Saturday, January 9, 2016

The 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2016 Hall of Fame class. Ken Griffey Jr. on the left, and Mike Piazza on the right.

Ken Griffey Jr. unleashing maybe the smoothest swing ever against the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome.

Mike Piazza, one of the best hitting catchers ever.
The only real drama surrounding Ken Griffey Jr.’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week was whether or not he would become the Hall’s only unanimous selection. Griffey got closer to perfection than anyone has before, as he was named on 437 of 440 ballots. Personally, I think if any player from the last 30 years deserved to be a unanimous selection, it was Griffey. A true five tool player, Griffey also had a sunny, friendly demeanor, and there’s never been even a hint of scandal about him. If he can’t become a unanimous Hall of Famer, then I don’t think anyone can. I always enjoyed watching Griffey play, and it was pretty obvious from early in his career that he was a special player who might become one of the all-time greats.

Mike Piazza is the other inductee for 2016. Piazza came close to being inducted last year, as he garnered 69.9% of the vote. This year he moved up to 83%. I’m pleased that Piazza got in; he’s one of the best catchers ever. I forgot how good his numbers were in the 1990’s, from 1995-97 he hit .346, .336, and .362, and led the league in OPS+ in 1995 and 1997.

The big change in the voting this year is that the BBWAA gave the heave-ho to members who haven’t covered baseball in the last 10 years. Previously, once you became a voting member of the BBWAA, you were a member for life. I think it was a smart change, as the whole purpose behind having the writers vote is the idea that they actually saw these players play the game. The change in the membership meant that the number of votes dropped. In 2015 there were 549 ballots and this year there were 440. However, nearly everyone’s vote totals went up, so these writers think more of the candidates on the ballot are Hall-worthy.

Three players are now within 10% of the 75% required for induction, so they will presumably be inducted in the next year or two. Those three players are Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and first-timer Trevor Hoffman. I think Bagwell and Raines should get in, and I’m fine with Hoffman being inducted as well. It’s nice to see Tim Raines finally getting more support, and with next year being his last year of eligibility, he should get above 75%.

Trevor Hoffman is an interesting case, as the BBWAA never seems to know quite what to do with closers. The role of the closer has changed a lot in baseball over the last 30 years, and so far the BBWAA has only voted for closers who were extremely dominant during their careers, like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and Bruce Sutter. John Franco, an excellent closer throughout his career, got less than 5% of the vote his first year of eligibility, and was dropped from the ballot. Billy Wagner, a closer similar to Franco, got just 10.5% of the vote this year, in his first year on the ballot, so his election seems pretty unlikely. Lee Smith continues to hang out in the awkward “getting way more than 5% of the vote, but not climbing towards 75%” zone that he’s always occupied. Smith started strong, with 42.3% of the vote in his first year, but the highest percentage he’s ever gotten is 50.6%. I think Smith is a player who might be somewhat hurt by not playing for the same team his whole career. Guys like Trevor Hoffman, who played nearly his entire career for the San Diego Padres, do have an advantage, because in your mind you think, “Oh, Trevor Hoffman, yeah, he was with the Padres forever.” Whereas with Lee Smith you think, “Oh, yeah, he was with the Cubs for a long time at the beginning of his career, then he was with the Red Sox, had some good years there, was with the Cardinals, was good with them, then he went to the Yankees for 8 games? I don’t remember that. He pitched for the Reds in 1996?” Their career just gets more segmented and seems less unified. 

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, whose vote totals have been extremely close all four years they’ve been on the ballot, saw their percentages increase to 45.2% and 44.3%, respectively. However, their total number of votes went down. I would assume from the data that means that most of the voters who have supported Bonds and Clemens are younger, as they didn’t lose much support from the older BBWAA writers who lost their votes this year. It will be interesting to see how the BBWAA deals with the steroid problem in the years to come. Several players linked to steroids have fallen short of the Hall of Fame, and this year Mark McGwire dropped off the ballot after 10 years. He got 12.3% of the vote this year, which was 2.3% more than he got last year. Other hitters who are suspected of using PEDs, like Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield, are in danger of falling off the ballot. 

Time finally ran out on Alan Trammell’s Hall of Fame candidacy, he was one of the players who had been on the ballot for more than 10 years when the rules were changed for 2015, and he was grandfathered in so he could stay on the ballot for 15 years. Trammell had his most successful year on the ballot this year, garnering 40.9% of the vote. I’m glad that voters finally embraced his case more, as I think he’s one of the best shortstops in the game and deserves to be elected. The question now is will the Veterans’ Committee elect Trammell? The VC has been pretty stingy of late, so I wouldn’t bet on it. Trammell’s double play partner Lou Whitaker was another player who was grossly overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Whitaker is one of the best players to not even get 5% of the vote in his first year on the ballot.

Mike Mussina saw a huge jump in his percentage, moving from 24.6% last year to 43% this year. That’s encouraging, as I think Mussina should be voted in. As I noted last year, 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. Mussina put together an excellent and steady career that is worthy of Cooperstown.

There are some players on the ballot that I just don’t feel very strongly about, like Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker. Sorry, Mariners and Rockies fans. I know Martinez had a great career, putting up a .312/.418/.515 slash line, and a 147 OPS+, and I’m fine if he gets elected, but for whatever reason I just don’t get excited about Edgar Martinez. I like Fred McGriff more. I know, the stats say Edgar was a better hitter, (even though McGriff crushed 184 more home runs and has nearly 300 more RBI than Martinez) but for some reason I just really like Fred McGriff. I think it’s how reliable he was. He was never flashy, he was never the best player in the game, but you could pencil him in for 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s pretty much every year. He’s stuck at 20.9% of the vote though, and he only has three more years on the ballot, so it seems unlikely he’ll ever get in. I’ve been surprised that McGriff’s candidacy hasn’t energized voters who are looking for power hitters who aren’t connected to PEDs. Of course, no one but Fred McGriff knows for sure if he was clean or not, but McGriff has never been connected to PEDs. If you’re looking at the ballot and want to vote for a power hitter unconnected to any messy steroid allegations, McGriff is your guy. 

Among players who didn’t get 5% of the vote, the most notable was Jim Edmonds, who got just 2.5% of the vote, despite winning 8 Gold Gloves and putting up 60.3 WAR. Edmonds was an excellent player, and I think he deserved to stay on the ballot. I’m not saying he should be a Hall of Famer, but you could at least have a conversation about him, rather than lumping him in with obvious first-time rejects like Troy Glaus and Luis Castillo. Nomar Garciaparra dropped off the ballot in his second year, which was not a surprise. I was surprised he got more than 5% last year to stay on the ballot. Jason Kendall was an excellent defensive catcher, piling up 13.2 points in defensive WAR, but he wasn’t enough of an offensive threat to stay on the ballot. Garret Anderson got just one vote for the Hall of Fame, and he’s a good example of a really good player who just doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer. You could make an argument for Garret Anderson, I suppose, which would be based on the fact that he has 2,529 hits, 522 doubles, 1,365 RBI’s, and a lifetime batting average of .293. Those are all really good stats; the dude was a good hitter. But his OBP is .324, and his OPS+ is just 102. Anderson wasn’t one of the best players of his generation, and really, to be a Hall of Famer, you have to be one of the very best. I used to make fun of the argument “he just doesn’t FEEL like a Hall of Famer,” but now I think I understand it more. There is kind of a gut feeling of “this guy belongs/this guy doesn’t,” a simple yes/no dichotomy that works for most players on the ballot. Where it gets tricky are the guys like Edgar Martinez and Fred McGriff who are somewhere in the middle. And that’s why thinking about who belongs in the Hall of Fame is so interesting.

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