Tom Verducci reveals and defends his 2017 Hall of Fame ballot
Here are my Hall of Fame ballot selections. I included a one-line summation of why each player is worthy of Cooperstown, followed by a fuller explanation. While I voted for nine, I realize some may never be voted in by the BBWAA. In 72 elections the writers have voted in 121 players, a rate of 1.68 per year. That rate is trending up in recent years. This vote should be a fourth consecutive year with at least two electees, tying the longest such run since current voting rules went into place in 1968 (1982 to ’85 and 1989 to ’92).
1. Jeff Bagwell: Premier slugger with elite ability to get on base
PED suspicions will follow Bagwell into Cooperstown. Here are the facts: He said he hired a bodybuilder in 1995 to make him “as big as I can” without concern for flexibility; admitted he took androstenedione, a steroid precursor; underwent a massive body change; called the whistle-blowing on steroids in baseball in 2002 by Ken Caminiti and in 2005 by Jose Canseco “a shame” and “very disappointing . . . whether it’s true or not”; promulgated the red herring that drugs don’t help baseball players (“Hand-eye coordination is something you can’t get from a bottle”); and as recently as 2010 in an ESPN interview openly endorsed steroid use by anyone from a fringe player (“I have no problem with that”) to superstars such as Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire (“I know you took it but it doesn’t matter”) as well as the HGH use by an injured Andy Pettitte (“That’s not a performance enhancer”).
Bagwell once said, “If I ever do get to the Hall of Fame and there are 40 guys sitting behind me thinking, ‘He took steroids,’ then it’s not even worth it to me.” As a steroid apologist and someone who doesn’t want a clean game, he invites such thoughts. I abhor his stance on PEDs, but without public evidence that he took them, I voted for him.
2. Vladimir Guerrero: Freakish ability to hit for average and power over many years
He hit .318 with 449 home runs. Here is the entire list of players who have done that: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Guerrero, the only man born in the past 95 years to do so. He received MVP votes and/or made the All-Star team in 11 consecutive years (1998 to 2008), during which he averaged .325 with 35 homers and 112 RBIs.
3. Trevor Hoffman: Outlier productivity and longevity for a closer
He has 26% more saves than any pitcher in history with the exception of the peerless Mariano Rivera. I know: saves can be very misleading. I don’t entirely trust them. But what separates Hoffman from most great closers, who typically flame out, is that he remained at the top of his game for an unusually long time.
With the exception of Rivera, no one is close to Hoffman when it comes to 40-save seasons (he had nine, tied with Rivera for the most ever; Francisco Rodriguez is next with six), 30-save seasons (14, Lee Smith is next with 10) and saves in which he allowed no runs (548, far ahead of Smith, who is next at 430). As far as prolific closers, especially when it comes to someone good enough and fortunate enough to remain in one place, there is Rivera and Hoffman and no one else.
4. Jeff Kent: All-time great power and production at second base
Kent hit more home runs (377), drove in 100 runs more times (eight) and batted cleanup more times (1,296) than any second baseman in history. I shouldn’t have to go on, but apparently, given his tepid support, I do. A career .290 hitter with a .356 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage, Kent was even better with runners in scoring position: .300/.385/.512. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting four times (including one win), more than Ryne Sandberg (3) and Craig Biggio (2). Indeed, he is better across the board than Sandberg in games, hits, homers, RBIs, average, on-base percentage, slugging and adjusted OPS—and it’s not close.
People want to knock his defense, but Kent played 88% of his career games at second base, often for winning teams who saw no reason to move him off the position, and batted cleanup in 61% of his career start—both indications of how managers valued his offense at the position. Kent’s 1,296 starts batting cleanup and playing second base are almost 600 more than the next highest player, Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby. And here’s how he ranks in most games started while batting third or fourth and playing second base:
1. Eddie Collins: 1,724
2. Rogers Hornsby: 1,521
3: Charlie Gehringer: 1,519
4. Jeff Kent: 1,470
5. Frankie Frisch: 1,188
Every one of those other players is already in the Hall of Fame.
