Four for the Hall of Fame

Baseball’s Hall of Fame voted in four new members yesterday. They are Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and Roy Halladay.

Rivera became the first ever to be voted into the Hall unanimously. He is almost certainly the best ever at what he did — relief pitching. Thus, he deserved to receive 100 percent of the ballots. That he’s the first to do so is the result of “old fart” tendencies by some voters in the past. Thankfully, we seem to be beyond that now.

When I followed Mussina as a Baltimore Oriole, I never had the sense he was a future Hall of Famer. He never seemed like a dominating pitcher. Though he made the all-star team five times, he led the league in wins and winning percentage only once (in different years), never led it in ERA or strike outs, and never won the Cy Young award.

Over the years, however, Mussina built up impressive numbers, including 270 wins and a .638 winning percentage. His career ERA, 3.68, isn’t impressive on its face. However, adjustments to this stat for things like ball park and quality of the opposition (Mussina spent his entire career in the then powerful AL East) tell a more favorable story.

One of the key measurements of player value is wins-above-replacement player (WAR). Mussina’s career WAR is above average for a Hall of Fame pitcher. Thus, he has a decent case for induction.

I find it interesting that Mussina retired after the 2008 season, the only one in which he won 20 games. If he had stayed with it for two more years, he might have reached 300 wins, in which case I assume he would have been voted into the Hall of Fame years ago.

When Edgar Martinez was tearing up American League pitching in the 1990s, the conventional wisdom was that he might not make the Hall of Fame because he was used almost exclusively as a designated hitter. When Martinez retired in 2004, I was more concerned about his failure to accumulate overwhelming career numbers. 309 home runs and 1261 RBIs aren’t the kind of stats that ensure enshrinement in the Hall of Fame for a modern player, especially one who doesn’t play in the field.

But Martinez had a seven year run (1995-2001) in which his on-base percentage plus slugging-average was better than 1,000. He led the league in that statistic once, in batting average twice, in on-base percentage three times, in RBIs once, and in doubles twice.

He was a dominating hitter during this run and contributed several more good seasons. I think the case for his enshrinement is respectable, though not compelling.

Roy Halladay is another case of short-term dominance over gaudy career stats. He won only 203 games during his 16 year career. 250 seems generally to be the minimum number required for serious consideration except in special circumstances.

But Halladay was a dominating pitcher during the period 2002-2011 (with just one off year during that stretch). He won two Cy Young awards and was twice runner-up. He made eight all-star teams.

Halladay twice led the league in wins. Four times he led it in innings pitched.

His all time WAR is a below the Hall of Fame average, but not by much. I’ve considered him a borderline case for the Hall of Fame. Thinking about it now, my judgment is the same as for Martinez. He has a respectable but not compelling case for the Hall.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of the very best of all-time, once again fell well short of induction because of their use of performance enhancing drugs. I have no problem with keeping them out on that basis, though I don’t feel strongly one way or the other.

Even without Bonds and Clemens, the Hall of Fame will induct six players this summer — the five who were elected yesterday plus Lee Smith and Harold Baines who were selected by something called the Today’s Game Era Committee. That’s an unusually large class of relatively recent players.

I always liked Baines, but my opinion there is no case for admitting him to the Hall of Fame. They should put his plaque next to Lloyd Waner’s, and consider abolishing the committee that selected Baines.

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