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Baseball Hall of Fame: Upcoming Borderline Candidates, Part 2

Baseball Hall of Fame: Upcoming Borderline Candidates, Part 2
06 Nov
2017
Not in Hall of Fame
Baseball immortality: Precious few attain it, most do not even come close—and some perch on the cusp of that immortality as signified by the Baseball Hall of Fame. Theirs are the test cases, players whose careers, accomplishments, and legacies form the threshold of what separates a Hall of Famer from the rest.

Baseball Hall of Fame voting in the last few years has been fascinating for a number of reasons, particularly the logjam of qualified candidates, which promises to remain an issue for the next few years. That logjam puts additional pressure on the borderline candidates—will they be overlooked, perhaps unfairly, because there are too many candidates from which to choose?

Borderline Candidates, 2018–2019, and Those Not under Discussion

In Part 1 of this series, we examined borderline candidates whose first years of eligibility were 2015 and 2016. In Part 2, we look at the borderline candidates for 2018 and 2019, six for 2018 and five for 2019. Those candidates are:

2018: Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Jamie Moyer, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, Omar Vizquel

2019: Lance Berkman, Todd Helton, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Michael Young

The 2018 ballot will see the first-time appearance of another Jones, Chipper Jones, coincidentally a long-time teammate of Andruw, along with Jim Thome, while the following year offers first-timers Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera. All four could be elected in their first year of eligibility, but if not they are certain to be elected before their time on the ballot comes to an end, and rightly so.

Removing those players expected to be a lock for the Hall of Fame leaves us with the following borderline candidates not yet evaluated in this series. For purposes of the comparison immediately below, though, we will retain those 11 candidates evaluated previously for the years 2015 to 2017 in Part 1 of this series.

The following two tables list 22 borderline candidates from 2015 to 2019, 16 position players and 6 pitchers. The players are ranked by their career Wins Above Replacement from Baseball Reference (bWAR) along with other representative qualitative statistics (explained below each table).

Here are the 16 position players, ranked by bWAR. Players under discussion in this article are in bold. Players not in bold text have been discussed in Part 1.

Position Players , Ranked by bWAR

Position Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Rolen, Scott

.281/.364/.490

.368

70.0

69.9

122

122

Jones, Andruw

.254/.337/.486

.352

62.8

67.1

111

111

Helton, Todd

.316/.414/.539

.405

61.5

55.3

133

132

Edmonds, Jim

.284/.376/.527

.385

60.3

64.0

132

132

Sheffield, Gary

.292/.393/.514

.391

60.2

62.4

140

141

Guerrero, Vladimir

.318/.379/.553

.390

59.3

56.5

140

136

Damon, Johnny

.284/.352/.433

.344

56.0

42.9

104

105

Berkman, Lance

.293/.406/.537

.400

51.8

55.5

144

144

Vizquel, Omar

.272/.336/.352

.310

45.3

42.0

82

83

Delgado, Carlos

.280/.383/.546

.391

44.3

43.5

138

135

Garciaparra, Nomar

.313/.361/.521

.376

44.2

41.5

124

124

Posada, Jorge

.273/.374/.474

.367

42.7

44.9

121

123

Ordonez, Magglio

.309/.369/.502

.375

38.5

37.8

125

126

Renteria, Edgar

.286/.343/.398

.327

32.1

35.5

94

95

Anderson, Garret

.293/.324/.461

.334

25.6

23.5

102

100

Young, Michael

.300/.346/.441

.342

24.4

26.9

104

104


Slash Line:
Grouping of the player's career batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

wOBA: Weighted on-base average as calculated by FanGraphs. Weighs singles, extra-base hits, walks, and hits by pitch; generally, .400 is excellent and .320 is league-average.

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

OPS+: Career on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 OPS+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

wRC+: Career weighted Runs Created, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 wRC+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

Scott Rolen 1
Ace third baseman Scott Rolen has the WAR for the Hall of Fame--but does he have the fame to go with it?

Here are the six pitchers, ranked by bWAR. Pitchers under discussion in this article are in bold.

Pitchers, Ranked by bWAR

Pitcher

W-L (S), ERA

bWAR

fWAR

ERA+

ERA–-

FIP–-

Pettitte, Andy

256-153, 3.85

60.9

68.5

117

86

84

Santana, Johan

139-78, 3.20

50.7

45.3

136

74

81

Moyer, Jamie

269-209, 4.25

50.2

48.0

103

97

103

Oswalt, Roy

163-102, 3.36

50.2

49.8

127

79

78

Hoffman, Trevor

61-75 (601), 2.87

28.0

23.0

141

71

75

Wagner, Billy

47-40 (422), 2.31

27.7

23.6

187

54

63

 

W-L (S), ERA: Grouping of the pitcher's career win-loss record (and career saves, if relevant) and career earned run average (ERA).

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

ERA+: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA+ indicating a league-average pitcher, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

ERA–: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

FIP–: Fielding-independent pitching, a pitcher's ERA with his fielders' impact factored out, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 FIP– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

The table below combines both position players and pitchers into a ranking by bWAR with their fWAR values also listed. Players under discussion in this article are in bold.

All Players, Ranked by bWAR

Rank

Player

bWAR

fWAR

1

Rolen, Scott

70.0

69.9

2

Jones, Andruw

62.8

67.6

3

Helton, Todd

61.5

55.3

4

Pettitte, Andy

60.9

68.5

5

Edmonds, Jim

60.3

64.0

6

Sheffield, Gary

60.2

62.4

7

Guerrero, Vladimir

59.3

56.5

8

Damon, Johnny

56.0

42.9

9

Berkman, Lance

51.8

55.5

10

Santana, Johan

50.7

45.3

11

Moyer, Jamie

50.2

48.0

12

Oswalt, Roy

50.2

49.8

13

Vizquel, Omar

45.3

42.0

14

Delgado, Carlos

44.3

43.5

15

Garciaparra, Nomar

44.2

41.5

16

Posada, Jorge

42.7

44.9

17

Ordoñez, Magglio

38.5

37.8

18

Renteria, Edgar

32.1

35.5

19

Anderson, Garret

25.6

23.5

20

Young, Michael

24.4

26.9

21

Hoffman, Trevor

28.0

23.0

22

Wagner, Billy

27.7

23.6


As with previous assessments that use WAR as a ranking tool, WAR is not the be-all-and-end-all statistic although it is a fair assessment of player value: It measures a player's contribution to his team's wins, and it is the only qualitative statistic that enables comparison between position players and pitchers.

As a rough rule of thumb, position players and starting pitchers with a bWAR of 60 or more typically garner serious consideration for the Hall while relief pitchers generate the same consideration at 40 or more. Players with a bWAR of 50 or more do tend to sit on the bubble, with many other factors deciding whether they are legitimate Hall of Famers. That rough rule of thumb is in force in the individual assessments below as we examine the 11 borderline Hall of Fame candidates expected to appear on ballots in 2018 and 2019. Let's start with the six "bubble" candidates for the 2018 ballot.



2018: Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Jamie Moyer, Johan Santana, Scott Rolen, Omar Vizquel

The 2018 ballot offers two first-time candidates, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, whose elections to the Hall of Fame are both likely on this ballot and all but certain on a subsequent ballot if not. Moreover, there should be a thinning of the ballot in comparison to previous years.

Could this spell hope for our six borderline candidates?

Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones

Center fielders have not fared well on the Hall of Fame ballot in recent years—Jim Edmonds, Steve Finley, and Kenny Lofton did not survive their first ballot appearance while Bernie Williams was gone by his second chance—but the 2018 ballot has two first-time center fielders, Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones, who could not be more different although they do share one unusual distinction: In 2002, each was the 30th player selected for their league's respective All-Star team through an online vote by fans, the first time such a vote had been held; Damon, then on the Boston Red Sox, was the American League's 30th player while Jones, a member of the Atlanta Braves, represented the National League.

Johnny Damon's early career had the hallmarks of a star player on the rise. Starting in 1995, he spent his first six seasons with the Kansas City Royals, becoming a full-time player in 1996, honing his skills and adjusting to the Major Leagues, which culminated in 2000 when he led the AL in runs scored (136) and stolen bases (46), both career highs, as he racked up 214 hits, another career high and his only 200-hit season, including 42 doubles, 10 triples, and 16 home runs, all good for a .327/.382/.495/.877 slash line, that last percentage his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) that generates a 118 OPS+, and a 115 wRC+. In his six seasons with the Royals, Damon averaged 149 hits per year including 26 doubles, 8 triples, and 11 home runs, with 84 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. Over that period, Damon posted a .292/.351/.438/.789 slash line but a 101 OPS+, essentially league-average.

Part of a three-way trade in 2001, Damon moved to the Oakland A's where his effectiveness dipped significantly despite scoring 108 runs. The following season, now a free agent, Damon signed a four-year contract with the Red Sox, becoming a part of the "idiots" who would go onto an epic heartbreak in the 2003 AL Championship Series against Boston's bitter rivals the New York Yankees before breaking the Curse of the Bambino the following season in a truly historic postseason that saw them clinch their first World Series in 86 years.

In his four-year stint with the Red Sox, Damon, in his age-28 through age-31 seasons, generated a .295/.362/.441/.803 slash line with a 108 OPS+ as he averaged, per season, 182 hits including 34 doubles and 14 home runs along with scoring 115 runs and swiping 24 bases. Damon led the AL in triples (11) in 2002 and in 2005 banged out 197 hits, fifth in the American League, while his 117 runs scored was fourth in the league, as was his .316 batting average, the fourth of five times that he would hit .300 or higher in his career. However, his previous season, the 2004 championship season, may be Damon's most solid overall as he posted a .304/.380/.477/.857 slash line, which yielded a 117 OPS+, while he established career highs in walks (76) and runs batted in (94) while hitting at least 20 home runs for the first of three times in his career.

The 2004 postseason found Damon winning the first of two World Series rings during Boston's historic, dramatic year that saw the Red Sox lose the first three games of the ALCS to the hated Yankees—only to win the next four games to move onto the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the only time an MLB team had lost the first three games of a seven-game series but rebounded to eventually win the series. Damon's overall performance in the ALCS was unremarkable, notching just 6 hits in 35 at-bats, including 8 strikeouts, for a .171 batting average—however, two of those hits were home runs, both coming in the decisive Game Seven, with the first a second-inning grand slam that put the nail in the Yankees' coffin, all the more damaging as it occurred in Yankee Stadium.

Johnny Damon would go on to see much more of Yankee Stadium: At the end of 2005, he signed a four-year contract with the Bronx Bombers, and the center fielder hitting-machine's ascendancy to the top of the baseball world, begun in lowly Kansas City with stops in Oakland and Boston, seemed complete. Of course, Damon incurred the wrath of the Fenway faithful—who had voted him to the AL All-Star squad in 2005, his second and final selection—as he had sworn earlier in the year that he would never play for the Yankees, but he was hardly unique in that as Red Sox icons Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens, and later Jacoby Ellsbury, all played for the Yankees following their tenure in Boston.

With his stint with the Yankees coinciding with his decline phase, Damon still generated a .285/.363/.458/.821 slash line, good for a 112 OPS+, while averaging 159 hits, including 31 doubles and 19 home runs, 102 runs scored, and 23 stolen bases over his four seasons in the Bronx. His .303 batting average in 2008 was his fifth and final season of hitting .300 or higher while he hit 24 home runs in a season, his career high, twice, in 2006 and again in 2009.

For the Yankees in the 2009 postseason, Damon managed just one hit in 12 at-bats against the Minnesota Twins in the AL Divisional Series, which the Yankees swept despite him, but he came alive against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as he hit two home runs, drove in five runs, and batted .300 during the six games that saw New York advance to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, looking to defend their world championship. Damon batted a torrid .364, scored six runs, and drove in four more as the Yankees won their first World Series ring since 2000 in six games, with Damon stealing three bases—including two in the same play against the Phillies' overshift that left third base unattended.

Unable to come to terms with the Yankees at the end of the 2009 season, Damon, by now a left fielder and designated hitter, spent a season each with, respectively, the Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays, and Cleveland Indians before the MLB jobs dried up after 2012. In his 18-year career, Johnny Damon finished 31st in runs scored (1668), 46th in doubles (522), 53rd in hits (2769), 67th in stolen bases (408), and 128th in triples (109). He had 10 years with 100 or more runs scored, nine of those consecutively from 1998 to 2006, and 12 years with 150 or more hits, with nine of those seasons, not surprisingly, also between 1998 and 2006.

Defensively, Damon was never an asset although the move to left field during his decline phase boosted his effectiveness. His overall defensive WAR (dWAR), computed by Baseball Reference, of –3.1 reflects his liability in the field, as reinforced by his Total Zone total fielding runs above average (Baseball Reference) in center field at –35 runs, with his defensive runs saved (Baseball Reference) at the same position as –28 runs, both for the 1298 games Damon played in center field, although he looks better in left field (684 games played) with 48 runs and 8 runs, respectively.

On the other hand, Andruw Jones, who at least during the first 12 years of his 17-year career, appeared to be the poster boy for advanced defensive metrics, at one point emerging as one of the greatest defensive players ever, although subsequent reassessment has brought the slugging center fielder down from such Olympian heights. Nevertheless, Jones, a native of the Caribbean island of Curaçao who first appeared in his age-19 season in 1996 with the Atlanta Braves and who finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year voting the following year, won ten consecutive Gold Gloves starting in 1997, putting him in a tie for second for the most Gold Gloves by an outfielder with Ken Griffey, Jr., Al Kaline, and Ichiro Suzuki—with the first two Hall of Famers and the last a certain one when he retires. Moreover, and unusual for a center fielder, Jones had a cannon for an arm and ranks 34th in assists (102) for center fielders.

How good was Jones as a defensive center fielder—and how bad was Damon? For comparative purposes, the following table details the following:

The FanGraphs and Baseball Reference Total Zone total fielding runs above average ratings, ranked by FanGraphs Total Zone for this sample, for center fielders currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame and (in bold italic) upcoming candidates Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones along with (in bold) recent Hall of Fame candidates Jim Edmonds, Steve Finley, Kenny Lofton, and Bernie Williams.

The FanGraphs Total Zone ratings are for center field unless marked by an asterisk (*), which indicates that only overall outfield data is available. For Baseball Reference Total Zone, no data is available for players up to the 1950s.

Also listed is Defensive Runs Saved, from Baseball Reference, although data is only available for recently retired players; all others are listed with an NA for not applicable.

Finally, the player's defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR), as calculated by Baseball Reference, is listed. Please note that dWAR takes into account the player's defensive rating at any position he played and is not exclusively for center field.

Rank

Player

Total Zone (FanGraphs)

Total Zone (Baseball Reference)

Defensive Runs Saved (Baseball Reference)

Defensive Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference)

1

Jones, Andruw

220

220

61

24.1

2

Mays, Willie

148

176

NA

18.1

3

Lofton, Kenny

119

115

–21

14.7

4

Speaker, Tris

91*

NA

NA

2.5

5

Carey, Max

86*

NA

NA

–0.1

6

Edmonds, Jim

83

80

–7

5.9

7

Dawson, Andre

78

77

NA

0.9

8

Duffy, Hugh

68*

NA

NA

–2.5

9

DiMaggio, Joe

49*

NA

NA

3.2

10

Hamilton, Billy

30*

NA

NA

–5.2

11

Combs, Earle

6

NA

NA

–2.8

12

Griffey, Jr., Ken

4

6

–42

1.3

13

Cobb, Ty

0

NA

NA

–10.8

14

Finley, Steve

–4

–16

–3

2.8

15

Ashburn, Richie

–5

39

NA

5.3

16

Roush, Edd

–6*

NA

NA

–6.1

17

Doby, Larry

–8

–5

NA

–0.1

18

Puckett, Kirby

–12

–12

NA

–1.0

19

Snider, Duke

–20

–7

NA

–6.0

20

Mantle, Mickey

–26

–10

NA

–10.1

21

Averill, Earl

–32*

NA

NA

–5.3

22

Wilson, Hack

–32*

NA

NA

–7.2

23

Damon, Johnny

–35

2

–28

–3.1

24

Williams, Bernie

–44

–108

–64

–10.3


Quite noticeably, Andruw Jones stands alone as a defensive superstar, even ranking higher than Willie Mays, who is considered to be the greatest center fielder, both offensively and defensively, of all time. Only Jones and Mays rank among the top 1000 fielders at any position in all-time dWAR, with Jones ranking 20th while Mays is tied for 63rd place.

Andruw Jones
Advanced metrics place Andruw Jones among the greatest defensive center fielders of all time--but will his career nose-dive hurt him?

But defensive prowess, even at a strength position such as center field, is rarely the decisive factor in a Hall of Fame selection. Kenny Lofton, who had compiled an outstanding offensive record in addition to being one of the best defensive center fielders in the sample above, could not muster the necessary five percent of the vote to remain on a Hall of Fame ballot in his inaugural year—although that year happened to be 2013, when with a ballot overstuffed with qualified candidates, voters could not elect a single candidate to the Hall.

However, Andruw Jones, at least during his 12 seasons with the Braves, from 1996 to 2007, proved to be a potent offensive weapon certain to establish Hall of Fame credentials given that his final season in Atlanta, 2007, was only his age-30 season. In his time with the Braves, Jones compiled 1683 hits including 330 doubles and 368 home runs with 1045 runs scored, 1117 runs batted in, and 138 stolen bases. In a ten-year period between 1997 and 2006, Jones generated a .268/.346/.506/.852 slash line, yielding a 117 OPS+, while averaging, per season, 153 hits including 30 doubles and 34 home runs, 95 runs scored, 101 RBI, and 13 stolen bases.

The knocks against Jones was that he didn't hit for average—he batted at least .300 only once with a .303 average in 2000 when he fell one hit shy of the 200-hit plateau, his career high. That is not necessarily a negative in the sabermetric/Moneyball era, but neither was Jones working the count for bases on balls as he walked 80 or more times in a season only twice. Moreover, he struck out a lot, again not unusual in these free-swinging days, but he struck out at least 100 times in 11 consecutive seasons, and his 1748 career whiffs are tied for 22nd all-time.

