With the 2017 Hall of Fame election results due tonight, I thought I'd chime in with how I'd vote if I had a ballot.
A quick note on steroids/PEDs, since that frames a lot. I'm not a PED moralist, in that prior to 2005 or 2006 it was basically a Wild West where they were at least tacitly accepted. I don't disqualify players who were alleged to have used, or even if there's decent evidence they used in this period. But I don't think it should be completely ignored either, I think there are analytical tools to make inferences that can applied to the totality of the record. And it's a totally different story once it was clear players were not allowed to use them, and a regime or hard rules was in place.
The Slam Dunks (9)
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens: Two of the all-time greats, and while they almost certainly used to steroids to make a mockery of the history books, they were first ballot Hall of Famers just on their record before they were they were reported to have started using in 1999 and 1997 (and when their aging curves went screwy).
Jeff Bagwell: Another easy call. He missed the traditional milestones metrics, partly because the old Astrodome favoured pitchers, but he's arguably a Top 5 first baseman over the last century of modern baseball. I put no weight in the unfounded steroid allegations that have kept him out this far. Quite the contrary, what's interesting to me is how normal his aging curve was. His seasonal wRC+ from age-31 onward: 166, 153, 143, 138, 131, 118, 96 (done at 37). One cannot prove the negative, but this is not the hallmark of what steroids have done for other players.
Edgar Martinez: It's ridiculous that specialist relievers get voted in, but a DH as great as Martinez has had such an uphill battle. Luckily, he stands a decent chance of getting by 2019 because the writers want to put David Ortiz so they're changing their minds now. It's an easy call despite two things that hurt his career numbers beyond his control: that he was relegated to destroying AAA from 1987-89, and the 1993 injury that forced him out of the field.
Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling: They're similar in that neither was ever considered the best pitcher in baseball, but both had long careers as great pitchers. I can see how some might not think of them as the best of the best, but I admire sustained excellence, and in terms of value and the quantity of runs they kept off the board, it's not even close. Schilling is a Hall of Fame jerk, but he'll be in good company.
Tim Raines: Nothing to say that hasn't been said.
Ivan Rodriguez: Judging just by his famously evasive answer that "only God knows", I'd say it's almost certain he used steroids. He's also one of the greatest catchers of all-time, inner circle type. Interestingly, only one catcher has ever been a first ballot inductee (Johnny Bench). I suspect this remains the case due to the PED stuff, and he'll sail in next year.
Larry Walker: Three years ago I wouldn't have had him on, mostly because of potential Coors inflation. Having satisfied myself that it wasn't significantly the case, and favouring great peaks over compiling, Walker definitely belongs.
Don't Make the Cut
Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith & Billy Wagner: I would simply refer to my view of relievers and the Hall of Fame. I would keep an open mind for the future on Wagner, since his rate of run suppression was so great. However, the era of the modern closer/one inning reliever is still relatively new, and a crop of active players (Jansen, Chapman, Betances, Kimbrel, etc) are similarly dominant. If most or all break down in the near future, then it might be that Wagner is the Tim Raines of relievers, a generational talent overshadowed by the greatest ever. Otherwise, he sipmly didn't pitch enough innings.
Jeff Kent: Hall of Very Good, he falls a little short of the historical standard, though I can understand "big Hall" voters who see the standard as too high, and Kent as worthy. Particularly since he was at the forefront in redefining the offensive expectations of middle infielder.
Jorge Posada: Hall of Very Good, but falls a little short even limiting the comparison to other catchers (since at best they only play 120 games a year). What surprises me is that he may not even get 5% to stay on the ballot, but then the backlog is such that the "big Hall" voters who would be most likely to vote for him are against the limit of 10.
Manny Ramirez: On the numbers alone, he probably should be in. He was a generational hitter, more productive hitter than Edgar Martinez, and if we want a narrative, certainly more "feared". He was an indifferent and then terrible defender who probably should have been a DH the second half of his career. I'll get into this more with Sheffield, I don't know exactly how much to hold that against him.
What I do hold against him, and why he's a no for me, is that he was twice caught and suspended for steroids when it was clearly prohibited through a collectively bargained process. Given that he was reported to have tested positive in the 2003 survey testing, it's likely he was using a lot before that. I don't hold that against him, and I could even look past one positive test. Accidents happen, the system isn't perfect, etc. But two indicates a level of intent. In my books, breaking rules has consequences. I wouldn't have a problem with him going in at some point, maybe via the Veteran's Committee. just as I think Pete Rose should go in posthumously. But actions have consequences.
Sammy Sosa: Taking his numbers at face value, the only argument for him is the 609 home runs, which above the magic number of 500. And this is a great example of milestone numbers are bad, because they strip away critical context. Home runs are much more prevalent than they were historically, the benchmarks simply don't mean what they used to.Other than that, he's at best a borderline candidate in terms of value. There's the...abnormal aging curve and PED reports. Finally, the corked bat incident, when he was actually caught cheating. Add it all up, an easy no.
Thanks for coming out: Casey Blake, Pat Burrell, Orlando Cabrera, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Carlos Guillen, Derrek Lee, Melvin Mora, Magglio Ordonez, Edgar Renteria, Arthur Rhodes, Freddy Sanchez, Matt Stairs, Jason Veritek, and Tim Wakefield.
Gary Sheffield: In terms of overall value, he's right on the historical borderline. An amazingly gifted pure hitter, if it was just about his bat it would be a pretty easy yes. What holds him back (beyond PED stuff and his famous intransigence) is how bad he was defensively. From a defensive/positional standpoint, Baseball-Reference has him at 279 runs below average, and Fangraphs at -301. If this is accurate, he would have accumulated less negative value if he had a DH positional penalty his entire career. On one hand, if he was that bad, then it did actually hurt his team on the field. But he shouldn't have been there, and that's on the team. And really, that's the crux for me of whether he belongs or not.
Vladimir Guerrero: The issue with Vlad is that's sort of a "tweener". He didn't have a very long career by Hall of Fame standard, just 9,000 plate appearances. But neither did he have an astronomical peak either, with leaves him on the historical borderline. Consider the following comparison to a player who didn't come close:
That said, Vlad was such a gifted, unique hitter and player, that in some ways it feels like Cooperstown would be incomplete without him. I'm really on the fence, even with a 10th slot open this year that won't be open next year (Bagwell and Raines will come off, but Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones hit the ballot). So for this year, I'd say yes. But probably not again for a couple years (when he'll likely make it in).
Raines and Bagwell are locks to be elected this year. Pudge is above the line now, I suspect he narrowly misses, maybe 72-73%. Vlad has faded the last couple weeks, unless he's a rare guy who gets a big late boost, he's going not going in this year. I'll guess 70%. Hoffman too could go either way, I suspect he sneaks in with 76-77%.
Tell us in the comments what your 10 man ballot would look like, or who you think will be elected.