The day is finally upon us! At 5 p.m. Central Time today the 2019 National Baseball Hall of Fame class will be announced, and, at least until next winter’s news cycle, debates over whether or not to enshrine players implicated in PED scandals or how to untangle the clutter of apples-to-oranges comparisons further down the ballot will subside.
Setting online discourse regarding Cooperstown aside for a moment, it appears that Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, and Edgar Martinez are all well-positioned to secure 75% support with Mike Mussina the only other candidate who stands a reasonable chance at induction according to Ryan Thibodaux’s invaluable ballot tracker.
Per Thibodaux’s collection of 201 official BBWAA ballots, only New York Post columnist Ken Davidoff shares an identical ballot to mine. (Though coincidentally enough, VEB overlord-emeritus Craig Edwards also voted for the exact same names.) Seeing as our permutation of selections falls in the vast minority, I figured I would explain my own thought process behind the following ballot.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
For me, Bonds and Clemens are one and the same when it comes to their Hall of Fame candidacies. You don’t need me to tell you that both are among the most dominant players in baseball history by any statistical measure, but their résumés are tainted by PED suspicions. Why, however, should they as individuals be punished for the systemic failure that is MLB’s response to steroid use? The league dropped the proverbial ball by not adequately enforcing a policy to deter rampant PED consumption, but why should voters retroactively apply a moral standard that baseball itself didn’t during their careers? It’s not as if there isn’t a precedent for cheaters entering the Hall, either. The walls of Cooperstown contain the faces of amphetamine users, for example, but why do steroids cross the arbitrary bright line for competitive integrity? Finally, and I would argue most importantly, the Hall of Fame is above all else a history museum for the game of baseball. The “Steroid Era” may forever be a scar on baseball’s history that it would rather sweep under the rug, but the significance of the captivating, record-setting performances that occurred during this era should be acknowledged and treated as such.
The only real question surrounding Rivera, currently a perfect 201-for-201 on Thibodaux’s tracker, is whether or not he can make history by becoming the first player to receive unanimous Hall of Fame support. Between people who may leave Rivera off their ballot as a tactic to clear space for other players who aren’t locks for induction, consider all who played during the Steroid Era as guilty until proven innocent, or simply don’t believe that any player deserves 100% of the vote, my assumption is that at least one voter will omit Rivera, but he is as good a candidate as any to top Ken Griffey Jr.’s record 99.32% share of the electorate. Rivera epitomized both on-field dominance and commendable character, making the greatest reliever of all time a no-brainer pick.
Mussina is one of only 18 pitchers in baseball history to surpass 80 WAR as calculated by both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. Among pitchers with at 3,500 career innings, he ranks 19th and 7th, respectively, in ERA and FIP adjusted for the run environment that they pitched in. Even with the stringent standards for starting pitchers, Mussina’s 63.8 JAWS rating, a metric created by Jay Jaffe that averages a player’s career and seven-year peak WAR totals, is two points above the norm for starters already in the Hall of Fame. Me may end up just shy of 75% this year, but in only his sixth year on the ballot, Mussina is well on his way to an eventual spot in Cooperstown.
Halladay may not have the longevity of a typical Hall of Famer, but I make the case that the current JAWS benchmarks for starting pitchers are skewed by pitchers of past eras who were able to rack up more counting stats in a greater amount of innings than starters log nowadays. Simply put, Roy Holladay was the most dominant pitcher of his time. From 2002 to 2011, to closest hurler to his 58.7 fWAR was CC Sabathia at 49.5. He exhibited sterling command with a career walk rate of just 5.2%, and ranks 18th and 9th all-time in ERA- and FIP- among pitchers with at least 2,500 career frames of work. 92.5% of ballots on Thibodaux’s tracker listed Halladay, and the late ace seems destined to posthumously solidify his status among baseball’s elite arms.
It’s make or break time for Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame hopes as he enters his 10th and final year of ballot eligibility. He exceeds 65 lifetime bWAR and fWAR in addition to checking in at 19th in wRC+ and 12th in OBP (minimum 8,000 plate appearances). While he may not have posted eye-popping baseball card stats (see: “only” 309 career home runs and 2,247 hits), 514 doubles and a 14.8%/13.9% walk/strikeout rate amount to a level of production that compensates for a lack of defense value for a man who primarily spent his playing days at designated hitter.
Let me establish right off the bat that my support for Curt Schilling the Hall of Fame baseball player is in no way, shape, or form my endorsement for Curt Schilling the disgusting human being. It’s not just that he is conservative and I–surprise!–land well left of center politically, but I think I speak for most when I say that bigotry and pro-lynching rhetoric should not be tolerated. That said, there is no deny Schilling’s impressive accomplishments on the mound. The only pitchers with more bWAR than Schilling that aren’t already in the Hall are Clemens and Mussina while only Jim McCormick outdoes Schilling in JAWS among non-Hall hurlers. While I would have absolutely no desire to watch his induction speech, Schilling has assembled a statistically-sound Hall of Fame case for himself.
The only non-inductee third baseman who Rolen trails in terms of career bWAR and JAWS? Adrian Beltre. He ranks 18th all-time at third base in offensive value and fifth in defensive value to form an all-around candidacy that, while maybe not that of an “inner-circle” Hall of Famer, clears the bar both with his overall track record and peak performance during his heyday.
Looking at career bWAR, seven-year peak WAR, and JAWS, every single right-fielder ahead of Walker has already been enshrined in Cooperstown. Yes, Walker took 31.1% of his plate appearances at Coors Field, but among hitters who tallied 8,000 trips to the plate, Walker’s 140 wRC+–which adjusts for his era and ballpark–is 36th best among all players at any position. FanGraphs also considers Walker an above-average fielder and baserunner to pair with his premier bat, but as he is all but certain to miss the Hall this year, it would be a real shame if the voters don’t give him due in his 10th year on the ballot next winter.
At this point, I would have liked to fit Jones, Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton, and Billy Wagner onto my ballot, but BBWAA rules only allow me to select a maximum of 10 players. Wagner is at the disadvantage of having his cumulative value handicapped as a relief pitcher while Helton has the lowest WAR and JAWS of the three position players, leaving Jones and Ramirez vying for the final spot on my ballot. Although they accumulated value in vastly different manners, the two were virtually identical in total value produced with one major caveat...it took Ramirez 2,175 more plate appearances to do so. It’s a far from perfect number, FanGraphs’ defensive runs above average metric pegs Jones as the most valuable defensive outfielder in baseball history by a considerable margin while he also launched 434 home runs and above-average production at the plate. The only position player on the ballot with a superior seven-year peak to Jones is Bonds, helping the former overcome a fairly short career by Hall of Fame standards. Most of all, what also drove my decision to side with Jones is the fact that he is in far greater need of voter support than any of the other players I considered. All four are mathematically eliminated from reaching 75%, but only Jones, sitting at just 8.5% on Thibodaux’s tracker, is still in danger of falling off the ballot entirely should he poll under 5%.
So there is my 10, in no particular order: Bonds, Clemens, Rivera, Mussina, Halladay, Martinez, Schilling, Rolen, Walker, and Jones. What say you about my choices?