JAWS and the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot Part III: Stray hitters
The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here.
Of the 27 hitters on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, 10 are first-time candidates whose JAWS scores are at least 20 points below the standards at their position. They’re unlikely to receive even the five percent of the vote necessary to remain on the ballot for a second chance, but before they head off into the sunset, they’re worth a brief valedictory.
|Sandy Alomar Jr.||11.6||11.8||11.7||1377||1236||112||25||.273||.309||.406||.245|
|Avg HOF Catcher||49.6||32.3||41.0|
|Avg HOF 1B||62.3||40.7||51.5|
|Avg HOF 2B||66.0||42.8||54.4|
|Avg HOF 3B||64.9||41.8||53.4|
|Avg HOF SS||63.1||41.1||52.1|
Sandy Alomar Jr. (1988-2007)
Alomar, the son of a 15-year major league veteran and the older brother of Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar, was a six-time All-Star himself, and though he was nothing special with the bat, he was hailed for his ability to handle pitchers. Originally signed by the Padres in 1983, he played just eight games for them in 1988-1989, a time during which his brother settled in as the team’s starting second baseman and his father served as a coach.
Sandy Jr. never got his chance to carve out his own niche with the Padres, who had a young Benito Santiago as their regular backstop, but things worked out all right; in December 1989, he, second baseman Carlos Baerga and one other player were traded to the Indians for outfielder Joe Carter. Alomar hit .290/.326/.418 with nine homers for the Indians in 1990, making the AL All-Star team and winning Rookie of the Year honors. Shoulder, hip, back, finger and knee injuries — not to mention the strike — limited him to just 350 games over the next five seasons, though he did make two All-Star teams and help the Tribe win their first pennant in 41 years in 1995.
Finally healthy, Alomar played at least 100 games in each of the next three seasons (the only time besides his rookie year he would do so), the best of which was a 1997 campaign in which he set career highs with a .324/.354/.545 line, 21 homers and 3.6 WAR. He won MVP honors for hitting the decisive two-run homer in that year’s All-Star Game, played at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, and helped the team to another pennant; he hit five homers in that year’s postseason, including a game-tying ninth-inning shot off Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of that year’s Division Series with the Yankees just four outs away from closing out the Tribe.
Joined by his brother in Cleveland in 1999, he was part of another playoff team, but his role diminished due to injuries. He jumped to the White Sox as a free agent in December 2000, at the age of 35, and spent the remainder of his career as a part-timer, never again making 300 plate appearances in a season. He spent most of his last seven seasons via three stints in Chicago, with brief stops in Colorado, Texas, Los Angeles and New York (Mets). He has since gone into coaching, and has surfaced as a managerial candidate for multiple openings without breaking through beyond a six-game interim stint with the Indians after Manny Acta’s dismissal near the end of the 2012 season.
Jeff Conine (1990-2007)
Though he spent just about half of his career with the Florida Marlins, Conine emerged as the face of the franchise — “Mr. Marlin” — thanks to his roles as a member of the team’s two world champions. His career actually began with the Royals, as he was drafted in the 58th round out of UCLA in 1987, and converted from the mound to first base. He played just 37 games for Kansas City in 1990 and 1992 before being selected by the Marlins in the expansion draft in November of that year. A nearly 27-year-old rookie, he started in leftfield in the team’s inaugural game, and played in all 162 games that year, hitting .292/.351/.403 with 12 homers, good enough to place third in the Rookie of the Year voting won by fellow 2013 HOF ballot newcomer Mike Piazza.
Conine earned All-Star honors in each of the following two years (the only times he would do so), hitting a combined .310/.376/.522 with 43 homers and 5.1 WAR; he was the MVP of the 1995 All-Star Game in Texas thanks to his tiebreaking pinch-homer in the eighth inning. He set career highs with 26 homers and 3.2 WAR the following year, but tailed off in 1997 (.242/.337/.405) even as the star-studded team (Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Devon White, et al) upset Alomar’s Indians in the World Series.
Like all of those teammates, Conine was soon traded as part of the team’s fire sale; after a down year in Kansas City in which he battled abdominal and back injuries, he signed with the Orioles as a free agent, and spent four and a half rather undistinguished seasons as part of a group of seemingly interchangeable professional hitters (B.J. Surhoff, Harold Baines) before being reacquired by Florida in late 2003, just in time for their second championship run. He hit a combined .367/.437/.483 in the postseason and was the subject of a book on the team’s unlikely run; such popularity enabled him to stick around for another couple of seasons amid the team’s gradual teardown and his own flagging power. He passed through Baltimore (again), Philadelphia, Cincinnati and the Mets over his final two seasons, and has since gone on to work for the Marlins as a special assistant and pre- and postgame radio host, most notably making waves for a war of words with Hanley Ramirez that foreshadowed the star’s eventual exit.
