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A look at the first-timers on the Hall ballot

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Most of these are great players who have no chance, but I wanted to write about them

NLCS - St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game Four Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It’s late Sunday night, and I’m starved for ideas, and there’s an obvious idea just sitting there, just waiting to be written about and I’m going to take it. Blame J.P. for his post on Rolen being obviously a Hall of Famer if you object. But I just want to take a look at the people who may be overlooked on the ballot - the first-timers. Some first-timers will not be overlooked, but most will.

To be on the Hall of Fame ballot at all, you probably had to have been a great player at least once. It’s not always true, but it’s usually true. To last 10 years in the big leagues is a difficult thing and the easiest way to last ten years is to be great for some period of time.

Carl Crawford

Crawford was actually well on his way to the Hall of Fame, or at least on a Hall of Fame pace, coming off a 7.7 fWAR season and signing a 7 year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox entering his age 29 season. He had 36.2 career fWAR, and five seasons of at least 4.7 fWAR. And then... he collapsed. His 2011 was a disaster and his 2012 was mostly missed due to his injury. He rebounded with two good seasons as a not quite full-time player with the Dodgers, but his career ended at 34. He fell fast.

Prince Fielder

I can’t quite say the same about Fielder. Still just 37-years-old on this very day (yes, 37), Fielder’s career sadly ended prematurely to multiple neck surgeries. It’s difficult to say how much of his play was affected prior to his injury -certainly his 2014 and 2016 seasons were, but I can’t say it’s likely the cause of his drop from a 5 WAR player to a 2.7 WAR player from 2012 to 2013. So he was probably not headed to the Hall. But a great career that ended too soon.

Ryan Howard

Some point to Howard’s unfortunate injury ending the 2011 NLDS as the ending of the Phillies dynasty (if it can be called that). Implicit in that narrative is that it also ended Howard.... but Howard wasn’t very good before the injury, contrary to popular belief. Howard’s peak was quite short, shorter than you probably remember. He has the distinction of winning the NL MVP over the vastly superior season of Albert Pujols in 2006.

Tim Lincecum

Speaking of short peaks, it don’t get much shorter than Lincecum. Standing at 5’11 (allegedly), Lincecum had a very distinctive and deceptive delivery that allowed him to briefly dominate the National League. He won back-to-back Cy Young awards at 24 and 25 and managed three other seasons with at least 3 WAR. Despite the concern that his delivery would lead to injuries, his decline saw him still start 33, 32, and 26 starts following that peak. He just wasn’t very good.

Justin Morneau

Morneau is a player I would have guessed retired much earlier than 2015 and that he was older than 40-years-old, because he played like an older player in his early 30s. His career was humming along just fine when in 2010, while posting a 5 fWAR season in just 81 games, he suffered a concussion that knocked him out for the rest of the year. Various injuries, including a recurrence of concussion symptoms, limited him to just 69 games in 2011. With 17.6 WAR from age 25 to age 29, he managed just 3.9 fWAR from age 30 onward, with a slight resurgence for one year as the Rockies’ starting 1B in 2014.

Joe Nathan

Nathan has a legit case for the Hall, though he would not get my vote. I’m a grumpy old man above relievers for the record. He made six All-Star teams and got top 5 Cy Young votes as a closer twice. He also got MVP votes in the two years he got Cy Young votes, which is just insane, but it happened. Anyway, I’m not sure he has a great case - he has less saves than Billy Wagner who can’t get in and he’s right above Craig Kimbrel (who will pass him) and Jonathan Papelbon. The WAR totals are the WAR totals, but I remember when Trevor Hoffman pitched and at least he felt like a Hall of Famer. These guys do not.

David Ortiz

If you were wondering, in 85 games in the postseason, Ortiz was essentially the same player as he was in the regular season - 140 wRC+ in the regular season, 144 in the postseason. Not a huge difference. I did the math. If you apply the same WAR per PA to his postseason plate appearances, he was worth 1.9 WAR in the postseason - multiply that however you see fit for his WAR candidacy. With 51 career WAR and three seasons with 5+ WAR, there’s no multiplier that makes me vote him in. It’s absolutely ridiculous he’ll get in first ballot while it took Edgar Martinez 10 tries.

Jonathan Papelbon

The typical Hall of Fame career starts at around age 20 or 21. You may or may not be surprised at how difficult it is to make the Hall of Fame if you don’t debut very young. Papelbon debuted at 24 for a half season and his last season was at 35. Again, I’m going to be an old man about this. He’s not close to a Hall of Famer. Even if you’re a reliever believer, he didn’t have a long enough period. And actually this is true of Nathan too, whose case for the Hall really didn’t start until he was 28. The WAR aspect is certainly not: he has 23.3 bWAR, which is certainly not easy to do as a reliever-only guy but is certainly too achievable in my opinion to be Hall of Fame worthy.

Jake Peavy

Injuries, injuries, injuries. The greatest blocker of a Hall of Fame pitching career . With 43.7 career fWAR, he played in 16, 17, and 18 games in his age 28, 29 and age 30 seasons. He posted a 3.6 WAR season (missing 5+ starts) the year before, and a 4.3 WAR season the year after. He still managed 7.3 fWAR in those three seasons. He still probably falls short because his career ended at age 35, but without injuries, he’s closer than you think.

AJ Pierzynski

Well, I can safely say that I did not think Pierzynski was a Hall of Famer, but I did not realize how thoroughly mediocre his career was. In the grand scheme of guys trying to make it of course, it’s not. But he had just five seasons with 2+ fWAR and he was arguably a full-time starter for 13 seasons. He had two seasons with 3+ fWAR, separated by nearly a decade, at age 26 and 35. He was very durable though, playing in at least 128 games in 12 of those 13 seasons (with the notable exception being his breakthrough year, at age 24, so he probably could have made the additional 14 starts if they played him.)

Alex Rodriguez

Well, with Rodriguez, it’s very, very simple. Do you vote for people who have taken performance-enhancing drugs, or do you not? There is no debate for his candidacy if you take steroids out of the question. 113.7 career fWAR, an astounding SIX seasons with at least 9 fWAR, an additional three other seasons above 5 WAR, and yet another five additional seasons with at least 4 fWAR. It’s simply no contest.

I can definitely see an argument for Rodriguez that I don’t really see with Bonds (or players of his era) with regards to voting no. He got caught well after it was well-established what the consequences were. Bonds took them when it seemed like everyone was taking them and players had been taking PEDs, such as greenies, since the 1960s, without consequence.

Here’s one possible solution, and this may very well be a little too mean or dark: wait until he dies. That is my solution with Curt Schilling and Pete Rose. They get punished while they’re alive, the history of baseball still recognizes the greatest players who played the game. (I am glad Cap Anson wasn’t alive to see himself voted into the Hall) Or you could believe he should just be voted in now.

Jimmy Rollins

Rollins is a good example of just how hard it is to make the Hall of Fame. He debuted at 21-years-old, which is a good first step. From age 24 to age 33, he never had a bad year, and sprinkled in four seasons of at least 4.7 fWAR. He fell off the next year, but bounced back with a 3.8 WAR season at 35. And... he’s not really even close! Despite debuting so young, he didn’t have his first great season until 25 and he’s another player who stopped providing any value past age 35. But he was an above average player flirting with being great for a long time, and he’s not particularly close to the Hall.

Mark Teixeira

Do you know what Mark’s walk-up song should have been - and I’ll be delighted if it was: E.I. by Nelly. The chorus specifically. It functions as a tutorial on how to spell his name. Man this ballot is stuffed full of 1Bs who had short peaks. And actually his peak wasn’t all that short. He just had no longevity whatsoever. He had 37.9 fWAR from age 24 to age 31. He then had two 2+ fWAR seasons after that. He played in just 15 games during his age 32 season, was barely above replacement level in another and was -1 fWAR in his last season.

Huh. I just realized I made the case for... none of these guys to make the Hall. I may save my actual ballot for another post. Scott Rolen is a resounding hell yes on my ballot though, no need for suspense on that. Some hot takes in here, huh? Well, wasn’t really trying to start anything, just hope this sparks some discussion.