Baseball Hall of Fame 2014: Induction Odds for This Year's Top 15 Candidates
Unlike last year, the Baseball Hall of Fame should feature a full dance card this year, as a major assortment of stars vie for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Riots would occur if the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) could once again not muster up the necessary 75 percent of votes to elect someone into the Hall of Fame. Several deserving candidates will get another shot, but they'll now have to fend off more studs emerging onto the scene.
This time around, it's conceivable that five men will take the stage to be honored in 2014.
There's one ace who would power through unanimously if all the voters were just, and there is another with a magical number that should serve as his meal ticket.
A big bopper will test the resiliency of the voters to trust any power hitters who played when PED use ran rampant, and two men that missed by a narrow margin in the past are poised to veer closer to the mark this year.
The electorate can only select a maximum of 10 players for their ballot, but one can make the case for at least a dozen of these players warranting a spot in Cooperstown. That will force some viable candidates to keep waiting for that joyous phone call.
Before breaking down the likelihood of the 15 most notable candidates getting inserted into the Hall, though, remember that this is not my personal ranking of the most deserving players. Even if I disagree with their measures of evaluation, I know which numbers many old-school voters like, which gives certain men an edge.
So even if the data speaks strongly for some guys, their chances are dim without a fancy milestone-breaking number to dangle in front of the ultimate deciders.
15/14. SP Roger Clemens and LF Barry Bonds
Since they are two birds of the same feather, let’s address Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds at the same time.
Looking solely at their numbers, they’re obvious Hall of Famers. In fact, Bonds would draw consideration as the best hitter of all time, and Clemens the best pitcher, if they were not such despised villains linked to soiling the game with PED use.
I wish we could wistfully gawk at Bonds’ .609 on-base percentage in 2004 or Clemens’ 2.05 ERA and 292 strikeouts in 1997. Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference rate Bonds’ WAR slightly behind Ruth as the best of all time, and FanGraphs ranks Clemens as the No. 1 pitcher.
But the writers do not look willing to relent any time soon. With or without steroids, Bonds and Clemens are two of the best players to ever play the game, but it’s clear that no alleged offender is getting a pass to Cooperstown.
Last year, Bonds received 36.2 percent of the votes, while 37.6 of the electorate chose Clemens. Though it’s odd that anyone gave Clemens a pass while leaving Bonds off the ballot, it’s safe to say that most of those votes came from the same people.
A few people may have a change of heart, but it will not be enough to admit either legend in 2014.
Induction Odds: 50-1 (1.96 percent)
13. 1B/DH Edgar Martinez
If a relief pitcher can toss 70 innings a year and get a plaque assembled in his honor, why not a batter who does not take the field?
Edgar Martinez accomplished more than enough with that the bat to offset his lack of defensive production. He hit a dazzling .312/.418/.515 with a 147 OPS+ over his career. Those numbers build a strong case in his favor, but the voters aren’t buying it.
Martinez belted 514 doubles, but his lack of traditional power (309 homers) hurts. But oddly enough, he’d probably receive more respect if he cost the Seattle Mariners runs in the field instead of sitting in the dugout. After all, did anyone care about Miguel Cabrera’s abysmal defense at third base these past few seasons?
In his fifth year of eligibility, Martinez received just 35.9 percent of the votes. That number has stayed in the 30s during his tenure on the ballot, so it’s hard to see him gaining a swarm of traction this time around.
It also hurts that Frank Thomas—another big bat with more fence-clearing power—will take some votes away in his first year on the ballot.
Induction Odds: 25-1 (3.85 percent)
12. SP Curt Schilling
Have enough writers realized their transgression since last year?
How can anyone look at Curt Schilling’s career and not come to a quick decision that he’s easily a Hall of Famer? He posted a 3.46 ERA, 127 adjusted ERA+, 4.39 K/BB and the 18th highest fWAR among all starting pitchers.
Also, aren’t the writers supposed to swoon for postseason heroes? While people are already making the case for Andy Pettite’s postseason success—despite his 3.81 playoff ERA—Schilling registered a 2.23 ERA and 0.97 WHIP through 19 postseason starts, most notably leading the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001.
Nevertheless, he drew a thumbs up from only 38.8 percent of the judges last year, and the pitching competition is much steeper this time around. It’s going to be awfully difficult for him to receive the recognition he deserves during his second try.
Induction Odds: 19-1 (5 percent)
11. RP Lee Smith
Entering his 12th year on the ballot, Lee Smith remains well short of receiving the required votes to reserve a permanent position in baseball’s galore. If he couldn’t succeed in a class without any popular aces, he’ll struggle to garner any attention this year.
MLB’s all-time saves leader before Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera came around, Smith has shut down the door on 478 games, but do the other numbers uphold his status as a premier reliever?
Maybe we’re just spoiled by Rivera, Joe Nathan and a slew of young fireballers led by Craig Kimbrel, but Smith’s 3.03 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 ratio don’t feel shrine-worthy for a reliever. Then again, Rick “Goose” Gossage recently earned the nod in 2008 on the strength of a 3.01 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 7.5 K/9 ratio.
Much like Martinez’s candidacy, the main question here regards whether anyone at this position can be taken seriously without truly legendary numbers.
There’s not a good explanation for including Gossage and shunning Smith, but there’s too many studs for a relief pitcher to have a chance this year.
Induction Odds: 14-1 (6.67 percent)
10. LF Tim Raines
The Tim Raines bandwagon sells a few more tickets every year, but he needs a lot more customers to join the cause.
Last year, more than half the BBWAA voters took notice of his .385 on-base percentage and 808 stolen bases. Unfortunately, Raines does not possess the hulking power or shiny .300 batting average of other voters’ liking.
Despite his blazing speed, Raines did not play the outfield well enough to counter his power limitations. Otherwise, his WAR, by all measures, would soar high enough that anyone with an Internet access would have to take notice.
With a 66.4 fWAR and 69.1 rWAR, Raines is a more than worthy aspirant. But since there’s at least a dozen other credible players, Raines won’t suddenly see a 23 percent spike in his BBWAA approval rating.
Induction Odds: 12-1 (7.69 percent)
9. 2B Jeff Kent
Jeff Kent picked the wrong year to enter the ballot.
His 123 OPS+ is stellar for a second baseman, but it also rates No. 14 among this year’s overall candidates. A dozen nominees also wield a higher slugging percentage than Kent’s .500 mark, and his case is largely predicated upon his power.
Craig Biggio is likely to snatch all the attention at second base, and it’s not reasonable to expect the writers to vote in more than five guys. Kent touted more power, but Biggio offered better plate discipline and baserunning over a longer career.
Something that could also be of relevance is that Kent played his best years alongside Barry Bonds with the San Francisco Giants. Does Kent get punished as collateral damage for the crusade against Bonds, with the notion being that Kent rode Bonds’ tainted success to his own glory?
Induction Odds: 9-1 (10 percent)
8. SP Mike Mussina
Mike Mussina is one of the biggest wild cards entering the ballot.
The field is likely way too crowded for him to swarm his way to the necessary 75 percent of the votes, but his first go-around will be telling for his future outlook. Will it set the table for an induction down the line, or will he join Schilling at the table of underappreciated aces?
Since he never won a Cy Young and isn’t wowing anyone with a 3.68 career ERA, Mussina will likely take a back seat to two other esteemed hurlers arriving in the same class. His 3.58 K/BB ratio and 123 ERA+ certainly indicate that Mussina was a stud whose numbers during an era driven by power must be properly gauged, but some writers would probably define ERA+ as ERA on steroids, which of course means that it cannot be included in the voting process.
While his final eight years with the New York Yankees were marred by inconsistent performance, they did allow Mussina to rack up the victories. With the help of a loaded lineup, he won 113 games—including his only 20-win season during his final year—to enhance his career win total to 270.
That won’t look like much when compared to Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine’s lofty outputs, but in the ensuing years, the voters will realize that 300 victories is no longer a realistic target. They wouldn’t even look at wins in a perfect world, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Mussina’s day deserves to come eventually, but it’s not likely to arrive in 2014.
Induction Odds: 9-1 (10 percent)
7. 1B Jeff Bagwell
Leaving out Jeff Bagwell from the Hall embodies all that is wrong with the voting process. It’s a disgusting, discriminatory oversight that will hopefully at least come one step closer to being corrected this year.
Remember, Bagwell never failed a drug test. He never admitted to any foul play, nor was he implicated in the Mitchell Report.
But he’s a muscular first baseman who played during the 90s.
Bagwell was more than a burly henchmen who sent the ball a long way when he caught hold of one. He exhibited tremendous plate discipline, posting a 14.9 percent walk rate. He also stole 202 bases, twice swiping 30 or more bags in a single season.
Yet for some reason, he's inaccurately viewed as a one-trick pony because he looked like a super hero. Just test his innocence; push him off a cliff and see if he flies off. If not, oh well.
Induction Odds: 5-3 (37.50 percent)
6. C Mike Piazza
Unfortunately, Mike Piazza is not yet in the Hall of Fame—for all the wrong reasons.
There are some valid, but harsh, reasons to question what seems like a slam-dunk admissions essay. Detractors can point to his subpar defense behind the plate and his lack of fervor running the bases (FanGraphs gave him a minus-21.3 baserunning score for his career).
But the real reason Piazza is still fighting for the nod? He’s a big man who hit a lot of home runs during a time period where other big men hit a lot of home runs with the aid of steroids.
Well, that’s all the proof we need, right? No need for any actual evidence or even any leads that strongly incriminate Piazza in the slightest. Logic at its finest.
Piazza’s offensive accolades are too unheralded from a catcher to go unnoticed. His .545 slugging percentage represents the highest rate of any backstop, and his .377 on-base percentage isn’t too shabby either.
While his lack of command behind the plate prevents him from being considered as the greatest catcher ever, he has little competition for the being recognized as the greatest offensive catcher ever. It's only his second year on the ballot, though, so Piazza has a fighter's chance.
Induction Odds: 3-2 (40 percent)
5. 1B/DH Frank Thomas
While it’s questionable if chicks really dig the long ball, there’s no doubt the predominately male electorate favors home runs.
Frank Thomas is one of five possible inductees who eclipsed the 500-homer milestone, but the other four are ignored due to their ties to PEDs. Unlike most other sluggers from the 90s, Frank Thomas has evaded the cheater label.
A burly first baseman/designated hitter with 521 career dingers and a .555 slugging percentage, Thomas is precisely the type of player that gets brandished with skepticism. That potential perception and his time at DH are the only factors that can drag him down.
The numbers are there. His beautiful .301/.419/.555 satisfies critics of all backgrounds, and his raw power numbers are sure to impress most voters.
His 72.4 fWAR and 73.6 rWAR show that his lack of defensive contribution did not lessen his significance enough to discount his greatness. The only question: will the writers accuse him of foul play and burn him at the stake?
If Thomas doesn't get the necessary votes this year, the paranoia of the electorate is a major problem that must somehow be addressed. However, it shouldn't come to that. Probably not. Maybe not.
Induction Odds: 5-11 (68.75 percent)
4. SP Jack Morris
An episode of How I Met Your Mother astutely broke down the concept of "graduation goggles." Only when something (such as school, a job or relationship) is about to end does the person begin to look at that same disliked activity with a new sense of beloved nostalgia.
In fear of losing something for good, we stop belaboring the bad times and focus on the good times. In Jack Morris’ last year of eligibility, expect enough writers to get blinded by graduation goggles and elect the pitcher before it’s too late.
The hurler’s candidacy has whipped the baseball community in heated animosity that can only be matched by the debate over who is better: Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout?
Depending on whom you ask, Morris is either a clutch grinder who did what it took to win ball games, or he is regarded as a solid yet unspectacular pitcher not worthy of grand recognition.
Since I’m a numbers guy, I stand on the "no" side. His 105 ERA+ shows that he prevented slightly less runs than the average pitcher, and don’t expect his 3.90 ERA to paint a brighter portrait. As far as his 5.83 K/9 ratio and 3.27 BB/9 rate go, yuck.
