Breaking Down the 2018 Hall of Fame Ballot
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Did you miss us? I couldn’t let SpreeGoogs go more than a year without a refresh. Someday this blog will find its second life, but until then, you can be sure that everytime there’s a baseball HOF vote or an Olympic basketball tournament, I’ll be here to break it down with a rankings list.
If you’ve been following this list for years, you’ll realize that we’ve navigated through years of crowded ballots. The steroid era created a moral dilemma for some voters, but instead of a simple red line exclusion of the admitted or suspended users, it caused some to take an hoity-toity high ground where they voted for zero candidates for each of the past few years.
That led us to the rare occurrence where no one made the HOF in 2013. Luckily, there has recently been an strong influx of younger baseball writers who realized the depth of worthy candidates. That has driven several straight years of ballots where many writers voted for a full slate of 10 candidates – that has led to the recent induction of several strong candidates; Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas in 2014; Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio in 2015; Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza in 2016; and Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Pudge Rodriguez in 2017.
The recent inductions, especially Pudge getting in by a slim 5-vote margin, clears the deck for this year’s field. Chipper Jones and Jim Thome are the top newcomers, but there’s clearly plenty of room for the top candidates who were overlooked in previous years to increase their vote totals. If I were actually voting, it is fair to say that the top 10 on this list would receive my vote.
As is tradition, I’ll break down this hall of fame class from the worst to first, evaluating each candidate who made their way onto the ballot. Here we go:
- Orlando Hudson, 2002-2012, Career WAR 30.9, 2x All-star, 4x Gold Glove
Via the eye test, Hudson has no chance. Only played 11 years in the league, and I was honestly surprised to see that he was a 2x All-star. A solid contributor for the Diamondbacks but never close to the top of the league in any statistical category.
- Kevin Millwood, 1997-2012, Career WAR 29.4, 1x All-Sta
A mainstay in the Braves rotation early in his career, Milwood had some stellar years as an understudy to Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz. He was 17-8 in 1998, 18-7 in 1999 with a league leading 0.99 WHIP, then 18-8 in 2002. But his post-Atlanta career was hit-or-miss. He had two meh years in Philly, then had a losing record for Cleveland while leading the league in ERA in 2005, but finished with seven years of below average pitching including a 4-16 year in 2010.
- Aubrey Huff, 2000-2012, Career WAR, 20.2, 1x Silver Slugger
Won a world series as a vital piece of the 2010 Giants, and got a ring with them in 2012 as well as a part-time player in his final season. Those are his career highlights, but he can look back fondly on three seasons with over 100 RBIs and two season where he hit over .300, two with Tampa and one with Baltimore. Negative points for a poor showing as a radio host in the Bay Area after his retirement.
- Jason Isringhausen, 1995-2012, Career WAR 13.2, 2x All-star
For SEO purposes, I’ll mention that Alabama’s senator-elect Doug Jones is 25th on the all-time list of saves with 303 saves, and Isringhausen is 26th with an even 300. (Just kidding, its a different Doug Jones.) Isringhausen was the closer on the pre-Moneyball A’s and the cardinals for most of the 00s. But he’s not quite in the class of the elite HOF closers.
- Carlos Lee, 1999-2012, Career WAR 28.2, 3x All-star, 2x Silver Slugger
Seven straight years of 99+ RBIs, with about 30 HRs each of the years during that run from 2002-2009. A great early run with the Whitesox, who traded him for eventual World Series hero Scott Podsednik in 2004. A solid run after that with Houston, but he never became the best player on his team.
- Brad Lidge, 2002-2012, Career WAR 8.2, 2x All-star
If you go by Baseball Reference standards, Lidge is the least worthy candidate on this year’s ballot. Here’s a debate: how will you remember him 50 years from how? Will it be for his 2008 Phillies World Series win? Or for the epic HR he allowed to Albert Pujols? For me, it is the Pujols HR, but that might very well be because I was at a concert for the Phillies win and its one of the very few world-series ending moments I didn’t see in person. Either way, Lidge has appearances in several memorable moments but isn’t HOF worthy.
