Monday, August 17, 2009

Will the Real Hall of Famers Please Stand Up

There is no question that the ongoing undressing of the steroid-era has minimized the accomplishments of today’s best hitters. It’s tough not to be skeptical of everyone when the list of All-Star “juicers” keeps growing seemingly by the week. The fact that the players who have been “outed” have been some of the top power-hitters in baseball history makes fans skeptical of every power-hitting achievement. Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, and David Ortiz have been four of the most prolific hitters of this decade; all have “steroid user” under their resume. The same goes for virtually every elite home run hitter of the 90’s. Skepticism reigns and it probably will for some time.

Meanwhile, power numbers have fallen to pre-steroid era levels which may indicate that drug-use has been somewhat eradicated from the game. Still, it remains to be seen how HOF voters will treat "clean" players achieving old benchmarks moving forward. It’s possible that they’ll throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak and eliminate 500 home runs as a milestone all together. I don’t think that will happen but it certainly could. There is no question that steroid-use had marginalized the 500 HR-milestone temporarily but it is too important of a mark to lose all together. Plus, the 60 and 70 home run seasons are long gone. In fact, 40-home run seasons have even become an endangered species. The AL Home Run Champ last season—M. Cabrera—had just 37 home runs and this year’s AL leader likely won’t reach 40 either. You have to go back to 1983 to find two consecutive AL seasons without a 40-home run hitter. After 15 years of Zimbabwe level inflation, the value of a home run is back to face value. For active players who haven’t sniffed a positive drug test that should mean the reinstatement of the significance of the 500 HR milestone.

Players from this era—players who have not been associated with drug use—may have a difficult time getting the recognition that a “clean” player deserves because of the transgressions of their colleagues. Carlos Delgado is one example of a "clean" player whose numbers haven't been respected because they pale in comparison to the power-hitting juicers that he played with earlier in his career. Steroid-users are going to have a very difficult time getting into the HOF; we know that. What some might not know, however, is which "clean" players are going to be left standing when judgments are eventually passed. Some of the names are obvious while others not so much. Here are the current "clean" MLB hitters who are likely headed to the Hall of Fame. I would not be surprised if one or more of these players gets busted for cheating sometime down the road. For the time being, though, I’ll assume they’re clean.

Albert Pujols


Vladimir Guerrero

.322 career batting average; 13 consecutive seasons hitting over .300; 147 OPS+; He is a lock even if his career ended today.

Jim Thome

Nobody has had their accomplishments damaged more by the steroid-era than Thome. He has 563 home runs—good for 12th all-time—and nobody cares. Fifteen years ago, that would’ve been good for 6th all-time. Fans have become numb to gaudy home run totals. Thome won’t have a problem getting into the Hall of Fame but it’s unlikely he’ll be regarded as the top (clean) home run hitter of his generation as he should be. Don’t be surprised to see him finish in the top five all-time passing Ken Griffey Jr. along the way.

Carlos Delgado

I won’t call Delgado a “lock” because of what I discussed earlier but it would take an abrupt ending to his career to keep him from reaching the HOF. He’ll probably reach 500 home runs and 1,650 RBIs. No “clean” player has ever been kept out with either mark let alone both.

Ken Griffey Jr.

It’s sad to think how much more damage he could’ve done without the injuries.

Chipper Jones

He is probably the second most underrated player of his generation but his “value” has taken a big hit because of the bizarre number of injuries that he continues to suffer. I have seen a lot of baseball and I have never seen a player suffer more injuries than Chipper Jones. Nonetheless, he is one of the greatest third basemen of all-time even if nobody knows it.

Todd Helton

The steroid-era might actually help Helton. He has played his entire career at Coors Field where numbers aren’t taken seriously. Larry Walker hit over .360 three times for the Rockies and won’t sniff the Hall of Fame. However, when it comes to discounting numbers, "steroids" will likely usurp "Coors Field" in a major way. Voters will likely be more enamored with the way he achieved his numbers--cleanly--rather than where he achieved them. That might not have happened without the steroid-era. Helton has a .328 batting average and a 141 OPS+. If he played anywhere else in America, he would be a first ballot HOFer. If he stays in Colorado, he should have a good shot at 3,000 hits which would render this moot. BTW—Larry Walker should be in the Hall of Fame. Look for a post on that sometime soon.

Lance Berkman

Fat Elvis is the most underrated hitter in a long, long time. He is a career-.300 hitter. He has nearly a 1:1 K:BB ratio. He has six 100-RBI seasons including three over 125. His OPS+ is through the roof at 147. I get the feeling that this switch-hitting masher has a lot of baseball left. He’ll easily reach Hall of Fame numbers and, subsequently, the Hall of Fame.

