I’ll post these in alphabetical order; the number next to a player’s name is his Test grade.
Abreu, Bobby (1.3): Abreu was involved in two of the worst trades ever on paper, one because an expansion team was obsessed with positional need, the other because the Yankees and Phillies almost certainly made a deal beneath a conference table that could not stand the light of day.
Abreu was kind of a modern-day Rusty Staub, a useful player who bounced around and was always good, but he was never great.
Bartlett, Jason (0.1): His career was short, but he compiled 17.8 B-ref WAR from 2006-2010, including 6.2 in 2009. Bartlett was the key added ingredient, along with Evan Longoria, that transformed Tampa’s league-worst defense in 2007 into the league’s best in 2008. The Rays improved 31 games (66 wins to 97 wins) despite scoring eight fewer runs.
Beckett, Josh (0.3): Beckett finished second in the 2007 Cy Young award voting and dominated the postseason; at that point, he was 27 years old with 77 career wins, a decent era+ (116) and two brilliant postseason performances under his belt. He was squarely on a Hall of Fame path.
He had other moments, a couple more good years after that, but he wound up going from national brand to historical footnote faster than you can say “I’m too injured to earn my paycheck; how about some golf?”
Bedard, Erik (0.0): Seattle gave up Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill and a couple of Marvins for Bedard, who was injured at the time of the trade.
Tillman was a rotation regular for four years and won 74 games for the O’s. Jones was the O’s centerfielder for 11 years, scoring and driving in nearly 900 runs and hitting 263 home runs in 1,613 games. Sherrill, putatively a throw-in, had 3.2 WAR over the two seasons following the trade compared to Bedard’s 3.1.
Bedard eventually pitched 255 innings over four seasons for the M’s before being traded with Josh Fields (288 career games with a 3.71 era) for 288 atbats of Travon Martin (104 strikeouts, a negative WAR) and a player who did not play in the major leagues.
Nothing against Bedard, of course, but Bill Bavasi left Seattle wearing a barrel and I bet he overpaid for the flippin’ barrel.
Berkman, Lance (0.8): Berkman was one of the worst outfielders to play as many games as he did out there, but (1) it wasn’t his idea to pretend he could run and (2) he was genuinely a good enough hitter to be valuable, even with a huge defensive penalty.
Should his defense count against him in a Hall of Fame analysis? To me, judging Hall of Fame cases for hitters like Berkman based on his defensive metrics is a lot like discounting Janis Joplin’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame case because she drank a lot. I mean, sure she did. And Berkman was a Tree Sloth out in right field. But greatness isn’t the same thing as value; when we judge greatness, we generally forgive what happens offscreen unless it interferes with what happens onscreen.
We don’t care how many times Larry King was married when we listen to him on the radio, and we don’t care that Clint Eastwood spent 15 minutes talking to an empty chair when we watch his movies. We sometimes care, of course – I am pretty sure Harvey Weinstein’s career is over, for example – but only when the offscreen stuff bleeds into the enjoyment of the greatness.
So Janis, Hendrix and Morrison drank and shot up, Elvis drank and emptied pill bottles, Sinatra drank and punched out the hired help, and we didn’t care. Lance Berkman’s iron glove wasn’t fun to watch in action, but it sat tamely in a dugout cubbyhole, blissfully forgotten in the excitement when he dented opposing pitchers, fences and scoreboards with his mighty club.
In the limited sense of a discussion about Berkman’s relative greatness, his glove is rated the same as all that offstage drinking and carrying on: not applicable. It was not party to his greatness, and its lacks did not diminish his greatness.
You can argue that it hurt his team’s chances to win, of course – no argument there – but the Hall of Fame is not a team award. If Berkman’s greatness was diminished by opportunities lost because of his glove, that’s baked into the equation. Berkman may not make the Hall of Fame because his mighty club was judged not quite mighty enough. But I don’t think metrics that include defense are more than peripherally relevant to his case.
Brown, Kevin (1.3): At this point I think Brown is more likely than not to get a plaque; the trend toward using advanced stats helps him, and the memories of what a horse’s butt he was don’t seem to be lingering enough to hold him back.
