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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 1

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 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 better or worse, I’m a completist. In 15 years of analyzing Hall of Fame ballots using my JAWS system, I’ve never let a candidate pass without comment, no matter how remote his chance of election. From the brothers Alomar to the youngest Alou and the elder Young, I’ve covered them all. It should come as no surprise, then, that I’m tackling the minor candidates on the 2019 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in addition to the major ones — of which there were 21 this year. That leaves 14 to go.

To be eligible for election, a player must appear in games in at least 10 major league seasons, with a career that ended at least five calendar years ago, and then be nominated by at least two members of a six-member screening committee — a step that can produce some arbitrary results, as I noted last month. Given the backlog of strong candidates, this is no tragedy in the grand scheme of things, since most newcomers have no shot at gaining the 75% of the votes necessary for election. Indeed, the 14 players in question have received a total of four votes among the 140 ballots published thus far; nobody here will come close to the minimum 5% needed to remain on the ballot. Just the same, these one-and-done candidates were accomplished players who deserve their valedictory, so I’ll spend the remainder of this series running through the ones about whom we might say, “They also served.”

Rick Ankiel

Ankiel’s path through the majors — from pitching phenom through a debilitating bout of the yips and then Tommy John surgery to a second career as an outfielder — was unlike any other. As I wrote last month, his mere appearance on this Hall of Fame ballot is a triumph unto itself, even if his numbers offer no reasonable basis for election.

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Jay Jaffe’s 2019 Hall of Fame Virtual Ballot

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. It draws upon work originally written for previous elections at SI.com, and has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

The venue has changed but the song remains the same: there’s no such thing as a perfect Hall of Fame ballot. Even with the BBWAA electing a record-setting 16 players over the past five years, the backlog on the ballot is such that there are more plausible candidates than will fit within a voter’s 10 allotted spots.

In an ideal world, a voter could fill out his or her ballot entirely according to merit, selecting every candidate who meets the Hall of Fame standards by his or her own reckoning. This is the so-called “binary ballot,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold christened it several years ago. In reality, any voter who identifies more than 10 candidates worthy of the honor is required to perform a kind of triage — weighing some tough questions before selecting his or her top 10 candidates while hoping the traffic abates enough to allow consideration of those who just missed the cut next year. Beyond simply worrying that they’ll catch hell from the public for supporting Player X, or will miss an opportunity to support the low-polling Player Y, voters have to deal with thorny issues such as candidates linked to performance-enhancing drugs and the (mis)application of the so-called “character clause.”

The notion that there may be more than 10 candidates at a time worthy of the game’s highest honor might raise some eyebrows, but study the history of the Hall of Fame and its denizens and you’ll quickly be reminded that they can’t all be Willie Mays. While voting for everyone better than Bad Choice Player Q based on a lowest common denominator standard isn’t the right answer, the writers and the institution have failed to keep pace in terms of electing modern players, not just those who played in the 1990s and 2000s, but further back as well. Limiting the field to those elected by the BBWAA, and calling upon research I compiled for The Cooperstown Casebook, here’s a breakdown of the average number of Hall of Famers per team per season for select periods:

Hall of Famers Per Team Per Year
Period HOF/Team/Year
1925–1941 1.54
1946–1968 1.39
1969–1992 1.31
1993–2005 0.79
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
BBWAA-elected only.

I’ve omitted the World War II years, when several future Hall of Famers entered the service, and placed other cutoffs right at the point of two rounds of expansion (from 20 teams to 24 in 1969, and from 26 to 28 in 1993). My point is that the level of representation is below 1.0 from 1997 onward, and has been higher than 0.63 just once since 1999. All of which is to say that relative to long-term historical norms, we’re missing about 15-20 Hall of Famers from the post-strike era. Some of that, and the ballot’s backlog, owes to the split in the electorate regarding the handing of candidates linked to PEDs, with the Hall’s ham-fisted attempts to interject — from their unilateral 2014 decision to truncate the eligibility window from 15 years to 10 to last year’s plea from Joe Morgan — only exacerbating the problem.

Despite the work I put into my annual series and into Hall of Fame research in general, I do not yet have a ballot of my own. Under BBWAA rules, I am two years away from that privilege. Nonetheless, every year I create my virtual ballot to illustrate the hard choices a voter faces, and do so by the ballot submission deadline (December 31). As always, I am guided by my JAWS system, but not bound by it, for there are considerations that a Wins Above Replacement-based methodology — which can account for the widespread variations in scoring from era to era and ballpark to ballpark (producing the occasional double-take) — can’t capture, including pennant race and postseason contributions, awards and honors, and historical importance.

