Ken Griffey junior and Mike Piazza, two of the best hitters of the 90's and early 00's, will officially be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this July. After the ceremony, attention will inevitably turn toward the 2017 Ballot and people will begin to debate which of the many fine candidates from that class will be the next to hear their name called in January. Among the many impressive carry-overs from last years ballot (Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Trevor Hoffman, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez) there are three newcomers who figure to challenge for the 75% necessary for HOF induction. The most talented of the three, Manny Ramirez, will likely have a hard time earning enough votes as he is the first player to appear on the ballot who was suspended during his career for using PEDs. Likewise, former catcher Ivan 'Pudge' Rodriguez has a large steroid cloud hanging over him as well, having been mentioned by name in Jose Canseco's novel Juiced. Voters tend not to favor anyone suspected of PED use, so Pudge seems unlikely to get a lot of support. The last of the prominent newcomers is former Expos and Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero. Vladdy finished his illustrious career with 449 home runs, 1496 RBI's, 181 steals and a triple slash line of .318/.379/.553. He was a nine time all-star, an 8 time Silver Slugger award winner, and the 2004 AL MVP. But is that enough for Cooperstown to come calling?
The case for Vladimir Guerrero and the Hall of Fame:
From an offensive standpoint, Vladimir Guerrero was a force to be reckoned with during his 16 year career. Below is a chart detailing where he ranks all-time in a variety of different hitting categories:
Guerrero is in the top 50 in home runs, total bases, extra base hits, and career slugging percentage (he just missed top 50 in RBI's as well).
Additionally, while he was not known for his eye at the plate, he was such a feared slugger that he drew an incredible 250 intentional walks, good for 5th all time behind Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron, and Willie McCovey (note: this stat wasn't tracked until 1955).
Guerrero was not just a "compiler" however, as he arguably was one of the most complete players in the game during his peak. Guerrero had 8 seasons with a .300+ BA, over 30 HR, and over 100 RBI's. He hit 35+ home runs 5 times, and hit over 40 HR twice. He led the league in runs (2004), hits (2002), total bases (2002 and 2004) and IBB (2000, 2005-2008).
Guerrero had power (449 HR and a .553 slg%) speed (181 steals) hit for average (.318, 4 seasons over .330) and had a cannon arm (27th all time in RF assists). He only really lacked overall defensive skill to be a complete five tool player.
Baseball-Reference's HOF Monitor and HOF Standards score Guerrero very highly. Guerrero has a HOF Monitor score of 209 (a likely HOFer is 100) and a HOF Standard score of 58 (average HOFer is 50). Additionally, his gray ink score (which is a measurement of top 10 finishes in different offensive categories) is 166, where the average HOFer is 144.
Against Vladimir Guerrero and the Hall of Fame:
Guerrero falls just short of many of the counting stats that old-school BBWAA voters like to see in their Hall of Famers. He falls 51 home runs short of 500, 4 RBI's short of 1500, and 410 hits short of 3,000. As a power hitter, it is probably unfair to expect Guerrero to have eclipsed 3000 hits, but nevertheless, there are a lot of voters out there who like round, pretty numbers, and Guerrero falls short in that area.
Right field is a pretty deep position in the Hall of Fame, and while Guerrero has great numbers, he doesn't quite add up to a typical HOF RF. There are 24 rightfielders in the Hall of Fame, and those players averaged a 73.2 career WAR, a 7 year peak WAR of 43, and a JAWS rating of 58. Guerrero only has a 59.3 WAR, a 41.1 7 year peak WAR, and a JAWS rating of 50.2. His peak WAR and JAWS rating are just short, but his total WAR falls considerably below what most HOF right fielders have accrued. In fact, his 59.3 career WAR falls just behind Bobby Abreu, Keith Hernandez, and Jim Edmonds, all great players but none who are in the Hall of Fame.
Part of the reason his WAR is lower than many of his counterparts is his poor OF defense. As was noted earlier, Vladdy had a cannon arm. Unfortunately, the rest of his OF defense was quite poor. He accrued a -10.7 defensive WAR in his career, and a UZR (ultimate zone rating) of -17.2. For those who like more traditional stats, Guerrero had 125 errors as a right fielder, good for 5th all time, despite only being 21st in games played. The Hall of Fame rarely takes defense into play (especially outfield defense) but the damage it does to his career WAR could have an impact on some of the newer, more sabermetric-minded voters.
Black Ink (as opposed to Gray Ink) is the measurement of the # of times a player led the league in various offensive categories. Guerrero has a black ink score of 6, whereas the average HOFer is 27. Guerrero was rarely a "league leader", and when he was he led mostly in IBB and twice in Total Bases. Nothing to be ashamed of, but he never led the league in home runs or RBI's, never won a batting title and never led in OPS+ or Slugging %. In all fairness, Guerrero's career overlapped with sluggers like Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols and fellow HOF ballot-mate Manny Ramirez, but often the voters place a lot of value on being the best in the league, and Guerrero will have a really hard time convincing anyone he was the best player in the league any given year (although he did win the MVP award in 2004).
I don't think this is a legitimate reason not to vote for him, but I think playing so many of his dominant years in Montreal will hurt his familiarity with some of the voters, which could cost him votes. I think that as a voter you should do your due diligence and if you aren't familiar enough with a player of Guerrero's caliber than you probably aren't the right person to be electing players into the Hall of Fame, but I fear some voters will ignore him on election day for some of the bigger name players, especially on an incredibly crowded ballot (Ramirez and Rodriguez will join holdovers like Bonds, Clemens, Sheffield, Sosa, Bagwell, etc).
Vladdy is a Hall of Famer in my book - his ridiculous offensive abilities, hitting for both power and average, while having speed on the base paths, made him a tremendous weapon and one of the best players in the game for a very long period of time. He never had any serious PED allegations around him, something that I think will help him with some of the voters. I've always found Vlad's story to be pretty compelling (completely unheralded, showed up at a tryout in shorts and crushed the ball, got signed almost immediately) and I think he was one of the most athletic, talented baseball players on the planet for nearly a decade. In my mind, no doubt he's a Hall of Famer.
Man, the ballot is crowded next year. Obviously Bonds and Clemens will continue to get votes, and holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Trevor Hoffman, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and Curt Schilling will occupy a lot of voters' ballots. Tack on Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez, who will certainly take up a lot of votes as well, and it gets very hard to predict how the voters will handle someone like Guerrero. Because very few players are going in in their first year (Bagwell is still on the ballot, Piazza and Biggio took a few years) I have a hard time expecting that Guerrero will go in right away, but I do think eventually he will get enshrined, it just might be 4-5 years down the road. He will get my (fictitious) vote each year until then.