Looking for Active Hall-of-Fame Position Players

Much like the run-up to Christmas or perhaps the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, the Hall of Fame season seems to get longer and longer. Thanks to Ryan Thibidaux we have more data regarding how writers are voting and who might gain induction. Thanks to the revamping of the Veteran’s Committee, in the form of the Eras Committee, we’re able to begin debates over which overlooked players might be worthy of consideration. Also, the Hall of Fame has moved back the announcement of voting results by two weeks from last year, when Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were received entry into the Hall of Famers. While early January might be more accurately considered the “leftover free-agent-market portion” of the baseball calendar, examining the cases of future Hall of Famers seems like a slightly more uplifting task. So, as part of this year’s Hall of Fame season, here’s a piece on active position players and what’s required of them to earn consideration for enshrinement when they become eligible.

First, a note: I’m not the first person to engage in this sort of exercise. Mike Petriello has now performed it two years running and Jay Jaffe took a brief look in the middle of last year, as well. In order to add some value to the conversation, we’ll take a look, using a WAR framework, at what exactly some of these players need to accomplish to establish their credentials for the Hall.

In each of the tables below, I’ve included every player’s HOF Ratings — about which metric one can read more here — and the median HOF Rating at the relevant position both for (a) all Hall of Famers regardless of how they got into the Hall of Fame and (b) Hall of Famers elected by the writers (denoted as BBWAA Median), who have had a tougher standard. Given the lapse in election by means of the Veterans (now Eras) Committee, it might be best to look more closely at the writer’s number in terms of likelihood of election. The last column shows an example of what the player likely needs to do to be a Hall of Famer or at least get in the discussion, where noted.

First, the guys who seem very likely to make the Hall of Fame.

Future Hall of Famers
2017 Age Points WAR HOF RATING HOF Median BBWAA Median Example of Work to Be Done
Albert Pujols 37 87 91.2 89.1 57.0 57.1 Nothing.
Adrian Beltre 38 53 81.3 67.2 52.6 75.3 Probably nothing, but two 4-WAR seasons would exceed Chipper Jones.
Miguel Cabrera 34 52 67.9 60.0 57.0 57.1 Nothing.
Ichiro Suzuki 43 40 58.2 49.1 51.5 71.8 Probably nothing given prior MLB experience and 3,000 hits.

Albert Pujols is an easy choice. Miguel Cabrera has already exceeded the standards for first basemen in the Hall, and with a few more good seasons will be better than Jeff Bagwell both by the advanced metrics and the traditional numbers. Ichiro presents a unique case given his late debut, but it’s difficult to see voters keeping him out with his considerable accomplishments. Adrian Beltre should be a no-brainer, but the writers have been particularly stingy when it comes to third baseman. Ron Santo couldn’t make it in on the writer’s ballots, for example, despite a strong resume. Although, to be fair, there haven’t been too many other third baseman who have had great cases. Chipper Jones has one for next year, Scott Rolen has a better case than one might think, and Beltre will have a great case in another half-dozen years or so.

The next group of players have had Hall of Fame careers that are nearing an end, but could face a tougher time gaining election.

Should-Be Future Hall of Famers
2017 Age Points WAR HOF RATING HOF Median BBWAA Median Example of Work to Be Done
Carlos Beltran 40 47 68.4 57.7 49.2 77.1 Should be nothing, but center fielders have tougher standards, a two-win season would help.
Chase Utley 38 56 63.3 59.7 52.8 65.4 Should be in with two 8-WAR and three 7-WAR seasons for an incredible peak, but is light on longevity.

Carlos Beltran has done a lot for his counting stats the last few year by remaining a productive player, but getting elected by the writers as a center fielder is actually tougher than at third base when you consider the players passed over. Kirby Puckett got into the Hall after his career was cut short, Andre Dawson was eventually let in with a below-average resume, and Duke Snider had a solid resume for the Hall. Above those three, though, Ken Griffey Jr. was actually the worst of the remaining six players elected to the Hall by the writers. Jim Edmonds, who has a profile pretty close to Beltran’s, along with Kenny Lofton, who was more reliant on defense, both failed to make it on 5% of ballots in their first seasons. Reggie Smith was overlooked, and we will see what sort of reception Andruw Jones gets on the ballot next season. All that said, Carlos Beltran should be in the Hall of Fame.

Chase Utley’s case relies on a great peak due, in part, to having been one of the best defensive second basemen in the game, which isn’t exactly a great formula. By value, Utley is a Hall of Famer, but quantity in terms of hits and games could hold him back. If the Hall is a priority for Utley, he might be best served playing the next few seasons wherever he can get good playing time to get closer to 2,000 hits and improve his case in the eyes of some voters. This would also serve to push his time on the ballot further away, which could allow some of the current overcrowding to get more manageable.

The next group of position players will be at least 30 years old next season and they all have some work to do.

Might-Be Future Hall of Famers
 2017 Age Points WAR HOF RATING HOF Median BBWAA Median Example of Work to Be Done
Evan Longoria 31 39 47.1 43.1 52.6 75.3 Three 4-WAR seasons and a 2-WAR season gets him in discussion, but voters would have to be more realistic with third base.
Robinson Cano 34 35 49 42.0 52.8 65.4 One 6-WAR and two 4-WAR seasons or three 4-WAR and two 2-WAR seasons puts him ahead of Biggio, Sandberg, Alomar.
33 36 46.7 41.4 57.0 57.1 One 6-WAR, three 4-WAR, one 2-WAR season should get him close.
Dustin Pedroia 33 32 46.2 39.1 52.8 65.4 Three 4-WAR seasons and three 2-WAR seasons gets him to the borderline.
Andrew McCutchen 30 30 40.9 35.5 49.2 77.1 Two 6-WAR, two 4-WAR, two 2-WAR or one 6-WAR, three 4-WAR, four 2-WAR to catch Beltran.
Josh Donaldson 31 32 31.8 31.9 52.6 75.3 One 8-WAR, one 6-WAR, three 4-WAR, two 2-WAR likely puts him in discussion despite late career start.
Buster Posey 30 23 33.1 28.1 38.6 49.9 Three 4-WAR, five 2-WAR seasons should make him worthy and in at some point, but still behind Piazza and Rodriguez.
Yadier Molina 34 17 33.3 25.2 38.6 49.9 Statistically needs a one-win-per-season boost for framing or extra voter recognition for glove and WS titles.

If any of these players retired today, it would be highly unlikely they would make the Hall of Fame. Yadier Molina presents an interesting case because, by WAR, he has little shot to get elected, but there’s a considerable population that view him as a viable candidate. Were he to make it on the grounds of his numbers, it would likely be due to better knowledge about things like pitch-framing, as a pitch-framing boosts his candidacy considerably. The non-statistical alternative is some sort of amalgam of not-quite-quantifiable recognition for things like pitch-framing, game-calling, pitcher development, postseason moments, and Gold Glove awards.

Few of the players on this final list will actually get into the Hall, but it represents those players with the most realistic shot. Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Russell Martin, Jimmy Rollins, Justin Upton, and David Wright could have been included, but variables like age, injury, and recent performance kept them out.

The final column in each table represents an estimate of what statistical accomplishments might earn each players consideration — or separate them from peers who are in the Hall or up for election. If the scenarios in those columns seems unrealistic, then it should serve as a further evidence that making it to the Hall of Fame is incredibly hard. Players who fade away in their early 30s have tougher cases than those who continue to be productive in their mid- to late-30s. Very few players can make a case for the Hall solely on the strength of their 20s. Albert Pujols can make that claim, as can his teammate of the last five years.

Don’t-Need-Their-30s Future Hall of Famers
2017 Age Points WAR HOF RATING HOF Median BBWAA Median Example of Work to Be Done
Mike Trout 25 60 47.7 53.9 49.2 77.1 Another 8-WAR season should make it an easy choice, even 6-WAR would get him close. Already past median center-field HOF.

Mike Trout is already past the median when it comes to his positions. He’ll have to play a few more years at some sort of level of competence for appearances’ and Hall of Fame requirements’ sake, but he is already good enough to be inducted.

Getting in the Hall of Fame is difficult and it’s supposed to be. It represents the best who ever played the game. Other younger players who have gotten off to good enough starts to put themselves in position include Paul Goldschmidt and Manny Machado. Players who need healthy rebounds to get back on track are Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, and Giancarlo Stanton, while players like Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant are just a tick behind and off to a great start.

There’s currently a backlog of qualified players for the Hall of Fame, but it probably won’t last forever. By the time Carlos Beltran and Ichiro get on the ballot, they might be a couple of the best eligible players, whereas now they might not crack some top 10s. Voting so far this year has been very encouraging for future elections, as it seems likely we will see at least three — and potentially as many as five — players gain entry, with other players making notable gains. Clearing the backlog should give more great players in the future a fairer shot at the game’s greatest honor.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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7 years ago

At least part of that backlog on the current ballot could have been alleviated had writers not been idiots about Raines in years past, but oh well. Better late than never.