Posts Tagged ‘Cooperstown’

jimmy-rollins-dive

Last summer, I started an ongoing project to look at the Hall of Fame prospects of many of the contemporary stars of the game. This year we are picking that series back up again with a few more current MLBers that have some impressive long-term prospects—potentially.

To get this summer’s edition going the spotlight first will land on longtime Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. It has been a seesaw season for Rollins so far, who has run the gamut with the Phillies over his career in general, but perhaps no year has been as severe as this one. From a brief controversy over his playing time future with the team with manager Ryne Sandberg in Spring Training, all the way to surpassing the franchise’s crown jewel in Mike Schmidt atop the Phillies’ all-time hits list last month, Rollins has had quite the summer even just at the halfway point.

But now as the summer moves on (and potentially the end of his run in Philly as well) it is as good of a time as any to take a look at the surprisingly complete career of Rollins and if it has been enough to build a bridge into Cooperstown potentially for him not too far down the road.

 

The Numbers (as of July 1, 2014)

15 Seasons (age 35): .268 average, 207 home runs, 863 RBI, 2250 hits, 1284 runs scored, 470 doubles, 439 stolen bases, .327 on-base percentage, .434 slugging percentage

1. The Case For: In taking a stand for Rollins career, it is important to look at how well he has displayed every skill that is asked of a shortstop, as well as some that are borderline exceptional for the position. What jumps off the page first is his outstanding athleticism at his peak. He was one of the most dangerous speed elements in the game from his debut into well into his mid-career prime. From 2001-09, he stole at least 20 bases a season, with four seasons of 40 or better, including leading the National League with 46 as rookie and a career-best 47 in 2008. His 438 career stolen bases are the 11th best total ever for a shortstop.

This was also a tool he put to constant use as an offensive presence as well, as he led the NL in triples four times including an absurd 20 in 2007. Of shortstops whose careers began after 1950, his 109 triples is the third best total overall after Robin Yount and Jose Reyes. His athletic skills also were put to great use in the field as well. Able to cover much ground and possessing a strong throwing arm, he was a winner of three (legit) Gold Glove Awards from 2007-09 as well.

Yet what truly began to set him apart from the pack was a deceptive amount of power that he began to develop about halfway through his career. As his swing and knowledge of the game matured, he began to become a threat to go deep as well and four times in his career he has topped 20 home runs in season. Overall, he has 10 seasons of double digit home run totals, including 30 in 2007. His 207 career homers are the 9th best total for a shortstop all-time. Although he has never had a season hitting .300, he did amass a 36 game hitting streak at the end of 2005 year.

2007 is a reoccurring theme in referencing Rollins, and for good reason. It was the year that he put on one of the finest all-around displays of talent in the history of the game in route to winning the 2007 NL Most Valuable Player award. It was a year that he became the first player in MLB history to turn in a 200 hit season, with 20 triples, 30 home runs and 30 steals in one year. In addition, he became the seventh player to ever have 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 home runs in one season, joining among others Hall of Famers Jim Bottomley (1928), George Brett (1979) and Willie Mays (1957).

2. The Case Against: While he has been steadily good, injuries began to take away from some of the range that he had early in his career in the field around 2009 and also decreased the steadiness of his offensive output as well. After 2007, he only hit over .260 once, while hitting .250 or lower three times. Despite hitting around the top of the lineup for most of his career (leadoff in 1,457 games, second in 303 and third 123 times) he has never been much of an on-base threat, owning a single-season best of .348 in 2004. In his decline years since 2009, he has only once reached base more than 33% of the time despite having over 600 plate appearances in four of his five full seasons over that run.

While All-Star Games appearances can be considered trivial, in many cases it is a fair barometer of a player’s impact in their era. And Rollins has made only three All-Star appearances in his 15 year career, which is a curiously low number for a player at position that is usually easy for elite talents to lock down a spot in (conversely, Ozzie Smith made 12 consecutive ASG appearances and Barry Larkin had two stretches of at least three appearances, only separated by one absent season). Rollins has not reached the All-Star Game since 2005, a stretch of nine seasons that is continuing.

Rollins has ranged from a great, to exceptional, to excellent, to questionable contributor over the course of his career. Can a balancing act in his final years seal his legacy as a Hall of Famer.

Rollins has ranged from a great, to exceptional, to excellent, to questionable contributor over the course of his career. Can a balancing act in his final years seal his legacy as a Hall of Famer.

3. Similar Players (through age 35)

– Edgar Renteria (.286 average, 140 home runs, 923 RBI, 2327 hits, 294 stolen bases)

– Alan Trammell (.288 average, 174 home runs, 936 RBI, 2182 hits, 224 stolen bases)

– Craig Biggio (.291 average, 180 home runs, 811 RBI, 2149 hits, 365 stolen bases)

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what it is going to take): The case for Rollins is perplexing, because in many regards he is the class of NL shortstops for his era. While Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki all have had great runs, Rollins has had the longest sustained presence since Larkin retired. Yet the perplexing situation is just how between the lines where he currently stands is at.

Look at the players that he is most like just above. Renteria was a multiple time All-Star and champion, but not a Hall of Fame caliber player, although he did have a ‘Rich Man’s Retirement’, with plenty of more baseball he could have played. Moving along to Trammell, who he perhaps best mirrors from an impact standpoint (one-time World Series winner, same amount of Gold Gloves, 15+ year everyday presence with lower than expected All-Star total) and the brink of immortality for Rollins really is made clear. Trammell has lived on the fringe of the Hall of Fame ballot for 14 years now and is not gaining any traction to get before he is removed from it.

The final comparison is a man that is destined for the Hall of Fame in Biggio, who offers similar skill set as Rollins, but differs in the fact that he stayed more consistent for longer and therefore hit a unique spread of accomplishments that will gain him membership to Cooperstown potentially as soon as this year.

Despite all of this, there the element of “it just doesn’t feel like” he has done it all. Perhaps it is because his very best was done in a short span of years and otherwise he has just been very steady at being steady. Meaning he has done certain thing very well, but few of them have been the type of happenings that are highlight worthy. You have to look back to see that he has a Silver Slugger and as many Gold Gloves as he does. Seeing the brilliance of that 2007 season takes some prompting as well, just like the hitting streak of ’05 and the brash confidence that he guided the Phillies back to prominence in the mid-2000’s with as well.

The complex of where Rollins is at is that he has made a definite impact, but is in a purgatory of relevancy. He has to keep pushing and producing regularly to reach out of the “great in his era” range of the Renteria’s and to find the gap between Trammell and Biggio that would reach him to Cooperstown. He has all of the intangible accomplishments that can be asked for: a World Series Champion, MVP, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and All-Star all under wraps. But to really make a more than compelling case for himself, he will need to hit a few milestone stat hurdles as well.

Mainly, he has to keep running up the hit total. With another 300 hits he would top 2,500; an impressive total for a shortstop of any era. That would give him more than Ozzie, Larkin and Trammell, which are important to pass as two are established Hall of Famers and standard bearers for the decades that preceded him and puts him over the proverbial eligibility hump that Trammell has become. One thing that he can still do is run well and run smart, and when Rollins tops 500 stolen bases he’ll have a really plus, round number to lean on as well.

A career of 200 home runs, 500 steals, 2500 hits and 1300 runs scored is awfully impressive. And what’s more, if Rollins is to meet this package of feats, he would be the only shortstop to ever do so. Only the greats Honus Wagner and Derek Jeter come close to that type of display, and when a player is close to that class, they are doing something right. And Rollins has done all lot right for a long time.

However, he will need to finish out his career strong to meet these marks and there is work to be done still. If he can do so, I think Rollins has a more than suitable case to make it in. But if he does not, he could be lost in the haze of the Hall of Very Good, and perhaps rightfully so.

So when it’s all said and done, when the question is asked: is Jimmy Rollins In, Out or In-Between the Hall of Fame, as it stands today, he is IN-BETWEEN, but closer to the rights to the keys to the Hall than it may be believed.

