The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Casting My Mythical Hall of Fame Ballot

This year’s ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame doesn’t have a large number of new superstar candidates competing for votes, as some prior years did.  Consequently, one might think it’s easier an easier task to make ten selections this year.  On the other hand, the situation causes a serious (and difficult) review of the carryovers from previous years, looking at players that had been passed over for one reason or another.

Every year that I fill out a “fantasy” Hall of Fame ballot, I try to put myself in the official voters’, the baseball writers’, shoes.  It causes me to think hard about the candidates who are real and suspected PED users.  Should they be allowed to enter the Hall?  How much weight should be placed on the more objective analytics versus being influenced by other career accumulation measures used in the past, like 300 wins, 3,000 hits, and 500 home runs?  Should off-the-field image affect a player’s voting?  These questions and others create some great debates around the annual voting.

So what’s my mythical Hall of Fame ballot look like this year?

To recap last year, I voted for Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Lee Smith, Gary Sheffield, Trevor Hoffman, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling.

Bagwell, Raines, and Rodriguez received the required percentage (75% or greater) of votes cast by the writers.  Apparently the voters discounted the suspicions about Bagwell and Rodriguez having been PED users.  Raines was elected on his final appearance on the ballot.  However, Smith fell off the ballot in his 15th and final year on the ballot, as he was able to garner only 34.2% of the votes.

I’ve decided to carry forward my other six votes from last year to 2018.

I’m sticking with Sheffield even though he collected 13.3% of the votes last year.  On the website, there is a similarity score for each major-league player, indicating other players who have had comparable careers.  7 of the 10 players (such as Mel Ott, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle, and Frank Robinson) on that website designated as similar to Sheffield are already in the Hall of Fame.  Two of the other players, Chipper Jones and Carlos Beltran, are very likely to become future inductees.  Sheffield’s career suffers from the fact that he played for 8 different teams during his 22-year career.  Apparently many voters view that with a negative connotation.  Furthermore, he wears the PED suspicion badge like Bagwell and Rodriguez did.  In any case, I don’t see him making a significant jump in this year’s tally, but I’m not changing my view.

Hoffman narrowly missed getting elected last year with 74% of the vote.  Guerrero was in a similar situation with 71.7%.  Both will get over the hump this year.

I have been a proponent of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for the Hall for several years now, despite their struggles with the PED issue.  Both increased their percentages to around 54% last year, signaling there continues to be a softening of the writers’ points of view on the issue.  This will be a pivotal year (their sixth year of eligibility) with regard to their ultimate election.

Curt Schilling still gets my vote this year, despite a negative image problem which has been self-induced by the controversy he created on several national social and political issues.  His numbers for Career Strikeouts (15th all-time), Strikeout/Walk Ratio (5th all-time), and WAR for Pitchers (26th all-time) indicate he is comparable to the top pitchers of his era, plus his post-season performance is among the best in history.  However, he suffers from not having won 300 career games (he retired with 216) and not having won a Cy Young Award.  Schilling got 45% of the vote last year, but that was a decline from 52% the year before.

So that leaves room for four new picks for me this year.

Chipper Jones heads the list of new entrants on the ballot for 2018, and I think he’ll be a first-ballot selectee.  His slash line is outstanding with .303/.401/.529.  He has one MVP Award among three top six finishes to his credit and was selected to the all-star team eight times.  He compiled 468 home runs (33rd all-time) and 1,623 RBI (34th all-time) during his career.  His Offensive WAR is 87.4, which is the 25th all-time best.  He is one of the key reasons the Atlanta Braves were a dominant National League team in the 1990s.  The third base position is one of the least populated in the Hall, and Jones will be a worthy addition.

Three other first-timers in 2018 I considered, but didn’t include in my final ten votes, were Jim Thome, Johan Santana, and Omar Vizquel.  I’ll come back later to explain why.

Instead, I am opting to vote for three players who are carryovers from previous years:  Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Larry Walker.  I haven’t voted for any of these players in prior years, simply because I thought there were more worthy players ahead of them.

I have been convinced by the baseball gurus who specialize in Hall of Fame player analysis that Martinez is Hall-worthy, even though he was used primarily as a designated hitter.  This is his ninth year on the ballot, and the official voters in the past have obviously given him more consideration than I have, since he reached 58.6% of the votes last year.  His career On-Base Percentage (.418) is the 21st best all-time.  His career Batting Average is .312, but remarkably he never led the league, even though he posted years with .343 and .356.  Martinez had six consecutive seasons when his On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) was .993 or better.  He was a seven-time all-star.  Martinez’s election will likely open the door for other players who were primarily DHs during their career.

I was never a big fan of Mike Mussina before, as I thought his 270 career wins were a bit over-rated.  He didn’t win 20 in a season until his last in 2008 and he never won a Cy Young Award.  But peeling back the onion a bit more revealed that he is 24th all-time in career WAR for Pitchers (82.7).  He is 23rd all-time in Strikeouts/Walk Ratio.  There were six seasons when he had no fielding errors, in route to capturing seven Gold Glove awards.  Mussina was in the Top 10 for ERA in 11 of his 18 seasons.  He collected 51.8% of the votes in his fourth year on the ballot in 2017.

Larry Walker gets my tenth vote.  He compares favorably in the advanced career metrics (WAR, JAWS, etc.) with players like Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero.  He led the National League in hitting for three seasons with averages of .350, .363, and .379.  He posted his best major-league season in 1997 when he led the league in HR (49) and OPS (1.172).  Oh, by the way, he also hit .366 and knocked in 130 runs, as he won the MVP Award that year.  He was a five-time all-star and six-winner of the Gold Glove.  Walker is in his 8th season on the ballot and would have to be considered a long-shot at this point for election since he collected only 21.9% of the vote last year.

Manny Ramirez is the one obvious player missing on my ballot.  I think he’s actually the best player on the carryover list, but I’m leaving him off because he actually failed MLB tests for PEDs during his career.  Right or wrong, that’s where I draw the line with respect to the PED issue.

Admittedly, I gave preference to carryover players Martinez, Mussina, and Walker over first-timers Thome, Santana, and Vizquel.  The latter three have more time to be considered for election.  Thome will be a strong contender due to his 600 career home runs.  Santana had a stretch of six consecutive seasons where he finished in the Top 7 of the Cy Young Award voting, winning it in 2004 and 2006.  Vizquel is regarded as one of the best-fielding shortstops of all-time, having captured 11 Gold Gloves. He is 43rd on the all-time hits list with 2,877.

In the past three years (2014-2017) of Hall Voting, there were a total of nine player-inductees, not counting the ones elected by veterans committees.  In the three years prior to that (2011-2013), there were a total of three.  The sabrmetric perspective on career evaluation has definitely influenced this increase.  I’m on the side of more players being voted in, versus voting that tends to limit the number of honorees.  I think the chances of another bumper crop are high this year, since Hoffman, Guerrero, Jones, and Martinez have decent chances to attain the 75% minimum vote.

The 2018 inductees into the Hall will be announced on January 24.  It’s too bad my votes won’t count.

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