However, Andruw Jones could hit for power, drive in runs, and at least early in his career could steal bases, all in addition to being a defensive superstar in center field. In 1998, his age-21 season, Jones hit 31 homers, and for the next nine consecutive seasons he hit at least 25 dingers every year, culminating with 51 big flies in 2005, which led the National League as did his 128 runs driven in, besting the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols in both categories while Jones finished second to Pujols in Most Valuable Player voting. Jones's 51 home runs remain a Braves single-season record—no small feat for a franchise that counts Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews among its sluggers—and when Jones clouted 41 homers the following year along with 129 RBI, his career best, his ascendancy as an elite player establishing a Hall of Fame career seemed assured.

So, what happened? Jones's final season in Atlanta, 2007, saw him drop below league-average in both OPS+ (87) and wRC+ (86) with a paltry .222/.311/.413/.724 slash line although he did slug 26 homers while driving in 94. Weight and attitude problems were supposedly to blame, and when Jones wasn't re-signed by the Braves after the 2007 season, he signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, he reported to the Dodgers overweight and sustained a knee injury during a most inauspicious season that saw him, in only 75 games and 238 plate appearances, fall well below the Mendoza Line with an anemic .158/.256/.249/.505 slash line and only three home runs. More alarmingly, he was no longer an elite defender—his fielding runs above average fell into the negative range with –10 while his defensive runs saved dropped to –6 and his range factors, always previously better than the league's average, were now below-average.

In fact, Jones, with whom the Dodgers had negotiated a release, would finish the rest of his career as a corner outfielder, first with the Texas Rangers for a one-year stint before signing with the Chicago White Sox in 2010, then ending his Major League career in 2012 with the Yankees after signing with them in 2011. Jones did play two seasons in Japan before trying MLB comebacks in 2015 and 2016, then announcing his official retirement earlier this year.

Defensively among center fielders, Andruw Jones ranks 15th in putouts (4457), 34th in assists (102), and 40th in double plays turned (23), while his 434 home runs is tied for 44th on the all-time list.

In addition to the 20 Hall of Fame players identified by Jay Jaffe's JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) system as being a center fielder, the table below lists (in bold italic) Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones as well as recent Hall of Fame candidates (in bold) Jim Edmonds, Steve Finley, Kenny Lofton, and Bernie Williams. The players are ranked by JAWS, and the table includes other evaluation statistics, which are explained below the table, as well as the average aggregate bWAR and JAWS statistics for all center fielders already in the Hall of Fame.

2018 Center Field Candidates, Qualitative Comparisons to Hall of Fame Center Fielders (Ranked by JAWS)

Player

fWAR

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

OPS+

wRC+

Mays, Willie

149.9

156.2

73.7

115.0

1

376

76

156

154

Cobb, Ty

149.3

151.0

69.0

110.0

2

445

75

168

165

Speaker, Tris

130.6

133.7

69.0

97.9

3

252

73

152

157

Mantle, Mickey

112.3

109.7

64.7

87.2

4

300

65

172

170

Griffey, Jr., Ken

77.7

86.6

53.9

68.8

5

235

61

136

131

DiMaggio, Joe

83.1

78.1

51.0

64.5

6

270

58

155

152

Snider, Duke

63.5

66.5

50.0

58.2

7

152

47

140

139

Ave. of 20 CF HoFers

NA

71.1

44.5

57.8

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

Lofton, Kenny

62.4

68.2

43.3

55.7

9

91

42

107

109

Jones, Andruw

67.1

62.8

46.4

54.6

10

109

34

111

111

Ashburn, Richie

57.4

63.6

44.3

53.9

11

112

41

111

115

Dawson, Andre

59.5

64.5

42.5

53.5

12

118

44

119

117

Hamilton, Billy

70.3

63.3

42.6

53.0

13

154

51

141

142

Edmonds, Jim

64.5

60.3

42.5

51.4

14

88

39

132

132

Doby, Larry

51.1

49.5

39.6

44.6

20

72

30

136

137

Damon, Johnny

44.5

56.0

32.8

44.4

21

90

45

104

105

Puckett, Kirby

44.9

50.9

37.5

44.2

22

160

39

124

122

Carey, Max

60.1

54.2

32.9

43.6

25

76

36

108

110

Williams, Bernie

43.9

49.4

37.5

43.5

26

134

49

125

126

Averill, Earl

47.9

48.0

37.3

42.7

27

128

50

133

131

Combs, Earle

41.3

42.5

34.3

38.4

36

94

37

125

127

Roush, Edd

49.6

45.2

31.5

38.3

37

72

36

126

127

Finley, Steve

40.4

44.0

32.0

38.0

40

72

36

104

104

Wilson, Hack

42.1

38.8

35.8

37.3

43

100

39

144

143

Duffy, Hugh

48.3

43.0

30.8

36.9

46

155

55

123

118

Waner, Lloyd

25.0

24.1

20.3

22.2

116

86

31

99

99

Hanlon, Ned

19.2

18.0

14.2

16.1

163

12

12

102

104


fWAR:
Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

WAR7: The sum of a player's best seven seasons as defined by bWAR; they need not be consecutive seasons.

JAWS: Jaffe WAR Score system—an average of a player's career WAR and his seven-year WAR peak.

JAWS Rank: The player's ranking at that position by JAWS rating.

Ave. HoF bWAR: The average bWAR value of all the Hall of Famers at that position.

Ave. HoF JAWS: The average JAWS rating of all the Hall of Famers at that position.

Hall of Fame Monitor: An index of how likely a player is to be inducted to the Hall of Fame based on his entire playing record (offensive, defensive, awards, position played, postseason success), with an index score of 100 being a good possibility and 130 a "virtual cinch." Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

Hall of Fame Standards: An index of performance standards, indexed to 50 as being the score for an average Hall of Famer. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

OPS+: Career on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 OPS+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

wRC+: Career weighted Runs Created, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 wRC+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

Recent voting results for center fielders have exhibited a pronounced dichotomy. Ken Griffey, Jr., waltzed into the Hall of Fame with a record-setting vote tally and with qualitative statistics displayed in the table above that are well above the bar composed of aggregate results for all center fielders in the Hall. (The 19 Hall of Famers prior to Griffey's election composed an aggregate of 68.7 fWAR, 68.4 bWAR, 46.0 WAR7, and 55.7 JAWS.) However, of the preceding four center fielders on recent ballots, three never made it past their first year while the fourth, Bernie Williams, lasted only two years. Jim Edmonds and especially Kenny Lofton, though both beneath the bar, were truly borderline candidates; I had picked Lofton for the Hall in 2013, and I wouldn't complain if Edmonds were ever inducted.

An intriguing similarity between Ken Griffey, Jr., and Andruw Jones is that their peak period came early in their careers while they were playing for their first team, which was the team with which they played the majority of their careers. Each had a peak period of ten years, which is also the minimum length of Major League service needed to qualify for Hall of Fame consideration; for Griffey, that period was from 1990 to 1999, his age-20 to age-29 seasons, and for Jones, that period was from 1997 to 2006, also between his age-20 and age-29 seasons.

The table below compares selected qualitative statistics for Griffey and Jones based on their peak periods. The table also includes Johnny Damon although Damon's peak period is not as clearly defined, did not occur at the start of his career, nor occurred with just one team. Damon's ten-year period is 2000 to 2009, from his age-26 season, after he had been in the Major Leagues for five years, to his age-35 season, and it stretches across four teams.

Ten-Year Peak-Period Comparison for Ken Griffey, Jr., Andruw Jones, and Johnny Damon, Ranked by bWAR

Position Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Griffey, Jr., Ken

.302/.384/.581/.965

.406

67.3

65.9

152

146

Jones, Andruw

.268/.346/.506/.852

.361

57.8

60.9

117

116

Damon, Johnny

.291/.360/.445/.805

.352

39.3

33.5

108

110


Just on his ten-year peak, Griffey would most likely be elected to the Hall of Fame with little effort while Jones would certainly be a much-discussed bubble candidate. Damon would likely not survive a first ballot.

In fact, Damon may remind you of Garret Anderson, evaluated in Part 1 of this series and determined to be a compiler. That's not an insult as any player has to be good enough to stay on a Major League roster in order to compile statistics significant enough to then be considered for the Hall of Fame; appropriately, Damon and Anderson each hit the same number of doubles, 522, in their careers. But Johnny Damon, despite some high-profile moments, was at best a notch or two above a league-average player, again, not an insult, but also not a Hall of Famer.

Andruw Jones, who by statistical coincidence hit the same number of doubles, 383, as Kenny Lofton, is not so easily pigeonholed. Unlike Damon, his traditional numbers are not impressive—he fell 67 hits shy of 2000, and his .254/.337/.486/.823 career slash line is unremarkable. Yet he hit 434 home runs, 337 of those during his ten-year peak, and 368 of those during his 12 years with the Atlanta Braves. Moreover, Jones, at least by modern defensive metrics, is considered to be one of the greatest defensive center fielders of all time with ten consecutive Gold Gloves to his name. And Jones's early, sustained peak looks most impressive—enough to make his dramatic decline in his last few seasons look like a debilitating liability.

Andruw Jones is hardly the only player who got off to a Hall of Fame-like start before collapsing; Nomar Garciaparra is a recent example, and we will see shortly whether Johan Santana is another example. To get into the Hall of Fame, a player must not only be very good—significantly better than league-average—but be very good for a very long time, or else have a tremendous peak. Jones will generate discussion based on his extraordinary fielding during his peak, and those 434 dingers will help, but he ultimately falls below the threshold.




Johan Santana and Jamie Moyer

And just as Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones are a study in contrast in center field, Johan Santana and Jamie Moyer, while both left-handed starting pitchers, were hardly formed from the same mold, either in their pitching styles or in their career paths—Santana's career was coming to an end at an age when Moyer's was just beginning to take off.

Reaching the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2000, his age-21 season, Santana toiled in the bullpen his first four seasons, getting increasingly more starting opportunities with 14 in 27 appearances in 2002 and with 18 in 45 appearances in 2003, as he developed an effective changeup to complement his decent if not blazing fastball. By 2002, Santana, despite leading the American League with 15 wild pitches in 108.1 innings, was maturing: He won eight games, seven as a starter, while his 2.99 ERA and 150 ERA+ heralded Santana's incipient prowess.

His 2003 season reinforced this promise as he finished seventh in AL Cy Young voting despite spending much of the season in the bullpen. But when Santana cracked the starting rotation, he promptly posted an auspicious 11–2 win-loss record, having won his last eight starts, with a 2.85 ERA, and with 109 strikeouts in 110.1 innings as a starter, computing to a ratio of 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings against just 27 bases on balls, Santana approached a Curt Schilling-like strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 4.04.

By 2004, Johan Santana had arrived: He won his first Cy Young Award, besting Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, and Pedro Martinez—the last two ultimately helping the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series win in 86 years—in the voting as Santana won 20 games against only six losses, a career-best .769 winning percentage, and led the AL in earned run average (2.61), strikeouts (265), ERA+ (182), FIP (2.92), WHIP (0.921), and strikeouts-to-walks (10.5) while also allowing a Major League-lowest 6.2 hits per nine innings pitched. With a career-high 8.6 bWAR, Santana placed sixth in AL Most Valuable Player voting.

That 2004 season ushered in a five-year streak of pitching dominance that seemed to mark Johan Santana as a sure bet for Cooperstown. For that five-year stretch, from 2004 to 2008, Santana won 86 games against only 39 losses in 168 games started, a sterling.688 winning percentage as he averaged 17 wins a season, leading the AL in wins (19) in 2006 and never winning fewer than 15 games per year. That 2006 campaign saw Santana win the pitching Triple Crown by leading the AL in wins (19), strikeouts (245), and earned run average (2.77) as he won his second Cy Young Award—and by capturing all the first place votes as he had done two years previously, Santana joined Roger Clemens, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers to have done this more than once.

In this half-decade, Santana led the American League in wins, games started, and in innings pitched once and in strikeouts and ERA three times. In peripheral statistics, Santana led the league in ERA+, FIP, and strikeouts per nine innings pitched three times and in WHIP four times.

Santana stumbled during the 2007 season as he lost 13 games for a Twins club that finished third in the AL Central with a win-loss record below.500. The left-hander, who led the AL in home runs allowed with 33 as he posted a 3.33 ERA, his only season during this five-year run with an ERA above 3.00, nevertheless won 15 games while recording 235 strikeouts and earning his only Gold Glove for fielding. Nevertheless, the Twins dealt Santana to the New York Mets before the 2008 season began.

But if Minnesota had been skittish about Santana's effectiveness, his move to the National League didn't stop him from leading his new league in games started (34), innings pitched (234.1), and a Major League-leading 2.53 ERA as he won 16 games against just 7 losses for a .696 winning percentage as he fanned 206 batters, the fifth (and final) time he topped 200 strikeouts in a season. And his placing third in Cy Young voting found him in the top five of Cy Young voting all five years and in the top ten of Most Valuable Player voting twice. His cumulative bWAR total during this five-year reign was 35.4, an average of 7.1 wins above a replacement pitcher each season.

During the 2008 season, however, Santana had torn the meniscus in his left knee and underwent surgery at the end of the season. And although he recovered in time for the 2009 season, Santana missed the last month of that season following surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow, signaling a series of injuries that would hamper him for the rest of his career—and jeopardize his bid for the Hall of Fame.

Although Johan Santana's 2009 and 2010 seasons were respectable, he was no longer an elite pitcher as he underwent surgery again in 2010, this time on his left shoulder, and he missed all of 2011 to recover from that operation. He returned to start the 2012 season, and on June 1 he pitched a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, the defending World Series champions—the first no-hitter thrown by a Mets pitcher in the franchise's history, no small feat as hurlers such as Dwight Gooden and especially Hall of Famer Tom Seaver had their opportunities while in a Mets uniform.

Nevertheless, Santana had a mediocre year, his worst as a full-time starter as he won just six games against nine losses in 21 starts while posting a bloated 4.85 ERA. Injuries dogged him in 2012, particularly a lower-back inflammation near the end of August that saw him miss the rest of the season—in fact, that was Santana's final appearance in the Major Leagues. He injured his shoulder again in 2013, but despite minor league contracts with the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays in subsequent years, repeated injuries ended his career.

In his 12-year career, Johan Santana appeared in 360 games, 284 of those as a starting pitcher, for a total of 2025.2 innings pitched. He won 139 games against only 78 losses for a sparkling .641 winning percentage while posting a 3.20 ERA and a 136 ERA+, striking out 1988 batters against only 567 walks for an outstanding strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 3.51 as he struck out 8.8 batters per nine innings pitched and generated a 1.132 WHIP.

That short career leaves his counting numbers modest—his 1988 strikeouts, 84th all-time, are the only significant quantitative statistic in the top 100—but his rate stats look impressive: Santana ranks 17th all-time in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (8.833), 20th in ERA+ (136), 26th in strikeouts to walks (3.506), 37th in win-loss percentage (.641), 46th in WHIP (1.132), 51st in fewest hits per nine innings pitched (7.669), and 100th in bWAR for pitchers (50.7).

Yet the southpaw's short career but with five consecutive years of pitching dominance brings to mind a similar left-handed pitcher from nearly a half-century previously—Sandy Koufax, who waltzed into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1972 with 86.9 percent of the vote. However, Koufax's career, cut short by arm problems by age 30, had begun with his being a hurler with poor control—for the first seven years of his career, he won one game more than he lost (54–53) while posting a 3.94 ERA and a 105 ERA+, only a few ticks above a league-average pitcher as he walked 501 batters in 947.1 innings pitched, before dominating the National League in the last five years of his career.

Naturally, this prompts the question of whether Johan Santana can convince voters that he was sufficiently Koufax-like to be voted into Cooperstown.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key counting statistics over their careers along with ERA and WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched).

 

W–L (Pct.)

ERA

IP

GS

BB

SO

WHIP

Koufax, Sandy

165–87 (.655)

2.76

2324.1

314

817

2396

1.106

Santana, Johan

139–78 (.641)

3.20

2025.2

284

567

1988

1.132


The fundamental differences between the eras in which each pitched should be apparent: With 30 more starts than Santana, Koufax pitched 300 more innings. In fact, Santana had just 15 complete games over his career, while Koufax completed at least 15 starts in a season five times, including 27 each in his last two seasons, for a total of 137 complete games. Furthermore, Koufax threw 40 career shutouts, leading the National League twice including 11 in 1963, although Santana did notch 10 shutouts during his playing days.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key qualitative statistics over their careers.

 

ERA+

ERA–

FIP

FIP–

SO/9

SO/BB

bWAR

fWAR

Koufax, Sandy

131

75

2.69

75

9.3

2.93

53.2

54.5

Santana, Johan

136

74

3.44

81

8.8

3.51

50.7

45.3


The rate stats indicate greater parity between the two pitchers, with relatively little difference overall although FanGraphs is more bullish on Koufax than it is on Santana with respect to Wins Above Replacement.

Each pitcher had five consecutive years in which he dominated his league; Koufax's National League stretch began in 1962 and ended in 1966, his final season, while Santana reigned in the American League from 2004 to 2007 before moving to the NL in 2008, the final year of his supremacy although he pitched for three more seasons.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key counting statistics during their respective five-year pinnacle along with ERA and WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched).

 

W–L (Pct.)

ERA

IP

GS

BB

SO

WHIP

Koufax, Sandy

111–34 (.766)

1.95

1377

176

316

1444

0.926

Santana, Johan

86–39 (.688)

2.82

1146.2

168

261

1189

1.022


The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key qualitative statistics during their respective five-year pinnacle.

 

ERA+

ERA–

FIP

FIP–

SO/9

SO/BB

bWAR

fWAR

Koufax, Sandy

167

60

2.00

64

9.4

4.57

40.9

40.1

Santana, Johan

157

64

3.21

75

9.3

4.56

35.4

29.9


Sandy Koufax's five-year peak was truly extraordinary. In that half-decade, he led the NL in wins three times, in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts twice, and in earned run average all five years including three seasons with an ERA under 2.00. Nicknamed "the Left Arm of God," this epitome of the power pitcher also led the NL in strikeouts three times, fanning at least 300 hitters in each of those seasons including 382 in 1965, which shattered Rube Waddell's mark of 349 that had stood for 61 years to become the most in a single season in the modern era until, by one more strikeout, Nolan Ryan in turn bested Koufax's record eight years later. Koufax's league-leading in wins and strikeouts occurred in the same years, resulting in his clinching the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts) three times.

In those five years, Koufax threw four no-hitters, his last a perfect game in 1965, the first by a left-hander since 1880; Koufax's four no-hitters remained a Major League record until Ryan eventually shattered it by hurling seven blanks. Koufax won three Cy Young Awards, all of them unanimous, made even more remarkable as, since its 1956 inception, the Cy Young had been awarded solely to the best pitcher in both leagues until 1967, the year after Koufax retired. Moreover, Koufax won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1963 and was the MVP runner-up in 1965 and 1966, finishing behind Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, respectively.

Sandy Koufax's masterful half-decade was truly one for the ages, undoubtedly impressing the 86.9 percent of Hall of Fame voters who voted for him on his first and only ballot in 1972. But Koufax's era needs to be put into context. The 1960s are often termed part of baseball's "Golden Era," and it certainly was for pitchers.

In 1963, Major League Baseball expanded the strike zone, with the results being in the National League a 13 percent decrease in walks issued, a six percent increase in strikeouts, and a 15 percent decrease in runs scored as the NL batting average dropped from .261 during the previous year to .245. Pitchers worked from a 15-inch mound until after the 1968 season, when it was lowered to 10 inches. Finally, many players at the strength positions, those up the middle of the field—catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field—held starting roles because of their defensive ability and not necessarily because of their hitting prowess—and this doesn't include pitchers in both leagues hitting for themselves. (Koufax himself was a notoriously anemic hitter, posting a bloodless .097/.145/.116/.261 slash line with two home runs and nine doubles for his career.) In other words, Koufax and his contemporaries had to bear down on only a few spots in the opposing lineup.

By contrast, Johan Santana's five-year glory period occurred in the immediate aftermath of the peak in the usage and awareness of performance-enhancing drugs, but even leaving that still-contentious issue aside, Santana was facing the effects of a higher talent compression overall than in Koufax's era—not just at the traditional offensive positions such as first base or left field, but at the formerly weak-hitting positions of Koufax's time—in addition to the designated hitter who had been hitting for the pitcher for thirty years. As an example, in 1962, the first year of Koufax's reign, the National League's slash line was .261/.327/.393/.720, generating an OPS+ of 93—in essence a league average below league average—while averaging 4.48 runs per game. In 2004, the first year of Santana's half-decade of dominance, the American League posted a slash line of .270/.338/.433/.771, with an OPS+ at exactly the league average of 100, while averaging 5.01 runs per game. In other words, Santana and his contemporaries, particularly in the American League, had to bear down on just about every spot in the opposing lineup.

So, while Santana did not reach Olympian heights as did Koufax, he still got a good ways up Mount Olympus with one pitching Triple Crown in 2006 while leading the league in ERA and strikeouts two more times each, and winning two Cy Young Awards in unanimous voting. And the only other pitchers to do that at least twice—Koufax, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux—were elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility with the exception of Clemens. Santana also threw one no-hitter, although that came in 2012 and not in his peak period.

Johan Santana was the Sandy Koufax of his era, firing off a five-year string of dominating performances before injuries also curtailed his career. Moreover, he did this in an era of higher talent compression than Koufax's, meaning that not only did he face stiffer competition from the batters who faced him at the plate, he competed against a stronger set of starting pitchers.

Johan Santana
For his era, Johan Santana had a Sandy Koufax-like streak of pitching dominance--but will Hall of Fame voters think so?

In many respects, Johan Santana's case is a bellwether for evaluating pitchers for Hall of Fame legacy. Previous perceptions and traditional yardsticks—300 wins, or 3000 strikeouts—will not work. Santana's career may be the model for evaluating contemporary starting pitchers.

The following table compares the JAWS rankings of Santana and the other three starting pitchers discussed in this article with Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford.

2018 and 2019 Starting Pitcher Candidates, Qualitative Comparisons to Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford (Ranked by JAWS)

Player

fWAR

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

ERA+

ERA–

Ave. of 62 SP HoFers

NA

73.9

50.3

62.1

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

Santana, John

45.3

51.4

44.8

48.1

84

82

35

136

74

Koufax, Sandy

54.5

49.0

46.1

47.5

87

227

46

131

75

Pettitte, Andy

68.9

60.8

34.1

47.5

88

128

44

117

86

Ford, Whitey

54.9

57.3

34.7

46.0

97

208

56

133

75

Oswalt, Roy

52.4

50.2

40.1

45.1

105

59

34

127

79

Moyer, Jamie

48.2

50.4

33.2

41.8

132

56

39

103

97


fWAR:
Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference. Note that this calculation takes into account pitching performance only.

WAR7: The sum of a player's best seven seasons as defined by bWAR; they need not be consecutive seasons.

JAWS: Jaffe WAR Score system—an average of a player's career WAR and his seven-year WAR peak.

JAWS Rank: The player's ranking at that position by JAWS rating.

Ave. HoF bWAR: The average bWAR value of all the Hall of Famers at that position.

Ave. HoF JAWS: The average JAWS rating of all the Hall of Famers at that position.

Hall of Fame Monitor: An index of how likely a player is to be inducted to the Hall of Fame based on his entire playing record (offensive, defensive, awards, position played, postseason success), with an index score of 100 being a good possibility and 130 a "virtual cinch." Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

Hall of Fame Standards: An index of performance standards, indexed to 50 as being the score for an average Hall of Famer. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

ERA+: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA+ indicating a league-average pitcher, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

ERA–:
Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

Based not only on JAWS but on other evaluation standards, Johan Santana and Sandy Koufax are practically in a dead heat in most of these standards. And although all of these pitchers fall below the aggregate JAWS rankings of all starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, if the purpose of JAWS, as Jay Jaffe has explained, is to determine whether a player will maintain the existing standards of the Baseball Hall of Fame, then Johan Santana is a Hall of Famer.

On the other side of the coin is Jamie Moyer, whose first Major League season was in 1986, his age-23 season, and whose last season was in 2012, his age-49 season—and who had had Tommy John surgery at the end of 2010 in hopes of returning in 2012, which he did, with the Colorado Rockies, a team that did not exist when Moyer's career began, and whose home ballpark of Coors Field is hardly regarded as pitcher-friendly. Ah, to be a soft-tossing lefty. But although the Rockies released him in mid-year, Moyer signed two minor-league contracts, first with the Baltimore Orioles organization, and then with the Toronto Blue Jays organization, though both organizations declined to return Moyer to the majors. Nevertheless, in 2013, after consulting with Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield, Moyer tried to come back as a knuckleball pitcher although nothing came of it, and he did announce his official retirement later in the year.

Jamie Moyer is nothing if not persevering, which is hardly surprising for a pitcher who won 269 games in his career, 35th on the all-time list—tucked between Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes and should-be Hall of Famer Mike Mussina with 270 wins, and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer with 268—but who didn't notch his 100th win until his age-35 season in 1998. In fact, for his first 12 seasons, spent with a half-dozen teams, Moyer managed an 89–84 win-loss record for a .514 winning percentage as his ERA+ was 100—a league-average pitcher precisely.

Improbably, Moyer did not come into his own until he was traded mid-year in 1996, his age-33 season, by the Boston Red Sox to the Seattle Mariners, where he spent the next 10-plus seasons. With Seattle he posted a 145–87 win-loss record, good for an outstanding .625 winning percentage, this despite an overall 3.97 ERA and a 4.38 FIP (fielding-independent pitching, which concentrates on a pitcher's walks, hits by pitch, and home runs allowed, all factors wholly within a pitcher's control), although his 112 ERA+ was respectable.

Prior to coming to the Mariners, Moyer won as many as 12 games in a season only twice while posting a .462 winning percentage overall; now with Seattle, he won 15 or more games four times and 20 or more games twice including an outstanding 2003 campaign that saw him brandish a 21–7 record (.750) with a career-low 3.27 ERA and a career-high 132 ERA+ as he finished fifth in American League Cy Young voting and made his only All-Star team—all in his age-40 season—although his 2001 season was not far behind as he won 20 games against only six losses, a .769 winning percentage, and helped the Mariners, which had won a record 116 games that year, to the postseason. Moyer was outstanding against the Cleveland Indians in the AL Divisional Series, winning both his starts with 10 strikeouts in 12 innings and posting a stingy 1.50 ERA, and against the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series as he notched the only Mariners victory, a laugher in the Bronx that Seattle won 14–3 as Moyer allowed only two earned runs in seven innings while striking out five.

After a disappointing start to the 2006 season, going 6–12 with a 4.39 ERA, the Mariners traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies, where Moyer, throwing a fastball that averaged just over 80 MPH, won five games against only two losses for an encouraging finish to his age-43 season. Astonishingly, Moyer, still a starting pitcher, subsequently strung together three winning seasons including an excellent 2008 season—his age-45 year—that saw him win 16 games while losing only seven (.696), posting a 3.71 ERA, as he helped the Phillies into the postseason, where they won their first World Series since 1980 and only their second overall. It was Moyer's only World Series ring.

Amazingly, Jamie Moyer won 105 games between his age-40 season in 2003 and his final season in 2012, when he was 49 years old. (He turned 50 in November of that year.) Moyer holds a passel of records, most having to do with accomplishments at an advanced baseball age, such as the oldest pitcher to record a win and even the oldest player to drive in a run. However, Moyer may be best-known for giving up more home runs, 522, than any pitcher in baseball history, having eclipsed the previous mark of 505, held by Robin Roberts, in 2010, appropriately enough as a Phillie, as had been Roberts; each is the only pitcher to give up 500 or more career homers. Remarkably, though, Moyer only ever led the league in that dubious category once, when his career-high 44 gopher-balls surrendered led the American League in 2004; still, that total was only the sixth-highest single-season total in Major League history. In fact, Moyer made the top 100 only once, a testament, perhaps, to his, er, longevity.

Counting numbers? Not surprisingly, Moyer has a passel of those too: In addition to home runs allowed, he ranks 16th in games started (638), 30th in hits allowed (4231), 35th in wins (269), 37th in losses (209), 39th in strikeouts (2441), and 40th in innings pitched (4074). Moyer's lifetime ERA of 4.25 is hardly elite, and his career ERA+ of 103 marks him as a pitcher who is a tick or two above league-average. You have to play for a long time to compile the statistics Moyer has done—but you have to be elite to make it into the Hall of Fame. Jamie Moyer had a most unusual career, a successful career, and he is an inspiration for anyone thought too old or without the ideal skills to do anything, and although there should be a permanent display of his accomplishments in Cooperstown, a plaque is not warranted.

But considering that Jim Kaat, another southpaw who pitched for a quarter-century, has been a long-time favorite for a veterans committee Hall of Fame induction, the temptation to compare the two left-handers is overpowering—more so than either of their fastballs.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key counting statistics along with ERA and WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched).

 

W–L (Pct.)

ERA

IP

GS

BB

SO

WHIP

Kaat, Jim

283–237 (.544)

3.45

4620

625

1083

2461

1.259

Moyer, Jamie

269–209 (.563)

4.25

4074

638

1155

2441

1.322


The counting statistics suggest the differences in their eras: With a handful fewer starts, Kaat pitched more than 500 more innings than did Moyer although Kaat made just over 200 more total appearances than did Moyer: 898 for Kaat, 696 for Moyer. Complete games epitomize the differences: Kaat had 180 complete games to Moyer's 33—and in fact Kaat had just two fewer career shutouts than Moyer's career complete-game total; Moyer did notch 10 shutouts.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key qualitative statistics.

 

ERA+

ERA–

FIP

FIP–

SO/9

SO/BB

bWAR

fWAR

Kaat, Jim

108

93

3.41

91

4.9

2.27

45.3

70.9

Moyer, Jamie

103

97

4.47

102

5.4

2.11

50.2

48.2


ERA–:
Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

FIP-: Fielding-independent pitching, a pitcher's ERA with his fielders' impact factored out, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 FIP- indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

Qualitatively, Jim Kaat noses ahead of Jamie Moyer in most categories, and especially in Wins Above Replacement as computed by FanGraphs—which ranks him as a certain Hall of Famer at least in terms of value. Nevertheless, Kaat spent 15 years on the writers' Hall of Fame ballot but never cracked the 30-percent plateau, and thus far has been unsuccessful on two Golden Era Committee ballots although he was two votes shy of election in 2015. I profiled Kaat prior to that election and concluded that he was not a Hall of Famer. And if Kaat doesn't cut it, then neither does Moyer.




Omar Vizquel

Combining Jamie Moyer's longevity and Andruw Jones's defensive prowess is Omar Vizquel, who has played more games at shortstop, 2709, than any player in Major League history, and is considered to be one of the best defensive shortstops ever. Along with Moyer, Vizquel is one of 29 players to have played in four decades; Vizquel came up in 1989, his age-22 season, and played his last game in 2012, his age-45 season.

How much will the highlight reel help—or hurt—Omar Vizquel? Playing entirely in not just the television era but in the television-saturation era, Vizquel's rabbit-like jumps and bare-handed grabs, which invited comparisons to Ozzie Smith, reinforced Vizquel's wizardry at arguably the hardest defensive position on the diamond, so much so that a parade of commentators glibly declaring that Vizquel is, or should be, a Hall of Famer have made that pronouncement into an article of faith. But does Vizquel's record justify the claim?

The most obvious comparison is to Ozzie Smith, known primarily for his defensive play but who compiled a respectable offensive record, and—encouragingly for Vizquel—who was voted into the Hall of Fame on his first try in 2002 with 91.7 percent of the vote. (Smith was the only candidate elected in 2002, on a ballot that included six candidates elected subsequently.) So, how does Vizquel stack up against Smith?

The table below displays defensive statistics for Smith and Vizquel including games played at shortstop, putouts, assists, double plays turned, fielding percentage, Total Zone runs above average (RAA), range factor per nine innings (RF/9: 9 times (putouts plus assists) divided by innings played), and that range factor for the player's league.

 

GP

PO

A

DP

FPct.

RAA

RF/9

lgRF/9

Smith, Ozzie

2511

4249

8375

1590

.978

239

5.22

4.78

Vizquel, Omar

2709

4102

7676

1734

.985

134

4.62

4.61


Defensively, the edge goes to Smith. Although Vizquel was more sure-handed (his .985 fielding percentage is second-best all-time) and turned more double plays (Smith is second only to Vizquel), Smith got to more balls—he is fifth all-time in range factor per nine innings and is the all-time leader in assists—and is clearly ahead in run prevention. Moreover, Ozzie Smith's defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) value of 43.4 is the best of any player in MLB history. Omar Vizquel's dWAR of 28.4 is tied for tenth all-time with another shortstop, Bill Dahlen, while seven other shortstops including Smith are ahead of them on the list, which includes all players regardless of position. (Third baseman Brooks Robinson and catcher Ivan Rodriguez, tied with shortstop Bobby Wallace at eighth place, are the only non-shortstops in the top ten.)

This is not to say that Omar Vizquel's case as a defensive player is not strong, or even compelling, because it is and will be a major factor in deciding his viability for the Hall of Fame. But defensive prowess alone is not an automatic Hall pass. While seven players in that top ten who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in the Hall, shortstops Mark Belanger, second all-time with a 39.4 dWAR, and Dahlen are not in Cooperstown. Dahlen, whose career occurred a century ago, well before the Hall of Fame existed, has long been a darling of baseball historians whose case has been bolstered by modern advanced metrics. (I made the case for Bill Dahlen in my evaluation of the Pre-Integration Era vote in late 2015.) As for Belanger, who generated a .228/.300/.280/.580 slash line as in 2016 games and 6601 plate appearances he collected 1316 hits, with only 228 of those for extra bases, his offensive WAR (oWAR) of 14.6 and overall bWAR of 41.0 is hardly going to make a case for his Cooperstown inclusion.

How does Vizquel stack up offensively with Smith? The table below displays quantitative offensive statistics for Smith and Vizquel including plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, bases on balls, stolen bases, sacrifice hits, and runs scored.

 

PA

H

2B

3B

BB

SB

SH

R

Smith, Ozzie

10,778

2460

402

69

1072

580

214

1257

Vizquel, Omar

12,013

2877

456

77

1028

404

256

1445


The table below displays qualitative offensive statistics for Smith and Vizquel including slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage), weighted on-base average, Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference version), Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs version), adjusted OPS, and weighted runs created.

 

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Smith, Ozzie

.262/.337/.328/.666

.305

76.5

67.6

87

90

Vizquel, Omar

.272/.336/.352/.688

.310

45.3

42.6

82

83


Offensively, both Smith and Vizquel are a wash: Vizquel has marginally higher percentages and marginally lower indexes for OPS+ and wRC+, although since both indexes are calculated based on all hitters in the league, Vizquel's could be lower because of the higher offense of his era, particularly the "Steroids Stretch" of the late 1990s and early 2000s that inflated offensive statistics overall. Smith fell 40 hits shy of the 2500-hit plateau while Vizquel came within 123 hits of the vaunted 3000-hit club.

But if Omar Vizquel has the superlative defensive skills and is on a par with Ozzie Smith offensively, why is Vizquel's value as expressed by WAR dramatically lower than Smith's?

Omar Vizquel
Will Omar Vizquel's defensive wizardry at shortstop be his ticket to Cooperstown? Or are voters looking for more from the durable infielder?

The answer may lie indirectly with the relative quality of the competition at shortstop that each faced, with Vizquel, whose career began 11 years after Smith's, not only having to contend with the superstar shortstops of Smith's tenure, such as Tony Fernandez, Cal Ripken, Jr., Alan Trammell, and Robin Yount, but also the next wave that included Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada, with Jimmy Rollins, Troy Tulowitzki, and Michael Young joining them a few years later.

The table below contains qualitative offensive statistics of notable shortstops whose careers overlapped those of Omar Vizquel and Michael Young, who are notated below in bold italic. These include players already in the Hall of Fame (noted with a "+"), players still active as of 2017 (noted with a "="), and retired players who are or who soon will be eligible for the Hall of Fame, either on the writers' ballot or on the Divisional Era Committee ballot. This also includes Mark Belanger, whose career predates all of these players but whose defensive statistics provide further comparison.

Shortstops from Eras of Omar Vizquel and Michael Young, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Rodriguez, Alex

.296/.381/.552

.397

118.4

113.6

141

141

+ Ripken, Jr., Cal

.276/.340/.447

.346

95.5

92.5

112

112

+ Yount, Robin

.285/.342/.430

.343

77.0

66.5

115

113

+ Smith, Ozzie

.262/.337/.328

.305

76.5

67.6

87

90

Jeter, Derek

.310/.377/.440

.360

71.8

71.7

115

119

Trammell, Alan

.285/.352/.415

.343

70.4

63.7

110

111

+ Larkin, Barry

.295/.371/.444

.360

70.2

67.0

116

118

Tejada, Miguel

.285/.336/.456

.341

46.9

39.7

108

106

Rollins, Jimmy

.264/.324/.418

.323

46.0

49.1

95

95

Vizquel, Omar

.272/.336/.352

.310

45.3

42.6

82

83

Fernandez, Tony

.288/.347/.399

.333

45.0

43.5

101

102

Garciaparra, Nomar

.313/.361/.521

.376

44.2

41.4

124

124

= Tulowitzki, Troy

.293/.366/.504

.374

41.2

36.0

120

121

Belanger, Mark

.228/.300/.280

.272

41.0

34.9

68

71

Young, Michael

.300/.346/.441

.342

24.2

23.8

104

104


+ Indicates a Hall of Fame member.

= Indicates a player still active as of the 2017 season.

The table below lists those shortstops, ranked by JAWS, along with other JAWS statistics and ratings for the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards. Also included are the aggregate JAWS statistics for all shortstops in the Hall of Fame.

Shortstops from Eras of Omar Vizquel and Michael Young, Ranked by JAWS

Player

No. of Years

From

To

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

Rodriguez, Alex

22

1994

2016

118.4

64.2

91.3

2

390

78

+ Ripken, Jr., Cal

21

1981

2001

95.5

56.1

75.8

3

236

58

+ Yount, Robin

20

1974

1993

77.0

47.2

62.1

5

132

52

+ Smith, Ozzie

19

1978

1996

76.5

42.3

59.4

8

142

35

Trammell, Alan

20

1977

1996

70.4

44.6

57.5

11

118

40

Jeter, Derek

20

1995

2014

71.8

42.2

57.0

12

337

67

+ Larkin, Barry

19

1986

2004

70.2

43.1

56.6

13

120

47

Ave. of 21 SS HoFers

NA

NA

NA

66.7

42.0

54.8

NA

NA

NA

Garciaparra, Nomar

14

1996

2009

44.2

43.0

43.6

23

112

41

Tejada, Miguel

16

1997

2013

46.9

36.5

41.7

27

148

44

= Tulowitzki, Troy

11

2006

2016

41.2

39.6

40.4

29

46

36

Rollins, Jimmy

17

2000

2016

46.0

32.4

39.2

32

121

42

Fernandez, Tony

17

1983

2001

45.0

30.3

37.7

34

75

32

Belanger, Mark

18

1965

1982

41.0

32.0

36.5

38

59

16

Vizquel, Omar

24

1989

2012

45.3

26.6

36.0

41

120

42

Young, Michael

14

2000

2013

24.2

21.1

22.6

93

112

36


+ Indicates a Hall of Fame member.

= Indicates a player still active as of the 2017 season.

WAR tends to favor offensive production, as do Hall of Fame voters, with Ozzie Smith being a notable exception. Of the seven shortstops in the table immediately above whose JAWS score is higher than the aggregate JAWS score of all Hall of Fame shortstops, four are in the Hall already: Robin Yount, Cal Ripken, Jr., Barry Larkin, and Ozzie Smith.

Neither Alex Rodriguez nor Derek Jeter is yet eligible for the Hall of Fame although their times are approaching—and with markedly different expectations. Rodriguez, who incurred the longest PED suspension in MLB history, is sure to re-ignite the PED debate even if the stigma may be lifting. Jeter, on the other hand, could conceivably beat Ken Griffey, Jr.'s, historic vote count to become the first unanimous election in Hall of Fame history.

This leaves, among the seven shortstops in our sample of those above the JAWS aggregate score, Alan Trammell, whose 15th and final year on a Hall of Fame ballot was in 2016, and who despite a last-chance surge—his 40.9 percent of the vote was the best of his tenure on the ballot—fell far short of the minimum needed for election. Trammell, a sabermetric darling, toiled in relative obscurity for the Detroit Tigers despite four Gold Gloves, six All-Star selections, and the 1984 World Series Most Valuable Player award to his credit.

Alan Trammell was worth more than 70 wins above a replacement player, offensively and defensively, yet still couldn't gain election to the Hall of Fame. Omar Vizquel was worth just over 45 wins—does he even stand a chance?

Again, WAR is not the final arbiter of Hall of Fame worthiness; other factors contribute to the player's qualifications—real or perceived—for the Hall. As noted, Vizquel is considered to be one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time as both advanced defensive metrics and the good old "eye test"—magnified by the truckload of highlight-reel plays he made captured on video—have demonstrated. Could that be the factor to nudge Vizquel's modest overall WAR score into the Hall of Fame?

The following table ranks the shortstops profiled previously by dWAR, their defensive Runs Above Replacement, with representative qualitative and quantitative career statistics listed as well. The two shortstops profiled in this article, Omar Vizquel and Michael Young, are listed in bold italic.

Shortstops from Eras of Omar Vizquel and Michael Young, Ranked by dWAR

Player

Games

Putouts

Assists

Double Plays Turned

Total Zone

dWAR

Fld. Pct.

RF/9

League RF/9

+ Smith, Ozzie

2511

4249

8375

1590

239

43.4

.978

5.22

4.78

Belanger, Mark

1942

3005

5786

1054

238

39.4

.977

5.16

4.93

+ Ripken, Jr., Cal

2302

3651

6977

1565

176

34.6

.979

4.73

4.69

Vizquel, Omar

2709

4102

7676

1734

134

28.4

.985

4.62

4.61

Trammell, Alan

2139

3391

6172

1307

81

22.0

.977

4.71

4.77

= Tulowitzki, Troy

1124

1781

3493

791

110

14.8

.985

4.90

4.37

Fernandez, Tony

1573

2708

4511

943

42

14.2

.980

4.83

4.66

+ Larkin, Barry

2085

3150

5858

1092

28

13.8

.975

4.62

4.57

= Rollins, Jimmy

2227

2982

6139

1249

44

13.6

.983

4.21

4.42

Rodriguez, Alex

1272

2014

3605

853

18

9.6

.977

4.62

4.62

Garciaparra, Nomar

1055

1606

2955

581

34

6.0

.968

4.48

4.61

Tejada, Miguel

1946

2891

5804

1274

–56

5.9

.972

4.62

4.54

+ Yount, Robin

1479

2588

4794

941

25

5.8

.964

4.99

4.90

Jeter, Derek

2674

3820

6605

1408

–182

–9.7

.976

4.04

4.51

Young, Michael

793

1121

2278

530

–48

–11.5

.977

4.52

4.50


+ Indicates a Hall of Fame member.

= Indicates a player still active as of 2016

The table below displays the quantitative offensive statistics for Trammell and Vizquel including plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, bases on balls, stolen bases, sacrifice hits, and runs scored.

 

PA

H

2B

3B

BB

SB

SH

R

Trammell, Alan

9376

2365

412

55

850

236

124

1231

Vizquel, Omar

12,013

2877

456

77

1028

404

256

1445


In addition, Trammell hit 185 home runs to Vizquel's 80 while Trammell drove in 1003 runs and Vizquel drove in 951, a much closer comparison although Vizquel had roughly a quarter more plate appearances than did Trammell.

The table below displays qualitative offensive statistics for Trammell and Vizquel including slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage), weighted on-base average, Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference version), Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs version), adjusted OPS, and weighted runs created.

 

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Trammell, Alan

.285/.352/.415/.767

.343

70.4

63.7

110

111

Vizquel, Omar

.272/.336/.352/.688

.310

45.3

42.6

82

83


Trammell is clearly the more effective offensive player qualitatively, and while Vizquel posted the larger quantitative totals, he also had over 2600 more plate appearances than did Trammell. But compared to Trammell's, can Vizquel's defensive statistics give him the edge that could land him in the Hall of Fame?

The table below isolates for Trammell and Vizquel defensive statistics cited in the comprehensive table above including games played at shortstop, putouts, assists, double plays turned, fielding percentage, Total Zone runs above average (RAA), range factor per nine innings (RF/9: 9 times (putouts plus assists) divided by innings played), and that range factor for the player's league.

 

GP

PO

A

DP

FPct.

RAA

RF/9

lgRF/9

Trammell, Alan

2139

3391

6172

1307

.977

81

4.71

4.77

Vizquel, Omar

2709

4102

7676

1734

.985

134

4.62

4.61


In defensive WAR, Vizquel ranks tenth with 28.4 while Trammell is no slouch, ranking 34th with 22.0.

Trammell won four Gold Gloves and was the MVP runner-up in the American League in 1987, six percentage points behind George Bell in the voting, and in today's analytical environment he might have been the winner with an 8.2 bWAR compared to Bell's 5.0. Trammell was also named to six All-Star Games. Moreover, Trammell won a World Series ring with the Detroit Tigers in 1984 when they defeated the San Diego Padres in five games, with Trammell named as the Series MVP as he unleashed a blistering .450/.500/.800/1.300 slash line with two home runs and six RBI; Trammell also hit a scorching .364/.500/.818/1.318 against the Kansas City Royals as the Tigers swept them in three games during the AL Championship Series.

Yet Alan Trammell, despite lasting on a Hall of Fame ballot for all 15 years of his eligibility, languished all during that time, with the first ten years seeing him fail to secure even one-quarter of the vote. His fortunes improved marginally in the last five years, surging to 40.9 percent in his final year in 2016, but despite ranking in the top 100 all-time in bWAR—his 70.4 is 93rd—Trammell failed to generate the perception that he is a Hall of Famer.

Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves, nine of them consecutively from 1993 to 2001, although his only showing in MVP voting was a 16th-place finish in 1999 when, with the Cleveland Indians, he knocked out 191 hits for a .333 batting average and a 111 OPS+ while scoring 112 runs, all career highs, as he stole 42 bases in 51 attempts. As part of the powerhouse Indians teams of the 1990s, Vizquel went to the postseason every year from 1995 to 1999, including two trips to the World Series, where the Indians lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games in 1995, and to the then-Florida Marlins in seven games in 1997. In 57 postseason games, Vizquel posted a .250/.327/.316/.643 slash line as he averaged one hit per game with four triples overall as he stole 23 bases while getting caught just three times, stealing five bases against the Marlins in the 1997 World Series without getting thrown out once.

As he enters Hall of Fame ballot voting, Omar Vizquel may enjoy one advantage not afforded to Trammell: Although Vizquel may have been overshadowed by the spate of "super shortstops" from Cal Ripken, Jr., to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and even Miguel Tejada, all of whom were lauded for their offensive prowess, Vizquel was generally regarded as the premier defensive shortstop among them, at least in the American League, where Vizquel played for 20 of his 24 years in the Major Leagues. And with the current appreciation for run prevention, helped by the advances in defensive metrics and analysis, that quality may prove beneficial to Vizquel's chances.

Ironically, though, Vizquel's most encouraging sign of Hall of Fame enshrinement may not lie in current or future trends but in the past: Voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA in 1954, Walter "Rabbit" Maranville seems to be an unlikely candidate for enshrinement, but a comparison of his record against Vizquel's may raise an eyebrow even if Maranville, whose career straddled the Dead Ball and Live Ball Eras, played decades before Vizquel did.

Vizquel played for 24 seasons; Maranville, whose career began in 1912 and ended in 1935, played for 23 seasons—he did not play in 1934, his age-42 season, and played in just 23 games in 1935. Like Vizquel, Maranville was a shortstop for much of career, although he did play more than 500 games at second base while Vizquel's longest tenure away from short was 150 games at third base.

As we've done for Ozzie Smith and Alan Trammell, the following tables compare Maranville's defensive and offensive records with Vizquel's. The table below displays their defensive statistics including games played at shortstop, putouts, assists, double plays turned, fielding percentage, Total Zone runs above average (RAA), range factor per nine innings (RF/9: 9 times (putouts plus assists) divided by innings played), and that range factor for the player's league, noting that RAA totals for Maranville are not available.

 

GP

PO

A

DP

FPct.

RAA

RF/9

lgRF/9

Maranville, Rabbit

2153

5139

7354

1188

.952

NA

5.92

5.64

Vizquel, Omar

2709

4102

7676

1734

.985

134

4.62

4.61


Among shortstops, Maranville is the lifetime leader in putouts (Smith is 8th, Vizquel 11th, Trammell 28th), he ranks 5th in assists (Smith is tops, Vizquel 3rd, Trammell 17th), and 18th in double plays turned (Vizquel is tops, followed by Smith, with Trammell 7th). Furthermore, Maranville ranks 7th in defensive WAR with 30.8, behind lifetime leader Smith and ahead of Vizquel (10th) and Trammell (34th).

Offensively, Maranville and Vizquel have many similarities. The table below displays their quantitative offensive statistics including plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, bases on balls, stolen bases, sacrifice hits, and runs scored.

 

PA

H

2B

3B

BB

SB

SH

R

Maranville, Rabbit

11,254

2605

380

177

839

291

300

1256

Vizquel, Omar

12,013

2877

456

77

1028

404

256

1445


The table below displays their qualitative offensive statistics including slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage), weighted on-base average, Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference version), Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs version), adjusted OPS, and weighted runs created.

 

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Maranville, Rabbit

.258/.318/.340/.658

.313

42.8

42.5

82

83

Vizquel, Omar

.272/.336/.352/.688

.310

45.3

42.6

82

83


Offensively and defensively, Omar Vizquel looks like the Rabbit Maranville of his era. Is that a positive assessment? Maranville was voted into the Hall of Fame; it was on his 14th try, with 82.9 percent of the vote; sadly, Maranville had died at age 62 in January 1954, just months before the induction ceremony. By contrast, Ozzie Smith was elected on his first ballot, and appears to be able to execute his vaunted backflips even today.

Omar Vizquel's fate falls between those two Hall of Fame shortstops. He is not likely to be elected on his first ballot, a combination of the ballot logjam (which does appear to be easing from what it had been a few years ago) and of needing to build the groundswell of support among the voters, but he seems likely to make it in after a few tries.

This is appropriate for one of the top defenders all-time at arguably the toughest defensive position on the diamond. Over the course of his lengthy career, Omar Vizquel supplied respectable, if not spectacular, offense while providing a lifetime's worth of highlight-reel plays in the field. In an era of high talent compression and especially of superstar shortstops who have erased the perception of the position needing to be an offensive liability (cf. Mark Belanger's era), that might be enough to get Omar Vizquel into the Hall of Fame—where he belongs.

Scott Rolen

The last candidate in our examination of 2018 candidates, Scott Rolen, seems to have all the perquisites for the Hall of Fame—except for the fame part. That perception could hurt Rolen's chances, as we have seen with Alan Trammell and even with Tim Raines, whose case had to build for a decade before he crossed the threshold just as time was expiring. But does Rolen really have a Hall of Fame case?

Starting his career in 1996 with the Philadelphia Phillies, Rolen toiled for a franchise that was struggling for success—during Rolen's stint with the club, the Phillies finished with a winning record only once, in 2001. The following year, amidst claims that the team wasn't trying hard enough to build a winner, Rolen demanded a trade, so the Phillies dealt him mid-season to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals were certainly winners, making the postseason three times during Rolen's tenure including two trips to the World Series in 2004 and 2006, winning it all in that latter trip. And while Rolen was certainly an integral component in St. Louis's success, he was also competing for the limelight against Cardinals stars Chris Carpenter, Jim Edmonds, and especially Albert Pujols. Traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008, Rolen was then dealt to the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of the following year, helping them to reach the postseason in 2010 and 2012, his last year as an active player.

A third baseman for his entire 17-year career, Scott Rolen appeared in 37 games for the Phillies in 1996 before becoming the starting third baseman the following season, which saw him named the National League Rookie of the Year, the first Phillie to earn that honor since Dick Allen in 1964, while Rolen aced out contenders Vladimir Guerrero, profiled in Part 1 of this series and whose auspicious debut on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot, garnering 71.7 percent of the vote, seems to indicate an induction soon, and Andruw Jones, profiled above and soon to make his inaugural ballot debut with Rolen.

Rolen certainly deserved the award: Posting a .283/.377/.469/.846 slash line, generating a 121 OPS+ and 121 wRC+, the slugging third baseman hit 35 doubles and 21 home runs while scoring 93 runs and driving in 92. Combined with his solid if not yet sterling defensive play, Rolen established a 4.5 bWAR (4.2 by FanGraphs' calculation), a near-All-Star showing, and in fact Rolen would go on to be selected for seven All-Star squads including four consecutive times with the Cardinals from 2003 to 2006.

Despite injuries that dogged him in the latter half of the 2000s, Rolen was a remarkably consistent and productive hitter for almost his entire career. From 1997 to 2010, he produced a slash line of .284/.370/.500/.870 for an OPS+ of 125, averaging 34 doubles, 21 home runs, 82 runs scored, 85 RBI, and 4.9 wins for both bWAR and fWAR every season over that 14-year span. Rolen was a fixture in the heart of the batting order, most frequently hitting clean-up (888 games started and 3796 plate appearances, from which he hit 147 home runs and knocked in 583 runs) while also batting third (397 games started, 1752 plate appearances, 71 home runs, 253 RBI) and fifth (425 GS, 1775 PA, 60 HR, 290 RBI).

From the third, fourth, or fifth spots, Rolen delivered the bulk of his production. The table below details the key statistics of plate appearances, hits, doubles, home runs, runs scored, runs batted in, total bases, and sacrifice flies from each of the middle-of-the-order positions, the total of those three, and Rolen's overall statistics in these categories.

Batting Order

PA

H

2B

HR

R

RBI

TB

SF

Third

1752

425

102

71

249

253

758

18

Fourth

3796

918

237

147

567

583

1632

46

Fifth

1775

445

105

60

255

290

758

21

Total 3-4-5

7323

1788

444

278

1071

1126

3148

85

 
Career

8518

2077

517

316

1211

1287

3628

93


Rolen joins George Brett and Chipper Jones as one of only three third basemen in history to amass at least 2000 hits, 500 doubles, 300 home runs, and 1200 runs batted in; Brett was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Jones, on the same 2018 ballot as Rolen, is all but certain to be. Rolen ranks 51st all-time in doubles (517), 54th in sacrifice flies (93),120th in runs batted in (1287), 122nd in home runs (316), 146th in total bases (3628), 174th in runs scored (1211), and 241st in hits (2077).

