Not to get ahead of myself, but I will anyway. 2015 is almost upon us, so I am going to take this opportunity to conduct an early analysis of the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which should be one for the ages.
The key names on next years ballot include everyone from this year who did not get elected and got above 5% of the vote (Goodbye Rafi ::points finger::), most notably Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio. The other headlining names, who will be appearing for the first time, include Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Delgado, and Nomar Garciaparra.
If I were permitted to vote, and lord knows I should be (get at me Dan Le Betard), my vote would go to Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Nomar Garciaparra. After a solid day of further review, I have determined that I would not vote for Jeff Bagwell. So check-in tomorrow to see what else I change my mind about.
Biggio received 74.8% of the vote this year and is almost assured to get in next year. He may very well be a stat compiler of the highest regard, but he does have 3,000 hits, a .796 OPS, 414 stolen bases, 1,175 RBI, and a career 64.9 WAR, all as a lead off hitter/speedster. He was a seven time all-star, five time silver slugger and won four gold gloves. He also played three or four positions throughout his career. While a lot of this is due to the length of his career - he still did it.
There's not much that has to be said about Piazza. He is the greatest hitting catcher of all time and perhaps a top ten all-time right handed hitter. A career .308 hitter, .922 OPS, the 1993 Rookie of the Year, 12 time all-star, 427 career home runs, 10 time silver slugger, and a very telling 7 seasons in the top ten in MVP voting including four top five finishes. There are rumors of steroid use surrounding Mike, mostly due to controversial and damning reports of back acne and also because his numbers fell off at about the time steroid testing became a thing. However, it should be noted that his stats also fell of at the age of 34, about the time catchers traditionally fall off the earth offensively. Perhaps Mike used steroids and stopped when testing began and his numbers suffered. Or perhaps he was just a big dude (having been gigantic his whole adult life) and the beginnings of testing happened to coincide with him hitting the age where catchers are sent to the proverbial farm upstate. There is no link between Mike and steroids other than his size and back-ne. This is no reason to hold the greatest hitting catcher of all time out of the Hall of Fame.
There is really no reason to even talk about Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, but I will. Johnson has 5 Cy Youngs, 303 wins and is second only to Nolan Ryan in strikeouts. He also once exploded a bird. He is easily the greatest left-handed pitcher I have ever seen pitch. Pedro, not to be outdone by anyone, has 3 Cy Youngs, is 13th all time in strikeouts despite a diminutive frame, a career 2.93 ERA (which included a couple seasons of hanging on a bit too long), an ERA+ of 154, had 3 top five finishes in the MVP voting as a pitcher, and may have had the best seven year stretch of pitching in the history of baseball from 1997-2003 (the heart of the steroid era) in which he had a record of 118-36 and ERAs of 1.90, 2.89, 2.07, 1.74, 2.39, 2.26, and 2.22. It's worth repeating; this was at the height of steroid use. I consider Pedro to be the greatest pitcher I have ever seen and potentially in the top 3 of pitchers all time (with Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax)
has a career .313 batting average (with the requisite final years of holding on too long), a career .882 OPS, 651 career extra-base hits, a six time all-star, 5 top ten finishes in the MVP voting, was the 1997 Rookie of the Year, and was the best of the big short stops at the time who didn't take PEDs. In 1998, 1999, and 2000 he batted .323, .357, and .372 (the last two both winning batting titles), which is just borderline Gwynnian. His career ending up falling off earlier than expected for a short stop, mostly due to injury, but to me, he was the dominant short stop in the league for six or seven years during a golden age of short stops, and that is enough for me.
I would not vote for Gary Sheffield or Carlos Delgado. This would be easier to do for Delgado. He was a power hitter who finished with only 473 home runs. At times he was an average hitter but finished with a career .280 batting average. He had 4 top ten MVP vote finishes but for some reason never resonated with me as a top ten player. He had a high OPS and a massive amount of RBIs, but I never considered him near the best at his role.
Sheffield was much more difficult. Gary finished with a career .292 batting average, a .907 OPS, 253 stolen bases, 1,676 RBI, 6 top ten MVP vote finishes including 3 top fives, 1,636 runs scored, a five time silver slugger, and had a career WAR of 60.4. These credentials are hard to argue with, and if there is someone I will change my mind on, this is the guy. But, for me, I never considered him the, or one of the, dominant outfielders in the game for any stretch. He had absolutely dominant years (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2003), but was never able to put them together. Perhaps the inconsistency in his really great years is why I was never able to frame Gary as one of the truly best. The years in between were good, but not Hall of Fame for the most part. Gary falls victim to my staunch adherence to restricting the Hall of Fame to only the true giants of the game and my idea that if you have to argue about whether someone is a Hall of Famer, you likely already have your answer.
I would not vote for John Smoltz. He was a really good starting pitcher in his career. He had 1 Cy Young and 213 wins. He was also a very good closer during his career having compiled 154 saves in 3.5 years of closing. It is a rare feat to be both a quality starter and great reliever in one career (think back to Dennis Eckersley). However, much like Keanu Reeves' acting and anything Curt Schilling says, I just don't believe in closers. I consider it a made up position created by agents so that their older, injured and not-as-good pitchers would still get paid big bucks. Typically a closer plays for 3 outs of a total of 54 outs in a game. That is 1/18th of a game. Even a DH typically plays for 4 outs out of the 54. They simply do not contribute nearly as much to the team's success as its regular players or starting pitchers. Some not even as much as significant role players. Because of this I do not assign a lot of value to the years Smoltz spent as a closer and would have to rely heavily on his years as a starter. He only had one, maybe two dominant years as a starter. His numbers as a starter do not add up to the Hall of Fame.