Getting Crowded

John Smoltz has signed a TV deal with TBS, indicating that while has not officially retired, the former Braves ace/Red Sox bullpen pitcher is all set for his 2014 induction into the Hall of Fame … maybe. The fact is the Hall ballot is about to get mighty crowded in the next five years. Let's take a look.

First, there are the holdovers from the most recent ballot with a large enough base of support to ensure either enshrinement or limbo for the forseeable future: Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Dave Parker and Dale Murphy. 

So in 2011, these 13 players will be joined by the following players, who all have at least a compelling Hall case: Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Juan Gonzalez, Kevin Brown.

Blyleven and Alomar are shoo-ins for enshrinement. Palmeiro is likely to become another McGwire, held in limbo by HOF-quality numbers but a positive test for steroids. Bagwell should go in easily. Walker has a good case but could end up in limbo, thanks to Coors. Gonzalez was an elite slugger for many years, and Brown is a borderline candidate who is unlikely to go in because people have forgotten how good his peak was.

So let's assume three inductions — Blyleven, Alomar and Bagwell. And let's assume that Murphy can't hang on to his 10 percent of the vote and drops off the ballot. That means the 2012 ballot has the following holdovers:

  • Morris
  • Larkin
  • Smith
  • Martinez
  • Raines
  • McGwire
  • Trammell
  • McGriff
  • Mattingly
  • Parker
  • Palmeiro
  • Walker
  • Gonzalez
  • Brown

That's a 14-person ballot before we add the newbies. By comparison, the 2010 ballot had 10 holdovers on it. Who gets added in 2012? Bernie Williams, and basically no one else. This is the last chance for the holdovers to reach enshrinement. Larkin may have a shot here. Raines could pick up votes, thanks to the lack of big-time first-timers. I'd vote for Williams myself, but I doubt he could get enough votes to be a first-ballot guy. So Larkin goes in, Williams stays in the backlog, and we have our 14 players jockeying for position in 2013 against these guys:

  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Mike Piazza
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Curt Schilling
  • Craig Biggio
  • Kenny Lofton

Yep. Six guys who deserve to go into the Hall of Fame, all coming onto the ballot at the same time — and three of them have steroids allegations ensnaring them. And Lofton is a borderline guy who basically has no shot because if Raines isn't in, there's no way he's getting the support he needs to stay on the ballot.

Bonds and Clemens are tests for the "he was a HOFer before he did steroids" argument. If 30 percent of the writers vote for McGwire regardless, then you only need another 45 percent to buy it. Let's say that Bonds gets in because he's never failed a test, meets the specious pre-steroid HOF requirement, and it's just embarrassing to not induct the all-time home run leader. Piazza is the best-hitting catcher of all time, and he's got PED accusations, too. Sosa probably has no shot here, but he'll stay on the ballot. Schilling and Biggio are likely to get a lot of credit for being clean, and it could boost Biggio into the Hall; Schilling is more borderline, and I think he'll have to wait a bit.

Let's say it's Bonda, Piazza and Biggio, leaving four more holdovers to add to our list. At this point, it's hard to see players like Mattingly and Parker surviving the hit their vote totals will take, given that we now more than 10 players who should probably be inducted into the HOF on the ballot at the same time (Raines, McGwire, Martinez, Palmeiro, Brown, Williams, Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Sosa, Schilling, Biggio), plus borderline guys like Walker and Gonzalez and Morris. It's possible Walker and Gonzalez simply fall off the ballot, and we see a lot of players who would be acceptable additions (like McGriff) purged from it as well.

So our holdover ballot is now (should-be HOFers in my humble opinion are in italics):

  • Morris
  • Smith
  • Martinez
  • Raines
  • McGwire
  • Trammell
  • McGriff
  • Palmeiro
  • Walker
  • Gonzalez
  • Brown
  • Clemens
  • Sosa
  • Schilling

That's 10 players I would name on my ballot before we even hit the newbies for 2014: 

  • Greg Maddux
  • Frank Thomas
  • John Smoltz
  • Tom Glavine
  • Jeff Kent
  • Mike Mussina
  • Jim Edmonds

Other possibilities for this list — i.e., players who don't have a guarantee of playing a game this year — include Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado.

Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez on the same ballot. How about Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa? Edmonds was unquestionably the best center fielder in the game for a lengthy period, ditto Kent at second base. Delgado's career OPS+ is 138.

There's a potential for 23 players with either unimpeachable, very good or borderline HOF cases on the same ballot in 2014. And this assumes that Bonds is actually inducted. So in a ballot with the following players on it, who are your 10? Mine, without doing any research, are in italics.

  • Jack Morris
  • Lee Smith
  • Edgar Martinez
  • Tim Raines
  • Mark McGwire
  • Alan Trammell
  • Fred McGriff
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Larry Walker
  • Juan Gonzalez
  • Kevin Brown
  • Roger Clemens
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Curt Schilling
  • Greg Maddux
  • Frank Thomas
  • John Smoltz
  • Tom Glavine
  • Jeff Kent
  • Mike Mussina
  • Jim Edmonds
  • Pedro Martinez
  • Carlos Delgado

11 comments… add one

  • Whoa, I just got dizzy! Very fun post. Without doing any research, your 10 look good to me, although I’d probably put Mussina, Kevin Brown or Schilling over Edgar Martinez. Jim Edmonds also has a sneakily good case.

    Nick-YF March 22, 2010, 1:25 pm
  • What is Edmonds’ “sneakily good case”, Nick?
    To me he is a quintessentially forgettable above average player.
    To wit, from BR:
    Gray Ink Batting – 60, Average HOFer ≈ 144
    Hall of Fame Monitor Batting – 88, Likely HOFer ≈ 100
    Hall of Fame Standards Batting – 40, Average HOFer ≈ 50

    SF March 23, 2010, 9:20 pm
  • SF, just looking at WAR totals from Sean Smith’s site, he ranks as 71st of all position players of all time, essentially tied with Eddie Murray and ahead of a bunch of HoFers.
    I’m not sure if the BR numbers you cite do him justice since they are divorced from his positional value, no? Or am I misunderstanding them. But one of the reasons why Edmonds was so valuable during his career is that he played one of the most important positions on the field and his offense at that position was unusual.
    Edmonds had a great peak during which he was the best CF in baseball (2000-2005). The problem with his case is the length of his career. But during that peak, he wasn’t merely an above average player. He was great.

    Nick-YF March 23, 2010, 10:24 pm
  • ok, so I see that the Hall of Fame standards Batting category counts position and fielding a bit. The grey ink and monitor categories are more related to the likelihood of his induction, rather than whether he is worthy.
    I’m not so committed to the idea that he is a Hall-of-Famer now that I look over the his career numbers, but I do think there was a stretch in his career when he was great. His quick fall off a cliff definitely hurt any chance he had at the Hall, though. But what do you make of the fact that he’s probably the second or third best CF of the last 30 years? Has it been a particularly bad period for that position?

    Nick-YF March 23, 2010, 11:22 pm
  • I guess being great at your position for a short period of time (or medium-short, depending on what you consider five/six years), is laudable, but not necessarily HoF-worthy. We can dissect the numbers and what they may show is that Edmonds was closer to great than many might have thought. But I don’t think his career numbers pass the smell test, they were crimped by his lack of health.
    When I look at Edmonds I see a CF version of JD Drew, who very well could end up with nearly identical numbers (albeit from RF, not CF). As much as I like and appreciate JD I don’t think any of us confuse him with a guy who should (potentially) end up in Cooperstown.
    I also detested Edmonds, so that may be coloring my opinion, but when I review the numbers I don’t think I am being unfairly biased. Good career, not an all-time great though.

    SF March 24, 2010, 8:59 am
  • I’ve always thought of Edmonds as a HOF candidate because his defense was so good. And if he’s putting up J.D. Drew numbers from center, which is a more valuable position than corner OF, that’s pretty impressive.
    The man has a six-year peak with a 153 OPS+ and Gold Gloves in each of those years. Fangraphs says that from 2002-05, the last four of those six seasons, he was worth 6.6, 6.4, 8.1 and 5.9 WAR. That’s incredible. Zero center fielders last year were worth more than 5.9 WAR.
    More than 6 WAR per season over a three-year period from center field is comparable to Grady Sizemore and Andruw Jones during their most recent hot streaks. But Edmonds did it for six years, and had another four-year string earlier in his career, 1995-98, when he had a 127 OPS+. The one outlier was his injury season of 1999, when he had a 95 OPS+ in 55 games. From 1995-2005, Jim Edmonds posted a 141 OPS+ from center field.
    By comparison, Duke Snider has a six-year peak from 1952-57 of 157 (to Edmonds’ 153) and a longer peak from 1953-63 of 151. Was Snider a better fielder than Edmonds? It seems unlikely.
    Griffey, who was Edmonds’ near-contemporary, had an eight-year peak with a 156 OPS+ and a string from 1990-2000 with an OPS+ of 150.
    Edmonds didn’t hit the homers as proficiently as Griffey, and both were superb defenders, but are the standards of the Hall so high that Griffey’s sustained peak with a 150 OPS+ is in but Edmonds’ at 140 is out? The main difference is that Griffey has spent a long time since his peak compiling the counting stats that mean so much to Hall voters, while Edmonds fell off a cliff. The amazing thing now is that Edmonds’ career OPS+ is 131, while Griffey’s is 136. That isn’t much difference.
    FWIW, Griffey’s WAR, 1990-00, 71.7, or 6.5 per season.
    Edmonds’ WAR, 1995-05, 62.2, or 5.7 per season.
    Griffey was clearly better, but I’m unwilling to say someone who averaged nearly six wins over replacement per year (which includes the injury-shortened 1999 where he was worth 0.8 wins) for more than a decade is unworthy for the Hall of Fame.

    Paul SF March 24, 2010, 9:46 am
  • Incidentally, Edmonds’ most similar batters at B-R are probably all considered HOVG types, but they’re also not as good as he was. Andruw Jones has a career 110 OPS+, Ellis Burks wasn’t the fielder or hitter Edmonds was and had a much shorter peak, Jason Giambi’s peak was much shorter as well, and he was an atrocious fielder at a much less valuable position. Dick Allen actually has a bit of sabermetric support as someone who deserves another look for the Hall based on peak value, but he played his career as a LF/1B. Fred Lynn was probably a similar hitter and fielder, but he couldn’t stay healthy, and everyone seems to agree that if he had maintained his health, he’d be in the Hall. Shawn Green wasn’t as good a hitter and played a corner OF position. The list goes on.

    Paul SF March 24, 2010, 9:46 am
  • SF, I was waiting for Paul to make the argument for me:)

    Nick-YF March 24, 2010, 9:54 am
  • Thanks for that Paul.
    I still need convincing.
    Oh, did I mention I hated Edmonds?

    SF March 24, 2010, 12:04 pm
  • barry larkin was mentioned in the opening of this post and then kind of forgotten. he should have been a first ballot hof’er imho. arguably the best shortstop of the modern era, until arod and dj come into the running. but i guess you’d have to ask jay jaffe about that.

    YF March 28, 2010, 10:05 am
  • I have Larkin going in in 2012. That might be overly optimistic, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s a Hall of Famer.

    Paul SF March 29, 2010, 8:41 am

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