Over the past six weeks, I’ve analyzed the top 21 candidates on the ballot, the ones who are in serious consideration for those 10 precious spots (beyond the odd courtesy vote). I’ll get back to the remaining 14 “one-and-done” guys — who between them have gathered a grand total of four votes from among the 135 published ballots thus far — later this week, as they’re fun to write about without fixating upon how short of Hall standards they are. But now, it’s time to fish or cut bait.

Of those top 21 candidates on this year’s ballot, nine exceed the JAWS standard — the average of the enshrined players — at their position. Six of those nine top the career WAR, peak WAR, and JAWS standards across the board, while the other three from among that group are short only on peak. Separately, four other candidates exceed the peak standard. Beyond that is one “candidate of interest,” a player who falls shy on JAWS but about whom I remain particularly open-minded, for reasons explained below. That’s 14 players; the other seven are mainly guys whom other voters are considering, but are just along for the ride here as far as I’m concerned. I’ll include them for illustrative purposes…

Top 2019 Hall of Fame Candidates
Player YoB Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS Margin
Barry Bonds 7 162.8 72.7 117.8 64.3
Roger Clemens 7 139.6 66.0 102.8 41.0
Mariano Rivera 1 56.2 28.7 42.5 10.2
Curt Schilling 7 79.6 48.7 64.1 2.3
Mike Mussina 6 83.0 44.6 63.8 2.0
Scott Rolen 2 70.2 43.7 56.9 1.2
Manny Ramirez 3 69.4 40.0 54.7 1.2
Larry Walker 9 72.7 44.7 58.7 0.9
Edgar Martinez 10 68.4 43.7 56.0 0.3
Todd Helton 1 61.2 46.5 53.9 -0.8
Andruw Jones 2 62.8 46.5 54.7 -3.2
Roy Halladay 1 64.3 50.6 57.5 -4.3
Sammy Sosa 7 58.6 43.8 51.2 -6.6
Lance Berkman 1 52.1 39.3 45.7 -7.8
Gary Sheffield 5 60.5 38.0 49.3 -8.5
Billy Wagner 4 27.7 19.8 23.7 -8.6
Fred McGriff 10 52.6 36.0 44.3 -10.4
Jeff Kent 6 55.4 35.7 45.6 -11.4
Andy Pettitte 1 60.3 34.1 47.2 -14.6
Roy Oswalt 1 50.1 40.3 45.2 -16.6
Omar Vizquel 2 45.6 26.8 36.2 -18.8
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

…And then bid them adieu. If you want to know more about why Berkman, Kent, McGriff, Oswalt, Pettitte, Sheffield, and Vizquel don’t make my cut, I’ve got a few thousand words to that effect on to each, which you can access by using the navigator widget atop this article

As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this series, when it comes to candidates connected to PEDs, I draw a line between those whose allegations date back to the time when the game had no testing regimen or means of punishment (i.e., prior to 2004) and those that came afterwards. With no means of enforcing a paper ban, and with players flouting such a ban being rewarded left and right amid what was truly a complete institutional failure that implicated owners, the commissioner, and the players’ union as well as the players, I simply don’t think voters can apply a retroactive morality to say that a Bonds or a Clemens or a Sosa should be disqualified on that basis alone. I’ve done enough research to believe that this is a reasonable place to start, but it must be acknowledged that there’s no consensus within the electorate over how to handle the issue, and voters’ views on the topic range from “performance only” to “hang ’em high at the first hint of suspicion.”

Thus, two spots on my ballot go to Bonds, the all-time home run leader, and Clemens, the best pitcher since World War II. As noted within my profiles of the gruesome twosome, the pair made big gains on the 2016 and 2017 ballots, surpassing the 50% mark in the latter year, but saw their momentum slow in 2018, with Clemens receiving 57.3% and Bonds 56.4%. They won’t be elected this year, but with three years of eligibility remaining beyond this one, they still have reasonable shots, needing to pick up about five percentage points per year.

By that same rule of thumb, I’m crossing Ramirez off the list. On a performance-only basis, he would get my vote, as he’s one of the greatest hitters of all time; his 154 OPS+ ranks 20th. But I simply can’t get past the two failed tests, not when better players who never tested positive are being kept out over more nebulous PED allegations.

That leaves 11 players for eight spots. Easily making the cut, with my lightning-round summaries of their cases, are the following six:

  • Rivera (2nd among relievers in JAWS): The greatest closer of all time in terms of both saves and win probability added, and a player with an unequaled body of postseason work — a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings, with 31 saves of four outs or more, and four times on the mound for the final out of the World Series — as well.
  • Halladay (43rd among starters in JAWS): No, he’s not above the JAWS standard, but he’s at the vanguard of a wave of pitchers who probably won’t get to that point due to workload constraints, with a magnificent, above-standard peak that surpasses every pitcher on this ballot except Clemens. Despite qualifying for the ERA title just eight times, he had seven top-five finishes in that category, and eight in WAR. It’s a tragedy that he didn’t live to see his election, but he’s worthy of this honor.
  • Mussina (29th among starters in JAWS, 63.5%% in 2018): Despite his lack of a Cy Young, championship ring or major milestone (300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts), his long-term success at run prevention and his outstanding strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio make him eminently worthy of Cooperstown. With three years of big gains in a row, his election is a matter of when, not if.
  • Rolen (10th among third basemen in JAWS, 10.2% in 2018): An exceptional but underappreciated two-way player, Rolen combined power and patience at the plate with some of the best glove work the hot corner has ever seen. Even in a career that contained numerous injuries and ended at age 37, he ranks third at position both in fielding runs (+175) and in Gold Gloves (eight) and, depending upon your choice of metric, belongs among the top 10 or 20 hitters for the position as well. Particularly at an underrepresented spot — there are just 14 third basemen in the Hall, compared to 26 right fielders and 19 to 21 of every other position besides catcher — he merits enshrinement. His candidacy is off to a slow start, but he’s picked up some support and several voters have mentioned adding him in the future.
  • Martinez (11th among third basemen in JAWS, 70.4% in 2018): With apologies to David Ortiz, Martinez is not just the best designated hitter of all time but one of the best hitters ever, ranking 14th in OBP and tied for 30th in OPS+ (7,000 PA minimum), with 500-plus average-ish games at third base bolstering his value. As of 2015, his candidacy looked like a lost cause, with just 27.0% of the vote and his remaining time on the ballot having shrunk from nine years to four, but three straight years of double-digit gains has put him within reach of completing a Tim Raines-like ascension to Cooperstown this year, his final one on the ballot.
  • Walker (10th among right fielders in JAWS, 34.1% in 2018): A legitimate five-tool player, Walker was outstanding at defense and base running as well as hitting. Even after adjusting for the time he spent at high altitude, he’s tied for 43rd all-time in OPS+. His injury-shortened career has provoked some resistance among voters, but they are finally coming around; in his second-to-last year on the ballot, he’s received 65.2% of the vote from those published at @NotMrTibbs’ Ballot Tracker thus far, a remarkable surge that should at least get the attention of the Today’s Game committee if he falls short next year.

That’s eight spots filled, leaving five players vying for the final two:

  • Schilling (27th among starters in JAWS, 51.2% in 2018): He was the best postseason pitcher of his generation, with an outstanding strikeout rate and the best strikeout-to-walk ratio since the pitching distance moved to 60-foot-6. And contrary to his conspiracy theory — no, not the Qanon one — he was trending towards election in spite of his abrasive public persona and political views, at least until his November 2016 praise of a pro-lynching tweet stopped his momentum, costing him 7.3 percentage points relative to 2016; he regained most of that ground last year.

    Thus far I’m six-for-six in including Schilling on my virtual ballots, despite my increasing distaste for that persona. Garden-variety political differences I can abide, and his politics had no bearing on his playing career; it’s a mistake to connect Schilling’s words to the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” portion of the Hall’s voting instructions. That said, I will freely admit that I can’t stomach the lynching tweet, his sharing of a transphobic meme, or his alignment with a white supremacist congressional candidate that even the alt-right Breitbart site backed away from. (Belatedly, after the horse was out of the barn, so did Schilling.)

    Though he’s polling at 72.6% in the Tracker, Schilling is no real threat to come close to 75% this year; he received votes on just 32.4% of the unpublished ballots last year. All of which means we’re going to have to rehash the litany again next year. For all of the above — the stuff that crosses lines beyond politics, and the sheer agita he causes us all in this process — I’m skipping him this year. This isn’t a character clause matter, it’s a ballot-management one.

