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A Breakdown of the 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The 202 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is very interesting. The one no-doubter is Derek Jeter, but he is far from the only candidate worthy of a Hall of Fame discussion. You have the steroid guys (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc), the one-dimensional guys (Jason Giambi, Omar Vizquel), the short-career guys ( Andruw Jones, Larry Walker), the consistent-but-never-a-superstar guys (Scott Rolen, Jeff Kent), the reliever (Billy Wagner), and, of course, the jerk (Curt Schilling). It’s a ballot filled with stars, but how many are worthy of induction?

First Ballot Players That Have No Chance

Heath Bell: Elite closer from 2009-2011, few good years besides that

Jose Valverde: Another electric and entertaining closer. Led the league in saves three times, but couldn’t sustain his dominance for more than his short peak

J.J Putz: Didn’t become a closer until his age 29 season, but had some good years with the Mariners and Diamondbacks

Brad Penny: Besides his 2006 season where he started the All-Star game and finished third in the Cy Young voting, he didn’t have any standout seasons

Raul Ibanez: Though never a star, Ibanez was solid power hitter for several teams, including the 2008 champion Phillies

Chone Figgins: Was one of the best base stealers of the 2000s. His downfall was that his last even relatively good season came at age 32. 

Carlos Pena: Despite only having a career .232 hitter, Pena had light-tower power and had three straight seasons with over thirty home runs.

Brian Roberts: Doubles machine was unfortunately derailed by a series of serious injuries.

Josh Beckett: Though he will be remembered as one of the best playoff pitchers of all time, Beckett simply didn’t have enough good seasons to obtain votes.

Eric Chavez: One of the best players on the Moneyball A’s, Chavez was a great all-around player in his 20’s before becoming a part-timer in his 30’s. 

Rafael Furcal: Furcal was an elite shortstop through the 2000s, but his last full season came at age 34. 

First Ballot Players Who May Receive Some Votes, But Won’t Receive The 5% Needed to Remain on the Ballot For Next Year.

Adam Dunn: Dunn was on a historic home run pace through his age 30 season. Though he never hit for a high average, led the league in strikeouts three times, and was a trainwreck in the outfield, it wasn’t unreasonable to think he could reach the 600 home run plateau. Then he signed with the Chicago White Sox. His first year there was historically inept: a .159 average with just 11 home runs. Though he rebounded the next season with an All-Star appearance, Dunn was never the same player after moving to the AL. He might generate some votes due to his 462 home runs, but Dunn’s one-dimensional skill set will doom his candidacy.

Paul Konerko: From 2004 to 2006, Konerko was right there among the elite sluggers in the game; averaging 39 home runs and 110 RBIs per year. After a mid-career lull, Konerko rebounded with three straight All-Star appearances in his mid-30s. Konerko was a great hitter and the face of some great White Sox teams, but with a 27.7 WAR that falls well short of Hall of Fame standards, Konerko has no chance.

Cliff Lee: Lee’s call to fame is an elite six-year peak where he posted a 2.89 ERA and finished in the top seven in Cy Young voting four times. Besides that Hall-of-Fame worthy peak, however, Lee was far from elite. In the six years before, Lee was a mid-rotation starter with a 4.62 ERA and in the one year after, he made just 13 starts before calling it a career. To be a Hall of Famer, you need more than six great seasons, and Lee just didn’t pitch long enough to be seriously considered for the Hall of Fame.

Alfonso Soriano: At his peak, Soriano was among the most electric players in baseball, earning one forty home run- forty stolen bases in 2006 and three other thirty-thirty seasons. As he got older, Soriano lost his stolen base ability, but he remained a power threat. The problem with Soriano is that while he was an exceptional power hitter and baserunner, he had obvious holes in his games. He was a notorious free swinger, which prevented him from ever hitting for a high average and kept his career OPS+ (112)  below Hall of Fame standards. He was also a disaster in the field, first at second base and then in left field. All of this leaves him with a measly 28.2 WAR that will doom his candidacy

First Ballot Players Who Have a Chance At Returning to the Ballot Next Year

Bobby Abreu: Bobby Abreu was one of the most underrated players of the 2000s. He was never elite in any phase of the game, but he did everything well. He never hit more than 31 home runs in a season, but he had nine seasons with over 20. He never led the league in stolen bases or average, but he hit over .300 six times and stole over 25 bases eight times. His lack of gaudy numbers may be the reason he only made two all-star teams and never finished in the top ten in the MVP voting. Abreu borders on the line of a great player and a Hall of Fame player. He is not of my ballot this year, but he should remain on the ballot for at least the next few years. 

