It’s one of my favorite times of the year! Since becoming a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) in 2015, I’ve taken great joy in getting to vote on year-end awards and Hall of Fame.
Just because I feel like I always need to explain this: the IBWAA is a distinct and different group from the BBWAA which is the group of writers who vote on the actual recognized awards and participate in the actual selection process for the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum that you all know. The IBWAA Hall of Fame is a separate, non-physical entity that has many similarities as far as the people elected, but there are differences there as well. For a breakdown of last year’s IBWAA voting, click here and catch up on the results. As you’ll notice, we selected Vladimir Guerrero last season and Edgar Martinez the year before which is why they won’t show up on this year’s IBWAA ballot.
Where as the BBWAA can only vote for a maximum of 10 players, the IBWAA allows us up to 15. That doesn’t mean I have to select 15, but this year, I actually did go over 10 which felt really easy to do based on the glut of what I perceive to be qualified candidates.
That’s the next point: what makes a qualified Hall of Fame candidate? As time has gone on, I’ve found myself expanding my belief of what makes a Hall of Famer and – with all the information we have at our fingertips now, as well as Jay Jaffe‘s awesome (and highly recommended) book: The Cooperstown Casebook – we can see that not even close to everybody in the Hall really belongs and that with exponentially more players playing the game right now, the recent eras of baseball are actually criminally underrepresented and – once again, in my opinion – we need to expand our view of what indeed makes someone an all-time great to properly recognize the multiple evolutions that the game has undergone.
With all that being said, here’s a little snapshot of my ballot from last year with the players I voted for highlighted in yellow:
I voted for nine players total and am pretty much satisfied with it. I got some heat on a few players, but none had a more vehement defender than Matt Stairs who was championed by indie pro-wrestler The Abominable CPA. CPA basically merked me over not voting for Matt Stairs. I was not prepared for that.
This year, I felt like I had a considerable change in the way I viewed what the Hall should be and highlighted thirteen names for all sorts of reasons. So, instead of wasting too much time, how’s about I post the ballot and start breaking it down so I can at least try to convey my reasoning before you all begin to attack me on Twitter.
Once again, the names highlighted in yellow are the players I voted for. I spent quite a bit of time going over the basic stat lines like Home Runs, RBI and other traditional numbers as well as the new-age SABR numbers like WAR, OPS+ and others that do a very good job of quantifying player value from the time before we had things like MLB.tv and depending on highlight shows which provided a skewed view and often created a false narrative (cough, Omar Vizquel, cough) of just how good a player was.
That’s right. I said it. I don’t think Vizquel has any business in Cooperstown unless he’s buying a ticket. I will fight you on this.
But, instead of arguing how Omar Vizquel’s reputation as Ozzie Smith-lite was completely and falsely built by some highlights on Sportscenter, let’s talk about the guys I actually think worthy of induction.
The Great PED Conspiracy!
There was a time where I was very strongly opposed to letting the accused takers of performance-enhancing drugs into the same hallowed halls that are occupied by such men of integrity as racists like Ty Cobb, drunks like Mickey Mantle and drug-cheats like Hank Aaron (yep, admitted amphetamine user and if you don’t think that helps, you have no concept of drugs).
I’ve since come to believe that the Hall should be a representation of the game throughout all eras and should include those who were still the titans of their times.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have never failed a drug test and I have no issue with voting for them. Manny Ramirez is a trickier case since he has two failed tests under his belt, but he’s never been rendered ineligible by MLB or the Hall so if he’s available as a choice, I’m choosing him too.
It’s impossible to know when these players began taking the stuff or for how long or what they accomplished while benefiting from said pharmaceutical enhancement. With the rules and processes in place as they are, all three are easy selections for me.
Both Jim Thome and Chipper Jones are on the ballot for the first time and both are deserving. Thome was an elite power threat who put up staggering numbers during the PED-era even without having ever been linked to such things.
As for Chipper? Well, I’m a Mets fan so fuck him. But he was really good. One of the elite switch-hitters in the history of the game who pulled the ultimate troll move when he named his child “Shea” after the Mets’ old home since he basically owned the place.
Game recognize game, bruh. Even if he apparently can’t take the heat on Twitter.
