Previously on a Hall of Fame path

“If he keeps it up, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.” “At this rate, he’ll be in Cooperstown five years after he retires.” “The ways he’s going, this guy is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.”

You’ve doubtlessly read variations on that theme countless time about numerous players. A guy gets off to a terrific start to his career, he gives no indication of slowing down, and his future looks clear. Induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame appears to be no more than a formality.

But then something happens. Injuries, drug problems, or the ever-unexplainable dropoff in performance that often can be explained quite simply: baseball is really difficult, and staying among the elite takes a rare, special combination of skill, endurance, adaptability and good fortune.

Those who survive this gantlet become Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt or Tom Seaver. Those who don’t become Darryl Strawberry, Dale Murphy or Fernando Valenzuela—players who for one reason or another didn’t make it through the labyrinth without being devoured by the minotaur.

What about today’s players? Sure, we can see those who are all but guaranteed their spots in Cooperstown—Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Albert Pujols, to name but three. But what of those whose path is still somewhat unclear, those who at various times have elicited comments similar to those above, but since have seen their destinies become more cloudy?

Those are the players of interest today. And while you may not share the same opinion of whether these ballplayers are future Hall of Famers, it should make for some interesting discussion.

Chase Utley

Utley began his Phillies career with two mediocre partial seasons in 2003-04, but then he got a full-time job and took off. From 2005 to 2009, he received MVP votes in five seasons, was tabbed for four All-Star appearances, and was a four-time Silver Slugger winner. Utley also finished in the National League top five in bWAR in every one of those seasons, coming in as high as second in ’08 and ’09.

He provided an excellent combination of average, power, speed, and defense, a total package nearly any player would be envious of. He wasn’t even afraid to take a pitch to the body, leading the league in hits-by-pitch for three consecutive years.

One small concern is that Utley’s career started a bit late, meaning that his first full season of 2005 was his age-26 campaign. Most Hall of Famers have been starters for several seasons by that age. However, after that half-decade of dominance, Utley was only 30 and had plenty of time to add to his impressive resume.

Since that time, though, Utley has seen his playing time and performance drop as knee problems have limited him. He hasn’t topped 115 games played since ’09, his best home run total has been 16, and his OPS+ has been 123, 110 and 113 after ranging between 125 and 146 in his prime.

Coming into the 2013 season, Utley’s career marks were a .288/.376/.500 triple-slash line with a 126 OPS+, 199 home runs, 739 RBIs, 779 runs scored, 121 stolen bases. Those are all solid, but his rate stats have been falling ever since 2010, though this year he’s off to basically a career-average start.

Unless you’re Bill Mazeroski, you’re not getting into the Hall as a defensive second baseman, and Utley’s injury history has reduced his effectiveness in the field a bit, and his increasing age will reduce it further, so he’s going to have to hit his way into Cooperstown. At age 34, it’s looking less and less likely that this will happen. Utley is a terrific ballplayer, but barring a significant upswing in performance, he’s not a future Hall of Famer.

Johan Santana

It’s interesting that so many people—even those who are sabermetrically inclined—question the decision to move a pitcher from the bullpen to the rotation, even if the player came up through the minors as a starter. It’s odd because Earl Weaver, a darling of saber circles, was renowned for doing this as a manager. It’s also odd because it’s the path Santana took as his career grew from killer reliever to top-notch starter.

Similar to Utley, Santana began his major league career with two partial seasons, mostly coming out of the Twins’ bullpen, but starting on occasion, too. He wasn’t very good in those initial campaigns, but things started to click in his third year, 2002. Santana was a starter in about half of his appearances, and overall he threw 108.1 innings with 137 strikeouts, a 2.99 ERA and a 150 ERA+. The next season featured similar usage and success, but with better control, over an additional 50 innings.

In 2004, Minnesota took the reins off, and Santana began a reign of terror on hitters everywhere. He had a three-year run in which he won 20, 16 and 19 games, lost a grand total of only 19, and led the American League in strikeouts, ERA+ and WHIP all three years—and his WHIP never topped 1.00 in that time. He also won two Cy Young awards and came in third the other season.

The next two seasons, one with the Twins and the next following a trade to the Mets, were very impressive, if slightly less so. Santana did lead the NL in ERA and innings pitched in his Mets debut in 2008, and the following two years also were very good, though his innings totals fell short of 200 for the first time since ’04.

Then the injury bug, which has nibbled at Santana from time to time, bit hard. A torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder cost him all of 2011. He came back in 2012 to pitch rather poorly over a half season, and now he’s staring at a potential career-ending second tear of his left anterior capsule.

To this point, Santana has a mere 139 wins (against 78 losses, for a .641 winning percentage), 1,988 punchouts in 2,025.2 innngs, a 136 ERA+ and WAR totals of 50.7 (Basball-Referece, 96th all time among pitchers) and 47.4 (FanGraphs). A huge problem for Santana is that, “to this point” may equate to “he ends his career with…” as a return is far from certain, particularly with the guaranteed portion of his contract expiring this year.

If he comes back at all, that dreaded combination of age and injury indicate Santana is highly unlikely to recapture his former glory. What once looked like a career that could rival Roberto Clemente as the best ever by a Rule 5 acquisition now looks like it is all but over, and unquestionably shy of Cooperstown’s standards.

Roy Oswalt

Oswalt didn’t dawdle at the start of his career like Utley and Santana. Instead, as a starter for the Astros, he led the NL in winning percentage his rookie year with an .824 (14-3) mark, finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, was fifth in the Cy Young tally and even received some MVP votes. With a strikeout-per-nine rate of 9.1, only 1.5 walks per nine, a 170 ERA+ and a 1.06 WHIP, the future looked quite bright for this righty hurler.

And the next several seasons were very impressive as Oswalt won 20 games twice and 19 games another time in Seasons Two through Five, along with 17, 15 and 14 victories in the following three years. His ERA+ never was lower than 119 during his first nine campaigns, and though he never captured a Cy Young award, he was in the top five a total of five times. A mediocre 2009 was followed by a strong 2010 split between Houston and Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, things have petered out quickly since then. Oswalt was solid in 2011 with a 104 ERA+, but over only 139 innings. Last season with Texas was a disaster, as his 5.80 ERA and 79 ERA+ in 59 innings demonstrate. Oswalt reportedly is considering pitching again this season in what would be his age-35 campaign, though whether he can both find a job and perform effectively is highly debatable.

Once again we have a player who started out strong—even more so than the others—and put up a string of terrific seasons, but couldn’t maintain that pace, or even a presence on the field that would boost his counting stats. If Oswalt is done, he finishes with 163 victories, a .629 winning percentage, 3.28 ERA and 130 ERA+ over 2,213 innings. WAR puts him at 50.8 (B-Ref, 95th all time among pitchers) and 48.8 (FG).

Overall, Oswalt’s numbers looks pretty similar to Santana’s, and if they aren’t good enough to put the latter into the Hall, they won’t be good enough for the former, either.

Todd Helton

Now here’s a guy who started out like a house afire. A nice-sized cup of coffee in 1997 was the prelude to Helton’s explosion onto the scene. For the next decade, Helton batted over .300 each season, peaking at a league-leading .372 in 2000. He stroked 20 or more home runs for eight consecutive years, maxing out at 49 in 2001, and he had a five-year stretch of over 100 RBI, topping out with 147 in 2000 and 146 in 2001. His OPS+ over his first 10 full seasons ranged from 118 to 165, giving pause to anyone who claimed Helton was a Coors Field creation.

Though some people certainly remained skeptical about the home-field benefits he enjoyed, enough voters appreciated Helton’s game to make him a runner-up for Rookie of the Year, five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger, three-time Gold Glover and recipient of MVP votes in six seasons, peaking with a fifth-place finish in that phenomenal 2000 campaign. (In addition to leading the league in average and RBI that year, he topped the senior circuit in hits, doubles, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases.)

Helton tapered off somewhat as he entered his early 30s, with back and hip issues and a host of other maladies slowing him down. Though he produced a couple of solid seasons in 2009 and 2011, Helton has been essentially average at the plate for the past five years, and his first-base defense isn’t what it used to be. And the words “Helton” and “speed” will not share a sentence unless a phrase such as “lacking in” is included.

The difficulty for Helton is that the bar for elite first basemen is set so incredibly high. Being very good for a long time is impressive, but being awesome for more than a decade is the minimum required to be a Cooperstown-level first sacker. A career triple-slash line of .320/.418/.544 and OPS of 963 look mighty fine, but Denver’s thin air limits Helton’s OPS+ to a solid-but-unspectacular 135. His homer total of 355 is light, too, particularly given his home park, and his bWAR mark of 61.6 (fWAR of 56.6) is only 108th among hitters, tied with Sal Bando. (Interestingly, Mark McGwire is just a touch ahead of Helton at 62.0 bWAR.)

Durability is Helton’s bugaboo. Had he the health and stamina to maintain the power stroke of his 20s—and maybe if the video-game numbers of the early 2000s still were prominent—Helton would have a much better Hall of Fame case. As is, though, he was merely a terrific player for a decade and a decent one over the following seven seasons. That kind of resume should ensure Helton’s legacy in Colorado and beyond, but not all the way to upstate New York.

Roy Halladay

I didn’t want to lead off with Halladay, because I figured those who think he’s already a Hall of Famer might have stopped reading right then. And while I’ll concede he is a good candidate for enshrinement, I don’t know if Halladay is the slam dunk many seem to think he is, if he has the resume Hall of Fame voters are looking for. Hear me out.

On the plus side, Halladay has won 66.3 percent of his decisions, with a 3.33 ERA, a 1.33 ERA+, and a 3.69 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s a two-time Cy Young award winner with two other runner-up finishes and a total of seven top-five finishes, and he has made eight All-Star squads. Additionally, his top season win totals of 22, 21, 20 and 19 are such to catch the eye of traditionalists.

On the other hand, Halladay has “only” 201 total victories and a middling 6.9 strikeouts-per-nine mark, whiffing just 2,086 batters in his career, a number A.J. Burnett is close to. He’s had only two middling seasons since his atrocious 10.64 ERA year in 2000 (mentioned primarily to show how well he bounced back from adversity), though one was last year, and his 2013 campaign has begun poorly.

Given the increased emphasis on bullpens and the decreased emphasis on pitcher wins, it’s likely many voters see Halladay’s value. He’s currently 40th all time in bWAR with 66.3 and has accumulated 68.3 fWAR, and another three WAR would push him into Baseball-Reference’s top 30. Basically, if he can keep going at even a workmanlike pace for two or three more years, it’s difficult to see a scenario in which Halladay does not get voted into Cooperstown not long after his career ends.


There were a few other active players I considered investigating further, but I declined for a variety of reasons. Tim Lincecum was stellar for four years, but that’s not enough time to establish an interesting case. Alex Rodriguez is in his own bizarre category—in this discussion and many others. Manny Ramirez is still going, though on the other side of the world, and his two suspensions complicate his case in a unique manner. Lance Berkman may be worth studying, too, but he didn’t seem to have that strong mid-career support these other fellows did.

Your turn

So, what do you think? Which of these players are headed to Cooperstown? Who else fits this description and deserves mention? The Comments section awaits your input.

References & Resources
Stats are from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

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  1. dave said...

    That’s one depressing article!!  If I had a HOF vote and voted on gut feel there’s no doubt I’d put Santana in.  Even reading your write-up I thought “three-year reign of terror” sold him short, but you’re right.  Dammitall.  He was crazy good, unhittable for months on end.

