The Magnificent Seven

If you have a passion over noisy arguments for their own sake, you can guarantee that every winter's Hall of Fame voting season will provoke them above and beyond your expectations. Especially in the social media era. Bank it the same way you'd bank clutch hits by Ronald Acuña, Jr. or clutch pitches by Gerrit Cole: no Hall of Fame candidate shall live on the ballot or enter Cooperstown without a char-broiling argument.

Some of them deserve it. (Who still thinks Harold Baines is a bona fide Hall of Famer.) Some of them don't. (Who still thinks the late Dick Allen should remain on the outside looking in?) Some of them take second or even third looks. And sometimes the arguments can be as enjoyable as they can be enraging in their own right.

I'm a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Every year, the IBWAA conducts a Hall ballot. Symbolic-only though it is, we take it seriously enough. Sometimes, we elect Hall of Famers before the Baseball Writers Association of America; sometimes, not. What follows is what my IBWAA ballot was, and I'll mark the ones whom the IBWAA elected this time (even symbolically) with an asterisk after their names:

Adrián Beltré* — Baseball Reference lists him as the number four third baseman, ever. I'd lift him a little bit higher. This guy wasn't just a wrecking machine at the plate, he's the second-most run-preventive third baseman (+168 total zone runs at third) who ever played the position. The only man ahead of him for run prevention (+293) is some guy named Brooks Robinson. You might have heard of that guy.

At the plate and on the bases, by the way, Beltré is one of only nine men to finish their careers with 3,000+ hits and five or more Gold Gloves. Thus does he travel in very distinguished company — the remaining eight are Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Derek Jeter, Tony Gwynn, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline, and Dave Winfield, plus Hall of Famer-in-waiting Ichiro Suzuki. Not to mention that Beltré and Jeter are the only two infielders among them.

Beltré also has more defensive wins above a replacement-level player (dWAR: 27.0) than every third baseman ever except one: again, the man nicknamed The Hoover. But he was also one of baseball's genuine Fun Guys, a character as well as a great player. And how often do you get to see one of the Fun Guys on a Hall of Fame ballot who really belongs in Cooperstown?

(Bartolo Colon, you say? He was one of the funnest of the Fun Guys. He's on his first BBWAA Hall ballot. Hall voters should be horsewhipped if they even think about electing him to Cooperstown. A guy with a 4.15 fielding-independent pitching rate, a 4.12 ERA, and a 1.31 walks/hits per inning pitched rate doesn't belong even if he did hit maybe the single most entertaining only-homer-of-his-career of all time---in his 247th lifetime plate appearance.)

Todd Helton* — The Toddfather never had the chance to show what he could do with a different home park than Coors Field. Not that he'd have wanted it. But if you're going to throw up his home-road splits, I'm going to show you his ten-year peak and its park-adjusted OPS+. It's 144. I can also show you an .899 OPS on the road lifetime and tell you there are Hall of Famers with slightly lower OPSes both ways.

But I can also show you a guy who walked more than he struck out, who also just so happens to be the second-most run-preventive defensive first baseman ever. (First most: Keith Hernandez. And his Hall case deserves serious review by an Era Committee to come.) I can show you, too, that the same guy was deadlier at the plate with men in scoring position than he was with the bases empty.

Put that entire package together and it should resemble a Hall of Famer to you, too.

Andruw Jones — I quit holding his staggering decline phase against him long enough ago. He wasn't just a Hall of Fame-level hitter before his health began going AWOL during his final Atlanta season. He finished his career as the single most run-preventive center fielder who ever played the game, even ahead of the incomparable Mays. Jones's +254 total zone runs are also the second-most of any position player, ever, behind that fellow named Robinson.

His Hall of Fame teammate Chipper Jones wasn't just indulging a flight of fancy when he said, in his own Cooperstown induction speech, that to prevail against those great 1990s Braves teams "you had to get through the Jones boys." With his smashing peak at the plate and his virtuoso center field play, it's time to set his sad decline to one side and say Andruw Jones belongs in the Hall of Fame. With defense getting deeper looks since the elections of Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith, too, Jones belongs even more.

Joe Mauer — I said it almost a year ago but I'll die on this hill: Joe Mauer didn't give anyone a raw deal with that succulent contract extension he signed. He didn't ask to be hit with the concussion that moved him out from behind the plate to first base well after he signed it; or, the one he incurred playing first and chasing a foul ball. Injuries in the line of duty are not goldbricking, wimping out, or thievery.

They also didn't kill Mauer's Hall case as a catcher. He still shook out as the number seven man ever to strap it on behind the plate, and it wasn't just because of his gaudy batting averages, either. Let's repeat what I noted almost a year ago. According to my Real Batting Average metric (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances), Mauer's .569 would place him third among Hall catchers in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era.

