2019 Baseball Hall of Fame Class Lowers The Bar
Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina, Lee Smith, Harold Baines – that is the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame class. It is the largest Hall of Fame class this century, and it is the largest Hall of Fame class since 1964 when there were seven players inducted into the Hall of Fame.
It is quite the interesting class made all the more interesting by the surprise choices of the Veterans’ Committe (or whatever they call themselves now) and because of the fact Rivera became the first ever player unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame. It should be noted there were rumors about Lou Gehrig who was inducted in a special election after his ALS diagnosis and retirement.
Another reason why this Hall of Fame class is so interesting is because it has lowered the bar for future Hall of Fame elections.
When looking at starting pitchers, the average Hall of Famer had a 73.4 WAR, 50.1 WAR7, and 61.8 JAWS. Put another way, your average Hall of Fame pitcher had a strong and prolonged peak surrounded by seasons where he was a good starting pitcher.
Of course, those numbers are derived almost by accident. Before modern voting, voters would elect anyone who hit the magic number of 300 wins. Other factors like Cy Young awards, 20 win seasons, ERA, strikeouts, and other standards would apply. That said, as we have moved into this current era of voting, more advanced statistics are used to adjudge candidates.
In fact, it was the justification to push for the election of Bert Blyleven. For his part, Blyleven amassed a 95.0 WAR in his career putting him well above the threshold. His induction also paved the way for someone like Mussina to get inducted into the Hall of Fame.
In his career, Mussina only had 20 wins once, and that was in the final year of his career. Mussina never won a Cy Young award and was never in the top three. He was just a five time All-Star. Belying those numbers was greatness. Mussina had an 83.0 WAR and a 130 ERA+. Simply put, he was great, and it was due to modern numbers we have been able to recognize that greatness and see a push for his induction.
The questionable candidate is Halladay, who actually garnered a higher percent of the vote than Mussina. Behind Halladay’s two Cy Young Awards and no-hitter in the 2010 NLDS was a pitcher who fell short of the Hall of Fame standards. His 64.3 WAR and 57.5 JAWS was close but below standards. It should be noted his 50.6 WAR7 did crack the list making him a more than justifiable, albeit borderline candidate.
The Hall of Fame isn’t harmed inducting a player of Halladay’s caliber, especially with his peak years meeting the standard. What is curious is how someone who should’ve been a borderline candidate was inducted on the first ballot with 85.4 percent of the vote while Mussina, a better pitcher over his career, barely cleared the 75 percent threshold in his sixth year on the ballot.
With respect to Rivera, there was no doubt he was a Hall of Famer. He’s the All-Time leader in saves, and he has all the postseason exploits to bolster his case. He also leads all relievers in baseball history in WAR, WAR7, JAWS, and entrance music. He was clearly the greatest at what he did, and there was no debate. Literally, there is no debate as he received 100 percent of the vote.
Where things became dubious was the election of Smith. During his time, Smith was a feared closer who had the most saves in baseball history until he was surpassed by Trevor Hoffman, who was another dubious selection.
When it came to Smith and Hoffman, the cases were basically made on the amount of saves and superlatives like dominating. However, in the grand scheme of things, they didn’t measure up to other great relievers. Respectively, each fell far short of the 38.1 WAR, 26.5 WAR7, and 32.3 JAWS the average Hall of Fame reliever had amassed.
Inducting both Hoffman and Smith has lowered the bar to the point where we cannot be sure where it is going. Is it going to be a 475 career saves standard asking to 300 wins or 3,000 hits? Who knows? But at a certain point, someone is going to have to figure out the line because with recent inductions, Billy Wagner‘s case is all the more justified as are cases for players overlooked in voting like John Franco and Jeff Reardon. Coincidentally, at one time Reardon battled back-and-forth with Smith to claim that all-time saves record.
As troubling as that may be, the election of the designated hitters into the Hall of Fame may be the most troubling.
Looking at the proverbial magic numbers, neither Martinez nor Baines clears the mark despite both of their job duties being JUST hitting. Previous Hall of Famers who spent more time at DH than as a fielder, Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor, did clear each of those marks with Thomas having over 500 homers and Molitor having over 3,000 hits.
For both hitters, there have been cases spelled out, but at their core, they were just hitters, which should thereby negate any argument over whether defense should count against someone like Jeff Kent.
It should be noted Kent had more games played, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, stolen bases, and sacrifice flies than Martinez despite playing one fewer year. He had more doubles and stolen bases with having a better batting average and slugging percentage than Baines while having the same OBP. Yet, somehow voters are not enticed to vote for Kent because he had poor defense, and he was cranky with the media.
Ponder that for a moment, Kent put up all-time great numbers at second base including being the all-time leader in homers as a second baseman, but he’s not going into the Hall of Fame now because he was a poor defender. Meanwhile, Martinez and Baines are being rewarded for just hitting and never having to field.
As bad as that may seem for Kent, who cannot find a way to crack 18.1 percent in his sixth year on the ballot, imagine how Fred McGriff feels. Like Kent, he was dinged for defense and even base running, and yet, he’s not a Hall of Famer despite hitting nearly 500 homers and being one of the most clutch hitters all-time.
While they’re overlooked, Larry Walker and his seven Gold Gloves and an OPS+ just behind Martinez’s is being penalized for playing in Coors Field. Of course, Martinez is not facing the same penalty for playing in the Kingdome. Same thing can be said for Andruw Jones and his 1o Gold Gloves and 434 homers. Really, we have discovered defense does not matter whatsoever even if Walker has a higher WAR than Martinez.
The point is the Hall of Fame standards have been driven down. You no longer have to be among the greatest relievers of all-time. You just have to be good in your era. You don’t have to be a complete ballplayer. You just have to hit. That’s a lowering of standards, and if those standards are now universally applied, there should be a bevy of previously borderline or overlooked candidates who should now be inducted into the Hall of Fame.