Adam Dunn

I’m not sure if Dunn is severely underrated or just severely misunderstood. If you ever want to intentionally frustrate yourself, wander over to the “comments” section of an article about Adam Dunn and trade rumors. There you will find the dumbest baseball fans in America. Or, you could just strike up a conversation with J.P. Ricciardi. Dunn is on pace to reach 40+ home runs for the sixth consecutive season. Babe Ruth holds the MLB record with seven. Only seven players in MLB history have walked more by the age of 28. All the Dunn detractors want to talk about are his strike-outs. Don’t tell them that Albert Pujols led MLB in double plays (GIDP) in 2007. Once people understand that it doesn’t matter how you get out—other than sacrifice situations, obviously— rather it matters how often you get out and what you do when you don't get out, then Dunn will take his rightful place as one of the great power-hitters of all-time.


He’s 35 and hitting .360. He will also reach 2,000 hits in September after just nine seasons. The only other player to do it faster was nobody!

Derek Jeter

Jeter has his eyes set on Pete Rose’s hits-record.

Mark Teixeira

Teixeira is the AL version of Lance Berkman. Fortunately for Tex, he escaped the obscurity of Texas—something Berkman hasn’t been able to do. Now that he’s mashing for the Yankees, you’ll see his profile skyrocket. He’s putting the finishing touches on a sixth consecutive 30 hr/100 RBI-season. Since he’s only 29, I’d say we can expect quite a few more.

Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau, Chase Utley, Matt Holliday, Prince Fielder, David Wright, and Joe Mauer are all headed for Cooperstown barring injury but they still have a long, long way to go so I figured I'd help delay the onset of arthritis in my fingers just a little bit longer by focusing on the more accomplished cases.

Fringe cases:

Another byproduct of the steroid-era could be that voters may decide to focus their efforts on unconventional players rather than the usual power-hitters. If that happens, then these four players stand to have their odds of making it to the HOF increase:

Omar Vizquel

Nobody benefited from the steroid-era more than Vizquel. The nasty aftertaste of cheating will only make voters appreciate the "finer" things in baseball like longevity and defense—even if it means artificially raising the value of a player who obviously should not be elected to the Hall of Fame. Whoever thinks Vizquel should be in the Hall of Fame should be forced to own and manage a baseball team that has a). the best defenders in MLB at every position and b). no player with an OPS above .700. I’d love to see how that works out.

Johnny Damon

Damon—another player who really shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame—is another player who’s career will look much better than it was through the lenses of anti-steroid vitriol. Damon might actually cement his status as a HOFer on his own since he has an outside chance of reaching 3,000 hits. Otherwise, he’s just a slightly above average hitter. His career OPS+ is just 105. However, Damon has scored A LOT of runs (nine consecutive seasons of 100+), made a killing off of the New York/Boston rivalry and played in enough postseason games that his profile is bloated enough that Hall of Fame induction seems more and more likely by the day.

Bobby Abreu

Abreu’s power outage after winning the 2006 Home Run Derby was pretty weird. However, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. That was just when home runs were going out of style. The rest of Abreu’s resume is stellar. He has a .300 batting average with a 132 OPS+. He has a .405 career OBP. He has 342 stolen bases. He has an outside chance of becoming the first player in MLB history with 300+ home runs, 350+ stolen bases, and a .300+ batting average. He should get close to 3,000 hits. If voters are set to appreciate a more diverse skillset due to a home run backlash, then Abreu could stand to benefit.

Michael Young

Young is working on his 6th 200-hit season. I don’t think any of his other statistics even matter after that. Voters will love themselves some Michael Young when his time for judgment comes.


Anonymous said...

Jake, will you please give Omar a break. I would gladly take the best fielding guy at a position with an ops that is comparable to his position. Heck, his average OPS+ for his career is the same as Greg Gagne's, and Greg Gagne was good. For a comparable shortstop now, look no further than Orlando Cabrera, 86. I would love to have a slick fielding Cabrera on my team, or, Omar Vizquel.

Jake said...


These aren't the same arguments. Whether I would take Vizquel on my team or whether he hits as well as Greg Gagne--someone who hasn't sniffed the HOF and someone who shouldn't be classified as "good", has nothing to do with whether he should be in the Hall of Fame. There have been a lot of good defensive players who have been below average at the plate who never sniff the HOF. Where is the love for Jim Kaat if defense is so important? Not only did he win 283 games, but he won 16 GG's. If defense is so great that it allows a player with an OPS+ of 83 to get into the HOF, then why doesn't it get a pitcher with 283 wins in?

Vizquel is not a Hall of Fame caliber player. It might have been acceptable back in the day for shorstops to produce horrible numbers at the plate but with Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Michael Young, Hanley Ramirez, Cal Ripken Jr., Miguel Tejada, Barry Larkin, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Robin Yount, Nomar Garciaparra and Alan Trammell, that position is no longer a throw away in terms of run production.

I would love a baseball statistician to show that Vizquel's defense was just so unbelievable that it was good enough to not only offset his 83 OPS+ but offset so much that it makes him a Hall of Famer. Until I see anything that remotely suggests that, I have no reason to think that Vizquel was anything other than any average overall baseball player.

That said, there's a good chance he gets in anyway. Take care.


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