Recently, I looked at active players to determine who would possibly make the Hall of Fame if it was more accurately sized. In this case, “accurately” refers to “in regards to historical precedence”, which is a little up for debate, but is definitely bigger than what we’re getting now. At the lower-end, that should be at the very least 40 players in any given year; at the upper-end, that number may go as high as something like 75 players active at once making Cooperstown. Realistically, I think something in the fifties is reasonable, but I wanted to demonstrate that.
While looking at active players is fun, it’s also difficult and hard to visualize. In part, that’s because at least some of your active players, by law of averages, have to be just starting out, which makes them hard to predict. So I figured, why not do it for a year a little further in the past? I’ve done this before, but it was a while ago, so I figured I’d update it and use a different year for good measure.
In this case, I picked 2008. Players who debuted in 2008 are now a decade into their careers, meaning they have the ten years required to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, as well as a decade in the majors under their belt to help us evaluate if they have a realistic shot at Cooperstown.
In fact, some players active in 2008 are already inducted.
Already Inducted: Ivan Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas
That’s eight players that we for-sure need to account for. On top of that, there were two players active in 2008 who each received over 70% of the vote, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman. For all intents and purposes, we should probably consider them as good as in, bringing our number to 10. Additionally, Mike Mussina finally topped 50% of the vote last year. Given that he still has over half of his time on the ballot ahead of him and that he’s more than deserving, we may as well include him, giving us 11 players.
Next, we can probably run down the locks quickly, since no one will argue them.
Locks: Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre, Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Miguel Cabrera
That’s already another eight, bringing us to 19. We’re almost halfway to the absolute lowest goal of 40 and we’ve only even mentioned three players who debuted in the 2000s. On top of that, we haven’t included the locks hurt by steroids.
The Steroids Asterisk: Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, David Ortiz
Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield all clear the traditional benchmarks for Hall induction. I think that, in the long-term view, they’ll all make it eventually, even if it may take the Veterans Committee. On top of that, I have no idea how voters will view David Ortiz. His case is a little weaker than those three (maybe not, depending on how you weight things like postseason performance), but I’ve seen more support for him among voters. I don’t think we can rule him out, especially given that he also crossed the traditional 500 home run mark. All together, those four give us 23 players.
Next, I want to look at a group that I’m going to call the “should-be locks”. These are players that easily have Hall of Fame numbers, I’m just not sure how they’ll fare on the ballot when the time comes.
Should-Be Locks: Scott Rolen, Carlos Beltran, Chase Utley, Andruw Jones, Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw
There’s a wide spread in that group. Clayton Kershaw will probably move into “lock” territory by the time he retires. I think he already has a case, but if he retired tomorrow, I imagine voters would complain about his short career. Also, I think Roy Halladay is I think more than deserving and I’ve seen early buzz calling him a easy choice, but I’m hesitant to call any but the most obvious starters a lock given how bad voters have come at electing pitchers.
I wrote about Scott Rolen earlier this year and showed that he’s one of the ten best third basemen of all-time, which feels like it should earn his place given that there are already more than ten Hall of Famers in Cooperstown (and that two of the players above him in that top ten aren’t even eligible yet, in Beltre and Jones), and he looks more than deserving. Less recently, I wrote about Andruw Jones, who has a pretty similar case to Rolen.
I don’t have full cases drawn up for Beltran or Utley, but both are more than worthy. I’m just not sure how they’ll be seen by the voters, once again. A more analytically-versed electorate would go for them, and we may have that in six or seven years when they actually might hit the ballot. In any case, we’re up to 29 players.
On the flip-side of these players is Omar Vizquel. I personally think he falls short of the Hall standard; his natural comparison is Ozzie Smith, but Ozzie was a better hitter (87 OPS+ to 82), and a much better fielder (Total Zone Fielding Runs has Ozzie over 100 ahead of Omar, 239 to 134). I think Vizquel will fare well with the voters, though. I’ve seen quite a few writers praise him, and if you don’t go looking for the hard data, it’s easy to just assume he was Smith’s equal and induct him on that. We’ll see next year when he debuts on the ballot, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to count him, so we’re at 30. Again, please note that we’re three-quarters to 40 and we still only have five players who debuted in the 2000s.
Active-liklies: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Joe Mauer, Joey Votto, Evan Longoria, CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer
This group helps counteract our lack of recent players. All of these players appear on my most recent 2017 update of active players on pace for the Hall of Fame, either as over the Hall median or very close. Given that, I think they make up a good starting point for our section on young players. Individually, I think you could make a very compelling case right now for any of them, although for brevity’s sake, for the time being I’ll leave those as “available upon request” for this article*.
Given that this list is eleven players, we are officially over our lowest bar of 40 players, at 41. If you’re advocating for a small Hall, again, 40 active players at once is historically the minimum we’ve faced. To remain consistent with that standard, if you think any of these players aren’t deserving, or will see their numbers fall off if they’re active, you should ideally have another player in mind to replace them.
*Maybe that can be a subject for a future article, depending on what my future writing schedule looks like.
Borderline, but still worthy: Andy Pettitte, Jim Edmonds, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent, Bobby Abreu
This is an interesting group. I’ve gone back-and-forth on all of them to some extent*, but I’ve come down on the side of “sure, why not for each of them”. I may not vote for some of them, given the crowded ballots (I’ve explicitly argued as much for Wagner and Kent on this very site), but seeing that guys who were more or less the Jeff Kents of their time are already in makes me feel much more comfortable arguing for their inductions. And given that I’ve argued in the past that the Hall needs to induct more pitchers similar to Andy Pettitte (not by name, but he definitely falls into that category), I may have been too hesitant in only listing one pitcher here.
That seems like a good summary here; not all of these guys would make above-average Hall of Famers, but the Hall is by definition not just it’s above-average players, and writers are still quite fine with electing those types in the abstract (just look at Guerrero and Hoffman, for current examples). In any case, we have another six guys here, so we’re at 47 players.**
*Except for Edmonds, but since he fell off the Hall ballot with only 2.5% in his only appearance, it seems fair to group him in here rather than with the earlier groups.
**I don’t have the space here to delve into it too much, but I anticipate I’ll get the most pushback for listing Abreu here. So here’s an interesting stats comparison of Abreu, Tony Gwynn, and Tim Raines.
Possible future borderline candidates: David Price, Jon Lester, Ian Kinsler, Yadier Molina, David Wright, Johnny Cueto, Justin Upton
This group is much more amorphous than the others, but presumably, some younger guys will end up with careers that fall into the borderline zone. Pitchers’s Hall of Fame cases are basically made by how they do in their 30s, so we may as well include the guys in their young 30s with 30-40 WAR and some hardware and postseason success between them. It’s an iffy bunch; I could see us ending up with just one borderline guy in this group or one definite and one-two borderline ones just as easily. We may as well list them all.
I noted that Ian Kinsler was looking like a stealth candidate back in March, the kind of guy who quietly builds up a strong Hall case then promptly gets ignored by voters. Justin Upton has been up and down, but he’s still not even 30 and has over 30 career WAR. He’s in the midst of a 5-WAR season, so a Hall career could still happen. David Wright looked like a promising entry on my yearly “future Hall of Fame” pieces before doctors discovered that his spine was actually a bundle of pipe cleaners held together with Silly String. He still has better numbers than you realize, and just about any sort of comeback at all could make him an interesting candidate. I see Yadier Molina’s name thrown around as a future Hall of Famer with some regularity; I don’t see it, but I may as well list him here. We’re still only up to 54 players.
Starters: Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Johan Santana, Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, Kenny Rogers
Closers: Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon
Hitters: Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman, Brian Giles, Jimmy Rollins, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Torii Hunter, Johnny Damon, Matt Holliday, Luis Gonzalez, Nomar Garciaparra,
I don’t know that I’d necessarily advocate for any of these guys in the Hall of Fame. Sure, I’ve written about Santana and peak-heavy starters’ place in Cooperstown, I’ve written retrospectives on Berkman and Giles’ careers that acknowledge they have non-zero arguments for the Hall, and I…well, I could have sworn I wrote something about Posada and the postseason’s place in giving extra credit. I certainly strongly considered it, at least. And then we have things, like my more nebulous argument for below-median starters, or my total uncertainty at how closers will be evaluated in the future. It’s a big and varied group of course, and I definitely feel more strongly about some of them than others.
But I don’t expect any of these guys to get much (if any) Hall support. If they did by some surprise, I wouldn’t mind too much, given that I enjoyed watching most of them play and it’s cool to see the players you watched honored like that. None of them would be the worst inductees at their positions, in my opinion. The only real irritating thing would probably be the players better than them who would likely be totally ignored along the way…so basically the standard operating procedure of today’s Hall. I guess my opinion on this group could best be represented by a metaphorical shrug.
It’s also worth noting that something this random is never evenly spaced out, and these things come in waves sometimes. For example, if we had set this one year earlier, we’d lose Longoria, Kershaw, Scherzer, Price, and Cueto, but we’d be gaining two definite inductees in Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza; three guys who have gotten above 50% of the vote in Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling; and a variety of other interesting candidates like Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton, and David Wells (I’ve argued in favor of the first two in the past, while the last doesn’t seem to crazy to include seeing as we got all the way down to Kenny Rogers and Javier Vazquez).
The important thing is that this final group brings us all the way up to 75 players, though. That was our upper limit, so we now have a pretty good yardstick for our initial question of “how many active players do you think should be in the Hall of Fame someday”. You could also use this to argue that there are guys in the Hall who were essentially the Mark Buehrle or Nomar Garciaparra of their day. Personally, I find that my ideal for active Hall of Famers falls somewhere around 50, just like I thought. Given fluctuations, it may even hit something like 55 players some years. In any case, laid out like this, it seems fair to say that if we aren’t reaching at least 40 players, something in the process is not working properly.