Yesterday, I began the project of casting my Hall of Fame votes for 2014. You can read Part One here. I’ve used eight votes: Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, Martinez, Raines, Trammell, Schilling, and McGriff. There are lots of first-time guys on the new ballot, 27 to be exact. Of these, only 8 have a real chance at induction in the next fifteen years. The eight are: Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Moises Alou, Eric Gagne, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Luis Gonzalez. That’s a talent-packed crowd, especially for someone who has only two votes left.
Eric Gagne- Ok I lied, only seven of these guys have a real chance of induction in the next fifteen years. Gagne played eight full years and was below average for five of them. He had three phenomenal seasons: from 2002-2004, he had a 1.79 ERA, a 0.82 WHIP, a 6.29 K:BB ratio, 51 saves per year, and three top-10 Cy Young finishes, including one Cy Young win. Outside of those three seasons, half the relievers currently in the league have done better than Gagne. Even without the steroid cloud hanging over him, Gagne does not have HOF credentials.
Opinion: Anyone who looks at the names on the ballot and thinks he can spare a vote on Gagne should not be allowed to vote anymore.
Prediction: He’s falling off the ballot this year.
Greg Maddux- Maddux should push the upper-90s in percentage of votes received. He won four consecutive Cy Young awards, and finished in the top 5 in seven straight seasons. Those seasons include four ERA crowns, three K:BB ratio crowns, four WHIP titles, two twenty-game win campaigns, and three seasons leading the league in wins. In those seven seasons, he averaged 18 wins and 239 innings per year with a 2.15 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, and a 4.78 K:BB ratio. He was also a workhorse, leading the league in starts seven times, innings five times, complete games three times, and shutouts four times. He’s one of seven live-ball era pitchers with 5000+ innings, and the only one of those who didn’t walk at least 1000 guys. Maddux’s JAWS (the simple average of his career WAR with the sum of the WARs in his seven best seasons) is 81.6. The average Hall of Fame starting pitcher has a JAWS of 61.4. And even outside his seven top seasons, Maddux’s war is 50.5, the highest non-peak WAR of anyone currently on the ballot. He has 11 seasons with a WAR greater than 5, the fifth-most such seasons of any live-ball era pitcher. Oh yeah, he also has 355 wins, 18 Gold Gloves, and 2 of the top 4 single-season ERA+ marks ever (260 and 271, 3rd and 4th).
Opinion: One of the all-time greats, Maddux should draw at least 95% of votes.
Prediction: In Part One of this piece, I guaranteed at least one first-ballot inductee this year. Greg Maddux is why.
Jeff Kent- For me, Kent is the closest call of all the first-time players on the ballot, particularly because it’s so hard to block out all the specious arguments. The most prominent specious argument regarding Kent is that he benefited unfairly from Barry Bonds hitting behind him. It is true, Bonds was in San Francisco each season that Kent was, and Bonds hit at least 34 homers in each of those six seasons. But even if we significantly deflate Kent’s career stats (i.e., grant for the sake of argument that Bonds’s presence helped Kent way more than it reasonably could have), he’s still one of the most talented offensive second basemen ever. His career slash rates are .290/.356/.500. Of second basemen with at least 5000 career plate appearances, only Rogers Hornsby exceeds the Kent line, and Hornsby is regarded by many as the best right-handed hitter ever. Now let’s deflate Kent’s slash rates 20 points each, far more than Bonds could have been responsible for. There are still only three other second basemen with a career line better than .270/.335/.480: Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer (HOF), and Chase Utley. Kent and Hornsby are also the only second basemen with 1300 runs and 1500 RBI. Again, even if we take off 200 runs and 200 RBI (way, way, way more than Bonds could have been responsible for in six years), Kent is still one of four second basemen with 1100 runs and 1300 RBI. The others are Hornsby, Gehringer, and Eddie Collins, all Hall of Famers.
However, he has the 16th-highest WAR among all-time second basemen and a JAWS of 45.4, while the HOF average second baseman has a JAWS of 57.0. Of the guys ahead of Kent on the WAR list, not only are there three who have been deemed unworthy of the Hall, but there are three who fell off the ballot in their first year. Why does Kent have some great statistics but a not-so-impressive WAR? Kent played in an era of tremendous offensive production, an era during which lots of other second basemen around the league were supposedly doing things similar to what he was doing. Of the 27 second basemen ever with a career OBP of at least .320 and a career SLG of at least .420, 12 of them played in this century. Still, I think that Kent’s longevity and consistency put him on a level of his own, and his wRC+, which is normalized across different eras, still puts him higher than recent second base inductees Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar. Only 34 second basemen have ever driven in 100 runs in a season. 16 of them have done it multiple times. Kent has done it 8 times, more than anyone else.
Opinion: Half of the guys I’d vote for this year will almost certainly get in over the course of the next few seasons. Once that happens, I’d be inclined to give Kent a vote, but not until then.
Prediction: Enough writers don’t look at the advanced stats that their votes can keep Kent on the ballot, but I don’t think he’s ever getting in.
Frank Thomas- Here’s a stat that will blow you away: Frank Thomas as at least as high a wRC+ as every first baseman the writers have inducted since Jimmie Foxx in 1951. He has a higher wOBA than every first baseman the writers have inducted since Hank Greenberg in 1956. The following is a list of players with more seasons of .300 AVG/30 HR/100 BB/ 100 RBI than Frank Thomas has (7): Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Barry Bonds. And he’s tied with Ted Williams. That’s it. Thomas won back-to-back MVPs and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting in seven consecutive years. In that span, 1991-1997, Thomas slashed .330/.452/.604. He averaged 107 runs, 118 RBI, 119 walks, and 36 homers per year in that span. He has the 16th-highest OPS+ ever, and everyone ahead of him who is eligible is already in the HOF except for Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. Thomas is one of 12 players ever with 1500 walks, 1500 RBI, and 1400 runs, and all eligible players on that list except Bonds have already been inducted. Even by advanced stats, Thomas is a lock: his JAWS is 59.5, better than that of the average HOF first baseman, which is 55.7.
Opinion: He should go in on the first ballot.
Prediction: The poster-boy of a clean slugger in a tainted era, Thomas will win the support of at least three-quarters of the writers this year.
Moises Alou- Alou had a great career and was named an All-Star six times, but he was never truly dominant. He led the NL in only one category in his career: he grounded into 21 double plays for the Astros in 2000. His peak WAR is lower than that of all of the other first-timers whom I have designated as “having a chance,” and it is also lower than that of every holdover on the ballot except for Lee Smith’s. His WPA per season is 1.59 (Fangraphs designates 1.0 as average and 2.0 as above average). Alou was a slightly below-average fielder in all but two of his seventeen seasons, and it’s a stretch to say that his peak lasted any more than four years. On the other hand, consistency counts too, and Alou had a wOBA and wRC+ on par with those of Dave Winfield and Jim Rice, and much better than Andre Dawson’s. Again, people will criticize Alou for not having a clear peak, but he exceeded 150 wRC+ 3 times—as many times as Rice and Winfield did, and as many times as Gwynn and Dawson put together did. Finally, Alou’s JAWS hurts him—his 33.6 mark is well below the average HOF left fielder’s 53.1.
Opinion: I am of the opinion that the writers erred by inducting Rice, Dawson, and Winfield, so while I do believe that Alou deserves a long look, I don’t think he deserves entry and would not use a vote on him.
Prediction: Alou will fall off the ballot this year or next year and get fewer chances than he deserves.
Luis Gonzalez- Gonzalez and Alou are very similar. Like Alou, he had a short peak of dominance: a three-year stretch with .324/.408/.593 during which he averaged 85 XBH per year, 38 HR, 115 runs, and 122 RBI. But if you take out those three years from his career line, his career OBP and SLG end up around .350 and .450, respectively. While he was a better fielder than Alou and thus had a better JAWS (Gonzalez’s JAWS is 42.7), he was also less productive at the plate. His career .364 wOBA and 118 wRC+ pale in comparison to Alou’s .378 wOBA and 129 wRC+, although his 1.63 WPA is slightly better. Gonzalez’s last hope is that people writers place a heavy weight on career totals and precedent: 40 players, including Gonzalez, have 1400 career RBI and 1400 career runs. 27 of them are already in the Hall of Fame. Of the remaining 13, 8 have not been on the ballot yet. The last 5 are Bonds, Palmeiro, and Sosa, who are marred by steroids allegations, and Bagwell and Gonzalez. Bagwell will make it in eventually, potentially leaving Gonzalez as one of the only eligible players with 1400 runs and RBI not to be in the HOF. And while there were rumors that he was linked to PEDs, the evidence against him is much weaker than against guys like Bonds, Palmeiro (who tested positive), and McGwire.
