In response to Fred’s analysis of his ballot, I decided to make my own post regarding the topic, instead of leaving a 60-line comment. Like Fred, I had 11 guys who seem deserving to be in the Hall of Fame, and one possible backtrack. However, I have a few different names included.
Our similar names include Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell, Biggio, Schilling, Raines, and Piazza, while Palmeiro is in if I can believe he was clean for most of his career.
Those Who Made It
Larry Walker – Two things are hindering Walker’s vote total: Coors Field and his numerous injuries. OPS+ adjusts for ballpark, and I doubt anyone would say it’s an under-adjustment. In 1999, Walker led the NL in AVG/OBP/SLG, but finished 3rd in OPS+, because it was determined a league-average hitter playing for Colorado would have hit an absurd .305/.384/.491 that season. That being said, his career 141 OPS+ is tied for 40th all-time among players with at least 7500 PA, despite having a raw OPS 35-40 points higher than Chipper and Giambi. His seven Gold Gloves concur with his +94 defensive value, as his all-around game led to 70 WAR, showing longevity did not prevent him from a HOF career.
Alan Trammell – While he only had one spectacular season, Trammell was a longtime consistent performer who possesses a lot of underrated qualities. His career 110 OPS+ does not seem impressive, but it’s one point higher than Tejada, and 14th among players with at least 6000 PA who played at least half their games at SS. His +77 defensive value is backed by four Gold Gloves, though he remained strong defensively through age 33. His 67.1 WAR is an exact tie with Barry Larkin, who was a bit more offensive-minded, tied for 9th all-time. A top 10 player at his position should be an automatic HOFer.
Kenny Lofton – Much like Trammell, a long career of consistent performance gives Lofton some great HOF credentials. Again, an underwhelming 107 OPS+ makes his candidacy look marginal, but no one would debate his +108 defensive value or +78 on the bases. Probably to the surprise of many, including myself, Lofton rates 8th among CF in the JAWS system, with Carlos Beltran as the only current player likely to pass him. 65 WAR without PED speculation is nearly automatic for HOF induction.
Edgar Martinez – While he did DH most of his career, he was a capable third baseman with 4600 innings at the hot corner. However, the bat is the topic here. His 147 OPS+ is tied for 30th all-time with Jim Thome, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, and Willie McCovey, minimum 5000 PA. Dick Allen is the only player with a higher OPS+ who has been through the vote and didn’t get in. The ability to hit has always been the easiest way to get into the HOF, and Edgar’s .312/.418/.515 slash line shows he was among the best ever.
Those Who Didn’t
Dale Murphy – I wanted to find a way to get him in, but I don’t see an avenue aside from his integrity during uneasy times in sports. During his 14 years as a regular, his 45 WAR is 21st overall, surrounded by Chet Lemon and Buddy Bell. During his 8-year peak, his 40 WAR is 7th, surrounded by Trammell and George Brett. These are cherry-picked time periods representing Murphy’s best years and he’s still not that close to the top. If you expand the time period to ’75-’93 and find the players with the best age 22-35 seasons, Murphy drops to 26th, between Jim Rice and Fred Lynn. If you do ages 24-31, he drops to 12th, between Keith Hernandez and Bell. If you put Murphy in based on his character, that would end up flooding the doors with suddenly viable candidates.
Jack Morris – Using WAR, Morris is really not even close to HOF territory, but his postseason successes and “pitching to the score” have been main arguments for his rising induction chances. While he was tremendous in the ’84 and ’91 postseasons, he was horrible in the ’87 and ’92 playoffs, so I’m not willing to give him much extra credit for postseason work, nowhere near a Schilling. As far as his 3.90 ERA goes, it’s claimed that he gave up a higher percentage of runs when the game was all-but-decided. If that was the case, his WPA should not have suffered much, since, for example, allowing a run or two in the 9th while up 4 runs barely moves the Win Probability chart. However, he only rated in the AL top 10 of WPA twice during his career, so I don’t see that phenomenon happening. My closest comparison for Morris is Mickey Lolich, high-volume career with decent numbers and a couple great postseasons, but not much consideration for the HOF.
Fred McGriff – Through age 30, McGriff looked to be on his way to a HOF career. Unfortunately, four average seasons followed, something a couple good seasons late in his career couldn’t overcome. His 134 OPS+ is impressive over a 10000 PA career, ending up about 400 runs above average. However, his defense was never really better than average, and his lack of speed hurt his baserunning value, while he never had a standout moment in his career. He rates very similarly to Norm Cash (corked bat aside) and Jack Clark, each of whom were voted off after one ballot. I would put Hernandez, John Olerud, and Will Clark in before McGriff.
Lee Smith – Much like the DH thought process, closers are very hard to evaluate. Smith had the fortune of becoming a reliever right as the one-inning save became popular, the biggest reason he was the all-time leader for 10-12 years. If Dennis Eckersley would have spent his entire career as a closer, Mariano would probably still be chasing him. You see someone like Smoltz go to the bullpen and dominate, showing how much easier it is to close than start. I’d rather see Luis Tiant and Rick Reuschel in the HOF than Smith and most other one-inning guys. Aside from Rivera, Gossage, and Wilhelm, I don’t think any other exclusive relievers should be in.
I realize I have a much more statistical (value) approach to induction qualifications, where some people may be willing to put a lesser player in if they had a specific facet of the game where they were among the best ever. Obviously, PEDs are the biggest paradox, as Bonds and Clemens were obvious HOFers before ever using anything, but there is no consensus on how to handle them. If this year is a small class (possibly even a shutout), the next two ballots will be even more of a mess, as guys like the Big Three, Frank Thomas, and others join the fray.