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January 10, 2013

Pebble Hunting

When the Teams That Don't Have Hall of Famers Yet Will Have Hall of Famers

by Sam Miller

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Without a Hall of Fame inductee this year, there will remain seven franchises that have never had a Hall of Famer go in wearing their hat. One of those teams—the Astros—got ever so close this year, and even in next year’s oversaturated ballot, Craig Biggio stands an excellent chance of being inducted; it would be a surprise if he and Bagwell aren’t both in by this time in 2020. When will the other six franchises get to celebrate their first Hall of Famer?

Earliest it could happen: 2017
Vladimir Guerrero comes up a bit short on JAWS, he didn’t meet any of the big milestones ending in double zeroes, and you can find a fair number of corner guys who out-WARPed him. But he does well by the Keltner standards and his MVP shares, memorable style of play, and Teh Fear suggest he’ll get plenty of support from future voters. But it’s almost a coin flip whose hat he would wear:

  • Expo: 1,004 games, four All-Star games, 234 home runs, 36.3 WARP
  • Angel: 846 games, four All-Star games, 173 homers, 25.1 WARP, MVP award, three top-three MVP finishes, 29 postseason games

Latest it could happen: Around 2036
Quoting a piece from May,

Since 1950, five players have led their teams in WARP at age 20. They are Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson,Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez. If Trout, as a 20-year-old, can manage to produce more WARP than Pujols—and Trumbo, and Kendrick, whom he trails thus far—it would be about the finest thing you could ever say about a kid.

Trout didn’t just lead his team, he led baseball, by more than two wins. There are no sure things, but the only precedent for a modern player playing at an MVP level by the age of 20 and not making the Hall of Fame is Vada Pinson. Pinson, the one failure in the category, retired with more WARP than Jim Rice.  

Not out of the question, but lots of work and good luck necessary:
Mike Scioscia. A manager gets into the conversation when he wins a second World Series with a second core of players. If Scioscia’s Angels win the World Series this year, he would have the rings, the winning percentage, the reputation and plenty of years ahead to bolster his case. He’s only 54, though, and even if he gets there he might not beat Trout.
Jered Weaver. Not one of the half-dozen active pitchers you’d bet on right now, but hasn’t done anything to eliminate himself from contention, and plenty of players get in based on strong second decades. I found a newspaper article yesterday from July 1985 (a couple months after Morris turned 30) touting Jack Morris as a future Hall of Famer. It was interesting to me because I’ve always thought of the dumb Morris HOF case as being centered around that one start in the World Series and that arbitrary “most wins in the 1980s” stat. But, in fact, plenty of writers saw Morris as a Hall of Famer before either of those things. Anyway, through age-29:

  • Morris: 107-75, 3.66, 110 ERA+, 10.2 WARP (!), two top-three Cy Young finishes
  • Weaver: 102-52, 3.24, 128 ERA+, 19.8 WARP, two top-three Cy Young finishes

Earliest it could happen: 2015
My first instinct was that Randy Johnson would go in as a Mariner, based on longevity. But the gap between his accomplishments in Seattle and in Arizona is tremendous:

  • Mariner: One Cy Young award, four top-three finishes, 266 starts, 128 ERA+, 
  • Diamondback: Four consecutive Cy Young awards, 232 starts, 164 ERA+, perfect game, 20 Ks in nine innings, World Series MVP

Johnson’s second stint with the Diamondbacks, when he wasn’t much good and did little to add to his Hall of Fame case, probably adds enough to his Diamondbacks case.

