MILWAUKEE — One series, they look like world-beaters, then in the next they can’t get out of their own way. So it goes for the Chicago Cubs this season as they trudge along to a dramatic finish — one way or another. Either they’ll enter October as a dangerous underdog, featuring elite starting pitching, or they’ll bow out quietly, just as they did a season ago.
Last year, it was the Milwaukee Brewers who caught them, thanks to a 41-24 second half. This year, the St. Louis Cardinals have been scorching hot since the All-Star break, producing a 34-17 mark. Many have been waiting for the Cubs to go on such a streak of their own. The starts and stops to the season have been maddening, especially for a fan base that expects more. As the Cubs begin a four-game series with the Brewers on Thursday, the question still stands: Where is their streak?
“It’s tough to say because I look at our lineups versus their lineups, our pitching staff versus their pitching staff and I feel like we outmatch 90 percent of the teams we play,” reliever Steve Cishek said this week. “Hopefully we put it together soon though.”
That’s something you hear often around baseball. The names the Cubs employ — at least on paper — scream elite, or close to it. But when it comes time to play, they haven’t produced on any consistent level. Look no further than their home and road splits: 47-24 at home, 28-39 on the road.
“Runs happen when guys start to play better,” starter Cole Hamels said with a nod to how obvious that sounds. “It’s guys feeling healthy and getting the job done. To do that, everyone has to play their part. You don’t have to be perfect, but we have to pick each other up.”
The spurts have been even more dramatic, and upside down, of late. After going three months without a road series win, the Cubs have won their past two series away from Wrigley Field and five straight road games overall. In between, they dropped two home series, including getting swept by the Washington Nationals and getting shut out in back-to-back games by the Brewers. Then came a get-well two-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners earlier this week. Back and forth they go, essentially treading water with little movement toward catching the Cardinals — at least not yet.
“You have to minimize how long it goes the other way,” Kyle Schwarber said of losing streaks. “We’ve done an all right job of that, but we need to execute to go on that run.
“I don’t like to say it’s going to turn because you have to make it happen. We’re not sitting around waiting for it to happen, we’re trying to make it happen.”
As Schwarber indicated, at least the Cubs have avoided the really bad skids while struggling to put together a really good one. In what seems like a very telling note to the season, the Cubs’ longest winning and losing streaks both came months ago. They lost six in a row in the first week of the season, then won seven straight in late April. Since then, it’s been back and forth, which has made for nightly hot takes on social media and an overall feeling that the Cubs’ 50-49 record over their past 99 games is exactly who they are. That’s right, since a 23-7 stretch that established them as a contender, the Cubs have played .500 baseball.
“We’re good, but the competition has gotten better over the years,” Cishek said. “We all beat up on each other.”
That may be true, but to this point, the Cardinals have beaten up on teams just a little bit more than the Cubs have, holding on to a 2½-game lead with a few weeks to go in the regular season. But let’s go back to that 23-7 stretch because it’s the kind of run the Cubs could use again. A .760 winning percentage in the final 24 games of the season will likely get them where they want to go. So what went right for them then? And can it be repeated?
According to ESPN Stats & Information, over the course of those 30 games from April 8 to May 14, the Cubs pitched better than any team in baseball — and it wasn’t even close. They compiled a 2.29 ERA, nearly a full run lower than the next-best team.
On offense, they were good, but not out-of-this-world good. The Cubs ranked ninth in OPS during that stretch of games, but one offensive statistic may have some meaning: They led the majors in opposite-field hitting. You can bake that into what their manager believes will be the difference down the stretch.
“I cannot be more specific, just the organization of our strike zone,” Joe Maddon said. “That’s it. … We pitched well enough, we caught the ball well enough. … We just have to make it more difficult, to get us out in the strike zone.”
If Maddon has said it once, he’s said it a thousand times this season: If the Cubs want to be elite, their hitters have to lead the way — and not just for a few games, like they did recently in New York. There’s no better indicator of the Cubs’ wacky season than when they beat Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom on back-to-back nights only to come home and get shut out on back-to-back days by the struggling Brewers pitching staff. Maddon was asked why Cubs hitters seem to lock in for a few games, then get away from the approach he wants.
“Sometimes you forget or do something you don’t want to do,” he said. “But we’re getting to the point where we have to do what we want to do.”
Another factor that has kept the Cubs from being able to gather momentum for a hot streak — and die-hard fans won’t be surprised by this — Chicago’s hitters don’t hit the poorer starters in the league much better than they do top arms. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cubs have a .261 batting average and .814 OPS against starting pitchers who entered the game against them with a 4.00 ERA or higher. Against sub-4.00 ERA hurlers? It’s not that different: .258 batting average and .794 OPS. Maddening indeed.
That brings us back to Maddon’s notion that the key to their success is not chasing pitches out of the strike zone. The run for him starts there.
“The secret to success now and in the playoffs is going to lie in that box,” Maddon said. “Stay in your lane, bro.”
But is it really the key? Remember, during the best run the Cubs had this season, they pitched lights out. They have the ability to do so again. As for chasing pitches out of the strike zone, during that 23-7 stretch, the Cubs ranked 20th in baseball, chasing 29% of the time. That number and ranking are only slightly worse since that 30-game stretch, as they’ve chased at a rate of 30%, which ranks 24th. Neither figure is great, but perhaps the keys to the Cubs’ success are on the mound, not at the plate.
Whatever needs to happen, it has to happen fast. Time is running out for the Cubs to avoid a road wild-card game, which is a tough path to a championship. But do they have that elusive stretch of consistent winning in them? Like any playoff contender at this time of year, the Cubs aren’t giving up hope.
“Honestly, I don’t know why not,” Cishek said. “There is nothing that can stop us from having that type of run. We’re putting in the work. It just has to show up now.”
2020 Baseball Hall of Fame — Who did our voters pick?
The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting for the Class of 2020 on Tuesday. Based on ballots that have been made public, Derek Jeter might become only the second player elected unanimously by the voters, joining longtime Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera, who was honored with that support last year. Initial returns also suggest Jeter could be joined by Larry Walker, on his 10th and last year on the ballot, in earning induction, with Curt Schilling also being close.
The ballots of seven voters from ESPN are listed below, with a breakdown of whom they voted for and some short thoughts on their decisions. Candidates need 75% of the total vote to be elected into the Hall.
Dan Graziano (6): Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker
The only new guys on my ballot this year are Jeter, who was an obvious choice, and Rolen, for whom I haven’t voted in the past. Just thought a deeper look at Rolen’s case ranks him alongside some of the best ever at his position.
Paul Gutierrez (3): Jeter, Kent, Omar Vizquel
It was the summer of 2005, the winter of Jeff Kent’s 17-year MLB career, and he was holding court in the Dodgers’ clubhouse. Kent and Milton Bradley had an altercation the day before — no, nothing like the dugout choking match he and Barry Bonds had infamously participated in years earlier — and Kent was asked if such an episode could actually help a team’s chemistry. “You ever played the game before?” Kent asked.
By the time Kent’s career was done, no second baseman had ever slugged like him before … or since. His 351 homers as a second baseman (he had 377 HRs total) are the most at the position, and being the greatest slugging second baseman in the game’s history alone would be enough to warrant Cooperstown consideration. But when you compare his numbers to other second basemen already enshrined, it’s easy to throw a vote Kent’s way. Consider: Kent had at least 100 RBIs eight times (in a nine-season stretch), more than Charlie Gehringer (seven), Roberto Alomar (twice), Paul Molitor (twice), Ryne Sandberg (twice), Joe Morgan (once) and Craig Biggio (never). And Kent’s .290 career average eclipses those of Biggio, Morgan and Sandberg. No, Kent never won a Gold Glove. His four Silver Sluggers, four top-10 MVP finishes and 2000 National League MVP (with Bonds as a teammate) more than make up for it.
Christina Kahrl (10): Barry Bonds, Walker, Jeter, Rolen, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Wagner, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton
As a “big hall” believer, the problem for me is cutting down to 10 when I think there are 14-15 worthy choices on the ballot. I’ve written in the past to explain my rationale for voting for historically worthy sluggers like Bonds, Sosa and Sheffield, so making room for Ramirez makes sense, at least since baseball has said it considered his suspensions for PEDs fulfilled. Larry Walker’s feats and all-around game convinced me to support him on my first ballot, but also helped lead me to the conclusion that Todd Helton belongs as well, Coors Field or no Coors Field.
The big thing folks will have noticed about my ballot is that I had Roger Clemens on my ballot last year (my first), and took him off this year. Clemens’ statistical accomplishments and historical achievements put him in the forefront of the Cooperstown conversation — he’s among the 14-15 players I referenced. If or when he’s elected, you’ll get no argument from me, not on that basis alone.
But the ballot is also very clear in its instructions that those are not the only criteria with which to make informed choices. After spending more time in the past year looking at the questions surrounding Clemens’ interactions with Mindy McCready, alleged and agreed-upon, starting from when she was a minor, and discussing the issue with other colleagues, I can only say that going forward, should he ultimately get elected, it will have to be without my support.
Tim Kurkjian (10): Jeter, Walker, Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Sheffield, Helton, Rolen, Vizquel, Kent
My biggest decision was Omar Vizquel. I understand that he doesn’t meet some Hall of Fame standards by today’s advanced metrics. But I watched him play for nearly 25 years. He has the greatest hands I’ve ever seen. After Ozzie Smith, Vizquel is the best defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen. And given the importance of that position, I believe he’s one of the greatest defensive players of all time at any position. He was an exceptionally smart player, he was durable, he got 2,877 hits and was a great teammate. That was enough for me.
Ian O’Connor (7): Bonds, Clemens, Jeter, Schilling, Vizquel, Walker, Wagner
Five holdovers and Captain Jeter left me with some room on my ballot, so I spent considerable time reviewing a number of candidates I’ve considered borderline, or just a tick below Hall of Fame worthiness. And the one who grabbed me was Omar Vizquel. By the WAR measurement, he’s one of the 10 greatest defensive players of all time, and though he wasn’t a premier offensive player, he did finish within close range of 3,000 hits. Yes, Vizquel was more of a compiler. But on further review, I think he did enough to earn induction.
Enrique Rojas (10): Bonds, Clemens, Jeter, Rolen, Schilling, Sosa, Vizquel, Wagner, Walker, Bobby Abreu
This is my second year as a voter of the BBWAA for the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, an honor that I take very seriously. In addition to the basic recommendations of the Hall of Fame, my other requirements to consider that a candidate deserves sports immortality are simple: All players with at least 10 years in MLB, who stood out among their peers and who did not violate the MLB anti-doping program starting in 2004, are eligible in my view.
I do not consider myself the guardian of public morals, nor do I want to be part of any form of modern inquisition. Therefore, I reserve the right to change, amend or vary my opinion about players who have been suspended for doping in the future. But for the moment, I’ll take care of the others who don’t drag that heavy burden.
Four of my 10 selections last year were elected (Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martínez and Roy Halladay), leaving only six players on my 2020 ballot (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Omar Vizquel and Larry Walker).
Basically, what I did this year was to add four new names, no matter how much time they have on the ballot: Derek Jeter, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner and Bobby Abreu.
The two candidates I spent the most time with were Abreu and Wagner, who did not have numbers that make them automatic selections, but if we are fair, they were better than many other players from their positions already in Cooperstown.
Claire Smith (6): Bonds, Clemens, Jeter, Sheffield, Sosa, Vizquel
The hardest decision was the non-vote for Larry Walker as he makes his final appearance on the BBWAA ballot. Hall of Famers I spoke to often said that while the Rockies slugger was sensational, he is hurt by the Coors Field factor, a benefit when batting a mile high, but a detriment if production there makes road stats look pedestrian. HOFers’ views are important guideposts to me. Also, the Hall is their very exclusive club, and they have pretty strong opinions on who should gain entry.
