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Obligatory Class of 2013 Hall of Fame opinion piece

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Roger Clemens; is he a Hall of Famer or an opportunity for writers to make a PED statement? Photo unknown.

Obligatory Class of 2013 Hall of Fame opinion piece.

The 2013 Hall of Fame class ballot was released in Late November, on BBWAA’s site.   Here’s the 2013 class on Baseball-Reference.com, along with relevant career stats and past voting results.

As we’re about to read, over and over again from every writer in the Baseball world, this is the Steroid-era ballot.  Several of the biggest names of the era are on the ballot.  Just in case you were wondering who has or hasn’t been officially linked to PEDs, here’s a handy guide for your ethical dilemma.

My Previous posts on the same topic:

I typed up such exhaustive opinions on a number of candidates from the two previous versions of these posts, that I won’t repeat them here.  Instead i’ll just state below, of the returning candidates this year here’s who I’d vote for and who I wouldn’t in list form.

Returning Candidates I’d vote for:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Jack Morris
  • Tim Raines
  • Mark McGwire
  • Edgar Martinez

Returning Candidates that I would NOT vote for (my reasons mostly are stated in the 2012 class post referenced above):

  • Bernie Williams
  • Alan Trammell
  • Lee Smith
  • Larry Walker
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Don Mattingly
  • Fred McGriff
  • Dale Murphy

New Candidates in 2012 that I’d vote for, with some  discussion; Unlike a lot of opinions I state, my thoughts on the Hall of Fame have always been more driven by how a player “seems” to be in the pantheon of baseball history.  I don’t like to get into the same stats-driven discussions that other writers do.  So and so had a career WAR of X, or a career ERA+ of Y, which makes him better than this other guy.

  • Barry Bonds: A transcendent player before any use of “the cream” or “the clear,” this 7-time MVP is clearly in the pantheon of the greatest players of all-time.  The best 5-tool player since Willie Mays, the only thing that should have been standing in the way of unanimous voting is Bonds’ surly nature towards sports writers (several of whom would have “penalized” him by omitting him from first ballot status).
  • Roger Clemens: replace “7-time MVP” with “7-time Cy Young winner” and the Bonds argument essentially repeats itself with Clemens.  Normally we’d be talking about his place as one of the greatest right handed pitchers to ever play the game.  Instead we’re talking about how much of his later career was enhanced by virtue of foreign substances.
  • Mike Piazza: One of the best 3 hitting catchers of all time (Johnny Bench being the best, with Yogi Berra in the discussion), his purported “back acne” proof of steroid use likely costs him votes.  Which is just ridiculous, but that’s the nature of this ballot and the next 15 year’s worth of ballots unfortunately.
  • Curt Schilling: his career accomplishments don’t include a Cy Young award, but that wasn’t for lack of trying; he just happened to pitch in the same ERA as Randy Johnson and Johan Santana in his prime power.  But Schilling was a game-changing starter, an Ace who could get you the win.  He was one of the biggest “big game” pitchers out there.  And, his legendary playoff performances push him over the top for me.  Some will argue against him b/c he “only” had 216 wins or he “only” had a career 3.46 ERA.  He passes the eye test for me.
  • Craig Biggio: he wasn’t the flashiest player, but then again you can’t judge middle infielders the same way as you judge power hitters.  Biggio hit the 3,000 hit plateau, was a good combination of power (291 career homers) and speed (414 career SBs), and showed good defense (several Gold Gloves).  For one of the last career one-team guys, he makes the cut for me.

New Candidates that I would NOT vote for:

  • Sammy Sosa: 600+ career homers, and I can’t help but think that a good number of those were either PED or corked-bat assisted.  That’s probably completely unfair, but you can make a good argument that more than 150 of his career homers were likely “surplus” to his legitimate career capabilities.  He averaged 37 homers/season as he approached his prime, then suddenly averaged 60/season for four seasons.  Clearly Bonds’ 73-homer season is attributable to a single-season PED spike, but Sosa made a career of it.  There’s just no way for me to distinguish who the real Sosa was (he had a 99 OPS+ the year before his power spike) versus the PED enhanced version.
  • Kenny Lofton: I know lots of people view Lofton in the same breath as Rickey Henderson in terms of quality lead-off hitters, but to me he was just a vagabond who kept looking for work year after year.  He played for 12 teams by the time he hung them up.  Perhaps I’m not really “remembering” his time in Cleveland, where he stole a ton of bases and set the table for that powerful lineup.   He had a handful of gold gloves, a handful of all-star appearances.  I may be under-appreciating him a bit, but when I hear his name I don’t knee-jerk Hall of Famer.
  • Everyone else first time eligible, the best player of which is probably David Wells.  Wells basically had two good seasons (the only two times he received any Cy Young consideration) and otherwise was a rubber-armed hurler who prided himself on making 35 starts despite being in god-awful shape (as noted extensively in Joe Torre‘s book The Yankee Years).

I’d be shocked if anyone else on the first time eligible list got enough votes to even stay eligible for 2014′s ballot.

Critics may state that my fake ballot has some inconsistencies; how can I support a vote for Biggio but not for Trammell?   How can you vote for McGwire but not Sosa?  How can you vote for Edgar Martinez but not Larry Walker?  How can you vote for *any* PED guys but shun Sosa and Palmeiro?  How can you support Morris but not support Wells?   All these are good points; good arguable points.  Maybe if I had an official ballot I’d have a more serious discussion with myself about these points.  All the above thumbs-up/thumbs-down opinions are mostly knee jerk, did the guy “feel” like a hall of famer as opposed to a full statistical analysis.   As I covered in my Jack Morris piece, I think its ok to have slightly lesser players who contributed more to the baseball pantheon than slightly better players statistically who had no real lasting impact on the game.

And for now, that’s good enough for me and my fake Hall of Fame ballot.

Pettitte was a very good pitcher… but no Hall of Famer

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Pettitte stares down another hitter. Photo noahhunt.org

Andy Pettitte‘s retirement (see my previous post for thoughts on its effect on the Yankees season) has lead to a series of inevitable posts about his Hall of Fame worthiness.  Si.com’s Joe Sheehan wrote this opinion piece after Pettitte’s retirement, saying that “Modern era of baseball demands Cooperstown find place for Pettitte.”  I won’t really go into his arguments except to say that he believed that Bert Blyleven was “wildly overqualified” for the hall, a position that I “wildly” disagree with and posted as much here about a month ago.  So its doubtful that I’d agree with his sentiments.

(Note; for the purposes of this article we will ignore the fact that Pettitte’s chances of getting voted into the hall in light of his PED usage admissions are somewhere between zero and nil anyway, and just think of his career in its merits).

So far, from what I’ve seen from the baseball columnists who have opined on the subject, there seems to be about a 50-50 split pro and con for the Hall.  Joe Lemire seems to agree with Pettitte’s own assertion that he is not Hall-worthy, Buster Olney thinks he’s a borderline candidate but th inks that he may be a Veteran’s committee inductee some day, and Jayson Stark thinks he’s not quite Hall worthy.

For me, Pettitte is NOT a Hall of Famer.  His career numbers show him to be a consistent hurler who was essentially a very good #3 pitcher on a number of very good Yankees teams.  He finishes his career with a 240-138 record, a career 3.88 era, 1.357 career whip and a 117 career ERA+.  His season-ending accomplishments include:

  • 3rd place in his Rookie of the Year voting (losing out to Marty Cordova and Garrett Anderson)
  • 5 years (out of 16) receiving Cy Young votes, though only one of those 5 years was actually meaningful in terms of the voting.  He finished 2nd to Pat Hentgen in the 1996 voting.
  • 3 all star appearances.

His enduring legacy is his post season career, where he has more appearances and more wins than any other pitcher.  He pitched in the post season in 13 of his 16 professional seasons, had 42 starts altogether, and compiled a 19-10 record with a 3.83 era and 1.304 whip.  These numbers are more or less in line with his career numbers, indicating that he was a good pitcher but not great.

I would be a stingy hall voter.  For me the qualifications of a Hall of Fame pitcher include all the analysis of career achievements, but also some semantical arguments:

  • Was the pitcher ever the best player on his team for a consistent period of time?  (no)
  • Was the pitcher a guaranteed shut-down hurler who was worth the price of admission? (no)
  • Was the pitcher regularly an all star and frequently STARTED the all star game? (no)
  • Were you, as a fan of the opposing team, ever “scared” to hear that Pettitte was going against your team? (not really).

At the bottom of Pettitte’s B-R page, his Hall of Fame Monitor score puts him at 42 .. which is better than Jack Morris but below the 50 range that generally qualifies a player as a HoFamer (this is Bill James‘ concoction and the one overall HoF score that I agree with).  But also more telling is the list of pitchers that Pettitte is most like.  Top two: David Wells, Kevin Brown. .  Ironic that these guys were also middle-of-the-rotation Yankees hurlers who gained many wins by virtue of being along for the ride on one of the best teams ever constructed (the late 1990s Yankees teams).

Bottom line; Pettitte was a good teammate and by all accounts a nice guy who made an awful lot of money in his career and goes down as one of the most decorated Yankees ever.  But he’s not one of the BEST ever.