Jason Giambi: For four years from 1999-2002, Giambi was arguably the best player in baseball. Even at the height of the steroid era, Giambi’s average season numbers during that time ( 39 HR, 126 RBI, .326/.452/.612) stand out. After moving to New York, Giambi lost his ability to hit for average, but he still managed to have four seasons with over thirty home runs. Giambi’s case is also hurt by steroid accusations and his immediate decline after so. Giambi doesn’t have much going in his favor besides his 440 home runs, and that’s simply not good enough by itself to make the Hall of Fame. 

Returning Players I Wouldn’t Vote For

Sammy Sosa, RF, 1989-2007 

Despite his 609 career home runs, Sosa has failed to get above 10% since his first year. Besides his steroid allegations, the numbers show that Sosa was just not that great an all-around player. He was only a .273 career hitter, a below-average defender, and only stole thirty-five bases after “bulking up.” While it’s true that his four straight fifty home run seasons were incredible, there was nothing special about his first eight seasons in which he failed to post an OPS+ over 130. I view Sosa as purely a steroid creation: an all-time great power hitter without enough supporting tools to merit serious Hall of Fame consideration. 

Andy Pettitte, SP, 1995-2013

No manager in baseball wouldn’t want Pettitte in their rotation. He was the model of consistency and durability: In the 14 seasons between 1996 and 2009, Pettitte threw over 200 innings ten times and won over 13 games thirteen times. Pettitte was always a good pitcher, but he was far from a great pitcher. In only four seasons did he have an ERA below 3.5, and he never struck out more than 180 batters. He was only selected to three all-star teams, and though he finished in the top 6 in Cy Young voting five times, that was mainly because he won a lot of games and not that he was a dominant pitcher. He is also overrated as an all-time great postseason pitcher. While it’s true he had some dominant outings, he also had some clunkers that put his postseason ERA at a mediocre 3.81. There’s no denying Pettitte was a key part of the Yankees dynasty, but it’s hard to put someone in the Hall of Fame who was rarely the best pitcher on his team, let alone the league. 

Gary Sheffield, RF, 1988-2009

Sheffield was an intimidating presence in the batter’s box, where his distinct bat-wag and lightning-quick hands were almost as notable as his offensive production. Sheffield had eight seasons with over thirty home runs, five seasons with over a 1.000 OPS, seven seasons with over 100 RBIs, and nine seasons with over a .300 average. Off the field, Sheffield was an equally notable presence, and his tendency to speak his mouth may be the reason he never stayed with a team longer than five seasons. That and his steroid allegations are a large part of the reason he has never gotten above 13.6% of the vote. What’s more important, however, is that he was a horrendous defender. His -195 defensive runs saved are the second-lowest total of all time. This leaves his career WAR of 60.5, well below the average Hall of Fame right fielder standard of 71.5. There is no doubt that Sheffield’s offense is worthy of Cooperstown, but his defense and off-the-field issues keep him from getting my vote this year. 

Omar Vizquel, SS, 1989-2013

Vizquel gets a lot of Hall of Fame love for his defense, and rightly so, as he won eleven Gold Gloves and was 130 runs above average in the field according to baseball-reference. The problem is he really couldn’t do anything else. He was a good base runner, but his 404 stolen bases aren’t outstanding and he got caught stealing more than ten times in a season eight times. Most importantly, he was a terrible hitter. While it’s true that he got nearly 3,000 hits, that’s more a result of playing forever than of elite hitting talent. A career 82 OPS+, or eighteen percent below league average, is more indicative of what kind of hitter he was. He only made three All-Star teams and received MVP votes in one season, and his career WAR was a mediocre 45.6. A hitter of Vizquel’s level has rarely been elected to the Hall of Fame, and Vizquel’s other skills aren’t special enough to make up for that. 

