The Hall of Fame ballot reveals this year bring far less pleasure than in the past. For the first time in years: we lack a first ballot Hall of Fame candidate likely to earn induction, not only this cycle but in any cycle. Furthermore, I find it highly unlikely any candidate earns the requisite 75% of the vote. Bonds, Clemens and Schilling all shed report as of this writing according to Ryan Thibodaux's Ballot Tracker, and given all three lose support from anonymous ballots: none of them face likely induction. That being said: the election will be held, and we'll get results soon. Despite the lack of inductees, I do anticipate several players to gain significant ground this year perhaps setting up a strong 2022 cycle.
Like every year I will rank each player on the ballot, and as a special bonus I will also rank where each player ranks at their position outside the Hall of Fame debuting an (unfinished) project I am working on listing each player with around 5,000 plate appearances at every position in baseball history. The purpose was to analyze each player from where they ranked at the end of their careers to properly view them. For example: Roger Brensenhan does not rank particularly high in the Catcher JAWS ranking, but when he retired he was the best catcher in baseball history. This is difficult to see on the JAWS ranking, but easy to see when we look at players chronologically. With that said here's my list:
Players in My Hall of Fame
There is nothing left to be said about Bonds & Clemens. They are the best players outside the Hall of Fame, and it's not particularly close. Barry Bonds was a top 20 player of all time before he took PEDs, and Roger Clemens was so good he really posted two different Hall of Fame careers. You cannot tell the story of baseball without either of them.
3. Curt Schilling, 2nd among non-Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers
There is nothing left to be said about Curt Schilling either. I will admit his recent comments make it more difficult for me to hold onto advocating for his induction. On the other hand, I don't fully believe people who claim politics bears no influence on their votes for Curt Schilling either. At the end of the day, if Curt's comments cost him induction into the Hall of Fame: he only has himself to blame.
4. Manny Ramirez, 2nd among non-Hall of Fame Left Fielders
I find the joy Manny finds in baseball somewhat inspiring. Even at the ripe old age of 48 Manny is still trying to play the game he loves wherever he can find a job. I know Manny cheated, and I know he was a pain in the neck, but I have come around to the view Manny is unquestionably worth of the Hall from his on the field accomplishments. Watching the Indians work around Manny, as desperately as they could, in 2007 will never leave my imagination. The way he dragged the Dodgers to the playoffs in 2008 was incredible. He will find the Veteran's Committee even less hospitable to his induction than the BBWAA, so his eventual enshrinement may take decades, but I suspect some future generation will watch videos of Manny hit and simply refuse to hear the case against him.
5. Scott Rolen, 3rd among non-Hall of Fame Third Baseman
I do not quite buy into Rolen's #10 ranking in JAWS, but even if he's 'only' a top 15 all time third baseman so what? Rolen hit like an outfielder, fielded like Omar, and did it for a good long time. Rolen's now meteoric rise in the Hall of Fame ballot lessens the frustration of the likely failure of the BBWAA of electing anyone this cycle, especially given where Scott started.
Rolen (and Helton's) eventual enshrinement suggests the BBWAA is changing how it analyzes players, and is more willing to give players second (and third) looks. I find this encouraging for future ballots, and I hope the Veteran's Committee follows the BBWAA's current example.
6. Todd Helton, 3rd among non-Hall of Fame First Baseman
I debated whether Helton or Votto is better for the ranking, and opted for Helton...for now. We shall see how Votto ages in his late 30s, and whether he can come up with a renaissance or not. Most players simply decline, but Hall of Fame talents can, and will, surprise us occasionally.
7. Bobby Abreu, 4th among non-Hall of Fame Right Fielders
Needless to say: I convinced myself Abreu belongs in the Hall of Fame. I continue to believe: generalists remain woefully underrated compared to specialists, especially by Hall of Fame voters. The reason is simple: specialists create a simple Hall of Fame story. Andruw Jones? Best defensive center fielder ever. Omar Vizquel? Best defensive shortstop not named Ozzie Smith. Gary Sheffield? Transcendent hitter, top 50 all time. Abreu? He was a really good hitter (but not quite a Hall of Fame hitter), and a darn good fielder (especially for a good hitter), and a solid baserunner, and it's rare to find all of those together! By the time you finish the argument the listener gets bored.
Abreu was also cursed to play in an era with numerous other great right fielders, including some terrific specialists like Ichiro Suzuki. At the end of the day, Abreu's varied accomplishments bring him over the line. Given the change in how the BBWAA votes (and the votes he's gained this cycle) I think Abreu has a shot at eventual induction, a thought I would not have had before given his anemic debut at 5.5%.
Just Outside the Hall
8. Sammy Sosa, 5th among non-Hall of Fame Right Fielders
I just cannot pull the trigger on this (totally irrelevant) fictional ballot. Sosa is so darned close for me, I feel bad not pulling the trigger. I cannot say I blame anyone for voting for Sosa, and the reality is he probably gets screwed as much as anybody for the idiotic "character clause" because there is no doubt in my mind Sosa would have been inducted first ballot if voters did not care about PEDs. I do not see Sosa as quite that convincing, but he's about as close you can get to my Hall of Fame line while still being a no.
9. Andruw Jones, 5th best among non-Hall of Fame Center Fielders
His case comes down to how literally you take his defensive statistics. If you believe Andruw Jones is the best defensive center fielder of all time: he's an easy yes for the Hall of Fame. If you think he falls somewhere short of that: his case is borderline. I am skeptical Jones was truly that much better defensively (as the stats say) than Willie Mays, but perhaps I am wrong.
10. Gary Sheffield, 6th among non-Hall of Fame Right Fielders
Defense matters sums up my opinion on Sheffield. I respect Jason Lukehart's opinion on Gary, but I cannot agree.
One thing which gives me pause on Pettitte and Beuhrle is simply how many pitchers there are ahead of them in JAWS who are not in the Hall of Fame. Beuhrle & Pettitte rank 90th and 91st among starting pitchers. Toss out the pre-20th century pitchers and you get 76th and 77th. Here are the non-Hall of Fame pitchers (not in the Hall of Fame) above them in JAWS order:
OK, some of these guys are not like the others: Wes Ferrell ranks so high due to hitting, Eddie Cicotte is ineligible, Urban Shocker, George Uhle, Bucky Walters, Wilbur Wood & Wilbur Cooper all played when pitchers received lots more innings than Andy and Mark. That still leaves 21 pitchers ahead of them. Hamels, Finley, Santana, Hershiser, Hudson, Sabathia, Clemens, Schilling, Greinke, Verlander, Hamels*, Kershaw, and Cone all overlapped with them. Schilling, Clemens, & Hudson are on this ballot! How can you justify their induction over all of those players?
*I cannot believe Hamels already ranks this high
13. Tim Hudson, 25th among non-Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers
I could basically write the same thing about Hudson that I did about the above two: but I do think Pettitte & Beuhrle were slightly better than Tim.
14. Jeff Kent, 9th among non-Hall of Fame Second Basemen
Kent's case is boring, and Kent was not a good home run hitter. So I am not impressed by the line that Kent leads second baseman in home runs.
15. Billy Wagner, Somewhere between 2nd and 10th among non-Hall of Fame Relievers
Wagner comes down to how you view relievers: if you treat relievers like every other position he belongs resoundingly. If you view relievers as specialists who must really transcend the position to earn induction he falls outside. I am obviously part of the latter camp.
16. Omar Vizquel, 7th among non-Hall of Fame Shortstops
Shortstop is an overloaded position for the Hall, so the 7th ranking sounds better than it actually is: there are a lot of shortstops in Vizquel's vicinity WAR wise. I used to be convinced Vizquel would eventually earn induction to the Hall of Fame (even if I do not support it), and in spite of that I looked forward to the induction of who (I believed) was the last Indian likely to earn induction into the Hall of Fame (as an Indian). That no longer appears to be the case. He will likely lose support this year, and I do not see the electorate coming back around to Vizquel. Maybe the Veteran's Committee will induct him, but that is about a decade away from happening.
Those Who Fall Well Short
17. Torii Hunter, 10-15th among non-Hall of Fame Center Fielders
Hunter falls well short for me, but he was a terrific center fielder who learned to hit well later in his career after he left Minnesota.
18. Dan Haren, 40-50th among non-Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers
A solid innings eater, and occasionally more
19. Barry Zito, 40-50th among non-Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers
Best remembered for his putrid contract, but a great pitcher before he inked the deal.
20. Aramis Ramirez, 30-40th among non-Hall of Fame Third Baseman
A good hitter who lasted a fairly long time. His ranking looks worse than it is: there are a lot of worthy third basemen outside the Hall.
21. Shane Victorino, 40-50th among non-Hall of Fame Center Fielders
I remember when the Indians almost signed him, they signed the next player instead
22. Nick Swisher, #1 Brohio outside of the Hall of Fame
He was fun, and he won a ring in New York before cratering in Cleveland. We would have missed the 2013 Wild Card Game without him though.
23. LaTroy Hawkins
A lefty who lasted forever. He's nowhere close to the Hall of Fame
24. AJ Burnett
25. Michael Cuddyer
Bobby Abreu, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, & Curt Schilling