 

For more on the season as it unfolds, follow my columns at The Sports Fan Journal, I-70 Baseball and tune into ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’ as well. For up to the moment words, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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Today is the day that newest class for the Baseball Hall of Fame will be revealed. It is a class that had the potential—if all things were created equal—to be greatest induction class of all-time. There are a total of 15 Most Valuable Player, 14 Cy_Young and 5 World Series MVP Awards up for the vote this year, an outstandingly high level of achievement.

However, we all know that it is not an equal playing field, even for the owners of these achievements. Because the game has morphed into a different type of machine than it was when the doors in Cooperstown first open in June of 1939, a time that was much different than today. And while it is both cliché and antiquated to reach for the value of baseball in generations that have long passed, it is also an exercise in tireless purpose. Because more than any other game, history has more relevance in baseball than any other sport and it still shapes the present and the future of the game acutely. It defines the highs and lows equally, a phenomenon that is still actively going on to this day.

However, on a day where debate will take an equal billing with celebration, it seems to be good time for context back to the beginning of the Hall of Fame, the first days where the task of sorting out a Hall of Famer was a truly arduous task, albeit one devoid of much of the reserve that has made the decision now so confounding.

When the doors to Cooperstown opened up in 1939, the Hall of Fame as an entity had been established already for three years, but there was no physical location for it to be observed. But once this was established, the most comprehensive and star-studded induction ceremony ever took place. Ironically, the early rules were as unintentionally complicated as the current ones (which are somewhat similar) have been made to be. The main guideline was for a player to get 75% of the vote, which has endured. Yet before there was some clarity brought to the request of voting for an inductee, it was spread all around the ballot and even extended to some active players and retirees that had not yet been done for the now-requisite five years.

Yet when it was sorted, out the results of it were fantastic, and here are the initial four classes that built the Hall of Fame, in retrospect, both then and enduring. What’s to come nobody knows, but here’s where it all started.

1936—The First Class

Ty Cobb—Detroit Tigers: The greatest player of the dead-ball era, Cobb’s reputation as dubious asset to mankind did not damage the impact he had as a ballplayer. Because at the time of his induction to the Hall, he was the most accomplished athlete in professional sports history, and an owner of 90 varied records in the game.  Among these are a .366 career batting average, 4,191 hits, 12 batting titles and 54 steals of home plate. He received the highest vote total of any original inductee, with a 98.2% return.

Walter Johnson—Washington Senators: With 110 shutouts, 420 wins, eleven seasons of a sub-2.00 ERA and being the inaugural member of the 3,000 strikeout club, the Big Train was (and still is) the greatest pitcher of all-time. He was the best pitcher on losing teams in history as well, with the annually bad Washington club likely coming in his way of pushing for the all-time wins title as well. Johnson was elected in on 83% of the ballot.

Christy Mathewson—New York Giants: The first crossover superstar in baseball history, Matty was also one of the first control artists from the mound. Armed with his devastating screwball, he won 363 games, including four seasons of 30 wins or better. One of the most respected players of his time, whose reputation as a gentleman was directly contrasted by his fierce postseason presence on the mound. In the 1905 World Series he had potentially the greatest performance ever in the Fall Classic. He started three games and won all three—with a shutout in each appearance. He was voted in with 90.7% of the vote.

Babe Ruth—New York Yankees: At the time, the Babe was the most famous player alive, and still remains among the most revered figures in American history, with his name alone being used as a measuring stick for greatness in a field. This is due to the fact that he single-handedly transformed the way the game was played. He hit 714 career home runs, and his style of play has based every evolution that the game has taken over the past 90+ years. He led the American League in home runs 12 times,  and still carries the highest slugging percentage of all-time. He was voted in on 95.1% of the vote.

Honus Wagner—Pittsburgh Pirates: The first five-tool player, The Flying Dutchman is still the safe bet for greatest shortstop ever, as he has repeatedly been elected over the last century. Wagner topped 3,400 hits, 600 doubles, 200 triples and 100 home runs, then a remarkable slate of accomplishments. The complimented this with a powerful arm in the field. The eight-time batting champ was elected on 95.1% of the vote, the same number as Ruth and second highest total overall.

1937—The Second Class

Nap Lajoie—Cleveland Naps: Such a great player that they felt the now-Indians had to carry not only him at second base, but his name for the entire team. It is understandable, as the five-time batting champ and two-time RBI champion (a ridiculous notion for a second baseman of the times) was a transformative player. He hit over .350 ten separate times, with five batting titles, including a high of .426 in 1901. He was elected on 83.6% of the ballots.

Tris Speaker—Boston Red Sox: One of the great defensive outfielders ever, Speaker holds two prominent records to this day. At the plate, he hit 792 doubles, while in the field he has an outstanding 449 assists—from centerfield. His 3,514 hits remain the fifth highest total ever, and he was voted in on 82.1% of ballots.

Cy Young—Cleveland Spiders/Boston Red Sox: The greatest oversight from the first class was the then, now and forever all-time wins king. The game’s top pitching award was named for Young in honor of his 511 win career, which featured 15 years over 20 victories. To this day, he holds the high water mark in eight separate pitching categories, and was voted in on 76.1% of ballots.

1938—The Third Class

Grover Cleveland Alexander—Philadelphia A’s/Chicago Cubs: As the greats of the early years continued to be worked in, the fourth of the great turn of the century hurlers was called in. Old Pete was a warhorse on the mound, a winner of 373 games (third most ever) and an artist of the shutout. From 1915-1917, he won 30 games each season with an ERA below 2.00 and only once did not reach at least 10 shutouts. He was elected on 80.92% of the ballot.

1939—The Fourth Class/The Hall Opens

Lou Gehrig—New York Yankees: By the time that Gehrig was inducted, the disease which premature ended his career and life, and continues to carry his namesake, was close to claiming his life. However what it did not dim was the accomplishments of a man that is still considered to be the standard for all first basemen. The RBI machine drove in 1,995 runs (included seven seasons of 150 or better) and earned his Iron Horse moniker by playing in over 2,130 games. Gehrig was elected by acclamation and had the standard five year waiting period waved due to the severity of his illness, making him the youngest inductee to Cooperstown for decades.

George Sisler—St. Louis Browns: Before the Cardinals ruled the city, Sisler was the preeminent part of St. Louis baseball. The first baseman was hits machine set the all-time single season hits record with 257, which stood for over 80 years and hit .400 twice. He was elected on 85.8% of the ballot.

 

For more on today’s Hall of Fame news to come in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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One of the great joys of my freelance writing year is the affiliation with the Baseball Bloggers Alliance that brings an organized Hall of Fame ballot and vote among the various writers in the group. It brings together the same type of varied approach to the analysis of Hall of Fame worthy ballplayers, yet from the perspective of varied mix of observers, media movers and fans. There’s a clear voice for that as well, and often it shows a light that’s gotten dimmed some in recent years.

For myself, my approach to my ballot is to honor the absolute best of the era, without being too much of an elitest. Everybody is not Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth, players who defined not only their eras of baseball, but sports and cultural history as well. To respect the context of the game is see the true greatness in it. There are the absolutes, but there are also those that were so great for long enough at their peak that they proved to be an undeniable guiding force in an era of the game. That is a Hall of Famer to me; a player that was clearly greater than his contemporaries and meets the standard set before him at both his position and in the context of the game overall.

What will actually happen, who knows. I’m 100% sure that all of these men will not reach the Hall of Fame this year, or even the next, or even after that. There is little to no chance that there will be a second straight shutout, but its guaranteed that somebody will be grossly overlooked as well. The BBWA ballots that have been made public already have shown that, and the BBBA vote also showed a similar sentiment. But what is for certain is that I will continue to champion for the performers and the ones that defined and shaped the game in one capacity or another for a stretch of their career. All of these men fit that description, and all have my confidence as being worth torch bearers of baseball’s greatest cumulative honor.

And with that, I give you my selections of the 2014 Hall of Fame class….

