Baseball Hall of Fame: Ballot Forecast 2021 to 2025

Baseball Hall of Fame: Ballot Forecast 2021 to 2025
12 Dec
2020
Not in Hall of Fame

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2022 Ballot: "Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane"

With apologies to Bob Dylan, the good news for the 2022 ballot is that two first-time candidates are Hall of Famers. The bad news is that both carry baggage that in one case may weigh down the candidate as he tries to cross the threshold into Cooperstown, and in the other case will almost certainly prevent him from crossing that threshold, at least on a BBWAA ballot, as we experience a hurricane-force ballot discussion that could get quite stormy indeed.

Adding global warming to the brewing blow are two factors. One is that three presumed holdovers from the 2021 ballot—Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and, probably, Sammy Sosa—are on their last BBWAA ballot. Their PED notoriety will only fuel the heated discussion as Álex Rodríguez makes landfall on his first Hall of Fame ballot, and don't think that David Ortiz, also on his first Hall of Fame ballot, won't catch some of that, either. The other factor is that eleven other first-time candidates join Ortiz and Rodríguez, and although these candidates don't have their Hall of Fame credentials, a few have borderline cases, and a few have hard-luck cases, showing great promise early in their careers before they flamed out for one reason or another.

The heavy influx of new and returning candidates will make the 2022 ballot the most impacted ballot of the 2021 to 2025 period, and it is likely that the low-hanging fruit from both types of candidates will be knocked off, such as Bobby Abreu and Andy Pettitte (assuming both survive the 2021 ballot) among the returning candidates.

Among the new candidates, Joe Nathan and Mark Teixeira are borderline possibilities, with those possibilities dwindling on an impacted ballot, while Carl Crawford, Jonathan Papelbon, Jake Peavy, and Jimmy Rollins are unlikely to survive beyond this ballot. Almost certainly appearing on their only ballot are Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Tim Lincecum, three "hard-luck" cases whose promising careers were cut short but whose cases illustrate just how difficult it is to establish a Hall of Fame career—Lincecum especially seemed to be on his way to Cooperstown after bursting onto the scene with such initial dominance.

"No-Doubt Hall of Famer, Except . . . "

In a performance-only Hall of Fame, both David Ortiz and Álex Rodríguez would indeed be no-doubt Hall of Famers. But by now, we know that is not what is going to happen. There is an excellent chance that Ortiz will be voted into the Hall on this ballot, but if he is not, he will make an impressive enough showing to expect his election in another year or two. Perhaps the biggest certainty is that Rodríguez will not be voted into the Hall on this ballot or on any other BBWAA ballot, although, like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez, Rodríguez will receive ample votes to remain on the ballot.

David Ortiz

The situation has clearly changed since I profiled David Ortiz and his chances for the Hall of Fame in early 2015, not long after the long-time Boston Red Sox slugger had penned an article for the Players' Tribune website titled "The Dirt," in which Ortiz groused about how often he was being tested for PED and how he was a Hall of Famer ("Hell yes I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame"). I concluded that, hell, yes, he was a Hall of Famer but that he three potential strikes against him even at that point: He was unlikely to add to his playing record; he had allegations of PED usage hanging over his head; and he also had the stigma of being a career designated hitter to hamper him.

"Big Papi" crushed all three strikes over the fence. His last two seasons burnished his career totals, putting him above the 600 plateau in doubles, the 500 plateau in home runs, the 1700 plateau in runs batted in, and the 1300 plateau in walks, while his 38 home runs in 2016 were the most hit by a player in his final season. The notorious 2009 New York Times article that alleged that more than 100 players including Ortiz had tested positive for PED in 2003 has been widely challenged for not only its accuracy but its veracity, with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stating publicly that Ortiz has never tested positive for PED and that voters should disregard "leaks, rumors, innuendo and non-confirmed positive test results." Finally, with the 2019 elections of Edgar Martinez and especially Harold Baines, the stigma of being a designated hitter must surely be erased.

Career highlights: Named to ten All-Star teams. Won three World Series championships, all with the Boston Red Sox; named the 2013 World Series Most Valuable Player. Won seven Silver Slugger Awards. Finished in the top ten for American League MVP voting seven times. Led the AL in runs batted in three times, in walks twice, and once each in doubles, home runs, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. Had thirteen years with 30 or more doubles, and five years with 40 or more. Had ten years with 30 or more home runs, and three years with 40 or more. Had seven years with 150 or more hits. Had ten years with 100 or more runs batted in. Had three consecutive years with 100 or more runs scored and with 100 or more walks. Ranks in the top 50 all-time in twelve offensive categories including eighth in extra-base hits (1192), 12th in doubles (632), 16th in intentional walks (209), 17th in home runs (541), 22nd in RBI (1768), 23rd in slugging percentage (.552), 32nd in total bases (4765), 35th in runs created (1832), 41st in walks (1319), and 43rd in win probability added (50.59).

