My (Make-Believe) Hall of Fame Ballot

Believe it or not, I don’t have an actual Hall of Fame vote. But if I did, here’s what mine would look like.

On the Ballot

Barry Bonds—In 2004, Bonds’ worst month was May, where he hit .250/.532/.542. He had 29 walks and four strikeouts in 77 plate appearances . . . in his worst month of the season. At one point in 2002, Bonds—the game’s preeminent power hitter—went 20 straight games without striking out, racking up nine home runs, 24 walks, and a 1.622 OPS over the stretch. Warts and all, you can’t have a respectable Hall of Fame without Bonds.

Bonus points for:

  • Posting a .480 on-base percentage in his final season, at age 42.
  • Going 30-for-33 on steal attempts over the last six years of his career.

Roger Clemens—Clemens won at least one Cy Young award on four different teams (he won seven total), spanning three decades. And he should have won more. In 1990, he lost out to Bob Welch, despite racking up over seven bWAR more than Welch (Welch went 27-6 vs. Clemens’ 21-6); that’s like a full Max Scherzer of separation. He also could have/should have won in 1988 (finished 6th), 1992 (3rd), 1996 (no votes), and 2005 (3rd). Sure, there’s a big ol’ elephant in the room here, but like with Bonds, Clemens was too good to keep out.

Jeff Bagwell—It seems like so many great seasons were cut short by the 1994 strike. There was Tony Gwynn’s run at .400, of course, and Matt Williams’ 43 home runs (and Ken Griffey Jr’s 40). Players like Frank Thomas and Kenny Lofton were having career years. And there’s Bagwell. He hit .368/.451/.750, leading the league in OPS, OPS+, runs, and RBI, and he had 39 home runs of his own. He’d never quite reach those levels again, but Bagwell would go on to eclipse the 40-homer mark three times and provide better-than-expected defense and base running for a first baseman. An easy yes.

Edgar Martinez—One of my favorite baseball plays is this one. Griffey Jr. probably gets remembered more for that highlight (maybe it was the shot that cut to him racing toward third or Brent Musberger’s enthusiastic “Griffey’s comin’ around” call), but it was Martinez who got the double. Martinez got a lot of doubles, in fact—521 of them, in total, if you count the one referenced above and his other six from scant postseason opportunities. Martinez’s on-base percentage ranks 21st all-time, too, right between Frank Thomas and Stan Musial. Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer, even though he didn’t play the field throughout much of his career.

Tim Raines—Raines, in his final year on the ballot, was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson and spent his entire peak in a small market and away from the spotlight of the playoffs. He’s not a slam-dunk candidate (sorry Jonah) either—he played a so-so left field and was a good-not-great hitter, a profile that doesn’t guarantee a trip to Cooperstown. But he also swiped 808 career bags on an 85 percent success rate (once leading the league four years in a row from 1981 through 1984), posted a .385 on-base percentage, and scored over 1,500 runs. More of a fancy lay-up candidate.

Mike Mussina—Mussina pitched in an offense-friendly era and he wasn’t Pedro Martinez. His mid-threes ERAs don’t exactly jump off the page at you, and there’s little black ink on his Baseball Reference page. He never won a Cy Young and it took him to his final season to win 20 games. But, inning for inning, he was as good as someone like Tom Glavine, almost annoyingly consistent and well clear of average year after year. And in his final season, as a 39-year-old, he racked up 5.2 bWAR with a 4.84 K:BB ratio, making you wonder how long he could have kept it up. Mussina has more career bWAR than HoFers like Glavine, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller, and Juan Marichal. In fact, the only non-Hall of Famers ahead of him, by Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, are Clemens, Curt Schilling, and 1800s dude Jim McCormick, who once threw 657 2/3 innings in a single season and, perhaps predictably, didn’t pitch past 30.

Larry Walker—1994 strikes again. Walker had 44 doubles in 103 games that season, which put him well within reach of Earl Webb’s doubles record (67) set in 1931. Not sure if anyone lost sleep over the single-season doubles record, but shoot, it would have been fun to follow. Walker has his marks against—he played in Colorado for most of his career and he was hurt more than your typical Hall of Famer. From 1997 through 2002, though, he hit .353/.441/.648, and it’s hard to keep someone like that out of the Hall, especially when you factor in the plus secondary aspects of his game. Was also super-underrated on Backyard Baseball 2001.

