Cooperstown Notebook: The 2023 Progress Report, Part I

Joey Votto
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t quite up to the level of Shohei Ohtani versus Mike Trout with the 2023 World Baseball Classic championship on the line, but the final plate appearance of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game did feature a memorable matchup. On the mound trying to secure a 3–2 victory — the National League’s first since 2012 — was Craig Kimbrel, he of the 408 career saves. Working to bring home the tying run from second base (or at least keep the line moving) was José Ramírez, already playing in his fifth All-Star Game at age 30. Ramírez fell into an 0–2 hole by taking a fastball and then chasing a curveball in the dirt but battled back to even the count before Kimbrel struck him out with a high fastball.

Someday we may talk about that matchup as one between two future Hall of Famers. Kimbrel has had his ups and downs in recent years, but he’s been dominant enough to earn a spot on an All-Star squad for the second year out of three and the ninth time overall. Earlier this year, he became the eighth pitcher to collect 400 saves, and he’s overtaken Kenley Jansen (who also recently reached 400) in the Reliever JAWS rankings. As for Ramírez, he’s hitting .289/.364/.506 (132 wRC+) and ranking among the AL’s top 10 in WAR for the sixth time in seven seasons (3.4 fWAR, 3.3 bWAR). While he’s only 30 years old, if all goes well during this season’s second half, he’ll reach an important milestone that strongly suggests future election to the Hall.

Thus far in his 11-year career, Ramirez has accumulated 43.7 WAR (I’m sticking with bWAR throughout the rest of this article unless otherwise indicated), which is impressive but not itself remarkable. Of more importance is that he already has tallied 38.4 WAR in his best seven seasons — his peak score (aka WAR7) for the purposes of calculating his JAWS. One of those seasons is this one:

José Ramírez Best Seasons by bWAR
Year Age PA WAR
2018 25 698 7.5
2017 24 645 7.0
2021 28 636 6.8
2022 29 685 6.0
2016 23 618 4.8
2023 30 385 3.3
2019 26 542 3.1
2020 27 254 2.5
2014 21 266 1.5
2015 22 355 1.2
2013 20 14 0.1
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Via Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections, Ramirez is forecast to produce another 2.4 WAR this year, pushing his seven-year peak score to 40.8. While that’s still 2.3 WAR shy of the Hall standard for third basemen (43.1), he has at least one other season that shouldn’t be too hard to improve upon; indeed, his preseason three-year ZiPS projection forecasts him to produce 5.6 WAR in 2024 (which would take him to 43.3) and 4.9 WAR in ’25 (inching him to 43.4).

Even without looking that far ahead, the 40-WAR peak score is significant. For a position player, it’s a strong indicator of future election to the Hall:

The 40+ Peak Club
Position 40+ Peak HOF 40+ Not Elig Pct HOF
C 16 10 2 71.4%
1B 22 13 4 72.2%
2B 16 12 3 92.3%
SS 21 15 1 75.0%
3B 20 10 5 66.7%
LF 11 9 1 90.0%
CF 19 10 1 55.6%
RF 20 14 3 82.4%
Total 145 93 20 74.4%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Peak = player’s best seven seasons using bWAR. Not Elig = includes active or recently retired players as well as those on the permanently ineligible list.

At every position, I’ve counted the total number of players with a peak WAR of at least 40.0; the number of Hall of Famers meeting that criterion; and the number of such players who are not yet eligible, either because they’re active, too recently retired to appear on a Hall of Fame ballot, or on the permanently ineligible list. The last of those classifications applies to Pete Rose (whom JAWS classifies as a left fielder) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (right field). For catchers, I’ve used a 32.0-WAR threshold instead of 40.0, as their values are constrained by the limits of playing time and pre-framing measures.

As you can see, nearly three-quarters of the eligible players with at least 40.0 WAR in their seven best seasons are enshrined, a higher percentage than even I would have guessed before I dug through the numbers. That percentage would be even higher if I were also to remove the players whose PED-related allegations and suspensions have effectively blocked their elections, but let’s not dwell upon them today.

Currently, eight active position players have peak scores of at least 40.0, with two more besides Ramírez on the verge: Jose Altuve (39.8) and Aaron Judge (39.6). The former’s injuries will likely prevent him from reaching the mark this year (more on which below), but the latter has already produced one of his seven best seasons (he’s appeared in only parts of eight, including his -0.3-WAR cup of coffee from 2016) and needs just 0.4 WAR once he returns from his toe injury.

With that, it’s time to launch my more-or-less annual Hall of Fame progress report. This may not seem like an obvious time to check in on such players, but the July logjam on the baseball calendar includes the Hall’s induction weekend (July 21–24) as well as the draft, the All-Star Game and its high-profile auxiliary events (the Futures Game and the Home Run Derby), and the run-up to the August 1 trade deadline. It’s a time that I get a lot of questions about active players vying for future elections, and in the interest of providing a one-stop shop — er, in three parts, so let’s call it a department store — here we are.

For this exercise, unless otherwise indicated, I will be referencing bWAR for season and career totals, my JAWS metric, and the ZiPS rest-of-season projections, since one of the goals here is to give an idea of where these players will stand at the end of the season, having banked a full complement of WAR instead of just 80-some games worth; these future candidates are already dealing with suppressed WAR totals from the 60-game 2020 season — which hardly makes them the first to experience such scheduling limitations and career interruptions due to wars and strikes. Unlike last year, I’ll cover pitching in one installment; we’ll return to Kimbrel. Note that I am by no means predicting that every player here will make it to Cooperstown or even suggesting that all are worthy; in some cases I’m particularly pessimistic, but these are the names that get tossed around.

Catcher

Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 31.8 28.4 30.1
2023: 2.2 | ROS: 1.7 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 33.5 29.9 31.7
HOF Standard C 53.6 34.7 44.2
ROS = Rest-of-Season ZiPS projected WAR.
All other figures use Baseball Reference WAR.

The waiting list for Hall-caliber catchers includes Joe Mauer (eligible this winter), Buster Posey (2027) and Yadier Molina (2028), but as far as active ones go, the 32-year-old Realmuto is the JAWS leader thanks to last year’s career-high 6.5 WAR. That’s not to say he’s a strong candidate yet, given his JAWS and his accomplishments, as he’s made just three All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves (no small task in a league with Molina) but ranks just 31st in JAWS and is in the midst of a solid season rather than an exceptional one.

Note that here I’m using the standard version of JAWS for catchers, which doesn’t account for pitch framing; Realmuto’s total of -11 career framing runs doesn’t help his cause the way that the numbers for Posey (129.8 runs) or Molina (151.1 plus another 30.0 via Baseball Prospectus’ methodology for pre-2008 framing) do. That Realmuto is 5.8 runs below average in framing this year after six straight seasons in the black is costing him value and doesn’t bode terribly well for his Hall chances, but another big season or two with the bat could really start to bring his case into focus.

Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 32.6 24.3 28.5
2023: 0.2 | ROS: 0.8 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 33.4 24.3 28.9
HOF Standard C 53.6 34.7 44.2

Perez is beloved by Royals fans, and rightly so, given that he was the MVP of the 2015 World Series and a foundational piece of the team’s back-to-back pennants. He’s got a nice resumé going in terms of his eight All-Star selections and five Gold Gloves. That 48-homer season from a couple years ago turned some heads and started some arguments; Perez holds the record for most homers in a season by a player who caught at least 50% of his games, which doesn’t equal “the record for home runs by a catcher,” which is 42 by Javier Lopez in 2003, if we’re talking about the strict split; Perez hit 33 as a catcher and another 15 in his 40 games as a DH, which isn’t the same thing, though it’s still a great season.

