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November 29, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Welcome Freshmen

by Jim Baker

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The Hall of Fame released its newest ballot yesterday. Included on it were 14 first-timers--the freshman class of 2006. Today we will review their careers and the chances they have of vaulting the electrified security fence, alligator-filled moat and concertina wire that surrounds the Cooperstown shrine. In alphabetical order, the first-timers:

  1. Rick Aguilera, Doug Jones and John Wetteland: It's probably time to start gauging the candidacies of all recently-retired relievers against the accomplishments of Mariano Rivera, the one closer we know for certain belongs in the Hall of Fame. In the case of this trio, Wetteland definitely pitched the best. He had the best career NRA by about a third of a run over Jones. His career ended early, though, leaving his saves counting stat--something that hasn't impressed the voters much to this point--at 330. If Wetteland were somehow elected, he would become the HOFer with the lowest number of innings thrown with just 765. (Rivera has 806.7 and could still make it into four figures.)

  2. Albert Belle: Belle becomes a test case for the Knockin' '90s as he is the first player eligible whose career was definitely spiked by the offensive largesse of the era. Unfortunatley, it's not a clear-cut case as two major factors are involved: that his career was cut short by injury and that he was not universally loved. If the injury had not occurred and had he had a positive, or, at the very least, neutral reputation, then the voters would have the option of ignoring the context of his numbers. Instead, they can use it as a bludgeon with which to knock him back from election.

    Belle qualified for the batting title 10 times and had six seasons in which he got into double figures in WARP3. That's pretty awesome. The two position players with the highest ballot totals last year--without getting elected--were Jim Rice and Andre Dawson. Rice got into double figures in WARP3 once and Dawson never got higher than 8.6 and only broke 8.0 on two other occasions.

    Another interesting comp for Belle is Kirby Puckett in that he also had his career cut short by an injury when he was just a year older than Belle (34 to 33). Puckett waltzed into the Hall in no small part because he was loved by young and old alike. That he turned out to be something less than advertised in the character department is, at the very least, ironic. Belle's career adjusted EqA is .318 to Puckett's .296.

    Belle is not going to make the Hall anytime soon which isn't to say he's never going to make it. When all the writers he antagonized are fading from view, his image might undergo some revision and he could get in much like Hack Wilson did. It's a long shot, though.

  3. Will Clark: By the age of 28, there was every indication that Clark was on his way to Cooperstown. He had had two monster seasons (1988 and 1989) and a third year better than the best of any number of Hall of Famers (1991). After 1992, though, his playing time lessened as the injuries piled up and his career ended in his mid-30s. While his career-adjusted EqA of .312 is impressive, he did not play long enough to amass the kinds of counting stats that really rock the vote. Also, as a first baseman who only hit more than 30 homers once in a season, he is up against voter perception in the power department as well. Overall, he was an excellent player, one who deserves a spot in the exalted and mythical second-tier of Cooperstown.

  4. Gary DiSarcina: The rules are pretty simple, if you last 10 years and you've been out of the majors for five, you get a nomination. Lasting 10 years in the bigs is something very few human beings manage to do. So, congratulations to Gary DiSarcina on his nomination. It's a testament to a rare feat.

  5. Alex Fernandez: He should still be pitching, of course. He's only 36. Let's say he had stayed healthy and maintained the approximate level of proficiency that he established from 1993 to 1997. He'd be about 220-160 by now and a borderline HOF candidate. Instead, we have that rare bird: a Hall-eligible player who was done by the age of 30.

  6. Gary Gaetti: Given the paucity of third basemen in the Hall, one would assume that one who came along and poled 360 homers would be given serious consideration. Not so. Gaetti spent a good chunk of his career without ever getting mentioned among the game's elite. He only got on base a third of the time or more in a few seasons. If Ron Santo and Darrell Evans aren't in Cooperstown, Gaetti can't possibly be. Graig Nettles, Ron Cey and Robin Ventura would also be in line ahead of him. Again, this is not an assault on his career. He had a long run and retired as one of the best 30 or 35 men ever to play his position.

  7. Dwight Gooden: Will there ever come a time that Gooden will have rehabilitated his image to the point that people will begin to look at what he accomplished rather than what he failed to? Let's assume there will be. On what will he be judged and did he accomplish enough to get himself venerated?

    There are nine Hall of Fame pitchers who have career won-loss records that approximate Gooden's mark of 194-112. Looking purely at won-loss and winning percentage, Gooden probably did enough to impress voters prone to that level of assessment. Consider, though, that Gooden only posted a sub-3.00 NRA one time in his entire career, that being his unholy 1985 season when he often looked liked the greatest pitcher who ever lived. In total, his career NRA was 4.04. Where would that rank him among the nine with comparable won-loss records?

    Ed Walsh: 3.64
    Hal Newhouser: 3.68
    Dazzy Vance: 3.83
    Rube Waddell: 3.85
    Don Drysdale: 3.86
    Lefty Gomez: 3.89
    Dwight Gooden: 4.04
    Bob Lemon: 4.09
    Jack Chesbro: 4.29
    Rube Marquard: 4.67

    Marquard is easily one of the worst Hall selections ever and Chesbro was always pretty questionable, too. Beating out the most borderline members of the Hall isn't really much of a recommendation.

  8. Ozzie Guillen: Never ever as a player, even if there were a plague of boils and every other shortstop succumbed and all the records of dead shortstops were destroyed in a plague of fire. However, if he manages for another 20 years and wins a handful of big trophies along the way, his candidacy will have to be revisited in 2027.

  9. Orel Hershiser: Hershiser and Gooden were 43-7 in 1985 and 355-254 for the rest of their careers. They have very comparable NRAs. Both spent the majority of their careers in pitcher-friendly parks. Hershiser's lowest-ever NRA was 3.15 in 1988, his Cy Young Award season. Just for comparison's sake, Greg Maddux has had eight seasons lower than that figure.

  10. Gregg Jefferies: Another player who would still be at it if things had broken differently for him. He couldn't field the middle infield and couldn't hit quite enough to justify a corner spot. The tragedy of the in-betweener.

  11. Hal Morris: He lasted a pretty long time for a first baseman with so little pop.

  12. Walt Weiss: Weiss had one of the great power outages of the modern era. In 1992, he posted an Isolated Power of just 29 points. He followed that with a 42 and then moved on to Colorado. In his first two seasons there, he posted two of the four lowest-ever slugging averages in Rockies history (minimum 300 at bats):

    .276: Kirt Manwaring, 1997
    .303: Walt Weiss, 1994
    .305: Alex Cole, 1993
    .321: Walt Weiss, 1995

    He was never quite the same after his 1991 injury. Often overrated defensively.

So, the Class of 2006 has no locks and not really anybody who is close. It would be surprising to me if any of these candidates make any kind of noise in the polls over the next several years.

Related Content:  Cooperstown,  The Who,  Walt Weiss,  Year Of The Injury

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