Sunday, January 19, 2020

If Studious Metsimus Had a 2020 Hall of Fame Vote...

On Tuesday, January 21, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be reaching out to its newest enshrinees to inform them that they should cancel all plans for the final weekend in July because they'll be going to Cooperstown instead.  Those all-time greats of the game will be joining Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller, who were voted in by the Modern Baseball Era Committee, as the newest members of the hallowed Hall.

Last year, six former players were inducted, including the first player ever to have his name checked off on 100% of the ballots (Mariano Rivera).  In addition to Rivera, fellow pitchers Lee Smith, Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay received the game's greatest individual honor, as well as a pair of designated hitters (Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez).

This year's class does not appear to be as crowded as last year's, if we're to believe Ryan Thibodaux's Hall of Fame ballot tracker.  But that doesn't mean hotels in Cooperstown will be hanging vacancy signs outside their doors.  On the contrary, one potential enshrinee might attract fans from California to Kalamazoo, while another could bring the entire population of Canada with him.  And then there are those who would just show up to boo in the event a seven-time MVP and seven-time Cy Young Award recipient are inducted, not to mention an outspoken pitcher who contributed to two bitter postseason defeats of one of New York's baseball teams.  (Spoiler alert:  It's not the Mets.)

There are seven former Mets on this year's ballot, but no one is expecting Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, J.J. Putz, Heath Bell, Bobby Abreu or the great Jose Valverde to give a speech on July 26.  For them to get up on stage at the Clark Sports Center, they would each need approximately 309 votes, or 75% of the 412 ballots cast.  Either that or they could channel their inner Kanye West and pretend one of the actual inductees is Taylor Swift.

But we digress.

The cast and crew of Studious Metsimus aren't eligible to vote for this year's Hall of Fame induction class.  (We were told that it had something to do with the fact that we're not actual writers.)  But we are eligible to submit an opinion as to who we'd like to see immortalized with a plaque in Cooperstown.  Just like the BBWAA, we'll limit our selections to a maximum of ten deserving candidates.  Or nine deserving players and a guy with balls on his face.  Here's our imaginary vote!

Is this the face of a Hall of Famer?  (Photo courtesy of GQ Magazine)

Larry Walker    

The best everyday player to come out of Canada hasn't gotten as much support as he should because of one nagging element - the Coors Field factor.

Prior to becoming a member of the Colorado Rockies, Walker was already a good hitter and complete player.  In his final three years with his original team, the Montreal Expos, 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 played in only 83 games but still managed 18 HR, 58 RBI and 18 SB in approximately 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.  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 72.7 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 waits to see if the tenth time is the charm.  (Vincent Laforet/AllSport)

Curt Schilling

If you thought Larry Walker's 72.7 bWAR was high, you should see Curt Schilling's.  His 79.5 bWAR fully shows how valuable he was to his teams.  And by teams, I'm talking about the Philadelphia Phillies (who won a pennant with Schilling in 1993), the Arizona Diamondbacks (who won their first and only title in 2001 with World Series co-MVP Schilling leading the way) and the Boston Red Sox (who ended an 86-year championship drought with Schilling in 2004 and then repeated the feat three years later in the right-hander's final active season).

Schilling was nearly perfect in the postseason, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, 0.968 WHIP and 120 strikeouts in 19 starts.  As dominant as he was in October, he was just as impressive in the regular season.

Pitching in an era that doesn't require its starters to go deep into games, Schilling recorded 83 complete games and 20 shutouts.  He is also one of only five pitchers in history with 3,000-plus strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks.  The other four are Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Ferguson Jenkins, Pedro Martinez and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.  But none of those four pitchers could boast the 4.38 K/BB ratio that Schilling had over his twenty-year career.

It's one thing to lead the league in a major category once.  It's another thing to be a league leader multiple times, which shows a player's consistency and excellence.  So how many different major categories did Schilling lead the league in on more than one occasion?  Well, there's wins (2001, 2004), games started (1997, 1998, 2001), complete games (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001) and innings pitched (1998, 2001).

But wait, there's more!

Schilling also led the league multiple times in strikeouts (1997, 1998), WHIP (1992, 2002) and strikeouts per walk (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006).

