These guys have done the hard part for the Hall of Fame resume…now don’t get hurt

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Didn’t Fred Lynn look like a certain Hall of Famer at one point in his career? He was the Rookie of the Year and MVP right out of the gate in 1975. In the World Series he got key homers and would crash into the wall. He won the batting title later, was a Gold Glove winner, and his 1982 ALCS performance was so great that he won the MVP despite being on the losing team.

Fernando Valenzuela looked like his legend would make him Cooperstown bound. He had the record-breaking start to his career— the Rookie of the Year AND Cy Young winner in 1981, not to mention a critical complete game win in the World Series. Throw in a 19-win season, a 20-win season and three more top-five Cy Young finishes before he turned 26. Later he threw a no-hitter, as well.

Remember Bret Saberhagen? When his career got started, didn’t he look like he was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame? By the time he was 25 years old he had won two Cy Young Awards, had another terrific season and was a World Series MVP, clinching Game Seven of the 1985 World Series with a complete-game victory.

Not only did none of them make the Hall, it wasn’t even close. Lynn appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot twice, peaking at 5.5%. Valenzuela was on two ballots, peaking at 6.2%. Saberhagen got 1.3% of the Hall of Fame vote in 2007, his only year on the ballot.

Injuries caught up to these three superstars before they could build up a legit Hall of Fame resume. And the sad thing with all three of them was they already did the hard part! No matter what your personal criteria for Cooperstown happens to be, regular-season dominance, individual awards and postseason heroics would clearly be big voting factors. They all checked “legendary performance” off the to-do list. If they had simply compiled numbers for the rest of their career, their early accomplishments mixed with milestones eclipsed would have them enshrined.

Which players now have already accomplished the hard part of their Hall of Fame narrative?

I came up with 10, using my very scientific approach of “going with my gut.”

Felix Hernandez – OK, he doesn’t have the postseason resume. But his back-to-back dominating seasons plus being the pitcher that finally got Cy Young voters to stop being enamored with wins gives him a legacy. Now don’t get hurt.

Ryan Howard – MVP? Check. Home run crowns? Check. Three more top-five finishes in the MVP vote? Check. Playoff MVP? Check. Huge World Series homers? Check. Add to that being associated with one Northeastern team and you have all the hard parts checked off the list. Don’t break down and clear 500 homers (it will mean something again.)

Jon Lester – With Lester you have all the compelling elements for his Hall of Fame narrative. He beat cancer. He won the game that clinched the 2007 World Series. He threw a no-hitter. He became a legit Cy Young contender. Now all he has to do is pile up some numbers over the next 10 years. Should be no sweat.

Tim Lincecum – Talk about getting the hard part over with. Lincecum is already a multiple Cy Young Award winner with three strikeout crowns before his 27th birthday. And, oh yeah, he pitched the San Francisco Giants to their first-ever World Series title, outpitching Cliff Lee in the process. He could become the biggest San Francisco sports star ever NOT named Montana or Mays. Just be good for the next ten years. Great has already been taken care of.

Joe Mauer – He isn’t even 28 years old and he is already sneaking into the “greatest catcher of all time” discussion. He already has multiple Gold Gloves and three batting titles to cover both ends of the game. And has been the lynchpin for three division champs and will evidently stick around with his hometown Twins for the foreseeable future. Now is he going to be a Carlton Fisk? Or a Benito Santiago?

Dustin Pedroia – The little guy already has a startling amount of hardware for a second baseman. He already has the MVP, the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger. He already has the postseason heroics and the championship swagger. And he has all of those in the bag before his 27th birthday. But he also had a huge injury last year. He had better come back or else his Cooperstown credentials may never recover.

CC Sabathia – He has piled up the wins. He has the Cy Young Award. He has the World Series ring. He pitched the Brewers into the 2008 playoffs almost single-handedly. He is a legit “walk the walk” ace, but he has really had only four legit ace seasons in his career. Think that is enough for a World Series hero? Ask Dave Stewart. Getting to 200 wins would help.

Johan Santana – His multiple Cy Youngs and dominating numbers over the years have put him perilously close to “already in” territory when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But check out who Baseball Reference compares his career to at this point. John Tudor, Sal Maglie, Denny McLain, Preacher Roe… all great pitchers who fell short of the Hall. Oh yeah, Sabathia is a “similar pitcher” as well. If he gets back his ace mojo for a few seasons, then he should start rehearsing his speech.

Chase Utley – He will benefit by the simple phrase “for a second baseman.” He has terrific power and his five homers in the 2009 World Series matched the output of Reggie Jackson in the 1977 World Series. He is at 177 homers. If he can hit 352 as a second baseman, he will have the most ever. It’s something to shoot for.

Adam Wainwright – He has come perilously close to winning two Cy Young Awards. Plus his brief cameo as a closer led to the two iconic moments of the 2006 postseason: Carlos Beltran caught looking to end the NLCS and later clinching the World Series. Postseason hero…dominating regular seasons…just get a few good career numbers and that could be enough.

There were many others I considered putting on here. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder need to have either the MVP season or the October heroics for me to include them. Miguel Cabrera has a ring and some big numbers, but he needs to lead a team to the postseason. His ugly end to the 2009 season doesn’t help him. Robinson Cano has the ring and some big regular-season numbers, but he needs to be the centerpiece of the Yankee lineup to be in Cooperstown. Josh Hamilton has the narrative and the MVP award, but a lot of guys can win the award once. (Ken Caminiti anyone?)

Matt Holliday has some nice numbers, but his October legacy is dropping an easy fly ball. Hanley Ramirez needs to lead a team to October. Cliff Lee hasn’t had as many ace-caliber seasons as you would think. Justin Morneau needs to stay healthy. Justin Verlander needs a big Cy Young season. David Wright needs to find his CitiField stroke. And Evan Longoria needs to not be so sensitive about who stole his hat.

The ten players I listed above all have the Cooperstown highlight and the easy-to-define legacy if they get in. Now they need to stay healthy. How important is that? Just ask Fred, Fernando and Bret.

References & Resources
Baseball-reference.com

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Comments

  1. Matt said...

    I think Ichiro is a shoe-in provided his career doesn’t end tomorrow, but I think you were taking the younger, longer shots in this article. Good piece.

  2. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    alex,

    The reason I didn’t include Halladay is the same reason I didn’t include Ichiro, Jeter, A-Rod, Pujols, Mariano, Chipper Jones and Omar Vizquel.

    I think Roy Halladay is already a Hall of Famer if his career ended right now.

    The article is about those who in my idea aren’t quite there year.

    So yes, I have heard of Halladay.
    And yes, I am a j*rk off.

  3. Matt said...

    Ryan Howard has very little chance. He is already on the decline. He doesn’t even compare to Jim Rice or John Olerud on the WAR chart (yeah, I know, WAR is pointless when discussing BBWAA). In fact, his WAR chart doesn’t even compare to Pedroia’s, whose doesn’t even compares to Olerud (who is actually above Rice…)

    Pedroia might make it cause the bar is lower for 2B. Howard won’t happen unless he gets better as he gets older.

  4. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    *sigh*

    Brian McCann is a good call. He caught the tail end of one great Atlanta run but maybe he is going to be at the front of a new one.

    I am sure I missed a few. McCann if he keeps this up will probably get some Hall of Fame consideration.

    My bad

  5. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Matt, I totally get what you are saying about Ryan Howard and if he declines, then his chances for the Hall will be nil.

    That being said, when people rattle off a Hall of Fame resume, he has hit some of the milestones that people like to recite… which is why he will probably be like Fred Lynn. Did the hard stuff but didn’t have the longevity

  6. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Matt

    No doubt I have Pedroia and Utley on there because of their positions. If they were first basemen or corner outfielders, nobody would give their stats a second glance. But as second basemen, they should start some murmurs.

    But will they be Ryne Sandbergs… or Juan Samuels?

  7. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Matthew Thomas,

    If I got rattled by mean comments, why would I post stuff on the internet?

  8. Nick said...

    I’m curious how Teixira could be exluded?  7 straight season of 30/100, .913 career OPS, 4 Gold Gloves, seems kinda silly that he could be possibly be omitted…I guess he lacks the appropriate “swagger”…. this article is brutal

  9. Chris said...

    Troy Tulowitzki needs to stay healthy, he’s got solid defense, and a great bat (if “for a secondbaseman” can be used for Utley then Tulo surely qualifies at “for a shortstop”), he’s got a legendary performance (15 HR in Sept last year), two top 5 MVP finishes, a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove, lets not forget finishing second in ROY voting to a guy that just missed your list, Ryan Braun.

    He needs to stay healthy, stock up on some playoff credentials and make sure his H/R splits don’t get too out of line.

    Todd Helton:

    Will most likely miss out because of his balky back. Otherwise he has had some greatness that was probably forgotten. Finished second in ROY in 1998, three top ten MVP finishes, three gold gloves, four silver sluggers, five time all-star teams. In 2000 he lead the NL in Hits, 2B, RBI, AVG, OBP, SLG and TB. He lead the league in OBP in 2005 as well. He’s 34th on the all time doubles list, behind only Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez for active players. If he hits 18 more next season (his doubles total from last year) he’ll pass up Robinson, Gehrig, Hornsby, Heilmann, and Tony Gwynn.

    Need a spectacular emotion filled moment? How about the final out of the 2007 NLCS? He MIGHT have a case if he can perform at 2009 levels for the remainder of his contract, otherwise he’ll be another guy on your list of ‘could have beens’.

  10. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    I thought about Teixeira and the reason I decided not to was two fold (and nothing to do with the fact that he is a Yankee)

    This article isn’t about number compiling but rather about that resume popping highlight/award/moment that seems to be on any Hall of Famers legacy.

    That’s why I focused on the players like Lincecum, like Utley, like Wainwright who had the big post season heroics or the Mauers or Howards who have the hardware.

    Now truth be told when all is said and done Teixeira will probably have a better career and maybe a better Hall of Fame resume than say Howard.

    But he will get there by compiling great stats rather having the early resume padding.

    That was the general idea of this article, which as was pointed out, is brutal.

    And the intention was indeed to write a brutal article, so I feel vindicated

  11. Chris said...

    Paul:

    I loved it, and totally agree, growing up an Indians fan it was painful to see Thome leave, to see Manny leave, to see Colon get traded (and he would have won a Cy Young that year too if it hadn’t been for splitting time in both leagues!). It was painful to watch Sabathia, Lee, and V-Mart all get shipped off too.

    Having moved to Utah at the end of the ‘07 season, in time to watch the Rockies clinch the post season, blow through the NL (and watch my Indians drop a 3-1 ALCS lead to the Red Sox) only to get swept by the Red Sox (seriously, screw them!) it was painful to watch Holliday leave. The prospect of falling in love (which I eventually did) with a new team that was going to ship off the easiest players for the fans to get behind scared me. At least they had Helton.

    I worried about Tulo’s future, I knew that the team was aiming to make him their poster boy, similar to what they tried to do with Holliday (but with more effort imo) and when they signed him I didn’t think “Oh noes! What if he gets hurt?! What if the three good seasons he had are his peak?!” I thought “There you have it, the next Helton”. I immediately shared it with my wife who was also excited about the news. Now that they also locked up Carlos Gonzalez (a bit riskier and could end up being a contract comp to Travis Hafner) I know that the Rockies are fully committed to their fans.

    Yes, it’s about winning, but having spent a lot of time around the Rockies you know that it’s more than winning for them, it really is the fans. It’s a different type of mentality that they have and you see it in the little things, in the ticket prices, and shoveling out tons of cash for the most beloved of the Rockies young stars. Now we just need to get Ubaldo on one of these deals…

  12. Toffer said...

    McCann’s best season by WAR is equivalent to the median HOF’s 7th or 8th best season (and a replacement HOF’s 5th best season); on top of that the best he’s done in MVP voting is 21st. McCann’s a great young player and all but as far as the HOF is concerned he hasn’t done anything yet.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mccanbr01.shtml#batting_value::none
    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/5/19/878150/war-graphs-average-and-replacement

  13. Douglas said...

    Jon Lester? Three good seasons and you think he should be mentioned in an article about the Hall of Fame? If beating cancer, winning a ring and having a good but not great career qualifies you let’s talk about Bill Lowell. John Lester? Ridiculous.

  14. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    First of all it is Mike Lowell, not Bill Lowell. You might want to proof read before you fling the insults.

    And if you actually read the article I wrote, you would know that I am not calling Lester a Hall of Famer. I am saying he has the kind of exclamation point highlights that people like to rattle off when reciting a Hall of Famers career.

    The same with Fred Lynn. The same with Bret Saberhagen. And those two are not Hall of Famers either.

    But I thank you for skimming the article.

  15. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    FYI Douglas… when you read the article, did you notice I wrote “Now all he has to do is pile up some numbers over the next 10 years. Should be no sweat”?

    Did you pick up the sarcasm there and maybe I wasn’t saying he was a Hall of Famer already?

  16. Douglas said...

    Hi Paul,

    I did read where you said “Now all he has to do is pile up the numbers over the next 10 years.” I understand you were implying that’s a pretty difficult thing for any player to do, even harder for a pitcher.” I also read the title of your article, “These guys have done the hard part for the Hall of Fame resume….” My point about Lester was he really hasn’t done the hard part. He’s 27 and at this point in his career he’s pitched three very good seasons. He’s made one All Star team and finished in the top ten in the Cy Young voting once (4th place).

    When Bret Saberhagen turned 27 he already had two Cy Young awards. When Fernado turned 27 he already had a Cy Young award and three other top 5 finishes in the Cy Young voting. Comparing Jon Lester to them only goes to show that Lester isn’t even close to where they were at this point in his career.

    Felix Hernandez already has one Cy Young award and one second place finish and is generally considered the best pitcher in the American League. And he’s two years younger than Lester. Tim Lincecum, half a year younger than Lester, already has two Cy Young awards. Both of them may have done the hard work gettting towards the Hall. Lester hasn’t.

    A more apt comparison to Lester would be Ubaldo Jimenez who will be 27 later this month and like Lester has pitched three good seasons in the majors. Jimenez and has one third place Cy Young finish to show for it, Lester one fourth place finish. They are both very good pitchers. But they haven’t put up the types of numbers or won the kind of awards that spark Hall of Fame projections—yet. They are off to a good start, for sure, but the hard part is still to come.

    Thank you for writing an interesting and fun article and taking the time to reply to my earlier comment.

  17. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Douglas,

    I admit this whole article is bit silly… but whenever they show a recently elected Hall of Famer, they tend to show a big specific highlight that has nothing to do with stats. And his no hitter, winning the World Series clincher and coming back from cancer would be in the montage.

    The point will probably be moot as Lester will no doubt have a Bruce Hurst like peak and then valley.

    Thanks for reading it. A dopey article like this is designed to spark debate and name calling.

    All the best

    Sully

  18. Paul said...

    Liked the article, good young(ish) players who already have the narrative for the HoF plaque (even Lester!)

    What I am starting to get concerned about is the relative lack of love for Johan Santana – i know you say that he may be ‘nearly’ there already – but I have to believe that is Hallady is in (as you stated), the Johan is in (or both are out at present)

    Also knocking Johan for having CC as a comp is a little disingenious as CC is more akin to Halladay (918) than Johan (900) by similarity scores smile

    My take is that both just need at least 2-3 more reasonable seasons to pad out a few stats (they would have a peak case at present, but missing a bit of longevity).  I know Halladay has about 2 years over Johan (so more WAR), but Johan has been slightly better thus far (by ERA+), I don’t see much difference in narrative (2CYA each, Halladay has the perfect game + CG/SO, Johan has the Triple Crown, and also Johan was jobbed out of CYA 3 in 2005 as well. 

    The shame is that Johan’s peak has been so good (5yrs from 2004-08), that however he pitches thereafter is a falloff (and although injury prone in 09 & 10, he still produces 360inns @ an era+ of 130 – which if that is the falloff, then I’ll take a career of that please) – I’ve seen other articles (not you PFS) that have Johan at a sub-elite level since 2007 – but I’ll take his NYM 3yr stats of 600 innings @ 140ish ERA+ thanks very much

    I just hope that Johan can come back and polish off a nice tail to a HoF career, I also hope that Halladay continues to rock the NL

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