The BBWAA announced the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees earlier this week. Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez were selected for induction this summer. Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman narrowly missed on the vote. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina all received less than 60 percent of the vote. The 2018 ballot will be crowded with a number of new players with top-notch credentials. Here is a look at the most notable newcomers.
Previewing the 2018 Hall of Fame Ballot
Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. is the top newcomer to the HOF ballot. Jones’ 468 home runs is the third-highest total for a switch hitter. He is also third among third baseman behind Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews in terms of home runs. However, Jones’ 1,623 career RBI is tops among third baseman while his 1,055 extra-base hits rank second. Jones is a member of the ultra-prestigious .300/.400/.500 (batting average/OBP/slugging) club while hitting .300 from both sides of the plate. He was an eight-time all-star and captured the 1999 NL MVP award.
Jones has the distinction of being a main contributor to the golden age of Atlanta Braves baseball. Jones’ teams won 11 division titles, made 13 trips to the postseason, won three pennants and captured the 1995 World Series. Of players not named Hank Aaron, none have meant more to the franchise since arriving in Atlanta than Jones. He was drafted and played every game of his career for Atlanta, something that not even Aaron accomplished. No matter how you dissect his career, Jones remains a likely first-ballot player and one of the best third basemen of all time.
Jim Thome is one of the most prolific power hitters in the history of MLB. Thome hit 30+ home runs 12 times, 20+ 15 times, posted 100+ RBI nine times and hit 20+ homers each year from 1994-2004. He remains one of just eight players to hit 600 home runs and is seventh on the all-time list with 612. Thome’s career .554 slugging percentage and .956 OPS are both top-25 all-time. What is truly mind-boggling is that Thome never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. However, it is hard to argue that his career was anything less than spectacular. Thome played his entire career during the infamous Steroid Era, but there seems to be virtually no connection between Thome and performance enhancers.
Thome made six trips to the postseason while with the Cleveland Indians and won two AL pennants. Cleveland would go on to lose both trips to the World Series despite a solid performance from Thome in 1997. Thome would make a short-lived return to the postseason with the Chicago White Sox in 2008. He would go on to make appearances in the postseason in 2009, 2010, and 2012, but was unable to reach another World Series. Thome’s full body of work is undeniable, and he should go in as a first-ballot player.
Scott Rolen remains a long shot for first ballot induction, but voters should take a serious look here. He burst onto the MLB scene by capturing the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year award. Rolen would go on to be one of the most consistent two-way third basemen of his era. He hit 20+ home runs 10 times, including eight straight seasons from 1997-2004. Rolen won eight Gold Gloves and made seven all-star appearances. His standard statistics do not compare favorably with 2,077 hits, 316 home runs and .281 batting average. However, Rolen’s 70.0 WAR ranks 10th among all third basemen in the history of baseball. Only two players ahead of Rolen on that list are not currently not in the HOF. One is Jones who is mentioned above, the other is Adrian Beltre. Both of those players appear to be locks for induction when the time comes. It will be a tough decision to withhold Rolen from joining them in Cooperstown.
Andruw Jones may be to center fielders what Rolen is to third basemen: a great player who came up just a few tallies short in major statistical categories. Jones made a name for himself with incredible range and highlight reel catches. He eventually developed a major power stroke to go along with his defense and became one of the premier outfielders in all of MLB. Jones hit 20+ home runs 10 times including a single-season franchise record of 51 in 2005. He captured 10 straight Gold Gloves from 1998-2007. Jones’ prime seasons were phenomenal. Unfortunately, he fell off quick and hard. Jones hit 434 homeruns in his career, but he amassed just 1,933 hits and posted career marks of .254 and .486 in batting average and slugging percentage. His 62.8 WAR ranks 14th all-time and, like Rolen, most players ahead of Jones are in the HOF. However, it remains difficult to see Jones receiving induction any time soon. 500 home runs, two more prime seasons, or a batting average around .280 would have greatly strengthened his resume.
Omar Vizquel may have had the smoothest glove of his era. A shortstop in the mold of Ozzie Smith, Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves over parts of 24 seasons. The real crime is the fact that Vizquel made just three all-star appearances over the course of his career. He spent most of his prime years in Seattle, overshadowed by Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, or Cleveland, away from the spotlight. And it needs to be said that Vizquel was not just a sparkling defender. No, he never hit more than 14 home runs or drove in more than 72 RBI in a season, but he was productive. Vizquel finished his career with 2,877 hits, 404 stolen bases, and 1,445 runs scored. Despite his solid numbers and amazing defense, it is unlikely that Vizquel will make the HOF on his first ballot. A crowded ballot will hurt Vizquel and force him to wait a year or two for induction.