Yeah, he blocked me on Twitter. To be honest, I don’t even remember what I said, but I’m sure this was deserved. Do you remember that heated Braves/Mets rivalry from the late 90s-early 2000s? Seriously, fuck this guy.
Yeah, I know, there’s no punters in baseball, but I think there’s a strong comparison to be had when comparing the kickers of the NFL game to the back-end of the bullpen options that are the “closers” of MLB. They both serve in an area of importance, but are routinely under-appreciated when it comes to the selection process.
We can all agree that Mariano Rivera is great and a first-ballot pick, but after him, the gap is incredibly wide. Saves is – and will continue to be – a misleading statistic as the overwhelming majority of the time, the closer enters the game under optimal circumstances: beginning of an inning, nobody on base and with a lead. The game, however, has evolved to a point where the “shutdown” closer is a necessity for any winning team and to simply ignore the value of someone who thrives under the pressure of the 9th inning because of low-tabulated WAR totals seems rather shortsighted to me. Baseball has made the closer a significant role and, as such, it shouldn’t be ignored.
While Trevor Hoffman is second on the all-time saves list, he’s not even remotely close to Mariano in terms of dominance or value. In fact, Hoffman collected only 28 WAR during his 18 year career while Rivera sports double that number at a robust 56.6. In addition, Hoffman also seemed to come up small in the biggest situations with numerous blown saves in either playoff or games with playoff hopes hinging on them.
I know. It sounds like I’m shitting all over Trevor Hoffman, but that’s not the point I’m trying to get across. Simply: Mariano Rivera is THAT much better than any of his contemporaries. So what does that mean? Should we fail to include anybody else for the simple reasoning of them not being Mariano? I don’t think so and with the baseball season as long as it is, a damned good regular-season career over an extended period of time is something to be appreciated.
Most people will look at the number of saves and say that Hoffman was the number two guy of the time, but a closer look shows Billy Wagner to be just as good, if not even better. While Wagner may not have the compiling stats of Hoffman, he was worth 27.7 WAR in about three less seasons. He was also a seven-time All Star who received MVP votes in two seasons and whose strikeout numbers show a level of increased dominance that Hoffman didn’t enjoy due to his propensity to rely on his defense with balls being put on play.
Wagner was an anomaly as an under-sized flamethrower who stayed relatively healthy until the end of his career and maintained his explosive fastball while also using “Enter Sandman” as entrance music before Mariano popularized it.
Wagner, like Hoffman, didn’t enjoy the postseason success that Rivera did, but this example is what I mean when saying I favor a larger Hall. While, theoretically, neither Hoffman or Wagner would require enshrinement, they were two of the best at what they did over long, excellent careers. Their numbers are close enough where, if you’re voting for one, you have to vote for the second and I, obviously, did.
Starting pitching is a dying art and, as time has gone on, those who assume the role have been asked to do less and less. It’s just a matter of time before a guy throwing 200 innings goes the way of the buffalo and rather than assaulting value like WAR for having the specifications of their roles diminished, it’s important to recognize those who were high contributors.
This is another instance where I’ve changed my tune from years past and the main reason for doing so is because of one name on the ballot: Mike Mussina.
Mussina was incredible for a long time as a member of the Orioles and then for a long period as a Yankee, but is never someone I considered a HOF’er. His name just didn’t jump off the page for me. He never won a Cy Young and didn’t even have a 20-win season until his curtain call in the bigs, but, after digging deeper into things, Mussina had an absolutely stellar career while pitching during the entirety of the steroid-era and spending his whole career in the AL East which is routinely the toughest division in baseball during the time.
I was a “no” on Mussina for the past few years, but have turned into a strong yes. He may not have the benchmark counting stats or a full trophy room, but to dismiss such a wonderful career when he is, in fact, better than some currently enshrined would be a disservice.
Similar to Mussina, Curt Schilling is someone I waffled on. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Like Mussina, he doesn’t have the traditional benchmark stats that people look to, but he was a legitimate front-end of the rotation anchor who became an absolute beast during postseason play. I left him off my ballot last year for the sole reason of him being an asshole, but that just makes me a bigger asshole for doing so when it doesn’t change the facts of his career. Yeah, both Schilling and I are assholes, but his accomplishments speak for themselves.
I know not a lot of people are going to agree on this next one, but: Johan Santana.
Johan Santana’s career “only” lasted 12 seasons and he “only” collected 139 career wins, but despite injuries curtailing his career while he was still incredibly effective, his prime was absolutely incredible. I get it. If you’re on the side of the fence where he just didn’t compile enough to complete the case for induction, I understand. For me, the prime of his career was so good, however, that it’s not ridiculous to compare him to Sandy Koufax (another lefty whose career was cut short due to arm troubles).
While Koufax may have the more storied career because of how it’s been passed down as lore through the decades that have followed, Johan is a surprisingly strong comp. And, don’t get me wrong, Koufax is an all-time great who pitched massive innings, four no-hitters (including a perfect game) and even won an MVP. I’m not trying to diminish in any way the career of Sandy Koufax. I get Sandy Koufax and the fact that he had to retire at the age of 30 after a season in which he won the Cy Young and came in second in the MVP voting is an absolute shame.
By the same token, I do believe his career sets a precedent for appreciating and recognizing shorter careers that may have come up short on benchmarks, but were massively successful during their short primes. Koufax does have Johan by 24 wins and about 300 innings, but Santana actually does hold an edge in ERA+ which quantifies value above the average pitcher. Once again, to some it may sound sacrilege to compare the two, but I want to provide a sense of just how good Johan Santana was for those years despite not being Sandy Koufax. I voted because I remember Johan Santana was one of the great pitchers of my lifetime and there are worse things than recognizing that.
The Position Battle
Larry Walker. Jeff Kent. Scott Rolen.
I don’t know if any of the three will ever get in, but Walker and Kent have always felt like Hall of Famers to me. Rolen? I didn’t think so, but I was convinced and, to be honest, it wasn’t a hard-sell.
Quickly, I don’t care about Coors Field. Larry Walker played where he was told to play, they were all Major League games and he was as well-rounded a player as you’ll see. I loved watching Larry Walker.
Jeff Kent is arguably the best offensive second-baseman in history whose candidacy is hurt because he was a dick to the media and the fact that he played for so many teams that it’s hard to distinguish him as a genuine member of one franchise. Association does matter in the minds of people. I think of Kent as a Giant, tearing it up in the same lineup as Bonds, winning an MVP and going to the World Series, but he also had stellar seasons with the Astros and Dodgers. While I’ve stated that I’m in favor of a larger Hall, I believe Kent improves upon those already enshrined as second-basemen. Bill Mazeroski, for instance, had absolutely no business being inducted by the Veteran’s Committee and I don’t see – just by logic – you can have Maz and not Kent. Kent is far more accomplished and if the bar is Mazeroski-level low, there’s nothing wrong with improving that.
Scott Rolen is another player who I never jumped off the page to me while he was active. I always thought of him as a very good player, for sure, but a Hall of Famer? Ehhh…not so much. My indoctrination into Rolen’s case came from Jay Jaffe’s aforementioned book and the case is incredibly compelling.
Whether you value old or new statistics, Rolen still will come up highly rated with a larger career WAR than the average of the already-inducted players who were predominantly third-basemen. In addition, Jaffe’s JAWS metric (which helps to rank the value of HOFers in an attempt to compare them to candidates) has Rolen ranked 10th all-time.
I remember Rolen as an excellent defender and baserunner and a fine hitter. Put that package together and you come to realize that Scott Rolen is worthy of enshrinement and actually raises the bar for the position.
The Final Countdown
Thirteen players and I could have probably voted for even more. I’ve seen people make the case for Andruw Jones or Sammy Sosa, Fred McGriff or others and while I could see the case being made, they miss my cut for various reasons.
Omar Vizquel, on the other hand, I completely don’t understand. He wasn’t just a step below Ozzie Smith defensively, he was many, many floors below Ozzie’s penthouse and was much less valuable at the plate than the Wizard as well.
It’s easy to have an opinion and less so to be able to back up said opinion, but even if you don’t agree, hopefully you can at least see the reasoning behind the method. It’s something I don’t take lightly and do put a significant amount of thought and research into so go ahead and let the arguments ensue. Hit me on Twitter, or shoot an email over to ShoesOnSports@gmail.com and I’ll be more than happy to respond to the masses.
While you’re at it, check out my weekly pop culture podcast, The Car JoeMez Podcast, anywhere you get your podcasts and remember to subscribe, leave a review and share with your buddies.