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MLB Hall of Fame Ballot Pt 2: Why

By Patrick Gunn

I revealed my Hall of Fame Ballot earlier this week. Normally, I like to induct a larger group, but this is a weaker ballot with several good candidates missing off either because I need more of a look or because of the character clause (which I’ll dive into more tomorrow).

Today, however, I want to honor the few players I hypothetically voted for into Cooperstown, and briefly share my reasoning for voting for each player. Just a couple notes on my preferences:

– I take the character clause seriously

– I prefer statistics to awards and superlatives (MVPs, All-Star Appearances, Gold Gloves)

– I reward players for a consistent, high level of play

Like my ballot, I will discuss each player in alphabetical order.

BOBBY ABREU

Base Stats: .291/.395/.475 BA/OBP/SLG, 60.2 Baseball-Reference WAR, 50.9 JAWS

Abreu has struggled to gain traction over his first two years on the ballot, and that’s a darn shame. He may have been a quieter player, but Abreu hit everywhere he went. From 1998 to 2010, Abreu had a .402 OBP with a .492 slugging percentage, and 132 OPS+. Over that same stretch, Derek Jeter had a .387 OBP, .452 SLG, and a 121 OPS+.

Abreu got overshadowed not only because he played in the steroid era, but also the fact that he was in the wrong places at the wrong times. He played in Philadelphia from 1998 to 2006 – right before they won the World Series in 2008. He was traded to the Yankees in 2006 and left in 2009 – right before they won the title. Maybe if he had been a part of one of those title runs Abreu would have been looked at kinder.

The other issue I believe voters have with Abreu is his classic, base stats. He had only 288 home runs and 2,470 hits. Not to mention he had a poor reputation as a defender.

With that said, Abreu is the 20th best right fielder of all time via JAWs. He rates higher than several Hall of Famers, including Dave Winfield, Enos Slaughter, Harold Baines, and Vladimir Guerrero. Let’s make this simple: Abreu played for a long time and hit consistently great, well above league average for more than a decade. To me, that’s a Hall of Fame career.

TODD HELTON Base Stats: .316/.414/.539, 61.8 Baseball-Reference WAR, 54.2 JAWS

Let’s start with a side-by-side comparison:



Chart 1.png
Chart 1.png

(Note: I’m calculating BB and K% based on plate appearances, not at-bats)

Notice how similar those two player’s stats are. Player A is Larry Walker’s career stats on the road. Player B is Todd Helton’s. Why compare the two? Both players a healthy chunk of their career at Coors Field and both have lost Hall of Fame votes because of the boost they get at the stadium.

Walker finally received enough votes to get in last year, and that’s great news for Helton. His road stats are at a high level, like Walker’s, with a slightly better walk and strikeout percentages. Helton’s numbers on defense are not as strong as Walker’s but playing first base helps. At his position, Helton ranks 15th all-time in JAWS, higher than Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew, and Hank Greenburg.

As far as character is concerned, Helton’s only blemishes are a couple of DUIs. This is reckless, and I would understand someone not voting for him because of this (don’t drink and drive, everybody). For me, that is not quite enough of an issue to say no to, in my opinion, a slam dunk Hall of Famer.

ANDY PETTITTE

Base Stats: 3.85 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 0.8 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 6.6 K.9, 60.7 Baseball-Reference WAR, 47.2 JAWS

I spoke about Pettitte’s case on the Bronx Beat podcast, where I said that I was mixed on the southpaw. Indeed, Pettitte had an interesting career, with a few high highs and some moderately low lows, but mostly consistent solid pitching. This is what makes Pettitte so difficult to grasp.

He never was one of the five or ten best pitchers in the league for more than a season, he rarely was even the ace of the Yankees’ staffs. I value Pettitte higher for consistently pitching above league average in a difficult American League and for performing in the postseason.

Yes, his 19 postseason wins are not completely relevant to my standards, but his 3.81 ERA, 2.41 strikeout to walk ratio, and 48.5% championship probability added does. Remind you, he pitched during the heart of the steroid era against some of the best lineups in the league, from the late 1990s Cleveland bashers, to the Manny Ramirez-David Ortiz Red Sox, and every team in between.

Oh, and I should probably mention his steroid case. Yes, he was on the Mitchell Report and admitted to taking HGH. With that said, he admitted that he took HGH to recover from an injury so that he could heal. Also, HGH technically was not illegal when he took it…which might not make the usage better, but at least it was legal?

There are most likely players in the Hall of Fame who have cheated and will never admit how much PEDs impacted their career. Pettitte only used HGH a few times when it was still legal, and it had minimal effect on his performance. Aside from some complications with the Roger Clemens case, Pettitte has been an upstanding citizen for most of his career.

He’s a borderline player, but today I’m leaning towards Pettite being in the Hall of Fame. I wish other Yankees’ core players from that era got more attention – namely Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and David Cone to name a few – but I will gladly support Pettitte this year.

SCOTT ROLEN

Base Stats: .281/.364/.490, 70.1 Baseball-Reference WAR, 56.9 JAWS

Rolen is a slam dunk Hall of Famer. The third base is, for some reason, a hard position to crack for the BBWAA, as there are only 17, the fewest of the nine main positions. Rolen should have no trouble joining those 17, eventually.

He is gaining more support, and his career speaks for itself. He played well-above-average defense for 17 years, posting a career Defensive WAR on Baseball-Reference of 21.2 with only two negative seasons at the hot corner. Offensively, he did everything well – get on base, hit for power, and drive-in runs. Not to mention his career 122 OPS+ suggests that he was above average. Also, while his postseason career is brief, he did hit .421/.476/.737 in the 2006 World Series for the champion St. Louis Cardinals.

By JAWS, he’s the tenth best third baseman of all time. Eight of the other top-ten players are in the Hall, while the other is Adrian Beltre, another obvious inductee. Including his fantastic charity work, Rolen hopefully will get inducted sooner rather than later.

BILLY WAGNER

Before showing his stats, I want to make another comparison:



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Chart 2.png

These two players are incredibly similar, but one player has been on the ballot for six years while the other was inducted in three years.

To make it clearer, Player A is Billy Wagner, while Player B is Trevor Hoffman. This is by no means meant to be a slight against Hoffman, he’s a clear Hall of Fame ptcher. It’s just ridiculous, in my mind, that he was elected so much sooner because of 179 saves.

That’s how many more saves Hoffman got in his career, the only statistic that dominantly favors Hoffman. Saves are a decent statistic, but they are not the most important statistic for measuring performance. A reliever can give up two runs with a three-run lead and get a save or get one out while allowing two inherited runs to score. Neither of those performances are great, but they are both saves.

That is not to demean closers, it’s just to say that Wagner and Hoffman were more similar, and in many respects Wagner was better. Wagner pitched in many ways like a prototypical modern reliever, with an elite strikeout rate before they became the dominating factor in measuring a reliever’s performance. Also, his 187 ERA+ suggests that he dominated hitters at the end of games for the entirety of his career.

Wagner is probably hurt early on by voter’s reluctance to support relievers with lower save count (even though his 422 saves is still solid) and because of the fact that he does not have iconic post season moments or a strong connection to a contender. Like Abreu, Wagner left the Astros in 2004, right before they made their Pennant in 2005. Regardless, plenty of Hall of Famers have little to no postseason accomplishments because of their teams.

Statistically, Wagner played in the wrong era. Today, he would be regarded as one of the top names in baseball for his high strikeout totals and consistent dominance; in the 2000s he had to compete with Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, and other flashy, one-year high save performances. Regardless, Wagner is a clear Hall of Fame reliever who will hopefully get his induction speech someday.

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