Here's who will be on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2018
Chipper Jones and Jim Thome headline the list
Ton Sunday. With that in the rearview, we can start to look ahead to next year's ballot. Sure, we'll go far more in depth come December and January, but we can at least think about which players might be going in next year.
We have several carryovers with a good shot at induction, but there are also some worthy first-timers.
At the top of the list of newbies for next year is a no-doubt, surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer. There's another player who probably flies in next year pretty safely as well with several others meriting serious discussion. Let's dive in. Again, we're only listing the players who are coming on the ballot for the first time next voting season.
Will get in
Chipper Jones: As we had with Ken Griffey Jr. last year, it's pretty fun to get these guys who will fly in with easily more than 90 percent -- maybe over 95 percent -- of the vote in the first try. Chipper is absolutely an inner-circle player. He hit .303/.401/.529 (141 OPS+) in his career with 2,726 hits, 549 doubles, 468 homers, 1,623 RBI, 1,619 runs, more walks than strikeouts, an MVP, nine All-Star Games, a batting title, a World Series ring, three pennants, 11 division titles and so much more. He moved from third to the outfield and then back to third. He had zero baseball-related scandals. Many considered him a likable player during his playing days. Most of all, though? He felt like a Hall of Famer.
Third base is under-represented in the Hall of Fame as it is and Chipper is a top-10 third baseman in history, maybe even top five (Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett and ... ?).
Basically, anyone who wants to argue against Chipper is ignorant to the subject or totally delusional. The only reason I typed those words above is that it was fun for me. He doesn't even really need a discussion. He's an obvious yes without a thought.
My early guess is Chipper gets around 95 percent of the vote. I won't be surprised if it's higher. Remember, ballots will all be public next year for the first time. The cloak of anonymity has previously been a haven for voters who won't put down obvious names like Griffey. It's gone now. I would say 100 percent is possible, but I could also see someone saying Chipper shouldn't be the first unanimous selection.
Jim Thome: I'm very curious to see how Thome fares. I could see him making it with more than 80 percent of the vote but I could also see him needing two or three tries with something like 62 percent in the first year. He'll make it eventually, though. One of baseball's most feared sluggers for two decades, Thome had 612 home runs (seventh all-time) and 1,699 RBI (26th). Get this: He's also seventh in career walks at 1,747, helping his excellent career .402 on-base percentage. His .956 OPS is 20th all-time and 147 OPS+ is 48th.
Basically, he's one of the best power hitters of all-time.
As for the DH haters, Thome should be fine. He was a DH in 818 games vs. 1,106 at first base and 493 at third. So he played a position almost twice as much as he DH'd, which is more than Frank Thomas -- already a Hall of Famer -- can say.
My early guess is Thome makes it on his first try with, say, 82 percent of the vote, but I could be wrong. We'll see in a year.
Scott Rolen: Welcome to the next new-school, WAR-infused, HOF-balloting darling (like Larry Walker).
Note that I'm not saying it's wrong. Rolen's case is far more intriguing than only relying upon memory does justice.
An exceptional defender at a very important defensive position for his entire career, Rolen was a Rookie of the Year, seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover. He hit .281/.364/.490 (122 OPS+) with 517 doubles, 316 homers, 1,287 RBI and 1,211 runs. For a third baseman, the home runs, RBI and runs won't be there for many voters and fans alike.
But when you factor in his defense and baserunning (he stole 118 bases and was generally considered a cerebral baserunner not unlike reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant), we end up with a player ranking 10th at third base in history in terms of WAR. He's ahead of the average Hall of Fame third baseman. In JAWS, he's ahead of Frank "Home Run" Baker, Jimmy Collins, John McGraw, George Kell and several other Hall of Famers at the hot corner. The only players above him are already in the Hall (Schmidt, Mathews, Boggs, Brett, Ron Santo, Brooks Robinson, Paul Molitor) or will be (Chipper Jones and Adrian Beltre).
I feel like Rolen will hang around for a while and be a big discussion point in Hall of Fame arguments, beginning next December. I can tell you this: I'll be surprised if I don't see at least one person saying Rolen is a better candidate than Thome.
Andruw Jones: This would take a much deeper dive than we're going to do here (in fact, I promise I'll undertake this venture in the offseason), but has there ever been a legit Hall of Fame candidate who soured people on his candidacy so badly with his steep and abrupt decline? For many fans and media alike, the players are only as good as we remember them, but what if Andruw Jones retired after his age-29 season?
At the time, he had nine Gold Gloves in 10 full seasons and was generally considered the best defensive center fielder ever. He was a .267 (boo)/.345 (OK)./505 (yes!) hitter (116 OPS+) with over 300 doubles, 300 homers, 125 steals, 950 runs and 900 RBI. We were talking about a prodigy.
He fell apart (he hit .214/.314/.420 in his final six seasons), but that doesn't erase the resume he built in his prime. He ended with 434 home runs. He was over 1,200 runs and RBI, plus 152 steals.
Jones is going to fall short and rightfully so, but my position is that his Hall candidacy is a lot stronger than most casual baseball fans believe. Through age 29, he was one of the best center fielders of all-time. His top statistical similars at the time, per baseball-reference.com were Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews and Ken Griffey Jr.
Basically, Jones being on the ballot should not be met with an "LOL" but instead a, "Wow, he has a better case than I thought."
Instead, my hunch is most people go with the former reaction and dig their heels in, mocking anyone who thinks he should get a look.
Omar Vizquel: Defensive wizardry helped get Ozzie Smith into the Hall of Fame despite not being a great hitter. Is Vizquel similar? Their batting lines:
Smith: .262/.337/.328, 87 OPS+, 2,460 H, 1,257 R, 402 2B, 580 SB
Vizquel: .272/.336/.352, 82 OPS+, 2,877 H, 1,445 R, 456 2B, 404 SB
Omar has him on some important counting stats. Ozzie was a 13-time Gold Glover and generally regarded as the best defensive player in baseball. Vizquel won 11 and was similarly hailed for his defensive skills. There is separation on defensive WAR, though, with Smith having 43.4 compared to Vizquel's 28.4. That vast difference helps to explain why Smith is eighth among shortstops in career WAR and above average for a Hall of Famer compared to Vizquel being 42nd and well below average.
I'm very curious to see how discussions on Vizquel's candidacy play out.
Deserving of discussion, but long shots
Johan Santana: He was widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball for around five years. He won two Cy Young Awards, finished in the top five three other times, led the majors in ERA three times and led his league in WHIP four times. He also led in strikeouts three times and innings twice. His average season from 2004-08 was 17-8 with a 2.82 ERA (157 ERA+), 1.02 WHIP and 238 strikeouts in 229 innings. He only played in parts of 12 seasons, however, so he's only at 139 wins, 1,988 strikeouts and 2,025 2/3 innings. The JAWS system has him 84th, behind Orel Hershiser, Tim Hudson, Frank Tanana and several other great but not Hall-worthy pitchers.
Johnny Damon: He racked up 2,769 hits (54th all-time), 522 doubles (48th), 408 steals (67th) and 1,668 runs scored (32nd). All of those are very impressive. This is where many would call him a "compiler," though. Damon hit .284/.352/.433 in his career, which is good for a 104 OPS+ -- so only four percent better than average. He made only two All-Star Games and received votes for MVP four times, but never finished higher than 13th. He's better than the below "one and done" guys, but will only get one turn on the ballot. When people break out the "Hall of the Very Good" talking points, Damon would be a nice poster child.
Somewhat big names, but easy one and dones
Chris Carpenter, Jason Isringhausen, Carlos Lee, Brad Lidge, Hideki Matsui, Jamie Moyer, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano.
You can't make a legitimate Hall of Fame case for any of the above, but those are some very good MLB careers. Respect.
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