Predicting MLB’s Hall of Fame selections through the 2020s
Not too long ago, we were in a bit of a Hall of Fame election crisis. Nobody knew what to do with players associated with PEDs. This created a huge backlog of qualified candidates on the ballot, including some years with more than 20-plus reasonable candidates.
In 2013, the baseball writers simply threw up their arms and elected nobody. Meanwhile, the veterans committee didn’t elect a single living player over a 17-year period. The three men enshrined in 2013 were a catcher who last played in 1890, an umpire who died in 1935 and an owner from the pre-integration era.
It was a mess.
Luckily, we’ve moved on. A glut of superstar Hall of Famers such as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones hit the ballot and the BBWAA went on an election spree, voting in 20 players in a six-year span, including three players in Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell with questionable reputations concerning PEDs. The veterans committee suddenly flipped as well and elected five players over the past three years, including former catcher Ted Simmons this year.
What’s next? Let’s predict what happens the rest of the decade in Hall of Fame voting, starting with the results from Tuesday’s announcement of who will join Simmons in Cooperstown this summer.
New to ballot: Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi
Last year on ballot: Larry Walker
Jeter is expected to join longtime Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera in the 100 percent club — now that Rivera broke that ridiculous standard last year, there’s no reason that inner-circle Hall of Famers like Jeter shouldn’t likewise be unanimous selections.
The other candidates with a chance are Walker and Curt Schilling. As of Sunday morning, Walker had received 85.4% of the publicly revealed ballots, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker. That’s a huge surge from Walker’s 54.6% total last year and would put him well above the 75% threshold needed for election.
Except. … The problem is the nonpublic voters always bring down players’ total. Walker needs to be named on 68.3% of the estimated remaining ballots to get to 75%, but last year received just 27.9% of the private ballots (and 48% of the public ballots revealed after the results were announced). Even with the usual gains from a final-year push, this one is going right down to the wire, but I think Walker is going to fall just short.
Schilling, in his eighth year on the ballot, received 60.9% last year and was at 79.5% of the public vote as of Sunday. He needs 72% of the remaining votes and since his private tally will also likely be much less, it appears he too will fall just short.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are also on their eighth ballot and plateaued last year at 59%. Both are currently under the 75% threshold and there’s no way that number is going up Tuesday. They’re not getting in.
Prediction: Derek Jeter (along with Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller)
New to ballot: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter
Last year on ballot: Nobody
Veterans committee: Early Baseball (pre-1950) and Golden Days (1950-1969)
This will be an interesting year. Without any strong first-year candidates and with nobody on their final ballot (at least before getting punted to the veterans committee), it wouldn’t be shocking to see a shutout. Even the veterans committee addresses the two eras that are already widely represented.
This looks like an opportunity for Schilling to take advantage of a soft ballot to get over the hump, post-career warts and all. Even in 2013, the year nobody was elected, the average ballot contained 6.6 names — the voters want to elect somebody every year. In his previous ballots, Schilling has been compared to pitchers like Maddux, Martinez, Johnson, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay. With the ballot clear of strong “competition,” he looks better.
As for the two veterans committees, I see four strong candidates from the Golden Days era: Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso. The last time this era was considered was 2015, and Allen and Oliva received 11 of 16 votes from the committee, falling one vote short. Kaat received 10 and Minoso eight.
In my mind, Minoso is clearly the best candidate. In the 1950s, he ranked eighth among position players in WAR, even though he didn’t play in 1950. And because of the color barrier, he was already 25 as a rookie. With a career line of .298/.389/.459, 1,023 RBIs, 1,963 hits and 50.5 WAR, his numbers might appear a little short, but factor in three or four prime seasons missing from the beginning of his career and he deserves the honor. Unfortunately, he died in 2015.
The other three could also get in. Kaat, who won 283 games, followed that with a long broadcasting career and is still working at age 81. He also follows the pattern of recent veterans committee selections: length of career is more important than a high peak of excellence. See, for example, Harold Baines and Jack Morris being selected instead of the likes of Dale Murphy and Orel Hershiser.
Prediction: Curt Schilling, Minnie Minoso, Jim Kaat
New to ballot: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon
Last year on ballot: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling (if not already elected), Sammy Sosa
Veterans committee: Today’s Game (1988 to present)
Well, now, won’t this be special? A-Rod’s first year of eligibility coincides with the last ballots for Bonds, Clemens and Sosa (who continues to fare poorly in voting). I think Rodriguez, with his season-long suspension for 2014, is going to fall into the same category as Bonds and Clemens: One of the greatest players of all time, but no ticket to Cooperstown.
From 2003 to 2016, arguably no player loomed as a bigger figure than Ortiz. He was a popular, dynamic hitter on three World Series winners, performed well in the postseason and became a cult hero in Boston. With his level of fame, 541 home runs and 1,768 RBIs (22nd all time), he would normally sail right in (despite a borderline 55.3 WAR). But because Ortiz’s name was leaked as one of the 104 players who tested positive for PEDs during the initial screening process in 2003, he also arrives with a small cloud hanging over his head. I think he waits a year.
What about Omar Vizquel? The man who played the most games at shortstop and won 11 Gold Gloves could be the anti-PED vote. He debuted at 37% in 2018, received 42.8% last year and is currently polling at 48%. He’s the rare player who actually fares just as well on the private ballots. In other words, the older voters like him, while the younger breed of pro-analytics writers are not as much in favor due to a 45.6 career WAR that is low for a modern Hall of Famer. Although Vizquel’s election either via the BBWAA or veterans committee is inevitable, I think he has to wait a bit longer.
We could completely revisit the steroids era if Mark McGwire is included on the Today’s Game ballot. He was up for vote in 2017, but received fewer than 5% of the vote and wasn’t included in the 2019 discussion. Larry Walker would be eligible for this ballot if he doesn’t get in this year, and while 72.7 WAR makes him a strong candidate, his relatively low counting stats (383 HRs, 1,311 RBIs, 2,160 hits) work against him. Still, he’ll be so close this year that I think he gets in. Bruce Bochy would also be eligible, assuming he doesn’t return as a manager (which he hasn’t completely ruled out). Lou Piniella fell one vote short in 2019 and might come up again as well.
Prediction: Larry Walker, Bruce Bochy
New to ballot: Carlos Beltran
Last year on ballot: Jeff Kent
Veterans committee: Modern Baseball (1970 to 1987)
I don’t know if Beltran was a lock before the Astros’ cheating scandal erupted — with 1,582 runs and 1,587 RBIs, he’s one of just 38 players to reach both of those numbers, and his 69.6 career WAR is a strong total — but I would guess even in a couple of years the sign-stealing issue will be fresh enough to taint his legacy. He’ll get in eventually, just not on the first ballot.
Kent is the all-time leader in home runs by a player whose primary position was second base (377), drove in 1,518 runs and won an MVP, but his case has failed to pick up any momentum. Last year, he received just 18.2% of the vote and he’s polling at 31% this year, his seventh on the ballot. On the other hand, Walker was at 22.3% in his seventh year and given the general weakness of this ballot, Kent could be the next player to get a big surge his final year.
That leaves the Today’s Game committee: Lou Whitaker was on the 2020 ballot and received six of the 16 votes, but he’s an extremely well-qualified candidate (75.1 WAR) and had the long career the veterans committee seems to like. Dwight Evans is a personal favorite and received eight votes in 2020, so he just needs to sway three more committee members, but I think Whitaker leapfrogs him into Cooperstown.
Prediction: David Ortiz, Lou Whitaker
New to ballot: Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright, Bartolo Colon, Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez
Last year on ballot: Gary Sheffield
Veterans committee: Today’s Game (1988 to present)
A new wave of accomplished candidates will hit the ballot in 2024. Adrian Beltre’s sustained excellence makes him an easy first-ballot lock, with 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 RBIs and 95.6 career WAR, including 10 seasons of 5-plus WAR.
Joe Mauer and Chase Utley were amazing at their best, but both fight uphill battles to election due to lack of longevity. Mauer had nine seasons behind the plate in which he won three batting titles, an MVP and was the best all-around catcher in the game, but concussion issues forced him to move to first base for the final five, mediocre seasons of his career. Given the lower bar for catchers and his high peak value, I’d vote for him, but he’s not a first-ballot guy. With 65.4 career WAR, Utley had similar career value to Ryne Sandberg (68.0), Roberto Alomar (67.1) and Craig Biggio (65.5), but no hitter who started his career after 1950 has made the Hall of Fame with fewer than 2,000 hits and Utley had just 1,885.
I have Kent missing election by the BBWAA. The Harold Baines selection has made it impossible to know exactly what the veterans committee is going to do moving forward, because if you elect every player better than Baines you’d have to build a new wing in Cooperstown. Still, unless the composition of the committee changes, Kent has to merit strong consideration.
Jim Leyland has yet to appear on a ballot and while his .506 career winning percentage isn’t great, he’s 17th on the all-time wins list, won a World Series, made eight trips to the playoffs and was always popular and well respected.
Prediction: Adrian Beltre, Jeff Kent, Jim Leyland
New to ballot: Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia, Ian Kinsler, Troy Tulowitzki
Last year on ballot: Billy Wagner
Veterans committee: Modern Baseball (1970 to 1987)
Ichiro is a no-brainer, but Sabathia is more difficult to assess. He’s similar to former teammate Andy Pettitte, who received just 9.9% of the vote in 2019 and is tracking at 11% this year:
Sabathia: 251-161, 3.74 ERA, 116 ERA+, 62.5 WAR
Pettitte: 256-153, 3.85 ERA, 117 ERA+, 60.6 WAR
Sabathia has a Cy Young Award and a few more high-level seasons, but Pettitte has the record for most postseason wins.
In my book, Wagner compares favorably to Trevor Hoffman and recent veterans selection Lee Smith, but he’s almost 200 saves behind Hoffman and Smith threw nearly 400 more innings. I think Wagner falls short.
For the veterans committee, I wonder about two-time MVP Dale Murphy, who had a short peak and hasn’t fared well on his previous ballots, but was such a beloved player that his case will be revisited. He had just six seasons above 3.1 WAR. In the end, he probably falls short again, while Evans finally gets the call. I’ll also go with Beltran and Vizquel finally getting the call alongside Ichiro. You can call this class the all-defense team of Hall of Famers.
Prediction: Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Beltran, Omar Vizquel, Dwight Evans
New to ballot: Felix Hernandez?
Last year on ballot: Manny Ramirez
Veterans committee: Golden Days (1950 to 1969)
Players eligible in 2026 will have played their last season in 2021. King Felix might not end up pitching in 2021 given his results from last year, but, sadly, his career fell short of Hall of Fame standards anyway. Manny Ramirez, like his fellow PED candidates, will remained locked out of Cooperstown.
For the Golden Days era, we return to Allen and Oliva. Oliva is one of the great what-ifs in baseball history. He won three batting titles and hit .304 in his career, but his knees went bad at 32 and he finished with just 43.1 WAR. I think he falls short.
Prediction: CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte
New to ballot: Albert Pujols?
Last year on ballot: Omar Vizquel (if not already elected), Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones
Assuming Pujols plays through the remaining two years of his contract, he would become eligible in 2027 and should join Jeter and Rivera in the 100% club.
Rolen is polling right around 50% on the public ballots this year and with 70.2 career WAR, he’s a player the younger, analytic voters favor. If he hasn’t made it by now, he feels like the type of player to get a strong, final-year push.
The veterans committee hasn’t revealed what era it will be voting on in 2027, but if we follow the pattern, we go back to Today’s Game (1988 to present). One player I’d like to see get a second look is Kevin Brown, who fell off the BBWAA ballot after one season. He’s a stathead favorite with a more dominant peak than either Sabathia or Pettitte. He’s a match for recent first-ballot inductee Roy Halladay:
Brown: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 127 ERA+, 68.2 WAR
Halladay: 203-105, 3.38 ERA, 131 ERA+, 65.4 WAR
Still, he probably falls short. How about Fred McGriff though? He’s a classic veterans committee candidate with a long career, 493 home runs and is viewed as one of the clean players from the PED era. He peaked at 39.8% in his final year on the BBWAA ballot, but he also battled the ballot logjam throughout his period of eligibility. I think he’s a borderline candidate at best with just four 5-WAR seasons, but if he had seven more home runs he might already be in.
Prediction: Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Fred McGriff
Last year on ballot: Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte (if not already elected)
Molina is currently in the final year of his contract, but I can see him playing at least through 2022 and becoming eligible in 2028. Heck, if he’s willing to be a backup catcher, he could probably play into his early 40s. Hey, Carlton Fisk lasted until he was 45.
Helton was amazing for five or six years, but I think the back problems leave him a couple of great seasons short of a Hall of Fame career. It might not be a strong ballot in 2028, so that could help him, but with a short peak and 61.2 career WAR, I don’t think he gets in.
If the veterans committee votes on the Modern Baseball era (1970 to 1987), here’s a long-shot candidate: former Cardinals and Reds general manager Bob Howsam. He built the 1967 Cardinals World Series champions (although he had left for Cincinnati by then) and built the Big Red Machine, one of the best teams of all time. Mark Armour and Dan Levitt, who wrote “In Pursuit of Pennants,” a great book on the best general managers in the game’s history, ranked Howsam No. 4 all time.
Prediction: Yadier Molina, Bob Howsam
Last year on ballot: Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi
If Cabrera and Cano make it through the ends of their current contracts (2023), they will hit the ballot in 2029. Votto has a club option for 2024, but given his recent fade, I’m not sure he makes it that far. Cabrera, of course, is a first-ballot choice while Cano will be hurt by his 2018 PED suspension. I think he gets in eventually, but it will take a few years.
Votto looked like a no-brainer Hall of Famer a couple of years ago, but that’s no longer the case. He’s sitting on 60.2 career WAR, but his counting stats — 284 home runs, 944 RBIs — are low for a first baseman. I do wonder how he would be viewed if he had won seven batting titles instead of seven on-base percentage titles. Of course, the voting bloc by 2029 will be much more informed regarding Votto’s extremely high peak of excellence, so he has a chance to get selected. A couple more bounce-back seasons would help, though.
I have pitchers Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer all playing through at least 2024 and not yet eligible. I think all four are pretty much Hall of Fame locks at this point, and if any suffer some sort of career-ending injury they could appear in 2029 or earlier.
The veterans committee, meanwhile, likely would revert to the Today’s Game era (1988 to present). Candidates could include all the PED guys I haven’t yet put in, plus Kevin Brown, Andruw Jones, Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds, among others. Lofton is a stathead fave with his 68.3 career WAR, but his vagabond career hurts him and a lot of that value is from his defense. He’s a better candidate than Omar Vizquel in my book and he did play on a lot of good teams (11 postseason appearances).
I kind of glossed over the steroids guys. At this point, I don’t think Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, Manny, McGwire or Sosa get in. Maybe attitudes will change by the end of the decade.
We’ll give our final nod to Terry Francona, who is already 18th on the all-time wins list, has two World Series titles and is still going strong.
Prediction: Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Kenny Lofton, Terry Francona
Rob Manfred’s mistake was giving sign stealers too much leeway
You’d like to think that competing professionals would operate ethically, within the bounds of propriety as well as the written rules. But that’s not true in the field of journalism, or politics, or professional sports; there always have been and always will be those willing to trade shards or whole slices of integrity for an advantage. In baseball, this is what happened with doctored baseballs, with corked bats, with teams taking liberties with domestic and international scouting and signings, and most notably, in the steroids era.
Ignoring those lessons of history is the mistake that commissioner Rob Manfred made as the growing problem of electronics in sign stealing emerged. As one manager said recently, the first domino of this fell when MLB implemented instant replay. Rather than stationing a fifth umpire or some sort of independent arbiter to deal with each questionable decision, MLB decided to bestow challenges on each manager, and along with that came the installation of video replay systems close to each dugout. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, that was like handing a bag of fireworks to a teenager; we all probably should have anticipated the falling dominoes that followed.
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