Which Active Players Are Going to Cooperstown?

The Hall of Fame announces its results tomorrow, and the next few days will be filled with voters publishing their ballots online, giving you ample opportunity to shake your head in wonder at the thought process of some voters. But, instead of getting frustrated by decisions made by other people we have no influence over, I’d like to do something else while waiting for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and maybe even Frank Thomas to be acknowledged as all time greats. So, today, let’s update a post I did a few years ago, and look at which players currently active are going to eventually end up in Cooperstown.

Before I started picking names, though, I was curious as to what the historical precedent was for active Hall of Famers in any given season. I noted a few weeks ago that, historically, between 1-2% of all players have been inducted in the Hall of Fame, but because the best players have long careers and end up crossing over eras, it would make sense that there are more than 8-15 Hall of Famers playing in any given season. So, with assistance from Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I pulled the number of players in every season of baseball history who were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.

I won’t reproduce the whole list here, since it covers 134 seasons even after you exclude the nine recent years in which no one has yet to be elected, but I will note that the most Hall of Famers ever in one season is 53, back in 1928-1929-1930. There were 52 in 1926, 1927, and 1932. In fact, there are only 15 seasons in baseball history where there were 40 or more active Hall of Famers in that season, and those 15 years are every season from 1923 to 1937. Here are those 15 seasons, with rank being their position on the all time leaderboard for seasons with most Hall of Famers active.

Rk Year #Matching
15 1923 40
11 1924 47
8 1925 51
6 1926 52
5 1927 52
3 1928 53
2 1929 53
1 1930 53
9 1931 48
4 1932 52
7 1933 51
10 1934 47
12 1935 44
14 1936 41
13 1937 41

I think we can safely say that the era of Babe Ruth has been romanticized more than any other in baseball history, and agree that there are probably some players in the Hall of Fame who were simply the recipients of some fortuitous timing. That kind of representation of an era is not normal.

But, interestingly, the median number for active Hall of Famers in a season doesn’t really change much even if you throw out that entire time period. Including all the years in which there were any active players who have already been inducted into Cooperstown, the median is 30. If you throw out the 1923-1937 era, the median only drops to 28. If you limit the years to just the 20th century, the median is 33. No matter how you slice and dice the data, you’re going to end up with a historical norm around 30 active players. So, let’s set that as our target, and try to identify 30 players who will take the field in 2014 who might have a decent shot at ending up with a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

Already Earned Their Way

1. Albert Pujols, +87 WAR
2. Derek Jeter, +74 WAR
3. Ichiro Suzuki, +55 WAR

Barring a late career PED test failure, the first two are absolute locks, and Ichiro’s close enough to 3,000 hits that, with the bonus he’ll get for not coming to the U.S. until age-27, he’ll meet the Fame threshold for most voters.

Would Be a Lock, Except PEDs

4. Alex Rodriguez, +111 WAR

My guess is, at some point in the not too distant future, the Hall of Fame will adopt rules regarding players who were suspended for PED usage, and those rules will determine whether or not Rodriguez is eventually enshrined in Cooperstown. On performance alone, he obviously belongs.

Almost There, Just Don’t Suck for a Few More Years

5. Miguel Cabrera, +55 WAR
6. Carlos Beltran, +64 WAR
7. CC Sabathia, +62 WAR

Thesse guys have the rate stats to get inducted, and essentially just need to ensure that their counting stats get up near Hall of Fame levels for voters who prefer milestones. They don’t even have to be good for the next few years, as long as they stay healthy and keep playing most everyday. Adding in a decent 1,500 plate appearances or 500 innings would push them over the top for most voters, based on what they’ve already done.

On Track, but Not Quite There Yet

8. Adrian Beltre, +65 WAR
9. David Wright, +50 WAR
10. Joe Mauer, +44 WAR
11. Justin Verlander, +44 WAR
12. Felix Hernandez, +41 WAR
13. Robinson Cano, +37 WAR
14. Evan Longoria, +36 WAR
15. Dustin Pedroia, +34 WAR
16. Joey Votto, +33 WAR

These nine are guys that have played at a Hall of Fame level to this point in their career. You could potentially make a case for Beltre in the tier above this, but because so much of his value is tied to defense, he probably needs to do a bit more offensively to get over the hump. The rest mostly just need to age well.

