Thursday, November 30, 2017

HOF Ballot: Heartbreakers Among the Newcomers

By Jeff Kallman

The rest of the newcomers to the Hall of Fame ballot — Chipper Jones and Jim Thome should be first-ballot inductees — have a few heartbreakers among them. Men you could have sworn were on the Cooperstown trail but got derailed for one or another reason. For that reason, I'll take these heartbreakers alphabetically.

Chris Carpenter — Tell me you didn't think this guy was on the way to the Hall of Fame once upon a time. Now, tell me how stinko it was that Carpenter had:

* A bone spur removed from his elbow in 1999.

* Elbow and torn labrum surgery after 2002.

* Torn labrum in 2003 while rehabbing in the minors.

* Blowing most of 2007 and 2008 with elbow issues including Tommy John surgery.

* Thoracic outlet surgery in 2012, missing much of that season.

The miracle is that Carpenter had any kind of career at all, never mind that he actually managed to win a Cy Young Award and help the Cardinals win a pair of World Series, including Game 7 of the 2011 Series on three days' rest.

Carpenter was a tenacious competitor and a great pitcher when he was healthy, but his body told him where to shove it too often to let him become a Hall of Famer. One and done on the ballot, most likely.

Johnny Damon — He was a terrific all-around player even if he had his occasional issues playing center field. He was a fine leadoff hitter, smart on the bases, with periodic pop in his bat and an infectious way of having fun with the game. They'll never forget his doings with the Red Sox. Especially his two bombs including a grand salami in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.

Damon almost made it to 3,000 hits, but when he sat at 2,425, he lasted only two more years as a regular and fell almost 300 hits short of the milestone. He was a fan favorite wherever he played most of the time, but he wasn't as big a star as he's remembered to have been, despite his profile as the spiritual leader of a sort of the 2004 Red Sox "Idiots."

A good guy, a terrific player, but not a Hall of Famer. He never officially announced his retirement, either.

Andruw Jones — For the first half of his career, he was Hall of Fame great. For his 20s, he was compared to Willie Mays and it was no joke. He was that good. He hit a ton and won 10 straight Gold Gloves. Then he turned into evidence as to why some people don't trust anyone 30 or older.

He got, shall we say, a little on the pudgy side. He couldn't stay healthy; he couldn't really hit anymore if you handed him a telephone pole for a bat; the conversation went from can't-miss to dissipated talent and stayed there. If there's a list of players who went from Hall of Fame great one moment to under the basement the next, Jones may be among the top twenty. If not higher.

Which is a shame, because for his first 11 seasons, Jones was so swift on the Hall of Fame track it was a question of when, not whether he'd get in. And he actually still shakes out as a peak-value Hall of Famer.

Jamie Moyer — The Eddie Lopat of his generation: slow, slower, slowest, and probably without half of Lopat's bag of tricks. (Or, anything else Lopat could think of putting on the ball, it was alleged.) There's something to be said for pitching until you're 49 years old. In Moyer's case, Cooperstown isn't it. Longevity has its place and its honor, but you need more than that for the Hall of Fame.

For a quarter century pitching, Moyer shakes out as meeting only 39 of the Bill James Hall of Fame pitching standards and rates 56 on the James Hall of Fame pitching monitor. (The average Hall of Fame pitcher, respectively: 50 and 100.) He was a 20-game winner twice, but his fielding independent pitching rates show him more dependent on his defenses than himself.

But he was respected and earned every drop of it. There's something to be said about that. Even for a guy who surrendered one more home run (522) than Ted Williams, Willie McCovey, and Frank Thomas each hit, which knocked Hall of Famer Robin Roberts (who surrendered one more — 505 — than Eddie Murray hit) out of first place on the all-time bomb surrender list.

Scott Rolen — At his peak, people tended to think two things of Rolen, one of which may have been instigated by a team that didn't really seem to understand him: 1) He was a whale of a two-way player and one of the best defensive third basemen you ever saw; and, 2) He was so even-keeled that it was too easy to mistake him for being indifferent, which happened especially during his Philadelphia seasons. Jim Edmonds had the same early career problem in Anaheim.

Rolen also had a serious problem over the second half of his career: injuries. Before they started to hit he was Hall of Fame great and still has powerful peak value. Those eight Gold Gloves he won weren't just on reputation; the metrics shake Rolen out right behind Brooks Robinson and Adrian Beltre for defensive virtuosity. I see him as a borderline average Hall of Famer overall. Not a first ballot pick, but the Hall would not be disgraced to welcome him in due course.

Johan Santana — The only reason he had only two Cy Young Awards instead of three was because, in 2005, voters looked only at Bartolo Colon's 21 wins and not Santana's league-leading strikeouts, fielding-independent pitching, 0.97 walks and hits per inning pitched rate, 155 ERA+, and 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

Then, Santana's shoulder cost him the entire 2011 season. He pitched his no-hitter in 2012, the first (and, so far, the only one) in Mets history, and it cost him even more dearly in the long run: an ankle sprain, back inflammation, a second torn anterior capsule. Career essentially over despite a few tries at coming back in the Orioles and Blue Jays organizations; a few whispers about still aiming at a major league comeback during 2016.

Santana's peak value might make him a Hall of Famer regardless. It also may not be enough to get him in. Of all the Hall of Fame candidates of their time whose cases were torpedoed by injuries, Santana's and Rolen's may be the saddest, but Rolen probably has a better chance than Santana of making it in due course. Which is a shame, because for that peak period Santana was as close as his generation got to a Sandy Koufax.

Omar Vizquel — Yes, you remember him as his generation's Ozzie Smith. And, yes, what Vizquel has to sell is a truckload of defense that's become easier to sell to Hall of Fame voters since Smith and Bill Mazeroski were elected. And that's a good thing — your team wins as much by preventing runs as scoring them.

The problem is, acrobat that he was Vizquel wasn't his generation's Wizard of Oz by about 36.2 wins above a replacement-level player, even with those 11 Gold Gloves. And Vizquel is recorded as saving 128 runs — 111 fewer than The Wiz. He has slightly better batting stats than Smith but Smith played most of his career in a slightly more tough era for hitting.

I don't see Vizquel as either a first-ballot Hall of Famer or as a one, two, or three-and-done candidate. He's going to get plenty of support, and it could kick some juicy debates off. Whether or when he gets in, though, is probably going to be about 40 percent of those debates.

And I've never known good debates to hurt the game.

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