So, last year, my ballot was:
I also thought that there were four more Hall-worthy players on last year’s ballot, in Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Edgar Martinez, and Larry Walker. Thankfully, the voters helped to clear up this logjam by…giving Kenny Lofton less than 5% of the vote so that he fell off the ballot. Thanks, guys!
So with only thirteen worthy holdovers, we look to the newcomers. Now, you probably have some idea of my thoughts on these guys if you read my 50 Best Players not in the Hall of Fame piece for this year. However, I’ll give them proper run-throughs now. First, here’s every first-year player on the ballot:
Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Kenny Rogers, Luis Gonzalez, Moises Alou, Ray Durham, Hideo Nomo, Richie Sexson, Paul Lo Duca, Armando Benitez, Mike Timlin, Sean Casey, Jacque Jones, Eric Gagne, J.T. Snow, Todd Jones
That list is already conveniently sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement. Now, I know that Wins Above Replacement is not the only thing that matters, but I don’t want to do write-ups for all 19 players. I’ll just limit it to the top eight, since Moises Alou sits at almost 40 WAR exactly and that seems like as good a cut-off as any. Sorry to the other eleven; if anyone wants me to write why any of those wouldn’t get my vote, I’ll take them up on it I guess. Now then, the case for each of those eight, in alphabetical order:
Moises Alou: 332 home runs, putting him right in a group with Shawn Green, Mo Vaughn, Boog Powell. 2134 hits. A .303/.369/.516 batting line over 17 seasons, which is good, but becomes a 128 OPS+ in the steroid era. That can be borderline Hall-of-Fame stuff if it comes with good defense, or more plate appearances (Alou didn’t even reach 8000), or a difficult position (Keith Hernandez, Sammy Sosa, Jim Wynn, for starters), but Alou comes with none of those. 39.7 Baseball-Reference WAR (or rWAR*); 48.2 Fangraphs WAR (fWAR). Adam Darowski’s Hall Rating from the Hall of Stats gives him a 71. NO
Tom Glavine: 305 wins, which is all that a lot of voters need to hear. He also had a 3.54 ERA (118 ERA+) over 22 years, which fits in nicely with players like Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry. Didn’t strike out as many guys as you might have liked, with only 2607 total and no seasons with over 200. There’s definitely Hall-level value in allowing runs at the rate he did over 4400 innings (74.0 rWAR, 64.3 fWAR), and he does bring a pair of Cy Young awards to the table, but he may only be the fifth-best pitcher on the ballot this year. Overall, he has a 149 Hall Rating as well. YES
Luis Gonzalez: He’s probably closer than you’d first realize. His 596 doubles are fifteenth of all-time, plus he had 354 home runs on top of that. His .283/.367/.479 line was good for a 119 OPS+; like Alou, that can work if you have some fielding going for you, but being an average corner outfielder won’t really do it. He did last a little longer than Alou, though, at 19 seasons. Overall, Gonzalez was worth a solid 51.5 rWAR and 55.3 fWAR, which translates to a 90 in the Hall of Stats. NO
Jeff Kent: Kent is an interesting case. He’s the all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman with 377, and for the other common hitter milestone, he has 2461 hits. Not bad. His .290/.356/.500 line means a 123 OPS+, but unlike Gonzalez or Alou, he actually does have some defensive value going for him.
Well, kind of. Having that kind of production from a second baseman is always great…but Kent wasn’t exactly a great fielder. In fact, he negated almost all of his value from playing second base by being bad at it (Fangraphs has his fielding at +1.2 runs, combining the two aspects). His other benefit over the other two is that Kent had a much higher peak than either of them, with an MVP award and three other top-10 finishes. Overall, it comes out to a Hall rating of 103, 55.2 rWAR, and 56.6 fWAR. I think Kent is borderline, but his hitting makes me err on the side of putting him in. I’m not really sure why; fielding in such large sample sets is probably much more stable than I’m giving it credit for.
Maybe part of it is assumed regression? Think of it this way: Gonzalez is a 50-win player who was mediocre at fielding, Kent is a 50-win player with atrocious fielding. I don’t know how bad Kent was at fielding, but it’s a lot easy to assume he wasn’t an extreme negative than it is to imagine that any given player wasn’t just average (given no prior knowledge). I hope that makes sense? Also, I didn’t really see Kent field, so maybe he was awful. Like I said, he’s borderline enough that I won’t be as upset if he falls off as I was about Kenny Lofton. YES
Greg Maddux: Four-time Cy Young Award winner; lifetime 355-227 record; 3371 strikeouts against only 999 walks (177 of which were intentional); 3.16 ERA (132 ERA+) over 23 seasons; 18 Gold Gloves; 104.6 rWAR (eighth all-time); 114.3 fWAR (fourth all-time); 220 Hall Rating
Greg Maddux is great to write about because it’s almost easier to write what about him wouldn’t merit induction. I can more or less pick out any of his stats and just list them without context and it’ll still be obvious that he belongs. YES
Mike Mussina: He didn’t reach either of the major pitching milestones, but he very well could have with two more seasons (270 wins, 2813 Ks). And he went out more or less on top, plus he missed time from the 1994-5 strike. His 123 ERA+ (3.68 ERA) over eighteen years is right in line with players like Juan Marichal and Bob Feller. He had six top-5 finishes in Cy Young voting as well. Also, he was a master of control: since the mound was moved back to 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893, only one player has a higher K/BB ratio (3.58) in over 3000 innings (Curt Schilling, 4.38). His Hall Rating is a solid 163. At 82.7 rWAR, he’s between Fergie Jenkins and Bob Gibson (24th). His 82.3 fWAR is between Schilling and Warren Spahn (19th). YES
Kenny Rogers: His 4.27 ERA would be far and away the worst of Hall starters (although it was still a solid 107 ERA+ over twenty years). He didn’t even reach 2000 strikeouts (1968), and he didn’t have the control of Schilling or Maddux or Mussina, with 1175 walks. Again, there’s value to being above average for twenty years (51.1 rWAR, 46.8 fWAR, 96 Hall Rating), but not Hall-level value. NO
Frank Thomas: Like Kent, Thomas did not offer a lot of defensive value. The Big Hurt, however, was a much better hitter overall: 521 home runs, 2468 hits, a .301/.419/.555 batting line, and so on. His 156 OPS+ is tied for nineteenth of all-time. All in all, he was worth 73.6 rWAR and 72.4 fWAR while racking up a 140 Hall Rating. YES
*I had abbreviated this as bWAR in the past for convenience sake, but the general standard over the rest of the internet has been to call it rWAR for its creator, Sean “Rally” Smith. I’ll start referring to it as such from now on.
In total, that’s thirteen holdovers and five newcomers, so I have 18 people on this year’s ballot that I want to vote for. Unfortunately, I only get ten slots. Next time, I will attempt to whittle this group down.