I’d say the 17 new players added to this year’s Hall of Fame ballot were 10 too many. With so many worthy candidates already backlogged, adding such a large crowd serves no real purpose and might actually damage the process when someone such as Eddie Guardado gets a token vote, as Jacque Jones did last year (obviously, the Minnesota nominating committee is very strong). Once upon a time, the token votes were harmless. These days, they might get the 10th spot on someone’s ballot over a much more worthy player.
This year’s ballot has seven newcomers worthy of actual Hall of Fame debate: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield, Nomar Garciaparra, Carlos Delgado and Brian Giles. The last four are never getting in, but they all have Hall of Fame-like qualities. Guardado and Aaron Boone do not, yet they were included on the ballot anyway, along with Rich Aurilia, Tony Clark, Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Cliff Floyd, Tom Gordon, Troy Percival and Jason Schmidt.
But enough about them. Let’s mention some of the others who played their final seasons in 2009 but were left off the ballot, even though they were just as worthy as others included. First, though, a nod to Brandon Webb. I’m writing this for the purposes of mentioning those left off the ballot, whereas Webb was completely ineligible, having played only seven years (10 years is required). He is, however, one of the finest players ever to be ineligible for the Hall of Fame. He won a Cy Young and finished second twice before shoulder problems wrecked his career, leaving him with an 87-62 record and a 3.27 ERA.
So, who got left off?
Jarrod Washburn: The lefty had his best season during the Angels’ championship campaign in 2002, going 18-6 with a 3.15 ERA and finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young balloting. Capped his career with a 107-109 record and a 4.10 ERA that doesn’t sound all that impressive, but actually comes out to a 108 ERA+ in an offense-heavy era. That’s good for 28 WAR, the highest mark of those left off the ballot (the lows to be included on the ballot were Clark at 12.5, Guardado at 13.3 and Boone at 13.5).
Mark Loretta: Loretta played 15 years, mostly as a second baseman and shortstop, and finished with a higher OPS than Boone, who played 12 years as a third baseman. He also went to two All-Star Games to Boone’s one. But he didn’t have a backer in the room when it came to putting together the ballot. Loretta had his best season in 2004, hitting .335/.391/.495 with 16 HR and 76 RBI to finish ninth in the NL MVP balloting. Overall, he hit .295/.360/.395 in 5,812 at-bats.
Kelvim Escobar: That Escobar has been attempting comebacks every year probably didn’t help his chances of getting included. He was a fine pitcher in his 11 seasons, though, winning as many as 18 games and once saving 38. He had his best season in 2007, going 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA for the Angels, then made just one more major league appearance in his career, that coming in 2009. Overall, he was 101-91 with a 4.15 ERA and a 112 ERA+.
Kevin Millar: Unfortunately, Millar’s best years came in obscurity in Florida, and he was more famous than good during the second half of his career (he was also probably good enough to play in the majors at least a year before the Marlins called him up; he had two at-bats prior to his age-27 season). Still, as visible as he’s been, it was surprising to see him left off, especially when he’s at least as qualified as Boone or Clark. Millar hit .274/.358/.452 with 170 homers in 4,688 career at-bats. Clark hit .262/.339/.485 with 251 homers in 4,532 at-bats. Boone hit .263/.326/.425 with 126 homers in 3,871 at-bats.
Paul Byrd: The leading winner left off the ballot, Byrd finished his career 109-96 with a 4.41 ERA and a 103 ERA+. He made an All-Star team with the Phillies in 2009 and won 17 games for a horrible Royals team in 2002, leading the league with seven complete games that year. He then missed all of 2003. In the latter half of his career, he was among the game’s stingiest when it came to issuing walks, finishing in the top five in the AL in walk rates four times.