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%

Dusty Baker drops truth bombs

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Dusty Baker was fired last offseason despite leading the Nationals to 95 and 97-win seasons. This was not new for him. Cincinnati let him go after taking a miserable Reds team to back-to-back 90+ win seasons — three in the space of four years — and making it to the playoffs in his final two seasons. In both cases the team that let him go cratered as soon as he left. There are likely reasons that have nothing to do with Dusty Baker for that, but it seems like more than mere coincidence too.

I say that because every time someone gets to Dusty Baker for an interview, he drops some major truth bombs that make you wonder why anyone wouldn’t want him in charge. Sure, like any manager he has his faults and blind spots — more so in his distant past than in his recent past, I should not — but the guy is smart, has more experience than anyone going and is almost universally loved by his players.

Recently he sat down with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic to talk about life, baseball and everything, and once again the truth bombs were dropping. About the state of front offices today. About the different way black and white ex-managers and ex-players are treated. About what seems to be collusion on the free agent market. And, of course, about the state of the 2018 Nationals, who are likely to miss the playoffs despite being, more or less, the same team he led to those 97 wins last year. It’s an absolute must-read on any of those topics, but taken together it’s a “block off some time this afternoon and enjoy the hell out of it” read.

Two of my favorite passages follow. The first one is a great general point in life: always beware of people who spend more time telling you why they are successful than actually, you know, being successful.

In Cincinnati, no matter what I did or what we did — we brought them from the bottom — they were all over me, all the time, no matter what. If we won, it wasn’t winning the right way. They were like, “I don’t understand this mode of thinking.” Well, I don’t want you to understand my mode of thinking. That’s how I can beat you.

The second one is just delicious for what he does not say:

Rosenthal: Bryce Harper struggled for two-plus months. He didn’t struggle for two-plus months when you had him…

Baker: I know.

Based on the tone of the rest of the interview, in which Baker does not hesitate to say exactly what he thinks, it’s abundantly clear that he believes the Nats have messed Harper up somehow and that it wouldn’t have happened under him.

Like I said, though: there is a TON of great stuff in here. From a guy who, if you’ve listened to him talk when he does not give a crap about what people may say about him, has time and again revealed himself to  be one of the most interesting baseball figures of the past several decades.