Latest it could happen: Sometime between 100 million years and 10^10^56 years, depending on mankind’s ability to adapt.
There’s not really a next-likely candidate for Arizona, assuming Curt Schilling doesn’t wear a Diamondbacks hat if he goes in. Justin Upton is the best bet for a Hall of Fame career—disappointing as last season was, his 12.9 WARP through age 24 puts him on a pace with some Hall of Famers (Paul Molitor), some deserving Hall of Famers (Bobby Grich), and some not (Travis Fryman). Just based on similar WARPs at a similar age, Upton’s got about a 30 percent chance of making the Hall. Given the fortnightly trade rumors around him, though, the chances he goes in as a Diamondback are far lower.
The current WARP leaders in Diamondbacks history were either quickly rejected by the BBWAA or will be someday: Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Chris Young.

Earliest it could happen: 2029
Two years ago, Carl Crawford would have been a solid bet, right around the line that separates future Hall of Famers from non. But two lost years make this unlikely even if Crawford recovers his pre-Boston skills. Nine seasons at a four-win level would put him around Tim Raines in career WARP, and seven such seasons would have him in the Alomar-Biggio range. He’s 31.

Latest it could happen: 2033
Evan Longoria is about halfway to a Hall of Fame JAWS score, and it took him just five seasons. He’s 26, and his 26 career WARP put him behind most of the inner-circle Hall of Famers but ahead of the near-misses. There are obviously things that could go wrong, as Grady Sizemore (24 WARP through age 26) shows. And a HOF JAWS score doesn’t guarantee the Hall of Fame, particularly for most players with a great deal of value tied up in defense. But Longoria’s generally strong MVP finishes will buffer him against anonymous greatness.

Earliest it could happen: 2016
Well, earliest it could happen is in 2015, if Randy Johnson goes in as a Mariner. Or 2014, if Edgar Martinez more than doubles his vote tally after four years of almost no movement. But otherwise, Ken Griffey, Jr. hits the ballot in 2016. Griffey and Jeff Bagwell were almost identical by WARP and were close on MVP shares, but where Bagwell is left off ballots by pearl-clutching PED-protest voters, Griffey’s evidence-free reputation for cleanness could inspire the opposite reaction.

Latest it could happen: 2016.
But if, supposing, that somehow Griffey doesn’t get in—if there’s a bombshell SI article linking him to HGH, or if 26 percent of voters follow through on a promise to shut out that entire generation of players—the Mariners won’t have to wait much longer. Ichiro is 39 now, and though a first-ballot snub wouldn’t be a surprise, he should be inducted within a decade.

Some work necessary:
Felix Hernandez has had almost the same career as Jered Weaver,

  • Weaver: 102-52, 3.24, 128 ERA+, 19.8 WARP, two top-three Cy Young finishes
  • Hernandez: 98-76, 3.22, 127 ERA+, 18.8 WARP, two top-three Cy Young finishes (one win)

but is three years younger than Weaver is. He is also coming off a season in which he set career bests for strikeout, walk, and home-run rates. But if we use wins as an extremely simple proxy for Hall of Famability, Felix is still a good decade away from guaranteeing his induction. Since 1945, 15 pitchers have won more games through age 26 than Hernandez has. One, CC Sabathia, is still active, and of the other 14, just five made the Hall.

Alex Rodriguez, if you’re wondering, has now played nearly twice as many games in New York, and at a higher level, than in Seattle.

Earliest it could happen: 2015
Gary Sheffield is basically Vladimir Guerrero without all the warm and fuzzy feelings or the hardware, but with one significant milestone and a huge WARP advantage.

  • Guerrero: 2,147 games, 63 WARP, 449 home runs, 2,590 hits, 2.94 MVP shares (one win)
  • Sheffield: 2,576 games, 76 WARP, 509 home runs, 2,689 hits, 2.48 career MVP shares

It should be noted that WARP is the outlier for Sheffield. Baseball-Reference has the players almost equal (56 WAR for Sheffield, 55.2 Guerrero), and FanGraphs gives Sheffield a more modest advantage (66.7 to 59.8). Regardless, Sheffield would probably make it in if he had Guerrero’s personality, but he doesn’t, so he won’t, especially if steroid rage hasn’t subsided in time to clear the overcrowded ballot by 2015. If he does go in, the Marlins cap will fit as well as any: he played more seasons in Florida than anywhere else, played well in the Marlins’ World Series run, and made three All-Star teams as a Marlin. It’s between the Marlins and the Dodgers, but Sheffield doesn’t really feel like anything, so it’s anybody’s guess.

