After a one-year hiatus, Graham Womack has returned to his 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame project, and I have once again decided to contribute. One twist is that, this year, he had to trim his list down to just the 25 Best Players. I might still name a Top 50 to match years past, but for now, I’ll just go over my ballot for the top 25 and save the rest for another day. Once I do that, it shouldn’t be too difficult to whittle that down to my 10-person Hall list for 2016.
My methodology for my ballot was pretty straightforward. I used my past years’ ballots as starting points, saw how many openings I had, then decided what changes I needed. The top spots were easy to decide, and the only really difficult choices came down to the last four or five slots. As usual, I noted on Graham’s ballot that I’d vote for all of my choices for the real Hall of Fame, as all 25 easily clear the standards set forth by Cooperstown (as I’ve shown in the past, usually, the top 50 or so players not in the Hall are still as good as the median Hall of Famer, if not better, as the Hall includes far more than just the Willie Mayses as Babe Ruths of the game).
Since my last ballot on this matter, four players have gotten the call: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Joe Torre. That means I’ll need to cut at least 21 players to get to the appropriate number. How many newcomers do I have to account for? Certainly Ken Griffey, Jr., as there’s clearly no argument against him. Also Jim Edmonds; I can’t see any argument that he isn’t on of the 50 Best players not inducted yet, although we’ll need to see if he makes the top 25. I’m not sure I’d add Trevor Hoffman or Billy Wagner to the list, but they’d be in the conversation. My uncertainty stems more from how to treat the general position of relief pitcher (if we decided we need to elect some eligible reliever to Cooperstown right now, Hoffman and Wagner would be my choices 1 and 1A). So at least two of our open slots are filled.
Next, I need to whittle my rough, ~48-person list down to just 25. This seems like it might be a difficult task, but it winds up being easier than you might think. While the ballot itself never requires ranking, it would be a lie to say that I don’t consider some players on my list stronger candidates than others. I’ll start with the more “obvious” choices, as they generally take less explanation to get through.
I’ll start with the easiest pick: Ken Griffey Jr. makes his debut on the ballot, and he’d polling at 100% on early ballots. I don’t think it’s too crazy to say I’d put him on my list.
Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines are all in position to be elected at well, as all have above 75% of early support so far. I don’t think all will make it this year(Tim Raines has trended downward a little too much, but he’ll be in prime position for next year), but it seems clear a majority of people now agree that they’re deserving. They seem like rather self-explanatory choices.
I may as well move on to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens next. Regardless of your thoughts on whether they should make the Hall of Fame, the list is titled in a pretty self-explanatory manner: “Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame”. I just don’t see any way you can argue that list shouldn’t include Bonds and Clemens. They’re arguably the best hitter and pitcher of all-time, respectively. As I’ve written before, though, I think that they should be in the Hall as well.
Similar story with Pete Rose. Different situation, but the end result is the same. Can’t see a good reason to keep the all-time hits leader off the list. Joe Jackson falls into the same situation; he doesn’t have the most hits of all-time, but he was still pretty fantastic.
I’ve written about Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina a lot already (here’s one such example), and I feel they’re obvious choices. While they may not be on Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux’s level, they’re clearly among the top 8 pitchers of their generation (I’d argue top six personally, but I don’t see any way you could drop them below top eight), and as Matt Snyder of CBS Sports points out, most generations account for a dozen or more starters.
Speaking of undervalued starters, I’d argue that Kevin Brown is the next step below Glavine and Smoltz (who I’d argue are choices seven and eight), and I’m not sure there’s a better starter not in the Hall or still on the ballot.
I write about Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker every year for my ballots, since they’ve hung around so long. Here’s last year’s ballot, if you’d like an argument. I’m just over halfway full on my ballot.
Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker should have been in a while ago, and people have written about their cases for years. Trammell’s still on the ballot, while Whitaker’s one-and-done is frequently cited as one of the great injustices of Hall voting. And while we’re on the topic of “middle infielders who were overlooked because they did everything well”, Bobby Grich has perhaps become the poster boy for this cause. There’s another one, leaving ten spaces.
