First I am going to list the holdovers from last year:
-Trevor Hoffman- Lean Yes
-Jeff Kent-Lean Yes
-Tim Raines-Lean No
-Curt Schilling- Lean No
-Gary Sheffield- NO
There are 4 new faces that are worthy of discussion:
-Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez
First, I've got to address the steroid question:
I am willing to give suspected steroid users (Bagwell, Piazza) the benefit of the doubt but when it comes to confirmed users or cases in which there is strong evidence, I will vote NO every time.
Bonds and Clemens have legitimate cases because they were on a Hall of Fame track before they started juicing but I'm firm on NO CHEATERS. If you catch a student cheating on an exam, you give him an F even if he would have aced it without cheating.
Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, Manny Ramirez and Sheffield- all Disqualified.
Ivan Rodriguez- I vote NO here as well but concede he has a case. He never tested positive but he was visibly smaller and his numbers nose-dived after testing began. Jose Canseco named him as a user and he was right about all of those and even correctly named the steroid that Palmeiro used.
Let's look at Relief Pitchers next:
-I am not overly impressed by a pitcher who racks up a ton of saves over a long career in which he was never dominant. A pitcher gets credit for a save for holding a 3 run lead in the 9th inning. He could give up 2 runs on 4 hits but does not lose a game. Big deal! What does impress me is a career ERA under 2.50 and a WHIP close to 1.00
Here's where the 3 stand in those areas:
Lee Smith- Retired as the all-time save leader with 478 but finished his career with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.256 WHIP mostly in the pre-steroid era. Not dominant enough.
Billy Wagner- I feel very strongly about his candidacy. He finished with a 2.31 ERA and a 0.998 WHIP while striking out nearly one-third of all batters he faced and did so in a much tougher era for pitchers. That's the definition of a lights out closer. His numbers are comparable to Mariano Rivera, whom I fully expect to be a first ballot no-brainer. The only knock on Wagner is that he only pitched 903 innings with 422 saves. While I'd like to see more 4-6 out saves, Wagner's role was a 9th inning shut down closer and he was among the best of all time in that role.
Trevor Hoffman- He was a bit of a compiler who racked up 601 career saves but was more dominant than Lee Smith. Hoffman finished with a 2.87 ERA in the steroid era with a WHIP of 1.056 over nearly 1100 innings. Wagner is more deserving but I think Hoffman is worthy. If either his ERA or his WHIP ticks up by a tenth of a point, my vote changes despite the save total.
When it comes to starting pitchers and position players, there are 2 ways to get in:
1) Extreme dominance over a 5-7 year period. He's short of the magic milestones such as 3,000 hits or 500 home runs but finishes with very strong lifetime numbers in BA/OBP/SLUGGING.
2) Sustained strong performance over 16-20 years. He may never be considered a superstar but when it's all said and done, he has the magic numbers.
IMHO, BOTH cases are worthy of induction.
Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez- Both had relatively short careers and thus fell well short of the magic milestones. IIRC, both had less than 8,000 plate appearances. To got in under that scenario, I need to see at least 5 monster years. I'm talking a .330 BA and/or 45 home runs and a top 5 MVP every year. Neither player was nearly that dominant. NO on both.
Fred McGriff- The strike in '94-'95 cost him 500 HRs and 2500 hits. Though he was overshadowed by players such as McGwire and Giambi at his position, they were dirty. The only 2 1B of his era that were legitimately better were Bagwell and Frank Thomas. He had 10 seasons of 30+ HR and 5 top 10 MVP seasons. Add to that, he was great in the postseason. He should be in but sadly, I don't see it happening. My vote is YES.
Mike Mussina- 250 wins will probably be the new 300 for pitchers of today's game. Mussina finished with 270 and a .638 winning percentage. The knock on him is that he's a bit of a compiler who did not have the high peak of complete dominance and his ERA is a bit high at 3.68. That's still 23% better than league average in the steroid era. To me, he was a consistent workhorse pitcher who compares well with Jim Palmer and should be rewarded for a sustained high level of performance. If Jack Morris nearly got in with inferior numbers, Mussina should make it eventually. YES.
Jeff Bagwell- I was on the fence about his case for several years but I've come around this time. With no proof of steroid use, I've got to say innocent until proven guilty. Fell short of 500 home runs but his career ended a couple years early due to injury. He really shines with a .408 OBP and a .540 slugging. YES with reservations.
Curt Schilling- He's generated controversy with his political stances and even though I usually agree with him, it's not a factor in my vote. He's got the high peak but only really had 4-5 HOF caliber seasons and only 10 times in his career made 25 or more starts. As a result, his win total is low at 216. To me, he fell just a bit short. One or two more HOF seasons or more durability and thus close to 250 wins and my vote changes. Kevin Brown had remarkably similar numbers and was one and done. Where Schilling does bolster his case is his postseason record of 11-2. For that reason, I could change my mind down the road.
Tim Raines- He's expected to get in in this, his last year of eligibility. I won't be too upset if he does but I feel others are more deserving. Raines was on a Hall of Fame track early in his career but his numbers tailed off considerably after his age 27 season. Like Schilling, he had only 5 HOF caliber seasons and I'd like to see 7. If not, he needs 3,000 hits. Raines was able to hang on for a long career but was a platoon player in his last 4 years. In the end, he fell well short of 3,000 but did draw a lot of walks. He finished with a career OPS of .810. Even with his stolen bases, I just don't think that's quite good enough for the HOF. Close but no cigar. If Raines does get in, Kenny Lofton, who was one and done has a case based on comparable offensive number and superior defensive skills.
Jeff Kent- Without a doubt, Kent is one of the best offensive 2B ever and his numbers are superior to HOFer Ryne Sandberg. At least by reputation however, Kent's defense was average at best. Still, 377 HRs and an even .500 lifetime slugging percentage is phenomenal for a middle infielder. Kent was a late bloomer who really didn't become a star until he turned 30 but did not drop off after steroid testing began. YES with reservations but unlikely to get in.
Jorge Posada- Fine career and played a key role in his team's WS wins as a Yankee but his career overall falls short of HOF standards and it's really not that close. I do hope he beats the threshold to stay on the ballot for at least another year.
Vlad Guerrero- Another player with a relatively short career but he really was dominant. His numbers are very comparable to Bagwell and is widely believed to have been clean. Finished with a .318 lifetime BA and a .553 slugging. That is outstanding. YES without reservations. I predict that he'll get in eventually but probably not on the first ballot.
Any changes to the rules?
I support the 75% threshold and consider myself a moderately tough voter. For first year players, the only reform I would suggest is a 2nd question as to whether or not their candidacy merits discussion. Though I would vote NO on I-Rod and Posada, if you told me that they deserve enshrinement, I would respect your opinion. Most one and done players end up with 0-1% of the vote and are not even close to being qualified. You need 5% to stay on the ballot and with a crowded field, that can be tough for fringe candidates. My proposal is a 2nd question for the NO players such as Is his case worth consideration? If they meet a certain threshold there, they stay on for 2 more years. While I don't believe players such as Kenny Lofton and Carlos Delgado are HOFers, they both deserved better than one and done.
Next year, I want to see Chipper Jones and Jim Thome in on the 1st ballot.