Cano, Wright among active players trending toward Cooperstown
On Friday, I took a look at the active players who have built the strongest cases for Cooperstown according to my JAWS system. The 10 I identified have all surpassed the average Hall of Famers at their positions according to either career Wins Above Replacement, peak WAR (best seven seasons) or JAWS (the average of those two measures), and they all have a host of accomplishments that should attract more traditionally-minded voters as well.
What follows is a quick look at the rest of the field at each position. Again, I’m not discussing retired players or those on the ballot, and I’m going to skip the Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers, players with just a few years (or less) under their belts whose peak scores can’t even be compared to the peak averages at each position. That’s not to say those guys won’t get there, but that it’s simply too early to say that they’re even on the radar.
NOTE: JAWS numbers are current through Sunday.
Catcher (average Hall of Famer: 52.4 career WAR/33.7 peak WAR/43.1 JAWS)
Beyond Joe Mauer, there’s nobody active who’s anywhere close. Victor Martinez (27.2/26.4/26.8), the next highest-ranked active player, is 34 years old and struggling after missing all of last year with injuries; he’s already a DH who spots at first base, and he may never catch a regular season game again.
Yadier Molina (25.2/23.7/24.4) has improved tremendously at the plate to the point that he is second in the NL in batting average at this writing, but last year (6.9 WAR) and this one (4.0) are his first two above 3.1 WAR, and he’s already 30 years old. Given that the average peak season for a Hall of Fame catcher is 4.8 WAR, he’s going to have to maintain his 2012-2013 level for another five years, which isn’t easy to do for a catcher in his 30s.
Brian McCann (23.5/22.3/22.9) is 29 and has one season above 4.8 WAR. Likewise for 30-year-old Russell Martin (24.0/22.3/.23.1), who with 3.9 WAR this year may be headed for a second such season.
First base (68.2/43.2/55.7)
Score an E-3 for me, as Todd Helton (61.1/46.5/53.8) rightfully belonged in the previous article because his peak score exceeds the average Hall of Famer at his position. He’s well shy on career WAR, and at the rate he’s going (-0.5 WAR this year, and just 6.6 after 2007), the 39-year-old free agent-to-be won’t get there. By traditional merits, his credentials — 2,479 hits, 361 homers, five All-Star appearances, a .211/.303/.281 postseason line — are modest for an offense-first position, particularly when the player has spent his entire career under the most hitter-friendly conditions in modern history, so he’s hardly a lock.
Jason Giambi (51.4/42.2/46.8) is surprisingly close in peak, but his connection to BALCO taints his 435 homers and AL MVP award in the eyes of voters. Lance Berkman (52.1/38.9/45.5) looked better when I was using Baseball Prospectus’ version of WARP, and again, he’s mulling retirement. Mark Teixeira (47.6/38.1/42.8) is 33 and will need to get up off the mat after missing virtually this entire season, though he’s signed through 2016.
Second base (69.4/44.5/57.0)
Robinson Cano (42.4/41.3/41.8) is 30 years old, with 1,575 hits, 198 homers, five All-Star appearances and a World Series ring, numbers that put him in position for a serious run at a bronze plaque. He’s got 4.8 WAR thus far in a season that’s part of his peak score, and a 3.2 WAR season that will be on the bubble as far as his seven best seasons go, so he’s not done in that department. Even if he starts to slow down in his 30s, he’s in pretty good shape.
Dustin Pedroia (36.0/36.7/36.3) is 10 months younger than Cano, has an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year and two World Series rings, but he has just 1,147 hits and 96 homers. He also lacks his rival’s durability and power, which suggests he’s likely to follow a more typical aging curve for second basemen. That said, he’s still adding to his peak score, with 4.3 WAR and counting this year, not to mention two middling seasons (3.9 and 3.2 WAR) that could be supplanted by better ones if he maintains his 2011-2013 level.
Ian Kinsler (32.7/30.8/31.7) is 31, older than either of the aforementioned, his power has fallen off considerably, and he may face a change to an easier position — leftfield or first base — as soon as next season if he remains with the Rangers, which will likely slow his accumulation of WAR.
Third base (67.4/42.6/55.0)
David Wright (45.9/39.1/42.5) has rebounded from his down 2011 season in strong fashion, with 11.8 WAR and counting between last year and this. He’s got seven All-Star appearances under his belt, not to mention 1,544 hits, 219 homers and a contract that runs through 2020. If he can stay healthy and maintain his recent play, he’ll boost his standing considerably, overwriting some of the lesser seasons that constitute his peak score (3.2, 4.1 and 4.7 WAR). For example, if he adds 2.0 more this year and 4.7 next year, he’d be right at the peak average of 42.6 through his age 31 season.
Evan Longoria (33.9/33.8/33.8) is only in his sixth season but has three worth 7.0 WAR or more, and is just 27, years old, setting himself up for a real run.
Beyond Derek Jeter, the closest candidate is Miguel Tejada (46.7/36.5/41.6), and he’s not very close. He’s been worth a total of 1.0 WAR since the end of 2009, and was named in the Mitchell Report, so despite his 2,395 hits, 307 homers, six All-Star appearances and an MVP award, he’s not going to gain much traction with voters.
Jimmy Rollins (42.0/30.9/36.5) has an MVP award, 2,127 hits and 198 homers, but he’s 34, with seasons like his 2011 and 2012 (2.5 and 2.4 WAR, respectively) still part of his peak score. While easily surpassed by a younger Rollins, his 0.2 WAR this year suggests even that’s a reach. Hanley Ramirez (31.1/30.9/31.0) is 29, Troy Tulowitzki (30.7/31.1/30.9) is 28, and Jose Reyes (32.2/27.8/30.0) is 30; if any of them could stay healthy, the talent is there for a run, with Tulo the most likely to succeed.
As noted previously, Matt Holliday (37.9/34.4/36.1) and the just-suspended Ryan Braun (35.4/35.4/35.4) are the closest to the JAWS standard among active leftfielders, and they’re nowhere near; the latter is now radioactive as far as voters are concerned. Holliday is in the midst of his first mediocre season (0.2 WAR thus far) but he’s also 33, and the future may hold more of the same. Carl Crawford (37.1/32.2/34.6), who’s 31, would be in better shape if he could stay on the field. You’d do better to bet on Trout and/or Bryce Harper making Cooperstown than on a more experienced player from this lot.
I discussed Carlos Beltran in the previous piece but bypassed Andruw Jones (62.7/46.4/54.5), who’s spending this year in Japan. He’s 36 and accumulated just 1.8 WAR in five seasons after leaving the Braves, but his run in Atlanta, with 10 Gold Gloves, six All-Star appearances and a role on two pennant winners, is the foundation of a Hall of Fame career; his peak score is above the bar. He’s got 434 homers and 1,933 hits; the later almost certainly isn’t enough given that the BBWAA has yet to elect a player with fewer than 2,000 hits whose career took place after expansion in 1960.
Torii Hunter (49.5/31.2/40.3) has maintained his value late into his career to such an extent that he set a career best with 5.8 WAR last year at age 36, but it won’t be enough.
With Alex Rios (26.9/26.8/26.9) the top active guy after Ichiro Suzuki, we can pretty much skip this one, though it’s worth noting that late-bloomer Jose Bautista (21.6/24.2/22.9) may just bash his way into consideration if he can continue his renaissance. That said, he’s 32, and while he has 206 homers, he has just 895 career hits.
For any DH, the comparisons are to the standards at whatever position he accrued value before moving, and to all Hall hitters at large. As noted previously, David Ortiz doesn’t come close, and Billy Butler has all of 12.7 WAR midway through his age-27 season. Move along.
Starting pitcher (72.6/50.2/61.4)
Roy Halladay, whom I wrote up in the previous article, is the only active starter who ranks among the top 79 all-time in JAWS; he’s 42nd. Next is Johan Santana (51.4/44.8/48.1), who has two Cy Youngs but just 139 wins, and is probably done at age 34. He’s a reminder that the pitchers who are the best bets are the one blazing fast paths at the moment such as Justin Verlander (37.7/36.1/36.9), Felix Hernandez (39.1/35.1/37.1) and Clayton Kershaw (30.4/30.4/30.4) , though a major injury could derail any of them.
As for those more grizzled, CC Sabathia (55.1/40.4/47.8) has a Cy Young and 200 wins, but he’s in the midst of a career-worst season and starting to look his age (33). Tim Hudson (57.1/38.4/47.7) has 205 wins but has never missed enough bats to sustain a Hall-caliber peak, and with his broken ankle, his age 38 season is done. Andy Pettitte (58.6/34.1/46.3) has 252 wins, five World Series rings and postseason credentials from here to Deer Park, Texas, but his 3.87 ERA would be the highest of any enshrined pitcher. Then there’s the nontrivial matter of his admission of HGH use, which the fans may have excused but the voters have yet to.
Roy Oswalt (50.6/40.0/45.3) has been worth −0.9 WAR over the past two years and appears done at age 35. Mark Buehrle (52.8/35.8/44.3) has 180 wins and counting but is 34 and doesn’t miss enough bats to climb much farther. Chris Carpenter (34.5/29.6/32.1) has a Cy Young and two rings, but at 38, his career is on the ropes due to thoracic outlet syndrome, and he has only 143 wins.
Relief pitcher (40.6/28.2/34.4)
It’s entirely possible that Mariano Rivera will be the last one to go in, because one-inning-at-a-time, 70-inning a year closers just don’t accrue all that much value. Even candidate Lee Smith (29.6/21.1/25.4) and the retired Trevor Hoffman (28.4/19.6/24.0) don’t have cases nearly as strong by JAWS, though Hoffman’s status as the former all-time saves leader means he’ll probably get in one day. The next active guy below Rivera, Joe Nathan (25.6/20.5/23.1), is 38 years old. Neither 32-year-old Jonathan Papelbon (19.4/18.2/18.8) nor 31-year-old Francisco Rodriguez (21.0/17.9/19.4) stand much chance, either.