By Ryan Decker
New Year’s Eve this year is not only the end of 2016, but it is also a very important day in the world of sports.
Tonight before the ball drops in Times Square, Alabama and Washington, and Clemson and Ohio State will square off in the College Football Playoff semi-final games. Before any of that happens, though, members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) must have their ballots sent in for next year’s Major League Baseball Hall of Fame class.
The last few years have brought us some of the best Hall of Fame classes of all time, and with the candidates on the ballot this year there is a chance to have another premier class of inductees.
Keeping with a tradition that I started for the 2016 class, here is that ballot that I would cast if I were a member of the BBWAA.
1. Jeff Bagwell
During his time in the big leagues, you’d be hard pressed to find a better steroid-free player, especially one that played at first base, than Jeff Bagwell.
Comparing him to fellow ballot member Fred McGriff, anther 90’s clean first basemen, Bagwell’s numbers are superior in a number of categories, including runs, doubles, triples, stolen bases, walks, average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. This is also while playing four fewer seasons than McGriff.
Bagwell’s career 79.6 WAR is the sixth highest amongst all first basemen.
You can compare him to non-clean first basement, as well, like Mark McGwire, whom Bagwell surpassed in hits, doubles, runs, RBI, walks, batting average and OBP.
He was right on the cusp of enshrinement last year, receiving 71.6% of votes. He’ll get in this year.
Early congrats to Mr. Bagwell.
2. Trevor Hoffman
It was somewhat surprising to me when last year’s voting results for the HOF were announced and San Diego Padre great Trevor Hoffman wasn’t getting inducted.
But, it is what it is, and since I’m certain he’ll be getting inducted this time around I won’t spend much time on him.
All you have to know about Hoffman is that he has the second-most save of all time (601), and no relief pitcher has given up fewer hits in their career.
Hoffman pitched nine seasons of 40 or more saves, with a career-high 53 in 1998 during a season that he blew just one save opportunity.
According to Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY Sports, his 89% save percentage is the exact same as Mariano Rivera’s was during his time as the full-time closer for the Yankees.
Hoffman should be receiving his plaque in 2017.
3. Mike Mussina
I’m going to make the jump and say that if Mike Mussina never gets inducted into the Hall of Fame that it will be the biggest snub in the history of the Hall. He’s a Hall of Famer, folks.
Mussina pitched all of his 18 years at the Major League level in the best division in baseball, the AL East, and quietly put up some of the best numbers amongst the five teams in the East.
His 270 career wins surpasses the totals of HOFers Bob Feller, Carl Hubbell, and Bob Gibson. He even surrendered 32 fewer walks than the great Sandy Koufax, who played six fewer seasons than Mussina did.
Mussina won at least 15 games in more than half the season he played, and other than his rookie season, never finished with fewer than 11 wins.
I’ll say it every year until he gets in, Mussina deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
4. Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling is such an interesting case for the Hall of Fame.
After receiving votes from slightly over 50 percent of the ballots last year, Schilling’s numbers may dip due to any number of the controversial comments he’s made on Twitter this year. However, it’s also important to remember that the Hall of Fame is based on on-field performance and not off the field issues.
So let’s look at the on-field performance numbers.
Schilling’s 216 career victories are more than Hall of Famer John Smotlz, and his 3.46 career ERA is better than Tom Glavine’s.
His 4.383 career strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best all-time amongst pitchers with at least 2,000 strikeouts, and Schilling’s 27 games with 10 or more strikeouts and zeros walks only trials Randy Johnson’s 36.
Sticking with that theme, his 3,116 strikeouts is 14th most amongst Hall of Fame pitchers, and his 711 walks is the 11th fewest.
Finally, he is the only pitcher to win a World Series games in his 20s, 30s and 40s, and was three for three in series-clinching games in the postseason.
1. Ivan Rodriguez
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is easily one of the best catchers to ever play the game.
At the plate he is one of the best hitting catchers of all-time, with more hits (2,844) and runs score (1,354) than any other catcher in the Hall of Fame.
Once inducted Rodriguez with have the fourth most runs batted in (1332) and sixth most home runs (311) of any enshrined backstop. Pudge also finished his career with a batting average of .296, which is better than Yogi Berra’s .285, and nearly thirty points better than Johnny Bench’s career average.
Not only that, but he was a five-time Silver Slugger Award winner, a 14-time all-star, and behind the plate earned himself 13 Gold Glove Awards, the most ever at his position.
During his MVP season in 1999, Rodriguez batted a .332/.356/.558 slash line, had nearly 200 hits – 65 of which went for extra bases including 35 long balls – and drove in 113 runs. He also stole a career-high 25 bases that year and threw out 55 percent of potential base stealers.
That percentage is only the fourth-best for a single season in his career, a career in which he kept 46% of runners from advancing on the pitch.
Pudge is a Hall of Famer through and through. In my mind he’s a first-ballot player, and I will be shocked if he doesn’t get in this year.
2. Vladimir Guerrero
Growing up a baseball fan, few players during his era were as dangerous or as exciting to watch as Vladimir Guerrero.
For a power hitter, Guerrero had exceptional plate discipline – hitting 449 home runs with a .318 average while never striking out more than 95 times in a season.
Vlad had four seasons where he had 200 or more hits, and tallied 180+ hits in eight of his 15 full seasons at the major league level.
During the prime of his career from 1999-2008, Guerrero averaged a .325/.394/.580 slash line, and tallied 34 doubles, 34 home runs and 112 RBI per season, while also only striking out 80 or more times in a season once.
During his MVP season in 2004, Vlad led all of baseball with 366 total bases and 124 runs scored and was among the league leaders in hits (206), home runs (39) and slugging percentage (.598).
I don’t think Guerrero will get inducted on his first ballot, though he has the credentials for it, however he won’t be waiting long to be inducted.
When members of the BBWAA cast their ballots, they are allotted 10 votes. A large number of voters don’t use all ten. Some use as little as two, three or four, while others use somewhere between seven and nine.
On this ballot, I myself am using nine, and these next two can be considered “strategic voting” on my part.
3. Magglio Ordonez
Starting with Magglio Ordonez, he’s a guy that I want to see stay on the ballot.
Ordonez had a really good career with the White Sox and Tigers, and although I don’t think anyone would argue he should be put into the Hall on a first or second ballot, you can certainly argue he is worth staying on the ballot for at least a few more years.
Ordonez’s .309 career average is 24th all-time amongst hitters with at least 7,500 plate appearances. He hit for a .300 or better average in eight of his ten season in which he played at least 100 games. In the other two? .282 and .298.
Ordonez could flat out hit.
In his best season in 2007, he hit for a league-leading .363 average and an MLB best 54 doubles.
The problem with his HOF case is that 1/3 of his years in the big leagues were completed with him playing fewer than 95 games, and that his play in the outfield left some to be desired.
4. Jason Varitek
Jason Varitek spent his entire career with the Boston Red Sox. During his time in Boston he helped end the Curse of the Bambino, winning not one, but two, championships.
Like Ordonez, I don’t believe Varitek is a Hall of Fame player, however, I’d like to see his name stay on the ballot for a few years so we continue to talk about his career and contributions to the game.
Varitek leads all Red Sox catchers in hitting categories such as home runs (193), runs (664), RBI (757), and in defense behind the plate in terms of runners caught stealing (301).
“The Captain” as he’s called, also caught a record four no-hitters, all of which he was no doubt instrumental in the feat.
And depending on your stance on the use of steroids and their place in baseball, you may give Varitek your vote for no other reason than he was the guy that mushed Alex Rodriguez’s face starting a brawl in 2004.
5. Jorge Posada
My final vote goes to a fellow catcher in his first year on the ballot, Jorge Posada.
By the way, you have to wonder if there has ever been a better grouping of backstops on the same ballot. Pudge, Posada and Varitek? That’s a trio of great catchers all from one single era.
I don’t think he’ll have any trouble getting the necessary 5% of the votes to stay on the ballot next year, but I also don’t think he’ll ever be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Comparing him against this year’s class of catchers on the ballot, Posada actually has a higher on-base percentage and higher slugging percentage than Pudge.
When looking for a backstop from a previous era to compare him against, Carlton Fisk is a possibility.
Though Fisk played seven more seasons than Posada, the career-Yankee catcher posted better numbers per season in doubles and RBI, and bested Fisk in career numbers in batting average (.273), OBP (.374), SLG (.474) and OPS (.848) while also drawing more career walks.
As I mentioned, despite these numbers I don’t think Posada will ever be enshrined. Though it’s because of those numbers that he should remain on the ballot for at least the next few years.
All BBWAA ballots are due today, with the official announcement coming on Wednesday Jan. 18.