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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2024 Ballot: The Quiet Storm

The 2024 BBWAA ballot is certain to contain a number of holdovers from previous ballots ranging from potential election to potential elimination, either by diminishing vote totals or by reaching the maximum ten years allowed each candidate.

As for candidates newly-eligible in 2024, one candidate is the only one virtually guaranteed to be elected in his first year of eligibility in the five-year stretch from 2021 to 2025, with two candidates legitimate Hall of Famers but who might need more than one ballot to reach the coveted 75 percent of the vote needed for election, and one candidate with a borderline case that is ultimately likely to be not convincing to voters.

Jeff Kent, should he still be on the 2024 ballot, is facing his final chance, with Gary Sheffield facing that option next year. Two Hall of Fame-worthy candidates we have looked at previously, Carlos Beltrán and Álex Rodríguez, are likely not to be elected on this ballot. Scott Rolen, Omar Vizquel, and Billy Wagner, should any or all have continued to build support on previous ballots, could find themselves getting that call from the Hall, while Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Andy Pettitte, and Manny Ramirez may continue to build support. With only one voting result for Bobby Abreu as of 2020, his initial tally of just above the five-percent minimum, it is difficult to project whether he will have made it to the 2024 ballot.

Of the newly-eligible candidates, Adrián Beltré will likely not get a unanimous vote, but he is even more likely to be elected in his first and only ballot appearance. Joe Mauer and Chase Utley are both Hall of Fame-caliber candidates; of the two, Mauer is more likely to be elected in his first year than Utley, but both should be elected sooner rather than later. David Wright has an interesting borderline case bordering on hard luck, but he is ultimately not going to be elected.

The one-and-done candidates—Jose Bautista, Bartolo Colón, Adrian Gonzalez, and Matt Holliday—fill the 2024 ballot enough to bring it to fullness, but this ballot will be a "quiet storm": Several candidates, new and returning, with Hall of Fame cases to compel voters to do their homework, but no new controversies, and not much heated discussion regarding the newly-arrived candidates.

No-Doubt Hall of Famer: Adrián Beltré

In the five-year period we are examining between 2021 and 2025, what is intriguing about the absolutely one and only no-doubt Hall of Fame case—and not a "no-doubt, but . . . " case as we have seen with Carlos Beltrán, David Ortiz, and Álex Rodríguez—is that for the first half of Adrián Beltré's career, he did not seem to be a likely Hall of Fame candidate.

In 2004, the right-handed slugger squeezed in a breakout season between his first few unexceptional seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and his next few unexceptional seasons with the Seattle Mariners. It was only when Beltré spent one year with the Boston Red Sox before finishing his 21-year career with an eight-year tenure with the Texas Rangers that he put together the case for being one of the greatest two-way third basemen in baseball history. The only debatable question is whether Adrián Beltré will be a unanimous pick on this, his only Hall of Fame ballot.

Career highlights: Named to four All-Star teams. Won five Gold Glove and four Silver Slugger Awards. Finished in the top ten in Most Valuable Player voting six times. Led the Major Leagues in hits, doubles, and home runs once each. Had thirteen years with 30 or more doubles, seven of those consecutively; eleven years with 150 or more hits; nine years with 25 or more home runs; and five years with 100 or more runs batted in. Ranks in the top 25 lifetime in eight offensive categories including doubles (636, 11th), hits (3166, 17th), and runs batted in (1707, 24th), and in the top 25 lifetime in five defensive categories including double plays turned (523, 2nd), fielding runs above average (168, 2nd), and assists (5187, 3rd).

Career summary: Until the last nine years of his 21-year career, no one would have pegged Adrián Beltré to be a Hall of Famer, let alone a no-doubt one. As a 19-year-old rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998, he hit .215 and in 54 games at third base he committed 13 errors. Nevertheless, the Dodgers made him their starting third baseman, and for the half-decade between 1999 and 2003, Beltré toiled with a relative lack of distinction, an unexceptional hitter who dipped just above and below league-average (as measured by OPS+ and wRC+, for example) and made incremental improvements as a defensive third baseman.

Then in 2004, his age-25 season, Beltré exploded as a hitter, rifling off a .334/.388/.629/1.017 slash line, good for a career-high 163 OPS+, as his 200 hits, 121 RBI, and Major League-leading 48 home runs were all career highs. Winning his first Silver Slugger Award, Beltré was runner-up in National League Most Valuable Player voting to Barry Bonds, who had had another all-world year, but Beltré's 9.6 bWAR was just one win behind Bonds's 10.6 bWAR.

Talk about a walk year. Granted free agency at the end of the season, Beltré signed a five-year, $64 million deal with the Seattle Mariners, but in his half-decade in the Pacific Northwest, he proved to be a league-average hitter whose one stellar season looked to be a flash-in-the-pan outlier. His defense had improved enough to win back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008, but going into 2010, his age-31 season, Beltré, whom the Mariners were not interested in retaining once his contract expired, was no one's idea of a Hall of Fame third baseman.

Signing a one-year, $9 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, Beltré suddenly blossomed again as a hitter, knocking out a .321/.365/.553/.919 slash line, producing a 141 OPS+, his best since 2004, as his 189 hits included 28 home runs and a Major League-leading 49 doubles while he drove in 102 runs. Finishing ninth in American League Most Valuable Player voting, Beltré was named to his first All-Star team and won his second Silver Slugger Award. Hitter-friendly Fenway Park has a way of reviving flagging hitters, particularly after spending a career in pitcher-friendly ballparks in Los Angeles and Seattle, but the Texas Rangers were sufficiently impressed to offer Beltré a five-year, $80 million contract.

It was during Adrián Beltré's eight-year tenure in Texas that he cemented his credentials as one of the best two-way third baseman in baseball history, reaching the 3000-hit, 600-double, and 450-home run plateaus while making three more All-Star squads, winning three more Gold Glove and two more Silver Slugger Awards, and finishing in the top ten for MVP voting four more times. In five of those eight years, Beltré generated a bWAR of 5.0 or better, considered to be at All-Star level, and in a 21-year career in which he amassed 93.6 bWAR overall, 41.2 of that bWAR came from his last eight years with the Rangers.

Adrian Beltre

An unlikely Hall of Famer during the first half of his career, Adrian Beltre established his no-doubt credentials by the time he retired.

Although a hamstring injury limited his first season with the Rangers, 2011, his age-32 year, to 124 games, Beltré still posted a .296/.331/.561/.892 slash line, good for a 131 OPS+, with 33 doubles, 32 home runs, and 105 RBI. His next two seasons found him in the top ten for AL MVP voting in both years as in both seasons he hit over .300 with at least 190 hits, including a Major League-leading 199 in 2013, 30 doubles, 30 home runs, and 90 runs driven in.

Beltré remained a solid player both offensively and defensively until his final season in 2018, his age-39 year, and even then he was still a league-average hitter with a 99 OPS+, the first time after eight consecutive seasons that he had dipped below 100, and impressive considering that of his six seasons as a full-time player with an OPS+ below 100, five of those came in the first half of his career. Also impressive is that, although Beltré ranks 33rd all-time in strikeouts (1732), his strikeout rate dipped in his last nine seasons: In his first 12 seasons, Beltré struck out 15.8 percent of the time—all five of his years with 100 or more strikeouts came before he turned thirty—while in his last nine seasons, he struck out 12.3 percent of the time—and if you discount his final, age-39 season, his strikeout rate was 11.6 percent.

Verdict: Adrián Beltré seemed a most unlikely Hall of Fame prospect during the first half of his career, but he became an undisputed one during his second half. And although it is highly unusual for a player to improve in his second half without external enhancement, it is not unprecedented. Dwight Evans is an excellent example of a position player whose second half was qualitatively better than his first half, and his encouraging showing on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, garnering half the vote in his first-ever appearance on a revamped veterans committee ballot, augurs well for his Hall of Fame chances.

JAWS ranks Adrián Beltré fourth all-time at third base, truly among the elite as his oWAR of 71.6 ranks seventh and his dWAR of 27.2 ranks behind only Brooks Robinson as the best all-time. Alone among any newly-eligible candidate expected to appear on a BBWAA ballot between 2021 and 2022 whose last name is not Rodríguez, Beltré is the only candidate whose Hall of Fame case, while an unlikely one, is unassailable. The only suspense is whether every BBWAA voter will feel the same way.

"No-Doubt Hall of Famer, Except . . . ": Joe Mauer, Chase Utley

In what promises to be the best ballot in the five-year period between 2021 and 2025 in terms of newly-eligible candidates, the 2024 ballot offers up three Hall of Fame candidates just waiting to receive their ticket to Cooperstown. As we've seen, Adrián Beltré just needs to clear his calendar for July 2025 to attend his formal induction in upstate New York. But for the other two Hall of Famers, they are likely to face some scrutiny before they need to book passage.

For Joe Mauer, one of the best for-average hitters at any position during his 15-year career, he will receive criticism in a similar vein to that which dogged Larry Walker during his ten-year tenure on the BBWAA ballot. In Mauer's case, as a catcher, he will be dinged for not being a full-time catcher for more than his first few seasons; for not being a catcher at all during his last five seasons, when he moved full-time to first base; that, as a catcher, he wasn't much of a defensive catcher; and that, as either a catcher or a first baseman, he didn't hit for power.

For Chase Utley, one of the best two-way second baseman of the 2000s, he will receive criticism for not having a longer peak; for not winning a Gold Glove despite being a quality defender; for not being a leader in any offensive category save once; for not producing greater volume (for instance, reaching 2000 hits); and, probably most damagingly, for not being a consistent full-time player in the last half of his 16-year career.