Todd Walker (1996-2007)
An offense-minded second baseman whose woes afield and against lefthanded pitching tended to wear out his welcome, Walker holds the dubious distinction of being the weakest player on this year’s ballot from a JAWS standpoint. So weak, in fact, that his peak score is actually higher than his career score, and both are in the single digits, though he’s not as bad as Tony Womack (0.5/5.8/3.2 on last year’s ballot) or Lenny Harris (0.7/7.1/3.9 two years ago).
The number eight pick of the 1994 draft by the Twins out of Louisiana State University, he debuted on Aug. 30, 1996, earned a demotion to Triple-A less than two months into his rookie season proper, but finally broke out in his first full season in 1998, hitting .316/.372/.473 with 41 doubles, 12 homers and 19 steals. He soon fell out of favor with manager Tom Kelly, was shipped off to Colorado and then to Cincinnati in mid-2001. He enjoyed his best season in terms of value — all of 2.0 WAR — with the Reds in 2002, hitting .299/.353/.431 with a career-high 183 hits, 11 homers and near-average defense.
After a solid 2003 with the Red Sox that was most notable for a monster postseason showing (.349/.391/.767 with five homers in 46 PA), Walker signed as a free agent with the Cubs and had a couple of decent seasons in their hitter-friendly environment before being shipped to the Padres for their playoff push in late 2006; they tried him at third base for the first time since 1997, and it wasn’t pretty. Released by them in the spring of 2007, he caught on with the A’s, but lasted just 18 games before drawing his release just prior to his 34th birthday. He never played in the majors again.
Jeff Cirillo (1994-2007)
Cirillo’s career can neatly be divided into two halves that look as through they were compiled by a pair of completely different players. From 1994 through 2001, he hit a combined .311/.383/.459 for the Brewers (who drafted him in the 11th round in 1991) and Rockies (who acquired him in a three-team deal in December 1999). Even in an offense-heavy era that took some of the starch out of those numbers — his .278 True Average was nothing remarkable — he was an exceptionally valuable player thanks to above-average defense in the hot corner (though he never won a Gold Glove). From 1996-2001, he was worth an average of 4.5 WAR, with a high of 5.7 in 1998. Among third basemen, only Chipper Jones was more valuable during that six-year stretch. He made the AL All-Star team in 1997 with the Brewers and the NL one in 2000 with the Rockies.
The second half of Cirillo’s career, which began with a December 2001 trade to Seattle and included stops in San Diego, Milwaukee (again), Minnesota and Arizona, was awful. Beset by injuries and unable to overcome the sudden shift from hitter-friendly Coors Field to pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, he hit just .256/.320/.350 (a .244 True Average) and was worth a total of 2.8 WAR during that span. That was a particularly lousy return given that he was paid roughly $20 million by the Mariners and Padres from 2002-2004 while hitting total rock bottom (.232/.292/.307 in 266 games). He did check off a couple items on any major leaguer’s bucket list late in his final season with the Diamondbacks, pitching an inning of relief in a blowout and making the playoffs for the only time in his career.
Royce Clayton (1991-2007)
If Walker is the worst player on the ballot in terms of WAR and JAWS, Clayton is its worst hitter by a country mile, with a lower True Average than both Womack (.236) and Harris (.237) among the ballot’s recent dregs. He was a light-hitting glove man for no fewer than 11 teams, a total that ties him for fifth all-time with 11 other players. Count his stint playing Miguel Tejada in the Moneyball movie in 2011 and he’d rank even higher. For all of his defensive prowess, he never won a Gold Glove, probably more due to his lack of hitting than any shortcomings afield.
Drafted by the Giants in the first round in 1988 out of a California high school, Clayton debuted in September 20, 1991, and took over regular duties as a 22-year-old the following year. An undisciplined hitter who struck out way too often given his modest power, he was capable of posting superficially respectable batting averages now and again (.282/.331/.372 in 1993) but just as capable of being a total offensive sinkhole. After the 1995 season, he was traded to St. Louis and tasked with the unenviable job of replacing future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, who was so unhappy with being pushed into a bench role that he still resented first-year Cardinals manager Tony LanRussa a decade later.
Clayton was part of the Cardinals’ NL Central-winning team that year, and of two AL West-winning Rangers teams in 1998 and 1999 after signing as a free agent in December 1998; he hit 14 homers with a .288/.346/.445 line and a career-high 3.3 WAR in 1999, his best year with the bat. After the 2000 season, he changed uniforms with increasing rapidity, drifting to the White Sox, Brewers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Reds, Blue Jays and Red Sox before retiring.