The basis for my judgment: The average Hall of Fame career has more than a few distinct characteristics. To predict which players will make it, it’s crucial to know these characteristics. First, getting into the Hall of Fame is about numbers unless there are extenuating circumstances (ex. Kirby Puckett going blind). If the 500 home run or 3,000 hit milestone is reached, a player becomes a lock (although 3,000 hits is much more impressive than 500 home runs). To achieve these numbers, a player must become an everyday player by the age of 23. Anyone who starts after 23 must be the most dominant player at his position for 10+ years (ex. Mike Piazza). A very high career batting average can also offset a late start. To accurately predict which younger players will make the Hall of Fame, it’s only necessary to look at their age when they first contributed significant statistics. If it’s by the age of 23, then you have someone to consider.
Inside the voter-minds: I think that voters will start paying more attention to higher batting averages (like Vlad, Pujols, and Manny) and higher OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage). In an era where almost everyone hits home runs, voters need another distinguishing statistic. I think .300 will no longer be considered with the same reverence as it used to. According to Bill James' "Historical Baseball Abstract", 20% of everyday players hit .300 or better in the 1990's. In the preceeding three decades, that percentage was 12%, 15%, and 15% respectively. The more people that hit .300, the less important it becomes.
Rules: I’m only considering players 25 and older. I'm only considering active players currently in MLB. Rickey Henderson and Roberto Alomar are locks but they're done with the majors. I want to abide by some limitations based on precedents from years past. In 1975, there were 34 (I'm counting Pete Rose because he was a Hall of Fame player and that's all I'm concerend with) active Hall of Famers in the majors. Twenty-one were hitters and thirteen were pitchers. I won't necessarily keep my projections below 34 but I'll take that number into consideration so my final total isn't out of hand.
I'm interested in hearing where people agree or differ from my projections so feel free to comment. Just click on the player’s name to view their career stats. The most useful tools for comparing player stats can be found at MLB's sortable stats engine and CNNSI's all-time stats archive.
Ken Griffey Jr.
In barring injury: (5)
Gary Sheffield Sheffield’s career has been unique. He hasn’t strung together consistently dominate seasons like most big-time hitters. However, the overall numbers are there. He’s gotten better with age and he should have no problem getting to 500 home runs. His batting average is very good. I think he will continue to be a superstar for 3-4 more years which will also put him right around 3,000 hits.
Vladimir GuerreroVlad’s numbers are unbelievable. His current numbers have him on pace to join some rare company. Only Albert Pujols can claim to have comparable stats at his age (and possibly Miguel Cabrera in four years). I would put Vlad in the lock category but a career ending injury would probably keep him from getting in.
Manny Ramirez Ramirez has been an RBI machine since he came into the league. He’s been one of the more consistent power hitters in the majors. His numbers are very good and he’s on pace to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. Manny only needs three more productive seasons to become a lock.
Ichiro Suzuki The career stats won’t ever be there for Ichiro. He started his MLB career much too late to get to 3000 hits. However, his hitting ability is too good to overlook. He averages 236 hits per season. His career batting average is .336. These numbers are simply unmatched by anyone in the game today. Voters will consider the amount of time he spent in Japan when deciding his fate. He’ll get in.
Andruw Jones Some people might be shocked to see Jones on the list of players that will get in. Don’t be. He’s only 28 years old. He’s one of the two best defensive centerfielder’s in baseball (along with Torre Hunter). He’ll have 300 homers (give or take a few) by the end of this season. He’s almost a lock for 500 home runs if he stays healthy. Jones was only 20 when he broke the everyday lineup. That gives him a huge advantage in getting into the Hall.
To see why the following players probably won't make the Hall of Fame, one only needs to look at Albert Belle. Belle is proof that being one of the most feared hitters in baseball for ten seasons is not always enough to get you in. Belle won’t make the Hall of Fame despite putting up monster numbers for the Indians and Orioles. The following players will finish their careers with great numbers but need to do more than Belle did to even be considered.
Will just miss the cut: (5)
Larry Walker If Walker hadn’t played so many years in Colorado, his numbers might be good enough to get him in. The problem is that voters will judge the Colorado players with a higher standard. Walker didn’t reach any of the necessary “milestones” and never matched the success he had in Colorado with any other team.
Bobby Abreu Abreu has the talent and will have the career numbers to get heavy consideration but he hasn’t hit enough home runs. I think that will be what keeps him out. He’s one of the premier base stealers in baseball. His OBP is .413! His career batting average is .305. He does it all. The problem is that voters love the homer and he’s never hit more than 31 in a season.
Juan Gonzalez Juan gone was almost a lock. He took the same path as Jose Canseco (only with better numbers). His numbers are phenomenal for the amount of healthy seasons he’s played. However, he needed two more good years. It’s possible for him to resurrect his career and get to 500 homers which would get him in. But, he can’t even stay healthy for one game.
Carlos Beltran Out of the players in this category, Beltran has the best chance to make it. He started young. He’s a 5-tool player. He has plenty of time to improve but I think he’ll fall short of the milestones and his career batting average will never be above .285.
