Fringe, Out or In? The MLB Hall of Fame Watch

The Baseball Hall of Fame system has long been a source of conversation and controversy among fans, writers and players alike. A lack of spots on the ballot combined with an abundance of worthy candidates, an outdated and aging pool of voters, and no clear guidelines to what voters should consider, has lead to a flawed system of election. Yes, steps have recently been taken to weed out all inactive and biased voters, but the other measure taken was to reduce a player’s maximum eligibility from 15 years to 10 years. Of all the changes that needed to be made, the hall of fame decided it would be best to actually make it a little harder for players to get in. Unfortunately, they fail to realize that a majority of fans actually want to see more players elected, and the steps taken next need to be ones that accomplish such a task. The obvious maneuver would be to eliminate the 10 player restriction on the ballot. The hall of fame requires voters to simply state if a player should be in or out, no rankings necessary, but then limits the voters to picking only 10 players which forces a natural ranking system. The fact of the matter is that players are bigger, faster and stronger these days and there are way more guys these days that deserve proper consideration that won’t come from a 10 player ballot. Bill James actually suggests forcing a minimum amount of players that get elected each year, which would guarantee at least some of the logjam of worthy players being cleared up. Whatever changes are coming need to happen soon, because an incredible amount of great players are nearing the ends of their careers, with another solid amount soon to be eligible, and the MLB can’t afford to let some of these guys miss out on such a prestigious honor.

With that being said, I feel it’s about time we take a look at some of the active players I feel are either mortal locks or somewhat on the brink. Sure, there are recently retired guys like Jeter and Rivera who we all know are sure bets to get in, but I want to focus on strictly active guys. On the flip side, there are hot young players like Carlos Correa and Noah Syndergaard who project to be great for a long time, but I want at least a decent body of work before I put them on this list. Of course, I will use a little bit of projection to make my picks, but not to the point where I’m making predictions about ten years into the future of a player’s career. So, let’s go position by position and see who’s in, who’s out, and who I just straight up have no clue about.

 

Catcher

molina-and-posey

Locks: Yadier Molina, Buster Posey

This is the hardest position to project in my opinion. I have both these guys as locks, but truthfully the voting body is so weird about their standards and I have no clue how the rest of their careers will play out. Catchers either break down way too soon, or move to another position before the injuries come. In Posey’s case, the injuries have already hit hard and it’s hard to tell if one day he’ll randomly break down and become a different player. Until that happens, the 29 year old will continue to split time between catcher and first base while playing at an all star level in the middle of a lineup that is almost always in the playoff hunt. Posey has the counting stats: a .307 career clip, almost 1,000 hits, almost 200 doubles, 114 homers, and over 500 RBIs. He has the awards: 3 World Series rings, ROY, an MVP, 3 silver sluggers, 4 all star games, a batting title, a comeback player of the year, a Hank Aaron award and a Wilson defensive player award. He isn’t necessarily a great postseason hitter, but he’s by no means a bad one and it speaks volumes that all 3 times he has been in the playoffs, his team has won the World Series. He’s the leader of that team, hits in the middle of the lineup, and he’s even caught two no-hitters and a perfect game. When you ask a fan today who the best catcher in baseball is, more often than not Posey is the first name they say followed maybe by Salvador Perez. There’s a huge chance Posey moves full time to first base very soon, but I don’t think it will hurt his case too much. He’s already established himself as the standard for catchers in this generation and he’s done enough in my opinion to already make a good conversation. Add in the fact that he’s just now probably entering his prime and that he very likely will spend the rest of his career on good Giants teams, with the possibility of adding more rings to his resume, and Posey is more likely than not to be a lock.

Yadi’s chances are a little more complicated, but his body of work is definitely more complete. There’s no getting around the fact that his offensive stats are lacking, especially for hall of fame consideration. A .283 career BA, over 1,500 career hits, 107 HRs and 700 RBIs is a good career but not hall of fame worthy on its own. Of course, he’s 33 not 40 and claims to have more left in him. Add in the fact that this season he has shown he’s not done yet hitting to a .290 average, plus throughout his career he barely ever struck out and almost always put the ball in play. Another aspect of his career that really helps his cause is the postseason. A career .286 BA in the playoffs is great, plus 31 career RBIs, but it’s the fact that with added pressure Yadi always raised his game. Of his 3 career playoff HRs, 2 have come in NLCS games along with 11 of his 31 RBIs, and he has hit .326 in such games. Even more impressive is Yadi’s World Series performances, with 12 career RBIs and a .328 average. He’s played in 4 World Series, won 2 of them, and has a shot at more before he’s done. Next come the accolades: a 7 time all star, 8 time gold glove winner, a silver slugger, 4 time platinum glove award, and 6 fielding bible awards to go along with those 2 rings. The real highlight here is obviously the defensive awards, which has been the theme of his career. Yadi is far and away the defensive standard for catchers, even after all this time, and he may well be the second greatest defensive catcher ever after Pudge Rodriguez. The Molina family name is synonymous with incredible defense at this point, and it’s a proven fact that Yadi can push any pitcher to overachieve. There might not be another catcher in history who has completely controlled the success and failure of a pitching staff the way Yadi has, and the failures of the Cardinals usually occur when he’s not on the field to mask any pitching deficiencies. The voters have long been tough on catchers, having only elected six in its history, and all of them had far superior offensive numbers than Yadi. Also, the idea of electing a player almost solely for defense would be unprecedented, but I’m counting on a younger voting body to realize that name value and the eye test in Yadi’s case show that he absolutely deserves to be in, especially if he can play for at least 5 more years at a somewhat productive level.

 

Just Makes the Cut: Joe Mauer

This one is incredibly tough, partially because Mauer is one of my favorite players ever and partially because I don’t know how voters will take Mauer’s case. The first question surrounding Mauer is can voters separate the player he was before injuries finally forced him to move permanently to 1B/DH from the significantly less impressive player he’s been after the switch. The second question is will that first player be enough. Take a look at Mauer’s stats from when he first debuted in 2004, up until his last season as a catcher in 2013.

Joe Mauer Batting Stats, from 2004 to 2013

 1178 G | 5060 PA | 4378 AB | 688 R | 1414 H | 282 2B | 20 3B | 105 HR | 634 RBI | 43 SB | 616 BB | 564 SO | .323 AVG | .405 OBP | .468 SLG | .873 OPS
Average: 118 G | 506 PA | 438 AB | 69 R | 141 H | 28 2B | 2 3B 10 HR | 63 RBI | 4 SB | 62 BB 56 SO
per 162 games: 163 G 699 PA 605 AB 95 R 196 H 39 2B 3 3B 15 HR 88 RBI 6 SB 86 BB 78 SO
Now, take a look at Carlton Fisk’s numbers over a similar span, from 1971 – 1981:
1172 G | 4742 PA | 4193 AB | 671 R | 1186 H 219 2B | 33 3B | 169 HR | 613 RBI | 64 SB | 427 BB | 623 SO | .283 AVG | .356 OBP | .472 SLG | .828 OPS
Average 107 G | 431 PA | 381 AB | 61 R | 108 H | 20 2B | 3 3B | 15 HR | 56 RBI | 6 SB | 39 BB | 57 SO
per 162 games 162 G | 655 PA | 579 AB | 93 R | 164 H 31 2B | 5 3B | 24 HR | 85 RBI | 9 SB | 59 BB | 86 SO
Obviously, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Carlton Fisk didn’t get into the hall due to a great first 10 seasons of his career, he got in because he played for 24 seasons and got all of his counting stats up to a point where he was one of the top 2 or 3 greatest offensive catchers ever. The point I’m trying to make is that Mauer was that good in his time as a catcher. Many voters are obsessed with stats that focus on sustained stretches of dominance, stats like JAWS, which takes a player’s career WAR average and adds it to their 7 best individual WAR seasons. Funny enough, the top 9 JAWS leaders of all time among catchers are 7 members of the hall of fame, future hall of famer Pudge Rodriguez, and 1 Joe Mauer. The 3 players immediately following Mauer on that list are Ted Simmons, HOFer Gabby Hartnett, and Thurman Munson. In Career WAR total, he’s number 11 behind 10 hall of famers and Pudge. The most convincing stat however is the WAR7, as Mauer sits in 5th behind only Carter, Bench, Piazza and Pudge. Shouldn’t that mean something? Shouldn’t a guy putting together a top 5 all time WAR7 at his position with only 8 complete seasons to choose from be worth something? To me, that’s worth the hall of fame. If that’s not enough for you, throw in an MVP award, 3 gold gloves, 6 all star games and 5 silver sluggers. Oh yeah, and he’s the only catcher to ever win a batting title in the American League. Oh yeah, and he’s the only catcher to ever win three batting titles. I think I just talked myself into Joe Mauer being a lock.
Just Miss: Brian McCann, Salvador Perez, Russell Martin, Jonathan Lucroy
McCann is the only one of those guys right now who is really remotely close due to his nice home run and RBI totals. At only 32 he’s already at almost 250 HRs and almost 900 RBIs. By the time he’s done he’ll probably have an even sexier line. His all star and silver slugger totals are nice and he benefits from longevity at the position, but he’s also miserable in the postseason. However, the .266 BA above all else doesn’t get it done for me and he has consistently fallen in the .230 range over the past few years. Not a good sign.
Of all the current active catchers who aren’t there yet but have a lot of time to build a case, I think Perez has the best shot of anyone at pulling it off. Salvy plays exceptional defense and seems to be the favorite to take Yadi’s mantle as the premier defensive catcher in the game. I think by the time he’s done, he’ll be nearing 10 gold gloves, if not more than that. He has the name value and the postseason resume, including a coveted WS MVP. The major concern I have is obviously the fact that his average has steadily fallen every single year he’s been in the league and if he can’t get it back up, I’m afraid he won’t be able to convince enough people he deserves a spot.
Martin and Lucroy are both definitely good players. Not truly great, but good enough to be mentioned. I like Lucroy’s chances a little bit more with the Rangers being strong WS favorites this season, but he still needs a late career renaissance to even warrant consideration.

First Base

 cabrera-and-pujols
Locks: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera
I mean, these are the two locks to end all locks. Not much I can say about either guy that isn’t already known. Albert Pujols in his prime was like a throwback to the players your grandparents used to tell you stories about; guys who seemed larger than life and struck fear into every single pitcher. He might catch Willie Mays’ home run total, he might pass a few guys in the 3,000 hit club, he’ll probably pass 2,000 RBIs, and he’d have to strike out 162 times without drawing a walk before those two stats are even. Impressively enough, he’s managed to keep his career average at .309 even after some not so great LA seasons average wise. 3 time MVP, 10 time all star, 6 time silver slugger, 2 world series rings, a batting title, an NLCS MVP, 2 gold gloves, 2 Hank Aaron awards, a rookie of the year. The guy is just one of the greatest to ever play.
Speaking of unreal, Miggy is somehow only 33. 2 MVPs, 4 batting titles, A TRIPLE CROWN, 6 silver sluggers, 2 Hank Aaron awards, a World Series and counting. He’ll come close to most of the same totals as Pujols and will probably be regarded as an even better pure hitter. In my opinion, and the opinion of many other people, Miguel Cabrera is the greatest all around hitter I’ve seen in my lifetime. I put Pujols’ name first because he has an extra 3 seasons on Cabrera, but Miggy’s resume might be more impressive by the time he’s finished.

