I’m talkin’ baseball
Like Reggie, Quisenberry
Carew and Gaylord Perry
Seaver, Garvey, Schmidt and Vida Blue
If Cooperstown is calling, it’s no fluke
They’ll be with Willie, Mickey and the Duke.
— Terry Cashman, Talkin’ Baseball
Talkin’ Baseball is a great song, and I cut Terry some slack on his Hall of Fame predictions. Garvey, yeah, that was a miss. But he got five of the eight right, which is pretty good, and two that he missed – Dan Quisenberry and Vida Blue – he needed to make rhymes work. Still, I always thought he should have used “Rod Carew” instead of Vida Blue in that fifth line.
I’m saying that I think the song should have gone like this:
I’m talkin’ baseball
Like Reggie, Quisenberry
George Brett and Gaylord Perry
Seaver, Garvey, Schmidt and Rod Carew
If Cooperstown is calling, it’s no fluke
They’ll be with Willie, Mickey and the Duke
Then you have six of eight Hall of Famers. True, Garvey could be replaced by Jim Rice. And Dan Quisenberry is still in there, but:
1. The Quisenberry-Gaylord Perry rhyme is too good pass up.
2. I’ve long made the case that Dan Quisenberry is every bit as good a Hall of Fame candidate as Bruce Sutter, who was elected. Their career production is so similar, in fact, that it’s really illogical and off-putting for one to have been elected by the Baseball Writers while the other was barely even considered. But that’s a subject for another time.
For now, the subject is the Baseball Hall of Fame and today’s players. The inspiration for the topic is Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, who, you might know, is having another subpar season. He has been a full-time first baseman for two seasons, and in those two years he’s hitting .272/.347/.375, which is not good for a first baseman. He’s not bad defensively, but he’s also not especially good, and anyway first base is an offensive position. His Hall of Fame case sinks a little more every year.
So, where does Mauer stand now? Well, let’s dive on in, shall we? For fun, I throw in my own percentages – the percentages representing how certain or uncertain I am about their Hall of Fame chances:
The 100 percent, no-doubt, they are going to the Hall of Fame class
(These are the players who are going into the Hall of Fame even if they retire tomorrow):
— Pujols has been up and down ever since he arrived in Anaheim, and so it’s easy to forget JUST how good he was for more than a decade in St. Louis. If you want to be reminded, just take a look at where he stands on the all-time list for players his age.
Through age 35, he has 576 doubles (second to Tris Speaker), 551 homers (fourth), 1,671 RBIs (seventh) and a .584 career slugging percentage (ninth). If he can keep this 2015 revival going for a few more years, he will hit 600-plus homers, drive in perhaps 2000 runs, end up in the statistical class of Musial, Aaron, Mays and so on. He was, in his prime, a fantastic defender and a good baserunner and anything else that made for a great ballplayer.
— His career numbers are not quite in the no-doubt Hall of Fame zone – he is just shy of 2,300 hits, has already passed 400 homers, etc. – but he’s already a lock. He won the Triple Crown. He won multiple MVP Awards. He won four batting titles. His career average is .321. He’s in even if he never takes another swing. Of course, he’s 32 so there should be more than a few swings left.
— I suspect Ichiro will stick around to get 3,000 major-league hits – I would think that a big league club will keep him on next year to give him that chance. And that will lock things down, but he doesn’t need 3,000 major-league hits. When you add Ichiro’s remarkable first 10 years in the big leagues (batted .331 and AVERAGED 224 hits per season) to his youthful brilliance in Japan, you are talking about a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer.
There are those who think Ichiro has been a bit overrated. This is because he didn’t walk much, and he didn’t hit for power. Those two things have dampened his on-base and slugging percentages, the two key offensive metrics. The point is valid. But to me, Ichiro was always as much an artist as a ballplayer. He hit. He ran, He threw. Nobody was quite like him.
— Maybe it surprises you to see him on this sure-thing list, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, Beltre is one of the greatest defensive third basemen in baseball history (his four Gold Gloves actually underrate him), and he has more than 500 career doubles and 400 career homers.
We’ll talk a bit throughout about Wins Above Replacement (the baseball-reference variety), though we’ll try not to overuse the stat for this exercise. Beltre’s 81 career WAR places him sixth on the third-baseman list, behind four Hall of Famers (Schmidt, Mathews, Boggs, Brett) and soon-to-be-inducted Chipper Jones, and Beltre ranks ahead of two others (Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo). He could still add to his totals. He might have to convince some doubters, but I have no doubt that when it’s his time, people will see just how great a player Beltre has been.
The 75-99 percent, I think they’re going but it’s not a sure-thing class:
Robinson Cano (91 percent)
— It’s a bit too early to make the definitive call on Cano. He’s just 32 and, if this year is any indication, he’s slowing down some. That said, I’m betting he’s getting in. If you look at him through age 32, he has numbers pretty similar to a guy named George Brett:
Brett through 32: .316/.375/.507, 400 doubles, 108 triples, 193 HR, 978 RBIs, 1,002 runs.
Cano through 32: .307/.355/.494, 441 doubles, 31 triples, 231 HR, 958 RBIs, 934 runs.
Now add in that Cano has won two Gold Gloves as a second baseman. If his career takes a nasty turn downward, sure, he could still lose his Hall of Fame footing. But for now I think it’s a steady Hall of Fame trail.
David Ortiz (87 percent)
— I go back and forth on how Ortiz’s case will be received by the BBWAA. Sometimes I think he will sail into the Hall of Fame because he’s one of the true stars of the age, he will likely finish with 500 homers, and few can match his postseason heroics, particularly in the World Series.
Then, part of me thinks: No, he won’t sail in. The 500 homers don’t carry the weight they once did. There are some steroid accusations. He was essentially a career DH. If you look, his numbers strongly resemble the numbers of Fred McGriff, who can’t get any traction in the Hall of Fame race.
Ortiz: .284/.378/.545, 491 homers, 1,606 RBIs.
McGriff: .284/.377/.509, 493 homers, 1,550 RBIs.
Then there’s the case of Edgar Martinez, who was an all-time hitter – a better hitter, I think, than Ortiz – but isn’t getting much support, largely because he was a designated hitter.
So, it’s tricky. In the end, I think Ortiz will get elected. I don’t think you can tell the story of early 21st Century baseball without him.
Yadier Molina (84 percent)
— At retirement, he will have an argument as the greatest defensive catcher in the history of baseball. That gets him in, even with an average bat.
Mike Trout (81 percent)
— Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, to put a 24-year-old kid on this list. How could I be 81 percent that any 24-year-old will someday go into the Hall? What about Dwight Gooden? What about Cesar Cedeno? What about Andruw Jones? Heck, what about A-Rod?
I know. But Trout might be the best young player we’ve ever seen in this game.
Most WAR through his ongoing age-23 season (Trout’s age on July 1, which is how “Baseball Age” is determined):
1. Ty Cobb, 36 WAR
2. Mike Trout, 35.5 WAR
3. Ted Williams, 34.2 WAR
4. Mel Ott, 31.4 WAR
5. Ken Griffey Jr., 30.1 WAR
Sure, you can come up with any number of horrible ways that Mike Trout’s career could go off the rails. I’m betting on him.
Alex Rodriguez (75 percent)
— OK, I’m guessing. I don’t really know what will happen with A-Rod. Heck, I don’t even know if I will vote for A-Rod, much less anyone else. He’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer as a player. And he’s also an admitted steroid cheat who was suspended for a full year after fighting with baseball. It’s a pretty ugly case, and right now there’s no signs of mercy for any steroid cheat.
But I think in time – maybe a LONG time, but in time — the Hall of Fame will make peace with the steroid scandal. I’m not sure how it will happen. I’m not sure what “peace” will mean. But I think that someday there will be a Hall of Fame place for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and, yes, even Alex Rodriguez. That someday could be decades off. But someday.
The 51-74 percent, yeah, I think they’re going in but there is work to do be done:
Clayton Kershaw (74 percent)
— There are few things sillier than betting on a young pitcher. Tim Lincecum looked like a Hall of Fame lock after winning his two Cy Youngs. Justin Verlander, only a couple of years ago, looked like the surest thing. But I believe in Kershaw’s Hall of Fame case for a couple of reasons. One, he’s already accomplished a whole lot. He’s won three Cy Youngs and an MVP, he’s already got more than 1,600 strikeouts, his team’s record is 144-88 in games he starts. That’s pretty good stuff for a 27-year-old.
Two, he’s pretty close to walking through what I call the Koufax Door. Sandy Koufax is in the Hall of Fame essentially for four legendary seasons and two good ones. That’s it. That rest of his career adds up to almost nothing. It is four legendary seasons and two good ones.
Now, Koufax’s version of legendary seasons can not be repeated – he threw more than 300 innings in three of those seasons. But the point remains: If you can be ultra dominant for five or six years, you have a shot of getting into the Hall of Fame through the Koufax Door. Pedro Martinez strutted through the Koufax door. I think Kershaw’s last five seasons have been pretty close to legendary. One or two more of those seasons, and I think the Koufax Door opens up.
Felix Hernandez (68 percent)
— Yes, I’m projecting. King Felix needs two more great seasons and maybe three or four more good ones. It’s no fun betting on a pitcher, but he seems like the type to last.
Buster Posey (62 percent)
— Am I really saying that Buster Posey at age 28 – with 805 career hits and fewer than 100 career homers – is a better Hall of Fame bet right now than Joe Mauer? Well, as Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown once said after a troubled negotiation: “It’s unfortunate, but it’s the fact.”
Mauer has been one of my favorite players, and I desperately want to see him revive his career. He might. He might not. Meanwhile, Posey does what he does – he’s quietly putting up another MVP-type season as leader for a team that already has won three World Series titles with him behind the plate. He’s only 28 and still needs to have several more great seasons. But do you doubt for even a minute that he will?
Zack Greinke (59 percent)
— Well, I didn’t know where to put Greinke because he’s at that awkward age (31) where his career could still go any number of different ways. But I will say this: He currently leads the league in ERA, innings pitched and WHIP and is the favorite at the moment to win the Cy Young Award. That would be his second. His career numbers are beginning to gain some heft. He’s beginning to emerge as a very real Hall of Fame candidate.
Troy Tulowitzki (51 percent)
— He has to stay healthy. With Tulo, the question is health. But if he can stay healthy and if he can find a way to put up some offensive numbers away from Coors Field (no sure thing there, Tulo has hit 40 points less and slugged 90 points lower on the road), well, he’s got a good chance. He’s put up some great number already (he closes in on 200 homers) and he has won two Gold Gloves. But health and adjusting to life without altitude will determine his Hall of Fame course.
Joe Mauer (51 percent)
— Let’s assume for a moment that Joe Mauer never has another good season. He might still have several good years, but let’s assume for now that he’s done as anything more than a mediocre player.
If that’s the case, his Hall of Fame case relies, almost entirely on 8 1/2 full seasons as a great-hitting catcher. Is that enough?
Probably not. You look at the catchers that have gone into the Hall of Fame, they all had long careers as catchers – Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, etc.
Look at some Hall of Famers games as catchers (Piazza should go in next year):
Carlton Fisk, 2,226 games
Gary Carter, 2,056 games
Johnny Bench, 1,742 games
Yogi Berra, 1,699 games
Mike Piazza, 1,630 games
Roy Campanella, 1,183 games
Joe Mauer, 920 games
That’s not promising for Mauer – he has 263 fewer games as catcher than Roy Campanella, who started his career in the Negro Leagues and was paralyzed after age 35. And Mauer probably will never catch another game. I don’t think he gets in based solely on the first half of his career.
So if he never finds it and spends the next few years hitting .270 with no power, I don’t think he will get elected. He needs a second chapter to get back on track. I want to believe.
The ultra-borderline, I’m just not seeing how they get enough votes class:
Carlos Beltran (46 percent)
— I watched Beltran grow up in the Major Leagues, and I think he’s got a strong Hall of Fame case. He’s accumulated 67.9 Wins Above Replacement, which slots in pretty well among Hall of Fame center fielders –behind the Mays, Cobbs and Mantles of the world but in nicely with the next tier guys like Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn and Kirby Puckett.
Beltran has been a true five-tool player – power, speed, defense, hitting, throwing. I think the best way to illustrate Beltran’s Hall of Fame case is to say that there are three center fielders in baseball history with 300 homers and 300 stolen bases. One is Willie Mays. Two is Steve Finley. Three is Carlos Beltran.
One is perhaps the greatest player in the history of the game.
Two was a good but not great player who got four Hall of Fame votes his one year on the ballot.
Where does three fit in? He is a better player than Finley. He is not nearly as good as Mays. The Hall of Fame line is right where he stands. I don’t think he will quite get the support.
Jimmy Rollins (41 percent)
— He will have his supporters. He’s a four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop with an MVP in his trophy case, and he will finish with more than 2,500 hits. I don’t think he was/is quite as good a player as Alan Trammell, who can’t get any Hall of Fame momentum. But I suspect there will be a pretty strong push for him when the time comes, and so he’s got an outside shot.
Mark Teixeira (35 percent)
— He looked to be finished as a player, and now he’s having his own renaissance season with 31 homers and a .553 slugging percentage. If he could keep that going for two or three more years, he just might get to 500 homers (he’s got 394 now, and he turns 36 in April). He’s got five Gold Gloves, too. I don’t think he will quite build the case but it’s not impossible.
CC Sabathia (32 percent)
— Through his age-31 season, Sabathia was 191-102 with a 125 ERA+. I’m not much for pitcher win totals, but he was 12th on the all-time list through age 31, right between Hall of Famers Pete Alexander and Juan Marichal. He also had more than 2,200 strikeouts, and he was nestled between Bob Feller and Roger Clemens on that list. He’d won a Cy Young Award and finished close three other times. He seemed more or less a sure Hall of Famer then.
That was just three years ago. But that’s the thing about predicting Hall of Famers; Sabathia has been mostly disastrous since 2012; he’s been injured, he’s been knocked around, and now his Hall of Fame case looks somewhat Vida Blue-ish.
Adrian Gonzalez (22 percent)
— Kind of a poor man’s Teixeira. He’s two years younger and doesn’t have quite the home run totals, but hits for a higher average and with more doubles. Teixeira, as mentioned, might make a run for 500 homers, which could be a Hall of Fame entry point for him. Gonzo probably doesn’t have that possibility, so it will be tougher for him to stand out.
Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez (16 percent)
— I don’t know what to do with relief pitchers and the Hall of Fame. Papelbon is 34 and he already has 344 career saves. He talks about chasing down Mariano Rivera’s save record; I don’t see that happening. But if he gets to 500, will that make him a Hall of Famer? I don’t think so, but other people value one-inning closers much more than I do.
K-Rod is more than a year younger than Papelbon, and he, too, is having another big closer season (though it’s for Milwaukee, so you might have missed it), and he has MORE career saves than Papelbon. I would not have guessed that one, by the way. K-Rod also has the all-time single-season saves record. Papelbon’s career is tidier, while K-Rod has been more up and down, but I think K-Rod’s case is likely to be every bit as good when they retire.
Mark Buehrle (11 percent)
Nobody really thinks of Buehrle as a Hall of Famer, but you know how those crafty lefties can pitch forever. He’s got 212 career pitcher wins, he’s having another successful season at age 36, if he could win 13 or 14 games a year for another five years, well, suddenly he’s approaching 280 wins at age 41, and he might think about going for 300. I’m not saying that WILL happen. I’m just saying it could happen.
The they-need-a-revival-to-get-back-on-the-Hall-of-Fame track class:
— I basically came up with this category for Wright. You look at his career, and it’s pretty fantastic. He has hit .298/.377/.494 with 231 career homers, 375 career doubles, he’s a seven-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner. He’s still just 32 years old which means he could still have a few good years.
But he’s been so beat up, he has just nine home runs since the start of the 2014 season. If his career kind of winds down from here, he will be in the Ron Cey, Robin Ventura, Kenny Boyer class of almost but not quite. If he has a reawakening, he can still get himself on the Hall of Fame track.
— The collapse of Verlander has been the most shocking thing I’ve seen in baseball since … I don’t know, the collapse of Dwight Gooden, maybe? Gooden, though, made a lot of personal mistakes. Verlander just suddenly stopped pitching well. From 2009-12, he led the league in strikeouts three times, in ERA+ twice, in WHIP once, in innings pitched three times (alarm bells!) and in pitcher wins twice. He won a Cy Young, an MVP and the hearts of millions.
Then, one day, he was ordinary. Sure, it shouldn’t be that hard to understand – great pitchers get hurt, they wear out, it has happened dozens and dozens of times before. Still, it was hard to understand with Verlander. One day he’s throwing 99 with an unhittable curveball. Next day, he’s topping out at 94 with a curve that hangs like it’s in a museum. I was talking to a friend in Detroit, and he was saying that he thinks Verlander will rebound and be a good pitcher again. I hope so.
— He’s just 31, but the body has taken a pounding. He has an MVP on his resume, which always helps in the Hall of Fame game, and he has won some Gold Gloves which helps too. But he’s missed parts of the last two seasons, his slugging percentage has fallen off. He needs to reestablish himself as an everyday star to get back into the Hall of Fame conversation.
— I didn’t have Votto in my original version of this story, something numerous people pointed out (thanks!). They’re right, he should be here: He’s really the first-base version of Pedroia. He has won an MVP, he has brilliant career numbers (.310/.419/.533). He’s also been beat up and his career meandered somewhat off track. Votto’s extreme patience at the plate and his relatively low RBI totals have frustrated quite a few Reds fans through the years. But he’s 31, he’s having a good year this year, and he could reestablish himself as one of the best offensive players in the game — and the Hall of Fame is back in play.
The very good players but it looks like they will fall short of the Hall of Fame class:
— I guess I shouldn’t write him off before he turns 35 (in October) but he got such a late start – he did not have his first great season until he was 29 – that he just doesn’t seem capable of compiling big enough numbers. He has made the All-Star team every year since 2010, he’s averaging 35 homers a year for the last six years, he’s a wonderful player. I expect him to be a wonderful player for a few more years.
— I wonder how Hall of Fame voting for starting pitchers will evolve. For the last 30 years it has been pretty easy for voters. Three-hundred-game winners are in. Three-thousand-strikeout pitchers are in (mostly). Absurdly dominant pitchers like Koufax and Pedro are in.
But as starters make fewer and fewer starts and throw fewer and fewer innings, those big career numbers are not realistic. Three hundred wins will be awfully tough for pitchers making 28 to 33 starts a year. Look at the win-loss records of the winningest pitchers between born between 1975 and 1985 (pitchers between ages 30 and 40):
1. Tim Hudson, 220-132
2. Mark Buehrle, 212-157
2 (tie). CC Sabatha, 212-128
4. Roy Halladay, 203-105
5. Livan Hernandez, 178-177
6. Barry Zito, 165-143
6 (tie). Javier Vazquez, 165-160
8. A.J. Burnett, 163-155
8 (tie). Roy Oswalt, 163-102
10. John Lackey, 162-124
None of them threatened 300 wins. Halladay is, I think, a Hall of Famer … but with only 203 wins. Hudson has had a very nice career, and he does have a Hall of Fame case if you look at some of the advanced statistics. But I think it will take time for Hall of Fame voters to adjust their thinking on starting pitchers.
— He will have his Hall of Fame advocates. He was, for a time, an otherworldly defensive centerfielder (he has nine Gold Gloves), and he became a better offensive player in his later years. He had 350 career homers and he’s Top 100 all-time in career extra-base hits and RBIs.
— His career is an awful lot like Nomar Garciaparra’s – both middle infielders, brilliant hitters, each put up five or six MVP-type seasons, each had their careers shortened by injuries. Garciaparra’s numbers are more eye-popping than Utley’s (much higher batting averages, lots of extra-base hits) but if you look closely, Utley was probably the better player.
Look at 2009. Utley hit just .282, but he walked 88 times and led the the league in getting hit by pitches (24 times). He hit 31 homers and scored 112 runs. He stole 23 bases without getting caught. He didn’t win the Gold Glove – he never won a Gold Glove – but the advanced numbers suggested he was a superb second baseman.
Now, look at the year before that. Utley hit .292, walked 64 times, led the league in getting hit by pitches (27), hit 41 doubles, 33 homers, stole 14 bases, scored 113 runs and drove in 104. He was, according to John Dewan’s Runs Saved statistic, the best defensive second baseman in baseball and, perhaps, the best overall defender in the game. Both those years, he was a viable MVP candidate, even if his teammate Ryan Howard got the MVP voting love.
Utley had five seasons more or less like that. He won’t get into the Hall of Fame. But for a handful of years, he was one of the best to ever play the position.
— He’s not going to the Hall of Fame, but let me show you two pitching lines:
Pitcher A: 214-152, 110 ERA+, 2,206 Ks, 848 walks, 1 Cy Young Award.
Pitcher B: 224-166, 104 ERA+, 2,012 Ks, 954 walks, 1 Cy Young Award.
Pitcher A is Colon, of course. Pitcher B is Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter.
— He’s still 35, but he’s hurting and declining. It’s a been a very nice career. He won a batting title while in Colorado. He is a lifetime .307 hitter. He has more than 1,000 careers RBIs and runs.
— Another guy with a better career than you might remember – he’s got a career .303 batting average with 198 homers and approaching 1,000 RBIs. Here’s an interesting piece of trivia for you: Victor Martinez has almost as many games at catcher (858) and Joe Mauer (920).
Under-30 players with a good shot at the Hall of Fame;
— Won the MVP two years ago, was even better last year, is having another great season in 2015. The face of the resurgent Pirates.
— It’s really premature to put him on this list; he’s in the middle of only his first great season. But he’s just 22, and he’s impossibly driven, and we knew all knew this was coming.
— Phenomenal player who has already led the league in homers and RBIs and this year is leading the league in hitting and intentional walks. He was an eighth-round pick out of Texas State, nobody saw this coming. He’s one of the best players in baseball and figures to be for years to come
— The most ferocious power hitter in baseball, the only thing that can hold him back is his own health.
— He just turned 26, and we’ve talked again and again about the folly of betting on pitchers’ futures. But he is at the start of a beautiful career, and already he has legendary World Series performances to boost his case.
— He’s turns 30 at the end of this month, so he just barely makes this list. He’s got a Cy Young Award and a few other nice years. For the Hall of Fame, I suspect he will need to find the right team in free agency and become a consistent force.
— Again, I don’t know how Hall of Fame voters will feel about closers in the future, but Kimbrel has averaged nearly 15 strikeouts per nine innings and led the league in saves each of his first four full seasons.
— People have been predicting Sale to break down physically ever since he was in college. So far, though, his body holds up. This year, he is striking out almost 12 hitters per nine innings and he has a 6.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.