The Hall of Fame class of 2018 will be announced on January 24, 2018. In the meantime, I’m going to spend my Sundays going over the 33 players on this year’s ballot. I’ll include what the argument for inclusion is for each player and what the argument against their inclusion might be. I’ve tried to group the players together in the most reasonable manner. In the comment section, I’d love to hear if any of the players have your vote or you’re at least considering them. Thanks!
52.4 bWAR, 56.9 fWAR
9th year on the ballot
Consider this: Of the 27 players who hit more home runs than the Crime Dog, just two – Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro – are either not already enshrined or don’t have the hope of getting in through the regular vote. Both power-hitting first basemen would have been in the Hall, but each was soiled by steroids. That doesn’t apply for McGriff, who played 19 years in the majors. Most of that time was spent as a durable power source. He averaged 29 home runs from 1987 until his final semi-active season of 2003. McGriff was more than just a power hitter, batting .284 during his career with a .377 OBP. He went to five All-Star Games, won a trio of Silver Sluggers, and ranks in the Top 100 players of all time in slugging percentage, OPS, games played, and total bases.
Unlike many power hitters, McGriff didn’t disappear in the playoffs. In 50 games, he hit .303/.385/.532 – marks that are better than his career regular season totals. He bashed ten homers along the way, including a pair in Atlanta’s 1995 NLDS-deciding Game 4 with the Rockies.
But there’s this: For all of his accolades, McGriff was never seen as the guy. Rather, he was the guy’s sidekick, hitting third in the lineup just 35 times in his career. That also applies to how history sees him. His seven-year peak (1988-94) was a solid 36.9 fWAR, fourth overall during that time. Only three players in the Top 12 during those years in fWAR aren’t in the Hall – McGriff, Barry Bonds, and Will Clark. However, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS has the average Hall of Fame 1B with a seven-year peak of 42.7 bWAR, about 7 bWAR higher than McGriff.
McGriff is hurt by two things – the era he played in and the position he played. As a “clean player” during a juiced ball/steroid-infused 90’s, McGriff’s numbers look fairly pedestrian on this ballot. Of returning players from last year’s ballot, only two closers have a weaker bWAR. In addition, he ranks 31st in JAWS among 1B. That leaves him behind Will Clark, John Olerud, and Keith Hernandez – other sort-of contemporaries who missed election.
McGriff has two home run titles, one OPS title, and one Top-5 finish in the MVP. For many voters, that signifies a guy who, while very good, was just not elite and deserving of a Hall of Fame vote. In eight years on the ballot, that has held true. He’s never received at least a quarter of the vote and isn’t likely to change that this year.
55.2 bWAR, 56.1 fWAR
5th year on the ballot
Consider this: No second baseman has hit more home runs than Jeff Kent. Not Rogers Hornsby. Not Craig Biggio. Not Ryne Sandberg. That has to be worth something, no? During his seven-year peak, Kent hit .303/.371/.540 with the Giants and Astros, earning the 2000 NL MVP in the process. Went to five All-Star Games and won the Silver Slugger four times. Hit nine more home runs in the postseason with a slash of .276/.340/.500.
Two Hall of Fame second basemen played most of their career after 1990. Kent was the equal of both Biggio and Roberto Alomar throughout. They got into the Hall, but Kent has never pushed past 20% of the vote.
But consider this: Kent falls into the category of great, but not great enough. His seven-year peak is impressive but doesn’t come close to the average Hall of Fame second basemen. The biggest reason is probably related to defense. At his best, he was an average defender. As he aged, he became a liability in the field who should have been moved over to first base after 2003. That didn’t happen and he kept racking up poor defensive seasons.
His 377 home runs are impressive, don’t get me wrong, but when you begin to adjust for the time period with wRC+, Kent falls to the sixth-best 2B since 1970. A problem for him is that while he’s similar or a better option offensively than Chase Utley, Biggio, and Alomar, those guys could play some defense and/or were a stolen base thread. Kent’s bat gets him in the conversation, but his all-around game will probably take him back out. That’s not even getting into his relationship with the press, which often wasn’t good.
Sammy Sosa Consider this: Six-hundred-and-nine home runs. That matters, right? An MVP, six Silver Sluggers, seven All-Star appearances, and one of the reasons people came back to baseball. It all ties in. Sosa took a number of years to really get it together, but his seven-year peak from 1998 until 2004 was a career-defining .296/.385/.621 with 367 home runs. It’s a Hall of Fame peak. He is the only player – ever – to reach 60 home runs in three different seasons.
58.4 bWAR, 60.1 fWAR
6th year on the ballot
Until later in his career, Sosa was a solid right fielder with good range and a big-time arm. The range left him as he bulked up, but he still had an arm capable of nailing down runners. Career .370 wOBA at the plate with the 39th most total bases in history.
But there’s this: It starts with steroids, though there is no concrete proof that Sosa ever used. He has stated that he’s never used and outside of some rumors that he did, there’s nothing to say that he did fail a test. That said, people saw a five-tool player at age-27 turn into this statue of a figure capable of popping 60+ homers within just a couple of years. The optics are big here. He did get caught with a corked bat back in 2003, but there’s no proof he had used it at any other time.
Ignoring the steroids and the bat, Sosa ranks 15th in fWAR since 1970. You might think that would help him, but among the five in front of him are Dwight Evans, Jim Edmonds, and Kenny Lofton. They didn’t make it in, why should Sosa?
They don’t have the home runs, you might argue. That’s fair. But Sosa, due to poor plate discipline, doesn’t rank all that high in something like wOBA. His .370 mark is slightly worse than Ryan Klesko and Darryl Strawberry. For voters, they are given a lot of home runs and some questionable steroid issues. It probably shouldn’t affect him, but his radical change and massive ego since leaving baseball won’t help.
59.3 bWAR, 54.3 fWAR
2nd year on the ballot
Consider this: Few players were considered as elite as Vladi was. He received MVP votes in eleven consecutive seasons, winning the 2005 MVP. He was a Silver Slugger winner eight times and finished with the 55th-best batting average of all time at .3176. Only nine of the 54 players ahead of him aren’t a member of the Hall of Fame (one, Shoeless Joe Jackson, isn’t eligible). He ranks 25th all-time in slugging percentage and 40th in home runs with 449. Only four other players were intentionally walked more times than Guerrero.
With a .390 wOBA, Guerrero ranks 11th since 1970. The year before his last season in the majors, Guerrero had a .364 wOBA in 643 PA, showing that he still had skills right up until the end of his career. Guerrero also was an accomplished base stealer until his 30’s and was a home run short of the very select 40/40 club in 2002.
But there’s this: The problem with not sticking around for three-or-four years to pad your stats is while your average and other rate stats are better for it, you miss out on some big counting milestones. With two-or-three more seasons in the bigs, Guerrero would have likely reached 3,000 hits, 500 doubles, 500 homers, and 1750 RBIs. Because he didn’t, some voters may consider his numbers just short of the Hall.
Was a defensive liability. He had a great arm and has the 28th most outfield assists as a right fielder, but struggled with range and accuracy. As a result, only four other right fielders have been charged with more errors. Guerrero also often disappeared in the playoffs, sporting a .263/.324/.339 career line, though he did have a few big runs here-and-there. Guerrero only hit two home runs in the playoffs over 188 PA, though.
Perception is everything. Has a nearly identical WAR, seven-year peak WAR, and JAWS to Bobby Abreu, but Abreu doesn’t seem likely to join the Hall of Fame when it’s his time. Home runs do matter, but Guerrero was one of the game’s most feared hitters while Abreu was considered a very solid player. Guerrero seems destined to be inducted in the Hall after receiving 71.7% of the vote last year.
60.3 bWAR, 62.1 fWAR
4th year on the ballot
Consider this: One of the most electric hitters of his time, Sheffield hit 509 home runs over 22 seasons in the bigs. He finished his career with 79.9 oWAR, tied with Sam Crawford for 35th all-time. Of the 34 players ahead of him, only six aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame, though three are on his ballot (Barry Bonds, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez), two others are not yet eligible (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter), and one is permanently ineligible (Pete Rose). It’s rarified company.
Sheffield was an All-Star nine times and a Silver Slugger-winner five times. He ranks in the Top 100 all-time in OBP (88th), SLG (76th), runs scored (39th), hits (69th), total bases (34th), home runs (26th), RBI (26th), and walks (21st). Finished his career with a slash that was often a career-season for most hitters – .292/.393/.514.
But there’s this: Like Guerrero, Sheffield had the big arm but was a liability when it came to range. Nevertheless, that was still better than his defensive efforts on the infield. He also seemed to disappear in the playoffs. Braves fans remember that more than anyone after Sheffield went 3-for-30 in two trips to the playoffs in 2002-03. Finished .248/.401/.398, showing that he had his moments, but didn’t “rise” to the occasion.
Sheffield suffers greatly from attitude and a connection to steroids. When moved off shortstop to third base, Sheffield thought the organization was showing preference to its white player, Bill Spiers, over him. He was also admitted to intentionally throwing the ball away as a member of the Brewers. Sheffield later recanted that statement, but it stuck with him. He also admitted to unwittingly using a steroid cream while working out with Barry Bonds and was also named in the Mitchell Report.
But ignoring all of that, the bigger problem with Sheffield seems to be that, while one of the most feared hitters, he rarely was a step above the league he played with. Some of that was injuries – he played 150 or more games just four times. Nevertheless, outside of the leading the league in OBP and SLG in 1996, he never paced the league in any other stats. Came close to an MVP with a third-place finish in 2003 and runner-up the following year, but never took home that award either.
His JAWS speaks to this. His WAR, seven-year peak WAR, and JAWS are all below-average for a Hall of Famer.