- Carlos Zambrano, 2001-2012, Career WAR 44.6, 3x All-star, 3x Silver Slugger
Zambrano was the best thing the Cubs had going for the entirety of my time in college in Chicago from 2004-2008. A consistent ERA under 4 from 2002-2010 is impressive consistency. And he could hit too. But he only played 12 years, which means he’s nowhere near the top 100 in any significant pitching career categories. A good player but not HOF level.
- Chris Carpenter, 1997-2012, Career WAR 34.5, 3x All-star, 2005 NL Cy Young Award
Carpenter had a weird career. He was mediocre for his first six years in the league with Toronto, missed all of 2003 after elbow surgery, and then was incredibly dominant from 2004 to 2006 with St. Louis, got hurt again and missed two years, was incredible in 2009, above-average for two more years and then quickly out of the league. As great as he was at his peak, it’s hard to ignore that he was bad or injured for 60% of his career.
- Kerry Wood, 1998-2012, Career WAR 27.7, 2x All-star, 1998 NL Rookie of the Year
After tying the major league record for strikeouts in a game as a rookie, Wood looked poised to be a HOFer, and though he didn’t quite live up the expectations he still ended up with a solid 14-year career. Wood’s best year came in 2003, when he led the league in strikeouts and put the Cubs in great position to make a World Series run until Steve Bartman got in the way. Two years later, he was a reliever. He had a solid two-year run as a closer for the Cubs and Indians but finished with a few years as a setup-guy. With only 86 career wins, he doesn’t have the traditional stats to pass the test, but here are two amazing career stats: Wood is 4th all-time in strikeouts per inning, and 11th in hits per inning. He was up there with the best in terms of getting batters to swing and miss.
- Livan Hernandez, 1996-2012, Career WAR 31.1, 2x All-star
Hernandez was the hero of the 1997 Marlins title run, winning two games each in the NLCS and World Series and picking up MVP awards in each, all in his rookie year. He went on to become one of baseball’s most reliable starters, hurling more than 30 starts every year from 1998 through 2010. Despite his consistency of taking the ball every fifth day, he was rarely dominant. He never was in serious consideration for a Cy Young award and five times gave up the most hits in the league.
- Jamie Moyer, 1986-2012, Career WAR 50.4, 1x All-star
Bonus points for longevity. Moyer played a full 25 years in the league and pitched until he was 49 years old. That’s enough pitching in the heart of the steroid era to give him the honor as the pitcher who gave up the most HRs of all-time. He’s also 3rd on the career list for runs allowed. But he also has plenty of positive career attributes. His best career stretch came from 1998-2004 with the Mariners, including 20 wins for the surprising team that won 116 games in 2001. Moyer also won a ring with the 2008 Phillies while going 16-7 at age 45. He might get a few votes as a nod to his impressive ability to pitch well beyond his prime.
- Hideki Matsui, 2003-2012, Career WAR 21.3, 2x All-star
Matsui’s career in Japan has to come into play here. Between the MLB and Japan he had more than 500 career HRs, so he’s a valid candidate. He also has the 2009 World Series MVP to his name, so he has his place in Yankees lore. I’m willing to forgive any shortcomings that might come from not playing long enough or accumulating career stats, however, unlike Ichiro, I don’t think he’s clearly done enough in terms of average or yearly stats to warrant strong consideration. He was never even in the top-10 for MVP consideration. Four seasons with over 100 RBIs is nice but not quite enough.
- Johnny Damon, 1995-2012, Career WAR 56.0, 2x All-star
Once a speedy leadoff hitter for the Royals who led the league in runs and SBs in the late 90s, Damon is probably best known for his roles with the champion Red Sox in 2004 and Yankees in 2009. He also arrived in Oakland in 2001 in a trade along with one of my favorite A’s, Mark Ellis. Damon’s most similar batting career ratings on Baseball Reference include a few HOFers (Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar) and non-HOFers (Vada Pinson, Steve Finley). He was also a good defensive center fielder for most of his career, so he has a decent case. And Damon essentially never got injured, so in his 18 years he was able to become a top-40 all-timer in at-bats and runs scored.
- Billy Wagner, 1995-2010, Career WAR 28.1, 7x All-star, 1x Reliever of the Year (3rd Year, 2017 Vote: 10.2%)
Our first returning candidate! Wagner was a fireball closer, but I compare his career stats to Lee Smith, another closer who was never able to get enough votes for serious consideration. The fact that the closer who sits 6th on the all-time saves list barely cracks the top 20 of this ballot is a sign that still has plenty of depth.
- Scott Rolen, 1996-2012, Career WAR 70.0, 7x All-star, 8x Gold Glove, 1997 Rookie of the Year, 1x Silver Slugger
I have to say, I was surprised to look back at Scott Rolen’s career and see how strong of a statistical case he has. Seven all-star games and eight gold gloves puts him in good company – he’s also got a ROY award and a World Series ring. His defensive stats put him as one of the top-defensive third-basemen ever and in the top-100 for Career WAR of all-players. Watching him during his career, I can’t say he passed the eye test as a sure-fire HOFer, but he should probably be in consideration. I expect he’ll get some votes and remain on the ballot.
- Johan Santana, 2000-2012, Career WAR 51.4, 4x All-star, 2004 AL Cy Young, 2006 AL Cy Young.
Santana has the opposite resume of Rolen, in my opinion. He definitely passed the eye test for HOFer, but his stats didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Santana was an absolute stud from the moment he became a full-time starter with the Twins in 2003 until his third year with the Mets in 2010. After that, it was over; he missed all of 2011, was bad in 2012 and then retired at 33. So he can’t claim to hit any longevity requirements. But consider the dominance of his peak: he had six seasons with an ERA under 3.00, led the league in Ks and ERA three times each and WHIP four times. Advanced metrics are also very kind to Santana and would likely place him among the top 50 pitchers of all-time.
- Sammy Sosa, 1989-2007, Career WAR 58.4, 7x All-star, 6x Silver Slugger, NL MVP 1998 (6th Year, 2017 Vote: 8.6%)
We’ll always have 1998. Sosa remains at risk of falling off the ballot completely and has no chance of making it in within the 10-year window. His best hope is to get in via a veterans committee in some distant future when perspectives on steroids change. But he’s the least deserving of that BALCO crew – he has now fallen to 9th on the career HR list, but he’s also 4th in Ks. He rates as one of the top defensive right fielders with tons of putouts and assists, but was also in the top-10 in errors all-time among RFers. On stats alone, Sosa makes it, but he’ll always have that steroid cloud that taints his highest accolades.
- Andruw Jones, 1996-2012, Career WAR 62.8, 5x All-star, 10x Gold Glove, 1x Silver Slugger
The HOF resume for Andruw Jones starts with defense, and specifically with this: he’s No. 1 on the career list for outfielders in “Total Zone Runs as OF” since they started keeping the stat in 1953. He was an amazing fixture in center field for the Braves during their decade of division championships, and he could hit too. His 434 HRs put him in the career top-50, and he can claim to be one of the few to reach the 50 HRs in a season mark (51 HRs, 128 RBIs in 2005). I don’t think he hit for a high enough average or with enough longevity into his thirties to get into the HOF with his teammate Chipper, but he’ll remain on the ballot under consideration for several years.
- Fred McGriff, 1986-2004, Career WAR 52.4, 5x All-star, 3x Silver Slugger (9th Year, 2017 Vote: 21.7%)
This is the 9th year on the ballot for the Crime Dog. Here’s hoping he gets one final push with the voters next year, but at 21.7% he’s unlikely to get in. Mcgriff hit 30 homers in 10 different years – quite a feat! – starting with 34 in 1988 with the ‘Jays and ending with 30 in 2002 with the Cubs. He won a title with the Braves in 1995 as the most feared power hitter in that lineup. Oh and he also picked up an ASG MVP in 1994. He’s a top-50 all-time player in HRs, RBIs, walks and extra-base hits. Baseball reference measures his stats as close comparisons to Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and Jeff Bagwell – all HOFers.
- Curt Schilling, 1988-2007, Career WAR 79.9, 6x All-star (6th Year, 2016 Vote: 45.0%)
Schilling is heading in the wrong direction, losing seven percent last year after inflammatory comments about the media (among several other terrible things he’s said). As with accused steroid users, I’d never give an automatic no-vote for characteristics like Schilling’s, but it does mean they lose some points and it hurts him a little when there are other worthy candidates to vote for. That aside, he was a great & clutch performer for several world series teams and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting twice. I expect that he’ll still stay below 50% again.