Just Makes the Cut: Joey Votto

Votto’s case is a very interesting one, and probably the biggest scenario in which future performance is required. Don’t get me wrong, Votto has already put together a substantial body of work, including a very important MVP award in 2010. His hit and home run totals won’t blow anyone away, but he always hits comfortably over .300 and is always among the league leaders in OBP and walks. There might not be a smarter player in the game and no one has a better command of the strike zone, two things that I think will work in Votto’s favor as he reaches the twilight stage of his career and will help to counteract father time. On one hand, Votto has experienced serious injuries to his knee and quad. On the other hand, he plays first base which is about as low stress as you can get in baseball. On one hand, he’s already 33 and may see his power start to decline in the coming years. On the other hand, he’s never been a guy that hit a ton of home runs and I think his intelligence at the plate will help him remain equally as productive for years to come. Votto’s career line of .312/.424/.533 is unbelievable, and basically equates to a less powerful Frank Thomas. Of course, Votto won’t even come remotely close to the 500 HR club, but he should pass 300 easily with maybe 1,200 RBIs. If Votto can do that, and then get to around 2,300 hits or so, he should definitely get in, especially if he can keep that slash line above .300/.400/.500.
Just Miss: Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman
Mark Teixeira has announced 2016 will be his final season, and 400 home runs, a World Series, 5 gold gloves, 3 silver sluggers and 3 all star games is definitely impressive especially for a switch hitter. However, Teixeira just doesn’t stick out as a truly great player in my mind, plus a .268 average is way too low. When the Hall of Very Good opens up, Teixeira definitely deserves a spot.
Gonzalez has been so solid and consistent for so long, but will always be overshadowed by the big power hitting first basemen of his era. He was definitely a great hitter with a good average, and has collected a respectable amount of hits, runs, double, homers and RBIs. Also, he was always a fantastic defensive player. However, I don’t think his power numbers will be enough to get him in at a position where power is so overvalued. I also wouldn’t be surprised at all if he proves me wrong and barely gets in on his last chance on the ballot.
Goldschmidt and Freeman in my opinion would really have to collapse dramatically soon in order to miss the Hall of Fame. The only reason I have them in this section is because I’m basing my picks on what they’ve achieved so far. While both have been great, they haven’t been transcendent like a Trout or Kershaw, so I need to see just a little bit more. I believe both men are probably two or three more great seasons away from having strong cases, and I also believe both men will achieve those great seasons and pile on a couple more for good measure. Goldschmidt is consistently the best player in baseball that no one talks about and I still think he hasn’t even reached his prime. Freeman benefits from breaking into the majors at only 20 years old, and he just turned 27 a few days ago so there’s still a lot of career left to be played.
Second Base
 cano-pedroia-utley
Locks: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia
For one reason or another, Robinson Cano has long been underappreciated by many fans and media alike. No matter the reason, the fact of the matter is that Cano for a solid ten years has been not only one of the best second basemen in baseball, but one of the overall best pure hitters in the game. Cano has hit at least .300 in eight of his twelve seasons, with a .297 average his rookie year and a .292 average this season (as of publication). He’s never hit less than 14 homers in a season, and has miraculously rediscovered his power swing this year, matching a career high of 33. He should get his 2,200th hit by season’s end, and will probably hit his 300th homer by the end of next year to go along with almost 500 doubles, almost 1,100 RBIs, and a sparkling .306 career average. Those numbers are impressive for any player through his age-33 season, let alone a second baseman. Cano has also won a World Series (though he didn’t contribute much that postseason), 5 silver sluggers, 2 gold gloves and made 7 all star appearances. In my eyes, there hasn’t been a more dominant second baseman of this generation and Cano is already a lock, but he has more left in the tank and will only bolster his case.
Pedroia is a lot harder to call a “lock” because his numbers don’t jump off the page the same way Cano’s do, but he has been as big a face as any at his position for the better part of ten years and was a pivotal part of two great World Series teams. Pedroia has a ROY on his resume and his 2008 MVP award is one of the great underdog stories in sports, which I think will do more for his case than any other aspect of his career. Cano may have been the gold standard for hitters at his position for a generation, but Pedroia was and still is the gold standard for pure heart and leadership. He will always be a hero in Boston and will forever be remembered as someone who played bigger than his numbers (and certainly his size). Speaking of his numbers, they’re pretty damn good on their own, too. He’s hit a ton of doubles throughout his career and continues to routinely hit 30+ at the age of 33. He has a career .301/.366/.444 slashline and is closing out his best season since 2008 with a .320/.379/.446 line. Like Cano, I think there’s a lot left for Petey, plus he’s hitting right at the top of one of the greatest lineups in recent memory with a ton of young star players under Boston’s control for years to come.
Just Makes the Cut: None.
Just Miss: Chase Utley
Chase Utley for about six straight seasons may have been the best second baseman in the game, certainly in the National League. Over that span, he hit .298/.388/.523 with 162 homers and 572 RBIs. Those are historic numbers for a second baseman, plus he was an all star five of those six years, a silver slugger four of the six, and a key piece of a World Series team. However, from that point on, there was a clear drop in Utley’s production. He was by no means a bad player and he was still having pretty productive years, he was just no longer a star and began to fade out of the limelight. His last two seasons especially have not been good at all, and show that he’s pretty much done at this point. His 248 homers, 975 RBIs, .279/.361/.472 career line is definitely impressive, but his body of work is virtually complete and I don’t think it’ll be enough to get him in. Utley should and will get votes and will have his supporters that allow him to last on the ballot for a few years, but he’s Hall of Very Good material.
Shortstop
 hanley-ramirez
Locks: None.
Just Makes the Cut: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez
Wow. This is a slippery slope in a lot of ways, partly because Tulo is almost never healthy and partly because Hanley isn’t even a shortstop anymore. However, there’s no question both guys were two of the best players at the position for much of their primes.
There’s not a doubt in my mind, and I know a lot of other people probably feel the same way, but a healthy Troy Tulowitzki was the best shortstop in baseball with ease and probably a top 3 all around talent in the game. The one problem? We very rarely got to see a fully healthy Troy Tulowitzki. His numbers as they stand right now are still pretty good, but they’d be iffy in terms of the Hall of Fame. Tulo has played a premium position for his entire career which does not go unnoticed, and he plays at an elite level defensively when healthy. It is pretty evident though that he can’t keep going at this rate if he wants to play into his late 30s, and I think it’s about time he focused on rediscovering his swing before it slips away from him. Luckily enough, I look ahead to this 2017 offseason and see that both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are hitting free agency, while Tulo remains signed to a monster contract until 2022. I don’t think the team will be able to bring back both guys, which should be the perfect opportunity for Toronto to make Tulo their new DH. It’s a shame he didn’t get to be a full time DH earlier in his career because I think it would’ve panned out very differently, but it makes sense considering how talented he is in the field. However, I just think this is one of those Joe Mauer scenarios where you don’t want to leave an injury prone guy at an injury prone position for too long and risk permanently damaging his talent. If they do move him to the DH spot and find another guy to play SS, I think Tulo will be able to stay pretty healthy and maybe even play another 8-10 years in a powerful lineup, which will really bolster his numbers. I think another two or three great offensive years will be enough to get him in, but it’s about as much of a stretch as you can get so the jury is still out.
Hanley Ramirez may have only played about eight full seasons at shortstop, and he may not play the position again, but his defense was never really his calling anyway. Han-Ram’s offense has always been his calling card and man, was he good. In fact, he still is good. Really good. This season, at 32 years old, Hanley has hit 29 bombs, driven in a career high 109 runs, has hit .293/.363/.516 (hovering right around his career line of .296/.366/.496), and has provided some of the most clutch at-bats for a Red Sox team that seems destined to win another title this year. The career numbers are already great and they’re only going to get better if he keeps playing in this Boston lineup for years to come. I don’t think he’ll be hurt badly enough by the fact that he played a few different positions, or by the fact that he’s bounced around teams throughout his career. He has a batting title, a ROY, 3 all star games and a couple of silver sluggers under his belt, and I can see him having a monster postseason this year to add that first title. It also bodes well for him that he’s transformed his game; starting his career as a dual speed/power threat, and now bulking up to become a freak with monster power. I think that style usually plays longer in a guy’s career (look at Big Papi), and I can see him having at least few more huge years in Boston.
Just Miss: Jimmy Rollins
I think too many people take for granted how good Jimmy Rollins truly was. His 2007 MVP season was absolutely absurd and he was bar none the best leadoff hitter in baseball for more than a few seasons. He has a ton of runs, almost 500 stolen bases, a surprising 231 homers and 936 RBIs, and 2,455 hits. No way around it, those are some phenomenal stats. The problem is, his .264 average and .324 OBP just is not good enough especially for a well known leadoff hitter. The last few years of his career were especially mediocre and probably to blame for sinking Rollins’ Hall chances.
Third Base
 evan-longoria-beltre
Locks: Adrian Beltre
Once again, this is about as much of a lock as you can get. The funny thing is, just a few years ago, people were still asking if Beltre deserved a spot. Boy, has he made those people look dumb. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a player who did more for his Hall case after turning 30, but Beltre spent a year in Boston to revive his career and then went to Texas to become their entire franchise and established himself as a surefire Hall of Famer. He has a .286 career average, which is a mark he has not hit below since his age-30 season in Seattle. He has also hit 201 HRs since turning 30, which has given him a real shot at reaching the 500 HR club if he can hang around another two or three years. Beltre is well known for being a warrior in terms of dealing with injuries, and I think he definitely can play until at least 40 if he really wants to. He will get to 3,000 hits and 600 doubles before the all star break next season, and will also surpass 1,500 runs and 1,600 RBIs. If you like defense, it just so happens Beltre is one of the best to ever play the position and has not fallen off in that regard whatsoever. One of the most beloved and respected players in all of baseball, Beltre will be a first ballot choice five years after whenever he decides to hang up the spikes.
Just Makes the Cut: Evan Longoria
I fully expected to have Evan Longoria and David Wright in the same category, but it looks like David Wright may be done and Evan Longoria may have found new life. Both guys coming into this year were pretty close, with Wright probably having an edge over Longo, but things have changed drastically now that the season is completed. Longo has had a monster year with 36 homers and 95 RBIs, plus a .279/.323/.534 line which is pretty much above his career averages. He’s only been around for 9 seasons and is still just turning 31, and would really benefit incredibly from a change of scenery, which may be coming soon. I’d love to see him get his average up near .280, but I think his power will make up for the average if he can remain above .270 for his career. Right now he’s sitting at 241 homers, 803 RBIs and 1,304 hits. I think, especially if he gets traded to a contender, Longoria could end up right around 450 homers, 1,500 RBIs and 2,100 hits. For me, that’s probably good enough to get in.
Just Miss: David Wright
Injuries have completely derailed Wright’s career, so much so that I think his career may be a closed case already. There’s a chance he could settle into a productive bench role and add to his already great counting stats, plus I think he still has the potential to hit at least .290 with limited playing time. Sadly, the Mets will try to force him back into his starting third base spot, ultimately getting hurt again, and it’ll cause his numbers to suffer. I think if he retired today, his numbers would actually be enough to get some votes. It all depends on how the next few years go for the Captain; if he tries to be a starter again and re-injures himself he won’t cut it, but if he can either somehow regain some of his ability or be a successful bench player for a decent amount of years I think he may have a shot.
Outfield
 Ichiro Suzuki
Locks: Ichiro, Carlos Beltran, Mike Trout
Ichiro is the best pure hitter I will get to see in my lifetime and I’m confident of that. Over 3,000 hits in a career that started at age 27 is so unbelievable it almost doesn’t sound real. I’m also seriously convinced Ichiro could play until he’s 50 if he wanted to, especially since he hit .288 this season filling in for the injured Giancarlo Stanton. In his prime, he got 10 straight gold gloves, 10 straight all star appearances, 3 silver sluggers, and won an MVP and ROY in his first MLB season. One of the most legendary outfield arms ever, maybe second to only Vlad Guerrero. In one infamous commercial shoot, Ichiro threw a curveball from dead center for a perfect strike on his first try. Ichiro is the classic prototypical leadoff hitter and one of the best to ever do it, so there’s no question he’s getting in with a very high percentage.
Quick, pretend the postseason doesn’t exist. Does this constitute a Hall of Famer?
19 Yrs | 2450 G 9277 AB | 1520 R | 2612 H | 535 2B | 78 3B | 420 HR | 1534 RBI | 311 SB | 1049 BB | 1689 SO | .282 AVG | .354 OBP | .492 SLG |
I say yes. If you said no, what if you added in 9 all star appearances, 3 gold gloves, 2 silver sluggers, and a ROY? Still not enough? Okay, add in the fact that this guy is a switch hitter. That has to be enough to get into the Hall. Well, luckily for Carlos Beltran the postseason plays a big factor, too. As it turns out, Carlos Beltran has posted historic postseason numbers and is certainly one of the greatest postseason hitters ever. His 16 homers, 4o RBIs and .332/.441/.674 line are incredible numbers, and he’s the all time postseason leader in OPS. Carlos has a chance to add to his totals this year with a World Series contender, and every year he decides to play, since every team recognizes his postseason excellence and will try to acquire him for a deep playoff run.  Once again, Beltran is a guy that should get in easily and with a pretty high percentage.
The final guy I have as a lock is Mike Trout. Now, you may say this goes against my rules that I set in the beginning of not wanting to project more of a player’s career than I analyze. However, you’re wrong because what Mike Trout has done already is honestly up there with some of the all time great players to ever play the game, the only thing holding him back is playing the full 10 seasons necessary for induction. Trout just turned 25 years old and would only have to play about four and a half more seasons, which obviously he will do. He has made the all star game in all 5 of his full major league seasons, has won 4 silver sluggers and will probably win another this year, won a ROY, won an MVP and may win another this year (plus has three runner up finishes, two of which he probably should’ve won). I think by the time he’s done, Trout will have about four MVP awards and his numbers will be up there with some of the all time great players. There’s never been a player who has put up the numbers through their age-24 season that Trout has put up. He’s never won a gold glove, but he constantly makes stunning plays in the outfield and is always considered phenomenal defensively. There is no other young position player in the league that has been truly transcendent and unprecedented in the same way Trout has been, not even Bryce Harper, and his brilliance is only matched by Clayton Kershaw on the pitcher’s side. Players like those two guys come along once in a generation, if even, and you’d be stupid not to recognize that.
Just Makes the Cut: Bryce Harper
There are a lot of guys right there on the bubble, but right now I think only Bryce Harper will eventually get there. Like I said before, he hasn’t shown me enough just yet, but what can you expect from a 23 year old? He has been pretty historic in his own right, putting up 121 homers and 330 RBIs before his 24th birthday, plus he adds a little bit of speed and an otherworldly ability to get on base. The MVP, ROY, and slew of additional accolades don’t hurt him either. He’s no Mike Trout, but he will surely go down as one of the all time greats.
Just Miss: Andrew McCutchen, Matt Holliday, Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton, Carl Crawford, Ryan Braun, Hunter Pence, Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Jay Bruce
So many options in the outfield, so many guys that I think fall just short. Of course, a number of these men could put together some more fantastic years and get in, plus there are even a few more I didn’t name that could realistically do the same. Adrian Beltre has proven that it’s possible. For others, I just don’t think there’s enough time left for them and even a good run of a few years won’t be enough in the end. Then there’s another group of players who will finish with great numbers, but will have one or two fatal flaws. For example, I think Giancarlo Stanton will finish with 500+ home runs. However, he will have a ton of strikeouts and a very mediocre average unless he drastically changes his approach at the plate (plus, he might rarely play a full season with his injury history). Outfield is another hard position to predict simply due to the sheer number of options and the stylistically different types of outfielders that have already achieved election. Of the group I’ve listed above, the men I’d consider most likely to sneak in are McCutchen and Stanton simply due to their star power and track records. I’ve already noted Stanton’s weaknesses, and McCutchen’s biggest obstacle is father time. McCutchen turns 30 in October and he’d really have to come up with a couple more really great, MVP-caliber seasons to save his chances. On the bright side, McCutchen is one of the best all around hitters in the game year after year, and he has as good a shot as any to go on a dominant streak.
Designated Hitter
big-pai
Locks: David Ortiz
Once again, we’re faced with a slippery slope. David Ortiz has two enormous knocks against him; one is the PED speculation, and the other is being a pure DH. I think the first ballot induction of Frank Thomas does a little bit of good for the future cases of other designated hitters, but Thomas also spent a decent amount of time in the field, too. The next step in helping out Ortiz would be for Edgar Martinez to get in, which I think he deserves and might even achieve. If Edgar gets in, Big Papi absolutely gets in because he blows Edgar’s already fantastic numbers out of the water. Ortiz has 3 World Series rings, 10 all star appearances, 6 silver sluggers, an ALCS MVP, a World Series MVP and he’s finishing off a season in which he can add to those totals. Big Papi, in his 20th and final season, currently has 47 doubles, 37 homers, 124 RBIs, 77 BBs, 78 SOs and a .319/.406/.634 line. He leads the league in doubles, RBIs, SLG, OPS and IBB, and he should once again finish very high in the MVP voting. He is an elite postseason player and still just as clutch as ever, and this might be the best Red Sox lineup he’s ever been a part of, so don’t count out another World Series ring and MVP. The fact that he put up the greatest farewell season for a hitter in baseball history should and will stand out in the minds of voters come 5 years, and I think it will be enough to get him in.
Just Makes the Cut: None.
Just Misses: Victor Martinez
Victor Martinez’ case is a lot like Edgar Martinez’ case, except Victor has more time played in the field at both catcher and first base. I think Victor is a lot closer to getting in than people think, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he does, especially if a couple more designated hitters get in to pave the way. He was never a huge power hitter like Frank Thomas or David Ortiz, but he was always so consistently good, even to this day. Next season, he should break 2,000 hits and 400 doubles, and he has a good chance of getting his 250th home run. He was able to keep his strikeouts down (775) and his walks up (660). His .301/.366/.468 is really good, but not even Edgar Martinez good, so I don’t think he has enough to get in unfortunately.
Pitchers
 felix-kershaw
Locks: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez
For me, that’s the big 3 of this generation in terms of starting pitchers. Kershaw obviously defies all logic and deserves a whole 10,000 word thesis all to himself, but I’ll try my best to keep his argument brief. In 9 seasons, at the age of 28, Clayton Kershaw has compiled a record of 125-59, a 2.38 ERA, 24 complete games, 15 shutouts, a 1.009 WHIP, and 1,908 SOs in 1,746 IP. He is the active career leader in winning percentage, ERA, shutouts, ERA+, Fielding Independent Pitching, WHIP, H/9 and HR/9. He has an MVP, 3 Cy Youngs, another 2 top-3 finishes, and probably should have won over RA Dickey in 2012. Kershaw also has 6 all star game appearances and a gold glove. He broke the 300 strikeout plateau last season, and was well on his way to possibly reaching it again this year, along with potentially another Cy Young and MVP award. His line this season as it stands right now is: 11-3, 1.73 ERA, 19 GS, 3 CG, 3 SHO, 135 IP, 162 K, 10 BBs, 0.726 WHIP. This season was shaping up to be his masterpiece, but he’ll have to save his best stuff for next season instead. The one knock on Kershaw, and it has been well documented, is that he doesn’t pitch well in the postseason. The Dodgers are very good this year, and will likely be very good for many years of his career, and the cream usually rises to the top, so I think eventually he’ll break through. He is far and away the best pitcher of this generation, of my lifetime so far, and probably will be the best of the rest of my lifetime, too. Maybe that’s an overstatement, or maybe he’ll one day make me look less crazy than you’d think. You never know.
Next up is Justin Verlander. The career ERA is a little bit higher than you’d like to see in a Hall of Fame candidate, but his run of dominance was really good.This season was a huge bounce-back year for Verlander and showed people that he’s back on track to reach some big career milestones. Although I don’t think wins are as important of a criteria as they used to be, but Verlander still has a shot at around 220 of them. I also think he will barely notch 3,000 strikeouts, as he sits with 2,177 with his age-33 season nearing completion. His career line doesn’t scream Hall of Fame, but you have to consider the era that he pitched in. With the game played today, pitchers tend to be coddled and are constantly being monitored for the most minor of injuries, pitch counts and any signs of fatigue or distress, plus bullpen usage and relief specialists have risen drastically. All in all, you have guys not lasting in games as long as they used to and thus, a decreased chance at a win for the starting pitcher. To top it all off, we are just now coming out of an era where a good chunk of players were pumping themselves with steroids and pitching numbers in general need to be viewed with that in mind. So when Verlander goes 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, 250 SOs, a .920 WHIP and wins the MVP and Cy Young, it’s a little extra impressive considering he did all that against a loaded American League probably full of guys still cheating. He may not stack up against some of the all time greats, but I’ll be damned if Justin Verlander wasn’t one of the most dominant pitchers of this generation.
Speaking of the best pitchers of this generation, Felix Hernandez has to be included in that conversation. He definitely showed some signs of slowing down this season, but he is still miraculously only 30 years old and has a lot of baseball left to play. His win total isn’t particularly high, but that’s what you get when you play for a lot of bad Seattle teams. He’s at 154-107 right now, so I think he could break 200. King Felix’ calling card has always been consistency and longevity, so even in one of his “bad” seasons, he still has a 3.61 ERA. His career mark is 3.14 which is fantastic, especially considering the fact that he had to singlehandedly carry most of his teams throughout his career. The most impressive statistic for me is his strikeouts because he has 2,258 of them at the age of 30 through only 12 seasons. He should easily pass 3,000 which is a big number in voters’ eyes. He has six all star game appearances and a Cy Young, plus two more runner ups. He twice lead the American League in ERA, once lead the MLB in wins, and is the Mariners franchise leader in both wins and strikeouts. Finally, in 2012, he became the 23rd man in history to throw a perfect game which only adds to the lure of King Felix.
