By Mark Newman
Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are checked for the first time. Ten boxes are checked for the first time. WAR, JAWS and other analytics were primary criteria for the first time.
This longtime Hall of Fame voter ranked and analyzed what he considers to be the 15 best 2017 Hall of Fame candidates in much detail here for the first time, instead of the usual handful of checked names plus a 75-word blurb. I put this out there in advance for the first time so it can be part of the public discourse, leading up to the Hall of Fame's Jan. 18 announcement.
Baseball players make adjustments throughout their careers, whether it is adding a new pitch, moving to a new position, or changing their mechanics. I believe the same is required of Hall of Fame voters as the game evolves, so to that end, I modernize my own voting process.
Here are the reasons, none of which have anything to do with PEDs, which became formally banned through collective bargaining (I continue to not speculate on anyone before that):
- Too many legends from a generation have been kept out or held to unfair standards.
- Too many cases where comparative analytics tell a different story than you perceived.
- Too many empty boxes left unchecked on previous ballot submissions.
- Too many times I almost dreaded the arrival of the ballot instead of embracing it.
Last year, after mailing back my ballot and then monitoring Ryan Thibodaux's BBHOF Tracker, I decided to start with a blank slate. I sought helpful counsel from Cory Schwartz, our vice president of statistics here at MLB Advanced Media, on better ways to evaluate and compare numbers. I had a similar discussion with Mike Petriello, our analyst and host of the Statcast™ podcast. It is less clear to me that we in the media are the best electorate for this process, but I continue to do my part and this year promise to do a better job with the allotted 10 boxes.
As a reminder, a candidate must receive at least 75 percent of the ballots cast. There are 15 holdovers and 19 newcomers. Ballots must be postmarked by Dec. 31, with the results to be announced on MLB Network on Jan. 18 and inductions to take place next July 30. Here, in order, are the 10 who got my vote this time and some detailed notes on why I made the decision.
1. Barry Bonds
Seven Most Valuable Players 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. All-time leader with 2,558 walks and 688 intentional walks, proof that no one ever scared 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. I am glad to see that the trend among voters has inched more toward my initial thought process, and that might signal a gradual increase in the percentages for Bonds and Clemens.
Weaknesses: Lacked sufficient postseason impact, notably always disappearing for Pittsburgh. 2002 postseason was a lone breakout run, with eight overall homers and a terrific World Series. Also, one must note he was a surly, universally unlikeable individual to most media and many fans.
Voting record: 36.2 in 2013, 34.7, 36.8, 44.3. If he keeps climbing into the 50s, I believe the conversation and the pressure will grow more serious among holdouts.
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 HOF is Clayton Kershaw.
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 very end through Houston's World Series.
Postseason: Pitched in six World Series, won two rings, but should have had three (Mookie/Buckner). Many Division Series struggles, but typically improved deeper into the playoffs. Overall: 199 innings, 12 wins, 173 Ks in postseasons with three clubs.
Drawback: Fate is inexorably intertwined with Bonds, not altogether fairly. Only one (Clemens) was a postseason stud.
Voting record: 37.6 in 2013, 35.4, 37.5, 45.2. Must keep increasing.
3. Ivan Rodriguez
Not only should it be the second year in a row for a catcher to go in, but also first-ballot. Rodriguez likely would be the first in 14 years, since Nolan Ryan, to go in with a Rangers cap. That would make for a nice speech, because Rodriguez was a rookie in Texas catching for Ryan in 1991.
Only Hall of Famers Johnny Bench (75.0/61.0) and Gary Carter (69.9/59.1) have higher WAR/JAWS than his 68.4/54.0 ratings among catchers ... 14 ASG, 13 GG, 2,844 hits, one ring, 2,427 games behind the plate (health/endurance) ... 1999 AL MVP, with a .332 average, 35 homers, 113 RBIs, 25 SB, 116 runs.
Rodriguez had mixed postseason results, but plenty of highlights. On Oct. 4, 2003, he fielded Jeff Conine's throw to the plate and blocked J.T. Snow, hanging on to the ball and securing the NL Wild Card Series victory over San Francisco. Won a ring with the Marlins that year, and what I remember most was Game 5 against the Cubs in Miami, where Josh Beckett threw at Sammy Sosa's helmet -- but Pudge took control of the situation, cooling off Sosa in a classic veteran leadership moment. Rodriguez was only 8-for-48 (.167) for Detroit in the 2006 postseason, including 3-for-19 (.158) in the World Series.
Because Jose Canseco said Rodriguez juiced, I won't be surprised if some old-school voters hold back. Again, that is a moot point in my analysis, which would consider only cases where evidence and punishment happened via the new drug program.
4. Tim Raines
This is my first time checking Raines on the ballot, in his final try.
Qualifications: No. 8 all-time WAR (69.1)/JAWS (55.6) among LF. Average of 19 HOFers at this position: 65.1/53.3. Of the top 13 in those categories, only Bonds (see above) and Ramirez (new to ballot) are not in the Hall. Raines led MLB in stolen bases four straight years (1981-84), when high steal numbers were still sexy. He stole 71 in '81, and if not for the strike, he might have been the one to break Lou Brock's single-season record of 118 steals, surpassed a year later by Rickey Henderson.
