2012 Baseball Hall of Fame Election: Looking Ahead

With the beginning of the 2011 baseball season right around the corner, there is no better time than now to analyze the upcoming Hall of Fame election, which is just eight short months away.

The 2012 voting (which actually occurs in late 2011) is going to be interesting—the calm before the storm, so to speak. While 2013 is going to feature many notable first-timers on the ballot like Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling—which will make for a very exciting and debate-laden election—2012 does not feature any slam dunk new arrivals, or any shoo-in holdovers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good baseball players that might make* their first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot in this upcoming election cycle. 300-home run hitters Vinny Castilla, Jeromy Burnitz and Ruben Sierra are all eligible for the first time in 2012, as are consistent sluggers Bernie Williams, Tim Salmon and Javy Lopez.

*I say “might make” because the official final ballot will not be released for a few months.

In terms of pitching, there is 20-year veteran Terry Mulholland, as well as solid starters Brad Radke, Scott Erickson and Pedro Astacio. Danny Graves, with 182 career saves, and Jeff Nelson, with a 3.41 career ERA, are also eligible for the first time this year.

As stated, there are a lot of good names in the mix of new guys, but hardly any real Hall of Famers.

The following is a detailed run down the most noteworthy newcomers. Included are their career pluses and how I think they will do in the upcoming election.

Bernie Williams-Williams is the best newbie on the ballot. In a 16-year career, he hit .297 with 287 home runs, 2,336 hits, 1,366 runs and 1,257 RBI. He was an All-Star five times, a Gold Glover four times and a Silver Slugger once. Being a Yankee for his entire career, he appeared in many post-season series, hitting .275 with 22 home runs and 80 RBI in the playoffs. He is the owner of four World Series rings.

Many players who spent their entire careers (or large parts of their careers) with the Yankees have benefitted from the “Yankee factor” in the past—that is, because they played with the most well-known and successful baseball team ever, they tended to get more support. I have the feeling the same will happen with Williams. Very likely, he will receive 10-20% of the Hall of Fame vote this coming year and will remain on the ballot for many years to come, just as Don Mattingly has done year after year.

Javy Lopez-As far as catchers go, Lopez put up some very impressive numbers—his .287 batting average, 260 home runs and 864 RBI rank seventh,* fourth and fourth, respectively, among all big league catchers who played from 1990 to 2010. He was an All-Star three times, a Silver Slugger once and in 1996 he was the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player. In 60 post-season games, he slugged 10 home runs and drove in 28 RBI.

*Among catchers with at least 2,500 plate appearances.

The specter of steroids looms, however, which will be Lopez’s Hall of Fame death knell. If Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire can get only scant support, then Lopez will get almost none. I believe he will receive around two percent of the vote.

Tim Salmon-Salmon was one of the best players of the 1990s to never make an All-Star team. In his 14-year career, he hit .282 with 299 home runs,  1,016 RBI and a 128 OPS+. In 2003, he helped lead the Anaheim Angels to World Series glory, hitting .288 with four home runs and 12 RBI in that year’s playoffs. He was also the recipient of the 1993 American League Rookie of the Year Award, the 2002 Hutch Award and a Silver Slugger.

For some reason, when I think of Tim Salmon, I think of Fred Lynn. Unfortunately, Salmon is a poor man’s Fred Lynn—and since Lynn garnered a maximum of 5.5% of the vote, the outlook is bleak for Salmon. He’ll get around two percent of the vote.

Vinny Castilla-At first glance, Castilla’s numbers—like Williams—look very solid. He hit .276 with 320 home runs and 1,105 RBI in his career, clubbing at least 40 home runs three years in a row and leading the league in RBI in 2004. He was also an All-Star twice and a Silver Slugger three times.

Nevertheless, he posted a career OPS+ of 95, which is not a good number (100 is considered average). This can be attributed to his time spent with the Colorado Rockies—he played most of his career at Coors Field and was very much a product of the thin Denver air. Look, for example, at his home and away career splits. At home, he was a .295 hitter; away—.257. In short, he will probably do just as well as fellow Coors-ian Dante Bichette did in 2007—he’ll receive at most 1-2% of the vote and will drop off the ballot.

Ruben Sierra-In a 20-year career, Sierra hit .268 with 306 home runs, 2,152 hits, 1,322 RBI and 1,084 runs. An All-Star four times and a Silver Slugger once, he led the league in a few categories in his career, including triples, RBI and total bases in 1989. He even ranks in the top-ten on an all-time list, finishing sixth in sacrifice flies, tied with Hall of Famer George Brett.

Give Sierra’s numbers to a player who lasted only 10 years in the big leagues and you have someone with a legitimate Hall of Fame case. However, Sierra lasted twice that long, so his numbers do not seem quite so impressive—heck, he barely managed to average 100 hits a year. I imagine he will get two or three votes, maximum.

Jeromy Burnitz-Burnitz was one of the many, many 300-home run guys who played in the 1990s and 2000s. An All-Star once, he hit 315 career home runs with 981 RBI and 917 runs scored. He surpassed the 20-home run mark eight times and the 30-home run mark six times.

Burnitz will do just as well as every other 300-home run hitter from this era in Hall of Fame voting—he’ll get a token vote, maybe two.

Brad Radke-You know the crop of starting pitchers is really bad when Brad Radke is your best representative. Radke won 148 games in his major league career and was an All-Star in 1997. He posted a 3.60 post-season ERA.

He’ll get one vote from a diehard Minnesota Twins fan.

Eric Young-Power hitters will dominate the list of newcomers on the upcoming ballot, so I thought it was necessary to cover at least one speedster. Second baseman Eric Young averaged 31 stolen bases a year during an era when a 10-steal year was considered good. In his 15-year career, he stole 465 bases—swiping at least 40 bags in a season six times—and was an All-Star and Silver Slugger once apiece. He was one of only six players who played from 1990 to 2010 to steal at least 450 career bases.

Despite possessing rare speed in a power-dominated era, Eric Young will be hard-pressed to receive even a single vote for the Hall of Fame.

Jeff Nelson-The best relief pitcher of the upcoming class, Nelson made 798 appearances in his career, never starting a single game. With 237 games finished and a 133 ERA+, he was always a very solid choice out of the bullpen. He was especially solid in the post-season—in 55 playoff appearances, he had a 2.65 ERA. In 2001, he was an All-Star.

He’ll make the ballot, very likely just to give relief pitchers their own representative. He won’t get a vote.

Joe Randa-Randa, like Salmon above, never made an All-Star team despite being quite a solid player. He hit .291 with 1,542 hits, 327 doubles and 123 home runs in his 12-year career, passing the .300 batting average mark four times. He was also quite solid defensively.

He is going to have a real hard time making it onto the ballot and if he does, he won’t get a vote.

Terry Mulholland-Mulholland spent 20 years in the big leagues, winning 124 games in 685 appearances for 11 different teams. He was an All-Star in 1993.

I have a hard time believing Mulholland will make it onto the ballot. If he does, he will not receive a single vote.

Jose Vizcaino-Did you know Vizcaino played in 1,820 major league games? Neither did I. In an 18-year career, he hit .270 with 633 runs scored and a .663 OPS.

He won’t even make the Hall of Fame ballot.

Other notable first-time eligible players in this upcoming election: Carl Everett, Brian Jordan, Edgardo Alfonzo, Bill Mueller, Michael Tucker, Tony Womack, Matt Lawton, Jose Hernandez, Phil Nevin, Scott Erickson, Pedro Astacio, Jeff Fassero, Tim Worrell, Mike Remlinger, Danny Graves, Dustin Hermanson and Jose Lima.

Once again, there are a lot of solid players on that list, but no one too stupendous.

The returnee with the greatest chance of election in 2012 is shortstop Barry Larkin, but even he will have his work cut out for him. In 2010, his first year on the ballot, Larkin received 51.6% of the vote. The following year, 2011, he was on 62.1% of the ballots. If he again sees an increase in percentage of 10.5%, as he did from 2010 to 2011, he will wind up with only 72.6% of the vote—just shy of the requisite 75%.

Jack Morris has made relative strides since 2001, when he garnered a low of 19.6% of the balloting—in 2010, he reached 50% for the first time and in 2011 he received 53.5% of the vote. A jump from 62.1% to 75%, as Larkin must do to attain Hall of Fame immortality this year, is a hard enough task. Morris has more detractors than Larkin and must make a much greater jump, so his odds of reaching the magic threshold are even slimmer.

In reality, there is a good chance that a player might not be elected to the Hall of Fame this year by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Such an occurrence is rare, but it does happen—the last instance was in 1996, when four players were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, but none by the BBWAA. Considering the Veterans Committee has become very stingy about electing players in recent years, there is a chance that nobody will be elected through them in this upcoming cycle either (though Ron Santo has a shot, now that he is passed).

Of course, that is the pessimistic view of the situation. Optimistically, one could say that since there is such a weak crowd of newcomers, players like Larkin and Morris will receive even more support than normal, thus facilitating their elections. We’ll see.

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