I don’t want this to sound wrong, but the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is kind of a disappointment. I don’t mean the players on it. I mean the actual ballot itself. It’s simply a plain sheet of paper with names printed on it and little boxes to check. It could be the ballot of a high school election. This is the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, for crying out loud, they could jazz is up a little bit, put it on some fancy paper, use some raised lettering, a little calligraphy, some gold, I mean, come on, this is supposed to be a big deal.
This is especially true for those players who make it on the ballot for one year and one year only. This year, there are 13 first-timers, and unless only one of them has any real chance will make it to a second ballot. But the 12 who probably will not make it were good baseball players, outstanding baseball players, among the better baseball players in Major League history. If you play 10 years in the Major Leagues — the minimum requirement for making the ballot — you are an outstanding baseball player. Every first-time hitter on the ballot got at least 4,500 plate appearances in the big leagues. All but two of them made an All-Star Team, and those two had excellent years.
The point is, these are all good baseball players. And yet, many of them, let’s be honest, their names look ridiculous on a Hall of Fame ballot. And so, instead of celebrating them — which, I believe, is what the Hall of Fame discussion should be all about — we end up kind of mocking them. That’s too bad, and I’m going to try not to do that here. But it would help if the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was fancy and elegant, suitable for framing. That way all 13 of these players could indeed frame the ballot and say, “See, I was pretty good.”
The 13 first timers include 11 hitters and two pitchers. If this seems a particularly weak class, well, it is a particularly weak class. It is the first time since 2000 that no first timer to the ballot has at least a 50 WAR (according to Baseball Reference).
First time players on the ballot with 50-plus WAR
2011: John Olerud, Kevin Brown, Rafael Palmeiro, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell.
2010: Robin Ventura, (Kevin Appier had 49.9 WAR)
2009: Rickey Henderson (elected); David Cone
2008: Tim Raines, Chuck Finley
2007: Cal Ripken (elected); Tony Gwynn (elected); Mark McGwire, Bret Saberhagen
2006: Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, (Dwight Gooden had 49.9 WAR)
2005: Wade Boggs (elected)
2004: Paul Molitor (elected); Dennis Eckersley (elected); Dave Stieb.
2003: Eddie Murray (elected); Ryne Sandberg
2002: Ozzie Smith (elected); Andre Dawson
2001: Dave Winfield (elected); (Kirby Puckett was also elected with 44.8 WAR).
2000: None (Though Jack Morris was on this ballot).
I’m not using WAR as anything but a parameter here to show that this is the year we all get to take our breath. The Top WAR guy is the one guy who has a chance to advance on the ballot, Bernie Williams, with a 47.3 Baseball Reference WAR and a 47.5 Fangraphs WAR. After him, is Brad Radke.
Next year, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio all go on the ballot for the first time. There has never in the history of the Hall of Fame been a ballot quite like that — so filled with greatness and controversy and strong feelings. The world might explode. The year after that, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina go on the ballot. The world might explode again. The year AFTER THAT Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield go on the ballot. In other words over the next three years, we will get FIFTEEN players who are (select one):
(1) Certain Hall of Famers
(2) Amazing player with steroid questions
(3) Borderline Hall of Famers for people to argue about.
So, it’s probably good to just enjoy a year where the only real argument is how we view the career of Bernie Williams.
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To my mind, he is pretty clearly the least valuable player on the ballot. But this gets to the point. Womack led the league in stolen bases three times, in triple once, made an All-Star Team, was an every day player for a World Series winner in Arizona and probably had his best year for the pennant-winning Cardinals in 2004. So, it’s certainly a nice career.
Womack was a slasher — his offensive game was to hit down on the ball and use his great speed to reach base. He led the league in singles one year. He rarely walked and struck out way too much, which points to his strikingly low career 72 OPS+. But he made himself in big league clubhouses for 13 seasons (most of those as an every day player) by playing both middle-infield positions and, later, all three outfield positions and by stealing bases at a high rate of success into his mid-30s.
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Terry Mulholland: If you want to see something crazy, take a look at Baseball Reference’s transactions log for Mulholland. In fact, I’m sure they won’t mind if I post it here:
June 4, 1984: Drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 1st round (24th pick) of the 1984 amateur draft.
June 18, 1989: Traded by the San Francisco Giants with Dennis Cook and Charlie Hayes to the Philadelphia Phillies for a player to be named later and Steve Bedrosian. The Philadelphia Phillies sent Rick Parker (August 7, 1989) to the San Francisco Giants to complete the trade.
February 9, 1994: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with a player to be named later to the New York Yankees for Kevin Jordan, Ryan Karp and Bobby Munoz. The Philadelphia Phillies sent Jeff Patterson (November 8, 1994) to the New York Yankees to complete the trade.
October 17, 1994: Granted Free Agency.
April 8, 1995: Signed as a Free Agent with the San Francisco Giants.
November 3, 1995: Granted Free Agency.
February 17, 1996: Signed as a Free Agent with the Philadelphia Phillies.
July 31, 1996: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies to the Seattle Mariners for Desi Relaford.
October 28, 1996: Granted Free Agency.
December 9, 1996: Signed as a Free Agent with the Chicago Cubs.
August 8, 1997: Selected off waivers by the San Francisco Giants from the Chicago Cubs.
October 27, 1997: Granted Free Agency.
February 2, 1998: Signed as a Free Agent with the Chicago Cubs.
October 28, 1998: Granted Free Agency.
November 5, 1998: Signed as a Free Agent with the Chicago Cubs.
July 31, 1999: Traded by the Chicago Cubs with Jose Hernandez to the Atlanta Braves for a player to be named later, Micah Bowie and Ruben Quevedo. The Atlanta Braves sent Joey Nation (August 24, 1999) to the Chicago Cubs to complete the trade.
October 31, 2000: Granted Free Agency.
December 10, 2000: Signed as a Free Agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
July 31, 2001: Traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Adrian Burnside (minors) and Mike Fetters.
July 28, 2002: Traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers with Francisco Cruceta and Ricardo Rodriguez to the Cleveland Indians for Paul Shuey.
October 31, 2002: Granted Free Agency.
January 8, 2003: Signed as a Free Agent with the Cleveland Indians.
October 26, 2003: Granted Free Agency.
February 10, 2004: Signed as a Free Agent with the Seattle Mariners.
April 2, 2004: Purchased by the Minnesota Twins from the Seattle Mariners.
October 29, 2004: Granted Free Agency.
December 15, 2004: Signed as a Free Agent with the Minnesota Twins.
October 27, 2005: Granted Free Agency.
January 12, 2006: Signed as a Free Agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
June 21, 2006: Released by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
If you want to add it up:
He was granted free agency: 11 times.
He was signed as a free agent: 10 times.
He was traded: 6 times.
The players he was traded for include: Steve Bedrosian; Kevin Jordan; Ryan Karp; Bobby Munoz; Desi Relaford; Micah Bowie; Ruben Quevedo; Joey Nation; Adrian Burnside; Mike Fetters and Paul Shuey.
They should have an “I Was Traded For Terry Mulholland” club that meets once or twice a year in Vegas.
Mulholland was a sinker-slider pitcher whose defining quality was probably his remarkable pickoff move. Mulholland was quite hittable and he gave up almost 300 home runs in his career. But nobody, and I mean nobody, ran on Terry Mulholland. In his 20-year career there were only 35 successful stolen bases against him. I’m not entirely sure how Baseball Reference breaks this up, but according to the numbers there were 50 players who were caught stealing and Mulholland had 53 pickoffs in his career. I think there is some crossover there. In his 1992 season, he had 15 pickoffs and only two people were successful stealing all year.
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You probably know that Nevin was the first pick of the 1992 draft — the Derek Jeter draft class.
Nevin was a spectacular player at Cal State Fullerton (and the football team’s kicker). He was big and strong with lots of power, and that made him the safest pick at No. 1, which is exactly where the Astros picked him. According to Buster Olney’s fine book “The Last Night Of the Yankees Dynasty,” Houston scout (and Hall of Fame pitcher) Hal Newhouser pushed the Astros hard to pick Jeter, but the Astros wanted the safer “quickest to the big leagues” choice. Such stories are weaved in throughout baseball history — there always seem to be wise scouts whose sage advice was sadly ignored.
Nevin was a bust until 1999, when he was traded by Anaheim to the Padres. The next three years he hit 24, 31 and 41 home runs. The last of those seasons, Nevin really was an outstanding offensive player — he hit .306/.388/.588. But that was 2001, when numbers were off the charts. Nevin only had one more productive season the rest of his career and in 2006 he kicked around with three times in trying to salvage his career.
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Castilla hit 40 home runs or more three times in his career which is really amazing if you think about it. Until 1994, only 17 players in baseball history hit 40-plus homers three different times. Fourteen are in the Hall of Fame. The are:
— Babe Ruth
— Harmon Killebrew
— Hank Aaron
— Willie Mays
— Ernie Banks
— Duke Snider
— Ralph Kiner
— Jimmie Foxx
— Lou Gehrig
— Mickey Mantle
— Eddie Mathews
— Hank Greenberg
— Mike Schmidt
— Carl Yastrzemski
— Johnny Mize
The three not in the Hall of Fame include: Frank Howard, Rocky Colavito and Ted Kluszewski — three legendary sluggers in their own right.
