The 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame results were announced on Wednesday, with Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez joining the hallowed ranks of Cooperstown. It was an encouraging sign to see another three recent stars advance into the Hall — even if Cleveland.com’s Bill Livingston abstained from participating in peculiar fashion.
In today’s age, the Hall of Fame process has turned into a year-long escapade. Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker has made it into the legitimate mainstream of baseball conversation. So it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s ballot. And among the upcoming big-named first-year entrants are two Cleveland Indians legends: Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel.
They’ll be up against several returning stars, as Trevor Hoffman (74.0 percent), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7) and Edgar Martinez (58.6) led the pack of the additional six players to receive 50-plus on this year’s ballot. Along with fellow newcomers Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones, it’ll be another tight battle in 2018.
As we wrap up the Twitter discussions of this year’s ballot and look forward to next year, it seemed like a worthwhile While We’re Waiting topic to dive into the statistics behind the cases for Thome and Vizquel. Do you seem them landing in the Hall of Fame eventually? How many years might it take? How do they look on the upcoming ballot?
Starting off, how does Jim Thome compare to fellow offense-focused sluggers in recent ballot history?
The stats above are from Baseball-Reference.com’s Hall of Fame ballot guide. As a quick glossary: It shows career Wins Above Replacement; WAR in the player’s best seven seasons; Jay Jaffe’s JAWS score system; and the Jaffe system average for that position among Hall of Famers. Then, several counting stats for career comparison.
Thome’s 612 home runs certainly stand out from the crowd. They still rank No. 7 in MLB history, although Albert Pujols (591) might soon surpass him. Historically, 500 home runs marked a shoo-in for any candidate. But that hasn’t been the case for many players in the recent steroid-suspected era, as Sammy Sosa (609), Mark McGwire (583), Rafael Palmeiro (569) and Gary Sheffield (509) can all attest.
Of course, Thome isn’t suspected of any performance-enhancing abuse, so surpassing the 600-homer mark will appeal very favorably to many voters. And his on-base percentage and slugging percentage compare favorably to recent inductee Frank Thomas. He looks good from the quick peak at WAR7 and JAWS.
One thing voters might get hung up on could be Thome’s last eight years of his career, 2005-12, where he battled injuries and bounced from team to team. He still knocked out 189 home runs in those years, but he wasn’t the same dominant force as he was in those Cleveland years and his first two in Philadelphia. For a first-year ballot entree, it’s been a long time since he was in his peak MLB performance.
Overall, the Peoria native looks pretty good in his complete resume. The main hiccup could be timing. As is well known, a player has to get 75 percent of the vote to gain entry into the Hall of Fame. And even though voters can include up to 10 players and Thome will likely be fine eventually, he might be very close to the margin in year one against Edgar, Chipper, etc. That’s the numbers game that often occurs in balloting, fair or not.
But what about Omar Vizquel, the shortstop who wowed crowds in the early days of Jacobs Field. How does he look against fellow infielders in recent ballot history?
The offense is obviously the issue here. Very few comparable, legitimate candidates have gotten on the ballot in recent years. Would you rather me compare Omar’s resume to the career resumes of Edgar Renteria, Carlos Baerga, Bret Boone or David Eckstein? Or does digging back a bit farther provide a bit more context?
From a WAR perspective, Vizquel’s value exclusively comes from his excellent fielding and position scarcity, as expected. His offense was well below the league average. In actuality, he only contributed 5.0 wins above average in his career, per Baseball-Reference.com. Thome, on the other hand, contributed 37.5 wins above average.
It’s obviously hard to compare a first baseman to a defensive wizard. They contribute to the game in varied ways. Was Vizquel’s defense more of a historical anomaly than Thome’s offense? How could you properly quantify defense to the level necessary to make this decision?
Vizquel played longer, had equivalent or better offensive statistics than Ozzie Smith, but feels like a longer shot for inclusion to the Hall. Ozzie’s defense perhaps stuck out better in the ’80s and/or actually some degree better. But it’s an awful close comparison.
Ultimately, I’m guessing a second-year success for Jim Thome in 2019. And I’m feeling awful pessimistic about Vizquel. It could come down to the wire, in the final years of his 10-year candidacy. If not, I’d imagine he’ll get in eventually in one of the revamped Hall of Fame procedures for looking back on different eras. How do you think things will end up? Feel free to vote on Twitter or share in the comments.
Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel both enter the @baseballhall ballot in 2018. How do you think they'll eventually do in the voting?
— Jacob L. Rosen (@JacobLRosen) January 18, 2017