  • Jones (11th among center fielders in JAWS, 7.3% in 2018): If 2018 Hall of Fame honoree Chipper Jones was the Braves dynasty’s offensive cornerstone, Andruw Jones was its defensive one, an elite fly-chaser who won 10 Gold Gloves and ranks first in fielding runs (+236). He could hit, too, bopping 434 career homers. His career collapsed at age 31, however; he played just 435 games over his final five seasons, disappearing from the majors at age 35. So while he’s well above the peak standard, he’s short on the career one and in JAWS. I’m not so bothered by that, given his relative ranking and the fact that the standard in center field and right field are a few points higher than every other position.
  • Sosa (18th among right fielders in JAWS, 7.8% in 2017): A towering figure in baseball’s return from the strike, and just the sixth player to reach 600 home runs, he’s nonetheless below the bar in JAWS. That matters more to me than the report that he was on the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test, which as noted above, belongs to the “Wild West” era before the game had a coherent PED policy. What’s more, commissioner Rob Manfred basically disavowed it in the context of celebrating David Ortiz, on the grounds that some disputed results were never resolved because the threshold to implement testing had been reached. That doesn’t mean Sosa was clean, but if MLB couldn’t penalize him, I’m not going to — though it still doesn’t mean I’m obligated to vote for him.
  • Helton (15th among first basemen in JAWS): An exceptional hitter who served as the face of the Rockies franchise, he put up very big numbers in the first half of his career, numbers that hold up once we adjust for his park and league scoring environment. Injuries caused him to fade away, as he had just one good season out of his last four, but it’s not out of the question that his time at altitude accelerated his physical decline. And anyway, his peak ranks 10th among first basemen, about four wins above the standard, and his JAWS is less than a point below it.
  • Wagner (tied for 20th among relievers in JAWS, 11.1% in 2017): The holder of the all-time record for strikeout rate and opponent batting average, albeit at just an 800-inning threshold. He’s short of the admittedly slapdash standard established by the seven enshrined relievers, but since I’ve never been entirely satisfied with how JAWS handles relievers, I’ve remained open-minded, seeking alternate ways to evaluate them using advanced stats, namely Win Probability Added (WPA) and situational or context-neutral wins (WPA/LI), both of which paint the pair in question in a better light than WAR. When I combine those with career WAR, averaging the three stats, he’s sixth behind Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage, and Hoffman, ahead of Smith, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers.

At this point, I feel like a vote for Sosa is a wasted one, as he’s clearly going nowhere on the writers’ ballot. Jones is down there, too, at 8.1% in the tracker, but he’s in just the second year of his candidacy, so I’d be more inclined to vote for him simply to keep him on the ballot; he’s the only one from this quartet who made mine last year. Wagner (14.8%) and Helton (18.5%) are probably safe from being dropped.

None of this, not even bumping Schilling aside for a year, is easy. But Helton’s the closest on JAWS of the remaining four, and that’s good enough for me. And since I’ve wanted to include Wagner for the past two years but haven’t been able to find room, I’m going to use my 10th spot this time for him instead of Jones.

Bonds, Clemens, Halladay, Helton, Martinez, Mussina, Rivera, Rolen, Wagner, Walker — there it is, input into our crowd-sourcing ballot project under the wire (if you’re a registered FanGraphs user, you can do the same).

Of the 135 ballots input into the Tracker as of Sunday night, exactly one of them matches. When I saw whose it was, I nearly fell out of my chair: 2005 Spink Award winner Tracy Ringolsby, whose BBWAA badge number is 20 — a fancy way of saying that they don’t get much more venerable.

Once upon a time, at my first Winter Meetings in 2003, a few of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues and I — none of us credentialed, mind you — spent three days trying to avoid feeling starstruck while watching the swarm of baseball executives, agents, and writers milling around the lobby of the lobby of the New Orleans Marriott. Ringolsby, who had been vocal in his criticism of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball (published earlier that year), was as recognizable as anyone in the room thanks to his signature black cowboy hat and oversized belt buckle — the subject of giggles from us chipmunks. But times change; Ringolsby came around on Bert Blyleven’s Hall of Fame candidacy before most of his peers, and in recent years, he’s cited JAWS in connection to Larry Walker’s case. At the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, I found myself sitting next to him in the media room and thanked him for the Walker citation, the start of an enjoyable 20-minute conversation on Hall of Fame stuff.

Yes, Hall of Fame voting, even of the virtual variety, can make for strange bedfellows. Tracy Ringolsby covered the Messersmith-McNally decision in 1975, helped found Baseball America in 1981, and has spent four decades as a beat reporter. I haven’t done any of those things, haven’t even gotten my first official Hall vote, and yet we’ve come to the same conclusions about this year’s ballot. Our ballots may not be perfect, but this particular full-circle moment feels like a perfect one.


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Sammy Sosa

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

Like Mark McGwire, his rival in the great 1998 home run chase, Sammy Sosa was hailed at the height of his popularity as a hero, a Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, and a great international ambassador for baseball. In the same year that McGwire set a new single-season record with 70 home runs, Sosa hit 66 and took home the National League MVP award. Three times in a four-year stretch from 1998 to 2001, he surpassed Roger Maris’ previously unbreakable mark of 61 homers, and he hit more homers over a five- or 10-year stretch than any player in history. In 2007, he became just the fifth player to reach the 600-home-run milestone after Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds.

As with McGwire, the meaning of Sosa’s home runs changed once baseball began to crack down on performance-enhancing drugs, with suspicions mounting about his achievements. He was called to testify before Congress in 2005, along with McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and several other players. Sosa denied using PEDs, but while he never tested positive once Major League Baseball began instituting penalties for usage, The New York Times reported in 2009 that he was one of more than 100 players who had done so during the supposedly anonymous survey tests six years prior.

Though his case doesn’t exactly parallel with those of either McGwire or Palmeiro, Sosa received similar treatment from BBWAA voters in his 2013 ballot debut, getting just 12.5% of the vote. Since then, he’s sunk into the single digits (7.8% in 2018) suggesting he’s more likely to fall off the ballot à la Palmeiro than to persist for the full 10 years, as McGwire did. Even beyond the Hall of Fame voting, however, he’s been snubbed by the Cubs, first frozen out of the centennial anniversary of Wrigley Field in 2014, then similarly shunned amid the team’s 2016 championship run. While Bonds, Roger Clemens and others are trending towards eventual election as voters reconsider their hardline stances and their position as the morality police, it’s worth considering Sosa’s exile.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Sammy Sosa
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Sammy Sosa 58.6 43.8 51.2
Avg. HOF RF 72.7 42.9 57.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,408 609 .273/.344/.534 128
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Curt Schilling

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. 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.

On the field, Curt Schilling was at his best when the spotlight shone the brightest. A top starter on four pennant winners and three World Series champions, he has a strong claim as the best postseason pitcher of his generation. Founded on pinpoint command of his mid-90s fastball and a devastating splitter, his regular season dominance enhances his case for Cooperstown. He’s one of just 16 pitchers to strike out more than 3,000 hitters, and is the owner of the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in modern major league history.

That said, Schilling never won a Cy Young award and finished with “only” 216 regular-season wins, a problem given that only three starters with fewer than 300 wins have been elected since 1992. Two of those — Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz — came in 2015, suggesting that others could follow in their wake.

Schilling was something of a late bloomer who didn’t click until his age-25 season, after he had been traded three times. He spent much of his peak pitching in the shadows of even more famous (and popular) teammates, which may have helped to explain his outspokenness. Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi nicknamed him “Red Light Curt” for his desire to be at the center of attention when the cameras were rolling. Whether expounding about politics, performance-enhancing drugs, the QuesTec pitch-tracking system, or a cornerstone of his legend, Schilling wasn’t shy about telling the world what he thought.

For better and worse, that desire eventually extended beyond the mound. Schilling used his platform to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and, after a bout of oral cancer, recorded public service announcements on the dangers of smokeless tobacco. In 1996, USA Today named him “Baseball’s Most Caring Athlete.” But in the years since his retirement, his actions and inflammatory rhetoric on social media have turned him from merely a controversial and polarizing figure to one who has continued to create problems for himself. Normally, that wouldn’t be germane to the Hall of Fame discussion, but his promotion of a tweet promoting the lynching of journalists — yes, really — during the tense 2016 presidential campaign seemed to have finally brought his momentum to a screeching halt.

Schilling climbed from 38.8% in 2013 to 52.3% in 2016, even while taking a backseat to a quintet of pitchers — Martinez, Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson — whose hardware and milestones led to first-ballot entries. Due in large part to his social media and political battles, he plummeted to 45.0% in 2017, as several previous supporters left him off their ballots even when they had space to spare, either explicitly or implicitly citing the character clause. Yet he regained most of the lost ground last year, even while maintaining his noxious public persona, and the early returns on the 2018 ballot suggest his candidacy is back on track even if he himself has gone off the rails.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Curt Schilling
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Curt Schilling 79.6 48.7 64.1
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
W-L SO ERA ERA+
216-146 3,116 3.46 127
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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Cardinals Hope Miller Rebound Can Provide Relief

The Cardinals missed the playoffs for the third straight season in 2018, and their bullpen was a major reason why. The unit ranked among the NL’s worst by multiple measures, despite the team’s substantial investment in the ever-volatile reliever free agent market. With little choice but to dive back in, the team has made an even more substantial investment, signing 33-year-old lefty Andrew Miller to a two-year, $25 million deal.

The full details, via The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:

Both the $12.5 million average annual value and $25 million total are slightly above the two-year, $22 million estimates from Kiley McDaniel and our Top 50 Free Agents crowdsourcing project. From among the handful of reliever deals signed thus far this winter, Miller’s AAV surpasses Jeurys Familia’s $10 million AAV deal with the Mets. That one is for three years, so it remains the largest, with Miller tied for second in total value with Joe Kelly’s $25 million, three-year deal with the Dodgers. If Miller falls short of 110 appearances — a level he reached in any pair of consecutive seasons from 2013-2017 — across 2019-2020, then his 2021 vesting option becomes a club option with the $2.5 million buyout. According to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, Miller had “a number of two-year offers in hand,” but the Cardinals evidently provided enough bells and whistles — not to mention the chance to win — for their offer to stand out.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Billy Wagner

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2016 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

Billy Wagner was the ultimate underdog. Undersized and from both a broken home and an impoverished rural background, he channeled his frustrations into throwing incredibly hard — with his left hand, despite being a natural righty, for he broke his right arm twice as a child. Scouts overlooked him because he wasn’t anywhere close to six feet tall, but they couldn’t disregard his dominance of collegiate hitters using a mid-90s fastball. The Astros made him a first-round pick, and once he was converted to a relief role, his velocity went even higher.

Thanks to outstanding lower-body strength, coordination, and extraordinary range of motion, the 5-foot-10 Wagner was able to reach 100 mph with consistency — 159 times in 2003, according to The Bill James Handbook. Using a pitch learned from teammate (and 2018 ballot-mate) Brad Lidge, he kept blowing the ball by hitters into his late 30s to such an extent that he owns the record for the highest strikeout rate of any pitcher with at least 800 innings. He was still dominant when he walked away from the game following the 2010 season, fresh off posting a career-best ERA.

Lacking the longevity of fellow 2016 Hall of Fame ballot newcomer Trevor Hoffman, Wagner never set any saves records or even led his league once, and his innings total is well below those of every enshrined reliever. Hoffman’s status as the former all-time saves leader helped him get elected in 2018, but Wagner, who created similar value in his career, has major hurdles to surmount after receiving a high of 11.1% in three years on the ballot. Nonetheless, his advantages over Hoffman — and virtually every other reliever in history when it comes to rate stats — provide a compelling reason to study his career more closely. Given how far he’s come, who wants to bet against Billy Wags?

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Billy Wagner
Pitcher Career Peak JAWS WPA WPA/LI IP SV ERA ERA+
Billy Wagner 27.7 19.8 23.7 29.1 17.9 903 422 2.31 187
Avg HOF RP 36.8 25.7 31.3 26.3 18.1
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 12/20/18

12:02
Jay Jaffe: Hey folks and welcome to the last pre-Xmas version of my FanGraphs chat for the year. Lots of questions in the hopper already so let’s get to it…

12:02
Scott: Does Baines’ election open the door for Nick Markasis in Cooperstown?

12:06
Jay Jaffe: I suppose it’s possible 30 years down the road, but I think people are misunderstanding the ramifications of Baines’ election. By and large, the BBWAA voters, who as a group rejected Baines at a 94-95% clip five times, aren’t going to take a crony-driven bag job as something that represents a new standard, and just elect any player who gives 3,000 hits a run but falls short. if Markakis gets there, he’ll likely be the least decorated player to do so, and it will be interesting to see how voters react, but when we’ve got 8x Gold Glovers being ignored, I have a hard time imagining such a relatively un-decorated player getting in.

12:06
Nate: What chances do you see Tulo going to the Pirates?

