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Assessing Gary Sheffield's Hall of Fame candidacy

Great at the plate, not-so-great away from it, Gary Sheffield is a fascinating Hall of Fame candidate. But the current ballot logjam may limit his time for consideration.

Gary Sheffield
Gary Sheffield
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

One of the casualties of this year's loaded ballot is that several players who deserve at least to remain on the ballot will probably not do so. One of those players is Gary Sheffield.

Sheffield played for 8 teams in his major-league career, and the longest stop with any single team was six years with the Florida Marlins (1993-1998). He was traded five times (1992, 1993, 1998, 2002, 2006), which gives you a sense of (1) how talented a player he was and (2) that he had flaws led clubs to part with him.

The case for Sheffield

In essence: anything he did at the plate. He finished his 20-year career with a .292/.393/.514 batting line (140 OPS+), His offensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR) ranks 35th All-Time, ahead of Hall of Famers Frank Thomas, Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, and Dave Winfield. He did not win an MVP, but finished in the top 3 in voting three times (1992, 2003, 2004). He won five Silver Slugger awards, and was an All-Star nine times. He hit 467 doubles and 509 home runs, and ranks 30th All-Time in Total Bases. He walked 1,475 times (21st All-Time). He was a key contributor to the 1997 World Series-winning Florida Marlins (sigh), and was part of very good teams in Atlanta (2002-2003) and New York (2004-2006).

At the plate, Sheffield had a violent swing, and when he pulled a foul ball, it was the bane of third base coaches and fans down the third base line. He whipped the bat around while awaiting the pitch, and when he made contact it rocketed off his bat. Even his outfield singles were difficult to handle. I know "fear" played a part in Jim Rice's candidacy, but if anything Sheffield was a more fearful player to face at the plate.

The case against Sheffield

Anything other than what he did at the plate. I know defensive WAR has its flaws, but Sheffield consistently posted bad defensive numbers throughout his long MLB career. Initially he started as a shortstop, but it was obvious that he wasn't cut out for the position, and eventually he moved to the outfield, as that seemed to be the position where he'd cause the least amount of damage. That teams were willing to eat the bad defense for so many years is a tribute to what Sheffield could do at the plate, which I guess is a compliment to him as a player.

Sheffield was named in the Mitchell Report as someone who had used Performance Enhancing Drugs, though I would take anything in that report with a gigantic grain of salt.

Like Jeff Kent, Sheffield had a prickly personality, and at least a couple times it directly led to him being traded (Milwaukee, LA). And as an Indians fan, who could forget this incident from 2008?

My two cents

As a hitter, Sheffield is an outstanding candidate, and if had even been a below-average defender might have been a shoo-in for the Hall. But because he was a poor defender, his case for the Hall is borderline. I do think he's deserving, though. Unfortunately the current ballot logjam (and the maximum ten per ballot rule) may mean that Sheffield may drop off the ballot after only one year.