During his career, Rolen never led the League in any offensive category ("black ink"), which makes it harder to position him as a Hall of Fame candidate, although he had a few top-ten finishes ("gray ink") for the major counting-numbers categories: doubles three times and twice each for runs scored, runs batted in, and extra-base hits, while he finished second in doubles in 2003 to teammate Albert Pujols, and second to the Colorado Rockies' Vinny Castilla in RBI in 2004. He fared better in rate stats as he finished in the top ten four times each for bWAR among position players and for dWAR, leading the National League in that category in 2004, and he finished three times in the top ten for bWAR overall.

But as a defender, Scott Rolen emerges as one of the best third basemen in Major League history. He won eight Gold Gloves, behind only Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson (16 Gold Gloves) and Mike Schmidt (10) among third basemen. At third base, Rolen led the League twice each in putouts, finishing in the top ten six times, and in assists, with eight top-ten finishes including three second-place finishes. He was also among the top ten, including two runner-up finishes, in double plays turned at his position while ranking among the top ten in fielding percentage nine times. In the advanced statistics, Rolen led the League in range factor per game three times and twice each in range factor per nine innings and Total Zone runs above average while ranking in the top ten of all three categories ten times.

For his career, Scott Rolen's rankings among third basemen are fourth all-time in range factor per game (2.63), fifth in Total Zone runs above average (150; although the statistic is applicable only from 1953 on), 11th in assists (4081), 12th in games played at third base (2023) and in double plays turned (355), 20th in fielding percentage (.968), 32nd in range factor per nine innings (2.86), and 47th in dWAR (20.6).

Not surprisingly, based on his offensive and defensive prowess, Scott Rolen ranks tenth all-time among third basemen in Jay Jaffe's Jaffe's War Score System (JAWS), and the only two third basemen who rank higher than he does and are not in the Hall of Fame are Adrian Beltre, who is still an active player, and Chipper Jones. Jones debuts on the same 2018 ballot as does Rolen, and if Hall voters are going to choose only one third baseman on that ballot, the smart money is on Jones, who was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1999, and who finished in the top ten of MVP voting in five other years. Rolen finished in the top ten of MVP voting only once, in 2004, when he placed fourth behind teammate Pujols, Beltre, and Barry Bonds, who won the award for the seventh and final time.

Although Rolen was named to seven All-Star teams, he spent his career in the shadow of more prominent players even though Rolen was consistently excellent both at the plate and in the field. In an era of high talent compression, in which so many outstanding players tend to level the playing field and make it harder to discern greatness, there also needs to be a perception of greatness cast upon players by the fans, the media, other players—and even by themselves through various forms of self-promotion. Rolen was a "Larry Lunchpail" kind of player who showed up, did his job, and did it well while others tended to get the spotlight.

Scott Rolen
Scott Rolen got it done at the plate and at the hot corner--but do Hall voters appreciate his consistency and excellence?

Adding to Rolen's challenges is the Hall's stinginess when it comes to electing third basemen. Of the nine traditional positions, third basemen have the least representation among Major League Baseball players in the Hall (that is, excluding in this count Negro League players inducted) as only 14 have been inducted. To be fair, catchers have endured a similar fate, and it is only the back-to-back elections of Mike Piazza in 2016 and Ivan Rodriguez in 2017 that has pushed catchers ahead by one, to 15.

But since the BBWAA began voting for players to enter the Hall in 1936, writers have elected only seven third basemen (they have elected ten catchers), with the first, Pie Traynor, coming in 1938—and with another 30 years elapsing before the writers voted in Eddie Mathews. True, the BBWAA got on a roll starting in 1995, electing four third basemen in a ten-year stretch (in chronological order: Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Paul Molitor, and Wade Boggs). And the now-defunct Golden Era Committee in 2012 redressed a major grievance by electing Ron Santo, long considered one the Hall's major snubs, while its fellow (and also now-defunct) Pre-Integration Era Committee provided the only player induction the following year by electing Deacon White, who had been both a catcher and a third baseman during his career, and who had been born nearly 14 years before the Civil War—that's the American Civil War—began.

The good news for Rolen is that BBWAA voters, thanks to the 2016 pruning of the voting roll of members who had not written about baseball for at least 10 years, are becoming progressively savvier about analytics—and, significantly, are backing away from the moral dudgeon of previous voters publicly opposed to any candidate with even a suspicion of having used performance-enhancing drugs. (Please note that the PED issue has never been associated with Scott Rolen.)

With Chipper Jones on the 2018 ballot, Scott Rolen might not be elected his first time out—although the writers could score a coup by electing two third basemen in the same year—but he will be elected in a succeeding year. Rolen was a consistent, solid, reliable power hitter and run-producer as well as being one of the top defensive third basemen of his era—or any era. His greatest weakness is his relative anonymity, which should not obscure his ample qualifications for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Fortunately for him, the voters know that too.



2019: Lance Berkman, Todd Helton, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Michael Young

The 2019 ballot offers two pitching candidates, starter Roy Halladay and reliever Mariano Rivera, both of whom are likely to be elected in their first year of eligibility. That might not be good news for pitchers Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte, both of whom are also on the 2019 ballot for the first time as well, but how will that affect position players Lance Berkman, Todd Helton, and Michael Young?

Lance Berkman and Todd Helton

As one of the Houston Astros' "Killer B's" in the 2000s, could Lance Berkman follow teammates Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell into the Hall of Fame? The switch-hitting outfielder and first baseman lacks their auspicious resumes, but he did compile a record that certainly puts him on the bubble—and thus he requires a closer look.

Berkman got his start with the Astros in 1999 as a corner outfielder, playing in 34 games with 106 plate appearances before returning to the minors. The following season found him back for 114 games, posting a .297/.388/.561/.949 slash line, good for a 130 OPS+ and a 132 wRC+, while he slugged 21 home runs, drove in 67 runs, and scored 76 runs as he placed sixth in Rookie of the Year voting.

By 2001, his age-25 season, Berkman was firmly ensconced in the Astros' lineup, unleashing a blistering .331/.430/.620/.1.051 slash line, generating a 161 OPS+ and 164 wRC+, as he established career highs in batting average (.331), hits (191), and doubles with a Major League-leading 55 while scoring 110 runs and driving in 126 as he helped Houston to the postseason. His bWAR of 6.5 wins (6.8 fWAR) was certainly All-Star caliber, and indeed he made the first of six All-Star squads.

For an eight-year period, from 2001 to 2008, Berkman's slash line was .303/.417/.564/.980 with a 151 OPS+ as he averaged, per season, 37 doubles, 33 home runs, 101 runs scored, 110 RBI, and 102 walks against only 107 strikeouts. He was selected to five All-Star teams while he finished in the top ten for the National League's Most Valuable Player five times including 2002, when he led the NL in RBI with 128, and 2008, when his 46 doubles were an NL-best.

In addition to 2001, when they were swept by the Atlanta Braves in the NL Divisional Series, the Astros went to the postseason in 2004 and 2005. In 2004, Houston made it to the NL Championship Series, where they battled the St. Louis Cardinals after besting the Braves in five games in the Divisional Series. In that series, Berkman's torrid .409/.480/.591/.1.071 slash line with one home run, three runs batted in, and five runs scored helped the Astros power past the team that had swept them three years earlier. Berkman kept up his hot hitting against the Cardinals, posting a .292/.400/.750/.1.150 line as he blasted three home runs and drove in nine runs in an exciting, see-saw series in which the Cardinals eventually triumphed.

The Astros seemed poised for greatness in 2005, again facing the Braves in the Divisional Series, whom they dispatched in four games with Berkman hitting one home run and driving in five runs with a .357/.500/.643/.1.143 slash line; that home run, an eighth-inning grand slam in Game Four that closed a five-run Braves lead, enabled the Astros' Brad Ausmus to tie the game in the ninth and thus sending the game into extra innings—and the longest postseason game in MLB history, finally won by Houston in the bottom of the 18th inning on a Chris Burke home run, with Burke having entered the game as a pinch-runner for Berkman in the tenth inning.

Then, facing the Cardinals once more in the Championship Series, the Astros prevailed in six games despite losing a chance to clinch the series at home in Game Five when the Cardinals' Albert Pujols crushed a memorable three-run home run off Astros closer Brad Lidge to give St. Louis a come-from-behind victory. Berkman's bat cooled slightly as he hit .286 although of his six hits, two were doubles and one was a home run, and with four walks his on-base percentage of .400 gave the Astros scoring opportunities as Houston went to its first-ever World Series. There they faced the fired-up Chicago White Sox, intent on ending a decades-long World Series drought (as had the Boston Red Sox the year before) as they swept the Astros in four games although Berkman did his part with a .385/.526/.538/.1.065 line and six RBI.

With Jeff Bagwell's retirement following the 2005 season, Lance Berkman moved to first base as he continued to hit well, driving in at least 100 runs a season between 2006 and 2008 and establishing a career-high in runs scored with 114 in 2008, which also saw him lead the NL in doubles with 46, the third and final time he would hit at least 40 doubles in a season, while his 45 home runs in 2006 were also a career high. But following a dip in production in 2009 that continued into 2010, the Astros dealt Berkman to the New York Yankees in mid-2010. Although Berkman reached the postseason with the Yankees, he was soon a free agent as the Yankees did not re-sign him.

However, his old adversaries the Cardinals did, and Berkman responded in impressive style, becoming the NL Comeback Player of the Year in his age-35 season, finishing seventh in MVP voting, as he posted a .301/.412/.547/.959 slash line, good for a 163 wRC+ and a career-high 164 OPS+, as he clouted 31 homers, drove in 94 runs, scored 90 runs, and walked 92 times against 93 strikeouts. Playing right field for the Cardinals, Berkman helped them into the postseason. Despite managing just four hits in 18 at-bats against the Philadelphia Phillies in the five-game NL Divisional Series, he struck early with a three-run homer in the first inning of Game One off Roy Halladay, and although the Cardinals would lose that game, they would win the series in five games. Against the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Championship Series, Berkman batted .300 with four runs scored and two runs batted in as the Cardinals bested the Brewers in six games to advance to the World Series against the Texas Rangers.

In Game One, Berkman drove in the first runs of the World Series with a two-run single in the fourth inning as the Cardinals would go on to win the game and eventually the Series in seven games as the Rangers seemed all but certain to take the Series in Game Six as the Cardinals were down to their last strike before David Freese's dramatic ninth-inning triple. But although Freese and Albert Pujols are remembered for their hitting heroics, Berkman lashed out a sizzling .423/.516/.577/1.093 slash line while scoring nine runs and knocking in five in the Series, including a single in the bottom of the tenth inning in Game Six to tie the game once more, a hit that came with two outs and two strikes on him as the Rangers were yet again one strike away from winning the World Series. Instead, the Cardinals won in seven games to give Berkman his only World Series ring.

That proved to be Lance Berkman's swan song, however, as he endured two lackluster, injury-prone seasons before calling it quits following the 2013 season. Berkman ranks 28th all-time in OPS, or on-base plus slugging percentage (.943), with those component rankings being 40th in slugging percentage (.537) and 43rd in on-base percentage (.406), 54th in OPS+ (144), 59th in bases on balls (1201)—and it is impressive that in a free-swinging, high-strikeout era, Berkman struck out just 99 more times than he walked—while he ranks 39th in intentional walks (160), and 81st in home runs (366).

Measured as a left fielder in Jaffe's JAWS ratings, Berkman is 20th, with only five left fielders ranked above him not already in the Hall of Fame. One of those is Pete Rose, who is infamously ineligible for the Hall of Fame, while Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez, both tarred with the PED brush, have their own notoriety.

Lance Berkman produced a career slash line of .293/.406/.537/.943, derived from 1905 hits, 422 doubles, and 366 home runs, as he scored 1146 runs and drove in 1234 while drawing 1201 bases on balls. Berkman had an excellent career, but it is hard to call it a Hall of Fame career given the caliber of his contemporaries.

Yet Berkman has one singular quality: He was a switch-hitter, one of the best of his era. But was he one of the best of all-time, and is that a significant enough factor to bolster his Hall of Fame case?

Lance Berkman
One of the best switch-hitters in baseball history--but is that enough to get Lance Berkman in the Hall of Fame?

The following table lists qualitative statistics, and is ranked by weighted on-base average (wOBA), for selected switch-hitters in the integrated (post-1947) era, weighted toward Berkman's own playing career. Four of the ten are already in the Hall of Fame; one, Pete Rose, would surely be in the Hall already were he not barred from baseball; one, Bernie Williams, was on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2012 and 2013; and one, Carlos Beltran, a fellow "Killer B" with Berkman, is still adding to his probable Hall of Fame resume, appropriately back with the Houston Astros in 2017.

Selected Switch-Hitters Ranked by wOBA

Player

Slash Line

wOBA

wRC+

OPS+

bWAR

fWAR

+ Mantle, Mickey

.298/.421/.557

.428

170

172

109.7

112.3

Berkman, Lance

.293/.406/.537

.400

144

144

51.7

56.1

Jones, Chipper

.303/.401/.529

.397

141

141

85.0

84.6

Williams, Bernie

.297/.381/.477

.373

126

125

49.5

43.9

Teixeira, Mark

.268/.360/.509

.371

127

126

51.8

45.0

+ Murray, Eddie

.287/.359/.476

.365

127

129

68.3

72.0

+ Raines, Tim

.294/.385/.425

.361

125

123

69.1

66.4

+ Alomar, Roberto

.300/.371/.443

.359

118

116

66.8

63.6

= Beltran, Carlos

.280/.352/.489

.359

119

120

70.2

67.9

Rose, Pete

.303/.375/.409

.354

121

118

79.1

80.1


+ Indicates a Hall of Fame member.

= Indicates a player still active as of the 2017 season.

In several of the categories above, Berkman is second only to Mickey Mantle, the greatest switch-hitter of all time, while he compares almost equally as an offensive player with Chipper Jones, who will in all likelihood already be in the Hall of Fame when Berkman makes his debut. Jones hit ten points higher than Berkman, who bested Jones in on-base and slugging percentage, but overall the two hitters are roughly equivalent by these measures.

Does Berkman have sufficient counting numbers to bolster his case? The following table lists selected quantitative statistics for this sample of ten switch-hitters, ranked by hits.

Selected Switch-Hitters, Total Hitting Statistics, Ranked by Hits

 

PA

H

2B

3B

HR

R

RBI

BB

Rose, Pete

15890

4256

746

135

160

2165

1314

1566

+ Murray, Eddie

12817

3255

560

35

504

1627

1917

1333

Jones, Chipper

10614

2726

549

38

468

1619

1623

1512

+ Alomar, Roberto

10400

2724

504

80

210

1508

1134

1032

= Beltran, Carlos

10844

2685

555

78

432

1563

1571

1074

+ Raines, Tim

10359

2605

430

113

170

1571

980

1330

+ Mantle, Mickey

9907

2415

344

72

536

1676

1509

1733

Williams, Bernie

9053

2336

449

55

287

1366

1257

1069

Berkman, Lance

7814

1905

422

30

366

1146

1234

1201

Teixeira, Mark

8029

1862

408

18

409

1099

1298

918


With the fewest plate appearances of the ten, Berkman ranks correspondingly low in the counting numbers; only he and Mark Teixeira did not reach the 2000-hit plateau although Teixeira got to both the 400-double- and 400-home run mark. The Hall of Fame values counting numbers, an indicator of a career long enough to compile big totals, and without a streak of dominance in his career, Berkman will not impress voters with his quantitative record.

But could the versatility of his switch-hitting impress those voters? How good of a hitter was Lance Berkman from each side of the plate? The following table lists both select qualitative and quantitative statistics based on the players' hitting as a left-handed batter and is ranked by on-base percentage (OBP).

Selected Switch-Hitters, Left-Handed Hitting Statistics, Ranked by OBP

 

PA

H

2B

HR

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

Berkman, Lance

5989

1501

338

316

967

.304

.420

.575

+Mantle, Mickey

6590

1482

205

372

1260

.281

.418

.547

Jones, Chipper

7686

1956

402

361

1144

.303

.405

.541

+ Raines, Tim

7356

1849

325

119

958

.294

.387

.431

+ Alomar, Roberto

2186

2047

376

142

781

.314

.386

.456

Rose, Pete

11471

3083

566

119

1209

.307

.384

.419

Williams, Bernie

6176

1574

314

179

699

.292

.373

.466

+ Murray, Eddie

8684

2233

375

362

958

.293

.369

.491

= Beltran, Carlos

7935

1949

377

309

822

.279

.354

.483

Teixeira, Mark

5516

1240

266

297

612

.260

.350

.508


As a left-handed hitter, Berkman noses past Chipper Jones and even Mickey Mantle with his classic 3-4-5 slash line while piling up impressive counting stats despite 600 fewer plate appearances than Mantle and more than 1600 fewer than Jones.

The following table lists those select qualitative and quantitative statistics based on the players' hitting as a right-handed batter, and it should be noted that switch-hitters are more likely to bat left-handed given the preponderance of right-handed pitching in any era. Also, some hitters had some instances of hitting with the "wrong hand," such as hitting left-handed against a left-handed pitcher, although this is not statistically significant.

Selected Switch-Hitters, Right-Handed Hitting Statistics, Ranked by OBP

 

PA

H

2B

HR

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

+ Mantle, Mickey

3231

906

134

161

458

.329

.432

.574

Williams, Bernie

2877

762

135

107

369

.308

.397

.503

Jones, Chipper

2928

770

147

107

368

.304

.391

.498

Teixeira, Mark

2162

622

142

112

306

.287

.383

.512

+ Raines, Tim

3003

756

105

51

372

.293

.381

.410

Berkman, Lance

1825

404

84

50

234

.260

.360

.417

Rose, Pete

4414

1171

180

41

357

.293

.351

.384

= Beltran, Carlos

2906

736

178

123

251

.282

.345

.505

+ Murray, Eddie

4134

1022

185

142

375

.276

.340

.445

+ Alomar, Roberto

2871

677

128

68

251

.267

.335

.410


As a right-handed hitter, Berkman falls sharply in batting average in comparison to his left-handed batting although his ability to get on base is an impressive 100 points higher than his batting average. Still, Berkman winds up in the middle of this sample.

