAR numbers, which I don’t understand and they never had before. … It gets me to scratching my head. I don’t know. I’m out having fun. I’m coaching kids. I’m building a sports facility for kids out here in Texas.”
17. Johan Santana
To quote the @HofJohan account on Twitter, “30 Wins Above Average (WAA) is considered a solid line that makes a player a legitimate Hall of Fame Candidate. Johan Santana has 32.3 WAA.” I can’t argue with that.
With Minnesota from 2004–07, Santana led the American League in WHIP. He was a dominant pitcher for an extended run, earned a pair of Cy Youngs, and was a top-seven Cy vote recipient in an impressive six consecutive years. He threw the only no-hitter in Mets history, although that’s more of a fun fact looking back now. Anything in New York is made bigger than it would be elsewhere due to media attention and press coverage.
As of now, I am in the block of voters who just doesn’t see enough career span for consideration. I would have voted for someone like Don Mattingly if I felt that much time was enough. And please don’t bring the Sandy Koufax comparisons that I am seeing among campaigners; the career span in Sandy’s case was for someone whose brilliance was unapproachable. Johan Santana and Sandy Koufax were on different planets.
Expect an ongoing campaign and lively debate over Santana in coming years. I am pretty sure he will stay on the ballot so that can happen.
18. Gary Sheffield
I covered a serious Triple Crown bid by Sheff in the 1992 season, one that ended when he broke a finger while trying to place a full trunk of clothes in his car. I went to his home in the Tampa area that offseason and wrote a cover story on him for Sporting News. He was just 23, finished with his first season in San Diego (.330, 33 HR, 100 RBIs, and he was just about the only one who could stop himself back then. He had the fastest bat I ever saw. Could be a Hall of Famer one day.
Now here we are giving his case more thorough analysis. He did manage to last 22 seasons, making nine All-Star teams, slugging 506 homers, driving in 1,676 runs, finishing with a .292 average and a 1997 ring with the Florida Marlins. He was well-rewarded, with $168 million. But he carried more baggage than Greyhound, a steady stream of controversy from his earliest days wanting to get out of Milwaukee. He played for eight teams in all.
I can’t justify voting for Sheff ahead of Guerrero or Walker, just going by the JAWS rankings for right fielders. Guerrero is 21st with 50.2 and Sheffield is 24th with 49.1, and again Walker is well ahead of both of them if you go by that list. But then you look at Sheffield’s WAR, and he’s 19th at 60.3, and the only right-fielders above him on that list who are not enshrined are Walker, Dwight Evans, Reggie Smith and the fabled Shoeless Joe Jackson. It’s uneven data.
In 2004, Sheffield was part of the Yankees’ problem as they infamously blew a 3–0 ALCS lead against Boston and were eliminated as the Red Sox reversed the curse. Sheffield had a strong overall postseason that year (.292/.404/.500 with two homers), but he went into a 1-for-17 slump as the Red Sox made their historic comeback. Of course, he also already had a ring with the Marlins in 1997.
You could make a case for him. You could also say that the 500 Home Run Club wasn’t what it used to be when he made it. I will be surprised if he ever reaches 75 percent.
19. Fred McGriff
In 1995, the Crime Dog was the Braves’ first baseman and his solo homer in the second inning of Game 1 led Atlanta toward its first (and only) World Series championship in that city. No matter what, he will always have that. But will he ever get a bump in Hall balloting?
Among all first basemen, McGriff ranks 31st in JAWS at 44.1, which is two places ahead of Orlando Cepeda (42.4). Cepeda finally got into the Hall via Veterans Committee after a long era of campaigns on his behalf. McGriff, a five-time All-Star, homered at least 30 times in 10 seasons and finished with 493 homers in an era when the 500 Home Run Club became common. The Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor gives him a 100 (“a good possibility”), and unlike some peers, there were no suspicions or indications that his power came unnaturally.
Still, the needle isn’t moving. McGriff debuted at 21.5 percent in 2010, his high-water mark was 23.9 in 2012, he got as low as 11.7 in the 2013 bottleneck. Last year he was at 21.7. Like Edgar Martinez, this is McGriff’s ninth year on the ballot. No chance.
20. Johnny Damon
Among center fielders ranked by JAWS, Damon is 22nd all-time, right behind Larry Doby and ahead of Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett, Max Carey, Earl Averill, Earle Combs, Edd Roush, Hack Wilson and Hugh Duffy. I use that as a starting point in analyzing the author of the 2005 book “Idiots,” of which he was the brigade leader. It at least merits your attention.
Damon had 2,769 hits, and obviously was in compiler mode toward the end of his career, trying to hang on to reach that milestone. In his prime, he made just two All-Star teams (2002 via the early Final Vote process and also ‘05). He is remembered largely for leading both rivals — the Red Sox and Yankees — to World Series titles. His edgy marquee stature in both of those cities might have served him well decades ago when Hall of Famers with big press got extra sway. That is not the case these days; there is just no sufficient statistical basis to elect him.
I’m going to bump Sammy Sosa out of my top 20, partly due to lost-cause status. He debuted at 12.5 percent in 2013 when he became a first-time eligible at the same time as Bonds, Clemens and Piazza, and his percentages since then, consecutively, are 7.2, 6.6, 7.0 and 8.6. He probably would spike if Bonds got in, but I doubt he will last much longer on a crowded ballot.