12:09
Jay Jaffe: I think there are several teams looking into the possibility of signing Tulo. Given his California ties and the fact that they made the playoffs last year, I’d put more money on the A’s landing Tulo than the Pirates. Then again, if a team like Pittsburgh can offer him a clearer path to 500 PA (as if his body can cooperate), maybe there’s something there.

12:09
Dan: How widely known is it that there’s a whole museum that is separate from the actual Hall at the HOF? Lots of coverage doesn’t make that clear, and I think it influences people’s opinions on who should be voted in.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Roy Oswalt

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. It is based on earlier work done for SI.com. 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.

Roy Oswalt spent a decade as one of the National League’s top pitchers before injuries took their toll. Though listed as just six feet tall and 180 pounds — size that caused him to be overlooked by scouts during his amateur days — he spent nearly a decade as a staple of the Astros’ rotation and a perennial Cy Young contender. Relying primarily on a mid-90s fastball/curve combination with an almost 20 mph differential, he never took home an award, or won a championship, but he played a key part on five postseason-bound teams in Houston and Philadelphia.

Had Oswalt enjoyed better luck in the health department, his career probably would have been the subject of spirited debate on, say, the 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. Alas, lower back woes caused by a pair of degenerative discs curtailed Oswalt’s major league career. His last effective season was in 2011, his age-33 season, and he threw his last pitch one month past his 36th birthday. His total of 2,245.1 innings is fewer than those of all but one Hall of Fame starter — and no, it’s not Sandy Koufax, it’s Dizzy Dean. While he may not truly be a viable candidate, he’s on a separate tier from the one-and-dones whom I’ll cover in brief later in this series.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Roy Oswalt
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Roy Oswalt 50.1 40.3 45.2
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
W-L SO ERA ERA+
163-102 1,852 3.36 127
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi on August 29, 1977, Oswalt grew up in nearby Weir, a tiny town with a population of just 550. His father Billy Joe, a logger and rec league softball player, saw his son excel in Little League and eventually petitioned the school board to start up a baseball program at his high school, Weir Attendance Center; Billy Joe volunteered to clear pine trees for a ball field using his own equipment. Looking to get every advantage he could out of his small stature, the younger Oswalt came up with an unorthodox delivery. From a 2006 profile for ESPN Magazine by Buster Olney:

Because he was so slightly built, he had to use everything he had to propel the baseball-arm, legs, soul.

Young Roy had seen enough to know that most pitchers start their delivery with one foot parallel to the rubber. This made no sense to him. He was trying to drive himself toward the batter, like a sprinter breaking out of the blocks. Sprinters, he thought, don’t plant their feet parallel to the starting line; their feet are pointed forward.

So that’s how Oswalt designed his pitching mechanics, with his back foot, his right foot, angled slightly forward. He raises his left foot, pauses slightly, then hurls his body at the batter, more like a javelin-tosser than a sprinter in the end. Nobody else in the majors uses mechanics like these, and no pitching coach would teach them unless he was considering a change of profession. But batters have confessed that Oswalt’s motion can be unnerving, this wiry six footer leaping at them like a mugger.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Barry Bonds

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

If Roger Clemens has a reasonable claim as the greatest pitcher of all time, then the same goes for Barry Bonds as the greatest position player. Babe Ruth played in a time before integration, and Ted Williams bridged the pre- and post-integration eras, but while both were dominant at the plate, neither was much to write home about on the base paths or in the field. Bonds’ godfather, Willie Mays, was a big plus in both of those areas, but he didn’t dominate opposing pitchers to the same extent. Bonds used his blend of speed, power, and surgical precision in the strike zone to outdo them all. He set the single-season home run record with 73 in 2001 and the all-time home run record with 762, reached base more often than any player this side of Pete Rose, and won a record seven MVP awards along the way.

Despite his claim to greatness, Bonds may have inspired more fear and loathing than any ballplayer in modern history. Fear because opposing pitchers and managers simply refused to engage him at his peak, intentionally walking him a record 688 times — once with the bases loaded — and giving him a free pass a total of 2,558 times, also a record. Loathing because even as a young player, he rubbed teammates and media the wrong way and approached the game with a chip on his shoulder because of the way his father, three-time All-Star Bobby Bonds, had been driven from the game due to alcoholism.

As he aged, media and fans turned against Bonds once evidence — most of it illegally leaked to the press by anonymous sources — mounted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs during the latter part of his career. With his name in the headlines more regarding his legal situation than his on-field exploits, his pursuit and eclipse of Hank Aaron’s 33-year-old home run record turned into a joyless drag, and he disappeared from the majors soon after breaking the record in 2007 despite ranking among the game’s most dangerous hitters even at age 43. Not until 2014 did he even debut as a spring training guest instructor for the Giants. The reversal of his felony obstruction of justice conviction in April 2015 freed him of legal hassles, and he spent the 2016 season as the Marlins’ hitting coach, though he was dismissed at season’s end.

Bonds is hardly alone among Hall of Fame candidates with links to PEDs. As with Clemens, the support he has received during his first six election cycles has been far short of unanimous, but significantly stronger than the showings of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, either in their ballot debuts or since. Debuting at 36.2% in 2013, Bonds spun his wheels for two years before climbing to 44.3% in 2016 and 53.8% in 2017 thanks to a confluence of factors. In the wake of both Bonds and Clemens crossing the historically significant 50% threshold, the Hall — which in 2014 unilaterally truncated candidacies from 15 years to 10 so as to curtail debate over the PED-linked ones — made its strongest statement yet that it would like to avoid honoring them in the form of a plea to voters from vice chairman Joe Morgan not to honor players connected to steroids. The letter was not well received by voters, but Bonds gained just 2.6 percentage points. Like Clemens, he needs to recapture his momentum to have a shot at reaching 75% by the time his eligibility runs out in 2022.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Barry Bonds
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Barry Bonds 162.8 72.7 117.8
Avg. HOF LF 65.4 41.6 53.5
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,935 762 .298/.444/.607 182
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Roger Clemens

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

Roger Clemens has a reasonable claim as the greatest pitcher of all time. Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Grover Cleveland Alexander spent all or most of their careers in the dead-ball era, before the home run was a real threat, and pitched while the color line was still in effect, barring some of the game’s most talented players from participating. Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver pitched when scoring levels were much lower and pitchers held a greater advantage. Koufax and 2015 inductees Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez didn’t sustain their greatness for nearly as long. Greg Maddux didn’t dominate hitters to nearly the same extent.

Clemens, meanwhile, spent 24 years in the majors and racked up a record seven Cy Young awards, not to mention an MVP award. He won 354 games, led his leagues in the Triple Crown categories (wins, strikeouts and ERA) a total of 16 times, and helped his teams to six pennants and a pair of world championships.

Alas, whatever claim “The Rocket” may have on such an exalted title is clouded by suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs. When those suspicions came to light in the Mitchell Report in 2007, Clemens took the otherwise unprecedented step of challenging the findings during a Congressional hearing, but nearly painted himself into a legal corner; he was subject to a high-profile trial for six counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to Congress. After a mistrial in 2011, he was acquitted on all counts the following year. But despite the verdicts, the specter of PEDs won’t leave Clemens’ case anytime soon, even given that in March 2015, he settled the defamation lawsuit filed by former personal trainer Brian McNamee for an unspecified amount.

Amid the ongoing Hall of Fame-related debates over hitters connected to PEDs — most prominently Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa — it’s worth remembering that the chemical arms race involved pitchers as well, leveling the playing field a lot more than some critics of the aforementioned sluggers would admit. The voters certainly haven’t forgotten that when it comes to Clemens, whose share of the vote has approximated that of Bonds. Clemens debuted with 37.6% of the vote in 2013 and only in 2016 began making significant headway, climbing to 45.2% thanks largely to the Hall’s purge of voters more than 10 years removed from covering the game. Like Bonds, he surged above 50% — a historically significant marker towards future election — in 2017, benefiting from voters rethinking their positions in the wake of the election of Bud Selig. The former commissioner’s roles in the late-1980s collusion scandal and in presiding over the proliferation of PEDs within the game dwarf the impact of individual PED users and call into question the so-called “character clause.”

Clemens’ march towards Cooperstown stalled somewhat last year even as he climbed 3.2 percentage points to 61.2%. Whether or not the open letter from Hall of Fame Vice Chairman Joe Morgan pleading to voters not to honor players connected to steroids had an impact, the end result was another year run off the clock. He still has a shot at reaching 75% before his eligibility runs out in 2022, but he needs to regain momentum.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Roger Clemens
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Roger Clemens 139.6 66.0 102.8
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
W-L SO ERA ERA+
354-184 4,672 3.12 143
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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