JAWS and the 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot: Jeff Kent and Manny Ramirez

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2022 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.

In my previous multi-candidate roundup, I lumped together four 10th-year candidates — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa — about whom there’s little left to be said at the tail end of a decade’s worth of debate, and few minds likely to be changed. Three of those candidates were linked to PEDs, and all four have some pretty dark corners beyond the baseball diamond. As a means of completing my coverage of the major candidates before the December 31 voting deadline, it made sense to group them into a single overview while inviting those readers wishing to (re)familiarize themselves with the specifics of their cases to check out last year’s profiles.

As the holiday season approaches, I’m still playing catch-up with my coverage, but the two candidates in this roundup don’t have the same type of underlying connections. Both hit a lot of homers during their long careers, both were sometimes overshadowed by more famous teammates, and both have struggled to generate a ton of support through multiple election cycles to the point that neither is likely to get to 75% via the writers before their 10 years run out. Beyond that, they’re very different players and cases.

Jeff Kent (32.4% on the 2021 ballot)

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Jeff Kent
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Jeff Kent 55.5 35.8 45.6
Avg. HOF 2B 69.7 44.5 57.1
2,461 377 .290/.356/.500 123
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the 2021 profile intro:

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 than Kent (.855).

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. For example, his 123 OPS+ is “only” ninth among the aforementioned group of second basemen. 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 crowded ballots chock full of candidates with stronger cases on both fronts, he has struggled to gain support…

More here.

Kent debuted on the 2014 ballot, which rates as the most overstuffed of the modern voting era by JAWS, with 14 candidates exceeding the standards at their position and 17 exceeding 50.0 JAWS (40.0 for catchers). On the previous year’s ballot, the aforementioned quartet of 10th-year candidates debuted, as did Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, both of whom were eventually elected. In 2014, a trio of easy first-ballot choices in Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas hit the ballot alongside Kent.

Given the difficulty of standing out in that crowd, Kent drew just 15.2% in his debut and didn’t even break 20% until 2020, once the traffic finally started to thin out. He reached 32.4% last year, his eighth on the ballot, which puts him just 1.7% behind Larry Walker at the same stage. But with no similar groundswell of support behind him — remember, he ranks just 36th in JAWS among second baseman, with less defensive value than any Hall of Famer at the spot save for Biggio — getting even to 50% before his 10 years runs out feels like a tall order. That seems particularly true given that he’s polled just 26.2% through the first 42 published ballots in this year’s Ballot Tracker; he’s at net -2 votes among returning voters and 0-for-2 among new ones. Still, Kent is the type of candidate more likely to appeal to the traditional stat-minded Era Committee; I wouldn’t be surprised if he enters the Hall that way, though again, that process could be crowded by Bonds et al once they fall off the writers’ ballot.

Manny Ramirez (28.2% on 2021 ballot)

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Manny Ramirez
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Manny Ramirez 69.3 39.9 54.6
Avg. HOF LF 65.2 41.6 53.4
2,574 555 .312/.411/.585 154
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the 2021 profile intro:

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 right-handed 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 center fielder 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 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 was the first star with actual suspensions on his record to gain eligibility since Rafael Palmeiro in 2011. Like Palmeiro, he has numbers that would otherwise make his enshrinement a lock, and he’s fared better than his predecessor, not that it’s saying much.

More here.

On the 2017 ballot, Ramirez debuted with 23.8%, a higher share than those received by either Sosa or Mark McGwire, players who were never suspended. Yet it took Ramirez until the 2020 ballot to grow that support, and thanks to those two suspensions, he’s been stalled at 28.2% over the past two cycles. The arrivals of teammate David Ortiz and longtime rival Alex Rodriguez — both of whom, like Ramirez, were reported as having tested positive on the 2003 survey test — might pave the way for some voters to view PED-linked players in a more forgiving light, but those newcomers also crowd the ballot. From among the first 42 ballots published via the Ballot Tracker during this cycle, Ramirez has accompanied Bonds, Clemens, and Ortiz on the ballots of two newcomers, and gained one vote from another voter who added Bonds and Clemens… yet he’s still net -1 among returning voters. He’s not getting in any time soon.

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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2 years ago

The steroids thing is such a shame. The game is better with personalities like Manny around.