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December 30, 2009

Prospectus Today

Virtual Hall-Worthy Selections

by Joe Sheehan

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I hadn't realized it until I went looking, but I've been pretty good about doing a Hall of Fame ballot each year. Mock, of course-I'm at least 11 years from having one, probably more, barring eligibility changes-but a fun exercise nonetheless. It can be a challenge to keep it fresh, as there are only so many ways to point out that Bert Blyleven is one of the 50 best starting pitchers in history, would raise the Hall standards for the position, and should therefore be elected.

This year's ballot features 15 new names, a surprising number of which deserve consideration and even induction. Of the 15, 11 can be dismissed respectfully with the idea that simply making a ballot is quite an honor in and of itself: Kevin Appier, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, and Todd Zeile. By the way, writing that list of names made me want to cry; I'm so old that guys whose entire careers I remember are now being dismissed as Hall candidates. Shoot me now.

Of the four others, you have Roberto Alomar, who is something like the seventh- or eighth-best second baseman in history, and deserves swift induction. We may remember Alomar for the negatives-spitting in John Hirschbeck's face or the steep drop-off after 2001 that ended his career abruptly-but Alomar was a great player who had a broad base of skills, a second baseman who had five top-ten and two top-five MVP finishes, and someone who contributed to two World Series winners and seven postseason teams. While the 10 Gold Gloves Alomar won may have overstated his defensive prowess-early range-based statistics did not treat him well-his bat (2724 hits, 210 HR, .300/.371/.443) and legs (474 SB at an 80.6 percent success rate) make him a slam-dunk candidate for the Hall. Alomar is clearly more qualified than Ryne Sandberg, and was the game's best second baseman between Joe Morgan and our curiosity as to what Chase Utley may become.

Also on the ballot for the first time is Barry Larkin. As with Alomar, the first thing that comes to mind may not be his power/speed combination, his range afield, or his reputation as one of the smartest players in the game. No, you'll remember the time lost to injuries; in his 16 full seasons not interrupted by a work stoppage, Larkin averaged 126 games a year. That fragility cost him counting stats and MVP votes; you wonder what a full year of Larkin playing as he did in 1989 or 1993 or 1997 would have done for his award totals. He did win an MVP, in one of the most fractured votes ever in 1995, then finished 12th the next year while having one of the best seasons any player had in the decade. Larkin played longer than Alomar did-19-seasons, but all the missing time means he lags behind Alomar in every counting stat. When you compare Larkin to Hall shortstops, you find that he clearly belongs in Cooperstown. I don't think he gets there immediately, but Larkin will be inducted within his first five years on the ballot.

The two complete players should be in. The two sluggers I have more concerns about. Fred McGriff was one of my favorite players during his career, with that pretty left-handed swing, a great nickname and an aura of quiet class. It didn't hurt that he always had great Strat cards. (It did hurt that the Yankees traded him away for next to nothing.) I expected to be a lot more impressed by his Hall credentials, but Jay Jaffe's analysis gave me pause. McGriff actually comes in below the average Hall first baseman in JAWS, which isn't the be-all, end-all, but it was surprising. McGriff's total lack of speed and so-so defense limited his on-field value. He does have a series of other markers, such as playing for a number of winning teams, helping the 1993 Braves catch the Giants, and performing very well (.308/.385/.532) in the postseason. The JAWS figure, though, carries the day for now, and I would not add him to my virtual ballot.

The same goes for Edgar Martinez. It's not that I object to putting a DH in the Hall of Fame. It's just that the standard for doing so has to be incredibly high. Martinez, thanks in part to the criminally incompetent Mariners of the late 1980s, racked up just 2247 hits and 309 homers, figures that would be extremely low for a bat-only Hall of Famer. Also holding his stats down were some injuries that would keep him off the field and lead to his move to DH. The combination makes Martinez a great rate-stats candidate, but with career numbers that are terribly low and no defensive value. I just don't know if a player whose case is "a great peak as a DH" can be a Hall of Famer, and that goes for the inevitable candidacy of David Ortiz as well. There needs to be longevity as well, and Martinez doesn't have that the way a Hall of Fame hitter does. I'll keep him off my ballot this time around.

As far as the returnees go, I've been heard on all of them. Harold Baines, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, and Lee Smith fall short. Blyleven, Mark McGwire, and Tim Raines are fully qualified and should be in. Andre Dawson has a stronger case now that a clearly inferior peer, Jim Rice, has been inducted, but that's a lousy reason to list a guy on the ballot, and besides, if Rice is the standard going forward, get ready for some very long induction ceremonies.

That leaves Alan Trammell. I have yet to vote for Trammell, and you would think that the addition of a superior player in Larkin would make it that much less likely that I would. However, Larkin is clearly qualified, and Trammell is very close to him in JAWS. The main reason I'm changing my mind, however, is that I've been convinced that my primary objection to Trammell is bogus. Trammell was done as a regular shortstop at 32 (he never played 100 games at the position after that age) and had just one good year after that. That's very young for a Hall of Famer to be done. However, statistically, longevity is a case in Trammell's favor: 2293 games, 2139 at shortstop, 2365 hits, 185 homers… these things should work in his favor, and I haven't been giving him enough credit for them. Trammell's inability to marshal a reasonable decline phase has carried too much weight relative to the great player he was at his peak. The case has been made my many, in comments, in my inbox, by other BPers and writers, and I'm convinced I have had it wrong.

So my theoretical Hall of Fame ballot includes Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell. Andre Dawson, Fred McGriff, and Edgar Martinez all fall below the line.

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The Mets get better by signing Jason Bay, but not by as much as you might think. Bay's defense is going to be a problem for them in left field, and I strongly suspect we've seen the best offensive years he's going to have. Maybe Angel Pagan isn't quite as good a player as he looked last season, and he's probably a true fourth outfielder, but the defensive difference between Pagan and Bay eats a chunk of the offensive gap between them.

You know what would make me like this signing? If it weren't Pagan, but Jeff Francoeur, who lost playing time to it. Were Pagan to platoon with Francoeur in left field, with the player not starting coming in for defense for Bay late in games, I think the Mets would be getting the most bang for their buck in the deal. They'd maximize their offense, solve a developing lineup-balance problem, and show an originality of thought that hasn't been there lately.

As you know, I recommended signing Matt Holliday, and I stand by that. The difference between what Bay will make and what Holliday will make is going to end up being about $2 million a season, which is far less a gap than exists between the players. You'd have to guarantee that fifth year for Holliday, but he's a year younger than Bay so you're talking about the same range of player-seasons. It's not that Holliday will be a bargain at five years and $90 million plus a vesting option, or six years and $114 million or whatever he's going to sign for; it's that his deal, compared to Bay's, is going to be a much better contract for the team that signs him than Bay's deal will be. If Bay costs $16 million a year, then Holliday is the better sign.

Anyway, the Mets still have Danny Murphy at first base, no starting catcher, and a big gap between their first starter and the rest of the rotation. If this is their last move, then they've wasted the money.

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

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