JAWS and the 2021 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 2021 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 17 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 2021 BBWAA ballot. I count 18 major ones — the 14 holdovers plus Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, and Barry Zito (the only newcomer to win a major award) — leaving seven candidates for this series.

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, though their leaving the younger Young off this year’s ballot given his meager numbers and high-profile mistakes on and off the field was merited. Getting this far is a victory unto itself, but these candidates aren’t going any further; given that the seven players have combined for a single mention on the 36 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 pair of outfielders who seemed to take forever to secure major league jobs, though both wound up helping several teams reach the playoffs before injuries eroded their performances and led them to walk away in the their mid-30s.

2021 BBWAA One-And-Done Candidates, Part 1
Michael Cuddyer RF 17.7 15.4 16.6 1522 197 75 .277/.344/.461 113
Shane Victorino CF 31.5 28.9 30.2 1274 108 231 .275/.340/.425 102
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Shane Victorino

While he won’t wind up in Cooperstown like Roberto Clemente, and didn’t take home a major award like Johan Santana or George Bell, Shane Victorino rates as one of the most successful Rule 5 draft picks in history — perhaps the most successful among those who were chosen twice. The second time was the charm; plucked from the Dodgers by the Phillies, the switch-hitting “Flyin’ Hawaiian” went on to win four Gold Gloves, make two All-Star teams, serve as a starting center field for a team that won five straight NL East titles, two pennants, and a championship, then claim another ring as the starting right fielder for the Red Sox.

Victorino’s total of 28.9 WAR from 2007-13 — 4.1 per year — ranked 20th overall in the majors, and fourth among outfielders behind only Ryan Braun (34.8), Matt Holliday (33.5) and Curtis Granderson (30.7). He’s the career WAR leader among position players born in Hawaii.

Victorino was born on November 30, 1980 in Wauluki, Hawaii, a town of 15,000 on the island of Maui. As a youngster, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder while in preschool; according to a feature by ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen, he made 10 visits to the emergency room by the time he was eight years old. Medication and counseling helped to manage his condition, and sports provided an outlet, though he struggled to control his temper. He played everything — baseball, basketball, football, soccer — and ran track, winning the state championship in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races and setting a state record of 10.8 seconds in the 100-meter dash.

Though offered baseball and football scholarships to the University of Hawaii, Victorino chose to sign with the Dodgers when they drafted him in the sixth round in 1999; he signed for a bonus of $115,000. His plus-plus speed was his calling card; he stole 133 bases in 352 games in his first four minor league seasons, with a high of 47 at A-level Wilmington in 2001. During his 2000 season at Low-A Yakima, he was part of two experiments that didn’t take, in that the Dodgers tried to make him a second baseman, and encouraged the natural righty to try switch-hitting; he was back in the outfield and batting righty the following year. At Double-A Jacksonville, hitting coach Gene Richards encouraged him to resume switch-hitting so he could capitalize on his speed; while he hit a thin .258/.328/.318, his 45 steals tied for second in the league, and he made the league’s All-Star team. When the Dodgers left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, the Padres selected him.

The 22-year-old Victorino made the Padres out of spring training, and debuted on April 2, 2003, pinch-running for Xavier Nady. He was a bit player; it took until his 14th game but just his 12th plate appearance to get his first hit, a single off the Rockies’ Shawn Chacon. Though Bruce Bochy did find him a few more opportunities, he hit just .151/.232/.178 in 83 PA before being sent back to the Dodgers in mid-May. He split his next two seasons between Jacksonville and Triple-A Las Vegas, refining the mechanics of switch-hitting and developing his power; he spiked from three homers in 2003 to 19 in ’04. When the Dodgers again left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, the Phillies chose him, and while he didn’t make the team in the spring of 2005, the Dodgers declined the opportunity to take him back, allowing him to spend the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he hit .310/.377/.534 with 18 homers, 16 triples, and 17 steals. In a September call-up, he made 21 appearances, all off the bench, pinch-homering twice in 17 PA including a three-run shot off the Braves’ Tim Hudson.

