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Who’s Cooperstown-bound in 2019?

November 20, 2018
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Who’s Cooperstown-bound in 2019? (AP file photo)

It’s Hall of Fame season once again.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has released its ballot for the 2019 induction season. It’s a top-heavy ballot, meaning that the recent spate of large classes may well continue. There are some new names that will get a lot of attention and a few holdovers that might be ready to make the leap.

As far as the newcomers go, there are four that will likely be at the forefront of the conversation. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has joined the ballot for the first time, as has his longtime teammate Andy Pettitte. Starting pitcher Roy Halladay, who passed away tragically last year, and first baseman Todd Helton round out the truly notable first-timers. Two are likely enshrinees; two will be on the outside looking in.

Any conversation about the Class of 2019 has to start with Mariano Rivera. While there are some naysayers regarding the true value of the modern closer, the reality is that no one has ever performed in that role as well as Rivera. He is full-stop the greatest closer of all time.

Look at the numbers: Rivera is the all-time leader in saves with 652; only Trevor Hoffman (who’s in the Hall) is within 50 of him. Over the course of 19 years, 1,115 games (fourth all-time) and nearly 1,300 innings, Rivera’s rate stats were staggering – a 2.21 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, an 8.2 K/9. He was an All-Star a dozen times, finished in the top-five in Cy Young voting five times and garnered down-ballot MVP votes nine different seasons. All that plus one of the most astonishing postseason careers in history – in 141 innings over 96 games, Rivera had eight wins, 42 saves, a WHIP of 0.759 and a staggering 0.70 ERA. He is the no-doubt greatest ever in his role; he’ll stroll into Cooperstown.

Next, we come to Roy Halladay. Halladay was likely destined to become one of Cooperstown’s borderline cases; he had a great career, just one that was too short to compile the sorts of round numbers that excite voters. But with tragedy, his career might be reexamined.

And a strong career it was. Halladay’s career spans 16 years, but it took five of those for him to truly establish himself. His numbers – 203 wins, 2,117 strikeouts, a 3.38 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP – are good, but they aren’t spectacular. However, there’s a stretch of a decade – say 2002-2011 – where Roy Halladay was one of the best pitchers on the planet. He won 20 games three times in that span. He led the league in innings pitched four times and in complete games a staggering seven. He won two Cy Young Awards – one in each league – and was named an All-Star eight times. He pitched a perfect game and the second-ever postseason no-hitter. I think he has a good chance of making it.

The other two notable newcomers – Pettitte and Helton – will probably find the hill much tougher to climb.

Pettitte has numbers that aren’t that much different from Halladay’s, at least superficially. He won over 50 more games – 256 to be exact – but his 3.85 ERA and 1.351 WHIP are forgettable. He was a classic innings eater, a compiler who was pretty good for a long time. His postseason numbers – 19-11 in 44 starts, 3.81 ERA, 1.305 WHIP – were comparable. He’s also saddled with Mitchell Report baggage. Plus, he’s not even as good as teammates Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens, who aren’t in. He’s a no.

Ditto Todd Helton. The first baseman – who played his entire 17-year career for the Colorado Rockies – has a Hall of Very Good case. His career slash line is impressive to be sure - .316/.414/.539 – but those numbers are buoyed by Coors Field. He wound up with 369 homers and 2,519 hits while clearing 1,400 in RBI (1,406) and runs scored (1,401). He won three Gold Gloves and made five All-Star teams. Alas, Coors inflation did in a much stronger candidate in Larry Walker; Helton doesn’t stand a chance.

There are other interesting new additions. Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were teammates on some very good Astros teams; they both had solid careers, but nothing like what it would take to get to Cooperstown. Seeing Rick Ankiel’s name is a trip. And for the Red Sox fans among us, there are some familiar names – Derek Lowe, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay are all here, though it seems safe to assume they’ll be one-and-done.

As for holdovers, the most prominent name is Edgar Martinez. This marks Edgar’s tenth – and final – time on the BBWAA ballot. If he doesn’t make it this time, he’s going to have to wait for one of the committees to vote him in. He should be OK – he cleared 70 percent last year (70.7, to be precise) and is trending in the right direction – which is great; he deserves to be in. Last year’s next-closest non-inductee was Mike Mussina at 63.5 percent; I think he’s got momentum but is still a year or two away. Polarizing candidates like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling seem to have stalled in the 50s; they’ll need a big swing in voter perception to get moving in time – Bonds and Clemens are in their seventh year, Schilling in his sixth.

Once again, the ballot is crowded with deserving nominees, though the glut has cleared somewhat thanks to the large classes of recent years. I think that trend will continue. Rivera is going to make it for sure, while I feel strongly about the chances of one or both of Halladay and Martinez clearing the bar. Ultimately, it’s up to the voters – and maybe they’ll surprise us.

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