Could Make it With Strong Finish

17. David Ortiz, +42 WAR
18. Chase Utley, +55 WAR
19. Cliff Lee, +45 WAR

These guys are all going to need to put up more great seasons in their late-30s in order to push themselves into the conversation, but they’ve done enough to at least make it possible.

Off to a Great Start

20. Clayton Kershaw, +29 WAR
21. Andrew McCutchen +27 WAR
22. Mike Trout, +21 WAR
23. Yadier Molina, +29 WAR
24. Zack Greinke, +37 WAR
25. Bryce Harper, +8 WAR
26. Giancarlo Stanton, +14 WAR
27. Buster Posey, +18 WAR
28. Manny Machado, +8 WAR
29. Stephen Strasburg, +11 WAR

The next generation of superstars — and Molina, who has made himself a potential candidate with his last few seasons — as best as we can tell right now. Some of these guys will get hurt or fall apart, but if I was going to pick the cream of the crop for the future candidates, these guys would probably be it.

The Reliever

30. Craig Kimbrel, +9 WAR

Voters have traditionally favored closers with longevity, but Kimbrel’s run of dominance is something we’ve never really seen before. His career ERA- is 37; Mariano Rivera only had three seasons in which he matched that mark. He’s going to have to stay healthy for another decade or so, but his peak was so high that he only really needs to have a couple more dominant years and then hang around as a save gatherer to go down as the best closer of his generation.

That’s my 30, anyway. It might skew too much to the older generation, and perhaps I’d be better off excluding guys like Utley and Lee in favor of super premium prospects who might get a cup of coffee, but this is the definition of an inexact science, so feel free to quibble with my picks and put your own in the comments.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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IZZY2112
Member
IZZY2112

I’d probably go with Chris Sale or Jose Fernandez before Strasburg at this point. Probably Darvish over Greinke. Hamels over Greinke too. I’d bet on Tulo before some of the others on this list. Puig may have a case over guys like Stanton & Machado. Holliday may have an argument when it’s all said and done.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman

We’re a little early on Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez, and Yasiel Puig, aren’t we? I have nothing against any of those players, but while Jose Fernandez did just put up 4.2 WAR at age 20/21, part of it is that his excellence is still a novelty to us. Similarly, I’d ask if you choose Puig over Stanton simply because Puig is newer and ‘more exciting’.

Consider Stephen Strasburg; there’s already a perception that he’s “not an ace” even though he has not really declined. Perspective: Strasburg has amassed 10.8 WAR in his first 434 innings; Justin Verlander had 10.5 WAR after his first 600.

I am cherry-picking a little, but my point is that you may find you’re cherry-picking too.

I do agree with Hamels being a strong consideration; Halladay, Lee, and Hamels may make that a very decorated Phillies pitching staff.

IZZY2112
Member
IZZY2112

Sale is the same age as Strasburg, has had a better career, and in my opinion, is the better pitcher. Fernandez is better than Strasburg too in my opinion.

I said Puig had a case over them. He’s the same age and I think you can make the case that he’s better than Stanton going forward.

cass
Guest
cass

There’s no real way to know. They should all be included and there should be more than 30 names on the list. We don’t know which of them is start going to racking up Cy Youngs and which is going to have a career-ending shoulder injury.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth

How would you make that case?

“I believe he’ll be able to maintain a .383 BABIP.”

That’s really the only argument I can think of.

SKob
Guest

Yeah, but find me someone who is not concerned with Sale’s delivery. At least Strasburg already had his Tommy-John! Jumping on the Fernandez bandwagon for the HOF right now is inexcusable! Come on man!

WOW, just saw that in 2011 in 24 innings after coming back from TJ he put up 1.1 WAR… unsustainable, but still… just coming back from surgery… crazy. He’s really not pitching as good as he could be. His monthly stats are sporatic. Seems like he loses focus from time to time.

Ray
Guest
Ray

Looks like Halladay will go in as a Jay given retirement ceremony, no?

JMo37
Member
JMo37

These are great opinions, but in order to be taken seriously, they need to be backed up with statistical proof. Otherwise it is the same argument the old fellows are having at the local watering hole, with opinion carrying the weight and not pure, comparable statistics.

big fat old guy
Guest
big fat old guy

Strasburg might not stay a starting pitcher for enough years for it to matter.

Apocalypse
Guest
Apocalypse

He could Smoltz it.

Luke in MN
Guest
Luke in MN

Holliday’s a better career hitter than David Ortiz, is 5 years younger, and has 6 more WAR. He’s a glaring omission and seems to perpetually be the game’s most unnoticed superstar.

Eric
Guest
Eric

Guys who go unnoticed during their career don’t tend to get any more visible when it comes to HOF voting…

Anon
Guest
Anon
here goes nothing
Guest
here goes nothing

Tulo is probably the biggest one. There are some other guys closer to retirement–Berkman and Giambi, I think–who will almost certainly be on the outside looking in but who merit discussion about inclusion.

Also, an excuse to trot out fun facts: Johan Santana is eleventh all time in Cy Young votes. Tim Hudson was (earlier this year, anyway) 29th all time in pitcher WPA.

Conspicuously absent: Ryan Braun, who is roughly the same age as Joey Votto (2 mos. younger) and only has 0.7 less career WAR despite losing this past season. Do we punish him more because he broke the rules after we’d made very clear what the rules were? Something to think about.

ankle explosion hr celebration
Guest
ankle explosion hr celebration

hah, that’s an interesting question in this new wave of PED users (Braun, A-Rod, and so forth). For the pro-PED users crowd, such as Dave himself, the arguments that “everybody was doing it” and “it wasn’t even against the rules” obviously don’t fly anymore. But if you are going to be consistent, then even big old douchebags like ARod and Braun (the thing about getting his tester in trouble still sickens me) ought to be considered.

Buh, I would not want to be a Hall voter; that seems like a no-win situation.

Plucky
Guest
Plucky

I’d support A-rod on the same basis as supporting Bonds (also keeping in mind that his peak and half his career was still in the “everyone was doing it” era). Braun will be an interesting case. Presumably for the rest of his career he’ll be subject to a lot more scrutiny and have to be clean going forward. If he trails off and sucks, then the whole discussion is moot bceause he won’t have the career #s in the frst place. If he continues playing at a high level, then maybe PEDs aren’t such a big deal after all.

BIP
Guest
BIP

I don’t think Dave has ever made either of those arguments.

ankle explosion hr celebration
Guest
ankle explosion hr celebration

uh huh, but fortunately I didn’t say Dave specifically ever had made those arguments. I said that he was part of the group of people — pro-PED users in the Hall — who have made those arguments. A small but important distinction.

BIP
Guest
BIP

I’m sorry, no, that’s not how English works. If Dave hasn’t made those arguments, then he cannot be a member of a group of people who have made them. At the very least, you implied that he made them (by singling him out), and I’m sure you’re smart enough that you knew you were doing it.

ankle explosion hr celebration
Guest
ankle explosion hr celebration

ah c’mon. Don’t be nasty.
I’m sorry if my wording was unclear; I didn’t mean to imply that Dave personally made those arguments.

And yes, you can be part of a group without doing all of the things that some members of the group do.

ankle explosion hr celebration
Guest
ankle explosion hr celebration

More specifically, the group is defined as “people who are in favor of letting PED-users into the Hall”.
Dave is a member of that group.
Some members of that group have made those arguments.
Perhaps Dave is not one of them.
Is that clear enough?

BIP
Guest
BIP

Fair enough.

Christian Camlin
Guest
Christian Camlin

Picking Darvish over anyone is a tiny bit premature right now.We do not know how likely he is to stay in the Majors.For Darvish to make the Hall he would need at least 150 wins in the Majors and he just is not real likely to stay in America that long.And while Strasburg is not real durable right now he at least has a history of strong performance.Fernandez and Sale still have to prove that they can repeat performance.Tulowitzki is a great hitter but a lot of people assume that his numbers are a product of Coors field.That combined with his history of injury make his an unlikely candidate for the Hall of Fame.The article here is not about who the best player is right now.The article is about the players odds of making it to Cooperstowm.That is Why Greinke and Hamels have about equal opportunity right now.Both have pitched well and had some seasons with good ERA’s & Win %’s.Both have been over shadowed by team mates but have plenty of time to get to 200 or 250 wins.Puig has had 1 nice half season while Machado has had a spectacular season and a half.Give both of them time before discussing the Hall of Fame for either.Stanton has 1 good year and a couple mediocre ones.He has yet to even begin to peak.and yes Matt Holliday has been a reliable 2nd tier star just starting to build a resume worthy of Cooperstown.But the story on him has plenty of chapters to be written.Better contenders might be Mark Texeira,Tim Hudson,Cliff Lee etc.

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