I think of the Hall of Fame much like the Electoral College - a deeply flawed system, but the one we are stuck with. Also like politics, the question of who deserves to win and who the system will actually elect are very different.
So setting aside who the best players actually were, I wondered which former Cardinal is most likely to be the next through the muddy, choked, moralizing system that is the BBWAA's Hall of Fame voting process.
His Cardinals career was brief, but they were memorable teams, so Walker rises just above the "John Smoltz Only Technically a Cardinal" line. Walker earned 20% of the vote in his first year on the ballot, which historically would suggest only a 50% chance of induction, and even then by the Veteran's Committee. But his vote totals have plummeted recently as the ballot has become more of a logjam.
Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which is based on a players career WAR and 7-year peak WAR, rates him as the 10th best Right Fielder of all time. All of those above him on that list are in, as are 15 below him. Among the soft factors which JAWS doesn't measure, Walker never won a championship, but did win an MVP award.
Larry Walker is not in any "greatest of all-time" conversations, but he's comfortably above the standard for a HOFer. I think his years at Coors Field have hurt him among voters who don't understand advanced, park-adjusted stats, and just ascribe some arbitrary overall deduction to his quality.
HOF prediction: Some future Veterans Committee elects him, but not until maybe 2030
Jimmy Ballgame's Hall credentials have been championed around these parts, perhaps most vehemently by our own Craig Edwards, with many of the best arguments documented at the Edmonds for the Hall Twitter account.
Unfortunately, based on ballots which have been shared publicly, Edmonds may drop off the ballot in this, his very first year of eligibility. That's a damn shame. JAWS rates Edmonds as the 14th best Center Fielder of all-time, and slightly below average for a HOFer at his position. But Center Field is a real mess when it comes to who's gotten in and who hasn't.
HOF prediction: Likely will have to settle for the Cardinals' Hall and being very, very handsome.
JAWS rates Rolen as the 10th-best Third Basemen of all-time, slightly above-average for Hall of Famers at the position. But when he becomes eligible in 2018, he will be playing second-fiddle to fellow first-timer Chipper Jones.
I just feel like Rolen is the type of guy who will get passed over when it comes to HOF voting. His resume on paper is solid, but he's really lacking when it comes to those soft factors. He split his career (primarily) amongst three cities, making an acrimonious departure from each.
HOF prediction: One of those guys who never gets in, but people point to as better than some who do.
Like Walker, Beltran's two-year tour of duty with El Birdos may not be enough to brand him in your mind as "a Cardinal." Personally, I will always love him for this play, when he called off Jon Jay to make a throw-to-the-plate double play in the NLCS.
JAWS rates Beltran as the 8th best Center Fielder of all-time, and everyone ranked ahead of him is in. That said, he currently rates just a little ahead of Kenny Lofton, who fell immediately off the ballot, and the logjam of players from the PED era will likely still be around when Beltran becomes eligible.
When will Beltran become eligible? It seems likely that he will retire after this season, his last guaranteed with the Yankees. That would put his first year of eligibility at 2022. And with another year on the field, racking up maybe an additional 1.0 WAR, I think he will be voted in, though not on the first ballot.
HOF prediction: Voted in, 2027
Not much to say here. Albert is the one slam-dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famer on this list. JAWS already ranks him as the 2nd best First Basemen of all-time, behind only Lou Gehrig. He's super good at baseball.
Since it's not a question of if, the only question is when. Pujols' contract with the Angels runs through 2021, and I expect he will grind out every day of it.
HOF prediction: Elected on his first ballot, 2027
By JAWS, Molina looks very unlikely to be a Hall of Famer. The system currently ranks him 30th among catchers, below even MMA-enthusiast Russell Martin. Yes, he's got some years left in him to accumulate stats, but by Jaffe's metric, Molina will not amass Hall of Fame value.
When it comes to the soft factors, Molina's resume is much stronger. His reputation as the best defensive catcher of his generation will go a long ways. In fact, because there is more uncertainty about how defensive value is measured for catchers, and HOF Catchers lag far behind any other position in terms of WAR, Molina's reputation will likely close the gap in value from a WAR-only metric like JAWS.
Molina played a key role in two World Series winners (so far), and was the face of a franchise dynasty. These are things that make a difference to Hall of Fame voters.
Yadi's current contract ends after 2018. He will only be 35, but we're talking Catcher 35. I really don't know what to expect after 2018, but for right now, I'm going to assume he retires. That would put him on his first ballot in 2024.
HOF prediction: Voted in, 2026.
Mark McGwire & Lee Smith
Just a quick note on these two former Cardinals, both of whom garnered some significant vote totals during their time on the ballot, but look destined to fall off within the next couple years. Both were initially bolstered by their era, but ultimately lost ground as voters reconsidered those eras.
The obvious knock on McGwire is PEDs, which blunts a raw number like his home run total, which would have been a lock in the past. But advanced stats are not incredibly kind to McGwire and his one-dimensional game. JAWS rates him only the 17th best First Baseman of all-time, below average for a HOFer. Even without the PED moralizing, McGwire's HOF credentials are borderline.
Lee Smith's entire resume was built around the fact that he was the all-time Saves leader. Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera have both blown past his record (each by more than 100), plus voters are becoming more aware that Saves are a garbage stat. JAWS finds him well below the average for relief pitchers.
HOF prediction: Neither will be voted in, with McGwire having only a slim chance on some future veterans committee
The question of who will be the next Cardinal in the Hall of Fame basically comes down to, will anybody be voted in before Albert is elected in 2027? What do you think?