Garret Anderson The fact that most people will be surprised to see Anderson’s name here shows just how underrated he is. He’s been one of the most consistent players over the last ten years. His numbers won’t blow you away but he’s putting together pretty good resume. The problem with Anderson is that he doesn’t walk enough. This hurts is OBP and OPS. He’s very good but very unlikely to make the Hall.
Adam Dunn Dunn has
146 career home runs and he’s only 25. That’s why he’s on this list. His other numbers are either average or terrible. His batting average is .249. He strikes out more than Alfonso Soriano. His OPS is .907 which is respectable but very low compared to the other first basemen in this category. I think Dunn will improve as his career moves along but I doubt he’ll ever have a career batting average over .270. I doubt he’ll ever be able to cut down enough on his strike outs. His low batting average will sabotage any chance of having an overwhelming OPS.
This is probably the easiest category to judge. The line between being a Hall of Fame catcher and not being a Hall of Fame catcher is very clear. If you're a catcher and you've dominated in any way over a period of ten or more years, then you're probably going to the Hall. My apologies to Vance Wilson. He has seemingly been in the lineup as much as Pudge as of late but Vance just misses the cut.
Ivan Rodriguez “Pudge” is everything you want in a catcher. He’s a very good hitter. He’s one of the best defensive catcher’s in MLB history (10 Gold Gloves). He’s anchored a pitching staff that won the World Series. He’s taken a Detroit Tiger franchise from one of the worst teams in MLB history into the realm of respectability. He plays when injured. If I had to pick one guy in baseball history to be my catcher, I think I’d pick Pudge.
Mike Piazza Five years ago, it was a 50/50 proposition that Piazza would end up being considered the best catcher ever. In 2000, Piazza’s career average was an unbelievable .328. Five years later, the only "best ever" that he's in the running for is "best athlete ever to be fraudently accused of being Mick from Teen Wolf." His overall production is nowhere near what he put up in the 90’s. However, 500 home runs is still within reach which would make Piazza the first catcher to reach that milestone. Piazza is one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball. He's thrown out 24% of base-runners for his career. In comparison, "Pudge" has thrown out 48%. He was so good before that his defensive shortcomings were justified by his offensive brilliance. However, now that he isn’t producing with the bat, his poor defense is magnified.
In barring injury: (0) "Pudge" and Piazza are likely the only two catchers that will make the HOF from this era.
Will just miss the cut: (2)
Jorge Posada The most impressive note about Posada won’t be found by looking at his career stats. He’s won three World Series with the Yankees and that number will probably go up. His defense is above average with his most notable assett being his ability to call games. Posada's thrown out 30% of baserunners which is in the middle of the pack for catchers. He’s a very good hitter compared to most catchers. If he started his career at an early age, he would be in great position to make the HOF. 27 is just too late to make a significant run at the Hall. Even still, Posada has consistently been a top 5 catcher over the last decade.
Javy Lopez Lopez showed his potential in 2003 when he had career numbers across the board. Everything seemed to "click" for Lopez following that season. He's a completely different hitter. Needless to say, if he produced that way over the span of his career, he would be a “lock”. The problem is that a few very good years in the twighlight of a career usually don’t overshadow a career of average/decent hitting. Lopez has a respectable batting average with .290. His OPS of .840 is very good for a catcher. Lopez and Posada are among the best catchers in baseball today. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for a ticket to Cooperstown.
This is by far the toughest category to project. There are a few very good first basemen that won’t make the Hall of Fame. Don Mattingly is the first player that comes to mind. “Donny Baseball” was the premier first baseman of the 1980’s. He retired early but he was every bit as good as Kirby Puckett who's in the HOF. As I mentioned in the introduction, their will be new standards in getting into the HOF. Fred McGriff will probably be the first victim of those new standards. If the “Crime Dog” started his career five years earlier, he would likely be in. However, McGriff’s numbers pale in comparison to today’s sluggers.
One player that I do contend will make the Hall of Fame despite recent voter-polls indicating otherwise is Mark McGwire. I just don’t see how Big Mac can be kept out. It’s one thing to keep Giambi out since his numbers won’t be overwhelming but Big Mac took over baseball for five years. Bill James has McGwire rated as the 31st best player in baseball history. He has 583 career home runs. His career OPS is .982. He had six seasons with an OPS of 1.100 or higher! Nobody is going to confuse Big Mac with Tony Gwynn or Ichiro, but let’s be serious here.
There's no question that Big Mac rubbed sportswriters and fans the wrong way with his “I’m not here to talk about the past” speech at the senate hearings. It was right after those hearings that voters were polled about whether they’d vote for McGwire. Five or ten years from now, people won’t be as pissed and he’ll get in easily.