 

Craig Biggio: Biggio cut a unique swath through the game, and at his best, he was the best second baseman in the National League, making seven of eight All-Star Games from 1991-1998. He excelled at catcher, second base and center field, making him one of the most diverse threats in the game saw across his career. This varied impact is best shown in his unique split as being the only player ever have 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 250 home runs, 1,000 RBI and 400 stolen bases. He has the most leadoff home runs in NL history and is (more dubiously) that all-time leader in being hit by pitches. Basically, he did more enough of everything better than most that he deserves the call.

Barry Bonds: It’s simple—he’s the best player of his era, and arguably all-time. The debate can be what it is, but ultimately the truth for Bonds in my book is that didn’t inject himself into the Hall of Fame; he was already there. I’ve looked at the truth of both ends of Bonds numbers previously, and I stand by th0se facts until the end. Him and Clemens get packaged together in the court of opinion regarding their worthiness, but that is not exactly fair either, because Bonds body of work both under and without the influence of PEDs was far superior than anybody else’s in the game.

Roger ClemensClemens case is a bit cloudier, as his career was in a tailspin before he hit Toronto in 1997 and reinvigorated his career at the age of 34, subsequently having another great run of his career for the next eight years. But to credit his body of work to that stretch is using blinders, because what he did in Boston still remains him at his best. As a Red Sox, he went 192-111, with 2,590 strikeouts, won three Cy Young Awards and one MVP. Clemens was the best and most dominant pitcher of the 1980’s and is worthy on those merits alone.

Tom GlavineHe was a steady assassin that didn’t make much noise along the way, and will always be grouped together and compared in conjunction to his rotation mates. But the truth of the matter for Glavine is that he was on the way to being who is now before the Braves even took off. After losing 17 games in his first full season, he went on a run of 14 consecutive years of double-digit wins. This stretch included five seasons of at least 20 victories, with three of those years coming consecutively. He took home two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top 3 five other times, and was the World Series MVP in the Braves lone World Championship season, going 2-0 in the 1995 World Series, and carrying a 1.60 ERA overall in that postseason.

He easily sits among the top handful of left-handers all-time, only inarguably surpassed by Koufax, Johnson, Grove, Carlton and Spahn. And for a guy that spent much of his career steadily being the second best guy on his own staff, it is time for him to get first dibs for a change.

Greg Maddux: My ballot might as well had shown up with his name checked already. With respects to Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera, Maddux was far and away the greatest pitcher of not only his generation, but probably at least one to two before it as well. The definition of both consistency and artistry on the mound, he commanded both the strike zone and game flow with an unequalled ease.

In an era where power ruled both on the mound and off the mound, he was a stark contrast to the times that he owned none the less. Velocity was not needed for his approach to the mound, as his placement of simply a two-seam fastball and change-up were so precise, it created self-doubt in batters before he even released the ball. If that wasn’t enough, he mixed in variations of sliders, cutters and splitters along the way as well and ultimately became one of the most unlikely members of the 3,000 strikeout club (3,371, 10th all-time). At his peak in the early 90’s, he won four consecutive Cy Young Awards with the Cubs and Braves, amassing an incredible 75-29 record from 1992-1995, with a 1.98 ERA, completed 37 games, struck out 733 batters compared to issuing only 176 walks and allowed on average less than one base runner per inning.

Yet for Maddux, it is volume that speaks the loudest. His 355 wins are the second-most of any player born in the 20th century, and he is the only pitcher in history to win at least 15 games for 17 consecutive seasons. In addition to it all, he is the owner of a record 18 Gold Gloves as well.

As of now, the highest vote percentage in history belongs to Tom Seaver, with 98.84% in 1992. A lot has changed since then in regards to the skepticism regarding candidacy, but if there ever was a perfect storm for a consensus inductee, it’s Mad Dog: a conqueror that appeared to be anything but, that achieved on his own wiles in unquestionably unpolluted manner over and above both the questionable and clean alike.

