As far as I see it, there are only four new names on the ballot that should be seriously considered for the Hall: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen. There are others that will get some votes, and who were excellent ballplayers, and might deserve a second look… but who almost surely do not deserve to be in the Hall, like Johan Santana, Johnny Damon, Omar Vizquel and Carlos Lee. Here, I want to take a quick look at the four players who have the strongest case for election.
I probably don’t have to twist many arms to convince people that he should be voted in. Besides having excellent stats, he was popular among fans, teammates and the media. There were never any accusations of PED use and no personal scandals. He was on one of the most successful teams of the last thirty years. He will get in, probably on his first try. Still, let’s take a quick look at exactly why this is the case.
First, Jones currently ranks 5th all-time among third basemen in fWAR. He is Top 50 among all position players in: OPS, HR, RBI, Runs, Total Bases, and Doubles. The stat WPA (Win Probably Added) began in 1974. Since then, Jones is #1 for third basemen in that stat.
He played in the playoffs in 12 of his 18 full seasons, including three World Series. He was part of the 1995 Braves team that won it all, and finished his career with a .287/.409/.456 slashline in 417 postseason Plate Appearances. In 1999, he won the NL MVP Award. Here are his career numbers:
The best comparisons I can come up with for Jim Thome are Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell (both HOFers). All three were slow running, home run hitting lefties. Perhaps most telling is that all three are tied for 31st all-time in wRC+, an impressive 145 for all of them. Thome has the slight lead over the other two in fWAR, but all three are in the 60’s in that statistic. So far these are very similar players.
Thome had significantly more homers than the other two: 612 to McCovey’s 521 to Stargell’s 493. Thome did play in a better home run hitter environment, but still, he hit around 100 more homers than either of the other two.
Where Thome falls behind the other two is in the accolades. Both McCovey and Stargell won an MVP award, Stargell also winning and NLCS and WS MVP. McCovey won a World Series ring and Stargell two. Thome never had any of that. Both Willies were voted to more All Star Games than Thome, and McCovey won the Rookie of the Year, something Thome did not do.
Thome has always had a “good guy” reputation, and is beloved by many fans and the media. He never had the name recognition of Bonds or McGwire, but certainly most baseball fans knew his name. He hit more than 40 home runs six different times, notable even during the Steroid Era. Perhaps one of the reasons that Thome wasn’t voted to more All Star Games, and perhaps why his WAR isn’t a bit higher, is that he played over 800 games as a DH. Designated Hitters almost never get as much fan recognition, especially if a player (like Thome) plays half his games at first base and the other at DH. Fans aren’t sure how to label him. Be that as it may, Thome was popular but not a superstar during his peak.
At the time this year’s ballot was submitted, Thome ranked 8th all time in Home Runs, 7th in Walks, 18th in OPS and 26th in RBI.
Though he didn’t get the accolades during his playing days, it is really hard to ignore 612 HR and a 145 wRC+. Those are HOF numbers. And although he was never on a WS winning team, he had is playoff moments. In 1998, he hit four homers in a six game ALCS against the Yankees. The next year, he hit four homers in just five games in the ALDS against the Red Sox. Seeing as how there are no real strikes against him, and his numbers indicate that he was one of the great sluggers in the game’s history, I would like to see him elected to the HOF.
This is a tough one. By most defensive measurements (UZR, FRAA, TZ), Jones was one of – if not the – greatest outfielders ever to play the game. He also won 10 Gold Gloves, showing that his ability wasn’t buried in advanced metrics. He hit 434 HR, and during his 10 year peak (1998-2007), he averaged 34 HR, 103 RBI, 6.0 fWAR and won a GG every single year.
On the other hand, he never won an MVP or World Series, and was voted onto only five All Star teams. His career BA of .254 and .337 OBP are hard to overlook, and his 111 wRC+ and 67.1 career fWAR aren’t overwhelming.
At least part of the argument against Jones stems from his lack of longevity. He only played 12 seasons of 100 or more games. Thus, other than his HR and defensive stats, his numbers aren’t typical of Hall of Fame outfielders. He didn’t get to 2000 Hits, and, for traditional voters, his 1289 RBI is nothing special (it’s fewer than Gary Gaetti and Chili Davis).
What it comes down to is how much we value defense. Jones doesn’t have the counting numbers or the awards (beyond Gold Gloves). But he was legitimately one of the greatest ever to play the outfield, all the while slugging 434 home runs on the way to a respectable 111 wRC+.
Overall, I think – for now – that I wouldn’t vote for him. I’m very much tempted, and I might change my mind next year, but for now, I think he falls just short.
In some ways, Rolen is a similar case to Andruw Jones. He was a brilliant fielder whocould hit, but didn’t have a whole lot of accolades or counting numbers. However, Rolen does seem to have the edge on Jones. He was in more All Star Games, won the Rookie of the Year, and was part of the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, a series in which he hit .421. He won eight Gold Gloves (just short of Jones’ 10), but had a higher career wRC+ of 122. Rolen ranks #10 all-time among third basemen in both fWAR and rWAR.
It might be difficult to really appreciate Rolen these days, when the league is packed with great third basemen like Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado. To put Rolen in perspective then, we will look at his peak-7 years (1998-2004). This includes both leagues and all position players:
With a similar number of PA, Rolen outscored current HOFer Jeff Bagwell and soon-to-be HOFers Chipper Jones, Vlad Guerrero, and Derek Jeter. His career numbers look like this:
VERDICT : YES
So that does it for the new players on the ballot. There are several returning players who deserve to be in. Find my complete “ballot” HERE.