Picking off the Low-hanging Fruit

Of the 37 candidates, 14 can be dismissed immediately: Sandy Alomar, Jr., Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders, Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, Rondell White, and Woody Williams. This might seem like a ruthless assessment made harsher because of the wealth of talent on the ballot, but while several of these candidates, all first-timers on the ballot, were solid role players, none were exceptional enough to merit serious Hall consideration.

Of these 14, Shawn Green is perhaps the best of the lot, having reached 2000 hits, 400 doubles, 300 home runs, and 1000 runs batted in with a five-year power peak that saw him hit 40 or more home runs in three different seasons, two of those while in Los Angeles playing in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Reggie Sanders isn't too far behind, having displayed power and speed as he reached 300 home runs, hitting at least 20 in a season with six different teams, and 300 stolen bases to join a select group while winning a World Series in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Aaron Sele had four consecutive years of at least 15 wins on his way to 148 career wins. (Although contemporary analysis holds that wins credited to a pitcher are not only overvalued but are not an accurate indication of a pitcher's ability—wins are a function of a team's dynamic, with too many factors that are beyond a pitcher's control—enough voters carry a residual attachment to them that they will continue to be noted.) Roberto Hernandez notched 30 or more saves in six years, including 43 in 1999, while amassing 326 in his career, 13th all-time; Jose Mesa is next on that list with 321. (Likewise with saves—they are an unreliable indication of a relief pitcher's true effectiveness.)

In addition to his being named in the Mitchell Report, Mike Stanton is in the midst of another unfortunate situation: As a middle reliever, he filled an unsung role for his entire 19-year career, and the Hall has not yet shown any interest in recognizing players in specialized roles beyond closers, and even there the reception is mixed. Stanton is the lifetime leader in holds—which is not an official Major League Baseball (MLB) statistic, anyway—but as a career setup man Stanton is not going to see any kind of recognition from the Hall.

Two position players, Steve Finley and Julio Franco, demonstrate the deceptive effects of counting numbers and traditional qualitative statistics. Franco, who came back from the dead (figuratively speaking) throughout his career, became the oldest regular position player in MLB history. (Franco's career began in 1982, one year after Cal Ripken, Jr.'s, debut season, and Franco's final season, in 2007, was the same year in which Ripken, Jr., was inducted into the Hall of Fame.) Franco boasts a .298 career batting average and led the American League (AL) in hitting in 1991, and he finished with 2586 hits, 407 doubles, 173 home runs, 1285 runs scored, and 1194 runs batted in. Franco began as a middle infielder, both second base and shortstop, but he was never considered to be a quality defender even after moving to first base later in his 23-year career.

Finley has an even stronger case: A respectable defender in center field (a career 2.9 defensive bWAR), he reached 2548 hits, 449 doubles, 304 home runs, 320 stolen bases, 1443 runs scored, and 1167 RBI in a 19-year career. Most of those counting numbers match or exceed another center fielder on the ballot, Bernie Williams, and although Williams beats him in the jewelry department—Williams won four World Series rings with the New York Yankees—Finley's sole ring came in 2001 when his Arizona Diamondback beat Williams's Yankees in one of the great World Series in baseball history. In addition, Williams was a lousy defender, with a minus-10.3 defensive bWAR lifetime and 118 runs below average in Total Zone rating. But Finley reached his totals in about 500 more games and 1500 more plate appearances than did Williams, which is why Finley's career OPS+ and wRC+ are just a few ticks above league-average (both 104) while Williams sports a more robust OPS+ of 125 and wRC+ of 126.

In short, both Finley and Franco were solid, durable players with their moments of glory (and with Franco providing a fine human-interest story), but ultimately they both compiled career totals that reflected longevity and not Hall of Fame excellence.

Last modified on Thursday, 22 March 2018 01:56

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