Tuesday, January 24, 2023

My Unofficial 2023 Hall of Fame Ballot

 Yes, I have been enjoying my January. I've just been busy, haven't had much to write about and haven't picked up many cards. Today, however, we finally reach something I know I can write about. Hall of Fame Nominations.

We are one or two years away from some truly big guns hitting the Hall of Fame ballot. Next year Adrian Beltre is eligible. The year after Ichiro Suzuki and C.C. Sabathia are eligible. Eventually we're gonna get years where Buster Posey, Albert Pujols, Dustin Pedroia, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday hit the ballot. So we can excuse this era we're in now, where a lot of the sure things are guys that have been overlooked on previous ballots.

The biggest addition to the ballot this year is Carlos Beltran, and while he is, begrudgingly, a Hall of Famer, the last year of his career is clouded by cheating the likes of which has not been seen on a HOF ballot since...a month ago in the Veterans vote. So honestly, I'm still toying with whether or not he goes on my unofficial ballot. As usual, I'm playing by BBWAA rules, allowing myself up to 10 names, and being serious enough about what qualifies a Hall of Famer. My thinking is 'can the story of baseball be told fully without this player?'. And, as a follow-up, 'did this player cheat in any way, and how did it affect their career impact?'. 

Suffice to say, I've got some names. Whether they get in this year or not is another thing entirely, but i've got some names. Here, in alphabetical order, are those names on my unofficial ballot, and why I think they deserve at least a look.

Bobby Abreu:
I will continue to vouch for Bobby Abreu until everybody else does. It worked for Edgar Martinez, it ultimately worked for Fred McGriff. But Bobby Abreu did incredible things. At the plate he was good for power, contact, doubles, whatever. In the field he was dangerous and capable of great things. Also, he has 400 career steals, 1300 career RBIs and a .291 career average. Anybody who breaks into the 60 career WAR threshold gets my attention, and Abreu has the sort of hitting trajectory that voters are rewarding for older players. I don't think he gets the full support for another few years, but man I hope it eventually happens. Especially considering that, at this rate, the HOF inductions are going to be chock full of Phillies in the next few years. 
Team of Induction: Philadelphia Phillies
Odds of 2023 Induction: 25 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 15 to 1

Carlos Beltran:
Yeah, I'm not proud of it, but he deserves to be in. 400+ homers, 1500+ RBIs, 2500+ hits, close in several accounts to pure marks of greatness but the consistency and peak numbers speak for themselves. The Mets got his best numbers, with a 31.1 WAR, 149 homers and 559 RBIs. The Cardinals, in two years, got two straight ASG nods, MVP votes in 2012 and a force that made them compete for a World Series. The Royals, yes, got that Rookie of the Year, but also a stretch that gave them perennial street cred in a troubled era of the team. The Yankees even got that awesome 2016. As I said before, the cheating is a dealbreaker if it directly enhances a player's success, and makes them less of a HOF case without it. Carlos Beltran, though he knew about the sign-stealing, and was going to spread it to Queens, was not a better player in 2017 because of it. In fact, he arguably should have retired after 2016. So I think he has enough career accomplishments to get in. Maybe not this year, as his early numbers aren't looking great, but eventually. 
Team of Induction: Kansas City Royals
Odds of 2023 Induction: 6 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 2 to 1

Mark Buehrle:
This is one of my trademark stretches, but when was the last time you checked out Mark Buehrle's career stats? Do you have any idea how rare it is for a pitcher to make 30+ starts every year for 15 years? Especially in the current era where somebody will do that, blow out their arm and be injured for half the following year? Mark Buehrle was a measure of consistency that didn't exist anymore at this point. He came up when teams were expanding their rotations to 5, turning the average healthy starts from a 35 to more like 32. Buehrle feels like, along with Roy Halladay and, arguably, Justin Verlander, the last of the old-school consistent, durable workhorses. Buehrle has only 1870 career strikeouts, but this was when the strikeout didn't matter. He has 214 wins, won 10+ games every year of his career, and only finished with more losses than wins once, in 2006. Buehrle has 4 gold gloves, made 5 all-star teams, and is responsible for one of baseball's very few perfect games. And, like Abreu, Buehrle did cross that 60 WAR threshold, which means he's definitely got some numbers worthy of checking out. I don't think I'm gonna get many people on my side for Buehrle, he's probably more a 'Hall of Very Good' guy, but he was one of the best in the game for 15 years, without any real slowing down. Maybe eventually people will come around. 
Team of Induction: Chicago White Sox
Odds of 2023 Induction: 40 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 32 to 1

Todd Helton:
Though no one on the official HOF vote tracker is polling at about 79%, two nominees are leading the pack so far without being complete locks for induction, and it was slightly surprising to see Todd Helton as one of them. Not that it's completely shocking, as Helton's case has been climbing every year, and went above 50% last season. I always figured he'd get in eventually, and his numbers in the 2000s made him one of the premier corner infielders of his time, as well as one of the better power bats of his generation. I just...didn't think it'd actually look plausible this year. That Helton's best shot at an MVP ended up with a 5th place finish, despite leading the league in RBIs, WAR, doubles, average and hits, to frigging Jeff Kent...that's just unfair. Helton has 2500 hits and a career .316 average, as well as 369 homers and 1500+ RBIs. Solid numbers, and a chief piece of a Rockies team that was never completely out of the NL race for most of his career. Helton, now with beard, made a World Series in 2007 and traded blows with Ortiz and Ramirez. Helton would finish seasons with a .300+ average in an era [the late 2000s, early 2010s] where it barely mattered anymore. I think Todd Helton definitely deserves to be in Cooperstown, and if he doesn't get in this year he certainly will in 2024. 
Team of Induction: Colorado Rockies
Odds of 2023 Induction: 4 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: Even

Andruw Jones:
Yeah, it happened...the Andruw bandwagoners finally got to me. I'd been looking at his 2007-2012 stuff for so long that I'd completely lost sight of, like, his 1996-2006 stuff. It's the Alomar case all over again, just because there's a sharp career drop-off doesn't mean there isn't a full decade of dominance there. From 1997 to 2006, Andruw Jones was undeniably one of the best players in baseball. Nobody made plays in the outfield like him, nobody hit for power like him, and nobody made those 2000s Braves teams contenders like him. Between 1998 and 2006, Jones hit 319 home runs and 940 RBIs. He also won the gold glove every year from 1998 to 2007. And he had that insane 2005 with 51 homers and 128 RBIs that would have been an MVP year had it not been for Albert Pujols. Jones...did some incredible things, was dominant for an entire decade, and yes, does deserve to be in the HOF with some of the other Braves of his era. It won't happen this year, but the audience has finally arrived for him. 
Team of Induction: Atlanta Braves
Odds of 2023 Induction: 10 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 5 to 1

Francisco Rodriguez:
One of my other stretches. I've put Billy Wagner up the last few years but if it's him and K-Rod on the ballot, and there's probably not gonna be another great closer getting in for a WHILE...K-Rod's the guy. The man had 225 saves from 2005 til 2009, including his incredible 2008 season in LA where he broke the single-season saves record because he could. While I worried he'd fallen off in New York, he returned to form in the mid-2010s, with 126 saves between 2014 and 2016. The closers that are in the Hall were dominant their entire careers and completely stifled opponents in a number of ways, and I honestly think Rodriguez deserves to be in there with Sutter, Fingers, Eckersley and Rivera. He's a defining closer of his era, and one of the last closers for a while to really be seen as a full-career consistent closer. We'll have people like Kimbrel, Chapman and Jansen to talk about in a decade or so, but until then, Francisco Rodriguez might be the last closer I can see as a Hall of Famer. One thing is for certain, though: he's not getting in this year.
Team of Induction: Los Angeles Angels
Odds of 2023 Induction: 100 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 20 to 1

Scott Rolen:
If anybody is getting into the Hall of Fame this year, it will be Scott Rolen. Rolen has accumulated a HOF case over the past several seasons on the basis that the numbers he's had aren't worth waiting for 6 extra years. Scott Rolen has a 70 WAR, only A-Rod has higher on this ballot. Scott Rolen has 8 gold gloves, 7 ASG nominations and a season where he was 30 runs better than the average third baseman. Rolen's defense was insane in the 2000s, and made the Cardinals World Series competitors for most of the decade. His hitting was also on par, and his landmark 2004 season also included 34 homers, 124 RBIs and a .314 average. Scott Rolen was a hero for Philly and St. Louis, and then returned to be a hero for the Reds. Scott Rolen was one of the best defensive third baseman of his era, and since Nolan Arenado will be going in first ballot in 10 years, we might as well get Rolen in as soon as we can. 
Team of Induction: St. Louis Cardinals
Odds of 2023 Induction: 7 to 3
Odds of Eventual Induction: Even

Jimmy Rollins:
A lot of what I said for Abreu can be recycled here. J-Rol was a leadership figure for a team that captured the hearts of a nation, was a grade-a shortstop for 15 or so years, won an MVP in 2007 as his team nearly made a World Series, was perennially one of the biggest stars in the game during his heyday, and lasted long enough to mentor Tim Anderson and Corey Seager. I don't know if he'll get in, especially considering another Phillies infielder will be getting in this year, and another one still might get in next year. But man, I'm gonna keep putting him on this ballot until I no longer can. I just loved how he played.
Team of Induction: Philadelphia Phillies
Odds of 2023 Induction: 40 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 25 to 1

As I said, I have no idea if anyone's actually getting in this year. Nobody's pulling overwhelming early numbers, we could just have a year where they top vote-getters get 68% and that'll be that. My hope is that either Rolen or Helton, or both, get in, but I'm not sure if they will. Next year, with Beltre and Utley there, we'll definitely have inductees. I'd love to have some this year, I'd hate to think Fred McGriff's gotta go in alone, but...we'll see. I have a good feeling, but we'll see.