Manny Ramirez, LF, 1993-2011

The list of Manny’s offensive achievements seems endless. He hit over .320 seven times, thirty home runs twelve times and forty home runs five times, had an OPS above 1.000 eight times, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting nine times. His counting numbers (555 home runs, 1831 RBIs) are more than good enough for the Hall of Fame. While it’s true that he was never a good defender, his claim as one of the best right-handed hitters of all time makes up for that. All those numbers, however, become meaningless when you factor in his two PED suspensions. When you get suspended twice, the second of which ended his career, you should not be given the greatest honor a baseball player can receive. 

The Ballot

  1. Derek Jeter, SS, 1995-2014

As Jeter’s career is reassessed during his first year on the ballot, the big debate is around his defense. Well regarded during his playing days, winning five gold gloves, but the reception from the advanced metrics has not been pretty. Fangraphs has him at -19.3 defensive runs saved, though some have him as bad as -240. I tend to agree with the former: Jeter had limited range, but he was far from the worst defensive player of all time. Though his defense has been questioned, there is no debate over whether Jeter is a Hall of Famer. He was the centerpiece of one of the greatest dynasties of all time, a skilled pure hitter who racked up more hits than anyone in the Yankees storied history. There’s nothing more to say about Jeter. He is the epitome of a Hall of Famer, and the only real question is whether he will follow teammate Mariano Rivera last year and become the second player to be elected with 100% of the vote. 

  1. Larry Walker, RF, 1989-2005

The biggest question on this year’s ballot is whether Walker can make the climb from 54.6% to the required 75% in his final year of eligibility. The knocks on Walker are as obvious as they are redundant: He couldn’t stay healthy (One season of over 150 games), he spent the majority of his career calling hitter-friendly Coors Field his home, and his counting numbers (383 home runs, 2160 hits) are low by Hall of Fame standards. Though his shortcomings are obvious, he has been rapidly gaining support because Coors or no Coors, Walker was a tremendous player. In fact, on a rate basis, there are few better in the history of baseball than him. Walker finished with a career .313 average, a number that bests the likes of hitting stars such as Ichiro Suzuki (.312), Derek Jeter (.310), George Brett (.305) and Pete Rose (.303). Not only did Walker possess an average higher than these four all-timers, but he also hit for power. Despite rarely playing a full season, he still finished with four years of over 35 home runs, and on a 162 game average, he hit 31 home runs. 

The best way to measure to Walker’s amazing combination of pure hitting ability and power is through OPS+. OPS+ puts together on-base-percentage and slugging percentage while adjusting for the league-wide offensive production and ballparks, so it accounts for the fact that Walker played most of his career in the steroid era and the most hitter-friendly ballpark in history. Even with all that, Walker’s OPS+ is 141, meaning that over his career, meaning Walker was forty-one percent better than the league average hitter. Here’s a list of players with a lower career OPS+ than Walker:

Alex Rodriguez (140)

Reggie Jackson (139)

Ken Griffey Jr. (136)

Tony Gwynn (132)

Carl Yastrzemski (130)

Sammy Sosa (128)

All these numbers suggest that Walker is not just a Hall of Fame hitter, but one of the best hitters to play the game. Walker was far from just one dimensional-hitter however. He was also an elite defender, possessing 7 gold gloves, and had enough speed to steal 230 bases over his career. While it’s true that Walker lacks the longevity of some of his counterparts, there is no doubt that when he was on the field, he was a Hall of Famer.

