Every year, the Hall of Fame ballot and subsequent results general considerable attention — as they probably should. The writers have the first opportunity to decide who will enter the Hall, and they generally admit the best players. But the BBWAA alone doesn’t have a say. Of the 247 players enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the writers have selected only 116 in the traditional fashion we see today. Another 45 gained entry through special Old Timers and Negro Leagues votes. Three players were selected in a runoff procedure that used to be performed if no player was elected. Both Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente were elected in special votes.
That leaves 80 players who were selected via the so-called Veteran’s Committee. That committee has changed its rules over the years and is now known as the Eras Committee. This year, five players are up for election: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Mark McGwire, and Orel Hershiser.
From 1953 through 2001, the Veteran’s Committee selected 77 players for the Hall of Fame, averaging a player and a half per year. The committee’s selections, however, were accompanied by complaints that the elections diluted the Hall, ultimately accepting too many players. The Hall responded by creating tougher standards for election through the Veteran’s Committee and, over the last 15 years, only three players were inducted by that means: Joe Gordon, Ron Santo, and Deacon White. While those tougher standards might have been necessary in the short term, the freeze made it very hard for players to gain entry, delaying Santo’s election, for example, until after his death. More changes have been made over the past few years, in part to deal with changes made to the Hall of Fame ballot limiting the number of years for which a player can appear on the writers’ ballot.
There are currently four eras, per the Hall’s definition: Today’s Game (1988-present), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), Golden Days (1950-1969), and Early Baseball (1871-1949). Candidates for Today’s Game will be considered this year (2016) and in another two years (2018); candidates for Modern Baseball will be considered next year (2017) and again in two years following that (2019); candidates for the other two, older eras will be considered in four years (2020). If the current iteration holds up longer than that, the plan is to consider the two more recent eras twice in five years, with the Golden Days considered once every five years and the Early Baseball considered once every 10 years.
This year’s committee, consisting of 16 writers, executives and Hall of Famers, is considering 10 candidates who need at least 75% of the vote and members can vote for up to four candidates. That last rule could make it difficult for the players, however, because of the five other names that appear on the ballot and which belong to a collection of non-players. Here are the names of those managers and executives: Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner, John Schuerholz.
As for the players, we have four Hall of Very Good-type players and one Hall of Fame-caliber player who has admitted to PED use.
Harold Baines played 22 years in the majors and compiled 2,866 hits and 384 homers. Only 15 players in Major League Baseball history have recorded greater figures than Baines in both of those categories, and the only ones not in the Hall of Fame have either never been eligible for election (Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre) or have other issues clouding their candidacies (Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro). The same is true for 38 players who rank ahead of Baines in hits. Baines was a good hitter throughout his career, but he stopped playing regularly in the field after age 27, and spent his time at designated hitter thereafter.
His defensive limitations hurt his overall value, and his only three-plus-win season occurred in 1984, when he produced a 143 wRC+ and 4.8 WAR. He was often good, 11 times putting up an above-average WAR, but he was never great. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS rating system, which averages a player’s career bWAR with his seven best seasons, gives Baines a 29.9 rating, well below the average right fielder (58.1) in the Hall of Fame. In the system I devised (for an explanation, read more here), which uses FanGraphs WAR and weights all above-average seasons, as opposed just the top seven, Baines comes in at 25.7, right around Edgar Renteria and Mo Vaughn, but well behind the Hall of Fame’s 63.1 average for right field, the 51.5 median, and 57.1 overall. Baines was a fine player with a nice career, but being somewhat above average as a hitter — when hitting is your only job — shouldn’t be sufficient for entry into the Hall of Fame.
Albert Belle is the only player in history with a season of at least 50 home runs and 50 doubles, which he achieved in 1995 with Cleveland and nearly repeated in 1998 with the White Sox. Like Baines above, Belle was limited defensively, but Belle did manage to play most of his games out in left field. Unlike Baines, Belle’s career was short and his peak was great. He fell a bit short of 400 homers and his 41.0 WAR is behind 300 other position players.
Even Belle’s peak, which is quite good, shouldn’t be good enough to get him in the Hall of Fame. While he does have two seven-win seasons, only eight times did he produce a season above average. JAWS gives him a 37.9 rating, well short of the 53.3 for average left-fielders in the Hall of Fame. My system gives him a 34.5, well behind the average of 55.7 and the median of 49.7. He is actually identical to center fielder Kirby Puckett and slightly ahead of Lou Brock, Chick Hafey, and Heinie Manush, the latter two elected by the Vets Committee around 50 years ago. However, that rating also puts him right around Carlos Delgado, Chuck Knoblauch, Don Mattingly, Rusty Staub, Matt Williams — and well behind Luis Gonzalez and even Jim Rice. A longer career might have helped Belle, but a higher peak wouldn’t have hurt, either.
In 1989, Will Clark put up a .333/.407/.546 season with a 174 wRC+ and an 8.1 WAR. He didn’t win MVP, as Kevin Mitchell hit a lot more homers (even while recording an inferior 6.9 WAR). While the 1989 season was Clark’s best, he put up a lot of good seasons and, in two other years, had more than five wins. When he retired, he did so near the top of his game with a 3.8 WAR and 146 wRC+. He never had high home-run totals, but amassed 284 during his career and his 136 wRC+ is higher than Orlando Cepeda, Fred McGriff, and Eddie Murray.
Clark played longer than Belle, but does not have longevity on his side. A great peak can sometimes make up for the lack of a longer career, but Clark falls pretty easily in the Hall of Very Good. JAWS puts Clark at 46, below the average first baseman at 54, while I have him at 39, pretty far below the average at 58.4 and the median at 57. Clark is ahead of a few Hall of Fame first baseman, like Cepeda and Jim Bottomley, but Clark’s problem is the decent-sized number of players ahead of him. His score is behind Jason Giambi, Keith Hernandez, and John Olerud‘s. Clark had one great year and a number of good one, but that likely isn’t enough for the Hall of Fame.
The only pitcher on this list, Hershiser is most remembered for his fantastic 1988 season when he broke the record for consecutive scoreless inning on his way to the Cy Young award. He actually pitched better in 1987 and 1989, as part of a three-year run that produced 15.2 WAR, but his won-loss record in ’87 and ’89 wasn’t great, so it didn’t receive as much attention. Following that 1989 season, Hershiser spent the rest of his career as a sometimes hurt innings-eater. After putting up at least 4.0 WAR in five of his first six seasons, he would never reach that mark again, coming close just once, in 1996 for Cleveland.
Hershiser does have that Cy Young, but in the end, there isn’t much to differentiate his career from others in his era like Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, Fernando Valenzuela, and Frank Viola. My system (pitcher post here) has him at 32.5, pretty far below the starting-pitcher average for Hall of Famers at 52.9, as well as the 48.3 median number. Hershiser’s ERA was two-tenths lower than his career FIP and his BABIP against was .277, which does lead to higher RA9-WAR numbers, but his 48.6 JAWS still comes well below the average of 62.1.
We pretty well understand the deal with McGwire at this point, as he completed his 10-year run on the Hall of Fame ballot with 12.3% of the vote last year. He’s now eligible for the Eras Committee, and it will be interesting to see if perspectives on the small committee differ from the writers. McGwire has been dinged by some for a relatively short career, having recorded fewer than 8,000 career plate appearances, but his 583 homers, 157 wRC+ and 66.3 WAR put him firmly in the middle of the Hall of Fame.
Both my system and JAWS reward a player for multiple great seasons, and McGwire had his fair share with four seasons of 6+ WAR. JAWS gives McGwire a 51.9, which is just below the 54.1 average for first basemen. Were he to be elected, he would rank 11th out of 20 first baseman. I have him with a 57.7, benefiting from 10 seasons of at least 4-plus WAR, putting him right at the average (58.4) and median (57.0) for Hall of Fame first basemen. His career on the field is certainly worthy, but it remains to be seen if the PED stain will continue to the Era Committee.
While the Hall of Fame was wise to revise a system that wasn’t doing much good, this year’s crop of players doesn’t provide much in the way of likely Hall of Famers. Many of those voting might choose to elect non-players. Of the players on the ballot, the only one with a really good case is McGwire. For next year’s ceremony, expect the players elected to come from the ballots of the writers, just as they have for the past decade.