Monday, January 21, 2019

If Studious Metsimus Had a 2019 Hall of Fame Vote...

On Tuesday, January 22, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be using its speed dial to inform several players and their families that they'll need to cancel any plans they have for the penultimate weekend in July because new plans have been made for them.  Those players who receive 75% of the Hall of Fame vote will be joining Modern Baseball Era inductees Lee Smith and Harold Baines on stage at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York.

Last year's class saw a starting pitcher, a closer, three infielders and an outfielder receive their plaques, as Jack Morris, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome, Alan Trammell, Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero were immortalized as six of the game's all-time greats.  Don't be surprised if a similar number of hotel rooms need to be booked for this year's inductees.

Fifteen players returned to the ballot this year, after receiving the minimum five percent of the vote last year, but not quite the 75% needed for induction.  Three former Mets (Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield) are among them.  In addition to the 15 returnees, there are 20 first-timers on the ballot, with three of them also wearing a Mets cap at some point in their career.  Those three are lefty long-man Darren Oliver, the underachieving Jason Bay and the winner of the "Wait, He Was A Met?" award, Rick Ankiel, who helped the Mets more as a member of 2000 Cardinals than he did as a member of the Mets in 2013.

According to Ryan Thibodaux and his helpful Hall of Fame ballot tracker, there are 412 ballots out there, with 309 votes needed for induction.  Players will be five-percented off the ballot if they do not receive a minimum of 21 votes.  And by players, I mean Darren Oliver, Jason Bay and Rick Ankiel.  Sorry, guys.  At least you played long enough to get on the ballot.

Had Studious Metsimus been honored with the right to vote, players would have needed 310 votes to be inducted, so if someone like Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds misses the cut by one vote this year, they can file a formal complaint to make my vote officially count instead of it just being a feeble attempt to get me a few dozen page views every January.  Not that I would have voted for Clemens or Bonds anyway.  I'm not a fan of bat-tossing misrememberers or people who try to compete with Bruce Bochy (another former Met!) for the title of largest noggin in baseball.

Here's what would have been Ballot No. 413, focusing on three players I would personally like to see in the Hall, followed by the other seven who would get the "X" mark next to their names on my imaginary ballot.

Baseball Mecca.  (Photo courtesy of the Cooperstown/Otsego County website)

Edgar Martinez

Face it, the only reason Martinez is still on the ballot in his tenth and final year of eligibility is because he played a significant portion of his career as a designated hitter.  How else can you explain a lifetime .312 hitter with a .933 OPS and OPS+ just short of 150 not having a plaque in Cooperstown yet?

The voters of this generation who use the DH argument to foil the case of Martinez are like the previous generation's voters who couldn't bear to see relief pitchers making the Hall.  "If they can't pitch more than a few innings, I can't vote for them," those misinformed voters would say.  But relievers such as Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter (all Hall of Famers) paved the way for the one-inning closer to get recognition from the Hall.  Dennis Eckersley has a plaque in Cooperstown.  John Smoltz's three-and-a-half year period as a dominant closer also helped fuel his candidacy.  Trevor Hoffman got his Hall call last year and Lee Smith just impressed the Modern Era voters.  And who, pray tell, is going to keep Mariano Rivera out of Cooperstown this year, other than Boston bloviator Bill Ballou?

The same people who are now accepting one-inning closers as potential Hall of Famers now need to focus their attention on players who left their gloves at home.  Frank Thomas, who started more than 100 games at first base in just three of his 19 seasons and played in over 1,300 games exclusively as a designated hitter, was a first ballot Hall of Famer.  Why is his lifetime .301/.419/.555 slash line considered worthy of enshrinement and Edgar's .312/.418/.515 isn't?  Is it because Thomas produced the sexy hits (521 HR) and Martinez didn't (309 HR)?  It's true Thomas had 11 seasons with 100+ RBI while Edgar had just six.  But did you know the great Mickey Mantle only had four such seasons?  No one used that argument against Mantle and no one should.  But had he played in the DH era, Mantle's knee injuries would have relegated him to "leave your glove behind" status and then people would be questioning what should have been obvious about him; that he is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer.

Martinez won two batting titles.  He was also a league leader in runs scored, RBI, OPS, OPS+ and finished first multiple times in doubles and on-base percentage.  For seven seasons (1995-2001), which coincided with all of the Mariners' postseason trips in franchise history, Martinez's averages per 162 games were mindboggling.  He produced a .329/.446/.574 slash line.  That's a 1.020 OPS in 1,020 games.  And if that's not good enough, how about his 162-game average of 47 doubles, 32 homers, 123 RBI and 111 runs scored during the seven-year stretch?

There's a reason why the annual outstanding designated hitter award is named after Edgar Martinez.  That's because he was the best at what he did.  And those who are the best deserve to be with the best in Cooperstown.

This mustache should be on Edgar's plaque.  It's Hall of Fame worthy by itself.  (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Larry Walker

Similar to Edgar Martinez, Walker hasn't gotten as much support as he should because of one nagging element.  Martinez has failed to get votes because of the DH factor, while Walker has the Coors Field factor looming over him.

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 was also 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 with the Rockies (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 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, as is his 72.6 bWAR.  And he wasn't just a product of Coors Field.

Walker played in 674 games for the Expos prior to his time in Colorado and 144 games for the Cardinals after leaving the Rockies, which is approximately five full 162-game seasons.  In those 818 games in non-Rockies uniforms, Walker posted an .851 OPS and 129 OPS+, averaging 63 extra-base hits and 21 steals per 162 games.  And those numbers weren't fueled by the thin air in Denver.

All told, 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 N.L. Most Valuable Player 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.

Larry Walker sticks out his tongue to all those who won't vote for him.  (David Seelig/AllSport)

Mariano Rivera

He blew a save in the 1997 ALCS, which allowed the Cleveland Indians to stave off elimination and led to the Yankees' sole postseason series loss in a five-year period.

He couldn't hold a lead in the ninth inning of Game Seven of the 2001 World Series, allowing the Arizona Diamondbacks to celebrate their first and only championship.

He was credited with back-to-back blown saves in the 2004 ALCS, when converting any one of them would have resulted in a pennant for the Yankees instead of what became a curse-ending title run for the Boston Red Sox.

He lost four games to the Mets and allowed runs in six of his final 11 appearances against his crosstown rivals, allowing players such as Matt Franco (1999), Timo Perez (2001), Raul Gonzalez (2003), Damion Easley (2007), Ike Davis (2010), Ronny Paulino (2011) and Lucas Duda (2013) to drive in runs against him.

Clearly, after suffering so much in the postseason and failing repeatedly against the Mets, especially when facing less than legendary players, it's time to give Mariano Rivera a break.  He gets my sympathy vote for the Hall.

Down, but not out (of the Hall of Fame).  (Keith Torrie/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images)

In addition to the marvelous Martinez, the wonderful Walker and the wretched Rivera, these are the other seven players I'd vote for Hall of Fame induction:

  • Roy Halladay:  Some people wonder if he'd have gotten as much support for the Hall had he not tragically passed away in 2017.  Those people probably don't realize that for a ten-year period (2002-11), Halladay was arguably one of the top three pitchers in baseball.  In that decade of excellence, Halladay earned a victory in nearly 70% of his decisions, had three 20-win seasons and posted a 2.97 ERA (148 ERA+) with a 1.11 WHIP.  He also led the league in innings pitched and shutouts four times each and finished first in complete games an incredible seven times.  That's Hall of Fame worthy, even if he's not here to accept the honor.
  • Todd Helton:  Like former teammate Larry Walker, Helton's candidacy will be questioned because of the Coors Field factor.  After all, during his best eight-year stretch (1998-2005), Helton averaged 46 doubles, 33 HR, 113 RBI and 114 runs scored, while striking out just 76 times and drawing 96 walks per season.  That's absolutely tremendous.  Wanna know what his average season was like in road games, otherwise known as games not played at Coors Field?  While wearing road grays during those eight seasons, Helton slashed .298/.398/.520 and produced 277 extra-base hits, drove in 347 runs and scored 337 times.  That's an average of 73 extra-base hits, 91 RBI and 89 runs scored per 162 road games.  In other words, still up in the elite hitter stratosphere.  Even with injuries sapping his power in his later years, Helton still managed to finish in the top 100 all-time in home runs (80th all-time), doubles (19th), extra-base hits (40th), hits (97th), RBI (97th) and runs scored (96th).  There are over 100 hitters in the Hall of Fame.  Helton ranks in the top 100 in many major hitting categories.  You do the math if he belongs in the Hall or not.
  • Fred McGriff:  I hadn't voted for him before, but now I see the error of my ways.  The 1994-95 strike that cancelled the World Series also did a number on McGriff's Hall of Fame candidacy.  Had the Crime Dog played in the 66 games that were cancelled, he likely would have collected the seven home runs he needed for 500 and the ten hits required to get to 2,500.  He also might have approached 1,600 RBI, as he finished 50 short of that lofty total.  A total of 17 players have collected 500 HR, 2,500 hits and 1,600 RBI.  Four of them have steroid suspicions (Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield) and two are not yet eligible for the Hall (Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols).  The other 11 are already in Cooperstown.  McGriff played clean, he played hard and he played consistently well.  He gets my vote.
  • Curt Schilling:  Like Hoffman, he posted an impressive WHIP during an era known for its offense.  From 1992 to 2004, Schilling was the owner of a 1.091 WHIP, while averaging 202 strikeouts and just 44 walks per season.  In fact, of all pitchers with at least 3,000 strikeouts, no one posted a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Schilling's 4.38 K/BB (3,116 K, 711 BB).  And then there's this posteason thing; the one with him going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 0.968 WHIP in 19 starts.  He's one of the all-time greats.
  • Mike Mussina:  Schilling is considered one of the best pitchers of his era.  Modern metrics says Mussina was a better player, as his 83.0 bWAR puts him ahead of Schilling's 79.9 bWAR.  Mussina finished in the top-six in Cy Young Award balloting nine times and won seven Gold Glove Awards.  And of all pitchers who made at least 500 starts, only Hall of Famers Christy Matthewson, Pete Alexander, Randy Johnson and maybe-someday Hall of Famer Roger Clemens posted a higher winning percentage than Mussina's .638 mark. 
  • Billy Wagner:  It's a shame Wagner hasn't gotten more recognition, as he was far more dominant than 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Trevor Hoffman and 2019 enshrinee Lee Smith ever were.  Hoffman and Smith got the job done as effectively as any other closer who ever lived.  But Wagner would eat a hitter up and spit him out.  Injuries curtailed Wagner's career, but any pitcher who averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, four whiffs per walk and finished his career with a WHIP under 1.00 (Wagner's WHIP was 0.998) deserves Hall of Fame consideration.  And I didn't even mention his 422 saves and 2.31 ERA.  Okay, maybe I just did. 
  • Jeff Kent:  Kent was more than just his 1970s porn star 'stache.  He was one of the best hitting second basemen of all-time.  For a guy whose career didn't take off until his age-29 season, Kent finished just 16 extra-base hits shy of 1,000.  The pressures of playoff baseball didn't faze him, as Kent posted an identical .500 career slugging percentage in the regular season and postseason.  And let's not forget his eight seasons with 100+ RBI, the 1,518 runs he drove in for his career and the title of all-time leading home run hitter at the second base position.

Those are my ten Hall of Fame selections.  Some will get in.  Some won't.  And some will continue to wonder why they have to keep paying for a ticket to get in to see their contemporaries' plaques.  (I'm talking to you, Clemens and Bonds.)  As always, some candidates didn't make my cut.  But every player on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2019 had an outstanding career and all of them had qualities that at the very least put them in the Hall of Fame conversation.  Except Rick Ankiel, who needed 14 seasons to reach the ten-year minimum needed to qualify for Hall of Fame consideration.

Who will get in?  And who will be joining Ankiel by buying a ticket for themselves?  That will be revealed on January 22.  Until then, we'll just follow the advice of Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby and just stare out the window, waiting for spring to arrive.