The finish line of one of the longest Hall of Fame election cycles in memory is in sight. On Tuesday, the results of this year’s BBWAA balloting will be announced by new Hall president Josh Rawich at 6 pm ET on MLB Network. With so many polarizing and at times off-putting candidates — by my count, eight have been credibly linked to performance-enhancing drugs and six to incidents of domestic violence — it’s been another particularly contentious cycle; beyond the usual back-and-forth between voters and bystanders on social media, we’ve even seen a top candidate fire back at a voter over a snub. It remains entirely possible that for the second year in a row, the writers won’t elect a single candidate, something that hasn’t happened since 1958 and ’60, a point at which the BBWAA was voting on a biennial basis.
If it were up to FanGraphs readers, however, three candidates would be headed to Cooperstown this summer, based on the results of our fourth annual Hall of Fame crowdsource ballot. As has been the case since the 2019 ballot, registered FanGraphs users were invited to select as many as 10 candidates from this year’s slate, just as actual voters do, using the same December 31 deadline. A total of 1,018 users participated, which is down 11.6% from last year, a drop that probably owes something to a couple of lapses on my part. First, I forgot to send out a last call for votes, having last tweeted about the crowdsource ballot on December 23, and second, I plumb forgot to submit my own ballot into the system after filling out my paper one and dropping it in the mail on December 30. Though I called up the page and checked the boxes at some point that week, I was hazy on whether I’d actually completed the task until noticing that none of the individual returns matched my particular 10. None of those 1,018 ballots has Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Joe Nathan but not Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez, just as none of the 178 ballots in the Ballot Tracker as of 12:01 AM ET on January 24 does. Oops. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
For most of the 12 years that he was in the majors, Jonathan Papelbon ranked among the game’s top closers, and its most consistent. For the first nine full seasons of his career (2006–14), he averaged 36 saves and posted a 2.35 ERA (185 ERA+), never notching fewer than 29 saves and only once turning in an ERA above 3.00.
During that time, Papelbon made six All-Star teams and helped the Red Sox to four postseason appearances. He thrived in the high-pressure ninth-inning role — sought it out, admitting that was the job he preferred when the team experimented with him as a starter in the spring of 2007. He sparkled in October, setting a major league record with 26 consecutive scoreless innings to start his career and closing out the Rockies in the 2007 World Series.
Like even the greatest of closers, Mariano Rivera, Papelbon wasn’t immune to high-profile failures; the only playoff game in which he allowed runs turned out to be a season-ender, and his tenure in Boston ended with a blown save to complete one of the most notorious collapses in recent memory. While he cashed in with a record-setting free-agent contract from the Phillies, his final years in Philadelphia and Washington were marked by two infamous incidents, one silly (his crotch-grabbing gesture to fans in 2014), the other flagrant (his choking of Bryce Harper in the Nationals’ dugout in 2015), both leading to suspensions. And by walking away from baseball at age 35 in the middle of the 2016 season, not only did he fail to undo the damage to the way he was perceived in the wake of those incidents, but from a Hall of Fame standpoint, he also left his career totals too short for many voters to give him strong consideration.
Read the rest of this entry »
Tim Lincecum burned brightly but briefly. In a career that lasted just 10 major league seasons — the minimum to be included on a Hall of Fame ballot — and fewer innings than four of the eight enshrined relievers, Lincecum made four All-Star teams, pitched for three World Series winners, won two Cy Young awards, and threw two no-hitters. With his long hair, 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame, baby face, and unorthodox delivery, “The Freak” became one of the game’s most popular players, a cult hero in San Francisco and elsewhere.
Lincecum did all of this despite not pitching very well for the second half of that decade-long stretch (2007-16), though he certainly had his moments; both no-hitters and two of those World Series wins came when he was on the downslope of his brief career. What felled him wasn’t arm troubles but a degenerative condition in his hips, which compromised his range of motion and ability to generate power. Once his left hip labrum tore, he was too unstable to repeat his delivery, and his command suffered. The surprise wasn’t that his diminutive frame couldn’t withstand the physical toll of so many pitches and innings, but that he had dominated in the first place. Through it all, the Giants — and especially their fans — remained loyal to him, willing to give him a shot at recapturing the magic for just about as long as he was upright. Read the rest of this entry »
Jake Peavy has a claim as the best player the Padres have drafted and signed since choosing Tony Gwynn in the third round in 1981, and probably the most important as well. From 2004 until he was traded in mid-’09, Peavy, a 1999 15th-round pick out of an Alabama high school, was their ace, winning two ERA titles and a Cy Young award, making two of his three All-Star appearances, and helping the team to back-to-back NL West titles in ’05 and ’06 — the franchise’s only playoff appearances between the 1998 World Series and the expanded playoffs in 2020.
Undersized at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, and dismissed as “frail and wild” by talent evaluators, Peavy parlayed a mid-90s fastball/slider/changeup combination and a bulldog mentality into a 15-year major league career (2002–16). During that time, he made four trips to the playoffs with three different franchises and earned two World Series rings (though he struggled mightily in October), all while battling through a variety of injuries that turned him from an extraordinary pitcher into a rather ordinary one.
Through it all, Peavy’s irrepressibly competitive nature remained apparent. As Baseball Prospectus 2016 noted just before he headed into the final season of his career, “Few pitchers present a bigger contradiction between stuff and mound demeanor than Peavy, whose fiery outbursts and furious soliloquies mask a finesse approach that no longer intimidates his foes.” A tip that Peavy picked up from Roger Clemens, one of his many high-profile mentors, may have had something to do with that. According to Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller, Clemens introduced Peavy to Icy Hot Balm, telling him “to take a little and put it on no-man’s land down there.”
“So over the next 12 years, you might say, Peavy regularly pitched with his balls on fire,” wrote Miller.
Read the rest of this entry »
Content warning: This piece contains details about alleged domestic and gun violence. The content may be difficult to read and emotionally upsetting.
The new millennium hasn’t exactly been a banner one for the stolen base. Between soaring home run rates and the influence of analytics on front offices, the tactic has gone out of style, and per-game rates have fallen. As one-run strategies go, teams seem content to wait for a player to knock a ball over a wall rather than manufacture a run. During the first decade of the 2000s, as home runs kept flying, Carl Crawford stood out for his electrifying speed and skill on the basepaths.
In the first eight full seasons of his 15-year career (2002-16), Crawford led the American League in stolen bases four times, finished second once and third twice, stealing at least 46 bases in each of those seasons. He topped an 80% success rate in the first five of those seasons, and led the league in triples three times as well. Crawford’s wheels — as well as his midrange power and strong defense — helped him make four All-Star teams and win a Gold Glove while starring for the Rays’ first two playoff teams.
Alas, Crawford hit free agency, signed a massive seven-year deal with the Red Sox, and almost immediately went into the decline phase of his career due to injuries. After totaling 35.6 WAR with Tampa Bay from 2002-10, he managed just 3.5 WAR over his final six seasons spent with Boston and the Dodgers while missing substantial time due to Tommy John surgery, plus wrist, finger, oblique, and hamstring woes. He was released by Los Angeles with a year and a half still to go on his contract, and never played again. Read the rest of this entry »
For the sake of diplomacy, we’ll call A.J. Pierzynski a polarizing player, even if much of that polarization tended towards the negative end of the spectrum. “If you play against him, you hate him,” said his own manager Ozzie Guillen in 2006, the year after Pierzynski served as the starting catcher for the World Series-winning White Sox. “If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”
Pierzynski spent parts of 19 seasons in the majors provoking extreme reactions among players, fans, and everyone else, that while making two All-Star teams, helping five teams to the playoffs, and catching more games than all but eight other backstops. A November 2013 article by NESN’s Ricky Doyle, at a point just a few weeks before the defending champion Red Sox signed him as a free agent, summarized the book on Pierzynski to that point:
The most obvious risk of signing Pierzynski involves his accompanying baggage. There’s a difference between having a colorful personality and having a personality that evokes disdain, and Pierzynski’s behavior seemingly strikes a chord. According to an August 2012 article on SI.com, Pierzynski has in his career been voted by his opponents as the player they would most like to see beaned (2006), baseball’s meanest player (2011) and baseball’s most hated player (2012). Men’s Journal polled 100 MLB players on various topics in 2012, and 34 percent of respondents voted Pierzynski the most hated player in the game.
“Everyone wants a villain,” Pierzynski told SI.com’s Ben Reiter in the aforementioned profile. Reiter was able to penetrate the persona to find an introspective, intelligent and hard-working player, not to mention a devoted family man. “Look at what LeBron James has gone through the past few years. My teammates get the best kick of it,” Pierzynski continued. “When we go to Oakland, Anaheim, San Francisco, Minnesota, Cleveland, I get loud boos. Guys on my team can’t wait to see that and to hear that… Now, when those polls come out, it’d be a big upset if somebody else won.” Read the rest of this entry »
As the Phillies looked to turn the corner from pretenders to contenders in the new millennium, they signed future Hall of Fame slugger Jim Thome to provide some middle-of-the-lineup thump via a six-year, $85 million contract in December 2002. Outwardly at least, they didn’t appear to expect much from their fifth-round 2001 draft pick, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound first baseman with 80-grade raw power but notable contact issues and questions about his defense. Thome’s presence kept Ryan Howard in the minors long enough for him to hit 46 home runs across two levels in 2004, his age-24 season. But when Thome suffered a season-ending elbow injury the following year, Howard stepped in and flat out stole the first base job.
Howard won the NL Rookie of the Year award in his abbreviated 2005 season, leading the Phillies to trade Thome to the White Sox that winter, then followed up by launching 58 homers and claiming NL MVP honors in ’06. He became a cornerstone of the Phillies’ five straight NL East titles from 2007 to ’11, a run that included a World Series win over the Rays in 2008, and another NL pennant in ’09.
At a time before the lessons of Moneyball had been fully absorbed on a league-wide basis, Howard’s big home run and RBI totals led to massive paydays, while his limitations in the field and on the basepaths — which had already become significant factors as he’d filled out to a listed 250 pounds — were overlooked. Unfortunately, an Achilles tendon rupture, suffered on the final play of the 2011 Division Series agains the Cardinals, turned his biggest contract into an albatross. Midway through that deal, an ugly legal fight within his family over the handling of his finances came to light, a heartbreaking turn of events that couldn’t have made his on-field struggles any easier. Read the rest of this entry »
Like his longtime teammate Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau won an MVP award, spent a stretch as a perennial All-Star, helped the Twins to a handful of division titles and all-too-brief playoff appearances — and had his career indelibly altered by a series of concussions. Though neither player was stopped in his tracks to the extent of former teammate Corey Koskie, who never again played in the majors after sustaining a severe concussion in 2006, both players suffered the lingering effects of multiple traumatic brain injuries, which compromised their performances but also helped to raise awareness within the sport.
Unlike Mauer, Morneau — a Canadian who grew up playing hockey, where he likely suffered the first of his several concussions — wasn’t on a Hall of Fame path when he got injured, and he actually recovered to win a batting title later in his career. Yet his career can be divided into everything that came before the July 7, 2010 collision of his head with the knee of Blue Jays second baseman John McDonald during a routine takeout slide, and what came after. Morneau hit for a 138 OPS+ from 2006 to the point of the injury while averaging 4.3 WAR over those 4 1/2 seasons. He managed just a 106 OPS+ over his six final seasons while totaling 5.5 WAR, only once topping 1.3, and not all of that can be chalked up to age-related decline.
“It’s something that will always be with me,” Morneau told ESPN’s Jim Caple in the spring of 2015. “I look at it like a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery — every time he throws or his elbow gets sore or something happens, you’re going to go back to that.” Read the rest of this entry »