The annual Hall of Fame ballot has been released and it includes one of the all-time great Astros. Now five years removed from his playing career, Jeff Bagwell will be up for entry to the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Bagwell finds himself in a tough situation with this year’s ballot. First of all, it’s a very deep crop of players.
Those previously on the ballot: Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Jack Morris, Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell.
Those on the ballot for the first time: Juan Gonzalez, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Benito Santiago, Rafael Palmeiro, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Al Leiter, Kirk Rueter, Tino Martinez, John Olerud, Carlos Baerga, Bret Boone, Bobby Higginson, Marquis Grissom, Charles Johnson and B.J. Surhoff.
Pitcher Bert Blyleven and second-baseman Roberto Alomar each received over 70% of the vote last year and have a good chance to make it in this season as 75% is all that’s required for induction. Blyleven has seen a huge growth in support the past couple seasons thanks to the increasing acknowledgement of ERA, K:BB, ERA+, and FIP as better indicators of a pitcher’s performance than wins. Felix Hernandez saw this statistical awareness trend help him win a Cy Young Award this season.
Shortstop Barry Larkin and pitcher Jack Morris each got over 50% last year, while former major league saves-leader Lee Smith got 47%.
Some of the new candidates:
- Larry Walker played during the same time as Bagwell and had maybe the best statistical season ever in 1997 when he won the MVP award. However, he had a large advantage in his corner called Coors Field.
- John Olerud has a career line of .295/.398/.465, OPS+ of 128, and was excellent defensively. Olerud’s chances take an obvious hit due to the depth of first baseman on the ballot (McGwire, Bagwell, McGriff, Mattingly)
- I remember when the idea of your team facing Kevin Brown was absolutely terrifying. I can’t say that for every pitcher in the Hall. And while that isn’t a reason to vote him in, it certainly helps him wherever his stats may come up short. For instance, his 211 win total isn’t overwhelming but is still substantial. More importantly, for half a decade from 1995-1999 during an era in which hitters ruled, Brown was the best pitcher in baseball.
- Juan Gonzalez had 434 homeruns, led baseball with 157 RBI in 1998 and won the MVP award in ‘96 and ‘98.
Bagwell presents one of the more interesting cases on the ballot this year. Bagwell’s counting stats are great but, thanks to a terrible shoulder, not nearly as strong for a Hall of Fame candidacy as they could have been. Jeff Bagwell is possibly the best all-around play on the ballot; a superb hitter and fielder and more than competent baserunner. A lot of baseball fans forget he stole over 200 bases in his career. But they certainly won’t forget his 297/.408/.540 career line, over 2300 hits and 1500 RBI, 449 HRs, and 149 OPS+.
The second reason Bagwell may find it hard to get into the Hall is certain names on the list will undoubtedly raise the issue of steroids not only for themselves but for all players from their era.
Rafael Palmeiro exacerbates just about everything about this class. The steroid cloud around Palmeiro, Gonzalez, and McGwire make it hard not to take the statistics of Tino and Edgar Martinez, McGriff, and Bagwell a little less serious. And even Larkin who hit 33 homeruns in 1996 nearly out of nowhere. However, none of these players have any link to performance-enhancing drugs.
Each Hall of Fame voter (BBWAA members) can vote for up to 10 candidates with no minimum requirement. Because I believe in transparency and accountability in these situations, my ballot would include 6 names; Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, Jeff Bagwell, Kevin Brown, Tim Raines, and Larry Walker. Dale Murphy is a very tough cut. It seems insane not to include a guy who won back-back MVPs. Jack Morris won 254 games and Barry Larkin was one of the better offensive players at his position throughout his career. Alan Trammell was a productive shortstop for nearly twenty years. I wouldn’t argue anyone who had them on their ballots and I still think there’s a chance I change my mind on them. There are very few years where I think this many candidates are deserving of a Hall nod, but that just shows how deep the class is.
Whether Bagwell’s legacy is enough to get him into the Hall of Fame is really anybody’s guess. I believe he’ll get in, and soon, but not on the first ballot. And maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing. How great would it be to see Bagwell go in with the class of 2012 and become a Hall of Famer the same year as Craig Biggio? The Killer B’s strike again.