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Derek Jeter, Larry Walker to lead 2020 Cooperstown class

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It’s a tale of two candidates in Cooperstown this year.

One was a no-doubter, as obvious a first-ballot shoo-in as there can be; the only question regarding his induction was whether he would become the second ever to be voted in unanimously. The other was a slow burn choice, an underrated player considered elite by the numbers but less so by perception, needing a record vote increase in his final years to make the cut in his last year of eligibility.

Now, they’re both Hall of Famers.

Derek Jeter and Larry Walker have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). Jeter makes it to Cooperstown in his first year on the ballot and Walker in his last, but both absolutely deserve to take their respective places among the immortals.

We’ve seen an explosion of inclusivity on recent BBWAA ballots – Jeter and Walker make it 22 players voted in over the past seven years. But while that historic run has assuaged the glut of qualified candidates, there are still some interesting cases on the ballot.

We’ll start with Jeter, who missed joining his longtime teammate Mariano Rivera as unanimous inductees by just a single vote – 396 out of 397. By any measure, Jeter is a Hall of Fame player. He reached a number of inner circle-type milestones; his career hit total of 3,465 places him sixth all time, while his 1,923 runs scored put him at 11th. He drove in over 1,300 runs and drew nearly 1,100 walks. He hit 260 homers and 544 doubles while stealing 358 bases. His career slash line was .310/.377/.440; his career WAR is somewhere in the 70s, depending on your source. He’s got five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers and 14 All-Star nods. Oh, and he’s one of the most prolific postseason hitters of all time, managing a .308/.374/.465 line in the equivalent of a full season – 158 games, 734 plate appearances – and won five of the six World Series in which he played.

Five years ago, Walker’s candidacy looked dead in the water, but thanks to the championing of notable analytic darlings like Jay Jaffe, he was able to make huge leaps in his final few years, ultimately eking out induction with a 76.6% share, clearing the 75% threshold by just six votes. His slash line is impressive as hell - .313/.400/.565. He has seven Gold Gloves and was the 1997 NL MVP. Injury issues kept him from huge career totals – 383 homers, 230 steals, over 1,300 RBI and runs scored – but advanced metrics rate him as one of 10-12 best right fielders of all time. Some downgraded him due to the time he spent in the extreme hitting environment of Coors Field, but normalized stats – plus his work in other uniforms – illustrate that the dude was a player no matter where he was.

(Worth noting: in his initial post-announcement interview, Walker was wearing a legitimately awesome SpongeBob shirt and referred to being inducted alongside Jeter as being the B-side of a record, which is so clever and self-deprecating and exquisitely Canadian that I can barely stand it.)

After that, we’re left to address the elephant(s) in the room. The three highest vote-getters beyond Jeter and Walker are guys whose election has nothing to do with their on-field performance.

By any numerical argument, Curt Schilling (70%), Roger Clemens (61%) and Barry Bonds (60.7%) would have been in the Hall years ago. Instead, thanks to off-field concerns, they remain on the outside looking in. Schilling looks poised to finally make it over the threshold next year; his support has steadily crept up. It probably doesn’t hurt that opposition to him is largely about his post-career actions. Clemens and Bonds, however, seem largely stalled; the PED question continues to haunt them, and while newer members of the voting body seem less inclined to gatekeep with regards to the Steroids Era, the turnover may not be enough to get the pair in with just a couple of years left.

As for other contenders, shortstop Omar Vizquel pushed past the 50% mark (52.6%, to be exact) in his third year on the ballot; it might take a few more years, but he looks poised to eventually achieve induction. Next on the list is the criminally underrated Scott Rolen at just over 35%; despite stacking up favorably against the third basemen currently in the Hall, support had been sluggish. However, as the ballot clears, his support will rise; I expect he’ll become the next cause célèbreof the analytics community a la Walker and Edgar Martinez.

The only other players in the 30s were Billy Wagner and Gary Sheffield. Todd Helton’s 29.2% may rise thanks to the seal being broken on recognizing Rockies. We’ll see if Andruw Jones can get it going. The only newcomer besides Jeter to even stay on the ballot was Bobby Abreu, and he just barely achieved the 5% minimum.

Looking ahead, there aren’t any automatic calls among next year’s newly eligible. Guys like Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson and Torii Hunter lead the way; good players who probably don’t warrant a plaque in Cooperstown. We’ll see how that impacts the voting – it might be the best chance for some of the ethically questionable candidates to make the leap.

But back to 2020. With Derek Jeter and Larry Walker – joined by Modern Baseball Era Committee selections Ted Simmons and Marlin Miller – the Baseball Hall has one heck of a class to induct this summer.

Last modified on Thursday, 23 January 2020 12:54


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