Sunday Notes: A Hall of Fame Ballot Explained

I have the honor of casting a Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. Jay Jaffe does as well, each of us having joined the BBWAA in 2010 while colleagues at Baseball Prospectus. A decade later — and in Jay’s case, countless words written on the subject at hand — we are the first FanGraphs writers to be granted voting privileges.

I’m sharing my ballot in this column, but before doing so, it’s only appropriate that I tip my hat to my fellow first-time voter. As most everyone reading this knows, Jay’s JAWS system is invaluable when assessing Hall of Fame credentials, as is his must-read Cooperstown Casebook. Given his extensive research and analysis, there may not be a greater authority on the subject.

That being said, the question of what defines a Hall of Famer is inherently subjective. Following Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker will tell you as much. With barely over a dozen made public, we’ve already seen ballots with 10 checkmarks, while others have been left blank. As a “Big Hall” guy, I’m clearly not in accord with the latter camp.

Jay and I disagree on at least one player. Barring an earth-shaking surprise, Omar Vizquel won’t get his vote. Conversely, the iconic-yet-polarizing shortstop was a no-brainer for me. The first names I checked on my ballot were Vizquel and Scott Rolen.

Vizquel and Rolen aren’t mutually exclusive when it comes to Hall of Fame worthiness, even though many BBWAA voters seem to feel that way. Last year, 169 ballots included one of their names but not the other, while only 70 included both names. Do their bona fides differ? Absolutely, but not everyone enshrined in Cooperstown fits the same mold. Nor should they. In baseball, as in life, greatness is displayed in many ways.

I won’t go into detail explaining my Vizquel vote — the numbers and reputation are both well-known, and beating dead horses is at best a pointless exercise — but I will offer a snapshot of my thought process:

For me, the Hall of Fame is more than numbers, and that’s especially true when it comes to weighing WAR, and other advanced stats, vis-a-vis overall impact on the game. To some of you that may sound blasphemous, but again, not all inductees — past and present — fit the same mold. Rolen’s 69.9 WAR helped make him an easy choice for me, but so too did Vizquel’s accomplishments over 24 seasons. Playing more games at shortstop, and logging the second-most hits of anyone at the position in history were among them. Moreover, his defensive brilliance was a joy to watch, and he’s an idol to a generation of baseball fans in his native Venezuela. In this voter’s opinion, things like that matter. (On a related note, Cuban icon Minnie Minoso should have a plaque in Cooperstown).

Moving on my other selections, I opted to bite the bullet and allow PED-associated candidates to pass “Go” and collect their proverbial $200. I did so with hesitation, but ultimately decided that what they did on the field should carry the day. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would have been first-ballot selections were it not for steroid-era implications, and Manny Ramirez likely would have been as well. Gary Sheffield hit over 500 home runs and had a 141 wRC+. Sammy Sosa hit over 600 home runs, and while his 124 wRC+ did give me some pause, his 1998 season is a huge part of recent baseball history. All five of those players got my vote, despite their alleged transgressions.

Curt Schilling did not get my vote. Call it contradictory if you will, but I couldn’t in good conscience allow myself to hold him to same “what they did on the field” standard that I applied to the PED group. As important as baseball is, there are things far more important than baseball. As Jay stated in our recent FanGraphs Audio conversation, “It goes beyond politics… [Schilling] has documented examples of hate speech.” In my mind, that’s a disqualifier.

Two other players who didn’t get my vote were Todd Helton and Jeff Kent. I deliberated between those two and Sosa for my final checkmark, and ultimately opted for Sosa. As closely as I had them bunched, a future vote for Helton and/or Kent is very much a possibility.

Three more players did get my vote: Bobby Abreu, Andruw Jones, and Billy Wagner. Of them, Wagner was the easiest choice. Relievers tend to get short shrift in Hall voting, and while I understand why, that’s not always fair. On a rate basis, Wagner was as dominant as anyone. Jones was arguably the best defensive centerfielder of our lifetimes, and even with the precipitous decline he hit 400-plus home runs. And then there is Abreu, who is arguably one of the most-underrated players of said lifetimes. Often under the radar, he put up a .395 OBP, a 129 wRC+, and 59.8 WAR — this while logging 921 extra-base hits and stealing 400 bases.