Chávez, Eric (0.4): In his final three seasons, as a part-time player for the Yankees, Chavez slashed .277-.342-.483 with 28 home runs, 89 runs batted in and 60 walks in 648 plate appearances — your basic prime Eric Chavez season, though without the gold glove defense.
Would Chavez have been a Hall of Famer without the bad back? Mmmayyybee … it’s hard to fault a gold-glove third baseman who produces 4-5 WAR with the bat every year, but there are already several guys waiting in line for the call – Matt Williams, Scott Rolen, Graig Nettles and Darrell Evans came to mind immediately – who hit higher peaks than Chavez and had long careers. In a couple of cases (Evans and Nettles) they had historically long careers. And they are still waiting.
Cone, David (1.0): Now the longest-tenured GOR candidate, in his 11th year on the ballot. I’ve said it a few times now, but I believe Cone has a legitimate chance to get in the Hall of Fame through the old-timers, but he will have to wait until the voters get done with the 1970s high-volume guys like Tommy John and Jim Kaat. Once the 250+ win guys are in, though, Cone’s 194 won’t look as puny. And the rest of his resume is sterling.
Delgado, Carlos (1.0): I think Delgado and Gary Sheffield are the current boundaries of the contrarian zone, Sheffield at the top and Delgado at the bottom. The contrarian zone is where a player is considered underrated if he’s not in the Hall of Fame and overrated if he’s in. Chuck Klein was a contrarian candidate, as was recent inductee Harold Baines. The PED era skews the numbers and obscures the line; for the 1970s/1980s the lines were (just eyeballing it …) Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly (top) and maybe Reggie Smith and Fred Lynn (bottom).
Dunn, Adam (0.5): If you asked the average baseball fan who was a better hitter between Dunn and Lance Berkman, I think the majority might say Dunn, because his memory was easier to grasp. He had obvious markers – he was circus huge, he walked a million times, he hit 40 home runs every year, he came back from hitting .159 – while Berkman’s career is mostly remembered for a single atbat.
But Berkman was the better hitter. Dunn’s career ops+ was 124 to Berkman’s 144. Dunn’s peak ops+ was 147, with two other seasons of at least 140. Berkman reached 160 five times, with a peak of 164. A third member of the group, Mark Teixeira, was closer to Dunn than Berkman; his ops+ was 126 and he slots in eighth place on Dunn’s B-Ref comps list.
Looking at their respective comps lists, neither one has a Hall of Famer among his top 10. Dunn’s top comp is Dave Kingman; Berkman’s is Jim Edmonds. Considering context, Dunn’s closest comp might be Teixeira. Berkman’s is probably Jason Giambi. Berkman and Giambi were each other’s top comps through age 36 and top-2 comps at 37; Berkman retired at that point, while Giambi decided to go be Rusty Staub for a couple of years.
Edmonds, Jim (1.1): This is a re-edited version of last year’s comment.
D-level Hall of Fame candidates aren’t the all-time greats. The pantheon guys. The BBWAA snatches up all the greats, sort of like how your parents used to steal all the snickers bars out of your candy bag on Halloween night, and for the next 15 days (now 10) they pick through and get the rest of the best candy bars and other treats.
Once the BBWAA is done picking through baseball’s candy bag, what’s left is handed to the old timers. There is still a lot of candy left, of course, but it’s mashed up a bit, the wrappers are hard to read, and everything sort of looks and tastes the same. There is no way to clearly quantify the differences between, say, a rootbeer-flavored sucker and a block of bazooka joe bubble gum.
But you know which ones you like and which ones you hate. You know who you think is deserving, and who is not. There may not be a quantifiable difference between the pleasing flavor of a root beer sucker and the chewing satisfaction of bubble gum, but you know which you prefer. Lickers want the sucker, chewers want the gum.
WARmongers want the Grich that stole Christmas while the LOREmongers want to let the Kaat out of the bag. Yankee lovers want Maris in, while Yankee haters want Rizzuto out. Left-brained skeptics refuse to even consider narrative elements, while right-brained aestheticists think using WAR to judge greatness is akin to counting the notes in a symphony.
