Tim Raines’ Last Hurrah Highlights Hall of Fame Holdovers

While the Hall of Fame ballot is still heavy with deserving candidates, last season did help a bit in terms of making this year’s decision easier for voters. Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza gained entry this past January, Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire exhausted their eligibility, and both Jim Edmonds and Nomar Garciaparra failed to receive the necessary 5% of the vote required to remain on the ballot.

Among the newcomers, only four candidates — Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez, and Ivan Rodriguezappear worthy of serious consideration. With more voters than ever choosing to fill their ballot with 10 names, several players close to induction — in particular Tim Raines, who enters his final year on the ballot — might stand to benefit.

Last year, Jeff Bagwell fell 15 votes short, while Raines and Trevor Hoffman received 23 and 34 fewer votes, respectively, than the 330 necessary to appear on 75% of the ballots and (in turn) earn a place in the Hall.

The electorate, of course, isn’t composed of a static number. Some voters choose not to cast a ballot and others fail to meet the requirements of voting. Still other members receive their Hall of Fame ballots for the first time. In the end, it’s the 75% figure that’s the relevant one, not 330.

As for this year’s returning candidates, the cases for or against them are pretty clear. For a few borderline cases, meanwhile, this year’s voting represents an opportunity to gain the necessary momentum to receive induction at a later date. Of the 15 returning candidates, there are six pitchers, five outfielders, and four infielders. Let’s start with the outfielders.

But first: a note about the HOF Points and HOF Rating figures cited throughout this piece. Essentially, these represent an attempt to measure both the peak and overall production of a player, so as to better understand his eligibility for the Hall. In that way, they bear some resemblance (and their creation is indebted to) Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system. For a further explanation of both the Points and Ratings methodology, click here.

Okay. Now let’s start with the outfielders.

Holdover Outfielders on 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot
173 164.4 168.7 55.7 49.7 63.6 51.1 117.6 53.3
44 68.7 56.4 63.1 51.5 85.0 71.8 58.6 58.1
42 66.4 54.2 55.7 49.7 63.6 51.1 55.6 53.3
41 62.1 51.6 55.7 49.7 63.6 51.1 49.1 53.3
40 60.1 50.1 63.1 51.5 85.0 71.8 51.0 58.1

Barry Bonds is one of the greatest players in history. By HOF Rating, he’s second all time behind only Babe Ruth. On the field, his credentials are ironclad. The case against his induction is obviously based on his association with PEDs.

As for the other four outfielders here, all have interesting cases. In the chart above, pay special attention to the BBWAA average and median: the writers have traditionally held players to a higher standard for making the Hall of Fame than the Veterans Committee, etc. Larry Walker leads the group with 56.4, and while he easily exceeds the median for Hall of Fame right fielders, he falls well short of the BBWAA average and median. This isn’t to say that Walker shouldn’t be voted in by the writers. He probably should.

Consider that, if we group corner outfielders together, the BBWAA average is 75.7 HOF Points and the median is 62.4. (The average for all corner outfielders, including those inducted by other means, is 59.9 and median is 49.7.) Walker falls a bit short of the writers’ median, but keep in mind the writers are already imposing incredibly high standards, and Walker’s numbers would put him in the middle-third of outfielders elected to the Hall of Fame. Walker’s case is superior more than half of┬áthe corner outfielders’ already in the Hall of Fame, and finds himself in the middle among the higher standards set forth by the writers. Larry Walker should be a Hall of Famer.

The case for Raines is a similar one. His WAR and peak numbers are just a tad behind Walker’s, but if you only look at left fielders, Raines is above the median for the tougher standards writers tend to employ. Broadening the sample, Raines, like Walker, compares favorably to all corner outfielders in the Hall of Fame — and would sit a comfortable 15th out of 24 among those judged by the higher standards typically set forth by the writers.

Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa make for slightly tougher cases. They have the homers but are closer to the borderline. Among all players, there are 17 between Raines and Sheffield. Of those players, only Reggie Smith, Lou Whitaker, and Manny Ramirez — on the ballot for the first time this year — are absent from the Hall. Of the 12 players directly below Sheffield, only Roberto Alomar, Andre Dawson, and Yogi Berra (catchers have a lower standard) are in the Hall of Fame.

All this makes Sheffield — and, to a lesser extent, Sosa — a borderline candidate. The only corner outfielders from the last 50 years who were inducted with HOF Points totals lower than Sheffield or Sosa’s were Lou Brock, Jim Rice, Billy Williams, and Dave Winfield. The cloud of suspicion regarding PEDs both for Sheffield and Sosa make it easier for voters to exclude them from a ballot that allows for only 10 total selections.

