10. Alan Trammell (twelfth year on ballot)
In one sense, it is remarkable that Detroit Tigers' shortstop Alan Trammell has survived for so long on the Hall of Fame ballot; this is his 12th year as a candidate. His career largely predates the offensive explosion that began in the mid-1990s, and although he might have been the prototype for the modern offensively-charged shortstop, he was overshadowed by Cal Ripken, Jr., and the wave of super-shortstops who followed them, including Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada.
Yet Trammell, both with the bat and with the glove, was remarkably consistent and consistently excellent. During the 1980s, from 1980 when he batted .300 to 1990 when he batted .304, Trammell generated a .291/.359/.433 slash line while averaging 152 hits, 28 doubles, 13 home runs, 81 runs scored, 66 RBI, 16 stolen bases, a 119 OPS+, and a 5.2 bWAR—again, at an All-Star level, as Trammell was in six of those eleven seasons. He was the 1987 AL MVP runner-up to the Toronto Blue Jays' George Bell, who hit 47 home runs and led the AL in RBI with 134. But Trammell, whose 8.0 bWAR was third-best that year (behind Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs), had an MVP-caliber season: .343/.402/.551 slash line, 205 hits, 34 doubles, 28 home runs, 109 runs scored, 105 RBI, 21 stolen bases, 329 total bases, and a 155 OPS+.
But if the primary value a shortstop can deliver is his defensive ability, then Trammell did just that. This four-time Gold Glover ranks 17th in career assists by a shortstop with 6172, 23rd in career fielding percentage by a shortstop with .9768, 28th in career putouts by a shortstop with 3391, 34th in lifetime defensive bWAR with 22.0, and 53rd in career range factor per nine innings by a shortstop with 4.711 (the ratio of putouts plus assists over nine innings of play).
This is the biggest factor in Alan Trammell's favor—positional scarcity. He was consistently excellent defensively at one of the two hardest defensive positions on the diamond, and he supplied a strong, if not overpowering, bat at the plate. Trammell is not an obvious Hall of Fame choice, and on such a crowded ballot as this year's he can be overlooked quite easily. But he should not be overlooked in this or any other year.
9. Rafael Palmeiro (third year on ballot)
Divorced from the PEDs opprobrium that engulfs Rafael Palmeiro, his accomplishment of being just the fourth batter in major-league history to collect at least 3000 hits (3020) and 500 home runs (569) should have made him a first-ballot inductee, as it had for the previous three: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray. In addition to both Murray and Palmeiro manning first base for the Baltimore Orioles for a significant stretch of their careers, Palmeiro posted numbers that are remarkably similar to Murray's.
Obviously, with just 11.0 percent and 12.6 percent of the vote on his first two ballots, Palmeiro has been handed his standing by the BBWAA. And even if you consider the Steroids Era to be a colorful if ugly but still-valid period in baseball's history—as I do—Palmeiro's angry denial of PEDs usage before a Congressional committee in 2005, only to fail a drug test months later, still resembles the kind of sitcom-like hubris that befalls the villain who justly deserves his comeuppance.
But had the PEDs notoriety not grabbed Palmeiro, it is not clear that he would have stood out in voters' minds, anyway. Yes, he did achieve the rare feat of 3000 hits and 500 home runs, and for a 15-year period, mostly with the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, the first baseman was a consistently excellent hitter: From 1988 to 2002 he generated a .294/.375/.523 slash line with seasonal averages of 170 hits, 34 doubles, 32 home runs, 303 total bases, 94 runs scored, 102 RBI, a 136 OPS+, and a bWAR of 4.1. Yet Palmeiro was never a dominant hitter; he led the league once each in hits, runs, and doubles, none in the same year; his best showing in MVP voting was sixth in 1996, with a strong but not exceptional year; and he was named to only four All-Star squads.
Palmeiro finished with 119 sacrifice flies, 8th all-time (coincidentally, Murray is the lifetime leader with 128); 5388 total bases, 11th all-time; 569 home runs, 12th all-time; 585 doubles, 16th all-time; 1835 runs batted in, 16th all-time; 3020 hits, 25th all-time; and 172 intentional walks, 28th all-time. A neat footnote to Palmeiro's record is that he did walk five more times than he struck out (1353 bases on balls to 1348 strikeouts), unusual for a power hitter of his era. His PEDs notoriety might keep him out of the Hall of Fame for the duration of his stay on the ballot and even through any future veterans' committees. But many years from now, regardless of how the PEDs furor is resolved, people are going to look at Rafael Palmeiro's record and ask, "Why isn't this guy in the Hall of Fame yet?"
8. Mike Piazza (first year on ballot)
So, how is the fairy tale going to end for Mike Piazza, with his being treated like Cinderella or like one of the wicked stepsisters? Piazza of course was drafted in the 62nd round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, essentially as a favor by family friend Tommy Lasorda. Encouraged to play catcher in order to enhance his chances of making it to the majors, Piazza did make it to the big-league club full-time in 1993 and merely became the NL Rookie of the Year with a .318/.370/.561 line, 35 home runs, and 112 RBI along with a 153 OPS+ and 6.8 bWAR. That ushered in a career that saw Piazza become one of the greatest-hitting catchers—arguably the greatest-hitting catcher—of all time.
That is the Cinderella scenario, and Piazza, the only catcher in major-league history to combine a .300 or better lifetime average (.308; .313 as a catcher) with 400 or more home runs (427; 396 as a catcher—the most all-time at that position), would be a shoo-in as a Hall of Famer. Among catchers with 7000 or more career plate appearances, only Mickey Cochrane (.320), Bill Dickey (.313), and Deacon White (.312) posted a higher batting average than Piazza, and White, a Pre-Integration Committee Hall of Fame inductee this year, not only played in the 19th century, when the game was markedly different than it was in even Cochrane's and Dickey's day, let alone Piazza's, he actually played more games at third base (827) than he did at catcher (458). Also among catchers with 7000 or more career plate appearances, Piazza ranks first in OPS+ with 143.
The wicked-stepsister scenario involves the PEDs taint coloring his career. Piazza did admit to using androstenedione ("andro") early in his career, which would have been before it was made illegal by Major League Baseball, but in this witch-hunt environment that is worse than Jeff Bagwell's being merely suspected of using PEDs. It's a crap shoot as to whether Piazza's inaugural year on the ballot coinciding with the debuts of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa is a help or a hindrance: Is he screened by the higher-profile cases, or he is lumped in as yet another miscreant?
In any event, Piazza's Hall of Fame case does rest on his offensive prowess. At the toughest defensive position on the field, Piazza was not an auspicious defender. With 1400 stolen bases allowed, Piazza ranks 7th all-time, while he ranks 111th lifetime with 124 errors and ranks 122nd lifetime with 102 passed balls (he led the league twice in passed balls and reached double digits four times). Yet despite being 61 runs below average in Total Zone total runs as a catcher, Piazza still wound up with a career defensive bWAR of 1.0 win above a replacement player. That means that Piazza's defensive play did not offset significantly his offensive contributions.
For a ten-year period, from 1993 to 2002, Piazza flashed a .322/.389/.579 slash line with seasonal averages of 162 hits, 25 doubles, 35 home runs, 292 total bases, 85 runs scored, and 107 RBI while establishing a 155 OPS+ and a 5.2 bWAR; he was an All-Star in all ten years and twelve times in his career. That is a Hall of Fame career.
7. Craig Biggio (first year on ballot)
Although every eligible member of the 3000-hit club except Rafael Palmeiro is in the Hall of Fame, not every member was a first-ballot inductee. Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and Paul Waner all had to wait at least a year before getting the call. (Or was it the telegram back in those days? Who remembers what a "telegram" is now?) Waner might have had to wait five years before getting the call/telegram in 1952 (rules were different then—Waner had retired in 1945 and was on his first ballot in 1948), but every eligible player with 3000 hits since Waner and up to Palmeiro went in on his first ballot.
(Pete Rose, the all-time leader in hits with 4256, had agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball in 1989, three years after he had retired, for allegedly gambling on baseball, an accusation that at the time he denied. In 1991, the Hall of Fame made formal its informal ban of any player deemed so ineligible, the year prior to Rose's first year of hypothetical eligibility; thus, Rose has never been an eligible candidate for the Hall. In 2004, Rose admitted that he had indeed bet on baseball games, even on—though not against—his own team, the Cincinnati Reds.)
Palmeiro might still be waiting for his call, but Craig Biggio, 21st lifetime with 3060 hits, could very well find himself entering Cooperstown on his first ballot. It is unfair to say that Biggio might not have had an inside track to the Hall had there not been so many players with PEDs association on this year's ballot, along with the backlash against such players, because Biggio compiled an impressive record in his 20-year career. Yet despite the inevitable whispers concerning PEDs that touches anyone who played in the Steroids Era—Biggio was a long-time teammate of Jeff Bagwell's, don'tcha know?—Biggio is generally regarded as one of the "clean" ones, even one with "integrity" almost comparable to Dale Murphy's, and that might be the, er, performance enhancement that could get him elected on his first try.
Which is academic, because Biggio is a Hall of Fame-caliber player in any event. And it's not just the 3000 hits that make him so, although obviously they don't hurt. Biggio is 5th in doubles with 668, 15th in runs scored with 1844, 33rd in total bases with 4711, 64th in stolen bases with 414, and—ouch!—2nd in hits by pitch with 285. What makes these numbers so impressive is that for his entire career, Biggio was an up-the-middle defender. His first four seasons were spent primarily as a catcher, starting 391 games, before moving to second base in 1992, a position at which he won four consecutive Gold Gloves, amassing a defensive bWAR of 2.3 during that period, while starting 1959 games at the keystone sack overall. Then late in his career he took a turn in the outfield, starting 252 games in centerfield and 98 in left field, before winding up his time back at second.
Truth be told, Biggio was not a defensive standout at any of the three positions. Altogether for his career, he was 70 runs below average in Total Zone analysis and at minus-50 in defensive runs saved, while his career defensive bWAR was minus-3.8. In essence, Biggio was a little below league-average at any of these positions—which, recall, are three-fourths of a team's defensive core—while providing offensive power well superior to a league-average defender at those positions. As a leadoff hitter in 1560 games started and 7297 plate appearances, Biggio sported a .284/.370/.447 slash line with 1800 hits, 426 doubles, 181 home runs, 2833 total bases, 1128 runs scored, and 238 total bases. He started another 1000 games batting in other positions in the lineup, notably second, at which he roughly duplicated his leadoff output.
The 3000 hits might be the sparkly stat that gives him first-ballot entrée. The parade of PEDs-associated might clear the path even more. But is Craig Biggio truly a Hall of Famer? In the history of this sport, who are the only two players other than Biggio to have combined more than 3000 hits, more than 600 doubles, more than 400 stolen bases, and more than 1800 runs scored? Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. And while Speaker might not have been voted in on his first ballot, his ballot was even tougher than Biggio's.
6. Larry Walker (third year on ballot)
In my very first column for this website, I had Larry Walker pegged as a Hall of Famer, and of course I stated his case for the 2012 ballot. So I am getting tired of pointing out that Walker is a genuine five-tool right fielder whose career performance—capped by three batting titles, the 1997 NL MVP Award, and seven Gold Gloves—has earned him a spot in Cooperstown.
Yes, I know—Coors Field. Walker spent nine full seasons with the Colorado Rockies, from 1995 to 2003, playing in 38 games for the Rockies in 2004 before going to the St. Louis Cardinals. Seven of those seasons were before the Rockies began using a humidor to store baseballs, with the aim of neutralizing the altitude effects in "the Mile-High City" of Denver that makes Coors Field a hitters' dream park. The knock against all Rockies, including Walker, who won all three of his batting titles playing in pre-humidor Colorado, is that those extreme park effects inflated their numbers, with the corresponding depreciation of their overall records.
There is no doubt that Walker feasted while playing at Coors Field, particularly in the pre-humidor days. In 427 games, 1820 plate appearances, and 1527 at-bats at Coors from 1995 to 2001, Walker boasted a lusty .396/.466/.754 slash line while notching 623 hits, 141 doubles, and 126 home runs (including a league-leading 49 in 1997, although only 20 of those were hit at Coors that year), with 428 runs scored and 396 RBI. The humidor cooled him down somewhat: His combined 2002-03 effort at Coors, in 143 games, 581 plate appearances, and 477 at-bats included a .350/.461/.612 line with 126 hits, 33 doubles, 26 home runs, 116 runs scored, and 116 RBI. Between 1995 and 2003, for a total of 570 games, 2401 plate appearances, and 2050 at-bats, and he posted an overall .385/.465/.721 line with 790 hits, 174 doubles, 152 home runs, 544 runs scored, and 512 RBI while playing in Coors Field.
By contrast, Walker was more human on the road. From 1995 to 2003, Walker's line away from Coors, in 562 games, 2256 plate appearances, and 1918 at-bats, was .279/.382/.508 with 536 hits, 114 doubles, 100 home runs, 326 runs scored, and 316 RBI. Over his entire career, Walker hit much better at home than on the road—a whopping 70 points higher in batting average (.348 at home versus .278 on the road), 61 points higher in on-base percentage (.431 versus .370), and an eye-popping 142 points higher in slugging percentage (.637 versus .495).
If you simply removed Walker's home record for the entire time he was in Colorado, you would end up with the following career record: a .282/.372/.499 slash line in 1418 games, 5629 plate appearances, and 4857 at-bats, with 1370 hits, 297 doubles, 231 home runs, 2426 total bases, 157 stolen bases, 811 runs scored, and 799 RBI. That reflects the removal of 570 games, 2401 plate appearances, and 2050 at-bats from his record, leaving him as a solid, though not quite Hall of Fame-caliber, hitter.
But that is only a crude exercise that does not make any accounting for the roughly 29 percent of Walker's games played at Coors Field. Nor does it account for the fact that like any player at any time in baseball history, Walker had very little control over park factors. Should the opportunity present itself, through trade or free agency, a player might be able to choose a team with which to play, and thus a home park in which to play, but that is not always an option, and it certainly wasn't an option prior to the 1970s, when free agency ushered in the current era of players having more control over their careers.
Baseball Reference features a comparison tool developed by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe called JAWS, the Jaffe WAR Score system, that measures a player's Hall of Fame-worthiness by position. Walker ranks ninth in JAWS, ahead of Hall of Fame right fielders Tony Gwynn, Harry Heilmann, Sam Crawford, Paul Waner, and Dave Winfield. Of the eight players ranked higher than Walker, all but Reggie Jackson enjoyed the advantages of hitting at home. Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial (an odd inclusion as he played more games at first base and in left field), Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Al Kaline all posted overall slash lines higher at home than on the road. Spending his entire career with the New York Giants, Ott hit 63.2 percent (323) of his 511 home runs in the Polo Grounds—by contrast, 152 of Walker's 383 home runs, or 39.6 percent, were hit in Coors Field—while Robinson hit 54.8 percent (321) of his 586 home runs in his home parks, and Kaline hit 56.6 percent (226) of his 399 homers in Tiger Stadium, the only home park he knew. Even Musial, who famously split his lifetime 3630 hits equally between home and the road, hit 29 more home runs (252 at home to 223 away) and 61 more doubles (394 to 333) at home. Only Jackson had a stronger slash line during away games, although his home runs were a wash, 280 at home and 283 on the road.
Home-field advantage has been a positive factor for almost all of the right fielders ranked higher than Walker—and we haven't yet examined his early career with the Expos, playing in Montreal's cavernous Olympic Stadium. In the five full seasons Walker played for the Expos, three of those seasons, 1990, 1991, and 1993, had Olympic Stadium considered to be a pitchers' park, with the corresponding effect on Walker's performance. Even in 1992, which found Olympic Stadium more of a hitters' park—and Walker did hit 13 of his 23 home runs that season there—he still hit better on the road. Overall, Walker did hit slightly better in Montreal: a .286/.364/.500 slash line—coincidentally, fairly close to his line with all his Coors Field games removed—with 311 hits, 75 doubles, 47 home runs, 543 total bases, 181 runs scored, and 188 RBI in 319 games, 1243 plate-appearances, and 1047 at-bats. In 355 away games, with 1447 plate appearances and 1279 at-bats, Walker posted a .278/.350/.468 line with 355 hits, 72 doubles, 52 home runs, 599 total bases, 187 runs, and 196 RBI.
There is no doubt that playing at Coors Field boosted Walker's numbers. But consider this: In his 1997 MVP season, Walker posted a .346/.443/.733 slash line on the road while hitting 29 of his 49 home runs in other ballparks; despite hitting 30 of his 46 doubles and all four of his triples in Coors, he actually slugged better on the road. In 1997, Walker swung a hot bat anywhere he played, not just in Denver. Walker's final season was in 2005, his only full season in St. Louis, and he did hit significantly better in Busch Stadium II, which that year did favor hitters slightly.
Throughout his career, Walker did hit significantly better in his home park, whichever park that was, than did the right fielders with whom he is ranked. Do we penalize Walker for this—and not other hitters who also enjoyed their home-field advantage? Perhaps some kind of weighting or neutralizing could scale Walker's output at Coors Field, both before and after the introduction of the humidor, to approximate how Walker would have done in a "normal" home park. But the logical extension of this thinking is to then re-evaluate every player based on his specific advantages—and then to re-evaluate based on his disadvantages.
All this would be done to "adjust" the results of roughly 30 percent of Walker's games although in the other roughly 20 percent of his home games other than in Coors Field—more "normal" ballparks—he demonstrated a less extreme if still significant propensity to hit well. That is just a fact of Larry Walker's career, and even if we scale back some of Walker's stratospheric numbers in Coors Field, he still remains a Hall of Fame-worthy candidate.