5. Edgar Martinez: One of the best DHs in the 44 years the role has been in use
DH is not a position. Like closer, it’s a specialized role, so the bar for enshrinement should be higher than it is for someone who doesn’t sit out half of the game. Martinez has similar career numbers to Will Clark, John Olerud and Moises Alou, but how he accumulated those numbers tells a better story: with impactful seasons.
Martinez is one of 25 players with at least eight 150+ OPS+ seasons. All of them who have been eligible and are not connected to steroids are in the Hall of Fame but two: Dick Allen and Martinez—and Allen never even reached 1,900 hits. Martinez finished with 2,247, 399 more than Allen.
6. Fred McGriff: The best slugger not in the Hall of Fame (and not connected to PEDs)
Among eligible players with 10,000 plate appearances who are not connected to PEDs, McGriff is the only one not in the Hall of Fame with an OPS+ greater than 128 (his was 134) and more than 475 home runs (he had 493).
McGriff is a statistical twin of Eddie Mathews and has better numbers than Eddie Murray, both of whom are in Cooperstown. When compared to Bagwell, he has more runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, All-Star appearances and top 5 seasons in HR, OPS and Runs Created than Bagwell—and is the far superior postseason player.
7. Mike Mussina: The most prolific American League starting pitcher in the DH Era (and not connected to PEDs)
Mussina is one of 12 pitchers in history with 10 seasons with an ERA+ of 125 or better. All others are in the Hall of Fame except Roger Clemens.
Mussina made 60% of his career starts in Fenway Park, Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium—all against DH-infused lineups and during the greatest era of slugging the game has ever known. And he emerged from such brutally tough duty with a career record 117 games over .500 (270-153) and this distinction: more AL wins in the DH era than anybody except Clemens and more strikeouts in the league than anybody except Clemens and Nolan Ryan.
8. Tim Raines: Preeminent NL leadoff hitter of his era
In 13 seasons from 1981 through ’93, Raines averaged .299/.388/.430 (OPS+ 129), 93 runs and 57 steals with an 85% success rate.
A borderline candidate, Raines finished in the top five in MVP voting only once and never made an All-Star team after age 27.
9. Curt Schilling: Don Drysdale with better postseason numbers, he is one of the best pitchers ever at combining power and control
His strikeout-to-walk rate (4.4 strikeouts for every walk) is the greatest since four balls became a base on balls in 1889 (and the distance set at 60 feet, six inches). He is one of the best postseason pitchers of all time: 11-2, 2.23 in 19 starts. Schilling took the ball five times in postseason elimination games. His team went 5-0 in those games while Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA.
Here are the three players I considered most for a possible 10th spot on the ballot:
Jorge Posada: He won five championships rings (four as the primary starter) and was a premier offensive catcher with historic numbers. Posada played more than 1,800 games and posted an adjusted OPS of 121. Only five catchers played that long with an adjusted OPS that high and all of them are Hall of Famers: Mike Piazza (142), Johnny Bench (126), Ernie Lombardi (126), Gabby Hartnett (126) and Yogi Berra (125).
Billy Wagner: Great rate stats, but Wagner never did enough heavy lifting and never changed baseball history. Wagner has the lowest ERA and lowest WHIP of any reliever with at least 900 innings except Mariano Rivera. But Wagner is tied for 141st all-time for saves of more than three outs—just 36, fewer than Armando Benitez and Frank DiPino. Here’s how he compares to Trevor Hoffman in some key categories:
In addition, Wagner never led the league in saves, was second only once and received a total of five Cy Young Award votes (one second-place vote and four third-place votes). Hoffman blows him away in those regards: he led the league in saves twice, finished second five times and received 53 Cy Young Award votes, including 25 for first place. Take a look at this breakdown:
Larry Walker: Yes, the splits in Denver and otherwise are bothersome. Walker hit 98 points higher in Denver than elsewhere (.380 vs. .282) and hit home runs 49% more often in the Mile High city (one every 13.95 at-bats vs. 20.8). But here are the biggest reasons he comes up short: reliability and longevity. He played 145 games only once. He never played back-to-back seasons with 140 games. He has only 2,160 hits and 1,988 games played, far short of Hall of Fame standards. The BBWAA never has elected a rightfielder with fewer than 2,500 hits or 2,500 games.