Manny Ramirez—Ramirez hit the longest home run I’ve seen in person (right here, the second one), or at least it would have been if not for the light tower. The eyes of a 14-year-old baseball fan can be deceiving, I know, but I swear that ball was still going up when it collided with the tower, and I remember reciting as much to my mother as Ramirez rounded the bases. Not many other players could make big-league parks look so small.

Here’s how he compares to some of his competition on this ballot:

Player OPS+
Ramirez 154
Bagwell 149
Martinez 147
Walker 141
Sheffield 140
Guerrero 140

Bonus points for:

  • Hitting the longest-if-not-for-light-tower home run I’ve ever seen in person.
  • Playing a major part on the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox plus the mid-to-late ‘90s Indians teams.
  • Hitting .285/.394/.544 in the postseason, including 29 homers in 111 games.
  • Hitting this home run, which might qualify as the most no-doubt home run ever.
  • Finishing 4th in the 2008 NL MVP despite only 53 games with the Dodgers.

His defense in the outfield mostly stunk, especially once he got to Boston (his arm was accurate, at least, and he played balls off the Monster quite well). And the steroid stuff. Lots of steroid stuff later in his career. I mostly don’t know how to handle the steroid stuff, so I do the old shrug-face. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important or that he shouldn’t get dinged for it, I just don’t know how to handle it. For the most part, I choose to look at what the player accomplished on the field, and whether that merits inclusion (then I mesh in things like light-tower home runs). It’s an imperfect system, sure, but it works.

Or it doesn’t.

Vladimir Guerrero—If you’re gonna have a Hall of Fame, you’ve gotta put Guerrero in it. He was long and lanky; he swung at everything; he was sometimes reckless; he had a helluva arm; he was the last great Expo. His numbers are probably more borderline than you’d think, but he just feels like the kind of player who should be celebrated in that little town in upstate New York.

Bonus points for:

  • His (sort of) involvement in this play, at Shea Stadium, which resulted in a game-tying Marlon Anderson home run and . . . the most exciting baseball play I’ve seen in person. (I still don’t understand how Molina thought Anderson was out.)

Ivan Rodriguez—In his prime, Rodriguez was great on both sides of the ball. He hit .320/.363/.530 from 1997 through 2004, and you already know about his arm behind the dish. In 2001, he threw out 60 percent of would-be base stealers, a career-high and one of nine times he led the league in caught stealing rate. He just squeaks on here for a few reasons: whispers about ‘roids (remember, I don’t know how to handle that), whispers that he wasn’t great at handling a pitching staff, so-so pitch framing numbers, and the last seven or so years of his career, where his OPS+ was like 85.

The Close Calls (and the players I would probably vote for soon, or if the voting rules allowed for more than 10 players)

Trevor Hoffman—I don’t really care much about saves, I must admit. It’s a strange, arbitrary statistic, probably no better than the pitcher win. In some respects, it can measure a notable feat—say, going through the middle of the Red Sox order, on the road in Fenway Park, to protect a one-run lead. In another, though, it measures something almost any competent professional pitcher should be able to accomplish—say, going through the bottom of the Marlins order, at home, with a three-run margin. In his newsletter the other day, Joe Sheehan made some interesting notes about the closer role, which he dubbed one of the cushiest jobs in sports:

  • They generally face the bottom of the order more often than set-up men.
  • They often enter clean innings, with nobody on base.
  • And, adding one of my own: they often pitch with an optimized defensive line-up behind them.

I’m not as staunchly opposed to relievers in the Hall as Sheehan (or, say, Jeff Passan), but I certainly understand the argument and agree, in general, that outside of Mariano Rivera, it’s tough for a closer to turn in a sure-thing Hall-worthy resume. That’s why I put Hoffman here—he’s under strong consideration and, once the ballot clears some, he’ll likely earn my (virtual) vote. For what it’s worth—and ya’ll know this already—Hoffman was an excellent reliever, recording a 2.87 ERA, 141 ERA+, and (yes, we’ll mention them) 601 saves over nearly 1,100 career innings.

Bonus points for:

  • The entrance.
  • The changeup being his best pitch, when we normally associate shut-down closers with Ricky Vaughn-like velocity.

