Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 6, 2010
BASEBALL: My 2010 Hall of Fame Ballot
Hall of Fame balloting will be announced this afternoon. Here's my rundown of how I'd vote on the players on the 2010 ballot.
1. Andre Dawson: HELL NO.
I'm still appalled at the idea that serious people consider Dawson a better player than his teammate Raines, to the point where he got three times as many votes last year. Excuse Dawson's numbers all you like for the context of his times, Raines played in the same park on the same team for six years of their primes, and then Dawson moved to a bandbox - and watched his new team, the Cubs, sink to last place while Raines led the Dawson-less Expos to a surprise 91-win season, their best record in 8 years. (Yes, the 1987 Expos scored more runs than the 1987 Cubs, despite a lineup including Herm Winningham and, Mike Fitzgerald and not having another Hall of Famer (Ryne Sandberg) in the lineup. During the 6 years Dawson hit behind Raines, Dawson was 7th in MLB in At Bats w/RISP, but 12th in RBI. Dawson's critical weakness is his poor on base percentage, uniquely among all comparable sluggers: his OBP rates 44th of 45 players w/400 HR (ahead of only Dave Kingman), 50th of 50 w/1500 RBI, and 75th of 76 w/4000 TB (ahead of only Brooks Robinson). Dawson was, simply, a uniquely easy out among sluggers.
Raines hit .270 in five postseasons for three franchises and collected two World Series rings; Dawson hit .186 in three and never played in a World Series.
Joe Posnanski notes that by Win Shares, Raines was the best player in baseball over the 1983-87 period, and in the running for several contiguous 5-year stretches; Dawson shows up a fairly distant second just once (1979-83).
Raines' career OPS is higher, and of course is more heavily weighted towards OBP, the more critical of the two elements; he batted .294 to Dawson's .279, if you're of an old-school mind. Both men played more than two decades. Breaking down this year's hitting candidates by OPS+ and QPA (OPS+ times plate appearances), Raines rates ahead of Dawson:
I fear that sportswrters will vote Dawson in this year as a thumb in the eye to two groups they hate: steroid-using post-1990 sluggers, and statheads. But why not hit the first group by honoring a guy from the same era who symbolizes the kind of player that the home run madness of the past 15 years has made endangered?
3. Bert Blyleven: DEFINITELY YES.
Not much to add that I didn't say 9 years ago.
5. Lee Smith: NO. Lotta saves, good pitcher for a long time, but only sporadically dominant and didn't carry a Goose/Fingers like workload for most of his career.
6. Mark McGwire: YES, I THINK. I get the argument for dividing the steroids guys by whether we think they'd have made it without roids (Bonds/Clemens/A-Rod in, Palmeiro maybe out), but in the end I come down for putting people in who did the job on the field.
But I could yet be persuaded that McGwire's lack of durability requires rethinking his value - he basically was a really, really good player for six years (1987-92, when he was a critical part of the Oakland dynasty) and a monster for five more (1995-99 - he missed half of 2000, to his team's great detriment), separated by a three-year gulf of being mostly unavailable. That raises the issue I have stressed over and over again: baseball is played in seasons, and consistency across seasons and durability within them matters a lot - and while McGwire had two separate substantial primes, several of McGwire's teams in the center of his career got screwed by his unavailability, or by the year he hit .201. He was a terrible bust in the postseason, batting .217/.320/.349 including hitting .059 in the 1988 World Series and being limited to pinch-hitting in the 2000 NLCS, both serieses when his teams desperately needed him. Like Baines and Edgar, he was a slow runner with little defensive value. So, it's actually a closer call than you'd think.
7. Alan Trammell: CLOSE BUT NO. I looked at Trammell here.
8. Dave Parker - NO
Discussed here, here, here and here. Baines is, for reasons similar to those discussed with regard to Edgar Martinex below, kind of the poster boy for a good, durable bat who nobody takes seriously as an immortal.
1. Roberto Alomar: EASY YES. A no-brainer, despite my bitterness over his Mets tenure.
Discussed both of them here. The line separating Larkin and Trammell is a very thin one, but ultimately Larkin was a better glove and more important to teams that won with a less impressive supporting cast.
3. Fred McGriff: YES.
Discussed here; the Crime Dog was a great player for 7 years, mostly prior to the big offensive explosion, batting .288/.390/.545 from 1988-94 when those numbers were a big deal, and a quite good one for 8 more; he was consistent and durable; he batted .303/.385/.532 in five postseasons, was a huge factor in an epic pennant race in 1993 and slugged over .600 in each of the three serieses in 1995 that gave the Bobby Cox Braves their only World Championship.
4. Edgar Martinez: CLOSE, BUT NO.
Probably the toughest call on the ballot for me and the one I'm most likely to rethink later on. Edgar was unquestionably not just a Hall of Fame quality hitter but an inner-circle one, batting an eye-popping.329/.446/.574 over his prime years from 1995-2001 (OPS+ of 163), but he has just about everything else working against him that could work against him:
-He had no defensive value, having most of his big seasons as a DH; he played more than two-thirds of his career games as a DH.
-He was a very slow baserunner.
-He was injury-prone, averaging 112 games a year from 1990-94 and 128 games a year from 2002-04, so his actual prime was fairly short, just seven seasons.
-He played most of his prime years in a bandbox (the Kingdome, where the Mariners played through 1999) and all of them in an era of offensive bonanza, so his raw numbers are inflated.
-His teams chronically underachieved despite staggering amounts of talent (at various points including Griffey, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, John Olerud, Jamie Moyer, and Ichiro, among others). Edgar was murderous in the ALDS, a career .375/.481/.781 hitter, but batted an anemic .156/.239/.234 in three losing efforts in the ALCS.
Some of these are small things, some larger, but they add up and all in the same direction. Edgar's career OPS+ of 147 is slightly lower than those of Gavvy Cravath and Charlie Keller, and in a lot of ways I think of him as more similar to those guys than to Ralph Kiner. So, for now, no.
5. Everybody else: NO. Robin Ventura and Kevin Appier were both Hall of Fame quality players at their peaks who had substantial careers, but neither lasted quite long enough at prime-level production to make it. To a lesser extent the same is true of Andres Galarraga and the oft-injured Ellis Burks. Ray Lankford, Pat Hentgen, Todd Zeile, Eric Karros, Shane Reynolds, Mike Jackson and David Segui should all, in all seriousness, be honored just to be on the ballot. I'll doubtless look more closely at Appier another day, at Ventura when I get done with my next Path to Cooperstown installment on the third basemen (which will include some surprises), and Jackson in a long-overdue look at the great middle relievers.