The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Certainty is absent among candidates in this year's Hall of Fame balloting

Baseball Hall of Fame ballots for the Hall’s Class of 2023 were due from the baseball writers last Friday. While there are always numerous carryover candidates from the previous year, it seems like the writers are being afforded a clean slate with their ballots this time.

That’s because the writers don’t have to consider four controversial players for the first time in ten years of balloting. Last year Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling reached their tenth year without ever receiving the required minimum of 75% of the votes for election. Consequently, they are removed from the ballot this year, according to the Hall’s voting rules.

Furthermore, there are no sure-fire electees on this year’s ballot.

While it was apparent the voters remained steadfast in rejecting real or perceived PED users (Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez) from being elected, it was a bit ironic that they elected David Ortiz, who once failed an MLB-administered drug test, on his first time on the ballot.

Schilling was seemingly on a path to enshrinement (receiving 71.1% in the Class of 2021) until he publicly expressed damaging social and political views the following year. It was a clear signal that voters considered him unworthy of election because of character issues, even though they occurred after his playing career.

As will be discussed later, the PED and character issues have not totally gone away with some of remaining candidates on this year’s ballot.

The Tenth Inning readers, who have followed me for several years, know I annually cast my own mythical Hall of Fame ballot. It’s a fun exercise even though it counts for nothing.

With Clemens, Bonds and Schilling off the ballot and the election of Ortiz last year, there are more open spots for new candidates on the ballot or re-consideration of carryover candidates. The problem I had was coming up with enough candidates who are truly Hall of Fame worthy, versus players who more rightly fit into the category of Hall of “Very Good.”

But I’ve always been of the mindset that I should fill all ten ballot slots with the ten best eligible players, even if I think a player is marginally worthy of Hall induction. Of course, that means I may not vote for one or more of them in future years if a better player becomes eligible.

So, here are my ten for this year: carryovers Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Kent, and Manny Ramirez; and newly eligible Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez. That means I’m leaving out Omar Vizquel, Andy Pettitte, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Mark Buehrle, and Torii Hunter.

I’ll admit I haven’t always been steadfast in prior years in voting for Rolen, Wagner, Jones, Vizquel, and Kent. When I think of them, I don’t view them in the same light as contemporary players who did make the Hall of Fame, such as Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Larry Walker, and Vlad Guerrero

My arguments for first-timers Beltran and reliever Rodriguez are as follows:

Beltran was a nine-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, and a two-time Silver Slugger winner. He appeared in seven postseasons (with five different teams), including the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros. His post-season batting line is impressive --.307/.412/.609, with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs. He is 47th all-time in home runs (435) and 41st in RBIs (1,587). The main knock against him is that his OPS+ is only 119.

Rodriguez is fourth on the all-time list for saves (437), finishing first in three seasons. He finished in the Top 4 for Cy Young honors in three seasons. (Note: relievers rarely win the Cy Young Award.) He was a six-time all-star. Rodriguez posted a career 2.86 ERA and 1.155 WHIP and helped the Angels win their last World Series in 2002. His career ERA+ was 148.

Here’s why I passed on some of the eligible players.

Having voted for Vizquel in the past, I have now jumped off his bandwagon. While his defensive skills were among the best of shortstops in his era (11 Gold Gloves), he was a below-average hitter for offensive impact (only 82 OPS+). Of his 2,877 career hits, accumulated over 24 seasons, 80% were singles. In my view, a Hall of Fame position player should at least be an average hitter (100 OPS+), even if he was a defensive wizard.

Bobby Abreu is gaining increasing public support for election. He was an On-Base-Percentage (OBP) “machine,” but he doesn’t have black ink on (indicating a league leader) in any significant offensive category throughout his 18-year career. He never finished higher than 12th in MVP voting.

Even though Andy Pettitte had 256 career wins, his career ERA was 3.85 and his WHIP was 1.351, not the kind of numbers for a pitcher who was among the best of his era. It appears his higher Cy Young Award finishes were largely based on number of wins, which is now generally acknowledged as not the main factor for winning the award. (One year he finished fourth with a terrible 4.25 ERA.) Tommy John and Jim Kaat had 280+ career wins but were not elected by the baseball writers for similar reasons as Pettitte. (Kaat was later elected by a “veterans” committee.

Jimmy Rollins is another player who had a below average OPS+ (95). Speed was one his main assets, as he led the league in triples in four seasons and had 12 seasons in which he was a Top 10 finisher in stolen bases. His most significant achievement was the National League MVP Award in 2007, when he narrowly edged out Matt Holliday by 17 points. It was a career year for Rollins, yet he was the seventh-ranked player (6.1) in the voting that year based on WAR. Albert Pujols led the NL with 8.7 WAR.

As I mentioned earlier, the specter of PEDs and character issues still hovers over this year’s balloting. A-Rod sat out the 2014 season due to his suspension for admitted PED usage. Sheffield was implicated in the 2007 Mitchell Report on steroid use in MLB. Ramirez was suspended twice for violating the MLB’s drug policy. They aren’t likely to gain any more support than Bonds or Clemens. Vizquel still suffers from allegations of domestic abuse and sexual harassment.

There’s not a player in the entire eligible list who is a shoo-in for election this year. My sense is that if any of the candidates are elected this year, it will be Rolen who had 63.2% of the votes in last year’s balloting. Helton had 52.0%, but it would be uncommon for him to see an increase of almost 25 percent in one year.

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