The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 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 16 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 ’em all. Thus it’s my sworn duty to tackle the minor candidates on the 2020 BBWAA ballot in addition to the major ones — of which there were 18 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’ve noted in the past. Getting this far is a victory unto itself, but these candidates aren’t going any further; given that none has received a single vote from among the 50 ballots published so far, it’s fair to say that none is going to get the 5% necessary to remain eligible, let alone the 75% needed for election. Just the same, these one-and-done candidates were accomplished players who deserve their valedictory, and in this series, they’ll get it.
Our first batch covers a quartet of infielders who intermittently played up to All-Star levels (not that they were always recognized for doing so). But once they reached their 30s, their careers began to fall apart, with injuries generally playing a prominent role. Be forewarned: these are not the happiest tales in this series.
|Player||Pos||Career WAR||Peak WAR||JAWS||H||HR||SB||AVG/OBP/SLG||OPS+|
The winner of six straight Gold Gloves from 2001-06, Eric Chavez spent the first 13 seasons of his 17-year career (1998-2014) manning the hot corner for the A’s. He starred for the team during their run of four playoff appearances early in the millennium — the Moneyball days, more or less — and stuck around in Oakland long after the stars from that era such as Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and Barry Zito left the green-and-gold uniforms for free agency green and gold. Had he remained healthy, Chavez might have had a Scott Rolen-esque career. Instead, back woes and other injuries cost him a huge chunk of his 30s, though he spent his final years as a useful reserve in New York and Arizona.
Born in Los Angeles on December 7, 1977, Chavez was raised in San Diego, and starred as a shortstop at Mount Carmel High School, where he was a two-time Baseball America All-American and two-time Cal-Hi Sports Player of the Year; he set state records for career hits and stolen bases as well as several single season records. Ahead of the 1996 draft, Baseball America called him “the best pure hitter in the country, college or high school.” The A’s chose him with the 10th pick, and Chavez signed for a $1.14 million bonus, bypassing a scholarship offer to USC.
Chavez made his major league debut on September 8, 1998, three months before his 21st birthday; he struck out against Alan Mills in a pinch-hitting appearance. He played 16 games for the A’s that month, entered the 1999 season number three on BA’s Top 100 Prospects list (his third year charting), and hit a modest .247/.333/.427 (98 OPS+) with 13 homers as a rookie. He improved to 26 homers and a 117 OPS while helping the A’s win the AL West the following year, though he gained some notoriety during the Division Series against the Yankees when his interview room quotes (“It’s time for some other people to have some glory here. But they have had a great run.”) were broadcast throughout the Oakland Coliseum during batting practice, and were credited as motivating the Yankees (not that they needed it), who eliminated the A’s that night. Chavez really broke out in 2001, batting .288/.338/.540 (129 OPS+) with 32 homers, 114 RBI, and 6.1 WAR, good for eighth in the AL. The 102-win A’s claimed the AL Wild Card and took the Yankees to the brink, as they had done before, but were again eliminated.
From 2001-06, Chavez hit a combined .273/.351/.495 (122 OPS+) while averaging 29 homers and 4.8 WAR, thanks in part to defense that was seven runs above average per year. Chavez benefited from the tutelage of infield coach Ron Washington, and made many a sliding or diving catch in the Coliseum’s generous foul territory. He helped the A’s to additional postseason appearances in 2002, ’03, and ’06, and ranked among the league’s top 10 again in WAR in ’04 (5.5, seventh). His 28.7 WAR over that span ranked 15th in the majors overall and second among third basemen behind Rolen (33.3), but not once did Chavez make a single All-Star team; in fact, his 37.5 career WAR ranks fourth among position players who were never selected even once.
Between Phillips, Chavez, Ellis, and Murphy, that’s a whole lot of Oakland there. What’s more, all of those players besides Hebner spent at least part of their careers playing for west coast teams, which may have limited their exposure. Anyway…
While other A’s moved on from Oakland, Chavez signed a four-year, $11.75 million extension in 2000 and then a six-year, $66 million one in ’04, covering the 2005-10 seasons. Unfortunately, the second deal turned into a minor disaster due to injuries. Back woes cost Chavez the final two months of the 2007 season and resulted in a microdiscectomy, then he suffered a torn right labrum in mid-’08, missed most of ’09 due to ulnar neuritis in his right elbow as well as another microdiscectomy, and most of ’10 due to back woes as well. He played just 154 games over his final four seasons in Oakland, netting just 1.6 WAR.