  1. Barry Bonds, LF, 1986-2007

As the years go by, I get more and more convinced that Bonds and Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame. It still bothers me that Bonds took steroids and I still hold it against him, but the numbers are just too outstanding to ignore. Bonds significantly altered every game he played in not just with his talent, but because pitchers were so afraid of him. At the height of his powers, Bonds was almost as likely to draw a walk as he was to get out. And yet,  despite rarely getting a pitch to hit, Bonds still managed to hit 200 home runs from 2001-2004. Barry Bonds was the greatest player to ever play the game, both by statistics (record 162.8 WAR) and accolades (7 MVPs, 14-time all-star, 12-time silver slugger). There was nothing Bonds couldn’t do on a baseball field. He won eight gold gloves, stole over 800 bases, won two batting titles and hit an MLB record 762 home runs. I agree with the belief that steroid players shouldn’t be celebrated or recognized for cheating, but this isn’t just any ordinary player we’re talking about. This is Barry Bonds, the most dominant force to ever play the game of baseball. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. 

  1. Roger Clemens, SP, 1984-2007

Like Bonds, steroid allegations hurt Clemens’s case, but with or without them, he was arguably the best pitcher of all time. His list of accomplishments goes on and on: six ERA titles, 4672 strikeouts, seven Cy Youngs and two pitcher triple crowns. He is third all-time in pitcher WAR (139.2) behind old-timers Walter Johnson and Cy Young. His 2.37 World Series ERA also proves he was at his best when the stakes were highest. Clemens is clearly worthy of induction based on on-the-field performance, but the question is whether his off-the-field controversies overshadow it. Like Bonds, Clemens has been long accused of steroids, first by known juicer Jose Canseco and then by the infamous Mitchell Report, but was never actually suspended. Therefore, I find it impossible to keep the best pitcher of his generation out of the Hall of Fame. 

  1. Scott Rolen, 3B, 1996-2012

Evaluating the case of Lou Whittaker made me change my opinion on Scott Rolen. Like Whittaker, Rolen was never one of the best players in the game at any particular time, but he was such a tremendous well-rounded player for an extended period that he deserves serious consideration. While WAR is not the end-all-be-all, it says something that Rolen is tenth on the all-time leaderboard, behind eight Hall of Famers and Adrian Beltre. His hitting numbers, including a 122 OPS+ and 2,077 hits, don’t scream Hall of Famer, but his defense makes up for it. His eight gold gloves and 21.2 career dWar tell the tale of one of the greatest defensive third basemen in MLB history. He was also remarkably consistent, with ten 20 home run seasons and nine seasons batting over .280. Not all Hall of Famers are built the same. Rolen never had the peak of a Schmidt or a Brett, but his consistency, longevity and all-around excellence make him a Hall of Famer. 

  1. Billy Wagner, RP, 1995-2010

The obvious flaw on Wagner’s resume is that he simply wasn’t on the mound very often. His 903 innings pitched and 27.7 WAR would be near the bottom of the Hall of Fame leaderboard. When Wagner was on the mound, however, he was one of the best pitchers in MLB history, as evident by his 11.9 K/9 and 2.30 ERA. What’s even more incredible is that he only had one season with an ERA above 3.00, which speaks to how dominant Wagner was whenever he toed the rubber. Yet for most of his career, Wagner was constantly overshadowed by Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, mainly because he didn’t put up the gaudy save numbers or pitch in the postseason often. While it’s true he’s not on the same level as those two all-time greats, Wagner spent over a decade as the most unhittable closer in baseball, and that should be enough to get him elected. 

  1. Curt Schilling, SP, 1988-2007

Take away all the politics and offensive views, Schilling is without a doubt a Hall of Famer. His baseball Reference Page is filled with bold: He led the league in wins twice, games started three times, complete games four times, innings twice, strikeouts twice, WHIP twice, and K/BB five times. At a time when relievers were being used more frequently, Schilling was a prototypical old school ace. He took the ball more often and stayed on the mound longer than any of his peers. His 3.46 ERA and 216 wins aren’t too impressive, but there is a good explanation for that. His ERA looks better when you account for the offensive-friendly environment he played in and the fact that he worked deep into games, sacrificing runs for innings, and his wins total hurt by the fact his full season didn’t come until age 26 and that he played for some lousy Phillies him. His 127 ERA+ and 3,116 strikeouts are far more indicative of the kind of pitcher he was. Schilling also can hold a claim as one of the best postseason pitchers of all time. He has a shiny 11-2 postseason record, a 2.06 World Series ERA and led three different teams to the World Series, including the 2001 World Series Co-MVP with the Diamondbacks. Regardless of what kind of person he is, Schilling’s resume is too strong to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, 

