Breaking Down the 2015 MLB Hall of Fame Ballot
Voting for the MLB Hall of Fame has never been a more interesting and challenging task for the baseball writers. Even with three first ballot HOFers last year in Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, there is still a glut of worthy returning candidates for consideration this year, along with several newcomers that will make a strong case for induction in their first year.
By my count, there are about 20 candidates that warrant sincere attention when filling out your ballot, but writers can only vote for their top 10 at most, and most vote for fewer than that. Maybe someday SpreeGoogs will be given a ballot – until that day comes, you’ll get my breakdown of the full ballot here. Without further ado:
34. Aaron Boone – 1997-2009, 1x All-star, BR Rank: #1040
Boone obviously will go down in history for his homerun as a Yankee to send them to the 2003 World Series, but the rest of his career was mediocre. 2003 was also his only year as an All-star, and he ended his career as a .263 hitter with no statistical standout career or single-season highlights. That leaves me to wonder: has anyone gained so much from one single play? Would he have his ESPN job if not for that ALCS homerun?
33. Rich Aurilia – 1995-2009, 1x All-star, 1x Silver Slugger, BR Rank: #967
Aurilia had a career year for the Giants in 2001, leading the NL in hits with 206 in the same year that Barry Bonds hit 73 out of the yard. Rich also had 37 bombs and 97 RBIs that year, but he never came close to that type of season again. Maybe Barry gave him some of that secret stuff?
32. Tony Clark – 1995-2009, 1x All-star, BR Rank: #1013
Clark gets a nod on the ballot for his role as the director of the MLB players union, but there’s no serious consideration here for a vote. Clark had four years of 30+ homers over the course of his career, so he had legitimate power but didn’t even end up in the top 200 all-time in career bombs.
31. Cliff Floyd – 1993-2009, 1x All-star, BR Rank: #616
Floyd was a consistent run producer who had four seasons with more than 90 RBIs and three in which he hit over .300. But he was never close to the top of the league at his position.
30. “Everyday” Eddie Guardado – 1993-2009, 2x All-star, BR Rank: #999
Eddie Guardado earned his nickname by being ready to play every time his coaches called on him, which ended up being more than 900 times over the course of his career. That’s good for 22nd all-time in most career games pitched, which shows me that he earned his nickname. Guardado also had a solid run as a closer for the early 2000s Twins, topping 40 saves twice before moving on to Seattle, Cincinnati and Texas. Despite his brief closing success, he should mainly be looked at as a solid middle relief pitcher, nothing more.
29. Darin Erstad – 1996-2009, 2x All-star, 1x Silver Slugger, 3x Gold Glove, BR Rank: #525
Erstad’s career year came in 2000, hitting .355 and leading the AL in hits with 240. He then became a key cog in the 2002 World Series winning Angels team, but nothing about his career stats dictates serious HOF consideration.
28. Jason Schmidt – 1995-2009, 3x All-star, BR Rank #380
Schmidt had an epic run with the Giants from 2001-2006 after languishing in mediocrity with the Braves and Pirates for the first six years of his career. He was 17-5 and led the league in ERA (2.34) in 2003 to finish 2nd in the Cy Young voting during Eric Gagne’s insane streak of saves. His career fell off quickly upon joining the Dodgers in 2007, putting a damper on his run as one of the great strikeout pitchers of the early 2000s. Had he put up his Giants numbers for a few more years earlier or later in his career he’d have a better case.
27. Brian Giles – 1995-2009, 2x All-star, BR Rank: #230
Giles was a role player on a contending Indians team early in his career, and then became a really solid middle-of-the-order hitter on some bad Pittsburgh teams and a few mediocre San Diego teams, so it surprises me that he was only a 2x All-star. His stats put him in the top 100 all time in OBP, slugging percentage and walks. However, he doesn’t quite hit any of the “wow” criteria most HOFers achieve: he only had 287 career homers, and was never close to the top of his league in average, homers or RBIs.
26. Jermaine Dye – 1996-2009, 2x All-star, 1x Gold Glove, 1x Silver Slugger, World Series MVP 2005, BR Rank: #518
One of my favorite A’s from the Moneyball era, Dye was a true slugger with good stats all the way through the end of his career in 2009, not to mention a cannon from right field early in his career. Dye also has the 2005 World Series MVP to his name.
25. Tom “Flash” Gordon – 1988-2009, 3x All-star, BR Rank #264
Gordon’s career spanned 21 years, mostly as a stellar setup man, but he also had stretches as a starter for Kansas City, and as a closer for Boston and Philadelphia. Because he pitched in three different capacities, his career stats don’t do him justice, but he’s the only pitcher in MLB history with 100 wins, 100 saves and 100 holds. And in 1998-1999, he set a record with 54 straight saves. At times, he was a dominant reliever, but will he get enough support to be legitimately considered for the hall? I’d be surprised.
24. Troy Percival – 1995-2009, 4x All-star, BR Rank: #336
Percival was a dominant closer for the Angels, with nine straights seasons of 30+ saves including a World Series championship in 2002. His numbers put him 9th all-time in saves, which in itself deserves some serious consideration, and it is rare to see a closer remain dominant for that long of a time period. I don’t think Percival is quite on the level of the most elite closers in history like Eckersley, Hoffman and Rivera, but if Lee Smith can stay on the ballot for a decade, Percival should be able to get more than the 5 percent needed to stick around.
23. Carlos Delgado – 1993-2009, 2x All-star, 3x Silver Slugger, BR Rank: #170
There are some who think Delgado has a serious case for the HOF, and his career power numbers definitely suggest his candidacy is legitimate. Although he didn’t hit the magic 500 homers mark, he had incredible consistency and percentages. Delgado was 28th all-time in career slugging percentage, and had 10 seasons with 32 or more jacks. He also hit 4 HRs for the Mets during the 2006 playoffs that were sure to leave an impression on New York fans. He never managed to pull an MVP award away from A-Rod, but was consistently one of the top hitters in the AL at the turn of the century. Will that be enough? I’m guessing he will end up with more than 5 percent and stick around for a few years on the ballot.
22. Lee Smith – 1980-1997, 7x All-star, BR Rank: #138
Our first player that’s returning from last year on my list, Smith is in his 13th year on the ballot and dropped down drastically to only 29.9 percent of voters last year. Smith is running out of time and it doesn’t look like he’ll gain enough momentum to get in. He finished 11th in the voting last year and will likely stay around the same spot this year. Smith led his league in saves four times with the Cubs, Cardinals and Orioles, and has the 3rd most saves ever. A seven-time all-star and a career 3.03 ERA is solid stuff, but unless the voters clear some of these obvious hall of famers off the list, the votes won’t be there for Smith to get in in his final three years on the ballot.
21. Nomar Garciaparra – 1996-2009, 6x All-star, 1x Silver Slugger, 1997 Rookie of the Year, 2x Batting Champion. BR Rank: #220
Let’s start from the beginning with Nomar – as a rookie in 1997, he led the league in at bats, hits and triples, hit 30 homers and won the Rookie of the Year. He became the king of Boston over the next few years with 190+ hit seasons year in and year out, but was then shockingly traded to Chicago right before the Red Sox won the World Series. Nomar finished his career as a .313 hitter and then married Mia Hamm (bonus points for that). Expect Nomar to get some love from a few writers – I expect him to get about 10 percent of the vote or so.
20. Alan Trammell – 1977-1996, 6x All-star, 4x Gold Glove, 3x Silver Slugger. World Series MVP 1984. BR Rank: #57
I still see Trammell as a borderline HOFer. I can’t say that I saw him play, but as a six-time all-star shortstop with four gold gloves and a few silver sluggers, you’ve got to think he’s still going to get votes. I also forget to mention that he was the MVP of the 1984 World Series, so he’s got postseason accolades on his resume as well. His Baseball reference rank puts him in the category of Ryne Sandberg, but as shortstops go I think he compares well to Barry Larkin, who made it three years ago. This will be his second-to-last chance on the ballot, but last year he fell down to only 20 percent, finishing 14th on the list. There’s not much chance left for Trammell.