A change of scenery helped somewhat, as Chavez joined the Yankees as a backup corner infielder via a minor league deal in 2011, and while he was limited to 58 games due to a fractured metatarsal in his left foot, he returned the following year and had his best season since 2006, batting .281/.348/.496 with 16 homers and 1.6 WAR in just 313 PA. Most of his playing time came while spotting for an injured Alex Rodriguez, for whom he took over during a hand injury and a prolonged postseason slump, though he went 0-for-16 in the latter capacity. Chavez finished out his career with two seasons for the Diamondbacks, during which he was productive but hampered by left knee woes. With better luck, he’d still be waiting to appear on a ballot, and possibly even be a player around whom there would have been legitimate debate for a vote. Oh, what might have been.
At his best, Chone Figgins was a lot of fun, a speedy, 5-foot-7 switch-hitting super-utilityman who played a part on six Angels teams that made the playoffs from 2002-09, five of them as a regular. An All-Star in his final season in Anaheim, Figgins cashed in via free agency, but his four-year, $36 million deal with the Mariners turned into such a disaster that he was released after three seasons, and didn’t play in the majors during the final one, though he did make a brief return with the Dodgers in 2014.
Desmond DeChone Figgins was born on January 22, 1978 in Leary, Georgia; parents Charles Figgins and Eva Callins were not only born in Leary, but on the same day to families who lived next door to each other. The family moved to Brandon, Florida when Chone was one year old. Both parents played competitive slow-pitch softball on a barnstorming team that also featured five of Eva’s seven brothers.
In high school, Figgins was exclusively a shortstop, but after being drafted by the Rockies in the fourth round in 1997, he was asked to learn second base, as the team had big plans for Juan Uribe at short. Yet Figgins never made it to Colorado; instead he was traded to the Angels in July 2001 for outfielder Kimera Bartee. After a season in which he hit 18 triples and stole 39 bases at Triple-A Salt Lake City, he joined the Angels, debuting on August 25, 2002, and playing in 21 games in the regular and postseason, mainly as a pinch-runner; he batted just 13 times. In the wild eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against the Giants, Figgins pinch-ran for Tim Salmon and scored the tying run on a Troy Glaus double; Garret Anderson followed him home with the go-ahead run that forced Game 7, which the Angels also won.
Figgins yo-yoed between Triple-A and the majors in 2003, but he finally stuck for good in August, taking over center field when Darin Erstad went down with a hamstring injury. The next year, Figgins became an everyday player, hitting .296/.350/.419 with 17 triples, 34 steals, and 2.7 WAR; he made 80 starts at third base that year, plus another 35 in center field, 15 at second base, 10 at shortstop and one apiece at each outfield corner. That began a six-year stretch during which Figgins hit a combined .292/.365/.390 (100 OPS+) while averaging 44 steals and 3.5 WAR. He led the AL with 62 steals in 2005 and was in the top six every year from 2004-10. Early during that run, he inspired analyst (and Angels fan) Sean Smith to name his player projection system CHONE.
“I don’t even want to call him a utility player; he’s an every-day irregular. The irregular about him is that he doesn’t play the same place every day. He’s a heck of a weapon,” said Rangers manager Buck Showalter in 2005.
Figgins had his ups and downs in Anaheim, sandwiching seasons with an OPS+ in the mid-80s around a career best 117 OPS+ in 2007; he hit .330/.393/.432 and finished sixth in the batting race. As the years went on, he spent a greater share of his time at third base. In 2009, he posted an off-the-charts 28 Defensive Runs Saved, drew a career-high 101 walks, batted .298/.395/.393 (110 OPS+) en route to a career-best 7.7 WAR, good for third in the league.
That led the Mariners to sign Figgins to the fourth-largest contract given out during the winter of 2009-10, but things did not go well. Figgins stole 42 bases but his .259/.340/.306 line and -10 DRS defense while playing exclusively at second base were lousy. Things went from bad to worse; over the next two seasons he was a combined 2.1 wins below replacement level while “hitting” .185/.249/.253 in 147 games and missing time due to hip flexor and quad strains. The Mariners cut bait after the 2012 season while still owing him $8 million. Figgins went to camp with the Marlins the following year but didn’t make the team, and sat out the entire season. He spent about 2 1/2 months with the Dodgers in 2014, but couldn’t find the magic there, either.
A switch-hitting shortstop with speed and an exceptionally powerful (if not tremendously accurate) arm, Furcal was a three-time All-Star and a key player on nine playoff-bound teams in a 12-season span from 2000-11. Unfortunately, a seemingly endless string of injuries wrecked his 30s and shortened his career.
Born October 24, 1977 in Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic, Furcal was the son of a standout left fielder, Silvio Furcal, who sent all three of his sons stateside to play professionally. Lorenzo Furcal (b. 1968) was a middle infielder in the A’s organization who was scouted and signed by Hall of Famer Juan Marichal while Manuel Furcal (b. 1969) was a left-hander who pitched in the Mariners’ organization; both had professional careers that were relatively brief and long over before their younger brother signed with the Braves for a bonus of $5.000 in November 1996.
At the time he was signed, the Braves and the rest of the industry believed Furcal was two years younger, which colored perceptions as he climbed to number eight on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list in 2000 (No. 8). That spring, he made the team out of spring training, jumping all the way from Hi-A to much fanfare given the belief that he was just 19 years old. In his April 4, 2000 debut, he collected singles off the Rookies’ Rolando Arrojo and Jose Jimenez and was off to the races, hitting .295/.394/.382 (98 OPS+) with 40 steals and 4.0 WAR while helping the Braves win the NL East for the sixth straight year; he beat out Rick Ankiel for the NL Rookie of the Year award. His bat took a step back over the next two seasons; he missed the second half of 2001 with a dislocated left shoulder that required surgery, and the Braves discovered his true age prior to the ’02 season.
Furcal enjoyed a big season in 2003, setting career highs with 194 hits, 15 homers, a league-high 10 triples, and 4.9 WAR while batting .292/.352/.443 (105 OPS+) and making his first All-Star team. Late in a fairly solid 2004 (95 OPS+, 3.4 WR), he was arrested for drunk driving, which violated his probation from a 2000 drunk driving arrest; he served 21 days in jail after the Braves were eliminated from the Division Series by the Astros, but not before hitting .381/.480/.762 with a pair of homers in the series, including a walk-off solo shot to end Game 2.
The 27-year-old Furcal rebounded from his unusual offseason regimen to set a career high with 6.5 WAR in 2005, aided by an off-the-charts 24 DRS as well as baserunning that was nine runs above average, in part via his 46 steals in 56 attempts. He hit free agency after that season, and drew a three-year, $39 million deal from the Dodgers. He set career bests with 196 hits, a .300 batting average, .445 slugging percentage, and 107 OPS+ while matching his previous high of 15 homers. Alas, he dropped from 4.4 WAR that year to 1.9 (with a 78 OPS+ and just six homer) in 2007 while playing on a left ankle that never fully healed from a severe sprain suffered in spring training; he also suffered a bulging disc in midseason.
His problems were just beginning. Furcal’s back problems came to a head after a blazing start to 2008 (.357/.439/.573 in 36 games); he underwent a microdiscectomy on July 8 and was done for the season. The Dodgers for some reason decided it was a good time to guarantee him another $30 million over the next three years, and while he rebounded to play 150 games in 2009, hamstring and back woes limited Furcal to 97 games in ’10, even while he made the NL All-Star team for the second time and totaled 4.2 WAR.
Amid a 2011 season in which he suffered a broken left thumb and an oblique strain that together limited him to 87 games, an 80 OPS+, and 0.7 WAR, Furcal was traded to the Cardinals for prospect Alex Castellanos and served as the starting shortstop as St. Louis won the World Series. Voted the All-Star Game starter the following year despite another subpar season, he sprained his UCL in late August, underwent Tommy John surgery and bone spur removal, missed the entire 2013 season, and played in just nine more big league games, all with the Marlins in 2014 in between multiple hamstring injuries.