  1. Jeff Kent, 2B, 1992-2008

Despite not getting more love from the actual Hall of Fame voters, Kent has exactly the mix of longevity and elite peak that I look for in a candidate. He was consistent enough to hit over 20 home runs twelves times, 100 RBI eight times, and above .280 twelve times and in his prime, he won an MVP and finished in the top 10 three other times By whichever way you want to measure it, Kent was one of the best offensive second basemen of all time. He’s first in home runs, third in RBIs and fifth in doubles at the position, and his 123 OPS+ is ahead of recent Hall of Fame second baseman inductees Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, and Craig Biggio. Kent gets a lot of heat for his defense, but baseball-reference has him at exactly average throughout his career (0 DRS). His 55.4 WAR is a little low, but that’s a result of not getting a chance to start every day until age 29. While it’s true he only made five all-star teams and wasn’t a tremendous all-around player, the best offensive second baseman in modern baseball history deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

  1. Todd Helton, 1B, 1997-2013

It truly doesn’t matter that Helton called Coors his home for each of his seventeen seasons: He was an all-time great hitter. A lot of baseball analysts look at seven-year peaks to evaluate Hall of Fame, and there were few better in the history of baseball than Helton’s. From 1999-2005, Helton slashed 341/.442/.621, averaged 34 home runs and 115 RBI and had an incredible 153 OPS+. His seven-year peak WAR of 46.5 is well above the Hall of Fame average for first baseman, but unfortunately, that period also coincided with Barry Bonds’s legendary run, which explains why Helton never came close to winning an MVP. After age 30, Helton’s power completely fell off as he never hit over 20 home runs again, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t still a productive hitter. He hit over .300 five more times and had an OBP over .400 four more times. He was also a solid fielder (3 gold gloves) and his 61.2 is just below the Hall of Fame average at the position and ahead of Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Perez, and Orlando Cepeda. The obvious knock-on Helton is that his 369 home run total is well below Hall of Fame standards for first baseman. While it’s true that Helton’s power completely fell off after age 30, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t still a productive hitter. He hit over .300 five more times and had an OBP over .400 four more times despite never again hitting over 20 home runs. As I claimed with Scott Rolen, not every Hall of Famer is built the same. Helton can’t compete with slugging first baseman Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, and Willie McCovey in terms of power output, but he has a higher career average than each of them and a higher OBP than all of them but Thomas. Helton was one of the best pure hitters of his time and supplemented his hitting ability with a tremendous eye. No matter what ballpark he played in, Todd Helton was a Hall of Famer. 

  1. Andruw Jones, CF, 1996-2012

Jones is the most difficult decision on this list. He is arguably the greatest defensive center fielder of all time, as Fangraphs has him at a whopping 278.8 defensive runs saved for his career. Unlike many of the light-hitting, defensive wizard shortstops in the Hall of Fame, Jones was far from a nothing with a bat. His .254 average isn’t good, but he did have seven seasons with over thirty home runs and four seasons with over 100 RBIs. His 62.8 WAR is more than Hall of Fame worthy. The big wart on Jones’ career, however, is his lack of longevity. He left the Braves after a 2007 season in which he hit just .222 and had an OPS+ of 87 and was never a full-time player again. That was at age 30, a time when players are usually still in the prime of their careers. The good news is that Jones coming up at age 19 still allowed him to have twelve full seasons in the majors, but there is still a question as to whether he played long enough to have a serious Hall of Fame case. If elected, his 1933 hits and .254 average would be the lowest of any post-expansion era Hall of Famer. 

So where does that leave us? Jones’s combination of defense and power was one of the best in major league history, but his sharp decline left his counting numbers low, making it understandable why he’s never received over 7.5% of the vote. The numbers are underwhelming, but sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story. Anybody who watched Andruw Jones played will say he’s a Hall of Famer and, although he was done as a full-time player at age 30, twelve elite seasons is long enough for a Hall of Fame career. 

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