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Thoughts on A-Rod’s Hall of Fame Candidacy

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Happy New Year, Views Crew.  The lockout is well underway and the hot stove is by extension ice cold, but Hall of Fame discourse soldiers on despite the uncertainty surrounding the sport.

Balloting has officially ended, and results will be announced on January 25 for induction in July 2022.  Of interest to Yankees fans, this year marks Alex Rodriguez’s first year on the ballot after his 2016 retirement. There have certainly been many thousands of words written by dozens of writers on the controversy of his candidacy, but as late in the game as it is I’m going to go on record and say that A-Rod should be a Hall of Famer.  Going into this balloting season, I believed he may have an easier time than his steroid-tainted predecessors in convincing the writers, but as the winter has gone on I’m starting to have doubts.

Derek Jeter and Inevitability

In a surprise to absolutely no one, Derek Jeter was elected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday, garnering 99.7% of the vote. Though he’s embarked on a second career in the Marlins’ front office, his election inches the door closer to shut on his playing career. The manner in which this door is being closed has felt inevitable for some time, even if it didn’t start out that way.

By now, we’ve all heard the stories of a dejected Derek Jeter in a Seattle McDonald’s or of him ready to quit after an error-plagued first pro season. We know the Yankees almost traded for Félix Fermín “just in case” Jeter couldn’t handle the shortstop job in 1996. Jeter didn’t quite; the Yankees didn’t trade for another shortstop–well, not until February, 2004. But even then, this greatness didn’t become apparent right away. Sure he won American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, but it wasn’t until 1998 that we realized the track he was on. 

During his career, Jeter represented to the highest degree the “fame” part of Hall of Fame: endorsements; hosting Saturday Night Live; dating actresses, singers, and supermodels. And in the game, he was revered for his play and his demeanor (even if not universally). He became a Rorschach test. As fans, media, teammates, or competitors, we could see in him anything and everything we wanted to, positive or negative. But in spite of those differences, we all knew where it would end: Cooperstown.

This July, as part of a dais, Jeter will make a speech that will likely sound, inevitably, like his post-game quotes: a ton of words without saying all that much. Some will praise Jeter and his speech too much. Some will jeer Jeter and his speech too much. This is inevitable, given all the discourse about Jeter for most of his career. But, again, no one will dispute his deserving place in the Hall of Fame.

Inevitably, time will pass and the memory of Jeter will fade a bit. He’ll become a face on a plaque on a wall with a good story and an oft-visited Baseball Reference page. On that wall and on that site, visitors will find out, inevitably, Jeter was a damn good player. 

Congrats, Derek. Thanks for a lot of great baseball memories.  

Which Yankees will follow Derek Jeter to Cooperstown?

Sabathia. (Arturo Pardavilla III – CC BY 2.0)

Official announcement of Derek Jeter’s induction to the Hall of Fame will occur later today. It’ll be the second straight year featuring a Yankee, with Mariano Rivera entering Cooperstown last summer. But after these two prominent Yankees, who’s next?

Returning to the ballot for 2021

There are a number of ex-Yankees already on the ballot that will return for the next round of voting. Some are more notable than others.

On numbers alone, Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall. The Rocket spent six of his 24 seasons with the Yankees, though his best seasons were elsewhere. But more important than performance, his case is marred by allegations of statutory rape of a minor and PED usage.

Andy Pettitte will return to the ballot for a third time, but will likely fall short again. He received a respectable 9.9 percent of the votes last year; we’ll see how that shifts this season. Pettitte was a great Yankee, but falls short of Hall-worthiness statistically speaking. His link to PEDs won’t help his case anyway.

Gary Sheffield spent three seasons in pinstripes but absolutely raked while doing so (135 OPS+). He hasn’t received any higher than 13.6 percent of the vote and next year will be his seventh try. Again, PED allegations hinder his electability in spite of 509 career homer runs.

As long as they get 5 percent of the vote, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu will return to the ballot for a second time next year. Giambi won’t make it, but he was fun to watch hit in the Bronx from 2002 through 2008. Similarly, Abreu is going to fall short.

