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

Index

In a tumultuous year that was not normal for anything and everything including baseball, one thing that might be back to normal is voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Granted, the 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has 14 returning candidates, with just about every one of them owning cases for induction that range from borderline to compelling.

But the 2021 ballot, voted on by qualified voters of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), does not contain any candidates newly eligible for the Hall of Fame who have a strong case for Cooperstown induction. That trend continues through 2025, with only a few newly eligible candidates owning a Hall of Fame case.

The 2010s were tumultuous when it came to Hall of Fame voting. Not only did the furor over performance-enhancing drugs (PED) come to a head with players such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens becoming eligible, but a glut of qualified Hall of Fame candidates, both "clean" and "tainted," combined with a reduction in the number of years a candidate can remain on the ballot from 15 years to 10 years, effective for the 2015 ballot, resulted in ballot logjam: With so many qualified candidates and a maximum of 10 choices allowed per voter, Hall-worthy players fell off ballots.

The good news is that since the shutout on the 2013 BBWAA ballot that saw no candidate elected—ironic in that there was precisely a glut of candidates to vote for—the BBWAA and the veterans committees elected 27 players (and six non-players) to the Hall of Fame between them, with the BBWAA alone having voted in 22 players across seven ballots, an average of three inductees a year.

The better news, in a sense, is that for the next five years, the BBWAA ballot should be much less logjammed than it had been during the 2010s. The big caveat is that, as noted, the 2021 ballot has 14 returning players with Hall of Fame cases, and although 2021 offers no new candidates with a credible Hall of Fame case, voting for the returnees will be brisk, particularly as six candidates are in their "decline phase" of being in their sixth or more year on the ballot, with four candidates—Bonds, Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa—facing just two more chances to be elected.

Returning candidates will be the big story for the 2021 ballot, but they are secondary to this examination of the new candidates expected to hit BBWAA ballot in 2021 and for the next four years after that.

Of those new candidates over the next five years, only Adrián Beltré, eligible in 2024, owns an ironclad case for the Hall of Fame and stands the best chance of being elected in his first ballot. A number of candidates are likely to be elected to the Hall starting in 2022 with David Ortiz; then in 2023 with Carlos Beltrán; in 2024 with Joe Mauer and Chase Utley; and in 2025 with CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki. However, each faces a challenge to his Hall of Fame case and could see his induction delayed for a number of ballots.

Although both Ortiz and Suzuki seem to have evident cases for Cooperstown (and I've written previously that they do), Ortiz may still face resistance for being a career designated hitter along with unreliable rumors of PED usage, while Suzuki, the most atypical hitter in the Major Leagues since Willie Keeler, hung around far too long as a sub-league-average hitter in his quest for 3000 hits, and voters might hesitate over his rate versus his volume.

One candidate who, strictly by the numbers, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, has already built a consensus against his induction: Álex Rodríguez, eligible in 2022, is set to become the reigning poster child for PED and is unlikely ever to be elected to the Hall, at least by the BBWAA.

Alex Rodriguez

Deja vu all over again: Alex Rodriguez will assume the mantle of PED poster child when he hits the Hall of Fame ballot in 2022.

A number of upcoming candidates have borderline cases that do compel voters to stop and examine them more closely, although, ultimately, they are unlikely to be voted into the Hall. The 2021 ballot has Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson. The 2022 ballot features Joe Nathan and Mark Teixeira. In 2023, the borderline case is Francisco Rodríguez, and in 2024 it's David Wright.

Among the candidates likely not to survive more than one, possibly two, ballots are, in 2021, Barry Zito, and in 2022, Jake Peavy and Jimmy Rollins, all of whom had at least one sterling season in a lengthy career that hinted at Hall of Fame glory but that proved not to be the case.

One special category contains the "hard-luck cases," candidates who burst into the Major Leagues with superlative careers that were ended prematurely. For Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard, both eligible in 2022, each was felled by injury. For Tim Lincecum, also eligible in 2022, he experienced a loss of mojo. And for Troy Tulowitzki, eligible in 2025, his career was plagued by chronic injury that kept him from sustained excellence. (David Wright, dogged by injuries in the second half of his career, could fall into this category although his first half was strong enough to merit legitimate examination for the Hall.)

An even more special category includes Ben Zobrist, eligible in 2025, a "super-scrub" who in a number of ways epitomizes contemporary baseball—and who challenges the traditional view of baseball legacy even as he does not have a traditional Hall of Fame case.

These players and others merit attention in the next five years as their names begin to appear on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballots from 2021 to 2025. Newly-eligible candidates are profiled by year below.

Following the yearly profiles is an appendix that contains statistical information on newly-eligible position players, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers. Descriptions of specific statistics cited in the yearly profiles can be found below the tables in the appendix. Common advanced statistics used in the profiles include:

WAR: Wins Above Replacement value, with variants including fWAR, FanGraphs' version, and bWAR, Baseball Reference's version, which is used to calculate oWAR (WAR for offensive value only) and dWAR (WAR for defensive value only).

JAWS: Jaffe WAR Score System, derived from bWAR and used to rank players at their primary positions.

OPS: On-base percentage plus slugging percentage.

OPS+: OPS that is league- and park-adjusted and indexed to 100, with 100 indicating a league-average hitter.

Slash line: Grouping of a hitter's batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.

ERA+: Earned run average that is league- and park-adjusted and indexed to 100, with 100 indicating a league-average pitcher.

FIP: Fielding-independent pitching, analogous to ERA but using only a pitcher's strikeouts induced and walks and home runs allowed.

WHIP: Walks and hits per innings pitched.

2021 Ballot: The Calm Before the Storm

The 2021 BBWAA ballot is likely to see major gains for some of the candidates returning from the 2020 ballot. Curt Schilling, with two more chances to reach the Hall of Fame, is likely to do that on this ballot as he got to 70 percent of the vote last year following increases of at least nine percent on the last two ballots. Schilling is also likely to be the only candidate, new or returning, to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2021.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa, also with just two more chances to reach the Hall, bear the taint of PED, and although Sosa saw a five-percent bump on the 2020 ballot, which brought him to a shade below 14 percent, Bonds and Clemens have plateaued at around 60 percent and seem unlikely to convince the 75 percent of voters necessary for election to the Hall.

Overall, though, all candidates returning in 2020 enjoyed an increase in voting percentage, with Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner experiencing double-digit jumps while Omar Vizquel got a bump of just under ten percent to get to 52.6 percent of the vote in his third appearance on a BBWAA ballot. Apart from Schilling and PED pariahs Bonds and Clemens, Vizquel is the only returning candidate with at least 50 percent of the vote on the 2020 ballot, but following his 37-percent debut in 2018, he is proceeding incrementally and not likely to be elected this year.

Similarly, prospects are not rosy for Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, and Manny Ramirez. Kent is on his eighth ballot in 2021, and the 9.4 percent increase he received on the 2020 ballot, which got him to 27.5 percent of the vote, marked his first visit above the 20-percent line. He would need to make Larry Walker-like jumps in the next three years to reach the Cooperstown threshold, not a promising prospect. Pettitte, who debuted in 2019 with just under 10 percent of the vote, got a marginal bump to 11.3 percent last year, and although it's not enough to establish a trend, Pettitte seems destined to be a perennial also-ran.

Meanwhile, Ramirez, significant because he is the first superstar to debut on a BBWAA ballot following Major League Baseball's revamping of its drug-testing policies and attendant penalties in 2006, which netted him two suspensions for failed drug tests, got a 5.4 percent increase in voting in 2020. That pushed him to 28.2 percent after he debuted in 2017 with 23.8 percent, itself a surprise considering his high-profile transgressions once clear-cut drug-testing rules had been established, but his trend seems to be following that of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and others.

As for Bobby Abreu, the only candidate to debut on the 2020 ballot who got at least five percent of the vote to return in 2021, he could benefit from a relatively quiet ballot and start to build a constituency for his Hall of Fame case, one built on both longevity and sabermetrics.

In any event, for any or all of the returning candidates, the 2021 ballot could be their last chance to make significant gains in vote totals. It is the calm before the storm because the 2022 ballot marks the debut of David Ortiz and Álex Rodríguez, with a few other first-timers who could make the vote interesting in a reprise of the ballot logjams in the 2010s, and with Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and, should he not make it in 2021, Schilling holding out their last hope on their tenth and final BBWAA appearance. Moreover, the 2021 ballot offers no clear-cut Hall of Fame candidate making his debut, with only four of eleven candidates worth more than a mention.

On that 2021 ballot, those four newcomers are outfielder Torii Hunter and starting pitchers Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito. None are Hall of Famers, but Buehrle and Hudson have legitimate if not compelling borderline cases.

Borderline: Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson

Although neither is likely to make it into the Hall of Fame, both Tim Hudson and especially Mark Buehrle could collect at least five percent of the BBWAA vote in 2021 to stick around until the following year.

Mark Buehrle

Soft-tossing southpaw Mark Buehrle spent three-quarters of his 16-year career with the Chicago White Sox, winning the World Series with them in 2005. Buehrle won 214 games including at least 10 wins in 15 consecutive seasons, pitched two no-hitters including a perfect game, and had 14 consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings pitched, tying him with Greg Maddux, Christy Mathewson, and Phil Niekro, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

Career highlights: Named to five All-Star teams. Won a World Series championship in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox. Won four Gold Gloves. Finished in the top five for Cy Young Award voting once. Led the league in innings pitched twice and games started once. Had fifteen consecutive years with 10 or more wins, and six years with 15 or more wins. Had just one losing season in a 16-year career. Had 15 consecutive years with 30 or more starts. Had 14 consecutive years with 200 or more innings pitched.

Career summary: Beginning his career with the Chicago White Sox in 2000, Mark Buehrle made 25 of 28 appearances from the bullpen; he then went on to 490 consecutive starts for the rest of his 16-year career. Getting named to his first All-Star squad in 2002, when he won a career-high 19 games against 12 losses, Buehrle got his only top-five finish for the American League Cy Young in 2005, when he won 16 and lost only eight while leading the AL in innings pitched (236.2) and netting the second of five All-Star nods—and of course going on to win the World Series.

In April 2007, the southpaw no-hit the Texas Rangers, allowing just one walk to Sammy Sosa, whom he then picked off at first base. Buehrle then made it a true clean slate two years later when he hurled a perfect game at the Tampa Bay Rays, a feat that again put him in some rarefied company: By pitching a no-hitter and a perfect game, and winning a World Series, all with one team, the Chicago White Sox, Buehrle joined Cy Young and Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers ever to have done so. He made history again in 2010 when, having won the second of four consecutive Gold Gloves, he became the only pitcher with multiple no-hitters and multiple Gold Gloves.

Mark Buehrle

Slow and steady wins the race? Will soft-tossing Mark Buehrle's quietly consistent pitching record be enough for the Hall of Fame?

In 2011, his age-33 season, Mark Buehrle signed a four-year, $58 million contract with the Miami Marlins. In his first and only year in the National League, he was solid if unremarkable, posting a 13–13 win-loss record with a 3.74 ERA before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2012 season, with whom he finished his career after the 2015 season. In Toronto, he made his last All-Star team in 2014, a year that saw him win 13 games against ten losses while posting a 3.39 ERA, his lowest ERA since 2005. In his age-36 season in 2015, Buehrle finished in fine style, winning 15 games, the most since 2008, while losing only eight as he led the Majors in complete games with four, bringing his career total to 33, including the tenth and last shutout of his career, although he fell one and a third innings short of his 15th consecutive season with at least 200 innings pitched.

Verdict: Mark Buehrle was an innings-eater par excellence who succeeded despite not being a strikeout pitcher (1870 punch-outs in 3283.1 innings pitched for 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched) and pitched to a 3.81 ERA and a 117 ERA+ in a high-offense era, although his 4.11 FIP indicates his unexceptional ability to induce strikeouts while controlling walks (734) and especially home runs (361, 27th all-time).

Buehrle is ranked 90th by JAWS for starting pitchers, with his JAWS score tied with Sandy Koufax's, although Koufax pitched 900 fewer innings—while Buehrle had none of the dominance Koufax did. Buehrle's 59.2 bWAR does put him on the cusp of Hall of Fame consideration, but with a lack of dominance he falls into the compiler category. He might attract enough votes to make it to the 2022 ballot, although with all the holdovers from previous ballots he could find himself squeezed out early.

Tim Hudson

In the same boat as Mark Buehrle is Tim Hudson, who had a stronger peak in a 17-year career while he too owns a World Series ring, won while with the San Francisco Giants in his penultimate season of 2014. However, the right-hander did make his presence felt early in his career as one of the "Big Three" of the Oakland Athletics' pitching rotation along with left-handers Mark Mulder and Barry Zito in the early 2000s. Hudson led the American League in wins (20) and winning percentage (.769, the best in the Majors) in 2000, when he was runner-up for Cy Young Award honors to Pedro Martinez.

Career highlights: Named to four All-Star teams. Won a World Series ring in 2014 with the San Francisco Giants. Finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award three times. Led the American League in shutouts twice (tied with other pitchers in both years). Led the league in wins, win-loss percentage, and games started once each. Had 13 years with ten or more wins, ten of them consecutively, and had eight years with 15 or more wins, four of them consecutively. Had 13 years with an earned run average under 4.00, and three years with an ERA under 3.00. Had eight years with 30 or more starts and with 200 or more innings pitched. Ranks 65th all-time in win-loss percentage (.625; tied with Hall of Famer Chief Bender).

Career summary: Tim Hudson debuted with a blazing rookie season in 1999, winning 11 games and losing only two in 21 starts while posting a 3.23 ERA and a 142 ERA+, and striking out 132 hitters in 136.1 innings pitched. He was even better the next season: Despite a 4.14 ERA, Hudson won 20 games, a career high as it led the American League, and lost just six for a league-leading .769 win-loss percentage while he finished second in Cy Young voting—first place went to Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, in the midst of his reign as the best pitcher on the planet. In six years with the A's, Hudson posted a 92–39 win-loss record, good for a sparkling .702 winning percentage, a 3.30 ERA and 136 ERA+, and 899 strikeouts.

After being traded to the Atlanta Braves following the 2004 season, Hudson spent nine years with the team, the longest tenure in his 17-year career. Ironically, Hudson joined the Braves during a time when they were not gobbling up division titles as if they were candy as Atlanta made the postseason just four times during his nine seasons with the club. In addition, injuries began to dog Hudson, such as Tommy John surgery in August 2008 that left him starting just seven games the following season. He rebounded in 2010 with 17 wins and just nine losses while delivering a stingy 2.83 ERA, the third and last time he would have a sub-3.00 ERA, as he finished fourth in National League Cy Young voting and made his third All-Star team. In his nine seasons with Atlanta, he won 113 games, which put him over the 200-win mark, and lost 72 for a .611 win-loss percentage while maintaining a 3.56 ERA and 115 ERA+.

Signing a two-year, $23 million deal with the Giants for 2014, Hudson posted his first losing season, winning nine games while dropping 13, yet he was chosen for the NL All-Star squad as he managed to be named an All-Star with every team he played for; meanwhile, his 120 strikeouts pushed him past the 2000-strikeout plateau. In Game Two of the 2014 National League Division Series, Hudson dueled Washington Nationals ace Jordan Zimmerman for 7.1 innings, allowing just one run while striking out eight in a game that became an 18-inning marathon eventually won by the Giants.

Although Hudson's final season in 2015 saw him experience another losing season (8–9, .471), his career win-loss percentage is .625, based on 222 wins and 133 losses. Thus, Hudson joins just twenty other Major League pitchers to record 200 wins, 2000 strikeouts, and a winning percentage of .600 or better, with 14 of those pitchers already in the Hall of Fame.

Verdict: Tim Hudson is ranked 84th by JAWS for starting pitchers. He was more than an innings-eater although he was not the unequivocal staff ace for any of the three teams he played for, and that lack of dominance will keep him from the Hall of Fame although he may be more likely to survive to the 2022 ballot than Mark Buehrle.

One and Done: Torii Hunter and Barry Zito

Both Torii Hunter and especially Barry Zito had their moments during their career but are not likely to make more than one appearance on a Hall of Fame ballot.

Torii Hunter

Patrolling the outfield for the Minnesota Twins with a potent combination of power, speed, and especially defense, Torii Hunter looked to be one of baseball's best center fielders during his heyday. Starting in 1997, Hunter spent 12 of 19 seasons in Minnesota, and by 2001 he was installed as the Twins' starting center fielder, winning seven of his nine consecutive Gold Gloves in the Twin Cities. He departed to spend five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and two with the Detroit Tigers before returning to Minnesota for his final season in 2015.

Career highlights: Named to five All-Star teams. Finished in the top ten for American League Most Valuable Player voting once. Won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards. Won two Silver Slugger Awards. Had nine years with 30 or more doubles, eight years with 150 or more hits, five years with 25 or more home runs, and two years with 100 or more runs batted in. Ranks 66th all-time in doubles (498; tied with Hall of Famer Al Kaline) and 92nd all-time in home runs (353).

Career summary: Making a solitary appearance as a pinch-runner in 1997, Torii Hunter moved slowly through the ranks of the Minnesota Twins' roster, getting into 135 games, with 113 starts in the outfield including 90 starts in center field, two years later. By 2001, the right-hander had become the Twins' starting center fielder, rapping out a .261/.306/.479/.784 slash line with 32 doubles, 27 home runs, and 92 runs driven in as he won his first Gold Glove Award. He was even better the following season, his age-26 year, with a .289/.334/.524/.859 slash line, generating a 124 OPS+, with 162 hits, 37 doubles, 29 home runs, 89 runs scored, 94 RBI, and a career-best 23 stolen bases as he made his first American League All-Star team and finished sixth in Most Valuable Player voting.

In his seven years as the Twins' full-time center fielder, Hunter established a .272/.326/.484/.810 slash line, good for a 110 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 146 hits, 32 doubles, 25 home runs, 82 runs scored, 90 runs driven in, 16 stolen bases, and 3.8 bWAR. In 2008, his age-32 year, he left for greener pastures with a five-year, $90 million deal from the Los Angeles Angels. While with the Angels, which saw him transition to right field, Hunter won his first Silver Slugger Award in 2009. During his five-year tenure with Los Angeles, Hunter posted a .286/.352/.462/.814 slash line, generating a 122 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 154 hits, 29 doubles, 21 home runs, 79 runs scored, 86 RBI, 12 stolen bases, and 4.1 bWAR while being named to two All-Star teams.

Following his stint with the Angels, Hunter spent two years with the Detroit Tigers starting in 2013, his age-37 season, and making a strong impression with a .304/.334/.465/.800 slash line and 115 OPS+ as he banged out a career-high 184 hits with 37 doubles, 17 home runs, 90 runs scored, and 84 runs knocked in. He earned his second Silver Slugger Award while making his fifth All-Star squad, ensuring that he was an All-Star with every team he played for. Ending his career back where he began, Hunter spent 2015, his final, age-39 season, with the Twins, and although he dipped below league-average with a 91 OPS+, he still logged 567 plate appearances and hit 22 home runs, the first time in four years he notched 20 or more.

A solid two-way outfielder in his prime, Torii Hunter never led the American League in any offensive or defensive category. And despite his highlight-reel outfield plays, defensive metrics have not been kind to him. He does have 36 defensive runs saved (DRS) as a center fielder, where he started 1492 games, but as he slowed up and moved to right field, he accrued a minus-13 DRS in 704 starts, dropping him to 23 DRS as an outfielder overall. Runs above average is even more unforgiving, assessing him at a minus-38 overall for play in both center- and right field.

Verdict: JAWS ranks Torii Hunter at 34th among all center fielders, eleven slots below Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, Hunter's predecessor in center field for the Twins, and considering that Puckett was a charitable Hall of Fame pick, Hunter may garner a few votes initially but not enough to survive his inaugural ballot.

Barry Zito

Arguably the most auspicious of the Oakland Athletics' "Big Three" starting pitchers at the turn of the century who included Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, Barry Zito was the only one to win a Cy Young Award when he led the American League in wins (23) and games started (35) in 2002. In his six years as a full-time starter for the A's, the left-hander famed for his curve ball built a reputation for effectiveness and consistency that netted him a seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, at the time the largest deal for a pitcher. However, Zito struggled with the Giants although he provided late-career highlights during the 2012 postseason, which saw him win his second World Series ring.

Career highlights: Named to three All-Star teams. Won two World Series championships, both with the San Francisco Giants. Won the 2002 American League Cy Young Award. Led the AL in games started four times, and led the AL in wins once. Had ten years with ten or more wins, four years with 15 or more wins, and one year with 20 or more wins. Had eleven years with 30 or more games started, ten of them consecutively, and four years with 35 starts, three of them consecutively. Had six consecutive years with 200 or more innings pitched.

Career summary: Picked ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 1999 draft, Barry Zito was with the parent club by the middle of the 2000 season, his age-22 year, and he even pitched the first of five career shutouts in his 14 starts for the A's. The southpaw with the big curve ball posted a 17–8 win-loss record and 3.49 ERA in his first full season in 2001, and by the following year he seemed to become the ace of Oakland's "Big Three" starting pitchers, who included Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, when he won an American League-leading 23 games against just five losses, an .821 win-loss percentage, while posting a 2.75 ERA en route to winning the 2002 AL Cy Young Award, besting Pedro Martinez in the voting.

Winning 102 games while losing just 63, a .618 win-loss percentage, during his eight years in Oakland, Barry Zito never had a losing season as he posted a 3.58 ERA and a 124 ERA+, marking him as a standout pitcher in the American League. Zito wasn't as dominant following his Cy Young year, but he settled into being a workhorse for the A's staff: In six years as a full-time starting pitcher, Zito pitched at least 200 innings and started at least 34 games every season, leading the AL in starts for three years, as he generated 30.6 in bWAR, with four seasons at 4.5 bWAR or higher.

Barry Zito

Riding high before the fall. Barry Zito's success with the Oakland Athletics didn't survive the trip across the Bay to the San Francisco Giants.

Moving to the Giants in 2007 with a cushy contract, Barry Zito was never able to live up to it as he toiled as a below-league-average pitcher with just one winning season, in 2012, and one season with an ERA+ above the 100 baseline for a league-average pitcher, a 105 ERA+ in 2009. Left off the postseason roster in 2010, when the Giants won their first World Series since 1954, Zito was a postseason factor in 2012 with a crucial Game Five elimination-game win against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, and he did outduel future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander—and even got a hit off him—in Game One of the Giants' four-game sweep against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

Verdict: Barry Zito attained fairly lofty heights during his first seven years in Oakland, but his next seven years in San Francisco brought him back down to Earth. JAWS ranks Zito 249th all-time among starting pitchers, and despite a relative dearth of starting pitchers on the 2021 ballot, Zito will be eclipsed by Mark Buehrle and his former teammate Tim Hudson in the competition for votes and is unlikely to survive to 2022.


 

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.


 

2023 Ballot: Eye of the Storm—Or Is It?

With the storm that is the 2022 BBWAA ballot having passed and meted out its judgment on all those candidates who appeared on it, the 2023 ballot should be a much calmer affair. Should he not have been elected in 2022, David Ortiz would be returning for 2023. The PED controversy remains with, in all likelihood, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Álex Rodríguez, and Gary Sheffield returning to the 2023 ballot. However, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa are removed either through election or expiration as 2022 was their last year allowed on the ballot. Curt Schilling, not associated with PED, also had until 2022 to be elected.

Assuming none of these candidates have not left the ballot already, Jeff Kent faces his final chance on the 2023 ballot, Billy Wagner watches his needle enter the yellow zone, and Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, and Omar Vizquel all pass the midpoint that Bobby Abreu is fast approaching. Other possible returnees from the 2022 ballot are Joe Nathan and Mark Teixeira, with the odds favoring Nathan.

The potential for a full ballot exists, but of the newly-eligible candidates in 2023, only three stand out for scrutiny: Carlos Beltrán, John Lackey, and Francisco Rodríguez. Of the three, Beltrán has a strong case for the Hall of Fame, Rodríguez has a borderline case, and Lackey has no case.

"No-Doubt Hall of Famer, Except . . . ": Carlos Beltrán

Combining speed, power, and defense, switch-hitting center fielder Carlos Beltrán is one of only eight players ever to reach 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases, and is the only switch-hitter to do so. The 1999 American League Rookie of the Year played for seven teams in his 20-year career and appeared in the postseason with all but one of them, eventually winning a World Series ring in his final year as a player, 2017, with the Houston Astros.

Carlos Beltrán seemed destined for the Hall of Fame until news of the Astros' sign-stealing scandal broke in 2020. Fingered as the ringleader of the scheme, Beltrán had to jettison his chance to manage the New York Mets as a result of the scandal. Writing in 2020, it is impossible to know how the scandal will affect voting opinions in 2023, but if that kind of cheating carries the same opprobrium as using performance-enhancing drugs, Beltrán could be in for a rough ride on this ballot and any other ballots he might be on.

Career highlights: Was American League Rookie of the Year in 1999 with the Kansas City Royals. Won a world championship with the Houston Astros in 2017. Picked for nine All-Star squads. Won three Gold Glove and two Silver Slugger Awards. Finished twice in the top-ten for Most Valuable Player voting. Hit eight home runs, four each in divisional and championship series play with the New York Mets, tying him with Barry Bonds for most home runs in a single postseason year (2004). Ranks 25th all-time in extra-base hits (1078, tied with Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr.), 29th all-time in doubles (565), 34th all-time in total bases (4751), 41st all-time in runs batted in (1587), 46th all-time in home runs (435), 53rd all-time in runs scored (1582), and 62nd all-time in hits (2725).

Career summary: After a brief but auspicious mid-September call-up with the Royals in 1998, his age-21 year, Carlos Beltrán moved into the starting lineup the following year and became the American League Rookie of the Year with a career-high 194 hits, including 27 doubles, seven triples, and 22 home runs, as he scored 112 runs, the first of seven seasons with 100 or more runs scored, drove in 108, the first of eight seasons with 100 or more RBI, and stole 27 bases, the first of seven seasons with 25 or more swipes.

Traded to the Houston Astros, then still in the National League, in mid-2004, Beltrán hit 23 home runs in 90 games, with 47 extra-base hits of his 86 hits in total. In his first taste of postseason baseball, the switch-hitter exploded as in five games in the NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves and seven games against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series, he belted out a sizzling .435/.532/1.022/1.554 slash line with three doubles, eight home runs, 21 runs scored, 14 runs batted in, nine walks (one intentional), and six stolen bases without being caught once. But despite Beltrán's one-man offensive, the Astros fell to the Cardinals.

As a free agent, Beltrán signed a seven-year, $119 million deal with the New York Mets, with whom he was named to four All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger Awards, and finished fourth in NL MVP voting in 2006 when he hit 38 doubles, 41 home runs (tying Todd Hundley for the then-Mets team record), scored a career-high 127 runs, knocked in a career-high 116, and stole 18 bases while getting caught just three times. In the postseason again, Beltrán hit three home runs against the Cardinals in the exciting, see-saw seven-game NLCS, although it was Beltrán, with the Mets down two runs in the ninth inning of Game Seven, who struck out with the bases loaded to end the series.

Traded to the San Francisco Giants in the middle of the 2011 season, Beltrán, in his age-34 year, finished out his career as a veteran gun for hire, seeing time with the Cardinals, the New York Yankees, the Texas Rangers, and, finally, in 2017, back with the Houston Astros, now in the American League and en route to their historic World Series victory and Beltrán's first and only World Series ring.

Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran (batting) capped a Hall of Fame career with a World Series ring--until the Houston Astros' 2017 sign-stealing scandal broke.

At least until the sign-stealing furor erupted, casting a pall on the Astros' entire 2017 season including their World Series win. Although Astros bench coach Alex Cora was deemed the mastermind behind the sign-stealing methodology, Beltrán was considered the enforcer among the players. Cora, who went on to win another World Series in his first year as manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2018, was forced from his position in 2020 while Beltrán, eying his first managerial job with the New York Mets, was compelled to abandon that idea.

What seemed to be the bow on Carlos Beltrán's outstanding career, a World Series victory, instead became a noose around his neck—one that might strangle his chances to enter the Hall of Fame. JAWS ranks Beltrán ninth among all center fielders in Major League history, making him a seeming a shoo-in for the Hall—unless his involvement in sign-stealing steals that from him.

Verdict: How voters will regard Carlos Beltrán when he debuts in 2023 is an open question. In 2020, growing reaction to the cheating scandal soon became overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether this worked to dispel any wrath or merely postpone it remains to be seen. However, it is worth noting that A.J. Hinch, the Astros manager who was both fired from the franchise and suspended from any baseball activities for the 2020 season, was quickly snapped up to manage the Detroit Tigers once his suspension was over. Similarly, Alex Cora, who "mutually agreed to part ways" with the Red Sox as he was suspended, quietly resumed managing the Red Sox once his suspension expired.

But the Baseball Hall of Fame is a different animal, especially for a player. Carlos Beltrán may be "punished" by not receiving enough votes on his debut ballot. He may be left to twist in the wind for a few ballots. Or he may never be voted in. I suspect it will be the second option—Beltrán may find himself waiting a few years before getting the call to Cooperstown. He was a Hall of Fame-caliber player who merits election. He can even sit next to Gaylord Perry at the induction ceremony.

Borderline: Francisco Rodríguez

Relief pitcher Francisco Rodríguez was just 20 years old when he exploded into prominence for the (then-)Anaheim Angels during the 2002 postseason, helping the team win its first (and so far only) World Series in seven exciting games against the San Francisco Giants—with Rodríguez becoming the youngest pitcher ever to win a World Series game. "K-Rod" went on to become Troy Percival's setup man before taking the Angels' closer role in 2005, promptly leading the American League in saves. He set the single-season record for saves with 62 in 2008, his final year in Anaheim before signing as a free agent with the New York Mets as he pitched for five teams in total over a 16-year career that saw him wind up fourth in all-time saves with 437.

Career highlights: Selected to six All-Star teams. Finished in the top five for Cy Young Award voting three times. Finished in the top ten for Most Valuable Player voting once. Won one World Series championship with the (then-)Anaheim Angels in 2002. Led the American League in saves three times; set single-season record for saves (62) in 2008. Led the league in games finished three times and in appearances once. Had six years with an earned run average under 3.00 (minimum of 60 innings pitched), and two years with an ERA under 2.00 (minimum of 60 innings pitched). Ranks fourth all-time in saves (437). Has a career 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (SO/9) with 1142 punch-outs in 976.0 innings pitched.

Career summary: In a storied year, 2002, for the (then-)Anaheim Angels, who embarked on their first World Series win, relief pitcher Francisco Rodríguez seemingly had the biggest Cinderella story of all. The Venezuelan right-hander, a mid-September call-up, had pitched exactly 5.2 innings in five games during the regular season when the Angels carried him on their postseason roster. An unknown quantity to opposing hitters, Rodríguez simply overpowered them with his blazing fastball and especially his devastating curveball.

In three rounds of playoffs—the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, the AL Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins, and the World Series against the San Francisco Giants—Rodríguez appeared in 11 games, won five of those games (although one win, against the Yankees, resulted from a blown save opportunity), and in 18.2 innings posted a 1.98 ERA while striking out 28 batters, an SO/9 of 13.8. He wasn't invincible—he walked five batters, and he lost one game when the Giants got to him for the go-ahead run in a tied Game Four to even the World Series—but he made a powerful impression.

Nevertheless, with Troy Percival the Angels' closer, Rodríguez settled into the setup role the following season, appearing in 59 games while winning eight games and losing three, all in relief, with a 3.03 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 86 innings pitched. Rodríguez was even better in 2004 when he posted a 4–1 win-loss record with a sterling 1.82 ERA, backed up by a 1.64 FIP and a 245 ERA+, with a career-high 123 strikeouts in 84.0 innings pitched, an SO/9 of 13.2, as he was named to his first All-Star squad and finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting.

With Percival gone in 2005, Rodríguez stepped into the closer role and promptly led the AL in saves with 45 and a sparkling 90 percent save-conversion rate although he did lose five games while winning two. He even bumped his save-conversion rate up to 92 percent the following season as he led the Majors with 47 saves atop a career-best 1.73 ERA as he again finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting. In 2008, Rodríguez broke the single-season record for saves, set by Bobby Thigpen in 1990 at 57, when he converted 62 of 69 save opportunities (90 percent) with a 2.24 ERA and an average leverage index (aLI) of 2.550, earning his third berth on an All-Star team while finishing third in AL Cy Young voting and sixth in AL Most Valuable Player voting. (Average leverage index, or aLI, measures the "pressure" a pitcher faces in a given situation, with 1.0 considered average pressure and 1.5 or higher considered high pressure.)

Francisco Rodriguez

Will Francisco Rodriguez's electrifying MLB debut deliver the momentum he needs for the Hall of Fame?

Francisco Rodríguez's record-setting season coincided with his free agency, and he signed a three-year, $37 million agreement with the New York Mets starting in 2009, and although he saved 35 games in the new league, his save-conversion rate dipped to 83 percent as his ERA rose to 3.71, underlined by a 4.01 FIP as he walked a career-high 38 batters in 68.0 innings pitched. Despite an excellent 2.20 ERA, his 2010 season was shortened by a domestic altercation that resulted in his arrest on a misdemeanor assault charge and subsequent suspension by the Mets. Rodríguez had injured his thumb in the alleged assault, which required season-ending surgery and further suspension by the team. The incident underscored Rodríguez's emotional excitability that had provoked on-field confrontations previously.

Midway through the 2011 season, the Mets traded Rodríguez to the Milwaukee Brewers, where the reliever bristled at becoming the setup man to closer John Axford. He continued in the role in 2012, making a career-high 78 appearances while finishing only 13 games with just three saves while losing seven games and posting a 4.38 ERA, his worst mark to date. The Brewers traded Rodríguez to the Baltimore Orioles midway through the 2013 season, ostensibly to help the Orioles make a push for the playoffs, but Rodríguez floundered in Baltimore, which didn't make the postseason, anyway.

Rodríguez returned to the Brewers for the next two seasons, which saw him save a total of 82 games with a 2.66 ERA in 129 total appearances and 125 total innings pitched. He was on the move again for the 2016 season, this time to the Detroit Tigers, saving 44 games with a 3.24 ERA, although with just 52 strikeouts in 58.1 innings pitched, Rodríguez, in his age-34 season and a Major Leaguer for 15 years now, was squarely in his decline phase. After a terrible start to the 2017 season that saw him lose his closer's job, Rodríguez was released by the Tigers in midseason, and despite minor league deals with the Washington Nationals in 2017 and with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2018, Francisco Rodríguez was out of Major League Baseball for good.

Verdict: JAWS ranks Francisco Rodríguez 35th all-time among relief pitchers, even lower than Jonathan Papelbon, who is not expected to survive his inaugural ballot in 2022. Rodríguez had just two seasons with a bWAR above 3.0, with his 3.7 bWAR in 2006 his best mark. Fourth all-time among saves leaders, Rodríguez has only that volume and his status as the single-season record holder in saves to buttress his Hall of Fame case. After his electrifying 2002 postseason performance, he returned to Earth in his subsequent playoff appearances.

Assessing relief-pitcher legacy remains more art than science, and WAR and its derivative JAWS become even more stratified when just a few wins above replacement result in quantum leaps. Rodríguez's 24.1 bWAR is just less than four wins below the 28.0 bWAR of Trevor Hoffman, already in the Hall of Fame, and the 27.7 bWAR of Billy Wagner, whom Rodríguez eclipsed in career saves and who is starting to gain traction on the BBWAA ballot (as of 2020). Rodríguez is less than three wins below Joe Nathan, whose consistency and longevity make him a borderline candidate, and it is even slightly better than Papelbon's, although Papelbon had a stronger seven-year peak.

Francisco Rodríguez will surely not be elected on his first ballot, but he does deserve to receive at least five percent of the vote to remain on the ballot and provide a case analysis to better assess how to recognize relief-pitcher legacy.

One and Done: John Lackey

Like his long-time teammate Francisco Rodríguez, starting pitcher John Lackey also made his Major League debut with the (then-)Anaheim Angels in 2002, and he too made an auspicious presence in the postseason when he earned the win in the deciding Game Seven of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants. Eleven years later, with the Boston Red Sox, Lackey won the clinching Game Six against the St. Louis Cardinals to hand Boston its third World Series victory in less than a decade, and in the process the right-hander became the only pitcher in Major League history to win his team's deciding World Series game with two different teams.

Lackey further burnished his postseason reputation by taking a spot in the starting rotation for the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who went on to win their epic seven-game World Series against the Cleveland Indians for their first world championship since 1908, with Lackey earning his third World Series ring, each with a different team. (Lackey lost his only World Series start against Cleveland.) However, Lackey's reputation as a big-game pitcher, either in the regular- or postseason, is chimerical and deceptive. He may be the Forrest Gump of early-21st-century starting pitchers, doing the right thing in the right place at the right time but more a beneficiary of fortune than a maker of fortune as he was a reliable innings-eater but was considered the staff ace only when the staff ace was not available.

Career highlights: Made one All-Star appearance. Won three World Series rings (each with a different team). Finished in the top five for Cy Young Award voting once. Led the league in earned run average once. Tied for league lead in shutouts three times. Ranks 57th in all-time strikeouts (2294).

