December 1, 2010

4 Former Pirates on HOF Ballot

The Baseball Writers' Association of America announced their Hall of Fame ballot yesterday. Four Pirates are on it this year - two legitimate candidates and two 16 seeds who will be one and done.

Bert Blyleven enters his 14th year of eligibility. His support in the voting has steadily risen from less than 20% in his first three years of eligibility to 74.2% last year - just short of the required 75%. In January I revisited the trade that brought Blyleven to Pittsburgh and helped win the '79 World Series and defended his Hall of Fame credentials.

Blyleven averaged 229 innings a year for 22 seasons. He was an above average pitcher for 17 of these seasons and was the most valuable pitcher in his league twice according to Baseball Reference. He had the greatest curveball of all time and was the greatest complete game pitcher of his era. His 24 complete games in 1985 have not even been approached since then; no one has completed more than 15 in a season since. He was a big game pitcher, with a 5-1 record and a 2.47 ERA in the postseason and two World Series rings. Only Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Steve Carlton struck out more batters than Blyleven's 3701 - which is over 800 more strikeouts than the most of any eligible pitcher not enshrined, Mickey Lolich's 2832.

The main knock on Blyleven's career is the claim that he was a .500 pitcher. Not only is this untrue since he was 37 games over .500, but this well understates his contribution. Baseball Reference estimates he was worth 90 additional wins to his teams over his career - 60 is usually a no-brainer Hall of Fame level. Let's hope 75% of the voters have brains this year.

Dave Parker enters his 15th and final season of eligibility. Parker's case is much different than Blyleven's. Basically there are two ways to rate players - peak value and career value. Parker presents a Hall of Fame case based on his peak value - for five years he was legitimately the best player in baseball. From 1975-79 Parker averaged hitting .321/.377/.532 with 37 doubles, 9 triples, 23 home runs, 98 RBI, 17 steals, and 13 assists in the outfield, while winning three Gold Gloves and finishing in the top three in the MVP race three times. He was the best all-around hitter in the league, the best right fielder, had the best throwing arm, and had outstanding speed on the bases. If you try to come up with how you would arrange those Pirates lineups, Parker is the best option to bat leadoff and the best option to bat fifth. The offensive numbers may not seem legendary in today's context, but they were absolutely gargantuan in the light hitting 1970s.

Parker had a pretty good career afterwards too. He made five more All-Star teams and got votes in the MVP race four more times including Top 5 finishes in 1985-86. He drove in 92 runs in a poor Brewers lineup when he was 39 years old. He was still a feared enough hitter to finish in the top 10 in intentional walks five times after his 34th birthday. He retired with 2712 hits and 1493 RBI.

I think Parker would be in the Hall of Fame already but, of course, he admitted to doing cocaine in the 1980s. Why is it inspirational that Josh Hamilton was a good baseball player, then did cocaine. and then was a good baseball player, but it is shameful that Dave Parker did the same thing? If you evaluate Parker on what he did on the field, he's a Hall of Famer.

Entering the "no chance" realm, Benito Santiago makes his first appearance on the ballot. I posted in February on Santiago, the poster child for the Dave Littlefield regime in Pittsburgh. The former GM brilliantly opted to trade a hard-throwing young reliever in Leo Nunez for the veteran catcher, only to play him for six games in 2005 and then release him despite a $2.25 million salary.

His Pirates tenure notwithstanding, Santiago was a good player who had a good throwing arm, won three Gold Gloves and made five All-Star teams. Unfortunately he was unable to get on base (.307 career OBP) and got injured too much to collect even 2000 hits. He'll get one or two votes and that's it.

And of course, Raul Mondesi also is on the ballot - another bizarre Littlefield-era Pirate. The Pirates signed the 33-year-old outfielder, who was coming off nine consecutive seasons of at least 24 home runs, to a modest $1.15 million contract for 2004. Mondesi was playing every day and hitting a decent .283/.355/.424 on May 7 when he suddenly left the team and went to the Dominican Republic for no apparent reason. He claimed that his wife and family needed him in connection with a $600,000 civil judgment that he had lost. Never mind that he had already earned $65 million in his MLB career. The Pirates were forced to release him, whereupon his agents immediately began negotiating with other clubs. But he never hit again and was out of baseball by the next year. Raul was a good player for ten years from 1994-2003, a power/speed threat, but not even close to a Hall of Famer. He'll get zero votes.

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