- Jeff Kent, 1992-2008, Career WAR 55.2, 5x All-star, 4x Silver Slugger, 2000 NL MVP (5th Year, 2016 Vote: 16.7%)
I took another harder look at Kent this year, given the low support he received to see if I was missing something. There are certainly some red flags: he never led the league in anything but sacrifice flies, his closest career comparisons (Aramis Ramirez, Torii Hunter, Miguel Tejada) don’t help his case, and he bounced around on three teams before becoming a star with the Giants. That said, there’s no doubt that he’s one of the top hitting second basemen we’ve ever seen, and I think he’s not being given credit for rare power at his position. He was the MVP in 2001 and had over 100 RBIs in each of his six years with the Giants before doing it twice again later in his career. He’s 28th all-time in doubles and 43rd in extra-base hits. So, after all that I concluded I had him fairly rated.
- Omar Vizquel, 1989-2012, Career WAR 45.3, 3x All-star, 11x Gold Glove.
Vizquel will be the big test – I can’t wait to see how many votes he gets this year. Arguably he’s in the conversation for best defensive shortstop ever: among shortstops he has the best fielding percentage ever, the most double plays ever, most games played at SS and 11 Gold Gloves. Offensively he definitely wasn’t HOF worthy. He had very limited power and only one season hitting over .300, though sticking around for 24 seasons was enough to get him 2877 hits, just a good season shy of 3,000. With comparisons to HOFers like Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparacio, I predict he’ll get in eventually, but he may have to wait until close to the end of his 10-year time limit.
- Gary Sheffield, 1989-2009, Career WAR 60.3, 9x All-star, 5x Silver Slugger, 1x Batting Champ (4th Year, 2017 Vote: 13.3%)
The resume for Sheffield: in his 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. 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. He won a batting title in 1992, won a ring with the 1997 Marlins, and was still picking up Silver Slugger awards into his late 30s. A steroid admission totally ruins his chances.
- Manny Ramirez, 1993-2011, Career WAR 69.2, 12x All-star, 9x Silver Slugger (2nd Year, 2017 Vote: 23.8%)
Manny sneaks onto my 10-person ballot this year. If not for the steroids suspensions he’d be in the top 5-6 on this list. The bizarre personality might cancel some of that negativity out for me – high-fiving a fan and peeing behind the Green Monster has to count for something. Beyond that, he’s a .312 career hitter with 555 HRs and 12 All-star games. He’s 8th all-time in slugging percentage, behind only Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Foxx, Bonds, Greenberg and McGwire. Exclusive company for one of the most feared hitters of our time.
- Edgar Martinez, 1987-2004, Career WAR 68.3, 7x All-star, 6x Silver Slugger (9th Year, Vote 2017: 58.6%)
For the purposes of opening up ballot spots, I hope Edgar makes it in this year. If we get a four person class of Chipper, Vlad, Trevor and Edgar, that will really enable voters to add other deserving names to their ballots in the coming years. If not, he’ll probably make it in his 10th and final year in 2019. Here’s my one hesitation on Edgar: since he spent most of his career as a DH-only, we know we can judge him purely on his hitting comparisons, and his stats line up next to several guys who couldn’t or won’t make the cut: Will Clark, John Olerud, Matt Holliday, Moises Alou.
- Mike Mussina, 1991-2008, Career WAR 83.0, 5x All-star, 7x Gold Glove (5th Year, 2017 Vote: 51.8%)
The statistical case for Mussina: 270 career wins, an impressive feat for modern-day pitchers. 20th all-time in strikeouts. Excellent defender. Advanced stats put him among the top 10 to 15 pitchers of all-time in several categories. Never won a Cy Young award but finished in the top-6 in eight separate years, so he was always among the top pitchers in the league. All in all, Moose was an incredibly consistent star pitcher for 18 years, and his career stats reflect that remarkable consistency.
- Larry Walker, 1989-2005, Career WAR 72.6, 5x All-star, 4x Silver Slugger, 7x Gold Glove, NL MVP 1997, 3x NL Batting Champion (8th Year, 2017 Vote: 21.9%)
Three more chances for Walker – he jumped above 20 percent last year, and early returns from Ryan Thibodeaux’s BBHOF Tracker suggests he’s set to make another jump this year. Personally, I think he’s deserving of strong consideration. He had a .313 lifetime average, won an MVP in 1997 when he hit 49 HRs, and chased .400 on four different occasions, including .379 in 1999. Seven Gold Gloves as well. He’s 12th all-time in Slugging percentage – if you think Mike Trout is on his way to a HOF career, then you should also get on board for Walker’s HOF case, whose percentage stats are very similar.
