B/R MLB Experts Fill out 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballots

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 1, 2015

B/R MLB Experts Fill out 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballots

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    Worthy Hall of Fame candidates don't get much more obvious than Randy Johnson.
    Worthy Hall of Fame candidates don't get much more obvious than Randy Johnson.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Thank goodness three new members were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. If they hadn't been, the 2015 ballot would have featured as much Cooperstown-worthy talent as Cooperstown itself.

    OK, maybe that's an exaggeration. But this isn't: Even after last year's selections, the 2015 ballot might be as loaded as the 2014 ballot.

    Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas gained entry to Cooperstown last year, but notables like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell all fell short. Joining them on the ballot for the first time are names like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.

    There are several hundred Baseball Writers Association of America members with Hall of Fame votes, and their selections for this year's class are due to be announced Tuesday, Jan. 6. But because a few more expert opinions can't hurt, B/R's MLB Lead Writers are here to show who they would have voted for.

    Jason Catania, Joel Reuter, Mike Rosenbaum, Zachary D. Rymer, Jacob Shafer and Anthony Witrado have each filled out a hypothetical 2015 Hall of Fame ballot (which, for the record, allows for a max of 10 selections) and explained their choices accordingly. Read on to hear their two cents.

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

Jason Catania's Ballot

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    Former Tigers great Alan Trammell has Jason Catania's vote.
    Former Tigers great Alan Trammell has Jason Catania's vote.Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press

    Randy Johnson (1st year on ballot)

    Pedro Martinez (1st year on ballot)

    Jeff Bagwell (5th year on ballot, 54.3% in 2014)

    Mike Piazza (3rd year on ballot, 62.2% in 2014)

    Sammy Sosa (3rd year on ballot, 7.2% in 2014)

    Mark McGwire (9th year on ballot, 11.0% in 2014)

    Curt Schilling (3rd year on ballot, 29.2% in 2014)

    Mike Mussina (2nd year on ballot, 20.3% in 2014)

    John Smoltz (1st year on ballot)

    Alan Trammell (14th year on ballot, 20.8% in 2014)



    What a predicament this year’s Hall of Fame ballot presents. Again.

    Because of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s archaic and needlessly restrictive rule that prohibits writers from voting for more than 10 players in a given year, there are going to be some awfully tough choices to make—and some awfully great players left off.

    You’ll notice, for instance, that I’ve included the maximum 10 on my make-believe ballot, but I could pretty easily include a handful more: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Tim Raines, Gary Sheffield and maybe even Edgar Martinez, who I go back and forth on.

    Frankly, I’m not sure the likes of Fred McGriff, Carlos Delgado, Jeff Kent and Larry Walker aren’t Hall of Famers, too, although I feel less strongly about those four, especially in the grand scheme of things and with so many other big names surrounding and overshadowing them.

    The same problem cropped up a year ago when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were added, thus further backing up the bottleneck. Thankfully, those three rightfully made it in on their first chance, which helped clear the way a little bit, if only temporarily.

    Here’s hoping the same thing happens in 2015, what with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz becoming the three should-be first-balloters. Maybe if we’re lucky, another one or two players also will get the requisite 75 percent of the votes. Lookin’ at you, Mr. Biggio, after you fell all of two shy last year.

    Speaking of Biggio, he’s a perfect example of how things get sticky as one’s ballot becomes a game of "Would You Rather?" instead of what the Hall of Fame voting should be about—simply electing any and all worthy candidates.

    I did not “vote” for Biggio above, but I do very much think he’s a Hall of Famer. So why not list him? Because I also believe, regardless of whether I put a check next to his name, Biggio will get in this year after coming oh-so-close last time. Rather, I’m saving that space on my “ballot” to help keep hope alive for others.

    Among that group? Curt Schilling (29.2 percent), Mike Mussina (20.3 percent) and Alan Trammell, who is a borderline case but deserves a last push to see if he can miraculously gain some momentum, from just 20.8 percent in his 14th and almost final time on the ballot.

    Others also fall under this need-to-be-saved category, namely Roger Clemens (35.4 percent) and Barry Bonds (34.7)—both of whom would have made it in with ease if not for their links to performance-enhancing drug use—as well as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who have the same PED problem but who dropped to 11.0 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively, putting them dangerously close to falling below the five percent needed to stay on the ballot.

    Some of you will disagree with—even hate—my decision to fight for Clemens, Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, all of whom reportedly or admittedly cheated. That’s understandable. So be it.

    I just can’t imagine a Hall of Fame in which arguably the best pitcher and best position player of all time aren’t enshrined. And for all the criticism McGwire and Sosa receive (and to a large extent, deserve), they are a huge part of the history—and story—of Major League Baseball, too.

    For better or for worse, that’s how I view the Hall of Fame—as the story of this sport, one that is incomplete without all the relevant characters.

Joel Reuter's Ballot

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    Edgar Martinez, arguably the greatest DH of them all, has Joel Reuter's vote.
    Edgar Martinez, arguably the greatest DH of them all, has Joel Reuter's vote.ED ZURGA/Associated Press

    Randy Johnson (1st)

    Pedro Martinez (1st)

    John Smoltz (1st)

    Jeff Bagwell (5th, 54.3%)

    Craig Biggio (3rd, 74.8%)

    Edgar Martinez (6th, 25.2%)

    Mike Mussina (2nd, 20.3%)

    Mike Piazza (3rd, 62.2%)

    Tim Raines (8th, 46.1%) 

    Alan Trammell (14th, 20.8%)

    Let’s start with the obvious elephant in the room. Personally, I think both Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds belong in the Hall of Fame.

    However, they only get my vote if there are open slots on my ballot once all other deserving candidates have been voted for. This time around, there were 10 other guys deserving of my vote, so they continue to play the waiting game. That's the price they pay for their indiscretions.

    With that out of the way, let’s get onto the guys I did vote for.

    Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are obvious first-ballot choices. The Big Unit is arguably the greatest left-hander of all-time, and Martinez enjoyed an absolutely dominant prime at the height of the steroid era.

    John Smoltz is hard to compare to his contemporaries due to his time spent in the bullpen, but there’s something to be said for being the only pitcher with 100 saves and 200 wins.  His 3,084 strikeouts are 16th all-time, and he was 15-4 with four saves and a 2.67 ERA in 209 career postseason innings. He’s in.

    Steroid questions are likely what has kept Mike Piazza out to this point, but there was never any clear evidence that he used, and his status as the greatest offensive catcher to ever play the game makes him an easy choice.

    Teammates Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio played alongside one another from 1991-2005 in Houston, and they deserve to be enshrined together as well. Bagwell falls short of the standard power milestones, but his .948 career OPS is 21st all-time and better than the likes of Mays, Aaron and many others. Biggio reached the 3,000-hit mark, still a magic number that guarantees enshrinement in my mind, as it speaks to an elite level of productivity and longevity.

    Edgar Martinez is hurt by the fact that he played primarily designated hitter, but he is one of just two eligible players with a .300/.400/.500 career triple-slash line that is not enshrined (Larry Walker is the other). His 68.3 career WAR only further illustrates how valuable he was, even without playing defense.

    One of the most underrated pitchers of his generation, Mike Mussina continues to be overlooked among Hall of Fame voters. He received just 20.3 percent of the vote last year. He was a model of consistency and one of the game’s legitimate aces in the 1990s. His 82.7 career WAR is 24th all-time among pitchers and the highest total among eligible pitchers not currently enshrined.

    The two fringe guys here are Alan Trammell and Tim Raines, but both belong in Cooperstown in my mind.

    Raines was one of the best leadoff hitters the game has ever seen, and his .385 on-base percentage and 808 stolen bases, which are good for fifth all-time, put him in the elite category. Lou Brock may be his best comparison among Hall of Famers, and Raines bests him in career WAR by a sizable margin (69.1 to 45.2). He should already be in, and he's running out of time.

    A strong case can be made that Trammell is one of the 10-15 best shortstops to ever play the game, and I personally ranked him No. 13 when I compiled my list of the 50 greatest. His 70.4 career WAR is good for 11th all-time at the position, and he was one of the elite players of the 1980s, putting up impressive offensive numbers at what was still a defensive-minded position. That's enough to earn him the final spot on my ballot.

    So there you have it, my 10 selections for the Hall of Fame class of 2015, and my best attempt at defending my picks. My guess is it winds up being Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio who actually earn enshrinement, but we shall see.

Mike Rosenbaum's Ballot

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    John Smoltz has Mike Rosenbaum's vote.
    John Smoltz has Mike Rosenbaum's vote.Gregory Smith/Associated Press

    Barry Bonds (3rd, 34.7%)

    Roger Clemens (3rd, 35.4%)

    Randy Johnson (1st)

    Pedro Martinez (1st)

    John Smoltz (1st)

    Craig Biggio (3rd, 74.8%)

    Jeff Bagwell (5th, 54.3%)

    Tim Raines (8th, 46.1%)

    Mike Piazza (3rd, 62.2%)

    Edgar Martinez (6th, 25.2%)

    My ballot leads off with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher in baseball history, respectively. Honestly, I think it’s outrageous that the Hall of Fame exists without them, but I’ll spare everyone the full rant until the BBWAA ultimately announces that, yet again, neither player will be enshrined in Cooperstown.

    For me, Bonds would have been a no-brainer even if his career ended after his age-33 season (1998). He won three of his six MVP awards from 1987-1998 while averaging a .294/.416/.565 batting line with 33 home runs and 34 stolen bases. On top of that, his 168 OPS+ during that time frame is second behind 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas. 

    The same goes for The Rocket and the first 15 years of his career. From 1984 to 1998, Clemens won 233 games, five Cy Young Awards and an MVP award, all the while pitching to a 151 ERA+ and 2.86 FIP and striking out 3,153 batters.

    As for this year’s fresh faces, Randy Johnson, who won five Cy Young Awards, nine strikeout titles and four ERA titles during an absolutely dominant 22-year career, is a lock to be elected. His 303 wins rank fifth among left-handers, and his 4,875 strikeouts rank second all-time, while his 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest ever.

    Martinez went 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA and 11.3 K/9 and won three Cy Young Awards from 1997-2003, and the fact that he led the Red Sox to the World Series in 2004 certainly can't be overlooked.

    Last but not least is John Smoltz, who recorded 213 wins and 154 saves and amassed more than 3,000 strikeouts (3,084) during his 21-year career. The right-hander was an eight-time All-Star and won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996. He also boasts an impressive postseason resume, with a 15-4 record, four saves and 2.67 ERA in 209 innings.

    I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, 3,000 hits will always be a remarkable achievement and a benchmark for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Craig Biggio collected 3,060 hits during his impressive 20-year career with the Astros, as well as 1,844 runs, 668 doubles, 291 home runs and 414 stolen bases. Though he was a versatile defender, Biggio’s best position was second base, where he took home four consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1994-1997.

    Like so many players from the steroid era, Bagwell has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs but seemingly is considered guilty by association. Regardless, his 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI distinguish him as one of the game’s top run producers during his 15-year career. And, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, he’s the only first baseman in history with at least 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases, and only him and Lou Gehrig turn in 12 consecutive seasons with at least a 130 OPS+.

    The only reason Tim Raines hasn’t been elected to the HOF is because he shared the same era as Rickey Henderson. However, Rock is one of only three players in history with a career on-base percentage of .385, 2,600 hits and 800 stolen bases. The others? Henderson and Ty Cobb. 

    Mike Piazza and Edgar Martinez get criticized for their lack of defensive value, but both players’ offensive contributions can't be ignored. Piazza had at least 32 home runs nine times in a 10-year span, including every year from 1995-2002. His lowest on-base percentage during that time was .359, and he never slugged less than .544.

    Martinez's credentials don't get the love they deserve. He had seven consecutive seasons with a .300/.400/.500 slash line and finished with a career OPS+ of 147, four points higher than Alex Rodriguez’s career mark. Any player who didn't add defensive value doesn’t fit in a clean box in regards to the HOF, but Martinez was a special hitter whose career peak lasted longer than some might realize. 

Zachary D. Rymer's Ballot

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    Pedro Martinez has Zachary D. Rymer's vote.
    Pedro Martinez has Zachary D. Rymer's vote.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Randy Johnson (1st)

    Pedro Martinez (1st)

    Barry Bonds (3rd, 34.7%)

    Roger Clemens (3rd, 35.4%)

    Jeff Bagwell (5th, 54.3%)

    Mike Piazza (3rd, 62.2%)

    Tim Raines (8th, 46.1%)

    Mike Mussina (2nd, 20.3%)

    Curt Schilling (3rd, 29.2%)

    Craig Biggio (3rd, 74.8%)

    It crossed my mind to fill out a game theory-style ballot and deny votes to Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez and dole them out to candidates who aren't surefire Hall of Famers instead. But that made me feel used car salesman-clever rather than clever-clever, so I couldn't do it.

    Regarding The Big Unit, I'm with Grantland's Jonah Keri in thinking he's the greatest left-hander ever. And though Martinez comes up short in the counting stats, we have two measures in ERA+ and FIP- that say he's the most dominant starting pitcher of all time.

    After those two, we get into the controversial guys: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

    Want to use Bonds' juicing as an excuse not to recognize him as the home run king? Fine. But you do have to acknowledge that he juiced at a time when a lot of other players were juicing. And because he was already an all-time great by the end of the 1990s, you'll have to pardon me for not believing his incredible stretch from 2000 to 2004 was owed to him simply using better juice than everyone else.

    As for Clemens, it helps that his ties to PEDs are flimsier than Bonds'. That makes it easier to buy into his accomplishments, which include seven Cy Youngs, a 143 career ERA+, the second-most strikeouts in history and, by FanGraphs' reckoning, the best pitching WAR ever.

    From here, things get a little simpler.

    The talk about Jeff Bagwell and PEDs is just talk, so let's recognize that he has a firm place among the best first basemen the game has ever known. By that same token, considerably more relevant than Mike Piazza's back acne is that he's by far the greatest offensive catcher in history. Also, I'll let John Dewan of Bill James Online explain why Piazza's defense is actually underrated.

    Then there's Tim Raines, who is many things. He's considered one of the best players of the 1980s, an all-time great leadoff hitter, an all-time great baserunner and an all-time great left fielder.

    After these guys come two pitchers who deserve more respect. Both Baseball-Reference.com WAR and FanGraphs WAR put Mike Mussina among the 20 greatest pitchers since 1901. Curt Schilling is what Jack Morris supporters wanted him to be: postseason legend and a regular-season ace.

    This brings us to the final spot on my ballot, which I narrowed down to a choice between John Smoltz, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Gary Sheffield, Alan Trammell and Craig Biggio. I went for Biggio because he seems like a fair compromise. He's oh so close to getting into Cooperstown, and he has a strong enough case to be in there.

    For beginners, Biggio has a case as one of the five best position players of the 1990s. He's also in Raines' company among all-time great leadoff hitters. Lastly, only current Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor are in the 3,000-hit, 400-steal, 200-homer club with Biggio.

    So that's my ballot. Here's hoping reading about it wasn't as exhausting as figuring it out.

Jacob Shafer's Ballot

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    Jacob Shafer would do his part to keep Sammy Sosa on the ballot.
    Jacob Shafer would do his part to keep Sammy Sosa on the ballot.Beth A. Keiser/Associated Press

    Barry Bonds (3rd, 34.7%)

    Randy Johnson (1st)

    Roger Clemens (3rd, 35.4%)

    Pedro Martinez (1st)

    Sammy Sosa (3rd, 7.2%)

    Mark McGwire (9th, 11.0%)

    Mike Piazza (3rd, 62.2%)

    John Smoltz (1st)

    Craig Biggio (3rd, 74.8%)

    Tim Raines (8th, 46.1%)

    There are a lot of ways to look at the Hall of Fame, but they all boil down to two basic schools of thought.

    First, that the Hall is a museum about baseball, where the greatest achievements and most impactful players are enshrined. Second, that it's a reward for players who combined exceptional skill with commendable (or at least not despicable) character.

    I fall into the first school, so my ballot includes players who were tainted by the steroid era but would otherwise be HOF shoo-ins: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and, to a lesser extent, Mike Piazza.

    Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, two of the best pitchers of their generation, are also no-brainers.

    After that, things get trickier. John Smoltz, on the ballot for the first time, isn't head and shoulders above other eligible pitchers like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. 

    And if Craig Biggio, who barely missed induction in 2014, deserves to go in, you could certainly make an argument for fellow second baseman Jeff Kent.

    Others, including Gary Sheffield, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez, warranted consideration. If I had more than 10 spots, some would make the cut.

    In the end, though, I rounded out my ballot with a guy who should have punched his ticket to Cooperstown years ago: Tim Raines.

    Raines falls just short in several of the Hall's "milestone" statistical categories. His 2,605 career hits aren't 3,000, and his .294 career average isn't .300. But he stole more bases (808) than all but four players—Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb—and each of those guys are in. 

    Rock Raines wasn't a model citizen. Persistent allegations of drug use and a sometimes prickly relationship with the media tarnished his image.

    For me, though, the Hall of Fame isn't a popularity contest. It's a chance to commemorate MLB's pre-eminent talents—warts and all.

Anthony Witrado's Ballot

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    Only one of these former Astros has Anthony Witrado's vote.
    Only one of these former Astros has Anthony Witrado's vote.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Barry Bonds (3rd, 34.7%) 

    Roger Clemens (3rd, 35.4%)

    Randy Johnson (1st)

    Pedro Martinez (1st)

    Mike Piazza (3rd, 62.2%)

    Jeff Bagwell (5th, 54.3%)

    Tim Raines (8th, 46.1%)

    Edgar Martinez (6th, 25.2%)

    Curt Schilling (3rd, 29.2%)

    Mike Mussina (2nd, 20.3%)

    The first noticeable votes go to Bonds and Clemens, the poster boys for the PED/steroid era. I have no problem putting them in because they are among the best to ever do what they did on a baseball diamond, and they were certainly the best of their generation.

    They also competed against a large population of doped-up opponents, meaning the playing field was far more even than some people would like to admit. 

    To judge them to the point where they are kept out of Cooperstown is for a voter to say he or she would not have partaken in the PED craze if it meant helping your team win and earning yourself more tens of millions of dollars. I simply don’t believe all these people withholding votes for Bonds, Clemens and the rest would reject the idea if they were in different shoes (or spikes).

    Also, to judge them in such a dim light is to take a decent portion of responsibility away from the people who covered the sport in that era. Had writers dug deeper, questioned more irregularities and pursued things some of them actually knew were happening, there might never have been a steroid era.

    The second notable part of my ballot is the exclusion of Craig Biggio. I know I am in the minority here, but I see Biggio as a very good player, never a great one. I believe the JAWS scoring system, developed by Jay Jaffe, supports my opinion. Biggio falls short of the career, peak and JAWS averages for HOF second basemen. (As a side note, this is also part of the reason I left off John Smoltz.) In a different year, Biggio would get my vote, but not on this stuffed ballot.

    Beyond that, Biggio’s membership into the 3,000-hit club does not impress me as it does other voters. It is an accumulation stat. He had only one season with more than 200 hits—HOF second baseman and 3,000-hit club member Rod Carew had four, as well as four others of at least 177—and in his final eight seasons, when he collected 1,192 of those hits, Biggio had a 95 OPS+, below league average.

    Leaving off guys like Alan Trammel, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff were not easy calls. But what should be is the decision to expand the number of names allowed on a ballot. A maximum of 10 votes is outdated and counterproductive, but that is probably a fight for another time and another cyberspace.