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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Andy Pettitte

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.

As much as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte was a pillar of the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty. The tall Texan lefty played such a vital role on 13 pinstriped playoff teams and seven pennant winners — plus another trip to the World Series during his three-year run Houston — that he holds several major postseason records. In fact, no pitcher ever started more potential series clinchers, both in the World Series and the postseason as a whole.

For as important as Pettitte was to the “Core Four” (Williams always gets the short end of the stick on that one) that anchored five championships from 1996 to 2009, he seldom made a case as one of the game’s top pitchers. High win totals driven by excellent offensive support helped him finish in the top five of his leagues’ Cy Young voting four times, but only three times did he place among the top 10 in ERA or WAR, and he never ranked higher than sixth in strikeouts. He made just three All-Star teams.

Indeed, Pettitte was more plow horse than racehorse. A sinker- and cutter-driven groundballer whose pickoff move was legendary, he was a championship-level innings-eater, a grinder (his word) rather than a dominator, a pitcher whose strong work ethic, mental preparation, and focus — visually exemplified by his peering in for the sign from the catcher with eyes barely visible underneath the brim of his cap — compensated for his lack of dazzling stuff. Ten times he made at least 32 starts, a mark that’s tied for seventh in the post-1994 strike era. His total of 10 200-inning seasons is tied for fourth in that same span, and his 12 seasons of qualifying for the ERA title with an ERA+ of 100 or better is tied for second. He had his ups and downs in the postseason, but only once during his 18-year career (2004, when he underwent season-ending elbow surgery) was he unavailable to pitch once his team made the playoffs.

On a ballot with two multi-Cy Young winners (Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay) as well as two other starters (Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling) who were better at preventing runs and racking up strikeouts — and also had plenty of postseason success — Pettitte would appear to be a long shot for Cooperstown. And that’s before factoring in his 2007 inclusion in the Mitchell Report for having used human growth hormone to recover from an elbow injury. Thanks to his championship rings and his high win total, he’ll probably receive enough support to persist on the ballot nonetheless.

About those wins: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon pitcher win totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive, and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher’s own performance. While one needn’t know how many wins Pettitte amassed in a season or a career to appreciate his true value, those totals have affected the popular perception of his career.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Andy Pettitte
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Andy Pettitte 60.2 34.1 47.2
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
W-L SO ERA ERA+
256-153 2,448 3.85 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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Padres Land a Bargain in Kinsler

The Padres have been connected to big names like J.T. Realmuto, Noah Syndergaard, Nathan Eovaldi and even Bryce Harper, all of which suggests that after three straight seasons of 90-some losses and eight straight with records below .500, they’re ready to get out of the business of losing. So far, no dice on the marquee additions, and last winter’s big Eric Hosmer contract isn’t sitting so well, but on Friday, they did score something of a bargain, signing second baseman Ian Kinsler to two-year deal worth $8 million, with a club option of unspecified value also included, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The implication is that Kinsler’s days as an everyday player are numbered, and that he’s ready instead for that sage veteran mentor/utility role, à la Chase Utley with the Dodgers.

(Or maybe he just wants to knock back some quality craft beers and fish tacos. San Diego is great for that, but perhaps I’m just projecting.)

The 36-year-old Kinsler was last seen making a mess of things in the World Series, going 1-for-10 for the Red Sox and most notably committing base running and fielding gaffes in the epic, 18-inning Game 3. As pinch-runner for J.D. Martinez, he was thrown out at home plate on the back end of an inning-ending double play in the 10th, and then, after the Red Sox had taken the lead in the top of the 13th, he threw away a Yasiel Puig grounder that allowed the tying run to score. Not great. The Red Sox lost that game, and while they won the Series, Kinsler didn’t make another appearance.

Aside from winning that elusive championship ring, it really wasn’t a season to write home about for Kinsler. After being traded from the Tigers to the Angels last December 13 (for minor leaguers Wilkel Hernandez and Troy Montgomery), he scuffled, and once the Angels fell out of contention, he was dealt again on July 30, this time to Boston, in exchange for relievers Ty Buttrey and Williams Jerez. He had started the year so slowly that in June I explored whether he was cooked, though his bat perked up long enough for him to be of interest to a Dustin Pedroia-less Boston team that featured Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt scraping by with replacement-level production. It must have been contagious, because Kinsler went from hitting .239/.304/.406 (97 wRC+) with 2.2 WAR in 391 PA with the Halos to .242/.294/.311 (62 wRC+) with 0.0 WAR in 143 PA with the Sox. The saving grace of his season was his defense; he was 9.4 runs above average according to UZR, 10 above average via DRS, and over the past two years, he’s been +17.5 and +16 by those two metrics while batting just .238/.308/.397 for a 90 wRC+ but 4.9 WAR. That’s still an above-average player, if not a terribly sexy one.

