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MLB Hall of Fame: Just How Big Should the Hall Be and Who Should Get In?

Theo GeromeCorrespondent IIIAugust 10, 2012

MLB Hall of Fame: Just How Big Should the Hall Be and Who Should Get In?

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    I know I’ve done a lot of Hall of Fame stuff lately. This will be the last piece for now, at least in this vein. This is more or less the direct sequel to “How Big Should the Hall of Fame Be?”. 

    As a quick recap, I looked at historical trends in the Hall of Fame voting and determined that voters just aren’t inducting players like they used to. At least, not at the same rate. I then predicted who would make the Hall of Fame among active players, applying the standards of the past. It was fun—and highly speculative—but it didn’t match up with the original premise.

    I wanted to say: “What types of players would we be inducting if we applied past Hall standards?”. Speculation is fun, but I should have been doing something more analytic. If we just went by old standards and inducted the top four or five percent of players in given years, who exactly would we be inducting? What would a Hall of Fame with those sets of players look like?

    In that sense, I should have been straying towards more established players. Modern players are always fun, but there’s too much prediction and projection involved. If I took a year and added the top X-number of players to Cooperstown, what would that get us?

    In that sense, I’m going to try one more thing: what active players in 2000 would make the Hall, now that we have sizable careers to use for comparisons?

Tier 0

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    For those unfamiliar, in my 2006 and 2012 articles, I separated players into tiers rather than an exact ranking. I generally started with Tier 1: the locks. However, I can’t do that with 2000, as we already have something above the virtual-locks: the already enshrined. Since we have no method of removing players from the Hall right now, these guys are literal guarantees (not that anyone should want to remove any of them). 

    1. Cal Ripken, Jr.

    2. Tony Gwynn

    3. Rickey Henderson

    4. Roberto Alomar

    5. Barry Larkin

     

    So what does that leave us, space-wise?

    37: This is the expected number of players in a given year who will eventually make it to the Coop, based on the average from 1901 to 1982. In terms of the 2000 season, this translates to three percent of all players.

    43: This would be about 3.5 percent of players. Going by the 37 average above, this would be the expected percentage of players to make the Hall prior to the 1993 expansion.

    49: This equals four percent. This is a bit under the percentage that was getting elected prior to the 1977 expansion of the Mariners and Blue Jays. 

    61.5: Don’t know how you’d get half a player, but this is five percent. The election rate was last hovering above this mark during the 1960s expansions.

    74: Six percent. The Hall was above this rate prior to any expansion.

    82: 6.643 percent. This is average percentage of players in a season that wound up inducted from 1901 to 1982.

    We already have five players represented. Who else from 2000 should we expect to join them?

Tier 1

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    Okay, this is the virtual-lock tier, they already have definite cases for their inductions. If they’re still active, retiring today would just start the clock to their eventual induction. There is no order, other than the order players occur to me. If I missed someone, let me know. 

    6. Ken Griffey, Jr.

    7. Alex Rodriguez

    8. Barry Bonds

    9. Chipper Jones

    10. Derek Jeter

    11. Jim Thome

    12. Frank Thomas

    13. Craig Biggio

    14. Jeff Bagwell

    15. Manny Ramirez

    16. Ivan Rodriguez

    17. Mike Piazza

    18. Mark McGwire

    19. Rafael Palmeiro

    20. Roger Clemens

    21. Greg Maddux

    22. Randy Johnson

    23. Pedro Martinez

    24. Tom Glavine

    25. Mariano Rivera

    This group combines both numbers and support and most people seem to agree that they are all worthy (at least numbers-wise). Most opposition to them comes in the form of their alleged or admitted steroid abuse. Other than that, I haven’t seen any major arguments against them.

    And as a disclaimer: I think steroid users will eventually lose the stigma voters hold against them. It may happen when sportswriters rally against those darned genetically-modified athletes (or whatever tomorrow’s scandal will be) and this’ll show them. It might be when they realize that steroid and other drug use in order to gain an advantage is nothing new, and some players already in the Hall likely have used, too. Or, it may be when the ballot becomes so backlogged with deserving candidates that something snaps. Whatever the case, it will happen. Eventually.

Tier 2

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    This is like Tier 1: every one of the players below, if they retired today, would clear the Hall standards for election. For whatever reason, they just lack the wide-spread perception of "future Hall of Famer" that those in Tier 1 seem to have. I think they’ll all get in, but it might take a while.