A two-time All-Star, speedy switch-hitting second baseman Brian Roberts was a bright spot for the Orioles during a particularly dark stage for the franchise. Unfortunately, injuries — most notably a pair of concussions — derailed his career just as the team emerged as a contender, and he spent his final half-decade in the majors as a shadow of the player he once was.
Roberts was born on October 9, 1977 in Durham, North Carolina and grew up in Chapel Hill; his father Mike played in the minors in 1972 and ’73 before becoming the head baseball coach at the University of North Carolina, a position he would occupy from 1976-98. At age 2, the younger Roberts was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect (a hole in his heart), a condition for which he underwent surgery three years later. He grew up around baseball, serving as batboy for the Cape Cod League team his father managed and eventually joining the UNC squad, for whom he starred as a freshman and sophomore; he was the 1998 ACC Player of the year as well as a first-team All American. But when his father — an intense sort, to say the least — was fired after the 1998 season, Roberts transferred to the University of South Carolina, where he was named Baseball America’s best collegiate defensive player and earned All-American honors again. Despite his small size (5-foot-9, 175 pounds), the Orioles chose him as a supplemental first-round pick in 1999, number 50 overall; the team received the pick via the loss of Rafael Palmeiro to the Rangers in free agency.
Roberts climbed the ladder quickly, and made his major league debut on June 14, 2001, going 1-for-4 with a single off the Mets’ Steve Trachsel. He did so as the Orioles’ starting shortstop, a position he would play in 51 of his 75 games that year but just twice thereafter. He didn’t hit much that year or the next (a combined .244/.292/.327), and actually spent most of 2002 and early ’03 at Triple-A (first Rochester, then Ottawa). When starting second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. fractured a metatarsal via a foul ball, Roberts returned to Baltimore and took over the job, hitting .270/.337/.367 with 23 steals, 11 DRS, and 2.7 WAR the rest of the way. After a similarly solid full season highlighted by a league-high 50 doubles in 2004, Roberts broke out to hit .314/.387/.515 with 18 homers, 27 steals, and a 139 OPS+ in ’05, making his first All-Star team and ranking second in the league in WAR with 7.3.
Though he dipped to a 96 OPS+ in 2006, Roberts was solidly above average at the plate in each of the next three seasons (.290/.370/.444, 114 OPS+ combined) and averaged 3.9 WAR annually, with a high of 5.2 in 2008. He made his second All-Star team in 2007, and led the league with 50 steals while being caught just seven times; from 2003-09, he averaged 34 steals a year at an 80% success rate, ranking among the AL’s top eight every year along the way. In December 2007, he was named in the Mitchell Report for having “injected himself once or twice with steroids in 2003,” according to former teammate Larry Bigbie. Roberts confirmed the allegation, saying he tried the drugs once and calling it “a terrible decision.”
In February 2009, Roberts signed a four-year, $40 million extension covering the 2010-13 seasons, but he played just 192 games for the Orioles under the deal while netting 1.0 WAR. His 2010 was a mess and a portent of things to come. Between lower back spasms during spring training and an abdominal strain in April, he missed 92 of the team’s first 96 games. He was more or less performing at his usual level until the season’s final week, when, after striking out in the ninth inning, he whacked himself in the helmet in frustration — “something I’ve done a million times,” he admitted — then began experiencing concussion-like symptoms that persisted well into the offseason. He was back in the lineup the following spring, homering twice in the team’s first four games, but while making a headfirst slide into first base on May 16, 2011, his head jerked back as his helmet slid over his face. The whiplash effect produced another concussion.
Roberts didn’t play another competitive game for just over a year, and didn’t play another major league game for nearly 13 months. His comeback with the 2012 Orioles — the first Baltimore team to finish above .500 since 1997 — lasted just 17 games before he tore his right hip labrum and required surgery, and he played just 77 the following year due to a torn hamstring tendon. Upon reaching free agency, he spent about four months as the Yankees’ regular second baseman in 2014, but the team attempted to upgrade at the July 31 trade deadline by trading for Stephen Drew (it didn’t work), and Roberts was designated for assignment. While he later said that “two very good teams” were interested in signing him, he decided he could no longer perform at the level he was accustomed to and retired.
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. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.