Friday, January 30, 2015

Thoughts on the 2015 BBWAA Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2015 Hall of Famers. From left to right, Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and John Smoltz. Holy crap, Randy Johnson is tall.

This is the coolest picture ever. Tim Raines at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, 1980's. This is before they finished the roof that never worked right.

Mike Mussina throwing some heat for the Orioles.
For the first time since 1955, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted four players into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. It was not much of a surprise that Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez easily cleared the hurdle of being named on 75% of the ballots. I was a little surprised that John Smoltz was a first-ballot choice as well, as he was named on 82.9% of the ballots. I thought that Smoltz would be an interesting Hall of Fame case to watch, since he had success as both a starter and a closer, but he didn’t have enough counting stats in either role to make him a sure thing. The BBWAA has had a tough time lately electing pitchers with fewer than 300 wins, but this year two of them, Martinez and Smoltz, made it in. I think that Smoltz is a fine selection for the Hall, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been around 50-60% this year, and been elected in a year or two. I’m very happy that Craig Biggio finally got in on his third try, after falling just two votes short last year. I really don’t know why Biggio wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It sounds like voters might have shied away from him because of rumors of steroid use. From what I read, the steroid allegations against Biggio come down to one writer saying, “I think Roger Clemens took steroids, and some other Astros did too.” Hey, sportswriter, do you have more proof than that? “Um, nope.” Biggio was a good power hitter, as he’s 5th on the all-time doubles list, and he has more than 1,000 extra base hits. But he never hit more than 26 home runs in a season. And Biggio is listed as being 5’11” and 185 pounds. He’s not exactly the muscle-bound hulk that we think of as being a steroid user. 

The problem with allegations of steroid use is that we will simply never know for sure whether players from the pre-testing era used steroids unless that player admits they did. And that’s a difficult thing to admit. It’s an issue that voters for the Hall of Fame have had to wrestle with in the last few years, and they will continue to wrestle with it as players from that era appear on the ballot. I can understand a lot of different arguments both for and against players accused of using steroids. Personally, if I were a member of the BBWAA voting for the Hall of Fame, I would not vote for someone that I thought used steroids. Of course, this brings up the question, how do I know? Well, based on all the allegations against Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, I think they both used steroids, and I would not vote for them for the Hall of Fame. Of course, by voting for Frank Thomas or Craig Biggio or Mike Piazza, I might be voting for someone who was a steroid user who just got away with it. Those are the risks you take. The baseball writers who annoy me the most are the guys who say, “Hey, I’m not a gatekeeper; I don’t know who used and who didn’t.” Yes, I agree that we don’t know who used and who didn’t, but you ARE a gatekeeper! You are one of the people who get to vote for the Hall of Fame, that makes you one of the gatekeepers! You can use your votes however you want, but the fact remains that you are one of the people who opens or closes the gate to the Hall of Fame. Just accept the responsibility. 

For players who didn’t make it in this year, things look good for Mike Piazza, who jumped from 62.2% to 69.9% this year, putting him within range of 75%. Piazza should be elected in 2016, or 2017 at the latest. Tim Raines also made an encouraging jump, from 46.1% to 55%. Raines only has two more years on the ballot under the new HOF voting rules, so maybe those who were on the fence about him finally voted for him. I would like to see Raines voted in, so hopefully he can make the leap in the next two years. Raines has always been overshadowed by Rickey Henderson, who had the same set of skills as Raines, but just did everything a little bit better than Raines. Raines also spent the last six years of his career as a part-time player. He was still a good player, but he didn’t pass any milestones that would make him a lock for the Hall of Fame. By which I mean that Raines didn’t get to 3,000 hits. Side note: Are there any milestones besides 300 wins and 3,000 hits that really make a player a lock for the Hall of Fame? I don’t think there are. But playing until he was 42 did allow Tim Raines to play alongside his son, Tim Raines, Jr., for the 2001 Baltimore Orioles. 

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds both continue to hold steady at about 35% of the vote. They haven’t gained at all in three years on the ballot, so at this point it doesn’t look likely that they will get into the Hall. I assume that last year’s rule change, which stated that players will be on the ballot for 10 years instead of 15, was aimed at getting the steroid guys off the ballot as quickly as possible. That being said, I think it makes sense to shorten the voting time. Let’s have those arguments about Tim Raines and Jack Morris spread out over 10 years rather than 15. And let’s spare guys like Don Mattingly and Alan Trammell those five extra years of lingering on the ballot with no chance of getting in. (Although I do think Trammell should get elected. Maybe the Veterans’ Committee will put him in.) 

Mike Mussina increased his total slightly, from 20.3% to 24.6%, but he still has a long way to go. I think Mussina deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Mussina was an excellent pitcher throughout his career, but he doesn’t have the peak that Pedro Martinez had. Of course, few pitchers have had a peak like Pedro’s, but Mussina was more quietly excellent. Mussina won 15 or more games in a season 11 times, but it wasn’t until 2008, his last season, when he finally won 20 games. Mussina chose to go out on top rather than hang around for another 2 or 3 years and try to get to 300 wins. Had he done so, he also would have surpassed 3,000 strikeouts. I think something that hurts Mussina is that he just doesn’t have a very high profile. Although Mussina was the subject, along with Tom Glavine, of John Feinstein’s 2008 book Living on the Black. Maybe the most exciting fact about Mussina off the field is that he appeared in a documentary about crossword puzzles. Mussina’s lifetime winning percentage is the same as Jim Palmer’s, and Mussina has a higher winning percentage than Juan Marichal, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. Hopefully the writers will see the light and vote him in.

Fred McGriff continues to suffer from a serious lack of support. I’d like to see the “Crime Dog” in the Hall, but he’s never even reached 25% of the vote. I would think that McGriff’s numbers, which are presumably untainted by steroid use, would appeal to voters weary of roided-up sluggers like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, but it hasn’t happened. 

I was surprised that Gary Sheffield didn’t do better on his first ballot, as he got just 11.7% of the vote. The dude has 509 home runs, 1,676 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 140. Why were voters not enthusiastic about him? I was surprised that Nomar Garciaparra got enough votes to stay on the ballot for next year. Nomar is one of those players who had a few truly great seasons, but just didn’t have enough of them to be a Hall of Famer. I was a little surprised that Carlos Delgado didn’t get enough votes to stay on the ballot. He hit 473 home runs! I know that’s not enough to be a Hall of Famer, but Delgado was an excellent player. 

That concludes my thoughts on the 2015 voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’m already excited for next year’s ballot, which will feature first-ballot Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. The only question about Griffey next year is how high his percentage will be.

No comments: