Sunday, January 8, 2012

If Studious Metsimus Had A 2012 Hall of Fame Vote...

On Monday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce their 2012 inductees.  First-time candidates include former Met Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, one-time Met nemesis Brian Jordan (okay, many-time Met nemesis), Javy Lopez, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Phil Nevin, Brad Radke, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Bernie Williams, Tony Womack and Eric Young.

Holdovers from previous years include Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.

For the second straight year, Studious Metsimus was not allowed to cast an official Hall of Fame vote.  (Note to self:  Hire Bobby Bonilla to show the Bronx to the BBWAA if they don't accept our votes next year.)  However, if we did have a say in who should be checking for the best rates on airfare and hotels in Cooperstown, these are the players who would make the cut.

Barry Larkin

Had Ozzie Smith not been a contemporary of Barry Larkin over the early part of Larkin's career, we wouldn't be having this discussion right now.  Larkin would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2010.  But because Larkin's defensive wizardry was never validated with numerous Gold Gloves due to Smith's presence in St. Louis, he didn't receive the necessary 75% of the vote during his first two years of eligibility.  (Larkin's three Gold Glove Awards were earned after Smith had played 16 seasons and earned 13 Gold Gloves.)  Larkin received 51.6% of the votes in 2010 and jumped to 62.1% last year.  That bodes well for the former Reds' shortstop in 2012.

Over his 19-year career, all with Cincinnati, Larkin hit .295 with 2,340 hits, 441 doubles, 198 HR, 379 SB and 1,329 runs scored.  Larkin hit .300 or better nine times, won nine Silver Slugger Awards and was a 12-time All-Star.  He also won the Gold Glove Award three times (1994-1996), was the National League MVP in 1995 and became the first shortstop to record a 30-30 season when he collected 33 HR and 36 SB in 1996.  Furthermore, Larkin was an outstanding post-season hitter, batting .338 with five doubles, two triples and eight stolen bases in 17 career post-season games, which included a 1990 World Series championship.

If Ozzie Smith made the Hall of Fame primarily because of his defense, then Barry Larkin should make it as well.  Not only was he a standout player on the field, but at the plate, there was no comparison between Larkin and Smith.  After two strikes in 2010 and 2011, Larkin will not strike out in his third attempt at making the Hall of Fame.  He's as good as in.

Jeff Bagwell

How did Bagwell only garner 41.7% of the votes last year?  He was one of the most feared hitters in the National League during his 15-year career, all with the Houston Astros.

Bagwell averaged over 100 runs scored and 100 RBIs per season over his entire career, crossing the plate 1,517 times and driving in 1,529 runs in his decade and a half of service.  Every player in the 1,500/1,500 club who is eligible for the Hall of Fame and hasn't been suspended for steroids (I'm wagging my finger at you, Rafael Palmeiro) has been enshrined in Cooperstown.  Bagwell should be the next on this list.

The Astros' first baseman had an amazing career in the majors.  During his best six-year stretch (1996-2001), Bagwell hit .301, had a .429 on-base percentage and slugged .583, giving him an eye-popping 1.022 OPS.  He tallied 236 doubles, 236 home runs and stole 121 bases.  Bagwell also scored 765 runs and drove in 754 more during those six campaigns.

For his career, Bagwell hit .297, had an on-base percentage of .408 and finished with a .540 slugging percentage.  He lashed 2,314 hits, including 488 doubles and 449 HR.  He was also an intelligent baserunner, stealing 202 bases.  Bagwell scored 100 or more runs in a season nine times, drove in 100 or more runs eight times (and narrowly missed twice, picking up 96 RBI in 1992 and 98 RBI in 2002) and registered triple-digit walks on seven occasions.

Bagwell also won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1991 and the National League MVP Award in 1994, a year in which he hit .368, led the league in runs scored, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage, OPS and won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards?  Furthermore, Bagwell led the Astros to six postseason appearances in nine years from 1997-2005.  Prior to Bagwell's arrival in Houston, the Astros had only made the playoffs three times in three decades of existence.  'Nuff said!

Larry Walker

It's always tough to consider a man who played the majority of his career at Coors Field.  After all, Andres Galarraga was a .267 career hitter who had never hit 30 HR or driven in 100 runs in a season in his first eight years in the majors.  Then he goes to Colorado, wins a batting title in his first season there (hitting a whopping .370) and averages .316, 34 HR and 116 RBI in his five seasons in Denver.  The same thing happened to other mediocre players who flourished during their years as a Rockie, like Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks and Vinny Castilla.  So how did Galarraga do in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility (2010)?  He received only 4.1% of the votes and was taken off subsequent ballots.  That being said, Larry Walker should still be a Hall of Famer.

Prior to becoming a Colorado Rockie, Larry Walker was already a good hitter and complete player.  In his final three years in Montreal, Walker had a .294 batting average, .371 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage, averaging 33 doubles, 21 HR, 88 RBI and 21 SB.  He also was an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger Award and two Gold Gloves while in Montreal.  Although those numbers are not quite Hall of Fame-worthy, they were still very good.  Then he signed with Colorado and became one of the best players in the major leagues.

In his first season as a Rockie (1995), Walker hit .306 with 36 HR and 101 RBI.  His .607 slugging percentage was second in the league and he helped lead the third-year Rockies to their first-ever playoff appearance.  Year two in Colorado was fraught with injuries, as Walker only played in 83 games but still managed 18 HR, 58 RBI and 18 SB in half a season's worth of games.  Fully healthy in 1997, Walker's career took off into the stratosphere.  Walker's 1997 numbers (.366 batting average, 46 doubles, 49 HR, 130 RBI, 143 runs scored, 33 SB, .452 OBP, .720 SLG, 1.172 OPS) almost looked like they came straight from a video game.  But Walker wasn't done after his phenomenal '97 campaign.  Over the next five seasons, Walker won three batting titles (1998, 1999, 2001), finished second another year (2002) and had a combined .350 batting average over those five seasons.  Basically, he was Tony Gwynn with power and Gwynn was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

In ten years as a Rockie, Walker posted a .334 batting average, .426 on-base percentage, .618 slugging percentage and 1.044 OPS.  Only 24 players in major league history finished with a higher career batting average than what Larry Walker put up in that ten-year span.  Of those 24, the only three who finished with a higher on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS were Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, all first ballot Hall of Famers and all legends of the sport.

Larry Walker played 17 years in the major leagues.  However, because of injuries, he only had four seasons in which he played at least 140 games.  From 1994-2005, Walker missed an average of 44 games per season, failing to play more than 103 games in five of those 12 campaigns.  Despite his multiple trips to the disabled list, Walker finished his career with 2,160 hits, including 471 doubles and 383 HR.  He also stole 230 bases, scored 1,355 runs and drove in 1,311 more.  His combined averages (.313 BA, .400 OBP, .565 SLG) are among the highest career marks of anyone not already in the Hall of Fame.  Walker was a five-time All-Star, won seven Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger Awards.  He also finished in the top 20 in the MVP vote seven times, winning the 1997 MVP Award.  Not all of his awards and accolades came as a member of the Colorado Rockies, proving that Walker was an exceptional player before and after his time in Colorado.  Simply stated, Larry Walker has earned the right to become the first player with a Rockies hat on his Hall of Fame plaque.

As is the case every season, there are always quality players left out of the Hall of Fame, but will garner enough votes for future consideration.  This year such players include Jack Morris (53.5% of the votes in 2011, but his 3.90 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 18 seasons might offset his 254 career victories), Edgar Martinez (.312 career batting average, .418 on-base percentage, 514 doubles, 309 HR, seven-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, but might be hurt because of his DH status) and Lee Smith (478 career saves, retired as the all-time saves leader, but was never the dominant closer of his era a la Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Dennis Eckersley).

Also of note, none of the first-time candidates should become Hall of Famers either this year or ever.  When Bernie Williams, who averaged 85 runs, 28 doubles, 18 HR, 79 RBI and nine stolen bases per season over his 16-year career is the most attractive new candidate, players who fell short in previous years will be camping out in front of their phones come Hall of Fame selection day.

The time might eventually come for Jack Morris, Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith, but if Studious Metsimus had a vote for the Hall of Fame Class of 2012, Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell and Larry Walker would be graduating to the team of baseball immortals.

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