We expect a lot of our Hall of Famers, and both Mauer and Utley will need to endure the scrutiny that will keep them from being voted into the Hall of Fame for their first few years on the ballot. But both will be voted in before their time on the ballot is up.

Joe Mauer

Baseball's top draft pick in 2001, Joe Mauer was chosen by the Minnesota Twins, with whom the left-handed hitter would play his entire 15-year career starting in 2004, fitting for a St. Paul native. By 2006, he had won the first of three batting titles, the most-ever by a catcher, and the only batting titles ever won by an American League catcher. Mauer was the AL Most Valuable Player in 2009 with career highs in hits (191), home runs (28), and runs driven in (96) while he led the AL in batting average (.365), on-base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.587), OPS (1.031), and OPS+ (171), all career bests also. By 2014, Mauer had moved to first base before retiring after the 2018 season.

Career highlights: Selected for six All-Star teams. Finished in the top ten in Most Valuable Player voting four times including a win in 2009. Won four Silver Slugger and three Gold Glove Awards. Led the American League in hitting three times, in on-base percentage twice, and in slugging percentage once. Had 30 or more doubles eight times, 150 or more hits seven times, hit .300 or better seven times, and reached base at a rate of .400 or better six times. Had six seasons in which he walked more times than he struck out. Mauer's .306 career batting average is fourth-best (tied with Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi) all-time among catchers with 5000 or more at-bats, and is second only to Hall of Famer Mike Piazza among catchers who played exclusively in the Integration Era (from 1947 to the present).

Career summary: A knee injury shortened Joe Mauer's rookie season in 2004 to just 33 games, a concerning start for the Minnesota Twins, but his .308/.369/.570/.939 slash line that included eight doubles and six home runs in 107 at-bats signaled a promise he would make good on soon. After a solid full season behind the plate in 2005, Mauer captured his first batting title with a .347 average in 2006, becoming the first American League catcher to win a batting title, a feat he repeated two years later with a .328 average while scoring a career-best 98 runs, leading the Major Leagues with 11 sacrifice flies, and walking 84 times against just 50 strikeouts in 633 plate appearances, a nearly unheard-of strikeout every 12.7 plate appearances in this era.

It all came together for Joe Mauer in 2009, his age-26 season, when he was the near-unanimous choice for AL Most Valuable Player, leading the AL in every slash-line statistic and OPS+, becoming the first catcher ever to pace his league in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage and the first American League batter to do so since Hall of Famer George Brett did it in 1980. In addition to being the highest batting average by a Twins hitter since Hall of Famer Rod Carew's .388 mark in 1977, Mauer's .365 is the highest batting average by any catcher qualified for a title in the modern era (since 1901).

That three-year peak from 2008 to 2010, his age-25 to age-27 years, saw in each season Mauer chosen for the AL All-Star team, win a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award, and finish in the top ten in MVP voting, with a win in 2009, as Mauer became the best offensive catcher since Mike Piazza. And although the Twins offered him an eight-year, $184 million contract extension, the largest deal ever for a catcher, the toll from catching began to manifest itself. Mauer played only half of the 2011 season because of injuries, and while he recovered sufficiently in 2012, batting .319 and leading the AL with a .461 on-base percentage, a move to first base seemed inevitable.

Joe Mauer

One of the great-hitting catchers of all time, Joe Mauer might not have a Hall of Fame case to convince sufficient voters, at least initially.

Season-ending concussion-like symptoms limited Mauer's 2013 campaign to 113 games, and by the following year he was installed at first base. Despite being awarded three Silver Sluggers as a catcher, Mauer had no reputation as a power hitter—he reached double digits in home runs just six times in his career, and he drove in 90 or more runs only once—and first base is the primary power-hitting position in the lineup. Even his batting average dropped below .280 for three consecutive seasons, his age-31 to age-33 years from 2014 to 2016, although in 2017 he rebounded somewhat with a .305/.384/.417/.801 slash line as his 160 hits, 36 doubles, and 71 RBI were improvements over his last three seasons. After a 2018 season that saw his OPS+ hit 100, exactly league-average, Joe Mauer retired.

Verdict: JAWS ranks Joe Mauer seventh all-time among catchers, and every catcher in the first eleven rankings except Mauer is in the Hall of Fame. Despite three Gold Gloves, Mauer was never regarded as a top defensive catcher; of the top ten catchers, only Piazza has a lower dWAR than Mauer's 3.1 bWAR—admittedly impacted by his five seasons playing first base—but Piazza is the all-time leader among catchers in home runs. The lack of power, a sterling glove behind the plate, and seasons played—of the top eleven, only Mickey Cochrane played fewer years than Mauer—are likely to be cited as reasons why Mauer is not a Hall of Famer. Mauer is unlikely to be elected in his first year, but this Hall of Famer will not—and should not—wait long before he receives his deserved call from the Hall.

Chase Utley

Along with Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins (profiled in the 2022 assessment), second baseman Chase Utley was one of the "big three" on the Philadelphia Phillies of the 2000s that won their second World Series championship in 2008. The left-handed hitter was strong on both sides of the ball, hitting for power and average while flashing leather at his strength position in the middle of the diamond, and although he never won a Gold Glove or led the league in a major offensive category save one, Utley produced an impressive two-way peak in the 2000s before age and injuries took their toll in his decline phase.

Career highlights: Selected to six All-Star teams. Won a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. Finished in the top ten for National League Most Valuable Player voting three times. Won four Silver Slugger Awards. Hit 35 or more doubles five times, four of them consecutively including three consecutive years of 40 or more. Hit 25 or more home runs, scored 100 or more runs, and drove in 100 or more runs four times each. Stole 154 bases while caught stealing just 22 times, a 87.5 success rate.

Career summary: Chase Utley's first Major League hit in 2003, his age-24 year, was a grand slam, an auspicious beginning although with Placido Polanco ensconced at second base for the Philadelphia Phillies, Utley had to wait until 2005 to become the Phillies' starting second baseman. But once he was in place, he quickly established himself as one of the premier second basemen in the Majors.

For a five-year stretch, from 2005 to 2009, Utley posted a .301/.388/.535/.922 slash line, good for a 135 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 175 hits, 39 doubles, 29 home runs, 111 runs scored, 101 runs driven in, 311 total bases, and 15 stolen bases while he was caught stealing only twice. He hit .300 or better twice, including a career-best .332 in 2007, and he slugged .500 or better in all five years as he won four consecutive Silver Slugger Awards. He also led the Major Leagues in being hit by a pitch in three consecutive years, from 2007 to 2009, and he ranks eighth all-time in hits by pitch (204). He was named to four All-Star teams from 2006 to 2009, and he went to two consecutive World Series, with the Phillies beating the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 but falling to the New York Yankees the following year. Utley also finished in the top ten in NL Most Valuable Player voting three times.

More importantly, Utley generated 39.7 bWAR in those five seasons, an average of 7.9 bWAR per year, with an average of 5.9 oWAR and 2.4 dWAR. Utley's 2010 season, his age-31 year, saw him play in only 115 games, but he was still named to his fifth All-Star squad as he generated a 5.8 bWAR. For the first eight years of his career, Utley produced 48.0 bWAR, with that average of 6.0 bWAR per year indicating better than an All-Star-caliber player.

This emphasis on bWAR implies a crucial point: Chase Utley is a sabermetric darling as more traditional indicators of excellence and legacy largely do not apply. Despite solid defensive play—over his career, he was worth 60 fielding runs above average and 121 defensive runs saved at second base—Utley never won a Gold Glove. Apart from leading the NL in hits by pitch three times and in runs scored once, in 2006 (131), he never led the NL in any major offensive category. Hall of Fame voters accustomed to the "eye test" might not consider Utley to be a Hall of Fame-caliber second baseman.

Chase Utley

Break out the spreadsheets. Chase Utley braces for the sabermetric onslaught needed to convince voters of his Hall of Fame credentials.

Not that Chase Utley, despite knee injuries and the post-thirty decline phase after 2010, his age-31 year, simply fell off a cliff. True, his .270/.355/.435/.791 slash line and 116 OPS+ in the five-year period from 2010 to 2014 do suggest a significant tumble from his preceding five years, but during this period he still generated 20.0 bWAR, an average of 4.0 bWAR per year, including 3.3 oWAR and 1.3 dWAR, as he was named to his sixth and final All-Star team in 2014.

In mid-2015, Utley was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers to bolster their push for the playoffs, with Utley, during Game Two of the NL Division Series against the New York Mets, sliding into second base to break up a double play and fracturing shortstop Ruben Tejada's fibula in the process, which earned him a two-game suspension. Utley finished his career in Los Angeles, where he reached the 400 plateau in doubles, the 1100 plateau in runs scored, the 1000 plateau in RBI, and even the 150 plateau in stolen bases.

Verdict: JAWS ranks Chase Utley 15th all-time among second baseman, just ahead of Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Roberto Alomar, and Craig Biggio, and also ahead of Jeff Kent, facing his final chance for the Hall on this ballot (should he still be on it). Of the top fifteen ranked by JAWS eligible for the Hall of Fame, only Utley, Bobby Grich, and Lou Whittaker are not already in. Both Grich and Whittaker played longer than Utley, but all three are essentially in the same boat: Recognized as outstanding second baseman but without the hardware and leaderboard presence to show for it.

Utley is unlikely to be voted in on this ballot, but he should receive enough votes to stay on until 2025 and another examination. Whittaker made an encouraging mark on the same Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot as Dwight Evans in 2020, another sign that even the veterans committee is recognizing more sabermetric darlings (and in fairness they've done so for Ron Santo and Whittaker's double-play partner Alan Trammell). Since the BBWAA is more in tune to hidden gems, Chase Utley's chance to give an induction speech at Cooperstown is imminent.

Borderline: David Wright

Just the third player to have played his entire career with the New York Mets, David Wright established himself as a franchise player soon after becoming the team's starting third baseman in 2005, his second year in the Major Leagues. But the right-handed hitter who hit consistently for both power and average was plagued by injuries in the second half of his career. That effectively ended after the 2016 season, his age-33 year, and cut short what could have been a more persuasive Hall of Fame case.

Career highlights: Selected to seven All-Star teams, five times consecutively. Finished in the top ten for National League Most Valuable Player voting four times. Won two Gold Glove and two Silver Slugger Awards. Led the Major League in sacrifice flies twice. Had eight years with 30 or more doubles, six of them consecutively, and five years with 40 or more doubles, four of them consecutively. Had five years with 25 or more home runs, four of them consecutively. Had five years with 100 or more runs batted in, four of them consecutively. Hit .300 or better six times when qualified to win a title.

Career summary: A mid-season call-up during the New York Mets' 2004 season, his age-21 year, David Wright in 69 games and 283 plate appearances banged out a .293/.332/.525/.857 slash line, good for a 119 OPS+, with 17 doubles and 14 home runs. He was installed as the Mets' starting third baseman the following season, and for the next six years the right-hander looked to be establishing a career that would eventually lead to the Hall of Fame.

From 2005 to 2010, Wright posted a .306/.387/.515/.902 slash line, generating a 137 OPS+, while averaging, per year, 179 hits, 40 doubles, 26 home runs, 100 runs scored, 104 runs driven in, and 22 stolen bases. In those six years, he averaged 5.0 bWAR every year—with that 30.0 bWAR already halfway to a certain Hall of Fame berth; furthermore, that annual 5.0 bWAR indicated an All-Star-caliber performer, and indeed Wright was picked as an All-Star in every season from 2006 to 2010 while finishing in the top ten for National League Most Valuable Player voting three times.

Wright's power numbers, most notably his home run totals, dropped in 2009, but so did everyone's as the Mets moved into their new stadium, Citi Field, which quickly developed a reputation as an extreme pitcher's park—although, ironically, Wright hit the first home run on Citi Field's first Opening Day. The Mets eventually altered the park's dimensions to be more friendly to hitters who discovered that Citi Field yielded fewer home runs than most other ballparks. The move to Citi Field broke Wright's streak of four consecutive seasons each with 40 or more doubles—although he missed it by just one two-bagger in 2009—25 or more home runs, and 100 or more RBI.

Although Wright hit just five home runs at Citi Field in 2009, he could manage only an additional five on the road even as his other offensive numbers away from Citi Field were notably more robust than those at home. Wright had also suffered a concussion during the season that put him on the disabled list for the first time in his career; he played in 144 games in 2009, the first time in four full season that he did not play in at least 150 games. Nevertheless, he rebounded in 2010 with 29 home runs and 103 runs driven in.

David Wright

Like so many players, David Wright began his career with Hall of Fame promise that became eroded by injuries that hampered his effectiveness.

But that concussion ushered in what would become the recurring theme in the second half of David Wright's career: regular visits to the disabled list as injuries took their toll. He played in just 102 games in 2011 as a stress fracture in his back sidelined him for two months. Wright returned strongly in 2012, peppering out a .307/.390/.514/.904 slash line, yielding a career-best 156 OPS+, with 178 hits, 41 doubles, 21 home runs, 91 runs scored, and 93 RBI.

However, despite a strong start in 2013, his age-30 year, Wright played in just 112 games, and although he managed 134 games and 586 plate appearances in 2014, his hitting declined noticeably, managing just eight home runs as his OPS+ plunged to 101, right at league-average, the lowest mark of his career. Wright's next two seasons were not only write-offs, playing in 38 and 37 games, respectively, they marked the end of his career as injuries forced his retirement. (In 2018, Wright did play in two games, working a walk in three plate appearances.)

Verdict: JAWS ranks David Wright 24th among third basemen all-time, with virtually all of that ranking based on his offensive prowess—in 13 relevant seasons in the Major Leagues, Wright never had an OPS+ rating that dipped below 100. On the other hand, Wright, who played his entire career at third base, benefits defensively solely from positional scarcity: his dWAR is a negligible 0.3 while his total fielding runs above average is assessed at minus-68 and his defensive runs saved at minus-24. David Wright might pick up enough votes to remain on subsequent ballots, but he is unlikely to be elected to the Hall of Fame despite such a promising beginning to his career.

One and Done: José Bautista, Bartolo Colón, Adrián González, Matt Holliday

Although these four candidates are unlikely to last for more than one appearance on a Hall of Fame ballot, each has a distinctive story to tell about his career. For starting pitcher Bartolo Colón, he was a reliable enough innings eater, marked by occasional excellence, to sustain a Major League career in to his mid-forties. On the other hand, third baseman and right fielder José Bautista floundered for several years before finding a home with the Toronto Blue Jays and a half-dozen seasons as a top-flight slugger.

As for Adrián González, once he too could find a full-time job, he produced eleven seasons of outstanding play on either side of the ball, not quite enough to merit a Hall pass to Cooperstown. Finally, Matt Holliday had the raw ability to become a superstar, but he was dogged by injuries from his rookie season on as he and González qualify for the Hall of Very Good.

José Bautista

The 54 home runs that José Bautista crushed for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, his age-29 year, came literally out of nowhere as "Joey Bats," who had been in the Major Leagues since 2004, had never hit more than 16 home runs in a single season. Once it appeared that performance-enhancing drugs were not a factor, the right-handed slugger embarked on a latter-day career as a power hitter who, in a 15-year stay in the Majors that saw him wear the uniform of eight different teams, hit 344 home runs—285 of which came during his last nine seasons.

Career highlights: Selected to six All-Star teams. Finished in the top ten for American League Most Valuable Player voting four times. Won a Silver Slugger Award three times. Led the AL in home runs twice, in walks twice, and in total bases, intentional walks, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+ once each. Had four years each of 35 or more home runs, 100 or more runs scored, 100 or more runs batted in, and 100 or more walks.

Career summary: In his first Major League season, 2004, José Bautista bounced among four teams before the music stopped and he found himself with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the next four years. By 2006, he was the Pirates' starting third baseman, hitting 16 home runs and driving in 51 runs. He maintained that level of production until 2008, when the Pirates dealt him to the Toronto Blue Jays near the trading deadline. In 2009, the Jays plugged Bautista into a number of position holes that needed filling as he produced at the same level as in Pittsburgh.

However, in 2010, Bautista, in his age-29 year and now the Jays' starting right fielder, suddenly exploded into prominence with a jaw-dropping breakout season. His .260 batting average was unremarkable, albeit his career high so far, but the rest of his slash line was elite: a .378 on-base percentage as his 100 walks were better than his last two seasons combined, while his .617 slugging percentage was derived from 35 doubles and 54 home runs; in fact, Bautista hit just two more singles than home runs as he led the Majors in homers and total bases (351) while his 164 OPS+ marked the first time he hit above league-average. He also scored 109 runs and knocked in 124 runs.

Proving he wasn't just a flash in the pan, Bautista hammered out an even better performance in 2011 with a .302/.447/.608/.1.056 slash line, good for a Major League-leading 182 OPS+, as he slugged 24 doubles and 43 home runs while scoring 105 runs and driving in 103 runs. His 132 walks, the best in the Majors, included 24 intentional passes that led the American League.

For a six-year period, from 2010 to 2015, José Bautista turned himself into one of MLB's premier sluggers, with much credit going to Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. In that period, Bautista's age-29 to age-34 years, he posted a .268/.390/.555/.945 slash line, generating a 156 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 132 hits, 26 doubles, 38 home runs, 96 walks, 96 strikeouts (he had just two more strikeouts than walks during this period), 95 runs scored, and 97 RBI. Bautista made the AL All-Star squad in all six years as he won three Silver Slugger Awards and finished in the top ten for AL Most Valuable Player voting four times.

By 2016, Bautista's age-35 season, age and injuries augmented his decline phase as he was no longer an elite slugger; the Blue Jays declined his contract option at the end of 2017, and Bautista's final year, 2018, resembled his debut year as he was passed around by three teams.

Verdict: Ranked 48th by JAWS for right fielders, José Bautista had a six-year ride as a top Three True Outcomes slugger, averaging 5.9 bWAR in each of those six years, which is essentially his career value for all of the 15 years he played in the Major Leagues. Bautista was a (literal) journeyman player who will exit the BBWAA ballot as quickly as he entered it with his highlight his six-year streak with the Toronto Blue Jays—but what a streak it was.

Bartolo Colón

In an epic 21-year career that saw him pitch for 11 different teams, Bartolo Colón played in the Major Leagues until his age-45 year, winning 247 games and one Cy Young Award. The big right-hander compiled some impressive statistics, unsurprising for the durable innings-eater who, despite leading the American League in wins (21) in 2005, was never the ace of any of the many pitching staffs on which he toiled.

Career highlights: Chosen for four All-Star teams. Won American League Cy Young Award; finished in top five for Cy Young voting twice. Led the AL in wins once (21). Had nine years with 15 or more wins; won 20 or more games in a season twice, once with ten wins each in the American and National Leagues. Had eight years with 200 or more innings pitched, five of them consecutively. Had 12 years with 30 or games started, eight of them consecutively. Led the AL in complete games once (9); led the Major Leagues in complete games once with four wins each in the AL and NL. Ranks 7th all-time in home runs allowed (439), 30th all-time in games started (552, tied with Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson), 35th all-time in strikeouts (2535), 50th all-time in wins (247), and 76th all-time in innings pitched (3461.2).

Career summary: Making his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1997, his age-24 year, Bartolo Colón made his first All-Star team the following year as he pitched to a 14–9 win-loss record with a 3.71 ERA, and for his first five full seasons in Cleveland he posted double-digit win totals as one of the starters on those powerhouse Indians teams that made the postseason in three of his six seasons in Cleveland.

Midway through 2002, the Indians traded Colón to the Montreal Expos, and the big, fastballing right-hander delivered identical 10–4 win-loss results for both Cleveland and Montreal, with his combined ERA of 2.93 his best mark until 2013. Traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2003, Colón won 15 games in 34 starts as his nine complete games led the American League. He signed as a free agent with the Anaheim Angels for the 2004 season.

For the Angels in 2004, Colón won 18 games against 12 losses, a 60 percent success rate for decisions, but his 5.01 ERA generated a below-league-average 89 ERA+. "Big Sexy" improved on all fronts in 2005 as he led the American League in wins with 21 while losing just eight for a sparkling .724 win-loss percentage, and he cut his ERA down by a run and a half to 3.48, good for a 122 ERA+. Colón's 2005 campaign netted him his second All-Star appearance and the AL Cy Young Award, although third-place finisher Johan Santana had the better season, at least by bWAR as Colón produced 4.0 bWAR compared to Santana's 7.2 bWAR. Injuries sidelined Colón for much of 2006, and he was ineffective in 2007 as well.

Signed to a minor league deal by the Boston Red Sox in 2008, his age-35 year, Colón had a colorful decline phase that would last for another decade as he played for eight teams. The Red Sox suspended him when he returned to his native Dominican Republic to attend to personal matters and pitched in just seven games. He received a 50-game suspension in 2012 for testing positive for testosterone, but rebounded in 2013 when, with the Oakland Athletics, he had arguably his best season as he won 18 games and lost just six while posting a career-best 2.65 ERA, yielding a 147 ERA+, while pacing the Major Leagues with three shutouts.

With the New York Mets for three seasons, from 2014 to 2016, Colón reached the World Series for the first and only time in 2015, his age-42 season, earning a Game One loss in relief, and in 2016 he became the oldest Major League player ever to hit his first (and only) home run. Pitching in his final season in 2018, Colón passed Juan Marichal for the most wins by a Dominican pitcher and Dennis Martinez for the most wins by any Latin American pitcher.

Verdict: Bartolo Colón is ranked 148th by JAWS, a higher ranking than either Catfish Hunter or Jack Morris, although Colón, who appeared in the postseason with four different clubs, lacks the postseason resume of either of those pitchers. Considering his well-stamped Major League passport, Colón may get enough votes to survive until the next ballot, but as a strict compiler with no dominance or peak, he is more likely to bow out after this one appearance on a ballot.

Adrián González

Consistently solid on both sides of the ball, first baseman Adrián González played for four teams over his 15-year career but made his biggest impact during his six years with the Los Angeles Dodgers and his five years with the San Diego Padres, fitting for the Southern California boy born in San Diego and raised in neighboring Tijuana. The left-hander hit both for average, batting .287 lifetime with 2050 hits, and for power, amassing 437 doubles and 317 home runs for a .485 slugging percentage while driving in 1202 runs.

Career highlights: Named to five All-Star teams, four of those consecutively. Finished in the top ten for Most Valuable Player voting three times. Won four Gold Glove and three Silver Slugger Awards. Led the league in sacrifice flies twice and in hits, RBI, and walks once each. Had eleven consecutive years with 150 or more hits, ten years with 30 or more doubles, and seven years each with 25 or more home runs and 100 or more runs batted in. Ranks 100th all-time in offensive win probability added (34.4).

Career summary: In the eleven years Adrián González was a starting first baseman, from 2006 to 2016, he posted a .292/.364/.495/.859 slash line, good for a 134 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 174 hits, 37 doubles, 27 home runs, 295 total bases, 86 runs scored, 102 runs driven in, and a 4.1 bWAR. González was the first overall draft pick in 2000, chosen by the Florida Marlins, who traded him to the Texas Rangers in 2003, where he made his Major League debut and with whom he languished for two years behind Mark Teixeira at first until the Rangers traded him to the San Diego Padres.

With veteran Ryan Klesko sidelined by shoulder surgery, González became the Padres' starting first baseman in 2006 and promptly hit .304 with 38 doubles and 24 home runs in spacious, pitcher-friendly Petco Park, scoring 83 runs and knocking in 82. González upped his power stroke the next year, slugging 46 doubles and 30 long flies with 101 runs scored and 100 RBI. By 2008, he won his first Gold Glove and made the first of four consecutive All-Star appearances while driving in a career-high 119 runs; in 2009, he led the Major Leagues in walks (119), slugged a career-high 40 homers, and fell just one run shy of driving in 100 runs, scotching what could have been six consecutive years with at least 100 RBI.