Victorino made the Phillies out of spring training in 2006, but spent most of the first half of the season in a bench role, starting just 19 games from among his 70 appearances, mainly when Aaron Rowand wound up on the Disabled List. Three weeks after the deadline trade of Bobby Abreu to the Yankees opened up some playing time in right field, Rowand suffered a season-ending broken ankle, and Victorino took over center field. Though his overall line (.287/.346/.414, 91 OPS+) was unremarkable, he hit .307/.359/.424 in 256 PA from August 1 onward, and thanks to his 10 DRS, finished with 2.0 WAR. The Phillies found room for him as their regular right fielder to start the 2007 season. He hit .281/.347/.423 (95 OPS+) with 12 homers, swiped 37 bases in 41 attempts, and again played stellar defense en route to 3.3 WAR, but a strain of his right calf limited him to just 53 PA in August and September while Jayson Werth took over the bulk of right field duties. The Phillies, who hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1993, won the NL East but were swept by the Rockies in the Division Series; Victorino started two out of three games, homering off Ubaldo Jiménez to produce the team’s only run in a 2-1 Game 3 loss.

When Rowand departed for the Giants via free agency after the 2007 season, Victorino finally staked his claim to the center field job, and improved to a 107 OPS+ with 14 homers, 36 steals, and 4.4 WAR; his defense earned him his first Gold Glove. The Phillies improved from 89 wins to 92, and rolled through the playoffs en route to just their second championship in franchise history. Victorino hit .269/.345/.481 in the postseason with a pair of pivotal home runs, a go-ahead grand slam off the Brewers’ CC Sabathia in Game 2 of the Division Series, and a game-tying two-run homer off the Dodgers’ Cory Wade in the eighth inning of NLCS Game 4, preceding Matt Stairs‘ pinch-hit two-run homer off Jonathan Broxton.

Victorino’s torment of the team that gave him up twice also included a four-RBI showing in the Phillies’ 8-5 Game 2 win. In the World Series against the Rays, his two-run first-inning single off Scott Kazmir in Game 5 opened the scoring; the game was suspended after the top of the sixth inning due to heavy rain, and not resumed until two days later, but the Phillies closed things out.

In 2009, Victorino made his first All-Star team with a 110-OPS+, 3.7-WAR season during which he led the NL with 13 triples. He won his second Gold Glove (and would add a third the following year) though his defensive metrics descended to around average, and swung a hot bat in the Division Series against the Rockies (again) and the NLCS against the Dodgers (again), hitting a combined .361/.439/.722 with three homers. The Phillies returned to the World Series, but the Yankees held him to a 4-for-22 showing in their six-game win.

In January 2010, Victorino signed a three-year, $22 million extension that bought out his remaining arbitration years and the first year of his free agency. He helped the Phillies add two more NL East flags, with his best personal showing coming in 2011, when he made his second All-Star team and hit .279/.355/.491 with 17 homers, a league-high 16 triples, and career highs in OPS+ (130) and WAR (5.5). With the Phillies well below .500 into late July of 2012, they began to break up the band. On July 31, they traded Victorino back to the Dodgers (!) for a three-player package that included reliever Josh Lindblom. Victorino hit just .245/.316/.351 and fell two games short of a Wild Card spot.

A free agent again, Victorino signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox, and made it pay off in the early going. Taking over right field duties on a team that had sunk to last place the year before, he set a new career high with 6.0 WAR, fueled by a whopping 22 DRS via an AL-high nine assists, a performance that netted him his fourth Gold Glove. He hit .294/351/.451 (118 OPS+) with 15 homers and 21 steals, that despite a left hamstring injury that bothered him to the extent that he stopped batting left-handed in August, fueling a late-season offensive surge. The Red Sox won 97 games and the AL East, and he went 6-for-14 against he Rays in the Division Series, highlighted by a go-ahead RBI single off Joel Peralta in the seventh inning of the Game 4 clincher. While his bat largely cooled off in the ALCS against the Tigers and the World Series against the Cardinals, he hit a seventh-inning, go-ahead grand slam off Detroit’s Jose Veras in the ALCS clincher, and a third-inning, three-run double off St. Louis’ Michael Wacha to open the scoring in the World Series clincher.

