The Baseball Hall of Fame is a place to appreciate the greatness of days past, as well as a litmus test we will judge future superstars by.
Going over the list of nominees for the Class of 2014, it's possible we could see the greatest collection of talent elected into Cooperstown since the initial class of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner in 1936.
Here is a list of first-year eligible nominees for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame to be voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America with results announced on January 8.
When you combine that foursome with already-eligible players who have a strong chance to get in, like Craig Biggio (68.2 percent of votes last year), Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent) and Mike Piazza (57.8 percent), the potential looks even better.
There are also players who should get consideration but won't because certain members of the BBWAA have to play the self-righteous card by ignoring the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens.
Then we have underappreciated great players who will get a lot of love from the statistical community but no one else, like Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Alan Trammell.
If you put that entire package of players together, there is no doubt this year's Hall of Fame Class would be the best in history.
As things stand, given the likelihood of first-year eligible and returning players getting voted in, it would not be out of line to expect four players from the three groups mentioned going to Cooperstown for the ceremony next summer.
The two sure things are Maddux and Glavine, if for no other reason than it would be wildly inappropriate for them not to be inducted together. It's just a shame that John Smoltz won't be eligible until next year, because it would be incredible for that Atlanta pitching trio to get inducted at the same time.
Aside from the nostalgia part, Maddux and Glavine meet all the criteria for both old-school and new-age voters to list them on the ballot without thinking twice.
Maddux ranks top 10 all time in wins (if you like that sort of thing), strikeouts and Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement. He also has the hardware to back up those numbers with four Cy Young Awards (1992-95) and finished in the top five of voting five other times.
The right-hander led the league in ERA+ and innings five times, ERA and WHIP four times and strikeout-to-walk ratio three times.
Glavine, while not possessing a resume as epic as his former teammate, can certainly boast about what he did in his career. The left-hander owns two Cy Young Awards and four other top-three finishes. He also ranks 41st all time with 63.9 Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement.
Frank Thomas should also be a lock to get in, but given the way voters have judged hitters from the "steroid era," I don't think anyone can definitively say he will make it this year.
The Big Hurt ranks 19th in home runs (521), 20th in on-base percentage (.419), 22nd in slugging percentage (.555), 26th in isolated power (.254) and 30th in weighted on-base average (.416). He finished in the top 10 for MVP voting nine times, including two wins in 1993 and 1994. His 156 career OPS+ is 19th in history, ahead of Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio and Manny Ramirez.
The fourth member of the group with a strong chance to get in is Craig Biggio. He put together a long career that started at catcher and ended at second base, where he racked up 3,060 hits, 414 stolen bases and a .363 career OBP.
To put all of these stats in perspective, I used the JAWS system developed by Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe to show how great these players were and what makes the 2014 class so special.
The JAWS system uses Baseball Reference's version of Wins Above Replacement to determine if a player was good enough in his peak and career to be classified as a Hall of Famer. Jaffe classifies peak as a player's seven best years. WAR totals are then measured against the average for current Hall of Famers based on position.
Here are the rWAR totals for Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and Biggio during their peak years, career years and the career average for Hall of Famers at their respective positions.
|Player||Peak rWAR||Career rWAR||Positional rWAR||JAWS|
As you can see, all four players meet the criteria for the Hall of Fame based on their career totals.
It isn't a perfect system, which Jaffe readily admits, because it doesn't factor in certain criteria that does matter like awards voting and postseason numbers.
Glavine, for instance, might not look like a slam dunk based on this system, but when you factor in two Cy Young Awards and a strong postseason resume that includes 218.1 innings with a 3.30 ERA, he looks a lot better.
If you only had one vote, which player would you put in the Hall of Fame?
Mike Mussina should be in the Hall of Fame, but his case will be tough for a lot of close-minded voters because he never won a Cy Young, didn't hit the magical 20-win plateau in a season until his final year and didn't win a World Series.
If all of these candidates get in, you could argue it is the best Hall of Fame class, both in performance and star power, since that initial grouping.
Some of it might have to do with the BBWAA not electing more than two former players into the Hall of Fame since 2009. But it also speaks to the talent level of the players eligible this year.
We are coming out of one of the greatest and most controversial eras ever for the sport. The stars from that time, regardless of what you think about them personally, certainly have a spot in the big book of baseball history.
To me, if this foursome ends up getting the call to Cooperstown, it would certainly stand with the 1991 group among modern classes. That year saw former players Rod Carew, Fergie Jenkins and Gaylord Perry, along with legendary executives Bill Veeck and Tony Lazzeri.
Going back to the JAWS system, here are the WAR stats for the three players from the 1991 Hall of Fame class.
|Player||Peak rWAR||Career rWAR||Positional rWAR||JAWS|
All three of these candidates had career achievements that merited Hall of Fame consideration. Perry was the weakest of the bunch because he never led the league in strikeouts and had just one year leading the league in ERA+.
Whether any individual Hall of Fame class is better than the other will always be up for debate, because some fans will have their preference for the era that players came from.
We still don't know what the official Class of 2014 will look like until voting is finalized, but we can say that it is shaping up to be one of the best groups in history.
Since baseball lost a great opportunity last year in Cooperstown by electing no one through the voting process, this could be a nice redo to give fans something to look forward to.
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