He lacked Henderson's overall power among leadoff elite and paid outsized price for that in press perception. But I compared some of Rickey's stats to those of Raines, and the margins are not as big as I had thought: 127-123 OPS+; 1,406-808 SB; 2,295-1,571 R; 3,055-2,605 H; 1,115-980 RBIs. Remember, some of those numbers are all-time records for Henderson; Raines was in his neighborhood in Hall consideration. By the way: seven straight All-Star Games in the 1980s, relevant in perception as elite over an extended period.
Postseason: Raines played a noteworthy role in the launch of a Yankees dynasty. After New York lost the first two games to Atlanta at home in the 1996 World Series, he walked and scored the first run in the first inning of a Game 3 victory, then scored the decisive run in the 10th inning of a Game 4 victory to tie it. It was his only World Series, though he got a ring in '98 after playing in the first two rounds. Overall, Raines appeared in five postseasons totaling 34 games, batting .270/.340/.349 with 18 runs. When Toronto repeated in '93, he was the biggest hurdle to overcome in that ALCS (.444, 5R).
5. Jeff Bagwell
This is my first time checking Bagwell on the ballot, in his seventh year of eligibility. His percentages are 41.7 in 2011, 56.0, 59.6, 54.3, 55.7, 71.6. Last year, I actually contacted the BBWAA a week after mailing in my ballot, losing sleep over the fact I had omitted him; there can be no change after it's postmarked. I expect him to be the top vote-getter this time.
Bagwell was sixth among first basemen for WAR (79.6) and JAWS (63.9). He had a 149 OPS+, meaning he was 49 percent better than the adjusted league average. 1994 NL MVP, and note that before labor stoppage he played in only 110 games but managed 39 HR, 116 RBIs, 104 R, 15 SB, 300 TB and finished with 213 OPS+.
He finished with 449 homers, 2,314 hits and four All-Star Games. Those are not HOF numbers, but I overweighted that in the past. Voting for him now makes me think that I might have voted for Don Mattingly during his eligibility.
6. Edgar Martinez
Free this man. Martinez hit .312/.418/.515 with 514 doubles and a 147 OPS+ in 2,055 games. He was a seven-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.
Martinez is exactly at the average batting rank for HOF players. One can always argue that since 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, only two behind Ron Santo. (Scott Rolen is among them, and more on that next year, when he becomes eligible.)
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. Martinez ranks strong at third base 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.
7. Curt Schilling
His 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. He led the Phillies to the 1993 World Series, handed it over to Mitch Williams and buried his face in a towel. He led Red Sox to the famous 2004 ALCS comeback and World Series title (in fact, his bloody sock was the cover of my subsequent MLB.com e-book "Hard to Believe: A Year Inside Red Sox Nation"). He also led Arizona to 2001 World Series title.
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. And here's another example of his extended excellence: Schilling pitched at least five innings in 74 consecutive starts from 2004-06, the longest such streak by any Red Sox pitcher since 1913.
He did himself no favor with a tweet praising a t-shirt that jokes about lynching journalists (among other tasteless things he's posted on social media), and thus I expect him to lose considerable votes among my peers.
8. Trevor Hoffman
I viewed him as an automatic check last year in his first ballot appearance, and in my eyes he has dropped to bottom five in consideration now, but he's still very worthy. It is difficult to retrofit him 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% better than the adjusted league average, but that is a tremendous drop from Mariano Rivera's 205, the best ever.
Being 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 equals 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 Hoffman entering to "Hell's Bells" and then getting the job done.
For that, he should be a Hall of Famer. But I worry that if he starts to decline in voting percentage, he will never get back into position, as saves are less sexy today.
9. Vladimir Guerrero
A strange thing happened when I changed my voting style with more focus on advanced metrics: two Montreal-bred stars went in opposite directions. I became more passionate about voting for Raines, and less passionate about voting for Guerrero. Alas, Vlad was still too damn good in his glory days, and I am casting this vote with a large nod to Pedro Martinez.
In 2015, Pedro became the only Dominican Republic native to be inducted other than fellow pitcher Juan Marichal 32 years earlier. No Dominican position player has made it into the HOF 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. 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 ... Was 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: I do not expect Guerrero to be a quick inductee, because he ranks 22nd among all-time right fielders in WAR (59.3) and 21st in JAWS (50.2). In fact, if you went solely by that list, you would certainly check the box for Larry Walker on this ballot. After all, Walker is way above him at 12th in WAR (72.6) and 10th in JAWS (58.6). The only people higher than Walker on that list are in Cooperstown... Guerrero was a below-average baserunner, and famously swung at just about anything.
10. Mike Mussina
Fourth 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 as the analytics campaign revved up, voters got younger and more people took notice. When he debuted on the ballot, there were three 300-game winners on it as well: Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both of whom got right in, and Clemens in his second year of eligibility. I think the whole quartet belongs.
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 and just ahead of 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.