What Next for the Hall of Fame
January 6, 2011

Finally, Bert Blyleven made it.  For the last 14 years, the grass roots movement largely comprised of stat heads has campaigned for Blyleven to be voted into the Hall of Fame, against sometimes very bitter opposition from the baseball writers, those all-knowing guardians of baseball's greatest secrets.  And yesterday, logic and reason finally swayed enough of them to give the man his due.  To whit, compare Blyleven to some of his contemporaries through their age 34 seasons:

Name           IP       ERA+    WHIP   Strikeotus   K/BB     Shutouts    
Blyleven     3716.0     127     1.172     2875      2.84        51
Palmer       3499.1     129     1.170     2036      1.75        51
Carlton      3485.1     119     1.225     2683      2.23        42
Seaver       3454.2     139     1.072     2887      3.04        52
Marichal     3236.1     127     1.082     2194      3.36        50
Ryan         3074.0     112     1.303     3249      1.79        47
Jenkins      3304.0     120     1.096     2449      3.66        40

As you can see, Blyleven fits pretty much right in the middle of those guys in the categories that a pitcher has some control over.  The things he doesn't have control over like wins and Cy Young Awards, were the very instruments the writers used to keep him out for so long.  Wins are highly team-dependent and in Blyleven's case he rarely pitched for good ones.  When he did, he did well.  He pitched for two World Champions and posted a playoff record of 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.077 WHIP.  As for holding his lack of Cy Young Awards against him, the writers were essentially congratulating themselves twice for making the same mistake of overlooking his performance in the first place.

Roberto Alomar was also voted in.  This one was a no-brainer but what puzzles me is that Barry Larkin, a contemporary middle infielder at a more challenging position, was not.  There is an excellent article detailing their similarities at Fangraphs, so I won't go rehash all the details here.  Suffice it to say that Larkin deserves enshrinement as one of the 5 or 6 best shortstops ever.

But back to Blyleven for a segueway... as happy as I am to see the grass roots movement finally succeed, I'm a little concerned that those same people will focus their energies on gaining admission for Edgar Martinez.  I'm just not convinced he belongs.  Sure, he was an excellent hitter but as a DH (and essentially a part-time player since he doesn't contribute with his glove) for almost his entire career he needs to be unquestionably spectacular for me to believe that he deserves enshrinement. His OPS+ (147) is right there with Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell and that certainly means he was a terrific hitter.  But then again, Jim Thome has the same OPS+.  Jason Giambi (142) is pretty close too.  Lance Berkman (145), Albert Belle (143) and Kevin Michell (142), too.  Are all those guys Hall of Famers as well?  At least Berkman, Belle and Mitchell played in the field.  When your closest career comparables are Moises Alou, John Olerud, Will Clark, Todd Helton, et al, as Martinez' are, for me at least I'm afraid you were just not good enough of a hitter to deserve enshrinement.  For me, a Hall of Fame DH has to be Frank Thomas-like (OPS+ of 156) to get in.  Do you know who his comparables are? Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenburg, Mickey Mantle.. Now that's Hall of Fame company.

Which leads me to Jeff Bagwell (OPS+ 149). I guess there are a lot of voters who have associated him with Ken Caminiti by virute of the fact that they both were power-hitting teammates in Houston. As I understand it, Caminiti began his steroid use when he moved to San Diego, but nevertheless... I dont know whether Bags did or not, and I will admit that's an important factor for me.  It's no secret that I sympathize with the anti-steroids crowd when it comes to voting for the Hall.  I think my position on the topic has been pretty clear from the get-go.  I devoted an entire section on the home page to the articles I've written so there's no need to go further.  That said, I need more than idle speculation or the fact that he was teammates with a guy who was eventually a user.  I need some form of evidence and for Bagwell I don't know of any.  He's clean.  As such, it's hard to find a more productive hitter (or better fielding first baseman) than Bagwell over the 10-year period from 1994-2003. He averaged nearly 40 homers, 40 doubles and 20 steals, which is great for old-time stats guys. For me, the OPS near 1.000 (.994) and the OPS+ of 156 while playing in the toughest pitcher's park in the majors (the Astrodome) during that time frame is what clinches it.  That and he posted one of the 25 best adjusted OPS seasons in history: 213 in 1994.  Ironically, the guy who shares the same birthday as Bagwell, Frank Thomas, produced his best season that same year with the 25th best OPS+ season (211).

Tim Raines is the other guy I'd like to see go in next year with Larkin and Bagwell. I think voters still hold the cocaine thing against him a little and the fact that he did not get as much exposure in Montreal as his closest contemporary, Ricky Henderson, did in Oakland. I heard another compelling argument for why voters seem to ignore him: because he played in the same league as Vince Coleman, voters see the two as interchangeable stolen base guys. For Coleman, I think that's an accurate appraisal of his contributions on the field.  But Raines posted an on base of .385 for his career to go along with a stolen base success rate of 84.6%. That 84.6% is a good reason why it could be argued that Tim Raines is the greatest base stealer in the history of baseball. Yes, Rickey stole more bases and got on base more, but Raines success rate was 4% better. If we were using batting average that'd be the difference between Ty Cobb and Todd Helton.  Records for caught stealing don't go back to the days of Cobb and Max Carey, but for the players they do have records for, no one with more than 289 career stolen bases has a better success rate, and Raines stole 808 bases. Carlos Beltran is the only player who has a better success rate and he ranks 169th on the total steals list.  Considering only 4 guys have more career steals than Raines, I'd say that makes him the best base stealer in the history of the game. Put another way, had Raines attempted steals as often as Rickey Henderson did, he would have finished with 1475 career steals

As for Jack Morris and Lee Smith, personally I wish their candidacies would fade away. I do think they were very good pitchers and they had their share of spotlight successes. But for me, neither one was indisputably great. Morris wasn't particularly stingy in WHIP, ERA+ nor was he particularly dominant in Ks. The real strength of his candidacy is having the good sense of always playing for good teams. Likewise, Lee Smith was the great beneficiary of Dennis Eckersley's success. He spent most of his career as a 1-inning closer. And while he did have a couple of excellent years, his ERAs and WHIPs are rather unimpressive for a closer.

So good luck to Bags, Lark and Raines next year.  You guys deserve it.