Do all 10 of the players I voted for meet your own criteria, and was I amiss with any of my non-selections? Given the subjectivity of the exercise, I suspect that many of you will disagree on at least a few of my decisions. I’m OK with that. We’re not all going to view the Hall of Fame exactly the same way, and truth be told, it would be kind of boring if we did. The debates are part of the fun.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Miguel Cabrera went 12 for 15 against Adam Eaton.

Carlos Delgado went 10 for 15 against Mike Hampton.

Nomar Garciaparra went 10 for 19 against Dwight Gooden.

Cesar Cedeno went 9 for 12 against Bill Lee.

Ty Cobb went 9 for 12 against Mellie Wolfgang.

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As noted above, Vizquel is lionized in Venezuela. This is what Miami Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas said when I asked about his countryman:

“He’s the idol of this whole generation,” Rojas told me this summer. “If you ask any Venezuelan baseball player playing in the big leagues right now, Omar Vizquel is their idol, because of the way he played the game. We all appreciate what he did, not just for baseball, but to put Venezuela on the map. To me, he has everything it takes to be considered a Hall of Famer. And there wasn’t just his defense, he got almost 2,900 hits.

“I know that he played for a long time, but you have to be really good to do that, especially at a premium position like shortstop. It’s really tough to play this game for as long as he did. At the end he was a mentor to younger players, but before that he was head-to-head with guys like Derek Jeter for the best at his position. And again, he wasn’t just a baseball player: he was an idol for a whole generation of players in Venezuela.”

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A quiz:

Fifty-three natives of Venezuela have been named to an MLB All-Star team. Which has the most All-Star seasons?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Bob Miller, who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1949-1958, died on Friday at age 94. A Detroit native, Miller had his best season in 1950 when he finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting and made one appearance in the World Series.

Dan Pfister, who pitched for the Kansas City Athletics from 1961-1964, died earlier this month at age 83. A right-hander, Pfister went 6-19 with a 4.87 ERA in 65 big-league games.

Rogers Communications, which owns the Toronto Blue Jays, is discussing demolishing Rogers Centre and building a new stadium (per The Globe and Mail). In tangentially-related news, Mike Wilner won’t be returning to the Blue Jays radio broadcast team next year. A well-known voice on the Toronto sports scene, Wilner had been paired with Ben Wagner.

Longtime Cincinnati Enquirer sports scribe John Fay is retiring. He penned his farewell column yesterday.

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The answer to the quiz is Miguel Cabrera, with 11 All-Star seasons. Luis Aparicio
made 13 All-Star appearances, although those were spread over 10 seasons. Two All-Star games were played each year from 1959-1962.

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Left on the cutting room floor from my recent conversation with pitching guru Brian Vikander was his appreciative mention of erstwhile Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees left-hander Eddie Lopat. A renowned junk-baller who pitched from 1944-1955, Lopat befuddled batters with an assortment of offerings that included a heater that was anything but hot.

“Eddie Lopat was somebody that Casey Stengel always bragged about,” Vikander told me. “Casey said that he threw between 71 and 73 [mph]. A lot of guys could probably tear a rotator cuff and still throw 71, and Lopat won 166 games in the major leagues doing that. That’s called pitching. That’s somebody who can keep coming back to the hitter and saying, ‘Do you have the perspicacity, buddy? Do you think you can stay with me on this? I’m going to move this one an inch over here, take a little bit more off, and it will have a little different movement. Let’s see if you can get it.’ Those guys are wonderful. Those are pitchers.”

Lopat finished his career 166-112 with a 3.21 ERA. He went 4-1, 2.60 in seven World Series starts.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The SoftBank Hawks won their fourth straight Japan Series championship earlier this week. The Fukuoka-based ball club swept the Yomiuri Giants and have now won 12 consecutive Japan Series games. Ryoya Kurihara was named series MVP.

Chunichi Dragons left-hander Yudai Ohno was named as this year’s Sawamura Award winner. The honor goes to Japan’s best pitcher. Ohno went 11-6 with a 1.82 ERA over 20 starts. He had 10 complete games and six shutouts.

