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Who’s heading to the Hall in 2020?

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Derek Jeter leads the first-timers on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. Derek Jeter leads the first-timers on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. (AP file photo)

Hall of Fame season is in full swing once again.

The 2020 ballot has landed, with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) preparing to cast their votes for the players who will join the immortals of the game with plaques hanging in Cooperstown.

We’ve seen an explosion of inclusivity on recent ballots, with the writers voting in 20 players over the past six years. This has eased the glut of qualified candidates somewhat, though there remain a number of problematic names that clog the list.

This year, however, sees just one no-doubt candidate – Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. It’s a departure from recent groups that have almost all featured multiple first-ballot talents. Will this allow for some deserving candidates, heretofore stuck on the fringe, to make their way into these hallowed halls?

We shall see.

Of course, we start with Jeter. 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. And now that his former teammate Mariano Rivera has broken through the stigma against unanimity, Jeter’s got a shot at 100% of the vote. At worst, he’s in the high-90s.

After Jeter, though, things get a bit thinner as far as first-years go.

Maybe the best of the rest as far as the newcomers is outfielder Bobby Abreu, who slugged 288 homers and stole 400 bases over his underrated 18-year career. He put up 2,470 hits, scored 1,453 runs and drove in 1,363. His slash line – an impressive .291/.395/.475 – is a good indicator of his bat work, while his 60 WAR is a solid number. But there’s not much in the way of narrative here; there just isn’t a lot of excitement.

Jason Giambi is the other hitting first-timer who might garner some attention. There’s some flash here – Giambi slugged 440 homers among his 2,010 hits, driving in 1,441 and scoring more than 1,200; he slashed .277/.399/.516 to go with it. He was the 2000 AL MVP and finished second the next year. Still, despite his general longevity, he started late (he was 25 when he first became a regular) and was done as a major contributor at 37, though he stuck around for another half-dozen seasons. A Hall-worthy peak, but overall, he just misses.

Other newcomers of interest include pitcher Cliff Lee and a bunch of good-not-great hitters – Alfonso Soriano, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Eric Chavez – but there won’t be a ton of support; maybe they get enough votes to stick around, but don’t be shocked to see some one-and-dones.

Among the returnees, the guy to root for is Larry Walker. The outfielder has been making big gains in the voting over the past couple of cycles, but he’s arrived at year 10. It’s now or never. 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. He’ll need to jump 20 percentage points on this ballot; a big ask, but he’s got momentum on his side. And the ongoing shift in the electorate may well be just enough to push him across the finish line.

Of course, there’s also the elephant in the room. The three highest returning vote-getters are guys whose election has nothing to do with their on-field performances. By any numerical argument, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling would have been in the Hall years ago. Instead, thanks to off-field concerns, each enters their seventh or eighth year on the ballot on a very slow upward trend. They’re within a percentage point of 60 on either side; we’ll see if the next few years get them to the required 75%. They won’t get there this time.

My prediction? Jeter goes in alone as the sole player elected by the writers; at most, he’s left off a half-dozen ballots at most. Walker will get close but miss out by a handful of votes; I really hope I’m wrong, because he deserves a spot. Bonds, Clemens and Schilling will make small gains and come up short.

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 November 2019 07:05

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