Ballot newcomers

Here are some notable names coming to the ballot in future years:

2021AJ Burnett, Nick Swisher
2022Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
2023Carlos Beltrán

This is a pretty interesting group upcoming. Burnett, Swisher, and Teixeira all fall short by the numbers, though of that trio, Teix seemed to be on the track at one point. The switch-hitting first baseman really fell off after 2011, his age-31 season. Through that point, he had 314 homers, a 132 OPS+, and 44.1 bWAR. But he only rebounded for one more big season — 2015 — before he retired after his age-36 season a year later. Teixeira finished with 409 homers and just under 52 WAR. A very good career, no doubt, but he just didn’t have the longevity.

Things get much more intriguing when you consider A-Rod and Beltrán. The former’s lifetime numbers are historically great: he swatted 696 homers, recorded 3,115 hits, and accumulated 117.8 WAR. However, and this is a big one: he served a season-long PED suspension in 2014. And that wasn’t the first time he used PEDs, either. In 2009, he admitted to using back when he was with the Rangers. So, even though the numbers would make him a slam dunk, the drug usage almost assuredly will keep him out of Cooperstown.

Then there’s Beltrán. Before the recent news that has dominated the baseball world, I figured Beltrán would enter the Hall eventually. He’s got the sabermetric case with just under 70 WAR, though I’m not certain people thought of him as a shoe-in. Anyway, the decision to elect him may not be so difficult after all. His transgressions in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal will undoubtedly adversely affect his candidacy. He was explicitly called out in the Commissioner’s report which will do quite a bit of damage.

The next inductee: CC Sabathia

Bobby already wrote about why Sabathia belongs in Cooperstown, so no need to rehash here. We just have to play the waiting game now. Sabathia will be eligible in five years and hopefully will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. After Jeter, he’s clearly the next individual in line to don a Yankees cap in the Hall of Fame.

Down the road

Looking forward to being 50 years-old in 2040 when Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Gerrit Cole (among others) go into the Hall as Yankees, you guys. Anyway, for fun, allow me to power rank the top five current Yankees most likely to get a plaque:

  1. Gleyber Torres
  2. Giancarlo Stanton
  3. Gerrit Cole
  4. Aaron Judge
  5. Aroldis Chapman

Time for some rapid-fire thoughts on this. I feel like picking Gleyber is bold given some of the accomplishments others on this list have, but I’ll do it no less. Stanton already has 309 homers and is just 31 years-old. Cole has a chance to cement himself as the best pitcher of his generation. Judge has Hall of Fame talent but will need a strong late career considering he didn’t start until he was 25 and has missed time because of injuries. Lastly, Chapman could end his career with the highest strikeout rate of all-time and very high up on the all-time saves list. That said, his domestic violence suspension should give voters pause.

Jason Giambi’s excellent peak won’t be enough for the Hall

(Keith Allison – cc-by-sa-2.0)

There are a number of things that will prevent Jason Giambi from immortality in Cooperstown next summer. His name’s inclusion in the BALCO scandal and Mitchell Report are sure to keep him out of consideration for many voters even before considering his numbers. Additionally, his career stats just fall short of some of the traditional milestones that ensure a plaque. But one thing’s for sure: when Giambi was at his best, he was a Hall of Fame caliber hitter.

Those are just ridiculous numbers during a nine year period — four with Oakland, five with the Yankees. And that includes his 2004 campaign, which was a lost season in which he played just 80 games and had a 90 OPS+. A thankfully benign tumor kept him off the field for much of the summer. All told, Giambi racked up nearly 45 WAR during that span.

That nine year period includes each of Giambi’s seven best seasons per WAR, one of the inputs to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric that measures Hall of Fame worthiness. Giambi’s WAR-7 is 42.2, which is right around where the average Hall of Fame first baseman stands (42.7). It’s also better than the WAR-7 for other enshrined first basemen, including: Cap Anson, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Pérez.

But Giambi only finished his career with 50.5 WAR, well short of the average first baseman in the Hall (66.8). That’s partially because he got a later start to his career — he wasn’t an everyday player until he was 25 in 1996. And once his peak ended in 2006 (at 35 years-old), he only had one more strong season thereafter (2008, his swan song in New York). He was a declining role player from there on out.

WAR isn’t everything, of course. It’s a great birds-eye view of Giambi’s merits, and it does clearly depict that Giambi isn’t Hall-worthy before contemplating PEDs. He was unquestionably one of the league’s best hitters for a good period of time, but he didn’t have the longevity of the typical Hall of Fame first baseman. Still, Giambi does have a number of accolades and numbers that make his career memorable:

  • 2000: American League MVP
  • Three top-5 AL MVP finishes, including 2000. One other time in the top-10, three others in top-18.
  • Two Silver Slugger Awards
  • 5x All-Star
  • 440 career homers (43rd All-Time)

All that with a lifetime .277/.399/.516 (139 OPS+) ain’t too shabby of a career. The PED cloud will always hover over Giambi, but those numbers are undoubtedly impressive.

Enough consideration of his Hall of Fame worthiness, though. No need to drone on about it when we know what the answer is. Instead, as this is a Yankees-centric blog, let’s turn to Giambi’s career in New York.

The power hitting first baseman inked a seven year $120 million deal with the Bombers after the 2001 season, replacing fan favorite Tino Martinez. Giambi, who had hit .338/.476/.653 (193 OPS+) with 81 homers in his final two years in Oakland didn’t get off to his best start in the Bronx. It wasn’t a poor beginning with a new club, but it was underwhelming considering what he’d done before.

Through May 11 of his first season with the Yankees, Giambi had a .273/.369/.475 line with just six homers. That’s really good! But not prime-Giambi good. He started to turn things around from there, though. He hit a homer in each of the next two games and just a couple days later, hit this memorable bomb:

The Giambino! The first baseman would go on to finish the year strong with a full season batting line of .314/.435/.598 (172 OPS+) with 41 homers and 7.1 WAR. It was his best season in pinstripes.

Giambi had another big year in 2003, with 41 homers and a 148 OPS+, but his batting average dipped to .250. He’d never exceed .300 again, but maintained his elite on-base skills thanks to a keen eye at the dish. But even in a “down” year per his standards, Giambi delivered in a big way in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS:

Before the 8th inning rally, before Mariano Rivera’s three shutout innings, and before Aaron Boone’s walk off homer, Giambi helped keep the Yankees within sniffing distance. Those two homers against nemesis Pedro Martínez were integral to one of the greatest games in history.

As mentioned earlier, Giambi missed most of 2004 because of a benign tumor. After the season, there was talk of voiding his contract as the BALCO investigation unraveled. Per the San Francisco Chronicle’s reporting, Giambi had testified to using steroids between 2001 and 2003. Obviously, Giambi stuck around and carefully apologized prior to the 2005 campaign.

On the field, things went just fine in Giambi’s next two seasons in the Bronx. He belted 69 homers and hit .262/.426/.547 (154 OPS+). During this period, one distinct memory I have of him is when I was in attendance for this walk off dinger against José Mesa:

In 2007, a foot injury derailed his season. He missed all of June and July and one week of August and ended the year with an un-Giambi like 107 OPS+.

Giambi rebounded in 2008, his final season with the Yankees. It was also his last year as an everyday player. Then 37 years-old, Giambi hit .247/.373/.502 (128 OPS+) and swatted 32 homers. He also brought the mustache craze to the Bronx:

And that was that for Giambi’s career in the Bronx. The Yankees handed the reigns to Mark Teixeira in free agency thereafter. Giambi would go on to play for Oakland again briefly in 2009, before a move to Colorado that August where he’d stay through 2012. Giambi played out the last two seasons of his career with Cleveland before hanging up his spikes after the 2014 season.

Now, Giambi is an Old-Timer. He made his first appearance at Old-Timers’ day at Yankee Stadium in 2018 and came back again this year. It’s probably safe to say that he’ll be a regular at the annual celebration for the long-term, provided he doesn’t land have a conflicting coaching gig.

So Giambi may not be headed for Cooperstown, but he had quite the career regardless. He was a prolific slugger and on-base machine for the better part of a decade. And, by the numbers, he was one of the Yankees’ best free agent signings ever. The Bombers may have never won a World Series title with Giambi, but he was a key cog in the lineup for a long time in the Bronx. Maybe he’ll get a few votes this winter, though I suspect he won’t reach the five percent threshold to remain on the ballot.

