The Most Criminally Underrated Players on Hall-of-Fame Ballot

Thanks to the irreplaceable @NotMrTibbs on Twitter, baseball fans are able to evaluate and discuss support for Hall-of-Fame players ahead of the election.

The public-ballot collection has become an important part of the conversation surrounding Cooperstown. Almost 40 percent of the vote has been made public (which you can see here) and so it greatly mitigates the possibility of surprises on the ballot.

By now, we know the Class of 2018 will almost definitely consist of Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero.We can also see that other players seem to be moving towards enshrinement in the future; this would include Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

However, this ballot is indeed a crowded one, so there are a lot of guys on the margins who have otherwise solid credentials. These guys stand little chance at making it to Cooperstown, but each has a very solid case to be made. Let’s take a look at six of those guys right here, in no particular order.

Andruw Jones

The sorry second act of Jones’s career makes many forget how dominant he was during the first half. From 1998-2007, Andruw Jones averaged 34 home runs, 103 RBI and a 115 OPS+ per season. Oh, and he was the best defensive center fielder in baseball, winning 10 consecutive Gold Gloves.

Jones’ seven-year peak WAR is 46.4, which is higher than the average 7 WAR of the 19 Hall-of-Fame center fielders. He also has the ninth-highest fWAR of any center fielder. Ever. He beats out guys like Robin Yount, Duke Snider, Andre Dawson and Larry Doby. And, to top it all off, he has a higher defensive runs above average than any center fielder ever.

Jones is currently on just 5.4 percent of all public ballots. It would be an absolute travesty for him to be five-percented in year one, considering many of his stats would indicate he deserves to be enshrined.

Jeff Kent

The former Met Jeff Kent obviously won’t be remembered for his time in Flushing, but he should be remembered by voters for his elite offensive output. His 377 career home runs are 76 more than any other second baseman, which alone should give him consideration. He also had a nine-year stretch where he was bar-none the best hitter at his position: He batted .296/.365/.529 while averaging 28 home runs and a 132 OPS+ from 1997-2005.

Kent is in his fifth season on the ballot, and he is currently on just 10.7 percent of public ballots. He has routinely gotten anywhere between 14 and 17 percent on his first four seasons on the ballot, so it looks like he’s losing support here.

Fred McGriff

Fred McGriff has the same number of homers as Lou Gehrig, no PED suspicions, and virtually no support from Hall-of-Fame voters. He currently has just 17.3 percent of the vote in his seventh year on the ballot, meaning it will be an uphill battle for the “Crime Dog” to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

But it shouldn’t be. McGriff was one of the most consistent hitters of the ’80s and ’90s. He hit at least 20 home runs in 15 of 16 seasons from 1987-2002 (he hit 19 in the only year he didn’t get to 20) and hit over 30 home runs 10 times in that stretch. That kind of longevity, along with a solid .284/.377/.509 lifetime slash, makes McGriff worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown.

And if it weren’t for the baseball strike from 1994-95, he easily would have gotten well over 500 home runs. He hit 34 home runs in 113 games in 1994, which would have put him on pace for 48 in a 162-game season, and he hit 27 in 144 games in 1995, which would put him on pace for 30. Had McGriff hit another 17 home runs from 1994-95, and brought his career total over 500, would he have more support than he does now? Perhaps.

Johan Santana

I’ve written about this ad nauseam here, here and here, so I’ll keep this short to avoid sounding redundant. But just a couple of things to consider with Johan Santana. Let’s start with how he ranks among all ’00s pitchers:

– Second in ERA (3.03). Pedro Martinez was first with a 3.01 ERA.
– Second in WHIP (1.07). Again, Pedro is No. 1 by just a hair (1.04)
– Fifteenth in wins with 118, despite not becoming a full-time starter until 2003.
– Fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.13).
– Sixth in FIP (3.37)
– Eleventh in fWAR (37.6). Again, Santana wasn’t a full-time starter until midway through 2003.
– Third-highest strikeout rate (25.2 percent)
– Second-best batting average against (.219)
– Second-best ERA- (69). Fangraphs considers anything below 70 to be “excellent.”

And from 2004-08, Santana led all pitchers with at least 700 innings in just about every statistical category. His short career will probably keep him from getting in; he has appeared on just three public ballots so far.

Gary Sheffield

The former Mets legend has 509 career home runs. Call me old school, but that alone should get you in the Hall. Couple that with a .292/.393/.514 slash, and a 140 career OPS+, Sheffield belongs in Cooperstown.

During his peak 14-year stretch from 1992-2005, Sheffield fared even better: Batting .304/.411/.551 with a 151 OPS+, and averaged 31 homers and 96 RBI per season. Sheffield was named in the Mitchell Report, which is likely the reason he has appeared on just 9.5 percent of public ballots — and has never received more than 13 percent of the vote in his three prior years of eligibility. Hopefully Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens‘ inevitable enshrinements will open up the floodgates for guys like Sheffield. Which brings us to our next list item:

Dilip Vishwanat/Sporting News/Icon SMI

Sammy Sosa

PED’s or not, what Sammy Sosa did at the height of his career was one of the most impressive onslaughts of power in baseball history. From 1998-2001, Sosa hit 243 home runs — that’s one more than David Wright has in his entire career.

Sosa’s 609 home runs are the ninth-most all-time. He’s the only player in MLB history to have three 60-homer seasons. He had 10 consecutive seasons of at least 35 homers, the second-longest streak in baseball history. I could go on and on with more impressive home run stats by Sosa, but ultimately PED suspicions will keep him out of the Hall-of-Fame.

Thankfully, attitudes towards PED use seem to be changing among baseball writers, as evidenced by increased levels of support for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, like I mentioned above. Hopefully, this means guys like Sosa, Sheffield, and even Rafael Palmeiro will someday enter the Hall too. PED users should be remembered within the context of the times that they played.

Who do you think is criminally underrated that belongs in the Hall?

About Chris Gaine 98 Articles
Chris is an up-and-coming sportswriter who has spent the bulk of his career covering baseball. He has been published in Complex Sports, Amazin' Avenue and Venom Strikes. He can be found on Twitter @chris_gaine, where he specializes in obscure sports facts.