There are countless ways to try and quantify the Selig Era, and here’s a pretty good one: Since 1994, 23 different players have had at least three seasons of 40-plus homers. They include Castilla, Jay Buhner, Greg Vaughn, Shawn Green, Adam Dunn (FIVE times) and so on. Of course, this has been hashed and rehashed a thousand times, but the point here that baseball’s hashmarks have moved and that 40 home runs, like being a millionaire, doesn’t mean exactly what is used to mean.
Castilla had his prime in Colorado when Coors Field was something close to a joke, and over five seasons he hit .302 and averaged 38 home runs a year. Hey, you take advantage of your situation. Chuck Klein, when he played in the absurdity of the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, hit .349 and averaged 36 homers and 45 doubles a year in his best five year stretch. Klein slugged .636 those five years. He hit .278 and slugged .447 the rest of his career. Chuck Klein got a a Hall of Fame induction from the veteran’s committee out of it.
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He is another guy who took advantage of the Colorado thin air. My favorite home road split of all time is probably Eric Young’s from 1996:
Yes, that has to be the most absurd split in baseball history. At home, he hit FOUR HUNDRED. He was Ted Williams. On the road he SLUGGED .269.
Young, though, had numerous good years after he left Colorado. He stole 50-plus bases twice after leaving Colorado and was quite a useful players for the Dodgers and Cubs from 1998 to 2000. He has a career .359 on-base percentage which is very good — thirty-two players with at least 3,000 plate appearances and lifetime .300 averages don’t have a career on-base percentage that high.* Young was a pretty patient hitter, difficult to strike out, he played six different positions, and he was a thrilling base runner.
*Including excellent hitters like Tony Oliva, Don Mattingly, Al Oliver and Michael Young.
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I saw Ruben Sierra play when he was young, and I was sure — absolutely sure — he would become a great player. I was not alone, of course. In 1989, when he was only 23 years old, he hit .306 and led the league in triples, RBIs and slugging percentage — a pretty rate trifecta. He lost the MVP race to Robin Yount that year in a very close race.*
*Rickey Henderson was dramatically better than either of them, and Bret Saberhagen had a year that was probably every bit as good, if not better, than Justin Verlander’s 2011.
Sierra had another very good year when he was 25, in 1991. At that time, he was a switch-hitter with power who – as Bill James has written — was compared pretty regularly to Roberto Clemente. His statistical comps were players like Ron Santo and Al Kaline.
But that 1991 season was pretty much it for him. He compiled some good numbers in a long career — he did manage more than 2,000 hits and 300 homers which is impressive — but he really just stopped being a great or even especially good player. He gained weight, lost his athleticism, and his passion seemed to fade.
There’s something worth remembering: In baseball, in sports, in life, there is always downward pressure. Once you make some money, there’s the temptation to feel comfortable. Once you’ve proven yourself, you can lose your hunger. Once you’ve run into a wall, you don’t want to do that again. Once you’re arm starts hurting, you might throw with a little less enthusiasm. On and on and on, we all see it in our lives, downward pressure, the force to relax, back off, take the foot off the gas and whatever other cliche you want. There are some people who never stop raging — and that has its own pitfalls. But by and large those people, the ones who never stopped raging, are the ones in the baseball Hall of Fame.
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The 1996 Cleveland Indians had: Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Jeff Kent and Omar Vizquel. Murray is already in the Hall of Fame and the other four, I imagine, will get serious Hall of Fame consideration. Kenny Lofton is a sixth who could get consideration too.
The Indians also had: Albert Belle, Julio Franco, Sandy Alomar, Tony Pena, Carlos Baerga, Brian Giles and Jeromy Burnitz, all who will or have at least appeared on the Hall of Fame Ballot. Belle actually appeared on two ballots, and Pena received votes.
That was one loaded team.
Burnitz hit 30-plus homers six times in his career, and in the bulk of his career he was pretty much a classic three-outcome hitter — strikeout, walk, home run. In 1999, he posted a .402 on-base percentage (he was 91 times and was hit-by-pitch 16 more). But he more or less lost his patience toward the end of his career. Burnitz was a likable guy who did not take himself too seriously and he was a clubhouse go-to-guy, especially in Milwaukee where spent the bulk of his career.
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I have spent many, many words on this blog railing against batting average. and yet I have to admit that the very first thing I thought of when seeing Bill Mueller’s name was: “Hey, he won a batting title, didn’t he?”
Yes, he hit .326 in 2003 for the Red Sox to win that batting average championship, and he really was an excellent player that year. He took full advantage of the Green Monster — he hit .342 at home with 31 of his 45 doubles.
He was never quite that good before or after, but Mueller was the very picture of solid. He fielded his position pretty well, got on base quite well, and he hit more than his share of line drives. He never really hit home runs which might explain why he never played in an All-Star Game. But he was the very essence of the CP*.
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Lopez couldn’t throw out base runners. No, I mean, he REALLY couldn’t throw out base runners. In 1996, he allowed 97 stolen bases. In his career, almost 800 base stealers were successful against him. This wasn’t entirely his fault, of course. Greg Maddux, for instance, barely even seemed to care about base runners. They stole against Maddux at a 76% clip.
Still, I think Lopez’s general inability to throw out base stealers affected his career and how people viewed him. He was a good hitter who had a .500 slugging percentage when he left Atlanta at age 32. Here’s something you almost certainly didn’t know (I didn’t). In 2003, Lopez slugged .687. That isn’t just the highest slugging percentage ever for a catcher (with more than 450 plate appearance) it is the most by almost FIFTY POINTS.
Highest slugging percentages for catchers:
1. Javy Lopez (2003) .687
2. Mike Piazza (1997) .638
3. Gabby Hartnett (1930) .630
4. Bill Dickey (1936) .617
5. Mike Piazza (2000) .614
All the while, he was catching three of the best pitchers in baseball — Greg Maddux*, Tom Glavine (until 2002) and John Smoltz. He couldn’t have been doing THAT bad a job as a catcher. You figure a slugging catcher who hit for good averages and caught the best pitching staff in baseball would get some big attention. But Lopez dealt with injuries and a reputation as mediocre catcher — a reputation that probably built from his inability to throw out base runners.
*Brilliant Reader Av points outs what I had forgotten — that Eddie Perez and others (Henry Blanco, Paul Bako) served as personal catchers for Maddux, who pretty blatantly did not like pitching to Lopez. But it should be noted that Lopez DID catch him for 72 games, and in those games Maddux had a 2.35 ERA.
He faded pretty quickly after leaving Atlanta — though he had one good season in Baltimore — and he retired at 35, which prevented him from tacking on the numbers that might have made his Hall of Fame case compelling. Throughout his active career his offensive numbers compared well to Hall of Fame catchers like Carlton Fisk, Roy Campanella and Gabby Hartnett.
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Every year, the Hall of Fame ballot gives me a little shock as I find at least one player who was significantly better than I remembered. This year, that player is Brian Jordan. I always thought Brian Jordan was a perfectly fine baseball player — especially for one who also played in the NFL — but in retrospect he was better than that.
Start with his defense. Jordan never won a Gold Glove, but according to Defensive WAR he is one of the best defensive outfielders of the last 40 or 50 years. I know people have trouble buying into advanced defensive statistics, but by Baseball Reference’s Fielding Runs, these are the most valuable defensive outfielders since 1960:
1. Andruw Jones
2. Barry Bonds
3. Carl Yastrzemski
4. Paul Blair
5. Brian Jordan
That’s pretty good company, no? It’s certainly possible that is a statistical anomaly, but I suspect that Brian Jordan was simply an exceptional outfielder in his prime. Offensively, he was a good player with some power (20-plus homers four times) who hit for a good average. He was a hacker — he never walked more than 51 times in a season — and he was only able to play two season of 150 games or more. But he was a good player, and he was an exceptional player in 1996 and 1998.
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I realize that Wikipedia isn’t always the most reliable source, but I hope this is true: It says that Tim Salmon is a cousin of actress Holly Hunter.
It seems that I wrote about this once before, but I’m still shocked that Tim Salmon never once played in an All-Star Game. You could argue, that Salmon is the best player to never play in a All-Star Game.
Let’s go ahead and use WAR to make the argument.
Here are the Top 5 non-active players by WAR to never make an All-Star Team.
1. Tony Phillips, 48.2
2. Tim Salmon, 37.6
3. Kirk Gibson, 37.1
4. Richie Hebner, 35.2
5. Garry Maddox, 33.8
Well, there are a couple of shockers in there — Kirk Gibson never played in an All-Star Game? Other good players to never make an All-Star Game: Kevin McReynolds, Sixto Lezcano, Clete Boyer, Oscar Gamble and Jose Valentin.
But let’s also look at the players who had the most good years — let’s say a 5.0 WAR — who didn’t make an All-Star Team.
1. Tim Salmon (3 seasons)
10 players tied with 2 seasons including Phillips, Gibson and Lezcano.
It’s close — it’s probably Phillips, Gibson or Salmon. I think. Then again, I think Eric Chavez — who is still active — might take the title when he retires because he has never played in an All-Star Game and probably never will.
In case you are wondering, some of the best PITCHERS to never be chose for an All-Star Game include: John Tudor, Tom Candiotti, John Denny, Alex Fernandez, Mike Torrez, Rudy May, Gene Garber and Dennis Leonard.
Salmon was an excellent offensive player. He posted a .385 lifetime on-base percentage, he hit 30-plus homers five times. He was, in his career, the Rookie of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year, he was a key player on the Angels World Series champs, and some Angels fans will tell you he’s the best player in team history.
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I’m fascinated by the concept of overachieving. For instance, I think Danny Devito is an overachiever. Look at the guy. He grew up in Jersey, his Dad owned a few businesses, and he decided that it was his destiny to be an actor. I can only imagine how many people told him to think about maybe doing something else. I mean — and I feel like I’m fully qualified to say this* — he isn’t exactly Cary Grant.
*Heck, I’m not even Danny DeVito.
But you know what? He stayed with it, and he’s been a Hollywood giant as an actor, a producer, a director, he’s been been a star on television, he’s entirely awesome and I would have to say he absolutely and wildly overachieved.
Brad Radke was a conventional pitcher with a pretty straight and not especially intimidating fastball. Colleges and the minor leagues OVERFLOW with guys like that. He was an eighth-round pick, and his minor league numbers were pretty bland. His first two years in the big leagues, he led the league in home runs allowed.
And yet, he had a very good big league career. How? Mainly: He just didn’t walk anybody. He was in the Top 10 in fewest walks per nine innings ELEVEN times in his career. Since World War II only Dan Quisenberry and Bob Tewksbury — a couple of other overachievers — walked fewer per nine innings than Radke. But Quisenberry and Tewksbury didn’t have to pitch in the Selig ERA — that is, they didn’t have to pitch in that time when home runs flew and walks were often a pitcher’s only escape.
Radke never had a season with an ERA less that 3.48. He never quite got over the home run bug. But he just kept going out there, year after year, throwing strikes, bouncing back from home runs to throw more strikes, never backing down, pitching 200-plus innings and maximizing the skills he had. No, that doesn’t make him a Hall of Famer, but it does make him the sort of player who is easy to admire. Most of us do not watch Roger Clemens or Tom Seaver or Randy Johnson pitch and think “Wow, if I would have applied myself, if I would have worked night and day, I might have pitched like that.”
But we might think that very thing when watching Brad Radke pitch.
In other words, watching Brad Radke pitch was much better for appreciating what is possible.
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Here is the one viable Hall of Fame candidate among the newcomers, the only one who is likely to carry over to next year’s ballot.
We might as well start with defense because that’s going to be the tough part. Williams was a very good offensive player … people really shouldn’t argue about that. But defensively, well, that’s a lot tougher. He won four Gold Gloves, which suggests he was really good. There are people who will insist he was really good, especially when he was young. And yet, the advanced stats say something pretty striking about his entire career. The stats don’t say he was overrated. No. They say he was terrible. Absolutely terrible.
Remember in Brian Jordan section, I showed the five best outfielders since 1960 by Fielding Runs?
Here are the five worst:
1. Gary Sheffield, -178
2. Danny Tartabull, -120
3. Bernie Williams, -118
4. Rick Monday, -112
5. Manny Ramirez, -110
(tie) Frank Howard, -110
That’s not great company when it comes to defense. Ultimate Zone Rating only goes back to 2002, which is not far back enough to approach Williams’ prime as a player, but it is true that only MannyBManny has a worse Ultimate Zone Rating than Bernie Williams.
My opinion is that Williams was a good outfielder when he was young, and he declined fast and hard and without the Gold Gloves voters noticing. I will say it was painful watching him play center in those later years; it didn’t feel like he could get to anything.
While he was overrated defensively I think, he was quite underrated offensively. Again, the key was his spectacular ability to get on base. From 1994 to 2002, he had a .404 on-base percentage. I think Derek Jeter should have been the MVP in 1998, but Bernie Williams would have been a viable choice that year too (especially if you think he was a good defensive center fielder as many did). He finished seventh. He had another MVP kind of season offensively in 1999. He finished 11th. And so on.
Williams’ career wasn’t very long so he didn’t come close to the hallmark numbers like 3,000 hits or 500 homers. His defense is a big question mark and so it’s hard to give him too much credit for that. He’s the class of this class, but I think he falls a little bit short of the Hall of Fame line for me. But he was a great and classy player for a long time.