Bobby Abreu’s Compelling Hall of Fame Case is Just A Little Too Light

Yesterday, I took a look at Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame candidacy, specifically arguing that he should be a unanimous selection. That kicked off what will be a series of articles examining the candidacies of each of the players on the 2020 ballot with connections to the Yankees. Up today is Bobby Abreu, who actually has a pretty compelling case for Cooperstown. Much more compelling than you might think, in fact.

Abreu, along with Cory Lidle, came to the Yankees at the 2006 trade deadline in a deal for C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, Carlos Monasterios, and Matt Smith. He remained a Yankee through the 2008 season. Although these years memorable for the wrong reasons, Abreu was a star in pinstripes. He hit .295/.378/.465 (124 wRC+) with an 11.6% walk rate in more than 1,600 plate appearances for the Bombers. In hindsight, this is one of the better trades in recent Yankee history. He was also very fun to root for. I have fond memories of the Yankee version of Abreu.

His production with New York was just more of the same for the right fielder, who was a bonafide star for the better part of 13 seasons. In just under 2,500 career games, Abreu hit .291/.395/.475 (129 wRC+) with a 15% walk rate, 288 home runs, and nearly 600 doubles. Adding to his value, he stole 400 bases and is a two-time member of the 30-30 club. That is a damn impressive career.

All of this is why Abreu logged an even 60 bWAR (58.2 fWAR) in his career. He was a 5+ win player in seven consecutive seasons (1998-2004), worth 41.6 wins in his seven-year peak. As Bill Baer pointed out the other day, the only outfielders more valuable in this stretch were Barry Bonds and Andruw Jones. Abreu had a no-doubt Hall of Fame peak.

All told, this adds up to a 50.8 JAWS. He ranks 20th all-time among right fielders by the metric, sandwiched in between Dave Winfield and Vladimir Guerrero, both of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown. Many other enshrined players sit below him on the list of right fielders, including Enos Slaughter, Willie Keeler, and Harry Hooper.

That, though, is Abreu’s problem: none of those players suited up for a game after 1959. Standards changed. If elected, Abreu would have one of the weaker resumes for his position. That’s true even with some of his more sabermetric bonafides.

Another point against him is the lack of traditional hardware. He was only twice an All-Star and only won one Silver Slugger. He did not an MVP, nor a World Series. This matters less to me than others–most of this is out of his control–but it is worth noting. It suggests, after all, that he was never the best at his position. It’s only fair to note, though, that he was always among the best.

And then there is defense. Abreu’s reputation for being “afraid of walls” has taken on a life of its own, and it is true he was never the sturdiest defender. That will only count against him, too. Like with Jeter, though, a lack of defensive value is calculated into WAR. (Again, to be fair, Abreu did win a Gold Glove.) With that in mind, by WAR, Abreu has a case, one that stands up against other Hall of Fame outfielders.

Taken in total, Abreu was a fantastic player, often among the game’s best. He essentially reached base 40% of the time in 2,500 professional games– Abreu excelled at simply not getting out. This is not a skill to take lightlyHis career counting stats are equally impressive and he played for 18 seasons. He is a true borderline case, though he falls just a bit short for me, though I could be convinced otherwise.

Corner outfielders with high on-base skills often get underrated or overlooked by fans. Abreu is no different. Fans outside of the sabermetric community typically scoff at the idea of his enshrinement. That is not fair to Abreu: he was the sort of player who any team would want. We all saw that as Yankee fans, even several years after his peak. He is very reminiscent of Bernie Williams in this regard: a damn fine player who falls just a bit short of the Hall of Fame.

His election would not be an outrage, unlikely as it may be. In fact, I’d cheer it–it would be yet another sign that voters are taking a more nuanced approach to their process. That’s good news. Overall, his case is a complicated one.

At the end of the day, though, Abreu’s case falls just a bit short for me. On the other hand, “was an outfielder better than Bobby Abreu” feels like an appropriate question to ask for potential enshrinement. If the answer is yes, then that player is worthy of the Hall; if no, they are not. That is a high compliment to Abreu, and it is worthy of a player whose career is very much worth remembering.

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