Now, for the infielders:

Holdover Infielders on 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot
63 80.2 71.6 58.4 57.0 65.8 57.1 63.9 54.2
44 65.5 54.8 57.3 52.6 71.9 75.3 56.0 55.0
32 56.1 44.1 59.8 52.8 77.1 65.4 45.4 56.9
31 56.9 44.0 58.4 57.0 65.8 57.1 44.1 54.2

Jeff Bagwell really shouldn’t be returning to the ballot for a seventh time. He did play in an era known for power and also did fail to hit the 500-homer milestone that serves as a threshold for some voters. That said, the only retired first basemen in baseball history with more impressive statistical careers (relative to their eras) are Cap Anson, Roger Connor, Jimmie Foxx, and Lou Gehrig. His HOF Rating is higher than Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray, and Frank Thomas‘s. Bagwell only played 14 full seasons, but he averaged nearly six wins per season over those 14 years and his 149 wRC+ is just higher than Willie McCovey’s, Mike Schmidt‘s, and Willie Stargell’s — and also one other player’s who’s relevant to this discussion: Edgar Martinez.

Martinez has probably been dinged by a variety of factors: designated hitter, lack of milestones, PED era, and the crowded ballot. He wasn’t a great home-run hitter, nor do his 2,247 total hits compare favorably with those who’ve gained entry into the Hall. However, his .312 average — along with a .418 on-base percentage helped by over 1,200 walks — led to a career 147 wRC+, 20th all time among batters who recorded more than 8,000 plate appearances. He was an incredible hitter, better than David Ortiz. Martinez played just a quarter of his games in the field — and the writers have only elected seven third baseman, anyway — but he compares favorably to a Hall of Famer like Paul Molitor, who played roughly half his games in the field. It’s fair to consider Martinez a borderline candidate, but his career lines up favorably with Wille McCovey and Robin Yount’s, players who had no problem getting elected.

The same can’t be said for Jeff Kent and Fred McGriff. Kent is aided by hitting a lot of home runs as a second baseman, while McGriff has been helped by hitting a lot of home runs just before the PED era. However, neither meets the standards of the Hall of Fame. The “worst” first baseman the writers have elected was Tony Perez and his HOF Rating of 46.5 is still ahead of McGriff’s. McGriff exceeded 6.0 WAR just twice in his career, so he was often very good, but rarely great. At second base, Roberto Alomar at 51.3 has the lowest HOF Rating of anyone elected by the writers. Kent would lower that bar by quite a bit, having produced five wins or better only twice in his career.

There are six holdover pitchers on the ballot with three starters and three relievers.

Holdover Pitchers on 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot
133.7 115 124.4 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3 103.3 62.1
79.7 65 72.4 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3 64.5 62.1
82.2 53 67.6 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3 63.8 62.1
26.6 6 16.3 22.3 18.7 22.3 18.7 25.4 34.4
Trevor Hoffman 26.1 6 16.1 22.3 18.7 22.3 18.7 24.0 34.4
24.2 5 14.6 22.3 18.7 22.3 18.7 24.0 34.4

Clemens is the pitching version of Bonds, and his HOF Rating is the highest among pitchers all time. Just as with Bonds, it’s other issues that are holding his candidacy back. It would appear that a somewhat arbitrary taste for pitcher-win thresholds has thus far prevented both Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina from gaining induction. Both possess a lower HOF Rating than pitchers like Bob Gibson, Pedro Martinez, and Tom Seaver, but Schilling’s is superior to Fergie Jenkins‘ and both are ahead of Robin Roberts, John Smoltz, and Don Sutton. They exceed both the average and the median of the difficult standards of the BBWAA, and there’s little reason that either one should be kept from the Hall.

The relievers present quite the conundrum. Billy Wagner’s case is based on being as good as Trevor Hoffman with fewer saves. Hoffman’s case is based on holding the saves record at one time. Both players fall short of Lee Smith’s HOF Rating, however, who’s in his final year of eligibility. Smith bests Hoffman in innings by 200 and his WAR, bWAR, and JAWS are all better than Hoffman’s, too. Smith, perhaps viewed as a specialist due to his high saves totals, actually pitched more than one-third of his innings in stints that were at least two innings. All three relievers fall below the current standards for relievers in the Hall, but of the three, Smith actually has the best case.

Adding in the newcomers, the 10 best candidates, in no particular order are Barry Bonds, Larry Walker, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Manny Ramirez, with Ramirez barely edging out Gary Sheffield.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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You know what would make comparisons like these fun and awesome? A tickbox on the leaderboards for HOF/non-HOF, please. Like the way there’s one for active rosters.