Career summary: David Ortiz may be the greatest designated hitter ever, and if that is debatable, he is surely the most impactful. He demonstrated his postseason heroics in the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees as his back-to-back, extra-inning, walk-off hits in Games Four and Five enabled the Boston Red Sox to come back from the dead and become the only MLB team to win a seven-game postseason series after losing the first three games; Ortiz was named the series MVP. Boston went on to win its first world championship in 86 years against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the 2013 World Series, Ortiz bested the Cardinals almost single-handedly with his otherworldly .688/.760/.1.188/.1.949 slash line with two home runs, six RBI, and seven runs scored as practically every hitter on either team struggled to hit above the Mendoza Line; Ortiz walked away with the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

David Ortiz

David Ortiz fought off the strikes thrown against him to make a compelling case for his speedy induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For a nine-year stretch, from 2003, his first season in Boston, to 2011, Ortiz posted a .289/.387/.570/.958 slash line, generating a 145 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 152 hits, 39 doubles, 36 home runs, 300 total bases, 94 runs scored, 114 runs batted in, 85 walks, and 3.8 bWAR. During this time, he joined the 50-home run club with 54 round-trippers in 2006. An Achilles tendon injury limited his 2012 campaign to 90 games, but he rebounded the following season, and for the next four years, until he retired after the 2016 season, he established a .290/.378/.564/.942 slash line, good for a 151 OPS+, as, per year, he averaged 152 hits, 38 doubles, 35 home runs, 296 total bases, 74 runs scored, 110 RBI, 77 walks, and 3.9 bWAR—virtually identical to his previous nine-year stretch. And all this after languishing for six years in the Minnesota Twins organization, which released him in 2002 before the Red Sox took a chance on him. It was a gamble that paid off in spades.

Verdict: David Ortiz is unlikely to get a unanimous vote as some voters will doubtlessly harbor a bias against the designated hitter, or will remain suspicious of his PED allegations, particularly while looking at his late-career production. What is likely is that Ortiz will receive more than 75 percent of the vote on his first ballot to enter Cooperstown in 2021.

Álex Rodríguez

And while Álex Rodríguez was also named in that 2009 New York Times article, the shortstop and third baseman has the most notorious association with PED in MLB history, epitomized by having to serve the most punitive suspension for violation of MLB's drug policies ever levied against a player at the time of his suspension. That is fitting for the player whose statistical record is one of the most auspicious in MLB history. In fact, each of those facts is so well-known and so well-established that it is simply repetitive to elaborate on either—although we will hear about both endlessly during the 2022 BBWAA balloting process.

Career highlights: Named to 14 All-Star teams. Won one World Series championship with the New York Yankees in 2009. Won the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times, and finished in the top ten for MVP voting ten times. Won ten Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Glove Awards. Led the AL in home runs five times, three of them consecutively, and in runs scored five times. Led the AL in total bases and in slugging percentage four times each. Led the AL in runs batted in, OPS, and OPS+ twice each. Led the AL in hits, in doubles, and in batting once each. Had twelve years with 150 or more hits, nine of them consecutively, and three years with 200 or more hits. Had eight years with 30 or more doubles, and two years with 40 or more. Had 14 years with 30 or more home runs, 13 of them consecutively, eight years with 40 or more home runs, six of them consecutively, and three years with 50 or more home runs, two of them consecutively. Had 13 consecutive years with 100 or more runs scored. Had 14 years with 100 or more runs batted in, 13 of them consecutively. Ranks in the top ten all-time in seven offensive categories including fourth in home runs (696), fourth in runs batted in (2086), seventh in extra-base hits (1275), seventh in total bases (5813), eighth in runs created (2274), and eighth in runs scored (2021). Ranks in the top 25 all-time in nine offensive categories including 12th in bWAR for position players (117.5), 13th in oWAR for position players (115.3), 16th in bWAR for all players (117.5), 22nd in hits (3115), and 24th in slugging percentage (.550).

Career summary: Debuting as an 18-year-old shortstop with the Seattle Mariners in 1994, Álex Rodríguez led the American League in batting average (.358), doubles (54), total bases (379), and runs scored (141) in his first full season two years later as he finished second in AL MVP voting and made the first of his 14 All-Star squads.