I think that’s why the old-timers committee choices are almost always at least a wee bit controversial. The quantifiable “honors resume” differences between, say Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton, Rusty Staub and Harold Baines, Tommy John and Jim Kaat are too small to overrule subjective bias. And forget trying to separate Edmonds and Kaat, Staub and Lofton or Baines and John. D-level candidates are all too close to call; they are all within each other’s respective gray areas.
So the choices are emotional, and the protests are, in turn, equally emotional.
In an emotion-charged discussion, Jim Edmonds should do well because he was a player who inspired emotional responses. His fans loved him, and even his detractors thought he was a hell of a ballplayer.
Which, of course, he was.
Ellis, Mark (0.1): His age-37 top comp, and third comp overall, is former teammate and occasional doubleplay partner Marc Scutaro.
Farnsworth, Kyle (unknown, but if it was known it would be 0.0): Loosely speaking, Farnsworth was Tom Henke’s evil twin. Both were imposing, bespectacled guys with live fastballs. But while Henke quietly built a near-Hall of Fame career by developing an equally devastating forkball before quietly retiring to a Missouri farm with his wife and children, Farnsworth was more famous for his fights and bizarre injuries than for his achievements on the mound. A karate black belt, Farnsworth keeps busy these days teaching fitness and survival skills at the Florida gym he co-owns.
Figgins, Chone (0.1): His full name is Desmond DeChone Figgins; he was born in a Georgia town small enough to film the banjo scene in Deliverance, but located at the other end of the state.
Furcal, Rafael (0.3): A legitimate Gold Glove candidate most of his career, Furcal never got one. His most prominent season was probably his rookie year, and the only thing a lot of people remember about him is that he lied about his age. Hence, Furcal is almost a laughable Hall of Fame candidate — but he was as good as some of the guys who are taken seriously.
Giambi, Jason (?): Even if we ignore his PED use, Giambi isn’t a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. He finished his career ranked 194th in black ink, 184th in gray ink, 150th on the Hall of Fame monitor and 124th on Hall of Fame standards. His career offensive WAR was 58.4, a good total but outside the top 100 (104), and his career WAR ranks 188th, about where the rest of his Hall of Fame indicators rank.
The C level is roughly one per season, and this is baseball’s 138th season. So if you are about the 180th best position player ever, you are below the C level and you’d score about a 1.2 on the Test. Giambi’s non-PED adjusted Test score, given how famous he was, might be higher than that, maybe 1.6 or 1.7. But a lot of that fame came about because he was famous for doing steroids.
Absent the PED help, I doubt we’d even be talking about him. He was a lummox, a thick, slow guy who got thicker as he aged. He didn’t have light tower power before PEDs, though he did hit for good averages. He might have been Wally Joyner, but that’s kind of his ceiling. And who is talking about Wally Joyner?
I don’t have any personal animosity toward Giambi, not at all; in fact, I always kind of felt sorry for him. He was obviously a nice guy, and he obviously loved baseball. Twice he went into George Steinbrenner’s office with a batting average that would have embarrassed Mario Mendoza, and twice he immediately started banging out clumps of home runs.
If you want to blame anyone for Giambi’s PED use, blame Giambi. Of course. But don’t think for one second that the owners and Selig didn’t know, and that they were not complicit.
Gonzalez, Alex (0.0): I don’t know which one he was, either.
Guerrero, Vlad (2.2): Vladdie actually does a little better than Manny Ramirez on the Test questions related to production but he gets creamed on the Test questions related to fame, lore and impact. That stands to reason; Vladdie won an MVP, Manny did not, and Manny’s hitting advantage disappears once you adjust for park context, durability and specimen bottles filled.
Does anyone else wonder what Vladdie might have done, batting in the Cleveland and Boston lineups in Manny’s spot? With his aggressive approach and superior durability, given the park advantages, Vladdie might have threatened the single-season RBI record.
Check out 1999, when Manny drove in 165 for Cleveland to Vladdie’s 131 for Montreal.
Cleveland’s top three slots had, respectively, .378, .379 and .406 onbase averages; the ninth slot had a .317 oba. The team scored 1,009 runs, and the fourth spot in the order drove in 181 runs, 16 more than Manny alone.
Montreal’s top three slots had, respectively, .316, .347 and .324 onbase averages. The ninth slot was the pitcher/pinch hitter slot (.231). The fourth spot drove in 129 runs, two fewer than Vladdie alone.
Halladay, Roy (2.1): Halladay had maybe the worst season of any Hall of Famer, in 2000. His era was 10.64, his whip 2.2, and he allowed 14 home runs in 67.2 innings. Conversely, his best decade stands up to just about anyone: 170-75 (.694 wpct), 2.97 era (148 era+).
Helton, Todd (1.5): If you take the time to adjust for context and ignore some of the peripheral narratives, Helton fits right in with Orlando Cepeda, Gil Hodges and Tony Perez as a Hall of Fame candidate. That’s not a bad place, really; two of the three are in the Hall of Fame and the third will eventually get a plaque. I’d bet my own money that Helton will get one, too, probably early in his old timers eligibility.
Hoffman, Trevor (unknown): The first one-inning closer to make the Hall of Fame, Hoffman may have danced between the raindrops a little. What I mean is that the one-inning closer might have been a fad. We don’t know that yet, of course, but did anyone under the age of 40 think putting fish in the soles of your elevator shoes was going to go out of style?
Oh, you got me there. Even I could have seen that one coming.
Ibañez, Raul (0.1): Is this a good player? 7448 plate appearances, .274-.337-.470, 278 home runs, 1095 runs batted in, 952 runs scored, 645 walks. That’s Ibañez after his 30th birthday.
I think Ibañez’ most relevant historical comps might be Mike Easler and Bill Robinson. All three had several productive seasons during their putative decline phases after stinking up the joint when they were supposed to be in their respective primes. Ibañez slots between them in ops+; Easler’s was 118, Ibañez 111, Robinson 104. Taking their careers after they (finally) established themselves, it’s Easler 120, Ibañez 114, Robinson 113.
Jeter, Derek (3.4): The Berkman conundrum (sorry Mr. Ludlum) could be applied to Jeter, who has notoriously bad defensive metrics. To each his own, of course, but my two cents is that defense is more central to a shortstop’s game than it is for a corner slugger type. While Jeter’s bat was the main event, his glove and gamesmanship were not bit players. They have to be part of the discussion, if not the equation.
B-Ref’s offensive WAR rates Jeter 11th among all hitters, but their position player WAR (including defense) rates him 58th. I suspect that this massive disconnect between the narrative (Jeter was ok, some say better than ok in the field) and the metrics (Jeter was historically putrid in the field) is subject to a coupla red herrings and assorted unintended mirror effects that come from being at the edge of a metric bell curve, but that’s an argument, not evidence. The accepted evidence is that Jeter was roughly the 58th most productive position player ever, in terms of overall career value.
The Test includes a few questions related to fame and impact; Jeter aces all of those questions, of course. He was perhaps the most famous player of his time, and he popped up, over and over, in the game’s biggest moments, creating so many indelible memories that even Jeter haters – like me, for example – will salute and show full respect for the man when he takes his well-earned bow in Cooperstown next summer.
It’ll be a little bit bittersweet for me, and I’m sure a lot of you guys as well. The long-range plan Bob talked about the most near the end — after he survived the crisis before his final illness — was a trip to Cooperstown to see Jeter’s induction speech.
Jones, Andruw (0.8): Jones could not have crossed the defensive spectrum any faster if you shot him out of a cannon.
Kent, Jeff (1.1): The production ratios between Kent’s expected prime ages and his decline phase ages may be the most backloaded of any player who actually played during both phases. A few guys, like Hank Sauer and Dazzy Vance, didn’t really get going until their thirties, but there were reasons why they were held back. Kent had no limitations in his twenties, he just wasn’t as good as he was later.
Konerko, Paul (0.7): Konerko does surprisingly well on the Test, given his lack of black and gray ink and his relatively weak showings in the various metrics. He played 2,349 games, 103rd all-time, and he played in a high-power, high-offense era; so his counting numbers all rank in the top 100 (44th in home runs, 75th in rbi, 83rd in total bases, 84th in extra base hits).
In his “relation-ranks” — rankings that account for context — Konerko doesn’t do nearly as well. He did not lead the league in anything (well, in double plays once), and he rarely made the top 10 in anything but home runs and runs batted in. His career WAR is under 30, and even if you separate out his defense, it only goes up to 33.1
The best way to describe Konerko in Hall of Fame terms is that he’s a Frischian type. He’s somewhere between George Kelly and Jim Bottomley, maybe a longer-lasting version of Chick Hafey. He only looks like a Hall of Famer because he played when the numbers were all funhouse weird. Jeff Kent, Harold Baines … who else?
Baines is in, so he’s the first official New Frischian. I don’t doubt for one second that there will be more. If you think Jerry Reinsdorf is the new Frisch — and he might well be — then Lee Smith might also belong to the group. Will he (Reinsdorf) live long enough to help Paulie, another White Sox favorite, get in?
Kuroda, Hiroki (0.1): If you average his yearly era and fip to make a single number, these would be Kuroda’s er-fips during his seven seasons in the US: 3.6, 3.6, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.4, 3.6. Assembly lines aren’t that consistent. Ok, they are. But that’s really consistent. Kuroda was known for pitching in bad win-luck in Japan, and he brought his luck with him to the US. His career US era+ was 115, but his record, despite pitching for good teams, was 79-79. He had four losing records out of seven despite an era+ of at least 112 in each of those seasons.
Lee, Cliff (0.7): Lee’s best historical comp is probably Jimmy Key or, if you want to go that far back, maybe Slim Sallee. Key and Sallee each won 170-some games to Lee’s 143, but the difference is all context.
Pitching for four teams in four years, Lees’ typical pitching line between 2008 and 2011 was 16-8, 2.83 era (146 era+), a k/bb ratio of 194/34 and a whip of 1.098. He led his league in BB/9 four times, k/bb three times and fewest home runs/9 once. In short, during that period he was a decent comp for Roy Halladay.
Lee won his first seven postseason starts, including both of the Phils’ wins in the 2009 World Series, with a 1.26 era in 64.1 innings before getting tagged hard in the 2010 World Series by the Phils and the 2011 NLDS with the Phils. He wound up 7-3 with a 2.52 era in 82 postseason innings, with a k/bb of 89/10.
Lofton, Kenny (1.3): He’s a hard sell in a world that produces four times as many viable D candidates as it used to and elects half as many, but Lofton is more than a New Frischian candidate. Perhaps the greatest deadline-deal player ever, Lofton played in 47 postseason games after his 35th birthday, for five different teams. Four of the five won a playoff series.
Marmol, Carlos (0.0): Marmol was a flailer on the mound, like one of those inflatable arm wavy things you see in front of used car lots, and he never had much control over his assortment of frisbee sliders and whiffle-ball curves. His career k-rate was 11.6 per nine, but his walk rate was 6.0. He gave up more walks than hits four times, and his career totals were 385 hits, 395 walks.
Wikipedia reports that Marmol owns a successful restaurant-slash-car wash in the Dominican Republic. I think that beats Miguel Tejada’s chicken farm.
Marte, Andy (0.0): The ultimate perennial prospect, Marte played nearly 2,000 professional games between 2001 and 2017, 308 of them in the major leagues in what amounted to seven failed auditions. He was still chasing the dream when he crashed into a house near San Pedro, DR in 2017, on the same day and less than 100 miles from the scene of Yordano Ventura’s fatal accident.
Matsuzaka, Daisuke (0.1): Asking every promising teenage pitching prospect to handle Nolan Ryan’s workload is a lot like telling a talented young wrestler to go punch Andre the Giant in the face. You might find the occasional gem, but there will be a lot of dead wrestlers to bury along the way.
McLouth, Nate (0.0): Check out his B-ref photo, it’s a gem. I mean, it looks like somebody tried to twist the top of his head off. His nose is nowhere near the center of his face, and his right ear is a good two inches higher than the left one. Did he get into a car accident or something?
Molina, Jose (0.0): The Jan Brady of the Molina brothers.
Morgan, Nyjer (0.0): Morgan, like a real-life Happy Gilmore, was a hockey player as youth who dreamed of playing in the NHL; he didn’t take baseball seriously until his hockey career fizzled. Despite the late start and a 33rd-round draft slot, Morgan hit over .300 twice in the major leagues.
They don’t show up on each other’s lists, but Morgan’s most-similar player was probably Deon Sanders.