Alas, a recurrent right hamstring strain and a bulging disc in his lower back limited Victorino to just 30 games in 2014, and between further right hamstring and calf injuries and the emergence of youngsters Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., he was crowded out of Boston’s outfield in ’15. On July 27, he was traded to the Angels for infielder Josh Rutledge, with the Red Sox covering most of his remaining salary. After finishing with a grim .230/.308/.292 line in 204 PA, he settled for a minor league deal with the Cubs in February 2016. Hampered by a calf injury, he failed to make the team out of spring training. He played nine games with the team’s Triple-A Iowa affiliate in May once his injury healed, but when the team instead chose to recall outfielder Matt Szczur to cover for Jason Heyward’s injury, they released Victorino. He never played again, though not until July 3, 2018 did he formally retire, doing so by signing a one-day contract with the Phillies.

Michael Cuddyer

Though he debuted in the majors at age 22, Michael Cuddyer took seemingly forever to arrive, as yet another hotly anticipated Twins prospect whose development seemed to be slow-walked, and while he played 15 seasons, he left abruptly and ahead of schedule. In between, Cuddyer helped seven teams reach the postseason, made two All-Star teams, won a Coors Field-aided batting title, and entertained countless teammates with a suite of magic tricks that he began learning when he was 10 years old.

Cuddyer was born on March 29, 1979 in Norfolk, Virginia, an area that was hardly considered a baseball hotbed, but in 1992, a high school coach named Marvin (Towny) Townsend founded the area’s first Amateur Athletic Union program for advanced players aged 10-15. Within an eight-year span, the program produced five first-round major league picks: Cuddyer (9th overall to the Twins in the 1997 draft), David Wright (38th overall to the Mets in 2001), B.J. Upton (2nd overall to the Devil Rays in 2002), Justin Upton (1st overall to the Diamondbacks in 2005), nd Ryan Zimmerman (4th overall to the Nationals in 2005). Cuddyer began working with Townsend as a 10-year-old. By the time he was 11, the coach was introducing him as “future professional baseball player.”

Cuddyer was drafted out of high school, that after making a very strong impression on a Twins scout. Via NJ.com’s Mike Vorkunov:

The first day John Wilson, the Twins area scout that eventually signed him, saw Cuddyer, he watched him hit home runs with each of his first 10 swings at a showcase preceding a state-wide tournament. The next day, in his first official at-bat, Cuddyer clubbed a pitch nearly 500 feet – at least that’s how it lingers in Wilson’s mind. The ball traveled so far down the line and was so difficult to track that the umpire deemed it foul. On the next pitch Cuddyer thrashed a home run to center field. After 12 swings, Wilson was sold.

Cuddyer signed for a $1.85 million bonus and began his professional career as a shortstop. Despite making 61 errors in 122 games at Low-A Fort Wayne in 1998, he placed 36th on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list the following spring, the first of five times he would do so. The Twins moved him to third base, and tried him at first and the outfield corners as well; regardless of position, Cuddyer hit at every stop. After batting .298/.403/.470 with 16 homers, 14 steals and 76 walks in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 1999, he climbed to 18th on BA’s list; he scuffled somewhat in his first taste of Double-A, but upon repeating the level improved from six homers and a .394 SLG in 2000 to 30 homers and a .560 SLG in ’01. On September 23 of the latter year, he made his major league debut, going 1-for-2 with a double and a walk against Cleveland’s Chuck Finley, part of an eight-game cup of coffee.

With a young lineup that featured 29-year-old third baseman Corey Koskie as its grizzled vet, and with an increasing number of question marks surrounding Cuddyer’s ability to play the infield due to poor footwork, the 23-year-old prospect was sent to Triple-A Edmonton to start the 2002 season. He returned just after the All-Star break, and spotted in right field and both infield corners, hitting a respectable .259/.311/.429 with four homers in 123 PA for a team that won the AL Central. He played regularly during the postseason, starting the team’s first seven games in right field but playing a full game just once. He went 5-for-18 with three walks in the Division Series against the A’s, highlighted by a Game 1 RBI double off Tim Hudson.

Cuddyer’s cumulative total of 130 major league at-bats was just enough for him to retain his rookie status entering 2003. Though he played third base on Opening Day, he spent the first five weeks of the season as the Twins’ starting right fielder but started slowly. Just as he was heating up, he was returned to Triple-A, where he spent time working at second base — the Twins were so awash in outfielders and first basemen that they couldn’t find room for them all — but the plan was delayed when Cuddyer was sidelined by a recurrent left hamstring strain that cost him two months. He didn’t return until September and played in a total of just 35 games; despite homering twice in the season’s final week, he played just once in the Twins’ four-game defeat in the Division Series.