Rafael Palmeiro Despite Skip Bayless’ best attempts, Palmeiro is a “lock” for the HOF. How many players can you remember that have hit 37 or more home runs in 8 straight seasons? The answer should be one….and it’s Palmeiro. He’s got 3,000 hits. He’ll finish with 600 home runs. Only Willie Mays and Hank Aaron can lay claim to those numbers. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there to see it, does it really fall? Sure. Just go back to the forest 20 years later and judge for yourself. Who cares if Raffy didn’t get the publicity that some of the other guys got during his career. His resume is right in front of us. Take a look. It’s mighty impressive.
Frank Thomas Famed baseball historian and statistician Bill James thinks that Frank Thomas was the best player of the 90’s. That alone will likely get Frank into Cooperstown. His numbers were phenomenal with a heavy emphasis on were. He’s dropped off significantly as of late but he has the highest OPS (On base percentage + Slugging percentage) among the players in this category at .995. His career batting average is also the highest at .307. It seems like the Big Hurt hasn’t been good for a number of years but his career stats show just how dominant he was. He could hit as well as anyone but also possessed a keen eye which has led to an amazing .427 OBP (On base percentage). His walk numbers are among the best for the decade. There’s no question that he is HOF worthy. The frustrating thing with the Big Hurt was those down years in his prime. His numbers would be unmatched had he remained consistent.
Jeff Bagwell Bagwell’s numbers are very comparable to Frank’s. Both players were born on the same day. They share almost identical career stats. Both players dominated the 1990’s. Frank was slightly a better hitter and Bags was a better fielder. Bags has lost the momentum towards 500 home runs and 3,000 hits due to his arthritic shoulder. His numbers have steadily declined and his career is probably one year away from being over. I think this is actually an advantage over Thomas because Bags at least has an excuse for his tapering numbers. The Big Hurt had too many shady seasons for what was supposed to be his prime years.
In barring injury:(4)
Albert Pujols Pujols is the “lock” of locks to make the HOF. There’s only two things that could keep him out, 1). a gambling habit, or 2). an injury within the next three years. Aside from Bonds (and I hate admitting that), Pujols is the best hitter I’ve ever seen. His numbers are off the charts. He’s produced since day one in the majors. His career batting average is .334. His OPS is 1.038 and he’s NOT playing his home games in Colorado. As long as Pujols doesn’t get injured, he’ll go down as one of the five greatest hitters ever.
Jim Thome Thome will more than likely make it. Although, my confidence level here is much lower than in the previous categories because Thome’s career batting average is much lower than Thomas and Bagwell’s. Thome should finish with 500 home runs. His batting average is higher than one would expect at .281. His OPS is better than Bagwell’s. Thome has eight less home runs than Bagwell but has had 1,000 less at bats. As a home run hitter, Thome trumps both Bagwell and Thomas. His OBP is equal to Bagwell’s. He has been the premier home run hitter of the last few years. If he can get over his elbow problems, he should be able to pile on the numbers to get into the HOF. If Bagwell and Frank Thomas are locks, then Thome will have a very strong argument when his career is done.
Todd Helton I change my tone on Helton every day. I personally think he should be a shoe-in. His numbers are in a whole different stratosphere. However, nobody knows for sure how the voters will treat the players from Colorado. My question with that is, how much better than Helton would a player have to be to make the HOF after playing in Colorado? He leads all first basemen, including Albert Pujols, in every major offensive category. His career OPS is 1.035. His career batting average is .335. His OBP is .430! He got a late start and he has some injuries that could potentially shorten his career. However, his numbers are too impressive to overlook. He’s a Hall of Famer.
Mark Teixeira I’m going to make a prediction here. If Teixeira doesn’t get hurt, he will be in the Hall of Fame. He started hitting as soon as he arrived in Arlington. He’s among the league leaders in home runs in only his third season. His batting average is suspect but all of the other numbers are there. He got an early enough start to hit all the milestones. It’s hard to project 15 years in advance but this is how a HOF generally starts.
Will just miss the cut:(4)
Carlos Delgado This is where the “new standards” start to come into play. Voters know they can’t just admit every good first baseman. There’s been too many of them over the last 15 years. So, they’ll start cutting off the fat. Unfortunately for Delgado, they will probably start with him. Check out his numbers. They’re ridiculous. His OPS is .948. He has a legitimate shot at reaching 500 home runs. His batting average is in the Thome range at .283 He’s like Raffy in terms of being underrated. People don’t notice him but he produces every year. His numbers will compare to many first baseman that have made the HOF. I just think he’ll be the victim of increasing supply with a lowering demand.
Jason Giambi Giambi was well on his way just two years ago. He had the Pujols combination of power and average. Everything changed after he went to the Yankees. His power numbers were similar but his batting average tailed off significantly. I’m not sure why this happened. I don’t know if he concentrated more on his power numbers or what but there was clearly something different about Giambi’s approach to the plate. Even still, his OPS is .951 which is higher than Bagwell. Giambi also has a higher OBP than Bagwell and Thome. The fact that he was outed for taking steroids will be what inevitably gives the voters the green light to pass on him. His career numbers will be there but give the voters a reason to keep you out, and they will.
David Ortiz Aside from Pujols and Helton, there isn’t a better hitting first baseman in the game today. Ortiz is a terror at the plate. He seemingly hits a home run or double everyday. It’s unfortunate that the Twins dropped the ball on Big Papi. He showed flashes of brilliance while playing in Minnesota but they put him on the shelf for three seasons. Those three seasons will likely be the difference between admittance and denial to Cooperstown. Ortiz is 30. At this stage in a career, the typical HOF player has a much better resume. Making the Hall of Fame is a simple combination of brilliance over time. Unfortunately for Ortiz, that combination is pretty much unattainable.
There’s quite a dilemma with projecting active second basemen. The dilemma being Jeff Kent. In the previous two position projections (of and c), it seemed like there was a pretty clear line as to who will likely make the HOF and who won’t. I would venture to guess that you could ask 100 baseball fans about Kent getting into the Hall and you’d get 50 to say yes and 50 to say no. I don’t think Kent is a lock by any means, however, I think he’ll have a pretty good case when it’s all said and done.
Craig Biggio Bill James has Craig Biggio ranked as the 35th best player in baseball history. I think that’s probably a little high but when James says something, it’s usually more true than not. Biggio has been an outstanding second basemen. He’ll easily reach 3,000 hits. He has over 400 stolen bases. He’ll finish with over 600 doubles. He should finish with close to 1,800 runs. Biggio, along with Raffy, is one of the most unheralded player of the 90’s. The only question here is which ballot he makes it on.
Just need more time: (2)
Jeff Kent The problem with Jeff Kent is that he’s not considered one of the dominant players of his era. He gets about as much publicity for his defense as Bobby Bonilla did. His career OBP is far from overwhelming at .354. Those are the negatives. What Kent has going for him is the fact that he’s the all-time home run leader for second basemen. His OPS is a very respectable .860. He’s probably the best power hitting second basemen in baseball history and he won the 2000 NL MVP award. In addition, there's actually a compelling argument that Kent is not only a decent second basemen, but better than Biggio and Roberto Alomar. Even though Kent’s 38 years old, I think he needs two more productive seasons to cement his status as a HOF. Hall of Fame voters are superficial. It's about numbers and perception. If you fall 10 hits short of 3,000 you might as well have fallen 200 hits short. A .300 batting average means a lot more than .295. As Fred McGriff will find out, 500 home runs are night and day compared to 493. Your numbers need to be good in the right places to get in. Normally, the last two years don’t decide whether or player gets in. Most major leaguers are done by the age of 38. This is a unique situation where the player actually has to keep producing meaningful numbers past 38 to get in. He’s showing no signs of slowing down which leads me to believe he’ll do just enough to get into the Hall.
Alfonso Soriano Unfortunately for Soriano, he didn’t get started as an everyday player until he was 25. That’s usually a deal breaker for the Hall of Fame. Luckily for Soriano, he plays second base. Soriano will finish his career as the best power hitting second basemen in MLB history (supplanting Kent). His defense is atrocious. He’s led all second basemen in errors four seasons running. His OBP is terrible at .322. He’s a yearly lock to finish with more than 120 K’s and less than 40 walks. If Soriano played first base or outfield, I would say he’d have virtually no chance at the Hall. His numbers leave a lot to be desired but his power and speed combination will be enough to get him in.
I don't think there are any other second basemen that deserve HOF consideration in MLB today.
Just a few short years ago it looked like the shortstop position was experiencing a revolution. The position would no longer be home to below average hitters. Big, physical athletes like Arod and Derek Jeter were changing how teams viewed their shortstops. Flash forward a few years and it looks like the revolution was a false alarm. Arod moved to third base. Nomar became the president of the walking wounded. Now, a power hitting shortstop is as rare as Piazza gunning down a basestealer.
Derek Jeter Jeter is one of the few elite non-power hitters in MLB today. Jeter has been a hit-machine ever since coming into the league. He averages close to 190 hits per season. His career batting average is .313. He has over 200 stolen bases. He’ll easily reach 3,000 hits barring injury. In fact, if he plays until he’s 41, he should be close to 3,800 hits which would put him third on the all-time list. His World Series heroics will only bolster his legend. I think Jeter will be one of those players that is remembered more fondly after they finish playing. Jeter is very good and will be deserving of a HOF nod.
Just need a little more time: (1)
Miguel Tejada Three years ago, Tejada was trying to turn the Big Three (Arod, Jeter, and Nomar) into the Big Four. Who would’ve thought that three years later, he’d be the best shortstop in the game? He’s every bit as dangerous as Manny Ramirez but adds strong defense to the equation. Tejada has big numbers across the board. As long as he doesn’t get hurt, he’ll waltz into the HOF. This will be his sixth straight season with 100+ RBI’s. His best year came last season when he won the AL MVP by hitting .311 with 34 home runs and 150 RBI’s. With Arod and Nomar no longer in the SS debate, Tejada is the game’s elite power hitting shortstop.