19. Don Mattingly – 1982-1995, 6x All-star, 9x Gold Glove 3x Silver Slugger, AL MVP 1985. BR Rank: #108
The 1985 MVP retired just as the Yankees were getting good in the ‘90s, but had a stellar career. He won the batting title in 1984, MVP in 1985, and led the league in hits, doubles, OPS and a slew of other categories in 1986. Donnie Baseball was a six-time all-star, nine-time gold-glove first baseman, and played his whole career with the ‘Yanks. He finished 20th on the ballot last year with 8.2 percent of the vote. I expect that a few nostalgic voters will give Mattingly some love this year in his last chance at induction, but he’ll still be well short.
18. Sammy Sosa – 1989-2007, 7x All-star, 6x Silver Slugger, NL MVP 1998. BR Rank: #217
Obviously he’d be higher if not for the steroid scandal that soiled his career. He’s 8th on the career homerun list, and played a legit role in getting fans excited about baseball again with the homerun chase in 1998, but only received 7.2% of the vote last year and is at risk of falling completely off the ballot after this year. Unlike some of his fellow steroid users, Sosa’s pre-drug years don’t help his case for the hall.
17. Fred McGriff – 1986-2004, 5x All-star, 3x Silver Slugger. BR Rank: #118
The Crime Dog’s closest statistical comparisons on baseballreference.com are Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, and Jeff Bagwell. If that doesn’t convince you of his statistical HOF worthiness, consider that the Dog hit 30 homers in 10 different years in the bigs – starting with 34 in 1988 and ending with 30 in 2002 with the Cubs. He had a long, successful career, and was consistently great hitter. Mcgriff got 11.7 percent of the vote in his 5th year, so it looks like he’s on the way off the ballot.
16. Gary Sheffield – 1988-2009, 9x All-star, 5x Silver Slugger, 1x Batting Champion. BR Rank: #113
If you’ve been traded for two likely HOFers (Trevor Hoffman and Mike Piazza), does that make you a likely HOFer? Sheffield had an amazing 22 year career – he hit the magical 500 homerun plateau, topped 100 RBIs eight times, and though he never won an MVP he finished in the top 10 six times. Also, playing in nine all-star games is no joke. He’s in the top-40 all-time in offensive WAR, runs, homers, RBI, total bases, walks, runs created, times on base, and extra base hits. And yet I still can’t find a way to sneak him into the top 10 on my ballot. I think he’ll get at least 15-20 percent of the vote and be evaluated for the next several years.
15. Mark McGwire – 1986-2001, 13x all-star, 1987 Rookie of the Year. 1x Gold Glove, 3x Silver Slugger, BR Rank: #208.
Big Mac’s votes have been steadily declining and were down to 11 percent last year. I’d expect them to go down even further. McGwire was the first example of PED use drastically reducing HOF votes, because based on his numbers he’s a sure-fire HOFer. Put simply, every full season he played in the bigs, Mcgwire was an all-star – he hit some of the most mammoth homeruns of the era, and other than Barry Bonds you would be hard pressed to find someone who was a more intimidating presence at the plate than McGwire in his prime. And there’s no question that McGwire helped save the popularity of baseball in 1998 when he hit 70 homers.
14. Tim Raines – 1979-2002, 7x all-star, 1x Silver Slugger, BR Rank: #59
Rock dropped down to 46.1 percent of the vote in his 7th year, and I think this is a make or break year for him. If he rebounds and gets back closer to 55 percent, he could get the momentum to make it before his time runs out. But if he stays at 46 percent or goes lower, he’s not going to make the cut. And that would be crazy, because he’s 5th all-time in steals, having led the league four straight years in the early 80’s. Even when his speed went, he managed to stick around and hit nearly .300 for several teams at the end of his career. He was a seven-time all-star, all in the 80’s with the Montreal Expos, and won a ring with the 1996 Yankees. My guess is that he still could get enough support to get in, but he needs more top names to get elected so that his voters continue to support him and don’t run out of space on their ballots.
13. Jeff Kent – 1992-2008. 5x All-star, 4x Silver Slugger, NL MVP 2000, BR Rank: #94.
Kent kicked off his HOF ballot run last year with only 15.2 percent of the vote, a surprisingly low number for one of the top hitting second basemen of all-time. After a mediocre start to his career with Toronto, the Mets and Cleveland, Kent became a star with the Giants and was over 100 RBIs every year with the team plus twice again with Houston. It is going to be hard for Kent to climb enough to get elected, but I hope he continues to get enough votes to stay in consideration.
12. Edgar Martinez – 1987-2004, 7x All-star, 6x Silver Slugger, BR Rank: #147
Hopefully Martinez is the first DH to make the HOF and David Ortiz is the second someday soon. Seven-time all-star with a .312 career batting average, two batting titles and very strong numbers throughout his career. Last year he dropped to 25 percent of the vote in his 5th season, and now only has five more years to recoup the votes he needs to get inducted. Maybe he’ll get a boost in 2016 when on the same ballot as his long-time teammate Ken Griffey?
11. Larry Walker – 1989-2005, 5x All-star, 4x Silver Slugger, 7x Gold Glove, NL MVP 1997. BR Rank: #72
What can I say, I’m a big Larry Walker fan. He dipped down to 10.2 percent last year, so support for him is waning, but it shouldn’t be. He had a .313 lifetime average, won an MVP in 1997 when he hit 49 homeruns and chased .400 on four different occasions. Amazingly, he hit .379 in 1999 and only finished 10th in the MVP voting – that shows you how homerun friendly that era was. Don’t forget Walker also won seven gold gloves for his outfield play. To me, he’s one of the top 50 hitters of all-time, so it’ll be a shame to see him fall off the ballot.
10. Mike Mussina – 1991-2008, 5x All-star, 7x Gold Glove, BR Rank: #22
Mussina was an incredibly consistent star pitcher across the 18 years of his career. His 270 wins put him in elite status among modern pitchers, and though I don’t picture him as an overpowering presence he is in the top-20 all-time in strikeouts. He was also an excellent defender on the mound. At only 20 percent last year he likely won’t make it, but he would get my vote again this year.
9. Curt Schilling – 1988-2007, 6x All-star, BR Rank: #50
Schilling was the best pitcher (16-7) on an early 90’s Phillies team that made the World Series, went 22-6 in co-anchoring the Diamondbacks world title in 2001, and led the Red Sox to two world titles with a bloody sock. He also finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting in each of 2001, 2002 and 2004. In all, he went 4-1 in the World Series for his career, and always seemed to show up when it mattered. Hall of Famer to me. Schilling had 29 percent of the vote last year after 38 percent in his first year, so unfortunately I think he’s heading in the wrong direction.
8. Roger Clemens – 1984-2007, 11x All-star, AL MVP 1986. 7x Cy Young Award Winner, BR Rank: #23
Yep, I’m still voting for Clemens and Bonds. Their performance-enhancing drug use is a black mark on his record, but I’m not interested in keeping one of the best pitchers of all-time out of the HOF. Clemens led the league in ERA seven times, first in 1986 and then again twenty years later in 2005. He’s also 9th all-time in wins and 3rd in career strikeouts.
7. Barry Bonds – 1986-2007. 14x All-star, 8x Gold Glove, 12x Silver Slugger, 7x NL MVP, BR Rank: #131
Bonds went down from 36 percent to 34 percent in his second year, so he didn’t receive any “won’t vote for him on the first ballot” bump as expected. He’s got a long way to go – so what would it take for Bonds to get a boost? Perhaps we’ll come across a slow year where there’s no other worthy candidates and the writers debate will intensify around Bonds and Clemens? Otherwise I think he’ll be hanging on for 10 years without any move up or down from 30 percent or so. It’s clear that his stats are incredible and without the scandal that destroyed his reputation he’d be a no doubt HOFer.