But although Lance Berkman is one of the best switch-hitters in baseball history, this quality is unlikely to push him past the threshold and into the Hall of Fame either as a singular phenomenon or as part of his overall record. Berkman did finish in the top ten for Most Valuable Player voting six times, he made six All-Star squads, and he did lead the league in doubles twice and in runs batted in once, but without gaudy counting numbers or a streak of hitting dominance to distinguish himself in an era of high talent compression, Lance Berkman will not be elected to the Hall of Fame.

By contrast, Todd Helton did post some gaudy numbers, but the slugging first baseman who played his entire 17-year career with the Colorado Rockies will encounter the flip side of the "Coors Effect"—the benefits of playing his home games in the high, thin, dry air of Denver's Coors Field—as his playing record is scrutinized for Hall of Fame legacy, although the park did begin using a humidifier to store game baseballs in 2002, the sixth year of Helton's career and his fifth as a starting player, to dampen effectively the ball's travel when hit.

Nevertheless, Helton is likely to encounter the same skepticism that faces his old teammate Larry Walker, who as of 2017 has languished on the Hall of Fame ballot for seven years, getting no more than 22.9 percent of the vote in any given year, and who played all but two years of his ten-year tenure with the Rockies in the pre-humidor era. Walker did spend his first six seasons with the Montreal Expos, whose Olympic Stadium was not considered hitter-friendly, and he finished the last two years of his career in St. Louis as a Cardinal. Crucially for Helton, though, he experienced a swoon in the second half of his career, and his inability to produce at Coors Field levels during that time may compound the bias.

Called up from the minors in August 1997, Helton hit five home runs in 101 plate appearances—three of those hit at Coors Field—before becoming the Rockies' starting first baseman the next season following the departure of Andres Galarraga. Helton posted a .315/.380/.530/.911 slash line with 37 doubles, 25 home runs, 78 runs scored, and 97 runs batted in to finished second to Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kerry Wood in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

The left-handed-hitting first baseman delivered comparable results in 1999, even upping his home-run total to 35, before busting out in 2000, his age-26 season, to lead the NL in eight categories: hits (216), doubles (59), total bases (405), RBI (147), batting average (.372), on-base percentage (.463), slugging percentage (.698), and OPS (1.162), a slash line that generated a 163 OPS+, the first of four seasons with an OPS+ of 160 or better. In addition, he slugged 42 home runs, scored 138 runs, and walked 103 times.

For a ten-year period, from 1998 to 2007, Helton posted a .332/.432/.585/.1.017 slash line, generating a 144 OPS+, as, per season, he averaged 185 hits, 45 doubles, 30 home runs, 109 runs scored, 108 runs batted in, and 97 bases on balls while accumulating a 54.7 bWAR, an average of 5.5 wins above a replacement player per year, an All-Star-level caliber as he was picked for five consecutive All-Star squads from 2000 to 2004. In this period, Helton smacked 40 or more doubles seven times, falling just one shy twice, in 1999 and 2002, while he notched 54 in 2001 as he also hit 49 home runs, just one home run short of becoming the only hitter in Major League history besides Albert Belle to hit at least 50 doubles and at least 50 home runs in the same season. (Belle accomplished this in 1995.)

And while Helton led the NL in any offensive category only once apart from in 2000, when in 2005 he posted a league-leading .445 on-base percentage, he finished in the top ten of MVP voting only three times, with his best showing a fifth-place finish in his banner year of 2000.

Starting in 1998, Helton had eight consecutive seasons with 20 or more home runs, but after belting 20 in 2005, he never hit as many again. Helton still hit for average and got on base at a robust clip as he posted a .300 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage over the next two seasons, but his 2008 season, his age-34 year, marked a significant decline. Although he got on base at a .391 clip, his batting average fell to .264—more precipitously, his slugging percentage plummeted to .388 as he hit only 16 doubles and seven home runs in just 83 games and 361 plate appearances.

In fact, Helton had been diagnosed with a degenerative back condition in August 2008, and although he approached his previous form in 2009 (.325/.416/.489/.904, 127 OPS+) and 2011 (.302/.385/.466/.850, 117 OPS+), his last six seasons, from 2008 to 2013, his age-34 to age-39 years, saw him average 112 games and 449 plate appearances a year for a .279/.373/.430/.803 slash line, generating an OPS+ of 104, with 23 doubles, 11 home runs, 50 runs scored, and 53 runs driven in.

In career counting numbers, Helton ranks 19th all-time in doubles (592), 24th in intentional bases on balls (185) and 36th in bases on balls (1335) overall—in fact, Helton's 1335 walks against only 1175 strikeouts is remarkable for a power hitter in this free-swinging era—40th in extra-base hits (998), 62nd in total bases (4292), 77th in runs batted in (1406), 79th in home runs (369), 96th in runs scored (1401), and 97th in hits (2519). Qualitatively, Helton ranks 26th in on-base percentage (.414) and 37th in slugging percentage (.539) while that combination OPS of .953 ranks 19th as his OPS+ of 133 ranks 137th—and as OPS+ is both league- and park-adjusted, this reflects the "Coors Effect" that we will examine shortly. Helton's batting average of .316 is 67th all-time, and among Jay Jaffe's JAWS rankings for the top fifty first basemen all-time, that mark is topped, as of 2017, only by Miguel Cabrera's .318 among first basemen in the Integrated Era that began in 1947.

Defensively, Helton, who won three Gold Gloves at first base, posted a career Total Zone fielding runs above average (Baseball Reference version) of 106—third all-time for measurements made since 1953—and an Ultimate Zone Rating of fielding runs above average (FanGraphs) of 23.6 while his career defensive runs saved above average assessments are 32 (Baseball Reference) and 29 (FanGraphs), respectively. Having played the corner outfield positions in his call-up season, Helton was then exclusively a first baseman, and his 2178 defensive games at that position ranks 5th all-time as he finished 2nd in assists (1726), 3rd in double plays turned (2028), and 13th in putouts (18,889) at first, with his range factor per nine innings of 10.00 ranking 24th—and despite all those fielding chances, Helton's fielding percentage of .996 is the sixth-best all-time.

Todd Helton's fielding prowess wedded to his offensive production makes for a convincing Hall of Fame case—but can it overcome the obstacle called the "Coors Effect," the benefit of having played half his games every season at the hitters' paradise called Coors Field in the mile-high city of Denver?

To answer that, let's examine how Helton performed while playing at his home field compared to how he played while on the road. The following table lists the home-and-away splits for slash-line statistics (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) for Helton and selected first-base contemporaries as well as right fielder Larry Walker, also dogged with the "Coors Effect" bias, ranked by home tOPS+, or the player's total OPS+ split relative to his home field.

Home and Away Splits for Slash Lines of Selected First Basemen and Larry Walker, Ranked by Home tOPS+

 

Home

Away

 

BA

OBP

SLG

tOPS+

BA

OBP

SLG

tOPS+

Walker, Larry

.348

.431

.637

120

.278

.370

.495

80

Helton, Todd

.345

.441

.607

119

.287

.386

.469

80

Teixeira, Mark

.282

.371

.548

111

.256

.350

.474

90

+ Thomas, Frank

.305

.424

.599

109

.297

.414

.511

91

Ortiz, David

.305

.400

.565

108

.267

.359

.538

92

Giambi, Jason

.288

.415

.534

107

.266

.385

.501

94

+ Bagwell, Jeff

.303

.417

.560

106

.291

.398

.521

94

= Cabrera, Miguel

.328

.406

.577

106

.308

.386

.535

94

Thome, Jim

.276

.406

.579

106

.277

.398

.529

94

Palmeiro, Rafael

.285

.375

.527

103

.291

.366

.502

96

= Pujols, Albert

.311

.396

.564

103

.300

.379

.563

98

= Votto, Joey

.305

.425

.543

100

.320

.427

.540

100

Olerud, John

.289

.394

.466

99

.301

.402

.464

101


+ Indicates a Hall of Fame member.

= Indicates a player still active as of the 2017 season.

tOPS+: OPS+ for a split relative to player's total OPS+. A value greater than 100 indicates how much better the player did in this split versus his overall performance, while a value less than 100 indicates how much worse the player did in this split versus his overall performance. Note that rounding conventions can result in the sum of a player's home and away tOPS+ values not adding to 200 exactly.

Not surprisingly, Helton and Walker performed about 20 percent better overall while playing at home (Walker's home tOPS+ is for his career and includes home records for his stints in Montreal and St. Louis), and about 20 percent worse overall on the road—with the 40 percent total gap illustrated by the dramatic differences in slash lines: Walker hit 70 points higher compared to his road batting average and slugged 142 points higher at home, while Helton hit 58 points better at Coors Field while slugging 138 points better there.

However, others such as Mark Teixeira, who played in hitter-friendly parks with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, also benefited from playing at home, as did David Ortiz, the bulk of whose career was played at Boston's hitter-friendly Fenway Park. (Although Ortiz was primarily a designated hitter, he did play first base on occasion, and Jaffe's JAWS rankings place him among first basemen.) On the other hand, John Olerud seemed to prefer hitting on the road while Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, and even Rafael Palmeiro, who spent several seasons in Texas, struck a balanced performance between home and the road.

The following table illustrates the differentials for hits and home runs between playing at home and on the road for the player sample above, ranked by the home differential for hits.

Home and Away Differentials for Hits and Home Runs of Selected First Basemen and Larry Walker, Ranked by Home-Hits Differentials

 

Home Hits

Away Hits

Home %

Home HR

Away HR

Home %

Helton, Todd

1394

1125

55.3

227

142

61.5

Walker, Larry

1193

967

55.2

215

168

56.1

Ortiz, David

1332

1140

53.9

241

300

44.5

Teixeira, Mark

945

917

50.8

225

184

55.0

+ Thomas, Frank

1246

1222

50.5

312

209

60.0

+ Bagwell, Jeff

1161

1153

50.2

234

215

52.1

Giambi, Jason

1010

1000

50.2

219

221

49.8

= Cabrera, Miguel

1305

1304

50.0

231

228

50.3

= Pujols, Albert

1456

1463

49.9

285

323

46.9

Thome, Jim

1157

1171

49.7

339

273

55.5

Palmeiro, Rafael

1466

1554

48.5

311

258

54.7

Olerud, John

1082

1157

48.3

134

121

52.5

= Votto, Joey

723

807

47.3

136

115

54.2


+ Indicates a Hall of Fame member.

= Indicates a player still active as of the 2017 season.

Again, the two players making their home at Coors Field lead the way, with Helton collecting 269 more hits, including 85 more home runs, at Coors, for home-differential percentages of 55.3 and 61.5, respectively. Walker, too, posted roughly comparable percentages, although Walker did not play exclusively for the Rockies, and we examine Colorado-specific splits below.

Of the other first basemen, Ortiz also shows a majority percentage hitting at home—except for home runs, as 60 percent of his round-trippers were hit on the road, most likely due to the long distance to Fenway's right- and center field walls. Otherwise, the mode in this sample is the mean as the bare majority of hitters have roughly a 50-50 split between hitting at home and hitting on the road while most hit more home runs in their home parks than in other parks, with Ortiz and Albert Pujols being the exceptions, and we note that Jason Giambi, with ten more hits at home and two more homers on the road, played a season's worth of baseball at Coors Field in the just over three seasons he spent with the Rockies from 2009 to 2012.

Overall, hitting in a hitter-friendly home park remains an offensive boost, as Walker's and especially Helton's experiences demonstrate. But are their experiences typical among their teammates, and did the 2002 introduction of a baseball humidor, to dampen the effects of a ball traveling in Denver's high, dry air, have a material effect?

The following table illustrates the career home-and-away splits for slash-line statistics (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) for notable Colorado Rockies players from both the pre- and post-humidor eras the team has experienced, ranked by home tOPS+, or the player's total OPS+ split relative to his playing at home. Note that players with the Rockies from 1993, the team's inaugural year, to 1994 played their home games at Denver's Mile-High Stadium while Coors Field was being constructed nearby.

Career Home and Away Splits for Slash Lines of Selected Colorado Rockies, Ranked by Home tOPS+

 

Home

Away

 

BA

OBP

SLG

tOPS+

BA

OBP

SLG

tOPS+

Bichette, Dante

.328

.365

.573

123

.269

.306

.424

76

Walker, Larry

.348

.431

.637

120

.278

.370

.495

80

Helton, Todd

.345

.441

.607

119

.287

.386

.469

80

Young, Eric

.302

.383

.422

115

.265

.335

.360

86

Castilla, Vinny

.295

.339

.518

114

.257

.303

.435

86

= Holliday, Matt

.316

.398

.558

114

.283

.359

.464

86

= Tulowitzki, Troy

.310

.382

.536

114

.269

.338

.453

85

Galarraga, Andres

.307

.368

.535

113

.270

.327

.464

87


= Indicates a player still active as of the 2017 season.

tOPS+: OPS+ for a split relative to player's total OPS+. A value greater than 100 indicates how much better the player did in this split versus his overall performance, while a value less than 100 indicates how much worse the player did in this split versus his overall performance. Note that rounding conventions can result in the sum of a player's home and away tOPS+ values not adding to 200 exactly.

Of the pre-humidor players, Dante Bichette (seven of 14 years in Colorado) and Vinny Castilla (nine of 16 seasons) fared best in Denver as Andres Galarraga and Larry Walker also posted gaudy numbers as Rockies—in 1993, Galarraga (five of 19 years) flirted with a .400 batting average before leading the National League with .370, while Walker (10 of 16 seasons) led the NL in batting three times during his Colorado tenure, winning the NL MVP award in 1997. Yet Walker and Galarraga especially had success outside of Colorado as well, as did Eric Young (five of 15 seasons).

By 2002, the Rockies had begun to use a humidifier to store game baseballs at Coors Field, and although the venue remains a hitters' park, the extreme effects of the thin, dry air in mile-high Denver seem to have been mitigated. Nevertheless, Matt Holliday (five of 14 years) and especially Troy Tulowitzki (10 of 12 seasons) have benefited from the still-hitter-friendly environment of Coors Field—as has Todd Helton, a career Rockies product.

Todd Helton
Can slugging first baseman Todd Helton break the curse of Coors Field and get elected to the Hall of Fame?

But the Coors Effect is real and inescapable, and even though I tried to make the case to mitigate the Coors Effect for Larry Walker back when I evaluated his Hall of Fame chances in 2013, he has not garnered much support among the voters of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). In fact, Walker fell to 10.2 percent of the vote in 2014, and although he has been trending upward since then, to 21.9 percent of the vote in 2017, he still has a huge gap to close to make the 75 percent minimum required for election to the Hall of Fame—and with only three more chances on the BBWAA ballot, Walker's chances look as thin as that fine Colorado air through which many of his balls, humidified or not, sailed for hits.

So, where does that leave Todd Helton's Hall of Fame chances? After all, Walker played his first six seasons in Montreal—with its Olympic Stadium not always a hitter-friendly park, "The Happy Wanderer" notwithstanding—and wound up his career with a season and a half in St. Louis, while Helton played his entire career in Colorado.

Can a ballpark jeopardize a player's chances for Hall of Fame legacy? Should a ballpark become an obstacle to that legacy? Coors Field has extreme park effects, but it is hardly the first ballpark in Major League history to favor its home hitters so generously—and the Hall of Fame has certainly rewarded some of those hitters with enshrinement throughout its history.

To illustrate the park effects on selected Hall of Fame players who played all or at least significant portions of their careers in hitter-friendly parks, we need to break down these hitters' tenures into separate evaluations of their hitting in those home parks. In addition to Helton and Walker, these players include Wade Boggs, David Ortiz (I wrote about Ortiz's Hall of Fame chances in April 2015, following his claim that he deserved to be in the Hall), and Carl Yastrzemski, who played much or all of their careers at Boston's Fenway Park; Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, who played much or all of their careers at Chicago's Wrigley Field; Frank Thomas, who played much of his career at the second Comiskey Park (then renamed U.S. Cellular Field and now Guaranteed Rate Field) when he played for the Chicago White Sox; and Chuck Klein, who played much of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies and in their home park the Baker Bowl.

The table below illustrates the home-and-away splits of these players' slash lines for their careers and during their seasons with a specific team, ranked by home tOPS+. For Helton and Walker, their listings include the performances before and after the introduction of the baseball humidor at Coors Field. The key beneath the table explains the players' tenures with different teams including resolution of seasons split between two teams.

Team-Specific and Career Home and Away Splits for Slash Lines of Selected Hall of Fame Players, Todd Helton, David Ortiz, and Larry Walker Colorado Rockies, Pre- and Post-Humidor Eras, Ranked by Home tOPS+

 

Home

Away

 

BA

OBP

SLG

tOPS+

BA

OBP

SLG

tOPS+

+ Klein (PHI1)

.420

.467

.760

133

.296

.357

.500

67

Walker (COL1)

.396

.466

.754

131

.282

.383

.521

66

Walker (COL-ALL)

.385

.465

.721

130

.279

.382

.508

68

+ Klein (PHI-ALL)

.368

.421

.642

123

.282

.342

.461

91

Walker (COL2)

.350

.461

.612

123

.271

.379

.465

76

+ Boggs (BOS)

.369

.465

.525

122

.307

.391

.400

78

+ Klein (CAREER)

.353

.410

.617

122

.286

.346

.466

77

Helton (COL1)

.375

.456

.705

121

.290

.373

.533

77

Walker (CAREER)

.348

.431

.637

120

.278

.370

.495

77

Helton (CAREER)

.345

.441

.607

119

.287

.386

.469

80

+ Klein (PHI2)

.312

.374

.499

119

.273

.322

.417

80

+ Thomas (TOR)

.281

.396

.547

119

.272

.355

.409

79

+ Boggs (CAREER)

.354

.443

.491

118

.302

.387

.395

82

Helton (COL2)

.332

.435

.565

116

.285

.391

.442

83

+ Yastrzemski (BOS)

.306

.402

.503

115

.264

.357

.422

86

+ Klein (PHI3)

.184

.260

.271

114

.202

.295

.305

127

+ Banks (CHC)

.290

.348

.537

113

.259

.311

.462

87

+ Klein (PIT)

.301

.382

.508

112

.261

.322

.455

84

Ortiz (BOS)

.311

.409

.591

111

.269

.362

.549

89

Walker (STL)

.315

.429

.561

110

.270

.375

.523

91

+ Williams (CAREER)

.302

.374

.525

110

.278

.349

.459

90

+ Thomas (CHW)

.313

.435

.611

109

.301

.419

.526

92

+ Thomas (CAREER)

.305

.424

.599

109

.297

.414

.511

91

+ Boggs (NYY)

.336

.412

.431

108

.290

.380

.382

90

Ortiz (CAREER)

.305

.400

.565

108

.267

.359

.538

92

+ Thomas (OAK)

.246

.342

.528

108

.274

.397

.444

94

Walker (MON)

.286

.364

.500

108

.278

.350

.468

83

+ Williams (OAK)

.234

.335

.378

105

.228

.330

.395

97

+ Williams (CHC)

.309

.378

.539

102

.283

.351

.466

99

+ Boggs (TBD)

.281

.350

.394

100

.298

.371

.386

100

+ Klein (CHC)

.296

.375

.547

93

.312

.370

.510

104

Ortiz (MIN)

.274

.353

.455

73

.257

.341

.485

91


+ Indicates a Hall of Fame member.

tOPS+: OPS+ for a split relative to player's total OPS+. A value greater than 100 indicates how much better the player did in this split versus his overall performance, while a value less than 100 indicates how much worse the player did in this split versus his overall performance. Note that rounding conventions can result in the sum of a player's home and away tOPS+ values not adding to 200 exactly.

CAREER: For players who played for more than one team, these are their statistics for their entire career.

Ernie Banks: CHC: With Chicago Cubs 1953–1971.

Wade Boggs: BOS: With Boston Red Sox 1982–1992. NYY: With New York Yankees 1993–1997. TBD: With Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1998–1999.

Todd Helton: COL1: With Colorado Rockies 1997–2001, before baseball humidor was in use. COL2: With Colorado Rockies 2002–2013, after baseball humidor was in use. COL-ALL: Total of all seasons played with Colorado Rockies, as defined above.

Chuck Klein: PHI1: With Philadelphia Phillies 1928–1933. CHC: With Chicago Cubs 1934–1936. (In 1936 played 29 games for Chicago and 117 games for Philadelphia; 1936 splits are counted as all Philadelphia statistics only.) PHI2: With Philadelphia Phillies 1936–1938. PIT: With Pittsburgh Pirates 1939. (In 1939 played 85 games for Pittsburgh and 25 games for Philadelphia; 1939 splits are counted as all Pittsburgh statistics only.) PHI3: With Philadelphia Phillies 1940–1944. PHI-ALL: Total of all seasons played with Philadelphia Phillies, as defined above.

David Ortiz: MIN: With Minnesota Twins 1997–2002. BOS: With Boston Red Sox 2003–2016.

Frank Thomas: CHW: With Chicago White Sox 1990–2005. OAK: With Oakland Athletics 2006 and 2008. TOR: With Toronto Blue Jays 2007–2008. (In 2008 played 16 games for Toronto and 55 games for Oakland; 2008 splits are counted as all Oakland statistics only.)

Larry Walker: MON: With Montreal Expos 1989–1994. COL1: With Colorado Rockies 1995–2001, before baseball humidor was in use. COL2: With Colorado Rockies 2002–2004, after baseball humidor was in use. STL: With St. Louis Cardinals 2004–2005. (In 2004 played 38 games for Colorado and 44 for St. Louis; 2004 splits are counted as all St. Louis statistics only.) COL-ALL: Total of all seasons played with Colorado Rockies, as defined above.

Billy Williams: CHC: With Chicago Cubs 1959–1974. OAK: With Oakland Athletics 1975–1976.

Carl Yastrzemski: BOS: With Boston Red Sox 1961–1983.

Isolating specific periods in a player's career helps to stratify the home-away effect, and the rankings overall reinforce their career rankings, and with Ernie Banks and Carl Yastrzemski having played their careers with one team and thus in one home ballpark, they provide a baseline of home-field advantage in a hitter-friendly park, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, respectively.

For example, Wade Boggs clearly enjoyed hitting at Fenway during his 11 years with the Red Sox—he didn't do too badly on the road, either—although his performance, coming early in his career, underscores that a player is likely to hit better earlier in his career regardless of where he played his home games; correspondingly, players' performances later in their careers are likely not to be as robust. There are exceptions, of course, as David Ortiz languished in Minnesota before he blossomed with Boston, although the move to a hitter-friendly park couldn't have hurt. Another point to consider is that players who spent just a short time with a team generate a smaller sample size that can yield greater variations.

The table below illustrates this stratification as it applies to the percentage differential for home-and-away hits and home runs, ranked by home-hits percentage differential.

Team-Specific and Career Home and Away Differentials for Hits and Home Runs of Selected Hall of Fame Players, Todd Helton, David Ortiz, and Larry Walker, Ranked by Home-Hits Percentage Differential

 

Home Hits

Away Hits

Home %

Home HR

Away HR

Home %

+ Klein (PIT)

55

35

61.1

6

6

50.0

Walker (COL1)

623

413

60.1

126

84

60.0

Walker (COL-ALL)

790

536

59.6

152

100

60.3

+ Klein (PHI1)

717

492

59.3

131

60

68.6

Helton (COL1)

458

333

57.9

93

63

59.6

+ Klein (PHI-ALL)

998

730

57.8

164

83

66.4

Walker (COL2)

167

123

57.6

26

16

61.9

+ Klein (CAREER)

1163

913

56.0

190

110

63.3

Helton (CAREER)

1394

1125

55.3

227

142

61.5

Walker (CAREER)

1193

967

55.2

215

168

56.1

Walker (STL)

92

76

54.8

16

16

50.0

+ Klein (PHI2)

234

195

54.5

29

19

60.4

+ Boggs (NYY)

381

321

54.3

13

11

54.2

Helton (COL2)

936

792

54.2

134

79

62.9

Ortiz (BOS)

1124

955

54.1

221

262

45.8

+ Boggs (BOS)

1133

965

54.0

49

36

57.6

Ortiz (CAREER)

1332

1140

53.9

241

300

44.5

+ Yastrzemski (BOS)

1822

1597

53.3

237

215

52.4

+ Banks (CHC)

1372

1212

53.1

290

222

56.6

Ortiz (MIN)

208

185

52.9

20

38

34.5

+ Thomas (TOR)

77

70

52.4

19

7

73.1

+ Williams (CHC)

1314

1196

52.4

231

161

58.9

+ Klein (PHI3)

47

43

52.2

4

4

50.0

+ Williams (CAREER)

1413

1298

52.1

245

181

57.5

+ Boggs (TBD)

109

101

52.0

8

1

88.9

+ Thomas (CHW)

1081

1055

50.6

263

185

58.7

+ Thomas (CAREER)

1246

1222

50.5

312

209

60.0

+ Williams (OAK)

99

102

49.3

14

20

41.2

Walker (MON)

311

355

46.7

47

52

47.5

+ Thomas (OAK)

78

97

44.6

30

17

63.8

+ Klein (CHC)

110

148

42.6

20

21

48.8


+ Indicates a Hall of Fame member.

Not surprisingly, this analysis yields similar results as the previous table: Hitting at home can be good for you, particularly if your home park is a hitter-friendly one. But that is a truism across baseball regardless of time and place, and thus the questions become: At what point does the "hitter-friendliness" of a ballpark become extreme? And is that sufficient grounds to disqualify a player from the Hall of Fame?

The answer to the first question is subjective, but the answer to the second question must be no. Why? For one thing, it has not done so in the past, and for another—and much more critically—it is an arbitrary and discriminatory practice, whether it is done implicitly or explicitly. Unlike the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, which involves a conscious, deliberate decision on the part of a player to use them to acquire an edge, a player cannot control the performance of his home ballpark. Moreover, a player is not going "scale back" his performance in a hitter-friendly ballpark if such behavior is even possible—it's hard enough to perform well at the Major League level under any condition, and to not compete to the utmost runs counter to the nature of any competitor.

Even with its baseball humidor, Coors Field will remain a very hitter-friendly venue as long as the Rockies remain an MLB franchise in Colorado. That is the reality. It is also reality that Rockies players are thus quite likely to roll up home-field statistics that are rather gaudy, whether they played only part of their careers in Colorado (Larry Walker) or their entire career there (Todd Helton). And it is not without precedent that a hitter playing in a very hitter-friendly ballpark has been elected to the Hall of Fame.

For the first six years of his career, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chuck Klein was a holy terror at the plate. He became a full-time player in his second season in 1929, his age-24 year, and promptly led the National League in home runs, the first of four times he led the league in that category. He led the NL in total bases four times, in runs scored three times and in slugging percentage three times each, and in hits, doubles, and runs batted in twice each.

In 1933, he won the batting Triple Crown (batting average, home runs, runs batted in), one of only five NL hitters in history to do so (Rogers Hornsby did it twice), and one of only three NL hitters to do so since the modern era had begun in 1901. (The 1933 season saw Klein's American League counterpart in Philadelphia, the Athletics' Jimmie Foxx, also win the Triple Crown, the only time there has been a winner in each league in the same season.) The previous season, which saw him win the NL Most Valuable Player Award, Klein led the NL in both home runs and stolen bases, the last time a hitter in either league has led both categories in the same season.

During those years, Klein's home park was the Baker Bowl, a notoriously hitter-friendly park that epitomized the terms "bandbox" and "cigar box" used subsequently to describe a small baseball field conducive to high offense. And when Klein was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1934, his offensive production fell off a cliff, at least compared to the stratospheric production he enjoyed in Philadelphia, even while playing in the "friendly confines" of Wrigley Field. Even Klein's return to the Phillies after just over two years away couldn't elevate his output to those halcyon years although in 1936 he did hit four home runs in one game against the Pirates—ironically, it was in Pittsburgh's pitcher-friendly Forbes Field—the first NL player to do so in the 20th century, and still only one of 18 hitters to do so all-time.

Chuck Klein appeared on 12 BBWAA ballots and received his largest share of the vote, 27.9 percent, on his final appearance in 1964. He was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1980, a posthumous induction as Klein had died in 1958 at age 53. Klein ranks 33rd all-time in Jay Jaffe's JAWS rankings for right fielders. Larry Walker ranks 10th, with every one of nine right fielders above him voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA as he ranks above Hall of Famers Paul Waner, Sam Crawford, Tony Gwynn, and Dave Winfield.

As for Todd Helton, he ranks 14th among first basemen in JAWS, just a tick ahead of first-ballot Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, followed by Hall honorees Hank Greenberg, George Sisler, Harmon Killebrew, and Bill Terry, and well ahead of more dubious choices Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda. Of the 13 first basemen ahead of Helton on the JAWS list, two are still active (Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera) while Jim Thome debuts on the 2018 BBWAA ballot and Rafael Palmeiro, tarred and feathered by the brush of performance-enhancing drugs, fell off the BBWAA ballot following the 2014 vote.

Ironically, what may stymie Helton more than the Coors Effect is that not only was Helton not the best first baseman in baseball during his career, he wasn't even the best first baseman in the National League. As Helton began his career, the Houston Astros' Jeff Bagwell, ranked sixth in JAWS, was the NL's best first baseman (the Astros moved to the American League in 2013, eight years after Bagwell's final season), and as Helton hit his peak and began his decline phase, Pujols, ranked second in JAWS, assumed the mantle held by Bagwell as the star of the St. Louis Cardinals until his move to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012.

Bagwell was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2017, his seventh year on the ballot although he should have been voted in sooner than that. Pujols, when he becomes eligible, is practically a lock to be voted into the Hall in his first year even if his years in Anaheim hardly compare to his otherworldly performance in St. Louis.

So, where does that leave Todd Helton? Unlike Larry Walker, Helton spent his entire career with the Colorado Rockies, playing in Coors Field before and after the introduction of the baseball humidor to normalize performance, yet as the statistical comparisons above illustrate, Helton certainly enjoyed a marked home-field advantage throughout his career. But despite that, Helton still cannot lay claim to being the best first baseman even in his own league.

Is Todd Helton a Hall of Famer? The numbers say so, but as any baseball fan who has peered at a matrix of player statistics for any length of time begins to realize, numbers have contingent contexts. Helton's is a test case for players who spent an appreciable amount of time with the Rockies, a circumstance that engenders great short-term yields but has so far suggested a long-term liability, if Larry Walker's situation is any indication.

Yet unlike the issue of performance-enhancing drugs (PED), in which a player makes a conscious individual choice to gain advantage in a highly competitive environment through proscribed means, playing baseball for the Colorado Rockies with its unusually hitter-friendly home ballpark is neither furtive nor illegal; nor is it necessarily a player's choice in the case of a trade. But do we then punish a player for his conscious individual choice to play baseball for the Rockies just because Coors Field does not "play fair" in relation to other ballparks?

The last two BBWAA ballot results suggest that attitudes toward PED are changing: Mike Piazza, elected in 2016, and Ivan Rodriguez, elected in 2017, both had PED associations yet overcame previous condemnation over them—and in Rodriguez's case it was on his first ballot—while Bagwell, whose PED associations were, and remain, only baseless allegations, was elected in 2017. The Coors Field issue is hardly comparable except that it underscores the normative numbers "taint" associated with PED usage—hitters whose home park is Coors Field "should" not hit better than players in other home parks. But the bottom line is this: You evaluate the baseball you have, not the baseball you wish you had.

Todd Helton may not have been the best first baseman in his league, but he was one of the best, and he was one of the best all-time. That assessment, and any residual ballot logjam, will keep him from getting elected in his first few tries, but if the Coors Field issue experiences the same shift in thinking among voters as has the PED issue, he will be elected before his stint on the BBWAA ballot has ended. And that is as it should be.




Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte

Speaking of PED, that is an issue that Andy Pettitte must face as he begins his time on the BBWAA ballot: Named in the 2007 Mitchell Report as a PED user along with former teammate and friend Roger Clemens, Pettitte acknowledged using human growth hormone (HGH) to expedite his recovery from an elbow injury in 2002, and although he subsequently denied any further PED use, he then admitted to using HGH again in 2004; meanwhile, Pettitte's relationship with Clemens took a nosedive following their conflicting remarks during investigations. In 2008, Pettitte apologized publicly for his past PED usage.

Whether Andy Pettitte must apologize for his record as a left-handed starting pitcher is of more interest here. I profiled Pettitte in a 2013 article titled "Pitching Wins: A Ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame?," concluding that Pettitte does not reach the threshold despite ranking 42nd in all-time wins with 256. Does that assessment hold up four years later, as Pettitte is soon to appear on his first Hall of Fame ballot?

Pettitte's career coincided with the mid-1990s ascendancy of the New York Yankees, with whom Pettitte won five World Series rings starting in 1996, his second year in the Majors, and in that age-24 season he led the American League by winning 21 games against only eight losses for a .724 winning percentage while posting a 3.87 ERA. Along with relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, catcher Jorge Posada, and shortstop Derek Jeter, Pettitte formed the "Core Four" that led the Yankees to seven AL pennants and seven World Series appearances, winning five of those. (Pettitte also reached the World Series in 2005 with the Houston Astros, where he was reunited with Clemens; the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox.)

In 1996, the Toronto Blue Jays' Pat Hentgen edged him out for the AL Cy Young Award, and bWAR, admittedly a retrospective assessment, favors Hentgen as the right-hander, who won 20 games against only 10 losses for a Blue Jays team that finished eight games below .500, was worth about three wins better than Pettitte with an 8.5 bWAR compared to Pettitte's 5.6; Hentgen's ERA of 3.22 was about a half-run better than the Yankees southpaw while Hentgen led the Major Leagues with 10 complete games and three shutouts. (The Toronto workhorse also led the Majors with 265.2 innings pitched, almost unheard-of these days.)

Pettitte finished in the top ten of Cy Young voting four more times, and in none of those instances was he unfairly overlooked, although his fifth and last appearance on the Cy Young leaderboard in 2005 is both notable and instructive. He won 17 games and lost just nine, for a .654 winning percentage, while he posted a career-best 2.39 ERA, only the second time he notched an ERA under 3. Yet he was still overshadowed even on his own team, the Astros, by Roy Oswalt, a 20-game winner (20–12, .625) with a 2.94 ERA, and by Clemens, who posted a 1.87 ERA despite winning only 13 games as the Astros were blanked in nine games that Clemens started, an indication of how the offense struggled to score runs for him.

Similarly with the comparison to Hentgen in 1996, this illustrates how throughout his career, Pettitte has never been the staff ace, or has never had the truly standout season indicative of a dominant pitcher. Indeed, throughout his career, Pettitte has pitched for strong teams that, overall, have scored an average of 5.4 runs in games that Pettitte started and an average of 5.1 runs in the innings that he actually pitched in those games; MLB averages during that time were 4.7 runs and 4.5 runs, respectively. In 521 career starts, Pettitte left 41 games in which he was in line to lose, but his team came back to at least tie the game, thus negating the potential loss. In fairness, Pettitte left 36 games in which he was in line to win, but the bullpen allowed the other team to at least tie the game, thus depriving him of the win.

In 521 starts and 3316 total innings pitched, Pettitte pitched just 26 complete games while recording only four shutouts. His entire career occurred in an era of interventionist bullpens, and the perception that a starting pitcher was expected to "gut it out" for the entire game began to disappear around the time that rotary telephones were also disappearing. So, although Pettitte does seem like a hothouse flower built to deliver six or seven innings before yielding to the bullpen, he should not be faulted for not racking up complete games.

Andy Pettitte
One of the Yankees' "Core Four," is Andy Pettitte distinguished enough for the Hall of Fame?

But in comparison with active and recently retired pitchers, Pettitte does not look like a "big game" pitcher, one whom his manager would keep in the game to earn a complete game or, even better, a shutout. The following table ranks selected pitchers active through the 2017 season and recently retired pitchers by career complete games and career shutouts. (Pitchers discussed in this article are marked in bold italic.)

Selected Pitchers Active through 2017 and Recently Retired, Ranked by Complete Games and by Shutouts. Pitchers Discussed in This Article in Bold Italic.

 

GS

CG

 

GS

SHO

Halladay, Roy

390

67

Halladay, Roy

390

20

+ Sabathia, C.C.

509

38

Carpenter, Chris

332

15

+ Colon, Bartolo

528

37

+ Kershaw, Clayton

290

15

Buehrle, Mark

493

33

+ Colon, Bartolo

528

13

Carpenter, Chris

332

33

Hudson, Tim

479

13

Moyer, Jamie

638

33

Lee, Cliff

324

12

Lee, Cliff

324

29

+ Sabathia, C.C.

