If I Had a Vote in the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Election

If I Had a Vote in the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Election
16 Jan
2018
Not in Hall of Fame

Index

Strategic voting. What you have to do when you have too many choices and not enough time or opportunities to realize all those choices.

Sounds like voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame for the last few years, doesn't it?

The good news is that since the Shutout of 2013, when the eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) could not muster the 75 percent of the vote necessary to elect any one ballot candidate to the Hall of Fame despite a wealth of candidates from whom to choose (I counted 14), the BBWAA has sent a dozen players to Cooperstown. Based on that trend, and barring any unusual or unforeseen wrinkle, the writers are certain to elect at least one player for 2018.

The not-so-good news is this: There is still a ballot logjam, which looks to remain a problem for a few more years. And since the 2014 decision by the Hall of Fame that reduces from 15 to 10 the number of years a candidate may remain on the ballot, a player is more likely to exit the ballot without election even though he may indeed be a Hall of Famer. This is why strategic voting is both crucial and necessary now.

Compounding the issue is the return of opprobrium for players with known associations with performance-enhancing drugs (PED). If you think they are cheaters who don't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, then this is not a problem. But if you think that the PED issue is much more complex and encompassing than punishing only the most visible contingent, the players, then this is a problem.

And compounding all of this is the certitude that the veterans committee (to use the generic term) is simply inadequate to redeem those players who fell off a BBWAA ballot before the writers could elect them. Which is why strategic voting is crucial.

2018 Returning Candidates

The following 14 players have had at least one voting round and are returning for 2018: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martínez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Billy Wagner, and Larry Walker.

The table below displays voting percentages for the 14 returning players on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, including the number of years on the ballot (includes the current year, 2018), their first year on the ballot, their projected final year (provided they receive at least five percent of the vote each year), their voting percentage in their first year, their voting percentage in their latest year, their highest percentage, and their average percent.

Voting Percentages for Players on the 2018 BBWAA Ballot

Player

Years on Ballot*

Initial Year

Final Year

Initial Pct.

Last Pct.

Highest Pct.

Ave. Pct.

Bonds, Barry

6

2013

2022

36.2

53.8

53.8

41.2

Clemens, Roger

6

2013

2022

37.6

54.1

54.1

42.0

Guerrero, Vladimir

2

2017

2026

71.7

71.7

71.7

71.7

Hoffman, Trevor

3

2016

2025

67.3

74.0

74.0

70.7

Kent, Jeff

5

2014

2023

15.2

16.7

16.7

15.6

Martínez, Edgar

9

2010

2019

36.2

58.6

58.6

37.0

McGriff, Fred

9

2010

2019

21.5

21.7

23.9

18.9

Mussina, Mike

5

2014

2023

20.3

51.8

51.8

34.9

Ramirez, Manny

2

2017

2026

23.8

23.8

23.8

23.8

Schilling, Curt

6

2013

2022

38.8

45.0

52.3

40.9

Sheffield, Gary

4

2015

2024

11.7

13.3

13.3

12.2

Sosa, Sammy

6

2013

2022

12.5

8.6

12.5

8.4

Wagner, Billy

3

2016

2025

10.5

10.2

10.5

10.4

Walker, Larry

8

2011

2020

20.3

21.9

22.9

17.7

* Includes current year (2018).

In accounting, they call it LIFO—Last In, First Out: From the returning class, the two players best positioned to cross the 75-percent threshold into the Hall of Fame are Vladimir Guerrero, who notched 71.7 percent of the vote in his ballot debut last year (and whom I had pegged as merely a borderline candidate three years ago, although I thought he was a definite Hall of Famer), and Trevor Hoffman, whose two-year trend from 67.3 percent in 2016, his inaugural year, to 74.0 last year almost guarantees that he will be elected this year. (Hoffman, too, I had pegged as a borderline pick, but, as with Guerrero, I included him as borderline with respect to the voters' likely collective perceptions and not my own.)

Vladimir Guerrero 2018 HoF
Free-swinging slugger Vladimir Guerrero burst onto the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2017--is he bound for Cooperstown this year?

After that, though, we start to shoot craps. Edgar Martinez had the next-best showing, but his 58.6 percent, a 12-point jump from his 2016's 46.4 percent, comes with only two years left on the ballot including this year's vote. Even the same jump this year will leave him just under the threshold as he could wind up like Tim Raines, elected by the BBWAA in his final year last year, or Jack Morris, who did not garner 75 percent of the writers' votes in his last year but who did win over the Modern Baseball Committee this year (although I determined that the Catfish Hunter of his era shouldn't get a Hall pass from the Modern Baseball Committee).

Of the four players with at least 50 percent of the vote last year, Mike Mussina seems poised to make the big move. First, he has shown a positive trend since his 20.3 percent showing in 2014, more than doubling that in three years. But more significantly, he carries substantially less baggage than do Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling. Schilling, whose anti-Muslim views may have made him an alt-right darling even if they cost him a slot on ESPN, was stuck a few ticks under 40 percent since his 2013 debut until cresting above the 50-percent line in 2016, only to slip back a few points the following year.

However, both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each broke above the 50-percent mark in 2017, the second year that both showed upward movement from their high-30s stasis of their first three years. And with the election of Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez last year, each with suspicions of performance-enhancing drugs, this may be why Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan implored BBWAA voters not to vote for players who used performance-enhancing drugs, thus putting Bonds and Clemens back into the PED doghouse along with Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa.

Moreover, Ramirez's 23.8 percent of the vote on his ballot debut was not only about equal to Mark McGwire's entire 10-year sojourn on the ballot, it was better than Rafael Palmeiro ever managed—and this as Ramirez failed two drug tests, the second of which forced him to quickly retire from baseball, with both test failures coming after Major League Baseball had instituted its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in 2006. No wonder Joe Morgan had to draw the line for BBWAA voters.

If enough writers heed Morgan's entreaty, Sosa could find himself dropping off the ballot this year while Ramirez and Sheffield could also take serious hits. Meanwhile, Billy Wagner and Jeff Kent have maintained marginal support, and while Kent has reached the halfway point of his maximum allotted time, Wagner is facing just his third vote. More seriously, though, are the fates of Fred McGriff and Larry Walker: McGriff, languishing with an average annual voting percentage of 18.9, has but two more tries to get to 75 percent—a faint hope—while Walker isn't much better off with one additional year than has McGriff.

And then come the candidates hitting the 2018 ballot for the first time—and how many of them are likely Hall of Famers?

2018 First-Time Candidates

Making their debut on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot are the following 19 candidates: Chris Carpenter, Johnny Damon, Liván Hernández, Orlando Hudson, Aubrey Huff, Jason Isringhausen, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Carlos Lee, Brad Lidge, Hideki Matsui, Kevin Millwood, Jamie Moyer, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano.

The following two tables list the 33 candidates on the 2018 ballot, first the 19 position players, and then the 14 pitchers. They 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 19 position players on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by bWAR. First-time candidates are marked in bold italic.

Position Players on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Position Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Bonds, Barry

.298/.444/.607/1.051

.435

162.4

164.0

182

173

Jones, Chipper

.303/.401/.529/.930

.397

85.0

84.6

141

141

Thome, Jim

.276/.402/.554/.956

.406

72.9

69.0

147

145

Walker, Larry

.313/.400/.565/.965

.412

72.6

68.9

141

140

Rolen, Scott

.281/.364/.490/.855

.368

70.0

70.1

122

122

Ramirez, Manny

.312/.411/.585/.996

.418

69.2

66.3

154

153

Martinez, Edgar

.312/.418/.515/.933

.405

68.3

65.6

147

147

Jones, Andruw

.254/.337/.486/.823

.352

62.8

67.1

111

111

Sheffield, Gary

.292/.393/.514/.907

.391

60.2

62.4

140

141

Guerrero, Vladimir

.318/.379/.553/.931

.390

59.3

54.3

140

136

Sosa, Sammy

.273/.344/.534/.878

.370

58.4

60.3

128

124

Damon, Johnny

.284/.352/.433/.785

.344

56.0

44.5

104

105

Kent, Jeff

.290/.356/.500/.856

.367

55.2

56.4

123

123

McGriff, Fred

.284/.377/.509/.886

.383

52.4

57.1

134

134

Vizquel, Omar

.272/.336/.352/.688

.310

45.3

42.6

82

83

Hudson, Orlando

.273/.341/.412/.752

.330

30.9

21.1

97

98

Lee, Carlos

.285/.339/.483/.821

.351

28.2

27.5

113

112

Matsui, Hideki

.282/.360/.462/.822

.357

21.3

12.9

118

119

Huff, Aubrey

.278/.342/.464/.806

.345

20.2

17.1

114

111

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

Here are the 14 pitchers on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by bWAR. First-time candidates are marked in bold italic.

Pitchers on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Pitcher

W-L (S), ERA

bWAR

fWAR

ERA+

ERA–

FIP–-

Clemens, Roger

354–184, 3.12

140.3

139.5

143

70

70

Mussina, Mike

270–153, 3.68

83.0

82.5

123

82

81

Schilling, Curt

216–146 (22), 3.46

79.9

83.2

127

80

74

Santana, Johan

139–78 (1), 3.20

51.4

45.3

136

74

81

Moyer, Jamie

269–209, 4.25

50.4

48.2

103

97

102

Zambrano, Carlos

132–91, 3.66

44.6

30.6

120

85

93

Carpenter, Chris

144–94, 3.76

34.5

39.1

116

86

88

Hernandez, Livan

178–177 (1), 4.44

31.1

34.5

95

105

103

Millwood, Kevin

169–152, 4.11

29.4

46.2

106

94

91

Hoffman, Trevor

61–75 (601), 2.87

28.0

26.1

141

71

73

Wagner, Billy

47–40 (422), 2.31

27.7

24.2

187

54

63

Wood, Kerry

86–75 (63), 3.67

27.7

23.7

117

86

87

Isringhausen, Jason

51–55 (300), 3.64

13.2

11.2

115

87

92

Lidge, Brad

26–32 (225), 3.54

8.2

11.6

122

82

75

W-L (S), ERA: Grouping of the pitcher's career win-loss record (and career saves, if applicable) 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 lists the Hall of Fame statistics for all 33 candidates on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by JAWS (JAffe War Score system). Please note that the JAWS ranking is for the player at the position for which he has been ranked and is not a ranking across all positions, and also that the JAWS statistics for each player may include values generated at other positions. First-time candidates are marked in bold italic.

All 2018 Hall of Fame Candidates, Hall of Fame Statistics, Ranked by JAWS

Player

fWAR

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank*

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

Bonds, Barry (LF)

164.0

162.4

72.7

117.6

1

340

76

Clemens, Roger (SP)

139.5

140.3

66.3

103.3

3

332

73

Jones, Chipper (3B)

84.6

85.0

46.6

65.8

6

180

70

Schilling, Curt (SP)

83.2

79.9

49.0

64.5

27

171

46

Mussina, Mike (SP)

82.5

83.0

44.5

63.8

28

121

54

Walker, Larry (RF)

68.9

72.6

44.6

58.6

10

148

58

Thome, Jim (1B)

69.0

72.9

41.5

57.2

10

156

57

Rolen, Scott (3B)

70.1

70.0

43.5

56.8

10

99

40

Martinez, Edgar (3B)

65.6

68.3

43.6

56.0

11

132

50

Jones, Andruw (CF)

67.1

62.8

46.4

54.6

11

109

34

Ramirez, Manny (LF)

66.3

69.2

39.9

54.5

10

226

69

Sosa, Sammy (RF)

60.3

58.4

43.7

51.0

18

202

52

Guerrero, Vladimir (RF)

54.3

59.3

41.1

50.2

21

209

58

Sheffield, Gary (RF)

62.4

60.3

37.9

49.1

23

158

61

Santana, Johan (SP)

45.3

51.4

44.8

48.1

84

82

35

Kent, Jeff (2B)

56.4

55.2

35.6

45.4

20

122

51

Damon, Johnny (CF)

44.5

56.0

32.9

44.4

22

90

45

McGriff, Fred (1B)

57.1

52.4

35.8

44.1

31

100

48

Zambrano, Carlos (SP)

30.6

44.6

39.0

41.8

131

30

23

Moyer, Jamie (SP)

48.2

50.4

33.2

41.8

132

56

39

Vizquel, Omar (SS)

42.6

45.3

26.6

36.0

42

120

42

Carpenter, Chris (SP)

39.1

34.5

29.6

32.0

235

70

26

Hernandez, Livan (SP)

34.5

31.1

27.8

29.4

276

41

16

Hudson, Orlando (2B)

21.1

30.9

27.2

29.1

61

20

18

Millwood, Kevin (SP)

46.2

29.4

24.8

27.1

308

34

20

Wood, Kerry (RP)

23.7

27.7

25.0

26.4

11

24

14

Lee, Carlos (LF)

27.5

28.2

23.4

25.8

72

78

35

Wagner, Billy (RP)

24.2

28.1

19.9

24.0

20

107

24

Hoffman, Trevor (RP)

26.1

28.4

19.6

24.0

21

159

19

Huff, Aubrey (1B)

17.1

20.2

22.5

21.4

114

30

20

Matsui, Hideki (LF)

12.9

21.3

21.2

21.3

106

36

21

Isringhausen, Jason (RP)

11.2

13.2

12.2

12.7

155

71

7

Lidge, Brad (RP)

11.6

8.2

12.4

10.3

243

48

10

* JAWS ranking is for the candidate at his position only and is not a ranking across all positions.
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.
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.

Of the first-time candidates, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome are this year's most likely inductees. Ranking sixth in Jay Jaffe's JAWS system for third basemen, Jones, the 1999 National League's Most Valuable Player when he rattled off a .319/.441/.633/1.074 slash line, good for a 169 OPS+ and a 6.9 bWAR with 45 home runs and 110 runs batted in, was an eight-time All-Star with one World Series ring earned in 1995 with the Atlanta Braves, the only team the switch-hitter played for in a 19-year career.

Chipper Jones 2018 HoF
One of the greatest third basemen of all time, Chipper Jones seems a sure bet to be elected on his first ballot.

Ranked tenth by JAWS among first basemen, although he started only 1090 games at first in 2374 total starts, Thome became the seventh hitter in Major League history to reach at least 600 career home runs in 2011—however, I noted at the time that Thome's rare feat seemed to have gone relatively unheralded. That may have been because the slugging left-hander was then playing for the Minnesota Twins, not only in the media hinterlands even in the best of times, but in the midst of a 99-loss season, the worst record in the American League and ahead of the even more hapless Houston Astros (then in the NL) in the Majors. Nevertheless, Thome, who in addition to ranking eighth with 612 home runs is seventh in walks with 1747 and 26th in RBI with 1699, seems to be considered a no-brain pick now, particularly as he piled up all those round-trippers—six years with 40 or more homers, including a career-high 52 in 2002—"the right way": As with Frank Thomas, Thome played through the Steroids Era with never a taint of scandal.

Borderline First-Time Candidates

After Jones and Thome, though, the choices get more interesting, as I noted in a recent article examining the borderline candidates for 2018 and 2019. Scott Rolen has all the qualifications for the Hall of Fame—a solid, reliable middle-of-the-order hitter and one the best defensive third basemen in history, essentially a poor man's Mike Schmidt—except for the fame part as, like Thome, he was a Larry Lunchpail kind of ballplayer who showed up to do his job without fanfare; furthermore, Rolen has the unfortunate distinction of premiering on the same ballot as Chipper Jones—could BBWAA voters possibly elect two third basemen in the same year?

Similarly, Johan Santana looked to be well on his way to the Hall of Fame as the most dominant starting pitcher for a five-year period from 2004 to 2008. In that span, the left-hander won 86 games against only 39 losses, good for a pair of Cy Young Awards, first in 2004 and then in 2006, when he won the pitching Triple Crown with 19 wins, 245 strikeouts, and a 2.77 earned run average, essentially becoming the Sandy Koufax of his era. But like Koufax, Santana became hampered by injuries and lost that stranglehold on hitters. Was Santana's glory period strong enough to convince voters he is a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher?

Johan Santana 2018 HoF
Ace southpaw Johan Santana seemed destined for Cooperstown early in his career--was he dominant enough to justify a Hall vote?

Omar Vizquel has the opposite problem: The shortstop's defensive wizardry, for years a staple of the highlight reel, had countless observers herald Vizquel as a sure-fire Hall of Famer, the Ozzie Smith of his era, but on paper he does not seem to be an Ozzie Smith as much as a Rabbit Maranville, whom the writers did eventually vote into the Hall. Will Vizquel find himself having to sweat out several ballots before getting the call—or will he even get that call?

Then there is the case of Andruw Jones, whose own defensive wizardry in center field had him ranked higher than the immortal Willie Mays, at least according to advanced defensive metrics—his glove work alone was worth 24.1 wins by the reckoning of Baseball Reference's Defensive Wins Above Replacement—while with 434 career home runs, Jones supplied a strong power stroke. And for the first ten years of his career, Jones brooked comparisons to Ken Griffey, Jr. But then Jones fell off a cliff, leaving a messy second half of a career that truly puts him on the bubble.

Both center fielder Johnny Damon and starting pitcher Jamie Moyer had long careers with moments of distinction, Damon as one of the "idiots" who helped the 2004 Boston Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino with a World Series victory, and Moyer for, well, being Jamie Moyer, who had won only 46 games up to his age-30 season but retired after his age-49 season with 269 wins, 35th all-time and just 31 wins from the vaunted 300 wins. Damon too found himself fairly close to another Hall of Fame milestone mark as his 2769 hits, 54th all-time, is 231 hits shy of the 3000-hit circle. But despite longevity and flashes of excellence, both Damon and Moyer are compilers, not an insult as in an era of high talent compression they managed to stay on several Major League rosters, but hardly is it an endorsement for Cooperstown.

The Rest of the First-Time Candidates

With the continuing ballot logjam, it is an accomplishment for any candidate to make the Hall of Fame ballot, a distinction the 11 remaining first-time candidates can embrace as they make their only appearance on a writers' ballot in 2018. Notably, seven of those candidates are pitchers, four starters and three relievers.

One of those starting pitchers, Carlos Zambrano, was the modern-day Wes Ferrell: Zambrano's overall bWAR is 44.6, but 6.3 wins of that come from his batting prowess. The brawny switch-hitter batted .238 lifetime with 165 hits, 26 doubles, and 24 home runs as his career OPS+ of 62 is just 20 percent lower than Omar Vizquel's. In 2008, Zambrano rapped out a .337/.337/.554/.892 slash line, good for a 123 OPS+, as his career-high 28 hits in 83 at-bats included four doubles, a triple, and four home runs while he scored nine runs and knocked in 14. His oWAR (Wins Above Replacement for offensive play only) of 1.4 was nearly half the value his pitching contributed as he made his third (and final) National League All-Star team and collected the second of three Sliver Slugger Awards. And although he batted only .161 in 2006, six of his 11 hits were homers as he stole a base in his only career attempt.

Yes, but could he pitch? Zambrano finished in the top five of NL Cy Young voting three times including in 2006, when he led the NL in wins with 16, although his best year might have been 2004, when he posted a 16–8 win-loss record, a 2.75 ERA, and a 160 ERA+, the last two career bests; however, his 3.57 FIP, fueled by his MLB-leading 20 hit batsmen, reflects his tendency to give up gopher balls (14 home runs in 2004) and free passes to first (81 walks in addition to the 20 HBP) as he led the NL in walks in 2006 and 2007. The fiery right-hander, whose 12-year career was spent with Chicago Cubs save for his final season in 2012, with the Miami Marlins, is tied for 82nd all-time with 102 hit batsmen in 1959 total innings pitched as he found himself in scrapes with umpires, opposing players, and his own teammates alike.

When he was healthy, Chris Carpenter was the ace of the starting rotation, particularly during his nine-year tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals, which he had joined officially in 2003 as he recovered from elbow surgery following his start with the Toronto Blue Jays. But if the Cardinals were worried about taking a gamble on a .500 pitcher (Carpenter went 49–50 with a 4.83 ERA in his six years as a Blue Jay) with arm trouble, that gamble paid off: His first year after the surgery saw him post a 15–5 record and a 3.46 ERA, merely a prelude to his 2005 season when he won 21 games against just five losses with a 2.83 ERA, a 2.90 FIP, and a 150 ERA+, good enough to capture the NL Cy Young Award. Carpenter was third in Cy Young voting in 2006, leading the Cardinals to a World Series championship, including a Game Three victory, allowing the Detroit Tigers just three singles over eight shutout innings. He won another World Series ring in 2011 with two wins in three starts while posting a 2.84 ERA against a high-powered Texas Rangers team. Chris Carpenter reinvented himself with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he would merit serious Hall of Fame consideration had injuries not hampered his career.

The very picture of a workhorse pitcher, Livan Hernandez pitched for nine teams in his 17-year career while establishing some curious black ink. The big right-hander led the NL in innings pitched for three years in a row from 2003 to 2005, and he pitched at least 200 innings ten times, seven of those seasons consecutively, while also pacing the senior circuit in games started and complete games in two of those three years. But then Hernandez also led the NL in hits allowed five times and earned runs and losses once each. He was runner-up to Scott Rolen for Rookie of the Year voting in 1997 and made two All-Star squads, and when the (then-)Florida Marlins won their first World Series in 1997, Hernandez, who had outdueled the Cleveland Indians' Orel Hershiser twice to pick up a pair of wins in the seven-game series, was named series Most Valuable Player, this on the heels of his having been named MVP of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves, when he had out-pitched no less than Greg Maddux in Game Five, a complete-game victory in which Hernandez struck out a record 15 Braves batters.

Another reliable innings-eater is Kevin Millwood, who won 15 or more games four times and threw 200 or more innings pitched five times in a 16-year career spent with seven teams starting with the Atlanta Braves until 2002. Pitching in the teeth of the Steroids Era, the right-hander had four years with an ERA under 4.00, two of those seasons with an ERA under 3.00, 1999, when he finished third in NL Cy Young voting with a 2.68 ERA, and 2005, when, pitching now for the Cleveland Indians, he led the American League in ERA with a 2.86. Millwood had four seasons with at least 15 victories while he went to the World Series once, in 1999, when the Braves were swept by the New York Yankees. Millwood allowed five runs, four of them earned, in the first three innings of Game Two as the Yankees under David Cone cruised to a 7–2 victory.

Kerry Wood exploded onto the baseball stage one month into his rookie season when the Chicago Cubs starter threw a one-hit shutout against the Houston Astros in May 1998 in which he struck out 20 batters, tying Roger Clemens for the most strikeouts in a nine-inning game (since matched by Randy Johnson and Max Scherzer). Finishing the season with a 13–6 win-loss record, 233 strikeouts, and a 3.40 ERA (his FIP was 3.16 while his ERA+ was 129), the fireballing right-hander took the National League Rookie of the Year honors over Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton. Alas, Wood soon proved susceptible to injuries: He missed all of 1999 recovering from Tommy John surgery and would be placed on the disabled list 14 times in his 14-year career. In 2007, he moved to the bullpen, where he was the Cubs' closer the following year, saving 34 games and striking out 84 hitters in 66.1 innings. In fact, Wood struck out 1582 batters in 1380 total innings for a ratio of 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings, second only to Randy Johnson all-time. Like Chris Carpenter, Kerry Wood could have been a Cooperstown contender had he managed to stay healthy.

Injuries also dogged Jason Isringhausen, who, like Wood, began his career as a starting pitcher, Isringhausen in 1995 with the New York Mets, before taking a closer role when he was traded to the Oakland Athletics during the 1999 season. The right-hander blossomed in Oakland, recording 67 saves between 2000 and 2001 before he left for the greener pastures of St. Louis as he signed with the Cardinals after the 2001 season. (Isringhausen, along with Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, was one of the high-profile defections for which the A's had to solve as told in Michael Lewis's influential book Moneyball.) Isringhausen helped the Cardinals to two World Series appearances in 2004 and 2006, when St. Louis won it all against the Detroit Tigers, although he missed the 2006 season with a hip injury. For an eight-year stretch, from 2000 to 2007, Isringhausen averaged per year 61 appearances, 63 innings pitched, 58 strikeouts, 34 saves, and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings while posting a 2.81 ERA and a 154 ERA+. Injuries prompted Isringhausen to leave the Cardinals after the 2008 season, and he bounced from team to team until his final season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012. His 300 career saves ranks 26th, tied with Fernando Rodney and Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter.

With a powerful fastball in the high 90s and an equally devastating slider, Brad Lidge was one of the most dominant closers of the 2000s. The right-hander began as a setup man for the Houston Astros in 2002, striking out 97 hitters in 78 appearances and 85 innings pitched in 2003, before Billy Wagner's and Octavio Dotel's departures enabled him to move into the closer's role. Lidge took full advantage in 2004, striking out 157 batters in 80 appearances, a ratio of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings, and 94.2 innings pitched as, following Dotel's mid-season departure, he posted 29 saves and a stingy 1.90 ERA, 1.97 FIP, and 228 ERA+.

The Astros' full-time closer in 2005, Lidge helped lead the team to its first World Series appearance with a career-high 42 saves, a 2.29 ERA, a 2.13 FIP, and a 185 ERA+ while striking out 103 in 70.2 innings pitched, the second of three consecutive seasons with 100 or more strikeouts. Yet Lidge was buffeted in the 2005 postseason: Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals crushed a three-run homer off Lidge in Game Six of the National League Championship Series that may still be in orbit, and Lidge was on the hook for two losses against the Chicago White Sox as they swept the Astros in the World Series. Dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2008 season, Lidge helped guide the Phillies to a World Series victory with 41 saves, a 1.95 ERA, and 92 strikeouts in 69.1 innings pitched. In 39 postseason appearances, Brad Lidge posted 18 saves, a 2.18 ERA, and struck out 62 in 45.1 innings pitched.

Winning four Gold Gloves with three different teams, second baseman Orlando Hudson was truly a journeyman, toiling for six teams in an 11-year career that saw him chosen for two All-Star squads, representing a different team each time. The slick-fielding switch-hitter was 18 runs above average for Total Zone total fielding runs in his career while he was worth 99 defensive runs saved, with a defensive WAR (dWAR) of 12.9. Hudson was also a decent if unspectacular hitter, with five years with a batting average of .270 or better in seasons in which he was qualified for a batting title, four consecutive years with an OPS+ of 100 or better, six consecutive years with 25 or more doubles, and four consecutive years with 10 or more home runs.

Nicknamed "el Caballo," "the Horse," Carlos Lee was indeed a workhorse during his 14-year career, split largely between the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox with stops at three other teams. Lee played in 150 or more games per season ten times, mostly as a left fielder although he did start playing at first base once he slowed up. Hitting for both average and power, the right-hander was a reliable performer at the plate, collecting 150 or more hits in a season nine times, 30 or more doubles nine times, 25 or more home runs eight times, 90 or more runs scored five times, 90 or more runs batted in nine times, and, for a big man, 10 or more stolen bases eight times. He hit .290 or better seven times in years in which he was qualified for a batting title, and for a power hitter, Lee had a decent eye at the plate, striking out 90 or more times only twice. Lee ranks 85th all-time in home runs (358), tied with Hall of Famer Yogi Berra; 89th in RBI (1363), tied with Bobby Abreu; 89th in doubles (469); and 162nd in hits (2273). Lee is also seventh in grand slams, tied with Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams with 17. Carlos Lee was a solid lineup fixture if never the franchise player.

After Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui is the best Japanese hitter to play Major League Baseball, and the gap between the two illustrates how challenging it has been for Japanese hitters to succeed in American baseball. "Godzilla" did not enter the Majors until his age-29 season in 2003, two years after Suzuki's debut, and he soon rattled off a streak of 518 consecutive games played as a left fielder and designated hitter for the New York Yankees, ended only when he broke his wrist on a fielding play in May 2006. The left-handed power hitter was the American League runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2003 when he posted a .287/.353/.435/.788 slash line with 42 doubles, 16 home runs, 82 runs scored, and 106 runs batted in. He nearly doubled his home run total the following season while batting .298 and again knocking in 100 or more runs (108), the second of four seasons with 100 or more. Matsui won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 2009 in grand style, rattling off a scorching .615/.643/.1.385/.2.027 slash line with three home runs and eight RBI, impressive enough to earn him Most Valuable Player honors for the series, which saw the Yankees defeat the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in six games.

Aubrey Huff was a solid performer for much of his 13-year career, which began with the Tampa Bay (then-Devil) Rays in 2000, with whom he remained until a mid-season trade to the Houston Astros in 2006. The left-handed-hitting corner infielder and -outfielder swaggered to prominence in 2003 with a .311/.367/.555/.922 slash line from a career-high 198 hits including 47 doubles, 34 home runs, another career-high, 91 runs scored, and 107 runs batted in. He put up near-identical numbers five years later with the Baltimore Orioles, but it was when he signed with the San Francisco Giants in 2010 that Huff's fortunes rose, posting a .290/.385/.506/.891 slash line with 35 doubles, 26 home runs, 100 runs scored, and 86 RBI as he helped the Giants into the postseason—Huff's first postseason appearance as a Major League player. In the World Series, he unspooled a .294/.368/.588/.957 slash line with two doubles, one homer, three runs scored, and four runs driven in, helping the Giants to a five-game World Series victory over the Texas Rangers, the Giants' first world championship since 1954. Huff signed a two-year deal with San Francisco, with whom he finished his career and earned another World Series ring in 2012, although by then Huff was a bench player.

As has been the case for the past several ballots, it is an accomplishment for these 11 candidates to even make the 2018 ballot. None of them stand a chance of being elected, which might have been the case anyway were there not a ballot logjam, but is certainly the case now, when there is a plethora of candidates from which to choose. But before we get to strategic voting, we must address the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, the specter of which has haunted the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for more than a decade and has pushed itself into the forefront once again this year.

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Last modified on Friday, 19 January 2018 21:45

Comments   

0 #2 Darryl Tahirali 2018-01-22 20:48
Thank you, Committee Chairman.

Quote:
I was sure you would have put in Vizquel, but like you said, there is opportunity down the road.
This is Vizquel's first year, and I think he'll get at least five percent to return next year. With my strategic voting approach, I would pick first-timers for whom a five-percent minimum vote isn't certain (Rolen, Santana) and those who have been on the ballot for a few years--notice that my top two are Larry Walker (8th year on the ballot) and Edgar Martinez (9th year).
Quote
0 #1 Committee Chairman 2018-01-20 01:26
Another outstanding piece.

I guarantee that most of the baseball voters did not put as much thought on than you did.

I was sure you would have put in Vizquel, but like you said, there is opportunity down the road.
Quote

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