Carlos Subero has been named the new manager of the Hanwha Eagles.The former Milwaukee Brewers coach will be the fourth foreign manager in KBO history, joining Trey Hillman, Jerry Royster, and Matt Williams.

The Australian Baseball League’s Melbourne Aces announced that they will be streaming their games live this year. The ABL season kicks off on December 17.

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If you missed Tuesday’s FanGraphs Audio podcast featuring Torey Lovullo, you probably aren’t aware that he once had an up-close look at Elvis Presley shooting hoops. The Diamondbacks manager shared that story, and much more, in the aforementioned episode that includes Jay Jaffe and me discussing our Hall of Fame ballots, as well as Dan Szymborski talking Toronto Blue Jays baseball with Andrew Stoeten.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The New York Daily News, Bradford Williams Davis wrote about how Charlie Morton might be the guy who finally gets the Atlanta Braves over the hump.

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper gave us a history of short-season ball, which is disappearing thanks (but no thanks) to the reorganization of the minor leagues.

Nick Castellanos has the most barreled outs in the Statcast era, and Justin Choi wrote about it at justinchoi.medium.com.

Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Sam Carlson is finally back on the mound after missing 31 months with elbow woes. Shannon Drayer detailed the 21-year-old Savage, Minnesota native’s return at My Sports Northwest.

Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri told us about Turkey Tyson, who got a cup of coffee with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1944.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Seven players in history have had at least 30 career plate appearances and a walk rate of 23% or higher. The septet combined for a .148 batting average.

From 1966-1971, Matty Alou batted .325 with a 4.7% walk rate and a 4.9% strikeout rate. Alou averaged 196 hits, 30 walks, and 32 strikeouts over that six-year stretch. Only Roberto Clemente (.333) hit for a higher average.

Gordy Coleman went 42 for 120 (.350) as a pinch hitter.
Ted Kubiak went 14 for 127 (.110) as a pinch hitter.

Johnny Pesky led the American League in hits in his 1942 rookie season, and again in 1946 and 1947. The Red Sox shortstop — Ted Williams affectionally referred to him as “Pecker” — missed the 1943-1945 seasons while serving in the military.

On today’s date in 1971, the Cincinnati Reds traded Tommy Helms, Lee May, and Jimmy Stewart to the Houston Astros in exchange for Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Dennis Menke, and Joe Morgan.

The New York Yankees signed Reggie Jackson to a free-agent contract on this date in 1976.

The Boston Red Sox signed Carl Yastrzemski to his first professional contract on this date in 1958.

Players born on today’s date include Bill Freehan, who represented the Detroit Tigers in the All-Star Game eleven times, including every year from 1964-1973. A catcher, Freehan won five Gold Gloves and finished his career with 200 home runs and 44.8 WAR.

Frank Skaff and Bill Skiff both played parts of two big-league seasons. Skiff and Skaff each had 11 career RBIs.

Art Sunday had a .419 OBP for the Players League’s Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders in 1890. The club was led by Hall of Fame player/manager John Montgomery Ward.





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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dannyrock
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dannyrock

Good for you for not voting for Schilling. I have no idea why any journalist would vote for him when he is on record as supporting the hanging of journalists.

Alby
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Alby

I was a journalist for 35 years before I retired, and I would vote for him. They’re words. Unless he’s actually hanging reporters in the back yard, who cares?

WARrior
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WARrior

I’m no fan of Schilling’s views, but I have seen FG writers advocate the painful deaths of people they did not agree with. I don’t hold it against them, because I’m sure they weren’t serious. I likewise don’t think Schilling was serious.

dannyrock
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dannyrock

Like Schilling, Fangraph writers shouldn’t advocate the painful deaths of anyone whether they’re being serious or not. The rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible.

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

Where have you seen thar FG advocated the death of anyone?

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Death to Billy the Marlin

Okay, but seriously, WTF is going on with him.

dannyrock
Member
dannyrock

“He said people like me should be murdered but idc, I’d vote for him anyway” is a heck of a take. For a former journalist, you’re sure undervaluing the power of words.