509

12

Hudson, Tim

479

26

+ Hernandez, Felix

375

11

Pettitte, Andy

521

26

+ Santana, Ervin

376

11

+ Hernandez, Felix

375

25

Buehrle, Mark

493

10

+ Kershaw, Clayton

290

25

Burnett, A.J.

430

10

Burnett, A.J.

430

24

Moyer, Jamie

638

10

+ Shields, James

372

23

Santana, Johan

284

10

+ Verlander, Justin

385

23

+ Wainwright, Adam

277

10

+ Wainwright, Adam

277

22

+ Shields, James

372

9

+ Santana, Ervin

376

21

+ Cain, Matt

331

6

Oswalt, Roy

341

20

+ Cueto, Johnny

283

8

+ Lackey, John

446

18

+ Lackey, John

446

8

+ Cueto, Johnny

283

17

Oswalt, Roy

341

8

+ Arroyo, Bronson

383

16

+ Weaver, Jered

331

8

+ Greinke, Zack

381

16

+ Hamels, Cole

362

7

+ Hamels, Cole

362

16

+ Verlander, Justin

385

7

+ Bumgarner, Madison

231

15

+ Arroyo, Bronson

383

6

+ Cain, Matt

331

15

+ Bumgarner, Madison

231

6

+ Dickey, R.A.

300

15

+ Dickey, R.A.

300

6

+ Lester, Jon

348

15

+ Nolasco, Ricky

312

6

Santana, Johan

284

15

+ Greinke, Zack

381

5

+ Weaver, Jered

331

14

+ Garza, Matt

284

4

+ Nolasco, Ricky

312

12

+ Lester, Jon

348

4

+ Garza, Matt

284

10

Pettitte, Andy

521

4

+ Jimenez, Ubaldo

315

9

+ Scherzer, Max

296

4


+ Active through 2017.

In both complete games and shutouts, Roy Halladay is the clear outlier, and as I concluded in 2013, Halladay should be a very likely Hall of Fame inductee not very long after he becomes eligible. Halladay's 67 complete games and 20 shutouts, accomplished in just under 400 games started, sets a standard that no other pitcher in this sample can match, particularly in complete games as his closest competition are C.C. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon, both of whom needed more than 500 starts to get within 30 complete games of Halladay.

Similarly, Clayton Kershaw, who lags in complete games—although he is likely to match and even pass Pettitte next season—nevertheless has collected 15 shutouts in just under 300 games. Kershaw, whose age-30 season doesn't even start until next year, is already considered a Hall of Fame pitcher, and he might be an unfair comparison to Pettitte. Or not. It takes an exceptional pitcher to get into the Hall of Fame, and while complete games and shutouts are not definitive, they are indicative of pitching dominance in the sense that managers are willing to let his pitcher finish what he started, an increasingly rare occurrence in the era of interventionist bullpens. For example, Madison Bumgarner, in less than half of the starts Pettitte had, already has more than half of Pettitte's career complete games and has passed him for career shutouts while going into his age-28 season next year—and his value to the San Francisco Giants was proved in the 2014 postseason, as he was named the Most Valuable Player in both the National League Championship Series and the World Series. (Although after the 2017 season, the Giants might now forbid him from riding dirt bikes.)

Pettitte, too, has a reputation as a postseason pitcher: In 2001, he was named the MVP for the American League Championship Series when he won both his starts against the Seattle Mariners, striking out eight and allowing just 11 hits, none of them a home run, two walks, and four earned runs in 14.1 innings for a 2.51 ERA. Pettitte is the career leader in postseason games started (44), innings pitched (276.2), and wins (19) and has combined with reliever Mariano Rivera to generate 11 win-save combinations in the postseason. Pettitte's postseason win-loss record is 19–11 (.633) with a 3.81 ERA while just in the World Series he has a 5–4 mark (.556) with a 4.06 ERA. Pettitte has no complete games in the postseason, although that is not a demerit by any means.

Pettitte ranks 39th in career strikeouts (2448) and in games started (521), 42nd in wins (256), and 90th in innings pitched (3316). Among starting pitchers, JAWS ranks Pettitte 89th, tied with Sandy Koufax—which recalls the discussion above concerning Johan Santana. However, Pettitte, whose career was one-third longer than either Koufax's or Santana's, was nowhere near as dominant as either pitcher, having led the league in games started three times and wins once but was never considered the league's best pitcher in any year.

Among the Yankees' Core Four that led them to five world championships, there is a sharp dichotomy: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are not only Hall of Fame players but will almost certainly be elected in their first year of eligibility. On the other hand, Jorge Posada, Pettitte's (and Rivera's) battery mate, was one-and-done in 2017, and although I did not think that Posada rose to the Hall of Fame level, he deserved more than a quick exit in his first year of eligibility.

Andy Pettitte is not likely either to exit on his first ballot or to collect at least 75 percent of the vote needed for Hall of Fame election. He was instrumental to the Yankees' 1990s success, but he was not essential to it, and his career similarly reflects that excellent but below-the-threshold caliber.

In 2001, Roy Oswalt's rookie season, the Houston Astros' efficient, effective right-hander won 14 games against only three losses for a National League-leading .824 win-loss percentage, posting a 2.73 ERA, a 2.84 FIP, and a 170 ERA+ with 144 strikeouts against just 24 walks in 141.2 innings pitched for a 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings ratio and a 6.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, Oswalt had the misfortune to debut the same year as Albert Pujols, and he wound up as the runner-up to the St. Louis Cardinals' slugger in Rookie of the Year voting. Oswalt did finish fifth in Cy Young voting, in a year dominated by Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and current ballot resident Curt Schilling; it was the first of five seasons that Oswalt would finish in the top five for Cy Young voting.

For the first ten years of his career, from 2001 to 2010, Roy Oswalt won 150 games against just 83 losses for a sparkling .644 win-loss percentage (identical to the career win-loss record of Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean) while his run prevention was similarly impressive, posting a 3.18 ERA, a 3.34 FIP, and a 135 ERA+ as he struck out 1666 batters while walking 467 for a near-Schilling-like 3.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In that period, he had back-to-back 20-game seasons, in 2004 and 2005, the latter the only time the Astros have gone to the World Series (at least as a National League team); he won 15 or more games five times and posted an ERA under 3.00 five times including a league-leading 2.98 in 2006. In 2004 and 2005, he also led the NL—indeed, all of MLB—in starts with 35 in each season.

And although he pitched at least 200 innings in seven of those ten years, injuries were beginning to plague him. Oswalt pitched just 127.1 innings over 21 starts in 2003, and even though he rebounded over the next four seasons, he was dogged by injuries in 2006, 2007, and 2008, leading to a mediocre—for Oswalt—2009 season that saw his ERA crest above 4.00 for the first time in his career.

The Astros traded Oswalt to the Philadelphia Phillies midway through the 2010 season after he lost twice as many games, 12, than he had won although his ERA was a respectable 3.42 before the trade. However, the change of venue proved a tonic for him—with the Phillies he won seven of eight decisions including a shutout, the last of eight career blanks, while brandishing a 1.74 ERA in 82.2 innings.

Oswalt's 2011 marked the turning point in Roy Oswalt's career in a season that found him part of a Phillies rotation that included Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee. He took a leave of absence early in the season following devastating tornado strikes in his home state of Mississippi, and later in the season he went on the disabled list with a back injury as he posted his first losing season, 9–10, although his ERA remained adequate at 3.69 while his 3.44 FIP suggested some bad luck with his fielders.

Nevertheless, the Phillies did not pick up his option for the 2012 season, and Oswalt, angling for a lucrative contract as a still-effective starter, signed with the Texas Rangers, debuting with them by mid-season and eventually winding up in the bullpen as he made only nine starts in 17 appearances. With a 5.80 ERA and a 76 ERA+—significantly below league-average—Oswalt, in his age-34 season, was coming to the end of his career. He signed with the Colorado Rockies for 2013, but after losing six games without a win and posting a bloated 8.63 ERA, he called it quits.

A three-time All-Star from 2005 to 2007, Oswalt had four years with a bWAR of 5.0 wins or greater including a 7.0 in 2002, when he won 19 games and lost just nine for a .679 win-loss percentage as his ERA was 3.01; he also struck out a career-high 208 batters, the first of two years with 200 or more strikeouts. He led the NL in winning percentage (.824) in 2001, in wins (20) in 2004, and in ERA (2.98) in 2006. Oswalt's 1852 career strikeouts rank 104th all-time although his most impressive career placements are in rate statistics: 25th in strikeouts-to-walks (3.56), 49th in ERA+ (127), 85th in win-loss percentage (.615), and 96th in strikeouts per nine innings (7.4), while his bWAR for pitchers of 49.9 ranks 105th, putting him truly on the bubble.

In the postseason, Oswalt had 13 appearances, 11 of those starts, as he posted a 5–2 win-loss record and a 3.73 ERA. He was the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player in 2005 as he won both his starts against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing just eight hits, one home run, and four walks in 14 innings while striking out 12, and the two runs (both earned) he gave up netted him a tiny 1.29 ERA.

Along with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, Oswalt was part of the Astros' starting rotation that put Houston into the World Series for the first time in 2005, only to be swept by the Chicago White Sox, hungry for its first World Championship in 88 years. Oswalt went six innings in his only start, giving up five earned runs on eight hits, one home run, five walks, and one hit batsman; he cruised for the first four innings on the strength of a 4–0 lead, but then he coughed up five runs in the fifth although the Astros scored a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the game, which the White Sox won with two runs in the 14th inning.

Roy Oswalt ranks 105th in Jay Jaffe's JAWS rating for starting pitchers, ahead of name-brand Hall of Fame pitchers Dizzy Dean, Bob Lemon, Chief Bender, Herb Pennock, Catfish Hunter, and Lefty Gomez, which might say more about evaluations of pitchers, past and present, than it does about Oswalt, an excellent pitcher for his first ten years but one not notable or durable enough to be considered a Hall of Famer.

Michael Young

Similarly, Michael Young could find his path littered with all kinds of obstructions even if, superficially, his career looks impressive. A lifetime .300 hitter who led the American League in batting in 2005, Young was also an unusual commodity in the current era, a franchise player as he toiled for all but one of his 14 years in the Majors for the Texas Rangers. Moreover, he proved himself versatile, playing all four infield positions although he played the most games at shortstop, having moved into the position in 2004 following Alex Rodriguez's departure to the New York Yankees.

Young had come up for a cup a coffee as a second baseman in 2000, his age-23 season, and the following year found him playing in 106 games, compiling a .249/.298/.402/.699 slash line with 11 home runs and 49 RBI in 429 plate appearances. He was the Rangers' regular second baseman in 2002, racking up 150 hits including 26 doubles and eight triples, while his efforts in 2003 earned him 204 hits and a .306 batting average, the first of six seasons with 200 or more hits and seven seasons with a .300 or better average (for seasons in which he qualified for a title).

For a nine-year period, from 2003 to 2011, Young's aggregate slash line was .311/.358/.461/.819, yielding an OPS+ of 111, as he averaged 202 hits, 38 doubles, and 17 home runs with 97 runs scored and 90 runs batted in every year. During that time, he was named to seven All-Star teams, six of those consecutively, won one Gold Glove, and finished in the top ten for Most Valuable Player twice while leading the Majors in hits twice and the American League in batting once. Young was in the top ten for hits in every year except 2009, although that year saw him fifth in batting with a .322 average, one of four seasons in which he finished in the top ten for batting average. This period also saw Young hit 30 or more doubles in every year, including a career-high 52 in 2006, as he also hit five or more triples four times.

With the reputation of a hitting machine, Young had five consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits, from 2003 to 2007, joining Wade Boggs and Ichiro Suzuki as only the third player to accomplish that feat since 1940 while becoming the only middle infielder besides Charlie Gehringer to do it. That is some distinguished company as Boggs and Gehringer are in the Hall of Fame, and Suzuki is certain to join them when he (eventually) retires.

Yet Michael Young's offensive prowess, impressive on the face of it, seems not to have a significant impact in terms of effectiveness and value. His career OPS+ of 104, and his career wRC+ of 104, are a few ticks above league-average, not an insult but also not the mark of a Hall of Fame-caliber player. Similarly, Young's offensive runs above average (RAA) of –56 puts him 56 runs below that of a league-average player. As a hitter, Young generated a career offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) of 39.6, but with a career defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) of –11.5, Young's overall bWAR (Baseball Reference version) is 24.2. FanGraphs is a bit more critical, calculating his fWAR at 23.8.

Still, Young was a middle infielder for much of his career, starting 776 games at shortstop and 433 games at second base, making 1209 of his 1764 starts (he also started 165 games as the designated hitter) around the keystone base. Does his defensive prowess add value?

That may be a leading question, as we just noted that his career dWAR is –11.5 wins—and that is the computation after the positional adjustment of +7.5 for a shortstop and +3.0 for a second baseman. Baseball Reference computes Young's total fielding runs above average as a shortstop at –48 runs and his defensive runs saves at –82 runs; as a second baseman, those totals are –17 and –11, respectively, while the 457 games he started at third base are even worse: –39 total fielding runs above average and –55 defensive runs saved. FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which measures a fielder's defensive contributions, both positive and negative, using an average fielder at a given position as the baseline with a zero rating indicating that league-average value, gives Young a similarly gloomy assessment at shortstop (–55.6 UZR), second base (–4.0 UZR), and third base (–34.9 UZR).

Franchise player Young found himself at loggerheads with the Rangers in 2009, when they moved Young from shortstop to third base to make room for Elvis Andrus, and again before the 2011 season when the Rangers had acquired third baseman Adrian Beltre and expected Young to become a DH and utility infielder. The popular perception was of a club treating its veteran in a shoddy manner, with Young requesting a trade in each case. In hindsight, Andrus, the runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2009, has proved to be a solid, if not spectacular, shortstop while Beltre, whose career had seemed moribund after a breakout 2004 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, will enter the Hall of Fame not long after he retires.

Michael Young is not going to the Hall of Fame. As a hitter, he had an excellent career with a strong nine-year peak, and he remains 117th all-time in doubles (441), 130th in hits (2375), and 206th in batting average (.2999, rounded to .300). But Young joins Garret Anderson, Magglio Ordoñez, and, in this article, Johnny Damon as hitters who looked superficially impressive but in an era of high talent compression, in which there are so many good hitters, they do not stand out from the competition—and that is a prerequisite for a Hall of Famer today.



Last At-Bats

Since 2014, the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) has elected 12 players to the Baseball Hall of Fame, an average of three per year, which has helped to alleviate an ongoing ballot logjam that has highlighted just how many superlative players baseball has been graced with in the last few decades.

Yet issues still remain, from the lingering stigma of performance-enhancing drugs, to the shortening of the total time a candidate may remain on the ballot from 15 years to 10 years, to the sheer effort of getting at least three of four voters to vote for any candidate in the first place.

Not helping is the continuing addition of newly eligible candidates, some of whom may leapfrog over existing candidates although the majority will take up residence on the ballot to build up their qualifications for the 75 percent of the vote needed to send them to Cooperstown. These threshold candidates truly test what constitutes a Hall of Fame player.

Borderline Candidates in 2018

The ballot logjam continues in 2018 as two strong candidates, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, appear on the ballot for the first time. Both are likely to be elected sooner rather than later although that may not occur during their inaugural vote. Both Trevor Hoffman, facing his third vote, and Vladimir Guerrero, facing his second, received more than 70 percent of the vote last year and may find themselves giving induction speeches next summer. Both had been profiled as borderline candidates in Part 1 of this series.

Of the six borderline candidates first eligible for 2018, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, and Omar Vizquel are Hall of Fame-caliber players although each has a hurdle to overcome—why would they be borderline candidates otherwise?

Vizquel has little problem convincing voters that he is one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time—but will that be enough to make him a Hall of Famer? In a sabermetric baseball world that values run prevention and positional scarcity, it might be enough, but Vizquel faces more ballot competition in 2018 than did Ozzie Smith in 2002. Rolen was an outstanding two-way player, a top defender at a challenging position, third base, and a slugger and run-producer, who struggled to establish his fame from behind other players' shadows. And although Santana had a terrific peak in the first half of his injury-shortened career, appreciation of that peak may take some time to blossom—and it might not in a ten-year germination period.

Andruw Jones looked to be on track for the Hall of Fame during his first ten years, which makes his sudden decline all the more precipitous regarding his chances. His defensive play may earn him some cachet, but a couple of truly dominant offensive seasons would have helped his cause. On the surface, Johnny Damon and Jamie Moyer have impressive numbers borne of longevity, which is not an unremarkable accomplishment given the high talent compression of the modern Major Leagues, but although Moyer's narrative is an inspirational one, neither is a Hall of Fame-caliber candidate.

Borderline Candidates in 2019

How many candidates are elected in 2018, thus relieving the ballot logjam even further, will have an impact on ballot voting in 2019. The good news, after a fashion, is that the only two blue-chip first-time candidates are Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera, and of the five borderline candidates profiled here, Todd Helton and Andy Pettitte are the only plausible candidates—and, again, each has a significant obstacle to overcome.

Helton's hurdle is called Coors Field—as a career first baseman for the Colorado Rockies, he posted Hall of Fame numbers playing in a home park exceptionally friendly to hitters. If voters can get over that, Helton's road to Cooperstown may be much easier. But if not, Helton could find himself languishing as has his erstwhile teammate Larry Walker.

Pettitte was an instrumental component in the New York Yankees' dominance in the late-1990s and early 2000s—but was he an essential component? His 256 wins stand out as singular in the modern era although contemporary analysis has re-assessed the importance of wins in evaluating a pitcher's effectiveness. A Cy Young award would have helped to underline Pettitte's dominance as a starting pitcher, though five World Series rings and one American League Championship Series MVP might balance the scales. Or not.

Of the remaining three borderline candidates in 2019, Lance Berkman will generate some discussion as one of baseball's best switch-hitters of all time, but Roy Oswalt and especially Michael Young will get nods as excellent though hardly Hall of Fame-caliber players.

But regardless of who gets elected to Cooperstown in the next two years, it is the candidates who perch on the cusp of immortality, those borderline candidates who inspire intense analysis and heated discussion, who make watching the Baseball Hall of Fame such a riveting endeavor.
Last modified on Wednesday, 08 November 2017 19:16