Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | January 19, 2010

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

This is Part Two of what will eventually be a six part series on current players who likely will be on the ballot for the Hall of Fame at some point within the next ten to fifteen years.   I won’t rehash the parameters for inclusion in the discussion — You’re more than welcome to read Part 1 of the series if you missed it — But today I’ll be taking a look at players currently in the American League Central who appear likely headed for the ballot, if not the Hall itself.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Joe Mauer, 27, 2004-
327/408/483, 72 HR, 397 RBI — wRC+ 138
41 runs saved in 607 games.   124/328 CS, 38%
3-Time All-Star, MVP, 2 Gold Gloves, 3 Time Silver Slugger, Black Ink – 15, Gray Ink – 20

WHY I WOULD VOTE HIM IN: Joe Mauer is the first “exception” to the rules I’ve set forth for this series.  As I noted in the first part, I wanted to generally keep this discussion to players who have ten years in:  Making this a discussion mostly about players whose careers are either close to over or are in their latter halves.   I also declared the right to make exceptions, and foreshadowed that one such exception would be Albert Pujols.  Joe Mauer is another.  At this stage, unless he completely falls on his face for several consecutive years with no discernable rhyme or reason for doing so, Mauer should go in.  If he suffers an injury that severely hampers his performance, he ought to go in with that in mind.   If he decides to wake up tomorrow and stop playing baseball any further, then he should go in on the strength of the five full seasons he has tallied so far, such has been the quality of the seasons and the position he plays.   If he were an Outfielder I might feel differently, but Mauer has yet to reach his 27th birthday and has already put himself in the discussion for being one of the 5 best Catchers of all-time.  He could very well place himself in the top 2 of that discussion by the time he is 30.   It seems that only a calamity or injury would rob him from being recognized as the best catcher ever by the time he retires.   He is already an elite defender behind the plate, having earned his gold gloves on merit.   He fields his position well and he throws out would-be base stealers at a high rate.  He is the only American League catcher to win a batting title, and he’s done it three times — And he doesn’t even start his theoretical “prime years” until this upcoming season.   In 2009 he stepped his game up even further and won an even more impressive OBP title, advancing the inning 44.4% of the time (.444 OBP).  I would argue that while in a vacuum there are 2 or 3 better players, when both age and position are taken into account Mauer is the best player currently playing Major League Baseball and the one I would pick #1 overall if there were ever a redistribution draft.   He’s 39th all-time in BA and 38th in OBP.   Should he continue to turn in more seasons similar to 2009 or even slightly below it, he should move up both lists.  If he played another position, I might want to see more, but as a catcher Mauer has already done enough.  The rest of his career serves only to be a race against the immortals of the position for superiority in the view of history.  If he retired tomorrow I’d lobby for a special election in order to vote him in.

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT NOT VOTE HIM IN: He hasn’t played enough.  That’s the only reason.

Joe Nathan, 35, 1999-
46-22, 2.75 ERA, 685 IP, 247/276 SV (89%), 1.11 WHIP, 159 ERA+, 718 K, 262 BB
4-Time All-Star, Black Ink – 0, Gray Ink – 20

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT VOTE HIM IN:   Many of us fans in the AL Central might be surprised to see that Nathan is as old as 35, yet also surprised that he’s only been in the league since 1999 (and in Minnesota since 2004).  To us, Nathan seems to be the face of “game over”, to an extent even moreso than Mariano Rivera thanks to the unbalanced schedule.   Tiger fans in particular know this pain quite literally — Nathan has never blown a save against them.   It seems that he’s been dominating the back end of games since the end of time and is forever in his late 20s, but he’s actually been around awhile and compiled an impressive record.   He’s converted saves at the same 89% rate as Rivera, but that also includes his time in San Francisco when he struggled mightily at times, bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen before finally being set in the bullpen for good in 2003.   Since coming to Minnesota and being promoted to full-time closer, he has converted 91% of his saves and has been quick and effective about dispatching his opponents, averaging just 16 pitches per outing in that same time frame.   In fact, everything about his career looks much better when you restrict it only to his time in Minnesota.   It could be argued that as a Twin, Nathan has not only been better, but far better than Rivera.   His ERA is 1.87 (ERA+ 236!!!) and his WHIP is 0.93.   He has a K/9 of 11.1 while rarely walking any or giving up home runs.   He has been the epitome of the dominant relief pitching machine out of the pen.

WHY I WOULD NOT VOTE HIM IN: Unfortunately, he did have a career before coming to Minnesota that lasted 121 games and 266 1/3 innings (23 and 39 percent of his career total in each respective category).   That career was decidedly average (103 ERA+ and 1.38 WHIP almost define the word “average” in the dictionary) and nearly as lengthy in both seasons and innings.   His prime years in Minnesota haven’t even reached the level and length of time as Troy Percival’s (and you may remember that I panned Percival’s too-short run of dominance), and at his age with the type of arsenal that he uses it seems wildly unlikely that he can carry it on to the ten year mark, much less beyond. In short, Nathan may very well have been the league’s best closer during his prime but his prime has not lasted long enough.  Even if he could carry this on for another four years — Until he was 39 — It would be difficult to cast a vote for him, though I suppose the nature of four such seasons would determine just how difficult.   He bloomed too late.

DETROIT TIGERS

Magglio Ordonez, 36, 1997-
312/371/513, 277 HR, 1145 RBI — wRC+ 131
-37.1 runs saved in 1,573 games.
6 Time All-Star, 3 Time Silver Slugger, Black Ink – 6, Gray Ink – 86

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT VOTE HIM IN: In the latter half of his 20s, Ordonez was one of the great all-around power hitters in the game.  From his age 26 season to his age 29 season (2000-03), he posted an OPS+ of 138 (8th in the AL) with a BA of .314 and 130 home runs (also 8th), combining excellent contact hitting with astounding power.  He has consistently maintained a solid strikeout to walk ratio throughout his career and he is a top 100 player all-time in BA and top 75 in slugging.

WHY I WOULD NOT VOTE HIM IN: One of the interesting things to look at with Magglio’s career is that the severe knee injury that he suffered in his final year in Chicago cost him not only his career on the South Side, but possibly a Hall of Fame career.  Ordonez is a very good player in any environment, but his offensive numbers were certainly helped by U.S. Cellular Field and the Sox may have done more to retain him had he not gotten hurt.  Moreover, between his recovery from that injury and the subsequent hernia, he lost three productive years right in the middle of his prime.  Given what he did as a 33 year old in 2007 — Which was have the best year of his career — It seems plausible that given his career path before the injury he could’ve had three complete monster seasons that would’ve given a sizable bump to his Hall case.   Instead he has the injury-stricken career, which falls short.  He didn’t peak long enough, particularly for a Right Fielder with subpar defense.  Save for the whole of 2007 and last two months of 2009 (transcendent) and the first four months of 2009 (awful), Ordonez has essentially hovered in the netherworld of above average to good.   While it is interesting to wonder what could’ve been, when we look at what is, we see that Ordonez is short of Hall-worthy credentials.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

 

Jim Thome, 39, 1991-   CURRENTLY A FREE AGENT
277/404/557, 564 HR, 1565 RBI — wRC+ 148
As 1B: -21.8 runs saved in 1101 games.   As 3B: -10.6 runs saved in 492 games.
5 Time All-Star, Silver Slugger, Black Ink – 13, Gray Ink – 118

WHY I WOULD VOTE HIM IN: Before I get going on Thome’s case, I have to admit to being startled at how infrequently Thome’s been recognized for anything in his career.  Only 5 all-star games?  Only once top 5 in MVP voting (2003, when he finished 4th)?   Thome is the premiere pure slugger of really two overlapping eras of baseball, and I’m slightly surprised at the lack of recognition he’s gotten for it.   That said, he *is* the premiere pure slugger of two overlapping eras of baseball and as such should easily go in.  His 564 career home runs are 12th on the All-Time list and he still has a fighting chance at 600 if he can hang on for two more seasons (though I doubt he’ll be playing past 2010, given how difficult of a time he’s having finding a job now).   He’s 48th in OBP, 23rd in slugging, 20th in OPS, and 54th in wRC+.  He’s also 53rd in actual physical times on base, with 3,823.   He had a very long peak that ran roughly from 1995-07 and during that time he put up a 284/416/577 line (OPS+ 154) and averaged 43 home runs per 162 games.   Even with a lengthy 13 year peak, Thome still had 3 years outside of his peak in which BOTH his OPS+ exceeded 115 and he hit 20 or more home runs.   Neither figure is Earth shattering, but when combined with a long and highly effective peak, it spells a vote for Thome, in my eyes.

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT NOT VOTE HIM IN:  He wasn’t a good defensive first baseman or third baseman when he played the field, and played roughly a quarter of his games as a DH.  Depending on when he retires, he will be anywhere from 1st to 3rd on the list of current players in games played without a championship (currently ahead of him on the list are former teammates Omar Vizquel and Ken Griffey Jr.).

Mark Buehrle, 31, 2000
 135-97, 3.80 ERA, 2061 IP, 190/301 (63%), 1.27 WHIP, 122 ERA+, 1188 K, 470 BB
4 Time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, Black Ink – 8, Gray Ink – 94

WHY SOMEONE MIGHT VOTE HIM IN: Buehrle might be the youngest person that will qualify for this discussion without a special exception.  He actually has been in the league for ten years and he’s still only 31, theoretically still in his prime years.  As a soft-tossing lefty, it is not only possible that his prime may extend longer than usual, but its also possible that he could hang around in the league much longer than the normal pitcher, allowing him to rack up some crucial counting numbers.   This is all not withstanding the fact that he’s expressed that he may retire when his contract ends in 2011.   What he has done so far is set up a solid foundation to one day be granted entry to the Hall.   Like Halladay, Buehrle is one of the premier workhorse pitchers of this era of baseball, never having thrown less than 201 innings since getting a full-time rotation job in 2001, and twice leading the league in innings pitched.  Buehrle’s pitched 48 1/3 more innings — The equivalent of five whole games and then some — Than any other Major League pitcher in that same frame of time. 

He hasn’t just been on the field though, he’s done good work while on it.  In spite of a low strikeout rate, he also rarely walks batters (2.1 BB/9) or gives up home runs (1 per 9 innings), and forces hitters into more ground balls and consequently double plays than is usual.  He is also very efficient with his pitches.  He’s averaged a not-abnormal 101 pitches per start in his career, topping 103 in only two seasons, yet he has averaged 6 2/3 innings per start.   Buehrle saves his bullpen with assassin-like work from the starter’s role.

WHY I WOULD NOT VOTE HIM IN:  He just hasn’t done enough.  To my voting tastes (if I had a vote), pitching requires a much longer record of performance than hitting.  When you’re a pitcher like Buehrle, whose value is tied up less in dominance and more in silent, sustained, and prolonged effectiveness that is even more the case.   Five years and/or one-thousand innings down the road, if he resists premature retirement to get to either figure, I’d be more than happy to revisit the case and if that performance looks similar to what he’s done so far, I’d be happy to lend my support.   For now, I would give Buehrle the “No, but ask me later” treatment.   He’s not quite there yet, but he’s on the right path.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

-none-

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

-none-

 

 

 

THE LEAGUE-WIDE BALLOT (so far)

Alex Rodriguez
Jorge Posada
Derek Jeter
Johnny Damon
Mariano Rivera
J.D. Drew
David Ortiz
John Smoltz
Troy Percival
Roy Halladay
Joe Mauer
Joe Nathan
Magglio Ordonez
Jim Thome
Mark Buehrle

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