6. Jeff Bagwell – 1991-2005, 4x All-star, 3x Silver Slugger, NL MVP 1994. Rookie of the Year 1991, BR Rank: #50
Bagwell dropped from 59 percent to 54 percent in his 4th year on the ballot. Based on that drop, I think he’s still at least another year away from induction. Bags won an MVP in the strike season of 1994 and was ROY in 1991. He hit at least 39 homers six times and had 449 for his career. We were all robbed of part of his best season ever in 1994 when the strike hit, when I believe he may have had a shot at the record for most RBI’s in a season and made a run at Roger Maris’ HR record. He led the league in runs several times as well.
5. Mike Piazza – 1992-2007, 12x All-star, 10x Silver Slugger, 1993 Rookie of the Year, BR Rank: #34
Unlike many of the returnees on the ballot, Piazza’s percentage actually went up last year, from 57 percent to 62 percent. I think he’ll get even closer this year and be right on the edge of induction with Smoltz. Piazza was unquestionably one of the best catchers of all-time and almost certainly the best hitting catcher of all-time. A 12-time all-star, lifetime .308 hitter, ROY in 1992, and constant force for the Mets and Dodgers. That means he’s a HOFer to me.
4. John Smoltz, 1988-2009, 8x All-star, 1x Cy Young Award Winner, NLCS MVP 1992, BR Rank: #34
Will Smoltz join his long-time teammates Maddux and Glavine in the hall? His stats are HOF worthy, but he’s not a slam dunk to make it on the first ballot. Like Tom Gordon, his career numbers are a little unusual because he spent four years as a closer, but they are clearly impressive. He led the league in wins twice, including his Cy Young season in 1996 when he went 24-8, led the league in strikeouts in ’92 and ’96, and then topped 40 saves each year from 2002-2004. Smoltz’s longevity was impressive, as he pitched from his early 20s into his late 40s in the bigs. For most of those years he was a top-10 pitcher in the league, although never the best at his position. I think Smoltz barely misses out this year but will be in within the next year or two.
3. Pedro Martinez, 1992-2009, 8x All-star, 3x Cy Young Award Winner, BR Rank: #15
Is there any doubt Pedro is a HOFer? He had one of the more dominating stretches for a pitcher ever from 1997-2004, and in the heart of the steroid era he managed to post ERAs hovering around 2.00 or lower each of those seasons. He pretty much led the league in every pitching category in 1999, going 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts. His career numbers are solid too – he’s 17th in career WAR among pitchers, 5th all-time in WHIP, 6th all-time in Win-Loss percentage, 3rd all-time in Ks per 9IP and much more. Pedro is an all-time great and will make the hall this year on the first ballot.
2. Craig Biggio – 1988-2007, 7x All-star, 5x Silver Slugger, 4x Gold Glove, BR Rank: #38
This should finally be the year for Biggio, as he ended up just two votes shy of getting in last year. All signs point to induction for him in year three. Let’s review Biggio’s eye-opening career stats: 2nd all-time in HBP’s and ended up two shy of the record. Free of the steroid accusations, excelled at three different positions and always showed up to play. He was a seven-time all-star, and he’s 5th all-time in doubles. Here’s a list of the top 13 doubles hitters of all-time: Speaker, Rose, Musial, Cobb, Biggio, Brett, Lajoie, Yaz, Wagner, Aaron, Molitor, Waner, Ripken. All are in the hall except Rose for different reasons, and Biggio belongs in that class.
1. Randy Johnson – 1988-2009, 10x All-star, 5x Cy Young Award Winner, World Series MVP 2001, BR Rank: #7.
The lines above should give you enough evidence that The Big Unit is a no-doubt HOFer. Johnson should get about the same amount of support that Greg Maddux received last year – that is, overwhelming support and a near-unanimous election. Here’s a few highlights: Johnson led the league in strikeouts nine times, making him 2nd all-time in strikeouts and 1st in Ks per 9IP. He might be the last pitcher to reach 300 career wins for a long time, and dominated the Yankees to win the 2001 World Series. An all-time great.
Summing it all up, I think we see Pedro, Biggio and Johnson inducted this year, and although I think Smoltz and Piazza should be in I think they fall just short this year. Official results come in January.