Each year I do a Keltner List of someone whose Hall of Fame credentials need further examination. I haven't done one this year in part because I've been working on something bigger. This "project" took up considerable time but I think I'm ready to utilize it now. This is good because it's just in time for the Hall of Fame ballot results to be announced.
There are two ways to build a hall of fame case: a long productive career with many good seasons or a strong peak that puts a player among the elite at their position. Obviously some players did both but many more players failed to do either. I've created a ranking system called Hall of Fame Score (HOFSc) which is pretty similar to Baseball Prospectus' JAWS. HOFSc relies upon WAR values whereas BP uses WARP. So let's review each player's candidacy with my new little toy.
Catchers - Avg HOFSc = 45.5
Sandy Alomar, Jr. (15.0): Sandy was an average catcher who hung around for a long time. He was the 1990 AL Rookie of the Year and played in two World Series with Cleveland. He was nothing special as a player but seems he had other non-quantifiable virtues that made him a guy teams wanted to have on their team.
Mike Piazza (57.15): Perhaps the greatest offensive catcher of all time, Piazza should be a lock for the Hall. I have him ranked as the fifth greatest catcher of all time, just behind Yogi Berra. There are rumors Piazza was a PED user though I've never seen anything concrete in that regard.
First Basemen - Avg HOFSc = 59.1
Jeff Bagwell (67.4): This is Jeff's third try on the ballot and he really should be in already. He ranks sixth all time in career WAR by a first baseman and his peak is sixth as well. His HOFSc places him well above the level needed for enshrinement. In fact, I have him ranked as the 4th greatest first baseman of all time behind Gehrig, Foxx, and Pujols. I don't know if he'll get in this year but I think he has a good chance with the steroid era hitting the ballot in full force this time.
Jeff Conine (22.15): Conine holds the record for most games played with Florida thus earning him the nickname Mr. Marlin. He's also the only player to be on both championship teams. Conine could play a bit of the outfield and first and really was more of a glue guy. As a bench player teams could do much worse and he was often considered a role model for the younger guys on a team. A class act.
Don Mattingly (41.35): Mattingly was a fine player but no Hall of Famer. He suffers from having a shorter career (14 years) and a short peak (4-5 years). His eligibility has probably been prolonged by the fact that he was the best player on the Yankees in the 1980s.
Fred McGriff (50.05): It appears the Crime Dog falls just a bit short of being a Hall of Famer. His HOFSc puts him 25th among first basemen which while impressive isn't quite good enough. Hitting 493 home runs pretty much sums up his career. He was good for a long time but never quite had the peak the the position requires.
Mark McGwire (58.4): McGwire's case is a tough one to crack. His power was evident from the time he was inserted into the lineup (he holds the record for HR by a rookie with 49). However, as time went on he had more and more problems staying healthy. He did not manage to play more than 140 games from 1992 until 1997 but he still led the majors in HR/AB during that time. In 1998 he shattered Roger Maris' single season home run mark but the record was tainted with his use of Andro. Later he was on the Mitchell report and admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. McGwire finished his career with 583 home runs. Despite all PED cloud above him, I would vote for McGwire. My reasoning is because we still do not know who used and who did not. We can assume all we want but we do not know. McGwire was regarded as the power hitter of the 1990's and though is HOFSc is slightly below average it's close enough.
Rafael Palmeiro (57.6): Palmeiro is another PED guy who probably won't be given an honest chance. Maybe the fact he lied to Congress has something to do with that? Despite all of this, here is a guy who reached 3000 hits AND 500 home runs. Though he didn't have an impressive peak, he was consistently a 3+ win player for 13 straight seasons. Again, he's just shy of the average HOFSc benchmark but reaching two historic milestones probably serves as a tie-breaker in my mind.
Second Basemen - Avg HOFSc = 60.7
Craig Biggio (56.00): Biggio's an interesting case. Bill James rated him as a greater player than Ken Griffey, Jr in his 2000 Baseball Historical Abstract. While, I'm not willing to go to that extreme, I do think Biggio was underrated for the majority of his career. He does fall a bit short of the average number for a second baseman but there's a silver lining here in my opinion. Biggio started out as a catcher and was a darn good one. He was so good in fact he moved to second base to further utilize his offensive skills. And once he moved he was the best second baseman in the National League for several years. He retired with 3060 hits and finished fifth all time in doubles.
Todd Walker (11.65): He'll probably end up being best remembered as the guy who replaced Chuck Knoblauch at second base in Minnesota. Walker was a decent enough hitter but really struggled defensively which really prevented him from becoming more than an average player.
Third Basemen - Avg HOFSc = 57.7
Jeff Cirillo (33.8): Cirillo was a hit machine from 1996-2000 but after that the wheels started to come off. He managed to stick around for a few seasons by developing some positional versatility and as a lefty-masher. It seemed like he was always on base when John Jaha came to bat.
Edgar Martinez (57.3): Does he count as a third baseman? His defense at the hot corner was such it motivated a permanent move to designated hitter. And therein lies the issue; we don't have enough full time DH's that merit serious consideration for the Hall. Should Edgar be penalized for not playing defense? Should there be a higher standard for full-time DH's? I don't know the answer to either of these questions. What I do know is that he was an incredible hitter who won multiple batting titles and had a career on-base percentage of .418.
Shortstops - Avg HOFSc = 56.8
Royce Clayton (19.15): Seriously? This guy's biggest claim to fame is either A) displacing an aging Ozzie Smith at shortstop or B) playing Miguel Tejada in Moneyball. Neither of these is worthy of enshrinement.
Julio Franco (40.25): Julio's story is a great one. An elite player with Texas in the late 80's and early 90's, his career was all but over by 1997. He played one game for Tampa Bay in 1999 and then resurfaced as a part time first baseman for the Braves in 2001. He hung around in this role until 2007 when he retired after 45 plate appearances. Oh yeah, he was 48.
Alan Trammell: I mentioned in previous posts that Alan Trammell is deserving of a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The average HOFSc of a HOF shortstop is 56.8. Trammell comes in at exactly 56.8. He also ranks as the 12th greatest shortstop of all-time per this metric. I thought before he deserved a spot and this only enhances his candidacy in my opinion. Trammell is a top 15 shortstop for his career and a top 12 shortstop in his peak. He won an MVP Award, went to the World Series in 1984 and played in six All-Star games.
Left Fielders - Avg HOFSc = 60.7
Barry Bonds (110.65): Oh, Barry how I loathe thee. He's definitely not going to earn bonus points for sportsmanship and likability but he's probably one of the five greatest players of all time. The fact that he was a PED user only makes his story more sad. Bonds didn't need the drugs; he was a great player before. If I'm willing to look past this for McGwire I should do it for Bonds, too. Why, Barry, why?
Ryan Klesko (28.15): Klesko was always ridiculed for awful defense in left field but he really wasn't that bad. He just looked bad. I guess that's what happens when you're a husky guy who doesn't look too athletic. Klesko was a key member of the 1995 Braves championship team though he never was able to completely solve the mystery of left-handed pitchers. An underrated player, Klesko became the first person to ever homer in three straight road World Series games in 1995.
Tim Raines (57.1): I scream every year about Tim Raines not being in the Hall. Now it appears I may have gotten a little ahead of myself. He ranks 12th all time among left fielders in career WAR (I counted Pete Rose as a LF) and 17th for his peak. He ranks just below Billy Williams for his HOFSc but ahead of Jim Rice. I would still vote for Raines but I might not be so outspoken about his candidacy.
Rondell White (24.35): Rondell was seen as the center fielder of the future for the Expos in the 1990's and was given that chance with the trade of Marquis Grissom. However soon after the injury bug hit and it plagued him so much during his career he was given the unfortunate moniker of Ron-DL. When he played he was a lock for .285-.300 average with 17-20 home runs and 15 steals. That's a fine player to have when he plays. Sadly, that wasn't often enough.
Center Fielders - Avg HOFSc = 63.0
Steve Finley (38.35): Finley was a good player for a long time though he was never considered great. He led the National League in triples twice and was known as a "gritty" player who hustled and played good defense. He won a World Series with Arizona in 2001. He's also one of only just seven players with more than 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases.
Kenny Lofton (54.0): Here's a sneaky Hall of Fame candidate. Lofton made his mark by being the premier base thief of the 1990's. He also played a very good center field and - unlike Vince Coleman - could hit. He never had a great season but had several good seasons in a row with Cleveland and Atlanta. His speed probably enabled him to stick around longer than most others could have.
Dale Murphy (43.6): I wrote about Dale before on the blog. Dale's peak was solid but a bit short while his career as a productive hitter really didn't expand much outside of his peak. That's really the issue here - a player needs more good seasons to be considered a lock for the hall. Oh, but those seasons in the 1980s were so good...
Bernie Williams (42.35): This pretty much sums it up.
Right Fielders - Avg HOFSc = 58.8
Shawn Green (32.9): Green was good for 30 homers and 20 steals during his time in Toronto and when he went to the Dodgers he was good for 40 homers. Despite his big offensive numbers he wasn't a great player for more than a few seasons largely in part to his awful defense. Few outfielders were worse than Green towards the end of his career and he nearly gave back more runs than he was producing while with the Mets. Still, he had one of the greatest days in baseball history once.
Reggie Sanders (34.35): Sanders is a lot like Steve Finley in that he never was elite but he was consistently good. And like Finley, he is one of seven players with 300+ steals and home runs. The one thing I'll remember most about him, fair or not, is how he wilted in the postseason. In 251 playoff plate appearances he hit .195/.283/.326.
Sammy Sosa (54.95): In some ways Sosa's case resembles that of McGwire. Sosa had a short peak but the numbers he put up during that peak were insane (four times with 60+ home runs). Sosa's issues include his poor impression with Congress during the PED hearing, using a corked bat, and being just downright unlikable at the tail end of his career in Chicago. His HOFSc falls just below the average score for the position making him a tough case for voters.
Larry Walker (58.75): Ah, the first real case for a Coors Field guy. Todd Helton will probably face similar criticism when he ends up on the ballot several years from now. Walker really was an excellent player despite Coors Field aiding his numbers. He ranks 12th all time among right fielders in this system including ahead of Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, and Andre Dawson. He gets my vote.
Next...pitchers on the ballot.