Monday, July 16, 2007

MLB Hall of Fame Projections

Two years ago I took on the task of identifying active Major League Baseball players who appear to be headed for the Hall of Fame. You can read those projections from 2005 along with a brief description of what factors I used to make those projections if you want a refresher. I’ll be using the same parameters this time around so please check out the ’05 link for any clarifications and to see how I viewed things two years ago.

In 2005, I projected 37 active players—25 or older—to make the Hall of Fame. My preliminary findings this time around suggest that number will be considerably higher if you can believe it. I don’t want to get carried away by projecting too many players into the HOF but I do think we are in the midst of a rare situation as baseball fans. There are at least 21 active players 35 or older who appear to be headed for Cooperstown. That means that in the next 3-5 years, MLB will be losing a monumental collection of talent. This is an extraordinary time to be a baseball fan. Twenty years from now, our children will look back to this time and talk about how lucky we were to witness such a vast collection of historically significant players.

I have changed my mind on a few careers over the last two years. The most notable involve Johan Santana and David Ortiz. Santana is a virtual lock at this point which is saying something considering he has only pitched full-time as a starter for four seasons. Ortiz still has a lot of work to do but he is on his way barring a Mo Vaughn/Albert Belle-type career-ending injury. I have not, however, changed my mind on Johnny Damon or Omar Vizquel’s chances.

I’ll be going position by position starting with catcher. I'll probably be doing one position each week. As always, feel free to agree or disagree.

Here are the categories that I will be using to breakdown the candidates and a brief description of each category: The “Lock” and “Likely” categories will be counted as being projected into the Hall of Fame. There won’t be too many “Borderline” candidates but I’ll decide those projections on a case by case basis. I will not count players under 25 regardless of my opinion but I’ll identify players under 25 who seem to be off to excellent starts.

Lock: Barring steroid scandal, will be a Hall of Famer
Likely: Player is on the path based on career progression
Borderline: Pretty close to 50/50
Not Likely: Almost no chance; would take an unexpected resurgence
Under 25: Players that have a good start to a potential HOF career

Active Hall of Fame Catchers

Getting into the MLB Hall of Fame as a catcher is quite a difficult task. There are only 14 in the Hall of Fame which is the second lowest of all positions (Third Base is the lowest with 11 members). The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) has only voted in three catchers since 1973. The position is physically grueling often resulting in shorter or less effective careers. The position is also extremely demanding mentally which likely takes a toll on offensive statistics. Those factors make it incredibly difficult to put together the combination of production and longevity necessary to garner consideration for the Hall of Fame as a catcher. However, there are at least two active Hall of Fame catchers in MLB with the potential for a couple more.

Locks (2)

Pudge Rodriguez

Pudge is a lock. In fact, he will probably be in the discussion of greatest catcher to ever play once he retires. It wasn’t too long ago that he was overshadowed by Mike Piazza. Once Piazza’s offense started to tail off, Pudge’s combination of defense and hitting propelled him to the top of the list among active catchers in most minds. He has 12 Gold Gloves and an MVP Award to go along with a .304 career batting average. Pudge will likely become the first catcher in MLB history with 3,000 career hits.

Mike Piazza

I’m not sure if Piazza is more known for his offensive prowess or his defensive shortcomings. I do know that you don’t hear too many descriptions of Piazza without both being mentioned prominently. Piazza had eight-straight seasons with 32+ home runs and 90+ RBIs. He finished second in the NL MVP voting twice and finished in the top ten seven times. His career batting average is eighth among active players at.309. His career OPS is an astounding .928 compared to Pudge’s .823. Piazza is easily the greatest offensive catcher to play the game. His defensive shortcomings will likely result in Pudge being regarded as the best catcher of his era.

Not Likely

Victor Martinez

The way his career is going right now, Martinez will not make the Hall of Fame. He needs ten more seasons of superb play to garner consideration. He got a relatively late start at the age of 25. His defense is in the Mike Piazza realm having only thrown out 23% of would-be base stealers. He only has 77 career home runs at the age of 28. If 2007 is any indication, though, Martinez may make a push over the next ten years. He has a career batting average of .304. He is working on his fourth straight season of 80+ RBIs and 30+ doubles. Martinez would really have to have an offensive explosion and reach some difficult career marks and I don’t see those things happening.

Jorge Posada

Posada is currently in the midst of the best offensive season of his career. He is hitting .330 with a .925 OPS. The problem with Posada’s resume is that he didn’t play more than 112 games in a season until he was 29 years old. That explains why his career totals are much lower than what most would think. He only has 1262 career hits at the age of 35. His best credentials are his World Series appearances. He has played in five World Series and was a member of three World Series Champions. There is no question that Posada has been one of the top five catchers of his generation but a slow start and average hitting skills will keep him out of Cooperstown.

Javy Lopez

Lopez’s career numbers are almost identical to Posada’s. In fact, here is how they look side to side:
-----------Age--Hits----HR---R----RBI---Avg.—Slg%---OBP—--OPS—Best MVP Rk.
Posada---35----1262---208--700—821--.274---.475---.377----.852—3rd (2003)
Lopez----35----1527---260--674—864--.287---.491---.337----.828—5th (2003)

Both only had one top-20 MVP finish and it happened, coincidentally, in the same season. Posada has had the luxury of playing in and winning more World Series. Lopez won one and lost one with the Braves. Both have been among the top five catchers in the league throughout their careers but considering that there have only been 14 catchers selected to the Hall of Fame, being a top five catcher in the league isn’t enough to merit a selection.

Jason Kendall

Kendall has very good career numbers, not only for a catcher but, for any position. He has a .298 career batting average. He has over 1,800 career hits and he just turned 33. He could very well finish with 2,500+ career which no catcher in MLB history has accomplished (Pudge will likely be the first later this season). Unfortunately, Kendall’s power numbers are among the worst in baseball. He has 15 home runs in his last six seasons. His career OBP is very good at .375 but his slugging percentage is horrendous at .395. Kendall has consistently been among the top ten catchers in the league but falls a ways short of garnering Hall of Fame attention.

Under 25 to keep an eye on:

Joe Mauer

Mauer is only 24-years old so I’m projecting quite a bit here but I’m confident that he’ll be a Hall of Famer if he can avoid injury. He already has an AL Batting Title under his belt. He finished 6th in the AL MVP voting at the age of 23. He has a career batting average of .318. He has more career walks than strikeouts and he bats clean-up. He is easily the most talented all-around catcher that I have ever watched. He is a long career ahead of him but I think he’ll go down as one of the all-time greats.

Brian McCann

McCann is playing in his third season at the ripe age of 23. He already has two All-Star game appearances. He finished 6th in the NL batting race with a .333 in ’06. That same season, he hit 24 HRs with 92 RBIs. His OPS was through the roof for a catcher at .960. He has more pop than Mauer but he doesn’t appear to have Mauer’s overall game. His ’07 campaign hasn’t been nearly as impressive but I can’t imagine a better start to a career for a catcher outside of Minnesota.

Final Projected Catchers (2)

Pudge Rodriguez
Mike Piazza

No comments:


Powered by Blogger