Opinion: The advanced stats, which are far more reliable than counting stats like runs and RBI, make it clear: Gonzalez does not belong in the Hall.
Prediction: He’ll fall off the ballot within three years.
Tom Glavine- Keen readers will have noticed something at this point: I’ve already used my ten HOF votes this year. While I think that Tom Glavine deserves to be inducted, his HOF candidacy is not even close to the slam dunk people that perceive it to be. I think it’s more important to help Trammell in his last two years and Raines as he gets into the second half of his time on the ballot than it is to vote for Glavine. I’ll take some time to justify this though, because I know that it’s probably my most controversial position.
First, I’ll stipulate that Glavine hung on too long at the end. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and pretend that he retired after the 2002 season as a 36 year-old Atlanta Brave. If we do that, his career FIP drops about 0.18, his career WHIP drops by about 0.03, and his career ERA drops by about 0.17. Though this tradeoff is a clear win for Glavine supporters (he posted a 4.06 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 1.39 WHIP, and 1.54 K:BB ratio in his Mets years plus his last Atlanta year), it does cost him his place in the 300-win club. In his Braves years, Glavine had a 1.80 K:BB ratio, which would be the 24th-worst ratio of HOF pitchers (of which there are 63). Importantly, most of those players behind him played when the game was very different and there were a lot more walks. If we limit the HOF starting pitchers to just those whose careers started after 1950, Glavine’s 1.80 K/BB ratio would make him the second-worst pitcher in the Hall. Glavine’s 3.90 FIP with the Braves would place him 15th-worst out of the 63 pitchers in the Hall. Glavine’s 1.29 WHIP with the Braves would make him 14th-worst out of 63. His ERA with the Braves would make him the 10th-worst out of 63. Lastly, his JAWS from his Braves years is 55.4, below the average HOF starting pitcher’s JAWS of 61.4.
Now let’s put back Glavine’s last years. His FIP, WHIP, and ERA all get worse. He still has the second-worst K:BB ratio since 1950, but his WHIP drops from the bottom quintile to the bottom sextile, his ERA drops from the bottom sextile to the bottom decile, and his FIP drops from the bottom quartile to the bottom sextile. His JAWS does improve to 62.9, slightly better than the average HOF pitcher’s JAWS, but that’s mostly because we just added six seasons of playing time to his career. His career ERA- (adjust for park and league, with 100 as average and lower as better) is 86, and he posted only one season mark below 80. Furthermore, his WPA per Braves season is 1.72. Over his whole career, it’s 1.37. Yikes.
Moving on from career stats, let’s contend with Glavine’s achievements. He had an eight-year peak with a 2.96 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP, a 3.59 FIP, a 1.99 K:BB ratio, and an average WAR per year of 5.0. His ERA is great, and so is his average of 18 wins per year during that time. But the more we learn about baseball, the less we trust these stats. His WHIP is not elite—probably borderline HOF-worthy and certainly not first-ballot—his FIP is middling, his K:BB ratio is below average, and his WAR is excellent, but also not in the first-ballot range. Glavine won 2 Cy Young Awards, although he deserved only one of them. The second one, in 1998, should have been won by Kevin Brown. Brown had a much higher WAR (8.58 vs. 6.14), a better ERA (2.38 vs. 2.47), a much better WHIP (1.07 vs. 1.20), a much better K:BB ratio (5.25 vs. 2.12), and an out-of-this-world FIP (2.07 compared to Glavine’s 3.54). Glavine also finished in the top-3 Cy Young voting four other times aside from his victories, but if you go back and look at the advanced metrics from that year, you’ll realize that he did not earn his high finishes in three of them. Next, Glavine has a 2.16 ERA in the World Series and is the owner of a World Series MVP Award. It seems, however, that his teams got to the World Series in spite of him, not because of him. Glavine has a 4.61 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 56.2 NLDS innings, compared to a 2.16 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 58.1 World Series innings. After going over his achievements, let’s lastly discuss Glavine’s lack of achievements: he led the league in wins five times (relatively unimportant), in games started six times (useful but not indicative of talent), in complete games once, shutouts once, and ERA+ once (impressive). But he never won an ERA title, he never led the league in WHIP, he never led the league in K:BB ratio, he never led the league in FIP, he never led the league in K/9, and he never led the league in BB/9, although in 1999 he gave up more hits than anyone else.
With six fewer wins, Glavine is a borderline HOF candidate. But because he has 305, he’ll get in (as he deserves to eventually), but it will be to the detriment of the average numbers HOF pitchers currently have.
Opinion: Glavine deserves to get in, but I certainly wouldn’t vote for him this year, and I also wouldn’t vote for him until Mike Mussina is inducted. Glavine has not earned the surefire first-ballot status that many people accord to him.
Prediction: Despite the final line of my opinion, I think that Glavine will get in this year. And frankly, I’m not too upset about that. The fewer years he’s on the ballot, the fewer votes he’ll steal from Mussina, Bagwell, Piazza, Martinez, etc.
Mike Mussina- First, just to demonstrate that I’m not lowering my standards for Mussina after raking Glavine over the coals, let’s look at his career stats compared to the other HOF pitchers. Mussina’s 3.65 FIP places him 35th out of 63 pitchers, slightly outside the top half. Admittedly, his 3.68 ERA hurts. It would be the second-highest of any inductee ever. Luckily, advanced stats teach us that ERA is not all that good a measurement of talent. Mussina’s K:BB ratio, at 3.58, would be the second-highest of any pitcher ever inducted. The highest is Monte Ward’s 3.64. Ward played seven seasons from 1878-1884, so no matter how you define “modern era,” Mussina’s K:BB ratio would be the highest of any HOF pitcher in the modern era. Lastly, Mussina’s 1.19 WHIP places him 34th out of 63, and half the guys ahead of him (16, to be exact) retired before 1930. His WPA per season 2.21, and Fangraphs rates a 3 as “great.” Mussina eclipsed 4.0 in WPA in three different seasons. Glavine did that only once. Mussina’s career ERA- is 82, and he posted marks below 80 in an incredible 11 out of 18 seasons. Glavine had an ERA- below 80 only once. Mussina posted very good numbers across the board; in fact, there are only two players who have had more seasons with at least 200 IP, a K:BB ratio better than 3, and a WHIP better than 1.3 than Mussina has: Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, both surefire first-ballot HOFers.
It’s hard to say when Mussina’s peak was because he was so consistent, but from 1992 to 2001, he finished in the top-6 in Cy Young voting 8 times. He also should have won the award in 2001 when he had a higher WAR and better ERA+ and WHIP than all the other top-ten finishers. For the nine years between 1995 and 2003, Mussina pitched 200 innings in every season and was in the top-10 in the MLB in strikeouts, innings pitched, wins, BB/9, WPA, SO:BB ratio, WAR, ERA, ERA+, on-base percentage allowed and OPS+ allowed. Only Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling are in the top-10 for all those lists. 1995-2003 was during the steroids era, but that time period also featured some of the most dominant pitchers ever, such as Schilling, Martinez, Maddux, and Johnson. Mussina displaced two of those names to be one of the top-3 pitchers from 1995-2003. In Glavine’s 8-year prime, he missed the top-10 in key stats such as K:BB ratio, WHIP, and on-base percentage allowed.
Mussina even matched Glavine’s playoff output, although he did it much more consistently than Glavine did (Mussina had a 3.60 ALDS ERA, a 3.34 ALCS ERA, and a 3.00 WS ERA). His playoffs bottom line was a 3.42 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP and a 4.39 K:BB ratio, better, in my opinion, than Glavine’s 3.30 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and 1.64 K:BB ratio.
Opinion: Mike Mussina should be in the Hall of Fame. I would like to be able to vote for him this year, but he’ll get the first available spot after 3-4 guys are inducted this year.
Prediction: Unfortunately, I think that too many writers are still invested in ERA for Mussina to make it. I hope that those same writers will take his wins into account, as misleading as I believe that stat to be, because there are only three players ahead of him on the all-time wins list who are not HOFers (excluding Maddux, Johnson, and Glavine), and four of the five guys immediately behind him are also HOFers. But I’m more concerned that he won’t get enough support to stay on the ballot. That would be a snub worse than Kenny Lofton’s last year.
I’ve used all ten of my ballot spots, and I hope the writers do too for the next few years because of all the deserving players. Last year was very disappointing, but it’s possible that we see six guys go in this year (Maddux, Thomas, Glavine, Piazza, Martinez, and Biggio). That would make next July a lot more exciting, but it would also make votes in the next few years a lot fairer. There’s nothing worse than when a player whom writers wanted to vote for doesn’t get in because writers have used all their votes. Here’s to a better Induction Weekend in 2014!