One of the fun questions in sports is this one: Who is a Hall of Famer? Not: Who WILL be a Hall of Famer? Not: Who has a CHANCE to be a Hall of Famer?
But who is a Hall of Famer? Right now? If the career ended tomorrow in some startlingly undramatic way — turf toe, like Jack Lambert, or simply walking away like Mike Mussina — who has already done enough to get into the Hall of Fame?
There are the obvious ones across the sports landscape. Brett Favre — he’s basically a Hall of Fame bust right now (a cement Hall of Fame bust tied to the legs of the Minnesota Vikings and thrown into the ocean). Shaq — Hall of Famer who is still trying to bring “aura” to teams. Ken Griffey Jr. was trying to play the “Hall of Famer as distinguished presence” game for the Mariners and it didn’t go so well.
But the interesting ones are the Hall of Famers who are STILL GOOD, the ones you can point out to your kids, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your cousin from Malaysia, and say: “Watch that player right there because he is one of the greatest who ever played.”
But who are these players? Well, this won’t surprise you, Bill James put together a baseball formula to determine the Hall of Famers. You can read all about the formula in the Bill James Handbook 2011, which I am assuming you already own and have already read because, otherwise, why would you be here reading this garbage? Bill uses two different systems, and remember he’s trying to determine the players who have ALREADY QUALIFIED for the Hall of Fame. These are the ones who will be playing in 2011:
— Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals.
OK, do you want to know how good Albert Pujols is? Do you want to know? I’ll give you a staggering tidbit here based on Bill’s study. The way he figured it, a player who scored 100 is a fully qualified Hall of Famer. You of course can go to the Hall of Fame will less than 100, and maybe people have. It’s not easy to get to 100. To give you an idea how hard it is, Mark McGwire does not have 100. Pedro Martinez does not have 100. It’s hard to get to 100.
OK … so … Albert Pujols at age 30 (or whatever age you want to believe) has already scored a 148. I’m going to repeat that: He has ALREADY scored a 148. He’s well on his way to putting up his SECOND Hall of Fame career.
But that’s not the tidbit. Here’s the tidbit: Bill breaks down his list by birth year. Pujols was born in 1980. So was, Mark Teixeira. Terrific player, Mark Teixeira. Same position as Pujols. They’re the same age. Pujols has played a couple of years longer, but Tex was only in the minor leagues for one season. Teixeira has scored a 55. That is awesome, well on his way to the Hall of Fame — the only player born after 1978 who has a score that high is Joe Mauer with 57.
And Albert Pujols basically has THREE TIMES MORE points that Tex.
He’s pretty good.
— Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Bill brings up a great point when discussing the steroid question; we haven’t had a real Hall of Fame test case yet. Yes, Mark McGwire had a great career. But there are legitimate non-steroid knocks on McGwire. I happen to think McGwire is a Hall of Famer, but he’s certainly not the slam dunk Hall of Famer that, say, Clemens is or Bonds or A-Rod. There would have been some people who would not have voted for McGwire no matter what because he hit .263 for his career and he couldn’t run and his defense was not helping much (the Gold Glove he won, notwithstanding) — virtually all of his value were in home runs and walks (two pretty good things, mind you, but still he was hardly multi-dimensional). If a man’s Hall of Fame case is built around home runs, and you believe steroids dramatically increases a player’s ability to hit home runs, well, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all that McGwire has received so little Hall of Fame support.
And maybe it isn’t that telling. We don’t know yet. By the time A-Rod is eligible, we will already have gone through the Clemens-Bonds-Sosa gamut and will know pretty much where everyone stands on the issue. But until that happens, I’m not sure we do know.
— Vladimir Guerrero
One of my favorite players ever to watch — er, well, at the plate, not in right field. There’s no telling where he will play next year or how much longer he can go — he was looking rather ancient in the World Series — but cherish every chance you get to see him swing at a pitch five feet outside the strike zone (and smack it to right for a base hit). If you’re wondering (and I know you are) how many right-handed hitters have hit .320 with 400 homers and 150 stolen bases … there’s only one.
— Derek Jeter
I have a much longer post coming up on him, but I have a question — for Yankees fans only. And the question is this: If you could trade Derek Jeter tomorrow for Hanley Ramirez, would you do it? As you can tell, there’s a reason I’m not asking NON-Yankees fans this question because their answer would be: “Duh, yes, of course, no question, are you insane, why even ask, that’s ridiculous, that’s just stupid, nobody would do that, of course you trade him …” And so on.
But I’m not asking you. I’m only asking Yankees FANS. So if you’re a big Yankees fan, an insane Yankees fan, I ask you the question: Would you trade Jeter to Florida for Hanley Ramirez?
Send your responses here — please ONLY Yankees fans.*
*If you are a non-Yankees fan, I’ll ask YOU a question so you won’t feel left out: Be fair and honest, what would you offer Derek Jeter to keep him in New York?
— Ichiro Suzuki
I think Bill’s system is right — I think Ichiro is a Hall of Fame lock right now. I don’t think you need to include his Japan stats to make it so. You have a two-time batting champ who has led the league in hits seven times, had 200-plus hits 10 straight years, who has the record for most hits in a season, who has won a Gold Glove nine straight seasons (and will surely make it 10 this year) and has made the All-Star team 10 straight seasons, and has won an MVP and rookie of the year … well, he’s in his own category. Nobody quite like him. I think he’s in right now.
— Manny Ramirez
So, who are the best hitters to not win an MVP award? I think we have to start in 1931, when the Baseball Writers started to give it out …
By OPS+, your Top 10 non-MVP hitters are:
1. Mark McGwire (162 OPS+)
2. Johnny Mize (157 OPS+)
3. Mel Ott (155 OPS+)
4. Manny Ramirez (155 OPS+)
5. Ralph Kiner (149 OPS+)
6. Jim Thome (147 OPS+)
7. Edgar Martinez (147 OPS+)
8. Lance Berkman (145 OPS+)
9. Miggy Cabrera (145 OPS+)
10. Albert Belle (143 OPS+)
Obviously, this list will shift a bit — Berkman is entering the decline phase of his career now, Miggy will likely win an award at some point, etc. But I hope you noticed that three of the best hitters to never win an MVP — Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Albert Belle — were all drafted and developed by the Cleveland Indians of the 1990s. No point except to say that’s pretty amazing. Between 1987 and 1995, the Indians had a knack for drafting hitters who would go on to distinguished — if not better than distinguished — big league careers.
Cleveland picks between 1987-1995 who got at least 3,000 plate appearances:
Albert Belle: 2nd round, 1987 draft
Jim Thome: 13th round, 1989 draft
Brian Giles: 17th round, 1989 draft
David Bell: 7th round, 1990 draft
Manny Ramirez: 1st round, 1991 draft
Richie Sexson: 24th round, 1993 draft
Dave Roberts: 47th round, 1993 draft
Russell Branyan: 7th round, 1994 draft
Sean Casey: 2nd round, 1995 draft
Over the same period of time, the hitters drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates who got 3,000 PAs:
Mickey Morandini, 7th round, 1987
Kevin Young, 7th round, 1990
Tony Womack, 7th round, 1991
Jason Kendall, 1st round, 1992
— Mariano Rivera
I appreciate that Mariano Rivera might be good forever. It’s looking more and more that way. The beautiful thing about Rivera is that it’s not like he’s staying unnaturally young. No, he’s clearly getting older. He’s balding. He’s getting more wrinkles. His cutter is clearly losing some steam. In 2010, his strikeouts were way down, his walks were up a tick. And it STILL DOESN’T MATTER. The guy is as unhittable as ever — two home runs all year, another flawless playoffs, the second lowest WHIP of his career. Remarkable.
But if that “It Happens Every Spring” juice ever wears off … I’ve got to believe at some point the Yankees are going to make a serious run at Kansas City’s Joakim Soria. In 2010, Soria had another Rivera-like year — 43 saves, 1.78 ERA, 71-to-16 strikeout to walk, 4 home runs allowed and so on. He looks like Rivera when he pitches. He seems entirely unflappable (which in Kansas City is revealed by how well he handles playing on a terrible team that can go weeks without giving him a save opportunity). For a Yankees team that has for 15 years has built much of its plan for winning around the closer — and with the collapse of Joba Chamberlain — I have to believe Joakim Soria looks really, really, really important to folks in New York.
Soria told the Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton that he likes Kansas City, wants to stay, believes in the Royals’ plan for winning, which is good to hear. The Royals do have perhaps the most promising minor league system in baseball at the moment, and if they can finish off the development of exciting players like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Aaron Crow, Tim Melville, Christian Colon and so on, yes, the future, finally, might arrive.
Thing is, I’m not saying the Royals should trade Soria. I’m saying that the Yankees should come after him. That’s a different thing.
— Trevor Hoffman
He may retire this off-season — I expect he will. The Brewers just declined his option.
— Chipper Jones
Chipper is so underrated that I completely overlooked him the first time I did the list. He scores a 107. I also think he’s a Hall of Fame slam dunk.
OK, so that’s all. You will notice that there are some fairly big names not on the list — I would say the biggest are Pudge Rodriguez (99), Todd Helton (92), Jim Thome (91), Miguel Tejada (83), Andy Pettitte (53), Roy Halladay (52) and Omar Vizquel (48). I tend to think Pudge and Thome are in right now and Helton is awfully close. Halladay just has to finish out his career — he’s only 33. Vizquel is a fascinating subject, and one that we can go into another time.
Before moving on, I will point out something interesting — six different everyday players born in 1968 are qualified Hall of Famers by Bill’s system. They are: Frank Thomas (121); Mike Piazza (120); Jeff Bagwell (107); Robbie Alomar (105); Gary Sheffield (101) and Sammy Sosa (100). An interesting group, isn’t it? Just after those definites, you have serious Hall of Fame candidate Jeff Kent (77).
I don’t know that all seven will get in — there are obviously other considerations. But there has not been a birth year like it in more than 100 years. Take a look at the biggest years (this is only for everyday players, not pitchers — I’ll explain why in a minute):
1934 (4): Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente, Luis Aparicio.
1931 (4): Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews.
1954 (3): Andre Dawson, Ozzie Smith, Gary Carter.
1918 (3): Ted Williams, Pee Wee Reese, Bobby Doerr.
Now, 1903 has a remarkable number of Hall of Famers — Paul Waner, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Mickey Cochrane, Chick Hafey and Travis Jackson. That’s seven. But that’s a LONG time ago. So what why was 1968 such a big Hall of Fame birth year? Of course, there’s just pure chance which is usually your best bet. But the other thing is that all of them came of age EXACTLY when the offensive explosion hit baseball.
Now look at players born to peak in the low-hitting 1970s — say 1951. Dave Winfield is in the Hall. But Dwight Evans, Dave Parker, Buddy Bell, Cesar Cedeno, Bill Madlock — these were big-time players. None of them are in the Hall of Fame, and I suspect none of them will go. What would have happened had THEY been born in 1968? Would we think of them the way we think of the ’68 group?
Next: Pro Football Sure Hall of Famers