That means only Mike Piazza and Roy Campanella are ahead of Mauer but Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Ted Simmons, Gary Carter, and Ivan Rodríguez are behind him. Mauer was also worth +65 defensive runs behind the plate and handled his pitching staffs to a collective ERA that was thirteen points below the league average.

Let all those Twins fans who still cling to the insane idea of Mauer as a thief squeal like stuck pigs all they want. Mauer deserves to have the last laugh in Cooperstown come July.

Gary Sheffield — It's a bloody good thing Sheffield has all the right counting stats at the plate because a) yes, he was atrocious in the outfield; b) he didn't just burn bridges, he nuked them; c) he was accused falsely of tanking plays in the field; and, d) he may well have been tricked into a brief flirtation with actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances during the so-called Wild West (pre-testing) Era.

If Sheffield also posted his staggering counting stats in a high-offense time, he also did it most of the time while playing in home ballparks that usually killed right-handed hitters. (He was also a difficult strikeout: he was never whiffed more than 83 times in any season.) He also did it while playing through the kind of nagging injuries that would drive many other players to drink or the nearest psychologist's couch. If he doesn't make it this time around, he'll have to wait for an Era Committee re-evaluation. And while you might not think highly of him as a person, be reminded there are far worse people in Cooperstown than Sheffield.

Chase Utley — Defensively, Utley's the number four second baseman all-time for run prevention. (+141 total zone runs.) Offensively, his lack of black ink is more than covered by his having been a run machine once he did reach base: +45 runs value as a baserunner, and +25 runs thanks to his ability to avoid double plays. Not to mention that Utley at the plate was practically the same hitter on the road as he was at home — and his home (except his rookie season) was that hitters'-heaven-on-earth Citizens Bank Park.

Utley's is a peak value Hall case. When you saw him play, you couldn't help wondering whether his borderline-reckless play at second base (he never met an obstacle he couldn't challenge no matter what) would do more damage to him than he could and did do to enemy pitchers and enemy baserunners. Then you and he found out the hard way, as his hip, his knee, his legs deserted him at various times. Not before he led the Phillies to their 2008 World Series conquest, of course.

But before you harp about "peak value" versus "career value" and decide the former isn't really Cooperstown-worthy, ponder this: peak value Hall of Famers didn't begin with Dizzy Dean. They didn't end with Sandy Koufax. And they're not going to end with Andruw Jones, Joe Mauer, or Chase Utley, either. (Or, with Dick Allen, if his next Era Committee evaluation does the right thing and elects him at last.)

Billy Wagner — Wagner is on his next-to-last BBWAA Hall ballot. And he's still maybe the single most underrated relief pitcher of his or most times. If he's elected, Billy the Kid would have the single lowest batting average against him of any Hall of Fame relief pitcher, including The Mariano: .187. You read it right. .187. Trying to hit this pint-sized, whip-armed lefthander was like trying to mine diamonds with a putty knife.

Wagner pitched in one of the most hitter-friendly eras in baseball history and he still posted a 2.73 FIP and a 0.97 WHIP. His 11.92 strikeouts-per-nine is also the best in baseball history. The thing that seems to hold him back most is his ghastly-looking postseason resume — but it's been noted elsewhere that, since he was in the closer role, he was handed only four postseason "save" opportunities while getting to face only 30 postseason hitters when his team had a lead.

Now, allow me to explain why I didn't vote for a few more on this year's ballot, even if it was only symbolic, of course:

Carlos Beltrán — In his final major league playing season, he soiled himself as a co-mastermind of Astrogate, the off-field based, illegal, electronic sign-stealing scandal that tainted the 2017-18 Astros. That matters, to me and surely to a lot of BBWAA writers. It may take awhile for one and all to acquit him for that, because Beltrán just might have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer without it.

Manny Ramírez — He was nailed twice after official testing for actual/alleged PEDs began. Sharp as Jell-O.

Álex Rodríguez — Nailed in the testing era. Thought seriously about suing his way out of the Biogenesis mess. Not brilliant, especially considering baseball government's shenanigans that may have made the probe itself as tainted as any players who worked with that clinic.

David Wright — This one really hurt. Wright was mostly a Hall of Fame-level third baseman and the heart, soul, and face of the Mets in his first ten seasons. Then came the injuries — especially spinal stenosis in his back — sapping him in earnest. Even opponents and Met-haters knew this guy was a few cuts higher than normal. He withstood the injuries with class, and the sorrow was real when he finally faced the inevitable and called it a career.

But Wright and Met fans will always have the moments when a) he bombed his team to a first-inning lead; and, b) added to the insurance runs with a sixth-inning, two-run single, in the only game the Mets won in a 2015 World Series their porous defense of that year cost them.

Now, back to your regularly-scheduled arguments.

Parts of the foregoing have been published previously.

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