A dozen dismissed: the best players left off the Hall of Fame ballot

14 Comments

While the BBWAA screening committee was keeping up with the Joneses — Jacque and Todd, to be precised — it left a bunch of superior players off Tuesday’s Hall of Fame ballot reveal.

In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters who makes the ballot to be cast off after one year and who is left off altogether. But let’s give some recognition to those who won’t even get a token vote when the results are announced in January. Here are the best dozen players eligible but left off the Hall of Fame ballot.

Keith Foulke: Foulke was a more valuable pitcher than any of the three closers who made the ballot (Armando Benitez, Eric Gagne and Todd Jones), but he spent his first five years as a setup man and managed only 191 career saves. It seemed like he pretty much gave up his arm for the Red Sox’s run in 2004, when he pitched 83 innings in the regular season and 14 more in the postseason (allowing just one run). He pitched just three more seasons afterwards, none of them healthy, and stumbled to a 4.84 ERA. From 1999-2004, he was about as valuable as any reliever in the game, amassing a 2.43 ERA and 171 saves in 522 innings (Mariano Rivera, by comparison, had a 2.20 ERA those years, but threw 100 fewer innings).

Shannon Stewart: A dynamic player when he first arrived, Stewart swiped 51 bases in his first full season with the Blue Jays in 1998. Unfortunately, he lost his speed and eventually had his career cut short because of leg injuries, but not until after he was an above average regular for seven seasons, which is six more than Jacque Jones managed. He even finished fourth in the AL MVP balloting in 2003, though that was a misguided narrative driven vote based on him playing well for the Twins after a summer trade. From 2000-2004, he had an OPS+ between 112-118 every years.

Trot Nixon: The original Dirt Dog, Nixon was a bit of a late bloomer. He was the seventh overall selection in the 1993 draft, but he didn’t establish himself in Boston until he 1999, when he was 25. He went on to have his best year in 2003, hitting .306/.396/.578 to finish fourth in the AL with a .975 OPS. He also hit four homers in 11 postseason games that year. Nixon missed most of 2004 with back troubles, though he was back for the stretch run and the Red Sox’s postseason run. He managed just two decent seasons as a platoon player in his 30’s, but he did enough before then to justify a spot on the ballot.

Jon Lieber: Lieber won 20 games for the Cubs and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2001 and mixed in several other above average seasons to finish his career 131-124 with a 4.27 ERA (103 ERA+). The Pirates wasted some of his early seasons shuffling him between the pen and the rotation and he missed a year and a half in his 30s following Tommy John surgery, so his overall numbers aren’t overly impressive. Still, he was a rock solid pitcher.

Geoff Jenkins: The NL’s answer to Nixon, Jenkins had seven seasons of 20 homers for the Brewers and three times topped a .900 OPS. He always struggled against lefties, which is probably the biggest reason that he never drove in 100 runs, and he was done at age 33, but he was just as valuable as a player as his more famous teammate, Richie Sexson, who did make the ballot.

Jose Vidro: While not quite a Hall of Fame path, Vidro looked like a future Hall of Very Good guy through age 29, hitting .304/.367/.470 and making three All-Star teams in his career up to that point. And that was pretty much it. After six straight seasons of OPSs from .820-.920, he failed to top .780 again. In 2008, he hit .234/274/.338 in 85 games with the Mariners, got released and was never heard from again, even though he was just 33.

Steve Trachsel: Famed for being an incredibly slow worker on the mound, Trachsel is a punchline now, and he was never much recognized as a quality pitcher over the course of his career. Still, he lasted 16 years with an ERA+ of 99, which rates as a pretty good career from here.

Esteban Loaiza: As a 31-year-old journeyman, Loaiza suddenly came through with one of the most surprising seasons in memory in 2003, going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA and an AL-leading 207 strikeouts for the White Sox to finish second in the Cy Young balloting. He had a 5.71 ERA the season prior and a 5.70 ERA the season afterwards, though he did have one more nice year with the Nationals in 2005. He ended a 14-year career 126-114 with a 4.65 ERA (98 ERA+).

Matt Morris: Morris went 12-9 with a 3.19 ERA to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting as a 22-year-old with the Cardinals in 1997, but then blew out his elbow in 1998 and missed two years. Back at full strength in 2001, he went 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA to finish third in the NL Cy Young race. Morris, though, declined quickly from there, turning into a pretty average starter at 28 and failing to even stay at that level from age 31 onwards. He was done at 33 after going 121-91 with a 3.98 ERA (107 ERA+) in 11 seasons.

Jose Cruz Jr.: Since he spent most of his career hitting in the .240s, Cruz struggled to earn respect and bounced around a lot. Still, from the day he entered the league in 1997 until 2005, he was never worse than an average regular. In 2001, he had a 30 HR-30 SB season for the Blue  Jays. He scored 90 runs three times and walked 102 times in 2003. Like many of these guys, he was pretty much done by 32-33.

Damion Easley: Easley is an exception: he played 17 years before retiring at age 38. However, he was a role player from age 32 on, never batting more than 350 times in a season. From 1997-2001, he was the Tigers’ starting second baseman, topping 20 homers three times and driving in 100 runs in 1998, when he went to his lone All-Star Game.

Dmitri Young: OK, so at this point, I’ve run out of players clearly better than Jacque Jones and J.T. Snow to list here. Young is in their neighborhood, though. He hit .300 with 830+ OPSs for four straight seasons with the Reds and then later went to All-Star Games with the Tigers and Nationals. He didn’t add anything defensively at first base or in the outfield, but he was quite a hitter. He finished his career at .292/.351/.475.

2017 Preview: Minnesota Twins

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Minnesota Twins.

Which iteration of the Twins will we get in 2017? The second-place contenders of 2015, blazing their way through the standings with 83 wins and a handful of hot prospects? The burnouts of 2016, flopping to the bottom of the division with 103 losses and a lineup held in place by Brian Dozier and, well, Brian Dozier? Or something in between?

Finishing dead last has its perks, namely a first-round draft pick and the feeling that things can’t be quite as bad as they were the year before. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only major preparation they made for the 2017 season came in the form of a front office shakeup. Derek Falvey assumed control of the club in October, bringing GM Thad Levine into the fold in November as the club assumed a more analytics-friendly approach toward the rebuilding movement.

When it came to roster revisions, however, there wasn’t much moving or shaking this winter. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, catcher Kurt Suzuki and left-handers Tommy Milone and Pat Dean vacated their spots on the roster. Falvey avoided some of the bigger bats and bullpen arms in free agency and opted to sign backstop Jason Castro and journeyman reliever Ryan Vogelsong instead.

By and large, the core of the Twins’ roster remained the same. Center fielder Byron Buxton, infielder/outfielder Michael Sano and right-hander Jose Berrios still form the nucleus of the club’s top prospects. Middle infielder Brian Dozier will also return in 2017, though he appears to be on borrowed time with the Twins after putting up monster numbers in the second half of 2016. Ervin Santana will head the rotation again, accompanied by fellow veterans Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, while right-handed relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle and rehabbing lefty Glen Perkins attempt to prevent another bullpen collapse in 2017.

Without any major additions to the team (and, excepting the departure of Trevor Plouffe, any major subtractions), the Twins will look to their existing cadre of players for significant improvements in 2017. Miguel Sano is expected to take over third base in Plouffe’s absence, which will bring a welcome end to his short-lived and wholly unsuccessful experiment in right field. Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Joe Mauer should round out the infield, with Byung Ho Park and Kennys Vargas currently vying for a spot as the team’s designated hitter.

The lineup is still four or five or six sluggers shy of formidable, but if Dozier can be counted on to repeat his 42-homer, 5.9 fWAR performance from 2016, there will be at least one Twin worth intentionally walking in 2017. Neither Miguel Sano nor Byron Buxton have quite found their footing against big league pitching yet, and another year spent struggling in the majors could mean another year of sub-optimal run production for the team as well. Jason Castro, who grades as an above-average defender behind the plate, is unlikely to provide any additional pop for the Twins at the plate after slashing just .210/.307/.377 through 376 PA with the Astros in 2016.

The pitching department also leaves a little to be desired in light of the league-worst 5.09 ERA they amassed last season. A veteran-heavy rotation could get a boost from the addition of fifth-starter candidate Jose Berrios, who is thought to be the favorite after fellow rotation candidate Trevor May underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Right-hander Tyler Duffey and 23-year-old southpaw Adalberto Mejia are also waiting in the wings. Both have made convincing cases for their inclusion on the pitching staff this spring, but Duffey is coming off of a 6.43 ERA in 2016 and Mejia lacks some of the polish that Berrios offers. Still, stockpiling young pitching depth isn’t a bad thing, and could give the Twins a cushion in the event of injury or collapse down the stretch.

The bullpen outperformed the rotation in 2016, which is saying… something, though maybe not a lot. They still finished the year with a cumulative 4.63 ERA, good for last place among their American League rivals, and delivered just 2.1 fWAR while taking on the fourth-most innings in the league. The standout performer was 28-year-old righty Ryan Pressly, who worked a 3.70 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 in 75 1/3 innings last year. In light of Ryan Vogelsong’s recent departure from the club, the Twins will round out their bullpen with left-hander Craig Breslow, who turned in a 4.50 ERA with the Marlins in 2016 and is looking for a bounce-back season of his own after reworking his delivery at age 36.

For now, it looks like Falvey and the Twins’ front office are taking a wait-and-see approach to the coming season, which bodes well for their long-term vision (assuming most of their young prospects pan out) and not so well for their chances of moving up in the division in the next year or so. That could change by the trade deadline if they can secure a worthwhile return for Dozier, though given the rumors of their understandably high asking price, it could take more than a few months to get a deal in place.

Even assuming that all the chips fall in the Twins’ favor in 2017 — prospects start hitting consistently, the rotation solidifies, and Falvey loosens the purse strings enough to net more established contenders — it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a fourth-place finish for the club as they continue to rebuild and regroup. Barring any major improvements on the inconsistent, if occasionally productive, lineup of 2016, another last-place finish feels imminent.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL Central.

Video: Angels use eight pitchers in spring training no-hitter

Getty Images
1 Comment

Who says no-hitters can’t be just as fun when they happen during spring training?

Angels’ right-hander Bud Norris delivered two perfect innings on Friday night, paving the way for an eight-pitcher no-hitter against the Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Austin Adams, Drew Gagnon and Justin Anderson each filed a hitless inning of their own, leaving right-hander Abel De Los Santos to close out the ninth inning with just three pitches — and three game-saving plays by the defense.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels were facing a bevy of Mariners’ backups, rather than their starting lineup. In fact, Seattle’s lineup featured just two starting players — outfielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jean Segura — while the majority of their everyday position players took on the Royals in a 4-3 win elsewhere in the Cactus League. The Mariners managed to reach base twice, first on catcher interference in the fourth inning, then on a four-pitch walk in the sixth, spoiling the Angels’ chances of turning their combined no-hitter into a combined perfect game.

Still, whether it’s executed in spring training or the regular season, against an All-Star lineup or one comprised of minor leaguers, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The team’s eight-pitcher effort marked the first spring training no-no the Angels had completed since 1996, when they took on the Giants in a 15-0 showdown. Unfortunately for the 1996 squad, their regular season ended with a 70-91 record, good for last place in the AL West. Perhaps this no-hitter will prove a better omen for the coming season.