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Breaking down the 20 new names on the Hall of Fame ballot

The Hall of Fame ballot for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America was announced Monday, and it includes 15 holdovers and 20 new candidates. Edgar Martinez is the top returnee after receiving 70.4 percent of the vote last year, but this is his final year on the ballot, with 75 percent required for induction.

We’ll have plenty of time in the upcoming weeks to address the various candidates, but let’s take a quick look at the 20 new candidates.

THE SURE THING

Mariano Rivera: Even if you’re anti-reliever, Rivera is a no-brainer first-ballot choice, not only the greatest reliever of all time but one of the great postseason pitchers ever with an 0.70 ERA over 141 innings. His career WAR dwarfs the other modern Hall of Fame relievers, with only the older Hoyt Wilhelm close (Dennis Eckersley has more WAR, but the vast majority came as a starter):

Rivera: 56.3

Wilhelm: 50.1

Goose Gossage: 41.9

Trevor Hoffman: 28.1

Rollie Fingers: 25.1

Bruce Sutter: 24.6

Rivera could be the first unanimous selection, but I doubt that will happen. A couple of voters may wish to game their ballot, giving votes instead to others they want to see remain on the ballot. A couple of voters might not go for a reliever. Still, Rivera has a chance to break Ken Griffey Jr.’s record percentage of 99.3 percent (437 of 440 votes).

STRONG CANDIDATES

Roy Halladay: Halladay won two Cy Young Awards and finished second two other times during an incredible peak from 2002 to 2011 when he had a 2.97 ERA and averaged 219 innings per season. He has a lot of quiet markers that voters like: three 20-win seasons, seven times leading in complete games and four times in innings. His 266 innings in 2003 feels like a total from a completely different era when players wore wool uniforms and played only day games. He has a perfect game and the no-hitter in the playoffs.

His career WAR of 65.5 is better than many Hall of Fame pitchers — but also well below Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, who have yet to make it. I’d vote for him, and maybe his unfortunate early death will cause some to vote for him sooner than they otherwise would have, but with just 203 career wins, he probably falls short this year.

Andy Pettitte: Pettitte never reached the level of Halladay, and his 3.85 career ERA is in Jack Morris territory — as is his 256 wins. He’s much better than Morris, however, and while he lacks THAT ONE BIG GAME THAT EVERYONE REMEMBERS, he was on our TV screens every October and his 19 postseason wins are the most ever. I’m lukewarm about his candidacy, as he only had what I would call three Hall of Fame-type seasons of 5-plus WAR. The postseason numbers help his legacy, but his 3.81 ERA in the playoffs isn’t Schilling-like. He’ll remain on the ballot, and I predict he’ll end up in a Morris-like heated debate over the next decade.

Todd Helton: He hit .316/.414/.539 with 369 home runs, 1,406 RBIs and 2,519 hits. From 1999 to 2004, he hit .344 and averaged 37 home runs and 121 RBIs. He had two 8-WAR seasons and another at 7.8, and most Hall of Famers don’t have three seasons of that magnitude. A bad back, however, cut into his numbers after that, and his production came at the height of Coors Field dizziness. The home run total is pretty low for a first baseman, and his career WAR of 61.2 is in that gray area — basically the first basemen ahead of him are in (except Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire) and those just below him are not in (Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Will Clark, Fred McGriff). Given that Larry Walker has struggled for support, I suspect Helton’s relatively short peak and Coors inflation will work against him.

REASONABLE CANDIDATES

Lance Berkman: An on-base machine who finished in the top seven of the MVP voting six times, Berkman posted a .293/.406/.537 line — nearly matching Helton while not playing his home games at altitude. His first big season didn’t come until he was 25 and his last monster season came at 32, so his career counting numbers are a little short for a bat-first candidate: 366 home runs, 1,234 RBIs, 1,905 hits. No player who has played since 1960 has been elected with fewer than 2,000 hits. The career numbers are somewhat similar to Martinez, however, although with a lower WAR (68.4 to 52.1).

Miguel Tejada: Among players with at least 50 percent of their career games at shortstop, Tejada ranks seventh in RBIs (1,302) and second in home runs (307). He won an MVP Award for the A’s in 2002, when he hit 34 home runs and drove in 131 runs, and later had a 150-RBI season for the Orioles. He didn’t miss a game for six straight seasons at one stretch. Yet there appears to be zero momentum for a Hall of Fame case. Late in his career, Tejada was suspended for amphetamine use, and there were allegations of steroids use after he admitted he lied to Congress about once purchasing steroids and HGH (which he said he never used). As is, he had a nice seven-year run, but his career WAR is a little light at 47.3 and voters will probably prefer holdover Omar Vizquel at shortstop. Tejada may have trouble staying on the ballot.

Roy Oswalt: Berkman’s longtime teammate with the Astros was one of my favorite pitchers for a long time, a slightly built right-hander who attacked hitters with a low- to mid-90s fastball and variety of off-speed pitches. He had five seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA and twice won 20 games but came down with some problems and finished with 163 wins (just 13 after turning 33). He falls into the Bret Saberhagen category of very good but with not quite enough longevity.

THE SEVEN-TIME ALL-STAR

Michael Young: He won a batting title, hit .300 seven times, reached 200 hits six times and even won a Gold Glove at shortstop in 2008 (he was promptly moved to third base the following season). Still, I was surprised he made seven All-Star teams. He finished with 2,375 hits and over 1,000 RBIs, but he never had the range you prefer from a shortstop and his defensive metrics are not good. Maybe the metrics are missing something and he should have more than 24.6 career WAR. He may receive enough votes to stay on the ballot, as he was a highly respected player in his 13 seasons with the Rangers (and one final one split between the Phillies and Dodgers).

THE OTHERS

The other newcomers, listed in descending career WAR: Placido Polanco, Derek Lowe, Freddy Garcia, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Ted Lilly, Travis Hafner, Jason Bay, Jon Garland, Darren Oliver, Ryan Dempster, Juan Pierre, Rick Ankiel. For them, just appearing on a Hall of Fame ballot is a final honor to a long career in the majors.

Prediction: Rivera gets in via landslide, Martinez just inches past the 75 percent threshold, and I wonder if Mike Mussina jumps all the way from 63.5 percent to 75. It’s not an especially strong ballot, which helps his case. I think he gets in as well.


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