The real problem for Perez is that he’s the second-worst framer of the pitch-framing era on a counting basis, at -111.8 runs, which is to say that he’s about 270 runs worse than Molina in this department, and that data can’t simply be waved away now that we have it; this isn’t Derek Jeter’s terrible defense offset by 3,465 hits and five championships. Perez’s career Framing-inclusive JAWS (fJAWS) line, with that framing data incorporated into his valuation, is just 15.8 career fWAR, 13.9 peak fWAR, and 14.9 fJAWS, miles behind the marks of Posey (57.5/47.7/52.6), Molina (58.6/39.5/49.0), and Mauer (56.3/42.4/49.3). It’s also miles behind Russell Martin (58.5/39.8/49.1) and Brian McCann (53.4/39.9/46.7), both of whom are likely doomed to be undervalued by voters even as they anoint Molina on the basis of a “reputation” that is reasonably well supported by those defensive numbers.

Alas, I don’t think there’s a lot to be said for Perez transitioning from catching to more DH duty given that after a two-year burst of exceptional offense (132 wRC+ in 2020–21), he’s put up a 102 wRC+ in the season and a half since. That’s right around league average for a DH, and I wouldn’t expect it to improve particularly as he ages given the physical toll of those innings behind the plate.

First Base

Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 64.9 46.9 55.9
2023: 0.5 | ROS: 0.3 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 65.2 46.9 56.1
HOF Standard 1B 65.5 41.8 53.4

With the 39-year-old Votto coming off a dismal -0.3 WAR season and a torn left rotator cuff and biceps that cost him four months of action (from mid-August of last year to mid-June of this one), and now in the final guaranteed year of his contract, you could be forgiven for figuring that he was done. Yet in his first 17 games back, he’s hit .246/.358/.649 (159 wRC+) with seven homers for a Reds team that’s suddenly atop the NL Central. Votto has already cleared the peak and JAWS standards, and if he can remain even somewhat productive, he could clear the career WAR standard as well, solidifying a case that will increasingly look like a slam dunk when he hits the ballot given his credentials (which include seven on-base titles, six All-Star selections, a Gold Glove, an MVP award, and 2,107 hits and 349 homers and counting) and rightful status as a media favorite.

Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 60.9 45.1 53.0
2023: 2.6 | ROS: 1.7 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 62.6 45.1 53.9
HOF Standard 1B 65.5 41.8 53.4

Goldschmidt was the poster boy for this exercise last year, during which he made a run at the traditional and slash-stat Triple Crowns, put up a career-high 7.8 WAR while batting .317/.404/.578 with a league-high 177 wRC+, and won the MVP award that had eluded him in his Diamondbacks days. Along the way he pushed himself well above the peak standard at first base, which he crossed passively during the 2021–22 offseason, as the elections of Gil Hodges and David Ortiz lowered the bar by about half a win. Thanks to that big season, he’s now over three wins above it and 13th among first basemen in that department.

Now 35, Goldschmidt is merely having a good-not-great season (.284/.369/.475, 133 wRC+) for the Cardinals, who as a team have been dismal and disappointing. He missed adding an eighth All-Star appearance but he’s on track to surpass the JAWS standard by the end of this season and move into a virtual tie with Eddie Murray for 16th in the rankings. He’s just 153 hits away from the all-important 2,000-hit milestone, a mark he should reach next year, his last one under contract in St. Louis. He’s got a few more years to pad his stats, but right now, it looks very much as though Cooperstown is in his future.

Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 52.9 36.2 44.5
2023: 3.7 | ROS: 2.2 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 55.1 38.4 46.8
HOF Standard 1B 65.5 41.8 53.4

The 33-year-old Freeman has thoroughly settled in as a Dodger. Last year, his first in Los Angeles, he led the NL in hits (199), runs (117), doubles (47) and on-base percentage (.407), producing 5.9 WAR, his second-best season. Currently hitting .320/.396/.556, he’s in the NL’s top half-dozen in all three slash stats, and if he sticks to his ZiPS projection, he’ll match last year’s WAR total, though if he maintains something closer to his current clip, he could surpass his career-best 6.3, set in 2016, and inch closer to 40.0 peak WAR. He already had a Gold Glove, an MVP award, and a World Series ring, and he’s recently added his seventh All-Star selection and his 2,000th hit; he looks like the active player most likely to reach 3,000, though that’s far from a sure thing.

Also: Miguel Cabrera (67.4/44.8/56.1) is limping through another dreadful season, with -0.3 WAR; he’s netted -2.5 in 654 games since the start of the 2017 season, and unlike Albert Pujols, it doesn’t seem as though there will be a change-of-scenery jolt to restore some dignity to his last lap around the majors. Still, with 3,128 hits and 508 homers, there’s little doubt he’s sealed the deal for a bronze plaque.

Second Base

Jose Altuve, 2B
Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 47.1 39.8 43.4
2023: 0.6 | ROS: 1.6 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 48.7 39.8 44.3
HOF Standard 2B 69.6 44.4 57.0

Between a broken right thumb suffered in the World Baseball Classic and an oblique strain that will keep him out at least another week after play resumes, the 33-year-old Altuve has played just 32 games and accumulated 0.6 WAR this year, and with just 190 hits over the past season and a half, his chances of reaching 3,000 have certainly fallen from the 34% odds ZiPS gave him in September 2021. He’ll have to wait to reach the 40-WAR peak plateau; he needs a 4.2-WAR season to get there, which is plausible given that he remains an effective hitter (.264/.371/.479 this year) and that his 2021 and ’22 performances were plenty valuable (4.5 and 5.1, respectively). Reports that he didn’t use the trash can signaling system have shielded him from some of the anger that’s been directed at other Astros; between that and the absence of contemporary second basemen who could gain entry (Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, and twice-suspended Robinson Canó), Altuve still seems likely to make the Hall so long as he can age with some amount of grace.

Third Base

Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 58.8 41.9 50.4
2023: 0.7 | ROS: 0.4 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 59.2 41.9 50.6
HOF Standard 3B 68.4 43.0 55.7

I haven’t written much about Longoria’s Hall of Fame case before, which includes consigning him to an aside in last year’s edition. But as he has the highest JAWS of any active third baseman — higher than the the three much younger ones below, all with better odds of making it — he’s worth a closer look. At 37, he’s having a decent season in a part-time role for an upstart Diamondbacks team that entered the All-Star break tied for the top spot in the NL West.

Longoria started building his Hall case early, winning AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 in helping the Rays to their first pennant. He racked up 35.5 WAR in his first six seasons (ages 22–27), receiving MVP votes in five of those years, making all three of his All-Star appearances, and winning two of his three Gold Gloves. He added another 15.7 WAR in his final four years in Tampa Bay but didn’t get as much attention. Traded to the Giants in December 2017, he had a hard time staying healthy, playing just 477 games from 2018 to ’22 and never more than 129 in a season, that while trending toward league average as a hitter and only once topping 2.0 WAR.

Longoria is near the end of the line now and isn’t likely to climb higher than his current no. 18 ranking in JAWS. He’s just above Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado, who could pass him this year or next, and below a criminally neglected group of hot cornermen who should be rounding out a larger roster of enshrined third basemen: Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Buddy Bell, Sal Bando and Dick Allen in order of JAWS, though I’d take Allen first for the Hall given his peak and his complicated career. When I wrote in The Cooperstown Casebook, “[T]he line for third basemen to get into Cooperstown starts in Oneonta, so don’t wait up” in Bell’s comment, I may as well have been talking about Longoria.

Nolan Arenado, 3B
Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 53.5 44.4 49.0
2023: 1.5 | ROS:1.9 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 55.4 44.4 49.9
HOF Standard 3B 68.4 43.0 55.7

After leading the NL in WAR (7.9) and finishing third in last year’s NL MVP voting, Arenado got off to a slow start, but while he’s picked it up offensively (.283/.332/.518, 128 wRC+), his defensive metrics have been uncharacteristically subpar. He’s fallen from 19 to -4 via DRS (which is used in bWAR), 13.0 to -0.9 in UZR, and 11 to -2 in RAA. Suffice to say that an 11th Gold Glove isn’t in the cards this year (sorry), but even if he never adds another, the 32-year-old slugger has already passed the peak standard for third basemen and could still improve upon that score with a season of better than 4.0 WAR. He’ll need a few more seasons to get to the JAWS standard, however.

Manny Machado, 3B
Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 53.5 42.5 48.0
2023: 1.5 | ROS: 1.7 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 55.2 42.5 48.9
HOF Standard 3B 68.4 43.0 55.7

Like Arenado, Machado had an MVP-caliber campaign last year, leading the NL in fWAR (7.4) and finishing second in the MVP voting, but he hasn’t come close to matching that this year, though he has hit better (.295/.336/.554) since missing the second half of May due to a fractured metacarpal. His defense, while at times spectacular, has already declined into average-ish territory but may be on the rebound a bit; he was at -3 DRS last year but is at 0 this year and has reached last year’s mark of 6 RAA in about 500 fewer innings.

Machado is already above the 40-WAR peak mark but not quite to the standard, though it’s not inconceivable he could get there this year; he needs to reach 4.3 WAR to do so. His long-term ZiPS projection isn’t as rosy as the 11-year extension he signed in February would suggest, but he’s about 15 months younger than Arenado and should have at least a few more years of above-average production remaining even if he never makes another MVP run.

José Ramírez, 3B
Category Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Current 43.7 38.4 41.1
2023: 3.3 | ROS: 2.4 Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Projected End 2023 46.1 40.7 43.4
HOF Standard 3B 68.4 43.0 55.7

Ramírez is only about two months younger than Machado and is well behind him in the JAWS rankings because it wasn’t until age 23 (2016) that he became a productive major leaguer, whereas Machado hit the ground running at age 19 (2012). He’s not only having a better season than Machado this year, but he’s also been gaining ground ever since the start of 2017, holding a 36.1–29.0 edge over the past six and a half seasons. In fact, during that span he’s been the game’s most valuable infielder at any position, ranking fourth in WAR overall behind only Mookie Betts (42.6), Judge (39.6), and Trout (37.5).

Beyond that, one other thing that sticks out about Ramirez is his track record in MVP voting; he has a second-place finish, two thirds, a fourth, and a sixth. By Baseball Reference’s application of Bill James’ Award Shares metric — a career tally of the fractional support a player receives in the annual MVP or Cy Young voting — Ramirez’s 2.54 is the fifth-highest mark of any third baseman, just below Arenado’s 2.58. He’s already about halfway between the shares of two 3,000-hit club members, Adrian Beltré (2.27) and Jeter (2.77), and both of those guys spread that support across careers over twice as long as Ramírez’s. All of which is to say that this guy has gotten voters’ attention, and his chances shouldn’t be discounted as he remains productive.

Also: Josh Donaldson (46.7/41.7/44.2) is a 40-WAR peak guy who won’t make the Hall. Given that he didn’t debut until age 24 (2010) or get a real foothold in the majors until age 26, he needed to remain productive through his 30s, but he’s managed just 0.1 WAR in 31 games this season and 6.1 WAR over the past three and a half seasons, his ages 34–37 ones. He’s 700 hits away from 2,000, and his reputation hasn’t recovered from calling Tim Anderson “Jackie,” either… Alex Bregman (32.8/31.6/32.2) looked like he was on a Hall-bound path when he banked seasons of 7.9 and 8.9 WAR in 2018 and ’19 (ages 24–25), with a runner-up finish in the MVP voting in the latter year. He’s totaled just 10.0 WAR since, and he’s been booed roundly for his part in the sign-stealing scandal.

While I’d hoped to complete the infielders in one fell swoop, the shortstop cohort is too big, and will be included in the next installment.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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JoeyVottoIsGonemember
10 months ago

Will the Reds extend Joey Votto? is not something I thought I’d be asking in mid-July.

elisbedwynn
10 months ago

He’s smart enough to know how to steer into the skid of the aging curve. Just needs to stay healthy. I’m not ready for his retirement.

TKDCmember
10 months ago

Well, they have to decide if he’s worth $13 million for next season and if he is, then they can just pick up the option. That seemed like a ludicrous idea a month ago, but if stays healthy and productive, it’s at least a possibility.

votto erotica
10 months ago

I’m interested to see how close he is to Bench’s 389 home run record (as a Red). I could see one more season if he’s short but within striking distance. Considering he’s only 40 behind and has already hit seven in limited PT, seems very possible.