    26. Tim Raines

    27. Scott Rolen

    28. Jim Edmonds

    29. Edgar Martinez

    30. Jeff Kent

    31. Curt Schilling

    32. Mike Mussina

    33. John Smoltz

    34. Roy Halladay (with the possibility of moving up to Tier 1)

    35. Trevor Hoffman (with this one, I’m sort of guessing how I think the voters will see him)

    Note that this is pretty close to the 37-player cutoff.

Tier 3

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    This is where I start to differ from my normal tiers. Usually, Tier 3 is for players that are still young enough that they could move into Tier 1 or 2. However, enough time has passed since 2000 that it doesn’t make sense to have a separate tier.

    Instead, this tier is the players who are closer to borderline enshrinement. They need something to put them over the edge. It may be more prolific seasons. It may be a change in public perception. Whatever it is, you can argue for all of these players to get in this very second and you wouldn’t be watering down the Hall much, if at all. 

    36. Larry Walker 

    Basically, he needs voters to learn about park adjustments, rather than just throw out all numbers from Coors Field.

    37. Sammy Sosa

    38. Gary Sheffield

    39. Vladimir Guerrero

    All three were more than solid corner outfielders who are firmly on fence. More or less, public perception of them will determine their cases.

    40. Kenny Lofton

    Lofton was an above average hitter, a great fielder and baserunner, and a center fielder, all of which should add up to a solid Hall player. I’ve covered his case here. Again, it’s just a matter of the Hall voters sitting up and taking notice. 

    41. Andruw Jones

    Again, Jones was an above-average hitter for a long time. But I don’t think people realize just how good of a fielder he was. That’s a key part of his candidacy.

    42. Carlos Beltran

    43. Adrian Beltre

    Both of these players look like they can add significantly to their Hall cases in the next few years. Beltre has a good shot at 3,000 hits to go with his glove. Beltran is another historically great all-around center fielder, definitely worthy of the current standards. It’ll just come down to whether voters take notice.

    44. Todd Helton 

    45. Lance Berkman

    46. John Olerud

    Three first basemen with similar cases, which hurts them to stand out. This will take people realizing that players can be good hitters without 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, high batting averages, or gaudy RBI totals. Things like hitting doubles or getting on base a lot (or, in Olerud’s case, playing solid defense). 

    47. Bobby Abreu

    Abreu’s kind of like the last three, but with more walks and fewer home runs. A lot of people have been pointing out lately how Tim Raines has been on base 22 more times than Tony Gwynn despite fewer hits to help his case. Well, in a slightly shorter career than either, Abreu has been on base 37 times fewer than Gwynn.

    This isn’t to say that Abreu is better than either, but Gwynn was a no-doubt, first ballot pick, and people are starting to realize how Raines has been snubbed. Unless you think someone like Gwynn is already a borderline pick, then there’s probably plenty of the room in the Hall for Abreu.

    48. Kevin Brown

    Kevin Brown is a player who needs the Hall to move away from pitcher wins and start to recognize context. He was a good player on some bad teams in an era dominated by hitters. Even though he had a 3.28 ERA, his ERA-plus is 127, the same as Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver. His 2,397 strikeouts place him 39th all-time. His strikeouts per nine IP (6.62) is even better, placing him fifteenth among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings. His 2.66 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is 16th all-time among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings.

    Fangraphs credits him with 77.2 wins above replacement, while Baseball-Reference’s version puts him at 64.2. Both are well above Hall standards. With Bert Blyleven’s induction, Brown may be the best eligible pitcher not in the Hall. His case isn’t as overwhelming as Maddux’s or Clemens’ or Johnson’s, but few are—Brown is still worthy.

    Note that we passed the 3.5 percent cutoff (43) and we’re close to the 4 percent cutoff (49). As a big Hall person, I don’t think any player I’ve covered yet would make a bad inductee. I would also bet that inducting every one of these players raises Cooperstown’s standards.

Tier 4, Part 1

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    And now we start to hit the best of the rest territory. This, personally, is where I would label the borderline candidates. It leaves the Hall larger, but nowhere near as large, proportionately, as it has been in the past.

    I’ll try to be less defensive about this group, as I’m not actively advocating their Hall induction. For now, at least—maybe after I examine some of these players in the future, I’ll come around. 

    More importantly: right now, electing these players would make a Hall of Fame closer to the standards it has used in the past. 

    47. David Cone (like Kevin Brown—a good pitcher who got covered up in a hitter-era and lacks wins)

    48. Brian Giles

    Giles was probably much better than you realize. Playing for different teams may have given him a Hall of Fame career. Coming up behind Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, and Kenny Lofton and finishing in Petco Park will do that to you. 

