Later today the final member or members of the 2012 Hall of Fame class will revealed.
Last week, Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times put forth not only his predictions for today's election results, but the percentages each candidate will receive on the ballot: Chris has been doing these predictions for several years now, and the results have matched them closely. One of the main components he uses is the strength of the ballot, which at first glance shouldn't matter, as voters can place up to ten players on their ballot. But the presence or absence of Hall of Fame-worthy players on a ballot has an effect on other more marginal candidates:
This is the single most important guideline. When the ballot’s overall strength goes up, the members of the backlog have their vote totals go down. If a ballot gets weaker, the backlog’s support gets stronger.
Two things change the strength of a ballot: guys arriving on it, and those departing from it. For example, in 1999 Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk, and Dale Murphy arrived on the ballot and the holdovers suffered considerably.
So what does that mean for this year's ballot? There are 13 new players on the ballot, but only one (Bernie Williams) that seems a lock to stick around a year. And while Williams does deserve a long look, he shouldn't hurt any of the holdovers. That should mean that the top holdover on the ballot, Barry Larkin, will probably easily pass the 75% threshold for induction, and Jack Morris should get a pretty big boost as well. This may be Morris' best shot of induction through the BBWAA ballot, as the next couple seasons will see a huge influx of HOF-worthy players.
But those are strategic considerations; what about the players' actual worthiness?
Should be in
SS Barry Larkin was the best NL shortstop of his era, taking home nine Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves during his 19-year career. He won the 1995 NL MVP in a very competitive ballot, placing just ahead of Dante Bichette, Greg Maddux, and Mike Piazza. From 1988 to 2000 (13 seasons), he managed at least a 100 OPS+ in each of those season. He was not a durable player, only appearing in 140 or more in seven seasons, but he was still an effective shortstop through age 40. He did have the good fortune not to have much shortstop competition in the NL, so instead of fighting for post-season awards with Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, or Nomar Garciaparra, he had to compete with players like Jay Bell, Shawon Duston, and Jose Offerman. But his career 116 OPS+ (better than Ripken and comparable with Jeter) at a premium defensive position along a very good defensive reputation should stand on its own merits.
1B Jeff Bagwell, had there been no PED allegations, would have gone in at the very least on this year's ballot. Despite playing for most of his career in a pitcher's park, he put up incredible offensive numbers. He was also a very durable player up until his career-ending shoulder injury, appearing in at least 140 games every non-strike season from 1991 through 2004. He won the NL 1994 MVP, hitting an amazing .368/.451/.750 in that shortened season, and finished the top ten in voting five other times. He finished his career with 488 doubles and 449 home runs, and with a normal decline phase would haved easily passed the 500 barrier in both categories. His career 149 OPS+ ranks 38th all-time, ahead of Hall of Fame sluggers like Hack Wilson, Eddie Matthews, and Harmon Killebrew.
LF Tim Raines had the unfortunate luck to be a contemporary of Rickey Henderson. He was a great leadoff hitter, getting on base at a .385 clip, and stealing bases at an 85% success rate.
DH Edgar Martinez would be the first Hall of Famer who spent the majority of his career as a DH. Even if you feel that a player who didn't play the field shouldn't be voted in, you must acknowledge his fantastic ability to hit; he bested a 150 OPS+ in a season eight times, and finished his career with a .312/.418/.515 career batting line (147 OPS+).
SS Allan Trammel for some reason isn't getting the traction that his teammate Jack Morris has gotten, but I feel he's much more deserving than Morris. I'm not sure how a shortstop who was good for a very long career and a major star on several teams isn't getting votes. He was a good shortstop into his late 30s, retiring one season after his long-time double play partner Lou Whittaker.
1B Mark McGwire, at least until Bonds and Clemens appear on the ballot, will be the face of the Steroid Era in the eyes of the voters. Because he captured the imaginations of fans and writers alike during his record-setting 1998 season, his admission that he used PEDs has turned his best fans into his bitterest enemies, and a lot of those enemies have ballots.
RF Larry Walker was a fantastic defender in right field, winning seven Gold Gloves as a corner outfielder*. He is probably being penalized for having his best offensive seasons in Colorado, but he still a very good hitter when he played much closer to sea level in his last two seasons.
CF Bernie Williams will probably remain on the ballot for the full 15 years, but may work his way into the Hall as his career is re-examined a la Blyleven. It's strange that a former Yankee is underrated, but I actually think this is case with Williams. In his prime he was both a fantastic defensive center fielder in a difficult home park and a middle-of-the-order slugger in a star-studded lineup.
Not in but close
CL Lee Smith was one of the first of the "modern" closers to reach the ballot, but if you compare him with Trevor Hoffmann or Mariano Rivera, he falls well short of the evolving standards for closers.
1B Rafael Palmeiro, despite reaching the 3,000 hit mark, his offensive resume is well below those of contemporaries Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, and Frank Thomas. He's a marginal Hall of Famer in my opinion, so the positive PED test moves him under the threshold.
1B Fred McGriff. Not a whole lot to say about him, other than that he's a marginal candidate.
RF Juan Gomzalez, had his hamstring cooperated, may have put himself over the line. After his fine 2001 season with the Indians, he seemed primed for a nice decline phase, but he just couldn't stay on the field.
RHP Jack Morris was a very good pitcher, but he just doesn't have the type of peak that I usually look for. His best season by ERA+ was 1979 (133), and best by WAR was 1987. He finished in the top 5 of Cy Young voting 5 times. There aren't many starters who had their primes in the 1980s in the Hall of Fame, but that's because I just think it was a fallow period; being among the best of a weak group doesn't signify greatness.
*Until recently, Gold Gloves were given to the best three outfielders in a league regardless of position. So center fielders normally took home all three Gold Gloves.