by Brian Todd
We interrupt this depressing offseason (on the heels of a dreadful trio of seasons) to bring you some good Astros news.
The Astros have a Hall of Famer. No, I’m not talking about George Springer or Carlos Correa (not yet anyway). And I don’t mean Jason Castro or Jarred Cosart. I am happy to announce that Craig Biggio has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Wait, you say, the votes won’t be counted until Jan. 8. How can you know Biggio is in the Hall? And what about Bagwell? Did he make it too?
Well, I know because I can see the voting trends. Biggio is a lock.
More so than last year, he’s a 100 percent lock. With 68.2 percent of the vote last year, Biggio needs to pick up a paltry 6.8 percent in 2014. Even with a crowded ballot, picking up 6.8 percent should be a piece of cake. Bagwell may have to wait another year. At 59.6 percent, he’s just too far away, needing 15.4 percent more.
So, how does recent HOF voting—and the comparable players who’ve made it—predict Biggio’s success and Bagwell’s near-miss in the upcoming vote? It starts with the players themselves and their bodies of work.
Biggio not getting voted in last year was, at best, a mystery. We’re talking 3,060 hits, 668 doubles (most by ANY right-handed hitter), 414 stolen bases, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, All-Star at two positions, and that quirky stat of getting hit by pitch more times than anyone since they took the spittoons away from first and third base. His career OPS slipped just under .800 at .796. His career WAR was 64.9, which is nice, but when you use a couple of Bill James metrics that rank a player’s Hall of Fame potential, he seems a shoe-in. His HOF Monitor number (100 is a likely inductee) is 168, which is excellent as you’ll see below. His HOF Standards number (50 is an average Hall of Famer) is 57.
Bagwell’s credentials are even better if you look at advanced metrics instead of counting metrics. We’re looking at a career OPS of .948, an OBP of .408, career WAR of 79.5 (nearly 15 WAR higher than Biggio’s in five fewer seasons). He also had 449 homers, a .297 career batting average, 2,314 hits and a whopping 1,529 RBIs to go with 202 steals. Gold Glove (singular), Silver Sluggers, and, oh yeah, there are those awards. He was NL MVP (1994) and Rookie of the Year (1991). Baggy’s HOFM is 150 while his HOFS is 59.
The second thing to consider is how vote totals progress. For our purposes, we’re going to look at four different players who made it recently and a couple who have come close but didn’t quite get in. We’ll ignore those players who got in with a first ballot and concentrate on some who waited (or are still waiting) for their enshrinement.
Bert Blyleven: The great Dutch prankster waited 14 years before getting the Hall call. It was a wait too long. In 22 seasons mostly with lousy teams, Bert drew himself in the winner’s circle 287 times, struck out 3,701 hitters and had, as George Brett called it, the best curveball in baseball. On the career WAR for pitcher list, he’s 11th (96.5 WAR) with only a trio named Johnson, Randy; Clemens, Roger; and Maddux, Greg ahead of him on the list and NOT in the Hall of Fame. His HOFM is 120, and his HOFS is 50.
Blyleven famously took his time to get into the Hall of Fame. But once he gained momentum, well, it was a lock. In his last five years on the ballot, his percentages went from 47.7 to 61.9 to 62.7 to 74.2 to 79.7. While there was a stall between years 11 and 12 on the ballot, he jumped 14 percent one year and 11.5 percent another time. Big jumps. And that’s for a guy who generated a LOT of Hall debate. No big round numbers (ONLY 287 wins), no big awards, just strikeouts and consistency for Bert.
Jim Rice: A former MVP with plenty of hype each awards season, Rice’s career WAR of just 47.2 ranks low for a Hall of Famer. He also missed some important metrics, falling short of 2,500 hits and 400 homers, and batting under .300. And while his HOFM was 146, his HOFS was just 43.
Rice squeaked in (76.4 percent) in his 15th year, letting a borderline candidate into the Hall at the last minute. The first time he topped 50 percent was his sixth year on the ballot, and his total only varied by more than 6.4 percent once—in year 14 when his increase saw an 8.7 percent jump. Rice, in fact, saw his score go up and DOWN from year to year until those last three years.
Ryne Sandberg: In some ways, Ryno is a much better look at what will happen to Biggio. Sandberg logged 2,386 hits in 16 seasons. He hit 282 homers and stole 344 bases. The one-time NL MVP had a career WAR of 67.6. His HOFM was 168 and his HOFS was 43.
It took Ryno just three years to make the Hall. His ballot percentages were 49.2, 61.1 and a just-over-the-mark 76.2. Those were jumps of 11.9 and 15.1. In fact, his vote history should be encouraging to both Biggio and Bagwell. That final jump of 15.1 would nearly be enough to make 2014 and Astros twofer.
Barry Larkin: Larkin, in many ways, is the proof of a lock for Biggio. Over 19 seasons, Barry collected 2,340 hits, hit 198 homers, and finished with an .815 OPS. A former NL MVP with three Gold Gloves and 12 (twelve!) All-Star appearances, Larkin, had a career WAR of 70.2. His HOFM was 120 and his HOFS was 47.
It took Barry three tries to get enshrined, starting at 51.6 percent and jumping to 62.1 before his 86.4 percent got him a bust in Cooperstown. Either of those year-to-year jumps would get Biggio a plaque with his face on it.
What’s all this got to do with Bagwell and Biggio?
Well, like Rice and Blyleven, there is some controversy surrounding Bagwell’s candidacy. For them, it was whether they truly belonged in the Hall (Blyleven, yes; Rice, maybe). For Bagwell, it’s whether he used PEDs or not. (He didn’t, but, well, there’s all that proof such as he had muscles and played in the 90s and early 00s.) Eventually, though, a steady progression got both to the Hall. I doubt Bagwell has to wait even 10 years, but I think he’s got at least one more year of waiting, but no more than three.
For Biggio, the comparisons with Larkin and Sandberg is obvious. Middle infielders. Considered shoe-ins from the start. In both Larkin and Sandberg’s cases, the public would not have been surprised if either was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In Biggio’s case, it was a shock he wasn’t. Also, the Reds SS and Cubs 2B both had steady climbs in their vote totals. The worst increase either of them experienced would be enough to get Biggio past 75 percent.
Is Biggio a lock for induction next summer?
Will the crowded ballot have any effect on Biggio? On Bagwell?
With Maddox, Glavine and possibly Thomas destined to be first-ballot Hall of Famers (why is that such a big deal? Do they get their busts polished more often?), would you rather Biggio and Bagwell wait to have the induction be more about them?
Do you think Bagwell can make the big jump to go in this year?
Who would you vote for on this year’s ballot?