For some time, I’ve wanted to analyze the Hall of Fame; specifically, who today is going in? I’ve tried it once before, but the result never felt satisfying.
But then, it hit me.
Instead of writing three sentences each about fifty-odd guys and splitting it over two articles, write a more focused bit on smaller groups at a time.
I am starting with my favorite group, the third basemen.
Third is an extra interesting group, because the baseball writers committee, as a whole, seem to have absolutely no idea how to treat the position.
Shortstops and second basemen get special considerations for their offense, as the positions are defensively difficult. However, they completely ignore defense at third. Consequently, the position is under-represented.
Let me phrase this a different way: name every third baseman in the Hall of Fame. Not Veteran Committee/Negro Leagues/etc., JUST those elected through the standard process. Keep track of how many you name.
Did you get past five? If you did, you have named every third baseman in the Hall. The hot corner has a mere SIX representatives in Cooperstown: Pie Traynor, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Wade Boggs.
Think about it this way: of the six Hall of Fame third basemen, one was elected before the Korean War, and half were inducted in Bryce Harper’s lifetime.
Despite this bizarre condition, I have confidence that the current group manning the position can reverse this trend.
Let’s start by going backwards; of the players making a case for themselves, we will be going roughly from first debuts to latest.
Chipper scarcely needs to be covered, the sweet swinging switch hitter has tallied 431 home runs and 2459 hits while playing his entire career with the Atlanta Braves. He also has six All-Star appearances and an MVP to his name.
He has so far amassed 84 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in his career (for reference, 70 usually indicates a solid Hall of Famer; most of the players with 60 or more are in or receive much consideration for election. WAR is a calculation of a player’s total offensive contributions, and compiles over a career. A career leaders list can be found here).
Twelve time All-Star, three time MVP, youngest member of the 500 home run club, soon to be youngest member of the 600 home run club, and eventual member of the 3000 hit club. At the time of writing, he sits at 2606 hits, 594 home runs, and 106.2 WAR.
Although he started as a shortstop, he will likely finish his career at least equal in games at third base. Despite the achievements, voters will likely balk at his off-the-field issues.
In any case, I have a hard time believing that he won’t eventually get in.
Before I start, let me say that I have been a fan a Rolen since his time with the Cardinals, so my thoughts may be biased. However, I honestly do feel like he is a Hall of Famer, if not now, then definitely by the time he retires.
In addition to his recent 300th career home run, he also has 1885 hits, five All-Star appearances (with a sixth likely on the way), a Rookie of the Year award, six Gold Gloves, and a reputation as a stellar fielder (backed up by most advanced fielding stats).
At his peak, he would put up solid numbers both offensively and defensively. Additionally, he has racked up 69.2 WAR. He's 35 now, so while he may not reach any of the traditional “magic numbers”, he has been a good enough all-around player to warrant induction.
Although he has been playing first base as of late, Glaus has played almost his entire career at third.
Most people would probably discount him immediately (as I did) however, on second glance, he’s much better than you’d expect.
His average has been low (.256), but he does have much a better career on-base percentage (.360), and a solid slugging percentage (.496).
At 318 home runs, he stands 182 short of 500, and his current 162 game average of 35 home runs would mean he needs just over 5 seasons to reach it.
However, injuries have hit him hard in the past, as he has only played more than 140 games in a season seven times.
Also, his time at first base could make it harder for him to stand out, as first base traditionally has better hitters than third base. His 36.7 WAR is unimpressive.
He could realistically hang on to reach 500 home runs, but outside of that, he doesn’t have much of a chance for induction.
For the next few players, we will move from “Have they done enough to be Hall of Famers?” to “What do they have to do to be Hall of Famers?”
Wright has rebounded from a weaker 2009 to a 2010 more in line with his career averages.
The 27 year old is in his sixth Major League Season, and has 154 home runs, 1070 hits, a career line of .309/.389/.520, 35.9 WAR, 4 All-Star appearances, 2 Gold Gloves, 2 Silver Sluggers, and a trio of top 10 MVP finishes. Add all of this to the fact that he is the charismatic face of a New York team, and it would seem all he has to do is keep up his current pace for a decade or so.
Barring any freak occurrences, he seems like a solid pick for future Hall of Fame player.
I am a fan of Zimmerman, so my bias may be affecting my judgment.
However, I would say he is on the right track. At 25, he lacks many of the accolades of his contemporary Wright (partly a function of his team), having only an All-Star appearance, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger to his name (all of which he acquired last year). Wright also has a slight edge in hitting; in his fifth full season, Zimmerman has 104 home runs, 742 hits, and a .284/.350/.508 line.
However, he easily tops Wright’s defense, beating him 12.1 to -1.1 in UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating; more or less, how many runs a player saves in a season; -1.1 is around average, or 0, while anything over ten is superb).
However, perceptions may hurt him; he has yet to receive the notice that Wright has. Playing at the same time in the same division as Wright may also lead to Wright overshadowing him. Should the Nationals come to (pardon the pun) national prominence, however, he will likely experience a leap in fame.
In any case, he has been and should continue to be a solid player; he also makes for a solid dark horse Hall of Fame candidate.
He seems like Troy Glaus taken to an extreme. He has a low average (.250) and hits a lot of home runs (107 already, in his fourth season).
At his current pace, the 26 year old would only need about eleven more seasons to reach 500 home runs, as that is the only way he will get in. He only has 435 hits, and he’s piling up strikeouts at an incredible rate (already at 663).
Fan-graphs has him as a slightly below average fielder, and tallies his career WAR at 8.3. He walks at a decent enough rate, with an OBP of .337, and he can obviously hit for power, with a slugging percentage of .497.
But the only way most of the Hall of Fame voters will overlook his faults is if he reaches a milestone, and at the rate he’s going, 500 home runs looks like the only one he’ll have a shot at.
Longoria is only 24, and is only in his third season, but he has started off strong enough to work his way into the conversation.
He already has 72 home runs, 372 hits, a .281/.359/.524 line, a Rookie of the Year Award, two All-Star Game appearances, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger. His 15.7 UZR/150 and 15.6 WAR also speak highly of his skills.
He’s become the face of a young and talented Rays organization (incidentally, he is who I had in mind when I said Ryan Zimmerman could become well-known should the Nationals improve).
His numbers are solid; all he has to do is maintain them.
When I was initially compiling this list last year, I included Sandoval partly out of curiosity.
This year, however, he seems to have disappointed, as he has yet to live up to his seventh place MVP finish last year. I would think that this is just a Sophomore slump of sorts (he played in 41 games in 2008, so 2009 was his first full year).
If he can sustain his numbers from last year across his career, he would be a strong HoF candidate. If he could even be half as good, he might even have a chance.
As a side note, at 23, he has 7.5 WAR.
Three choices I want to quickly cover, as I feel I will get some questions about them.
Both Miguel Tejada and Michael Young were considered for this list; no, I do not feel either has a very good chance.
Both have good numbers, and, as primarily All-Star shortstops, will get consideration when their time for election comes. However, I feel that both are too late in their careers to mount a serious threat at Hall of Fame inclusion (Tejada is 36, and Young, 33).
Tejada currently stands at 43.2 WAR, and Young at 25.2, for those interested. This is not to say they aren’t fine players; I just don’t think voters will see them at the level necessary to get into the Hall of Fame.
Aramis Ramirez has the same case. He has been a great, All-Star-level player, and he is younger than Young or Tejada. However, with his season this far, I feel his position is the same as the other two; barring a late revival, they will not make the Hall of Fame.
All stats current as of this writing, numbers from Fan-Graphs (WAR and UZR) and Baseball-Reference (everything else).