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December 20, 2011

5 Days of Christmas: Jonah Keri

You're going to be reading a ton of Christmas-related posts during this, the week leading up to the anniversary of the birth of the baby Jesus...and this site is no different.

All this week, The Hall is presenting the "Five Days of Christmas". That's right, five days straight of one of The Hall's most popular features...the "Friday 5".


In just a few weeks, we're going to find out if anyone will be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA and one guy who has taken the time to break down the ballot every which way is New York Times bestselling author Jonah Keri.

And if Keri had his way...these are the five, er, six guys on the current Hall of Fame ballot who would have their Christmas dreams fulfilled.

1.  Tim Raines
Raines’ worthiness has been documented at length. He’s the best pure base stealer of all-time, swiping 808 bases at an 85% success rate...easily the highest rate of success for any base stealer at or near that frequency. He also reached base more times in his career than Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn or Lou Brock. Replace 400 of Raines’ walks with singles and he has 3,000 hits and strolls into the Hall. Or just replace, say, 600 Raines walks with 400 singles and 200 outs...he’s an inferior player at that point, but he still has his 3,000 hits, and he’s in.

2.  Jeff Bagwell
There are three plausible reasons for why Bagwell didn't get in on last year's ballot:
  • Voters are extremely reluctant to vote for players on their first ballot, unless they've had extraordinary careers. This is the Joe DiMaggio argument. If Joe D didn't get in on his first try, why should Player X make it?
  • Suspicion of PED use. There is no hard evidence to suggest Bagwell used. We're not doctors. We don't try to fake our way through brain surgery. Let's not feign expertise when it comes to outing PED users either.
  • Bagwell gets lumped in with all the other slugging first basemen of his era. I am slightly more attuned to this argument. It is certainly true that the era in which Bagwell played featured a cavalcade of first baseman who can mash (partly due to PED use), but likely even more so because of smaller ballparks, smaller strike zones, and other factors. And Bagwell did fall a bit short of some round numbers, just missing a .300 lifetime batting average (.297) and falling more than a bit short of 500 homers (449).
3.  Barry Larkin
Last year, Larkin bagged the highest percentage of the vote (62.1 percent) for any player who didn't gain the 75 percent needed for induction. History tells us that players who fare that well in the voting on their first two tries are a lock to eventually gain induction sooner than later. He might even get in now, in a very weak year for first-time candidates.  Apply a sniff test, or a numerical test, and he should get in.

4.  Mark McGwire
And here we come to a player who actually has acknowledged using PEDs. There are any number of ways to handle a player like McGwire, with no perfect answer to quandary. My stance: It's a tiebreaker, that's about it. We know many players used in McGwire's era, and we know that offensive conditions were extremely favorable to players even without chemical helpers. So if a player is borderline by statistical standards and has either admitted to using or been busted for it, I'll leave him off my fake ballot. McGwire was not borderline.

5.  Edgar Martinez
There's some merit to the argument that a designated hitter should be highly scrutinized when weighing his Hall of Fame worth, given their lack of defensive value. But Edgar was a godless hitting machine, hitting .312/.418/.515, placing 44th all time in WPA. He benefited from the hitter-friendly Kingdome in the early part of his career, but then continued to rake at Safeco Field, a nightmare of a ballpark for right-handed power hitters. The Mariners' near-sightedness prevented Edgar from cracking the everyday lineup until age 27; even the biggest DH haters would likely back him had he broken in three or four years earlier. But there's no need to play what-if here. He gets my vote.

6.  Alan Trammell
There's a running theme to all of these picks: Each one requires nuance to properly evaluate their skills. Now if you're an extreme Small Hall voter (or fan) who believes Cooperstown should enshrine Ruth, Mays, and maybe five other guys, Trammell's not your man. But if we're going by existing Hall of Fame standards, Trammell is a worthy choice. His career looks fairly similar to Larkin's, with comparable career value to Ozzie Smith (66.9 WAR for Trammell, 64.6 for Ozzie). The Hall of Fame doesn't get diminished if Trammell gets in. If anything, Tram and double play partner Lou Whitaker (69.7 WAR, but somehow off the ballot for not even getting the needed 5% to stay on) should go in together, with the spirit of Ernie Harwell ushering them in.

You can check out Keri's entire ballot breakdown over at Grantland or better yet...head on over to Amazon and buy his latest book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First.

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