Hall or Not: Addressing the Case for 15 of MLB's Maybes

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIISeptember 5, 2010

Hall or Not: Addressing the Case for 15 of MLB's Maybes

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    Debating the pros and cons of a player's Hall of Fame chances is without a doubt one of the most controversial issues in baseball.

    For example, how much do stats matter? What about longevity?

    And should a player's attitude, whether positive or negative, have any impact?

    Then there's the all-important question of steroids, and how much they should affect a player's chances.

    Taking all of the above into consideration, I evaluated the careers of fifteen players and ultimately picked a yes or a no for the Hall of Fame.

    11 of the players are still playing.

    Two are free agents but not yet retired.

    And the other two hung up their cleats, and will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in a few years. 

Bobby Abreu

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    Consistent play over a 15-year career has resulted in some pretty impressive career totals for Bobby Abreu. He is one of just three active players with 1,300 runs, runs batted in, and walks, and has topped 100 per season in one of these categories a combined 24 times.

    His 269 home runs and 364 stolen bases, including two 30-30 seasons, leave him with a decent chance of joining the 300-300 club, and his power-speed combination rank 17th in history, according to baseball-reference. And with four more productive seasons, he will approach 3,000 career hits.

    Yet Abreu has never been among the best hitters in baseball. His highest finish in the MVP voting is 12th and he ranks 778th in career MVP shares. He never turned in a breakout season and ranks just 14th among active players in WAR. His strong arm (first among current players with 130 outfield assists) is overshadowed by his poor glove and tendency to loaf.

    Bottom line: Abreu has never hit below .283 in a single season, which combined with his ability to draw walks, has given him a .401 career on base percentage. But Abreu is also a prime candidate for steroids, and even if he wasn't, his lack of success in the MVP voting says it all.

    Very good player. But not Hall of Fame worthy.

    Five percent chance

Lance Berkman

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    He has been overshadowed by Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio for the majority of his career, but Lance Berkman is probably the third greatest player in Astros history.

    Berkman has finished in the top seven in MVP voting five times, including a third place finish in 2006.

    Berkman has led the league in doubles twice, topped 40 homers twice, and driven in 100 runs six times. He's topped .300 four times, and drew over 90 walks for nine straight seasons, giving him a .409 career on base percentage.

    Just 10 retired players, all Hall of Famers, top Berkman in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.

    Bottom line: If Berkman can turn in four more productive seasons, he'll be a Hall of Famer. He has the percentages to make the Hall of Fame, but could use some work on his career totals (326 homers, 1,094 runs batted in). Now with the Yankees, a World Series ring would go a long way for a player who has excelled (.321 average) in limited postseason action.

    40 percent chance

Carlos Delgado

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    The most accomplished slugger in Toronto Blue Jays' history, Delgado slugged over 30 home runs in 11 seasons, including 10 in a row. He drove in over 100 runs nine times, leading the American League with 145 in 2003, and ranks 49th in history with 1,512. Delgado earned MVP votes in seven different seasons, finishing second in 2003 and fourth in 2000.

    Delgado's 473 homers leave him just one decent season away from joining the 500-homer club but he hasn't played in the major leagues since an injury-plagued 2009 season, and chances are good that he won't play again.

    Bottom line: Delgado has played in just two All-Star Games and ranks 230th in career WAR, which leaves him in the same company as Rusty Staub, Bert Campaneris, Brett Butler, and Mike Cameron. He has an impressive OPS+ (138) but for a pure power hitter in the Steroid Era, it's going to take more than 473 home runs to make the Hall of Fame.

    25 percent chance

Jason Giambi

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    The turn of the millennium produced some of the best hitting seasons in baseball history, and two of the best came in back-to-back seasons by first baseman Jason Giambi. In 2000, Giambi earned MVP honors with 43 homers, 137 runs batted in, and a .333 average. In 2001, he finished second in the MVP voting, producing 10.3 WAR, the third best single season by any active player.

    Giambi recently topped 400 home runs (412) and thanks to seven 100+ walk seasons, posts an outstanding .405 on base percentage. He has played in the postseason eight different times with three different teams (Athletics, Yankees, Rockies).

    However, Giambi is the modern day version of Hack Wilson or Chuck Klein, with big numbers vastly inflated by a hitter's era. Giambi's peak lasted just four seasons, and he's been inconsistent the last seven years.

    Bottom line: Giambi publicly admitted to steroid use in 2005, and virtually eliminated any chance of reaching the Hall of Fame. Giambi could play for five more seasons and hit 35 homers per year and he won't even be considered for the Hall of Fame.

    Five percent chance

Vladimir Guerrero

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    Vlad has had an interesting career. He's never had a breakout season, but he's been remarkably consistent since entering the league in 1996. He's hit over .300 in all but one season. He's slugged 30 home runs eight times and driven in 100 runs nine times. And he was just a homer away from joining baseball's elusive 40-40 club in 2002.

    He has earned a reputation, and rightfully so, for having one of the strongest arms in baseball, as he's topped the league in outfield assists three times and ranks 12th in history. But he has also made more errors than any other outfielder eight times. There's a reason Vlad is a DH right now.

    Bottom line: He earned American League Most Valuable Player honors in 2004 and finished in the top ten in voting five other times. He's one of the more feared hitters in the game, with 247 intentional walks, the fourth most in MLB history. And any hitter with a .321 average and 427 home runs deserves to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    85 percent chance

Chipper Jones

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    Jones was the Most Valuable Player in the National League in 1999, and has finished in the top ten in voting six times. Only six players beat him in each of the three percentages (batting average, on base, and slugging), and in home runs (Babe Ruth, Manny Ramirez, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial).

    That's pretty unbelievable company.

    Jones has 436 home runs and a .306 career batting average. He was arguably the best hitter on 14 consecutive division winners, leading the Braves to three pennants and a world title.

    Bottom line: He has been a model of consistency. For the majority of his career, he has been a lock for 100 runs, 100 runs batted in, 30 homers, and a .300 batting average. He is an underrated base stealer and is arguably the best switch-hitter since Mickey Mantle. He ranks 36th in baseball history in career WAR and has a chance to move into the top 25 with a few more good seasons.

    95 percent chance

Jamie Moyer

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    Ten years ago, this conversation would have been absolutely insane. But over the last decade, Moyer has added to some pretty impressive career totals.

    24 seasons. 627 starts. 4,020 innings pitched. 267 wins.

    He also won a world championship with the Phillies in 2008, after leading the team with 16 wins during the regular season. This season, he tossed a two-hit shutout, something that has never been done before by a 47-year-old pitcher.

    However, Moyer has never been among the top pitchers in baseball. He finished in the top six in Cy Young voting three times but has just a single All-Star appearance. His 4.24 ERA (and 104 ERA+) would be the worst by any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. He's thrown just ten shutouts in his career. And he has a tendency to give up home runs, as indicated by his now-record 511 homers surrendered.

    Bottom line: For Moyer to make the Hall of Fame, he would need to win a minimum of 40 to 50 more games. He would need a few big postseason performances. The concept of pitching past the age of 50 would help his case tremendously, but all of this is a total longshot because Moyer will likely never pitch again. 

    Three percent chance

Jorge Posada

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    Although overshadowed by Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, and Joe Mauer throughout his career, Posada has been one of baseball's most consistent catchers. He has been arguably the second most important offensive player on seven pennant winners and five world champion teams.

    He ranks among the best catchers in history in career home runs (259) and runs batted in (1,013). He played in four All-Star games, won five Silver Slugger awards, and twice finished in the top six in MVP voting.

    But Posada is just a .239 career hitter in the postseason with a .384 slugging percentage. He is a double play machine. And he was slightly below average defensively for his career.

    Bottom line: Had Posada spent his full career on the Tigers or the Padres, he would just be regarded as a pretty good catcher. Even in pinstripes, he isn't in the same class as former Yankee Hall of Fame catchers Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. He's in the next tier with Thurman Munson and Elston Howard.

    25 percent chance

Scott Rolen

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    Rolen exploded onto the scene in 1997 by winning Rookie of the Year honors with the Phillies. He has been selected to six All-Star Games and won seven Gold Glove awards, which trails just Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt for the most ever by a third baseman. And he played a big role on two pennant winners and one world champion with the St. Louis Cardinals (although his career postseason batting average is just .228).

    Through 15 seasons, Rolen sports a .284 batting average, 302 home runs, and 1,205 runs batted in. He ranks 79th among position players in career WAR, right in the company of players like Craig Biggio and Willie McCovey.

    Bottom line: Scott Rolen has been one of the more underrated combinations of offense and defense over the past decade. However, he will need at least two to three more full seasons before he is Hall of Fame worthy. If he is still producing by 2013, expect the Hall of Fame's most underrepresented position to add a new member.

    40 percent chance

Curt Schilling

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    In 20 seasons in the major leagues, Schilling won double-digit games just 10 times. He didn't appear in an All-Star Game until he was 30, never won a Cy Young award, and was usually the second best pitcher on his own team.

    But in 19 career postseason starts with the Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Red Sox, Schilling won 11 games and lost just two. He won NLCS MVP honors with the Phillies in 1993, shared World Series MVP honors with the Diamondbacks in 2001, and pitched through a surgically repaired right ankle to help break the Curse of the Bambino with the Red Sox in 2004.

    His career postseason ERA? 2.23.

    Schilling ranks with Christy Mathewson and Sandy Koufax as the best big=game pitchers in baseball history.

    Schilling has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.38) among pitchers in the modern era and was just the fourth pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts before 1,000 walks. He finished second in the Cy Young voting three times (2001, 2002, and 2004), and proved his value as a workhorse by leading the league in games started, complete games, and innings pitched a combined nine times.

    Bottom line: Schilling isn't in the same class as the Big Four (Martinez, Maddux, Clemens, and Johnson) but he is in the second tier with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. His regular season statistics alone wouldn't be enough for the Hall, but his postseason credentials suggest that Cooperstown will come calling soon.

    65 percent chance

Gary Sheffield

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    The only player to appear in an All-Star Game with five different teams, Sheffield cracked 30 or more home runs nine times, topping 500 with the Mets in 2009. He is one of three players to hit a home run as a teenager and in his forties. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times, including a second place finish and two third place finishes.

    Sheffield is one of four members of the 500 home run club with 250 stolen bases. He won a batting title in 1992 and has played right field, left field, third base, and even shortstop in his career. He ranks in the top 30 hitters in home runs, total bases, run batted in, walks, runs created, power-speed number, and sacrifice flies.

    However, Sheffield has had a terrible attitude throughout his career, which could unfortunately affect his Hall of Fame chances. He was never among the best players in baseball, played poorly in nine postseason series (.248 average), and cost his teams approximately 180 fielding runs in his career.

    Bottom line: Any player with the career totals of Gary Sheffield deserves serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. However, it doesn't help that he was a steroid user. His numbers are impressive, but because he was never dominant, he remains a tossup for the Hall of Fame.

    45 percent chance

John Smoltz

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    One of the more unusual careers by a pitcher, Smoltz pitched for 21 seasons, 17 as a starter, and four as a reliever. He captured the NL Cy Young in 1996, and earned the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award in 2002, making him the only pitcher in history to win both awards. He is also the only pitcher to win 200 games and save 150.

    Smoltz was only the third best pitcher for the Braves during their record-setting streak of 14 consecutive division titles, but he dominated in the postseason. In 27 career starts, he won 15 and lost just four. His 2.67 ERA, including 2.47 in eight World Series starts, makes him one of the greatest postseason pitchers of any era.

    Bottom line: Smoltz earned six All-Star selections as a starting pitcher and two as a reliever. His ability to successfully go from starter to closer to starter has been unprecedented throughout baseball history. With 213 wins, 3,084 strikeouts, and a solid ERA+ (125), Smoltz won't be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown one day.

    70 percent chance

Miguel Tejada

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    Tejada was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2002, slugging 34 homers and driving in 131 runs, including a handful of clutch hits during the Athletics' 20-game winning streak.

    He played in 1,152 consecutive games from 2000 to 2007, the fifth longest streak in baseball history, and he has been selected to the All-Star Game six times, earning MVP honors in 2005.

    But Tejada has just a .340 career on base percentage, which would be among the worst by any Hall of Famer. He is a double play machine, leading the league five times. He has played poorly in four postseason series (.212 average). And most importantly, he took steroids.

    Bottom line: For Tejada to make the Hall of Fame, he will need to turn in three or four great seasons, and even then it's highly unlikely that voters will be able to overlook his steroid use.

    15 percent chance

Jim Thome

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    Thome has hit over 30 home runs in 12 different seasons, over 40 six times, and above 50 once. His career total of 584 ranks as the ninth most in history. He drove in 100 runs nine times and drew over 100 walks nine times. Only Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth top Thome in both career runs batted in and walks.

    Thome has never been one of the best players in the game. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting just four times, with a high of fourth in 2003. He's been selected to "only" five All-Star Games and only one time did he win a Silver Slugger award as the best hitter at his position.

    He has played first and third throughout his career, although he hasn't done particularly well at either position. And although he has 17 career postseason home runs in just 207 at-bats, his postseason batting average is just .227 and he has never played for a World Series winner.

    Bottom line: The 500 home run club isn't even close as impressive as it used to be, but no player with 584 home runs (and a shot at joining the 600 Home Run Club) should miss the Hall of Fame. Thome ranks 17th all-time in OPS, and 59th in WAR among position players. As a bonus, he's one of the most likable players in the game, and has never been linked to steroids. Don't expect to see him in on the first ballot, but he deserves a place among the game's best.

    70 percent chance

Billy Wagner

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    Wagner has posted an ERA under 3.00 in all but one season, including five under 2.00. His CAREER earned run average is 2.34, and his ERA+ (ERA adjusted to the league average) is 186, meaning he is almost twice as effective as the average pitcher.

    He is an absolute strikeout machine, averaging almost 12 per nine innings throughout his career, including five seasons over 14. And he has virtually twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed.

    Bottom line: Wagner has had some pretty forgettable postseason performances (10.32 ERA in 11.1 innings), but they won't be enough to make voters forget about his 404 saves (and counting) for six different teams. He may be the greatest closer ever not named Mariano Rivera.

    75 percent chance