Tag Archives: Moe Drabowsky

2016 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

It occurred to me as I was putting this together that I have never given appropriate  credit to the anonymous gnomes of the internet who take pleasure each year in making fun of the no-hopers on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. They inspired me to write at least something about every name — 32 this year — on the ballot. So they deserve credit for that.

In fact, it probably turns out I write more about those I’m not voting for than those I am. This is partly because there are more of them and partly because most of my votes are repeats and it’s boring making the same arguments over and over. So, for a block of seven candidates I’m voting for again, I’ll refer you to past posts for particulars, if you’re interested. What follows is a stream of consciousness about some of the people and issues that came up this year. As usual, if you’d prefer to skip the verbiage and just harvest the ballot, you can scroll to the bottom.

For the edification of the gnomes, the screening committee of baseball writers that sets the ballot each year errs purposefully on the side of inclusion, and here’s why:

Of nearly half a million high school baseball players in the U.S. each year, less than 6 percent wind up playing on a college team. Of those, about 10 percent will be drafted by a big league team. Of those, about 10 percent will actually make it to the majors. Of those, according to one voluminous study of 20th century players, about one in five position players will play 10 big league seasons, the minimum to be eligible for the Hall. So, roughly speaking, about 0.01 percent of high school players, or one in 10,000, will achieve eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Considering how many players now come from outside the U.S. feeder system, it’s probably fewer than that. For most of them, appearing on the ballot is the only recognition of this achievement they will receive.

Here are the players who accomplished that feat and were included on the 2016 ballot but have roughly the same percentage chance of being elected as they did as young players of becoming eligible. For our purposes, the cutoff is a deficit of 12 or more in Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric (average of career wins above replacement and seven best WAR seasons) to the average score of existing Hall of Famers at the player’s position.

No-hopers

Garret Anderson

In Anderson’s rookie season with the Angels, 1995, he batted .321 with 16 home runs and 69 RBI in 400 plate appearances. He was edged out for rookie of the year by Marty Cordova, who would play nine seasons. Andy Pettitte finished third.

Anderson played 17 seasons, all but the last two for the Angels, who drafted him out of high school in 1990. He batted cleanup in all seven games of the 2002 World Series, driving in the winning runs in Game 7 with a third-inning, bases-loaded double off the Giants’ Livan Hernandez. He finished fourth in American League MVP voting that year (behind Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano) and was a three-time All-Star. His career slash was .293/.324/.461 with 287 homers and 1,365 RBI.

His JAWS score of 24.2 ranks 86th all-time among left fielders and 29.1 points below the average score (53.3) of the 19 left fielders already in the Hall.

Brad Ausmus

Rarer even than Hall-of-Famers are Ivy League graduates active in the major leagues, which Ausmus was throughout his 18-year career after mixing terms at Dartmouth with seasons in the minor leagues and sacrificing his collegiate eligibility in the process. He was a terrific defensive catcher, winning three gold gloves and finishing 10th all-time in fielding percentage. He was an American League All-Star in 1999. His defensive wins above replacement (18.3) were more than double his offensive WAR (8.6).

His JAWS score (15.7) ranks 99th among catchers and 27.4 points below the average (43.1) of the 13 catchers in the Hall.

Luis Castillo

A three-time All-Star, three-time gold glove winner and two-time league stolen base leader, Castillo was the only player on the roster of both Marlins championship teams (1997, 2003) who did not get traded in between, although he did not appear in the ’97 World Series. He finished with a career slash of .290/.368/.351. His 370 stolen bases rank 93rd all-time. He was a key member of the ’03 champions.

His JAWS score (26.4) ranks 69th among second basemen and 30.5 points below the average (56.9) of 20 second basemen in the Hall.

David Eckstein

The 5-foot-6-inch “X factor” joined the Angels as a 26-year-old rookie in 2001, batting .285, stealing 29 bases and finishing fourth in rookie-of-the-year voting. He was a two-time All-Star and one of the few shortstops to win World Series in both leagues, with the Angels in 2002 and Cardinals in 2006. He was named most valuable player of the ’06 Series, batting .364 in the five-game victory over the Tigers.

His JAWS score (19.9) ranks 112th among shortstops and 34.8 points below the average (54.7) of the 21 shortstops in the Hall.

Troy Glaus

When baseball executives do the regression studies that demonstrate their tendency to overpay veteran free agents, Glaus is one of the cautionary tales. The year he turned 24, his third season with the Angels, he led the American league in home runs with 47 and made the first of his four All-Star games. Of his career WAR of 37.9, accumulated over 13 seasons, more than half, 20.4, came in seasons two through five, culminating in his World Series MVP in 2002, when he batted .385 with three home runs in the Angels’ seven-game victory over the Giants. His career slash was .254/.358/.489, with 320 homers and 950 RBI.

His JAWS score (35.3) ranks him 37th among third basemen and 19.7 below the average (55.0) of 13 third basemen in the Hall.

Mark Grudzielanek

A regional Skee ball champion in Texas at age 16, Grudzielanek was unofficially the most misspelled name on television graphics of his generation. Vin Scully turned it lyrical, pronouncing it Grass-a-lonic. An above-average defender on either side of second base, he accumulated offensive WAR of 23.4 and defensive WAR of 8.9 over a 15-season career with five teams. Grudzielanek made his only All-Star appearance in his second season, 1996, when he batted .306 and stole 33 bases for the Expos. He won his only gold glove in 2006, at the age of 36, for the Royals.

His JAWS score (23.4) ranks 76th among second basemen and 33.5 below the average (56.9) of the 20 second basemen in the Hall.

Mike Hampton

No one will ever know if Hampton’s career trajectory would have changed materially had he not succumbed to the Rockies’ seduction in 2001, signing an eight-year, $121 million contract to pitch half his games at Coors Field. After dominating the National League with his power sinker in 1999 for the Astros, going 22-4 and finishing second to Randy Johnson in Cy Young balloting, Hampton was traded, enjoyed a good year for the Mets (15-10, 3.14), and then became the centerpiece (with Denny Neagle) of Colorado’s attempt to prove it was not a pitcher’s graveyard.

On June 10, 2001, after the Rockies beat the Cardinals 12-3 at Coors Field, Hampton’s record was 9-2, his ERA 2.98. From there, the experiment unraveled in a hurry. By the end of the season, those numbers were 14-13, 5.41. The next season, his last there, they were 7-15, 6.15. He got back on track with a couple of solid seasons in Atlanta before injuries derailed his career. There is no way to know what if any contribution those two years at elevation made, but the tendency of Rockies pitchers to break down — physically, mentally or both — is what led to some of the club’s odder experiments later on.

Hampton called it quits after 16 years with a record of 148-115 and an ERA of 4.06.  Remove the two years in Colorado and those numbers are 127-87, 3.72. He was one of the best-hitting pitchers of his era, winning five silver slugger awards. He took full advantage of his time in Colorado in this respect, winning silver sluggers both years and putting up a career-best seven home runs in 2001. His career batting average was .246 with 16 home runs — 10 in his two years with the Rockies — and 79 RBI.

His JAWS score (27.3) ranks 301st all-time among starting pitchers and 33.5 points below the average (62.1) of 62 starting pitchers in the Hall.

Mike Lowell

On one level, there are few awards in baseball as prestigious as World Series MVP. If your definition of greatness includes rising to the occasion when it matters most, this is the award that attempts to capture that quality. Unfortunately, because it rewards performance in such a small window, the result often seems random. Lowell won it in 2007 when his nice, round .400 batting average made him the selection after Boston’s four-game sweep of the overmatched Rockies, a series in which an MVP wasn’t really required.

Overall, Lowell was a .252 postseason hitter for Florida and Boston and a .279 career hitter overall. His power numbers were OK — 223 career homers, 952 RBI, 108 OPS+ — but not extraordinary. The same could be said of his defense at third base. He became a fan favorite in Boston, but his career didn’t last long enough to take advantage of the WAR career adding machine. He was a four-time All-Star whose best year was ’07, when he batted .324 with 21 homers and 120 RBI, finishing fifth in regular-season MVP voting.

His JAWS score (24.1) ranks 84th among third basemen and 30.9 points below the average (55.0) of 13 third basemen in the Hall.

Mike Sweeney

A three-time player of the year for the Royals, Sweeney was a natural hitter who batted over .300 five times and barely missed it as a career average (.297). He started as a catcher, where he struggled defensively, moved to first base, and ultimately to designated hitter. In the five seasons from 1999 through 2003, he accumulated 18.6 wins above replacement, more than three-quarters of his career total. He appeared in the postseason only once, getting a single at-bat for the Phillies in 2010 at age 36. He singled.

His JAWS score (23.2) ranks 102nd among first basemen and 31.0 points below the average (54.2) of the 19 first basemen in the Hall.

Randy Winn

An impressive athlete who could hit from both sides of the plate, run and play defense, Winn was drafted in the third round by Florida in 1995. While he had a nice 13-year career, playing for five teams, he never quite lived up to the athletic promise. He was named to just one All-Star Game, in 2002, for Tampa Bay. Statistically, he was roughly average, both offensively and defensively, with a career OPS+ of 99. His career slash was .284/.343/.416.

His JAWS score (26.1) ranks 95th among center fielders and 31.1 points below the average (57.2) of the 18 center fielders in the Hall.

***

These exclusions pare the original ballot from 32 to 22 names. Here they are, listed in order of their JAWS rankings relative to the average of players at their positions already in the Hall:

  • Barry Bonds +64.3
  • Roger Clemens +41.2
  • Ken Griffey Jr. +11.6
  • Jeff Bagwell +9.7
  • Mike Piazza +8.1
  • Alan Trammell +2.8
  • Curt Schilling +2.4
  • Tim Raines +2.3
  • Mike Mussina +1.7
  • Edgar Martinez +1.0
  • Larry Walker +0.5
  • Mark McGwire -2.3
  • Jim Edmonds -5.8
  • Sammy Sosa -7.1
  • Jason Kendall -7.2
  • Gary Sheffield -9.0
  • Lee Smith -9.0
  • Fred McGriff -10.1
  • Trevor Hoffman -10.4
  • Billy Wagner -10.4
  • Nomar Garciaparra -11.1
  • Jeff Kent -11.5

***

Obvious cheaters

This category remains controversial, and will, no doubt, for the foreseeable future. I explained my rationale at some length two years ago and you should refer to that post if you want a more verbose explanation than I provide here. With something like 100 honorary voters coming off the rolls as a result of this year’s change in voting qualifications, it will be interesting to see the effect on the percentages these players receive. I would expect them to rise on the assumption that the older voters bumped from the rolls were more likely to penalize them for using performance-enhancing drugs than the younger voters who now make up a larger proportion of the total.

The willingness to shrug off obvious cheating with the usual rationales — everybody was doing it; who knows who was doing it; modern chemistry is a part of sports, like it or not — still baffles me. Some of it comes from veteran baseball writers protective of former commissioner Bud Selig, who botched the steroid era quite spectacularly but treated beat writers well and was rewarded with their loyalty. Minimizing the cheating minimizes his mistake. Some of it comes from a moral relativism that derives from a devotion to sabermetrics — the numbers are really all that matter; the numbers would have been good enough without the cheating. And some of it comes from a related dependence on quantifiable certitude — the view that if we can’t know with certainty who did and who didn’t, we shouldn’t attempt to make any distinctions at all. As a lifelong journalist and the son of a historian, this seems to me either hopelessly naive or purposefully impossible. We are always doing the best we can with the knowledge we have. That’s life.

For those attached to one or more of these rationalizations, or to another rationale entirely, I urge a viewing of the 2014 documentary Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story, currently playing on Showtime. Is there any good reason Armstrong should be vilified and lose everything in his sport while baseball players who did exactly the same thing stand for election to be glorified and immortalized in theirs, other than the fact that baseball, like cycling, was asleep at the switch at the time but, unlike cycling, had no outside entity like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to clean up afterward?

One recent development is also worth mentioning in light of claims that the “morals clause” in Hall of Fame voting represents the antiquated remains of a bygone era and should properly be excised if anybody ever gets around to modernizing the rules. The Hall of Fame has quite noticeably taken charge of this process over the past couple of years. It has taken the voting logistics from the Baseball Writers Association of America and given them to an accounting firm. It has reduced the time a player may remain on the ballot. It has reduced the time a voter may continue participating after he or she stops covering the game. Amid all these reforms, it has not changed this language in our instructions at all:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

The Hall knows what this means in 2016 and it has elected to leave it in. If you have heard players already in the Hall talk about this, you know why.

My imperfect standard remains the same. Where there is evidence of cheating I find convincing, I’m not voting for the guy. Where there is mainly suspicion and rumor, I am, if he’s qualified. On that basis, I disqualify these players from consideration this year, as I have in the past:

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Mark McGwire

Sammy Sosa

***

This leaves me with 18:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. +11.6
  • Jeff Bagwell +9.7
  • Mike Piazza +8.1
  • Alan Trammell +2.8
  • Curt Schilling +2.4
  • Tim Raines +2.3
  • Mike Mussina +1.7
  • Edgar Martinez +1.0
  • Larry Walker +0.5
  • Jim Edmonds -5.8
  • Jason Kendall -7.2
  • Gary Sheffield -9.0
  • Lee Smith -9.0
  • Fred McGriff -10.1
  • Trevor Hoffman -10.4
  • Billy Wagner -10.4
  • Nomar Garciaparra -11.1
  • Jeff Kent -11.5

***

To this point, the process has been reasonably straightforward. I rely on Jaffe’s quantitative sorting metric unless and until I disagree based on my own qualitative judgment — the “eye test.”

Now it gets less straightforward. I like Jaffe’s formulation that players added to the Hall of Fame should be at least as good as those already there — the impulse not to dilute the quality of the place. Still, the effort to compare performances across many generations, during which the game has changed so much, is approximate at best. For example, in 1970 the Veterans Committee elected a Cardinals pitcher from the 1920s and ’30s by the name of Jesse Haines. He won 20 three times, 210 overall, career ERA of 3.64. His JAWS score (27.3) is exactly the same as Mike Hampton’s.

So when these quantitative assessments reach the relatively small differences among our 18 remaining candidates, the decisions get more subjective.

Unfortunately, both qualitative and quantitative measures struggle mightily in the same area  — the specialist, baseball’s closer. It is an issue this year because three of our 18 — Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner — are closers.

For most of baseball history, relief pitchers were the guys who weren’t good enough to be starters. By definition, they were not good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That is still true of most relief pitchers — all but the ones designated to finish games. Of 310 elected members of the Hall, only five were elected as relief pitchers.

Based on Jaffe’s attempt to quantify this judgment, two of the five — Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers — don’t belong. Their JAWS scores are well below those of the other three — Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm and Goose Gossage. In fact, the Relief Pitchers JAWS Leaders page over at baseballreference.com is a mess. It makes Greg Swindell and Turk Farrell two of the top 12 relievers of all time, ahead of Smith, Sutter, Wagner, Hoffman, Dan Quisenberry and so on.

