The Plate Coverage perspective on some of the biggest names on the 2017 regular ballot. We weighed in on the 2017 "Today's Game" veteran's committee ballot here.
Barry Bonds: It's not a question of whether or not Bonds was the greatest player of his generation. He was. The more interesting and salient question: Is Barry Bonds the best position player of all time? And the best player of all time (or second-best, if you insist on Ruth, or third-best, if Mays is your man) belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Roger Clemens: Based solely on his performance, there's really no compelling argument to be made that Roger Clemens isn't the greatest pitcher who ever lived. And the greatest pitcher who ever lived belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Jeff Bagwell: Bagwell has waited 7 years for the call because… he had muscles? His difficult road to the Hall finally comes to end with his induction in 2017.
Ivan Rodriguez: Played the most difficult position on the field better – and more often – than anybody in the game's history. He's of course known for his catch-and-throw, but Pudge 2.0 leads all catchers in career runs, hits and doubles. He was never known for his power, but he still managed to clout 311 HR, seventh all-time for the position. He's not really one of the better-hitting catchers of all-time, but he certainly hit enough.
Pudge's career WAR total (68.4) ranks third among backstops, but it's a fair bet to say that WAR doesn't capture the entirety of a catcher's contributions – how then to value pitch-framing, game-calling, pitcher-herding, runner-intimidating (and, um, compound-modifying)?
An easy pick.
Mussina might not "feel" like a HOFer (at least not yet; as Bert Blyleven's circuitous route to the canon proved, feelings can change with time), but voters should bear in mind that Mussina left the game on his own terms, in full command of his pitching faculties (his final season line: 20-9/3.37 ERA/131 ERA+/5.1 WAR). Does he "feel" like a HOFer if he holds on for another 2-3 seasons, in a diminished capacity, to reach 300 wins? As it stands, WAR rates Mussina as essentially equal to Nolan Ryan (324 wins) and Steve Carlton (329 wins) in terms of career value, and superior to Tom Glavin (305 wins), Don Sutton (324 wins) and Early Wynn (300 wynns).
Mussina's 83 WAR places him among the game's top-20 pitchers since 1900. If that feels like a stretch – and we'll concede that it might – bump him down 10 places on that list. Are you going to keep one of the best 30 pitchers of the last 116 years out of the Hall?
Curt Schilling: The HOF is populated by cheaters, gamblers, racists, drunks, and abusers of women. It's also filled with kind, decent, generous men. One's view on where Schilling lands on this character spectrum is irrelevant when assessing his qualifications as a player. Schilling is worthy of induction even if he had never pitched an inning in the post-season – and as the record shows, there were few better when the stakes were highest.
(Let's hope this is the only time Schilling ever appears on a winning ballot).
Manny presents an interesting dilemma. Will voters place him in the Bonds/Clemens camp (i.e., deserving of consideration despite misdeeds alleged or reported), or the Palmeiro/Sosa camp (sham products of their era and their suppliers)? Ramirez produced a HOF offensive dossier; that much is beyond dispute. But will voters view his career as more artifice than art? The best guess here is that Ramirez holds on to his eligibility for one more year – barely. He then fades from the official ballot.
On our unofficial ballot? Despite being a catastrophe in the field and on the bases, he receives this vote (though not without some reservation).
Edgar Martinez: He's obviously one of the best hitters of his generation, though he brought no value as a baserunner or defender (it should be noted that it wasn't ineptitude that kept Martinez from donning a glove; he was a more-than-capable third baseman in his youth. After a series of injuries caused him to miss the bulk of the 1993-1994 seasons, the Mariners made him a full-time DH to minimize health risks).
The assumption as we began this exercise was that if Manny gets the vote, Edgar gets the vote. After all, they were essentially equals as hitters.
But they weren't. Not really. WAR estimates that as compared to a league-average hitter, Edgar was worth 531 additional batting runs (rBat) over the course of his career. Manny was 651 runs better than the average hitter. This isn't an insignificant delta to cross: Manny was about 20% more productive with the bat than Edgar (some of this can be attributed to playing time: Manny garnered about 1000 additional plate appearances, and because of his abrupt and shameful exit from the game, avoided a meaningful decline phase).
There's also the matter of defense. As noted, Manny was brutal. Among the worst ever (but also among the most entertaining):
WAR estimates that Manny cost his teams about 129 runs (and 23 wins) as compared to an average defender. This is bad. Very, very bad. Edgar, because he almost never took the field for the final 10 years of his career, is actually rated a net positive on defense for the work he did in his youth (though positional adjustments dock him -128 runs as a DH).
Is it fair to penalize Manny for taking the field, while rewarding Edgar for sitting (again, this is not to suggest Martinez had any say in the decision). And if we do that, does it mitigate the gap between the two as hitters? (Edgar rates ever-so-slightly "superior" as the baserunner, i.e., he was terrible while Manny was really terrible).
Edgar Martinez is the best DH to ever grab a bat (so good was Edgar with the bat that WAR rates him essentially on par with Tim Raines and Tony Gwynn in terms of overall value). Manny Ramirez should have been a DH, but circumstances beyond his control dictated he play the field (i.e., the Red Sox needed to get David Ortiz into the lineup). Fair or not, it says here that full-time DHs don't warrant enshrinement, while train-wreck leftfielders who hit like Manny Ramirez do.
This may be an intellectually inconsistent position, and we're willing to be convinced of the error of our ways.
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