Traded to the Boston Red Sox for the 2011 season, "El Titán" led the Majors in hits (213), which included 45 doubles and 27 home runs as he scored 108 runs and drove in 117 en route to his first Silver Slugger Award. González was on the move again in a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers late in the 2012 season; in four full seasons with the Dodgers, he led the Majors in RBI (116) in 2014. Injuries plagued him in 2017, his age-35 year, as he played in just 71 games, with the Dodgers trading him to the Atlanta Braves and González eventually finding work with the New York Mets in 2018, at least until halfway through the season when they released him.

Verdict: Adrián González lost four years, two each at the end and, more crucially, at the start of his career, which, had they been more productive, might have put him closer to the bubble. As it stands, JAWS ranks González 38th all-time among first basemen, tied with Don Mattingly, who played one fewer season. Adrián González belongs in that mythical, somewhat dismissive Hall of Very Good thanks to an impressive eleven-year stretch both offensively and defensively, as he compiled 99 total fielding runs above average and 76 defensive runs saved at first base, but he lacks the formidable credentials necessary to be a Hall of Fame first baseman.

Matt Holliday

Had health problems not dogged Matt Holliday from the first season of his 15-year career, the left fielder who hit easily for both average and power might just as easily have prompted conversation about his legitimacy for the Hall of Fame. As it stands, his batting record looks a lot like Adrián González's; appropriately, both debuted in 2004 and retired after the 2018 season, and each had been league-leaders in hits and runs batted in. Holliday's banner 2007 season powered the Colorado Rockies to the World Series; four years later, the right-handed slugger helped the St. Louis Cardinals to a world championship.

Career highlights: Selected to seven All-Star squads. Won a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. Finished in the top ten for National League Most Valuable Player once. Led the NL in hitting (.340), hits (216), doubles (50), total bases (386; also the Major League leader), and RBI (137) once each. Had eight years with 150 or more hits, six of them consecutively; ten consecutive years with 30 or more doubles; five years with 25 or more home runs and with 100 or more runs driven in; and four years with 100 or more runs scored.

Career summary: An elbow injury that sidelined Matt Holliday three weeks before the end of his 2004 rookie season with the Colorado Rockies, after having posted a.290/.349/.488/.837 slash line with 31 doubles and 14 home runs, established the refrain for his career: could he stay healthy enough to be a consistent offensive threat? He played in 150 or more games in just six of fifteen seasons, the first five of which were spent in Colorado although he played eight years for the St. Louis Cardinals.

To address the "Coors Effect" of the Rockies' unusually hitter-friendly Coors Field ballpark, Holliday's home-road splits were extreme; for example, in 2006, his first season with 150 or more games played, he hit 93 points higher and slugged 22 of his 34 home runs while playing in Denver. In 2007, Holliday led the National League in four offensive categories, including a .340 batting average and 50 doubles, and was a close runner-up to Jimmy Rollins for NL Most Valuable Player honors. And by hitting .333 with two home runs and four RBI in the Rockies' four-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Championship Series, Holliday was named the series MVP.

Traded to the Oakland Athletics following the 2008 season, Matt Holliday found himself traded at the 2009 mid-season to the St. Louis Cardinals. Having batted clean-up behind franchise player Todd Helton in Colorado, Holliday now provided lineup protection for Cardinals' superstar Albert Pujols. In his first five full seasons in St. Louis, from 2010, his age-30 year, to 2014, Holliday banged out a .295/.383/.496/.879 slash line, good for a 141 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 147 games played, 161 hits, 37 doubles, 24 home runs, 92 runs scored, 93 RBI, and 3.9 bWAR.

Holliday was integral to the Cardinals' march to their epic 2011 World Series win against the Texas Rangers, and while he was outstanding in the NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers, hitting .435 with two doubles, one home run, and five runs knocked in, he managed just three hits in 19 at-bats in the World Series although he did walk seven times and scored five runs.

However, a leg injury limited his playing time to 73 games in 2015, his age-35 year, and by the end of 2016, with the Cardinals uninterested in retaining him, Holliday signed with the New York Yankees. Always a defensive liability, he became the Yankees' designated hitter in 2017, but again illness and injury reduced his playing time, and he found himself back in Colorado for his brief (25 games and 65 plate appearances) final year in 2018.

Verdict: Ranked 36th by JAWS, Matt Holliday does edge past another Cardinals left fielder, Hall of Famer Lou Brock, on the all-time list, but Holliday lacks Brock's gaudy numbers in hits and stolen bases. A career .299/.379/.510/.889 slash line, generating a 132 OPS+, and 2096 hits, 468 doubles, 316 home runs, 1157 runs scored, and 1220 RBI puts Holliday, like Adrián González, in the Hall of Very Good, but he will be lucky to survive more than one Hall of Fame ballot.


Last modified on Monday, 28 December 2020 04:58

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