Mark McGwire: I maintain that my only issue with PED usage is if the player took an obvious jump in production to a level that he had never saw before. Do I deny that McGwire’s performance spiked? Absolutely not. However, this is also a man that was destroying the ball in his early 20’s as well, and likely would have surpassed 500 home runs regardless. He was a winner and a pinnacle part of the game during its reconstruction, and for those reasons alone, he remains worthy in my opinion.

Mike Mussina: The push to question the worthiness of wins in today’s game subsequently also pulls the very worthiness of Mussina’s career into question as well. Because by and far, wins are what pulls him away from the pack of the very good and into the great. And while there are some pitchers who build reputations on high win totals by association, after a while if that keeps up, maybe its time to consider they are the reason over the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. Mussina is the poster child for this scenario, as he never led the American League in wins once, but this was just as his great seasons being overshadowed by the better ones of Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens at the same time. This kept him from the Cy Young victories, but it didn’t keep him from winning at least 10 games for 17 straight years (an AL record), a mark that only Cy Young, Steve Carlton, Warren Spahn, Don Sutton and Maddux can claim to have done. One thing that all of them have in common (or soon will): a plaque in Cooperstown. So yes, wins still do (and forever shall) matter.

Mike Piazza: The confusion on the greatness of Mike Piazza is one of the strangest phenomena’s around the game right now. There seems to be no consensus on exactly why he’s not a Hall of Famer yet. Some bunch him into the suspected PED user group, while others put it on his lack of defensive prowess. Others even say that his offensive chops are not up to a Hall of Fame par, due to his lack of “magic numbers”. However, in real time while Piazza was active, there was no doubt who was the most dominant force at catcher not only at the time, but ever. And his separation from the pack regarding backstops at the plate has not changed in the slightest. He hit over 30 home runs in nine of 10 years from 1993 to 2002, and hit over .315 in seven seasons. If the point of the Hall is to honor the greatest at what they did all-time, then Piazza is a shoe-in, as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, and by a fair margin.

Curt Schilling: My opinion has changed on Schilling, and do think he is worthy of one of the ten spots on this year’s ballot. In many ways, he was the Felix Hernandez of his era: a dominant pitcher that struggled in the wins categories with some subpar teams in Philadelphia, but then fulfilled the “what if he played for a contender” debate once he actually did. He spent the end of his career solidifying himself as one of the most dominant and successful pitchers of his era. He was precisely dominant, carrying the greatest strikeout-to-walk ratio of all-time (3,111 K’s to 711 walks – a 4.4 to 1 ratio) and compromised one half of arguably the greatest 1-2 punch in history with Randy Johnson for the early 2000’s Diamondbacks.

It was in Arizona that he started his dominant postseason foothold, and in Boston where turned it into the lore that truly separates him from a great pitcher, to a Hall of Famer. His career record in October was 11-2 in 19 starts, where he carried a 2.23 ERA. In the Series, he was 4-1 in 7 starts and won three of the four series he reached (and all that he was a lead hurler in). Schilling is a perfect hybrid case for why regular season performance matters in both does and context, but how an extremely dominant postseason resume can be a deciding factor as well.

Frank Thomas: The Big Hurt was simply the best right-handed hitter of the 1990’s, a decade where he hit .320, over 300 home runs, drove in over 1,000 runs and won back-to-back MVPs (over a mid-prime Ken Griffey, Jr). In the all-time sense, Thomas was a bit of a victim of circumstance, as some of what could have been his mos enduring accomplishments were eclipsed by either fantastic, over-the-top efforts or by things outside of his control. Three times in his career he hit over over .345, yet won only one batting title, and in 1994, the MLB strike ended what was taking off to be a Triple Crown winning season for him (.353/34/101 through 110 games).

Injuries curtailed the middle of his career, and ultimately clipped where is career totals could have landed, but when healthy he was still dominant, finishing in the top 5 of the MVP votes in 2000 and 2006. He is one of seven players to hit .300 for his career and top 500 home runs, and easily stands in the group of the great batsmen in the history of the game.

 

For more on what’s to come and the inevitable debate to come, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan