Sunday Notes: A Hall of Fame Ballot Explained

This year I have the honor of casting a Hall of Fame ballot for the second time. Jay Jaffe does as well — we both joined the BBWAA in 2010 while colleagues at Baseball Prospectus — and as Jay stated in Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, the exercise is every bit as challenging as it was 12 months ago. Defining worthiness is inherently subjective, and that would be the case even without PEDs and the character clause complicating matters. As it turned out, the latter of those two conundrum-inducers prompted me to drop one of last year’s selections. More on that in a moment.

As many of you have seen from Ryan Thibodaux’s invaluable Ballot Tracker, a number of voters remain stingy with their checkmarks. And they have that right. If you feel that only a small handful of the eligibles are worthy, you should vote accordingly. (Submitting a blank ballot is another thing entirely; the idea that no player in a given year meets acceptable standards is questionable at best.)

I am, unapologetically, “a Big-Hall” guy. For me, one of the biggest dilemmas has been deciding which of a dozen-plus deserving candidates will be excluded. Last year, Todd Helton and Jeff Kent stood out as players I agonized over and ultimately didn’t cast ballots for. The was especially true for Helton; I determined almost immediately afterward that he would get a checkmark this year. He did, while Kent — purely because there wasn’t room for him on my ballot — did not.

All 10 of the players I voted for a year ago returned to the ballot — and a pair of high-profile candidates were added — which accentuated the dilemma. By adding Helton, and one or two of the newcomers, I was going to have to drop multiple players whose numbers and impact on the game had not changed one iota.

Deciding who to drop was made easier by further allegations regarding Omar Vizquel’s purported off-the-field actions. There’s no need to address them here — Jay did so just a few days ago — and as I said on the podcast, Vizquel had borderline Hall-of-Fame credentials to begin with. With the caveat that the character clause is highly subjective, dropping him was an easy choice. (If you’re wondering why Vizquel got my vote last year, I touched on that here.)

Which brings us to the notable newcomers on this year’s ballot. David Ortiz has faced PED allegations, albeit primarily per a 2003 survey test whose findings were subsequently called into question; “Big Papi” subsequently never tested positive. Conversely, Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the 2014 season after running afoul of MLB’s drug policies. Moreover, A-Rod had the audacity to sue both MLB and the MLBPA while disputing the sanctions. It is understandable that many voters are choosing not to support induction for the controversial slugger-turned-broadcaster.

Despite my reservations, I gave A-Rod one of my 10 votes. As I mentioned on Friday’s podcast, the story of baseball in this era can’t be told without Rodriguez, Ortiz, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens. For that reason, all four got my vote. So did Manny Ramirez, who actually failed multiple tests. If you’re of the opinion that “Manny Being Manny” therefore doesn’t deserve a vote, I don’t blame you. After much internal debate, I ultimately decided that if I was going to look the other way on A-Rod, it was only fair to do so with Ramirez as well.

As was the case last year, I didn’t vote for Curt Schilling. The six-time All-Star asked to be taken off the ballot after falling short for the ninth time, which made omitting him an easier choice than it otherwise would have been. Rather than rehash his controversial candidacy, I’ll just leave it at that.

Having added Helton, A-Rod and Ortiz, I forced to drop more than just Vizquel. Victimized by the arbitrariness of a 10-player ballot were Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa. As accomplished as they are, I don’t consider either to be more deserving than the threesome I added.

Are Sheffield and Sosa more deserving than any of Bobby Abreu, Andruw Jones, and Billy Wagner? It would be perfectly reasonable to believe that they are. As I noted at the outset, worthiness is inherently subjective. All five players would have gotten checkmarks had there been more room on my ballot. As it was, Jones, Wagner, and the vastly-underrated Abreu — 59.8 WAR, 288 home runs, and 400 stolen bases — all got my vote for the second year running.

While I am generally not a big fan of strategic voting, I did take future ballots into consideration. Sosa is in his final year and stands little or no chance of being elected. Conversely, Sheffield — ditto Jeff Kent — will be on next year’s ballot. With a minimum of four serious candidates not returning, and a paucity of new candidates coming in, there is a strong chance that both near-misses will get my vote 12 months from now.

I also voted for Scott Rolen again. As a matter of fact, his was one of the first names I put a checkmark next to. If I need to explain my reasoning, there’s a pretty decent chance that you happened across this website by accident.

I’ve mostly stayed away from stat-based commentary in this column, for the simple reason that it would be largely superfluous. As FanGraphs readers, the vast majority of you are already well-versed on the candidates’ numbers (especially if you’ve read Jay’s detailed profiles). That said, I do want to share a statistical comp I made in Friday’s podcast:

Ortiz: 380 OPS, .552 SLG, .392 wOBA, 141 OPS+.
A-Rod: .380 OPS,.550 SLG, 395 wOBA, 140 OPS+.

From strictly an offensive standpoint, the two are nearly identical. That doesn’t mean they were equal in terms of overall value; Rodriguez was an infielder, while Ortiz was mostly a designated hitter (a position that has existed for longer than many people reading this have been alive). A-Rod’s far-superior WAR reflects the positional dynamic. Even so, the sometimes-heard claim that Ortiz’s postseason heroics are his only true bona fides, and that his regular-season numbers were nothing special, is a bunch of malarkey. In my opinion, Ortiz is a no-brainer Hall of Famer.

To recap, my ballot comprised Bobby Abreu, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, and Billy Wagner.

The degree to which my decisions were the correct ones is a matter of opinion. As I said in concluding last year’s explanatory column, we’re not all going to view the Hall of Fame exactly the same way. And that’s perfectly fine. The debates are part of the fun.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Ted Williams went 6 for 11 against Atley Donald.

Ducky Detweiler went 2 for 7 against Carl Hubbell.

Mickey Mantle went 7 for 24 against Bob Feller.

Minnie Miñoso went 7 for 8 against Bunky Stewart.

George Selkirk went 7 for 9 with 4 home runs against Bob Joyce.

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I’m a semi-regular contributor to the Lindy’s Baseball Annual, and my assignment for the forthcoming 2022 preview issue is a Best By Numbers article that will include numerous player rankings and leaderboards. The latter will comprise stats from the 2021 season, which — at least on the surface — presents somewhat of a conundrum. A superstar was on the shelf for all but 36 games.

The player in question is, of course, Mike Trout. As for the on-the-surface conundrum… let’s just say that not including a 30-year-old, future first-ballot Hall of Famer with a career 172 wRC+ and 77.8 WAR would be disingenuous. Until such time as he proves otherwise, Trout remains the best player in baseball. I don’t there’s any disputing that.

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A quiz:

Al Oliver batted .303 over 17-plus seasons. With which team did he win a batting title?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Tampa Bay Rays have promoted Peter Bendix to Senior VP Baseball Operations/General Manager. A 36-year-old graduate of Tufts University, Bendix has been serving as the club’s VP of Baseball Development.

The Chicago Cubs have hired Johnny Washington as an assistant hitting coach. Formerly a coach in the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres organizations, the 37-year-old Washington spent last year with the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles.

The Padres are reportedly hiring Jared Sandberg to manage their Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas. The 43-year-old former big-league infielder has spent the last three years as the bench coach for the Seattle Mariners.

The NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers have hired Craig Hughner as their new head of media relations. The 41-year-old Washington State University alum has been serving as Vice President, Communications for the San Diego Padres. Hughner previously worked for the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Former Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, and Boston Red Sox broadcaster Mario Impemba is the author of a new book: Major League Mindset: Elevate Your Baseball Play-by-Play.

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The answer to the quiz is the Montreal Expos, with whom Oliver won the National League batting title in 1982 with a .331 average. Oliver finished runner-up for his league’s batting title with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1974, and with the Texas Rangers in 1978.

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Is Shohei Ohtani a better hitter or a better pitcher? I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week, and the results were anything but close. Of the 500-plus votes cast, 87.3% opted for hitter, while just 12.7% went with pitcher.

Offensively, Ohtani is coming off a season where he slashed .257/.372/.582 with 46 home runs and a 152 wRC+. On the mound, he went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA, a 3.52 FIP, and 156 strikeouts in 131-and-a-third innings.

To state the obvious, the 2021 AL MVP was great on both sides of the ball. Ohtani’s season was truly historic.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli talked to Orioles assistant GM Sig Mejdal about the club’s analytics department.

At Birdland Insider, Elyssa Kaplan shared how Orioles broadcaster Melanie Newman paved her path to the majors.

Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein thinks that MLB isn’t even trying to end the lockout.

Beyond the Boxscore’s Andrés Chávez gave us a primer on spin efficiency.

So Taguchi has fond memories of his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Rick Hummel talked to the 52-year-old Nishinomiya, Japan native for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Houston Astros had 54 sacrifice flies this year, the most in the majors. The New York Mets had 23 sacrifices flies, the fewest in the majors.

Clayton Kershaw holds the record for most consecutive pitching appearances with more strikeouts than walks — 166, from September 28, 2012 to September 13, 2018. (per @MLBRandomStats).

The average bWAR for a position player in the Hall of Famer is 67.0. Roberto Alomar is the only player in the Hall with exactly 67.0. Among non-Hall of Famers, Dwight Evans is closest to that mark, with 67.1.

Jim Kaat went 29-12 in his career versus the Chicago White Sox. The lefty from Zeeland, Michigan went 15-23 versus the Detroit Tigers.

Dan Uggla slugged 154 home runs for the Florida Marlins — all as a second baseman — in his first five big-league seasons. Uggla’s home run totals ranged from 27 to 33.

David Ortiz slashed .303/.394/.567 with 53 home runs in 243 regular-season games against the New York Yankees.

The Yankees signed Gary Sheffield as a free agent on today’s date in 2003. The Red Sox signed Manny Ramirez as a free agent on today’s date in 2000.

Players born on today’s date include Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline, who finished his career with 3,007 hits and 399 home runs. The Hall of Famer would have had 401 home runs, but he lost two due to rainouts.

Also born on today’s date was Welcome Gaston, who threw 16 innings for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 1898, and three innings for then-named Brooklyn Superbas in 1999. Born “Welcome Thornburg Gaston” in Senecaville, Ohio, the southpaw holds the MLB record for most career walks (13) without a strikeout.

Babe Herman and Heinie Manush, both teenagers at the time, played for the Western Canada League’s Edmonton Eskimos in 1921. Herman went on to record 1,818 big league hits while slashing .324/.383/.532. Manush went on to record 2,524 big league hits while slashing .330/.377/.479.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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jntenaglia
11 months ago

My exact hypothetical ballot!

jonseals
11 months ago
Reply to  jntenaglia

Same.