Because it matters oh, so much.
A couple caveats: I'm a large-Hall guy, so I usually fill up all 10 spots, and I value peak more heavily perhaps than the typical voter. It's how I balance the "fame" aspect of the Hall with the more objective career value considerations. But one great season amid a non-excellent career (Maris, for example) doesn't do it for me either.
You can check out the eligibles, ranked by WAR, at Baseball-Reference.
They'll surprise you. Alomar is all but certain to be elected this year, yet he's only tied for ninth, and several of the guys considered borderline outrank him: Walker, Edgar Martinez, Trammell, Raines. Bagwell is second only to Blyleven. He should be inducted. But just having a great WAR doesn't necessarily cut it if a lot of other players at your position also had a great WAR, so let's take a look at some of these guys.
- Bert Blyelven
Fifth in strikeouts, between Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver. The other 16 of the top 17 are all in the Hall of Fame or headed there. Ninth in shutouts, between Nolan Ryan/Seaver and Don Sutton. The other 22 of the top 23 are all in the Hall of Fame. Luis Tiant is the only other pitcher in the top 26 who isn't in or headed there. Oh, and he finished 13 wins short of 300, despite playing for some truly terrible teams (see below).
Peak? How about his 1973, when he posted a 158 ERA+ over 325 innings, with 25 complete games and nine shutouts. Nine! That was the second-highest total in the American League in 22 years. He led all AL players with 9.2 WAR, was second in ERA to Jim Palmer, won 20 games (with 17 losses on a terrible team), was second in WHIP to Tiant, second in BB/9 to Jim Kaat, third in K/9 to Ryan and Jim Bibby (who pitched 125 fewer innings). He followed that up with a 142 ERA+/281 IP season in 1974, then came back in 1984-85 with a combined ERA+ of 138. In 1985, he threw a league-leading 293.1 innings, completing 24 games, including five shutouts, both of which led the league. Then, in 1989, at age 38, he posted a 140 ERA+ in 241 innings with another league-leading shutout total (of five). Sadly enough for Blyleven, that year he posted his best winning percentage, with a 17-5 record.
- Roberto Alomar
Not the greatest stats, but Alomar was a 10-time Gold Glove winner — and universally considered deserving of the honor — as well as a 12-time All Star and four-time Silver Slugger winner. For his peak, from 1993-2001, Alomar as a second baseman posted a 127 OPS+ and finished with a career 116 OPS+ mark.
At the time of his retirement, how many second basemen debuting after integration (1947) had a better OPS+? Two. Joe Morgan and Bobby Grich. Jeff Kent retired in 2008 at No. 3. Lou Whitaker is at No. 4, Ryne Sandberg at No. 5. Which should probably make us wonder more about why Grich and Whitaker aren't in the Hall of Fame.
- Barry Larkin
A shortstop with a four-year peak OPS+ of 140 and an eight-year peak of 134? A career OPS+ of 116? All done largely before the Nomar/A-Rod/Jeter explosion made shortstop a premium offensive position for a short time? Check.
- Jeff Bagwell
A short career is problematic. Of course, it's 15 seasons at 149 OPS+ with a seven-year subset at 166. Rookie of the year in 1991, MVP in 1994, second for the MVP in 1999, third in 1997, MVP votes in 10 of his 15 seasons. His 2.89 MVP shares rank 35th all time. 33 of the 34 men above him are in the Hall of Fame or will be (or would be if not for the steroids kerfuffle).
So, um, how many first basemen post-integration retired with 7,000 plate appearances and an OPS+ above 140? Three. Mark McGwire. Jeff Bagwell. Willie McCovey. He's in.
- Alan Trammell
As noted in another thread, Trammell at the time of his retirement was the second-best post-integration shortstop in the game, runner up only to Cal Ripken — and still behind only Ripken, Larkin and Derek Jeter.
- Larry Walker
Yeah, yeah, Coors Field. But Coors didn't keep voters from making him MVP in 1997, when his (park-adjusted) OPS+ was 178. Was the 151 he posted as an Expo in 1994 a fluke? Because his OPS+ did go down his first two years in Colorado (injuries helped) before his monster 152 OPS+ peak from 1997-2004, which also includes a big year in St. Louis. Injuries are another part of the case against him. But WAR accounts for both park and lost time, and he retired as the sixth-best post-integration right fielder ever. The men ahead of him? Aaron, Kaline, Clemente, Jackson, Gwynn. Behind him? Dwight Evans, Sammy Sosa, Dave Winfield. This despite his 2,000 fewer plate appearances than any of them (except Sosa). I'm voting for him.
- Tim Raines
Six straight seasons of 70-plus steals and seven straight with 50+ — one of them a strike-shortened year, no less — and a 135 OPS+ over the course of those seven years. A career 123 OPS+ over an impressive 23 seasons, and only Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock had more 40-steal seasons than Raines, and only Henderson had more 70-steal years. By WAR, Raines ranks fourth among post-integration left fielders, behind only Bonds, Henderson and Yastrzemski and ahead of Hall of Famer Billy Williams. He was overshadowed by Henderson during his career, but being the second-greatest baserunner the game has ever seen isn't a black mark in my book.
- Edgar Martinez
Yes, he didn't play the field. Well, pitchers don't hit either — even when they're in the lineup, they don't hit, with one or two rare exceptions. The DH is part of the game, and it has been for coming up on 40 years. The best hitter ever to play the position deserves enshrinement, especially when his case is a career OPS+ of 147 over 18 seasons (that's a career line of .312/.418/.515), an incredible seven-year run with a 163 OPS+, five times topping 1.000 OPS in that span. He also gets postseason credit for his role in the amazing '95 ALDS against New York. The man finished third in the MVP voting in 1995 and was an All-Star seven times, this despite apparently only being "half a player." Had Edgar Martinez been a butcher in the field for 18 years (though all indications from the seasons he actually played there are that he was above average), he would already be in the Hall.
- Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire
No-doubt Hall of Famers if not for the steroid taint. I'm not interested in removing Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, among other PED experimenters/users, from the Hall, so these guys need to go in.
- Missing the cut
Kevin Brown, John Olerud and Fred McGriff, who all have better cases than you think, and Juan Gonzalez, who has a worse case than I initially thought and isn't close, and Jack Morris, who isn't even remotely close to being worthy of the Hall of Fame, no matter how many times people like Heyman and Shaughnessy tell me I had to be there.