My 2018 Hall of Fame ballot won't arrive for another 10 months. Thank heaven. But just because we only finished sifting through the 2017 election about 30 seconds ago doesn't mean it's too early to plunge right into the 2018 debate.
So I'm about to attempt the impossible. I'm going to try to figure out my 2018 ballot right now. But first this warning:
It's going to be a monster.
Chipper Jones is on that ballot. ... A man who hit 612 home runs, Jim Thome, is on that ballot. ... And three of the great Gold Glove collectors of modern times -- Scott Rolen, Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones -- are on that ballot.
That brings me to a second warning: I'm not going to promise that I won't change my mind.
For one thing, we have no idea if the voting rules will even be the same. Maybe we'll be allowed to vote for more than 10 players next year. Maybe the Hall will decide it's time to "clarify" how to handle "the PED guys," now that it's clear Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are on the verge of getting elected.
I have no idea about that. Yet. I just know that Hall of Fame voting is an intensive, serious, lengthy process for me. So if I come out of that process with a different perspective and a different name or two, do me a favor: Do not write, tweet, post or scream out loud, in your office or favorite bar room, that these aren't the same names I said I was voting for back in January. Remember, I warned you.
Barry and Roger
I never thought I'd live to type these words, but Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are going to be Hall of Famers. Maybe not next year. But sooner than later.
Only one other player with at least five years left on the ballot -- Gil Hodges -- has ever gotten as high a percentage of the vote as Bonds and Clemens did this year without eventually being elected. So history is in their favor. Not to mention they've gone from about 35 percent of the vote to nearly 55 percent in just two years. So you don't need to consult Nate Silver to analyze this trend.
I can't tell you what every voter is thinking. But here is my thinking. As I've said for years, once something happens, the only way to make it un-happen is to call Steven Spielberg. And baseball in the 1990s happened. Everything in that PED era happened.
The powers that be let these guys play, and do what they did, in their time. And MLB has never voided one record or one stat since their time. So my vote for the best players of that era isn't a vote for "cheaters." It's a vote for where the Hall of Fame, unfortunately, has to evolve.
It needs to be a place that tells the story of what happened -- the good and the bad. It's easier -- and more fair to everyone -- than forcing every voter to play the guessing game on who did what.
First-timers I'm voting for
How 'bout we get the easy picks out of the way first? And it doesn't get much easier than Chipper. One of the half-dozen greatest third basemen of all time. One of the greatest switch-hitters of all time. I'd even argue he was the greatest No. 1 overall draft pick of all time -- considering he played every game of his career for the team that drafted him, the Atlanta Braves.
Some cool Chipper nuggets: He's one of exactly two switch-hitters in history who hit .300 from both sides of the plate over at least 5,000 plate appearances. (The other: Frankie Frisch.) ... He's also one of two switch-hitters in the .400 OBP-.500 SLG-400 HR Club. (The other: Some guy named Mickey Mantle.) ... He finished with more than 100 more walks than strikeouts. And in the expansion era, only four other players with as many home runs as the Chipster could say that (Bonds, Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield). ... And if we're allowed to mention RBIs, guess who drove in more runs than any player in history whose primary position was third base? Yep. Chipper Jones (1,623).
Now here's another easy one. Did you know this man, Mr. James H. Thome, ranks seventh in the history of baseball in both home runs (612) and walks (1,747) -- and also sits in the top 10 in OPS (.956)? So it probably figures that, in a related development, he finished in the top five in his league in homers eight times, in the top five in OPS seven times and in the top five in on-base percentage seven times.
Now if you're looking for reasons to talk yourself out of voting for Thome, they're out there. You can subtract points for defense and baserunning. And he finished in the top five in MVP voting only once (although he got votes in nine different seasons). But when it comes to that character and integrity clause, I don't believe in just subtracting points from, say, "the cheaters." You're allowed to add points for some people. And by "some people," I mean, well, people like Jim Thome -- almost certainly the most beloved teammate on every club he played for. So if this guy isn't a Hall of Famer, you're overthinking this.
Once upon a time, I wrote a book on the most overrated and underrated players in baseball history ("The Stark Truth," which I'm required to remind you is still available where books are sold online). In that book, I elevated Vizquel onto my most-underrated-shortstops medal stand and made the case he was a Hall of Famer. I know many won't agree. But I'm still there.
Look, I know the range data shows he wasn't really a modern Ozzie Smith. But this just in: Nobody was. Still, those 11 Gold Gloves -- the third most by any infielder in history -- tell us exactly what the rest of baseball thought of Vizquel in his prime. Plus, I think I can make a case he was the most sure-handed shortstop ever.
I can throw lots of numbers at you, but my favorite is this: Incredibly, he had three seasons in which he played at least 140 games and made five errors or fewer. That's as many seasons like that as all the other shortstops since 1900 combined.
And one more thing. Despite Vizquel's offensive limitations, he still finished with 2,877 hits. And here's your complete list of players with as many hits and Gold Gloves as Vizquel: Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and that's it. So is there a Hall of Fame argument for this man? Heck yeah, there is.
First-timer I'd like to vote for
Your first inclination, when you see Rolen's name, might be to say, "Naaah. Not quite." But did you know that according to Jay Jaffe's invaluable JAWS tool, if Rolen isn't elected next year, he'll be the greatest eligible third baseman in history who isn't in the Hall of Fame (and one of the top 10 players ever)?
Hey, of course you didn't. But look closer. We're talking about an elite defender who won eight Gold Gloves, made seven All-Star teams, got 2,023 hits and had a 122 OPS+ and an .855 career OPS. The list of infielders with that many Gold Gloves, that many hits and that good an OPS: Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen. Period.
First-timers I'd need more slots to vote for
Speaking of Gold Gloves ... Jones won 10 of them in a row. And early in his career, he was such a spectacular defender in center field, it was amazing how many people weren't afraid to say he was "better than Willie Mays," and mean every word of it. Combine the leatherwork with seven seasons of 30-plus homers (including 51 bombs in 2007) and an .823 career OPS, and Jones has Hall of Fame selling points that are hard to ignore.
The good news: JAWS ranks him as the 11th-greatest center fielder of all time. The bad news: The guy just in front of him (Kenny Lofton) didn't even make it to a second year on the ballot. And Jones' 111 Adjusted OPS+ is way behind the 132 of Jim Edmonds, an eight-time Gold Glover from the same era who also disappeared off the ballot after one year. I bet the pride of Curacao won't be one-and-done. But I bet he won't ever make it to the podium, either.
It's hard to ignore a man who got 2,769 hits, was at least a 4-win player (according to WAR) in seven different seasons and was a vibrant part of eight playoff teams and two World Series champions. But if Lofton and Edmonds could fall off the ballot after one try, it's hard to argue that Damon is in for a long stay, with just two All-Star teams and no top-10 MVP finishes in 18 seasons, despite all those great teams he played for.
You know how hard it is to win 269 games when you only win 34 of them in your 20s? That's my way of saying no pitcher in modern times had a more unique career than Jamie Moyer -- who went 34-54 in his 20s, 130-71 in his 30s and 105-84 in his 40s. Only three other pitchers since 1900 won as many games as Moyer did and aren't in the Hall of Fame: Tommy John (288), Jim Kaat (283) and Mike Mussina (270). But as much as there is to love and admire about Moyer, he stands an excellent chance of becoming the first modern 269-game winner to go one-and-done on the Hall ballot. Hey, it happens in a world where the good old-fashioned "win" just ain't what it used to be.
Santana had an insane seven-year run, from 2002-08, that had him on a clear Hall of Fame track ... until he hit 30, whereupon he never had a healthy season again. But in those seven years, wow: two Cy Youngs and five straight top-five finishes, three strikeout titles, led both leagues in ERA, a 156 ERA+, four straight years leading the American League in WHIP and a .688 win percentage (106-48). If only that run of brilliance had gone on just a couple of years longer.
Holdovers I'm voting for
I thought long and hard about voting for 17 players on this year's ballot. So it would have been really helpful if about eight of them had been elected. But since only three did, it means one more frustrating year of getting halfway through the ballot, then having to decide which great players not to vote for -- when it should be the other way around.
At any rate, if the rules don't change, I'm leaning this way:
I knew Vlad would be a close call in his first year on the ballot. And for once, I had it right. He missed by 15 votes this year. But this man is still bound for Cooperstown. I'll keep this short. Here are all the hitters in history with Guerrero's slash line (.318/.379/.553/.931) and 2,000 games played: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Miguel Cabrera and Vlad. Hmmm. I think I've heard of them!
Hoffman earned 31 more votes than last year. Which was beautiful. Unfortunately, it would have been more beautiful if he'd collected the 36 more he needed to get elected. Nevertheless, he can exhale now. His plaque is going to hang in that gallery some day. No one has ever climbed within five votes and not finished that journey to Cooperstown. So there's no way this guy will be the first, even if I've long been worried there are still some voters who won't vote for any closer not named "Mariano."
Well, if this helps convert those final holdouts, Hoffman and Rivera had virtually identical save-conversion rates (89 percent) and opponent batting averages (.211) -- but Hoffman actually had a much better strikeout rate (9.4 K/9 for Hoffman to 8.2 for Rivera). So see? There's way more substance to this fellow's credentials than just those 601 saves.
Here's my prediction: Now that Tim Raines is in the Hall, Edgar is about to slide into Raines' niche as the candidate most beloved by sabermetricians everywhere. That means the pressure is going to mount on the conscientious DH objectors who haven't been voting for him. Here's another way to get people's attention: Martinez's Adjusted OPS+, for an 18-year career, was 147. Active players who have never even had one season with a 147 OPS+: Yoenis Cespedes, Evan Longoria, Chase Utley, Troy Tulowitzki, Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Ian Kinsler, Carlos Gonzalez and Ichiro Suzuki. And that's just a sampling!
Speaking of sabermetricians' dream candidates, Mussina is also in line to be the object of that bromance. And why the heck not? Mussina had nine seasons with an Adjusted ERA+ better than 129. The only perspective you need on what that means is the list I'm about to unfurl. The only five starters since 1900 with more seasons that much better than the league average: Clemens, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux and Lefty Grove. Check!
I'm not psychic enough to be able to forecast what Schilling will tweet between now and the next time we cast our ballots. But can we please agree already that it doesn't matter? It has been 10 years since this man threw a pitch. We're not electing him to the Hall of Twitter, so who cares what he crams into 140 characters? I just know what he crammed into a 20-year career:
The greatest strikeout/walk ratio of all time ... eight different seasons finishing in the top five in WAR in his league ... three Cy Young trophies he deserved to win, except that Randy Johnson and Johan Santana had historic seasons of their own to beat him ... and an incredible October track record that should seal this vote (19 starts; he allowed two earned runs or fewer in 16 of them, his team won 14 of them, and he went 11-2 with a sub-1.00 WHIP).
Well, that's my "ballot." If there was no such thing as a Rule of 10, I'd be examining the cases for Fred McGriff, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa right now. So if the rules change, get back to me. But if it's only my mind that changes? Um, please don't get back to me.