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Another big class enters Cooperstown in 2018

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Another historic Hall of Fame class is landing in Cooperstown this weekend.

Four players elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) will be officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29. Third baseman Chipper Jones and first baseman Jim Thome made it on their first time on the ballot; outfielder Vladimir Guerrero made it in on his second try and pitcher Trevor Hoffman on his third.

Jones led the way with 97.2 percent of the vote. Fellow first-timer Thome was named on 89.8 percent of the ballots. Guerrero made a massive jump from the near-miss of the year previous, going from 71.7 percent all the way to 92.9. And Hoffman, after just missing by a handful of votes, made it with a percentage of 79.9.

In addition, shortstop Alan Trammell and pitcher Jack Morris – both polarizing figures in the insular realm of Hall of Fame punditry – were voted in by the Hall’s Modern Era committee back in December.

No matter how you look at the numbers, Jones is an all-time great. He spent almost 20 years at third base for a single team, the Atlanta Braves – a rarity in the free agency era. His career slash line was .303/.401/.529; he’s one of only a handful to manage that level of performance. His counting numbers are plenty impressive as well – 468 home runs, 2,726 hits, 1,623 RBI and 1,619 runs scored; throw in nearly 500 doubles, over 1,500 walks and 150 steals and you’ve got one hell of a career line. Jones also won a batting title, a pair of Silver Sluggers and the 1999 NL MVP. An elite performer for well over a decade, he strolled into the Hall with one of the best vote percentages ever.

When looking at the stats for Thome, you have to start with the homers. 612 of them, in fact – eighth on the all-time list. He scored nearly 1,600 runs, drove in just one shy of 1,700 and walked 1,747 times – seventh most in MLB history. His career on-base percentage of .402 and slugging percentage of .554 are both exceptional. However, his .276 batting average and 2,328 hits are less imposing. And of course, there are the strikeouts – 2,548 of them, the second-most all time. In addition, while he was usually in the mix, Thome rarely led the league in any offensive categories (walks three times, homers once) and never got higher than fourth in an MVP race. Still – more than enough.

Next up is Guerrero. In 16 seasons, he hit .318/.379/.553; his raw totals (2,580 hits, 449 homers, 1,496 RBI, 1,328 runs scored) are impressive, but perhaps not impressive enough considering his era. This despite his receiving MVP votes in all but one of his full seasons in the majors (including a 2004 win) and being generally considered the best bad-ball hitter of his time. He also had a cannon for an arm, racking up 126 career outfield assists. He also has a reputation as one of the most fun to watch players of his generation and a phenomenal clubhouse leader. It’s no wonder he had such a massive bump in percentage of the vote.

Rounding out the elected quartet is Hoffman. The longtime closer is one of just two pitchers in the history of the game to save at least 600 games; his 601 saves were the all-time record until Mariano Rivera passed him. In just shy of 1,100 career innings, Hoffman put up a 2.87 ERA – a phenomenal number considering the era in which he pitched – and struck out better than a batter per inning. His WHIP of 1.058 is one of the best in post-Deadball history. And his changeup is considered to be one of the best-ever, a generationally devastating pitch. While there are those who question Hoffman’s Hall worthiness, there was never any doubt he’d get to Cooperstown.

Alan Trammell’s profile made him a darling of the sabermetric community, though he was never able to get over the hump on the writers’ ballot, spending the first eight years with percentages in the teens before making a too-late surge that ended with him at 40 percent in year 15. He played his entire 20-year career with the Tigers. His career numbers – 185 homers, 1,000 RBI and 1,200 runs while slashing .285/.352/.415 – aren’t eye-popping, but by metrics such as WAR that take into account defense, baserunning and context, Trammell has an argument as a borderline top-10 shortstop … of all time. His was a snub that very much warranted amending.

On the other hand, we’ve got Morris, who spent much of his time on the ballot as a lightning rod for polarizing discourse. His first decade on the ballot saw him gradually hit the 50 percent mark, but he never quite made it over the hump, topping out at 67.7 percent in year 14 before falling to 61.5 – and off the ballot – the next year. Old-school guys praised his grit and determination and big game reputation, while stat-heads bemoaned his middling numbers. He has 254 career wins, but his ERA of 3.94 is the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. He pitched a lot of innings and pitched maybe the best World Series game of the past 30 years. Is that enough? Apparently so.

With this year’s BBWAA quartet, this marks the highest number of inductees over any five-year span, with 16 players voted in by the writers since 2014. And there’s no reason to think it’s going to slow down, considering that the average ballot had 8.46 names on it.

As for who we can expect to join these hardball legends next year? Well, the one no-doubter among the newly eligible is Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, who is simply the greatest closer of all time and will cruise to election – and deservedly so. Other newcomers that might have a tougher road include Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte and the late Roy Halladay.

It’s an interesting group of holdovers as well. The biggest question is Edgar Martinez, who has made huge leaps in support on recent ballots, but has just one year remaining. He was at 70.4 percent last year – will he make it to 75? Mike Mussina was over 60 percent with five years left; he’ll make it eventually, if not in 2019. In the “probably not, but who knows?” category, we’ve got Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens mired in the mid-50s and noted jerk Curt Schilling clearing 50 percent.

All told, this is one hell of a half-dozen; it’s a group in which baseball – and the Hall – can take pride.

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