Over the weekend*, ESPN’s Buster Olney decided to look at current players and their Hall of Fame cases. Since Hall of Fame debates are always interesting and I looked at the Hall recently, why not compare notes on Cooperstown?
*For the record, I would have run this on Monday if not for Nick Markakis’ hand injury. That was just a little too time-sensitive to push back.
The biggest problem I have is that I have no idea what criteria Olney was going by exactly. In the intro, for example, he mentions a bunch of players that I think he considers locks. I usually don’t have a problem with that, except for (in this case) his choice of players: Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez*, Omar Vizquel, and Andy Pettitte.
*Olney agrees that A-Rod will get over the steroid thing
Those last two are not like the other four. I’ve mentioned how I disagree with Vizquel’s candidacy. I’m actually a lot closer to considering Pettitte a Hall of Famer; I think his numbers are on the lower end of the borderline right now. However, based on the Hall’s track record on inducting pitchers and the upcoming wave of good pitchers, I wouldn’t be terribly upset to see him left out.
Olney then goes on to list more locks, a group that includes Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Roy Halladay. No complaints there. I’m not sure why he has two sections for Hall locks, but okay. I would agree those three are a separate generation than the first six, so I guess there’s that.
He has one probably: Scott Rolen. I find issue with only labeling him a probably, but I think this view is more common than I care to admit. Olney cites injuries, although I would argue that he’s been Hall-worthy in spite of those. Oh well. When Rolen’s time for voting comes, I shall spill oceans of virtual ink spreading word of his brilliance. For now, here’s this.
Olney also does one thing that annoys me here, and it’s by no means specific to him. He mentions that Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement puts Rolen 95th all-time* (he’s moved up to tied for 94th since then, apparently), then mentions that that puts him ahead of Mike Piazza but behind Kenny Lofton, like that’s a bad thing. First, Kenny Lofton was pretty darn good. Second, that picking-and-choosing of players is more to suit the narrative than to fairly evaluate his candidacy. Why not mention that he also tops Hall members Ryne Sandberg and Tony Gwynn, or even that he’s behind non-Hall members Lou Whitaker and Jeff Bagwell? I would argue that, if you had to pick a Hall of Fame based on only one stat (which we don’t, thankfully), WAR would be the one. However, if you’re just going to use it to augment your narrative, you aren't using it right.
*Not even mentioning that there are already way more than 95 players in the Hall already, meaning the Rolen has easily cleared that bar.
His list of maybes is similarly baffling. He has a bunch of strong candidates that I would probably put in-Todd Helton, Carlos Beltran, Andruw Jones, Adrian Beltre, and Chase Utley. He also has David Ortiz and Johan Santana. I can see cases for both, but I think Ortiz ultimately falls short. Johan Santana, I can live with. His mid-2000s run was dominant, although I would argue he needs a few more solid seasons to finish off his case. I don’t disagree with the mention, just the placement, I guess.
Then there are his “Getting Close” and “Entering the Conversation” categories. He places CC Sabathia here, even though I would say he probably rates higher than Santana. He also lists Paul Konerko (who I’ve again covered) and Tim Hudson*. I would say that both need a milestone to get inducted, (and even then, they would also need to hope that voters continue to rubber-stamp milestone players, which may not happen).
*Not to just write Hudson off, but he’s at 36 and not even at Pettitte’s career numbers yet. I’m not sure you can list him just yet, especially without listing players like Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt.
He ends his list with Jimmy Rollins and Torii Hunter. Not that they’re bad players, but why those two? Why not Lance Berkman, or Jason Giambi, or Johnny Damon, or Bobby Abreu, or Mark Teixeira? All of those players rate higher under WAR, and that’s not even going into younger players who should pass both of them by the time they’re all done (including David Wright, Matt Holliday, Joe Mauer, Robinson Cano, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez). And this isn’t even going into how Olney totally left off Ichiro.
Really, I think this is the key problem most writers have when talking about “Hall of Famers playing today”-they only look at career numbers. That’s nice for players actually nearing the end of their careers. However, when you say that there are about 40 players in any given year who will eventually make the Hall, a good percentage of those players are actually below 30. That’s why I usually list young players, despite some criticisms I’ve received for doing so; that’s actually what’s likely to happen. There are currently players who are about 29 (as well as 27, 25, 23, and so on) today who will, in fact, wind up in Cooperstown, and if you want to do the best job of picking a Hall of Fame, you should name some of them.
Also, as a summary, I find Olney’s Hall picks kind of strange. I’m actually curious now how many Baseball Writers and voters hold similar opinions.