The Twins continued to bounce Cuddyer around in an attempt to hide his glove. He hit a combined .263/335/.430 (99 OPS+) in 2004-05 with 24 homers and a combined 0.8 WAR, mainly due to his defensive woes. He made 40 starts at second base, 36 at third, eight in the outfield corners and two at first base in 2004; woeful defense (-17 DRS in just 665.1 innings) at the first two of those positions suppressed his WAR to 0.1. With Koskie departing in free agency, he took over third base, but again struggled defensively (-9 DRS in 816 innings), and by the end of the year was moved to right field.

Though he would continue to spot at other positions — mainly first base, but also third and second — over the next few years, Cuddyer settled in in right field in 2006, and bopped 24 homers, drove in 109 runs, and batted .284/.362/.504 for a team that again won the AL Central. He spent five more seasons in Minnesota, thanks in part to a three-year, $23 million extension he signed in January 2008; the deal included a $10.5 million option for 2011. He hit .274/.343/.449 (113 OPS+) over that span, setting a career high in WAR (3.1) in 2007, and in homers (32) and OPS+ (125) in ’09; an oblique strain limited him to 71 games, an 89 OPS+, and 0.4 in ’08. Excluding that season, he averaged a modest 2.1 WAR because, again, defense, including -20 DRS in 2010, which he split between first base (-8), right field (-10), second base and third base (-1 each). He made his first All-Star team in 2011, a season in which he hit 20 homers and stole a career-high 11 bases.

A free agent for the first time, Cuddyer signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Rockies, but his time there had more lows than highs. He played just 101 games — only three after July 31 — and hit for a modest 102 OPS+ in 2012, as the Rockies plummeted to 98 losses. Though he missed 15 days with a herniated disc in his neck the following year, Cuddyer rebounded to make his second All-Star team, and hit .331/.389/.530 with 20 homers; his batting average led the National League, his slugging percentage ranked fourth, and his on-base percentage ninth. His 136 OPS+ set a new career high.

Cuddyer actually exceeded that mark in 2013 (148 OPS+), albeit in just 49 games. Not only did he miss nearly seven weeks due to strains in both hamstrings, but while filling in for the injured Nolan Arenado at third base — his first games there since 2010 — he suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left shoulder socket while diving for a groundball, costing him 10 weeks. As he hit free agency, the Rockies surprised the baseball world by making him a $15.3 million qualifying offer. It appeared he might become the first player to accept such a deal, but instead he agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract with the Mets, thereby joining Wright, his childhood friend.

Injuries got in the way yet again, as Cuddyer hit a meek .259/.309/.391 (91 OPS+) and went on the disabled list in late July due to a bone bruise in his left knee, an injury suffered on June 30. Typically, the Mets’ micromanagement allowed the injury to linger as he played part-time instead of sending him to the DL. “We never allowed it to get better. It never allowed the inflammation and swelling to get out,” Cuddyer said at the time.

Though he missed only three weeks, Cuddyer made just 18 starts from August 11 onward as rookie Michael Conforto put his claim on right field, and started just three times in the postseason as the Mets won their first pennant since 2000. Cuddyer went just 1-for-11 during the team’s playoff run, singling off the Cubs’ Jon Lester. He came off the bench to strike out three straight times in the Mets’ 13-inning World Series-opening loss to the Royals, his only action all series.

Under his contract, Cuddyer was due to make $12.5 million in 2016, but in December ’15, he announced his retirement, presumably having negotiated a buyout from the team. “[I]t is especially difficult to imagine not suiting up in a Mets uniform for one more year,” he said. “I’ve always run out every hit like it was my last. As an untested high school kid drafted with a dream, I’ve never taken a single moment in the Majors for granted. It goes against every grain in my body to consider a future without the game. But after 15 years, the toll on my body has finally caught up to me.”

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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3 years ago

While not a 1st round pick, Mark Reynolds was also part of that AAU program in Virginia. At one point they had a team with BJ Upton, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds with Justin Upton as the bat boy because he was too young to be on the team. (Cuddyer was a a bit older than the others).

That’s 68 MLB seasons, 7,785 hits and 1,281 HR (& counting of course) sitting on the same bench as kids.

Here’s one article about the area: https://vault.si.com/vault/2008/09/29/virginias-boy-wonders