Tuesday, January 15

Baseball Hall of Fame, Part 2: Future Indian Enshrinements

That most recent round of Hall of Fame balloting was interesting enough, but readers of this site may have noticed the one major omission: NO CLEVELAND INDIANS!

This is probably a product of the fact that the Tribe was so terrible in the '70's and '80's that none of their players had anything resembling a Hall of Fame career. That's right, not even Joe Carter.

But certainly we had some players during the '90's (and today) deserving of enshrinement, so let's talk a little bit about them, what their Hall chances look like, and whether they'll go in with Chief Wahoo on their cap. I'll skip some players who we had for just a short period of time like Dave Winfield, Juan Gonzalez, David Justice, and Eddie Murray (who is already in as an O). You might also notice the lack of pitchers, which says as much about the construction of the '90's Tribe teams as anything. I also didn't include Sandy Alomar - I appear to have romanticized his career somewhat in my mind. It's hard for catchers to get in, that's for sure.

Finally, many of the stats I refer to I got from the fabulous baseball database baseball-reference.com, in particular their "HOF monitor."

Manny Ramirez
There is absolutely no question that Ramirez will be elected to the Hall of Fame, probably on the first ballot. He has been, and continues to be, one of the greatest hitters of all time. Slam dunk. His seven years in Cleveland are essentially the equal of his seven as a Red Sock thus far, but by the time he finishes he will have played more years in Boston, won at least two World Series there, and complied more total numbers in Fenway than at Jacobs Field.
Chance of entry: 99.999%
Goes in as: Red Sock

Jim Thome
Looking at the numbers, I was surprised to learn that Thome's career has been almost exactly as productive as Ramirez's at the plate. Additionally, Jim spent a few years at third base and many at first while Ramirez played and continues to play a below-average left field. Thome has posted a career OPS+ (a very good single-number metric for batting productivity rate) of 150, while Ramirez sits at 154. Thome's career OBP is .409, exactly the same as Manny's. Thome has 507 home runs, Ramirez 490.

baseball-reference has a thing at the bottom where they compare a player's batting career to other historical players; Ramirez is 3rd-closest to Thome and Thome is 2nd-closest to Ramirez (only Larry Walker intervenes). Manny strikes out less while Jimmy walks more - other than that, they are the same hitter. It would be difficult for you to convince me, unless Thome strikes out 700 consecutive times or something over the next few years, that Ramirez is Hall-worthy and Thome isn't.

Like Ramirez, Jimmy isn't done with professional baseballing either; he posted that very same outstanding OPS+ number just this past year, blasting 35 home runs and getting on base at a .410 clip. A few more years even close to that sort of production, and Jim should gain entry for sure.
Chance of entry: 90%
Goes in as: Indian

Roberto Alomar
Seriously, do you remember those three years he played for us? He was ridiculous - a tremendous hitter and and excellent fielder, one of the best all-around players in the league. An career OPS+ of 116 from a second baseman, coupled with 10 Gold Glove awards, should make Robbie a shoo-in. Too bad he had more of his best years on the shores of Lake Ontario than he did next to Lake Erie.
Chance of entry: 85%
Goes in as: Blue Jay.

Omar Vizquel
Well, here we're getting into a bit of a debate. Here's the easiest way for me to make an argument: direct comparison to Ozzie Smith. You can't have one without the other, and Ozzie is already enshrined.

Again referring to baseball-reference.com, the two shortstops are very, very similar in batting productivity. The Wizard has a career OPS+ of 87; Little O has posted an 84. Neither batter's numbers are very impressive, but neither player was especially known for his offensive skills. Omar has an edge in pretty much every raw number: batting average (I know, I know), OBP, SLG, HR, TB, 2B, and so on, but Smith played in a very hitter-unfiendly park in a relatively dead-ball era and thus gets a boost in OPS+. He also stole considerably more bases. My point is that their hitting is essentially a draw.

So is their fielding. It's not even worth it to use this space to discuss who was better and I won't even indicate a preference. Let's simply say that Vizquel and Smith were the two greatest shortstops ever, which is a fairly uncontroversial statement. Defense is thus a push as well. Ozzie=Omar.

Mr. Osborne Smith is a current resident of the Baseball Hall of Fame. If you believe that his election was just and fair (as I do), then you should favor the election of Mr. Vizquel as well, once he finishes off his splendid career. It's that simple. Considering that Vizquel played 11 of his 19 years as an Indian, including essentially all of his prime, it's also clear who he'll represent in Cooperstown.
Chance of entry: 75%
Goes in as: Indian

Albert Belle
Look, I like Albert, and he had some absolutely dynamite seasons as a Tribesman, but it's unlikely that he'll be elected to Cooperstown. His OPS+ is really quite good, though below Ramirez and Thome, but he only played 10 seasons and has pretty low aggregate numbers. The HOF monitor has him in good company, but I think his relatively short career, plus his associated problems with media members, fans, and the law, will cost him with voters. I'm on the fence - he's a better candidate than even I realized now that I look at his numbers more carefully, but probably he'll fall short. Albert Belle was a really, really, good baseball player.
Chance of entry: 25%
Goes in as: Indian

Kenny Lofton
Again, a player who I loved watching as a youth, and up through this year, but not one who stacks up to Hall of Fame standards. An OPS+ of 107 just isn't good enough for a centerfielder. Kenny did steal quite a few bases as well, and played a solid if not elite outfield, and I liked the way he nailed a pair of batting gloves up on his wall every time he stole a base. Once again, very good career, special player, but probably not a Hall of Famer.
Chance of entry: 10%
Goes in as: Indian

Well, that was fun. Hopefully I can write this article 10 years from now and talk about Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and others going to Cooperstown with Tribe caps on their heads, crooked ones in CC's case. See you then!

No comments: