Cooperstown or Bust: 10 Intriguing Soon-To-Be Hall of Fame Candidates
A few weeks ago, Bleacher Report's MLB Featured Columnists celebrated the 2010 Hall of Fame inductions with a mock vote of our own to see who really belonged in Cooperstown. It became one of our most popular polls to date and was far and away the most hotly debated.
Last week, we did something similar, but with a twist: Instead of voting on players who are already retired, I took 10 current players who are nearing the ends of their careers and asked who among them would be worthy of Cooperstown if they all hung up their cleats tomorrow.
These aren't sure-thing players like Chipper Jones or Derek Jeter, or guys like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez whose main obstacles to induction would be PEDs. They're stars, but not legends—Jim Edmonds, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Trevor Hoffman, Andruw Jones, Andy Pettitte, Scott Rolen, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, and Billy Wagner.
Included in each slide are the players' vote totals (75 percent is required for induction, which means 18 votes here), and explanations from two different writers: one who voted for him and one who did not.
Thanks so much to everyone who participated! I hope this poll inspires as much debate as the last one did.
Note: I sent this survey only to the Featured Columnists who have been active in previous polls. If you are a new FC or you have changed your mind about wanting to participate, send me a message and I'll be sure to keep you in the loop for next time!
Andruw Jones: OUT
How he did: Two votes (8.7 percent)
Why he got Lewie Pollis' vote:
Andruw Jones is one of the best fielders in the history of baseball. At this point, you’ll probably roll your eyes and say something about how anemic his bat has been since 2008, but that’s because you probably don’t realize how incredible his glove has been.
His 274.3 fielding runs saved ranks behind only Brooks Robinson on the all-time list and beats the second-best outfielder (Roberto Clemente) by more than 70 runs. Compare that number to Joe Tinker’s 180, Honus’ Wagner’s 85, and Ozzie Smith’s 239, and Jones would deserve a spot in Cooperstown even without his 403 home runs.
Why he didn't get Thomas Pinzone's:
Andruw Jones had an incredibly productive run both in the field and at the plate from 1998 to 2006. In that time he hit over 30 homers six times and stole 20 bases or more four times. In the field he picked up 10 Gold Gloves playing outstanding center field defense.
The problem for Jones however is that he has fallen off drastically since 2006, going from a 6.0 WAR player to a -.9 WAR player in just two seasons. He may be hard-pressed to play beyond age 34, leaving his total career numbers a bit short to qualify for the Hall.
Andy Pettitte: OUT
How he did: Four votes (17.4 percent)
Why he got Dennis Schlossman's vote:
Performance enhancing drugs aside, few pitchers measure up to the durability, consistency, or character of Andy Pettitte. His 240 wins place him 55th all time, and among the 59 pitchers who are enshrined in Cooperstown, only 12 have more career victories than Pettite does.
Pettite could be considered the “Mr. October” of pitchers—his 18 wins in the postseason rank first in MLB history. Ask any manager in the game today who they would prefer to have on the hill in a playoff game—few names would come up before Andy Pettite’s.
Why he didn't get Lewie Pollis':
If Bert Blyleven—who had 10 seasons with ERAs of 3.00 or lower—can be denied entrance to Cooperstown because he was never dominant enough, the same label damn well better be applied to Andy Pettitte, who has had only two seasons with ERAs under 3.27.
A Yankees fan will tell you about Pettitte’s 240 wins, .637 winning percentage, and five World Series rings—but those reflect the skill of his team, not of him. Most pitchers with a career 3.87 ERA don’t 15 win a year, and Pettitte’s 3.90 career postseason ERA is actually worse than his regular-season figure.
Scott Rolen: OUT
How he did: Five votes (21.7 percent)
Why he got Asher Chancey's vote:
Simply put, Scott Rolen is one of the greatest third basemen of all time. He has been a better defender than Schmidt was, and a better hitter than Robinson was.
At this point the only thing standing in his way is tenure, and the third base position in the Hall of Fame is certainly a mess. Nevertheless, at this point he is simply padding his credentials.
Why he didn't get Dan Tylicki's:
While Scott Rolen still has a possibility of making the Hall of Fame if he has a great final few years, he is not at that level right now. His stats are mostly good, but nothing spectacular; his 1900 hits,.284 batting average, and 300 home runs are certainly nice numbers, but they’re not Hall of Fame numbers.
He’s also only been close to an MVP award once, in 2004. If he were to get a couple more top five finishes over the next couple years then that would help his candidacy.
Todd Helton: OUT
How he did: Six votes (26.1 percent)
Why he got Evan Bruschini's vote:
When you outrank most of your peers in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, intentional walks, and doubles, you’ve got a very strong Hall of Fame case. When you lead your franchise in total bases, hits, doubles, home runs, walks, runs scored, RBI, games played, and countless other obscure categories, you have a very strong Hall of Fame case.
When you combine these two things, you have Todd Helton, the all-time greatest Rockie and the best fielding first baseman of his generation to boot. He’s a lock for Cooperstown.
Why he didn't get Brett Kettyle's:
His career batting average (.325) is terrific, but nothing else screams “Hall of Fame” at me. For a first baseman, Helton’s 328 career homers leave something to be desired—especially since I can’t help but think of him as a Coors Field hitter (his best years were before the humidor).
His numbers are great, but I don’t think we would even be having this discussion if he played for a different team in his prime. In the end, I just don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer.
Jim Edmonds: OUT
How he did: Seven votes (30.4 percent)
Why he got Steve Keegan's vote:
Edmonds is a prime example of why statistics are not everything when deciding who gets in. His offensive numbers are impressive, but his spectacular defense separates him from the good and makes him great.
The four-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover was also a playoff hero; Edmonds has 13 postseason home runs and one of his best catches ever came in Game Seven of the NLCS (see video). He has at least a dozen catches in his highlight reel that make Willie Mays’ famous catch from the 1954 World Series look routine.
Why he didn't get Dave Hampton's:
There is no disputing that outfielder Jim Edmonds has been a very good player throughout his career, but it is great players that land in the Hall of Fame, and that Edmonds is not.
His defense has never been in doubt, as eight Gold Gloves rest on his mantle piece. His production numbers are not bad—390 HRs, almost 1200 RBI, and 435 doubles. However, my main argument against him is the fact that at age 40 he still does not have 2000 hits. He is still 57 away at 1943.
Billy Wagner: OUT
How he did: 10 votes (43.5 percent)
Why he got Brandon Williams' vote:
In an era where saves have been cheapened, Billy Wagner has been the rare closer who has combined dominance and longevity into a potential Hall of Fame career. Only a handful of closers can be called “feared”; for much of his career, that label has fit Wagner perfectly.
No number defines his intimidation more than his career 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings, a mark that would be the best in major league history if he pitched enough innings to qualify.
Why he didn't get Asher Chancey's:
Is Billy Wagner one of history’s greatest closers, in the modern era sense? Yes. His 185 career OPS+ is sick; of pitchers with 500 or more innings pitched, only Mariano Rivera’s OPS+ is higher.
Wagner is also fifth in career saves, and therein lies the rub: Lee Smith is third and hasn’t sniffed the Hall. John Franco is fourth, and likely won't get more than 10 percent of the vote. Cooperstown is not a place for the modern closer, and for a guy who played at the same time as Rivera and Hoffman, election is not likely.
Omar Vizquel: OUT
How he did: 11 votes (47.8 percent)
Why he got Lewie Pollis' vote:
For those of you who’ve never heard of baseball, Omar Vizquel is one of the best fielders in the history of the game. His agility and gracefulness in the field have earned him 11 Gold Gloves and made him a legend in Cleveland. In 2007 he was worth 23.1 UZR—at age 40.
