This year I had the honor of filling out a Hall of Fame ballot for the fourth time, and as was the case with the previous three, I’m taking the time to explain my reasoning. This is something that I feel every voter should do. Filling out a ballot is a privilege that demands not only due diligence, but also transparency. That said, let’s cut to the chase.
My checkmarks went next to the names of 10 players — the maximum number allowed — seven of whom are holdovers from last year, and three of whom are new to the ballot. In alphabetical order, my votes went to Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltrán, Adrián Beltré, Todd Helton, Joe Mauer, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Chase Utley, and Billy Wagner.
Yes, Andruw Jones’s name is missing from that list. No, I am not particularly pleased by his non-inclusion. The erstwhile Atlanta Braves star had received my vote three times prior, and in a perfect world he would have again this year. But it’s not a perfect world. Again, only 10 checkmarks are allowed, and with three worthy newcomers joining eight holdovers from last year’s ballot, someone had to draw the short stick. Ultimately, I decided it would be Jones.
Who might I have dropped instead? That’s a question that would require more words to answer adequately than I have room for in this column, but I will say that a certain amount of strategic thinking went into the decision. As my esteemed colleague Jay Jaffe can attest, any thoughts of my omitting Gary Sheffield (currently polling at 71.9%) were dispelled with a reminder that this is his last year on the ballot. While the likelihood of Sheffield’s reaching the required 75% threshold isn’t high, it’s also not impossible. Conversely, Jones (currently at 62.5%, a few percentage points better than last year), has three more years of eligibility left beyond this cycle. I am likely to resume voting for him 12 months from now.
Two more things on Jones — both addressed by Jay in last month’s writeup of his candidacy — before I touch on my other choices. While acknowledging his defensive brilliance, I have long been skeptical of claims, metrics-based and otherwise, that he is the best-ever at his position, above the likes of Willie Mays, or even (yes, he belongs in the upper echelon) Kevin Kiermaier. And then there is the domestic violence issue. As Jay pointed out, Jones pled guilty to charges. The first of my four ballots included Omar Vizquel — a polarizing Hall of Fame candidate for other reasons as well — and I subsequently stopped voting for him due to his own domestic violence allegations. Respective Cooperstown-worthy bona fides aside, does Jones deserves a pass if Vizquel doesn’t?
Voting for the Hall of Fame isn’t as easy as comparing statistical accomplishments.
I will admittedly give short shrift to my other voting choices. The primary reason is that not only would I essentially be repeating my previous ballot-explainer comments — again, seven of my 10 checkmarks went to holdovers — I would largely be echoing what Jay wrote. For the most part, our opinions are simpatico. As for the three newcomers, Beltré is a no-brainer for obvious reasons; his numbers speak for themselves. Mauer — currently tracking at 82.1% — isn’t at the same level, but with three batting titles at the catcher position and an overall stellar resumé, he’s an easy choice.
And then there is Utley. If you’re small-Hall, and/or a traditionalist in terms of stats, he is a marginal candidate at best. That said, you’re reading this on FanGraphs, which significantly decreases the likelihood that you don’t understand just how good Utley was. Does that mean he’s a rubber-stamp in your opinion? Probably not. Hall of Fame-worthiness is anything but easy to determine, regardless of where you fall on the stat-geek spectrum. That includes Andruw Jones, who in this scribe’s opinion is worthy — albeit without this year’s vote due to the circumstances that be.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Spencer Jones came in at No. 1 when our New York Yankees Top Prospects list was published on December 19th. And for good reason. As Eric Longenhagen opined in his writeup, the 25th-overall pick in the 2022 draft possesses “enormous potential, with eventual 40-homer power in the tank.” Our lead prospect analyst added — this with a caveat of high risk — “as far as ceilings go… we’re talking about St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
Jones, who played his college ball at Vanderbilt University, came off as humble when I spoke to him following his promotion to Double-A Somerset in the later part of the season. Somewhat surprisingly, he downplayed his power when I asked him what he considers to be his greatest strength.
“I see myself as a speed guy more than anything,” the young outfielder replied “I feel like that’s my most valuable tool. Hitting and power… I feel like I’ve always been able to hit, but I haven’t always been a power hitter. For me, it’s about making contact, and good things happen when I put it in play.”
His numbers reflect his ability to run. Jones swiped 43 bags this year, augmenting a stat line that included 16 long balls and a 113 wRC+, as well as a 28.9% strikeout rate. Asked about his wheels, he told me that he is “twitchy for [his] size,” which he stated was currently 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds.
He has tweaked his stance and swing since getting to pro ball. Creating a shorter path to the ball has predictably been a priority for the tall slugger, and he’s done so by lowering his hands and getting his bat “a lot more vertical in the setup.”
Jones has received quality instruction since signing with the Yankees, but he maintains a strong relationship with the person who helped him build his foundation.
“I’ve had the same hitting coach since I was nine years old,” Jones told me. “He’s out in Encinitas [California] where I’m at. We go into the YMCA together and he’s been great. His name is Joe Pimentel. He worked with me when I was a little kid, and then in Little League — All-Stars and stuff like that.
”He was the first guy who taught me that my size is my advantage, that I can use my leverage and my physical tools as an advantage,” added Jones. “He’s all about efficient moves and making sure everything is patterning together. It’s not super technical, it’s more feel-based stuff. That’s how I was raised to hit.”
Two players have stolen at least one base every year since 2009. Who are they?
The answer can be found below.
The Hall of Stats website, which debuted in 2012, officially shut down on December 28. Co-founder Adam Darowski wrote an explanatory column that can be found here.
The Detroit Tigers have reportedly hired Dylan Axelrod and assigned him the title Pitching Performance and Integration Coordinator. The 38-year-old former Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds hurler has spent the last four seasons coaching in the Los Angeles Angels system.
Two former Detroit Tigers scouts have filed a lawsuit against the team, alleging that they were fired in 2020 due to age discrimination “amid a shift by the team and Major League Baseball toward younger scouts who use analytics and video to evaluate players.” (per The Detroit News.)
Carlos Pulido, a left-handed pitcher who saw action for the Minnesota Twins in 1994 and again in 2003 and 2004, died Thursday at age 52 (per Baseball Player Passings). Per his B-Ref bio page, the Caracas native was paired up against Wilson Alvarez of the Chicago White Sox on June 12, 1994 in what was the first game in MLB history that the starting pitchers from both teams were both from Venezuela. Pulito also pitched professionally in Mexico, Japan, and Taiwan.
Larry McCray, a prominent baseball historian whose primary focus was the game’s origins, died earlier this week. McCray received two of SABR’s highest honors in back-to-back years, the Henry Chadwick Award in 2017 and the Bob Davids Award in 2018.
Acquiring Estevan Florial from the New York Yankees in exchange for right-hander Cody Morris earlier this week has the makings of a shrewd move for the Cleveland Guardians. Morris has a good arm, but at age 27 and with a short-and-middling big-league resumé, he is less of a need than what Florial potentially provides. The Guardians badly need offensive oomph, and while the recently-turned-26-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder is himself largely unproven, he did put a 130 wRC+ with 28 home runs and 25 stolen bases in Triple-A this past season. With the caveat that his handful of big-league cups of coffee have been wholly uninspiring, he retains enough upside that the move makes sense for a Cleveland club that struggled to score runs in 2023. Compared to the majority of teams, they possess enough pitching.
Eric Longenhagen will have more on the Morris-Florial swap in the coming days.
Which of Bill Freehan, Thurman Munson, and Yadier Molina is most Hall of Fame-worthy? I asked that question regarding the three former catchers in a Twitter poll on Friday, and the results were more or less what I expected them to be. Along with being recency-biased, they were very much debatable.
Molina won the poll easily, garnering a healthy 57.3% of the 1,293 votes cast while Munson finished second with 31.9% and Freehan received a mere 10.8%.
Here is a snapshot of their respective numbers and awards:
Freehan: 1,591 hits, 200 HRs, 113 wRC+, 44.8 bWAR, five Gold Gloves, 11 All-Star appearances.
Molina: 2,168 hits, 176 HRs, 97 wRC+, 42.3 bWAR, nine Gold Gloves,10 All-Star appearances.
Munson: 1,558 hits, 113 HRs, 116 wRC+, 46.1 bWAR, three Gold Gloves, seven All-Star appearances.
Note that the above WAR totals are bWAR and fWAR. The latter includes framing — a Molina strength — whereas both Freehan (1961-1976) and Munson (1969-1979) played prior to framing being measured. By and large, comparing catcher WAR over eras is a tenuous exercise. That said, Molina’s edge in fWAR is clear, 55.6 to Freehan’s 44.8 and Munson’s 40.9. Make of it what you will.
Given the dearth of catchers in Cooperstown, one could reasonably argue that all three merit enshrinement. As for which of them is most deserving of the honor… let’s just say I’m not convinced that it is the longtime St. Louis Cardinal. The late Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees stalwarts — themselves one-franchise players — were every bit as good.
