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Hall of Fame case for Harold Baines

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On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

And yes, we did this two years ago, the last time the Today’s Game ballot was up for a vote, with most of the same candidates appearing. As such, a lot of this will be repeat material, some of it verbatim. Our view of this, however, is that if the Hall of Fame can keep recycling the same ballot, we can recycle our analysis of it to the extent it hasn’t changed. 

Next up: Harold Baines

The case for his induction:

Harold Baines played for 22 seasons, amassed 2,866 hits and made the All-Star Game six times. He was a fantastically consistent hitter, posting an OPS+ of 108 or greater every single season between the ages of 22 and 40. He was also a durable player, not missing a whole heck of a lot of time to either injury or ineffectiveness until his late 30s. Even then he managed to hang around until he was 42-years-old. In the early part of his career, with the Chicago White Sox, he was the star of the team and the face of the organization

The case against his induction:

Yesterday we talked about Albert Belle, and how he had a Hall of Fame-worthy peak, but not enough longevity. Baines has the opposite problem. He played forever but there is no way anyone could ever say he was the best or one of the best players in the game at any given time. He simply had no elite peak to speak of.

Baines led the league in exactly one offensive category in his long career: slugging percentage in 1984. He was rarely a top-10 finisher in the most important offensive categories. His highest finish in MVP balloting came in 1985 when he came in ninth. While Baines may have meant a lot to the White Sox in the first part of his career there is no way one can honestly argue that he was ever the best player in the game or even one of the best five, six or, usually, ten.

Beyond that there are some softer factors which make him seem like less of a Hall of Famer than many. Over 1,600 of his 2,830 career games came at DH, which many voters discount, even if they shouldn’t. That said, if one is going to DH and one is still not among the league leaders in most offensive categories, it’s a knock. When he did play in the field he was a subpar defender.

He appeared in the postseason in six different seasons but most of those came after his prime or when he was not the primary focus of his team’s offense. Only one of those appearances came in the World Series, with the Athletics in 1990. You don’t remember that? Well, there’s another knock against him: while Baines springs to mind as a member of the White Sox, he spent the final 13 years of his career bouncing back and forth around the league, making stops in Baltimore, Texas, Oakland, Cleveland and multiple return engagements with the Sox. We’re in a day and age when a player playing for lots of teams should not be considered a demerit, but it is often harder to get Hall of Fame traction when one did not star with one team for the majority of one’s career.

Would I vote for him?

No, can’t say that I would. Baines was a good, solid player for a very long time, but he was never truly great. Inner circle Hall-of-Very-Gooder, though.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Nope. Not a chance, I don’t think. But those of us who watched a lot of baseball in the 1980s still love ya, Harold.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.