Which Active Players Are Going To Cooperstown?

Yesterday, we talked about Alan Trammell’s case for Hall of Fame induction, and if you’ve been surfing the baseball newspapers lately, you’re probably come across arguments for or against most of the other bubble candidates on this year’s ballot. While there’s certainly value in discussing the credentials of guys Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker, we’ve also been having those conversations for several years now, and the facts haven’t changed since the last time we reviewed their candidacy. So, today, I want to turn my Cooperstown-related focus to the guys that are still playing.

Given what we know today, which active players are going to end in the Hall of Fame? And which ones should, but look unlikely to get the necessary support? Is anyone currently playing likely to get inducted that doesn’t actually deserve it? Let’s take a look at the current crop of players and where they’re likely to end up, at least with what we know at the moment.

No-brainer, first ballot, let’s not even bother arguing.

Albert Pujols (+87.8 WAR), Chipper Jones (+87.5 WAR), Derek Jeter (+74.4 WAR), Ivan Rodriguez (+73.4 WAR), Mariano Rivera (+39.0 WAR/+54.6 WPA).

Really, if you don’t think any of these guys belong, you’re a super-small Hall guy and there are only about 10 people in your personal HOF. That’s fine, I guess, but I don’t think that’s the standard most people want to see enforced. Each of these are among the very best to ever play the game at their position.

Would be a no-brainer, but STEROIDS!!!!

Alex Rodriguez (+112.5 WAR).

A-Rod gets his own category. You could maybe put Manny Ramirez (+69.6 WAR) here too, but calling him active is a bit of a stretch, and I’m not sure he’d have gotten in easily even without the PED suspensions. His defense and “Manny Being Manny” stuff would have been held against him by a decent sized block of voters. He probably would have gotten in, but I wouldn’t say he belongs in the no-brainer category.

Should be in, but might have to fight off some sticklers

Jim Thome (+71.5 WAR), Roy Halladay (+69.8 WAR), Vladimir Guerrero (+60.0 WAR).

In my view, all three of these guys have done enough to merit induction, though I’m probably out on a limb a bit on Guerrero. Thome’s bat was good enough to make up for minimal defensive value throughout his career, and Halladay is the best pitcher of his time. I don’t know that either would be a first ballot guy if they retired today, but they should both end up in Cooperstown, and Halladay has enough time left to make his induction an easy call.

Guerrero’s clearly the borderline case here, but since I’m a peak-value guy, I put a little less importance on the fact that he aged pretty quickly. For an eight year stretch, Guerrero was an absolute monster, and one of the elite players in the sport. His decline phase has been pretty hard to watch, but I’m more okay with that than most. If you really value career length, he’s likely a no, but I’d vote for Guerrero.

Has had a HOF peak, but needs a little more longevity to convince everyone.

Carlos Beltran (+61.7 WAR), Lance Berkman (+59.9 WAR), CC Sabathia (+57.0 WAR), Ichiro Suzuki (+53.0 WAR), Chase Utley (+50.6 WAR).

There’s going to be a lot of mixed feelings on these guys, I suspect. Beltran’s been underrated for most of his career and doesn’t have any milestone numbers, and the injury problems during his prime might make him the new Larry Walker. Berkman’s produced at a HOF level at the plate, but he played during the era when power hitting exploded, and will be judged against an elevated standard. Sabathia is young enough that he’s probably going to end up being an easy call, but right now, he’s basically had Bret Saberhagen’s career. As for Utley, he just arrived in the majors too late, and while he was great when on the field, it looks like he just won’t have a long enough career to get inducted.

Ichiro’s the most divisive case here, though. If you give him credit for his time in Japan, you may not have a hard time giving him a vote. If you don’t, then he’s a short career guy whose value was tied pretty heavily to defense in a corner position. That said, he’s at nearly 2,500 hits in the Major Leagues alone, and if he has anything left in the tank, he’ll probably get to 3,000. I’m sure there will be a decent sized pushback against him as a no-power/no-walk right fielder, but at this point, I think he’s getting in. A few more good years could even push him into first ballot territory.

If you buy into the value of defense, he’s in. If you don’t, he’s probably not.

Scott Rolen (+73.9 WAR), Andruw Jones (+71.7 WAR), Adrian Beltre (+56.1 WAR).

We’ve talked about the cases for Rolen and Jones before, and in the end, the argument essentially boils down to how much faith you put in how accurately defensive metrics quantify the value of an elite fielder. Everyone agrees that these guys were actually great with the glove, but not everyone buys into defense being as valuable as defensive stats suggest. Historically, Jones has a better chance of election than Rolen does, but I think both should be in, even if they retired today.