Why? Well, because they were once starters and earned a bunch of WAR in that role, then hauled them over to the relievers’ page. The best reliever never to have started a major league game, according to Jaffe’s model, is Sutter, who ranks 17th. So if the closer has a value anywhere near what the modern general manager is willing to pay for one, JAWS has yet to illuminate it.

What would be the key metrics? Being old school, or maybe just old, I start with earned-run average. If the idea is to hold a lead, you want to give up as few runs as possible.

  • Billy Wagner: 2.31
  • Hoyt Wilhelm: 2.52
  • Bruce Sutter: 2.83
  • Trevor Hoffman: 2.87
  • Rollie Fingers: 2.90
  • Goose Gossage: 3.01
  • Lee Smith: 3.03
  • Dennis Eckersely: 3.50

Or maybe ERA+, which adjusts for ballparks and makes the league average 100:

  • Billy Wagner: 187
  • Hoyt Wilhelm: 147
  • Trevor Hoffman: 141
  • Bruce Sutter: 136
  • Lee Smith: 132
  • Goose Gossage: 126
  • Rollie Fingers: 120
  • Dennis Eckersley: 116

How about saves? There is something arbitrary about this volume number, depending as it does on the quality of your team — how often it is ahead late — and, in days of yore, before it became automatic, your manager’s inclination to bring you into such situations.

  • Trevor Hoffman: 601
  • Lee Smith: 478
  • Billy Wagner: 422
  • Dennis Eckersley: 390
  • Rollie Fingers: 341
  • Goose Gossage: 310
  • Bruce Sutter: 300
  • Hoyt Wilhelm: 228

The more modern the player, the more likely that player is to pile up saves because the degree of specialization has increased over time. One would expect to find an inverse correlation between saves and innings pitched per appearance. Eckersley spent half his career as a starter; older relievers pitched more innings per appearance. Moe Drabowsky famously replaced Dave McNally in the third inning of Game 1 of the 1966 World Series and pitched the rest of the game. What, exactly, is the value of the modern specialist who comes in only at the very end, to pitch one-ninth or less of a game, usually when his team is ahead?

The sabermetricians appear to have decided that a team leading late will go on to win so much of the time randomly that even elite closers deserve credit for only a handful, or fewer, of their saves each year. I discussed this at some length last year with respect to John Smoltz, whose career WAR suffered noticeably — and made him a sub-par HOF candidate as a starting pitcher, according to JAWS — because of his years as an elite closer. The fact the Braves chose to use him in that role during those years demonstrates that they estimated the value of the position quite differently from the way the WAR numbers do. To make matters worse, the average JAWS score of the five relievers already in the Hall — which becomes the standard for aspiring candidates — is inflated by Eckersley’s WAR numbers, the majority of which — 45.6 of 62.5 — he earned as a starter.

Over the course of his 18-year career, Hoffman accumulated a total of 28 wins above replacement, according to baseballreference.com, or an average of 1.6 per season. Simple subtraction tells us that according to this metric, which Jaffe uses to determine Hall of Fame worthiness, an average replacement relief pitcher would have piled up 573 saves in the circumstances in which Hoffman accumulated 601. Assuming this average replacement player had Hoffman’s durability, he would finish his career with the second-most saves in history, same as Hoffman.

Does anybody believe this? If so, why do the people entrusted with running big league teams pay closers what they pay them these days?

So WAR and JAWS don’t help much, if at all, when it comes to relievers, except possibly as a relative measurement among them, since it might be wrong about all of them in the same ways.

For example, JAWS gives Hoffman and Wagner exactly the same score (24.0). Hoffman has a slightly better career WAR; Wagner a slightly better prime WAR. They even out. So, when Hoffman partisans start quoting his stats, they often insert a minimum requirement of 1,000 innings pitched. That leaves him first in baserunners allowed (1.058 WHIP), an impressive marker. As it happens, Wagner’s number is better (0.998), which might explain why Hoffman partisans put in the innings minimum. Were it not for the round number, the difference between Hoffman’s 1,089 innings and Wagner’s 903 wouldn’t matter much. After all, Smith pitched 1,289, and that hasn’t helped him in 13 years on the ballot.