Career summary: Joining Anaheim during the 2002 midseason, John Lackey slid into the Angels' starting rotation to post a 9–4 win-loss record with a 3.66 ERA and a 121 ERA+ as the team went into the postseason. Getting the start in Game Seven of the World Series, Lackey pitched five innings of four-hit, one-run ball against the San Francisco Giants as the Angels scored four runs for him by the end of the third inning, enabling Lackey to get the decision and become just the second rookie pitcher ever to start and win a World Series Game Seven. (The first? Babe Adams, for the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates in a six-hit shutout against Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers.)

For the next five seasons, Lackey took a spot in the Angels' regular rotation, starting 33 games and pitching at least 200 innings every year except in 2004, when he started 32 games and pitched 198.1 innings. Apart from 2003, Lackey posted winning seasons with double digits in wins, and by 2005 he had knocked his ERA down to below 4.00.

His 2007 season was a banner year: He won a career-high 19 games against just nine losses while he led the American League in earned run average with 3.01, good for a league-high 150 ERA+. Picked for his only All-Star appearance, Lackey finished third in Cy Young Award voting, behind Cleveland Indians winner CC Sabathia and Boston Red Sox first-runner up Josh Beckett, but the records of all three were fairly interchangeable—Lackey and Sabathia each posted a 6.3 bWAR while Beckett had a 6.5 bWAR—and Lackey could just as easily have been the winner.

Lackey's workload lessened over the next two seasons, although he remained effective enough to become an attractive free agent when he hit the market for the 2010 season. The Red Sox thought enough of Lackey to offer him a five-year, $82.5 million contract, but Lackey was lacking in Boston, particularly in 2011 when, amidst the Red Sox' epic collapse in September, he was castigated for the notorious clubhouse "fried chicken and beerfests" he and other starting pitchers such as Josh Beckett and Jon Lester held during games in which they weren't pitching. Lackey missed all of the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and while his 2013 return was a modest one, he did get the win in the clinching Game Six of Boston's World Series victory against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Fittingly, perhaps, John Lackey was traded to the Cardinals in mid-2014, and by the following season he had rebounded to deliver a career-best 2.77 ERA, yielding a 142 ERA+, while leading the National League in starts (33) as he pitched 218 innings, his first 200-inning year since 2010. Lackey signed a two-year, $32 million contract with the Chicago Cubs for the 2016 season, his age-37 year, and he turned in a solid performance capped by the Cubs' historic World Series win that gave him his third World Series ring, each with a different team. But a mediocre 2017 campaign, which saw Lackey lead the NL in home runs allowed (36)—he ranks 46th all-time in that category with 319—became his final season as he officially retired in 2018.

Verdict: JAWS ranks John Lackey 215th all-time among starting pitchers, just a tick below fellow chicken-and-beer man Josh Beckett, who polled no votes on his only appearance on a BBWAA ballot in 2020. Lackey will experience the same outcome.


 

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.


 

2025 Ballot: Smooth Sailing?

With both Joe Mauer and Chase Utley likely to be carried over from the 2024 BBWAA ballot while en route to Cooperstown, two newly-eligible candidates who are also Hall of Famers-in-waiting but who are also likely to not be voted into the Hall in their first year could start to make the Hall of Fame ballot somewhat crowded.

Of course, both CC Sabathia and especially Ichiro Suzuki could very well reach the 75-percent threshold necessary for Cooperstown election on their inaugural ballot, and if Mauer and Utley join them, the 2025 class for induction will look quite robust.

Of the other five players worthy of consideration but unlikely to even make it past this first ballot, Curtis Granderson, Ian Kinsler, and Brian McCann had fine careers with notable highlights, fitting into the familiar pattern of excellent players getting their nod of recognition for being in the small minority distinguished enough to be saluted but, ultimately, not qualified for the rarefied atmosphere of baseball's elite. As for the other two, Troy Tulowitzki also fits into another familiar pattern, that of the richly talented player whose career was marred by chronic health issues, reducing his playing time and effectiveness and making us ponder what might have been as a hard-luck case.

However, Ben Zobrist, a journeyman for his entire career whose playing record, at least on the surface, hardly suggests a traditional Hall of Famer, does not fit into a familiar pattern: As a "super-sub" whose ability to fill various positions and roles has become the norm for baseball in the last two decades, Zobrist, like the growing prominence of relief pitching, forces us to reconsider what is meant by "Hall-worthy" in a baseball environment that has fundamentally moved away from traditional patterns.

"No-Doubt Hall of Famer, Except . . . ": CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki

Both marquee names throughout their careers, which intersected for a few seasons as teammates on the New York Yankees, starting pitcher CC Sabathia and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki would both seem to be locks for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sabathia earned a reputation as a big-game pitcher while Suzuki, one of the most idiosyncratic baseball players in history, is the most successful Japanese-born MLB player ever, capping his career by joining the vaunted 3000-hit club. Yet both have aspects to their celebrated careers that might give BBWAA voters pause when it comes to checking their boxes on their ballots, as are outlined below. Both seem earmarked to enter the Hall of Fame—but that might not be on this first ballot for both of them.

CC Sabathia

In traditional terms, CC Sabathia checks many of the boxes for a Hall of Fame starting pitcher. He reached the 250-win and 3000-strikeout plateaus, one of only 14 pitchers in Major League history to do so, 13 of whom are in the Hall of Fame, as 24 fewer strikeouts separate Sabathia and first-ballot Hall of Famer Bob Gibson from having identical records in those two categories. Sabathia won a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring, and when he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to Milwaukee to help the Brewers with their postseason push, the intimidating southpaw performed brilliantly down the stretch.

But in a sabermetric era, Sabathia's 3.74 ERA and 116 ERA+ might give Hall voters pause to consider whether his run prevention was elite. After all, Mike Mussina's 3.68 ERA was deemed a factor in delaying his induction into the Hall (as was an impacted ballot), and Jack Morris's 3.90 ERA, which triggered heated debates about how Morris "pitched to the score, not to the stat sheet," was significant enough to deter his election by BBWAA voters, although not by veterans committee voters. Where CC Sabathia lands on this ballot will be fascinating.

Career highlights: Chosen for six All-Star teams. Won a World Series with the 2009 New York Yankees. Won the American League Cy Young Award and finished in the top ten for Cy Young voting overall five times. Finished in the top ten for National League Most Valuable Player voting once. Led the Major Leagues in wins twice, led the American League in games started and in shutouts (tied with other pitchers) twice each, led the Majors in innings pitched and in games started once each, led the AL in complete games once, and led the National League in complete games and in shutouts (tied with teammate Ben Sheets) once each. Had 12 years with 30 or more games started, eight years with 15 or more wins and with 200 or more innings pitched, and three years with 200 or more strikeouts. All-time rankings include 16th in strikeouts (3093), 28th in games started (560), 47th in wins (251), 53rd in bWAR for pitchers (62.0), and 82nd in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (7.78).

Career summary: Bursting into the Major Leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 2001, his age-20 year, Carsten Charles Sabathia won 17 games against just five losses, a .773 win-loss percentage, as he struck out 171 in 180.1 innings pitched and would have been the American League Rookie of the Year were it not for the Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki and his historic season. Two years later, Sabathia was named to the first of six All-Star teams as the hulking left-hander developed into the Indians' workhorse, starting at least 30 games every season and pitching at least 190 innings in all but one season during the seven full seasons he pitched for the Indians.

Sabathia capped his Cleveland career with a Cy Young Award in 2007 as in 34 starts and 241.0 innings pitched, both career highs, he won 19 games against just seven losses, a sparkling win-loss percentage of .731, while striking out 209 hitters and walking just 37 for a Major League-leading 5.65 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, another career high. Competition for the AL Cy Young was fierce, and it was essentially a toss-up among Sabathia, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Sabathia's teammate Roberto Hernandez, all of whom fell into a bWAR range from 6.2 to 6.5, although BBWAA voters awarded Sabathia 19 of 28 first-place votes.

Sabathia's worth was proved the following season. The Indians, out of playoff contention in 2008 after having lost the 2007 American League Championship Series to the Boston Red Sox in seven games after having taken a 3–1 lead in the series, traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers, who were in contention for the postseason and needed an ace pitcher for the push. Sabathia came through in the clutch: In 17 starts for the Brewers, he won 11 games, lost only two, posted a superb 1.65 ERA, and even managed to lead the National League in complete games (7). In fact, Sabathia managed to tie for the league lead in shutouts in both the AL (3) and the NL (3, tied with teammate Ben Sheets) as his 251 total strikeouts were a career high.

For the 2009 season, Sabathia had signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with the New York Yankees, at the time the largest pitcher contract in MLB history. Again Sabathia proved himself a big-game pitcher with a Major League-leading 19 wins and just eight losses with a 3.37 ERA as he started 34 games and pitched 230.0 innings while falling three K's shy of 200 strikeouts. He finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting, but more importantly, he helped lead the Yankees to their first World Series victory in nine years (that's a lifetime for Yankees fans). Even more crucially, Sabathia, who had struggled in the postseason previously, was named the AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player as he won two games with a combined 1.13 ERA against the Los Angeles Angels on his way to winning his only World Series ring.

CC Sabathia

Like so many before him, workhorse starter CC Sabathia's stint with the New York Yankees provided the pinnacle to his Hall of Fame career.

In 2010, Sabathia was even better, again leading the Majors in wins (21) while losing just seven with a 3.18 ERA as he finished third in AL Cy Young voting. Significantly, the winner, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners, posted a middling 13–12 win-loss record, but he struck out 232 batters while brandishing a 174 ERA+ and a Major League-leading 2.27 ERA—proof that sabermetric analysis was surely eclipsing more traditional measures.

Still, Sabathia was strong no matter how you evaluated his performance. In his first four seasons in New York, his age-28 through his age-31 years, he recorded a 3.22 ERA, a 135 ERA+, and a 3.28 FIP as he averaged, per year, 32 games started, two complete games, 18 wins against just seven losses, 226 innings pitched, and 205 strikeouts. In three of four years, he was selected for an All-Star squad and finished in the top five for Cy Young voting.

But by 2013, injuries began to weaken Sabathia's performance as that season saw his ERA mushroom to 4.78 while marking the last time he would pitch at least 200 innings, ending a streak of seven straight seasons with 200 or more innings pitched. Sabathia continued to amass career milestones including 500 games started, 3500 innings pitched, and of course, in his final season in 2019, 250 wins and 3000 strikeouts. However, in Game Four of the 2019 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, he had to be taken out from a relief appearance by a shoulder injury as CC Sabathia pitched until he could pitch no more.

Verdict: JAWS ranks CC Sabathia 71st all-time among starting pitchers, which puts him just above Hall of Famers Don Sutton and Early Wynn, with fellow southpaws Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford below them. Sabathia is probably not going to be elected in his first year of eligibility. He has already been described as equivalent to Andy Pettitte, who, as of 2020, has secured just 11.3 percent of the vote in two ballots with a JAWS score and overall bWAR rating just below Sabathia's—and Pettitte has a much stronger postseason legacy than does Sabathia. Ironically, though, Sabathia's old-school approach and traditional milestones of legacy could make his path to Cooperstown a smoother one. CC Sabathia should be making his induction speech before the decade of the 2020s closes.

Ichiro Suzuki

If nothing else, Ichiro Suzuki is unique among any Hall of Fame candidate in Major League Baseball history. Among the first Japanese position players ever to play MLB baseball, Suzuki is the only one to have thrived for any significant amount of time, particularly after entering American baseball in his age-27 year following his nine-year tenure in Nippon Professional Baseball, where he established himself as a superstar. Exploding onto the American baseball scene in 2001, Suzuki's idiosyncratic mode of play—precision place-hitting that took advantage of his speed—was more in line with the "hit 'em where they ain't" approach of Willie Keeler from a century earlier, and hardly the norm in a period in which hitters were swinging for the fences during every at-bat, strikeouts be damned.

It paid off in spades for Ichiro, who, despite his disdain for hitting for power, demonstrated right off the bat that he was more than willing to deploy the other four tools—running, throwing, fielding, and hitting for average—in the five-tool kitbag. After breaking the 84-year-old record for the most hits in a single season in 2004, Suzuki went on to amass 3000 hits by 2016 to join that prestigious club, practically a golden ticket to the Hall of Fame. Alas, herein lies the rub: Despite a remarkable decade-long run beginning with his (MLB) rookie year, Suzuki stopped being an elite player by 2011, his age-37 season, as his OPS+ fell to 86, below league-average. Yet he hung on grimly for another eight years as a part-time, substitute player, one who, save for his 2016 season, never again rose above league-average. How this will affect voters is another fascinating question.