A vote for Morris is a vote for the good ol’ days when a pitcher would frequently go the distance and pitch 250 innings a year. Morris logged 175 complete games and came close to tossing 300 frames during the 1983 season.
The BBWAA is an old-timey bunch, so they’ll continue to grip the notion that Morris simply pitched the score. Last year, Morris fell 42 votes shy of finally joining the elusive club during his 14th year on the ballot. There's a strong chance that enough hold-outs blink at the deadline and pledge their support to Morris while they have the chance.
Induction Odds: 1-3 (75 percent)
3. 2B Craig Biggio
Craig Biggio is not exactly the most deserving offensive candidate of this stacked grouping, but he’s the one whom the voters will likely bestow their support behind.
Perversely enough, his hindrances actually fuel his ascension up the ballot. His .433 slugging percentage—he never hit more than 26 homers in a season—is humdrum enough to direct writers off the track of steroid suspicion.
Nobody said a look into a BBWAA voter’s mind would be pretty, or even rational.
Biggio was just a gritty, blue-collar, hard-working, (insert fourth cliche here) player who showed up every day. Before miscasting him as David Eckstein, let’s clear the air; Biggio was a star during his peak. He especially shined in 1997, when he hit .309/.415/.501 with 22 homers, 47 steals, 146 runs and a 9.3 fWAR.
He played a year too many, which hurt his averages but vaulted him over the magical 3,000-hit mark that will sway many voters to his side. After leading last year’s batch with 68.2 percent of the votes, the odds of prevailing this time around are in Biggio’s favor.
Induction Odds: 2-7 (77.78 percent)
2. SP Tom Glavine
After quickly perusing Tom Glavine’s stats, it’s fair to wonder whether the esteemed lefty is held in too high of regard.
He sports a 3.54 career ERA and 118 ERA+, which could be better if not for a forgettable stint with the Mets during the twilight of his career. But what about his career 1.31 WHIP hampered by an uninspiring 1.74 K/BB ratio?
Perhaps Glavine’s track record would be dissected more if Morris was not headlining the schism between baseball thinkers, but his durability and run-prevention ability put him on a higher level.
Glavine threw a resounding 4,413.1 innings, which keeps him on par with Mussina and Schilling, despite their superior per-inning rates. Hurling at least 200 innings in 14 seasons helped Glavine amass a 74.0 rWAR, which ranks 28th among pitchers. He’s not a legend on par with his fellow Atlanta Braves ace (more on him next), but his firm arm makes him great in his own right.
Also, none of this matters for actually predicting his Hall of Fame chances. He won 305 games, so he’s in. While many people have learned to value a pitcher’s win total as much as his favorite ice cream favor, the voters will eat up Glavine's victories like Ben & Jerry’s cookies and cream.
Induction Odds: 1-15 (93.75 percent)
1. SP Greg Maddux
Not even the BBWAA can mess this one up.
Actually, scratch that. A few bitter old men will continue to create further injustice in an attempt to amend past injustices when they hold back their vote for Greg Maddux because “Babe Ruth didn’t get elected unanimously!”
Show me a writer who formulates a case against Maddux’s Hall of Fame candidacy, and I’ll show you a contrarian who is desperate for attention.
For the traditionalists, Maddux won 355 games. Wins shouldn’t matter, but that number will never again be duplicated by another pitcher, unless usage patterns are drastically altered. He thoroughly earned that shiny number by hurling 5,008.1 career innings.
After his rookie season, he compiled at least 200 innings (often way more) in 18 of 21 seasons, recording at least 194 frames in the three outliers.
Maddux’s 3.16 career ERA is actually inflated by his later years, where he served as a respectable workhorse whose mark rested around the 4.00 barrier. From 1992-98, he procured a 2.15 ERA.
Sure, he couldn’t blow hitters away like Clemens or Randy Johnson, but Maddux’s mastery of the strike zone led him to an incredible 1.80 BB/9 ratio.
The only possible debate involving Maddux is whether he’s a great pitcher or the greatest pitcher.
Induction Odds: 1-10,000 (99.99 percent)