After the Baseball Hall of Fame inductees were announced yesterday, I enjoyed getting to see some of the inductees be interviewed. John Smoltz looks almost exactly like he did 15 years ago! Randy Johnson was an intense interview, at times, but also showed an affable side of himself that few people got to see when he was on the field. Pedro was simply hilarious. But, what I really wanted to write about is some of the great things that happened with this Hall of Fame voting, as well as some terrible things that happened in this voting. So, which do you want first? The good news or the bad news? I always like saving the best for last, so let’s get the gripes out of the way…
#1 – Craig Biggio
Oh the ways I could count my dissatisfaction with those who believe 3,000 hits to be a magical number. If Biggio hadn’t hung around for one last season to hit .250 at the age of 41 with a sub-.700 OPS (which would only be allowed by a team clearly headed in the wrong direction, but hoped to sell seats anyway), he wouldn’t even be in the discussion. The Hall of Fame is for the elite. It’s for all-time great baseball players. So, let’s look at Biggio’s career: .281 batter – good, not great; .796 OPS – good, not great; 414 stolen bases (averaging just over 20 per season – ranking behind Bobby Bonds and Steve Sax, who each played at least 5 fewer seasons) – good, not great; Fielding Pct. at 2B (his primary position) – .984 (not once leading the league) – good, not great; .363 OBP (ranks all-time right behind the likes of Ellis Burks, Trot Nixon and Gary Matthews) – good, not great. Of everyone in the 3,000 hit club, only Ripken and Rickey Henderson have worse career batting averages than Biggio – and, I’m pretty sure they were going into the HOF regardless of whether or not they hit 3,000. Biggio has nothing on his resume outside of the accumulation of 3,000 hits over 20 seasons to even suggest he was a great player. Voting for Biggio over the likes of Bagwell or Sheffield makes absolutely no sense. Disappointed that the Hall of Fame elected a member of the “Hall of Above Average”.
#2 – One and Done
I really feel sorry for one of the guys that appeared on the ballot just this one time, and is already off of any future ballots because he didn’t get the mandatory 5%. The Hall of Fame has done an injustice to a number of players by putting two new restrictions on the voters – 10 years max a player can stay on the ballot, and no voter can vote for more than 10 players. This caused too many voters to have to get creative or strategic with their voting. And, that has done irreparable damage to the candidacy of Carlos Delgado. I’m not saying Delgado should absolutely be in the HOF. But, his resume is at least as good as Biggio’s. If he had decided to stick around for a couple more years just to accumulate stats (*cough, cough, Biggio*), he would have easily surpassed 500 home runs. As it is, after retiring at the age of 37, Delgado had accumulated 473 HR (35 per year in his 13 full seasons), 1,512 RBI (more than Mantle), and a career .929 OPS (same as Hank Aaron). Ten consecutive 30-HR seasons, eight of which included 100+ RBI. He ranks 23rd in the history of baseball in AB per HR – 15.4. No connections to steroids, to my knowledge, and yet, because he played in an era when so many were taking advantage of that opportunity, his stats don’t blow people away. He deserved far more consideration than he received.
#3 – Lee Smith
30%? Thirteen years on the ballot – which is one less than the number of years he held the all-time saves record – and all he’s getting is 30.2%? While I can’t point to a single thing about Biggio that suggests he was dominant or feared in any way as a player – the complete opposite is true of Smith. He was one of, if not the most dominant closer of his era. He saved 478 games (3rd all-time – and more than any closer currently in the HOF), while leading the league 4 times, and finishing in the top 3 another 5. He finished 802 games (also 3rd all-time). His K/9 ratio of 8.73 for his career is better than any closer in the HOF. His career 132 ERA+ only trails Sutter among HOF closers. He was a 7-time All-Star, as a closer, and finished in the top-5 in Cy Young voting three times. Who knows how many more opportunities (and respect) he would have been given, if he had played on more than just two playoff teams in 18 seasons.
#1 – Pitching
On the last two HOF ballots, 5 pitchers have been elected. That’s unprecedented. What’s even more impressive, is that all 5 of them got in on their first ballot! Fifteen Cy Young awards, 1,395 wins (including three 300-game winners), and over 17,000 strikeouts (all five rank in the top-25 all-time). I hope we recognize how privileged we have been to watch some of the greatest pitching in the history of the game over the last two decades.
There are two names that I keep hearing a lot of analysts throw around as if they are clear-cut HOFers, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. The reason this is under the “applause” category? The HOF voters are getting it right. Larry Walker and Jeff Kent received 11.8% and 14.0% of the vote, respectively. That tells me that the HOF voters understand that there are two very important facts influencing some of the stats that these two players put together (though, their stats aren’t actually HOF type stats to begin with, in my opinion). In Walker’s case, there is no denying how much the move to the thin air in Colorado helped his career. Prior to that move, he was a career .281 batter, had never hit more than 23 HR’s in a season, and only had one season with a .900+ OPS. Then, he moved to Colorado – at the age of 28, which means he should have only had probably 2-4 more peak years left – and, he’s suddenly crushing the ball with every swing. From his age-28 season through his age-35 season, he was a .341 batter, averaging 30 HR per season, and a 1.062 OPS. But, over the course of that same period, there is an average difference of about 200 points in his home OPS and his away OPS. Walker wasn’t a bad player – he was very good. But, not HOF worthy. The same can be said of Kent, but for a very different reason. Kent was a left-fielder playing second base. He led the league in errors four times, and averaged double-digit errors at 2B for his career. Yet, many pundits want to prop up Kent as one of the best second basemen of all time. Let’s remove the fact that he never started producing offensively until he was batting in front of Barry Bonds, and just look at a similar comparison: Alfonso Soriano. Soriano was also a bad fielder at 2B, which is why he eventually had to move to LF. In his 13 primary seasons (assuming his 67 games last season were likely his last), Soriano accumulated 403 HR’s (Kent – 377 in 17 seasons), averaged 157 hits per season (Kent – 144), 22 SB per season (Kent – 6), a .273 average (Kent – .290), and an .827 OPS (Kent – .855). Even if he had remained at second base, is anyone going to consider Soriano bound for the HOF?? I can’t imagine why they would. Kent was a good (not great) player, who happened to play at a frequently weak position.
#3 – Movin’ On Up
While I am confused by the lack of support for both Tim Raines and Curt Schilling, they both made significant strides this year. Raines increased to 55% of the ballot (a 9% increase over last year), and Schilling improved to 39% (a 10% increase). Raines is arguably the second-greatest lead-off hitter in the history of the game (808 SB – 5th most in history; .385 career OBP – better than Mays; a career .294 average). And, Schilling is at least among the 2-3 greatest postseason pitchers of all time (11-2, 2.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP in 19 starts), on top of some great career regular-season stats (3,116 K’s – 15th all-time; 4.38 K/BB ratio – 2nd all-time; 1.14 career WHIP). The good news for players like Raines & Schilling, is that over the next 3 years, there are only two clear-cut HOFers that will show up on the ballot (Griffey in ’16, and Chipper in ’18), which will likely clear the way for some who deserve more respect.
That’s my review of this year’s HOF voting. Next year we’ll see Griffey get in, but who will join him? Piazza? Bagwell? Mussina? There’s one thing we know for sure: the debate will be endless.