- Trevor Hoffman, 1993-2010, Career WAR 28.4, 7x All-star, 2x Reliever of the Year (3rd Year, 2017 Vote: 74%)
Here’s an interesting stat: if inducted, Hoffman would become only the 2nd HOF pitcher to never start a game (Bruce Sutter was the other). Last year I predicted Hoffman would fall a few votes short, which is exactly what happened. There’s a high probability that he’s getting in this year, which is great because his resume holds up. Here’s a look at his career accolades: 2nd all-time in saves, with impressive longevity: 30 or more saves for 14 straight years (!) save 2003 when he was injured. 9th all-time in WHIP (passed by Chris Sale this year), tucked between HOFers Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
- Jim Thome, 1991-2012, Career WAR 72.9, 5x All-star, 1x Silver Slugger
Thome will make it this year. He’s not connected to the steroid discussions and yet still had over 600 career HRs. He never had the scary dominance of Bonds or Ramirez, but he was always a huge threat to go deep and did it consistently for 20+ years. And he was beloved everywhere he went. Thibodeaux’s tracker has him at close to 95 percent of ballots so far. I think he’ll end up around 88-90% and get in easily.
- Vladimir Guerrero, 1996-2011, Career WAR 59.3, 9x All-star, 8x Silver Slugger, 2004 AL MVP (2nd Year, 2017 Vote: 71.7%)
Guerrero gets my vote over Thome. Even though he played six fewer years, he had four more all-star appearances, seven more Silver Sluggers, and was a far more impressive defensive player. Infact, I think Vlad’s defense early in his career is part of what makes his HOF case, with stunning throws from right field to gun down baserunners. He also hit over .300 for 12 straight years, including several years over .330. Vlad appears very likely to get in this year in his 2nd year on the ballot.
- Roger Clemens, 1984-2007, Career WAR 140.3, 11x All-star, 7x Cy Young Award, AL MVP 1986 (6th Year, 2017 Vote: 54.1%)
Wow, look at those WAR numbers – close to double the WAR of most of the other candidates on this list, he’s 8th all-time and 3rd among pitchers. 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. So, what are his chances? He jumped to 54 percent from 45 last year, and he’ll probably pick up a few more votes this year but so far it doesn’t appear there’s another wave coming. I expect Clemens and Bonds to tick up to around 56 or 57 percent this year.
- Barry Bonds, 1986-2007, Career WAR 162.4, 14x All-star, 8x Gold Glove, 12x Silver Slugger, 7x NL MVP (6th Year, 2017 Vote: 53.8%)
All-time Homerun king. Closest stat comparisons are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron… and Babe Ruth. His dominance is hard to believe. For a player this great to stay out of the HOF required an epic career-ruining scandal, which is what the BALCO scandal became. So, will Bonds get in? If he’s just shy of 60 percent this year, it’s going to get really close by 2020. His 10th and final year may be the biggest controversy in HOF voting history if he’s within a few votes either way – can’t wait to see how it plays out.
- Chipper Jones, 1993-2012, Career WAR 85.0, 8x All-star, 1999 NL MVP, 2008 NL Batting Champion, 2x Silver Slugger
Our family was such big fans of Jones that we named our dog Chipper – and we weren’t Braves fans. From his starring role in the Braves 1995 championship run, to his MVP season in 1999, to hitting .364 in 2008, to an all-star appearance at age 40, Chipper was an incredible hitter for the whole length of his career. Among ballots revealed so far he’s on all but two, so he’s definitely getting in on the first ballot.
My final predictions: I think Chipper, Vlad, Thome and Trevor Hoffman are HOFers this year. Edgar Martinez is the big question – jumping from 58% to 75% is such a big leap that I don’t think he’ll get there. Can he get to around 70% and set himself up for induction in his final year? We’ll see. Beyond that, I’ll be watching Bonds, Clemens and Schilling to see how they are trending, and I expect Vizquel, Rolen and Andruw Jones to enter purgatory for evaluation in subsequent years.