Complicating all this is the general consensus that Mariano Rivera will be elected to the Hall as soon as he becomes eligible. So there is a certain level of dominance that bypasses the positional problem. Even JAWS approves of Rivera, although he still trails Eckersley. There are Hoffman partisans who believe he should hold the same trump card Rivera holds. But unlike Rivera, Hoffman never got a chance to shine on the big stage. He made only one World Series appearance, giving up two earned runs in two innings. His career postseason ERA is 3.46.

In a way, closers in baseball are like kickers in football. They play a crucial role at certain critical moments, but for the vast majority of the time, they watch from the sidelines or the bullpen, as the case may be. The small cohort of voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame has similar difficulty comparing them favorably to the guys on the field most of the time. Only three have made it — George Blanda, Lou Groza and Jan Stenerud — and two of those played other positions as well.

Not to bring Ray Guy into the conversation, but I’m punting. The traffic jam of worthy candidates allows me to take more time to think about this and wait for the ballot to open up enough that devoting a spot to a specialist doesn’t require taking one from a deserving everyday player. I’ve got 11 non-relievers I’d like to vote for this year, and when I ask myself whether I would take one of the closers over one of them if I were building a team, the answer is no.

Which gets me down to 15:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. +11.6
  • Jeff Bagwell +9.7
  • Mike Piazza +8.1
  • Alan Trammell +2.8
  • Curt Schilling +2.4
  • Tim Raines +2.3
  • Mike Mussina +1.7
  • Edgar Martinez +1.0
  • Larry Walker +0.5
  • Jim Edmonds -5.8
  • Jason Kendall -7.2
  • Gary Sheffield -9.0
  • Fred McGriff -10.1
  • Nomar Garciaparra -11.1
  • Jeff Kent -11.5

***

Ken Griffey Jr.

Let’s get the easy one out of the way. Early on, Junior’s long, picturesque swing from the left side earned him “The Natural” nickname, in memory of the Bernard Malamud character. Steeped in baseball as a kid in the clubhouse of the Big Red Machine — his father played right field — he was ready to roll almost from the moment the Mariners made him the first overall pick of the 1987 draft at age 17.

Two years later, he was a big league starter. Three years later, at 20, he was an All-Star, the first of 11 consecutive selections and 13 overall. He received MVP votes after 10 seasons, winning the award in 1997, when he led the American League with 56 homers, 147 RBI, 125 runs scored, 393 total bases, 23 intentional walks and a slugging percentage of .646.

He won nine gold gloves along the way, all of them before age 30. The vast majority of his career WAR also came in his 20s. His JAWS score (68.8) makes him the only center fielder not (yet) in the Hall of Fame with a better score than the average of the 18 center fielders already there. He trails only Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Mickey Mantle. He leads Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider.

***

Here is the group of seven candidates I voted for last year that I am voting for again, and for the same reasons. Check last year’s post to explain my votes for Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Alan Trammell, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, Mike Mussina and Larry Walker. You will find a particularly long-winded rant on behalf of Walker, which I am likely to repeat at some point before his eligibility (not to mention mine) expires, because quantitative analysis suggests his modest HOF vote totals are the result of irrational prejudice.

I refer you to the same post to explain my vote this year for Edgar Martinez. I wanted to vote for him last year, as I wrote at the time, but he was No. 11 on my list. Luckily, three of the guys I voted for won, so a spot opened up. I would only mention here a mesmerizing career OPS of .933 and OPS+ of 147. The man could hit.

***

A word or two about Trammell, on the ballot for the last time this year, and Raines, who gets one more shot after this one if he needs it.

On the JAWS list at shortstop, Trammell sits just ahead of Derek Jeter, who will be elected in his first year of eligibility and serenaded to Cooperstown by the New York Philharmonic, and Barry Larkin, who was elected in 2012 with 86.4 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Trammell is about to fall off the ballot after 15 years, never having achieved 40 percent of the vote.

About the only logical explanation is that voters don’t put much value on defense at arguably the most important defensive position, which doesn’t say much for voters. Trammell has the best defensive WAR of the three, but his offensive numbers were also excellent for a middle infielder. Put them together and they surpass the work of his more popular fellow shortstops, according to the quants, but it doesn’t matter. His partner in that long-lived Tigers double-play combination, Lou Whitaker, received even less respect from the national voters. Who knows, maybe Trammell is paying for the unfortunate accident of playing shortstop in the American League in the era of Cal Ripken.

Whatever the explanation, it’s hard to reconcile an educated voting body giving such disparate treatment to players whose skills and achievements were so comparable.

Raines was caught by the Hall’s reduction in player eligibility from 15 to 10 years. Now in his ninth year on the ballot, he suddenly has one more instead of the six he would have had under the old rules. At the rate he was building support, it could matter. Starting at 24.3 percent of the vote in 2008, he rose to 55.0 percent last year. Here’s hoping logic and urgency turbocharge his push to 75.

Quantitatively, he should be a shoo-in. JAWS makes him the eighth-best left fielder of all time, ahead of Manny Ramirez, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell and many others. His 55.6 JAWS score is 2.3 points better than the average of 19 left fielders already in the Hall.

His 808 stolen bases are fifth all time and the four above him — Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb — are in the Hall already. His success rate when he took off — 85 percent — was higher than any of the four above him on the volume list. He was an OBP guy before OBP was cool in front offices, putting up a career .385, contributing to an .810 OPS for a player who never hit 20 homers in a season. If Trammell suffered by comparison to Ripken, perhaps Raines suffered by comparison to Henderson. Advanced metrics make it clear both of these guys belong.

***

Having settled on Griffey, Martinez and the seven unsuccessful candidates I voted for last year, I had one vote remaining and two more candidates I wanted to vote for. Because the JAWS numbers relative to their positions are similar for the remaining six, I began with the eye test.

Nomar Garciaparra sure looked like a Hall of Famer through his 20s, but injuries sabotaged the remainder of his career so thoroughly that the volume offensive numbers he seemed certain to produce never materialized. His rookie-of-the-year award and seven top-13 MVP finishes show how good he was when young and healthy, but except for one year his 30s were a wasteland and never allowed WAR’s longevity bias to work for him. Troy Tulowitzki’s career WAR should pass Nomar’s next year, and Tulo is not exactly an ironman either.

Jim Edmonds did not strike me as a Hall of Famer while I was watching him play. He was a very good player, and his numbers reflect it. Maybe I’m spoiled. I did see Mays and Mantle live as a kid. So Griffey qualifies and Edmonds doesn’t. Good batting averages, but not great. Good power numbers, but not great. Terrific fielder; eight gold gloves.

His similarity scores on baseballreference.com go to guys like Lance Berkman and Ellis  Burks, Dale Murphy and Fred Lynn. He never started an All-Star Game while playing for the Angels because Griffey or Kenny Lofton always did. In the National League, he alternated with guys like Berkman and Andruw Jones. He ended up with four All-Star appearances, which seems a bit low for a player with his numbers and suggests how many other outfielders were putting up numbers like that, too.

Jason Kendall was a nice hitter, particularly early in his career, when he batted .300 or better in four of his first five seasons. He did it twice in his remaining 10. He was an All-Star in three of his first five seasons, and then never again. He never won a gold glove. During his years with the Pirates they were going to Charles Johnson, Ausmus and Mike Matheny, and Mike Lieberthal one year.

