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Monday, January 21, 2013

The Historic...2004 Astros?

So, over the summer, there was talk of the Yankees having nine possible Hall of Famers. That seems crazy at first, but think about it.

Derek Jeter is a definite, first-ballot player. Mariano Rivera and Ichiro almost certainly are too, despite being a closer and a late start, respectively. Alex Rodriguez will almost certainly get in someday, steroids and all. Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia are both well on their way to the Hall, and if you don’t believe it, check these out.* Andy Pettitte, Andruw Jones, and Mark Teixeira will have there supporters.

*It’s so much fun to have past research to refer back to.

Obviously, this was a sign of imbalance, right? One team stockpiling that many Hall of Fame-level players? Well, not totally. Only three (at most) of them are in what you could consider their prime-the other six are all mostly role-players at this point. It just so happened that the Yankees acquired the name-brand role players.

To prove that point, I’ve been trying to look for other examples of teams in history that had a stockpile of Hall members or potential Hall members (because it’s almost certain that all nine of them won’t end up in Cooperstown, not for some time, at least). Outside of the era that was picked over by Frankie Frisch’s Veterans Committee, could there be a team with that many potential Hall members? How frequent is it?

Well, I can’t really measure how many near-misses there are. But I can think of one team in recent history with a comparable roster full of stars. And probably not one you would expect: the 2004 Astros.

Yep, of all the teams in history, the Astros, less than a decade ago, may have had as many as eight future Hall of Famers. To group them in a manner that compares them to the 2004 Yankees:

The Jeter Group: the inner-circle Hall members. First baseman Jeff Bagwell and left fielder (in 2004, at least) Craig Biggio should go in here. I think then mid-season acquisition Carlos Beltran will be here by the time he retires, too. That may be overly-optimistic, but failing that, he can fit in with the next group.

The Rivera/Ichiro Group: This would definitely be Carlos Beltran’s status, at least. I think he’s already deserving of first ballot status, but I suppose I should knock him down a peg to account for BBWAA-related incompetence. Also, that year’s second baseman, Jeff Kent, might go in. He’s one of the best-hitting second basemen in history, at least. I suppose we’ll just see how he fares on the ballot next year, though.

The Pettitte Group: This group is just Andy Pettitte. I mean, I’m not going to find any closer comparisons, so there’s no sense to muddy up this comparison by trying to squeeze a second player under this heading.

The A-Rod Group: 2004 Astros ace Roger Clemens would go here. Again, despite his low debut, I think he’ll eventually go in. It’ll just take time.

The Cano/Sabathia Group: Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were in their primes in 2004, and both looked well on their way to the Hall at the time. Now? Berkman’s still good, but oft-injured. I think another solid season or two can secure a place in the Hall (by which, I mean the Hall of Merit; I find their voting hard to predict; the Hall of Fame? He’ll probably get in, after some number of years and Veterans Committees). Oswalt, though, is looking more and more finished. It’s a shame too; I’d put him in the “one or two more decent seasons” boat with Berkman.

They were missing a clear ninth Hall candidate, though. Maybe you can argue for Brad Lidge? He was a still reasonably-young 27, and hadn’t shown any symptoms of PPHTSD* yet. I mean, I don’t really think of Mark Teixeira as a Hall candidate, and the Hall has a strange enough history with closers that you might be able to stretch this one. He was coming off a season with a 228 ERA+ and 29 saves, though, so you could dream.

*Post-Pujols Home Run Traumatic Stress Disorder

Either way, it was a good team, one worth remembering. They went 92-70 to win the Wild Card, beat the Braves in the NLDS in five games (although their 18-inning win over the Braves would actually come next year), then lost to the Cardinals in seven games in the NLCS despite Carlos Beltran’s incredible performance (they would win the rematch next season).

But there you have it; there was a season where the Astros had eight/nine future Hall of Fame candidates. So it’s not necessarily a sign of an imbalanced system as much as it is an odd coincidence. Also, I suppose you can use this to say the Yankees might be awful in six years, if you prefer that message. Either way, it’s worth thinking about.

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