    49. Andy Pettitte (although maybe his recent comeback will solidify his case)

    50. Chuck Finley (who is closer to Pettitte than you may realize)

    51. Bernie Williams (his awful fielding is keeping him here in no-man’s land)

    52. Robin Ventura (the Hall is already short on third basemen, and Ventura was a pretty well-rounded one)

    53. Omar Vizquel (many people overrate his fielding; he’s been good, but not quite as good all-around as people seem to think)

    54. Kevin Appier (maybe the most underrated player of the ‘90s)

    55. Tim Hudson

    56. Mark Buehrle (these two have been consistently good for a long time; if either can keep it up for three or four more years, they may have a plaque waiting)

    57. Johan Santana (it’s easy to forget just how good he was in the early-2000s; if he can stay useful for a few years longer, he may also have a case)

    58. Jorge Posada (if you really think there should be sixty or seventy players in the Hall, it gets hard to justify only having two catchers; Posada is the next best thing)

    59. Will Clark (kind of like Helton/Berkman/Olerud-lite)

Tier 4, Part 2

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    60. Fred McGriff

    I don’t get the feeling that anyone is clamoring for McGriff to be enshrined. What if he had gotten 500 home runs though? Would he have beaten the upcoming rush of sluggers and gotten in? Or would the voters have re-evaluated the 500-home run milestone just for him. It seems less crazy when you remember he finished seven short, and missed something like 60 games due to a strike.

    61. Johnny Damon (it’ll be interesting what voters do if he does hang around until 3,000 hits; it’ll be like if McGriff’s 500th home run had come to fruition)

    62. Jason Giambi (he was really good at the turn of the millennium, which really added to his career value; Fangraphs says he’s been worth 53 Wins)

    63. Nomar Garciaparra (he packed a lot of value into a short, injury-filled time)

    64. Brad Radke 

    I guess Radke was sort of Mark Buehrle-lite. Consistently above average for a long time. From here on out, though, I think there’s little point in me continuing to describe each candidate. We’re well past where I would cut off the Hall, but we need to keep going to get to 82 so we get an idea.

    65. David Wells

    66. Kenny Rogers

    67. Javier Vazquez

    68. Jamie Moyer

    69. Mike Cameron

    70. Jimmy Rollins

    71. Miguel Tejada

    72. Luis Gonzalez

    73. Carlos Delgado

    74. J.D. Drew

    75. Bret Saberhagen

    76. Mark Grace

    77. Jason Kendall (I feel like we’re low on catchers, so Kendall is probably fourth)

    78. Matt Williams (Ditto on Matt Williams)

    79. Ellis Burks (another highly underrated ‘90s player, like Appier)

    80. Steve Finley

    81. Paul O’Neill

    82. Ray Lankford

Conclusions

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    We can quibble all day about this list. There wasn’t a ton of effort put into ranking every player in 2000. Maybe you think Chuck Knoblauch should replace Ray Lankford at the end, or that Placido Polanco was superior Paul O’Neill, or that four catchers is too many and Reggie Sanders should be in there instead. That’s totally your call.

    It’s worth keeping in mind that we’d be arguing about whether Ray Lankford is more deserving of the Hall of Fame than Chuck Knoblauch. It’s probably not worth getting too worked up about, because I’m pretty sure neither have any chance of ever getting in.

    I would personally advocate for the entirety of the first three tiers. I think all of those are solid choices and every one of them could be added to the Hall of Fame and their standards would only increase. There are maybe three or four players in Tier 4 that I wouldn’t mind being added, but I feel much less strongly about them. 

    Am I saying that we should elect Matt Williams to Cooperstown, though? Yes, that's exactly it. 

    But seriously, my point is that you could add those players, and you’d more or less have a Hall electing players at a similar rate as in the past. Some of the earlier players were kind of like the Ray Lankfords and Placido Polancos of their day, and they still got in. The Hall is not nearly as pure or exclusive as people think.

    This really puts some earlier years in perspective, too. Like the 1920s and early ‘30s. 1933 saw over 11.5 percent of it’s players elected. 11.5 percent. That is insane. That would be 145 players in 2000-terms. It was already difficult bringing up some of these players at the end of the list in a serious Hall discussion. I can’t imagine combing through trying to pick 60 more.

    But 50-ish players, rather than the 37 that’s been the average? That doesn’t seem too out-of-the-question. It makes me feel much better about my big-Hall tendencies, if nothing else. And maybe, in the future, when you're thinking about who should make the Hall of Fame, this can serve as some useful context.

    This article is also featured at Hot Corner Harbor.

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