Archive for January, 2015

Second base is always home to diverse spread of talents. From speedsters, to glove-first space swallowers and a few outright power conduits, there is something for everybody on second.

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With all things considered however, the position is experiencing a deeper than normal talent pool around the league. There will be several players that are both major award winners and even All-Stars from a year ago that struggled to make the final cut for this year’s top 10 or missed it altogether. Yet most likely, when I turn my attention to the overall Top 100 players in the game in March, there could be 10-13 second basemen that make it. It is just that deep of a talent pool right now.

So without any further delay, here are the top 10 second basemen in the game. With plenty of shake up, but still starting in the same place it annually does….

1. Robinson Cano, Mariners (#1 in 2014): He has been the best in the business at his position for the last half-decade, and one year into his tenure in Seattle and there are no signs of that changing yet. While his power numbers took the expected Safeco dip, Cano turned in his usual outstanding overall offering at the plate. He turned in his sixth-straight year over .300, while stealing a career high of 10 bases as well. He annually makes a 6+ level of Wins Above Replacement impact and shows no signs of wavering at age 32.

2-year average: .314 average/.868 OPS/20 HR/94 RBI/39 doubles/188 hits/.989 Fld%

2. Ian Kinsler, Tigers (#6 in ’14): He has long been one of the most productive second basemen in the game, but Kinsler turned in one of his finest performances to date in 2014. Atop the potent Tiger lineup, he set new career-highs in hits (188) and RBI (92), while scoring 100 runs, hitting 17 home runs and 40 doubles. Tack on a fantastic defensive campaign as well, and he solidly reaffirmed himself as the best non-Cano second sacker in the game.

2-year average: .276 average/.740 OPS/15 HR/82 RBI/36 doubles/15 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

3. Jose Altuve, Astros (#10 in ’14): The Houston’s mighty mite leader had a huge breakout campaign in 2014, leading the MLB in batting average (.341) and hits (225), while topping the AL in stolen bases with 56. He played a part in pulling the Astros out of the abyss they had sat in over the past three years and made his second All-Star Game over the span as well.

2-year average: .313 average/.756 OPS/6 HR/56 RBI/39 doubles/46 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

4. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (#2 in ’14): While his offensive took a slide in ’14, he remains perhaps the best infield defender in the game today. The rangy and fearless Pedroia took home his second Gold Glove in as many years, raising the overall total to four for the former MVP, Rookie of the Year and two-time World Champ. If he can uptick his batting average back up closer to his career average of .299, the BoSox will be in a much better place.

2-year average: .290 average/.752 OPS/8 HR/68 RBI/38 doubles/12 stolen bases/.995 Fld%

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5. Ben Zobrist, Athletics (#5 in ’14): The ultimate utility man has made his frequent home at second base over the past two years, so he’ll check in here once again. And while he does not have one particular area that he produces an eye popping result in, he does everything at a steady pace. He reached 150 hits, 30 doubles, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, 10 stolen bases and a .350 on-base percentage for the fourth straight year, and will bring a much needed steadying presence to his new home in Oakland.

2-year average: .273 average/.753 OPS/11 HR/62 RBI/35 doubles/10 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

6. Howie Kendrick, Dodgers (#8 in ’14): He will be switching sides of town from Anaheim to Chavez Ravine this summer, but it would be a safe bet to count on Kendrick to keep up the same steady—and annually underrated—level of play. He set a career-high in hits (181) and tied-RBI (75), while topping .290 for the second straight year.

2-year average: .295 average/.758 OPS/10 HR/64 RBI/27 doubles/10 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

7. Neil Walker, Pirates (Not Ranked): He swings a bat that is border line out of place at his position. Walker connected for 23 home runs and taking home the National League second base Silver Slugger. He became the Pirates cleanup hitter over the course of the year in response to his more powerful bat, and is also one of the most effective fielders in either league up the middle as well.

2-year average: .262 average/.784 OPS/20 HR/64 RBI/24 doubles/2 stolen bases/.990 Fld%

8. Chase Utley, Phillies (Not Ranked): He put the game on notice some a year ago that he still had it, and turned in the sort of well-rounded performance that is befitting of himself at this point in his career. Playing in the most games he has since 2009, Utley drove in 78 runs, posted 36 doubles and rebounded well from a horrendous 2013 in the field. In the process he reaffirmed the fact that while he no longer is the MVP-candidate he was early in his career, he still is at an All-Star caliber level.

2-year average: .276 average/.781 OPS/14 HR/74 RBI/30 doubles/9 stolen bases/.978 Fld%

9. Jason Kipnis, Indians (#4 in ’14):Injuries stole much of Kipnis’ thunder he carried coming in last season, but he remains a diverse talent capable of impacting a game in many ways. He has stolen 83 bases over the past three years and if he gets his power stroke back, Kipnis could be the final piece the emergent Indians need to return to the postseason.

2-year average: .263 average/.735 OPS/12 HR/62 RBI/30 doubles/26 stolen bases/.985 Fld%

10. Brian Dozier, Twins (Not Ranked): Dozier followed up a noticeable jump forward in his second season with a major one in year three. He joined the 20/20 club by taking 23 balls over the fence and swiping 21 bases, while scoring 112 runs as well. All in all, he is on the verge of beginning to push for All-Star notice, even within the current crowded second base scene in the AL.

2-year average: .243 average/.745 OPS/20 HR/68 RBI/33 doubles/18 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Dee Gordon, D.J. LeMahieu, Brandon Phillips, Daniel Murphy

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Picking the top first baseman in the game is always a tough equation, simply due to the fact that there are so many of them that a team’s lineup is built around. Ideally, it is the prime source of power on a club, but in many cases it is also the home of a team’s top overall bat.

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That is the case here again, as the group that falls in as my selections for the top 10 1B’s in the game is so deep that in couldn’t include winners of a Gold Glove or batting title at the position just a year ago. With the exception of starting pitcher, there is no position where the standard is higher to be considered an elite, top 10 level performer. The average return among the upper half of this list alone is a season of turning in a .300 average, with 31 home runs, 107 RBI and a .921 OPS, which is a stunning level of production to be regularly tied to in more than one category.

Yet that is what it takes to walk among the best at the position, which puts less of a premium on anything other than raw production than any other place that requires a glove in the game. So with no further delay, CSP’s selections for the top 10 first baseman in the game headed in the spring of 2015.

 

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (#1 in 2014): Miggy’s average is far above what most anybody else alive—or dead—is capable of reaching in their best years. And it turns out that even his down years are also a cut above what most others are capable of. He battled a bone spurs and a fracture in his foot all year, but still made it to the field 159 times. And in the course of it all he led the American League in doubles with 52, while finishing in the top ten in 11 different categories and second in extra base hits with 78. The game’s best bat has proven itself slump proof.

2-year average: .329 average/.983 OPS/34 HR/123 RBI/192 hits/73 extra-base hits

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (#2 in ’14): A freak hand injury ended his 2014, but in just over 100 games he was on pace to shatter what he had achieved the year before when he finished second in the National League Most Valuable Player vote. There is no better overall first baseman in the game than Goldschmidt, who is capable of swiping a bag and is a Gold Glove fielder as well. If he can string together a few more full years at the level he is at now, he’ll be the quick answer to best first baseman in the game.

2-year average: .302 average/.946 OPS/28 HR/97 RBI/152 hits/68 extra-base hits

3. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (#9 in ’14): Gonzalez quietly is one of the most regularly productive run producers in the game. He has topped 100 RBI in five consecutive years and led the NL for the first time in the category a year ago. Add in the deft fielding that brought him a fourth Gold Glove as well last year, and he is one of the game’s most complete properties.

2-year average: .284 average/.810 OPS/24 HR/108 RBI/167 hits/64 extra-base hits

4. Jose Abreu, White Sox (Not Ranked): He blew up on the scene as a rookie, becoming an All-Star, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger winner and the AL leader in slugging percentage in his first go around. Abreu checked in among the top five in all of the Triple Crown categories and set quite a high expectation for his curtain call this year.

5. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (#8 in ’14): No one has averaged more home runs over the past two years than Encarnacion has. The 32-year-old Dominican has kept his on-base + slugging figure north of .900 each of the past three years and has also stayed in the top three of home runs-per-at bat since 2012.

2-year average: .270 average/.903 OPS/35 HR/101 RBI/136 hits/65 extra-base hits

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6. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Not Ranked): No player made a stronger statement of arriving on the scene than Rizzo did a year ago. He pulled his average up by 50 points and hit a career-best 32 home runs, figures which were impressive enough to net him a top 10 finish among NL MVP voting. He also covers a stunning amount of ground in the field, making him one of the rare first basemen that can impact the game with his legs, glove and arm as well. All of this and he does not turn 26 until August.

2-year average: .258 average/.822 OPS/28 HR/79 RBI/146 hits/64 extra-base hits

7. Joey Votto, Reds (#2 in ’14): He is coming in off of a down year where he only made it to the field 62 times due to a quadriceps injury, and it is the second time in three years his season has been clipped. But when he is healthy he is one of the most productive batters in the game, having been the most frequent baserunner in the National League from 2010-13, sporting a .434 OBP during the stretch.

2-year average: .291 average/.891 OPS/15 HR/48 RBI/116 hits/40 extra base hits

8. Freddie Freeman, Braves (#7 in ’14): He took a step back from the huge step forward he took in 2013, but Freeman still is one of the most productive young hitters in the game and the now clear cornerstone of the Braves franchise. He finished second in the NL in doubles (43) and has reached 175 hits each of the past two years.

2-year average: .303 average/.871 OPS/20 HR/94 RBI/176 hits/58 extra base hits

9. Prince Fielder, Rangers (#6 in ’14): It is a turning point season for Fielder, who never got off the ground in his first year in Arlington. He was one of the many Rangers who lived on the disabled list, and on the heels of a severe downturn towards the end of his Detroit tenure, it is reasonable to wonder if he is more name than performance value now. But considering he has never had a full season where he did not hit at least 25 home runs, he has earned a bit more benefit of doubt.

2-year average (’12-’13): .295 average/.878 OPS/28 HR/107 RBI/178 hits/62 extra base hits

10. Albert Pujols, Angels (Not Ranked): It’s not fair to call it a comeback, but Pujols settled into a groove that showed he far from out of gas in 2014. He hit 28 home runs, 37 doubles and drove in 100 RBI for the 12th time in his 14 year career, while also hitting his 500th home run at age 34. He is not the St. Louis model of himself that assured himself a plaque in Cooperstown, but he is still an impact bat for the Halos.

2-year average: .267 average/.781 OPS/22 HR/84 RBI/136 hits/50 extra base hits

 

Runners Up: Justin Morneau, Eric Hosmer, Adam LaRoche, Joe Mauer

 

Catcher is a position that is tough to define in terms of what makes one particular player more valuable than the next, simply because so much goes into making up a great catcher. Is it how he handles a bat or how he handles his pitching staff? Is it the impact he makes on cutting down base runners or his glove work? Do inherent leadership intangibles play into it or is it just raw production?

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There is much to be considered when checking the stock of the position around the game, but for certain there is a plethora of types of catchers making their impact around the game currently. The best of which make an elite contribution in at least two different areas, followed by a group that may be elite in one and then another that specializes in doing one better than the others.

Headed into 2015, there are seven players that appeared on this list a year ago, which shows the fact that it is a cornerstone position. Basically, when a team gets a good catcher, it is smart to hang on to them. Of the three debuting backstops, each is coming out of his third full season and is on the heels of a breakout season.

Here are the top 10 players behind the dish headed into 2015 for CSP, with their rank from the previous year included:

 

1. Buster Posey, Giants (#2 in 2014): It has been and ebb and flow for who is the top backstop in the game between Posey and Yadier Molina over the past few years, but Buster inched forward to the top again in 2014. The glue to game’s most cohesive unit in San Francisco, when Posey turned it on, his team rode the momentum all the way to a third World Series in his six year career. He hit .354 after the All-Star break and finished fourth overall in the National League with a .311 mark.

2-year average: .303 average/.838 OPS/18 HR/80 RBI/162 hits/.993 Fld%/30% CS

2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (#1 in ’14): His defensive capabilities at this point have hit legendary levels. Yadi won his seventh consecutive Gold Glove and second Platinum Glove awards in 2014, when he cut down an MLB-best 48% of would-be base stealers. Only Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench have taken home more of the honors than him at this point. Since 2007 with his presence in tow, the Cardinals have experienced 50% less stolen base attempts than the MLB average. That is the mark of an elite game-changing presence.

2-year average: .303 average/.784 OPS/10 HR/59 RBI/138 hits/.997 Fld%/45.5% CS

3. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (#7 in ’14): He broke out in a major way last summer and firmly entrenched himself as arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball. He led the MLB in doubles with 53, and in the process set a single-season record for catchers, with the 46 that came while he was behind the plate. Overall he hit .301 on the year and finished fourth in the NL MVP vote.

2-year average: .291 average/.817 OPS/16 HR/76 RBI/161 hits/.993 Fld%/23.5% CS

4. Salvador Perez, Royals (Same in ’14): His walk-off single that started the Royals record run through the postseason was his highlight moment of the year, but Perez was the most important mainstay for the Royals in 2014. He led all catchers in games started behind the plate with 143, and won his second Gold Glove in as many years in the process. He also drove in 70 runs for the second straight year and hit .333 in the World Series.

2-year average: .275 average/.722 OPS/15 HR/74 RBI/148 hits/.992 Fld%/33% CS

5. Russell Martin, Blue Jays (#10 in ’14): He was one of the most sought after properties on the free agent market this year simply for the fact that he is the quintessential multi purpose catcher. He does a bit of everything well: he makes a staff better, plays at a Gold Glove-level with the glove, provides clubhouse leadership and swings a dependable bat. If he can work the same magic in Toronto that he did in Pittsburgh, the Jays will have finally found their elusive missing piece to get into the American League East race.

2-year average: .256 average/.764 OBP/13 HR/61 RBI/104 hits/.996 Fld%/28% CS

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6. Matt Wieters, Orioles (#5 in ’14): He was off to his best year as a pro before elbow surgery shortcut his 2014, hitting .308 over 26 games. Now he faces a return behind the plate on the mend from Tommy John surgery, but with a pedigree that includes three-All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves by the age of 28, it is not a bad bet to make that Wieters will be able to rediscover his way.

2-year average (’12-’13): .247 average/.726 OPS/22 HR/81 RBI/127 hits/.995 Fld%/37% CS

7. Brian McCann, Yankees (#3 in ’14): It would be fair to say that he had a down year in first season in pinstripes due to the fact that he posted a career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, but in reality he still had a solid season. He led all American League catchers in home runs (23) and RBI (75) and an upswing is reasonable to expect in 2015.

2-year average: .242 average/.735 OPS/22 HR/66 RBI/103 hits/.996 Fld%/30.5% CS

8. Yan Gomes, Indians (Not Ranked): Probably the member of this list that flies the furthest under the radar, Gomes is credited as calling one of the best games behind the plate in the American League and was a major reason for the success of the understated Indian rotation. In addition, he led all AL catchers in WAR at 4.4 and was second in both home runs (21) and RBI (74) at the spot as well.

2-year average: .284 average/.801 OPS/16 HR/56 RBI/110 hits/.993 Fld%/36.5% CS

9. Devin Mesoraco, Reds (Not Ranked): He had been touted as their catcher of the future for a few years now, and Mesoraco came into his own in 2014. The 26-year-old connected for 25 home runs and worked a .359 on-base percentage in his first year as a full-time starter, despite missing time in early in the year due to injury. He also made his All-Star debut and recently notched a $28 million dollar extension as incentive to keep it up.

2-year average: .257 average/.782 OPS/17 HR/61 RBI/91 hits/.995 Fld%/27% CS

10. Derek Norris, Padres (Not ranked): Although he was a part of a time share with John Jaso a year ago, Norris turned in some very respectable figures in his third year. He reached All-Star status while sporting a .270 average and connecting for 10 home runs in just over 442 plate appearances. He also carried the lowest catcher’s ERA in the AL at 3.14, and will inherit a talented new staff in San Diego to work with as well.

2-year average: .260 average/.760 OPS/10 HR/42 RBI/84 hits/.993 Fld%/21.5% CS

 

Just Outside: Miguel Montero, Cubs. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies. Kurt Suzuki, Twins.

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It is time once again for the Baseball Hall of Fame election process to take over baseball’s airwaves. And while the process over determining inductees has turned away simply from on-field evaluations to a mixture between old-fashioned baseball card stats and an assimilation of a morality based war on “baseball crimes”, the voting game has never been more convoluted.

For the past four years I have tackled the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot on behalf of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s annual counsel-wide vote. While it remains an enjoyable look back at baseball’s past—and increasingly one that I have a vivid memory of—it has never been more difficult to sort through, due to both an increasing pool of talent and having to regularly sort out my stance on each player’s past.

But all things considered, it is still the most intricate and important effort that anyone who considers themselves a purveyor of the game’s story and how it is told should take a crack at. Who should stand among the MLB’s immortals based on their own take on what exactly makes a Hall of Famer from the available options in a given year.

And with that said, here is my submission from among the available players this year—as well as the completely transparent rationale for each. Prior year’s ballots can be searched for historical explanations on those not expanded upon, as well as direct questions can be sent to either WhitenerCSP@gmail.com or @CheapSeatFan on Twitter.

 

The 2015 Ballot

Returning Ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell.

First Timers: Rich Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Carlos Delgado, Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Nomar Garciaparra, Brian Giles, Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Cliff Floyd, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Troy Percival, Jason Schmidt, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz

 

Starting the Process of Elimination

The Immediate Cuts: Of the first year class as always, there is the golf clap group. The guys that get the ballot recognition for a variety of reasons, which can range from lengthy, solid and steady careers, to others that had a major runs during their career, to even former Most Valuable Players and Cy Young winners.

There is a mixture of all of these elements among this year’s first year candidates, but this is always the easiest portion to weed apart. So at this point the cuts are: Aurilia, Boone, Clark, Dye, Erstad, Garciaparra (all-time “What If Team” member), Giles, Gordon, Guardado, Floyd, Percival and Schmidt.

This makes the first year survivors out to be: Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz

Returning Nominees Previously Passed On: There also are players that I have evaluated previously and still feel do not feel compelled to vote on any stronger from years past. The candidates that fall under this purview are: Mattingly, Kent, Martinez, Sosa and Trammell.

Previously Voted In: There players that remain on the ballot that I have previously voted for as well, therefore I will continue to move them along to the final cuts fall in here. Further evaluation of their standing I will go into further depth on why or why not they did not make my 2015 ballot later. They are: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Mussina, Piazza, Schilling and Smith

 

Further Evaluation

This is usually where the chopping block comes for truly tough calls for first-timers and the rare carryovers from previous years that were among the annual toughest to leave off of the ballot annually group. For all intents and purposes, this is the purgatory between true borderline Hall of Famers and no-brainer Hall of Very Good-ers. The case for each member in this particular purgatory this year goes like this….

Carlos Delgado: While the highlight of his career was without a doubt his 2003 season where his 145 RBI and 42 home runs made him the runner-up for MVP honors, he was without a doubt one of the steadiest hitters of an offense-heavy era. He topped 30 home runs for 10 consecutive years from 1997 to 2006, and didn’t fall below 24 long balls for 13 straight years. He topped 40 homers in three separate years and drove in over 1,500 runs. He is the all-time leader for Puerto Ricans in HRs and RBI.

The knock against him is the obvious skepticism of the era he played in, as well as the Blue Jay teams he made his major bones with never did much in the standings. He never recovered from a hip injury after the 2008 season and his career ended suddenly in 2009. He finished his career short of the “magic number” of 500 home runs and was only a two-time All-Star during a competitive era of first base play.

Fred McGriff: The main power conduit for the Atlanta Braves, the case for McGriff is perhaps one whose perception is most damaged by the strike of 1994. While he was a five-time All-Star, twice led the National League in home runs as a member of the San Diego Padres and ultimately hit 493 homers in his career, he ended up seven short of joining the iconic “500 home run club”.

This is a mark that he would have most certainly met in ’94 when he lost the final seven weeks of the season. Combined with the fact he hit 10 more long balls in postseason play and carried a .303 career October batting average, there is certainly a case that McGriff’s body of work deserves stronger consideration.

Gary Sheffield: A divisive figure for his unapologetic attitude and strong social opinions, as well as being named on the Mitchell Report as being associated with steroids, Sheffield’s strong numbers have been dulled down over time. But Sheffield finished with 509 home runs, was the 1992 National League Batting Champion and drove in 1,676 runs. From 1995 to 2003, he hit under .300 only once and topped 30 home runs five times during the stretch as well.

A nine-time All-Star and central part of the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins, Sheffield was an excellent producer at all eight of his stops along his 22-year career.

Tim Raines: “Rock” possesses the strongest case of the veteran members of the ballot, as he is on his eighth year on the ballot. He has a unique case that makes him more and more worthy of repeated looks back at his accomplishments. He was the premier non-Rickey Henderson leadoff hitter of the 1980’s, which makes his accomplishments stand in a considerable shadow, albeit the shadow of the greatest to ever play the part, which means something.

While I am not a fan of the long-time remnants on the ballot, Raines is a guy that is worth keeping around in case the right year of openings shows itself. He is fourth all-time in stolen bases with 808 (including five straight years of better than 70 swipes), had over 2,600 hits and made seven consecutive All-Star teams from 1981-87. Add in his status as 1986 batting champ (.334) and status as the greatest Montreal Expo of all-time, and there is much credence to his status as player with the greatest lost legacy of any on the ballot.

With all things considered here, I believe that McGriff, Sheffield and Raines each make a compelling enough case to move to be considered among the final class for this year. Delgado was steady and often stunningly impactful, but not at the level that truly left an indelible mark on the history of the game, or was consistently excellent long enough to craft a unique place in the game’s history. Those are the elements that make a Hall of Famer for me, and he falls just short.

 

The True Class

After all of the deliberation has concluded, my actual final pool to choose from is this 14 man class: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, McGriff, McGwire, Martinez, Mussina, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Smith and Smoltz

This is the toughest line to draw, and often sees many the return to this point over and over again. But hairs must be split and cream must find its way to the top.

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Casting The Ballot

Some make the Hall without deliberation, others have to take the marathon route; it’s the way of the world. So with all of this process and prestige firmly set, here is who I am supporting this year and why:

Craig Biggio—Somehow it has taken three years to sort this out, but it finally feels like it is inevitable the National League’s top post-Sandberg second baseman gets his due this year. The numbers are certainly there, as is the respectable approach to the game and the tenure. He is a member of the 3,000 hit club, which used to be a VIP line to Cooperstown, but perhaps it is the fact that his numbers never jumped off the page in any one area that holds him back. But he is the only member of the 3,000 hit/250 home run/1,000 RBI/600 double/400 stolen base club, which further speaks to the versatility that he perfected.

Barry Bonds—As long as he’s alive, not in the Hall and I am still weighing in on the situation, he has a place on my list etched in stone. 762 home runs, 1996 RBI, 2227 runs and 2935 hits didn’t all happen under the now gluttonous microscope of conviction for him. But the ultimate irony is that the same mob that is now dead set on blocking his entry to Cooperstown is the same pack bestowing him the seven Most Valuable Player nods he set yet another record with. Funny times.

Roger Clemens—Clemens was a seven-time Cy Young winner and Most Valuable Player. He won 354 games and ran up 4,672 strikeouts over the course of running up that treasure trove of (voted upon) accolades. He is the most decorated pitcher of his time and by many accounts the best as well. He was great for four different clubs and won a Cy Young at three stops. Performance outweighs moral platforms for me, and Clemens was already an all-time great by the time anybody raised their first eyebrow in suspicion. I’m not big on revisionist history, so I will refrain from engaging in it here as well.

Randy Johnson—Standing in at immense 6’10” and whipping down with an explosive motion which unleashed triple digit speed fastballs and knee-buckling sliders with the same ease, “The Big Unit” was the most intimidating and overwhelming pitcher in history. There will be no delay on Johnson reaching Cooperstown, and he should receive the highest vote total of anyone on the ballot this year.

He dominated both leagues with the same effectiveness, was a 10-time All-Star, 9-time All-Star, 4-time ERA champion and author of a no-hitter in 1990 and a perfect game 14 years later. His run with the Diamondbacks from 1999 through 2002 was one of the most dominant stretches of pitching in history, going 81-27 with a 2.48 ERA and 1417 strikeouts—an average year of a 20-7 record and 354 strikeouts in 258 innings. During that stretch he won a World Series, four consecutive Cy Young honors, three ERA titles and the pitching Triple Crown in 2002.

Pedro Martinez—Often a pitcher’s career is graded based on volume of statistics. 300 wins or vast strikeout titles are the most common marks to assure consideration as a pitching immortal. However, Pedro’s body of work was far more brilliant than it was vast (219 career wins), but he was easily one of the most overwhelmingly complete pitchers of all-time. At his best, everything he threw was an out pitch: whether it was his time stopping change up, knee buckling curveball or his plethora of fastball variety. He could overpower or confound with equal ease.

In his final season as an Expo, he lead the National League with a 1.90 ERA and 13 complete games and won his first Cy Young before departing for the American League where he was even more dominant. The following season he headed to Boston, where over the next seven seasons he would win 76% of his starts and would win take the American League ERA title four times, win 16 or more games in six of his seven years. His 1999 and 2000 seasons were perhaps the two greatest consecutive years ever, and he easily won the AL Cy Young in each year. Over 58 starts, he totaled a 41-10 record on a 1.90 ERA over 430 innings. During the run he ran up an incredible 597 strikeouts against only 69 walks. His .760 win percentage as a Red Sox is the highest for a player with one franchise in MLB history.

Mike Mussina—He is the last guy I added to the list for the second year in a row, because quite frankly, there is nothing flashy about Moose and his greatness is built on being steady. There are no Cy Young nods, only one time did he lead his league wins and only once did he meet the 20-win mark. But there is a certain remarkable point to being stunningly above average; a point where it becomes great. Mussina won at least 10 games for 17 straight years, a mark only four others (all HOFers) have met. In 11 of those years, he won at least 15 contests. He was a lowkey workhorse (11 years of 200 innings) and a brilliant fielder (six Gold Gloves). Not the flashiest package, but there’s plenty of content to it.

Mike Piazza— It is odd that it continues to take Piazza—the all-time leader in home runs amongst catchers—so long to garner respect to get into the Hall. There has been an odd tie to him to the substance abusers of his era that has plagued his HOF considerations since he came up on the ballot, despite never being specifically tied to any allegations as a player. His support has inched forward on the ballot slightly each year and while he may still be a few years away, he’ll make it—but it is still two years (and counting) too late.

Tim Raines—The reasons why have already been broken out, but Rock finally makes the breakthrough on my ballot out of a mixture of matured appreciation as well as the right year to breakthrough for the vote. While I still do not think he is an absolute no brainer, he is a solid right place, right time candidate and is worthy of the admission.

Curt Schilling—A study in the importance on understanding the context of performance in a career, Schilling turned a varied yet undeniably pivotal role in the game. He was one of the great postseason pitchers of all-time, going 11-2 for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox and won two World Series along the way. In addition his career showed progressive excellence along the way: in Philadelphia he established himself as a frontline starter, in Arizona he affirmed himself as one of the game’s top arms and began his postseason legend and finally in Boston he brought it all together and finalized the case for being one of the great all-around, all-season pitchers ever.

John Smoltz—Perhaps the greatest dual purpose arm of all-time, Smoltz went from great starter to dominant closer and back to standing among the game’s best starters. He is one of two pitchers to ever have both a 20-win and 50 save season on his resume. Smoltz stands alone as the only pitcher to have won at least 200 games and saved 150. He twice led the National League in wins and won the league’s 1996 Cy Young Award when he won 24 games for the Braves. After missing the 2000 season with an injury he returned as Atlanta’s closer and set the NL single-season saves record with 55 in 2002.

A portion of the Braves’ famed pitching trio with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz was the most distinguished postseason performer of the group. His 1991 postseason exploits were stuff of legend and launched a career where he won 15 October contests—the second highest total of all-time—along with carrying a 2.67 ERA in 209 postseason innings.

 

Final Cuts

There are four candidates that exceed the 10-man limit of the ballot that remain after ciphering through the accolades of each player. And while 10 players are not required for a ballot to be considered complete, once again there are just too many worthy candidates for me to not turn in a class that is at capacity in my person opinion.

Jeff Bagwell—Bagwell was certainly one of the premier run producers of his time and the 1994 NL MVP, but his career was also one that was hurt by being both impacted and abbreviated by injury. This is not to say that he does not garner consideration—449 homers, 488 doubles, 1529 RBI and a .297 career average justify that—he is simply a victim of the numbers game this year for me.

Mark McGwire—The shadow of the PEDs cloud’s McGwire’s candidacy as well. While he does fall into my exempt list as well due to the fact that he constantly hit the ball over the fence at every level of baseball he played at (six seasons of 40 or more homers, including three north of 50) it’s hard to say he is more qualified for the Hall currently over the other candidates that did it on the up and up.

Lee Smith—Each year that passes makes it tougher for Big Lee to make it on, especially with Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera looming. He was the all-time saves leader from 1993 to 2006 when Hoffman passed his record of 478 and revolutionized the job of being a closer, making it the ultimate specialist role in the game.

Gary Sheffield—In many ways, Sheffield is sort of the Jim Rice or Tim Raines of his era: an indisputably effective and consistent hitter who’s total body of work is shockingly good when looked back at on paper. However in context of what he did in regards to impact, he never was considered to be “The Man” at any point and also has the cloud of suspicion over him as well regarding PED usage. However, Sheffield was the final cut that made and it was very hard to draw a line between him and Mussina for the 10th name to make it on. I am more than sure that he will make my ballot in upcoming years.

 

Look for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s annual poll on Hall Of Fame inductees to release soon and to get more of my take on the outcome of the BBWAA vote and who is headed to Cooperstown both here and on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.