Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is He a Hall of Famer? MLB Edition

Cooperstown, New York is hallowed grounds. A Pantheon of sorts if you will. But it is not known simply because it is close to the original site of Woodstock but because it is home to the greatest baseball personnel who have ever lived.

Currently enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame are 286 players, managers, umpires, builders, executives, and organizers. However, to reach such baseball immortality one has to be the best of the best, not just a mediocre all-star (There is nothing wrong with that Jason Varitek).

Of course their are some all-time great players who are currently not enshrined(Andre Dawson) and some mediocre players (Bill Mazerowski) that are. Some outfielders in the HOF couldn't carry Dawson's lead doughnut. But I digress.

There are always going to be players inducted into the Hall. Who of today's current players would that include?

Let's find out, as it's again time to play everyone's favorite little game: "Is he a Hall of Famer?"

(*As always, to make the debate more interesting, I am omitting players that almost certainly will make the Hall of Fame barring something catastrophic happening to their career. Active players such as Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Greg Maddux just to name a few).

Today's MLB edition will be about three players: Jim Thome, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio. (I know Biggio just retired but his is a good argument).

Jim Thome
6'4", 220 lbs, 1B, Illinois Central College
Nicknames: Mr. High Socks, The Thomenator
13th round draft pick of the 1989 amateur draft (Cleveland Indians)

Stats
Career Averages: .281 avg, 507 HR, 1398 RBI, 18 SB
-5 time All-Star
-2002 Roberto Clemente Award
-2004 Lou Gehrig Award
-Member of 500 Home Run Club (22nd all-time)
-1996 Silver Slugger Award (3B)
-19th on career walk list (1459)
-16th on career slugging percentage list (.565)

Argument Against
Thome has never placed higher than 4th in MVP balloting in a single season. He has the ability to punish right handed pitchers but has only hit .240 for his career against lefties. He is a terribly slow base runner and doesn't have many extra base hits (when you take out the home runs). Thome has never finished in the top 5 in runs scored in a season. He ranks 3rd on the all time strikeout list with 2,043.

Comparison to Current Hall of Famer
Harmon Killebrew
Both played first base and had tons of raw power. Thome could have almost identical career number to Killebrew once he retires. Killebrew hit .256 with 573 hr and 1584 rbi's. Killebrew also had 8 career 40+ home run seasons. Thome has 6. Thome also has a higher career slugging percentage at .565 compared to .509 for Killebrew.

Final Verdict
Just because Thome has reached the once exclusive 500 Home Run club does not automatically guarantee him a spot in Cooperstown. In fact, he still has a lot of work left to do. He needs to finish with around 575-600 home runs and at least 1600 RBI to get some serious consideration. After all, if you take away his ability to hit home runs against righties (he has hit 82% of his HR's against right handers) he is just an average Joe without speed and a adequate glove. He reminds me of Rafael Palmiero, a very solid player who plays long enough to compile gaudy stats but never really dominated. NOT IN.


John Smoltz
6'3", 210lbs, P, Waverly High School (Michigan)
Nickname: Smoltzie
22nd round draft pick of the 1985 amateur draft (Detroit Tigers)

Stats
Career Averages: 207-145, 3.26 ERA, 154 saves, 2975 K's
-8 time All-Star
-NLCS MVP (1992)
-NL Cy Young Award Winner (1996)
-Silver Slugger Award Winner for Pitcher (1997)
-National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award winner (2002)
-Only pitcher to compile 200 wins and 150 saves
-Member of 1995 World Series Champion Atlanta Braves
-16th on career strikeout list (2975)
-1st on career postseason wins list (15) and postseason strikeouts list (194)
-Tied for 60th on career saves list (154) despite only being a closer for 3 seasons

Argument Against
Only won 20 games as a starter once. Smoltz ranks 97th on the career wins list because of the three seasons in which he was a closer. Ranks 82nd on the career WHIP list at 1.1696.

Comparison to Current Hall of Famer
Dennis Eckersley
Eckersley and Smoltz are the only two pitchers to have had both a 20-win season and a 50-save season. Smoltz has a 3.26 career era, Eckersley has a 3.50. Both have 1 Cy Young Award and both have won over 150 games as a starter. Both pitchers were dominating closers. Smoltz averaged 48 saves in his 3 seasons as a closer. Eckersley struck out 458 while walking just 51 in a six year span as a closer.

Final Verdict
Smoltz will have taken a unique path to Cooperstown as he switched positions midway through his career. But one thing that it proved was his ability to dominant hitters. He has featured a 4 seam fastball, power slider, and a 90 mph split finger that is his out pitch. His stats aren't the most gaudy but proven that he can pitch well in the postseason when the pressure is at its highest. He also has finished in the top 7 in Cy Young voting 5 times which proves his dominant ability. And he accomplished all this in the Steroid Era. IN.


Craig Biggio
5'11", 180lbs, C/2B/CF, Seton Hall University
Nicknames: Pigpen
1st round draft pick of the 1987 amateur draft (Houston Astros)

Stats
Career Averages: .281 avg, 291 HR, 1175 RBI, 414 SB
-7 time all-star
-1997 Branch Rickey Award
-2005 Hutch Award
-2007 Roberto Clemente Award
-20th on all-time hits list (3060)
-4 time Gold Glove Award Winner (2B)
-5 time Silver Slugger Award Winner
-5th on all-time doubles list (668)
-2nd on all-time hit by pitch list (285)
-28th in career total bases (4711)
-25th in career extra base hits (1014)
-23rd player ever to have at least 10,000 at bats.
-Became the first player in baseball history not to hit into a single double play while playing an entire 162 game season (1997).
-In 1998, became the second player to have 50 stolen bases and 50 doubles in the same season (Tris Speaker).

Argument Against
Biggio never hit more than 26 home runs in a season. Remember he did play in the Steroid Era so even though he predominantly a second baseman, this is not a very high amount. Biggio only finished in the top 10 in MVP balloting in a season 3 times. This proves he never had a completely dominating season. One could argue that he isn't a great pure hitter because his 3,060 hits came in over 10,000 at bats leading to a very average .281 batting average. Played the latter half of his career in one the most hitter friendly ballparks (Minute Maid Field).

Comparison to Current Hall of Famer
Robin Yount
Both played their entire career for the same organization. Both excelled at a middle infield position and then switched to center field. Yount is 26th and Biggio is 27th on all time doubles list. Both players had about 11,000 at bats, batted in the .280s and had over 250 home runs. Biggio had more stolen bases (414) compared to Yount's 271 however Yount had more career RBI's.

Final Verdict
Biggio is the only player in the history of baseball with 3000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases, and 250 home runs. Had he had 9 more home runs he would have only been the second player ever to have 3000 hits, 300 home runs, and 300 stolen bases. Willie Mays is the other. Pretty good company if you ask me. IN.


some stats provided by baseball-reference.com

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