Bill Dahlen and Jack Glasscock are probably the last great remaining snubs from the early 20th century. I’ve written about both before in my past “50 Best” lists, but long story short, they were both shortstops with great gloves and good bats. Both hit like Alan Trammell (110 and 112 OPS+, against Trammell’s 110), or just a bit below Derek Jeter (115) while being good shortstops. That’s pretty valuable.
I’ve written entire pieces about Kenny Lofton before, and he definitely deserved better. I think he’s one of the better missing players from the recent past.
Duke Snider was relatively underappreciated in his time. It took him 11 tries on the ballot to make Cooperstown, even though it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t one of the seven or eight best at his position of all-time when he retired. You know who’s career looks a lot like Sniders? Jim Edmonds, who probably won’t even see another year on the ballot. Between Brown, Lofton, and Edmonds, we’ve had some great one-year wonders the past few ballots.
Before the recent crush of great pitchers getting stranded in no-man’s land, Rick Reuschel had a legitimate claim to the title of “Best Pitcher Outside the Hall”, as well as “Most Underrated Pitcher”, something a lot of people missed until value stats like WAR were popularized. This article is old, but still one of my favorite for explaining why Reuschel rates where he does.
I only have five more choices, and it’s harder and harder to differentiate. I felt bad drawing distinctions at this level, since I was usually making calls for such minor reasons, but I needed something to separate some players from the pack.
My first pick was Mark McGwire. He’s right in the middle of the pack in value on my last 50 Best ballot, but I feel like McGwire deserves some extra credit for the 1998 season that puts him over. He’s arguably the greatest home run hitter of all-time (no one has a better AB/HR rate), had a fantastic batting eye, and has a huge place in the story of the game. That feels worthy of this list.
Position was a big factor the rest of the way. For example, I also included Graig Nettles. Again, based on my lists, he’s right there in the pack thanks to his jack-of-all-trade status. I’ve always thought the Hall could use more third basemen, and Nettles is probably the best eligible one on the outside at the moment, with 68.0 bWAR and 65.7 fWAR.
My list felt a little skewed towards hitters, seeing as I’m at a 16-6 split right now. The Hall is a little more balanced than that, so what other hurlers could I have added? In the end, I decided that David Cone and Luis Tiant were the best arms remaining. Cone works into what I was writing earlier about Mussina and Schilling; maybe he is the tenth or eleventh or twelfth best pitcher of his generation. That’s still usually good enough for induction, so it’s not a huge issue. For Tiant, I was deciding between a lot of choices. I liked Bret Saberhagen’s peak, and Tommy John’s longevity, but I thought Tiant had the best combination of the two. These two are probably the one’s I’m shakiest on; I’m a little worried I downplayed John’s sturdy consistency too much. If I were doing it over, this is probably the space that would be most likely to change, but for now, I think these are fine picks. I wondered about including a closer here, but I couldn’t narrow it down between Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner; outside of Hoffman’s save totals, they were rather similar, to be honest. I wasn’t sure I could argue for either over one of these starters, so I went with neither.
My last spot was tricky. I almost went with Ted Simmons since I feel catchers are underrated in the Hall as well, or Buddy Bell to add another third basemen, or Rafael Palmeiro for making two big milestones, but in the end, I went with Dwight Evans for his well-rounded excellence. People compare Tim Raines to Tony Gwynn all the time, and I think Dwight Evans fits into that mold quite well. Being a personal favorite of Bill James’ doesn’t hurt. I understand if people quibble with this pick, as there are a lot of good players and arguments for them right at the borderline, but I feel like this is a reasonable pick.
As a epilogue, since this will be my last post before the Hall results are shared, I’ll include my ballot for this year’s Hall of Fame. This is what I went with in the Baseball Blogger Alliance’s voting:
I’ve written a lot about this, both today and over the years, so I’ll keep it brief. Yes, I did not vote for Griffey, but I think every player on my list is deserving, and all were in much more dire need of a vote than The Kid (who’s still at 100% on the BBWAA’s early votes with under 20 hours to go). This is what happens when the Hall of Fame refuses to fix its broken voting process, so I don’t feel too bad about the end result (especially since, in the end, my vote isn’t the one actually getting players in or keeping them out).
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