Read David, from last week, for more on Hoffman.

Billy Wagner—If Hoffman gets the nod, Wagner almost must follow.

Player Innings ERA+ DRA K:BB Ratio
Hoffman 1,089 1/3 141 3.18 3.69
Wagner 903 187 2.49 3.99

Hoffman’s lone edge is career length—and 186 innings is like three full closer seasons, no small thing. Wagner was a better pitcher, though; just better at preventing runs, thanks, in large part, to nearly unparalleled left-handed velocity.

Bonus points for:

  • Finishing his career, at 38, with arguably his best season: 69 1/3 innings, 1.43 ERA, 275 ERA+, 4.73 K:BB ratio.

Curt Schilling—Schilling is a clear notch above Mussina. At one point, later in his career, he led the league five of six years in strikeout-to-walk ratio, peaking at nearly 10 whiffs per free pass in 2002. He also owns a ridiculous postseason track record, which includes a 2.23 ERA, a 4.8 K:BB ratio, and one red-colored sock. He’s also a giant pain-in-the-ass, so let’s make him wait another year or six.

Gary Sheffield—Sheffield had some walk and strikeout numbers you just don’t see anymore. In 1996, his finest season, he walked 142 times and struck out just 66, all while smashing 42 home runs. In fact—channeling Play Index—only seven other players have hit 40-plus homers with fewer than 70 strikeouts since 1990, and Sheffield got close to doing it on three other occasions.

Bonus points for:

  • A super long peak, which essentially lasted from 1992 through 2005, spanning five different teams. During that stretch, his OPS+ sat at 153, only dipping below 120 once, and he accumulated 1,183 walks to just 859 strikeouts.
  • The bat waggle.

Close-ish But No Thanks

Sammy SosaDuring Sosa’s relatively short peak (1998-2003), he was only a few ticks better than Ramirez was for his entire career. In 1998, when he hit 66 home runs, he “only” OPSed 1.024. When the dust settled on his numbers, they just weren’t as good as you’d think, and that’s before trying to untangle the steroid problem.

Lee SmithWe’ve gotta cut off relievers at some point, and this is it. By Baseball Reference, Smith out-WARed Hoffman by 1.4 . . . but it took him 200 more innings. In short, Smith just wasn’t good enough at preventing runs, with all the aforementioned (and some not mentioned) perks of being a late-inning reliever, to make the Hall.

Fred McGriff—McGriff fully endorsed Tom Emanski’s instructional videos, which is at least enough to earn him a careful look in my book. He also hit at least 30 home runs in 10 different seasons, but never 40.

Jeff Kent—Kent was an excellent offense-first second basemen for a long time, but the Hall isn’t big enough for everybody. Could get bumped up to the next group on the right day.

Mike Cameron—Cameron’s a Hall of Very Good-er, but he’s merits mention here for once hitting four home runs in a game and always playing spectacular defense in center field.

J.D. Drew—Like Cameron, Drew’s skill-set wasn’t always appreciated. Sort of a poor-man’s Larry Walker, Drew could do a little bit of everything well. At his absolute peak, he was a sure-fire Hall of Famer (but we only got about two years of that peak).

Jorge Posada—A great hitting catcher, Posada brought the importance of pitch framing to the forefront before anyone was really thinking about it. He wasn’t good at it.

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  • Double_Up

    I discount anything steroid guys did, after all they cheated often and often. Some say, “Hey, Player X was an HoF before they used steroids so vote em’ in,” which assumes you know when they started cheating and know they wouldn’t have burned up like Andrew Jones did if they hadn’t cheated. Using that logic they should put in guys who’s careers were cut short by injuries, as you can assume they would have been awesome if healthy longer. Yet writers don’t give injured players any benefits.

    • To your point about not knowing when a player started/stopped using steroids, how do we know which players used or didn’t use steroids in the first place? Do we just not put anyone in the Hall who played from, like, the 80s through the 2000s? It’s a tough issue, no doubt, but it was such a systematic problem that I find it tough to single out players and deny them enshrinement, especially when the overseer of that era, Bud Selig, is now going to be in.

      • GT500KR

        Agree. Except on the extreme edges, the eye test is unreliable in figuring out who used.

        Baseball used to frown on weight training. It’s now accepted, encouraged, damn near required. Players from the 60s and 70s look like they’re made out of toothpicks compared to the cleanest possible players today.

  • Sac Bunt Chris

    For a long time I didn’t know what to do about accused steroid users getting into the hall, but I had a realization recently based on two main points:

    1. The job of Hall of Fame voters is to honor the best baseball players by voting them into the Hall of Fame. That’s the gig. It is the job of Major League Baseball to create and enforce its rules. They’re separate functions. For better or worse, Major League Baseball chose not to set rules or punish baseball players for using performance enhancing drugs; that’s on them. Anyone whose job is to chose the best players yet decides on their own to change their job is overstepping their bounds, often I’d argue for the sake of making themselves part of the story rather than doing their job better.

    2. Hall of Fame voters are exceptionally unqualified to determine who used performance enhancing drugs and who didn’t. This is a large part of the reason why identifying drug users isn’t part of their job–they don’t have the information or the tools to do so. Basing judgments on unreliably sourced news reports or rumors is unfair to every player involved. It’s ironic actually, that a some voters use the banner of “fairness” to make PED judgments in such an arbitrary and unfair way.

    While I agree that it would be great if something could be done regarding PEDs, that was Major League Baseball’s failure. Attempts to retroactively fix it make the process worse, not better.

    • Pat

      This is a good take. I hope the writers, or enough of them, are coming around to a similar point of view. The election of Selig does seem to have changed a LOT of voters minds, at least on Bonds and Clemens.

    • Yeah, pretty much agree with all of this.

  • GT500KR

    My ballot would be similar, but w/o IRod. A short peak, and benefits from being a specialist. Bill James pointed out that specialists tend to be more valued than players who do a lot of things well but nothing great, and what IRod specialized in (throwing out runners) wasn’t all that important. His peak adjusted offensive production is still really good but not as good as his slash line because Arlington.

    Edgar Martinez (before him, Frank Thomas) gets my vote because, unlike closers, DH is an actual position governed by the rulebook.

    To maybe add to your list of built-in advantages for a closer — remember Trevor’s routine? Every single game he’d spend 5 innings in the pen, then take a shower, stretch out, polish his spikes, get himself as prepared as possible. Other relievers don’t get that luxury. That doesn’t take away from how much he worked at it. He worked his ass off. But he just didn’t add enough wins.

    Steroids weren’t against the rules of baseball for most of the period in question. Against the law, yes, but you know what else is against the law? Intentionally throwing a potentially deadly weapon at another human being. Running real fast at somebody and slamming pointy metal sticks into their legs. It’d be different for anyone testing positive after the rule change. ManRam gets by for me because his peak, which was tremendous, happened before formal testing.

    • Pat

      “My ballot would be similar, but w/o IRod. A short peak, and benefits from being a specialist.” I think you should revisit this. There’s certainly a number of ways you can view peak, but Rodriguez has a WAR7 as good as Fisk, Berra, and Cochrane, probably a tick better than Dickey, and really not much different than Piazza. Also, just looking at expansion era catchers (so we don’t disadvantage catchers who played during shorter seasons, and who did not have the benefits of modern equipment and training for health), there are only 36 catcher seasons of 6 WAR or better, and Rodriquez has 4 of them. Only Bench and Carter have 5, Piazza also has 4, that’s it, no one else has more than 2. I don’t think he had a short peak.
      I don’t see the guy with the highest career Rfield for a catcher as being a specialist. He also has 4 of the top 15 seasons by Rfield from 1901 to present, so it’s not just a byproduct of his career length. He should be a clear, no doubt 1st ballot HOF.

      • GT500KR

        It’s certainly possible that I’m overly skeptical on IRod, but he derives so much value from his defense. And I’m skeptical (heck, all caps, SKEPTICAL) of catcher defensive metrics. If I’m not reading the chart wrong (always possible), Fangraphs shows him nearly twice as valuable, defensively, as Johnny Bench (in 400 more games played) and 2.5x better on the glove side than Fisk in almost the same number of games. That’s hard for me to picture.

        But you could absolutely be right.

      • Pat

        Thanks, I see what you’re saying now. I never look at fangraphs, just not a fan :-), but B-R shows a similar story. I think there is always room for skepticism on defensive numbers, but I think we have some good reasons for not penalizing Rodriguez too heavily either. For instance, a good chunk of the difference is he was, for whatever reason, able to stay behind the plate as a good defender. Bench was done as a catcher at 32. The difference in innings is huge, basically 6,000 more catcher innings for Rodriguez. Then we could look at those caught stealing a bit more closely. He has a similar, but better, percentage to Bench, 46 to 43, threw out about 50% more runners (playing time again), as well as being measured against a lower level (league average CS% for Bench was 35 versus 31 for Rodriguez). I also looked at Passed Balls: 94 for Bench versus 127 for Rodriguez, or 35% more for Rodriguez in 40% more innings. So he was a bit better there, too.
        Anyway, what I’m trying to say is there’s some statistical reasons, even if we’re skeptical of them, to believe he was an outstanding defensive catcher, which has a LOT of value. There’s also some, to me anyway, very compelling anecdotal evidence he was an outstanding defensive catcher. He was playing MLB at 19, like Bench, and a starter at 20, again like Bench, even though his bat was clearly weak. And teams were still willing to give him significant time behind the plate in his mid to late 30’s even though his bat was gone. I tend to think that MLB teams have a pretty good feel for whether a player’s defense offsets his lack of offense, although it may not be as precise as we’d like. A Jeter like situation where a team simply won’t move a star off a position who is clearly not able to play it is rare, and this was not the case with Rodriguez as he was moving from team to team late in his career. So I think they clearly thought his glove was worth the trade off.
        Finally on the offensive side, although he may not have had a great peak, he has a solid, and long, prime, keeping it in perspective for the position. From 21 to 34 he was at least a league average bat (a couple of seasons a few points below average by OPS+, or a few runs below average by Rbat, but not significantly). That’s 14 years and about 7600 PA’s, which is not easy for a guy who’s behind the plate where the legs, and hands take a beating. Looking again at expansion era catchers there have been 44 catcher seasons of 4 oWAR or better. Rodriguez is nowhere near the top, that is dominated by Piazza, Bench, and Carter, but he does have five of those seasons, as many as Fisk, although Fisk’s value was much higher.
        Taken altogether I think he’s a solid career candidate, even heavily discounting defensive metrics, due to his playing time, and extended peak with an average to above average bat. There’s enough, for me anyway, evidence he was a plus defender at a premium position to put him solidly in. But I understand now your skepticism. Cheers!

      • GT500KR

        You have convinced me, sir.

        I hadn’t even thought of the difference in catching environments. Now, a good 3/5 of the league plays in really hot & humid summers, so we don’t want to pat (heh) his back too much. KC and Atlanta aren’t refreshing in July. But Arlington must be one of the five toughest climates.

      • Pat

        Thanks for bringing up some really interesting stuff! I really love HOF discussions, and this was really thought provoking with regards to catchers!

    • Good point on catcher throwing. It’s more fun/interesting than it is valuable, in the long run. But I think I agree with Pat; his offense/entire skill set is really good, especially for a catcher, so I don’t really view him as a specialist or anything.

      Good point on the routine of closers, too.

  • Pat

    Always enjoy HOF discussions, and this is an interesting virtual ballot in that it is so similar to some of the actual ballot justifications in ways I disagree with, but it’s still a fine ballot. Specifically I don’t like the pettiness of some writers as exhibited by this sort of thinking, “Schilling is a clear notch above Mussina… He’s also a giant pain-in-the-ass, so let’s make him wait another year or six.” I understand it, but I just don’t agree with it.

    Then there’s the inconsistency in such remarks as I don’t know how to handle the steroid stuff, so I’ll vote for Bonds, Clemens, and a guy who actually tested positive, but I’m not voting for a guy who has over 600 HR because “When the dust settled on his numbers, they just weren’t as good as you’d think, and that’s before trying to untangle the steroid problem.” So if you’re going to ignore PED’s for some guys, why not ignore them for Sosa? Also, Sosa is, for me anyway, virtually impossible to distinguish from Guerrero. While he didn’t hit nearly as well early on, WAR loves his defense; their peak values, and career values are virtually identical, and then how do you not vote for someone with over 600 HR, and who averaged 60 HR over a 4 year period? You want to discount HR during the Silly Ball Era? Sure, no problem, but you still have a guy with the same value as Guerrero, and with 160 more HR, 35% more, and whose peak years were at the exact same time (different leagues and parks, but 1998 to 2004).
    And relievers, I’ll likely vote for Hoffman when the ballot clears, and if you vote for Hoffman, you have to vote for Wagner although Wagner has the drawback of having pitched significantly fewer innings than Hoffman. But the line is at Smith, who is a tick ahead of Hoffman on WAR, but who pitched more innings to get there. Wait, what happened to the innings advantage being important? This is just tortured logic to me. Smith is no different than Hoffman in performance terms. They both had very few truly outstanding seasons if you look at things like WAR, or ERA+, but both pitched a long time and compiled a lot of Saves. That’s the only way they differentiate themselves from the pack of other relievers during their eras. But WAR/WAA get them as virtually identical, Hoffman has a slight edge in ERA+, though it is even smaller if you adjust for innings (IOW, Smith’s ERA+ is higher when he was at about the 1,089 IP), but his FIP is better for career, and opens up an even bigger gap when adjusting for innings pitched. Trying to make the in-out line between Hoffman and Smith just doesn’t work, IMO.
    Sorry if it sounds like I’m being harsh. Just wanted to point out a couple of things I noticed in your ballot discussion which seem odd to me, and which are quite similar to things I dislike about some actual voting practices/ballot discussions.

    • Appreciate the response; some good points here. Let me respond to a couple of things.

      I’ll (virtually) vote for Schilling, probably next year. Just felt there were enough good, solid candidates on the ballot where he could be pushed back a year for all of his off-field asshatery.

      Forgetting the ‘roids, I think Sosa’s a borderline HoFer at best. He had basically the same WAR as Guerrero, but in nearly 1,000 more PAs. I didn’t really get into above, but maybe I alluded to it. But I’ll always take the guy with the shorter, more compact (but better or equal) career. Plus, Sosa’s peak came right smack in the middle of the Silly Ball/Steroid Era, and that’s the *only* thing that gets him close to the Hall. He’s more debatable than I gave credit to, perhaps, but I’m just not sure he’s a HoFer, at least not with such a crowded ballot.

      I’m basically putting the reliever cutoff at Hoffman/Wager, and I think Smith is a slight-ish but noticeable cut below them (particularly Wagner, who I kind of note is superior to Hoffman, IMO). Just going by Baseball Reference’s WAR, Hoffman has basically the same WAR as Smith but in 200 fewer innings. Back to the peak vs. compiler point, I’ll always go with peak … i.e. similar WAR in less playing time.

      Again, appreciated the response. Feel free to fire back 🙂

      • Pat

        “Again, appreciated the response. Feel free to fire back :)”

        Thanks for putting in the smiley, I’m really not trying to be a dick!

        “I’ll (virtually) vote for Schilling, probably next year. Just felt there were enough good, solid candidates on the ballot where he could be pushed back a year for all of his off-field asshatery.”

        There are certainly easily enough guys to fill a ballot capped at 10 for now!

        “Forgetting the ‘roids, I think Sosa’s a borderline HoFer at best. He had basically the same WAR as Guerrero, but in nearly 1,000 more PAs. I didn’t really get into above, but maybe I alluded to it. But I’ll always take the guy with the shorter, more compact (but better or equal) career.”

        But if you forget the PED issue, which he never tested positive for, and was certainly not alone in using them IF he did (which, I agree, he almost certainly did), he’s the furthest thing from a borderline HOF. Granted he played in the Silly Ball Era, he exceeded what has been a milestone HR figure for enshrinement by 20%. He averaged (averaged!) 60 HR over a 4 year period when there prior to 1998 had only been 2 seasons in the entire history of MLB! Again, you could decrement that by 20%, and he would have averaged 50 HR per year for 4 years, which is still unheard of. For whatever reason, and I do NOT believe Silly Ball was solely a function of PED’s, he succeeded in that era like very few others. Yes, it was an exceptional time for HR, yes there were others who did hit a LOT of HR in that time, but he was still one of the very best.