Moyer, Jamie (0.5): Moyer might spend eternity as the all-time winningest pitcher not in the Hall of Fame.
Mussina, Mike (1.7): Moose collects tractors and vintage cars, coaches basketball for his old high school (he had just completed a practice when he got the call for the Hall of Fame), loves crossword puzzles and serves on the board of directors for Little League International, based in nearby Williamsport, PA.
Oh, and he once had the filthiest cutter this side of Jason Vorhees.
Oswalt, Roy (0.3): Through 2010, Oswalt’s career record was 150-83, the same as Dizzy Dean’s final record, and he had a better era+ than Dean (135-131). His final season in Colorado really muddied up his Hall of Fame resume; it dropped his era+ from 131 to 127 and his w/l record from 163-96 to 163-102.
Palmiero, Rafael (1.3): Take the needle out of his butt and he’s Al Oliver. Will Clark was a significantly better player.
Brad Penny (0.0): Penny pitched in relief just four times during the effective period of his career, and he never notched a save. But I might argue that he should have been a closer. At his best, he could dominate even good hitters with a four-seamer that seemed to leap over bats, but he never developed strong secondary offerings to go with that electric fastball. He was built like Dick Radatz.
Pettite, Andy (0.8): I’ll leave his case to the Yankee fans.
Posada, Jorge (0.9): I just copy/pasted last year’s comment and did a bit of light editing.
One curious effect of the 30-team league, compared to the old 16-team league, is that it doesn’t spit out more A-, B- and C- level Hall of Famers than the 16-team league did. But it spits out nearly three times as many D-level players.
Bob did a study in 2010 on 2,000-game careers; here’s the link:http://boards.billjamesonline.com/sh…ing-2000-Games
I repeated the study, using different criteria (I must have, I got different results):
By decade, using the final season of the player’s career, the number of 2,000 game careers:
• 1890s: 2 (Cap Anson, Bid McPhee)
• 1900s: 6
• 1910s: 10
• 1920s: 9
• 1930s: 15
• 1940s: 9
• 1950s: 5
• 1960s: 14
• 1970s: 24
• 1980s: 41
• 1990s: 31
• 2000s: 41
• 2010s: 36 (through 2018)
The proliferation of D-level Hall candidates will generate cries to raise the bar, but I don’t see how that can happen. The “bar” can’t really go up. As I said, the number of A, B and C level candidates hasn’t increased. Raising the bar would simply split Cs into Cs and Ds and create a huge pool of Es. The spacing and relationships to each other won’t change, and we’d all start arguing about why there are so many E-level Hall of Fames in the Hall of Fame instead of D-level players, and wondering why we can’t get our favorite E-level candidates in.
If you’ve analyzed these guys as much as I have, you know that there is relatively little analytical difference between the D-level candidates; as a result, every election brings out a raft of canned-for-annual-use editorials, imploring the BBWAA to “shut the back door!” in an attempt to keep all those rejects from invading the Hall through the old-timers committees.
But it won’t work; it never has, and it never will. If the writers close the back door, the Hall of Fame will just open it back up. They want their five speeches per year, and it’s their door.
As for Posada, he’s up against it unless or until the Hall expands the voting to get more D-level players in. I doubt he’s in the top 20 waiting candidates, maybe not in the top 50.
Putz, JJ (unknown): Where would Putz rank among closers in peak value? He had four seasons that might rank among the top couple of hundred closer seasons, but injuries cut the middle out of his prime and left him unable to withstand a heavy workload. His 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2012 seasons were genuinely star-caliber, but for the rest of his career he was just a guy.
Quentin, Carlos (0.0): How long would Quentin have had to play to threaten the hit-by-pitch record? He finished with 127 hbp in 834 games (.152 per game). The record is 287 by Hughie Jennings (Craig Biggio finished with 285). At the pace he set during his career, Quentin would have had to play 1,891 games to pass Jennings.
Ramirez, Manny (2.6): A C-level player with a D-level commitment to the task of being a superstar, but A-level fame and A-level impact because he had good fortune, a great swing and greater doctors.
In short, Manny wound up with the career we thought Jose Canseco was supposed to have.
