Archive for Hall of Fame

JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Roger Clemens

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Roger Clemens has a reasonable claim as the greatest pitcher of all time. Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Grover Cleveland Alexander spent all or most of their careers in the dead-ball era, before the home run was a real threat, and pitched while the color line was still in effect, barring some of the game’s most talented players from participating. Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver pitched when scoring levels were much lower and pitchers held a greater advantage. Koufax and 2015 inductees Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez didn’t sustain their greatness for nearly as long. Greg Maddux didn’t dominate hitters to nearly the same extent.

Clemens, meanwhile, spent 24 years in the majors and racked up a record seven Cy Young awards, not to mention an MVP award. He won 354 games, led his leagues in the Triple Crown categories (wins, strikeouts and ERA) a total of 16 times, and helped his teams to six pennants and a pair of world championships.

Alas, whatever claim “The Rocket” may have on such an exalted title is clouded by suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs. When those suspicions came to light in the Mitchell Report in 2007, Clemens took the otherwise unprecedented step of challenging the findings during a Congressional hearing, but nearly painted himself into a legal corner; he was subject to a high-profile trial for six counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to Congress. After a mistrial in 2011, he was acquitted on all counts the following year. But despite the verdicts, the specter of PEDs won’t leave Clemens’ case anytime soon, even given that in March 2015, he settled the defamation lawsuit filed by former personal trainer Brian McNamee for an unspecified amount.

Amid the ongoing Hall of Fame-related debates over hitters connected to PEDs — most prominently Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa — it’s worth remembering that the chemical arms race involved pitchers as well, leveling the playing field a lot more than some critics of the aforementioned sluggers would admit. The voters certainly haven’t forgotten that when it comes to Clemens, whose share of the vote has approximated that of Bonds. Clemens debuted with 37.6% of the vote in 2013 and only in 2016 began making significant headway, climbing to 45.2% thanks largely to the Hall’s purge of voters more than 10 years removed from covering the game. Like Bonds, he surged above 50% — a historically significant marker towards future election — in 2017, benefiting from voters rethinking their positions in the wake of the election of Bud Selig. The former commissioner’s roles in the late-1980s collusion scandal and in presiding over the proliferation of PEDs within the game dwarf the impact of individual PED users and call into question the so-called “character clause.”

Clemens’ march towards Cooperstown stalled somewhat last year even as he climbed 3.2 percentage points to 61.2%. Whether or not the open letter from Hall of Fame Vice Chairman Joe Morgan pleading to voters not to honor players connected to steroids had an impact, the end result was another year run off the clock. He still has a shot at reaching 75% before his eligibility runs out in 2022, but he needs to regain momentum.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Roger Clemens
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Roger Clemens 139.6 66.0 102.8
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
W-L SO ERA ERA+
354-184 4,672 3.12 143
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Andy Pettitte

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

As much as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte was a pillar of the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty. The tall Texan lefty played such a vital role on 13 pinstriped playoff teams and seven pennant winners — plus another trip to the World Series during his three-year run Houston — that he holds several major postseason records. In fact, no pitcher ever started more potential series clinchers, both in the World Series and the postseason as a whole.

For as important as Pettitte was to the “Core Four” (Williams always gets the short end of the stick on that one) that anchored five championships from 1996 to 2009, he seldom made a case as one of the game’s top pitchers. High win totals driven by excellent offensive support helped him finish in the top five of his leagues’ Cy Young voting four times, but only three times did he place among the top 10 in ERA or WAR, and he never ranked higher than sixth in strikeouts. He made just three All-Star teams.

Indeed, Pettitte was more plow horse than racehorse. A sinker- and cutter-driven groundballer whose pickoff move was legendary, he was a championship-level innings-eater, a grinder (his word) rather than a dominator, a pitcher whose strong work ethic, mental preparation, and focus — visually exemplified by his peering in for the sign from the catcher with eyes barely visible underneath the brim of his cap — compensated for his lack of dazzling stuff. Ten times he made at least 32 starts, a mark that’s tied for seventh in the post-1994 strike era. His total of 10 200-inning seasons is tied for fourth in that same span, and his 12 seasons of qualifying for the ERA title with an ERA+ of 100 or better is tied for second. He had his ups and downs in the postseason, but only once during his 18-year career (2004, when he underwent season-ending elbow surgery) was he unavailable to pitch once his team made the playoffs.

On a ballot with two multi-Cy Young winners (Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay) as well as two other starters (Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling) who were better at preventing runs and racking up strikeouts — and also had plenty of postseason success — Pettitte would appear to be a long shot for Cooperstown. And that’s before factoring in his 2007 inclusion in the Mitchell Report for having used human growth hormone to recover from an elbow injury. Thanks to his championship rings and his high win total, he’ll probably receive enough support to persist on the ballot nonetheless.

About those wins: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon pitcher win totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive, and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher’s own performance. While one needn’t know how many wins Pettitte amassed in a season or a career to appreciate his true value, those totals have affected the popular perception of his career.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Andy Pettitte
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Andy Pettitte 60.2 34.1 47.2
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
W-L SO ERA ERA+
256-153 2,448 3.85 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Jeff Kent

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2014 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Jeff Kent took a long time to find a home. Drafted by the Blue Jays in 1989, he passed through the hands of three teams who didn’t quite realize the value of what they had. Not until a trade to the Giants in November 1996 — prior to his age-29 season — did he really settle in. Once he did, he established himself as a standout complement to Barry Bonds, helping the Giants become perennial contenders and spending more than a decade as a middle-of-the-lineup force.

Despite his late-arriving stardom and a prickly personality that sometimes rubbed teammates and media the wrong way, Kent earned All-Star honors five times, won an MVP award, and helped four different franchises reach the playoffs a total of seven times. His resumé gives him a claim as the best-hitting second baseman of the post-1960 expansion era — not an iron-clad one, but not one that’s easily dismissed. For starters, he holds the all-time record for most home runs by a second baseman with 351. That’s 74 more than Ryne Sandberg, 85 more than Joe Morgan, and 86 more than Rogers Hornsby — all Hall of Famers, and in Hornsby’s case, one from before the expansion era (note that I’m not counting homers hit while playing other positions). Among players with at least 7,000 plate appearances in their career who spent at least half their time at second base, only Hornsby (.577) has a higher slugging percentage than Kent’s .500. From that latter set, only Hornsby (1.010) and another pre-expansion Hall of Famer, Charlie Gehringer (.884), have a higher OPS.

Offense isn’t everything for a second baseman, however, and in a Hall of Fame discussion, it needs to be set in its proper context, particularly given the high-scoring era in which Kent played. Taking the measure of all facets of his game, he appears to have a weaker case with regards to advanced statistics than to traditional ones. On a crowded ballot chockfull of candidates with stronger cases on both fronts, he has struggled to gain support, topping out at 16.7% in 2017, his fourth year on the ballot.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Jeff Kent
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Jeff Kent 55.4 35.7 45.6
Avg. HOF 2B 69.4 44.4 56.9
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,461 377 .290/.356/.500 123
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Lance Berkman

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Lance Berkman could mash with the best of ’em. In a 15-year career spent primarily with the Astros, the native Texan and Rice University product arrived in the majors in time to become not just the next “Killer B” alongside Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, but the centerpiece of the Houston offense as the iconic future Hall of Famers aged. Helped by the team’s move from the pitcher-friendly Astrodome to the more hitter-friendly Enron Field (later Minute Maid Park), he quickly established himself as one of the league’s elite hitters, and made five All-Star teams while helping the team win its first playoff series and its first pennant in franchise history.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Berkman did not fit the stereotypical image for a switch-hitting slugger of his prowess. “[H]e’s less Mr. Universe, more Mr. Kruk,” wrote Sports Illustrated‘s Jeff Pearlman in 2001, referring to the lumpy ex-slugger whose famous quip — “I ain’t an athlete, lady. I’m a ballplayer” — later became a book title. Quotable and self-deprecating, he once said after pulling a leg muscle, “I guess I’m going to have to shut down the speed game,” and over the years, he acquired a pair of memorable nicknames, Fat Elvis and Big Puma. He conceded the former and embraced the latter, saying, “Pumas are fast and lean and deadly. That’s me.”

