Last year, FanGraphs was accepted into the BBWAA as an approved organization, and at present, we have four writers on staff who are members of the organization: David Laurila, Eno Sarris, Carson Cistulli and me. Once we’ve each been in the organization for 10 years, we will receive the right to vote for the Hall of Fame. So, in nine years, I might be publishing a Hall of Fame ballot. But, for now, I’ll run down who I’d vote for if I had a ballot.
We’ll do it in descending order of confidence in the pick, ranging from the easiest calls down to the toughest.
1. Jeff Bagwell, 1B, +84 WAR
Bagwell’s a top 10 first baseman, and regardless of what kind of suspicions you might have about his physique, there’s no evidence that Bagwell used PEDs, and keeping one of the great players in the history of the sport out of Cooperstown because he was too muscular is the height of silliness. Even if we’re not bound to “innocent until proven guilty”, we should at least put the burden of proof on the person making the assertion. Presuming that Bagwell used PEDs because he played in the 1990s and had big biceps simply shouldn’t be good enough for anyone. It’s a stain on the entire process that Bagwell has not yet been elected, and the Hall of Fame loses credibility every year that goes by without him as a member.
2. Mike Piazza, C, +67 WAR
Ditto everything I just said. I don’t know if Piazza used PEDs or not. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. There’s no evidence that he did, and we shouldn’t be keeping clear Hall-of-Famers out of Cooprstown because of the possibility that they used steroids. Even if you believe that guys who used steroids don’t belong in Cooperstown — I don’t, but for sake of argument, go with me here — you have to weigh the benefits of preserving that kind of standard against the cost of keeping a deserving player out because of a false accusation. I’d rather induct both an unknown PED user and a guy who never touched steroids than keep both out, assuming they’re both deserving from an on-field perspective. To me, rejecting a worthy player because we falsely believe they did something they did not do is worse than accepting a guy who used steroids into the Hall of Fame. I’m not advocating for Piazza and Bagwell because I’m naive enough to think that there’s no chance either had chemical assistance — I’m advocating for them because I don’t believe in assailing someone’s reputation without proof.
3. Curt Schilling, SP, +86 WAR
I hear Schilling talked about as a borderline player from a performance standpoint, but if you actually look at his career numbers, that’s an impossible case to make. 3,200 innings, prevented runs at a rate of 20 percent better than league average for his career, had an incredible peak from 1997 to 2004, and is one of the best postseason pitchers of all time. There are only 22 pitchers in the history of the game who have thrown 3,000 or more innings and posted an ERA- of 80 or below. He’s one of the very best pitchers of his era, and he’s better than most pitchers already enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
4. Craig Biggio, 2B, +71 WAR
Craig Biggio is Roberto Alomar without the abrupt collapse at the end. Here, look.
A HOF with one and without the other doesn’t make any sense. The voters got it right with Alomar. Now it’s time to get it right with Biggio.
5. Tim Raines, OF, +71 WAR
No player exemplifies the problems with evaluating careers based on the triple crown statistics more than Raines. The traditional focus on BA, HR, and RBI ignores the contributions of players who draw walks, hit a lot doubles and triples, and steal a ton of bases at a high rate of success. Raines, of course, was excellent at all three, and any kind of objective look at his overall numbers should result in a yes vote. If you haven’t seen it before, check out the excellent Raines30.com and learn about how great of a player Raines was. They’ll explain it better than I can.
6. Larry Walker, OF, +73 WAR
There are essentially two knocks against Walker; he got hurt a lot and he played a lot of his games in pre-humidor Colorado. Both of these things are true, but neither are compelling enough reasons to ignore the entirety of his performance. With only 8,000 career plate appearances, Walker falls short on longevity, but so does Sandy Koufax, Kirby Puckett, and a host of others who were easily accepted into Cooperstown. You can offset a short career by being truly great when you played. And Walker was great enough when he was on the field to justify recognition. His 141 wRC+ — which is park adjusted and accounts for the altitude effects — puts him in the top 50 of all hitters with at least 5,000 plate appearances, tying him with Chipper Jones. He was also an excellent defender and an underrated baserunner, and his combination of elite hitting and quality secondary skills made him one of the game’s best players during his career. The injuries and park factors make him imperfect, not unworthy.
7. Edgar Martinez, DH, +70 WAR
Like Raines, Martinez is being punished for drawing walks and hitting doubles instead of making outs and hitting home runs. Like Walker, Martinez’s shorter career length is being held against him. Unlike the others, he also doesn’t have much defensive value to lean on, so his case really comes down to believing that he was one of the best hitters to ever live. Thankfully for Martinez, that’s the truth. His career wRC+ of 148 ranks ahead of a few other sluggers you may have heard of; Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, and Harmon Killebrew, to name three. Or, to put it in a modern perspective, he has the same career wRC+ as Miguel Cabrera. He only was great at one thing, but he was exceptionally great at that one thing, and the Hall of Fame should have room for one of the best right-handed hitters of all time.
8. Barry Bonds, OF, +168 WAR
I don’t think PED use should be an automatic disqualifier from Hall of Fame consideration. The sport’s history is filled with terrible people who did a lot of lousy (and illegal) things, and if we threw out every player who used drugs or abused their bodies, we’d have a Hall of Fame that could fit inside a pick-up truck. I also don’t think that PED use should just be glossed over or ignored, and when we have evidence that a player used steroids, it should factor into our decision over whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame. I’m sympathetic to the idea that we don’t want to reward cheating. This isn’t such a cut-and-dried issue for me as it seems to be for others, on both sides. But, at the end of the day, Bonds had one of the five best careers of all time. No matter how much of a penalty you want to apply for the character clause, it doesn’t overcome what he did on the field. He’s an integral part of the game’s history, and he belongs in its most famous museum.
9. Roger Clemens, SP, +146 WAR
The Barry Bonds of pitching. Everything I said about Bonds applies here too. He was simply too great of a pitcher to keep out of the Hall of Fame.
10. Alan Trammell, SS, +70 WAR
A year ago, I wrote up my case for Alan Trammell as a Hall of Famer. I value a player’s peak productivity more than his career length, and Trammell had a sustained peak from 1980 to 1990 that easily passes any Hall of Fame test you might want to measure him against. The argument against him is that his non-peak years weren’t particularly great, and while that’s true, I don’t support the idea that a HOF career is made or broken by being average instead of mediocre in your late-30s. Trammell had an 11 year run as one of the best shortstops of all time. That’s enough for me.
Those would be my 10, because the ballot foolishly only lists 10 spots. However, below those 10 spots, I would add a write-in, because there are more than 10 players that I would want to vote for this year. It wouldn’t be counted, but I’d make it known that I also wanted to vote for Kenny Lofton. In my mind, there are 11 deserving candidates this year. I don’t get vote for any of them now. Hopefully, by the time I get a vote, they’ll all be enshrined, and I’ll never have the chance to vote for any of them.