The Miami Marlins went another Hall of Fame season with another obvious result: no Marlins Hall of Famers. It is not a surprise because the few Marlins players who were available to enter the Hall never played for Miami too long and were not great talents deserving of Hall recognition. But this has been a yearly occurrence, with former Marlins falling by the wayside quickly and thoroughly as they received a chance for the Hall of Fame. This year, it was Moises Alou, who was never going to wear a Marlins cap but still played a huge historical role on the team. A few years back, it was Kevin Brown who got no respect in falling off the voting ballot after just one year despite a dominant career.
So in this time when we consider who has entered the Hall, I like to ask about the odds of a future Marlins Hall of Famer. The circumstances currently in Miami are special, and they make it more difficult to make it into the Hall. But what players, past or present, represent the best opportunity to enter the Hall of Fame and wear a Marlins hat at their ceremony?
Among past players, only one at the moment appears to have a shot at the Hall of Fame. Sheffield was a divisive figure, a part of the BALCO steroids controversy, and a brilliant hitter who lasted a very long time in the league. On the positive side, Sheffield ended his career with a ridiculous .292/.393/.514 batting line (.391 wOBA) that ended up being 41 percent better than the league over the course of his career. To put that offensive production and longevity in the context, it is worth mentioning that Sheffield is the 10th-most productive batter in baseball since 1961, and every player in front of him either is a Hall of Famer, will be a Hall of Famer, or should be one if the ongoing steroid moralization were not so prevalent. Right behind names like Hank Aaron, Jeff Bagwell, and Jim Thome, there was Gary Sheffield.
Beyond Sheffield's offensive prowess, there was his legacy of switching teams. Sheffield played for eight different franchises for his career, never spending more than parts of six seasons with a team. That makes deciding his hat for Cooperstown difficult, because there was never one club with which he made his absolute mark. His best statistical year was in 2003 with the Atlanta Braves (.330/.419/.604, .431 wOBA, 7.5 WAR), but he only spent two seasons with the Braves. His highest MVP showing happened the next year with the New York Yankees, but he only spent three years with them.
Sheffield's Cooperstown hat question has always come down to Florida versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. He spent more time in Florida, but the number of plate appearances and games played were very similar. He played better with Los Angeles, but his best seasons with both teams were extremely similar. But Sheffield has always said that he wanted to be inducted with a Marlins hat, and the big argument in favor of the Fish is that Sheffield won his lone World Series ring with Miami. Given that everything else between the two sides is so similar, that has to give Miami the edge.
The problem is whether he can actually get in. Sheffield has always been at the center of media controversy thanks to his big mouth. And as reader d.o.g.o.b.g.y.n. pointed out yesterday, he was a part of the BALCO steroid scandal that rocked other careers like Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. With the current use of the "character clause" in Hall of Fame moralization by the BBWAA, it looks like Sheffield's chances of getting in would be small. He did hit the 500-home run mark, though he fell well shy of 3000 hits. However, those plateaus are not guarantees if you were also involved in steroids problems, as Rafael Palmeiro can attest to now that he has fallen off the ballot despite reaching both numbers. Barry Bonds is perhaps the greatest player of the last 30 years, but he has only received 35 percent of the vote in his second eligibility year, and it could take a while and a whole lot of forgetting for him to make the Hall as a known "cheater." If there is this much pushback for the greatest player of our generation and there remains problems voting in a guy like Bagwell just because of stray assumptions, what chances are there for a good, but not overwhelming hitter with known cheating?
It's probably too early to make a bust for Giancarlo Stanton, but at least with him, there is a historic pace for something. Among players through their age-23 season, Stanton has hit the fourth-most home runs since 1961. Two of those players (Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez) in front of him began their full-time careers a year or two earlier than Stanton's half-season rookie year. Two of those players (the third was Juan Gonzalez) are set to either be Hall of Famers or should be Hall of Famers without steroids problems. The fact that Stanton has hit home runs at a faster rate than two of the best players of the last 30 years is saying something truly amazing about his career.
Stanton's home run pace is meteoric, and it is happening at a time separate from the Steroid Era of inflated offense. Stanton is tied for ninth in home runs over the last four seasons, and he has logged at least 265 plate appearances less than each player in front of him on that list. Only one of those players, Jose Bautista, has hit homers at a rate better than Stanton. Only one other player, Miguel Cabrera, has been equivalent. And that has all come after Stanton's struggle of a 2013 season, during which he failed to meet the pace he was setting in his first three years.
But with all the questions still surrounding the rest of Stanton's game, declaring a Hall of Fame career in the making seems premature. Stanton has notorious strikeout problems and is coming off of his worst season at the plate. He is finally beginning to take walks when the opposing pitcher gives them to him, but his plate discipline is still subject to criticism at times. He needs to better be able to discern ball from strike in order to improve. And the questions about his injury problems are still there as well. The other issue with regards to the Marlins is just how long Stanton will last in this uniform if the team fails to sign a long-term extension.
If it's too early for Stanton, it's probably way too early for Fernandez, but it is fun to consider. He just had an extremely successful rookie season and one of the best years from a 20-year-old in recent memory. But when it comes to this season's expectations, we need to tone them down to account for regression to the mean. When you look at the list of players who performed as well as he did at age 20, they still declined in their following three seasons. Some declined to a catastrophic level, because that is the risk you take with pitchers. Some declined to All-Star or better levels, but not consistently meteoric performance. But the average turned out to be good, not great.
We've only seen one year of Fernandez. I appreciate the excitement reader Joshua Cosme has about his chances, and I am excited too. But we need to be careful with expectations.
What do you Fish Stripers think? Who else should be considered for a potential Hall of Fame Marlin? Let us know!