Hall of Fame Week: A Very Long Road

Hall of Fame Week: A Very Long Road

Braves

Hall of Fame Week: A Very Long Road

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Welcome back to Hall of Fame week here at Walk-Off Walk. Over the last two days, I covered the 20 first-timers on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. Most will be one-and-done, one (Mariano Rivera) is an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer, and another (Roy Halladay) has a good chance of joining him. That leaves around three other players who will enter the waiting game that each of the five players reviewed today have already experienced at least once – waiting to see if your Hall of Fame prospects improve on the next year’s ballot. The five players today, however, have just a small chance of reaching the 75% threshold after receiving less than 12% on last year’s ballot.

Hall of Fame Week 2018

The Hopeless First-Timers
Compelling First-Timers

Gary Sheffield
.292/.393/.514, 509 HR, 49.3 JAWS

On one hand, we’re talking about one of the most feared bats of an era. Sheffield was capable of a lightening quick turn-arounds on even the best fastballs. For Braves fans, seeing Sheff hit a line drive homer that reached the stands in a blink is one of the most impressive things any of us will ever see. He was an All-Star nine times, a five-time Silver Slugger winner, a MVP runner-up in 2004, and he has some of the most impressive offensive metrics of his time. Here’s a list of players with a .290 batting average, .900 OPS, 500 homers, and 200 steals: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and Gary Sheffield. That’s the end of the list.

Buuuuuuutttttt…there is a caveat and Bonds knows all about this one. During his first season in Atlanta, Sheffield used a cream provided by BALCO that included PED. Sheff says he didn’t know the cream included PED, but his admitted use compounded by even better players being hurt by the same specter of steroids (Bonds, Roger Clemens) is hurting Sheff to the point that he received less than 12% of the vote last year. Some may also call into question his defense, but I think that’s bogus and simply trying to pile on. However, his attitude can be questioned as Sheff even admits to messing up on purpose in the field as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers early in his career. He did later back off those statements.

Is Sheff a Hall of Famer? Statistically, there is both a case for him and a case against him. The latter is largely built on even better players who aren’t in the Hall. Much of that is due to steroids, of course. Sheff was definitely flawed, but he was also one of the top hitters of his time. He certainly deserves better than only a 12% of the voters giving him the time of day.

Billy Wagner
47-40, 2.31 ERA, 422 SV, 23.7 JAWS

Closers are a weird breed. Without something to set them apart, their hopes of getting into the Hall of Fame are extremely limited to eras committees. And with Wags, that is very much the case. Yesterday, I reviewed Mariano Rivera and obviously, his case is special because he’s the owner of the career saves mark and his postseason numbers are ridiculously good. The problem with Wagner is he lacks the counting stats or playoff numbers. He also lacks the recognition via awards or other measures as one of the greatest of his time.

In his favor were seven trips to the All-Star Game, but he never led the lead in saves and won just one Rolaids Relief Award. Fans of Wagner will point out that the left-hander is one of just five pitchers to record at least 400 saves with a career ERA under 3.00. The problem is that list isn’t filled with first-ballot Hall of Famers. Rivera will go in this year and Trevor Hoffman went in last year after needing a couple of seasons. But John Franco didn’t get in and Francisco Rodriguez is a long shot.

The problem with closers is the relative youth of the position. Even for Wagner, who K’d a third of all hitters he faced, standing out at a position where reaching milestones like 300/350/400 saves becomes a bit more commonplace every year takes away from the metric’s value. It’s like when the 500 HR club went from just a few total members to a few reaching the mark every other year. Is Joe Nathan’s 377 saves Hall of Fame-worth? Is Jonathan Papelbon’s 368? Now, certainly, Wagner was dominant in a way that many weren’t. That keeps him in the discussion. But for many voters, they see a guy with two fewer saves than John Franco and pass.

Scott Rolen
.281/.364/.490, 316 HR, 55.7 JAWS

Unlike some candidates, there are those that absolutely think Scott Rolen should be in the Hall and then there are those that absolutely think he shouldn’t be. And oddly, both are easy to argue. For those detractors, they’ll point out that Rolen never led the league in one notable offensive category. He was a runner-up for most doubles during 2003 and RBI during 2004, but that’s it. As such, he’s just 52nd in career doubles, 156th in career OPS, and he just barely passed the 300-HR mark over his final three injury-shortened seasons with the Reds.

But those that believe Rolen should be in the Hall point out that he was more than just offensive metrics. He was a competent hitter, posting a 122 OPS+ during his 17-year career, but where he shined was in the field. He won eight Gold Gloves during his career and ranks 45th all-time in Defensive WAR. The problem is that the defensive WAR list is littered with guys that not only didn’t make it to Cooperstown, they didn’t come all that close. You pretty much have to be Ozzie Smith/Brooks Robinson good in the field. While elite, Rolen’s numbers aren’t quite on par with those guys.

If Rolen is a Hall of Famer, he’s a borderline choice. Hitting .220/.302/.376 in the playoffs certainly won’t help. One top-10 placement in MVP voting also doesn’t help. On the other hand, seven All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger do help. But maybe not enough.

Sammy Sosa
.273/.344/.534, 609 HR, 57.8 JAWS

What happens if you take all the steroids melodrama with Bonds and you hand it off to a much more flawed player? You get Sosa, who hit 609 homers and has received more than 10% of the vote just once – his first year. This will be his seventh year on the ballot and it’s questionable if he will even get the 5% needed to stay on the ballot for an eighth year. Which seems crazy when you start looking at the numbers: One MVP, another MVP Runner-Up, Six Silver Sluggers, Seven All-Star selections, and Two Homerun Titles. Oh, and his race with Mark McGwire in 1998 supposedly “saved” baseball.

But, again, this all comes down to steroids, though we can talk about the negatives of Sosa’s game if we want. He struck out a ton and became a defensive liability, though he always had a strong arm. But nobody is dinging him for that. In 2009, Sosa was on a list of players who tested positive for PED back in 2003. That was before he testified in front of Congress to say he had never taken any PED. Rob Manfred has suggested the report from 2009 may not be entirely accurate because of the testing limitations at the time. Nevertheless, Sosa is front-and-center as one of the faces of the steroid era. And as such, he has been utterly ignored when it comes to the Hall of Fame. So far, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker, he’s received just 8 votes or 13.6% of the available ballots. He’s picked up two new votes from first-time voters and lost one vote from someone who gave him support last year.

Andruw Jones
.254/.337/.486, 434 HR, 57.9 JAWS

Well, this is a Braves blog, so let’s dive deep into Andruw’s case. On one hand, JAWS, Jay Jaffe’s system of looking at Hall of Fame candidacy, has Andruw as the tenth-best candidate on this year’s ballot – better than Sosa, Sheffield, and even Todd Helton. His peak-WAR, otherwise called WAR7, ranks fifth behind Bonds, Clemens, Roy Halladay, and Curt Schilling. Even his overall WAR ranks 10th on this ballot. But we know before even looking that Andruw’s case offensively is lacking. There are 14 hitters on this ballot alone with a higher OPS+ than Andruw, including Jason Bay.

Outside of 2005, when he led the league in homers and was the runner-up for the MVP, Andruw never led the league in any offensive categories outside of games played. If you remember back to the select club I built with Sheff’s metrics, a similar club for Andruw (430 HR, 120 SB) isn’t quite as select with 20 members. That said, 13 members are already in Cooperstown, another sure to join them in Carlos Beltran, and then you have the steroid cases of Bonds, Sosa, Sheffield, and, soon, Alex Rodriguez. The final non-Hall guy was a steroid case as well – Jose Canseco. The problem for Hall voters with this club is that Andruw has the worst numbers of this club with the fewest homers and lowest batting average.

Andruw Jones is also hurt by a quick decline to nothing. A durable player during his prime with the Braves, Andruw probably paid for that durability and years of dives and crashing into walls by becoming a shell of his former self after he hit 30. Over his final six seasons, Andruw hit just .214/.314/.420 with 92 homers. He quickly became a liability in center field. A similar decline for Dale Murphy robbed him of a trip to Cooperstown. Will that happen to Andruw as well?

But with Andruw, we aren’t talking offense alone. An .823 OPS isn’t an impressive stat for Hall of Famers. Ten Gold Gloves are, though. The most Total Zone Runs as an outfielder since 1953, the year the stat goes back to, is pretty impressive. Andruw is sitting at 252. Up next is Roberto Clemente at 205. And that’s the list of players with over 200 Total Zone Runs as an outfielder. In terms of Defensive WAR, Andruw ranks 21st. But the most impressive part about that is Andruw Jones is the only player to play at least 50% of his games in the outfield and reach 20 career Defensive WAR. In fact, you have to go all the way down to Paul Blair with 18.8 Defensive WAR to find another outfielder. And, oh, Blair ranks 60th in career Defensive WAR.

Of course, this also goes with the eye test. Braves fans got a long look at watching Andruw Jones make the hard plays look mundane and the impossible look doable. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz are all in the Hall of Fame and Andruw played a part of their success.

Andruw lacks the offensive numbers, but unlike another player on this ballot with much more support (Omar Vizquel), Andruw did have a some big numbers at the plate. 434 career homers is not nothing. And defensively, it’s hard to argue that Andruw Jones was anything but the best defensive outfielder in history. Yet, he barely made it onto a second ballot and has a net gain of zero after 58 ballots have been received to this point. At this point, it seems far-fetched that Andruw Jones will make it to the Hall without getting the kind of treatment that recently awarded Harold Baines a spot.

What do you think? Do any of these five dreamers have a chance of overcoming the odds and getting into the Hall of Fame before their time runs out? Will they find second life on an Eras Committee in 15-20 years? Let me know below. Tomorrow, I continue my look at this year’s ballot with with four sluggers and a gloveman.

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