Beltre could also have gone in the “more longevity” category – he fits in both spots, honestly. However, even with a good end to his career, he’s going to need voters to give him a lot of credit for his glove, because the bat is just above average, not historically great. He’s got age on his side, however, since he came up early and has a chance to get in on the milestone numbers. If he ages well and gets near 3,000 hits – with his defense getting him some extra consideration – I think he’s in. He’ll be a lightning-rod candidate, though.

Nice career, but not quite.

Bobby Abreu (+62.6 WAR), Roy Oswalt (+50.2 WAR), Tim Hudson (+49.0 WAR), Jamie Moyer (+49.0 WAR), Omar Vizquel (+48.1 WAR), Johnny Damon (+46.0 WAR)

Abreu’s strongest case is going to be matching his numbers up against Guerrero’s, since they had very similar careers. However, he specialized in things that voters don’t generally value as highly, and given that he doesn’t look like he’s got much left, I don’t think he’ll get close enough to any milestones to garner strong consideration. Oswalt and Hudson could theoretically go in the “more longevity” category, but neither looks like they’re going to have enough left to push themselves into a strong position. They’re both shorter career guys without really amazing peaks. Moyer and Vizquel are basically the opposite of that, having had long careers but never being a truly great player – both will probably get some support for getting near milestone numbers, but I can’t see either actually getting elected.

I included Damon only because some people were talking about his candidacy in September, but no, just no. His only leg to stand on is comparing himself to Ichiro (lots of hits, ignore everything else!), but he’s just a poor man’s version of that skillset, and he wasn’t kept out of MLB due to forces beyond his control. If he hangs on long enough to get 3,000 hits, he’ll get some votes, but I think most people realize that he was never an elite player, and I can’t see him getting in, even if he hits that milestone.

Off to a good start – keep it up and we’ll talk.

Johan Santana (+46.2 WAR), Miguel Cabrera (+43.7 WAR), David Wright (+39.3 WAR), Joe Mauer (+35.7 WAR), Jose Reyes (+33.4 WAR), Felix Hernandez (+32.7 WAR), Justin Verlander (+32.4 WAR), Hanley Ramirez (+31.1 WAR), Tim Lincecum (+27.9 WAR), Evan Longoria (+26.9 WAR), Ryan Braun (+25.8 WAR), Brian McCann (+25.1 WAR), Troy Tulowitzki (+24.5 WAR), Prince Fielder (+23.4 WAR), Joey Votto (+22.8 WAR).

This group of mostly young guys (and Santana, who likely needs a strong comeback and a few more good years to meet most people’s longevity requirements) have all performed at HOF levels, but just haven’t been around long enough to have had a sustained Cooperstown-worthy peak just yet. They all have the potential to end up in the Hall, but injury and unexpected decline will likely weed out a good chunk of these guys.

Overall, if the sport closed it’s doors today and we had to make our decisions based on performance up to this point, I’d say there’s probably something like 10 Hall of Famers currently playing the sport. Everyone’s group might be a little different, but depending on how high your personal standard is, there’s something like 5-15 legitimate candidates, and then another 15 who have shown HOF potential.

Going through this, I was surprised just how few pitchers there are who look like they’ll get in. After Halladay and Rivera, the drop-off is pretty extreme. It looks like we’re headed for a pretty decent stretch of time where Cooperstown only welcomes position players, because the pickings on the pitching side are kind of slim at the moment.

Update: As pointed out by multiple commenters, Todd Helton belongs in this discussion, but I’d slot him into the “close but not quite” category. Like Abreu, he specialized in walks and doubles, and voters aren’t going to take kindly to that skillset from a guy who spent his career in Colorado. I just don’t see him getting a lot of support, especially since the bar for first baseman during his era is going to be really high.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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12 years ago


Why do you think the lack of pitchers is present? Is it because the field has moved a lot closer to the elite in recent years? Or is it because the majority of the top tier pitchers at this point in time are a lot of guys who have been in the league/at that level for less than five years? Or do you think there is something else that I am missing?



12 years ago
Reply to  Cody

I hate to give such a generic answer, but I think it is just a cyclical thing. For all the talk of the “era of offense” 25 year stretch from (roughly) 1985 to 2010 or so, probably saw more elite pitchers than any other in the games history and that is reflected in glut of pitchers who will be coming up for inductions in the next few years (Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Johnson, Smoltz, Pedro, Schilling, Mussina and Hoffman).

As such, it’s not all the surprising that we would see a drop in number of top pitchers, especially since the decreased run scoring we have seen over the past few years has made it more difficult for individual pitchers to stand out.