It’s that time of year again. I am a member of the Internet Baseball Writers of America Association and I get to participate in their voting. Just to be clear–I am not a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America who actually get to elect ballplayers to Cooperstown. Increasingly the IBWAA feels a bit like an alternative universe as guys get into a digital version of the HOF, but have their noses pressed up against the glass where it really counts-the place with the bronze plaques. So, in 2017, we find Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez safely inside our comfortable electronic Hall, while struggling to be rightly recognized by the the writers with real cachet.
Another interesting ballot this year, with some great additions. Some are hall-worthy, most aren’t. Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez are the most compelling in terms of being Hall-worthy. But, Mike Cameron, one of my very favorite Mariners, is also on the ballot, together with other talented guys who are honored simply by their presence on the list, including Derrick Lee, Orlando Cabrera, and Carlos Guillen.
I try to commit myself to doing a little research before making my vote. But I find myself relying on Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system which compares career WAR with peak WAR, and compares that to other players in the Hall. The system seems fair, and, of course, offers voters the opportunity to make exceptions where needed.
Last year I voted for Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, though they did not get enough votes to get in. Mussina received 43% of the vote in 2016. A look at his career doesn’t have any gaudy statistics. He never won a Cy Young Award, though he was in the top five six times. Moose waited until his final season to win 20 games, though he won 19 twice and 18 three times. He pitched on some pretty good and pretty terrible Orioles teams, and in 2001 joined the Yankees, anchoring a pitching staff on a team I absolutely loathed. Though Mussina lacked the magic 300 wins counting numbers of recent inductees Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, there is little question in my mind he belongs in the Hall. Mussina is 19th in career strikeouts, and 10th in Win Probability Added (WPA) for a pitcher, between Jim Palmer and John Smoltz. The Bill James Hall of Fame monitor ranks Mussina a 54, while an average right handed starting pitcher already in the Hall is a 50. The JAWS system ranks him a 63.8, while average Hall pitchers are 62.1. Mussina pitched in a very hitter friendly era. My vote for him is a no-brainer.
Curt Schilling is tougher because, since his retirement in 2007, he’s been an idiot, tweeting all kinds of stupidity, taking irresponsible business risks, getting himself fired from ESPN. If there was a law against idiocy we wouldn’t be faced with certain orange-hued buffoons preparing to be the leader of the free world. But that’s a different story. Schilling pitched for some awful Astros and Phillies teams before jumping in the showcase with Randy Johnson on the 2001 World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks. His bloody sock performance for the Boston World Series winners in 2004 is the stuff of myth. He was tough as nails, and his numbers show it. Schilling is another pitcher short of the 300 win threshold with only 216. He is 15th in career strikeouts with 3,116, 26th in career WAR for pitchers with, and 18th in WPA for pitchers between Tom Glavine and Clayton Kershaw (followed by HOFer Robin Roberts.) The Bill James Hall of Fame monitor ranks Schilling as a borderline candidate with a score of 46. JAWS is more friendly with a ranking of 64.5, against a 62.1 average HOFer. I will hold my nose and vote yes.
Trevor Hoffman is one of those guys I don’t feel ratings and comparisons work very well for. In general, Hall voting is not kind to relief pitchers, closers, especially. Though Hoffman retired as the major league leader in saves, he was quickly eclipsed by Mariano Rivera. He doesn’t have wins, he doesn’t have innings pitched, he didn’t lead the planet in SO/9. All he did was save 601 games at a time when a closer was a one inning guy at the end of a game. There is considerable debate today about the value of a game closing specialist and whether a team’s best reliever should be used more flexibly, during the time of greatest need rather than the ninth inning as the Indians did Andrew Miller in the World Series. It’s fine to debate that for 2017, and I see that Jerry Dipoto is discussing that in regard to Edwin Diaz. But from 1993 to 2010 the closer on the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers was a guy named Hoffman, and he didn’t determine is use. And nobody in baseball did it better. Okay, maybe Rivera, but his time his coming. I refuse to penalize a guy for being the best in his role, just as I won’t punish Edgar for being the best DH. However Hoffman does set a floor for my vote, and I’m not able to vote for Billy Wagner. And for the same reason I voted for Hoffman, I will reluctantly vote for Lee Smith in his 14h year of Hall eligibility.
Larry Walker makes his 7th appearance on the Hall ballot. And again I will cast my vote for the former Expo/Rockies outfielder. Like Edgar, Walker is a no-brainer. He was a fine hitter and superior defensive player early in his career. Bill James rates him as a 58 with 50 as an average Hall of Famer. JAWS finds him a more marginal candidate with 58.6 compared with 58.1 for an average HOF outfielder.
Ivan Rodriguez makes his first appearance on the ballot. I-Rod is honestly among the best catchers I can ever recall, offensively and defensive. He ranks only behind Johnny Bench and Gary Carter in JAWS and WAR and slightly ahead of Carlton Fisk, all in the Hall. There is no concrete evidence linking Rodriguez to PEDS, a non-starter for me, simply the same dark rumors that plagued Mike Piazza and continue to dog Jeff Bagwell. So, he has my vote.
That’s it for my ballot this year. There are some other interesting choices I didn’t make, but would consider for the future. I’m on the fence about Gary Sheffield. He certainly has some great hitting numbers, but was a terrible defensive player for years and years. He also has some lingering PED rumors that he did nothing to dispell. I’m not there yet, but not saying no. The Bill James monitor likes Sheff a lot, the JAWS system, not so much.
I absolutely loved Vladimir Guerrero. I had a chance to see him play at Olympic Stadium back in the day, and everything he hit was hard. I always laughed while he launched bouncing pitches fair for hits and extra base hits. His numbers aren’t quite there, but close. He’s ahead of Hall outfielders Chuck Klein and Enos Slaughter, but behind non-Hall members Dwight Evans and Reggie Smith and WAR and JAWS. With his .318/.379/.553 career slash, with 449 career homers, it’s hard to say no, but I think it will take another year for me to decide.
Jorge Posada is another player I absolutely admired even though he played for the hated Yankees. Kind of the low-side of a tweener with numbers better than John McGraw’s Roger Bresnahan and much loved and early paralyzed Dodger Roy Campanella. But he is behind the bulk of HOF catchers including the more contemporary non-HOFers Bill Freehan and Ted Simmons. I’d have to be convinced.
No I didn’t vote for the parade of PED users including newcomer Manny Ramirez. They can sort out the problems they’ve made for themselves. Enjoy your money and your numbers, but no vote for a plaque from moi.
Which brings me to Mike Cameron. I would love to give him an honorary vote. Cammie is one of my absolute favorite Mariners of all time. His numbers aren’t there, and in 2007 he tested positive for a stimulant. But I still love his great relationship with Safeco fans and that he retired a Mariner and this: