This month I had the honor of filling out a Hall of Fame ballot for the third time, and once again I put checkmarks next to 10 names. As I wrote in last year’s explanatory column, I am both “a Big-Hall guy” and willing (albeit begrudgingly) to look past steroid implications. As I see it, the story of baseball in this era can’t be told without Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, each of whom got my vote.
That the story could reasonably be told without some of the names I’ve chosen to checkmark is, admittedly, a valid argument against exercising the full allotment. This is something I’ve chewed on, but ultimately decided isn’t the way I want to approach my ballot. The Hall includes a plethora of players who weren’t the best of the best — Bruce Sutter was no Warren Spahn; Rick Ferrell no Johnny Bench — and while “X is in, so should Y” is imperfect logic, so too is “Y wasn’t a Bench or a Spahn, so isn’t worthy.” Determining who merits a plaque in Cooperstown is anything but an exact science.
My 2023 selections — asterisks indicating that I voted for the player last year — are Bobby Abreu*, Carlos Beltrán, Todd Helton*, Andruw Jones*, Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez*, Alex Rodriguez*, Scott Rolen*, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner*.
Beltrán is new to the ballot. More on him in a moment.
Kent was the player I most wished I could have found room for on last year’s stacked ballot, which included the no-longer-eligible Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens, and the now-enshrined David Ortiz — all of whom got my vote. Using one of the now-open slots for Kent was an easy choice. Along with having 337 home runs — the most ever for a second baseman — the notoriously-prickly infielder had a 123 wRC+ which ranks tenth-highest at his position over the last century (minimum 5,000 plate appearances). Moreover, in his 10-year prime he had a 133 wRC+ to go along with five All-Star berths and an MVP award.
Another of Kent’s numbers that stands out is his 984 extra-base hits; only 42 players, at any position, have more. Sheffield is among them. The temperamental slugger received a checkmark on my 2021 ballot, only to fall off last year (as did final-year-eligible Sammy Sosa) to make room for first-year-eligibles Ortiz and A-Rod. Sheffield’s bona fides, which include 509 home runs and a 141 wRC+, are well known. As was the case with Kent, defensive limitations were outweighed by a prolific bat.
Whereas Kent and Sheffield were relatively easy decisions — ditto my seven holdovers — Beltrán wasn’t. The Astros’ cheating scandal left a sour taste that still lingers, and the 57.8 WAR outfielder’s involvement has already cost him a managerial job. Should it also cost him a plaque in Cooperstown? Addressing that conundrum, my esteemed colleague Jay Jaffe wrote earlier this month that “it would be a mistake to send Beltrán’s case into oblivion.” With that in mind, and after a good bit of contemplation — this with the knowledge that cheating, including sign stealing, has been part of the game since its inception — I took a deep breath and checked Beltrán’s name.
Had I decided otherwise, my 10th and final vote would have gone to Andy Pettitte. The veteran of 18 big-league seasons is arguably a borderline candidate at best, but along with Mark Buehrle — the southpaws are statistically-similar in several categories — he deserves a longer look. Pettitte (68.2) amassed more career WAR than Tom Glavine (66.7), Juan Marichal (61.2) and Don Drysdale (59.3). Does that, along with 256 wins and a lengthy post-season resume, make him Hall-worthy? Again, determining who merits a plaque in Cooperstown is anything but an exact science.
The seven holdover candidates I voted for, as well as my not putting a checkmark next to Francisco Rodríguez’s name, were addressed when Jay Jaffe, Travis Sawchik, and I discussed our 2023 ballots in Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Matt Quatraro was hired less than two months ago, so he’s still learning about the players he’ll be managing in Kansas City. The process takes time, and it won’t be until spring training is well underway that he has a firm grasp of their personalities and, to a lesser extent, the skill sets they possess. During the Winter Meetings, I asked the former Tampa Bay Rays bench coach for an example of something he’s already learned.
“The first thing that comes to mind is how highly everyone thinks of Maikel Garcia as a defender,” said Quatraro, naming the Royals’ top-rated prospect. “There is a lot of sentiment in the organization about how good he is, and can be, as an infielder. While I was familiar with him, that’s something I didn’t really know.”
Currently slashing .320/.436/.492 with the Venezuelan Winter League’s Tiburones de La Guaira, Garcia made his big-league debut this year, appearing in nine games. The 22-year-old shortstop is No. 66 on our Top 100, with a 50 FV.
Shoeless Joe Jackson, who is ineligible, has the highest career batting average (.356) among modern-era players not in the Hall of Fame. Which eligible, modern-era non-Hall of Famer has the highest batting average (minimum 5,000 plate appearances)?
The answer can be found below.
Rylee Pay will be joining the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs as a Broadcast and Media Relations Assistant next season. A recent UNLV graduate who has called games in the Cape Cod League, Pay will share a booth with Emma Tiedemann.
Wayne Randazzo will reportedly be the new TV voice of the Los Angeles Angeles. The 38-year-old Randazzo, who has been with the New York Mets since 2019, is slated to work alongside analyst Mark Gubicza.
Tom Browning, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1994, and for the Kansas City Royals in 1995, died earlier this week at age 62. The southpaw, who along with Ralph Terry is one of just two pitchers to finish his career with exactly 1,000 strikeouts, tossed a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988.
Denny Doyle, a second baseman who played for three teams — the Philadelphia Phillies, California Angels, and Boston Red Sox — from 1970-1977, died this week at age 78. The Glasgow, Kentucky native had the lone hit in one-hitters thrown by Nolan Ryan (1970), Gary Nolan (1971), and Steve Arlin (1972).
The answer to the quiz is Riggs Stephenson, who had a .336 batting average over 5,136 plate appearances from 1921-1934. The left-handed-hitting outfielder batted .336 in nine seasons with the Cubs, and .337 in five seasons with Cleveland.
Last Sunday’s column led with Masataka Yoshida opining on the best pitchers in Japan, and followed with Gus Quattlebaum addressing the possibility of Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks closer Liván Moinelo coming to MLB. Left on the cutting room floor from my conversation with Quattlebaum were his thoughts on another elite NPB reliever. In nine seasons with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Yuki Matsui has 197 saves to go with 788 strikeouts, and just 398 hits allowed, in 602-and-third innings.
“We saw him against [Yoshida] — I believe it was in Sendai, at Rakuten’s field— and he’s someone who pops for the pitch data,” Boston’s VP of Scouting said of the 27-year-old southpaw. “That’s with his fastball, how it plays. He’s not a big guy, and he won’t wow you with velocity, but he’s definitely interesting.”
Matsui, who is listed at 174cm/ 74kg [5-foot-8, 163 pounds], is coming off of a season where he logged 32 saves and a 1.92 ERA, with 83 strikeouts and 21 hits allowed in 51-and-two-thirds innings. Quattlebaum said that the Red Sox haven’t followed Matsui closely, as he hasn’t been posted by Rakuten.
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have signed former Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins jack-of-all-trades Willians Astudillo. The 31-year-old native of Barcelona, Venezuela played every position beside shortstop in parts of five big-league seasons.
Jung-hoo Lee has reportedly requested to be posted after the upcoming KBO season. Widely regarded as the best player in Korea, the 24-year-old, left-handed-hitting outfielder slashed .349/.421/.575 with a 175 wRC+ for the Kiwoom Heroes.
Jermaine Palacios is slashing .400/.471/.633 in 138 plate appearances with Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League. The 26-year-old infielder/outfielder made his MLB debut with the Minnesota Twins this year and is now in the Detroit Tigers organization.
César Valdez is 6-0 with a 1.51 ERA in 53-and-two-thirds innings for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League. The 37-year-old changeup artist re-signed with the Los Angeles Angles earlier this month after spent most of last season with their Triple-A affiliate.
Circling back to the Hall of Fame, I brought up the non-enshrined Bob Johnson in Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio. An outfielder whose relatively-short MLB career spanned the 1933-1945 seasons, “Indian Bob” is statistically close to Chuck Klein, who played from 1928-1944 and was elected to the HoF by the Veterans Committee in 1980. Here is a snapshot of their numbers:
Johnson: 2.051 hits, 396 doubles, 288 HRs, 3,501 total bases, 133 wRC+.
Klein: 2,076 hits, 398 doubles, 300 HRs, 3,522 total bases, 133 wRC+.
Klein won an MVP award, but was an All-Star just twice. Johnson, whose high-water mark in MVP voting was a fifth-place finish, was a seven-time All-Star. As for their WAR totals — something the Veterans Committee obviously wasn’t looking at — Johnson has a clear edge: 57.0 to 42.8 by our calculations, and 55.6 to 46.5 by B-Ref’s.
Why is Klein in the Hall of Fame, and Johnson on the outside looking in? In all likelihood, the biggest reason isn’t the MVP, but rather batting average. Klein finished with a sexy .320, while Johnson finished below the long-admired .300 mark at .296. Might things be different if the 1930s-1940s contemporaries were up for election now, either by the BBWAA or an era committee? One would certainly hope so.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Red Reporter’s Wick Terrell wrote an appreciation of Tom Browning.
Research shows that the self-esteem of sports fans is linked to their team, and wrote about it for The Washington Post.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The San Francisco Giants had 28 bunt hits this year, the most in the majors. The Atlanta Braves had two bunts hits, the fewest in the majors.
Tyler Beede is set to become the 13th player to play for both the San Francisco Giants and NPB’s Yomiuri Giants, joining Edgardo Alfonzo, Cory Bailey, John Bowker, Keith Comstock, Felipe Crespo, Hector Cruz, Dan Gladden, Casey McGehee, Gerardo Parra, Reggie Smith , Justin Smoak, and Gary Thomasson. (per Natsuki Une, via @NPB_Reddit)
Mel Ott had four seasons with exactly 100 walks. His strikeout totals in those years were 39, 50, 50, and 68. He homered 38 times in his 39-strikeout season.
Johnny Frederick had 200 career doubles in a career that spanned the 1929-1934 seasons. The Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers outfielder’s yearly totals were a rookie-record 52 doubles, followed by seasons with 44, 34, 28, 22, and 20.
Players born on today’s date include Ned Garver, who pitched for losing teams throughout most of a career that spanned the 1948-1961 seasons. The right-hander from Ney, Ohio (population 258) went 129-158 despite a 112 ERA+. Most notable was his 1958 campaign when he went 13-18 with a 146 ERA+ for the St. Louis Browns. A year later, he went 20-12 for a Browns team that won only 52 games.
Also born on today’s date was Quincy Trouppe, who played all but the final season of his career in the Negro Leagues. The catcher/outfielder debuted in MLB in 1952 at age 39 and logged one hit in 10 at-bats with the Cleveland Indians.