Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Projecting the Hall of Fame???

The Hall of Fame inductions for 2014 were this past weekend and whenever that time comes I always start to think about the current players who might be inducted down the line.  Last year, I wrote about a multitude of players who I think have a decent or better Hall of Fame case.  I am basically updating that list, along with some new names who emerged or became eligible this season.  Tomorrow, I plan to write about younger players who aren't eligible just yet. 

I'm not going to write about everyone though.  Basically, if I think they are in the same boat as they were at this time last year, I'm not even addressing them.  If you want to take a look back, here you go:

Qualified Players 
Non-Qualified Players

As is customary, I have divided the players into some crude groups for your ease. 

Not Quite, But Notable
Much like last year, these are players who could conceivably get a few votes when they hit the ballot and might even stay on the ballot for a year or two.  They might even become the pet cause of a given sportswriter.  We'll keep things brief with these four. 

Torii Hunter - Twins fans have the unique perspective of having seen Hunter as a young player, when he was a little out of control, but extremely fun to watch.  His plate discipline improved over time and he aged extremely well.  He's your prototypical "Hall of Very Good" player but he can take solace in knowing that he is a lock for the Twins' Hall of Fame. 

Jimmy Rollins - Depending on how long he plays, Rollins could get some real "counting stat" love.  Plus, he has an MVP under his belt.  That said, he has a career OPS+ of 97 and his defense wasn't transcendent enough to compensate. 

Cliff Lee - I think he has a "late bloomer" reputation, but he did win 18 games when he was 26.  Lee is the premier command pitcher of this era, but his career ERA+ is only 118, he's 35 and nowhere near 200 wins. 

Mark Teixeira - Hall of Fame name spelling difficulty and he runs weird, so those things need to be considered.  He is not aging well and he's basically an all-power guy at this point.  If he can somehow reverse that aging curve, he could get close based on counting stats, but 500 home runs appears to be too far away right now.  Without that number, I'm not sure he gets much consideration. 

Better Chance Than Last Year
These players were all profiled last year, but they have improved their Hall of Fame stock since that time.  Actually, there is one exception...
Abreu wasn't active last year, so I didn't include him.  I would have likely tried to make a strong case for Abreu, as I think he has had a really underrated career.  His career .291/.395/.475 batting line translates to a 128 OPS+.  Anyone who avoids outs nearly 40% of the time catches my eye.  Plus, he had good power and speed.  He was never a good defender and he didn't play a premium position.  He didn't really hit like a traditional right fielder, although that doesn't bother me. 

His peak was truly impressive.  From 1998 to 2004, here are his rWARs:  6.4, 6.1, 6.2, 5.2, 5.8, 5.3, 6.5.  Somehow, he didn't make an All-Star team until 2004 and he only made two All-Star teams in his career.  He'll finish his career with just under 300 home runs, just under 600 doubles, just under 2500 hits and just over 400 stolen bases.  He had a wonderful career.    

Even as a strong pro-Abreu guy, I still think he falls short.  His peak was great, but he never topped 3.9 rWAR in any other season and he didn't reach any big, round, impressive numbers. 
Hudson is having one of his finest seasons at age 38 coming off of a nasty ankle injury that made me call for that weird orange base that we all use in slow-pitch.  Considering how well he is pitching this season, it seems somewhat reasonable that he'll pitch well next season.  If he can make it through the 2016 season, he has a pretty decent shot at 250 career wins.  As far as pitcher wins go, 250 might be the new 300.  He's the active wins leader and we all know that big, round numbers elevate a Hall of Fame case. 

I still don't think he makes it, but coming back from last season's injury with this much success is certainly a positive.
Buehrle isn't a great candidate, but he has a case.  His career ERA is in Jack Morris territory.  While he's won a lot of games, he's also lost a lot of games.  He's not a strikeout pitcher.  Of course, if you want to make a meta Hall of Fame argument for Buehrle, that might be where you focus.  See, he was able to have a ton of success without great stuff, right?  Maybe that proves that he's a better pitcher than the stats show?  There's a narrative to be built, but I don't have the strength.  He's had a great career; that's enough. 
Greinke's an odd choice too.  He had that one amazing season in 2009, but he's never been elite in any other season.  He was great last year, but he only threw 177 innings.  He's been great so far this season, not coincidentally his second All-Star season.  Greinke has a long way to go, but he's in the right place to make a run.  Dodger Stadium has helped many pitchers perform above their heads.  Greinke will be in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future.  It wouldn't be surprising to see him turn in a few excellent seasons before he hits 33.  If that happens, he might have a surprisingly solid HOF app (application not iOS app). 

Worse Chance Than Last Year
I was pretty high on Sabathia's chances last year, as I had only Roy Halladay and Adrian Beltre ahead of him on my non-locks list.  However, he's been pretty bad since about June of last season and he's now out for all of 2014.  Of course, he'll only be 34 next year and he has over 200 wins already.  Plus, he plays in one of the biggest markets and gets a ton of attention.  I think his chances are worse than they were at this time last year, but I still think he's in a pretty decent position if he can rebound in 2015. 

Still Young(ish), But It's Not Looking Good - Joe Mauer, David Wright, Justin Verlander and Dustin Pedroia

Yep, four guys in one paragraph.  Last year, I would have argued that Mauer and Verlander were borderline locks and that Wright and Pedroia could join them with just 2-3 more good seasons.  This would have been massively premature, as shown by the fact that each of these players is struggling in 2014, putting their "Hall" chances in jeopardy.  Mauer isn't catching (or hitting for that matter), Verlander isn't striking out batters as prolifically and Wright and Pedroia suddenly have zero power.  Each of these players is over 30 and in the decline phase of their career.  Without a post-30 renaissance, they are all headed for the Hall of Very Good. 

I don't think this is premature.  Cabrera is having a down season in which he's batting .309/.364/.531.  He's put together an impressive 12-year career and he's only 31.  He's won two MVPs, a triple crown and he's made 9 All-Star teams.  Unless the wheels really fall off, he's a lock for 3000 hits and 500 home runs.  Don't believe me?  If he can play just 140 games over the next four seasons and hit about .300, he'll have about 2950 hits.  Even if he's in severe decline by then, I think he can piece together 50 more hits. 

Unless something shady is involved, there's simply no way a player with 3000 hits, 500 home runs, two MVPs, a triple crown and 10+ All-Star selections is not in the Hall of Fame.  He's 18th in JAWS rankings for 3rd basemen, and he should have no issues getting into the top 12 within a couple more seasons.  He's a lock. 

Adrian Beltre
Of course, Cabrera isn't a third baseman any longer.  Beltre is and he ranks 8th among all-time 3rd basemen by JAWS.  I'm completely in on Adrian Beltre, Hall of Famer.  Last year, I waffled and decided that I didn't think he was a lock just yet.  Now, I think he's a lock and I'll go on the fake record.

He's in the middle of his 8th 5+ WAR season.  He's one of the best defensive third basemen of all-time.  Sure, his numbers dipped like crazy in Seattle, but now we're finding that seems to happen to a lot of guys.  In the five seasons since he left Seattle, he has a 138 OPS+.  He has over 2500 hits, over 500 doubles, over 1300 RBI and he'll get to 400 home runs by the end of this season.  He's just 35 as well. 

Some would argue that he needs anywhere from 1-3 more seasons like his past five, but I'm ready to vote for him right now.  I think the defense is the kicker.  It's not just that he's a great defender, he's one of the best ever.  The Hall of Fame is all about recognizing the best ever.  Beltre's a lock in my book.

If we're looking at active players who will be in the Hall of Fame one day, I think there are five locks:  Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Beltre and Cabrera.  The first three should have no difficulties, Cabrera probably needs just two or three more good seasons and Beltre should be in so long as he can maintain 80% of his current level of production through the end of his current contract. 

Some of the other guys on this list will age well and join those five.  Some will never be mentioned in their breath again.  Some guys who I will write about tomorrow might have even better cases.  Ah, intrigue!  Check back Friday for more Hall of Fame nonsense analysis!

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