Looking ahead to next year’s Hall of Fame ballot

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Because one can never get too much of a head start.

As Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas exit the ballot as Hall of Fame inductees, a new and nearly as intriguing class of first timers will arrive in 11 months:

Randy Johnson: 5 Cy Youngs, 2nd all-time in strikeouts, 303 wins
Pedro Martinez: 3 Cy Youngs, 5-time ERA champ, 13th all-time in strikeouts
John Smoltz: 1 Cy Young, 213 wins, 154 saves, 16th all-time in strikeouts
Gary Sheffield: 509 HR, career .292/.393/.514 line, 26th all-time in RBI, 38th in runs
Carlos Delgado: 473 HR, career .280/.383/.546 line, led AL in OPS in 2003, was 2nd in 2000
Brian Giles: 287 HR, 1 of 30 players in MLB history with .400 OBP and 7,500 plate appearances
Nomar Garciaparra: .313/.361/.521 career line, 2 batting titles, 6 times in Top 10 in AL in WAR

They and a handful of lesser talents will join the following holdovers:

Craig Biggio – 74.8% in 2013
Mike Piazza – 62.5%
Jeff Bagwell – 54.3%
Tim Raines – 46.1%
Roger Clemens – 35.4%
Barry Bonds – 34.7%
Lee Smith – 29.9%
Curt Schilling – 29.2%
Edgar Martinez – 25.2%
Alan Trammell – 20.8%
Mike Mussina – 20.3%
Jeff Kent – 15.2%
Fred McGriff – 11.7%
Mark McGwire – 11.0%
Larry Walker – 10.2%
Don Mattingly – 8.2%
Sammy Sosa – 7.2%

Gone along with the inductees are Jack Morris, whose eligibility expired with his 15th time on the ballot, and Rafael Palmeiro, who failed to receive the necessary 5% this year. Mattingly will be in his final year of eligibility next year.

With the BBWAA voters putting more players on their ballots than ever before — and perhaps lifting the 10-man limit per ballot next year — I think it’s safe to say we’ll have three Hall of Famers again next year: Johnson, Pedro and Biggio. Certainly the fact that Biggio was so close this year, falling just two votes shy, will get him sympathy points next time around from anyone looking at him as a borderline candidate. Johnson is nearly as much of a no-brainer as Maddux was, and while some will punish Martinez for his shortish career, the dominance will likely outweigh that and get him 85-90 percent of the vote anyway.

The newcomer I’m most curious about is Smoltz. Baseball-reference has his most similar player as Schilling, who was stuck at 29 percent this year on his second ballot.

Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3,084 Ks in 3,473 IP – 125 ERA+
Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 3,116 Ks in 3,261 IP – 127 ERA+

Both add to their cases with exceptional postseason performances:

Smoltz: 15-4, 2.67 ERA, 199 K in 209 IP (1 ring)
Schilling: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 120 K in 133 1/3 IP (3 rings)

I expect that we’ll see voters elevate Smoltz because of the 3 1/2 years he spent as a closer (and a very good one). I don’t buy it. Take those years out of Smoltz’s career line, leaving him with a bit higher of an ERA and a bit lower of an ERA+, and it just illustrates how Schilling was the clearly superior pitcher as a starter.

I do think both belong in the Hall of Fame, but I’d say Schilling belongs there first. However, I have the feeling that Smoltz will debut over 50% and get there before Schilling. Though, actually, that will help Schilling in the long run, since so many will argue that there’s no good reason to vote for Smoltz and not Schilling.

None of the other newcomers have any chance of being elected by the BBWAA. Sheffield certainly has better numbers than some Hall of Famers, but he also has some steroid taint. Plus, there’s no defensive value there, and it’s not as if anyone who had to cover him his whole career is going to go digging for reasons to vote for him. He’ll be lucky to get 10 percent of the vote.

Delgado’s hip problems robbed him of at least two or three years at the end, not to mention a spot in the 500-homer club. He went from finishing ninth in the NL MVP balloting at age 36 in 2008 to getting 112 more at-bats as a major leaguer. I’m guessing he’ll fall a bit short of the five percent necessary to stick around on the ballot.

Giles was certainly an outstanding player for a few years, but not for long enough to hit any milestones. Plus, I think many look at him and younger brother Marcus as likely steroid users. He’ll be a one-and-done.

Garciaparra is the player the Mattingly holdouts like to think Mattingly was. Both had six excellent years and nothing else to really add to their cases, but while Mattingly came in at 32.9 bWAR in his six seasons, Garciaparra was at 40.6, clearing 6.0 and finishing in the top 10 in the AL each of those years. That said, if you’re only going to be good for six years, I think you have to be the best player in the league during that span to be HOF worthy. Garciaparra wasn’t quite that. He’ll fall off the ballot in the first year as well.

So, really, there’s only one borderline player joining the ballot next year in Smoltz. And he’s essentially taking Morris’s spot. That’d seem to be good news for the holdovers, most of whom slipped on this year’s crowded ballot. Piazza won’t get in next year, but he could hit 70 percent, with Bagwell and Raines making similar percentage jumps.

Here’s my guess at how it will all go down:

Randy Johnson – 96%
Pedro Martinez – 88%
Craig Biggio – 80%
Mike Piazza – 69%
Jeff Bagwell – 64%
Tim Raines – 55%
John Smoltz – 52%
Curt Schilling – 39%
Roger Clemens – 38%
Barry Bonds – 37%
Mike Mussina – 31%
Lee Smith – 28%
Edgar Martinez – 28%
Alan Trammell – 27%
Jeff Kent – 16%
Fred McGriff – 13%
Don Mattingly – 11%
Larry Walker – 11%
Mark McGwire – 10%
Gary Sheffield – 8%
Sammy Sosa – 6%
Carlos Delgado – 4%
Nomar Garciaparra – 3%
Brian Giles – 1%

The Padres owners try to explain why they aren’t spending money

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There was an interesting article in the San Diego Union-Tribune over the weekend about the Padres, their owners and their finances.

The article purports to be a rare look into the finances of a big league club. And yes, the owners opened their books, to a degree, to the writer of the story, talked about the team’s financial position, its debt and its approach to team payroll, past, present and future. The upshot: the team has had lots of debt, has had to do a lot of work to get out of that situation and now, with some restructuring out of the way, the club looks forward to spending more on players. Eventually. Like, maybe in 2020 or 2021.

On the one hand, yes, it’s actually got some good information in there! Some details about team finances you don’t often see. Which is totally cool as far as that goes. The problem is that the article doesn’t go nearly as far as it may seem and, in the end, is just a far more elaborate than usual excuse from a team about its failure to spend money.

The tell here comes from what is not mentioned as opposed to what is. For example, while it talks about how much is being spent on various things — baseball salaries, operating, marketing, etc. — nowhere does it talk about the owners’ own take. Rather, it leaves you with the impression that the owners haven’t seen a dime from the team in the several years that they’ve owned it. Color me extraordinarily skeptical about that. As we’ve seen with other clubs — most notably the Marlins, but most do it — broad categories such as “baseball operations” or “non baseball operations” often include substantial payments to owners in less-than-obvious line items. Payments to LLCs and partnerships for “consulting” or “management fees” or what have you. Do the Padres have similar expenditures? We can’t tell from this article, but it’s telling to me that they have spent about as much on front office/miscellaneous baseball ops stuff as player salaries over the past several years. A lot of that has been at building a strong minor league development system, but I’m guessing not all.

Similarly, there is an awfully large portion of the article aimed at telling the tale of the clubs’ massive debt and its restructuring. Yes, debt service can be a killer for liquidity, but it doesn’t really talk too much about the debt for its own sake. Such as the fact that (a) the current owners knew full-well of the debt they were inheriting from the previous owner, John Moores, when they bought the team; and (b) that by assuming the debt, their purchase price for the team was lowered, as it always will be in transactions that involve a lot of debt-assumption. The current owners have had the team since 2012. I don’t recall them telling the public then that there would be a near decade’s worth of swimming against the current of debt before they started paying for players. That’s never been in the season ticket brochure.

It’s also worth noting that, for as much as the debt restructuring is talked up in the story, it is saving the Padres only $8 million a year. They’ve been at least $60 million below the luxury tax threshold for several years now. It’s more than the club’s debt keeping them from spending money. It’s largely been a choice.

Again, none of which is to say that the article is not interesting in its own right. It certainly is. There is certainly more information here than one typically sees in an article about a team’s finances. But it is just partial information. Moreover, it seems to be aimed at justifying another year or two of non-contention to fans without satisfactorily explaining all of the many years of non-contention which preceded it. The Padres famously went all-in and spent some money on players in 2015. Why did that make sense then if this debt problem has been there all along? Why did they give Eric Hosmer over $100 million last year? The article wants to portray ownership as sober and responsible and prudent and use that to explain why the Padres have stunk on ice for a good long time, but it is not very convincing in communicating some consistent, rational thread from ownership.

That all of this comes at a time when clubs are being criticized for not spending money is no accident, I suspect. As such, I am choosing to read the piece for some interesting information it conveys while understanding that it has a pretty significant P.R. component to it as well.