But it’s not just his outstanding glove that makes him worthy of enshrinement. He was a clubhouse leader throughout the Indians’ late 90’s glory days. He played small ball in the era of steroids and home runs—he played the game the right way.
Why he didn't get Brandon Williams':
As his 11 Gold Gloves attest, Omar Vizquel is one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time, and while I didn’t vote for him, it doesn’t mean I view his credentials for Cooperstown as lacking.
For all of his defensive accolades, Vizquel has supplemented his glove with an above-average bat. His .273 average is supported by 395 stolen bases and 43.7 WAR for his career to go along with 2,762 hits.
Vladimir Guerrero: OUT
How he did: 16 votes (69.6 percent)
Why he got Nick Cafferky's vote:
Over his 15-year career, Vlad has hit almost every statistical benchmark. On the Montreal Expos he not only hit for power, but he also was a pain on the basepaths (he was one HR away from joining the 40/40 club in 2002).
After spending eight seasons on a terrible team, Vlad finally left for greener pastures in Anaheim/Los Angeles, where his productivity didn’t stop. Though his 2009 was terrible, Vlad resurrected his career as a DH this year in Texas and is just 72 homers shy of 500 and has a career batting average of .320
Why he didn't get Dennis Schlossman's:
Just imagine Vladimir Guerrero’s career statistics if he had the plate discipline not to bite on a pitch three feet low and away off the dish. Currently with 2371 hits, 428 career homeruns, and 1404 RBI, Guerrero is likely another two or three strong seasons away from being considered a selection into Cooperstown.
Having hit 25 or more home runs and batting over .300 for 10 straight seasons strongly supports his case, but if Vlad the Impaler can hang on to tally 500 homeruns and 3000 hits, it may be just enough to get him the votes he needs.
Trevor Hoffman: OUT
How he did: 16 votes (69.6 percent)
Why he got Denton Ramsey's vote:
How can anyone argue against Trevor Hoffman being in the Hall of Fame? The right-handed pitcher has 597 saves and has played for three teams since becoming a major leaguer in 1993. Hoffman also has a career ERA of 2.85, and there is no doubt whatsoever—at least in my mind—that he absolutely deserves a spot in Cooperstown.
Another glaring stat: 1,127 strikeouts and counting through one season with the Florida Marlins, 16 seasons with the San Diego Padres, and two seasons (including the 2010 season) with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Why he didn't get Jordan Schwartz':
Trevor Hoffman is only in the discussion for the Hall of Fame because he is the all-time leader in a made-up statistic that proves very little about a pitcher’s abilities. Only 17 of his 1,022 career appearances entering Monday involved facing a batter more than once in a game, and he averaged just 1.05 innings pitched per outing.
When you compare that to relievers who are already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, you find how unimpressive Hoffman’s numbers really are. Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage averaged 1.81 innings per appearance, Hoyt Wilhelm averaged 2.11, Rollie Fingers averaged 1.80, and Bruce Sutter averaged 1.58.
Jim Thome: IN
How he did: 19 votes (82.6 percent)
Why he got Jeremiah Graves' vote:
Thome’s legacy has largely been built on power, something not uncommon for a player with a career that spans the “Steroid Era.” Thome, however, has never once been accused or even remotely suspected of taking any shortcuts. Thome was country strong when he got to the bigs and remains so today.
His career .277/.404/.557 batting line is very impressive, as his OBP ranks 45th all time and his .960 career OPS ranks 17th all time. His 578 home runs, however, ranks 10th, and if he retired today those numbers would put him ahead of many luminaries currently lining the hallways of Cooperstown.
Why he didn't get Aaron Hooks':
Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial…think of all the great baseball players you can name. Now realize that just over 200 men have ever been enshrined into the Hall of Fame.
He’s been an All-Star in only a quarter of his years in baseball. He’s never mentioned in any talk of the best sluggers of all time. He doesn’t have a career-defining moment where everybody in America was “WOW—Jim Freaking Thome”. That doesn’t cut it for the HOF, though. And that’s why Thome falls short.
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