    Ricardo I think Andruw Jones should be a HOFer.  Hopefully the voters don’t lump him in w/Dale Murphy.

    Another one that comes to mind is Miguel Tejada.  Similar to Utley with the late start, but quite the 7-year run from 00-06.

  2. Greg Simons said...

    Michael – good suggestion.  Lots of power and speed when Soriano was young, including an eye-catching 40/40 season.  But his defense and OBP are lacking.  Sort of a poor man’s Andre Dawson?

    Ricardo – another strong candidate.  Definitely no defensive issues, particularly when Jones was younger.  A long stretch of terrific power, too, though he stopped stealing bases pretty quickly.  dave’s mention of Dale Murphy provides a solid comp, though Murphy has Jones beat in BA.  However, Jones creams him in WAR.  He’ll be an interesting case when he becomes eligible, probably a guy who lingers on the ballot for a long time.

    dave – I almost thought Tejada was retired, but the Royals have resuscitated him.  He had a long run of very good performance, but his steroid issues – particularly lying to Congress – will be a big problem when he comes up for consideration.

  3. Tom Dockery said...

    What about Utley’s teammate,Jimmy Rollins?Barring serious injury,he should get to 500 doubles and 500 stolen bases.Throw in his 100 triples,and he’d become only the fourth player to accomplish this trifecta,behind Wagner,Cobb,and Molitor.

  4. Dave Cornutt said...

    Came across something recently that startled me a bit… I used Fangraphs to build a list of most walks in a season by a player, on a per-season and per-player basis.  As it turns out, the list is top-loaded with known and suspected PED users: Bonds, Giambi, McGuire, Bagwell… and there in the middle of it, Todd Helton’s name turns up several times.  Now, I’ve never heard any accusations that Helton was juicing.  But it was a bit alarming to see his name turning up in that group.  As we saw recently, Hall voters are very leery of any player who appears to have any association with PEDs, and almost anyone who played in that era already has a question mark on them.  If Helton’s career numbers turn out to be too similar to the major PED users of the era, will that tip the scales against him?

  5. rubesandbabes said...

    Miguel Tejada did not “lie to congress.”

    Tejada’s career stats are very strong compared to all other shortstops.

    As long as people think it fine to vote in PED suspects like Piazza and Biggio without mention, then Tejada has a very strong HOF candidacy. Tejada compares very favorably to say darling candidate Alan Trammell, and his return to the game is a very positive demonstration of character. If he can tack on 150 more hits, he moves away from Larkin and Trammell in hits…and unlike Edgar Martinez, Miguel Tejada plays defense – shortstop, the toughest position.

    Tim Hudson is in a tough spot – he was very fast to 100 wins, even while being labelled a ‘snakebit/tough loss’ guy early on. Even if he has the 3-4 more good years, he still doesn’t look as good as Blyleven on paper. And it took Blyleven forever to get in…Hudson is definitely better than the Don Sutton I remember…

  6. Menthol said...

    I think we’re losing direction here. The point of the original article was to cite players whose careers got off to strong starts but then faded a bit. We’re not simply discussing borderline Hall of Famers.

  7. Greg Simons said...

    True, Menthol, and I was sticking to active players in this article.  I’m considering a recently retired version, but that’s not set in stone.

  8. Ph.Hanson said...

    I hope one day, WAR(fangraphs or reference, who cares!) play a big big role in HOF statistic criteria and Utley gets the call from the cooperstown before I die.

  9. John M said...

    A couple of years ago I would have included Jake Peavy, but he is showing signs of playing himself off this list (in a good way).

  10. Jim G. said...

    Two guys that come to mind that got off to great starts only to fade (and fade badly) – one active and one recently retired:
    Jason Bay and Jason Kendall. Both had their best years in Pittsburgh, too. Not good teams either. Go figure.

    Another guy who was all-baseball early in his career was Tim Salmon. That guy seemed to drop off the face of the earth.

    I don’t think any of the players listed in the article deserve to be in the HOF. There are better players from the past who aren’t getting in. Halladay is the closest. Maybe Helton after that. TH was a great 1b as well as being able to rake. It’s too bad he’s so fragile.

    Of the players mentioned in the “comments”, I could see Rollins being a possibility. I lump him in as a Barry Larkin-type.

    I am still not convinced the WAR is the “end all.” It might crunch statistics down, but baseball is so much more. I would hate to see the HOF put too much stock into it.

  11. Jim G. said...

    In general, the common thread of all this is a players ability to stay healthy. Many of these players we’ve mentioned who come up short had serious and/or chronic injuries during their careers.

  12. Ryan said...

    Carlos Baerga.  I realize he’s never going to make it and he’s from the PED era, but what an unexplainable monumental drop off in production to what looked like someone who could possibly end up as the greatest offensive second baseman of all time early in his career.

  13. Ian R. said...

    How about Bartolo Colon? He’s not in the same stratosphere as Santana, but after he won the Cy Young in 2005 it looked like he was on track to build himself a case. Injuries have pretty much completely derailed his career since.

    I’d also mention A-Rod. He’s had a Hall-caliber career either way, but it wasn’t so long ago that people were saying he’d hit 800 home runs, and now it looks like he may not even crack 700.

  14. Jim Baker said...

    Utley has a career WAR of over 55, which, on a per-162-game basis, is one of the 15 best of all time among players with at least 50 WAR. The problem right now is his counting stats.

  15. Michael said...

    How about Alfonso Soriano? 376 HRs, 4 Silver Sluggers and started as a second baseman and looked like what Robinson Cano does but then his defense was suspect and he had a lower contact rate.

  16. Anon said...

    How about Zito? Through age 28 he was 102-63 with a 3.55 ERA. Can’t calc his ERA+ but it had to have been in the 130 neighborhood. Since then he’s 61-70 and his career ERA is up to 3.93 despite pitching in a pitcher’s park.

    Or Carlos Zambrano? Through 29 he was 125-81 with a 3.60 ERA and a similar ERA+ in the 125-130 neighborhood. Then he melted down at the end 2011 and stunk last year and remains unsigned at this point.

  17. Ian R. said...

    I don’t think Thome will have too much trouble getting in. Probably not on the first ballot, but 600 homers will do that for him.

    Ryan Howard is another guy who somewhat comes to mind, although he started late enough that the Hall always looked like a long shot. Also, I realize we’re focusing on active players, but the ultimate historical example of the “previously on a HoF path” player is probably Steve Garvey.

  18. Anon said...

    Just looking at WAR (35.5 through his age 28 season), Carl Crawford kind of fits here although I’m not sure how many people really had him on any sort of HOF track. Ditto Dan Haren (31.8 WAR through age 30, he’s actually negative the last season+ and looks basically washed up now)

  19. Ricardo said...

    He tailed off since he got to the Dodgers (and he’s now in Japan), but during his time with the Braves, Andruw Jones convinced me at times I was watching one of the Top 5 center fielders ever.

  20. Kevin said...

    Nomar? Started out SO good in the late 90s, “future hall of famer” was thrown around all the time in Boston. But then the injuries came…

  21. Greg Simons said...

    Garciaparra was mentioned on our internal mailing list, but again, I was looking at active players in the article.  He certainly fits the mold, though, one of the Holy Trinity of shortstops at the turn of the century.  A truly great player until age 30.

  22. Kevin Wilson said...

    Roy Halladay is the current active leader in career shut outs with 20. How many more does he need to catch Walter Johnson?

  23. Jim G. said...

    How about three Ranger outfielders:
    Ruben Sierra – I was surprised at how modest his numbers were in the early years when he was considered a top hitter. And after falling off badly, he had a bit of a renaissance and ended up with a 20 year career, mostly as a part time player or DH.

    Juan Gonzalez – here’s a guy who got old quick. His work ethic left something to be desired, so that might have had something to do with it. So did a faulty back.

    Nelson Cruz – still in progress –  he’s a late bloomer, finally putting things together about the same age that Gonzalez started to fade. I wonder if injuries will start to take it’s toll on Nellie, too.

  24. Mike said...

    How about the twin Minnesota Twins, Morneau and Mauer?  It seems like a few years ago they were both on Hall of Fame arcs, now I am not so sure.

  25. Dave Cornutt said...

    Dale Murphy is an interesting example, and one I can speak to since I witnessed pretty much his whole span of his career.  What happened to him was that he never came up with an answer to the breaking ball on the outside half of the plate.  He was absolutely deadly against fastballs from the inner half inwards (he stood way off the plate and could easily turn on fastballs even well off the inside corner), and he could fight off breaking balls inside.  But he seldom reached outside breaking balls, and when he did, he couldn’t stop himself from trying to pull them.  The mid-‘80s were when scouting video services started to become widely available, and I think eventually opposing pitchers were able to watch enough video of Murph to figure it out.  And that’s what accounts for his rapid decline after 1986.  Towards the end of his career he did try some adjustments like a more closed stance, but I think the old habits were too ingrained by then.

    We all know that hitters and pitchers are constantly seeking holes in each others’ approaches.  And if we hold that one mark of a true Hall of Famer is the ability to counter the opposition’s adjustments and remain productive, this is where Murphy comes up short.  And I think the voters know that, and that’s the main reason he’s not in the Hall.

  26. Philip said...

    Ian mentions that Steve Garvey was previously on a Hall of Fame path.

    But the argument can be made he never left it.

    How many ten-time All-Stars aren’t in the Hall of Fame? There’s Pete Rose. There’s Bobby Bonds. And a number of active ballplayers or recent retirees. The usual suspected steroid users. And Bill Freehan. That’s it. Every other 10+ All Star is in.

    Garvey was an MVP, in the top ten in MVP voting four other times and captured four Golden Glove awards.

    He ended with 2599 hits, over 1300 RBIs and a .294 career batting average. He helped lead his clubs to one World Series title and five NL pennants.

    His stats don’t show a lot of ‘‘bold’’ but he was consistently among the league leaders in multiple batting categories. And he did this playing in pitchers’ ballparks his whole career.

    He hit .319 in five World Series and .356 in five NLCS (never playing on a losing NLCS team). he batted .368 in his one NLDS for an overall .338 in post-season play with 11 HR and 31 RBs in 55 games.

    Garvey hit 4 homeruns in the Dodgers four-game victory in the 1978 NLCS. He hit .417 in their 1981 World Series win over the Yankees. He hit .400, including a memorable homerun and 7 RBs in the Padres comeback NLCS victory over the Cubs in 1984.

    Like Gil Hodges, Garvey should be in the Hall of Fame.

    As to Greg’s notables, I think the strongest case for in the HOF is for Todd Helton. Unfortunately, he will lose votes not so much because he played in the steroid era but because of where he played: Colorado and its ballpark effects. The BBWAA will probably look at the huge difference at his home and away stats and dismiss his qualifications because of that.

  27. Jack Weiland said...

    Santana is so tough to reconcile, because he was SO dominant, and then fell so completely off (injuries, etc). But man he was filthy in his day.

    Seeing such small win totals for him and Oswalt really bangs home how hard it is to win 300 games nowadays. Wins are garbage, yes, blah blah blah. But man it’s tough to have that kind of longevity and luck.

    “in his day” and “nowadays” … ugh, I feel old.

  28. Greg Simons said...

    Jim. G,

    Sierra – solid for a long time but rarely great. I do recall seeing an ad somewhere that basically called him the best player in the game.  That was a bit of an overstatement.

    Juan Gone – Two MVPs, five 40-homer seasons and six Silver Sluggers are terrific.  However, 434 total home runs in a high-offense ear, dings for his defensive, and being mentioned in the Mitchell Report will keep him out.

    Nelson Cruz – a VERY late start (first full season at age 28) puts him in a deep, deep hole.

  29. Ian R. said...

    Perhaps we should set Halladay’s bar a little lower. He just needs 40 more shutouts to crack the top 10. That’s certainly doable, right?

    I mean, what’s a little Sandy Koufax career to him?

  30. Jack Weiland said...

    @John M – That’s an interesting idea for a followup, actually. Guys who looked like they were on the HoF track, appeared to fall off of it, and then got back on.

  31. Matt said...

    I thought Albert Belle’s numbers were going to get him in, even considering the ‘conflicts’ with the writers.

  32. Greg Simons said...

    Belle avoided being a one-and-done candidate, but the conflicts you mentioned and a short career did him in.  Given Kirby Puckett’s induction, I think the conflicts carried the greater weight.

  33. Greg Simons said...

    I’m falling far behind the comments here, but I’ll try to catch up.

    Beltran – I realized he’s similar overall to Jim Edmonds.  And while I think Edmonds is underrated and would make a solid HOFers, I don’t see either of them getting in.

    Rollins –  Wagner, Cobb and Molitor and Rollins: three are Hall of Famers, one is not.  That 500/500/100 stat is a neat accounting trick, and he was fantastic in 2007, but it would take a run at 3,000 hits.

    Carter (even though he’s retired) – the BA and OBP never were high enough to merit serious consideration.

    Dave Cornutt – interesting factoid about Helton, but I think it would take more than that for him to be even loosely associated with the others you mentioned.

    ED – I’m still on the fence regarding Edgar Martinez, I’d have to look at Kaat’s stats more, and Morris is clear “no” for me.

    Peavy – I’m not sure he was great for long enough to get the HOF talk going strong.

    Bay – his peak was short and not that high.

    Kendall – definitely an under-appreciated skill set, but short, low peak.

    Salmon – consistently very good for a long stretch, but only truly great in one season, 1995.

    Jim G. – I agree that WAR is not the “end all.”  I tried to mix in traditional stats and sabermetric ones.

    Baerga – another good-not-great career that dried up quickly.

    Colon – greatest achievement was stealing Santana’s CYA in ‘05.  That and 38 straight strikes last season.

    Chavez – a solid five-year run, but his career was all but over at age 30 before last year’s minor surge.

    Jim Baker – the problem is that Utley’s WAR rate most likely will decrease as his career winds down.

    Lincecum – mentioned at the end of the article.  Great briefly, but not long enough to get the HOF talk cranked up seriously.  Pitchers…

    Thome – Hall of Famer.

    Zito – a bit like Lincecum in terms of early-career ERA+, but with a shorter peak.

    Zambrano – classic (100) million-dollar arm and ten cent head.  Is he pitching anywhere this year?

    Howard – massive power, but a late start and the bar is just so high for first basemen.

    Garvey – Hair Hall of Fame???

    Crawford – the SB and BA mask poor plate discipline and mediocre-at-best power.

    Haren – I said at the time of the trade (Dec., 2004) that the Cardinals shouldn’t have dealt him for Mulder.  Frequently above average, but rarely great.

  34. Greg Simons said...

    Kevin Wilson – Halladay is tied for 244th place in career shutouts, only 90 behind The Big Train.  Coincidentally, Pete Alexander is second all time, 20 behind Johnson, so if Halladay can duplicate Alexander’s career going forward, he’ll be tied for first.

    Morneau – a few good years, including an MVP, but well short.

    Mauer – if he can maintain his high BA and OBP, stay behind the plate and reach double-digit homers consistently for another decade, sure.  But he has a long way to go and much to achieve along the way.

    Garvey – had a lesser career than Andre Dawson, who was a borderline HOFer in many people’s eyes.  A very good player, but not quite a Hall of Famer in my eyes.

  35. bstar said...

    I’ll disagree with you about Utley, Greg. I think he’s going to play well enough for a few more years that his WAR total will be hard to deny.

    He’s already over 55 WAR, and even in his injury-plagued last three years he amassed 12.6 WAR. So he was a 4-win player even when averaging around 100 games per year. What’s his total going to be this year if he plays 150 games? It’s not hard to imagine another 7 WAR year from Utley if he can just stay in the lineup.

    If Utley can get to 70 WAR, I think he’s a lock, because everyone, writers included, respects Utley for his competitiveness, his ability to “play the game the right way”, blah blah blah. So he’s got the intangibles and the respect from the voters (I think).

    If Ryne Sandberg can get into the Hall with no postseason resume, surely Utley’s 5 HR in the ‘09 World Series and 10 postseason HR overall will be enough to push him over the edge.

  36. Greg Simons said...

    bstar – I wouldn’t at all mind being wrong about Utley.  I’ve always liked him, so a solid run of seasons to finish his career would be great to see.


    Vlad – he just kept hitting year after year after year, though he lost his speed early on, and his defense was limited to a strong arm.  Ending his career at age 36 (barring a comeback) may be a concern, but think he’ll get in after a few years on the ballot.

    This assumes the ballot isn’t the gory mess it soon may become.

    Rolen – I agree that he’ll suffer because of the degree his candidacy relies on defense, though he was a very good hitter, too.

    My rose-colored (actually, Cardinal red-colored) glasses would love to see Rolen and Edmonds in the Hall, but I don’t see it happening for either of them any time soon.

    Wright – he has to adjust to Citi Field in 2009, and he had a genuinely down year in 2011, but he’s only 30, so there’s plenty of time to add to his numbers.

    Ivan – I could see Thomas not making it on the first ballot, but he should be in by the second.

  37. Erik said...

    How about Vlad Guerrero? 449 home runs, around 2500 hits and a .318 average.  Great traditional numbers. 

    There’s also Scott Rolen, but too much of his value is tied up in defense.  (He’s slightly ahead of Jim Thome in WAR.)

    I can’t tell if David Wright has righted himself.  Perhaps a good candidate for one of those guys that has lost his way but may be back on the right path?

  38. Dave Cornutt said...

    Adam Dunn sure looked like a future Hall of Famer in the early years of his career.  I recall seeing him in a game in Cincinnati in 2002: slugger with a good batting eye, good speed, and a fine outfielder with a cannon of a throwing arm.  15.5 fWAR over his first five seasons.  But for some reason his defensive metrics dropped off sharply after 2004, and then his offensive numbers started to slip.  And we all know what happened in 2011: -3.0 fWAR, and after recovering somewhat last year, he’s off to a -0.7 fWAR start this year.

  39. Greg Simons said...

    Dennis – Cedeno was terrific on both sides of the ball early on, but he dropped off in his late 20s, and his final season was at age 35.  He played a few years before my baseball viewing years began, but Cedeno seems like he’d fit in with the guys I discussed in the article.

    Dave – I saw Dunn in the Triple-A All-Star game in Indy, and he launched one ball down the right-field line and out of the park, another over the wall in center, and ripped a laser that the center fielder tracked down.  He was a beast.

    I don’t know if voters could have stomached voting in a guy with such a low BA, so many whiffs and an overall weak defensive rep, even though his OBP and SLG are strong.  He actually looks a lot like Dave Kingman with walks.

  40. Dennis Bedard said...

    I remember Cedeno being involved i the death of a woman in a hotel room in Puerto Rico.  I think his career went downhill from there but this is all based on a very shaky memory when I was a teenager

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