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Bound for Cooperstown, Part 2

Part One of this series was easy—picking the five recently-retired players who will waltz into the Baseball Hall of Fame once they are eligible, probably during their first year of eligibility. Part Two is not going to be as easy: Yes, these players would, during any other time, be on the express train to Cooperstown. But the Hall of Fame ballot for the next several years is going to be overstuffed with worthy candidates; there are already several qualified candidates waiting for their call to lasting baseball greatness. Will we see surefire Hall of Famers overlooked and even discarded?

Compounding this is the ongoing furor over the role of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and the effects they have had on players' performances, reflected in the "numbers" that are so integral to measuring a player's value and thus worthiness for the Hall. Players already on the ballot who should be or will be elected to the Hall include Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker. This list does not include Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, both of whom bear the mark of the PEDs but who would be Hall-worthy otherwise. With a player needing at least 75 percent of the vote to be elected—and needing at least five percent of the vote to remain on the ballot—votes are at a premium. Players might get dropped who might not deserve to be; in 2011, this happened with Kevin Brown (albeit implicated with PEDs), John Franco, and John Olerud.

In Part One, I listed the five players who I think will be elected in upcoming years with no problem: Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. However, given the overstuffed ballot, Smoltz and Glavine might not be such shoo-ins. But if those two are not locks for the Hall, what to say about all the others?

As previously, I am not including Steroids Superstars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, or Sammy Sosa. It remains to be seen what their legacies will ultimately be. Also, I am not including either Craig Biggio (eligible in 2013) or Ken Griffey, Jr. (eligible in 2016). Neither one, I hasten to add, has the steroids taint; rather, I think both will be elected to the Hall fairly easily.

In his career, Biggio reached the 3000-hit plateau, which, unless you are Palmeiro or Pete Rose, is an automatic Hall pass. In addition, he hit 668 doubles, fifth all-time, scored 1844 runs, and stole 414 bases while—demonstrating the painful way to an on-base percentage—becoming second all-time by getting hit by a pitch 285 times. His slash line of .281/.363/.433 looks respectable if not spectacular—until you realize that Biggio spent almost his entire career playing up the middle, primarily as a second baseman, although he started as a catcher and played centerfield too. (Biggio wouldn't have the lowest batting average among 3000-hit players: Both Cal Ripken, Jr., (.276) and Rickey Henderson (.279) hit at a lower average than Biggio.) Granted, Biggio was not a defensive whiz—his defensive wins above replacement value (WAR; Baseball Reference version) is minus 7.9—but his overall career WAR of 66.2 ranks 79th, ahead of Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar.

Griffey, Jr., too reached a lofty plateau: the 600-home run club, rarefied air that only six other men in baseball history have ever reached. (It is quite likely that Jim Thome will be breathing that sweet air some time this season; if and when Thome makes it, it will be a while before anyone nears that plateau.) Moreover, Junior will have the intangible support of the Mickey Mantle Factor—had Griffey, Jr., like Mantle, not have endured the injuries he did, who knows how much more he could have accomplished on the baseball diamond. You evaluate the player on what they did, not what they could have done, though, and Griffey, Jr., still looks Hall-worthy: 2700+ hits, 500+ doubles, 1800+ runs batted in, a .284/.370/.538 slash line, and a 78.5 WAR, 39th all-time. Despite ten consecutive Gold Gloves, Junior, like Biggio, does not benefit from advanced defensive measurements; however, what the Kid's sweet swing did at the plate will get him into Cooperstown.

So that leaves us with the five players who will become eligible for Cooperstown in the next few years whose fate is not clear, but who look like Hall of Famers now. Here they are:

1. Frank Thomas (eligible in 2014)

Offensively, Frank Thomas looks like a no-doubt pick for the Hall with a 3-4-5 slash line (.301/.419/.555), 521 home runs (tied with Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Ted Williams, poetically enough), and 1704 RBI, with 1667 walks thrown in for good measure. Of those walks, 168 were intentional, 29th all-time, an indication of how feared a hitter the Big Hurt was during his prime.

Defensively, Thomas was one hell of a hitter. A liability even at first base, Thomas started only 969 games there, 43 percent of his total starts, and generated a minus 7.3 defensive WAR. How readily Thomas is perceived as a Hall of Fame player might depend on how readily voters elect Edgar Martinez, another great hitter known primarily as a designated hitter. (Paul Molitor was a first-ballot inductee known for being a designated hitter, but not only did he reach 3000 hits, he played half his games in the field.)

It's tempting to consider Thomas the Jim Rice of his time: acknowledged as a feared slugger, albeit also one not considered a defensive asset, during his heyday, whose Cooperstown credentials did not look so watertight after he hung up the spikes. Rice did eventually get his ticket punched for the Hall, although Rice is a borderline case who deserved to be inducted into the Hall only after any number of more deserving players gained admittance first (as I have written about previously).

Fortunately, Thomas has a much stronger case, and even if you are still disdainful of the designated hitter position (as, residually, I am), you still have to acknowledge that he compiled an outstanding batting record that surpasses Rice's credentials. In his prime, the two-time Most Valuable Player (in back-to-back years, 1993 and 1994) hit for both power and average, got on base, and produced runs at a robust clip despite missing virtually all of 2001 with an arm injury.

For the 10-year period (1991 to 2000) before his injury, Thomas produced a slash line of .320/.439/.581, with an OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted for the league) of 168, and averaged 34 home runs, 105 runs scored, and 115 runs batted in while drawing 114 walks (including 15 intentional) against only 78 strikeouts per year. During that time, he led the League in walks, on-base percentage (including an eye-popping .487 in strike-shortened 1994), and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) four times each; OPS+ three times; and batting average, doubles, and runs scored one time each.

Returning from his injury at age 34, Thomas never regained his prior form, although his 2003 (.267/.390/.562, 42 HR, 87 R, 105 RBI) and 2006 (.270/.381/.545, 39 HR, 77 R, 114 RBI) years, with the latter netting him fourth in MVP voting at age 38, were certainly quite respectable.

Qualitatively, Thomas finds himself in elite company. In adjusted batting runs (runs over and above what a league-average replacement player would provide, adjusted for the league), Thomas ranks 15th all-time with 754; in adjusted batting wins (a player's contribution to his team's additional wins, adjusted for the league), he ranks 16th all-time with 69.5; and in adjusted OPS+, he ranks 19th all-time with 156. Although disregarded now by advanced sabermetricians, in Bill James's runs created (measuring run creation based on a number of hitting and base-running events) Thomas ranks 21st all-time with 2002. In win probability added (WPA), a contextual attempt to determine a player's contribution to a win, and which is not inclusive because it measures only back to 1950, Thomas's 60.31 is 11th of all players measured. Thomas's overall WAR of 75.9 is 42nd all-time—and that would have been higher had his minus-7.3 defensive WAR not brought it down.

Finally, Thomas is only one of nine players in all of major league history to hit .300 or better lifetime and hit 500 or more home runs. Six of those players are in the Hall of Fame. The two not in the Hall are Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez—and their associations with PEDs might make their enshrinement problematic. (Ramirez's abrupt retirement following his reported failure of a second test for banned substances will not, I suspect, be forgotten when he becomes eligible.) Given that Frank Thomas was built like a tight end (the position he played at Auburn), the question of whether he juiced is inevitable.

For the record, Frank Thomas's name does appear in the Mitchell Report, the popular name for the findings of the committee headed by former Senator George Mitchell to investigate PED usage in baseball. Thomas had begun advocating for drug testing, including testing for PEDs, as early as 1995, and when the Mitchell Report appeared in 2007, Thomas was the only player then-currently playing who had agreed to be interviewed. The Report notes explicitly that there was no suggestion that Thomas was even suspected of PEDs usage, and in fact it quotes Thomas's stating that he'd "love to see testing" in baseball. Put simply, Thomas made no secret of his disregard for PEDs, and unless his is a chutzpah bigger than Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Rafael Palmeiro combined, it should be believed. The erosion of his skills following his prime, particularly after his injury-shortened 2001 season, bears this out.

Nevertheless, Frank Thomas compiled an outstanding batting record in his career, one that measures favorably with any number of Cooperstown residents (and more favorably than recent inductees Andre Dawson and Jim Rice). He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

2. Mike Piazza (eligible in 2013)

Offensively, Mike Piazza looks like a no-doubt pick for the Hall as one of the greatest-hitting catchers—arguably the greatest-hitting catcher—of all time. With 396 home runs, he has hit more home runs than any catcher in history, and his 427 homers is currently 41st all-time (with Albert Pujols and even Jason Giambi right behind him, he could slip a couple of places this year), garnishing that with a lofty career slash line of .308/.377/.545; you have to go back decades to find any catchers with at least 5000 at-bats who have a career batting average of .300 or better. (To save you looking it up, they would be Mickey Cochrane, .320; Bill Dickey, .313; and Ernie Lombardi, .308, fittingly tied with Piazza as the Piazza of his time.)

Add to this Piazza's Cinderella story: Drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round as a favor to Mike's father by his father's childhood friend Tommy Lasorda, Piazza was convinced to convert to catcher to better his chances at the majors. When he arrived as a full-fledged rookie in 1993, he merely hit .318 with 35 home runs and 112 RBIs (along with a 151 OPS+ and 7.0 WAR), good enough to become the National League Rookie of the Year.

Defensively, Piazza is one of the greatest-hitting catchers—arguably the greatest-hitting catcher—of all time. The conventional wisdom that any offensive production you get from your catcher is a bonus gets inverted in Piazza's case—any defense and handling of pitchers you get from him is gravy. Piazza led the League in passed balls twice, and was in double digits four times, and his career caught-stealing percentage of 23 percent (meaning that 77 percent of all base-stealers were successful against him) ranks near the bottom, although good old conventional wisdom tells us that the base is stolen off the pitcher, right?

Piazza's career defensive WAR of minus 8.3 is not usually what you look for in a backstop—unless said catcher has an offensive WAR of 67.4, which puts him 63rd all-time. Factor in the dWAR to make 59.1, and Piazza drops to 115th all-time for position players. But—and to abuse that poor CW one more time—if the conventional wisdom is that run creation is better than run prevention, then Piazza is your man.

In his first ten years as a full-fledged major leaguer, Piazza generated a .322/.389/.579 slash line while averaging 35 home runs, 85 runs scored, and 107 RBIs, with an OPS+ of 154. During that time, he finished second in National League Most Valuable Player voting twice, in 1996, when he posted a .336/.422/.563 line with 36 home runs and 105 RBIs, and in 1997, when he posted a .362/.431/.638 line with 40 home runs and 124 RBIs. In 1996, he lost to the Padres' Ken Caminiti, who later admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs. In 1997, Piazza lost to the Rockies' Larry Walker, whose eye-popping stats benefited from his playing in extremely hitter-friendly Coors Field; by contrast, Piazza's home games were in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium; Piazza's .362 batting average was the highest ever by a catcher until Joe Mauer hit .365 in 2009, although Piazza's average remains the highest ever by a National League catcher. Piazza did lead the Majors in OPS+ in 1997 with 185; he had led the League in OPS+ in 1995 with 172. In 2000, Piazza finished third in MVP voting, behind Giants' teammates Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds, with Piazza posting a .324/.398/.614 line with 38 home runs and 113 RBIs.

During that ten-year period, from 1993 to 2002, Piazza hit .300 or better nine times, hit 30 or more home runs nine times, and drove in 90 or more RBIs all ten years. He generated an OPS+ of 150 or better, meaning that he was at least 50 percent better than a league-average player at getting on base and hitting for power, six times. By 2003, age and playing behind the plate caught up with Piazza, although he hit 20 or more home runs twice more, and he produced a .283/.342/.501 slash line in 2006, at age 37.

Qualitatively, Piazza ranks 58th all-time in win probability added with 38.72; he ranks 59th all-time in OPS+ with 142; he ranks 66th all-time in adjusted batting runs with 421; he ranks 116th all-time in runs created with 1378; and he ranks 146th all-time in adjusted batting wins with 27.3.

Although his defensive skills as a catcher are not auspicious, Mike Piazza is probably the best-hitting catcher in baseball history, not only hitting for power and driving in runs but also hitting for average. That distinction alone is enough to usher him into Cooperstown.

3. Curt Schilling (eligible in 2013)

If Curt Schilling were to become eligible for the Hall at any other time, he would be a shoo-in. After all, this is a pitcher who made himself conspicuous on baseball's biggest stage: the postseason. His career postseason totals are remarkable: In 19 postseason starts, his 11-2 record—an amazing .846 winning percentage—with a 2.23 ERA, a 0.968 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.80 look like the stats of a dead-ball-era pitcher. In seven World Series starts, Schilling went 4-1 (including a shutout that was the high point of the Phillies' 1993 six-game losing campaign against the Blue Jays) with a 2.06 ERA, a miniscule 0.896 WHIP, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.30.

Exemplifying Schilling's reputation as a big-game pitcher are his efforts during the Diamondbacks' 2001 seven-game World Series victory against the Yankees, which saw him share Series Most Valuable Player honors with Randy Johnson. In three starts, Schilling won one game, posted a 1.69 ERA, and in 21.1 innings struck out 26 while walking a paltry two batters.

But his most dramatic postseason appearance came during the 2004 American League Championship Series, when the Red Sox rallied from losing the first three games to beat the Yankees in seven games, an unprecedented feat, and advance to their eventual World Series victory. Schilling's Game One start was terrible, giving up six earned runs over just three innings, but it was the result of an injured ankle. Following a surgical procedure to try to repair the ankle, Schilling started Game Six and soon began bleeding from the sutures. The red blood soaking through his white sock became an iconic image straight from The Natural as Schilling, giving new meaning to the term "red sock," helped the Red Sox win the game, giving up only four hits and one earned run over seven innings while striking out four.

But once you tear yourself from Schilling's postseason heroics, the question becomes: Is his overall career record worthy of the Hall? Schilling's 216 career wins and 3.46 ERA are certainly notable in his offensive-rich era; he won 20 games three times, posted ERAs under 3 four times, and struck out at least 300 batters three times. But however dominant Schilling was in the postseason, he wasn't in the regular season.

Oh, sure, he was very good, even commanding at times. His three 20-game seasons (2001, 2002, 2004) found him the runner-up for the Cy Young Award each season, the first two times in the National League, the third in the American League. Schilling was often a workhorse, leading the League in games started three times, innings pitched twice, complete games four times, and strikeouts twice. For the 13 years of his full-time prime, Schilling posted a 180-112 record (a .616 winning percentage) with a 3.28 ERA and a 134 adjusted ERA, and he averaged 28 starts, 205 innings pitched, a 1.091 WHIP, and 202 strikeouts against only 44 walks for a remarkable 4.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

But given that his eligibility year includes Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza—and fellow pitcher and PEDs poster boy Roger Clemens—and that pitchers Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, and John Smoltz become eligible in the next two years, Schilling finds himself on a crowded ballot of just pitchers alone if he isn't elected in his first year of eligibility. And despite his postseason prowess, Schilling cannot top Maddux, Johnson, and Martinez (the latter two his erstwhile teammates) quantitatively or qualitatively.

So, is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer? Yes, he is, if qualitative statistics are any indication of his worthiness: He ranks 16th all-time in adjusted pitching runs (the number of runs a pitcher saves his team compared to a league-average pitcher) with 356; 17th all-time in win probability added with 35.58; 18th all-time in adjusted pitching wins (the number of wins a pitcher contributes to compared to a league-average pitcher) with 37.66; and 44th all-time in adjusted ERA with 128. Finally, Schilling ranks 28th in all-time pitcher WAR with 69.7; of the top 30 pitchers in all-time pitcher WAR, 22 are in the Hall of Fame, four (Maddux, Johnson, Martinez, Glavine) will most likely be inducted, and one is Clemens, leaving Mike Mussina and Rick Reuschel, one of whom we might hear more about below.

Furthermore, Schilling is 15th in all-time strikeouts, with 3116. Of the top 15 all-time strikeout leaders, all but Johnson, Clemens, Maddux, Martinez, and Schilling are in the Hall—keeping in mind that the Number Five on this list, Bert Blyleven, gained admittance only on his penultimate chance. However, Schilling's lifetime mark of only 711 walks yields an eye-popping strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.38, second all-time.

Schilling's regular-season record measures up to the best who ever pitched in this game, and combined with his postseason dominance makes him a legitimate Hall of Fame pitcher.

4. Jeff Kent (eligible in 2014)

Offensively, Jeff Kent is one of the greatest-hitting second basemen in Major League history, the Rogers Hornsby of his era. Although he didn't post the insanely huge numbers Hornsby did—who could?—Kent finished with 2461 hits and a career .290/.356/.500 slash line, 560 doubles (currently 22nd all-time), 377 home runs—with the 351 he hit while playing second base being the most all-time by a second baseman—1320 runs scored, and 1518 runs batted in.

Kent's reputation as a run-producer was proved in 2000 when he was selected as the National League's Most Valuable Player—this despite not only being in the same league as Barry Bonds, he was on the same team as Bonds, the San Francisco Giants. That year, he posted a .334/.424/.596 slash line, ultimately yielding an OPS+ of 162, while hitting 41 doubles and 33 home runs, scoring 114 runs, and driving in 125 runs. None of those stats were league-leaders, but they were an indication of the protection Kent offered Bonds while batting behind him in the order.

Defensively, Kent is one of the greatest-hitting second basemen in Major League history. No one ever confused Kent with Roberto Alomar or, historically, Frankie Frisch or Joe Gordon, two Hall of Fame second basement who are in the top 30 all-time in defensive WAR (in addition, Gordon was the Jeff Kent of his era, hitting 253 home runs and driving in 975 runs in only 11 seasons). But Kent's lifetime defensive WAR of minus 0.8—in other words, defensively over his career, Kent was worth less than one lost game over a league-average replacement player—was offset by his offensive WAR of 50.2 (coincidentally less than a win behind Frisch).

Kent was a remarkably consistent hitter throughout his career while logging 1986 of his career 2215 games started at second base. His worst season offensively was his first, in 1992, which was split between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets, and which saw him shuttling between second and third base with cameos at first base and shortstop. Otherwise, from 1993 through his retirement year of 2008, Kent produced a .291/.357/.502 slash line with a 123 OPS+—for all intents and purposes his career lines—while averaging 149 hits, 34 doubles, 23 home runs, 79 runs scored, 92 runs batted in, and 6 sacrifice flies; Kent led the League in sacrifice flies twice and finished with 103 total, 22nd all-time.

In 2008, his final year, Kent at age 40 generated in 474 plate appearances a .280/.327/.418 slash line that yielded a 96 OPS+, meaning that he was slightly below league average in this key measurement of getting on base and hitting for power. It's not a Hall of Fame endorsement, but neither is it the mediocre record of an aging star hanging on, as has been the case of any number of Cooperstown residents. Kent retired on a high note, starting 114 games at second base that year when other aging players would typically have been moved to a less-demanding position. (And for the record, his defensive WAR that season was 0.4.)

In the postseason, Kent was consistent if not spectacular during his appearances, with a career .276/.240/.500 line, 9 home runs, 25 runs scored, and 23 runs batted in. In his only World Series appearance, with the 2002 Giants, Kent put up a .276/.290/.621 line, with that gaudy slugging percentage the result of three home runs and a double, adding 6 runs and 7 RBI in the eventual seven-game loss to the (then-) Anaheim Angels. However, Kent's greatest single postseason moment might be his three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to win Game Five of the 2004 for the Houston Astros against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Qualitatively, Kent is in the top 100 lifetime in adjusted batting wins and runs created, and in the top 200 lifetime in adjusted batting runs and win probability added. His overall WAR of 59.4 is currently 113th all-time. Jeff Kent was a consistent offensive threat throughout a career played primarily at one of the more demanding positions on the diamond. He is one of the greatest second basemen of all time and deserves his place in Cooperstown.

5. Mike Mussina (eligible in 2014)

The first statistic that jumps out at you from Mike Mussina's career record as a starting pitcher is his lifetime ERA of 3.68. It would not be the highest by a Hall of Famer—that dubious distinction goes to Red Ruffing and his career 3.80 ERA—but it would raise eyebrows should Mussina enter Cooperstown. Context is everything, as they say, and as we begin to examine why Moose deserves induction into the Hall, it is worth noting that Mussina not only pitched during the offensive-rich 1990s and 2000s, he played his entire career in the toughest division in all of baseball, the American League East, first with the Baltimore Orioles and then with the New York Yankees.

Mussina didn't acquit himself too badly during his first ten years in Baltimore, which, although not the AL East doormat of recent years, posted winning seasons only five times during Mussina's stay with the Orioles. He posted a 147-81 record, a .645 winning percentage for a team with an overall winning percentage of .510 during that time, with 15 shutouts and 45 complete games while averaging each season 29 starts, 202 innings pitched, a 3.53 ERA, an adjusted ERA of 130, a 1.175 WHIP, and 154 strikeouts against only 47 walks for a 3.29 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Signing with the Yankees at age 32 for the 2001 season, Mussina didn't look as auspicious, posting a 123-72 record, winning at a .631 clip for a team with a .599 winning percentage during his stay, although he was certainly a workhorse in the Yankees' rotation; of Mussina's 537 career games, only one of those was in relief. Averaging 31 starts and 194 innings pitched with the Yankees, Mussina also averaged 160 strikeouts against only 40 walks for a remarkable 4.02 strikeout-to-walk ratio (accounting for rounding operations). Mussina's effectiveness might have dipped while with the Yankees, as his 3.88 ERA, 115 adjusted ERA, and 1.212 WHIP are, admittedly, not spectacular.

