An unfortunate circumstance of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s decision to limit voters to selecting players is that, occasionally, a player who deserves a plaque in Cooperstown does not get one. The 10 player limit on ballots is out of place in today’s Hall of Fame voting landscape where, by my evaluation this year, 18 players on the ballot are at least worthy of very serious consideration for admission to Cooperstown. I’m not suggesting that the folks in charge of setting the Hall of Fame voting rules should remove the restriction entirely, but what’s stopping them from expanding the ballot to 12 or 13 players? Nothing except tradition.
We all know, though, that baseball lifers hate deviation from tradition. So it goes.
It’s with all that in mind that I present my 10-player ballot for the 2019 Hall of Fame election cycle. There are a handful of familiar faces, a couple of newcomers, and even some guys that have been eligible in the past that picked up my vote this year. In alphabetical order:
When you go to Barry Bonds’ Baseball Reference page, you’ll see a whole lot of boldface type and a little bit of gold highlight. The boldface indicates a season total that led the league, and the gold highlight indicates an all-time record. I could tell you about his seven MVP awards (most ever), 762 HR (most ever), 2558 walks (most ever), or any number of his other accolades. The bottom line is that he was one of the best players to walk the face of the Earth.
Bonds had some help from performance enhancers, though, and that’s an issue for some voters. Not for me. Bonds to Cooperstown.
Roger Clemens a case nearly identical to Bonds’, so it makes perfect sense that the two will likely be going into the Hall at the same time when they eventually do make it. Among the 161 ballots public as of publishing, every ballot that has a vote for Clemens has a vote for Bonds as well (save for three—two have a vote for just Clemens and one for just Bonds). The two are polling right around 70%, so this year will likely not be the year for the both of them, but next year might.
The Rocket won seven Cy Young awards and had a career 3.12 ERA in a run-scoring environment that was anything but friendly to pitchers. It’s not a question of whether Clemens has the accolades to get in—he does—but whether the voters can get over the fact that he used performance-enhancing drugs. That’s not an issue for me, so Roger gets my vote.
Rest in Peace Doc Halladay. Halladay looks like he will be a posthumous first-ballot Hall of Famer and with good reason—the righty had a 3.38 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, and 2117 strikeouts in 2749.1 innings pitched over 16 seasons. If he was still alive, he probably wouldn’t be a first-ballot inductee, but statistically speaking, dying while still eligible for Cooperstown has shown a propensity to bolster a player’s case. It’s not that Doc isn’t deserving—he is—but he probably shouldn’t be getting in before Schilling.
Regardless, he has my vote. He was a beast during his career, absolutely dominated the Yankees (which makes me extraordinarily happy), and was solid in his limited play during the postseason. Halladay is polling above 90% as of publishing, so I think he’s as good a bet as anybody on this list—save for Mariano—to get in this year.
I detailed Andruw’s Hall of Fame case in detail just last week, so if you want more than a short paragraph about Jones’ case, check it out here. Jones did not have the longevity of any of the other candidates I am writing about in this article, but his peak was as good as anyone’s and he was the best defensive outfielder to ever live. Plus, he swatted over 400 career home runs and wasn’t too shabby with the bat otherwise. Put it all together and you have a Hall of Famer in my book.
It looks like Martinez is going to finally get his ticket to Cooperstown this year, in his 10th and final year on the ballot. I have talked up Edgar time and time again, including in this article from the last Hall of Fame election cycle, so I’m going to just leave you with my favorite Edgar Martinez stat that I stole directly from the above article:
A comprehensive list of all players who have compiled a better career triple-slash than that of Edgar Martinez (i.e. a list of players who have a better average, OBP, and SLG):
Shoeless Joe Jackson^
*Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame
^Banned from baseball
Quite honestly, I think the only reason Mussina hasn’t yet been inducted despite 2019 being his 6th year on the ballot is that he has had to share the ballot with so many polarizing players that writers could not decide whether or not Mussina was worth a vote. He’s not really a fringe candidate in my opinion—he compiled a 3.68 ERA, 1.192 WHIP, and 2813 in 3562.2 innings pitched over 18 seasons—but he’s been on the ballot at the same time as all of the steroid holdovers as well as the likes of Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, etc. who were all first-ballot Hall of Famers. His raw numbers are right around an average Hall of Fame starter, but that ignores the context in which he played: an extremely hitter-friendly run-scoring environment.
Mussina is an above-average Hall of Fame pitcher in terms of WAR, which is not a perfect statistic. However, the fact that Mussina’s career WAR is over 14% greater than the average Hall of Fame pitcher despite the fact that he “only” pitched a Hall of Fame-average 18 seasons speaks volumes to his efficiency and the fact that he was excellent during his peak. Mussina is a surefire Hall of Fame, it’s just a question of whether 2019 or 2020 will be the year he finally gets the plaque he deserves in Cooperstown.
You certainly don’t need me to tell you how good Mariano Rivera is, but I’ll do it anyway. Here’s where he ranks among all retired relief pitchers all-time in a handful of important pitching stats:
2.06 ERA (1st)
0.97 WHIP (1st)
205 ERA+ (1st)
652 Saves (1st)
56.2 rWAR (1st)
For reference, WAR is a counting stat and most starting pitchers don’t even get to 56.2 WAR, so the fact that Mariano got there is obscene. He’s really good and is currently polling at 100% through 161 ballots. He won’t be unanimous but he really should be.
Despite his questionable political views, Schilling undoubtedly deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Whether it be his postseason heroics in the Bloody Sock Game or his 3116 strikeouts in 3261 innings pitched, he has a very compelling case for admission to Cooperstown. And for Schilling, much like for Mussina, it’s more of a question of “when” than a question of “if.”
For more on Schilling’s case for Cooperstown, check out this article I wrote about Schilling prior to the inception of the “Case for the Hall” series.
Best non-Mariano reliever of all-time. Case closed. The end. Here’s the “Case for the Hall” article about Billy Wagner. And if you want a taste of what is in that article, here is my favorite stat from it:
I took an in-depth look at Walker’s Hall of Fame case last week—click here to read it—so I don’t want to repeat too much of what I said. The bottom line is that he gets penalized too much by Hall of Fame voters for his tenure in Colorado, during which he was well above league-average with the bat. Park-adjusted metrics agree that voters over-penalize Walker for his time in Colorado. He’s going to get in, most likely in his 10th and final year on the ballot in 2020.
Guys I voted for last year but not this year
The reason I voted for these two last year and didn’t vote for either of them this year is not a change of heart on my part, but rather that, due to the nature of only being allowed to vote for 10 players, I had to exclude them. I fear that Andruw Jones might fall off the ballot if I don’t vote him in and I think that Sosa and Ramirez are both guaranteed to stay on. As for the other people that I voted for instead of Sosa and Ramirez, I either think they were flat-out better players (as is the case for most of them) or simply have a better chance of getting in, which would mean the ballot would become less clogged.
Guys I would vote for if I had more space
Helton is one of the more borderline candidates on the ballot this year. His 369 are admittedly below average for a Hall of Fame first baseman, especially considering that Helton played his entire career in Colorado. With that being said, his .316/.414/.539 career triple-slash is nothing short of excellent, and his career 106 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average show that he was quite a good fielder during his 17-year tenure in the Rocky Mountains. Helton’s career DRC+ of 146 is 27th all-time among all hitters, not just first basemen, which demonstrates that despite playing in Coors Field, he was a great all-around hitter. He’d get my one of my votes if I had more than ten to give out.
I’ve flipped back and forth on whether I think Kent belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I think that if the ballot expanded, I would include him. He has 377 career home runs, the most ever among any second baseman, and 2461 career hits, both of which are good marks. He has a career slugging percentage of .500 flat and was, flat-out, the best power-hitting second baseman to ever play the game. There’s an outside shot that Robinson Cano passes him in home runs when all is said and done, but until then Kent is the reigning home run champion among second basemen. He was an average defender and a good hitter and finished his career with 55.4 rWAR, which is good for a second baseman. There’s nothing outstanding about his profile, but he was just a very solid contributor for each of the 17 years of his career.
Sheffield is another one of the guys in the steroid category. Either you think he belongs in the Hall because he was a great hitter during his career or you don’t because he’s a steroid user. If I didn’t have a limit on guys I could vote for, he’d certainly be on my ballot.
(Image Credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times)
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