Though he may have looked the part of a DH, Berkman worked hard to turn himself into a competent runner and defender, and he primarily played the outfield corners on two World Series teams, one in Houston and one in St. Louis; his heroics with the latter were key in helping the Cardinals win a championship. Not that it doesn’t happen to even the most well-conditioned players, but injuries, particularly bad knees, eventually caught up to Berkman. After averaging 153 games a year from 2001-2008, he slipped to 102 per year from 2009-2013. His retirement at age 37 left him short in the one counting stat — hits, of which he compiled 1,905 — that seems to matter to modern day voters most of all. That alone means he faces an uphill battle for election.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Lance Berkman
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Lance Berkman 52.1 39.3 45.7
Avg. HOF LF 65.4 41.6 53.5
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
1,905 366 .293/.406/.537 144
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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TV Party from Vegas (with a Spink Award Winner)

Greetings from the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, where the big excitement of the Tyson Ross signing still hasn’t died down. On Monday, in the wake of Harold Baines’ shocking election to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era Committee, I did a pair of TV spots on the subject that I shared on Twitter and figured I’d gather here as well.

First off, here’s the spot I did for Fox Sports South (the RSN of the Braves) with Cory McCartney. Naturally, our discussion touched upon several Atlanta-linked candidates:

And here I am on MLB Now, discussing the election with Brian Kenny, Dan O’Dowd, and Jayson Stark:

That would be 2019 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Jayson Stark, whose win was announced at the BBWAA’s winter meeting on Tuesday morning, as well as simultaneously on the organization’s web site. A 40-year veteran of the industry who has spent the bulk of his career at the Philadelphia Inquirer and ESPN (he’s now at The Athletic), Stark has long been a favorite of the statistically inclined, and was at the vanguard when it came to incorporating advanced statistics into his Hall of Fame deliberations (a topic I took up in The Cooperstown Casebook, for which he also provided a glowing back-cover blurb). In doing so, he’s introduced my work to countless people, including fellow voters. Thus, doing a TV spot with him was a bucket-list item given my respect for him and the impact he’s had upon my career. My heartfelt congratulations, Jayson!

For some reason, that MLB Network set upon which our discussion took place is outdoors overlooking a swimming pool, and when I was coming off set, I could not help but notice the potential for disaster and a particular variety of Winter Meetings infamy:


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Fred McGriff

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Despite being an outstanding hitter, Fred McGriff had a hard time standing out. Though he arrived in the major leagues in the same year as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and was the first player to lead each league in home runs since the dead-ball era, he couldn’t match the career accomplishments of either of those two men, finishing short of round-numbered milestones with “only” 493 home runs and 2,490 hits. The obvious explanation — that he didn’t have the pharmaceutical help that others did — may be true, but it was just one of many ways in which McGriff’s strong performance didn’t garner as much attention as it merited.

That isn’t to say that McGriff went totally unnoticed during his heyday, but some of the things for which he received attention were decidedly… square. Early in his major league career, McGriff acquired the nickname “the Crime Dog” in reference to McGruff, an animated talking bloodhound from a public service announcement who urged kids to “take a bite out of crime” by staying in school and away from drugs. He also appeared in the longest-running sports infomercial of all time, endorsing Tom Emanski’s Baseball Defensive Drills video, a staple of insomniac viewing amid SportsCenter segments on ESPN since 1991.

That those distinctions carry some amount of ironic cachet today is evidence that McGriff might have been just too gosh-darn wholesome a star for an increasingly cynical age. On the other hand, it’s far better to be remembered for pointing a finger in the service of a timeless baseball fundamentals video than providing sworn testimony in front of Congress. But it hasn’t translated to support from Hall of Fame voters. McGriff debuted at 21.5% on the 2010 ballot, peaked at 23.9% two years later, and is now in his final year of eligibility, with little hope of escaping the ballot’s lower reaches. Unfortunately for him, advanced statistics haven’t helped his cause, but with the elections of four living ex-players in the last two years by the Era Committees, he may well face a more sympathetic voting body in the near future.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Fred McGriff
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Fred McGriff 52.6 36.0 44.3
Avg. HOF 1B 66.8 42.7 54.7
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,490 493 .284/.377/.509 134
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Manny Ramirez

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2017 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

A savant in the batter’s box, Manny Ramirez could be an idiot just about everywhere else — sometimes amusingly, sometimes much less so. The Dominican-born slugger, who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan, stands as one of the greatest hitters of all time, a power-hitting righthanded slugger who spent the better part of his 19 seasons (1993–2011) terrorizing pitchers. A 12-time All-Star, Ramirez bashed 555 home runs and helped the Indians and the Red Sox reach two World Series apiece, adding a record 29 postseason homers along the way. He was the World Series MVP for Boston in 2004, when the club won its first championship in 86 years.

For all of his prowess with the bat, Ramirez’s lapses — Manny Being Manny — both on and off the field are legendary. There was the time in 1997 that he “stole” first base, returning to the bag after a successful steal of second because he thought Jim Thome had fouled off a pitch… the time in 2004 that he inexplicably cut off centerfielder Johnny Damon’s relay throw from about 30 feet away, leading to an inside-the-park home run… the time in 2005 when he disappeared mid-inning to relieve himself inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster… the time in 2008 that he high-fived a fan in mid-play between catching a fly ball and doubling a runner off first… and so much more.

Beneath those often comic lapses was an intense work ethic, apparent as far back as his high school days, that allowed Ramirez’s talent to flourish. But there was also a darker side, one that, particularly after he left the Indians, went beyond the litany of late arrivals to spring training, questionable absences due to injury (particularly for the All-Star Game), and near-annual trade requests. Most notably, there was his shoving match with 64-year-old Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick in 2008, which prefigured Ramirez’s trade to the Dodgers that summer, and a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence/battery in 2011 after his wife told an emergency operator that her husband had slapped her face, causing her to hit her head against the headboard of the bed. (That domestic violence charge was later dropped after his wife refused to testify.) Interspersed with those two incidents were a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use, the second of which ran him out of the majors.

For all of the handwringing about PED-tinged candidates on the Hall of Fame ballot over the past decade, Ramirez is the first star with actual suspensions on his record to gain eligibility since Rafael Palmeiro in 2011. Like Palmeiro, Ramirez has numbers that would otherwise make his enshrinement a lock. In his 2017 ballot debut, he received 23.8% — a higher share than Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, players who were never suspended — from an electorate that appeared to be in the midst of softening its hardline stance against PED users, but dipped to 22.0% in 2018. He won’t get into Cooperstown anytime soon, but he won’t fall off the ballot anytime soon, either.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Manny Ramirez
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Manny Ramirez 69.4 40.0 54.7
Avg. HOF LF 65.4 41.6 53.5
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,574 555 .312/.411/.585 154
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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Hall Election of Lee Smith Makes Sense, But Harold Baines?

The Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 may belong to the specialists. Ahead of a BBWAA election where all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera and legendary designated hitter Edgar Martinez are most likely to gain entry, on Sunday at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the Today’s Game Era Committee elected reliever Lee Smith and outfielder/DH Harold Baines. More than just rankling purists, it is a result that raises some eyebrows.

Smith and Baines were two of the six players on the 10-candidate ballot, alongside outfielders Albert Belle and Joe Carter, first baseman Will Clark, and starter Orel Hershiser. Managers Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and Lou Piniella, and owner George Steinbrenner rounded out the slate. To these eyes, Smith was the most qualified of the players, not only because he held the all-time saves record from 1993 to 2006, when his total of 478 was surpassed by Trevor Hoffman, but because advanced statistics such as WAR, JAWS, and WPA place him in the middle of what’s now a seven-member group of relievers in the Hall. That he once received over 50% of the vote on the BBWAA ballot, where none of the other candidates ever topped 11.2%, made his election appear all the more likely, particularly in front of a group more predisposed to old-school stats than the writers, who lost sight of Smith when the ballot became more crowded late in his 15-year run.