Alex Skepton is slashing .375/.444/.675 with six home runs in 88 plate appearances for the Australian Baseball League’s Brisbane Bandits. The 22-year-old outfielder — a native of Queensland — leads the ABL in BA, OBP, and SLG.
Riley Unroe has 15 stolen bases in as many attempts and is slashing .267/.387/.302 in 143 plate appearances for the Mexican Pacific Winter League’s Sultanes de Monterrey, The 28-year-old infielder in the Seattle Mariners system had 19 steals and a 101 wRC+ this year between Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma.
Victor Morales is 4-2 with a 1.05 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 25-and-two-thirds innings for the Mexican Pacific Winter League’s Venados de Mazatlan. The 22-year-old right-hander hasn’t pitched in affiliated baseball stateside.
Victor Reyes has signed with the KBO’s Lotte Giants. The 29-year-old outfielder played for the Detroit Tigers from 2018-2022 before spending this past season with the Chicago White Sox Triple-A affiliate.
Kazuto Taguchi signed a three-year deal this week to remain with NPB’s Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and in doing so stated that he hopes to move to MLB in the not-too-distant future. The 28-year-old left-hander, who will obtain international free agent rights after next season, had 36 saves and a 1.86 ERA over 50 relief appearances for the Swallows this year.
There’s absolutely nothing mandating that players elected need to meet certain scientific criteria beyond having played 10 seasons. It’s great to know where a guy like Colon stacks up historically; but I would love to see more voters moving forward vote on guys that were fan favorites.
This is a valid opinion IMO. I seriously considered putting a checkmark next to Colon’s name, and the popularity/fame quotient was part of the reason why. Paired with a Cy Young Award, 247 wins, and a hefty-for-this-era innings total, it makes “Big Sexy” an intriguing, if not worthy, candidate.
I’m of the opinion that Tommy John merits a plaque in Cooperstown for similar reasons. The southpaw’s numbers (outside of the longevity-related ones) may not rank with the best of the best, but to say that he’s a household name would be stating the obvious. That matters. Or at least it should.
Tommy John is undeniably an important part of baseball history. In terms of popularity within this generation’s fanbase, Bartolo Colon is pretty darn important himself. While I didn’t find room for him on my ballot, I have no quibbles with anyone who did.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Longtime Orioles scribe Rich Dubroff wrote a fan letter to a relatively obscure big-league pitcher in 1971, and more than five decades later they met for the first time over lunch. Dubroff wrote about the experience at Baltimore Baseball.
Twinkie Town’s John Foley took a nuanced look at platoon splits.
MLB.com’s David Adler gave us a rundown of Statcast’s top plays of 2023.
Young-and-eager job-seekers annually attend the Winter Meetings to chase the dream of working in baseball. Travis Sawchik wrote about it at The Score.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Mitch Garver — signed by the Mariners earlier this week — is 0-for-31 at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park. He is 9-for-23 with four home runs at New York’s Citi Field.
Henry Aaron had three five-hit games in his 23-year MLB career. Luis Arraez had three five-hit games this season, all in the month of June. Barry Bonds never had a five-hit game. He had three games with five walks.
Dizzy Dean went 134-75 with a 132 ERA+ in 1,737 innings as a St. Louis Cardinal. Harry “The Cat” Brecheen went 128-79 with a 133 ERA+ in 1,790 innings as a St. Louis Cardinal.
The Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Senators purchased Dazzy Vance from the New York Yankees on today’s date in 1919. The Hall of Fame right-hander later led the National League in strikeouts every year from 1922-1928 pitching for the Brooklyn Robins.
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Fred McGriff as a free agent on today’s date in 2002. The “Crime Dog”went on to log 13 home runs and a 98 wRC+ with the Dodgers in what was his penultimate big-league season.
Players born on today’s date include Joe Simpson, an outfielder who logged 338 hits, including nine home runs, while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, and Kansas City Royals from 1975-1983. Simpson has been part of the Atlanta Braves broadcast team since 1992.
Also born on today’s date was Hall of Fame catcher/outfielder King Kelly, whose big-league career comprised the 1878-1893 seasons. A two-time National League batting champion with the Chicago White Stockings, Kelly was — per his SABR BioProject biography — “professional baseball’s first matinee idol: the first ballplayer to “author” an autobiography, the first to have a hit song written about him, and the first to have a successful acting career outside the game.”