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!
68.3 bWAR, 65.5 fWAR
9th Year on the Ballot
Consider This: Since 1960, only 15 players have a .312 or higher batting average and over 4000 plate appearances. Edgar Martinez is one of them. He ranks 69th in offensive WAR according to Baseball-Reference and has the 21st best on-base percentage of all time. Only 32 other players have a better OPS. He went to seven All-Star Games, won four Silver Sluggers, and finished third in the 1995 MVP race. That was the year he hit .356 with a .479 OBP. It was his second batting title and first of three OBP titles. He also led the league in doubles twice and finished with 514 doubles and 309 homers along with spectacular plate discipline that led to 1283 career walks, good for 47th.
While he never played in the World Series, Martinez did hit .266/.365/.508 in the postseason with eight homers. Certainly, those numbers are a bit lower than his career ones, but a .873 OPS in 34 games isn’t terrible. He also had 9 seasons with a 5 fWAR or better, including three before he moved to full-time DH.
For the purposes of JAWS, Martinez is classified as a third baseman and he ranks comparably to another third baseman who played a lot of DH – Paul Molitor. The latter has him beat in bWAR 75.6 to 68.3, but Martinez beats him in WAR7 and the two are very close in overall JAWS score. Martinez’s JAWS score is slightly higher than the average third baseman.
Of course, his case is much more complicated than that. Martinez is credited with changing the DH position for those that followed. He began to full-time DH in 1995 when he was just 32. He showed that the position wasn’t only to keep over-the-hill bats still in the lineup or be a hot potato to keep other players fresh. Martinez made the idea that AL teams could literally carve out a roster spot for a full-time DH a thing that made sense.
But there’s this: For a lot of people, DH isn’t a real position. This is insanity, of course, as it’s an option. Of course, I’m a hypocrite because I believe closers are overvalued and undervalue two of the best closers of all-time who are both on this ballot. Nevertheless, I’m not sure who said it first, but this couldn’t be truer – if Edgar Martinez was the worst defensive third baseman in the league, he’d be in the Hall of Fame already.” Maybe it would be more complicated than that, but the offensive numbers are certainly worthy.
This section of the primer is about nit-picking so let’s go there with Martinez. He never came that close to winning an MVP. His postseason split shows great numbers in the ALDS, but awful numbers in the ALCS. His .405 wOBA was just two points better than Hank Aaron.
Wait, that’s not much of a nit-pick. Other than the fact that Edgar Martinez was a DH, what’s to really nit-pick here? For what it’s worth, every defensive metric we have – as problematic as they may be for that time period – suggests that, at worst, Martinez was a slightly below-average defensive third baseman. The Mariners weren’t hiding a completely horrendous defender.
With 145 ballots in the Tracker, Martinez has received 80.5% of the vote including 19 new votes from voters who didn’t vote for him next year. He missed the Hall in 2016 by 73 votes. With nearly 300 votes still out there, could this be Edgar’s year? It could be very close.
69.2 bWAR, 66.3 fWAR
2nd Year on the Ballot
Consider this: Name a right-handed hitter over the last thirty years who was more feared than Ramirez. A career .312/.411/.585 slash, Ramirez hit 555 home runs, went to a dozen All-Star Games, won 9 Silver Sluggers, and has the 8th best OPS in history. Only nine other hitters had a better AB per HR ratio throughout their career and only 15 had more extra-base hits. He finished with the 12th most intentional passes and was even walked 21 times intentionally in his Age-37 season with the Dodgers.
A monster in the postseason, Ramirez hit .285/.394/.544 in October, including winning a World Series MVP in 2004. His 29 postseason home runs are seven more than Bernie Williams for the most in history.
He had five 5-win seasons during his career and would have had more had he DH’d more like Edgar Martinez did. His career .418 wOBA is better than Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio.
But there’s this: Two things are working against Manny – one fair and one really stupid. We’ll start with the latter because I firmly believe Manny suffers simply for being Manny. Most of the players on the tracker have gained votes to this point when you take out those votes they lost. Martinez has gained 19 votes, lost three, and has a +16 net gain. Vladimir Guerrero has a net gain of +26, tops on this ballot. Curt Schilling has a +13 and Mike Mussina has a +11. But Manny, despite some of the greatest offensive numbers in history, has a -1.
Part of that is due to a bloated ballot, some may be due to strategic voting (i.e. voting for a guy to keep him on the ballot over guys who definitely will be on next year’s ballot), but a lot of that is due to Manny’s character. Jay Jaffe recently pointed out some of these “Manny Being Manny” moments.
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 ’05 that he disappeared mid-inning to relieve himself inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster … the time in ’08 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 that was apparent as far back as his high school and 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 his late reports 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 ’11 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.
The last part, the PED suspensions, is the second thing holding Manny back. Unlike many players who are hurt by the suspected use of PED, Manny has actually tested positive for them. For the no-PED crowd, Manny is a non-starter.
For what it’s worth, his numbers are a bit more borderline because of defense than they probably should be. The average HOF left fielder has a 65.2 career WAR, 41.5 7-year peak WAR, and 53.3 JAWS. Manny’s run included a 69.2 career WAR, 39.9 peak, and 54.5 JAWS. Only nine other LF’s have better numbers and these WAR numbers take into account Manny’s horrendous defense.
Maybe the best comparison to Manny is actually Willie Stargell. Both had similar peaks, though Manny finished with a better career WAR and JAWS. However, Stargell is in the Hall for what he was seen as – “Pops.” Take that away and Stargell is Jose Cruz (not Jr.) A great player, but not a Hall of Famer. Manny Ramirez may miss the Hall because of who he was seen as – “Manny Being Manny.”
Larry Walker Consider this: I once read a joke about some monster power hitter – maybe Barry Bonds? – blasting a moonshot in spring training and Larry Walker hurting himself just turning to see the ball fly. It was a play on Walker’s tendency to hit the DL. That tendency is one thing that is costing him a trip to Cooperstown. There’s something else, but we’ll get to that.
72.6 bWAR, 68.7 fWAR
8th Year on the Ballot
When he did play, Walker was one of the best players in baseball. He hit .313/.400/.565 over a nearly 2000-game career with a .412 wOBA. On this ballot, only five players have a better JAWS score. He won seven Gold Gloves, third Silver Sluggers, the 1997 MVP, and went to five All-Star Games. He also won three batting titles in four years and ranks 16th in OPS.
Walker belted 383 home runs during his career and in 1997, joined the 30/30 club at the age of 30. That’s probably something that hasn’t been done very much. He didn’t get to the postseason often – only once before joining the Cardinals at the end of his career. But he did post a .860 OPS in 28 games with 7 homers. While the Cardinals would be swept by the Red Sox juggernaut in ’04 (that included Manny winning the MVP), Walker was one of the few Cards who didn’t back down. He went 5-for-14 in the series with two doubles and two homers.
But there’s this: Okay, so, he played in Denver. He had a 1.172 OPS at Coors Field in 597 games. To be fair, he also posted a .926 OPS at Busch Stadium (148 games) and was also dinged the other way by playing 350 games at Olympic Stadium in Montreal with a .890 OPS. It’s not like Walker didn’t hit wherever he played, including a 1.039 OPS in 28 games at Turner Field and a 1.002 OPS in 70 games at Wrigley.
But for many people who used Coors Field against Walker to not vote for him for the MVP or whatever, they will continue to do it now. This is despite every park and league adjusted stat that still shows Walker to be one of the better hitters to ever play baseball.
If someone doesn’t use Coors Field as an excuse to not vote for Walker, they will use the injuries. Specifically, because of his injuries, he only hit 383 home runs and that’s only 66th all-time. This is, at least, a better argument than the Coors Field one. Walker doesn’t rank in the Top 50 in any counting stat. Outside of homers, he’s 108th in runs scored, 199th in hits, 103rd in total bases, 88th in doubles, and 105th in RBI.
However, the flipside of the argument is that despite some lower counting numbers due to injuries, his numbers still match up with some of the best players to ever play. For instance, baseball-reference names Duke Snider as his most comparable player. Seventh on that list is Vlad Guerrero, who Fangraphs Paul Swyden pointed out is nearly a clone of Walker – just not as good. They played the same position and Walker had the superior career. Some voters have taken such facts to heart. Walker has a +23 net gain in votes this year so far and is at 40.3%. Of those net gains, 21 voted for Guerrero last year but not Walker. It still won’t be enough to match Vladi, though. Guerrero has a net gain of +26 and has been on all but six ballots. The biggest difference between the two – every first-time voter has voted for Guerrero. Only 22% also voted for Walker.
Guerrero will be in the Hall this year and that’s good. He should be. Will Walker join him at some point? He’ll have 2019 and 2020 left to get there. If Walker’s 40% run holds true once all the ballots are in, he’ll have gained 20% of the vote. The momentum could get him to the Hall before his eligibility runs out. But it’ll be close.
What do you think? Do any of these four newbies to the Hall of Fame ballot deserve to be elected? Let me know below and if you’ve missed any of the previous primers, you can also find them below.