Hall of Fame Class of 2018: Who Should Go in, Part II

This is the second part evaluating new candidates on the ballot in this year’s Hall of Fame vote. The first part can be found here:

  • Hideki Matsui: Matsui was 29 when he played his first major-league game, and it seems a good bet no one who debuted at that age ever made the Hall. He was runner-up for the 2003 Rookie of the Year after hitting .287 with 16 homers, 63 walks and 106 RBIs when two writers didn’t include him on their ballots because they thought he was too old and experienced. Angel Berroa won, which seems bad in retrospect, but wasn’t despite Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s dissent. “Two misguided writers . . . clearly made up their own rules to determine who was and was not eligible for the award and disqualified an eligible candidate who could have won,” Steinbrenner said. One of the writers, Bill Ballou of the Worcester-Telegram, said Matsui was “not a rookie in the spirit of the award,” and Steinbrenner responded: “Spirit of the award? The award was renamed . . . to honor Jackie Robinson its first recipient. Jackie Robinson came to the Major Leagues after playing in the Negro Leagues, a league whose high level of play is unquestioned.” It’s not often said, but Steinbrenner was right. Matsui hit 175 homers, brought Blue Oyster Cult to bat with him with their song Godzilla, but topped only 30 homers once and a .500 slugging percentage twice in 10 seasons. I have a fondness for him because he went surprisingly early in our 2003 playback draft, a pick or two ahead of mine. I had been planning to draft Jose Reyes, but when Matsui went, a 20-year-old Marlins third baseman dropped, and I selected Miguel Cabrera before the Matsui pick could be corrected. No.
  • Kevin Millwood: On a staff with three Hall of Famers, the Braves’ best pitcher on a pennant-winning team in 1999 was 24-year-old Kevin Millwood. That’s hard to grasp almost two decades later, but Millwood was 18-7 with a 2.68 ERA, .594 OPS against and league-leading .0996 WHIP. He fanned a career-high 205 in a career-high 228 innings and finished third in the Cy Young voting. It was one of two seasons Millwood received Cy Young votes, the other six years and two teams later after he led the AL in ERA (2.86) with the Indians; Millwood was sixth in that voting. He pitched 16 seasons for seven teams, won 169 games, threw a no-hitter for the Phillies and never returned to the postseason after the Braves traded him. He could be as ghastly as he was good — he had a 5.16 ERA for the Rangers two years after his 2.86, and he was 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA for the Orioles in 2010, and he was more workmanlike when he wasn’t. No.
  • Jamie Moyer: If the Hall of Fame was about longevity, Moyer would be in. As Adrian Garro of mlb.com wrote,  “If Jamie Moyer’s career was a human being, it’d have been old enough to rent a car.” Moyer was the Julio Franco of pitchers. He pitched for 25 seasons and appeared in his final major-league game in 2012, six months shy of his 50th birthday. He won 16 games at age 45 for the 2008 Phillies, who won the World Series and rewarded Moyer with a two-year, $14 million contract, which helps explain why they didn’t win any more. Didn’t anyone in a front office smart enough to win a World Series think a multi-year contract for a 46-year-old pitcher might not end well? Moyer won 269 games (180 of them after he turned 35), pitched 4,074 innings in 696 games, threw 522 home runs — the most by any pitcher — and struck out 2,441 batters. That’s an amazing career for a soft-tossing lefty who was released three times by age 29; his career might have ended there with 34 wins and a 4.56 ERA. Moyer rescued his with the Orioles and thrived in Seattle, winning 20 games at age 38 in 2001 and 21 at age 40 in 2003. When Moyer slumped in 2006 — 6-12, 4.38 ERA — at age 43, the Mariners traded him to the Phillies, and who could blame them. How much longer could he go on? Long enough to win a World Series, as it turns out. Moyer had one more revival with the Phillies — putting up a 3.71 ERA with his 16 wins in 2008 after a 16-win, 5.01 ERA 2007. Perhaps Moyer threw so slow he had little velocity to lose. Moyer pitched for eight teams, including the Cubs, for whom he pitched twice, and at the time of his retirement, according to deadspin.com, Moyer had faced 8.9% of all major-league hitters. Moyer’s might not have been a Hall of Fame career, but it was one of MLB’s most unlikeliest. No.
  • Scott Rolen: If you hate Tony La Russa, and a lot of fans do, here’s your candidate. Rolen was a Midwest guy who wanted out of St. Louis because he liked La Russa less than he did Philadelphia, which he wanted out of first. Rolen went to St. Louis and called it “baseball heaven,” but La Russa, for Rolen, turned it into baseball purgatory. Rolen never talked about the falling out much, but he did tell the New York Times in 2008, “We’re different people with different morals. You can write that if you want. I don’t care. That’s all right. That’s as politically correct as I can say it, I guess.” It’d be worth it to vote Rolen in on the condition he has to explain the La Russa feud in his induction speech. Rolen is perhaps the most perplexing vote this year: he was a good offensive player who batted .281, hit 316 homers, stole 118 bases and had a 122 OPS+, which isn’t good enough. But he was a great defensive player who won eight Gold Gloves and had a 20.6 defensive WAR, which is good enough. The question is how much credibility you think the defensive metrics have. I’d like to defer on Rolen, since we’ll learn more about the metrics and you can’t take someone out once they’re in the Hall, tempting as it is. Yes, but … 
  • Johan Santana: Santana’s on the ballot even if he’s still contesting the end of his career. Santana earlier this month: “I’m not officially retired. I was still thinking about trying to come back but unfortunately things haven’t worked out the way I would love them to. Only time will tell.” His Hall of Fame case can use the help. Santana isn’t attracting much support in the voting, which is unfair. He had a Koufax-like stretch from 2004-08, leading the league three times in ERA and strikeouts and twice in innings pitched. He was pretty good if limited in 2009-10 and then missed 2011 to injury. He pitched the Mets’ only no-hitter in 2012, though his shouldn’t have been one just as much as Armando Galarraga’s imperfect game should have been perfect. A Carlos Beltran sixth-inning grounder went over the third-base bag for the Cardinals’ first hit, but third-base ump Adrian Johnson called it foul and there was no video review to correct his error. The Mets and Santana might have been better served if Beltran’s hit stood. Santana completed the *no-hitter but threw 134 pitches 21 months after shoulder surgery, and followed up the *no-hitter with an 8.27 ERA over his next 10 starts. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since, though at 38, there’s still time. It must be reassuring for Mets fans to know it’s not just young pitchers the team abuses. No.
  • Jim Thome: Thome had 40-homer seasons for three teams (Indians, Phillies, White Sox) and 20 homer-seasons for four teams (Twins). He ranks eighth with 612 career homers but even higher in walks, where his 1,747 rank seventh. How do you keep 600 homers out of the Hall? You don’t, unless it’s Sammy Sosa and he cheated in more ways than one. Thome never finished higher than fourth in the MVP vote, but hit 52 homers for the Indians in 2002, batted .304, slugged .677, walked 122 times and drove in 118 runs. His 1.122 OPS led the AL, and he finished seventh in the MVP vote. Remember that the next time someone uses MVP finishes to justify a vote. Yes.
  • Omar Vizquel: Now that Jack Morris is in, objection noted, meet the next decade’s contentious debate. Vizquel played for 24 seasons, won 11 Gold Gloves, stole 404 bases and approached 3,000 hits — he finally retired at 2,877.  That’s a pretty good opening argument. But look closer. Vizquel had a .688 OPS, 82 OPS+ and 45.3 WAR, none of which is Hall of Fame approachable, let alone worthy. Ozzie Smith might seem a similar player to Vizquel, but there’s one significant difference: Ozzie was better. He had an 87 OPS+ to Vizquel’s 82, stole 580 bases to Vizquel’s 404, stole them more successfully (80% to Vizquel’s 71%), walked more (1,072, or once every 10 plate appearances to Vizquel’s 1,028, or once every 11.7 plate appearances) and was a better defender (43.4 defensive WAR to Vizquel’s 28.4). Vizquel’s Hall of Fame case is that he was a good shortstop who played a long time, but he compiled seasons more than anything else. I made the case here five years ago for why Vizquel is not a Hall of Famer. It’s still applicable. No.
  • Kerry Wood: Wood pitched 14 seasons, three of them abbreviated by injury, won 86 games and saved 63, which is about a third of the career that got John Smoltz in.  It’s a thin case, which no one knows better than Wood. Wood to the Chicago Tribune earlier this month: “If I get one vote, we’re having a blowout party. I’m going to call the guy who voted for me, whoever voted for me, and apologize. It they voted me they’re probably losing their credential.” Maybe Wood can make it up to whoever votes for him: invite the Wood voter or voters to the party, and they’ll probably come out ahead. Wood packed plenty of highlights into a short career. To wit, Wood fanned 20 Astros in a 122-pitch, 2-0, 1-hitter in 1998; he was Rookie of the Year in ’98 (13-6, 3.40 ERA, 233 Ks in 166.2 innings); he led the NL with 266 strikeouts in 2003; he beat the Braves twice in the 2003 NLDS, including a Game 5 eight-inning five-hitter; he homered in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS; he set up Mariano Rivera for half a season in 2010 with an 0.69 ERA; he retired a Cub in 2012, fanning Dayan Viciedo and walking off the mound, tipping his hat to the crowd, hugging his young son Justin and then bending down to pick him up. It doesn’t get any better than the last one. (Video here.) As Andrew Mearns wrote for mlb.com, “If nothing else, that’s a Hall of Fame finale.” No.
  • Carlos Zambrano: Zambrano once said he would win the Cy Young and the Cubs would win the World Series.  “I guarantee that,” Zambrano said in 2007. “I have faith in that.” His faith was rewarded when the Cubs won the World Series, though it was nine years after he said they would. After the first 100 years, what’s a few more? As for Zambrano’s Cy Young, we’re still waiting, though he was fifth three times, including 2007 when he forecast a victory. Not every guarantee is Joe Namath or Mark Messier worthy, but it’s like picking the underdog in the big game: you get all the glory if you’re right and mostly ignored if you’re not. Zambrano was a better pitcher than prognosticator — he threw 200 innings for five straight seasons and won 77 games in that stretch (including an NL-leading 16 in 2006, which seems low even by modern-day standards). And he was an even better hitting pitcher than he was a pitcher — he hit 24 home runs, which ties him for seventh all-time, and slugged .388. Zambrano twice led the NL in walks and twice in hit batters, but his loss of control wasn’t limited to the mound. He once cut his own catcher’s lip in the dugout, once had to be separated from teammate Derek Lee, and once was suspended six games for a tantrum after being ejected. He won 132 games, threw a no-hitter and had a career 3.66 ERA, but he last pitched in the majors at age 31 for a Marlins team managed by Ozzie Guillen, which was only fitting. Zambrano wasn’t boring, but unfortunately for him, volatility is not a criteria for induction.  No.
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