Roberts, Brian (0.1): Sort of a poor man’s Craig Biggio, Roberts was a fantasy baseball icon for several years, a second baseman who filled the stat sheet in every category. He averaged 700 plate appearances between 2004 and 2009, posting a .290 batting average, 101 runs, 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and 35 stolen bases per season.
Rolen, Scott (1.4): Rolen’s career pattern was broken up artificially in ways that hide his value. Conversely, his record benefits from a congregation of small distortions in how metric value is distributed. As a result, he tends to get underrated by those who emphasize narrative evidence and overrated those who swear by the metric evidence.
If you split the difference, you get a pretty good estimate of his true chances at the Hall of Fame, I think – which are roughly “late BBWAA or early old-timers.” He is unlikely to make the GOR, but I think he’ll move into the top five or so in our elections before he’s done.
Santana, Johan (2.1): He has, by far, the highest Test grade of a player who is not at all a candidate in the eyes of the BBWAA. His resume is full of double+ and double- entries, something the BBWAA does not need or wish to deal with. His resume landed quickly in the BBWAA ash can, with the rest of the obviously flawed resumes.
Once it’s picked up by the old timers, though, the double plusses will jump off the page – and there won’t be any perfect resumes left to compete with him. In Halloween candy terms, he’s a partially unwrapped snickers bar covered in lint and popcorn ball residue. Once the bag is down to dum-dums, bazooka joes, the crappy jolly rancher flavors and that lint-covered snickers bar, guess what comes out of the bag? What’s a little lint? That’ll wash right off.
Schilling, Curt (2.2): Overqualified for the Hall of Fame in a vacuum, Schilling’s plaque is being held back 100 percent by his politics. Is that fair? I have no idea, to be honest. Living in a free country means he can talk all he wants. But nobody eats an apple that brags about how wormy it is, even if it’s not all that wormy.
Scutaro, Marco ((0.3): His age-37 top comp, and third comp overall, is former teammate and occasional doubleplay partner Mark Ellis.
The third member of their cohort is Orlando Hudson, who ranks second on Ellis’ list and fifth on Scutaro’s. Hudson’s top comp is Gil McDougald; Ellis ranks second, Scutaro fourth.
Sheffield, Gary (1.7): If Gran Torino was Get off my Lawn, the motion picture, then Sheffield is Get off my Lawn, the Hall of Fame candidate.
Smoltz, John (2.2): He finished third in last year’s GOR voting, so he could very well get the nod this year.
When did the Doyle Alexander trade stop being defensible? I could argue just about any year between 1990 and 1996, depending on how stubborn I feel. Pennants fly forever, though, and the Tigers absolutely would not have won in 1988 without Alexander. It takes a lot to make that move a bad one, and Smoltz took a few years to become the great pitcher we remember.
Soriano, Alfonso (0.7): Soriano’s Test score is hard to figure; I could justify a grade as low as 0.2 or 0.3, or as high as 1.5. That’s a huge gap; I think most players fall within a range of 2-3 ticks no matter who analyzes them, and even radical scale-thumbers would struggle to move most players’ grades more than half a point.
Soriano had a strange effect on my fan-ness; I did not like him as a player, but I absolutely loved to watch him hit. I always thought Soriano from the right side and Curtis Granderson from the left had the most menacing stances and swings in the game. Even late in their careers, when they struck out most of the time, I still gripped my chair when they came to bat.
Sosa, Sammy (2.0): If I discounted Sammy for PED use, he’d be more like a 1.2 or 1.3, I think; it’s hard to say for sure, since his discount would be a hefty one. Absent PEDs, I think Sammy compares to Bobby Bonds. And I would take Bobby ahead of him.
Tavarez, Oscar (0.0): As a 20-year-old in AA, Taveras slashed .321-.380-.584 for Springfield in 2012, leading the Texas League in batting, finishing fourth in home runs and second in runs batted in. He recovered from a season-ending, career delaying injury in 2013 to excel in the 2014 postseason (.429-.429-.857 in seven plate appearances) but he will not recover from the accident on a north-end Dominican road that killed him a month later.
Aren’t you glad that you don’t have to drive to work down a Dominican highway?
Valverde, Jose (0.1): Papa Gránde led his league in saves for three different teams, a feat that (as far as I know) only three other pitchers have accomplished: Mike Marshall (Montreal, Los Angeles and Minnesota), Lee Smith (Cubs, Cardinals and Orioles) and Tony Mullane back in the primordial days. I may have missed one; I had to eyeball it.
I thought there might be two more, but (1) Randy Myers did not league the league in saves for either Cincinnati or San Diego and (2) Rollie Fingers led the league in saves for Milwaukee and San Diego (twice), but he never led the league with Oakland.
That’s exclusive company for a guy who was named after a fastfood burrito.
Vizquel, Omar (1.1): Vizquel’s case is bolstered to a significant extent by the halo effect he gets from two sides of a largely abandoned cohort, a cohort that brings back fond memories for the writers who do the voting. I’ll explain.
On one side, most of the PED era candidates are sluggers, so Vizquel pretty much has the crafty little shortstop niche to himself. In a manner of speaking, Vizquel is a cohort of one. He is running unopposed.
On the other side, the “common historical comps” side, he benefits from comparisons to Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio, two players of similar type who were demonstrably better than Vizquel. If Vizquel was in the center of a cohort of crafty little shortstops — better than half of them, not as good as the other half — it would be reasonable to slide him into that group. But Vizquel fits in that cohort below the Hall of Famers, not in the middle of them. The bottom of that particular cohort, in order to get Vizquel into the middle, would have to include guys like Felix Fermin and Alfredo Griffin.
The combined effect is going to get him elected, I think; The BBWAA will not be able to resist electing a crafty little shortstop, for the novelty of it if for no other reason. He’ll be the BBWAA equivalent of trying Pakistani food, buying a juicer or taking a zumba class. They’ll do it because it will make them feel urbane and superior, like they know more than the rest of you slugger-obsessed dotards.
And that’s fine, don’t get me wrong. One of my best friends is a massive Vizquel fan, and I look forward to celebrating with him when he gets the call. I do faux-urbane things all the time. Like wasting two days writing up comments about a fake Hall of Fame election.
Here’s a weird statistical-fluke thing about Vizquel, who I think most people see as a steady, consistent sort of player … he played in 11 postseasons and hit well in four, not so well in seven. In the four good series he was 35-79, a .443 batting average. In the other seven, he was 22-149 (.148). He hit below .100 in three series, but his teams won all three series; his teams were 1-3 in the four series in which he hit well. Go figure.
Wagner, Billy (unknown): I completely changed my mind about Wagner’s chances after Lee Smith got the call. If Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman are Hall of Famers, Billy Wags sure as a wombat’s stool is a Hall of Famer. To the guys who I argued with about this a couple of years ago, I heartily apologize. If you reveal yourselves, I’ll apologize directly, on the board.
My reasoning, if you weren’t there, was that Wagner’s big game record was just execrable – and it was – but the rest of his record is terrific and the competition for the honor is suddenly not all that tough. So instead of his big game record losing the coin flip, it could well be irrelevant. At least that’s my current analysis: His case is now strong enough, in comparison to his obvious competition, that his big-game record no longer matters.
Dan Quisenberry’s case is also bolstered a great deal by the Lee Smith/Hoffman choices. I would have put the four in order like this: Quiz first, Wagner second, Hoffman third, Smith fourth.
Walker, Larry (1.4): Walker played 153 games in his MVP season; his second highest season total was 143. Adjusting for games missed in 1994 and 1995 due to the strike, he averaged just a hair over 130 games per season during his 14-years as a regular. In a way, that makes him a comp for … Norm Cash?
In the batter’s box, at least, the comparison works: Cash had a career ops+ of 139 to Walker’s 141 despite a 103-point gap in ops. But that scans, doesn’t it? That 100-point difference is all context adjustments. Cash played in the 1960s in a relatively neutral park while Walker played during the PED era in a park that made Dante Bichette look like Henry Aaron.
Williams, Bernie (1.2): We don’t hear about Bernie much anymore, which is too bad. He deserves to be in there with the rest of the great centerfielders of his generation.
Wilson, Brian (0.2): Wilson’s career postseason era, in 18 innings, is zero. Fear the Beard.
Youkilis, Kevin (0.0): Married to Tom Brady’s sister … I respected Youk as a player, but I hated to watch him hit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look so boring and so sweaty at the same time.