Matthew Pouliot

Orel Hershiser

Breaking down the “Eras” Hall of Fame ballot


Monday’s reveal of the “Eras Committee” ballot brought us 10 candidates for the Hall of Fame. Five are players and five are not, which means the committee voters actually have to weigh the merits of Harold Baines versus George Steinbrenner as they make up to four selections.

How silly is that?

Two more managers (Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella) are being considered, three years after three (Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre) were selected. I think managers are pretty well represented at the moment. Heck, if Johnson were elected, that’d make Hall of Famers of one-third of the managers who were active in 1984 (right now, it’s eight of 26). That’s a tad excessive. Those voting on the Hall of Fame should be at least as selective with managers as it is with players, and it keeps getting pickier when it comes to players (of course, those are different electorates, with the BBWAA selecting most of the players).

The other non-players are Steinbrenner, longtime Royals and Braves GM John Schuerholz and former commissioner Bud Selig. Selig is a shoo-in.

I’m more interested in the players. It’s not a bad group, with one exception:

Harold Baines: The exception. Baseball’s Hall of Fame loves longevity. If it’s quantity versus quality, quantity usually wins out. Baines’ staying power was remarkable, and from age 22 to age 40, he never had a truly off season. His worst OPS+ in a 19-year span was 108, which is pretty incredible. Baines, though, was also never especially valuable. He wasn’t a very good outfielder the first part of his career, and 60 percent of his starts came at DH. He finished in the top 10 in his league in OBP and slugging once apiece. He finished in the top 10 in homers once (ninth in 1984). He finished in the top 10 in doubles once (sixth in 1988). He was a good, solid player for a very long time, but his spot on the ballot should have gone to someone who achieved greatness.

Albert Belle: This is more like it; Belle’s is a case that deserves to be revisited. In his 10 full seasons, he averaged 37 homers and 120 RBI to go along with a .298/.374/.571 line. His career OPS+ of 144 puts him in the same range of Jim Thome, Edgar Martinez, Lance Berkman, Mike Piazza, Chipper Jones, Larry Walker and Vladimir Guerrero. Belle, though, had fewer at-bats than all of those guys because of a degenerative hip condition that ended his career at age 33. He also had a bad reputation on and off the field. Still, he had a three-season run as the AL’s scariest hitter and some fine years beyond that. Belle wouldn’t get my vote, particularly since guys I consider superior candidates like Martinez, Walker and Tim Raines aren’t in yet. Still, he’s worthy of thought.

Will Clark: Clark had the look of a Hall of Famer early in his career. By the time he was 25, he already had three top-five finishes in the NL MVP balloting. The power, though, vanished early. He hit 35 homers at age 23 and 29 at ages 24 and 27, but he never topped 16 homers from ages 28-33. He spent those years largely viewed as a disappointment, rather than as a guy who was still a fine regular with his excellent OBPs and quality defense at first base. At age 36, he had his best offensive season in 11 years, hitting .319/.418/.546 in 507 at-bats, only to retire immediately afterwards. When he came eligible for the Hall of Fame, no one gave him a second look. However, the analytics movement shed some new light on his career. I still don’t think he’s over the cut line (I’m more interested in seeing Keith Hernandez in), but he’s not all that far off.

Orel Hershiser: Hershiser debuted on the HOF ballot in 2006 with 11.2% of the vote, a number that suggested he’d stick around for a while. However, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn became eligible the next year, Hershiser fell under 5 percent and was removed from the ballot. Hershiser had some greatness, bookending his 1988 NL Cy Young Award with fourth-place finishes in 1987 and 1989. He finished 2nd or 3rd in the NL in ERA every years from 1985-89. However, after suffering a torn labrum in 1990, he was an average starter for the duration of his career, going 105-85 with a 4.17 ERA and a 100 ERA+. I think Hershiser’s case is worth the revisit, but I prefer David Cone, Kevin Brown and Dave Stieb as Hall of Fame candidates. They had greatness, too, and Cone and Brown had it for more than five years.

Mark McGwire: McGwire would still be on the BBWAA ballot if not for the rule change dropping eligibility from 15 to 10 years. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame… the numbers are there, and I’m not sure how you tell the tale of 1990s baseball without him. 15 years after his retirement, McGwire ranks 11th all-time in homers and ninth in OPS. He cheated, but he was far from the only one.

My guess is that the new committee makes it four in a row in failing to elect a player. Not that it’s necessarily such a bad thing, since I have no faith in the ability of this committee to elect the most deserving players. Selig will get in, probably unanimously. I think Schuerholz has the best shot of the other options.

Jeremy Giambi vs. David Ortiz


The 2002 Red Sox won 93 games, only to finish 10 games behind the Yankees in the AL West and six back of the lone wild card. They named Theo Epstein the GM that November and allowed him to begin reshaping the team, then led by Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez.

The Red Sox didn’t make any big splashes that winter. Their biggest free agent signing was Ramiro Mendoza, who got $6.5 million for two years. They also signed Mike Timlin and Bill Mueller (who played behind Shea Hillenbrand at third initially). They traded for Todd Walker. They stole Bronson Arroyo off waivers.

What Epstein did totally overhaul was a first base-DH situation that held the team back the previous season. 2002 trade deadline pickup Cliff Floyd exited in free agency, as did disappointments Tony Clark and Jose Offerman.

Brought in was a three-headed monster of underappreciated, high-OBP, Moneyball-type players. First, the Red Sox traded Josh Hancock to the Phillies for Jeremy Giambi, who had just hit .244/.435/.538 in 156 at-bats after coming over from the A’s at midseason. He hit .272/.402/.475 in 684 at-bats total between 2001 and 2002, and he looked like he was still very much in his prime at age 28.

The day after the Giambi trade, the Twins made the move to release David Ortiz. No one pounced, though, and Ortiz remained unsigned for a month before joining the Boston on a one-year, $1.25 million contract. Ortiz, who was entering his age-27 season, hit .272/.339/.500 in 412 at-bats for the Twins in 2002.

While that was going on, the Red Sox were working to bring in Kevin Millar for first base. Millar hit .306/.366/.509 in 438 at-bats for the Marlins in 2002 and was even better the previous season, but he was a poor outfielder and third baseman and the team already had Derrek Lee at first base. So, the Marlins, rather than trade Millar for a player, sold him to Japan for some much-preferred cash. Millar, not realizing that he was a desired commodity around the league, went along with the plan. That’s when the Red Sox broke an unwritten rule and claimed Millar off waivers. It turned into a long ordeal, but the Red Sox were finally able to land Millar in February by buying him from the Marlins.

I remember at the time being most excited about the Giambi acquisition. He couldn’t play defense and he had gotten himself exiled by the A’s for some transgression the previous year, but he looked like an awesome offensive force with his terrific power and ridiculous walk rate. Ortiz was certainly worth taking the chance on, too, but I thought Giambi would be better and leave Ortiz with little to do.

Indeed, Giambi started over Ortiz on Opening Day. However, both got off to lousy starts and Giambi’s playing time quickly diminished. Giambi finished April at .125/.288/.292 in 60 plate appearances, starting only once in the final week of the month. Ortiz came in at .212/.311/.346 in 61 plate appearances.

Both players found their strokes at the beginning of May. For Giambi, though, it amounted to all of about two weeks of success. He peaked with an .828 OPS on May 16. Ortiz’s build was slower, but it lasted. He had a .942 OPS in May, a .961 OPS in June, a .987 OPS in July and a 1.097 OPS in August before plummeting all of the way to .977 in September. He finished 5th in the AL MVP balloting despite playing about half the time the first two months.

Giambi, finding himself more starved for at-bats after Ortiz heated up, landed on the DL in late June with a bad shoulder. At the time, it looked like it might have been a made-up injury to get him playing time in the minors for a spell. It wasn’t. He returned a few weeks later, but he still wasn’t right. He made his last appearance on Aug. 1, going 0-for-3 against the Orioles. He landed back on the DL and then underwent surgery to repair damage in his labrum and rotator cuff.

As it turned out, Giambi never played in the majors again. As he was trying to come back from the shoulder surgery the next spring, he developed back problems. He played in 17 minor league games with the Dodgers in 2004 and nine with the White Sox in 2005. That was it for him, and he was done at 30 years old. In early 2005, he admitted to using BALCO-provided steroids and said that he regretted it. The strength training likely played roles in both his emergence and his downfall, given the breakdown of his body.

Things worked out a little differently for Ortiz…

Ortiz through 2002 (age 26): .266/.348/.461, 108 OPS+ in 1,693 PA
Giambi through 2002 (age 27): .269/.381/.437, 114 OPS+ in 1,549 PA

Ortiz after 2002: .290/.386/.570, 148 OPS+ in 8,387 PA
Giambi after 2002: .197/.342/.354, 81 OPS+ in 156 PA

And those 2003 Red Sox? Well, they won 95 games, which was good enough for the wild card this time. Still, they lost to the Yankees in seven games in the ALCS. They were still one year away.

AL MVP race shaping up much better for Mike Trout

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 26:  Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim rounds third base after hitting a home run in the first inning during a game against the Texas Rangers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 26, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Getty Images

A month ago, there were two very strong alternatives for voters to turn to in denying Mike Trout his second AL MVP award. Recent weeks, though, have not been so kind to Jose Altuve and Josh Donaldson.

Altuve, whose batting title seemed assured in mid-August, is hitting .195/.232/.390 over his last 19 games. His average has slipped from .366 on Aug. 20 to .340 now, and his OPS has dropped 50 points to .950. Meanwhile, his Astros have turned into major long shots in the wild card chase after a 4-8 start to September.

Donaldson was out of the lineup for a third straight game Wednesday and is undergoing an MRI on his right hip. Before taking a seat, Donaldson was hitless in his previous seven games, taking his OPS from .985 to .952.

Mookie Betts has overtaken both Altuve and Donaldson for second place in the AL in rWAR. Here’s the current breakdown:

9.3 – Trout
7.9 – Betts
7.5 – Altuve
6.6 – Donaldson
6.6 – Manny Machado
6.5 – Brian Dozier
6.5 – Kyle Seager

Betts might actually be the strongest alternative to Trout if the Astros fail to make the playoffs. Still, how are writers really going to justify voting for him? Trout has a higher average, a higher OBP by a whopping 80 points and a higher slugging percentage while playing the more difficult position and hitting in a much tougher ballpark for hitters than Betts does. Yes, one has done it in the pressure of the race, but does anyone believe Trout is ill-equipped to play meaningful September games? Does anyone really think the Red Sox are better off today with Betts than they would be with Trout?

It probably doesn’t hurt Trout, either, that David Ortiz, the AL’s best hitter this year, could cut into Betts’ support somewhat. Any division on the clear No. 1 alternative to Trout makes it more likely that he’ll get the award. If Altuve finishes up with a .350 average and the Astros sneak into the wild card, then he could be the favorite. If Donaldson or Betts goes on a major tear for a postseason team during the final two weeks, then that might just be enough. As is, though, it’s going to be difficult to deny Trout the hardware.