Career highlights: Selected to the All-Star team in ten consecutive years. Voted the American League Rookie of the Year. Voted the American League Most Valuable Player; finished in the top ten for MVP voting four times total; became only the second player ever to be named MVP and Rookie of the Year. Won ten consecutive Gold Glove Awards. Won three Silver Slugger Awards. Led the AL in hits seven times, including a record 262 hits in 2004; led the AL in batting twice and in stolen bases once. Had ten consecutive years with 200 or more hits; had ten years with 30 or more stolen bases, eight of them consecutively; had eight consecutive years with 100 or more runs scored. Had ten consecutive years with a batting average of .300 or better, and four years with a batting average of .350 or better. Ranks 6th all-time in singles (2514), 24th all-time in hits (3089), 35th all-time in stolen bases (509), 90th all-time in runs scored (1420).

Career summary: Arriving in the United States amidst tremendous anticipation in 2001, Ichiro Suzuki did not disappoint anyone: Installed in right field for the Seattle Mariners, he merely led the American League in batting average (.350) and the Major Leagues in hits (242) and stolen bases (56), that last a career high as he established career bests for doubles (34), runs scored (127), and runs batted in (69); meanwhile, the season was just about one week old when the Oakland Athletics' Terrence Long learned not to take an extra base on Suzuki's rifle arm, which gunned him down trying to go first-to-third.

In his first year in the American Major Leagues, Ichiro replicated a feat accomplished only once previously, in 1975 by Fred Lynn of the Boston Red Sox: Suzuki was not only named to the AL All-Star team, he won awards for being the AL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player along with the first of ten consecutive Gold Gloves—and then Suzuki topped Lynn by winning a Silver Slugger Award. (In fairness, the Silver Slugger was first instituted in 1980, and Lynn, who had led the AL in doubles and slugging percentage, would most likely have been awarded a Silver Slugger had it existed in 1975.)

Oh, and the Mariners didn't do too badly, either, as their 116 regular-season wins set the new AL mark and tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most team wins all-time. Suzuki continued his sizzling pace into the postseason, batting .600 and scoring four runs in Seattle's five-game victory over CC Sabathia's Cleveland Indians. However, the New York Yankees cooled Suzuki's and the Mariners' jets in the American League Championship Series by holding Suzuki to just four hits in their five-game defeat of Seattle.

Although the Mariners have yet to make the postseason since 2001, Ichiro went on to become one of Seattle's most distinguished players, impressive when you consider that Hall of Famers Ken Griffey, Jr. and Edgar Martinez were his teammates while the memories of Álex Rodríguez and Hall of Famer Randy Johnson remained bright when he arrived—although Suzuki managed to make Johnson's uniform number, 51, all his own. Suzuki also made all his own ten straight years with at least 200 hits, the longest streak in baseball history, a batting average of .300 or better, an annual All-Star Game selection, and an annual Gold Glove Award. His 54.8 bWAR over this decade-long stretch averaged 5.5 bWAR annually, which is at the All-Star level.

In 2004, Suzuki broke Hall of Famer George Sisler's 84-year-old record of 257 hits in a single season by five hits, which at the time sparked asterisk-like debate as Sisler set his record in a 154-game season while Ichiro had a 162-game season. Suzuki also led the Majors in batting average with .372, tied for the seventh-highest batting average for any hitter in the Integration Era (since 1947), and the highest qualified batting average so far in the 21st century. (Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton both hit .372 in 2000, but that is technically the last year of the 20th century.)

Ichiro Suzuki

Ups and downs. Was Ichiro Suzuki's stellar decade with the Seattle Mariners enough for the Hall of Fame? Did he need to reach 3000 hits?

Then came 2011, Ichiro's age-37 year, which saw the left-handed hitter's batting average drop to .272, with his entire slash line reading .272/.310/.335/.645 and generating an OPS+ of 86. Suzuki's bWAR for the year was 0.6. His 2012 season saw marginal improvements due primarily to his mid-season trade to the New York Yankees as in 67 games and 240 plate appearances he produced a .322/.340/.454/.794 slash line, good for a 113 OPS+, as the Yankees made it into the postseason, but even though Ichiro flashed a .353/.389/.529/.918 slash line with one home run and two RBI in the AL Championship Series, New York's four-game sweep by the Detroit Tigers spelled the last chance for Suzuki to play in the World Series.

Suzuki returned to the Yankees for two more seasons before playing with the Miami Marlins for three years starting in 2015, and while he scratched his way to league-average (102 OPS+) with the 95 hits he collected to push him into the 3000-hit club in 2016 (and the ten bases he stole to push him into the 500-theft club), it was a sad, grim spectacle seeing Suzuki, now superannuated in his early forties, a part-time vestige still hanging on even after he attained his milestone. Suzuki himself knew it: In mid-2012, he had asked to be traded, knowing that he was taking a roster spot better suited to a younger player in Seattle's rebuilding program. So why did Ichiro feel compelled to hang around?

In 2012, his age-37 year, I first wrote about Suzuki and his chances for the Hall of Fame at that time. At 2244 hits and 54.8 bWAR, he was a borderline pick light on volume but with that ten-year streak unmatched by anyone since the deadball era, weirdly anachronistic in and of itself. Then, before the 2016 season began, as Ichiro was closing in on 3000 hits, I wondered if he was the real Mr. 3000 and whether he needed to reach 3000 hits to reach the Hall of Fame. He had come off a season that saw him hit just .229 in 438 plate appearances; he had never worked walks and, at that point, probably couldn't hit for power even if he wanted to—his slugging percentage was .279, three points lower than his on-base percentage, generating an OPS+ of 58, which would spell "designated for assignment" for any player, especially a 41-year-old, were they not named Ichiro Suzuki.

Verdict: JAWS ranks Ichiro Suzuki 16th all-time among right fielders, which puts him ahead of Dave Winfield and Vladimir Guerrero, who needed two shots at being elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018, albeit on an impacted ballot. On the other hand, 10th-ranked Larry Walker encountered continual resistance before he squeaked in on his final ballot. Moreover, Dwight Evans and Reggie Smith, who flank Suzuki at 15th- and 17th-place, respectively, made hardly a blip on BBWAA ballots back in their day, although Evans made an encouraging showing on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot.

The greatest Japanese baseball player, bar none, in Major League Baseball history will nevertheless find himself under scrutiny certainly for hanging around too long, and possibly for not fitting the mold of the contemporary metric-aware hitter. Ichiro looked great when he was hitting well above .300, but when his batting average went south, it took the rest of his slash line with it, making him look in need of a replacement player. The first ten years of his career produced 54.8 bWAR; the last nine years yielded 4.9 bWAR. Thus, it is likely that Ichiro Suzuki will hang around on the BBWAA ballot for some indeterminate time, but in time he will find himself in Cooperstown.

One and Done: Curtis Granderson, Ian Kinsler, Brian McCann, Ben Zobrist

All four of these players attained distinction enough to merit their consideration for a Hall of Fame ballot, yet all four are likely not to survive their first appearance on a BBWAA ballot. Center fielder Curtis Granderson combined power, speed, and defense in sufficient quantities to serve as a lineup fixture for several teams, but his career was not exceptional enough to warrant extended consideration. Ian Kinsler was an excellent, and sometimes overlooked, second baseman on both sides of the ball, but although he was solid and consistent throughout his career, he doesn't emerge as one of the best second basemen of all time. A throwback to the old hard-slugging, base-clogging catchers of yore, Brian McCann was recognized as an excellent offensive catcher during his career, but he too doesn't rise up to Hall of Fame levels.

And while Ben Zobrist is unlikely to impress voters as a traditional second baseman, his entire career as a "super-utility player" underscores how much baseball has changed in the last two decades or so as rosters evolved to add pitchers at the expense of position players, forcing the latter to become more flexible and more proficient at other positions—a situation in which Zobrist thrived. In turn, his career forces a reappraisal of how we perceive Hall of Fame worthiness.

Curtis Granderson

In his 16-year career, center fielder Curtis Granderson played for nine teams, truly a journeyman who could provide solid defense, get on base, and hit for power. Every few seasons, the left-handed hitter provided a different surprise, although the one constant was his high strikeout rate as he hit triple digits in whiffs 12 times including an American League-leading 174 in 2006; his 1916 career punch-outs are tenth all-time. Granderson did hit 23 triples in 2007, tied for 22nd all-time and is the best single-season mark in the Integrated Era.

Career highlights: Chosen for three All-Star teams. Finished in the top ten for American League Most Valuable Player voting twice. Appeared in two World Series, once each with a different team. Led the league in triples twice, and runs scored, runs batted in, and strikeouts once each. Joined the 20-20-20-20 club by hitting at least 20 doubles, triples, and home runs and by stealing at least 20 bases in a single season. Had six years with at least 25 home runs. Had four years with at least 100 runs scored. Had three years each with at least 30 doubles, with at least 10 triples, and with at least 20 stolen bases. Had two years with at least 100 runs batted in.

Career summary: Drafted by the Detroit Tigers, Curtis Granderson made his debut in 2004 and by 2006 he was the Tigers' starting center fielder, conspicuously leading the American League in strikeouts (174) although he did slug 13 triples and 19 home runs while scoring 90 runs as the Tigers went to the World Series.

In 2007, "The Grandy Man" put a "20" across four offensive categories when he hit 38 doubles, a Major League-leading 23 triples, 23 home runs, and stole 26 bases, becoming just the third hitter in MLB history to reach at least 20 in those categories; coincidentally, Jimmy Rollins joined that club three weeks after Granderson as both were the first to do so since Willie Mays a half-century earlier. Granderson also established career highs in hits (185) and batting average (.302). Granderson again led the AL in triples (13) in 2008, and the following season he slugged 30 home runs, the first of four seasons with 30 or more long balls as he made the first of three AL All-Star teams.

Traded to the New York Yankees for the 2010 season, Granderson made a fair showing with 24 home runs and 76 runs scored, but with 41 home runs the next year, he blossomed in the Big Apple by leading the Majors in runs scored (136) and the AL in runs driven (119), both career bests, as were his .552 slugging percentage, .916 OPS, and 142 OPS+, and in addition to being named to the AL All-Star squad, he finished fourth in voting for AL Most Valuable Player. Although Granderson's batting average dropped 30 points in 2012, to .232, he still slugged a career-high 43 home runs while scoring 102 runs and driving in 106 runs on his way to his third All-Star appearance.

Hampered by injuries stemming from two separate hit-by-pitch incidents, Granderson played just 61 games in 2013, his age-32 season, and after the Yankees granted him free agency, he moved across town to a four-year, $60 million deal with the Mets. He also moved over to right field, an indication of his decline phase, although in three full years with the Mets, he averaged, per year, 28 doubles, 25 home runs, 86 runs scored, 65 RBI, eight stolen bases, and a 116 OPS+. Traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers late in the 2017 season, Granderson helped the Dodgers for their pennant drive but did not make the postseason roster. Then, facing his age-37 season in 2018, Granderson split time with three clubs before announcing his retirement after the 2019 season.

Verdict: Curtis Granderson was a fine power-speed offensive player throughout his career, hitting 346 doubles, 95 triples, and 344 home runs (tied for 98th all-time with Jose Bautista), stealing 153 bases, and scoring 1217 runs as he batted leadoff for most of his career. He also gets a defensive boost from starting 1166 games in center field with a 3.5 dWAR and 25 defensive runs saved, although his defensive runs above average is minus-24. JAWS ranks Granderson 33rd all-time among center fielders, just a tick above Torii Hunter, and he will not return for any subsequent ballots.

Ian Kinsler

Overcoming asthma to thrive as a Major League second baseman, Ian Kinsler was solid offensively and excellent defensively during his 14-year career, spent primarily with the Texas Rangers, although he was with the Boston Red Sox when they won the 2018 World Series. Kinsler is one of twelve Major Leaguers to have joined the 30-30 Club—hitting at least 30 home runs and stealing at least 30 bases—more than once.

Career highlights: Selected to four All-Star teams. Won a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox in 2018; played in three World Series overall. Won two Gold Glove Awards. Had seven years with 150 or more hits, six of those consecutively, and seven years with 30 or more doubles, five of those consecutively. Had three years with 25 or more home runs. Had 30 or more home runs and 30 or more stolen bases in the same season twice.

Career summary: In his very first Major League at-bat to start the 2006 season with the Texas Rangers, Ian Kinsler got off to an auspicious start: he singled off Boston Red Sox legend Curt Schilling. In 120 games and 474 plate appearances, the right-handed hitter posted a respectable .286/.347/.454/.801 slash line, generating a 105 OPS+, with 27 doubles, 14 home runs (his first coming just two games after his knock off Schilling), 11 stolen bases, 65 runs scored, and 55 runs driven in for his rookie season.