Nevertheless, Mussina compiled 270 career wins, 33rd all-time, against 153 losses for a .638 winning percentage, which is 39th all-time. Although contemporary analysis holds that wins are an overvalued measurement for a pitcher, Mussina still managed to have only two losing seasons while posting winning percentages above .600 in 13 of his 16 winning seasons, with four of those seasons above .700. Mussina won 20 games in a season only once, but he won 19 games in a season twice and 18 games in a season three times. In fact, Mussina's winning at least 11 games in 17 consecutive seasons is an American League record. When Mussina did win 20 games, it was in his final year, 2008, at age 39: His 20-9 record, good for an outstanding .690 winning percentage, occurred over his league-leading 34 starts and 200 innings pitched, yielding a 3.37 ERA and 132 adjusted ERA, both his best marks since 2001, and 150 strikeouts against only 31 walks for a brilliant 4.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As a swan song, you couldn't script it much better.

Well, the Hollywood ending would have Mussina winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2008 for the first and only time in his career. As it happened, Mussina finished sixth that year, behind banner seasons by Mariano Rivera, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Francisco Rodriguez (who posted a record 62 saves that year), Roy Halladay, and winner Cliff Lee. Receiving Cy Young votes in nine different seasons, Mussina's best finish was second, in 1999, behind Pedro Martinez, who—let's face it—had a season for the ages in 1999. Mussina did win seven Gold Glove Awards as the best-fielding pitcher in the American League.

In the postseason, Mussina was not distinguished, with a 7-8 record in 21 starts with a 3.42 ERA. He went to the World Series twice with the Yankees but did not win a ring either time, losing in 2001 and 2003, while posting a 1-1 record with a 3.00 ERA. He did earn one of only two Yankees wins in 2003 against the Florida Marlins, giving up seven hits and only one run over seven innings for a 1.29 ERA.

So, then, is Mussina really Hall-worthy? Qualitatively, the answer is yes. He ranks 9th all-time in win probability added, with 40.94; 18th all-time in adjusted pitching runs, with 347; 21st all-time in adjusted pitching wins, with 34.92; and 85th all-time in adjusted ERA, with 123. As for pitcher WAR, Mussina ranks 24th all-time, with 74.8, ahead of both Curt Schilling and Tom Glavine, both of whom probably appear more attractive to Hall voters, Schilling for his postseason prowess, and Glavine for his 300 wins. It is worth noting again that most of the top 30 finishers in pitcher WAR are or will be in the Hall of Fame. However, as deserving as Mike Mussina is for induction to Cooperstown, I suspect that we will have another Bert Blyleven campaign on our hands to get him elected.

Last At-Bats

I wanted to make a case for Kenny Lofton, the chronically underrated centerfielder who managed to find himself helping several teams to the postseason over the course of his career, missing out on World Series rings in 1995 (with the Cleveland Indians) and in 2002 (with the Giants). A career .299/.372/.423 hitter with 2428 hits, 116 triples, 1528 runs scored (60th all-time), and 622 stolen bases (15th all-time), Lofton looked exciting initially, given that his career position WAR is 65.3, 80th all-time and higher than both Kent's and Piazza's. However, despite leading the League in stolen bases five years in a row, and garnering four Gold Gloves—his defensive WAR of 11.5 is 47th all-time—Lofton will find himself a victim of the overcrowded ballots of the next few years.

Indeed, Hall of Fame voting promises to be a hotly contested affair over the next decade. Keep in mind that the voters, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), have voted in as many as three players per year only four times in the last 40 years. And not only are there the players currently on the 2012 ballot, the ones discussed in my two articles on this site (including Craig Biggio and Ken Griffey, Jr.), and the Steroids Superstars whose eventual fate remains unclear, there will also be, by the end of this decade and into the next, the aging superstars winding up their careers now, among them Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Ivan Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki, and Jim Thome. This doesn't include PEDs-implicated players such as Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez. And then you've got, just for starters, Roy Halladay, Albert Pujols, and C.C. Sabathia after that . . .

For a sport that cherishes its legacy, baseball will find itself evaluating that legacy very closely in the next decade as each year brings the opportunity to bestow its legacy onto the best players of the last 20 years, including those whose careers, and thus the statistics that are crucial to determining their value, were boosted through the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball already finds itself susceptible to that ancient Chinese curse—"may you live in interesting times"—and it promises to only get more interesting in the years ahead. "Play ball!"

Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2015 18:47