On the Hall of Fame Ballot: My Picks

Greg Maddux

Okay, I said these guys were in no particular order, but there’s no question who’s number one. Maddux is incredibly overqualified for the Hall of Fame. His achievements are well known: 355 wins, four Cy Young awards, over 5,000 innings pitched. Though he was hardly a power pitcher, he managed to strike out over 3,000 batters in his career, and he’s one of the only members of that prestigious club with fewer than 1,000 walks.

My favorite Maddux stat is pretty frivolous. He holds the all-time record for putouts by a pitcher, which isn’t terribly surprising; he played for a long time and was known for his tremendous defense. What may surprise you is just how big his lead is:<

1. Greg Maddux 546
2. Kevin Brown 388
3. Jack Morris 387
4. Phil Niekro 386
5. Fergie Jenkins 363
6. Gaylord Perry 349
7. Don Sutton 334<
8. Orel Hershiser 332
9. Rick Reuschel 328
(tie) Tom Seaver 328<

Wow. Now, this is a little questionable because fielding records for old-time players may be incomplete. Cy Young, for instance, is credited with 229 career putouts. That seems a little low for a guy who pitched over 7,000 innings.*

*Of course, I don’t know how defense was played in the 1890s. Did pitchers routinely cover first base back then, as they do today? Were they too busy fielding bunts and choppers to make many putouts? It’s interesting that all the guys on that list pitched in the last 50 years, though it’s also an arbitrary cutoff: Pud Galvin and Tony Mullane, both nineteenth-century pitchers, are next.

Still, there’s Greg Maddux, towering over everyone else. He beats Kevin Brown’s second-place mark by a bit over 40 percent. Here’s what some other all-time records would look like if they beat the second-place mark by that margin:

Hank Aaron: 3,108 runs batted in (40 percent more than Babe Ruth’s 2,220)
Barry Bonds: 1,057 home runs (over Aaron’s 755)
Rickey Henderson: 3,145 runs scored (over Ty Cobb’s 2,246)
Pete Rose: 5,865 hits (over Cobb’s 4,189)
Tris Speaker, 1,045 doubles (over Rose’s 746)
Nolan Ryan: 6,825 strikeouts (over Randy Johnson’s 4,875)

Oh, and one more:
Henderson: 1,313 stolen bases (40 percent more than Lou Brock’s 938)<

That looks pretty impressive until you realize that it's almost 100 steals short of Rickey's actual stolen base total. The real Rickey beat Brock's old record by 50 percent. Man, Rickey was good.

Where was I? Oh, yes, Maddux was one of the best pitchers of all time. He gets my (virtual) vote. Next.

Frank Thomas

I have a hard time wrapping my brain around Thomas’ career because I only saw him play in his late 30s, when he was greatly diminished by age and injuries. Even then, I knew he was a good hitter, but it was a while before I learned just how great he’d been in his younger days.<

Here’s a fun comparison. Let’s look at these two players:

Player A: 6799 PA, 1755 H, 361 2B, 344 HR, 1188 BB, .321/.440/.579 BA/OBP/SLG, 169 OPS+
Player B: 8103 PA, 2246 H, 505 2B, 475 HR, 1027 BB, .325/.414/.608 BA/OBP/SLG, 168 OPS+

Player B's counting numbers are higher because he had more than two extra seasons' worth of playing time, but on a rate basis they're very similar. One had a higher walk rate, one hit for more power. The OPS+ marks tell us they were basically equals as hitters.<

Player A is Frank Thomas through his age-32 season. Player B is Albert Pujols through the same age.

Obviously the comparison between the two isn't perfect, as Pujols was a significantly better all-around player. Pujols was a highly regarded defensive first baseman who played some third and outfield early in his career; Thomas was, at best, a mediocre defender, and he became a full-time DH at age 30. Still, looking at offense only, they were remarkably comparable.

The Big Hurt, of course, hit a wall in his age-33 season, playing in just 20 games. He rebounded to have a few more good years, but as a whole the latter half of his career was riddled with injuries and diminished performance.

I'm inclined to wonder whether the Angels took this into consideration when they gave Pujols a 10-year contract, one that started in his age-32 season.<

Regardless, Thomas is on the short list of greatest pure hitters in the history of the game. He has 500 homers (with no known connection to performance-enhancing drugs), two MVP awards and a career .301/.419/.555 slash line. He's also somehow managed to avoid the stigma that comes with being primarily a DH, likely because he had his best years while playing the field.

I won't be surprised, even on a ballot this loaded, if Frank Thomas joins Maddux as a first-ballot inductee.

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