A free agent after the 2000 season, his age-24 year, Rodríguez signed a ten-year deal with the Texas Rangers for $252 million, at the time the largest sports contract ever. It cemented his reputation as the premier player in baseball, one who could become one of the greatest of all time, which made his leading the AL in 2001 in home runs (52), total bases (393), and runs scored (133) almost an afterthought. In 2004, the Rangers, looking for relief from Rodríguez's burdensome contract, traded him to the New York Yankees, where he agreed to play third base as Derek Jeter was firmly ensconced at shortstop. Rodríguez remained a Yankee until he retired after the 2016 season.

Alex Rodriguez

Along with a World Series ring with the New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez also endured a season-long suspension for PED violations.

In between that came the revelations about PED usage, that Rodríguez had begun using them as early as 2001, which he denied, then admitted. Then the Biogenesis scandal broke in 2013, with another round of denial, then admission, resulting in A-Rod (by now rendered as A-Roid) being suspended for the entire 2014 season. He returned to the Yankees in 2015 and had a decent season for a player in his age-39 year, but with his retirement imminent and his legacy drawing ever closer, there was no doubt that Álex Rodríguez was now the poster child for PED, and that he would remain so for a long time to come. (Unless Robinson Cano manages to eclipse him in the short time Cano has left before his retirement.)

Verdict: Strictly by the numbers, Álex Rodríguez is one of the greatest players in MLB history. He is one of only six hitters to reach at least 3000 hits and 500 home runs, but he joins Rafael Palmeiro, perhaps not coincidentally Rodríguez's Rangers teammate from 2001 to 2003, as the two with the PED taint. There is no question that Álex Rodríguez is a Hall of Famer. And there is no question that Álex Rodríguez will never reach the Hall of Fame, at least on a BBWAA ballot. Perhaps—perhaps—if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens manage to get elected, and their last opportunity would be on this 2022 ballot, Rodríguez might have a shot (pardon the pun). But that is a slim reed to cling to even if Joe Morgan, the pearl-clutching guardian of Hall of Fame purity, did pass away at age 77 in 2020.

Borderline: Joe Nathan, Mark Teixeira

It is unfortunate that Joe Nathan and Mark Teixeira both debut on this ballot because amidst the roar of the hurricane—Álex Rodríguez also debuting as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are likely to depart empty-handed in their quest for the Hall of Fame—their cases will be little-heard. Of the two, Nathan has a better shot than Teixeira.

Joe Nathan

Gaining his biggest acclaim with the Minnesota Twins, Joe Nathan seems unlikely to be elected to the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, he was an unlikely Major League prospect, the first MLB player from the athletically inauspicious Stony Brook University, and an unlikely prospect to remain in the Majors after an inauspicious debut as a spot starter for the San Francisco Giants. But Nathan reinvented himself as a setup man for Giants closer Todd Worrell before becoming a top-notch closer himself for the Twins, the Texas Rangers, and the Detroit Tigers.

Career highlights: Named to six All-Star teams. Finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award twice. Had nine years with 35 or more saves; ranks eighth all-time with 377 saves. Has highest save percentage (89.3) of any relief pitcher with at least 250 career saves. Had nine years with an ERA under 3.00 in seasons with at least 60 innings pitched, seven of those consecutively; five years with an ERA under 2.00 in seasons with at least 60 innings pitched, three of those consecutively.

Career summary: In a 16-year career from 1999 to 2016, Joe Nathan weathered role changes, demotions to the minor leagues, and injuries to remain an in-demand relief pitcher. For a six-year period with the Twins, from 2004 to 2009, Nathan averaged, per season, 69 appearances, 70 innings pitched, 41 saves, 86 strikeouts against just 20 walks, a 1.87 ERA, a 237 ERA+, a 2.40 FIP, and a 0.934 WHIP. In 271 save opportunities, he blew 25 of those for a 91 percent conversion rate while staying cool under the pressure of a 1.819 average leverage index (average pressure is represented by a 1.0 aLI). During this time, he racked up 246 saves on his way to a franchise-record 260 career saves before missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery.

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan in action with the Minnesota Twins. An unlikely MLB relief pitcher, Nathan might prove to be an equally unlikely Hall of Famer.

With the Texas Rangers in 2012 and 2013, Nathan averaged, per season, 66 appearances, 64 innings pitched, 40 saves, 76 strikeouts against just 18 walks, a 2.09 ERA, a 204 ERA+ a 2.52 FIP, and a 0.977 WHIP. Nathan made two AL All-Star teams while in Texas, even picking up the save in the 2013 All-Star Game. With the Chicago Cubs during their historic 2016 season, Nathan did not pitch in the postseason but did receive a World Series ring for being on the team's roster during the regular season.

Verdict: The Twins inducted Joe Nathan into their Hall of Fame in 2019, and his chances with the National Baseball Hall of Fame might be helped by what voters decide about Billy Wagner, currently on his fifth Hall of Fame ballot with a 31.7 percent showing in 2020. At the very least, Nathan deserves to stay on the ballot a few times to allow time to evaluate his legacy—and the legacy of relief pitchers.

Mark Teixeira

A consistent and durable slugger for the Texas Rangers and especially the New York Yankees, first baseman Mark Teixeira is also one of the premier switch-hitters in baseball history. Falling just shy of 1300 runs batted in, Teixeira did reach the 400 plateau in both doubles and home runs although he retired below the 2000-hit milestone in his 14-year career that began with the Rangers and ended with the Yankees, with whistle stops with the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angels in between.

Career highlights: Three-time All-Star. World Series champion in 2009 with the New York Yankees. Two top-ten Most Valuable Player finishes. Won five Gold Glove and three Silver Slugger Awards. Ranks 56th all-time in home runs (409). Had eight years with 30 or more home runs and with 100 or more RBI.

Career summary: Mark Teixeira roared out of the gate by becoming the Texas Rangers' starting first baseman in 2003, his age-23 MLB debut, and by the following season, "Tex" earned his first Silver Slugger Award by hitting 38 home runs and driving in 112 runs. In 2005, he led the American League in total bases with 370 as he slugged 41 doubles and 43 home runs while amassing a career-high 194 hits and driving in 144 runs, the most-ever by a Major League switch-hitter—impressive when you consider the likes of Hall of Fame switch-hitters Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones—on his way to another Silver Slugger Award.

Splitting the 2007 and 2008 seasons among the Rangers, the Atlanta Braves, and the Los Angeles Angels, Teixeira still managed to hit at least 30 home runs and knock in at least 100 RBI in four of his first five seasons, putting him in the company of Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Chuck Klein, Ted Williams, future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun, before signing with the New York Yankees.

With the Yankees in 2009, the same year that CC Sabathia joined the team, Teixeira led the AL in home runs (39), RBI (122), and total bases (344) to lead the Bronx Bombers into the postseason and his only World Series ring; he was also runner-up in AL MVP voting to Minnesota Twins batting champion Joe Mauer as he earned his third Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards. By 2012, his age-32 year, he was starting to experience health problems and played in just 123 games, the start of his decline phase before he announced his retirement in August 2016, his final MLB season.

Verdict: Ranked 30th by JAWS, Mark Teixeira was an excellent two-way first baseman, with 43 fielding runs above average and 93 defensive runs saved (each for first base only) to back up his Gold Glove hardware, and is one of the best switch-hitters in baseball history. However, slugging first basemen of any handedness are hardly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, and Teixeira is likely to go the route of Fred McGriff, not coincidentally ranked just below Teixeira by JAWS, and hang onto the lower- to mid-reaches of the BBWAA ballot for a few years.

One and Done: Carl Crawford, Jonathan Papelbon, Jake Peavy, Jimmy Rollins

In their primes, these four candidates would be more than welcome as the building blocks to a championship team, with all but Carl Crawford winning at least one World Series championship ring. However, all four—Crawford, Jonathan Papelbon, Jake Peavy, and Jimmy Rollins—fall short of the Hall of Fame, and with the potential for a heavy ballot in 2022, they will find it difficult to muster even five percent of the vote to stick around for 2023.

Carl Crawford

A fixture in the 2000s for the Tampa Bay Rays at the top of the batting order—of his 1592 career starts, 1139 were in the leadoff or number-two spot—left fielder Carl Crawford hit .300 or better in five seasons in which he was qualified to win a batting title while he led the American League in triples and stolen bases four times each.

Career highlights: Picked for four All-Star teams. Finished seventh in AL MVP voting in 2010 while winning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards. Stole 40 or more bases seven times and 50 or more five times; ranks 43rd all-time with 480 swipes. Hit ten or more triples five times; ranks 95th all-time with 123.

Career summary: The speedster who hit and threw left-handed began his 15-year career with the Devil Rays (they became simply the Rays in 2008) in 2002, his age-20 season, and became a starter the following season. For an eight-year period, from 2003 to 2010, Carl Crawford posted a .299/.340/.448/.788 slash line, good for a 109 OPS+, while averaging 177 hits, 26 doubles, 12 triples, 13 home runs, 50 stolen bases, 93 runs scored, and 70 RBI per season. During this period, he generated 34.6 bWAR, an average of 4.4 a year, as he was named to four American League All-Star teams. Crawford earned a Gold Glove for his defensive play in the outfield in 2010, and when he signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox at the end of that season, his age-28 year, Crawford seemed to have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

But that familiar foe, injuries, began to impair Crawford's effectiveness, and the 130 games he played for Boston in 2011 were the most he could muster before his final season in 2016, having been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers near the end of the 2012 season. In his last six years, he mustered only 3.5 bWAR.

Verdict: Ranking 43rd among left fielders by JAWS, Carl Crawford will likely collect a few hometown votes but will not return for a second Hall of Fame ballot.

Jonathan Papelbon

Footage of relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon hugging catcher Jason Varitek after striking out Seth Smith to clinch the four-game sweep by the Boston Red Sox of the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series remains an iconic image that reinforces the perception of the big right-hander as a winner. And Papelbon did seem destined for greatness as he began his 12-year career with the Red Sox midway through the 2005 season. But gradual deterioration and an increasingly prickly attitude eroded that perception as he bowed out nearly unnoticed after the 2016 season.

Career highlights: Named to six All-Star teams. Runner-up to Justin Verlander for 2006 American League Rookie of the Year. World Series champion in 2007 with the Boston Red Sox. Ranks ninth in all-time saves (368). Holds franchise career saves records with the Red Sox (219) and Philadelphia Phillies (123).

Career summary: Replacing Keith Foulke as Boston's closer in 2006, Jonathan Papelbon roared out of the gate as in 59 appearances and 68.1 innings pitched, the big right-hander, who relied on his mid-90s fastball, posted a miniscule 0.92 ERA as he saved 35 games, the first of seven seasons, five of them consecutive, in which he notched at least 35 saves. Papelbon finished second to the Detroit Tigers' Justin Verlander for the American League Rookie of the Year to the Detroit Tigers' Justin Verlander—Papelbon actually had a better bWAR, 5.0, than Verlander's 4.0—as he made the first of six AL All-Star squads.

With the Red Sox for seven years, Papelbon, in 396 appearances and 429.1 innings pitched, recorded 219 saves and 509 strikeouts, good for 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, while establishing a 2.33 ERA. Signing as free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, Papelbon, despite a drop in velocity and a burgeoning reputation of coming up short in clutch situations, acquitted himself respectably in Philadelphia with 123 saves and a 2.31 ERA in three and a half seasons. However, his prickly attitude became more pronounced, making him unpopular among some of Philadelphia's notoriously critical fans. Papelbon's people problem got worse when he was dealt to the Washington Nationals midway through the 2015 season, exemplified by his high-profile set-to with Nationals phenom Bryce Harper, which exacerbated his deteriorating effectiveness as a relief pitcher. After a mediocre 2016 season, Jonathan Papelbon was out of baseball.

Verdict: Although Hall of Fame voters in both the BBWAA and on the veterans committee have become more accommodating to relief pitchers in recent votes, Jonathan Papelbon, ranked 29th by relief-pitcher JAWS, lacks sufficient distinction to survive more than one BBWAA ballot.

Jake Peavy

Pitching for the San Diego Padres in 2007, right-hander Jake Peavy attained the pitching Triple Crown—leading the National League in wins (19), earned run average (2.54), and strikeouts (240)—on his way to winning the NL Cy Young Award. Peavy was already in his sixth Major League season and seemed set to enter his prime, but although he was part of back-to-back World Series championship franchises with the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants, respectively, he never matched, let alone topped, his banner 2007 season.

Career highlights: Selected to three All-Star Squads. Won World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox (2013) and San Francisco Giants (2014). Awarded a Gold Glove in 2012. Led National League in wins once and earned run average and strikeouts twice each. Three consecutive years with 200 or more strikeouts; ranks 64th all-time in strikeouts (2207).

Career summary: Joining the moribund San Diego Padres in 2002, Jake Peavy showed his promise two years later as his 2.27 ERA led the Majors and he won 15 games against just six losses. Posting a 13–7 win-loss record and a 2.88 ERA in 2005, Peavy used his four-seam fastball and slider to strike out 216 batters, leading the National League in punch-outs and landing his first slot on an All-Star team. Peavy stumbled in his 2006 campaign, but he recovered in grand style in 2007 as that pitching Triple Crown netted him another All-Star berth, the NL Cy Young Award, and a top-ten finish in NL Most Valuable Player Award voting.

Traded to the Chicago White Sox midway through the 2009 season, Peavy made his third and final All-Star appearance in 2012, but he was unexceptional during his tenure in Chicago and was traded to the Boston Red Sox during the 2013 season, which saw Boston go on to win their third World Series since 2004. A year later, Peavy found himself traded to the San Francisco Giants in a similar case of a contender bolstering its pitching arms for the postseason. Although Peavy was strong down the stretch for the Giants, winning six game against four losses with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts to help the Giants into the playoffs and their third world championship victory in five years, he showed himself ineffective beyond the Division Series as he was tagged for two of the three Giants losses in their exciting seven-game World Series against the Kansas City Royals.

Jake Peavy pitched two more seasons for the Giants, both unremarkable, and following his free agency at the end of 2016, Peavy did not pitch again in the Major Leagues; he announced his official retirement in 2019.

Verdict: Ranked 202nd by JAWS for starting pitchers, Jake Peavy, despite his early promise capped by his 2007 Cy Young year, will make his only BBWAA ballot appearance in 2022.

Jimmy Rollins

Switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins was a fixture on the Philadelphia Phillies for the first 15 of his 17 years in the Major Leagues; voted the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2007, he then helped to guide the Phillies to their second-ever world championship the following year. A fine two-way shortstop, Rollins was overshadowed by the ascendency of "super-shortstops" such as Álex Rodríguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra, yet he still ranks highly among Phillies franchise leaders while his 470 stolen bases rank 46th all-time.

Career highlights: Chosen for three All-Star teams. Voted NL Most Valuable Player in 2007. Won four Gold Glove Awards and one Silver Slugger Award. World Series champion with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. Is one of seven players in the 20-20-20 club, hitting at least 20 doubles, triples, and home runs in a single season, and is one of four players in the 20-20-20-20 club, adding at least 20 stolen bases to the previous membership. Led the NL in triples four times, and runs scored and stolen bases once each. Ranks 46th in stolen bases (470) and 56th in doubles (511) all-time.

Career summary: Jimmy Rollins became the Phillies' starting shortstop in 2001, his second year in the Majors, and he finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting, behind Albert Pujols and Roy Oswalt, as he led the NL in at-bats (656), triples (12), and stolen bases (46) while making his first All-Star team. After five more years of at least 150 hits, 20 stolen bases, and 80 runs scored, "J-Roll" enjoyed a banner 2007 season by establishing career highs in hits (212), triples (20), home runs (30), runs scored (139), and runs batted in (94) as he became the NL's Most Valuable Player.

More importantly, the speedster at the top of the Phillies' batting order helped them to the postseason for the first time since he debuted with the club in 2000, and although Philadelphia was knocked out in the divisional round, the Phillies returned the following year to win their second World Series championship with Rollins forming the core of the Phillies' attack with first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley. Despite his offensive prowess for a middle infielder, the four-time Gold Glover was known for his defensive play, as his dWAR of 15.9 ranks 101st all-time among all fielders. Rollins finished with 38 fielding runs above average and 51 defensive runs saved (since 2003) while ranking among all shortstops 12th all-time in double plays turned (1249), 20th all-time in assists (6139), and 46th all-time in putouts (2982).

Verdict: Yet Jimmy Rollins ranks 30th all-time in JAWS for shortstops, below Bert Campaneris, Jim Fregosi, and Nomar Garciaparra, all of whom washed out of BBWAA voting quickly. Rollins is ahead of Omar Vizquel, currently on his fourth BBWAA ballot at 52.6 percent, although Vizquel, whose dWAR is nearly twice that of Rollins's, is likely to make the Hall as the defensive ace at shortstop since Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken, Jr. Rollins is caught in no-man's land: an excellent defensive shortstop but not an exceptional one in the manner of Smith and Vizquel, and an excellent offensive shortstop but not an exceptional one in the manner of Ripken, Jr., Derek Jeter, Álex Rodríguez, or even Alan Trammell, who labored unsuccessfully on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years before getting a nod from the veterans committee.

On a relatively unimpacted ballot, Rollins could receive enough votes to return in 2023, but that honeymoon, as it had been for Garciaparra, could be over just as quickly.

Hard Luck: Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Tim Lincecum

Make no mistake: Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Tim Lincecum are unlikely to survive their first appearance on a BBWAA ballot—and yet all three had careers that began with the potential to construct a Hall of Fame career by the time they retired, Lincecum especially. Fielder and Howard were beset by injuries that halted or severely curtailed their careers, while Lincecum simply lost the ability that enabled to win two Cy Young Awards so early in his career.

Prince Fielder

With 319 career home runs, by a curious coincidence tying him with his father Cecil, Prince Fielder was on his way to establishing an excellent career as a power hitter, one that might have earned him consideration for the Hall of Fame. However, neck injuries forced his retirement in 2016, his age-32 season, after having hampered him in 2014, in which he played just 42 games.

Career highlights: Named to six All-Star squads. Won three Silver Slugger Awards. Finished in the top ten for Most Valuable Player voting four times. Led the league in games played four times; played in at least 155 games a year for nine of his twelve seasons. Led the league in home runs, runs batted in, and walks once each. Had eight consecutive years with 25 or more home runs, and six consecutive years with 30 or more. Hit 50 home runs in 2007, becoming the youngest players to hit 50 or more long flies in a season; joined his father Cecil as the only father-son combination to slug 50 or more homers. Had six years with 100 or more RBI. Ranks 39th all-time in intentional walks (164).

Career summary: Called up for limited action in 2005, Prince Fielder became the Brewers' starting first baseman the following season, hitting 35 doubles, 28 home runs, and driving in 81 runs. The left-handed slugger really uncorked his power in 2007 as he hit 50 home runs and knocked in 119 runs. As a free agent in 2012, Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers, with whom he played for two seasons, driving in 100 or more runs in each season as lineup protection for Miguel Cabrera, before he was traded to the Texas Rangers at the end of 2013.

It was in Texas that Prince Fielder began experiencing his neck problems, and despite a comeback 2015 season, he was forced to retire during the 2016 season.

Verdict: Able to hit for both average—he batted a career-best .313 in 2012—and power, Fielder was a defensive liability at first base and a clog on the basepaths, but had he stayed healthy, significant productivity in his decline phase might have made for an interesting borderline Hall of Fame case given that opportunity. As it is, Fielder might get a couple of courtesy votes from his three former hometowns, but on this busy ballot he won't get much more.

Ryan Howard

Another member of the 50-home-run club, Ryan Howard began his 13-year career, all of it spent with the Philadelphia Phillies, in auspicious style, becoming the National League Rookie of the Year in 2005, then being named the NL Most Valuable Player the following season when he led the Major Leagues in home runs (58) and runs batted in (149). That ushered in a career in which he hit 45 or more home runs four times and drove in 100 or more runs in six consecutive seasons. But an Achilles tendon injury at the end of the Phillies' postseason hopes in 2011 kept him a part-time player for the next two seasons, and Howard never recovered fully from it.

Career highlights: Named to three All-Star teams. Won the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. Won one Silver Slugger Award. Selected as National League Rookie of the Year in 2005. Finished within the top ten for NL Most Valuable Player Award voting six consecutive years, including an NL MVP win in 2006. Led the NL in runs batted in three times, home runs twice, and total bases once. Had six consecutive years with 30 or more home runs; his 58 home runs in 2006 are the eleventh-most ever in a single season, tied with Mark McGwire and Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg. Had six consecutive seasons with 100 or more RBI, and three seasons with 140 or RBI. Ranks 48th all-time in intentional walks (154). Ranks 16th all-time in strikeouts (1843).

Career summary: With Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards in his first three seasons, first baseman Ryan Howard shot to prominence early in his career, all the more impressive considering that in the National League in the 2000s, the St. Louis Cardinals had a first baseman named Albert Pujols who was setting Major League Baseball on fire. The left-handed slugger had a six-year peak from 2006 to 2011, establishing a .274/.369/.559/.929 slash line, good for a 139 OPS+, as he averaged, per season, 28 doubles, 44 home runs, 96 runs scored, 133 runs batted in, 84 walks, and 182 strikeouts, and Howard helped Philadelphia win their second-ever world championship in 2008 as he slammed three home runs and drove in six runs during the Phillies' five-game victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

It was the postseason that handed Ryan Howard his fate when, during the NL Division Series against Pujols's St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, he tore his Achilles tendon while making the final out that won the series for the Cardinals. That injury, requiring surgery, ushered in others as Howard played partial seasons the next two years. He returned to drive in 95 runs in 2014, his age-34 season, but that lofty six-year peak he had enjoyed was just a memory now; his last MLB season was in 2016, and he announced his retirement in 2018.

Verdict: A healthy Ryan Howard would have boosted his power-hitting counting numbers including the 382 home runs, 69th all-time and tied with Hall of Famer Jim Rice, he finished with, although Howard, in his age-31 year when he injured himself in 2011, was already in his decline phase as he posted the first sub-.500 slugging percentage (.488) of his career during that season. Howard was the classic one-dimensional first baseman, but his half-dozen glory years will make BBWAA voters pause a moment before passing his name over on their ballots.

Tim Lincecum

Of the three hard-luck cases on the 2022 BBWAA ballot, Tim Lincecum may be the hardest case because for a four-year period, from 2008 to 2011, he appeared destined for the Hall of Fame, having won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards while with the San Francisco Giants in 2008 and 2009. But the beanpole right-hander, nicknamed "the Freak" for his elaborate, unorthodox delivery that enabled him to generate velocity, lost that magic and simply faded from baseball after his age-32 year in 2016.

Career highlights: Selected for four All-Star teams. Awarded three World Series rings with the San Francisco Giants. Won the National League Cy Young Award twice in back-to-back seasons (2008–09). Pitched two no-hitters, both against the same team (San Diego Padres), in back-to-back seasons (2013–14). Led the NL in strikeouts in three consecutive years, and in complete games and shutouts once each. Six consecutive years with 190 or more strikeouts, and four consecutive years with 220 or more punch-outs. Ranks 18th all-time in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (9.29). Three years with an earned run average under 3.00.

Career summary: How promising was Tim Lincecum's career? The only other pitcher in Major League history to win more than one Cy Young Award and World Series ring, to have pitched more than one no-hitter, and to have been chosen for more than one All-Star team is Sandy Koufax, whose brief but storied career is woven into the fabric of baseball. Koufax struggled with his command early in his career, then became all-world in his last five seasons before being forced to retire at age 30 because of arm trouble.

By contrast, Lincecum roared out of the gate before his mechanics betrayed him in the last half of his ten-year career, spent with the San Francisco Giants for all but his final season, but before that occurred, "Big-Time Timmy Jim" looked to become one of the great ones. His rookie campaign in 2007 was solid if unspectacular overall, but already opposing hitters were lamenting his "electric stuff," including a blazing fastball and a deceptive change-up, as Lincecum fanned 150 batters in 146.1 innings pitched. Lincecum's mechanics clicked in 2008 as he won 18 games against just five losses with a 2.62 ERA while leading the National League in winning percentage (.783), strikeouts (265), ERA+ (168), and FIP (2.62) to clinch NL Cy Young Award honors. His 7.8 bWAR was tops among pitchers who received votes including two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana and CC Sabathia, the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2007.

Proving he was no flash in the pan, Lincecum repeated Cy Young honors in 2009 as he went 15–7 with a 2.48 ERA while leading the NL in strikeouts (261), FIP (2.34), complete games (4), and shutouts (2). With his 7.4 bWAR, he also led all pitchers who received votes including Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright as he became the first pitcher to win consecutive Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons since the award was created in 1956.

Tim Lincecum

Freak about to unleash. With back-to-back Cy Young Awards early in his career, Tim Lincecum looked to be on his way to Cooperstown.

Lincecum faltered slightly in 2010, although he still led the NL in strikeouts (231) for the third consecutive time as he led the Giants to their first World Series championship since 1954, and their first since the franchise moved to San Francisco for the 1958 season. He dueled with future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay in two NL Championship Series games against the Philadelphia Phillies, with each pitcher winning a game, then beat the Texas Rangers' Cliff Lee twice in the five-game World Series. And although Lincecum posted a losing record, 13–14 (.481), in 2011, he still placed sixth in Cy Young voting thanks to 220 strikeouts in 217 innings pitched, a 2.74 ERA, a 3.17 FIP, and a 127 ERA+ as the Giants, failing to make the postseason to defend their world championship, managed just 2.6 in runs support per innings pitched for him.

Nevertheless, Tim Lincecum's 2011 campaign marked the turning point in his career: Beginning in 2012, the right-hander became a below-league-average pitcher for the rest of his career as measured by ERA+, managing at best a 93 ERA+ in 2015, as his ERA never fell below 4.00. During the 2012 postseason, Lincecum recovered—as a relief pitcher—as the Giants won their second World Series in three years. And in 2013 and 2014, he pitched a no-hitter in each season, both against the San Diego Padres, first in San Diego, then in San Francisco. But he was left off the roster during the 2014 postseason for all but the World Series, in which he pitched in just one game in relief.

Verdict: With a bWAR of 19.9, Tim Lincecum will not appear on more than one BBWAA ballot, but we should note that before the minus-4.5 bWAR in his last five years detracted from it, he generated 24.4 in bWAR during his first five seasons, a near-All-Star-level of 4.9 bWAR per season, illustrating how difficult it is to sustain a Hall of Fame career, especially for a starting pitcher in the early 21st century—and especially for a skinny "freak" who defied the odds of becoming a Major League pitcher, let alone a star pitcher, in an era of high talent compression.


Last modified on Monday, 28 December 2020 04:58

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