Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | January 16, 2010

Who’s Your Hall of Famer? AL East Edition 2010

One of the things that intrigued me during all of the Hall of Fame Hullabaloo in the last two weeks is this idea about guys being thought of Hall of Famers when they played.   One of the things that was used as an argument for keeping Bert Blyleven out is “Nobody thought he was a Hall of Famer when he played!”    I was not alive during Andre Dawson’s prime, though I am old enough to remember when he was still a good player and legit big name.   Yet I don’t remember him being considered a Hall of Famer when he played.   For some reason, that argument was never used against him.   In any event, listening to these arguments led me to think about the idea of players being considered Hall of Famers when they play.   How many Hall of Famers are in the league now?   We don’t know for certain, and we won’t know for another 30 or 40 years, amazing as that is to fathom.   There are young players in this league like Adam Jones or Rick Porcello or Clayton Kershaw among many others who may or may not be Hall of Famers, but if they are, they’ll likely have 15 or 20 year careers which could be followed by as much as a 15 year Hall induction waiting period.  

After that players can still be inducted via the Veteran’s committee, though I believe once someone’s 15 years are up it is safe to say that the book is mostly closed (as an aside, that may not be true for the current era of inbound Hall of Famers.    Due to the steroid era/stigma, I suspect that there are alot of players that will be left out of the Hall of Fame by the media and later inducted into it by the Veteran’s Committee 20 or 25 years from now, when the stigma and furor surrounding it will likely have died down considerably and in an environment where players and politics have more of a say in the voting.  Remember, it’s much easier for a member of the media who has never met Mark McGwire to keep him out of the Hall of Fame than it is for someone who may have gotten hitting tips from him in college, or borrowed $20 from him after luggage got lost on the flight from St. Louis to Colorado to do so).

So I wanted to take a look at how many Hall of Famers are really among us.  Who is generally considered to be a Hall of Famer?  Who should generally be considered to be a Hall of Famer?   What may these Classes of 2017-2030 potentially look like?    I originally wanted to tackle this in one post, but I noted just how many Hall eligible players there were on each team (even though many aren’t realistic options) and decided it would be best to break it down by division.   I’m using the 2009 rosters to separate teams just because its easier to do that than to try and keep track of players like Jason Bay and Vladimir Guerrero who have switched teams in the off-season.  I will note where players have moved teams if necessary.   Today I will tackle the AL East, in great part because as the highest payroll and best division in the league, it will have the most of these players and thusly be the largest and longest post of this series (or at least I expect it to be).   Also in the interest of brevity, I’m limiting the discussion to players who would be eligible for the Hall if they retired tomorrow — Meaning guys with 10 years of service time.   There are a few exceptional cases of players who don’t meet this threshold (Albert Pujols) that I will note, but for the most part I will be ignoring players, even star players, who have not reached their 10 years to get eligible.   Players will be listed with the age that they will be for the majority of the 2010 season.

NEW YORK YANKEES

  

Alex Rodriguez, 34, 1994-
305/390/576, 2531 H, 583 HR, 1706 RBI  — wRC+  153  — 297/366 SB (81.1%)
As SS: 18 runs saved in 1,272 games.   As 3B:  -33.4 runs saved in 868 games.
12 Time All-Star, 3 Time MVP, 2 Time Gold Glove, Black Ink – 68 (avg. HoF – 27), Gray Ink – 204 (avg. HoF – 144)

WHY I WOULD VOTE HIM IN: There really needs be no argument.  He doesn’t need to play anymore baseball to get in.  He’s one of the five best players of his generation.  Until he moved to third base, where his defense has been poor, he did everything in the game well.  The fact that he will play more baseball will only serve to discern between whether he’s an upper echelon Hall of Famer or on the Ted Williams/Barry Bonds tier (which would be below the Babe Ruth tier that he shares all by himself) of the very best to ever have played the game.

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT NOT VOTE HIM IN:  To me, there is no good reason to keep him out.  To others, his link to steroids will be the reason he is kept out.   Unfortunate.

Jorge Posada, 38, 1995-
277/379/480, 1488 H, 243 HR, 964 RBI  —- wRC+ 128
-18 runs saved in 1,490 games.   373/1285 CS, 29%
5 Time All-Star, 5 Time Silver Slugger, Black Ink – 0, Gray Ink – 17

WHY I WOULD VOTE HIM IN: And so the second player up is probably what would be the first controversial one.  Jorge Posada came up for good in 1997 and has been a starter since 1998, and has been a premier offensive catcher ever since.   Since 1997 he’s only been below average in league hitting once (1999), and has often been well above average, as his 128 wRC+ would attest to.  Defensively he’s been mostly average throughout his career but not a liability.   Being a capable catcher with strong offense is a very difficult combination to find in this league, and a very valuable one.  I’d stop short of putting on a full-on Posada campaign — I’m not determined that he absolutely SHOULD be in the Hall — However, if I had a vote and there were not 10 more qualified players eligible on the ballot, I would use one of my blank slots to put a check next to Posada’s name.  I think he’s earned it.

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT NOT VOTE HIM IN:  He doesn’t have enough counting numbers.  He only has 1,488 hits.  He’ll probably cross 1,000 RBI in 2010, but for a player with so few hits that is unlikely to impress many.   He’s never led the league in a category, and as his gray ink total shows, he’s rarely even been close.   His career has been relatively short — He first got 200+ PAs at age 25, first got 400+ PAs at age 26, and first got 500+ PAs at age 28.  It wasn’t until this age 28 season (2000) that he began regularly playing in 140+ games.   This has given him a strong 10 year peak but little to show for his career outside of it.  He “only” has 6300 career PAs.

Derek Jeter, 36, 1995-
317/388/459, 2747 H, 224 HR, 1068 RBI — wRC+ 131 — 305/385 SB (79.2%)
-118.8 runs saved in 2,123 games.
10 Time All-Star, World Series MVP, 4 Gold Gloves, 4 Time Silver Slugger, Black Ink – 6, Gray Ink – 129

WHY I WOULD VOTE HIM IN:  Like Rodriguez, this is really a no-brainer.   While Jeter is not on Rodriguez’s tier as a player, he is an all-time great.  I was surprised to see that he had a career OBP of .388.  He’s been consistent, literally his entire career has been one long peak at the plate.  Since he became a regular player in 1996, he’s not only never had a below average season offensively, but he’s never had an wRC+ below 110.   So he’s always AT LEAST 10% better than the average hitter in the league, and has often been much, much better than that.   He’s pretty much been a butcher in the field his whole career, and is generally exhibit A for what a terrible job the writers do with the Gold Glove award, which is rendered essentially useless as a tool to judge careers when a player who has been as bad as Jeter has defensively for his career could win 4 of them (Side note: Strangely enough, Jeter had the best defensive season of his career in 2009 at the age of 35 and was a defensible pick for the GG in that season……the other 3 times, not so much).   In spite of his defensive shortcomings, he has been so good at the plate, so consistent (he’s only played less than 150 games three times and only played less than 145 once since 1996), that he’s a sure thing.   In addition to his on-field performance, he also has several iconic plays that have made him a central part of baseball lore during the generation in which he played.   Jeter is a true Hall of Famer.

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT NOT VOTE HIM IN:  They don’t like good baseball players?   Anti-East Coast bias?   He wasn’t as good as Babe Ruth?  Those seem like the best guesses to me.

Johnny Damon, 36, 1995-   CURRENTLY A FREE AGENT
288/355/439, 2425 H, 207 HR, 996 RBI — wRC+ 112 — 374/470 SB (79.6%)
As CF: -35.8 runs saved in 1,294 games.   As LF: 44.8 runs saved in 579 games.   As RF: -4.1 runs saved in 147 games.
2 Time All-Star, Black Ink – 6, Gray Ink – 75

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT VOTE HIM IN:  He was an iconic figure on a Red Sox team that won its first championship in over 80 years, thus making him a Central figure in baseball lore.   He was a starter on that team and had a career year for that team.  He’s one of the best leadoff men of his era, playing 72% of his games out of the leadoff spot in the order and posting a .355 OBP when he hit there.  He had 26 career home runs in his first at bat of the game and has a respectable stolen base total with a very good success rate.  He’s played at least 140 games every year since 1996, though rarely topping 150.   He will likely retire with over 2,500 hits.

WHY I WOULD NOT VOTE HIM IN:  Damon seems to me to be more of a very good role player than a true Hall of Famer.  He was not an exceptional anything.  He’s been outstanding as a defender when relegated to Left Field, but he’s only played about a quarter of his career there.  He was an otherwise uninspiring defender.  He was a good hitter for average but not great.  A good hitter for power but not great.  Very good at stealing bases, but not great.   He never even had a great peak, or run of time when he was great which was bookended by less inspiring times.   He’s topped 120 in wRC+ five times, but they’ve been mostly sporadic (including having done it in each of the last two seasons) and he’s only topped 130 once (last year).   He deserves his place in the Hall of Very Good next to Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris, but there’s just nothing EXCEPTIONAL about Damon’s career.  It’s all just very good.

Mariano Rivera, 40, 1995-
71-52, 2.25 ERA, 1090 IP, 526/588 SV (89%), 1.01 WHIP, 203 ERA+, 1006 K, 256 BB
10 Time All-Star, World Series MVP, All-Time Leader in ERA+, Black Ink – 9, Gray Ink – 42

WHY I WOULD VOTE HIM IN: Listen.  I subscribe to the idea that ERA is a severely flawed statistic, not the best for use when looking at pitchers any longer.  I get it.   But Rivera is the ALL-TIME LEADER in ERA+.   That by itself should be enough to get him into the Hall, given his amount of games pitched.   That is more impressive, to me, than his 526 saves.   But you know what?   It’s not even worth it going into all the numerical reasons for Rivera to be in the Hall.  He is the definition of the contemporary closer.   Period.   While I personally am not a fan of contemporary closer as far as how it is applied, much of my reasoning is tied into the fact that nobody is Rivera except Rivera.   If all of the contemporary closers were Rivera, I’d have little beef with it.   He is the best relief pitcher of all-time.  Of ALL-TIME.   Better than Gossage.  Better than Fingers.   Better than Tekulve, or Wilhelm.  He’s in.

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT NOT VOTE HIM IN:  The glare from his championship rings is so bright, that it stretches for miles.  It is easy to see how some writers in New England might be blinded by the light and accidentally check the wrong box when they meant to vote for him on their Hall of Fame ballot.
 

BOSTON RED SOX

J.D. Drew, 34, 1998-
283/392/504, 1260 H, 216 HR, 705 RBI — wRC+ 136
As RF: 71 runs saved in 1,059 games.  As CF: 8.1 runs saved in 220 games.
1 Time All-Star, Black Ink – 0, Gray Ink – 11

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT VOTE HIM IN: Certainly Drew is a player who was one of the “Draft day Hall of Famers”.   Those guys you just KNEW would make it to the Hall from the minute he came off the board.  Injuries among other things have sapped the enthusiasm out of that assumption, but Drew’s career wRC+ of 136 shows that when he actually is on the field he truly has been one of the best players in the game — A feared hitter and a great defender.  His career OBP is near .400 (though with his best years behind him, its more likely to go down than up from here on) and his career slugging percentage is over .500.   His 2004 season in Atlanta was absolutely transcendent, as he combined a wRC+ of 167 (31 HR, .569 SLG) with +9.5 run defense.  In the 12 years he’s played in the league, it would not be an exaggeration to say that a healthy J.D. Drew has been one of the very best players in the major leagues.

WHY I WOULD NOT VOTE HIM IN: A healthy J.D. Drew is too often absent from class when roll is called, and there have not been enough 2004’s.   He hasn’t played enough games and hasn’t accumulated enough counting numbers.  He has less than 1500 games and 5500 PAs, although he’ll likely retire with numbers over both marks.  He’s never played more than 146 games in a season and has only played more than 110 six times (though all six were 135-146 games).   Even if he stayed healthy long enough (or hung on long enough) to play into his very late 30s or even 40s, it seems likely that the decline phase of his career is coming sooner rather than later and as such, it would still hinder his ability to reach the requisite counting numbers for the Hall.   He doesn’t have enough “accomplishments” either.  He has few awards, few recognitions, and “only” one ring.   While these things matter very little to me (especially awards, which I find to be rife with fraud), they matter alot to voters generally.    Finally, even if J.D. managed to stay healthy and transcendent into his late 30s and was able to rack up a more suitable total of counting numbers (let’s say: 2000 hits and 300-325 HR), he still wouldn’t get in because people just don’t like him.   The stunt he pulled on draft day with Philadelphia left a bad taste in the mouth of alot of people (similar to Eric Lindros in the NHL, though strangely John Elway never got that stigma in the NFL) from the start, and since he has been in the league he has had the reputation of being lazy and moody.   That he has been oft-injured has only served to fuel the fires of those who already have plenty of reasons (justified or not) to not like him.  I would not vote for J.D. if I had a vote, but even if I could convince one writer to do so just as a special favor to me, he would still have no chance of ever getting in.

David Ortiz, 34, 1997-
282/377/545, 1458 H, 317 HR, 1068 RBI — wRC+ 137
-7.2 runs saved in 244 games.
5 Time All-Star, 4 Time Silver Slugger, Black Ink – 16, Gray Ink – 75

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT VOTE HIM IN: Like Damon, Ortiz was an iconic member of the 2004 Red Sox team and as such has sealed his place in baseball lore.  As “Big Papi”, he’s one of characters of the game that is part of its rich history.  His peak years — And if you assume, like me, that last year was a sign that his peak is officially over — Were absolutely BRUTAL on opposing pitching.  In the five year period from 2003-2007, Ortiz was one of baseball’s ten best hitters.  In that five year period he was 302/402/612 with 208 homers (more than two-thirds of his career total!) and an OPS+ of 156 (I’m unable to get wRC+ in bunches of years….only for individual seasons or careers, so in this case I’m using a slightly inferior hitting metric in OPS+).   He also had nearly as many walks (465) as strikeouts (560).   He was intentionally walked 60 times in that period, truly fitting the definition of a “feared” hitter.   Ortiz’s peak was unlike any other, and he was a highly valuable part of Boston’s machine that won two titles in the 2000’s.

WHY I WOULD NOT VOTE HIM IN:  Many will automatically disqualify him due to his link to steroids.  In my case, his career in general has been too short, and he’s not done enough outside of his peak, which was also a relatively short period of time (5 years).  He was a very late bloomer, having played three seasons of more less average-to-above average baseball as a hitter from his age 24 to 26 seasons (2000-02), and not playing more than 130 games until his age 28 season in 2004.   He didn’t play the field and didn’t hit well enough long enough to cover for it.  I would even hesitate to place him in the Hall of the Very Good.  He’s a player who had a monster five year run, but outside of that period he’s mostly been a ho-hum role player.   While there are arguments to be made for players with high-powered peaks that don’t have quality full careers, his peak didn’t last long enough (nor was it good enough for a full-time DH) and the rest of his career has been substandard enough that I think he pretty clearly does not deserve induction.

John Smoltz, 43, 1988-      CURRENTLY A FREE AGENT
213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3473 IP, 298/481 QS (62%), 154/169 SV (91%), 1.18 WHIP, 125 ERA+, 3084 K, 1010 BB
8-Time All-Star, 1 Time Cy Young, 1 Time Silver Slugger, Black Ink – 34, Gray Ink – 199

WHY I WOULD VOTE HIM IN:  Smoltz is Dennis Eckersley minus the iconic status and fanfare.  A great starter, and one of the best ever closers.  He performed the latter role for a much shorter period of time than Eckersley although he did so for the same reason, and was better at converting saves than Mariano Rivera.   He’s been a workhorse during an era when pitchers don’t throw so many innings anymore, as he’ll retire with over 3500 innings pitched if he can get 6 or 7 more starts this season.  I think his career has been obscured a bit by being a cog in the Atlanta pitching wheel and being generally the least glamourous of the cogs, in comparison to Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux (and even Steve Avery when he was going good), yet he has had an outstanding career with an incredibly long peak:  He had many good to great seasons before 1995, but from 1995 (at age 28) to 2007 (age 40) Smoltz threw 2009 innings and racked up 1916 strikeouts, with a WHIP of 1.12 and ERA of 3.05 (ERA+ 141).  For those who care about pitcher wins (I don’t), he also won 129 games to go with 154 saves in that time.    During that time he also gave up less than a home run per nine innings (0.7) and only walked 2.2 per nine innings.    That’s a very long peak of 13 years when he was completely dominant, and he had some good to great years that fell outside of his peak as well.  He has over 3 strikeouts for every walk in his career.   By every measure John Smoltz is one of the All-Time greats of the game.

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT NOT VOTE HIM IN:  He was never generally recognized as the best pitcher in the league at any given time.   He was rarely recognized as the best or even second best pitcher on his own team for most of the best years of his career.  He struggled mightly in Boston, a high profile team, in 2009 when they were really counting on him (I can hear you snickering, but don’t laugh.  It may seem ridiculous, but trust me when I say that there will be someone who uses his performance as a 42 year old in Boston as a reason to not vote for him one day.   People have used Bert Blyleven’s horrible seasons late in his career with the Angels as reasons why he doesn’t belong in the Hall, and there were people who admitted that they left Roberto Alomar off of their ballot because of his terrible play with the Mets when he was past his prime.  I know for those of us who consider context and reality, it sounds silly to dock Smoltz for being horrible in Boston at age 42, but trust me, out there somewhere is a voter with a ballot who can’t wait to NOT check the box next to Smoltz’s name because of it).

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Troy Percival, 40, 1995-
35-43, 3.17 ERA, 708.2 IP, 358/415 SV (86%), 1.11 WHIP, 146 ERA+, 781 K, 306 BB
4 Time All-Star, Black Ink – 0, Gray Ink – 31

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT VOTE HIM IN:  Remember Percy in his prime?   Did you even realize he was still in the game?  While Posada is a borderline Hall of Famer, it was pretty easy for me to conclude I would vote for him.  Percival is the first player that has come up that really made me stop and pause and think about whether or not I would, if I had the vote.  In fact, players like Percival are the reason why I made the cutoff parameters for players to be included in this series, for had you asked anyone back in 2004 whether or not Percival was a Hall of Famer, it seemed to essentially be a slam dunk.   Those who don’t like the idea of closers in the Hall period were against it, but it seemed clear that so long as Percival didn’t fall off a cliff and just had a normal, regular decline, he’d be in.  He racked up 316 of his 358 career saves during his 10 years in Anaheim, during which time he posted an ERA of 2.99, a WHIP of 1.10, and a K/9 of 10.4   He was very good, and very nasty.

WHY I WOULD NOT VOTE HIM IN:  He fell off a cliff.  Signing as a free agent with the Tigers in 2005, he was terrible before going down with an arm injury that kept him out for the full 2006 campaign.  He had his last hurrah with a very good season in middle relief for the 2007 Cardinals, but has had two largely uninspiring seasons with Tampa Bay in the interim, again going down for the year with an injury in 2009.   His post-Anaheim career was so terrible, that it soils the accomplishments he put up as an Angel.   Furthermore, he wasn’t good enough long enough, in my mind, to make up for it.   Ten years IS a long time, and there is a certain division of people who think it is long enough (I call it the: “We voted for Bruce Sutter” division).   I think for certain players in certain circumstances, it may very well be long enough.   Players who are TRANSCENDENT for ten years.   Or players who have 10 very durable years.  In Percival’s case, he was a relief pitcher who only threw more than 58 innings in a season three times for his whole career.  He has less career innings pitched than Mike Maroth.   In that context, ten years is not good enough, particularly when the remainder of your body of work is so indisputably terrible.   He will garner votes, and he may even become a cause celebre’ for some block of voters, but he does not belong in the Hall.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Roy Halladay, 33, 1998-    CURRENTLY WITH PHILLIES
148-76, 3.43 ERA, 2046.2 IP, 186/287 QS (65%), 1.20 WHIP, 133 ERA+, 1495 K, 455 BB
6 Time All-Star, 1 Time Cy Young, Black Ink – 32, Gray Ink – 133

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT VOTE HIM IN:  Halladay is one of the best starters of his era.  Also, as part of a generation of pitchers after John Smoltz, he is the greatest workhorse of his peers.  He’s led the league in innings pitched three times and has finished in the top 5 six times.  He’s led the league in complete games five times and finished in the top 2 six times.  He’s fourth among all active pitchers with 49 complete games, and he’s only been in the league for 11 years.  He gets well over 3 strikeouts per walk and has a WHIP of 1.20.

WHY I WOULD NOT VOTE HIM IN:   Don’t consider this non-vote set in stone.  Halladay could yet pitch his way into the Hall of Fame — His career is not over yet.  While he is out of the usual range of “prime years” for players, that range is not hard and fast and he still could have several more years of peak performance left in him.   However, based on the body of work thus far, he just hasn’t been on the field enough as an effective pitcher to be a Hall of Famer.  He’s a horse who logs lots of innings in seasons when he plays, but he kicked around the league for three years before ever logging more than 150 innings.  Then after two seasons of leading the league (2002-03, his age 25 and 26 seasons), he missed a ton of time in both ’04 and ’05 that kept him under 150 innings for both seasons.  In the four years that have elapsed since he has managed to stay at or above 220, which in this era of baseball is incredible, but while he is also a great pitcher alot of his value is derived from the fact that he’s also a horse and six non-consecutive seasons of that is not enough in my book.   He has a very good ERA+ of 133, but its neither transcendent nor legendary.   The same goes for his K/BB ratio.   For those who love pitcher wins, he hasn’t won all that many games in his career either.    In essence, I feel that the framework is definitely in place for Halladay to pitch his way into the Hall of Fame, but he’s going to have to remain a quality pitcher deep into his 30s to get there, as it will require about three or four more “Halladay quality” seasons before I’m buying.   That said, moving from the AL to the NL in 2010 will increase the odds of that happening.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

-none-

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