The bat is worrisome, though. According to Baseball Savant, Kinsler’s 85.3 mph average exit velocity ranked in the bottom 8% of the league, and his xwOBACON (expected wOBA on contact) plummeted from .350 in 2017 to .303 in 2018. As I noted in June, his downturn owes largely to two major problems: first, he’s struggled against four-seam fastballs, particularly ones 95 mph or higher; and second, he’s stopped hitting lefties. Despite a career 135 wRC+ against heaters as a group, he’s been at 88 and 94 over the past two seasons, and as for the high-velo stuff, here’s an updated version of a table I made for the previous article:

Ian Kinsler vs. 95+ MPH Four-Seam Fastballs
Year wOBA lg wOBA wOBA dif xWOBA lg xwOBA xwOBA dif
2015 .305 .309 -.004 .315 .311 .004
2016 .337 .315 .022 .353 .316 .037
2017 .223 .312 -.089 .298 .318 -.020
2018 .271 .306 -.035 .312 .308 .004
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

The trend isn’t uniform, but it isn’t good. Neither is hitting .191/.236/.250 for a 33 wRC+ in 144 PA against lefties, especially when you’re a righty. That aspect of his performance may well have been a fluke, the flip side of his .278/.357/.539 (135 wRC+) line against southpaws in 129 PA in 2017. For his career, he has a fairly typical split (127 wRC+ against RHP, 101 against LHP), but over the two-year period, his 81 wRC+ against lefties is in the 24th percentile among righty swingers, which is worrisome.

Here’s the thing, though: the Padres got less than nothing out of their second basemen in 2018. Jose Pirela, Carlos Asuaje, Cory Spangenberg and three other guys combined for a 78 wRC+ and -0.1 WAR at the spot. Spangenberg was released in November, and Asuaje was just claimed off waivers by the Rangers, so they’re out of the picture. Luis Urias, who hit .208/.264/.354 in 53 PA for the Pad squad, is the future, a 55 FV prospect who is currently number three on the Padres list (behind shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr and lefty MacKenzie Gore) and number 21 overall. He’s just 21 years old, though, and while MLB.com’s A.J. Cassavell recently reported that he’s expected to open the season at the keystone, it would surprise nobody if he were to start the year back in Triple-A. Since Tatis is just 19 and hasn’t played above Double-A (and has just 102 games there overall), there’s talk that Urias could even start the year at shortstop, a position he’s continued to spot-start at as he’s moved up the ladder.

All of which is to say that Kinsler, a 13-year veteran with 47.7 WAR, four All-Star appearances, and a pair of Gold Gloves to his name, could be Urias’ double play partner, or his placeholder, or his backup/mentor, depending upon how things unfold. He might even get a chance to play third base in a utility role, if and when both Tatis and Urias are in the bigs. Maybe he’ll become such a natural in this capacity that the Padres will view him as a surrogate dad, as some of the Dodgers did with Utley. The Padres’ padre? Why not?

Considering that Kinsler was projected to produce 1.8 WAR in 490 PA — though now, it would be a surprise if he got that much playing time — and that in our free agent preview the estimates for his salary ran for $6-8 million for a single season, two years and $8 million seems quite reasonable for San Diego. His presence probably won’t change the course of the Padres’ 2019 season, but if he helps Urias adapt to the majors and fulfill his potential, it’s a small price to pay.


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Jeff Kent

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 2014 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.

Jeff Kent took a long time to find a home. Drafted by the Blue Jays in 1989, he passed through the hands of three teams who didn’t quite realize the value of what they had. Not until a trade to the Giants in November 1996 — prior to his age-29 season — did he really settle in. Once he did, he established himself as a standout complement to Barry Bonds, helping the Giants become perennial contenders and spending more than a decade as a middle-of-the-lineup force.

Despite his late-arriving stardom and a prickly personality that sometimes rubbed teammates and media the wrong way, Kent earned All-Star honors five times, won an MVP award, and helped four different franchises reach the playoffs a total of seven times. His resumé gives him a claim as the best-hitting second baseman of the post-1960 expansion era — not an iron-clad one, but not one that’s easily dismissed. For starters, he holds the all-time record for most home runs by a second baseman with 351. That’s 74 more than Ryne Sandberg, 85 more than Joe Morgan, and 86 more than Rogers Hornsby — all Hall of Famers, and in Hornsby’s case, one from before the expansion era (note that I’m not counting homers hit while playing other positions). Among players with at least 7,000 plate appearances in their career who spent at least half their time at second base, only Hornsby (.577) has a higher slugging percentage than Kent’s .500. From that latter set, only Hornsby (1.010) and another pre-expansion Hall of Famer, Charlie Gehringer (.884), have a higher OPS.

Offense isn’t everything for a second baseman, however, and in a Hall of Fame discussion, it needs to be set in its proper context, particularly given the high-scoring era in which Kent played. Taking the measure of all facets of his game, he appears to have a weaker case with regards to advanced statistics than to traditional ones. On a crowded ballot chockfull of candidates with stronger cases on both fronts, he has struggled to gain support, topping out at 16.7% in 2017, his fourth year on the ballot.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Jeff Kent
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Jeff Kent 55.4 35.7 45.6
Avg. HOF 2B 69.4 44.4 56.9
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,461 377 .290/.356/.500 123
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Lance Berkman

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.

Lance Berkman could mash with the best of ’em. In a 15-year career spent primarily with the Astros, the native Texan and Rice University product arrived in the majors in time to become not just the next “Killer B” alongside Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, but the centerpiece of the Houston offense as the iconic future Hall of Famers aged. Helped by the team’s move from the pitcher-friendly Astrodome to the more hitter-friendly Enron Field (later Minute Maid Park), he quickly established himself as one of the league’s elite hitters, and made five All-Star teams while helping the team win its first playoff series and its first pennant in franchise history.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Berkman did not fit the stereotypical image for a switch-hitting slugger of his prowess. “[H]e’s less Mr. Universe, more Mr. Kruk,” wrote Sports Illustrated‘s Jeff Pearlman in 2001, referring to the lumpy ex-slugger whose famous quip — “I ain’t an athlete, lady. I’m a ballplayer” — later became a book title. Quotable and self-deprecating, he once said after pulling a leg muscle, “I guess I’m going to have to shut down the speed game,” and over the years, he acquired a pair of memorable nicknames, Fat Elvis and Big Puma. He conceded the former and embraced the latter, saying, “Pumas are fast and lean and deadly. That’s me.”

Though he may have looked the part of a DH, Berkman worked hard to turn himself into a competent runner and defender, and he primarily played the outfield corners on two World Series teams, one in Houston and one in St. Louis; his heroics with the latter were key in helping the Cardinals win a championship. Not that it doesn’t happen to even the most well-conditioned players, but injuries, particularly bad knees, eventually caught up to Berkman. After averaging 153 games a year from 2001-2008, he slipped to 102 per year from 2009-2013. His retirement at age 37 left him short in the one counting stat — hits, of which he compiled 1,905 — that seems to matter to modern day voters most of all. That alone means he faces an uphill battle for election.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Lance Berkman
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Lance Berkman 52.1 39.3 45.7
Avg. HOF LF 65.4 41.6 53.5
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
1,905 366 .293/.406/.537 144
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 12/13/18

12:02
Jay Jaffe: Hey gang! Welcome to my Thursday chat, post Winter Meetings edition. I had a very good time in Las Vegas despite the dreadful layout of Mandalay Bay and the even more dreadful lack of sleep it took to get me both there and back while fulfilling my professional and personal obligations. I can only hint at how great it is to work with my fellow colleagues at FanGraphs. Anyway, there’s plenty to discuss this week, but I don’t know a damn thing about the Rule 5 draft, so please don’t ask.

12:03
Nick: Hi Jay! As a journalist, what is the most excited part of being at the Winter Meetings?  I’m sure it’s a great experience, but I’d imagine there’s quite a bit of waiting around.

12:04
Jay Jaffe: it’s great when there’s a big transaction — signing or trade — to cover on deadline but the moves for this one didn’t really rise to that standard, particularly compared to my last couple of meetings in 2014 and 2015. On a personal level, it’s awesome to see so many people whose work I respect and admire, and lately, to hear people say such kind things about my work.

12:04
Tim: What does it say about the Veteran’s committee that one of their members simply could not act like an adult on national TV when discussing their decision to include Baines? To me it says they can’t attempt even the pretense of objectivity, further hurting their credibility among the public.

12:09
Jay Jaffe: Yeah, I haven’t read the full transcript of La Russa’s comments but what I’ve seen was an embarrassment.

This applies less to La Russa than to Jerry Reinsdorf, but here’s one weird trick the Hall of Fame could do to increase the credibility of the small committees: PROHIBIT ANY EMPLOYER FROM BEING ON A COMMITTEE WHERE HE CAN VOTE FOR HIS EMPLOYEE. Second to that, make the committee large enough (maybe double in size?) with enough neutral parties (i.e., journalists and actual historians) that somebody as closely linked as a player’s ex-teammates and managers is forced to abstain from the vote on that particular candidate. It does not seem too much to ask, and yet it apparently is.

12:09
troke: Do you have any prediction of the likely landing spot for Harper and Machado?

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Fred McGriff

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.

Despite being an outstanding hitter, Fred McGriff had a hard time standing out. Though he arrived in the major leagues in the same year as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and was the first player to lead each league in home runs since the dead-ball era, he couldn’t match the career accomplishments of either of those two men, finishing short of round-numbered milestones with “only” 493 home runs and 2,490 hits. The obvious explanation — that he didn’t have the pharmaceutical help that others did — may be true, but it was just one of many ways in which McGriff’s strong performance didn’t garner as much attention as it merited.

That isn’t to say that McGriff went totally unnoticed during his heyday, but some of the things for which he received attention were decidedly… square. Early in his major league career, McGriff acquired the nickname “the Crime Dog” in reference to McGruff, an animated talking bloodhound from a public service announcement who urged kids to “take a bite out of crime” by staying in school and away from drugs. He also appeared in the longest-running sports infomercial of all time, endorsing Tom Emanski’s Baseball Defensive Drills video, a staple of insomniac viewing amid SportsCenter segments on ESPN since 1991.

That those distinctions carry some amount of ironic cachet today is evidence that McGriff might have been just too gosh-darn wholesome a star for an increasingly cynical age. On the other hand, it’s far better to be remembered for pointing a finger in the service of a timeless baseball fundamentals video than providing sworn testimony in front of Congress. But it hasn’t translated to support from Hall of Fame voters. McGriff debuted at 21.5% on the 2010 ballot, peaked at 23.9% two years later, and is now in his final year of eligibility, with little hope of escaping the ballot’s lower reaches. Unfortunately for him, advanced statistics haven’t helped his cause, but with the elections of four living ex-players in the last two years by the Era Committees, he may well face a more sympathetic voting body in the near future.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Fred McGriff
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Fred McGriff 52.6 36.0 44.3
Avg. HOF 1B 66.8 42.7 54.7
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,490 493 .284/.377/.509 134
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Manny Ramirez

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 2017 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.

A savant in the batter’s box, Manny Ramirez could be an idiot just about everywhere else — sometimes amusingly, sometimes much less so. The Dominican-born slugger, who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan, stands as one of the greatest hitters of all time, a power-hitting righthanded slugger who spent the better part of his 19 seasons (1993–2011) terrorizing pitchers. A 12-time All-Star, Ramirez bashed 555 home runs and helped the Indians and the Red Sox reach two World Series apiece, adding a record 29 postseason homers along the way. He was the World Series MVP for Boston in 2004, when the club won its first championship in 86 years.

For all of his prowess with the bat, Ramirez’s lapses — Manny Being Manny — both on and off the field are legendary. There was the time in 1997 that he “stole” first base, returning to the bag after a successful steal of second because he thought Jim Thome had fouled off a pitch… the time in 2004 that he inexplicably cut off centerfielder Johnny Damon’s relay throw from about 30 feet away, leading to an inside-the-park home run… the time in 2005 when he disappeared mid-inning to relieve himself inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster… the time in 2008 that he high-fived a fan in mid-play between catching a fly ball and doubling a runner off first… and so much more.

Beneath those often comic lapses was an intense work ethic, apparent as far back as his high school days, that allowed Ramirez’s talent to flourish. But there was also a darker side, one that, particularly after he left the Indians, went beyond the litany of late arrivals to spring training, questionable absences due to injury (particularly for the All-Star Game), and near-annual trade requests. Most notably, there was his shoving match with 64-year-old Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick in 2008, which prefigured Ramirez’s trade to the Dodgers that summer, and a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence/battery in 2011 after his wife told an emergency operator that her husband had slapped her face, causing her to hit her head against the headboard of the bed. (That domestic violence charge was later dropped after his wife refused to testify.) Interspersed with those two incidents were a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use, the second of which ran him out of the majors.