He had unusual speed for a catcher, but he never had much power, which is pretty much a requirement for a catcher who wants to be in the Hall of Fame. Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra — the top six JAWS scores at the position — each had more than 300 career homers. Kendall had 75. Early in his career, his similarity scores go to Mickey Cochrane, who had the fewest homers (119) of catchers above the JAWS average for Hall of Famers at the position. By the end, his closest comparable was Dick Bartell, a journeyman infielder of the 1930s and ’40s.

Like Edmonds, Fred McGriff put up big numbers for much of his career and yet did not consistently rise above his contemporaries. From 1988-90, he received MVP votes every year as a member of the Blue Jays, but the first basemen making the American League All-Star team were guys like Mark McGwire, George Brett, Don Mattingly and Cecil Fielder.

He was traded to the Padres following the 1990 season (with Tony Fernandez, for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter) and found himself in an All-Star mix with Will Clark, John Kruk, Gregg Jefferies and the emerging Bagwell. Three years later, he was traded again, this time for Melvin Nieves and Donnie Elliott. He continued to crank out the home runs, but after Atlanta he was a journeyman, going from the Rays to the Cubs to the Dodgers back to the Rays. He had five All-Star appearances in 19 seasons.

McGriff is a close call. His offensive numbers are very good, and so are his comparables (David Ortiz, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Paul Konerko). But there are guys above him on the JAWS list at first base who have gotten less consideration. He did not dominate the competition at his position in either league. I thought of him as a very good player, but not a great one.

I want to vote for Jeff Kent. To my mind, JAWS underestimates the value of his power and production from a defensive position that so seldom provides them at anything like his level. His 377 career homers rank first all-time among second basemen, ahead of Rogers Hornsby, Craig Biggio, Joe Morgan and all the rest. His 1,518 RBI rank third, behind Hornsby and Nap Lajoie, who played in a different era and considerably longer. Granted, Kent played in an offensive era, but his numbers were still impressive, especially in 2000, the year he won the National League MVP award by batting .334 with 33 homers and 125 RBI. You know how many second basemen have won that award in the last 50 years? Three: Morgan, Ryne Sandberg and Kent.

Like McGriff, he was a five-time All-Star. Unlike McGriff, he was often beaten out by a Hall-of-Famer in Biggio. In 1997 and ’98, he was in the top 10 of National League MVP voting and Biggio was the All-Star. The closest McGriff came to an MVP award was a fourth-place finish in 1993.

My final vote came down to a battle between Kent and Gary Sheffield. Knowing Sheffield would not make my final cut in last year’s traffic jam, I eliminated him early. But I kept thinking about it afterward because as a fan who was usually rooting against the teams he played for, he scared the hell out of me — that menacing bat-wave, the explosive pop when he crushed the ball. It flew off his bat like a missile. The relentless danger he posed at the plate reminded me a little of an old favorite, Eddie Murray, a Hall of Famer often overshadowed by a more celebrated teammate and yet a fearsome competitor and consistent producer. Our brains make the connections they make, so, just for grins, I put their numbers side by side.

The main difference is durability. Murray played 3,026 games in 21 seasons; Sheffield, 2,576 in 22. Still, in 15 percent fewer games, Sheffield managed, like Murray, to exceed 500 home runs, and slightly exceed Murray’s All-Star appearances (nine to eight). When it comes to overall offensive production adjusted for ballparks, Sheffield’s career OPS+ was 140, compared to Murray’s 129. Playing different positions, both ended up with negative defensive WARs, although Sheffield’s was worse. Still, as with Kent, watching the guy play it seemed obvious that his defensive deficiencies were a small price to pay for that bat.

Both passed my eye test. By a whisker, I gave my final vote to Sheffield.

So here’s my 2016 ballot:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Ken Griffey Jr.
  • Edgar Martinez
  • Mike Mussina
  • Mike Piazza
  • Tim Raines
  • Curt Schilling
  • Gary Sheffield
  • Alan Trammell
  • Larry Walker

Happy new year.