Baines, who took 59.7% of his career plate appearances as a DH and set records in that capacity that were later surpassed by Martinez and David Ortiz, collected 2,866 hits and 384 homers over the course of his 22-year career. Nonetheless, he was poorly supported by the writers; though he lasted through five election cycles before falling off the ballot, he topped out at just 6.1%. Not only is there no precedent for a candidate with so little BBWAA support gaining election by a small committee in the era of the “Five Percent Rule” (from 1980 onward), but there’s really no precedent for a player from the post-1960 expansion era doing so. Via Baseball-Reference:

Hall of Famers with Lowest Peak BBWAA Voting Pct.
Player MLB Career Peak % Vote Year
Jake Beckley 1888-1907 0.4% 1942
Elmer Flick 1898-1910 0.4% 1938
Billy Hamilton 1888-1901 0.4% 1942
Joe Kelley 1891-1906, 1908 0.4% 1939
Satchel Paige 1948-1949, 1951-1952, 1965 0.4% 1951
Rick Ferrell 1929-1945, 1947 0.5% 1956
Buck Ewing 1880-1897 0.7% 1939
Jesse Burkett 1890-1905 1.7% 1942
High Pockets Kelly 1915-1917, 1919-1930, 1932 1.9% 1960
Jack Chesbro 1899-1909 2.2% 1939
Kid Nichols 1890-1901, 1904-1906 2.7% 1939
Bobby Wallace 1894-1918 2.7% 1938
Harry Hooper 1909-1925 3.0% 1937
Amos Rusie 1889-1895, 1897-1898, 1901 3.1% 1939
Larry Doby 1947-1959 3.4% 1967
Sam Crawford 1899-1917 4.2% 1938
Freddie Lindstrom 1924-1936 4.4% 1962
Earl Averill 1929-1941 5.4% 1958
Harold Baines 1980-2001 6.1% 2010
Travis Jackson 1922-1936 7.3% 1956
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Of that group besides Baines, only Doby and Paige even played after World War II. Doby broke the AL’s color line in 1947 and played 13 major league seasons, while Paige arrived in 1948 and pitched in parts of just six seasons (the last of which was a one-game cameo at age 59!) and thus was technically ineligible to be voted upon by the writers, since 10 years is the minimum to appear on a BBWAA ballot. What’s more, the stray vote he received was from 1951, when he was still active and before the five-year waiting period rule had been formalized.

All of which is to underscore the fact that there’s no modern precedent for the election of a candidate such as Baines in that regard. While his election does offer some hope to players bumped off the ballot in their first go-round — such as Bobby Grich, Kenny Lofton, and Ted Simmons, who missed election by the Modern Baseball Era Committee by one vote last year — the custom of withholding first-year votes from all but the most qualified candidates helps to explain those mistakes; with Baines, 94 to 95 percent of voters consistently judged him to be unworthy.

Every bit as unsettling is the fact that Baines accumulated just 38.7 WAR (using the Baseball-Reference version) and 30.1 JAWS. Considered as a right fielder — I consider every DH candidate at the position where he accrued the most value — he ranks just 74th in JAWS, below 24 of the 25 Hall of Famers (19th century outfielder Tommy McCarthy is the exception). From under-supported BBWAA candidate Larry Walker (10th in JAWS among right fielders), to players such as Dwight Evans (15th) and Reggie Smith (16th) who have never sniffed a small committee ballot, that’s a troubling inequity. And everyone and their brother has a pet candidate just among the right fielders for whom a stronger case could be mounted. Tony Oliva, Rusty Staub, Dave Parker? All rank in the 30s in JAWS among right fielders, and appear to have stronger traditional credentials as well.

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A Quick Refresher on the 2019 Today’s Game Ballot

Barring a blockbuster trade or free agent signing, the first big news out of the Winter Meetings, set to kick off this Sunday in Las Vegas, will be the election results from the Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, which will be announced on MLB Tonight at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT. Any of the 10 candidates — six players, three managers, one owner — receiving at least 75% of the vote will be inducted next July 21 in Cooperstown, along with any candidates elected by the BBWAA in their own balloting, the results of which won’t be announced until January 22.

Last month, when the slate was announced, I covered the basics of the Era Committee process and profiled each candidate at length. The full slate includes former outfielders Harold Baines, Albert Belle, and Joe Carter; first baseman Will Clark; starter Orel Hershiser; reliever Lee Smith; managers Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and Lou Piniella; and owner George Steinbrenner. This handy navigational widget contains links to all of those profiles, as well as all of the relevant stats:

As previously noted, the ballot was assembled by an Historical Overview Committee composed of 11 BBWAA veterans, who filtered through dozens of candidates in the process: Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun); Jim Henneman (formerly Baltimore Sun); Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch); Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau); Bill Madden (formerly New York Daily News); Jack O’Connell (BBWAA); Jim Reeves (formerly Fort Worth Star-Telegram); Tracy Ringolsby (Baseball America); Glenn Schwarz (formerly San Francisco Chronicle); Dave van Dyck (Chicago Tribune); and Mark Whicker (Los Angeles News Group).

The ones doing the actual voting — behind closed doors, via secret ballots that can include up to four candidates — are on a separate 16-member committee of media members, executives and Hall of Famers. That group wasn’t announced until this past Monday. It is as follows:

Hall of Famers: Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Joe Morgan, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith, Joe Torre

Executives: Al Avila (Tigers), Paul Beeston (Blue Jays), Andy MacPhail (Phillies), Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox)

Media: Hirdt (the only repeater from the HOC), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Claire Smith (ESPN)

The vast majority of the Hall of Famers are recent honorees; the institution doesn’t wait too long to get those folks involved in the process. Alomar, Blyleven, and Gillick were elected in 2011 (the last of those by the Veterans Committee), Maddux, La Russa and Torre in 2014 (the last two of those via the Expansion Era Committee), Schuerholz in 2017 (via the first Today’s Game Era Committee). Claire Smith was the 2017 recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the Hall’s honor for writers. Morgan, currently the Hall’s vice chairman, was elected in 1990, Ozzie Smith in 2007.

Given the old Veterans Committees’ history of cronyism, most notably from the 1960s through the 1980s, it’s natural to look for the inevitable links between the voters and the candidates. That’s not to say that anything untoward will happen, but it’s worth noting who might have advocates in the room. I can’t swear that this is comprehensive (and I’m skipping the media connections), but these stand out:

  • Baines played under La Russa with the White Sox, and both he and Belle did so during Reinsdorf’s still-ongoing tenure as owner; the former made three separate stints with the team and has had his number retired during that time, while the latter briefly became the game’s highest-paid player during his time there.
  • Baines and Carter both played in Baltimore while Gillick was general manager.
  • Carter played with Blyleven in Cleveland, and with Alomar in Toronto, while both Beeston and Gillick were both executives.
  • Johnson managed Alomar in Baltimore, while Gillick was GM.
  • Manuel and Blyleven were teammates in Minnesota; Alomar played for him in Cleveland, and both Gillick and MacPhail have worked with him in Philadelphia.
  • Piniella managed in Seattle while Gillick was the GM.
  • Smith the reliever played with Smith the shortstop in St. Louis, and with Maddux in Chicago; also, he played for Torre in St. Louis
  • Steinbrenner’s stormy tenure as owner of the Yankees featured just one manager who lasted more than four seasons, namely Torre.

I’m not suggesting you take any of that information to the sports book in Vegas, but given the above connections, it would not surprise me if Manuel were elected, and I suppose the same could be said about Baines. To these eyes, however, Smith and Steinbrenner are the slate’s best candidates, and I believe the former all-time saves leader is the most likely to be elected, given that he received over 50% of the vote at one point during his run on the BBWAA ballot. If elected, he’d be just the third living ex-player honored by the Era Committtees, after Jack Morris and Alan Trammell who were elected via last year’s Modern Baseball ballot.

I’ll have coverage of the results here at FanGraphs on Sunday night.


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Gary Sheffield

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2015 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Wherever Gary Sheffield went, he made noise, both with his bat and his voice. For the better part of two decades, he ranked among the game’s most dangerous hitters, a slugger with a keen batting eye and a penchant for contact that belied his quick, violent swing. For even longer than that, he was one of the game’s most outspoken players, unafraid to speak up when he felt he was being wronged and unwilling to endure a situation that wasn’t to his liking. He was a polarizing player, and hardly one for the faint of heart.

At the plate, Sheffield was viscerally impressive like few others. With his bat twitching back and forth like the tail of a tiger waiting to pounce, he was pure menace in the batter’s box. He won a batting title, launched over 500 home runs — 14 seasons with at least 20 and eight with at least 30 — and put many a third base coach in peril with some of the most terrifying foul balls anyone has ever seen. For as violent as his swing may have been, it was hardly wild; not until his late thirties did he strike out more than 80 times in a season, and in his prime, he walked far more often than he struck out.

Off the field, Bill James once referred to Sheffield as “an urban legend in his own mind.” Sheffield found controversy before he ever reached the majors through his connection to his uncle, Dwight Gooden. He was drafted and developed by the Brewers, who had no idea how to handle such a volatile player and wound up doing far more harm than good. Small wonder then that from the time he was sent down midway through his rookie season after being accused of faking an injury, he was mistrustful of team management and wanted out. And when he wanted out — of Milwaukee, Los Angeles, or New York — he let you know it, and if a bridge had to burn, so be it; it was Festivus every day for Sheffield, who was always willing to air his grievances.

Later in his career, Sheffield became entangled in the BALCO performance enhancing drug scandal through his relationship with Barry Bonds — a relationship that by all accounts crumbled before he found himself in even deeper water. For all of the drama that surrounded Sheffield, and for all of his rage and outrageousness, he never burned out the way his uncle did, nor did he have trouble finding work.

Even in the context of the high-scoring era in which he played, Sheffield’s offensive numbers look to be Hall of Fame caliber, but voters have found plenty of reasons to overlook him, whether it’s his tangential connection to PEDs, his gift for finding controversy, his poor defensive metrics, or the crowd on the ballot. In his 2015 debut, he received just 11.7% of the vote, and in three years since, he’s actually lost a bit of ground, getting 11.1% in 2018. At this point, he’s more likely to fall off the ballot before his eligibility window expires than he is to reach 75% — a fate that, I must admit, surprises me.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Gary Sheffield
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Gary Sheffield 60.5 38.0 49.3
Avg. HOF RF 72.7 42.9 57.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,689 509 .292/.393/.514 140
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Omar Vizquel

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops, and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.

Vizquel’s offense was at least superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90, or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four shortstops, each in the Hall of Fame or heading there: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken (3,184), and Robin Yount (3,142). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994-2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.

To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame. In his ballot debut last year, he received 37.0% of the vote, a level of support that doesn’t indicate a fast track to Cooperstown but more often than not suggests eventual enshrinement. These eyes aren’t so sure it’s merited. By WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits. His candidacy has already become a point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers, and only promises to be more of the same, not unlike that of Jack Morris.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Omar Vizquel
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Omar Vizquel 45.6 26.8 36.2
Avg. HOF SS 67.0 42.9 55.0
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,877 80 .272/.336/.352 82
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Andruw Jones

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. It was initially adapted from The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books, and then revised for SI.com last year. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

It happened so quickly. Freshly anointed the game’s top prospect by Baseball America in the spring of 1996, the soon-to-be-19-year-old Andruw Jones was sent to play for the Durham Bulls, the Braves’ Hi-A affiliate. By mid-August, he blazed through the Carolina League, the Double-A Southern League, and the Triple-A International League, and debuted for the defending world champion Braves. By October 20, with just 31 regular season games under his belt, he was a household name, not only the youngest player ever to homer in a World Series game — breaking Mickey Mantle’s record — but doing so twice at Yankee Stadium.

Jones was no flash in the pan. The Braves didn’t win the 1996 World Series, and he didn’t win the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year award, but along with Chipper Jones (no relation) and the big three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, he became a pillar of a franchise that won a remarkable 14 NL East titles from 1991-2005 (all but the 1994 strike season). From 1998-2007, Jones won 10 straight Gold Gloves, more than any center fielder except Willie Mays.

By the end of 2006, Jones had tallied 342 homers and 1,556 hits. He looked bound for a berth in Cooperstown, but after a subpar final season in Atlanta and a departure for Los Angeles in free agency, he fell apart so completely that the Dodgers bought out his contract, a rarity in baseball. He spent the next four years with three different teams before heading to Japan at age 35, and while he hoped for a return to the majors, he couldn’t find a deal to his liking after either the 2014 or 2015 seasons. He retired before his 39th birthday, and thanks to his rapid descent, barely survived his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Andruw Jones
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Andruw Jones 62.8 46.5 54.7
Avg. HOF CF 71.2 44.6 57.9
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
1,933 434 .254/.337/.486 111
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Todd Helton

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Baseball at high altitude is weird. The air is less dense, so pitched balls break less and batted balls carry farther — conditions that greatly favor the hitters. Meanwhile, reduced oxygen levels make breathing harder, physical exertion more costly, and recovery times longer. Ever since major league baseball arrived in Colorado in 1993, no player put up with more of this, the pros and cons of playing at a mile-high elevation, than Todd Helton.

A Knoxville native whose career path initially led to the gridiron, ahead of Peyton Manning on the University of Tennessee quarterback depth chart, Helton shifted his emphasis back to baseball in college and spent his entire 17-year career (1997-2013) playing for the Rockies. “The Toddfather” was without a doubt the greatest player in franchise history, its leader in every major offensive counting stat category save for triples, stolen bases, caught stealing and sacrifice hits, none of which were major parts of his game. He made five All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, a slash line triple crown — leading in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in the same season — and served as a starter and a team leader for two playoff teams, including its only pennant winner. He posted batting averages above .300 12 times, on-base percentages above .400 nine times, and slugging percentages above .500 eight times. He mashed 40 doubles or more seven times and 30 homers or more six times; twice, he topped 400 total bases, a feat that only one other player (Sammy Sosa) has repeated in the post-1960 expansion era. He drew at least 100 walks in a season five times, yet only struck out 100 times or more once; nine times, he walked more than he struck out.

Because Helton did all of this while spending half of his time at Coors Field, many dismiss his accomplishments without second thought. That he did so with as little self-promotion as possible — and scarcely more exposure — while toiling for a team that had the majors’ sixth-worst record during his tenure makes it that much easier, and as does the drop-off at the tail end of his career, when injuries, most notably chronic back woes, had sapped his power. He was “The Greatest Player Nobody Knows,” as the New York Times called him in 2000, a year when he flirted with a .400 batting average into September.

Thanks to Helton’s staying power, and to advanced statistics that adjust for the high-offense environment in a particularly high-scoring period in baseball history, we can see more clearly see that he ranked among his era’s best players — and has credentials that wouldn’t be out of place in Cooperstown. But like former teammate Larry Walker, an even more complete player who spent just 59% of his career with the Rockies, Helton will likely struggle to make headway with voters. He deserves better than that.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Todd Helton
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Todd Helton 61.2 46.5 53.9
Avg. HOF 1B 66.8 42.7 54.7
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,519 369 .316/.414/.539 133
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Scott Rolen

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

“A hard-charging third baseman” who “could have played shortstop with more range than Cal Ripken.” “A no-nonsense star.” “The perfect baseball player.” Scott Rolen did not lack for praise, particularly in the pages of Sports Illustrated at the height of his career. A masterful, athletic defender with the physical dimensions of a tight end (listed at 6’4″, 245 pounds), Rolen played with an all-out intensity, sacrificing his body in the name of stopping balls from getting through the left side of the infield. Many viewed him as the position’s best for his time, and he more than held his own with the bat as well, routinely accompanying his 25 to 30 homers a year with strong on-base percentages.

There was much to love about Rolen’s game, but particularly in Philadelphia, the city where he began his major league career and the one with a reputation for fraternal fondness, he found no shortage of critics — even in the Phillies organization. Despite winning 1997 NL Rookie of the Year honors and emerging as a foundation-type player, Rolen was blasted publicly by manager Larry Bowa and special assistant to the general manager Dallas Green. While ownership pinched pennies and waited for a new ballpark, fans booed and vilified him. Eventually, Rolen couldn’t wait to skip town, even when offered a deal that could have been worth as much as $140 million. Traded in mid-2002 to the Cardinals, Rolen referred to St. Louis as “baseball heaven,” which only further enraged the Philly faithful.

In St. Louis, Rolen provided the missing piece of the puzzle, helping a team that hadn’t been to the World Series since 1987 make two trips in three years (2004-06), with a championship in the latter year. A private, introverted person who shunned endorsement deals, he didn’t have to shoulder the burden of being a franchise savior, but as the toll of his max-effort play caught up to him in the form of chronic shoulder and back woes, he clashed with manager Tony La Russa and again found himself looking for the exit. After a brief detour to Toronto, he landed in Cincinnati, where again he provided the missing piece, as the Reds returned to the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

Though he played in the majors for 17 seasons (1996-2012), Rolen retired at 37 and didn’t accumulate the major milestones that would bolster his Hall of Fame case. The combination of his solid offense and his defensive prowess — validated both by the eye test and the metrics — places his overall value among the top 10 third basemen in history, but in his ballot debut last year, voters gave him a paltry 10.2% share, though several conceded that they would have included him if space had permitted. Hopefully, he can build support quickly enough to be taken seriously by a broader swath of the electorate, but right now, his looks to be an uphill battle.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Scott Rolen
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Scott Rolen 70.2 43.7 56.9
Avg. HOF 3B 68.4 43.0 55.7
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,077 316 .281/.364/.490 122
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Larry Walker

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

A three-time batting champion, five-time All-Star, and seven-time Gold Glove winner — not to mention an excellent base runner — Larry Walker could do it all on the diamond. Had he done it for longer, there’s little question that he’d be en route to a plaque in the Hall of Fame, but his 17 seasons in the majors were marred by numerous injuries as well as the 1994–95 players’ strike, all of which cut into his career totals.

Yet another great outfielder developed by the late, lamented Montreal Expos — Hall of Famers Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, and Tim Raines being the most notable — Walker was the only one of that group actually born and raised in Canada, though he spent less time playing for the Montreal faithful than any of them. He starred on the Expos’ memorable 1994 team that compiled the best record in baseball before the strike hit, curtailing their championship dreams, then took up residence with the Rockies, putting up eye-popping numbers at high altitude — numbers that, as we’ll see, hold up well even once they’re brought back to earth.

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A Hall of Fame Ballot of Your Own — and a Schedule of Profiles

I’m one week into my JAWS-flavored profiles of the 35 candidates on the BBWAA’s 2019 Hall of Fame ballot, and figured it would be worth laying out a tentative schedule for the series as well as providing a clearinghouse for a bit of business, including a very cool new feature that was put together by developer Sean Dolinar. That’s the sexy stuff, so let’s get to it first.

In the spirit of what we do with our annual free agent contract crowdsourcing, FanGraphs invites registered users to fill out their own virtual Hall of Fame ballots. You must be signed in to vote, and you may only vote once. To replicate the actual voting process, you may vote for anywhere from zero to 10 players; ballots with more than 10 won’t be counted. You may change your ballot until the deadline, which is December 31, 2018, the same as that of the actual BBWAA voters, who have to schlep their paper ballot to the mailbox.

The ballot is here and contains all 35 candidates. There are no write-ins, for those of you fixated on Pete Rose. I’ll write up the crowdsourcing results sometime in early January, when we’re all jonesing for Hall news in advance of the announcement of the official results on January 22.

As for the schedule, here it is below, broken into five-day weeks, as we’re not planning to publish these on weekends. Please keep in mind that the schedule is tentative and subject to change, particularly when it comes to the new profiles (denoted with asterisks), which take time to do justice. There’s also the chance that I’ll want to weigh in on current events, which is still part of my job here (hence the all-rerun week coinciding with the Winter Meetings).

November
Nov. 26: Mariano Rivera*
Nov. 27: Edgar Martinez
Nov. 28: Mike Mussina
Nov. 29: Roy Halladay*
Nov. 30: Larry Walker

December
Dec. 3: Scott Rolen
Dec. 4: Todd Helton*
Dec. 5: Andruw Jones
Dec. 6: Omar Vizquel
Dec. 7: Gary Shefield

Dec. 10: Manny Ramirez
Dec. 11: Fred McGriff
Dec. 12: Winter Meetings Travel Hell
Dec. 13: Lance Berkman*
Dec. 14: Jeff Kent

Dec. 17: Andy Pettitte*
Dec. 18: Roger Clemens
Dec. 19: Barry Bonds
Dec. 20: Roy Oswalt*/Miguel Tejada*
Dec. 21: Curt Schilling

Dec. 24: Billy Wagner
Dec. 25: Happy birthday to me (yes, really), Merry Xmas to those celebrating.
Dec. 26: Sammy Sosa
Dec. 27: One-and-Dones, Part 1
Dec. 28: One-and-Dones, Part 2

Dec. 31: One-and-Dones, Part 3 + My Virtual Ballot

As for those One-and-Dones — the candidates with no real shot at election or even making it to next year’s ballot — since I started the JAWS project with the 2004 ballot, I’ve covered every single BBWAA candidate, at least in brief, and I’m not about to miss any now. It used to be that I wrote up every candidate within 20 JAWS points of the standard, but in recent years I’ve made exceptions due to scheduling, and this year is tight enough that I may have to do so again.

Finally, some thanks are due. First, to my former colleagues at Sports Illustrated — namely SI editorial director Chris Stone, assistant managing editor Stefanie Kaufman, and SI.com managing editor Ryan Hunt — who worked with us to find a satisfactory solution that allowed me to continue revising profiles written during my Sports Illustrated tenure (they still own the copyright). Second, to the aforementioned Mr. Dolinar for putting together the crowdsource ballot and carving out some real estate for Hall stuff on the FanGraphs home page, and David Appelman for accommodating all of this. And finally, to our new managing editor Meg Rowley, who’s charged with the task of wrangling this series of epic posts while dealing with my excessive quantity of em-dashes, liberal use of semicolons, and wavering commitment to serial commas. Cheers all around!


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Roy Halladay

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

They don’t make ’em like Roy Halladay anymore. An efficient sinkerballer at the crossroads of changing patterns of usage, his statistics, compiled in a career that ran from 1998 to 2013, look like numbers from another planet, or at least a bygone era, when viewed from today’s vantage. Consider, for example, that in an age of pitch counts, times through the order concerns, and increasingly specialized bullpens, all major league starters combined for 42 complete games in 2018, and 59 in 2017. Halladay — “Doc,” after Old West gambler, gunfighter and dentist Doc Holliday, lest the pitcher’s link to a dusty past escape anyone — had 67 for his career, 13 more than the next-highest total in that 16-year span, by Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (who completed an even 100 in a career that stretched from 1988-2009), and 29 more than the active leader, CC Sabathia. Halladay needed fewer than 100 pitches in 14 of those compete games, five of which were completed in under two hours. The last time any pitcher threw such a game was in 2010.

Halladay’s other numbers, which testify to his elite run prevention and value, are impressive as well, outdoing just about every active pitcher except Clayton Kershaw. Alas, our distance from those numbers is intensified by tragedy, because his whole life is now past tense. Just over a year ago, on November 7, 2017, Halladay crashed his Icon A5 light sport airplane into the Gulf of Mexico while flying solo. The toxicology report, published two months later, found that he was impaired by high concentrations of the morphine, opiates, and Ambien in his system. All of that seems foreign as well, given the model of control he appeared to be during his heyday.

It wasn’t always that way, though. The extraordinarily economical style that enabled Halladay to go the distance so frequently, to throw as many as 266 innings in a season, and to throw at least 220 in a season eight times — three more than any other pitcher in this millennium — owed to an exceptionally humiliating season. In 2000, five years removed from being a first-round draft pick, the 23-year-old righty was pummeled for a 10.64 ERA in 67.2 major league innings, still the worst mark for any pitcher with at least 50 innings in a season. He was demoted all the way to A-ball the next season, where, as Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci documented, minor league pitching coach Mel Queen spurred him to change from an over-the-top delivery that was so methodical Queen nicknamed him “Iron Mike,” in reference to the popular brand of pitching machines.

Queen instructed Halladay to switch to a three-quarters delivery, to speed it the hell up, and to shift his repertoire from a four-seam fastball/curve combination to a sinker/cutter combo, “two pitches that appeared the same to the hitter, except one would break late to the left and one to the right,” explained Verducci. The result: fewer deep counts and strikeouts, and one of the game’s highest groundball rates. Halladay’s improved command and late-career addition of a split-fingered fastball pushed his strikeout rates higher; four of his five seasons with at least 200 strikeouts came from 2008 onward, in seasons where he averaged 242 innings.

While those heavy innings totals — particularly the 1,007.1 he threw between the regular season and postseason from 2008-2011 — may have hastened Halladay’s departure from the majors at age 36, his body of work is exceptional. Though he never led his league in ERA, he finished second three times and placed in the top five seven times — remarkable, given that he only qualified for the title eight times! He led his league in WAR four times, and had four other top-five finishes, including one in a year that he threw just 141.2 innings due to a broken fibula. He made eight All-Star teams, and won Cy Young awards with the Blue Jays in 2003 and the Phillies in 2010, making him just the fifth pitcher to claim the award in both leagues. In that magical 2010 season, he not only threw a regular season perfect game (against the Marlins on May 29), but became just the second pitcher to throw a postseason no-hitter, doing so on on October 6, in the Division Series opener against the Reds.

Though the brevity of Halladay’s career left his traditional statistical totals rather short, his advanced stats frame a solid Hall of Fame case, particularly as the era of the workhorse starter fades, and the shape of his career stands in marked contrast to the other pitchers on the 2019 ballot. He may not have been viewed as an automatic, first-ballot choice before his early demise, but if he’s elected this year, he wouldn’t be the first candidate to gain baseball immortality in short order after the hard fact of human mortality was underscored.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Roy Halladay
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Roy Halladay 64.3 50.6 57.5
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
W-L SO ERA ERA+
203-105 2,117 3.38 131
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Born on May 14, 1977 in Denver, Colorado, Harry LeRoy Halladay III was groomed to be a pitcher by his father, Roy Jr., a similarly strapping commercial pilot. He grew up in the nearby suburbs of Denver, first Aurora and then Arvada, in houses with basements big enough to allow him to throw baseballs indoors, into mattresses hung on the walls, during the snowy winter months. Roy Jr. even made sure that their Arvada home had a basement that could accommodate a regulation 60’6″ distance, and soon a pitching machine and a tire to throw through. Roy III became known for his combination of velocity, command, dominance, and “the meticulous quietness with which he went about his game,” as childhood friend Robert Sanchez remembered in 2017. “Roy was a third-grader who could play like a middle-schooler, but he never lorded his gifts over anyone. He and his father knew he was special in ways no one else would become, but they didn’t say it.”

Halladay’s dominance continued through high school, when he perfected a knuckle curve to go along with a 93-94 mph fastball. At Arvada West, where he also played basketball and ran cross-country, he was a three-time first team All-Conference and All-State selection, and two-time league and state MVP. He led his team to the Class 6A state championship in 1994, and never lost a game in the state of Colorado. He eschewed the showcase circuit of club ball and travel ball, choosing instead to work with his high school coaching staff, his father (who was still catching him in the basement during his prep years), and a man named Robert “Bus” Campbell, a local legend who coached or scouted 115 pitchers who reached the majors, including Hall of Famer Rich Gossage and All-Stars Jay Howell, Mark Langston, Brad Lidge, and Jamie Moyer.

Campbell was 69 years old and scouting for the Blue Jays when he began mentoring the 13-year-old Halladay, so it wasn’t surprising that the team chose him with the 17th pick of the 1995 draft (nine picks after Todd Helton, who himself would leave his mark on Colorado baseball and debut on the 2019 ballot). Bypassing a scholarship to the University of Arizona, he signed for a $895,000 bonus and began his professional career by striking out 48 in 50.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League.

After a big age-19 season at High-A Dunedin in 1996 (15-7, 2.73 ERA, 6.0 K/9), Halladay was ranked 23rd on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list in the spring of 1997. He scuffled at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Syracuse that year, but after a stronger showing at the latter stop in 1998, the 21-year-old righty made his major league debut on September 20 of that year, throwing five innings of two-run ball with five strikeouts against the Devil Rays. A week later, he no-hit the Tigers for 8.2 innings before Bobby Higginson’s pinch-homer spoiled the party, though he hung on for a 2-1 win.

After placing 12th on Baseball America‘s list in the spring of 1999, Halladay spent the entire season in the majors, making 18 starts and 18 relief appearances. His 3.92 ERA (125 ERA+) in 149.1 innings earned him a three-year, $3.7 million extension, but his 5.36 FIP and 82-to-79 strikeout-to-walk ratio were ominous portents of things to come. In 2000, the AL’s highest-scoring season since 1936 (5.30 runs per game), Halladay struck out 44 and walked 42 in 67.2 innings while being torched for a record-setting 10.64 ERA. He couldn’t straighten out in two stints at Syracuse, and after scuffling in the spring of 2001, was sent back to Dunedin. Far from the spotlight, Queen helped Halladay adjust his mechanics to get away from a fastball that was 97 mph but “straight as a string,” and provided a tough-love challenge to the pitcher’s mental approach that he termed “vigorous leveling.” A book purchased by wife Brandy Halladay, The Mental ABC’s of Pitching by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman — whom Halladay would meet in 2002 — keyed further changes in his mental approach. As Brandy told Verducci in 2010:

“[Dorfman] really taught Roy to focus on one thing at a time. When he gave up a hit, he learned to think about the next hitter. He helped him deal with those mental stumbling blocks every person has to deal with. The book and [Dorfman] helped his pitching career, our marriage, the way we looked at life in general…. It absolutely saved his career.”

After stops at the Blue Jays’ top three minor league affiliates, Halladay returned to the majors. Though cuffed for six runs by the Red Sox in a first-inning relief appearance on July 2, he struck out 10 Expos without a walk in his first start five days later, and finished the year with a 3.16 ERA (and 2.34 FIP) in 105.1 innings. That set the stage for a breakout season, during which Halladay went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA (157 ERA+) and AL bests in innings (239.1), home run rate (0.4 per nine) and WAR (7.3). He made his first All-Star team but was ignored in the Cy Young voting; Barry Zito (23-5, 2.75 ERA, 7.2 WAR) won.

Halladay avoided the mistake of not winning 20 games the next year, going 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA (145 ERA+). He cut his walk rate in half, to a microscopic 1.1 per nine while leading the league in starts (36), innings (266), complete games (nine), K/BB ratio (6.38) and WAR (8.2) and striking out 204 batters. Again an All-Star, he took home the AL Cy Young, receiving 26 out of 28 first-place votes.

Halladay signed a four-year, $42 million extension in January 2004, but a shoulder strain and a comebacker-induced fractured left fibula limited him to 40 starts and 274.2 innings over the next two seasons, cutting into his effectiveness in the former, though he did make the AL All-Star team and rack up 5.5 WAR (in just 141.2 innings) in the latter, good for third in the league and the seventh-best total of his career (thus part of his peak score). Returning to a full workload in 2006, he remained healthy over the remainder of his run in Toronto, aside from brief stints on the disabled list for an appendectomy (2007) and a groin strain (2009).

As Verducci reported, in 2007 Halladay improved his command to the point that he could throw his signature cutter and sinker to both sides of the plate. “You see two different pitches coming at you the same speed from the same release point,” the Orioles’ Brian Roberts told Verducci, “but you don’t know which way it’s going to break. Think how hard that is to hit.”

Over the 2006-2009 span, Halladay averaged 32 starts, 233 innings, seven complete games, a 3.11 ERA (142 ERA+) and 5.5 WAR. He won 20 games in 2008, led the league in innings that same year (246), and in complete games three times (twice with nine). He made three All-Star teams, starting for the AL in 2009; placed among the league’s top five in WAR three times in that span, with a high of 6.9 (second) in 2004; and placed among the top five in Cy Young voting all four years, including second behind future teammate Cliff Lee in 2008.

Halladay had signed a three-year, $40 million extension in January 2006, covering the 2008-2010 seasons. But for all of his strong work, the Blue Jays remained in a competitive rut, unable to overtake the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox, not to mention the upstart Rays; they hadn’t finished fewer than 10 games out of first place since 2000, and hadn’t returned to the postseason since winning their second straight championship in 1993. In what proved to be his final season, general manager J.P. Ricciardi explored trading Halladay at the July 31 deadline in 2009. Talks with the defending champion Phillies, reportedly centered around pitchers Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ and outfielder Domonic Brown, did not come to fruition, and Philadelphia instead traded for Lee, who helped them return to the World Series (they lost to the Yankees).

Incoming Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos revived the talks with the Phillies, and on December 16, 2009, traded Halladay for Drabek and two other prospects, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor. As part of the deal, Halladay agreed to a three-year, $60 million extension covering 2011-2013. That same day, the Phillies traded Lee to the Mariners for three prospects in a separate deal.

After escaping the AL East and moving to the non-DH league, the 33-year-old Halladay turned in the best season of his career, going 21-10 with career bests in ERA (2.44, third in the NL), ERA+ (167), strikeouts (219) and WAR (8.6), that last figure led the league as did his win total, his 250.2 innings, his nine complete games, four shutouts, 1.1 walks per nine, and 7.3 K/BB ratio. On May 29, 2010, he retired all 27 Marlins he faced, striking out 11 and completing the 20th perfect game in major league history.

After helping the Phillies win 97 games and their fourth straight NL East title, Halladay made history in his first taste of postseason action. Facing the Reds in the Division Series opener, he yielded only a fifth-inning walk to Jay Bruce and completed just the second no-hitter in postseason history, after Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game.

The Phillies’ sweep of the Reds meant Halladay didn’t start again for 10 days. When he did, in the NLCS opener against the Giants, he was touched for a pair of solo homers by Cody Ross as well as two additional runs in a 4-3 loss. He pitched six solid innings of two-run ball at AT&T Park in Game 5, sending the series back to Philadelphia, but the Giants advanced with a Game 6 win. Halladay’s consolation prize was a unanimous Cy Young win that placed him in the company of Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens as pitchers to win the award in both leagues (Max Scherzer has since joined the club).

With Halladay, homegrown Cole Hamels and mid-2010 acquisition Roy Oswalt already in the fold, the Phillies responded to their early exit by re-acquiring Lee via a five-year, $120 million deal, producing a rotation for the ages. Indeed, despite the offensive nucleus of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley in decline, the team won a franchise-record 102 games and a fifth consecutive division title in 2011. Halladay set new career bests with 8.8 WAR (the NL high), a 2.35 ERA (second, but with a league-best 163 ERA+), and 220 strikeouts (third). With a 19-6 record, he could have easily won a third Cy Young, but Kershaw’s 21-5 mark with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts captured the voters’ attention, and Halladay had to settle for second place.

He made two strong starts in the Division Series against the Cardinals, allowing three runs in eight innings in their Game 1 victory and then just one run in eight innings in Game 5. Alas, that run — produced by back-to-back extra-base hits to start the first inning — proved to be the game’s only score. The Phillies were eliminated on Chris Carpenter’s three-hit shutout.

Aside from a 1.95 ERA in five April starts in 2012, it was downhill for Doc thereafter. Roughed up for a 6.11 ERA in May as his velocity diminished, he spent seven weeks on the disabled list with a strained latissimus dorsi and only briefly returned to form. Over his final eight starts, he was lit up for a 6.20 ERA and an uncharacteristic 1.4 homers per nine. He was even worse in 2013, with four disaster starts (more runs than innings) out of his first seven, though his eight-inning, one-run performance against the Marlins on April 14 gave him career win number 200. Diagnosed with a bone spur in his shoulder as well as a partially torn rotator cuff and fraying in his labrum, he underwent surgery on May 16. He returned in late August, a remarkably quick turnaround, and had spots of superficial success, but left his final start after just three batters, unable to push his fastball past 83 mph.

In December 2013, Halladay signed a one-day contract with the Blue Jays and announced his retirement, citing major back issues including two pars fractures, an eroded lumbar disc, and pinched nerves. Changes in mechanics had transferred the stress to his shoulder, he could no longer pitch at the level to which he was accustomed, and he wanted to avoid fusion surgery — all understandable choices, particularly for a father of two.

Halladay had largely receded from view when the jarring news of his death in a plane crash broke. As testimonials to his playing career, his tireless work ethic and hischaracter poured in from around the industry, so did calls for him to appear on the 2018 ballot. A Hall of Fame and BBWAA rule enacted after the special election of the late Roberto Clemente in 1973 allows a deceased candidate to bypass the five-year post-retirement waiting period, but he can’t appear on a ballot until at least six months after his death. Hence, Halladay’s eligibility is on the same schedule it would have been otherwise.

If Halladay were to be elected in amid the aftermath of his passing, he wouldn’t be the first player to do so. As I noted in the introduction to this series, Roger Bresnahan and Jimmy Collins (both elected in 1945), Herb Pennock (1948), Three-Finger Brown (1949), Harry Heilmann (1952) and Ron Santo (2012) were all elected shortly after their respective demises.

Going strictly by his traditional stats, Halladay does not appear to be a particularly strong choice for the Hall. While there are 12 starters enshrined who pitched fewer than 3,000 innings (one of whom, Monte Ward, spent a good chunk of his career at shortstop), Pedro Martinez is the only one who’s been elected since Sandy Koufax in 1972. Save for a one-game cameo by Dizzy Dean, only two others, Bob Lemon and Hal Newhouser, even pitched after World War II, and both were done by the late 1950s. As a three-time Cy Young winner and a member of the 3,000 strikeout club, Martinez faced little resistance from voters, receiving 91.1% in 2015. He joined fellow 2015 honoree John Smoltz — also a member of the 3,000 strikeout club — as just the second and third starters elected with fewer than 300 wins since 1992.

Halladay finished well short of both 300 wins (203) and 3,000 strikeouts (2,117), with “only” two Cy Youngs. Where seven of the 10 pitchers with three Cys have been elected (all but Roger Clemens and the still-active Kershaw and Scherzer), only three of the nine two-timers have been elected, namely Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, and Gaylord Perry. Of the rest, Corey Kluber and Tim Lincecum are still active, but none of the other three besides Halladay — Denny McLain, Bret Saberhagen, and Johan Santana — ever received even 5% of the vote. Santana went one-and-done just last year, though with just 139 wins and 1,988 strikeouts in 2,025.2 innings, it’s understandable why voters didn’t give him the time of day, particularly on a crowded ballot.

Halladay has better career numbers than Santana, and in some regards, better numbers than the other starters on the ballot who will draw consideration. While his win and strikeout totals can’t match those of Clemens, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, or Curt Schilling, his run prevention was superior to all of those besides Clemens. He never won a season ERA title, but his career 3.38 mark — even with his brutal 2000 season and a 5.73 mark after his 2012 shoulder strain — is 10th among pitchers with at least 2,500 innings since 1980. Five of the nine ahead of him are in Cooperstown, led by Martinez at 2.93. Adjusting for park and league scoring levels, his 131 ERA+ at those same cutoffs is fifth, behind Martinez (154), Clemens (143), Johnson (135), and Greg Maddux (132), all enshrined save for the Rocket. He’s ahead of Schilling (127), Mussina (123), and Pettitte (117), not to mention Smoltz (125) and Glavine (118), as well as Justin Verlander (126), the active leader. Kershaw (159) has only 2,096.1 innings, well short of this particular cutoff.

Halladay’s command and control were part of that. Even despite his early struggles, his career 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is in a virtual tie with Mussina for fifth since 1893, when the pitching distance was set at 60’6″. Only Schilling (4.38), Martinez (4.15), Greinke (3.82), and Saberhagen (3.64) were better in that regard. Three times, he finished with fewer walks than games started, his stated goal for any season. Seven times he walked fewer than 2.0 batters per nine while qualifying for the ERA title.

Despite his shortages of innings and strikeouts, Halladay stands tall relative to his peers with regards to the advanced stats. His score of 127 on Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor, a metric that gives credit for awards, league leads, milestones and postseason performance — things that historically have tended to appeal to Hall voters — is 127, where 100 is a likely Hall of Famer and 130 is “a virtual cinch.” More than five years removed from his final pitch, his 65.2 WAR from 2001 onward is the highest total of the millennium, though Verlander (63.8), Sabathia (62.2), and Zack Greinke (61.5) have closed the gap. His 62.6 WAR over the course of his brilliant 2002-2011 stretch — 6.3 WAR per year, even given his injury-shortened 2004 and -05 — is 12.2 more than the second-ranked Santana. His overall total of 64.3 WAR is about nine wins shy of the Hall standard for starters (73.4), but he still outranks 29 of the 63 enshrined, including 300-game winner Early Wynn, 1960s star Juan Marichal, Yankees dynasty staple Whitey Ford, and strikeout whizzes Dazzy Vance and Jim Bunning. More tellingly, his total is ninth among pitchers who debuted since 1973 — 25 years before he did — behind Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Martinez, Mussina, Schilling, Smoltz, and Kevin Brown, all of whom beat him to the majors by at least six years and, with the exception of Martinez, threw at least 500 more innings.

Via his seven-year peak score, Halladay’s 50.6 WAR surpasses that of the average Hall starter (50.3) and ranks 40th all time, ahead of 33 of the 63 enshrined; just four above him (Johnson, Maddux, Martinez and Clemens) debuted since 1973. Of those who debuted after, only Kershaw (49.6), Greinke (47.3), Scherzer (47.2), Verlander (46.2), and Santana (45.0) are with seven wins — one per year — of that peak score.

Halladay’s 57.6 JAWS isn’t as high as Schilling’s (64.1, 27th all-time) or Mussina’s (63.8, 29th), but it’s still eighth among that post-1973 set. He’s 43rd all-time, 4.3 points below the Hall standard but ahead of 32 enshrinees, with a career/peak/JAWS line that closely resembles Marichal (63.0/51.9/57.5), who needed 757.2 additional innings to get there. Among active pitchers, Kershaw (57.1), Greinke (56.5), and Verlander (54.8) could overtake Halladay as soon as next year, but having spent the past 12 months scrutinizing all of their cases, they appear to be on their way to Cooperstown as well.

While that last trio of pitchers isn’t done, there are no givens when it comes to shoulders, elbows, and backs. What Halladay accomplished before his body told him it was time to quit pitching was remarkable, and unique for his time. Mussina and Schiling aside, Hall of Fame voters aren’t going to see his like for awhile. He belongs in the pantheon of all-time greats, and hopefully, the BBWAA electorate recognizes that with the same efficiency that was the hallmark of Halladay’s career.


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Mike Mussina

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2014 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Unlike 2014 Hall of Fame honorees Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine or 2015 honoree Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina didn’t reach 300 wins in his career. Nor did he ever win a Cy Young award, in part because a teammate practically stole one out of his hands on the basis of superior run support. For as well as he pitched in October, his teams never won a World Series, because even the best relievers sometimes falter, to say nothing of what happens to the rest of them.

Though lacking in those marquee accomplishments, Mussina nonetheless strung together an exceptional 18 year career spent entirely in the crucible of the American League East, with its high-offense ballparks and high-pressure atmosphere. A cerebral pitcher with an expansive arsenal that featured a 93-mph fastball and a signature knuckle-curve — and at times as many as five other pitches — he not only missed bats with regularity but also had pinpoint control.

In a prime that coincided with those of the aforementioned pitchers — as well as 2015 inductees Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz and ballotmates Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, and Curt Schilling — “Moose” never led the AL in either strikeouts or ERA, but he ranked in the league’s top five six times in the former category and seven times in the latter. He earned All-Star honors five times and received Cy Young votes in eight separate seasons across a 10-year span, at one point finishing in the top five four times in five years. He even did a better job of preventing runs in the postseason than he did in the regular season, though it wasn’t enough to put his teams over the top.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Edgar Martinez

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

All Edgar Martinez did was hit — the statement is almost entirely true in both the literal and figurative sense. Even after adjusting for his high-scoring surroundings, Martinez could flat-out rake. A high-average, high-on-base percentage hitting machine with plenty of power, his numbers place him among the top 30 or 40 hitters of all time even after adjusting for the high-offense era. Martinez played a key role in putting the Mariners on the map as an AL West powerhouse, emerging as a folk hero to a fan base that watched Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez lead the franchise’s charge to relevancy, then skip town for more lucrative deals. But while Griffey and Rodriguez were two-way stars at key up-the-middle positions and Johnson a flamethrowing ace, Martinez spent the bulk of his career as a designated hitter. In that capacity, he merely put a claim on being the best one in baseball history.

More than 40 years after it was introduced — in the most significant rule change since the AL adopted the foul strike rule in 1903 — the DH continues to rankle purists who would rather watch pitchers risk injury as they ineptly flail away (Bartolo Colon excepted). In 2004, Paul Molitor became the first player elected to the Hall after spending the plurality of his career (44% of his plate appearances) as a DH, while a decade later, Frank Thomas became the first elected after spending the majority of his career (57% of his PA) there. By comparison, Martinez took 72% of his plate appearances as a DH, while David Ortiz — whose 2016 victory lap spurred plenty of Hall of Fame discussion — took 88%.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Mariano Rivera

The following article is the first part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. It has been adapted from The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Nobody closed the door like Mariano Rivera. The wiry, unflappable Panamanian not only set the all-time record for saves (652), he prevented runs at a greater clip relative to his league than any other pitcher. Yet neither of those accomplishments capture his brilliance in October. During Rivera’s 19-year-career, the Yankees missed the playoffs just twice, and for all of his regular season dominance, he was even better when the stakes were the highest, helping the Yankees to five championships. He was the last man standing on the mound an unprecedented four times, securing the final outs of the World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

Rivera did all of this while relying almost exclusively on one pitch, a cut fastball discovered almost by accident in 1997, his first year as closer. Even when batters knew what was coming — and at speeds as high as 98 mph in his younger days, it was coming fast — they could rarely predict its sideways movement well enough to make hard contact. If they connected at all, they often broke their bats. Teammates and opponents marveled at the success of the pitch, while writers placed it in the pantheon of great signature offerings, alongside Nolan Ryan’s fastball, Roger Clemens’ splitter, Sandy Koufax’s curve, Steve Carlton’s slider, Pedro Martinez’s changeup, and Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball.

Debates have long raged over how to value relievers and determine their fitness for the Hall of Fame, no small task given that just six are enshrined, as much for their roles in shifting the paradigm for closers as for the numbers they racked up. Yet Rivera’s case shuts those debates down like they’re opponents trailing by three runs in the ninth inning of a playoff game. He’s so far ahead of the field on so many levels that one could argue he’s the lone reliever outside the Hall worthy of entry, and as the top newcomer on the 2019 ballot, he’ll likely become just the second reliever to gain first-ballot entry, after Dennis Eckersley (2004).

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