Somehow, Schilling never won a Cy Young Award.  But he was a three-time runner-up and finished fourth in another season.  He also earned MVP votes four times, which is rare for a pitcher in this or any other era.

Curt Schilling has waited long enough to finally have his day in Cooperstown.  That wait should come to an end this year.

 Don't like that I'm voting for Curt Schilling?  Suture self.  (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Scott Rolen

Unlike Walker and Schilling, Scott Rolen never led the league in any category.  Not one major category.  Not one minor category.  Nothing.  But his consistency at the plate and impeccable fielding throughout his career helped him finish his 17-year stay in the majors with a 70.2 bWAR. 

Injuries cost Rolen hundreds of games, as he missed 20 or more contests in a dozen different seasons.  But that didn't stop him from collecting 517 doubles, 316 homers, 1,287 RBI, 1,211 runs scored and 2,077 hits.  He was also the owner of a lifetime .855 OPS and 122 OPS+.

Rolen won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and his eight Gold Gloves at third base were more than anyone not named Brooks Robinson or Mike Schmidt.  The seven-time All-Star also produced in the postseason, helping the Cardinals win their first N.L. pennant in 17 years by batting .310 with a 1.044 OPS in the 2004 NLCS.  Two years later, Rolen was a key contributor in St. Louis' first World Series victory in 24 seasons, hitting .421 with a 1.213 OPS in the Fall Classic.

The injury bug that constantly sidelined Rolen during the second half of his career more than likely kept him from reaching 1,000 extra-base hits and 2,500 total hits, as well as 1,500 runs scored and 1,500 runs batted in.  But that's what WAR is good for.  And because of it, we know that Rolen was invaluable to the teams he played for.

The next team he should be a part of is the one that calls Cooperstown home.

Scott Rolen was booed in Philly as an opposing player.  Or maybe he was booed because he was a person.  (Sporting News)

Although voters are allowed to check off a maximum of ten players on their Hall of Fame ballots, there are only four other players we'd vote for if, you know, we were allowed to vote.

  • 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, doubles, extra-base hits, hits, RBI and runs scored.  There are over 100 hitters in the Hall of Fame and Helton ranks in the top 100 in many major hitting categories.  And he wasn't just a one-dimensional player, as evidenced by his three Gold Gloves.  You do the math if he belongs in the Hall or not.
  • 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, his 2000 N.L. MVP Award and the title of all-time leading home run hitter at the second base position.
  • 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, which was lower than all-time best closer Mariano Rivera's 1.000 lifetime WHIP) deserves Hall of Fame consideration.  And speaking of Rivera, he held opposing batters to a .211/.262/.295 career slash line.  How did hitters slash against Wagner?  They didn't.  All they could manage was a .187/.262/.296 against the flamethrowing southpaw.  And with all the praise we just heaped on Wagner, we didn't even mention his 422 saves and 2.31 ERA.  Okay, maybe we just did. 
  • Dirk Jitters:  Yes, we're changing the name of the former Yankee shortstop because we don't want anyone to think that we, as Mets fans, believe that he was an all-time great of the game.  On the contrary, he was a liability on defense, as evidenced by his -243.3 defensive runs saved throughout his career.  Jitters also produced a lifetime 115 OPS+.  If that number looks familiar to you, it's because it's the same lifetime OPS+ as the one produced by Lucas Duda.  The however-many-times world champ struck out 1,840 times, which is an enormous amount of whiffs for a player who had over 11,000 plate appearances in the leadoff spot or No. 2 hole, otherwise known as the tablesetting positions in the lineup.  But he's also responsible for getting rid of that eyesore of a home run sculpture in Miami.  That, and that alone, is why he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.

Those are our seven selections for this year's Hall of Fame class.  Some of them might get voted in.  Some of them might not.  Heck, some of them might even wonder why Jeff Kent's mustache hasn't earned him an honorary AVN Award.  But all of the candidates are worthy of at least being in the Hall of Fame conversation.  Yes, even Dirk Jitters.

So who will actually get the coveted call from the Hall?  The answer will be revealed to all on January 21, or earlier if any Astros players intercept that information.