Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Crystal Method (Part 2)

The hitters get some attention today as I continue with my Hall of Fame preview. First of all there are a couple of hitters who I won't mention in this article, but I'm sure you'll be able to figure out who they are. They've both hit a lot of home runs and both have issues with back acne and anger management. The less said the better. Now with that out of the way, let's talk about the hitters who are an absolute lock for Cooperstown. Let's start with Ken Griffey Jr. He is the only player who can legitimately argue for the "best player of the nineties" with a certain Giants slugger. He was on pace to be the all time home run king before injuries slowed him considerably. He in fact hasn't played a full season since he was 30 years old. Even with the injuries, he is a 10 time gold glove winner who currently stands 10th on the all time home run list. If he stays reasonably healthy this year he should be able to move into 6th position on the home run list.

Next we have the player who could conceivably end up as the all time home run king by the time he's done. Alex Rodriquez will break through the 500 home run barrier this year at a younger age than anyone before him. At the age of 31, with at least 6-7 years of high production baseball ahead of him, he could end up with over 800 career home runs. He was well on his way to being considered the greatest shortstop of all time, which is no small feat considering the fact that Hounus Wagner may be one of the five best players ever, when he made the switch to 3rd base to accommodate Derek Jeter. Arod averages about 40 home runs and 120 RBI's a season and as I have already stated, he could be the holder of every meaningful career offensive record by the time his career comes to an end.

Manny Ramirez has been a hitting machine since he first stepped on a major league field. He has even been slightly more productive than Arod has. His defense has never been his strong point, but Manny does all his talking with the bat in his hands and few have ever done it better. For the 11 out of his 12 full major league seasons he has hit over 30 home runs and driven in over 100. And in 10 of those years he has hit over .300. His career batting average is currently .313. He will end his career with well over 500 home runs and possibly over 600 as well. He will end up in the top 10 all time in home runs and RBI's. Manny may simply be the best right handed hitter of his generation.

Next is Frank Thomas who had a great resurgence last year in Oakland. During the first 10 years of his career, Thomas put up numbers that could easily be compared to the likes of Ted Willams and Jimmy Foxx. He, like Griffey Jr., has been slowed by injuries past the age of 30 (and those comparisons are no longer valid), but two of the three post 30 seasons in which he has been completely healthy, have resulted in top 5 MVP finishes. He has won 2 MVP awards and finished in the top 5 on four other occasions. There would be some who would diminish his value because he has been primarily a DH since turning 30, but his career numbers (.300+ batting average, over 500 home runs, top 20 in on base percentage and Slugging percentage) are so overwhelming that it really doesn't matter if had never played a day in field. He is a hall of famer.

Next in line is Mike Piazza, who is without a doubt, the greatest hitting catcher in the history of the game. While Campanella and Berra may have more MVP awards (Piazza has never won one) and Ivan Rodriquez and Johnny Bench may be his defensive superior, there can be no argument that with the bat in his hands, no catcher has ever been a better hitter for a longer period of time than Piazza has. He has hit as high as .362 in a single season and still maintains a lifetime batting average of over .300. He has hit at least 30 home runs in nine seasons (which is the same number as Bench, Berra, Rodriquez and Campanella combined) and is the all time leader in home runs for a catcher. It is true that he will never win any awards for throwing runners out at second, but he made up for his shortcomings in the field with his bat. Speaking of catchers, Ivan Rodriguez is also a hall of famer. He may not be able to match hitting stats with Piazza, but he is definitely the best defensive catcher of his time. He also has something that Piazza doesn't have, an MVP award. Pudge, as he is affectionately known, has also won 12 gold glove awards. His offensive numbers (300 home runs, 1,200 RBI's, .300 average) will put him safely in the company of the great catchers of all time. His defensive prowess makes him an easy pick for the hall of fame.

The next hitter is not someone who comes to mind when you think of all time greats, but Craig Biggio is a hall of famer nonetheless. He will get his 3,000 hit this year and punch his ticket for Cooperstown. He will end his career in the top twenty all time in hits, doubles and runs. He's a four time gold glove winner at second base although he actually started his career as a catcher and also spent a couple of seasons as a center fielder. Bill James actually made the case that Craig Biggio was a better player during the nineties than Ken Griffey Jr. was. I don't actually buy that and I think it asks you to view the stats in a way that I am unwilling or unable to do, but for Biggio to even be included in that conversation, I think shows just how valuable Biggio was during his prime. I can't say that he's going to be a first ballot guy, but he'll get enough votes in under three ballots.

I think that's it for absolute sure fire locks. There are a few players who are within striking distance of 500 home runs and may reach sure fire status by the time they're done. Gary Sheffield and Jim Thome are close to 500. It may not be the ticket the the Hall that it used to be, but it will require voters to take a good hard look at those players. I think if they both make it there, they will both eventually get in. Chipper Jones has a good chance to make it to the Hall as well. He plays third base, which is an under represented position in Cooperstown and he is still putting up pretty good numbers, even though he has been hurt for portions of the past two seasons. Vlad Guerrero and Andruw Jones are also on track for 500 home runs even though they have about 150 to go. A lot can happen between 350 and 500, but considering that Vlad already has an MVP award and Jones has won 9 consecutive gold gloves, they both have a very good chance. Derek Jeter is well on his way to 3,000 hits and is the most beloved player since Kirby Puckett. Given his post season record and the unabashed man-love by the baseball writers, it would take something really unforeseen for him not to make it to the hall.

The hitter that I think is the most interesting of the not-quite-in group is Jeff Kent. In theory, Kent has already done enough to get to Cooperstown. He is the all time leader in home runs for second baseman, he has eight seasons of over 100 RBI's and has an MVP award. His power numbers and production are practically unheard of from that position. By comparison, the recently elected Ryne Sandberg only drove in 100 runs in two seasons. While Shortstop has been transformed into a glamor position, 2B has not seen that same wealth of talent. You can still find the one of if not the weakest hitting player at either catcher or 2nd base. It is still mainly a defensive position which makes Kent's output even more amazing. Kent came up with the Mets who were always concerned that he was trying to hit home runs. They didn't think that he made enough contact for a middle infielder. He was traded at the age of 29 to San Francisco where his career really took off. He was striking out more than ever, but he was also hitting more home runs and driving in more runs than ever. For his first six years in San Francisco he averaged 29 home runs and 115 RBI's. Once again, his numbers seem to say that he's a hall of famer. The problem is that he has never been perceived that way. Unlike say, Derek Jeter, who everyone assumes will be there, no one even mentions Kent's name in relation to Cooperstown. His career slugging percentage ranks 86th all time, which may not seem impressive, but the only second baseman that I could find who ranks ahead of him is Rogers Hornsby, who just happens to be one the greatest hitters of all time. Will he make it? I'm not sure that he'll make it on the first ballot, but I think that when the writers compare him to the rest of the second basemen in the Hall, they'll have no other alternative than to vote him in eventually.

The last hitter I will talk about isn't HOF eligible yet, but is well on his way to Cooperstown. Ichiro Suzuki, is averaging well over 200 hits a season for his brief 6+ year career. He has won an MVP and Rookie of the Year award (in the same season, I might add. Making him only the second player to pull off that rare double. (Fred Lynn was the other)). He has set the single season hits record, led the league in hitting twice and hits three times. He has won a gold glove every season he has been in the majors and shows no signs of slowing down at the age of 33 (he is currently hitting .356). He has to play at least 10 years to eligible for the Hall of Fame, but I don't see that being much of an issue. He won't get to 3,000 hits because of his late start in the majors, but I don't think the voters will hold that against him. If he can keep up his current rate of production for another 2 or 3 seasons, he will become the first Japanese player in the Hall.

Well, that's it. I'm sure I've forgotten somebody obvious but thankfully whoever that is won't be reading this.

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