Kinsler spent his first eight seasons in Texas, establishing his reputation as an outstanding two-way second baseman highlighted by two 30-30 seasons: 2009, when he hit 31 home runs and stole a career-high 31 bases, and 2011, when he slugged a career-high 32 long balls and swiped 30 bags, becoming the twelfth player in Major League history to have multiple 30-30 seasons. From 2006 to 2013, Kinsler posted a .273/.349/.454/.804 slash line, generating a 111 OPS+ and 4.4 bWAR, as he averaged, per year, 143 hits, 31 doubles, 20 home runs, 22 stolen bases, 94 runs scored, and 67 RBI.

The knock on Kinsler was a tendency toward injury as he averaged 133 games played per season. Still, he was named to three All-Star teams during his Texas tenure—and grumblings among media and baseball insiders indicated that the sure-handed second baseman, who recorded 39 defensive runs above average and 49 defensive runs saved over eight years, should have been named to more All-Star squads.

Moreover, Kinsler's stock was so robust that the Rangers brokered a straight-up trade with the Detroit Tigers for their slugging first baseman Prince Fielder, who had already joined the 50-home-run club, for the 2014 season, Kinsler's age-32 year. He responded to the change of scenery with career highs in games played (161), plate appearances (176), and at-bats (684), leading the Major Leagues in the last two categories, with more career bests in hits (188) and runs batted in (92) as he was named an All-Star for the fourth time. Kinsler continued to be solid for the Tigers, winning his first Gold Glove in 2016, his age-34 year, but he began to slip offensively as his .236 batting average was the lowest of his career, and he fell below league-average (as measured by OPS+) for just the second time.

The Tigers traded Kinsler to the Los Angeles Angels for the 2018 season, and by the trade deadline he was on the move cross-country to the Boston Red Sox to shore up their infield for their postseason push, which saw the Sox win the World Series for the fourth time since 2004—albeit with subsequent allegations of sign-stealing—as Kinsler, who had been with Texas when they lost back-to-back Series in 2010 and 2011, respectively, won his only World Series ring. Kinsler's final season, 2019, his age-37 year, was with the San Diego Padres, and a neck injury ended it prematurely. In his final game, an August home game that saw the Tampa Bay Rays routing San Diego by a 10–2 score, he pitched a scoreless top of the ninth inning—albeit after giving up two walks, a hit, and a hit by pitch, with a double play tucked in between—then hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning. It was his 1999th hit.

Verdict: Ian Kinsler fell one hit shy of 2000 career hits, and without sounding glib or mean, he also falls just short of the Hall of Fame. JAWS does rank Kinsler 18th all-time among second basemen, a tick ahead of Hall of Famer Billy Herman and below Joe Gordon. Kinsler is practically even with Jeff Kent in overall bWAR, and whether Kent, whose final year on the ballot will be 2023, is voted into the Hall could impact Kinsler's chances. Kinsler was overlooked and underappreciated for much of his career, which cuts both ways: He was an excellent performer but not a literally outstanding one, a seasonal league-leader in a significant offensive category or a career leader in a traditional volume or an advanced rate category. Like Adrián González or Matt Holliday, Ian Kinsler belongs in the Hall of Very Good.

Brian McCann

In many ways a throwback to earlier eras, Brian McCann was an old-school catcher, slow-footed on the basepaths while slugging the ball and driving in runs. The left-handed hitter was also durable over his 15-year career, with ten of those years spent with the Atlanta Braves, as he played in at least 100 games for eleven consecutive seasons. His veteran presence contributed to the Houston Astros' 2017 World Series championship, although their notorious sign-stealing scandal has tainted that accomplishment, and whether those reverberations will continue to ripple when Brian McCann hits this ballot is an open question.

Career highlights: Selected for seven All-Star teams. Won a World Series championship in 2017 with the Houston Astros. Won six Silver Slugger Awards. Had ten years with 20 or more home runs, nine of them consecutively, six consecutive years with 120 or more hits, five consecutive years with 25 or more doubles, and five years with 85 or more runs batted in, four of them consecutively. Played in at least 100 games for eleven consecutive years, and started at least 100 games at catcher for nine seasons, seven of them consecutively.

Career summary: Debuting with the Atlanta Braves in 2005, his age-21 year, Brian McCann served as Hall of Famer John Smoltz's personal catcher in limited service before becoming the Braves' starting catcher the following year. McCann blossomed in his first full year, banging out a .333/.388/.572/.961 slash line, generating a career-best 143 OPS+, as he slugged 34 doubles and 24 home runs while knocking in 93 runs to garner his first All-Star nod and his first Silver Slugger Award.

That 2006 season ushered in a streak of durability and consistency that lasted eleven years, eight of them with the Braves, and three of them with the New York Yankees. From 2006, McCann's age-22 year, to 2016, he posted a .266/.340/.461/.801 slash line, good for a 113 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 122 hits, 24 doubles, 22 home runs, 57 runs scored, and 79 RBI. McCann was better in his first six years, as he hit .270 or better in five of those seasons—just missing that mark by one point in 2010—which is not surprising for one who straps on the catcher's "tools of ignorance" on a full-time basis, and for seven consecutive years, from 2006 to 2012, McCann started at least 100 games behind the plate. In six of those years, he went to the All-Star Game, and in five of them, he won a Silver Slugger Award.

Brian McCann had to produce offensively because as a defensive catcher he was a liability. In 2009, he led the National League in passed balls (7) and the Major Leagues in errors by a catcher (12), and over his career he allowed 897 baserunners to steal a base off him, with a career high of 104 in 2011, while throwing out just 297 baserunners for a career average of 25 percent, three points lower than the league average during his playing days. As a catcher, McCann finished with a minus-two in defensive runs above average, although he does have 18 defensive runs saved at the position.

For the 2014 season, McCann signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the New York Yankees as he hit 23 home runs and knocked in 75 runs in his first season in the Bronx. He topped himself the following year with a career-high 26 long balls while matching his season-best mark in RBI with 94. But by 2016, the Yankees were eager to test Gary Sanchez behind the plate, slotting McCann into the designated-hitter spot, and by 2017 he had been traded to the Houston Astros.

In limited action, McCann smacked 18 homers and drove in 62 runs in his contribution to the Astros' successful run to their first World Series victory; he hit two RBI doubles against his old team the Yankees in Games Six and Seven of the American League Championship Series, and he was the Astros' starting catcher in all seven World Series games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting a key home run against them in Game Five. By 2018, his age-34 year, McCann was officially a part-time player, and after a valedictory stint with the Braves, he retired.

Verdict: Ranked 32nd by JAWS, Brian McCann is ahead of only Rick Ferrell on the all-time list of catchers inducted into the Hall of Fame for their playing records. Among catchers in the Hall, McCann's dWAR of 7.7 is better than that of Ernie Lombardi, Mike Piazza, and Ted Simmons, but as a backstop better known for his hitting ability, McCann's oWAR cannot match theirs. Another strike against McCann is his membership on the 2017 Houston Astros and any involvement he might have had in their sign-stealing scandal; Astros' teammate Carlos Beltrán's treatment after his 2023 debut on a BBWAA ballot might provide some insight into how much weight the scandal plays on voters' decisions. But even without that complication, Brian McCann is unlikely to survive more than one appearance on a Hall of Fame ballot.

Ben Zobrist

Possessing a number of amazingly useful tools, Ben Zobrist became, in a number of ways, the face of contemporary baseball—and possibly a face of the modern Hall of Famer. The switch-hitter started at least 100 Major League games at four positions, most frequently at second base, and in his 14-career he had started at least one game at every position on the diamond, including designated hitter, except at catcher and pitcher—and he did eventually pitch one inning late in his career. Gaining notice as a key cog in manager Joe Maddon's unorthodox Tampa Bay Rays teams of the 2000s, and again with Maddon while with the Chicago Cubs during their historic 2016 season, Ben Zobrist epitomized the "super-utility man" integral to lineups and positioning considerably more fluid than in more traditional baseball eras.

Career highlights: Selected to three All-Star teams. Participated in three World Series, with three different teams, winning back-to-back world championships with the Kansas City Royals in 2015 and with the Chicago Cubs in 2016; was named the Most Valuable Player in that 2016 World Series. Finished in the top ten for MVP voting once. Led the Major Leagues in sacrifice flies once. Had nine years with 25 or more doubles, eight of them consecutively. Had four consecutive years with 150 or more hits. Had four years with 90 or more walks, and three years with 90 or more runs scored.

Career summary: Ben Zobrist didn't reach the Major Leagues until 2006, his age-25 season, and when he did, he spent three undistinguished years as a backup shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays (known as the Devil Rays until 2008).

But in 2009, "Zorilla" broke into the starting lineup in a big way, posting in 599 plate appearances a .297/.405/.543/.948 slash line, good for a career-high 149 OPS+ (his slash line save for batting average also comprised career-bests), as he slugged 28 doubles and a career-best 27 home runs while scoring 91 runs and driving in 91 runs, another personal best. He was named to his first All-Star team while finishing eighth in voting for the American League Most Valuable Player—and all this after Zobrist, starting 81 games at second base and 37 games in right field, started at least one game at six other positions. Moreover, Zobrist's 8.6 bWAR, another career-best, was tops among AL position players and was the third-highest among all players in MLB.

After a sophomore slump in 2010, which saw him dip to below league-average in OPS+, the only season he did so while qualified for league-leadership in an offensive category, Zobrist recovered to become a reliable fixture in the Rays' lineup. For a six-year stretch, from 2009 to 2014, Zobrist put up a .270/.364/.437/.801 slash line, generating a 123 OPS+, while averaging, per year, 153 games played, 658 plate appearances, 152 hits, 35 doubles, 16 home runs, 86 runs scored, 76 runs knocked in, 84 walks, 16 stolen bases, and 6.0 bWAR, above All-Star grade. In 2011, he matched his career high in RBI (91) while slugging 46 doubles, his best mark in that category. Other personal bests include 168 hits in 2013 and 24 stolen bases in 2010.

Traded to the Oakland Athletics in 2015, his age-34 year, Zobrist also experienced his first significant knee injury, as he played in just 126 games overall. However, he was dealt to the Kansas City Royals at the July trade deadline and helped to guide them into the postseason, culminating with the Royals' second-ever world championship against the New York Mets. Zobrist started every postseason game at second base and hit two home runs against the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series.

Reuniting with Joe Maddon, his Tampa Bay manager, in 2016, Zobrist signed with the Chicago Cubs for $56 million over four years, helping the Cubs to their historic postseason. He was undistinguished in the National League Division and Championship Series, but in the epic seven-game World Series against the Cleveland Indians, which saw the Cubs win their first world championship since 1908—the longest drought between World Series victories in Major League history—Zobrist came alive, banging out ten hits, including two doubles and a triple, while scoring five runs and driving in two runs, with a .357/.419/.500/.919 slash line. Zobrist capped his second World Series victory by being named the World Series MVP.

Ben Zobrist

Uber-utility player Ben Zobrist. Does his unusual yet distinctive career indicate what future Hall of Fame players will look like from now on?

Ben Zobrist played out his four-year term in Chicago and even batted a career-best .305 in 520 plate appearances in 2018, his age-37 year, but after limited playing time in 2019, he announced his retirement prior to the 2020 season.

Verdict: JAWS ranks Ben Zobrist 25th all-time among second basemen, and although he played half of his defensive games at second, JAWS doesn't tell the whole Zobrist story (although the bWAR used to calculate JAWS does not segregate WAR value by position). Zobrist's 44.5 bWAR is below that of most non-catcher position players in the Hall of Fame, but he is not a typical position player, and he would not be a typical Hall of Famer. Hampering Zobrist further is that he didn't debut in the Major Leagues until his age-25 year, and he didn't become a full-time player until his age-28 year, and with a negligible final season, his effective career was ten years—which makes his 44.5 bWAR look more impressive, if not necessarily convincing.

Baseball has changed significantly in the last few decades, with the emphasis on large bullpens reducing the number of position-player slots on the roster, in turn compelling position players to be competent at more than one position. Ben Zobrist provided the model for that super-utility player able to step into multiple positions and deliver offensively and defensively. Whether that is Hall of Fame-worthy is debatable, and Zobrist deserves to stay on the ballot for several more balloting rounds in order to facilitate that debate. That is up to BBWAA voters to decide.

Hard Luck: Troy Tulowitzki

Runner-up to Ryan Braun in 2007 voting for National League Rookie of the Year, Troy Tulowitzki, in his age-22 year, looked to be the heir to Cal Ripken, Jr., Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodríguez as an excellent defensive shortstop who could also swing the lumber in the middle of the batting order. The rangy right-hander quickly became a star for the Colorado Rockies, making five National League All-Star squads and finishing in the top ten for NL Most Valuable Player voting three times. But starting in 2008, Tulowitzki began the first of several stints on the injury list that limited his playing time throughout his 13-year career.

Career highlights: Selected to five All-Star teams. Runner-up for 2007 National League Rookie of the Year Award. Finished in the top ten for Most Valuable Player voting three times. Won two Gold Glove and Two Silver Slugger Awards each. Had six years with 25 or more doubles, four years each with 25 or more home runs and with 90 or more runs batted in, three years with 160 or more hits, and two years with 100 or more runs scored.

Career summary: Picked seventh overall by the Colorado Rockies in the 2005 draft, Troy Tulowitzki played just 126 games in the minor leagues before getting the September call-up to the big-league team in 2006, although a knee injury that year offered a portent of his career to come. Nevertheless, "Tulo" made an auspicious entrance as the Rockies' shortstop in 2007 as in 682 plate appearances, which would remain his career high, he tattooed a .291/.359/.479/.838 slash line, generating a 109 OPS+, with 33 doubles and 24 home runs among his career-best 177 hits while scoring a career-high 104 runs and missing the century mark in RBI by one.

The Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun just eked past Tulowitzki for National League Rookie of the Year honors, 128 points to 126, although the Colorado shortstop had a 6.8 bWAR, another career best, to Braun's 2.0 bWAR. Tulowitzki also established himself as a Gold Glove-caliber fielder, leading all Major League shortstops in putouts (262), total chances (834), double plays turned (114), fielding percentage (.987; all-time best by a rookie shortstop), and range factor (5.39), although the actual Gold Glove went to the Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins in his Most Valuable Player year. Tulowitzki's heroics continued into the Rockies' postseason as he had four hits, three for extra bases, in the thrilling NL wild card tie-breaking game against the San Diego Padres that Colorado won in extra innings, sending them all the way to the World Series, where they were swept by the Boston Red Sox.

It's tempting to say that it was all downhill for Tulowitzki after that because injuries limited him to 101 games in his 2008 campaign, but he did rebound the following season. In fact, his three-year span from 2009 to 2011 demonstrated what a healthy Troy Tulowitzki could contribute: In that period, he slammed out a sizzling .304/.376/.554/.931 slash line, generating a 133 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 139 games played, 588 plate appearances, 157 hits, 31 doubles, 30 home runs, 90 runs scored, 97 RBI, 13 stolen bases, and 6.5 bWAR. Defensively, he totaled 39 defensive runs above average and 44 defensive runs saved over those three years, generating 6.9 dWAR overall. He finished in the top ten for MVP voting in all three years, and in 2010 and 2011, he was chosen for the NL All-Star team while winning both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award.

Troy Tulowitzki

Set to be another super-shortstop in the Cal Ripken, Jr., mold, Troy Tulowitzki's injury-riddled career scuttled his chances for the Hall of Fame.

Yes, Tulo played in Colorado, and his home-road splits reflect that Coors Field boost, although he did close the gap in each of the last two years. Moreover, three years is impressive but not definitive. A groin injury halted his 2012 season after just 47 games, although he did return in 2013, his age-28 year, to play 126 games and hit .312 with 25 home runs and 82 RBI and another All-Star appearance. His 2014 campaign was off to a strong start until a hip injury sidelined him after 91 games, which didn't keep him from being named to the All-Star squad as he posted a torrid .340/.432/.603/.1.035 slash line with 107 hits, 18 doubles, and 21 long flies in 375 plate appearances.

A contentious trade-deadline deal to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015 did put Tulowitzki on a playoff contender, and he helped to put Toronto into the postseason again in 2016, his last full season in the Majors, and while he produced at the league-average level, measured by his 102 OPS+, he did hit 24 home runs to push him past the 200 mark. Moreover, he batted a scorching .462 in the Blue Jays' three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series, driving in five runs while slugging a triple and a home run. But by 2017, injuries kept Tulowitzki to just 66 games, and after missing all of 2018 and an abortive five-game stint with the New York Yankees in 2019, Troy Tulowitzki was finished in Major League baseball.

Verdict: Ranked 26th all-time by JAWS among shortstops, Troy Tulowitzki is just three places behind Nomar Garciaparra, which is appropriate since each had tremendous promise that just couldn't pan out over a long career. Garciaparra survived his initial ballot appearance, only to fall off in his second year in 2016, in a period of impacted ballots. Tulowitzki is not likely to experience the same ballot logjam, but whether he can survive, let alone garner the 75 percent needed for induction, is doubtful. For different reasons, Tulowitzki's case echoes that of Tim Lincecum, a phenom who flamed out early as both hard-luck cases illustrate just how hard it is to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.




Appendix: Player Statistics

This section contains career statistics for all the player-candidates eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame between 2021 and 2025 who have been profiled in this article.

The statistics have been broken out separately for position players, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers, in that order. All three candidate sections contain tables listing statistics for player value (Hall of Fame statistics), longevity (volume or quantitative statistics), effectiveness (rate or qualitative statistics), and recognition (awards and leaderboard statistics); the relief-pitcher section contains an additional effectiveness table for statistics more specific to a reliever's closely-defined role.

Beneath the first instance of each table are descriptions of the statistics listed in the table. Those descriptions are not repeated in subsequent tables although any new statistics are described. Note: Standard or traditional statistics and their common abbreviations (for example, HR for home runs) are not defined. Readers who have come this far are assumed to know these already.

Position Players Eligible 2021 to 2025


The table below details the Hall of Fame statistics (explained in the legend beneath the table) for the notable position players expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by bWAR.

Hall of Fame Statistics for Position Players on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Pos.

Debut Year

fWAR

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank*

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

Rodriguez, Alex

SS

2022

113.7

117.8

64.3

91.0

2

390

76

Beltré, Adrián

3B

2024

84.1

93.6

48.7

71.2

4

163

55

Beltran, Carlos

CF

2023

67.9

69.6

44.4

57.0

9

126

52

Utley, Chase

2B

2024

62.9

65.4

49.3

57.3

9

94

36

Suzuki, Ichiro

RF

2025

57.8

59.4

43.7

51.5

17

234

44

Ortiz, David +

DH/1B

2022

51.0

55.3

35.2

45.2

29

171

55

Kinsler, Ian

2B

2025

47.7

55.2

38.1

46.6

18

66

35

Mauer, Joe

C

2024

52.5

55.0

39.0

47.0

8

92

41

Teixeira, Mark

1B

2022

44.8

51.8

38.0

44.9

30

108

33

Wright, David

3B

2024

52.0

50.4

40.2

45.3

23

74

36

Hunter, Torii

CF

2021

43.0

50.1

30.8

40.4

34

58

34

Granderson, Curtis

CF

2025

47.6

47.0

34.7

40.9

33

60

28

Rollins, Jimmy

SS

2022

49.4

46.3

32.4

39.3

32

121

42

Holliday, Matt

LF

2024

49.7

44.8

34.3

39.6

34

110

41

Zobrist, Ben

2B

2025

44.4

44.5

39.6

42.1

25

22

23

Tulowitzki, Troy

SS

2025

38.2

44.1

40.3

42.2

26

46

35

Gonzalez, Adrian

1B

2024

36.4

42.2

33.8

38.0

43

90

31

Crawford, Carl

LF

2022

41.5

39.2

32.3

35.8

43

52

22

Bautista, Jose

RF

2024

35.6

35.9

37.8

36.8

48

78

27

McCann, Brian

C

2025

54.5

31.8

24.4

28.1

32

84

35

Fielder, Prince

1B

2022

27.5

23.6

24.4

24.0

99

85

27

Howard, Ryan

1B

2022

19.6

15.0

19.2

17.1

140

98

25


+ Ranked by JAWS as first baseman.

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. (*) In this table, JAWS rank is for the player at his primary position only and is not a ranking of all position players.

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.


The table below details the volume statistics, or the counting numbers or quantitative statistics, for the notable position players expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by hits.

Volume Statistics for Position Players on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by Hits

 

GP

PA

H

2B

HR

R

RBI

BB

SB

Beltré, Adrián

2933

12,130

3166

636

477

1524

1707

848

121

Rodriguez, Alex

2784

12,207

3115

548

696

2021

2086

1338

329

Suzuki, Ichiro

2653

10,734

3089

362

117

1420

780

647

509

Beltran, Carlos

2586

11,031

2725

565

435

1582

1587

1084

312

Ortiz, David

2408

10,091

2472

632

541

1419

1768

1319

17

Rollins, Jimmy

2275

10,240

2455

511

231

1421

936

813

470

Hunter, Torii

2372

9692

2452

498

353

1296

1391

661

195

Mauer, Joe

1858

7960

2123

428

143

1018

923

939

52

Holliday, Matt

1903

7009

2096

468

316

1157

1220

802

108

Gonzalez, Adrian

1929

8046

2050

437

317

997

1202

782

6

Kinsler, Ian

1888

8299

1999

416

257

1243

909

693

243

Crawford, Carl

1716

7178

1931

309

136

998

766

377

480

Utley, Chase

1937

7863

1885

411

259

1103

1025

724

154

Teixeira, Mark

1862

8029

1862

408

409

1099

1298

918

26

Granderson, Curtis

2057

8306

1800

346

344

1217

937

924

153

Wright, David

1585

6872

1777

390

242

949

970

762

196

Fielder, Prince

1611

6853

1645

321

319

862

1028

847

18

McCann, Brian

1755

6850

1590

294

282

742

1018

640

25

Zobrist, Ben

1651

6836

1566

349

167

884

768

832

116

Bautista, Jose

1798

7244

1496

312

344

1022

975

1032

70

Howard, Ryan

1572

6531

1475

277

382

848

1194

709

12

Tulowitzki, Troy

1291

5415

1391

264

225

762

780

511

57



The table below details the rate statistics, or the qualitative numbers, for the notable position players expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by weighted Runs Created.

Rate Statistics for Position Players on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by Weighted Runs Created Plus

 

Slash Line

wOBA

wRC+

OPS+

WAA

RAA

WPA

Rodriguez, Alex

.295/.380/.550/.930

.395

141

140

76.1

788

59.2

Ortiz, David

.286/.380/.552/.931

.392

140

141

20.2

186

50.6

Holliday, Matt

.299/.379/.510/.889

.383

135

132

20.3

212

37.5

Fielder, Prince

.283/.382/.506/.887

.377

133

134

1.9

22

35.1

Wright, David

.296/.376/.491/.867

.373

133

133

29.9

306

30.2

Teixeira, Mark

.268/.360/.509/.869

.371

127

126

24.4

238

25.4

Gonzalez, Adrian

.287/.358/.485/.843

.359

127

129

17.0

177

34.4

Bautista, Jose

.247/.361/.475/.836

.362

126

124

11.8

105

19.9

Mauer, Joe

.306/.388/.439/.827

.358

123

124

27.3

262

27.6

Howard, Ryan

.258/.343/.515/.859

.361

121

125

–4.9

–24

30.1

Tulowitzki, Troy

.290/.361/.495/.856

.368

119

118

27.2

264

10.0

Beltran, Carlos

.279/.350/.486/.837

.358

118

119

33.8

347

35.8

Utley, Chase

.275/.358/.465/.823

.356

118

117

41.8

426

27.7

Zobrist, Ben

.266/.357/.426/.783

.342

116

113

21.4

200

10.6

Beltré, Adrián

.286/.339/.480/.819

.350

115

116

52.8

511

18.3

Granderson, Curtis

.249/.337/.465/.803

.347

115

114

19.0

187

16.7

Hunter, Torii

.277/.331/.461/.793

.342

110

110

15.8

146

3.8

McCann, Brian

.262/.337/.452/.789

.340

110

110

10.0

102

11.0

Kinsler, Ian

.269/.337/.440/.777

.338

107

107

27.6

253

4.7

Crawford, Carl

.290/.330/.435/.765

.332

104

105

14.5

142

6.5

Suzuki, Ichiro

.311/.355/.402/.757

.328

104

107

23.9

240

11.9

Rollins, Jimmy

.264/.324/.418/.743

.323

95

95

16.7

186

8.5


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.

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.

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.

WAA: Wins Above Average, the number of wins the player is worth above a league-average player.

RAA: Runs Above Average, the number of runs the player is worth above a league-average player.

WPA: Win Probability Added, the likelihood that a player has influenced the outcome of a given game through his offensive contribution.

The table below details the awards and leader statistics for the notable position players expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by Black Ink Test. (See the legend beneath the table for category descriptions.)

Awards and Leaders Statistics for Position Players on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by Black-Ink Test

Player

MVP

MVP Top 10

All-Star

Silver Slugger

Gold Glove

RoY

Black Ink

Gray Ink

Rodriguez, Alex

3

10

14

10

2

0

68

214

Suzuki, Ichiro

1

4

10

3

10

1

43

142

Ortiz, David

0

7

9

7

0

0

25

161

Howard, Ryan

1

6

3

1

0

1

21

84

Bautista, Joey

0

4

6

3

0

0

15

70

Mauer, Joe

1

4

6

5

3

0

15

43

Fielder, Prince

0

4

6

3

0

0

14

100

Rollins, Jimmy

1

2

3

1

4

0

14

82

Holliday, Matt

0

1

7

4

0

0

13

107

Teixeira, Mark

0

2

3

3

5

0

13

78

Crawford, Carl

0

1

4

1

1

0

12

48

Gonzalez, Adrian

0

3

5

2

4

0

10

85

Beltré, Adrián

0

5

4

4

5

0

9

98

Granderson, Curtis

0

2

3

1

0

0

9

58

Utley, Chase

0

3

6

4

0

0

3

42

Beltran, Carlos

0

2

9

2

3

1

1

76

Kinsler, Ian

0

0

4

0

2

0

1

55

Wright, David

0

4

7

2

3

0

0

88

Tulowitzki, Troy

0

3

5

2

2

0

0

38

Hunter, Torii

0

1

5

2

9

0

0

29

Zobrist, Ben

0

1

3

0

0

0

0

25

McCann, Brian

0

0

7

6

0

0

0

9


MVP:
Most Valuable Player Award.

MVP Top 10: Number of times a player finished in the top 10 of his league's MVP voting. Includes an MVP win.

Silver Slugger Award: Awarded to the best offensive player at every position.

RoY: Rookie of the Year Award.

Black Ink Test: Weighted measurement of times a player led his league in significant batting statistics. An average Hall of Famer has a measurement of about 27. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

Gray-Ink Test: Weighted measurement of times a player appeared in the top ten of his league in significant batting statistics. An average Hall of Famer has a measurement of about 144. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.


These four tables help to illustrate the qualities of position-player value (Hall of Fame statistics), longevity (volume statistics), effectiveness (rate statistics), and recognition (awards and leader statistics) that distinguish a Hall of Fame-caliber player from other position players. They might not tell the entire story, but they compose a significant portion of it.

Starting Pitchers Eligible 2021 to 2025


The table below details the Hall of Fame statistics for the notable starting pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by bWAR. (See the legend beneath the table for position players above for explanations of the categories.)

Hall of Fame Statistics for Starting Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Debut Year

fWAR

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

WPA

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

Sabathia, CC

2025

66.5

62.5

39.4

50.9

71

22.8

128

48

Buehrle, Mark

2021

52.3

59.2

35.8

47.5

90

17.2

52

31

Hudson, Tim

2021

48.9

58.1

38.3

48.2

84

29.8

66

42

Colon, Bartolo

2024

51.0

46.1

35.6

40.8

143

12.0

88

37

Peavy, Jake

2022

43.7

39.6

30.7

35.1

202

13.5

56

27

Lackey, John

2023

43.2

37.6

29.3

33.5

215

9.3

48

28

Zito, Barry

2021

30.2

31.9

30.6

31.2

249

6.8

48

19

Lincecum, Tim

2022

27.5

19.7

23.9

21.8

436

6.2

66

17


WPA:
Win Probability Added, the likelihood that a starting pitcher has influenced the outcome of a given game through his pitching contribution.


The table below details the volume statistics, or the counting numbers or quantitative statistics, for the notable starting pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by innings pitched.

Volume Statistics for Starting Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by Innings Pitched

Pitcher

GS

IP

Win-Loss

PCT

Hits

HR

BB

SO

Sabathia, CC

560

3577.1

251-161

.609

3404

382

1099

3093

Colon, Bartolo

552

3461.2

247–188

.568

3593

439

948

2535

Buehrle, Mark

493

3283.1

214–160

.572

3472

361

734

1870

Hudson, Tim

479

3126.2

222–133

.625

2957

248

917

2080

Lackey, John

448

2840.1

188–147

.561

2862

319

815

2294

Zito, Barry

421

2576.2

165–143

.536

2381

282

1064

1885

Peavy, Jake

388

2377.0

152–126

.547

2134

259

708

2207

Lincecum, Tim

270

1682.0

110–89

.553

1506

147

669

1736


GS
: Career games started.

IP: Career innings pitched.

Win-Loss: Career win-loss record.

PCT: Career win-loss percentage.


The table below details the rate statistics, or the qualitative numbers, for the notable starting pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by weighted Adjusted Earned Run Average Plus (ERA+).

Rate Statistics for Starting Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by ERA+

Pitcher

ERA

ERA+

RA9

FIP

WHIP

RAA

WAA

SO9

SO/W

Hudson, Tim

3.49

120

3.80

3.78

1.239

283

30.0

6.0

2.27

Buehrle, Mark

3.81

117

4.23

4.11

1.281

275

29.4

5.1

2.55

Sabathia, CC

3.74

116

4.08

3.78

1.259

263

28.5

7.8

2.81

Peavy, Jake

3.63

110

3.83

3.65

1.196

158

17.7

8.4

3.12

Lackey, John

3.92

110

4.27

3.95

1.295

108

12.3

7.3

2.81

Colon, Bartolo

4.12

106

4.47

4.15

1.312

139

16.1

6.6

2.67

Zito, Barry

4.04

105

4.38

4.39

1.337

94

10.1

6.6

1.77

Lincecum, Tim

3.74

104

3.99

3.45

1.293

46

6.7

9.3

2.59


ERA
: Career earned run average.

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.

RA9: Career runs allowed per nine innings pitched. Includes unearned runs.

FIP: Career fielding-independent pitching. Measures effectiveness at minimizing home runs, walks, and hits by pitch and at maximizing strikeouts.

WHIP: Career walks and hits allowed per innings pitched.

WAA: Wins Above Average, the number of wins the player is worth above a league-average player.

RAA: Runs Above Average, the number of runs the player is worth above a league-average player.

SO9: Career strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

SO/W: Career strikeouts-to-walks ratio.


The table below details the awards and leader statistics for the notable starting pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by Black Ink Test. (See the legend beneath the table for category descriptions.)

Awards and Leaders Statistics for Starting Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by Black-Ink Test

Player

CYA

CYA Top 5

MVP Top 10

All-Star

Gold Glove

RoY

Black Ink

Gray Ink

Sabathia, CC

1

5

1

6

0

0

22

174

Lincecum, Tim

2

3

0

4

0

0

21

84

Peavy, Jake

1

1

1

3

1

0

20

89

Buerhle, Mark

0

1

0

5

4

0

12

116

Hudson, Tim

0

3

0

4

0

0

11

143

Colon, Bartolo

1

2

0

4

0

0

11

140

Zito, Barry

1

1

0

3

0

0

8

88

Lackey, John

0

1

0

1

0

0

8

82


CYA:
Cy Young Award.

CYA Top 5: Number of times a player finished in the top 5 of his league's Cy Young Award voting. Includes a Cy Young Award MVP win.

MVP Top 10: Number of times a player finished in the top 10 of his league's MVP voting. Includes an MVP win. (*) Indicates that the pitcher won at least one MVP Award.

Black Ink Test: Weighted measurement of times a pitcher led his league in significant pitching statistics. An average Hall of Famer has a measurement of about 40. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

Gray-Ink Test: Weighted measurement of times a pitcher appeared in the top ten of his league in significant pitching statistics. An average Hall of Famer has a measurement of about 185. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.


These four tables help to illustrate the qualities of pitcher value (Hall of Fame statistics), longevity (volume statistics), effectiveness (rate statistics), and recognition (awards and leader statistics) that distinguish a Hall of Fame-caliber starting pitcher from other starters. They might not tell the entire story, but they compose a significant portion of it.

Relief Pitchers Eligible 2021 to 2025


The table below details the Hall of Fame statistics for the notable relief pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by bWAR. (See the legend beneath the table for position players above for explanations of the categories.)

Hall of Fame Statistics for Relief Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Debut Year

fWAR

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

WPA

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

Nathan, Joe

2022

19.5

26.6

21.7

24.2

18

30.6

98

29

Rodriguez, Francisco

2023

16.3

23.9

17.6

20.8

35

24.4

124

16

Papelbon, Jonathan

2022

19.4

23.5

19.6

21.6

29

28.3

80

23


WPA:
Win Probability Added, the likelihood that a relief pitcher has influenced the outcome of a given game through his pitching contribution.


The table below details the volume statistics, or the counting numbers or quantitative statistics, for the notable relief pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by appearances.

Volume Statistics for Relief Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by Appearances

Pitcher

APP

IP

SV

BS

HLD

Hits

HR

BB

SO

Rodriguez, Francisco

948

976.0

437

76

88

738

98

389

1142

Nathan, Joe

787

923.1

377

46

27

690

84

344

976

Papelbon, Jonathan

689

725.2

368

49

8

572

57

185

808


APP
: Career appearances.

IP: Career innings pitched.

SV: Career saves.

BS: Career blown saves.

HLD: Career holds.


The table below details the rate statistics, or the qualitative numbers, for the notable relief pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by weighted Adjusted Earned Run Average Plus (ERA+).

Rate Statistics for Relief Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by ERA+

Pitcher

ERA

ERA+

RA9

FIP

WHIP

RAA

WAA

SO9

SO/W

Papelbon, Jonathan

2.44

177

2.80

2.81

1.043

125

13.1

10.0

4.37

Nathan, Joe

2.87

151

3.09

3.36

1.120

137

14.0

9.5

2.84

Rodriguez, Francisco

2.86

148

3.10

3.31

1.155

117

12.2

10.5

2.94


ERA
: Career earned run average.

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.

RA9: Career runs allowed per nine innings pitched. Includes unearned runs.

FIP: Career fielding-independent pitching. Measures effectiveness at minimizing home runs, walks, and hits by pitch and at maximizing strikeouts.

WHIP: Career walks and hits allowed per innings pitched.

WAA: Wins Above Average, the number of wins the player is worth above a league-average player.

RAA: Runs Above Average, the number of runs the player is worth above a league-average player.

SO9: Career strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

SO/W: Career strikeouts-to-walks ratio.


The table below details the relief-pitcher effectiveness statistics for the notable relief pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by Average Leverage Index (aLI). (See the legend beneath the table for explanations of the categories.)

Relief Pitcher Effectiveness for Relief Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by Average Leverage Index

Pitcher

Slash Line

SV%

aLI

IR

IS

IS%

SO%

Papelbon, Jonathan

.213/.271/.321/.592

88

1.810

141

37

26

27.5

Rodriguez, Francisco

.207/.287/.341/.628

85

1.803

244

70

29

28.5

Nathan, Joe

.197/.266/.308/.574

89

1.587

143

46

32

25.9


Slash Line:
Aggregate opposing hitters' batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage against the pitcher.

SV%: Career save percentage, total saves divided by total save opportunities, with save opportunities the total of all saves and all blown saves.

aLI: Average leverage index, or the amount of pressure faced by a pitcher, with 1.0 indicating average pressure and values greater than 1.0 indicating high pressure.

IR: Career inherited runners. Number of runners on base when a pitcher entered the game.

IS: Career inherited runners scored. Number of a pitcher’s inherited runners who scored. Note that these runs are charged to the previous pitcher.

IS%: Career percentage of inherited runners who score while the pitcher is in the game.

SO%: Career strikeout percentage, or the percentage of all plate appearances that result in a strikeout.


The table below details the awards and leader statistics for the notable starting pitchers expected to appear on upcoming ballots, ranked by Black Ink Test. (See the legend beneath the table for starting pitchers above for category descriptions.)

Awards and Leaders Statistics for Relief Pitchers on Upcoming BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots, Ranked by Black-Ink Test

Player

CYA

CYA Top 5

MVP Top 10

All-Star

Gold Glove

RoY

Black Ink

Gray Ink

Rodriguez, Francisco

0

3

1

6

0

0

10

29

Nathan, Joe

0

2

0

6

0

0

0

32

Papelbon, Jonathan

0

0

0

6

0

0

0

30


As with both position players and starting pitchers, these five tables help to illustrate the qualities of pitcher value (Hall of Fame statistics), longevity (volume statistics), effectiveness (rate statistics and relief pitcher effectiveness), and recognition (awards and leader statistics) that distinguish a Hall of Fame-caliber relief pitcher from other relievers. They might not tell the entire story, but they compose a significant portion of it.

Last modified on Monday, 28 December 2020 04:58

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