Latest it could happen: It might never.
Giancarlo Stanton is the young hotness, but who knows how long he’ll be in Florida. As to whether he’ll play at a Hall of Fame level, Matthew Trueblood is not optimistic:

Stanton is a huge, hulking man. As David Price of the Rays recently revealed on Twitter, Tampa Bay players call Stanton “Create-a-player,” because his huge frame and athleticism seem like something from the architectural mind of an adolescent video-game player. That’s great, but it’s also scary. Guys that big, strong and fast (Stanton is no burner, but he has good range and finds his stride quickly) get hurt more easily, simply because they put far more pressure on their joints and bones than the average player.

Stanton has run into this problem already, though he turned 23 after the 2012 season ended. Soreness in his lower back shut him down during the 2009 Arizona Fall League. A right quadriceps strain bothered him for four weeks during Spring Training in 2011, and he went on to miss a half-dozen games in September with a hamstring strain in the same leg.

In 2012, a sore left knee followed him through the final three weeks of Spring Training, and very slightly into the season. Then, in early July, his right knee flared up. Tests found loose bodies in the area, and he had surgery just before the All-Star break. He missed 25 games with that injury, then another nine in September when he strained his right oblique muscle.

Back, hamstring, knees, oblique. That’s an ugly quartet of injury areas for an oversized guy in his early 20s.

So okay we’ll see.

Not out of the question, but lots of work and good luck necessary:
Hanley Ramirez is basically in the same place, WARP-wise, that Crawford was before he went to Boston. What did I say about Crawford about six minutes ago? “Two years ago, Carl Crawford would have been a solid bet, right around the line that separates future Hall of Famers from non.” Huh. Because it doesn’t really seem like Hanley Ramirez is a particularly solid bet right now, though maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on career momentum. Through age 28, he, Rafael Furcal, Troy Tulowitzki, Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes are virtually indistinguishable in player value; only Tulowitzki strikes me as a HOF-level player on that list. All are well behind Nomar Garciaparra, Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin, Jim Fregosi. So maybe it’s not that Hanley is a solid bet so much as a guy with a shot but work to do—nine more years at three-win levels, roughly.

Earliest it could happen: 2025
Larry Walker made my ballot, but he’s not close to getting 75 percent in the real world and could fall off completely in next year’s crowded field. That leaves Todd Helton. It’s real hard to imagine Helton making it in, barring three out-of-nowhere good seasons taking him into his 40s. He’s the Rockies’ best bet, though, with 53.6 WARP and an above-average JAWS score already. Perhaps in a decade, the average voter will understand park factors well enough to distinguish the advantage Colorado gave Helton from Helton’s actual, tremendous ability. His OPS+ of 135 is certainly high enough for a Hall of Fame first baseman. There are a few guys in history who played at least 2,000 games with a better OPS+ than Helton and who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, but only a few: Norm Cash, Sherry Magee, and seven players still on the ballot, or not yet on the ballot.

Latest it could happen: 2034, or beyond.
I’d like to think Tulowitzki will make it, but, as noted in the shortstops-through-28 comparison above, he’s not really an obvious standout yet. (He’s just 27, to be fair.) There’s no next-best candidate, though. Carlos Gonzalez is a year younger and has just half the WARP. Matt Holliday could build a Hall of Fame career, but he’s locked up in St. Louis long enough to put Colorado out of most people’s memories. Ubaldo Jimenez of all people is the bet bet among pitchers, and it’s not even close (and he’s not even close). With a bit of whimsy you could say Trevor Story or Nolan Arenado, but not with a straight face yet.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

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