With less than five weeks until the National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2021 is revealed, discussions have ramped up in lieu of arguably the most difficult hall to earn enshrinement in all of North American sports.
2021 and 2022 will serve as important barometers on voter stance on PED-associated players and whether or not some of the most polarizing names in the sport’s history will find themselves plaques bearing their likeness.
As the title suggests, this list is a mere hypothetical as I do not belong to the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America), so takes these picks for what they are. Per guidelines, players must receive 75-percent of the vote to earn election.
It’s no secret that the only thing leaving Schilling out at this point are his controversial political views. Otherwise, the 3x World Series Champion’s numbers speak for themselves. 216 wins, 3116 strikeouts, and a career ERA+ of 127. Schilling’s 79.5 rWAR also speaks to his candidacy, as the average for Hall of Fame starters sits at 73.2. Let us not forget Schill’s 2.23 ERA in 133.1 postseason innings, as well as the fact that his career 4.09 WPA (Win Probability Added) ranks second to only Mariano Rivera among playoff pitchers. In a voting era of uncertainty, Schilling, who received 70-percent of the vote in 2020, seems like the surest thing to crossing that 75-percent threshold.
Other than the next entry here, no player has a more statistically defined case than “the Rocket”. 7 Cy Young Awards, 7 ERA titles, a career ERA+ of 143, the third most strikeouts in MLB history, and 354 wins say all that needs to be said about Clemens place in the history of the sport. Clemens 139.2 rWAR is third all-time - trailing only Cy Young and Walter Johnson - and his similarity score list is as sterling as polished silver. Ties to PED’s and a lengthy Supreme Court case have greatly delayed his election, but with 61-percent last year and two years left, it isn’t out of the question for Clemens to have his name called on election day, January 26th.
LF Barry Bonds
Here we go with my not-so-kind of-sort of-insanely hot take; Barry Bonds is the greatest player who ever lived. While Willie Mays is generally seen as the archetype for the prototypical five-tool player, a mere gloss over Bobby’s son’s baseball-reference page makes this argument somewhat null. Not only is Bonds the all-time home run leader, albeit highly-disputed given his late career ballooning in size, but he’s also the only member of the 500-500 club, retiring with 514 stolen bases. It helps too that Bonds was, at one point, stellar defensively, winning 8 Gold Gloves during his 22-year career, to go along with a record 7 NL MVP awards. The triple-slash line of .298/.444/.607, good enough for a career OPS+ of 182, especially against the level of competition he went up against, is what makes Bonds’ case as the game’s GOAT more-than-justified. Say what you want about ties to PED’s, but a hall that doesn’t include Bonds is simply incomplete.
3B Scott Rolen
2021 will mark Rolen’s 4th year on the ballot, a year in which he’ll look to build on the 35.3-percent he received in 2020. The case for Rolen, albeit a strong-borderline one, lies in peripherals; 70.1 rWAR (10th among 3B) for a position with an average of 68.4 for it’s inductees, OPS+ of 122, and a top 25 - along with borderline candidate Graig Nettles - in total zone runs at 140. With the latter stat such as this, it’s no surprise that Rolen was the recipient of 8 Gold Gloves during his career. If that’s not enough, traditionalists will applaud Rolen for winning a championship during his career, as he was the starting third basemen on the 2006 Cardinals team, finishing with a .369 on-base percentage and OPS+ of 126. Rolen’s 316 home runs rank 15th among third basemen, and, in conjunction with his stellar defensive play, make him worthy in my book.
If you follow along with us here at Fish Stripes, you know my thoughts on Gary Sheffield, so this will be brief. As is the case with Bonds and Clemens, Sheffield has ties to PED’s, but 2020 did see the bat-wiggling wizard garner a personal best 30.5-percent of votes in his 6th year on the ballot. Beyond that, the raw numbers illustrate a more-than-worthy case for Sheffield; 509 home runs, 140 OPS+, 80.8 oWAR, 304 more walks than strikeouts (1475-1171). While he’s a longshot in 2021, should we continue to see a softening of stance on PED-associated players, Sheffield’s case will only garner more attention in the coming years.
1B Todd Helton
Todd Helton has come to epitomize the term “borderline.” Many will note his severe home-road splits given he spent the entirety of his 17-year career in Colorado, but the overall body of work at least makes him a compelling case-study. OPS+, which adjusts for ballparks, tells us that Helton was 33-percent better than league average (133) over the course of his career. This in itself nearly amends for Helton playing in his home games in the hitter’s park to end all hitter’s parks. While Helton’s 61.8 rWAR is slightly below the 66.9 average for Hall of Fame first basemen, Helton’s 7 year-peak WAR of 46.6 is above the 42.7 average. Similarity scores, a tool devised by sabermetric godfather Bill James to cross-compare players across eras, furthers Helton’s case, as 6 of the 10 names listed currently reside in Cooperstown, with a 7th, Miguel Cabrera, likely destined for the Hall once he becomes eligible. 2021 doesn’t look to Helton’s year to earn induction, but with 29.2-percent of the vote in 2020 and a weak-tier of candidates in the coming years, he’ll get an extended look by fans and voters alike.
CF Andruw Jones
Like Helton, Jones epitomizes the borderline candidate. His career rWAR of 62.7 is below the average for enshrined CF’ers, but high enough to merit extended discussion, ranking 11th among all at the position. His 7 year-peak WAR of 46.4 is slightly above the 44.7 average at the position, largely due to Jones’ stellar defensive play. Jones’ 253 total zone runs rank 2nd all-time, trailing only Brooks Robinson’s 293. The former Atlanta Brave won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves during his career, finishing with just 39 errors in over 1,700 games in center. Traditional numbers such as batting average (.254) and hits (1,933) hurt Jones, but his 434 career home runs, as well as 10 in the postseason are big positives for his case. After attaining just 19.4-percent of the vote in his 3rd year on the ballot in 2020, the ensuing years could see Jones’ case grow with the thinning the ballot.
RF Sammy Sosa
I’ll preface this choice by saying it’s more-than-likely that Sosa doesn’t get elected before his time on the ballot expires, as he’ll be entering his 9th year of eligibility after a year in which he garnered just 13.9-percent of the vote. While we may never know the truth about Sosa’s use of PED’s, the raw numbers themselves make him more-than-deserving. Sosa’s 58.6 rWAR can primarily be attributed to the 609 home runs he blasted during his career, a mark which ranks 8th all-time. The sheer fact that Sosa had 3 consecutive seasons of 60 or more long balls is mind-boggling init of itself. The 1998 NL MVP, along with Mark McGwire, arguably saved baseball after the player’s strike of 1994 with their historic chase at Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, and that alone is deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown.
Pettitte’s Core-4 status along with his five rings speak for themselves, and he is someone who many voters feel an affinity to because of that success. However, I have a difficult time electing a pitcher with a career ERA and FIP of 3.85 and 3.74. While his 60.2 WAR is in line with Helton, Jones, Abreu and Sosa, the H9 of nearly 10 (9.4) and career 1.35 WHIP make him a hard ‘no’ for me.
RF Bobby Abreu
Of the 60-WAR players, Abreu is arguably the most fascinating. At his best, Abreu could hit for average, power, take walks, and steal bases. For his career, he retired with a .291 average, 288 home runs, .395 OBP, and 400 stolen bases. He is someone I could see myself voting for in the future, but for right now, he’s a just-missed in my book.
2B Jeff Kent
Jeff Kent returns as the recipient of the Lou Whitaker-media sub candidate. The offensive numbers, including an MLB record 351 home runs as a second baseman, are enough for many, but his brash personality as well as defensive shortcoming are enough to leave him off my ballot. 55.4 WAR as a second baseman, while impressive, simply isn’t enough to justify Kent as HOF’er in my book.