Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Future Forty 2013: Predicting Today's Hall of Famers of Tomorrow

In honor of this past weekend’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, I figured I may as well take a break from my normal stuff to do a fun speculation article. Since I’ve seen a few articles like this, and especially since I’ve done a decent amount of examination of Hall voting, I may as well take a shot at “Who are the Hall of Famers playing now” piece.

In honor of this past weekend’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, I figured I may as well take a break from my normal stuff to do a fun speculation article. Since I’ve seen a few articles like this, and especially since I’ve done a decent amount of examination of Hall voting, I may as well take a shot at “Who are the Hall of Famers playing now” piece.

Now, if you look at my piece from last year, you’ll see that there are typically 40 players in the game at any one time who will eventually make the Hall of Fame. If the Hall ever corrects for expansion and it’s falling induction rate, we may see as many as 50 or 64 players inducted. Let’s use those as a starting point. I’ll make special notes if I think a player is more in the top 50 or 64 rather than top 40.

For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to look past steroid use. For a variety of reasons, I think this is what’s going to happen in the long run. It’s a messy issue, and based on the Hall’s past willingness to enshrine drug users seeking a competitive advantage, I don’t think the current feelings will last forever. And with that, on to the speculating.

Let’s start with the obvious ones: Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Ichiro are all locks I think. That’s a solid starting point. The only other players considered active that I would put into this category are Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, but neither has played this year, so I’m not sure whether to officially count them, or how it would work for counting’s sake if we didn’t include them. We’ll just say we’re at 4 for the moment and move on.

Looking at more established players, I would add Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, and Roy Halladay. I consider them all sure things or close enough (Beltre and Beltran will certainly continue playing for a few more years, although I think they’re already there). All three are in the mid- to upper-60s in Wins Above Replacement, regardless of whether you’re using Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs, and all will likely continue to play. Either way, we’re at seven.

I would argue that Chase Utley and CC Sabathia have done enough to make this list. Both may be knocked as not having been around long enough, or being past their primes. I’m not sure if either will ever again be the best players in the league, but they’re still very useful, and both built up a lot of value already, to the point where I would say both are already worthy of induction. Both are in the upper 50s in all versions of WAR with several years left to build up value.

I don’t want to get too far into debating each individual player, so I’ll just say that I am counting Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, and David Wright in the group of definites. I think people don’t realize just how good they all are. Add in that you have a pretty good idea of who’s Hall-worthy as early as the late 20s, plus that all three cross the thresholds, and I think it’s not a stretch to include any of them in the top tier. We now stand at twelve.

Going back to my early-Hall-detection series, I’m going to add Robinson Cano to that group. He’s the same age and also has cleared the benchmark marking him a likely Hall member. Other late-twenties players with strong starts indicating a Hall track are Ryan Braun (again, see my disclaimer), Dustin Pedroia, and Evan Longoria. We’re up to sixteen.

Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Zimmerman also cleared the benchmarks, but I’m not sure what to make of those two given their injuries this season. I may as well throw them both in, though, since I have the space to do so.

In the realm of pitchers, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, and Josh Johnson all made the cut as older twenty-somethings, but all have struggled this year. Johnson is probably off pace now, given that he just barely made it, but I’ll throw in the other three if only because I’m a little short on pitchers. For younger pitchers, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw were all well past the benchmarks for their age levels. Adding them pulls us up to 24.

I was able to point out even younger players in my study too. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton, and Andrew McCutchen all made the cut at their levels. Buster Posey fell short of the cut, but as I recently examined, catchers face a slightly lower standard than other positions. Adding them in still only gets us to 31 players.

We probably need some young pitchers to counter the young hitters, although predicting young pitchers is much, much more difficult. We may as well mention players like Shelby Miller, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, and Stephen Strasburg. Realistically, we’ll probably max out at three of those making the Hall, but there’s safety in numbers. The more darts we throw, the greater chance of hitting, so we’re somewhere in the neighborhood of 34 to 36.

Who can we name for our remaining four-to-six slots then? We should probably include Joey Votto here. He may not have hit the pace I studied over the winter, but he was close enough that he’ll probably make up the difference this year. Hanley Ramirez is the same age and seems to have rediscovered himself in LA. He won’t continue to have a batting average on balls in play over .400, but he doesn’t need to in order to be good. A return to his old self at the age of 29 gives him time to make up for his lost later-Marlin years, as long as he stays healthy. We’re now somewhere around 36 to 38.

We should probably bet on at least one really young player to be safe-the 40 active span will probably span the entire range of careers. I’d start with Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Fernandez. Again, probably only one of those darts will hit, but we may as well name all of them. I’d count us as somewhere in the 37-to 39-range.

Yu Darvish and Davis Price haven’t jumped out ahead of everyone like King Felix or Justin Verlander, but they’ve still been elite. That’s as good a place in building a Hall case as any, we’ll just need time to see how it plays out.

That gives us maybe one more spot. I’m tentatively going to go with one of Carl Crawford or Jose Reyes. They’re probably some of the best dark horse candidates to make 3000 hits, given their skill set and the fact that both are already over halfway there in their early 30s. Obviously, both might make it, but I’ll play it safe and say that only one does. That should round out a top 40.

What would the next ten slots be? Well, in my original study, I found out that Hall voters were slowly tailing off in their rate of player induction. The next ten players would be the ones that I would put as next most worthy. However, it is worth noting that the Hall doesn’t always induct just the most worthy players; sometimes, lesser players skip past more deserving ones (see Jim Rice and Tim Raines, for an example). So I guess these ones have as good a chance as some of the lesser ones I just mentioned, in that a narrative may take hold, or a late career surge may boost their numbers.

Andy Pettitte would be one example. As it is, I’d put him probably right on the borderline. Baseball-Reference WAR has him on the borderline. Fangraphs WAR seems to have him slightly over. A narrative may take hold, maybe around his playoff performance, maybe something else, pushing him past other players. Todd Helton would be his hitter equivalent; in my mind, both were really good for a long time, and I really wouldn’t mind if either got in, but based on how the voters have been going lately, I don’t know how likely that is.

David Ortiz is another who may benefit from his post-season. Right now, I would say he falls a little short, but you never know what voters are thinking about big market sluggers with a lot of RBI and a clutch hit or two.

Cliff Lee’s late-peak has always reminded me of Randy Johnson. He’s already racked up quite a bit of value too, so three or four good seasons would push him over the border in my book. He may be on the older side to do so, but again, that’s what this tier is for.

Matt Holliday is a little like that too. He’s been good, but an extended run into his mid-30s would really build his case. Same for Adam Wainwright; maybe this year is a foreshadow of things to come, and he’ll run off a string of great early-30s seasons like Lee or Halladay.

I just wrote about Yadier Molina the other day, so check that out here, but he’s another one where a slightly slowed aging curve would make a huge difference.

Then there are the younger long shots. Maybe a player like Derek Holland or Justin Upton or Carlos Gonzalez can pull off a strong late-20s/early-30s run. Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro both have a lot of hits at a young age-maybe something will come of that. Maybe one of Tim Hudson or Mark Buehrle or Lance Berkman or Johan Santana or Roy Oswalt or Jimmy Rollins has a strong comeback. Maybe voters are looking for the next best closer after Mariano and will turn to Joe Nathan or Jonathan Papelbon. A lot of this stuff we really just can’t know yet.

But that’s the borderline stuff. In the case of a lot of the best players, I would say we already have a good idea of who has a realistic shot. So, my Future 40 would look like:

Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre (5), Carlos Beltran, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, CC Sabathia, Miguel Cabrera (10), Joe Mauer, David Wright, Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria (15), Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Zimmerman, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain (20), Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper (25), Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen (30), Buster Posey, David Price, Yu Darvish, Joey Votto, Hanley Ramirez (35), {three of Chris Sale/Stephen Strasburg/Shelby Miller/Matt Harvey/Madison Bumgarner}, {one of Wil Myers/Yasiel Puig/Jose Fernandez/Jurickson Profar}, {one of Jose Reyes/Carl Crawford}

I’d say that’s a pretty solid list. Maybe give an Andy Pettitte here or take a Matt Cain there, or swap an extra Wil Myers for a Jose Reyes, or whatever nits you may pick. Maybe I’m underestimating future voter response to drugs, or overestimating the strength of young pitching arm tendons, or something else entirely. Overall, though, I would stand by that list.


  1. Jerry Crasnick just wrote a piece in support of Beltran's candidacy:

    Still, I think Beltran's "jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none" reputation might keep him out of the Hall, at least for a while.

    1. That's probably a fair assumption. Although he would still deserve it. I think I've sort of given up trying to guess what voters will do, and I'm just sticking to what they should do to stay consistent with the established Hall.