Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mad About Vlad For Hall Of Fame ... Plus: 'Roidz Boyz' Bonds & Clemens

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Even with increasing reliance on advanced statistics and technology, Major League Baseball often lives in the past. And that's usually grand, as I'm a 50-something guy with fond memories of eons gone by. Indisputable evidence of the old-schoolness of the game: The Baseball Writers Association of America only accepts Hall of Fame ballots sent via U.S. mail. That's right: No email, no faxes. 

What? They couldn't work out a deal with the Pony Express? Carrier pigeons are on strike?

As a 30-year BBWAA member and a 20-year Hall voter, I dutifully dropped my 2017 ballot in the mail this week, thereby beating the mandate that it be postmarked by Dec. 31. When's the last time you actually mailed something that required it be postmarked by a certain date? For me, it was last year's Hall ballot!

Of course, by necessity, the process of Hall voting also embraces the past. We voters were tasked with analyzing the records of ballplayers who have been out of the game for at least five years. And in the case of the two biggest names on the ballot - Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens - they have been retired for a full decade.

This year, for the first time, the Roidz Boyz got my vote.

Like 99% of intelligent baseball observers, I have no doubt that Bonds and Clemens were big-time juicers. I also have no doubt they were Hall-caliber players. I fully understand and respect why some of (maybe even the majority of) my voting colleagues will continue to ignore the Roidz Boyz. But for me, it's time.

Two years ago in The Baldest Truth, I explained my then-new policy for Steroid Era candidates:


1. If a player is the subject of completely unsubstantiated rumors (think Frank Thomas, who some thought "must be on steroids because he's so big"), I will tune out the noise and consider him as early as his first year on the ballot.
2. If a player is the subject of steroid whispers that conceivably might have merit (think Mike Piazza), I will not consider him as a first-ballot candidate to see if any new information gets fleshed out. If, after a year of additional scrutiny no new information is presented, I will consider him beginning in his second year on the ballot.
3. If a player likely was a steroid cheat but all available evidence showed that he had a Hall-worthy body of work before the juicing began (think Bonds and Clemens), I will consider him but only beginning with his fifth year on the ballot. I want to allow plenty of time before checking that box.
4. If I am convinced that a player could not have compiled his seemingly Hall-worthy stats without him having been a rampant juicer (think Mark McGwire), I will not vote for him because his entire career is a sham.

Simply stated, Bonds and Clemens were two of the best players I saw during my long career as a baseball reporter and columnist. That was the case even before they reportedly started taking steroids. Furthermore, for what it's worth, both have been publicly exonerated - Bonds by the courts and Clemens by Congress.

I suppose I could invoke the "character" clause to keep them off of my ballot. And again, I don't blame others who do just that. But lots of racists and drunks and scoundrels and druggies and cheaters and criminals have been enshrined. Should Cooperstown kick out Ty Cobb? Babe Ruth? Gaylord Perry? The dozens upon dozens of players who practically lived on greenies?

While the Roidz Boyz finally get my votes, a few other tainted former stars do not. I firmly believe that neither Sammy Sosa nor Gary Sheffield would have had Hall-worthy numbers had they not used their tushies like pincushions. As a bonus, Sammy also got caught corking his bat. Cheater, cheater, Flintstones Vitamins eater!

As ballot newcomers, Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez fall under Rule 2 above. Pudge was the best catcher I've seen and I'll consider him more thoroughly next year. I'm less excited about Manny's candidacy.

Before I reveal all of my choices, let me explain the reasons I didn't check the boxes next to a few other Hall candidates ...

Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, Billy Wagner. Because the save is one of the most overrated statistics in the sport, it's not easy for a reliever to get my vote. He had to have been a transcendent figure (like Mariano Rivera), and/or had to have been a good starter at one point in his career (like John Smoltz), and/or had to have regularly recorded multiple-inning saves (like Rollie Fingers). None of the current candidates met any of those requirements. Hoffman has a decent shot at getting in this year, and I don't begrudge him the honor. This is Smith's last year on the ballot and he probably will fall well short. Wagner has only a slightly better chance at being a Hall of Famer than Joe Borowski does.

Jorge Posada. He was a leader and a winner for the Yankees, but he just doesn't have the stats. Other fine players who don't quite have HoF numbers include Jeff Kent, Derrek Lee, Magglio Ordonez and Larry Walker.

Edgar Martinez. Of those who didn't get my vote, he was the toughest omission because he was a heck of a hitter. However ...

His "similarity scores" on BaseballReference.com compare him to Will Clark, John Olerud, Moises Alou, Magglio Ordonez, Bob Johnson, Matt Holliday, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Lance Berkman and Ellis Burks. Those guys also were outstanding hitters, but there isn't a Hall of Famer in the bunch. I am willing to vote for a DH (as I showed with my first-ballot vote for Frank Thomas), but Thomas' numbers were considerably better than Martinez's. Edgar never won a pennant and only once did he finish in the top 5 in MVP voting. Mostly, his career stats just aren't strong enough for me; he doesn't rank in the top 120 in HR, RBI or WAR. 

So here are the 7 players who received my check marks on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot:

Jeff Bagwell

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Vladimir Guerrero

Mike Mussina

Tim Raines

Curt Schilling

I already have talked about Bonds and Clemens. Bagwell, Mussina, Raines and Schilling are repeat selections for me, and I discussed them in detail in my Dec. 24, 2013 post. (Read It.) This is Raines' final season on the ballot and he came pretty close last year, so I hope one of his generation's best table-setters gets in at the final buzzer.

Which brings me to Vlad the Impaler ...

After the ballot was released publicly, my son called to talk about a few of the new candidates. "How about Vlad Guerrero?" My knee-jerk reaction: "Maybe, but I kinda doubt it." That's usually my initial reaction unless a guy is an absolute lock, such as Ken Griffey Jr. last year. It's the classic, instant "does he feel like a Hall of Famer" feeling. After I look into the numbers more, though, a candidate's case sometimes becomes more compelling. Such was the case with Vlad.

For example, I always thought of him as a free swinger who struck out a lot. Well, he was a free swinger ... but he never struck out even 100 times in any season and he fanned significantly less often than all 10 of his BaseballReference.com "similars" - including Hall of Famers Willie Stargell, Jim Rice, Billy Williams and Duke Snider. Meanwhile, his on-base percentage was better than the first three and only .001 lower than Duke's. His .931 OPS ranks 34th all-time.

His 449 HR (38th most in history) are the exact same as Bagwell's total and more than the totals of Rice, Williams and Stargell. His 1,496 RBI put him ahead of Rice, Williams and Snider. Guerrero played 16 seasons - the same as Rice, fewer than his other comparables and one more than Bagwell.  - and he didn't go long past his prime. 

In 2010, his next-to-last season, the 35-year-old Guerrero batted .300 with 29 HR, 115 RBI and an .841 OPS to help the Texas Rangers reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. He was 11th in MVP voting - the eighth time he finished at least that high. He won the award in 2004 with the Angels and had four other top-6 finishes (two with the Expos, two with the Angels).

Those who say that he was an error-prone (albeit strong-armed) right fielder and that his career batting stats make him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate ... I can't argue too strongly with them. 

It says here, however, that his statistics give him a solid HoF resume - and drop him on the right side of the border. 

Vlad Guerrero gets my check mark, and I will be very curious to see how my BBWAA peers treat him.
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5 comments:

  1. Mike - you need to read this article, because you're doing a giant disservice by comparing Edgar using a website's "similarity score" feature...

    http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/12/06/jaws-2017-hall-of-fame-ballot-edgar-martinez?xid=socialflow_twitter_si

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  2. Using "similarity scores" from BasballReference.com is weak!!! Mariano Rivera has often said Edgar is the toughest batter he has ever seen. And if it was such a tough decision why didn't you just use one of your 3 remaining votes.

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  3. Ugh! A HUGE swing and a miss on Edgar!

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  4. Thanks for reading, Edgar fans. Given that he hasn't even come close to receiving votes from 50% of the electorate, I don't think I'm exactly a lone wolf on this one. He is lucky to have you as loyal fans.

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    1. AS you can see from Ryan Thibodaux's HOF tracking page, Edgar is currently garnering over 66% of the votes. That is almost certainly attributable in part to the realization that David Ortiz's numbers are inferior to Edgar's, that Ortiz played a higher percentage of his career at DH, and that Ortiz is being widely characterized as a HOF sure thing. It would be a sin against the baseball gods if Ortiz makes the HOF and Edgar is left out in the cold. Take a close look at the article cited above. It is compelling. You have two more years to correct the mistake. http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/12/06/jaws-2017-hall-of-fame-ballot-edgar-martinez?xid=socialflow_twitter_si

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