Just Makes the Cut: Madison Bumgarner, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman
Madison Bumgarner has accomplished so much already that it’s hard to believe he just turned only 27 years old. He continues to get better and better every season, this year setting new career bests in ERA (2.57) and strikeouts (241). He’s one win away from 100 for his career, and could get it in his final start of the season on a Giants team that just can’t afford to lose games in the thick of a playoff hunt. He also already has 1,371 strikeouts in about six and a half seasons, and he’s increased his strikeout totals in pretty much every season he’s been in the league. MadBum doesn’t have a Cy Young yet (the Kershaw effect), but he has a decent shot at one this season and I think eventually he will win one. The biggest positive for Bumgarner is his postseason pedigree. He already has 3 World Series rings, an NLCS MVP and a World Series MVP. He has been the perfect foil to Clayton Kershaw throughout their careers; Kershaw is the golden boy who gets all the notoriety but never closes it out in the playoffs, while MadBum is the rough and tough workhorse who comes alive in the biggest moments and can always be counted on to lead a team to a title. His run in the 2014 playoffs will always be remembered as one of the best ever for a pitcher, and I think he could add at least another 2 rings to his collection in the future.
Both Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman have some work to do to get in. First and foremost, they need to keep racking up 35-40 saves every year for the next 4 or 5 years at least. Hall of Fame voters have not been kind to closers over the years, but Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera will both get in and open the door for more guys in the future, the perfect opportunity for Kimbrel and Chapman. The one thing each of these guys have over other prototypical closers is an absurd strikeout rate. Chapman is huge and will blow his fastball by any hitter in the world, and Kimbrel is funky with breaking stuff that can make even the best veterans look stupid. Both men are equally intimidating, and both men have well over 600 strikeouts in under 400 innings pitched. It’s also interesting how both guys are the same age and broke into the league the same year, because we conveniently get to compare them to each other for the duration of their careers. However, we should spend less time comparing and more time appreciating the fact that these are two of the best strikeout artists to ever take up the mantle of closer. In Kimbrel’s ROY 2011 season, he struck out 127 batters in just 77 IP to go along with a league leading 46 saves. The following season, Chapman struck out 122 in 71.2 IP to go with 38 saves. These are really special players with a lot of baseball left to play that will only be appreciated more as time goes by, so look for both to one day get in.
Just Miss: CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Cole Hamels, David Price, Chris Sale, Francisco Rodriguez, Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum
There are such an unbelievable amount of pitchers that could join be put in this group, but I think these are the ones right now that you could realistically say have at one point been considered either the best in their league or among the best. Among them, you have 6 Cy Youngs, along with a slew of other titles and awards. However, none of the above did enough for me to confidently say they rose above the rest for an extended amount of time. Maybe Verlander is the only guy I have getting in that also would fit in this group, but I just can’t get over his MVP award as a pitcher and I truly believe for a few seasons he was the best player in baseball, let alone pitcher. There are guys like CC and Greinke who have played a long time and have one or two phenomenal Cy Young-worthy years, but their overall numbers don’t do enough. Then there’s a guy like Scherzer who is a top 3 pitcher in the game today and could continue that for another couple years, but he got a really late start and his peak alone might not be enough. Hamels, Price, Cueto and Lester are all elite, ace pitchers who have had success in both the regular season and postseason, but at no time have I ever said one of those guys is the best pitcher in baseball and no Cy Youngs among them speaks volumes to that point.  Lincecum has the two Cy Youngs which draws attention, but he fell off a cliff and his prime wasn’t enough at all. Francisco Rodriguez actually may have the best case of the bunch if he can play on a good Tigers team for about 4 or 5 more years and pass the 600 save mark. He already has the single season record, six all star appearances, and three top-4 finishes in Cy Young voting which is really good for a closer. Longevity is the key for K-Rod and 600 saves will be a big number that could go a long way for voters. The wild card of this group, however, is Chris Sale. There’s no question Sale will probably approach and most likely pass 3,000 strikeouts. Everything about the way he pitches just screams a poor man’s Randy Johnson and he’s actually done a pretty good job at staying healthy considering how vicious his delivery to the plate is. He has a sub-3.00 career ERA at only 27 years old and I think he should be able to keep it down around 3.00 for a long time. The biggest question mark for him is the wins because he plays on some really bad White Sox teams. I think he almost certainly will get traded soon, especially due to his souring relationship with management, and don’t be surprised if he goes to a team like the Red Sox and just lights it up for years to come. A few 18 -20 win seasons plus some postseason experience will go a long way for Sale and I can definitely see him sneaking his way in one day.
So, that’s it for the Hall of Fame predictions. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments or send me a message, I’m always open to discussion. Just don’t tell me I’m wrong on Joe Mauer because I’ll have to fight you.
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