For all of the handwringing about PED-tinged candidates on the Hall of Fame ballot over the past decade, Ramirez is the first star with actual suspensions on his record to gain eligibility since Rafael Palmeiro in 2011. Like Palmeiro, Ramirez has numbers that would otherwise make his enshrinement a lock. In his 2017 ballot debut, he received 23.8% — a higher share than Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, players who were never suspended — from an electorate that appeared to be in the midst of softening its hardline stance against PED users, but dipped to 22.0% in 2018. He won’t get into Cooperstown anytime soon, but he won’t fall off the ballot anytime soon, either.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Manny Ramirez
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Manny Ramirez 69.4 40.0 54.7
Avg. HOF LF 65.4 41.6 53.5
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,574 555 .312/.411/.585 154
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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Hall Election of Lee Smith Makes Sense, But Harold Baines?

The Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 may belong to the specialists. Ahead of a BBWAA election where all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera and legendary designated hitter Edgar Martinez are most likely to gain entry, on Sunday at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the Today’s Game Era Committee elected reliever Lee Smith and outfielder/DH Harold Baines. More than just rankling purists, it is a result that raises some eyebrows.

Smith and Baines were two of the six players on the 10-candidate ballot, alongside outfielders Albert Belle and Joe Carter, first baseman Will Clark, and starter Orel Hershiser. Managers Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and Lou Piniella, and owner George Steinbrenner rounded out the slate. To these eyes, Smith was the most qualified of the players, not only because he held the all-time saves record from 1993 to 2006, when his total of 478 was surpassed by Trevor Hoffman, but because advanced statistics such as WAR, JAWS, and WPA place him in the middle of what’s now a seven-member group of relievers in the Hall. That he once received over 50% of the vote on the BBWAA ballot, where none of the other candidates ever topped 11.2%, made his election appear all the more likely, particularly in front of a group more predisposed to old-school stats than the writers, who lost sight of Smith when the ballot became more crowded late in his 15-year run.

Baines, who took 59.7% of his career plate appearances as a DH and set records in that capacity that were later surpassed by Martinez and David Ortiz, collected 2,866 hits and 384 homers over the course of his 22-year career. Nonetheless, he was poorly supported by the writers; though he lasted through five election cycles before falling off the ballot, he topped out at just 6.1%. Not only is there no precedent for a candidate with so little BBWAA support gaining election by a small committee in the era of the “Five Percent Rule” (from 1980 onward), but there’s really no precedent for a player from the post-1960 expansion era doing so. Via Baseball-Reference:

Hall of Famers with Lowest Peak BBWAA Voting Pct.
Player MLB Career Peak % Vote Year
Jake Beckley 1888-1907 0.4% 1942
Elmer Flick 1898-1910 0.4% 1938
Billy Hamilton 1888-1901 0.4% 1942
Joe Kelley 1891-1906, 1908 0.4% 1939
Satchel Paige 1948-1949, 1951-1952, 1965 0.4% 1951
Rick Ferrell 1929-1945, 1947 0.5% 1956
Buck Ewing 1880-1897 0.7% 1939
Jesse Burkett 1890-1905 1.7% 1942
High Pockets Kelly 1915-1917, 1919-1930, 1932 1.9% 1960
Jack Chesbro 1899-1909 2.2% 1939
Kid Nichols 1890-1901, 1904-1906 2.7% 1939
Bobby Wallace 1894-1918 2.7% 1938
Harry Hooper 1909-1925 3.0% 1937
Amos Rusie 1889-1895, 1897-1898, 1901 3.1% 1939
Larry Doby 1947-1959 3.4% 1967
Sam Crawford 1899-1917 4.2% 1938
Freddie Lindstrom 1924-1936 4.4% 1962
Earl Averill 1929-1941 5.4% 1958
Harold Baines 1980-2001 6.1% 2010
Travis Jackson 1922-1936 7.3% 1956
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Of that group besides Baines, only Doby and Paige even played after World War II. Doby broke the AL’s color line in 1947 and played 13 major league seasons, while Paige arrived in 1948 and pitched in parts of just six seasons (the last of which was a one-game cameo at age 59!) and thus was technically ineligible to be voted upon by the writers, since 10 years is the minimum to appear on a BBWAA ballot. What’s more, the stray vote he received was from 1951, when he was still active and before the five-year waiting period rule had been formalized.

All of which is to underscore the fact that there’s no modern precedent for the election of a candidate such as Baines in that regard. While his election does offer some hope to players bumped off the ballot in their first go-round — such as Bobby Grich, Kenny Lofton, and Ted Simmons, who missed election by the Modern Baseball Era Committee by one vote last year — the custom of withholding first-year votes from all but the most qualified candidates helps to explain those mistakes; with Baines, 94 to 95 percent of voters consistently judged him to be unworthy.

Every bit as unsettling is the fact that Baines accumulated just 38.7 WAR (using the Baseball-Reference version) and 30.1 JAWS. Considered as a right fielder — I consider every DH candidate at the position where he accrued the most value — he ranks just 74th in JAWS, below 24 of the 25 Hall of Famers (19th century outfielder Tommy McCarthy is the exception). From under-supported BBWAA candidate Larry Walker (10th in JAWS among right fielders), to players such as Dwight Evans (15th) and Reggie Smith (16th) who have never sniffed a small committee ballot, that’s a troubling inequity. And everyone and their brother has a pet candidate just among the right fielders for whom a stronger case could be mounted. Tony Oliva, Rusty Staub, Dave Parker? All rank in the 30s in JAWS among right fielders, and appear to have stronger traditional credentials as well.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Gary Sheffield

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 2015 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.

Wherever Gary Sheffield went, he made noise, both with his bat and his voice. For the better part of two decades, he ranked among the game’s most dangerous hitters, a slugger with a keen batting eye and a penchant for contact that belied his quick, violent swing. For even longer than that, he was one of the game’s most outspoken players, unafraid to speak up when he felt he was being wronged and unwilling to endure a situation that wasn’t to his liking. He was a polarizing player, and hardly one for the faint of heart.

At the plate, Sheffield was viscerally impressive like few others. With his bat twitching back and forth like the tail of a tiger waiting to pounce, he was pure menace in the batter’s box. He won a batting title, launched over 500 home runs — 14 seasons with at least 20 and eight with at least 30 — and put many a third base coach in peril with some of the most terrifying foul balls anyone has ever seen. For as violent as his swing may have been, it was hardly wild; not until his late thirties did he strike out more than 80 times in a season, and in his prime, he walked far more often than he struck out.

Off the field, Bill James once referred to Sheffield as “an urban legend in his own mind.” Sheffield found controversy before he ever reached the majors through his connection to his uncle, Dwight Gooden. He was drafted and developed by the Brewers, who had no idea how to handle such a volatile player and wound up doing far more harm than good. Small wonder then that from the time he was sent down midway through his rookie season after being accused of faking an injury, he was mistrustful of team management and wanted out. And when he wanted out — of Milwaukee, Los Angeles, or New York — he let you know it, and if a bridge had to burn, so be it; it was Festivus every day for Sheffield, who was always willing to air his grievances.

Later in his career, Sheffield became entangled in the BALCO performance enhancing drug scandal through his relationship with Barry Bonds — a relationship that by all accounts crumbled before he found himself in even deeper water. For all of the drama that surrounded Sheffield, and for all of his rage and outrageousness, he never burned out the way his uncle did, nor did he have trouble finding work.

Even in the context of the high-scoring era in which he played, Sheffield’s offensive numbers look to be Hall of Fame caliber, but voters have found plenty of reasons to overlook him, whether it’s his tangential connection to PEDs, his gift for finding controversy, his poor defensive metrics, or the crowd on the ballot. In his 2015 debut, he received just 11.7% of the vote, and in three years since, he’s actually lost a bit of ground, getting 11.1% in 2018. At this point, he’s more likely to fall off the ballot before his eligibility window expires than he is to reach 75% — a fate that, I must admit, surprises me.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Gary Sheffield
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Gary Sheffield 60.5 38.0 49.3
Avg. HOF RF 72.7 42.9 57.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,689 509 .292/.393/.514 140
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Omar Vizquel

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 2018 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.

In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops, and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.

Vizquel’s offense was at least superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90, or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four shortstops, each in the Hall of Fame or heading there: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken (3,184), and Robin Yount (3,142). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994-2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.

To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame. In his ballot debut last year, he received 37.0% of the vote, a level of support that doesn’t indicate a fast track to Cooperstown but more often than not suggests eventual enshrinement. These eyes aren’t so sure it’s merited. By WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits. His candidacy has already become a point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers, and only promises to be more of the same, not unlike that of Jack Morris.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Omar Vizquel
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Omar Vizquel 45.6 26.8 36.2
Avg. HOF SS 67.0 42.9 55.0
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,877 80 .272/.336/.352 82
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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