        As to the shorter, more compact career, you’re actually penalizing the guy with the longer career by looking at it this way. So career Sosa 28 WAA, Guerror 29.4, as you pointed out in 840 fewer PA’s, but take Sosa down to a comparable number of PA’s (personally I do not feel penalizing a player for sticking around too long is fair, or productive for HOF perspective), and he’s at 32 in 9,018 PA’s versus 9,059 for Guerrero. You can look at peak seasons individually, too. The WAR7 from JAWShas them at 43.7 Sosa to 41.1 Guerrero. Best five by WAA, Sosa first: 8.2, 4.3, 3.8, 3.7, and 3.7 versus 5.3, 4.9, 4.0, 3.6,and 3.2. All of these show them, IMO, to be extraordinarily similar. Now the shape of their WAA/WAR does differ in that early it sees Sosa as a somewhat below to somewhat above average hitter, which he certainly was, but an excellent defender and decent base runner. Then when he finally hits like a HOF it sees him as a poor defender and base runner, but the bat was absolutely massive. Guerrero was a more steady bat.

        “Plus, Sosa’s peak came right smack in the middle of the Silly Ball/Steroid Era, and that’s the *only* thing that gets him close to the Hall. He’s more debatable than I gave credit to, perhaps, but I’m just not sure he’s a HoFer, at least not with such a crowded ballot.”

        As I said, his peak matches pretty much exactly with Guerrero’s. From 1998 to 2004 Sosa has an OPS+ of 156 in 4,644 PA’s, Guerrero 153 in 4,519. Rbat is 324 to 289. Now Guerrero does have a bit more outside of those peaks, but it’s not a huge difference, so if you’re willing to accept Sosa as a bit better (though Rfield sees him as much better) defender, it again becomes strikingly close, IMO at least. Now crowded ballot is another story. There can be very good reasons for not voting for a qulaified guy with the number of qualified candidates on the ballot. For example, we’re talking about 2 corner OF here, and a 10 player limit; well, there are 4 other corner OF who could very easily go on the ballot (Bonds, Walker, Raines, and Sheffield). That only leaves 4 spots for other players! But honestly, we’re not talking about slam dunk candidates in either instance. They fall more into the middling range of HOF corner OF in many ways if you use a WAR based approach. So in the end, you make room for who you can. For me, if I was choosing between the two, I’d fall back on narrative because I find them so statistically similar, and that means Sosa and those 600 HR. But I’d honestly vote for both given room.

      • Pat

        What I was trying to say there, but don’t think I made it as clear as I could, is that Sosa’s peak, at least with the bat, was very much the Silly Ball Era, but so was Guerrero’s, and Sosa’s bat was every bit the equal of Guerrero’s at its peak. So if Sosa was benefiting from Silly Ball to attain that peak, then wasn’t Guerrero?

      • Maybe this is parsing it too closely, but I like the shape of Vlad’s career better. He was a great hitter by his third season and stayed that way until later in his career, whereas Sosa had that absurd late-career jump after being mostly mediocre to good through most of his 20s.

      • Nah, didn’t mean it that way at all–enjoy these discussions.

        I guess my thing with Sosa is that he was just, like, a solid player through 1997. A Hall of Very Good-er, at best, I think. And then he just went crazy, with guys like McGwire, from 1998 through like 2002. If I’m going to to factor in steroids at all, it’s going to be with someone like Sosa, whose career, as a HoFer, is solely based on like four or five seasons with crazy home runs totals in an era of crazy home run totals.

        And, like you mention, even in that great Sosa peak, he wasn’t much better than like Vlad or Manny. It’s not like he was putting up Bonds-ian numbers. In fact, I think Manny was a slightly better player over that same stretch. But, yeah, there’s definitely no way I’d vote for him now. Once things clear up more maybe I’d give it a closer look.

      • Pat

        “I’m basically putting the reliever cutoff at Hoffman/Wager, and I think Smith is a slight-ish but noticeable cut below them (particularly Wagner, who I kind of note is superior to Hoffman, IMO). Just going by Baseball Reference’s WAR, Hoffman has basically the same WAR as Smith but in 200 fewer innings. Back to the peak vs. compiler point, I’ll always go with peak … i.e. similar WAR in less playing time.”