Will come up just short: (2)
Nomar Garciaparra Nomar was well on his way to Cooperstown. It’s actually kind of sad because he had everything set up to be the “Golden Boy” of baseball. He won two batting titles. His hit totals in his first six full seasons went 209, 195, 190, 197, 197, and 198. His career batting average is .320 but he’s only reached that once in the last five seasons. His OPS is very respectable at .912. Nomar couldn’t have had it better. Then, he inexplicably became injury prone. His last two seasons have produced a total of 107 hits. He’s 32 years old and despite his impressive numbers early on, he’s behind the curve. Nomar would need to come back strong to get back on pace for the Hall. He no longer has a legitimate shot at reaching 3,000 hits. Nomar is proof that you can never be sure how a career will turn out. It would not be impossible for him to make the HOF. His career average of .320 will go along way but it’s important to remember that public sentiment plays a roll. If the voters like you, they might overlook a deficiency in raw numbers. If they don’t like you, then you’re SOL. It’s safe to say that Nomar was more popular before his outrageous contract demands and his “injury” that popped up when Boston wouldn’t give him his ransom.
Michael Young Three years ago, nobody had even heard of Michael Young. Now it looks like he’s taking over where Nomar left off. His career batting average is a remarkable .324. He’s well on his way to his third straight season of 200+ hits. Young is unquestionably one of the best shortstops in the game today. The unfortunate thing for Young is that he didn’t play his first full season until he was 25. That should be the end of the discussion. However, if Young plays ten more seasons (that would put him at 38) and averages 180 hits which is a significant reduction in his current yearly average, he would have 2,600 hits. If he keeps his batting average above .315 and gets to 2,600 hits, I think he’ll be headed to the Hall. As it stands now, it’s probably about a 25% proposition.
Projecting which elite third basemen will eventually end up in Cooperstown is a tough task to say the least. Besides catcher, there are less third baseman in the Hall of Fame than any other position. Only four third basemen that have started their careers after 1965 have made the Hall of Fame (Schmidt, Brett, Boggs, and Molitor). However, from 1982-1986, all four of these players (as well as Tony Perez) were playing at the same time . I believe that there are four active players that deserve heavy consideration for the Hall of Fame. History has shown that there have been few very good third basemen. The best third basemen that aren't in the Hall of Fame are Ron Santo, Darrell Evans, Stan Hack, Ken Boyer and Craig Nettles. I believe that the three active players in question are considerably better than any of those third basemen and better than half of the third basemen that are actually in the Hall of Fame.
It's important to remember a few things about third basemen. 1). It should be remembered that third basemen don't put up the same kind of power numbers as outfielders and first basemen. 2). There isn't an abundance of good third basemen in the majors right now, nor has there been over the last thirty years. 3) Aside from catching, it's the hardest defensive position on the field. An excellent fielding third basemen gets a significant amount of credit especially when it's combined with above average offensive ability. Those three factors are the primary reasons why I think the elite two-way third basemen in the game today will make the HOF.
Alex Rodriguez I only have one thing to say about Arod. There’s a very good possibility that Arod could end up being the all-time leader in many categories He has a very good shot at being the all-time leader in home runs, rbi’s, and runs. Clearly, he has to play quite a few more seasons but he’s on track.
Just need more time:(3)
Chipper Jones Chipper Jones will make the Hall of Fame. He’s been the most consistent third basemen over the last ten years. He won the National League MVP award in 1999. His string of eight straight 100 rbi seasons ended last year only because he missed 25 games due to injury. Still, he finished with 96. His career batting average is .302. His OPS is .935 which is far and away the best of active third basemen. Arod plays third base now but the majority of his career has been at ss. His OBP is .400. At 33, he’s four seasons a way from having a resume that reads 400 home runs, 1,500 runs, 1,500 rbi and 2,400 hits.
Scott Rolen If Rolen’s going to get in, it’ll be because of his defense. He has six Gold Glove awards and has been the best defense third basemen since he came into the league. Don’t get me wrong about Rolen’s offense. He’s an excellent hitter. His OPS is .890 which is considerably better than Chavez and Glaus. His streak of four straight 100 rbi seasons will end this year only because of an injury. As of now, Rolen is on the cusp. However, he’s only 32 years old. He benefits from breaking into the majors at 21. I think he’ll play long enough to get his career numbers to a respectable place. With his defense being so superior to his contemporaries, I think 1,200 runs, 1,200 rbi and 350 home runs will get him in.
Eric Chavez Chavez is 27 years old and has won four golden glove awards. He’s one of the premier defensive players in MLB today. In addition, Chavez is the clean-up hitter for the A’s. His offensive numbers are quite impressive. He already has three 100 rbi seasons and would’ve had a fourth last season but he missed close to 40 games with an injury. His offensive numbers are par for the course for Hall of Fame third basemen. He’s one of the best offense/defense combinations in baseball. If it came down to choosing between Chavez and Rolen, I would probably give Chavez the better chance. However, I think both will make it.
Troy Glaus Three years ago, Glaus was building a powerful resume. He led the American League in home runs in 2000 with 47. He had three straight 100 rbi seasons before the age of 26. That was all before Glaus started picking up injuries by the dozen. His career batting average is .252. His overall numbers won’t be good enough after missing most of two seasons in his prime. His OPS is slightly higher than Chavez’ but Chavez has him beat on defense and offensive consistency.
It's very difficult to differentiate a Hall of Fame pitcher from a non-Hall of Fame pitcher early in a career. The difference is usually longevity. The years from 30-40 have been very kind to many pitchers in MLB today. The problem with projecting pitchers is that there's no way of knowing who will be able to pitch effectively until the age of 40. Doc Gooden looked to be a sure bet before his career came to a screeching halt. Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in a game at the age of 20. In the seven year since, he has 70 wins. He's never won more than 14 games in a season. Wood is proof that you can never be sure with a pitcher. On the other side, when Curt Schilling was 30, I would've bet quite a bit of money that he wasn't going to make the Hall of Fame. He had a grand total of 52 wins. After four seasons, Tom Glavine's record was 33-41. Sometimes the best young pitchers disappear before we ever knew what happened. Other times, a marginal pitcher matures into an elite pitcher after seven or eight big league seasons. That is why I'm having a particularly tough time projecting Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Barry Zito, and Johan Santana. However, I do have a "gut feeling" on these players that leads me to believe that two will make it to Cooperstown.
Mariano Rivera Rivera is a lock for the Hall. He’ll likely end up second on the all-time saves list. His career numbers are absurd. His ERA is 2.34. His Whip is 1.05 and his batting average against is 2.12. Not to mention, he’s having the best season by a relief pitcher ever. His ERA is .83 and his Whip is .76.
Trevor Hoffman Hoffman will be the all-time saves leader when his career is over. Hoffman has been brilliant over a long period of time. Most closers have one but not the other. Franco was consistent over time but not brilliant. Gagne was brilliant but not over time. Hoffman has both. Hoffman’s numbers are actually right on par with Rivera’s. He has the same Whip and a better batting average against.
Just needs more time: (5)
Tom Glavine ESPN thinks that Glavine belongs in the same category as the "lock" pitchers. I won’t go that far. Glavine has been one of the best pitchers in the majors since he broke into the league. He has two Cy Young awards five twenty-win seasons. However, his ERA is quite low compared to the locks in this category at 3.48. His batting average against is shockingly high for a player being considered for the Hall of Fame at .256. His WHIP is below average at best at 1.31. Other than the number in the win column, Glavine’s numbers are not very impressive. However, a pitcher is generally judged on three basic things; 1).ERA , 2). Wins, and 3). Winning percentage. Glavine’s career winning percentage is .600. He has 269 career wins which is a considerable amount for this era. Glavine will get into the HOF but he’s not in the same category as Clemens, Maddux, Big Unit and Pedro.
John Smoltz Smoltz is every bit as deserving as Dennis Eckersley. Smoltz won the Cy Young in 1996 when he won 24 games. He then converted to the closer role where he recorded over 150 saves in three seasons leading the league in 2002. His career ERA, Whip, and batting average against are all significantly better than Glavine’s. There’s no question that Smoltz has been the better pitcher. The only category in which it doesn’t show is the win column. Smoltz only has 174 career wins. Aside from his 24 win season in 1996, Smoltz has never won more than 17 games. In fact, he’s only won more than 15 games twice. Smoltz has been plagued by low run support but his secondary stats tell all we need to know. He’s a Hall of Famer ahead of Glavine.
Curt Schilling Schilling will get in but not from his career numbers. He’ll get in because he was a dominant pitcher for ten years. He was the reason that two franchises won a World Series. He combined with the Big Unit to form the most devastating 1-2 punch since Koufax and Drysdale. He’ll be remembered as a big game pitcher. His bloody ankle will go down as folk lore. Don’t get me wrong, his career numbers aren’t awful. He has three seasons of 21 wins or more. His career ERA is 3.36. His Whip is a very impressive 1.12. He has 187 career wins. He’ll probably finish somewhere around 225. Schilling won’t ever have the win total of Tom Glavine but Schilling has clearly been the better pitcher. Sometimes career stats don’t tell the whole story and that’s the case here.
Roy Oswalt Based on what he’s accomplished so far, Oswalt is well on his way to Cooperstown. His ERA is a paltry 2.97. He has one 20-win season under his belt as well as a 19-win season. He has 77 career wins at the age of 27. His career winning percentage is .690. If Oswalt can avoid serious injury, he has a great chance at the Hall.
Roy Halladay Halladay has a chance to follow in Schilling’s footsteps. Halladay already has a 20 win season and a 19 win season. He was well on his way to his second 20 win season this year before he fractured his leg. He won the AL Cy Young award in 2003. Halladay’s career numbers don’t jump out at you (3.70 ERA) but he is one of the premier talents in baseball. Schilling did all of his resume building during the second half of his career. Halladay is ahead of Schilling’s pace when he was 28. Like most pitchers, Halladay’s case will depend on whether he can avoid injuries. He hasn’t done a very good job of that so far but I have to think his hard luck will end soon.
Mike Mussina Mike Mussina could’ve been a Hall of Famer but something went wrong. While other pitchers were picking up Cy Youngs and twenty-win seasons, Mussina sat idly by. A pitcher's resume is incomplete without those accomplishments. He has five seasons of 18 wins or more. His career winning % is .645 and that has actually decreased since he joined the Yankees. He has 221 career wins. He’s 37 years old. If he averages 15 wins a year for the next six years, he will get to 300 wins. That would get him in. But, I don’t think he’ll pitch until he’s 43.
Johan Santana I was surprised to see how unimpressive Santana’s career stats are up to this point. He just hadn’t been given the chance to start as much as most pitchers. In fact, last season was the first time he’s ever had more than 18 starts. The results were ridiculous as Santana won the AL Cy Young award. His Whip was a ridiculous .92. Santana is only 26. He’s not a candidate for 300 wins based on his career up to this point but he is a candidate for the Hall of Fame. I think he’ll be the great pitcher in baseball once all of the 40+ pitchers that dominate the game today retire. I'd put his odds of making the HOF at 49.999% so I have to leave him off the "in" list.
Barry Zito Believe it or not, Zito actually has the best resume of the "Big Three" pitchers. Despite struggling last year and parts of this year, Zito has 82 career wins and he's only 27. In contrast, Johan Santana has 43 wins and he's less than a year younger than Zito. Zito won the Cy Young award in 2002. I don't think anyone really knows what caused the drop off in production over the last two seasons but if that trend continues, Zito won't be anywhere near Cooperstown. However, of active pitchers under the age of 30, Zito has one of the best resumes to date.
Tim Hudson I was surprised to see that Hudson is already 30 years old. He's three years older than Zito and has only 17 more wins. Hudson's ERA is pretty good at 3.34 but he isn't a dominate pitcher. He hasn't won a Cy Young. He's a good bet for 200 career wins but probably not much more than that. Hudson will be remembered as a very good pitcher but not a Hall of Famer.
Mark Mulder Mulder's in a better position than Hudson since he has 92 wins and is two years younger. However, Mulder's ERA is a robust 3.90. Wins go along way but they won't overcome a mediocre ERA. Mulder will continue to be an above average pitcher but he won't make the Hall of Fame.
Mark Buehrle Before this season, I wouldn't have included Buerhle in any HOF talk. He's always been a decent pitcher but his ERA has been less than spectacular. This year he's been a completely different pitcher. Nobody in the league is as efficient as Buerhle. He works the quickest games in the league and has a career best ERA at 2.96. If Buerhle keeps getting better, I can see him making a run at the Hall.
Bartolo Colon Colon has been Mr. Consistent. He has won at least 14 games in each of the last eight seasons. He has one 20 win season and two 18 win seasons. He has 130 wins but at 32, he's way off the mark of a Hall of Fame career. His ERA is right around 4.00. He's very good but not good enough.
Kevin Brown In his prime, Kevin Brown was as good as they come. His stuff is filthy. In fact, I’ll go on the record in saying that Brown would’ve made the Hall of Fame had he been healthy throughout his career. Where the average pitcher has anywhere from 33-35 starts per season, Brown had seasons of 28, 26, 25, 26, 19, 10, 22 and 13. It’s hard to imagine that he has been able to win 211 wins with all of those partial seasons. His career ERA is very impressive at 3.28. He has one twenty-win season and no Cy Young awards.
John Franco Franco is second on the all-time list in saves. He’s the active leader and has led the league three times in this category. His career ERA is 2.84. Here is the problem with Franco’s career; he’s never saved more than 40 games in a season and he’s only saved more than 32 saves in a season four times. He has saved at least 29 games 12 different times. For a relief pitcher to get into the Hall of Fame, they need to have dominant seasons. Franco is just your average closer who happened to have a longer career than most. Not having a 40 win season is saying a lot. Mariano Rivera has five. Armando Benitez has three. Trevor Hoffman has six. Jose Mesa has four. Smoltz has three. Franco has zero. A player must be dominating to get into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Franco was dominating; consistent, but not dominating.
Other possible Hall of Fame Candidates
There are a few players that I didn't address that will fail to reach the Hall of Fame because of injuries or late starts. These players have been some of the best MLB has had to offer but really have no chance of making it to Cooperstown. There are two players in specific that I'm only addressing because ESPN is out of its mind.
Johnny Damon I have to address Damon because ESPN actually predicted Damon to be in the Hall of Fame last week. I have a big problem with this. Damon will be 32 at the end of the season. His career batting average is .290. He's not a power hitter by any means. His OPS is .788. His OBP is .353. If you're not a power hitter, you have to be a great singles hitter like Jeter or Tony Gwynn. Damon isn't even close to a .300 career batting average. He's considered one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. However, his career OBP (On base percentage) is nowhere near acceptable for a leadoff hitter. Ricky Henderson is a Hall of Fame leadoff hitter (although his induction isn't scheduled until 2084). His OBP was .401. The ONLY thing Damon has going for him is that he has an outside chance at reaching 3,000 hits. If this happens, I would not be against having Damon be the first player ever to reach 3,000 hits and not make the HOF. He's not a HOF player and the numbers say so.
Omar Vizquel This is another player that I have to address because of ESPN. Omar Vizquel has a 0% chance of making the Hall of Fame. I don't like to call people out but I'll make an exception in this case. David Schoenfield of ESPN thinks Vizquel is headed for the Hall. He compares Vizquel to Ozzie Smith as part of his argument. The problem is that Ozzie has more hits, runs, rbi's and stolen bases on offense and he has more Gold Gloves on defense. Ozzie made 15 All-Star games and Vizquel made three. If Vizquel makes the Hall of Fame, then I'll send David Schoenfield $100.
Lance Berkman Unbelievably, Berkman is #5 on the active OPS list. He's only behind Bonds, Helton, Manny and Big Hurt. His career batting average is .304. He seems to be in the midst of his prime. He didn't play his first full season until he was 25 which will have an impact on his career numbers. He probably won't reach 500 home runs or 3,000 hits but his average numbers (like OPS, batting average, OBP, slugging percentage) will always be very good. Having said that, the HOF is very unlikely.
Brian Giles Giles was practically an old man when he finally played an entire season. He got his first everyday job at 28. Despite that major setback, Giles has made the most of his time in the majors. He's #9 in career OPS among active players. He's ahead of Arod, Griffey, Giambi, Chipper, Bagwell, Delgado and Sosa among others. He's one of the better OF's in the majors but his numbers won't be there.
Jim Edmonds I like Edmonds and I'm actually rooting for him to make the HOF but it probably won't happen. Edmonds is a spectacular centerfielder. He has very good offensive numbers across the board. However, he doesn't have any eye-popping numbers. His career batting average is .292. His OPS is .927. He has 321 career home runs and 970 RBI's. Edmonds is 35 and has probably three good seasons left. He'll probably just miss the HOF.
Magglio Ordonez Mags has been as consistent as anyone. His knee injury stole a season in his prime. That would make a big difference in terms of where he stands right now compared to other Hall of Famers at his age. I think he'll continue to be productive for at least five more seasons. His career batting average is very good at .307 but his OPS is only .889. For a power hitting outfielder, it should probably be higher.
Edgar Renteria Renteria isn't bad. Aside from two very good seasons, he's been average at best. He benefits from a career beginning at 21 but that's about it.
Under 25 Hall of Fame candidates
I wanted to make this a separate category because projecting players this young usually requires a crystal ball and unfortunately, I don't have one. However, the following players clearly have a headstart in making it to Cooperstown.
Miguel Cabrera Cabrera will follow in Vlad and Manny's footsteps. He's a monster already and will only get better. Barring injury, there's about a 95% chance Cabrera will make the HOF.
David Wright Wright is 22. He has 29 career home runs. He's hitting close to .300 as a third basemen. I don't think he could ask for a better start to a career. Based on his age and how good he is right now, I can't say with confidence that he won't make the HOF.
Jake Peavy Peavy will probably win more than his fair share of ERA titles. He's an awesome pitcher. It might help if he got out of San Diego but I actually think he'll make it.
Dontrelle Willis Willis is only 23 and he already has 38 career wins. He has struggled mightily in the second half in every season he's been in the majors. If he gets that worked out, he has a great start to a possible HOF career.
Hank Blalock Blalock has produced ever since the Rangers put him in the lineup. He's only 24 but he already has 83 career home runs. He could make a run at 500 which would be a lock for a third basemen.
Huston Street Street is phenomenal. In his first season, he has a 1.41 ERA and a .98 Whip. He's only 21 years old.
Francisco Rodriquez Frod is the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. At 23, he's already one of the dominant closers in baseball.
Jeremy Bonderman Obviously, Bonderman is the hometown favorite. He's started off young enough. One minor setback is that he's 9 games under .500 for his career. His ERA took a tremendous hit in his first two seasons. In any other organization, "Bondo" would be making his debut this season. The 2003 Tigers were so bad that a 20 year old rooke fit right in.
Mark Prior Prior is the injury machine. I honestly don't remember Prior when he was his dominant self. It seemed so long ago. I think Kerry Wood has rubbed off a little on Prior. If he can ever stay healthy, Prior is as good as any pitcher in the league.
Joe Mauer Mauer is the best young catching prospect in baseball. He's been decent in parts of two seasons with the Twins. I think he'll be one of the best catchers over the next 15 years but I don't think he'll make the HOF.
Justin Morneau Morneau is good but Mark Grace was good too. John Olerud was also good. I think Morneau has a lot of Grace and Olerud in him.
Rich Harden Harden is as good as any young pitcher in the game. His numbers this season have been phenomenal. He's 9-4 with a 2.54 ERA and a 1.08 Whip. The most impressive number is his .206 batting average against. He's only 24. Harden has a very good shot if he can stay healthy.
Zach Duke Duke has only had seven starts. He's 5-0 with ridiculous numbers. Everyone else on this list has done more than Duke but I don't want to look foolish in 20 years by not having him on the under 25 list.