Palmeiro not worthy of a Hall of Fame vote (cont.)
6. Barry Larkin: 50.9
Larkin's place here shows up the flaws of an arbitrary method, as he would rate third if the cutoff was 3.8 WAR rather than four. It doesn't mean anything to call someone an all-around player, or a winning player -- the praise is cheap from overuse- - but he was both, as smart as anyone you'll ever see on the field and exemplary off of it. And unlike some players above him, he was even better than his numbers.
7. Kevin Brown: 48.6
All anyone seems to remember about Brown is that he was the man who was on the mound as the New York Yankees cinched the greatest choke job in the history of American sports in the 2004 American League Championship Series, that he broke his hand by punching a wall, that he was unconvincingly tied to performance enhancing drugs in the Mitchell Report, and that he was once signed to a ridiculous $105 million contract. Lost in all that is that for the better part of a decade he was one of the very best pitchers in the game. One big game in the right spot and he would be Curt Schilling.
8. Roberto Alomar: 47
You might be surprised to see Alomar this low. The basic issue is that Total Zone, the defensive component of WAR, sees his fielding as having been basically average throughout his career. I'm not sure I buy that, but then a statistic that never tells you your eyes have deceived you is not one worth paying much attention to, and if this is a statistical illusion of some sort, it's one that followed him around to many different teams. For what it's worth, if you credit Alomar for having been the type of defender most people who watched him play thought he was, he rates about fourth on this list.
9. Larry Walker: 46
Before grousing about Coors Field, voters should recall that at 27, Walker hit a robust .322/.394/.587 in Montreal. Those weren't just better numbers than he put up the next two years in Colorado given context, they were better numbers full stop. The more legitimate objection is that he played in more than 143 games in a season just once (and more than 140 just four times), but even when you account for that he is still a strong candidate.
10. Rafael Palmeiro: 42.5
Here we finally come to Palmeiro, the anti-Walker. He was good for 150 games every year for two decades... he just didn't do much special in them. His annual 40 home runs and 120 RBIs were not especially impressive given the time in which he played, and the main strength of his candidacy is a huge number of seasons in which he was a cut below All-Star level. He was valuable to his teams, no doubt, but as erratic as some of them were, every player ahead of him on this list was the kind who could at his best turn an otherwise average team into a contender. Palmeiro was never that good.
11. Tim Raines: 40.7
It dismays me to see Raines so low, but the whole point of an exercise like this is to learn and one thing I've learned that I've probably overrated Raines, who was a dominant player for several years but really did accumulate a lot of his career value in seasons where he wasn't playing at the highest level. I will note, though, that if I were adjusting for the damage done to all of these players' careers by various labor problems outside of their control, Raines would likely slip ahead of Palmeiro.
Past Raines there are a lot of notable players, most of whom have their boosters. My favorite among them is John Olerud, the languid and stylish hitter who did quick things slowly, rode the subway to work and wore a batting helmet in the field. His 37.2 rating is surprisingly close to Palmeiro's, and he did things Palmeiro didn't, such as enjoy MVP-caliber seasons, feature as a key player on excellent teams, and avoid turning himself into a living punch line. Dale Murphy also rates well, at 38.7.
Some popular favorites rate badly. Don Mattingly comes in at 25.3, for instance, while Jack Morris is at 23.6. Hard as it is for some to accept, these two are, statistically speaking, joke candidates. (Which isn't to say that statistics are all that counts.) You can make a long list of players with cases as good who have gotten no love from the Hall of Fame electorate, not just much better ones such as Dave Stieb and Robin Ventura and Will Clark and Kevin Appier, but also players like Tony Phillips and Mark Langston and Steve Rogers and John Valentin.
Bringing things back to Palmeiro, what this kind of analysis shows is not that he doesn't deserve to make the Hall of Fame in the abstract, but rather that unless you're the kind of fan who thinks that career value trumps all, who would take Tom Glavine over Sandy Koufax, it's surprisingly difficult to make a case for him as worthy of a spot on the ballot.
Blyleven, Bagwell, Martinez, Trammell, Larkin, Brown and Alomar are all just flatly better candidates. McGwire was better on the field. Raines and Walker are closer calls, but in my opinion rate above Palmeiro since they were, at times, actually great. This would leave Palmeiro the 11th man on a 10-man ballot.
Making things worse for his candidacy is the coming flood of retirees. Assuming that Blyleven and Alomar are elected this year, Palmeiro would rate as a top-10 candidate next year, when the only significant addition to the ballot will be Bernie Williams. After, that, though, comes a deluge.
In 2013, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton and Craig Biggio -- all stronger candidates than Palmeiro -- will debut on the ballot. In 2014, they'll be joined by Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent.
It's entirely likely, then, that two years from now Palmeiro, the only man other than Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, will in the strict sense not be one of the 15 best players on the ballot, and perhaps not one of the top 20. Outraged pundits, then, can spare us their anguished equivocating over whether or not to vote for him. They can, in good conscience, just say that the man wasn't good enough.
Tim Marchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org