        Looking at career WAR versus playing time does not give you a true insight into peak. For instance, WAR7 from JAWS is 19.6 for Hoffman 21.4 for Smith, that’s no difference at all. Best 5 seasons Hoffman first: 4.1, 3.9, 3.1, 2.5, and 2.2 versus 4.8, 3.2, 3.1, 2.8, and 2.6, again there’s no difference. I don’t think we should penalize Smith for the extra innings, but look at how it impacted his career numbers. If we remove his last 5 seasons, he’s now at 1,066 IP, virtually identical to Hoffman, and now his ERA+ is 136, even closer to Hoffman’s 141, and his FIP is down to 2.71, even better relative to Hoffman’s 3.08. Sure, that does cost him some WAR, but he’s not significantly different even then at 26.5 versus 28, and 12.9 WAA versus 13.7.

        To me I don’t see a difference in either peak, or career numbers. It’s too fine a line to try to draw it between Smith and Hoffman, IMO. Also, qhR really concerns me is that if we’re saying Hoffman, is in, Wagner is just as good in fewer innings, so he’s in, I believe I’ve shown Smith would be in as well, then this means Sutter, and Fingers weren’t mistakes, and we’re now looking at guys like Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Franciso Rodriguez from current players, and Dan Quisenberry, Kent Tekulve, maybe others from the VC. Tom Henke has a peak argument. What about set up men? It’s a real can of worms, IMO. And it’s hard enough, apparently, for the writers to identify a HOF pitcher now. I love Trevor, but for him to debut at 67% while Mussina, in his third year, can only manage 43% to me says there is something seriously wrong with the way far too many of the voters view pitching!

      • You’ve convinced me to at least give Smith a closer look next year (in my virtual ballot that nobody cares about). In fact, all of the closers deserve a closer look. They’re tough to handle.

      • Pat

        I care Dustin! 🙂 Seriously, it’s fun discussing it with knowledgeable, cordial fans like you.

  • ballybunion

    I sometimes think writers, and especially HOF voters, don’t realize catchers shouldn’t be compared to outfielders and other infielders who can enjoy longer careers. Unless they move to first or third base, or in some cases, the outfield corners, most catchers just don’t play long enough to accumulate the numbers, new-fangled or old-fangled. That’s probably the reason the catcher position has the fewest members of the HOF voted in by writers, and the largest percentage chosen by the veterans’ committee. If you look at Posada’s career in terms of productive length, it may not compare to an outfielder’s, but for a catcher, it’s outstanding.

    • Good point. But BP’s framing numbers, which include pitch framing, knock him down to 32.7 WAR(P), and I think that’s just too low.

    • Pat

      I agree the writers have probably paced too much emphasis on longevity, and counting stats at times, and have not done a good job of recognizing that catchers have both shorter careers, generally, as well as playing fewer games in season. That being said, I think with Posada it all comes down to how you view his defense. Yes, he fits in nicely with a number of HOF catchers, most similarly Lombardi, but not far off from Dickey, Hartnett, and Cochran. So if you like his glove, he’s probably on your ballot, but if you think he was a poor defender at an up the middle position, you likely don’t think his bat offsets it enough. And given current ballot conditions, it should come as no surprise he’s not receiving support.

      • ballybunion

        I just read that Posada is getting UNDER the 5% needed to stay on the ballot next year. THAT is shocking. He’s better than that, even if you don’t think he quite measures up. But it’s a tough ballot this year, the result of MLB having some real talent on the field over the last couple decades, which many of us didn’t notice at the time. Maybe it wasn’t a “golden age” that slipped past us, but looking back, the Hall of Very Good would be packed.

      • Pat

        I understand what you’re saying but it’s not shocking in context. There’s a very crowded ballot. There’s a number of controversial candidates. There are a number of problems with the electorate such as them having a difficult time dealing with catchers, taking time to build consensus on less than obvious candidates, having a wide variety of voting criteria almost to the extent of every individual using their own criteria. In addition it’s not just that we’ve had a lot of talent on the field it’s that the writers haven’t recognized the impact of expansion. Historically they’ve elected the top one to two percent of players but recently they’ve been electing fewer than that, and yet to keep up with a top two percent they should be electing more players because we’re now looking at a 30 team MLB versus a 16 or 20 team league. Given all that Posada as a great offensive catcher but one with a poor defensive rep should not be surprised at this result. Kenny Lofton and Jim Edwards say hello 🙂

      • Yeah, I don’t see how Posada could stick on the ballot with how crowded it is and the 10-vote maximum. I mean, given that context, he *shouldn’t* stick on the ballot, though that’s not necessarily fair.