Monday, October 03, 2005

Who Belongs in Cooperstown? by Jeff Herz

Too often, I think, baseball commentators refer to a baseball player as a certain Hall of Famer. This term is being thrown around too easily and at far too many players. I want to look at those players who are either eligible or still playing to determine—based upon my own criteria which include (but are not limited to) individual career statistics and team performance—who I believe are Hall of Fame worthy.

Let me start with some broad categories of players who do not belong in the Hall: 1) Mediocre or above average players, who might have had a few good years, but have not performed over the long term, do not belong; 2) Compilers, players who played beyond their years even though their statistics continued to fall, hanging on to reach some individual goal that baseball anointed as being a H-O-F credential, don’t belong. Quite simply, was the player among the elite players of his day. If yes, then you can argue he should be in the Hall. If you can name two or more players better then that player at the same position, then I would argue that the player in question should not be in the Cooperstown.

The Hall-of-Fame should be reserved for the best of the best at the time they played the game; those individuals who performed almost every year of their career significantly above the league average. In the Rocketball Era averaging 30 home runs a year does not make you a Hall of Famer since so many players have routinely hit 50+ in that same time frame. The bar we use to measure players’ performances needs to be moved up or down over time based upon the level of competition, the ball parks, expansion, and many other factors.

I am not even going to discuss players in the “No Brainer” category. They’re locks for the Hall. (But with future fallout regarding steroids use, possible exceptions to this category are noted with **.) The position players are Barry Bonds**, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Rickey Henderson, Sammy Sosa**, Mark McGwire**, Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza. The pitchers are: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez. That’s 10 position players and five pitchers, which tells me we are currently living in a hitters’ world, and with the common routine being starter for five or six innings, middle reliever, closer, I am not sure we have enough perspective to truly evaluate pitchers during this time period beyond the five mentioned above. It’s a topic that merits its own discussion.

When I review the list of top eligible pitchers not listed above I come up with the following Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven. The active pitchers are Tom Glavine, Curt Schilling, John Franco, Trevor Hoffman and John Smoltz. The hitters included the following retired players Jim Rice, Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Joe Jackson (ineligible), Alan Trammel, Andre Dawson and Dale Murphy. It is interesting that Ron Santo, who is the latest HOF media darling not enshrined, is a whole 20 Jamesian points behind Andre Dawson, so not worthy of considerations. Along with the following active players Ken Griffey Jr, Roberto Alomar, Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro**, Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, Bernie Williams and Vlad Guerrero.

They are all good, but are they great, are they good enough to be immortalized in Cooperstown?
Let’s briefly look at each person and see why they do or do not belong. (Author’s note: I am using as the basis for my comparison and providing the players statistics. All stats are through the 2004 season)

Lee Smith – 136 HOF points*, 478 saves, 1289 IP; Rich “Goose” Gossage – 126 HOF points, 310 saves, 1809 IP -With closers Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley now in the Hall of Fame, and Mariano a foregone conclusion, I think it is time that Smith and Goose get their due. In order to save a game during this era, closers were often asked to work two or three innings. Today a closer is working one inning or less most of the time outside of the playoffs, and therefore are less valuable than Smith and Gossage were. My vote: IN

Jim Kaat – 129 HOF points*, 283 wins, 2461 K’s, 4 WS Appearances, 3 20+ win seasons - Kaat was solid for 25 years, never a team ace, never a standout season that brought him high votes in the CY Young or MVP voting, Conclusion: Compiler, My vote: OUT

Jack Morris – 122 HOF points*, 254 wins, 2478 K’s, 3 WS Appearances -3 wins, 3 20+ win seasons - Morris was the ace of the Tigers for years, leading the AL in wins for the entire decade of the 1980’s. He played for and was the ace of three World Series winning teams with the ‘84 Tigers, the ‘91 Twins, and the ‘92 Blue Jays. He was a gritty and determined, and pitched 10 innings of perhaps the greatest individual World Series game in history, Game 7 in 1991 against John Smoltz and the Braves. Morris is HOF caliber and should be voted in. My Vote: IN

Bert Blyleven – 120 HOF points*, 287wins, 3701 K’s, 2 World Series Appearances; one word describes this Dutchman, Compiler. My vote: OUT

Tom Glavine – 154 HOF points* 262 wins, 2245 k’s, 5 20 wins Seasons, 4 WS Appearances – 1 win, Curt Schilling 151 HOF points*, 184 wins, 2745 K’s, 2 20 win seasons- I am going to group Glavine and Schilling together, because I think they are both gritty competitors and both the Braves in Glavine’s prime and, for Schilling, the D’back’s in 2001 and the Red Sox in 2004, were better because of them. But would Glavine have been as good on a different team? Also, I think the fact that Schilling was traded so many times devalues his statistics. In order to be in the HOF, you need to have a great career, not just a few good years, and few great years, and both of these fit this category: My vote: OUT

John Franco – 126 HOF points*, 424 saves, 1230 IP, Trevor Hoffman – 100 HOF points*, 393 saves 764 IP- In spite of my previous efforts to bring in Smith and Gossage, I don’t think Franco or Hoffman are good enough to make the cut. They have both totaled many saves, but not many innings, and not with much dominance. I view Franco as a compiler, and Hoffman as simply not having what it takes to make the Hall. My vote: OUT

John Smoltz – 128 HOF points*, 163 wins, 154 saves. – I am going to withhold judgment on Smoltz until his career is completely over, since he went from starter to closer back to starter, which is quite impressive. If he is able to pitch dominantly as a starter for a few more years as he has so far this year, then I would say he could be considered great and should be in. We’ll see.

Jim Rice, Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Alan Trammel, Andre Dawson, and Dale Murphy are quite simply all good or very good players who might have excelled in their positions for a few years, but were never great for an extended period of time. Quite simply the BBWA got these right, as amazing as that seems. My vote: OUT

Joe Jackson (ineligible) – this is a whole different story. See previous Zisk article on the concept of a lifetime ban, and the fact that Jackson lifetime ended in 1951, and therefore should be eligible for consideration. My vote: IN

Ken Griffey Jr – 204 HOF points*, 501 HR’s, 2156 hits – Once considered a sure thing, but injuries have derailed his career for the past few years and have brought his credentials into question. I think he was sufficiently great enough for a long enough period of time, and the injuries, which I attribute to lack of conditioning should encourage voters to believe he was not on the juice, just lazy in the off-season and relied on natural talent, which faded in his thirties. Even still, I think he is still a good bet. My Vote: IN

Roberto Alomar – 193 HOF points*, 2724 hits – perhaps the premier 2B of the post Ryne Sandberg generation, which includes Craig Biggio and others. However, I will forever remember him for spitting on an umpire and tarnishing the game. He has also been traded multiple times and played for a total of seven teams in 17 seasons. I know I never mentioned team loyalty as a criteria for HOF eligibility, and in today’s game it is impossible to assume a player will be with one team for his entire career, but this type of activity is a bit concerning. Still, my vote: IN

Frank Thomas – 179 HOF points*, 436 HR’s, 2 MVP’s, 15 seasons, 2113 hits .308 BA – Thomas creates the most difficult player in this article. Mostly I remember him as being a run down, injury prone, cranky White Sox DH. However, he was probably the premier player in MLB during the 90s. Better than McGwire, better than Boggs, better than Gwynn. He is going to be perceived a lot like Don Mattingly, great early on and injured later on that hurt his credentials. I think that Thomas is vastly superior to Donnie Baseball, but I am concerned writers will only remember his recent past, and not the monster he was in his prime. My vote: IN

Rafael Palmeiro** - 156 HOF points* - Just because a player accumulates 500 HR and 3000 hits in this era, does not make them great, and Raffy is a perfect example, even before his recent steroid suspension (which has even further clouded his ability to compile statistics since steroids allegedly help keep players healthy and he has never been on the DL in 19 seasons). I have to group him with Fred McGriff, a guy who played a long time and compiled some good looking stats, but was never the premier player at his position during his career. My vote: OUT

Manny Ramirez – 155 HOF points*, 12 seasons, 390 HR’s – Manny is Manny as they say. I think he is special. I hate him because he has played for the Indians and the Red Sox, the Yankees’ largest rivals the past 10 years. Manny is a questionable fielder and a defensive liability. He is best suited to be a DH, and I don’t think DH’s should be in the Hall (see Paul Molitor). In spite of this, he still plays left field in Fenway, and make the occasionally gaffe. All of this can be forgiven, because he is an incredible offensive force. He is consistently among the leaders in all major hitting categories. My vote: IN

Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, and Bernie Williams – They all have had flashes of brilliance, but not one of these players is consistently great. My vote: OUT

Vlad Guerrero – 134 HOF Points*, Let’s wait and see how he finishes his career before giving him the benefit of the doubt, though he is well on his way, hopefully he follows the A-Rod route (in spite of no significant post season results) and not Griffey’s.

In conclusion, and as much as I hate to admit it, the BBWA has been right in their voting up until now. I would like to see Morris, Smith and Gossage in Cooperstown. I don’t see any glaring mistakes when it comes to batters that are eligible that are not in yet. I think many current players are playing in small stadiums, in an era where steroids and diluted pitching has inflated the numbers making average players look above average, and making historical comparison difficult if not impossible for the non-mathematicians.

Among current players, only a handful are truly great, and should be referred to as certain Hall of Famers. The rest are good, but not great and have made very good money playing a kids game and should be happy with their successful careers, and should not hold their collective breath awaiting a call from the Hall.

Jeff Herz is an Information Technology manager who lives in CT works in NYC and loves baseball and baseball history. He has began writing a blog, which can be found at He is also a collector of baseball and football cards, so if you got any to trade, let him know.
A Hall of Fame Points
*HOF Points are another Bill James creation. It attempts to assess how likely (not how deserving) an active player is to make the Hall of Fame. Its rough scale is that 100 means a good possibility and 130 is a virtual cinch. It isn't hard and fast, but it does a pretty good job. Here are the rules:

Hitting Rules
For average, 2.5 points for each season over .300, 5.0 for over .350, 15 for over .400. Seasons are not double-counted. I require 100 games in a season to qualify for this bonus.
For hits, 5 points for each season of 200 or more hits.
3 points for each season of 100 RBI's and 3 points for each season of 100 runs.
10 points for 50 home runs, 4 points for 40 HR, and 2 points for 30 HR.
2 points for 45 doubles and 1 point for 35 doubles.
8 points for each MVP award and 3 for each All Star Game, and 1 point for a Rookie of the Year award.
2 points for a Gold Glove at C, SS, or 2B, and 1 point for any other gold glove.
6 points if they were the regular SS or C on a WS team, 5 points for 2B or CF, 3 for 3B, 2 for LF or RF, and 1 for 1B. I don't have the OF distribution, so I give 3 points for OF.
5 points if they were the regular SS or C on a League Championship (but not WS) team, 3 points for 2B or CF, 1 for 3B. I don't have the OF distribution, so I give 1 points for OF.
2 points if they were the regular SS or C on a Division Championship team (but not WS or LCS), 1 points for 2B, CF, or 3B. I don't have the OF distribution, so I give 1 points for OF.
6 points for leading the league in BA, 4 for HR or RBI, 3 for runs scored, 2 for hits or SB, and 1 for doubles and triples.
50 points for 3,500 career hits, 40 for 3,000, 15 for 2,500, and 4 for 2,000.
30 points for 600 career home runs, 20 for 500, 10 for 400, and 3 for 300.
24 points for a lifetime BA over .330, 16 if over .315, and 8 if over .300.
For tough defensive positions, 60 for 1800 games as a catcher, 45 for 1,600 games, 30 for 1,400, and 15 for 1,200 games caught.
30 points for 2100 games at 2B or SS, or 15 for 1,800 games.
15 points for 2,000 games at 3B.
An additional 15 points in the player has more than 2,500 games played at 2B, SS, or 3B.
Award 15 points if the player's batting average is over .275 and they have 1,500 or more games as a 2B, SS or C.

Pitching Rules
15 points for each season of 30 or more wins, 10 for 25 wins, 8 for 23 wins, 6 for 20 wins, 4 for 18 wins, and 2 for 15 wins.
6 points for 300 strikeouts, 3 points for 250 SO, or 2 points for 200 or more strikeouts.
2 points for each season with 14 or more wins and a .700 winning percentage.
4 points for a sub-2.00 ERA, 1 point if under 3.00.
7 points for 40 or more saves, 4 points for 30 or more, and 1 point for 20 or more.
8 points for each MVP award, 5 for a Cy Young award, 3 for each All Star Game, and 1 point for a Rookie of the Year award.
1 point for a gold glove.
1 point for each no-hitter. This is not currently included.
2 points for leading the league in ERA, 1 for leading in games, wins, innings, W-L%, SO, SV or SHO. Half point for leading in CG.
35 points for 300 or more wins, 25 for 275, 20 for 250, 15 for 225, 10 for 200, 8 for 174 and 5 for 150 wins.
8 points for a career W-L% over .625, 5 points for over .600, 3 points for over .575, and 1 point for over .525, min. 190 decisions.
10 points for a career ERA under 3.00, min 190 decisions.
20 points for 300 career saves and 10 points for 200 career saves.
30 points for 1000 career games, 20 for 850 games and 10 for 700 games.
20 points for more than 4,000 strikeouts, and 10 for 3,000 SO.
2 points for each WS start, 1 point for each relief appearance, and 2 for a win.
1 point for each league playoff win.

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