The Class of 2009

The Hall of Fame ballots were released earlier this week. Bert Blyleven, Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines deserve to get in, writes Tyler Hissey.

The Hall of Fame ballots were released earlier this week.

If I had a vote, I would check off three names: Bert Blyleven, Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines.

Blyleven never reached the 300-win plateau, which some writers feel is a death sentence for a Hall candidacy of a pitcher who pitched as many years as he did.

Wins are a poor tool for judging a pitcher's effectiveness, however, as any intelligent baseball fan knows. The stat is team driven, as three factors that a pitcher has no control over negatively or positively influence the total—his bullpen, defense and offense.

It is not rocket science.

Blyleven is the perfect example of why. He pitched on perennial losers for most his career, many times in front of below league average team defenses that were indifferent to converting batted balls hit into play into outs. This, of course, negatively affected his ultimate W/L total, in addition to inflating his rate stats as well. He also pitched in several poor pitching environments.

Even still, Blyleven racked up 287 career wins, the 17th highest total since 1900*.

*Back in the days of Cy Young, of course, pitchers took the ball a lot more often and finished what they started, collecting a decision every time out.

More impressive, Blyleven ranks fifth all time in strikeouts and eighth in shutouts in that time period as well. Critics point to his poor winning percentage, 53.0 percent, and 250 losses. This proves that he factored in the decision like a pitcher of yesteryear, but was unfortunately a tough-luck loser in several instances in which he pitched well enough—and even dominated at times—to record a victory.

Blyleven jumped around during his 22-year career to six different teams, though he spent his prime with the Minnesota Twins. Before he hung up the spikes after a run in each league and many different cities, he finished with some impressive counting and rate stats : 3.30 ERA, 118 ERA +, 6.70 K/9, 1.52 BB/9, 4.50 K/BB, 0.95 HR/9, 1.08 WHIP. He was dominant in stretches, producing an ERA+ above 130 seven different times. He missed bats, hardly walked anyone and did not allow many home runs, the three ultimate things that a pitcher has control over. Had he pitched for consistent playoff-caliber clubs and did not bounce around so much, he would have been inducted into Cooperstown years ago.

Hopefully the man will get his due this time around. At long last.

Henderson is a no-brainer, of course. The greatest leadoff hitter of all time, he will easily get in on the first ballot. Had he not played so long, he would have been in a long time ago as well.

Although Henderson was famous for his antics*, he was one of the greatest overall players of all time. Without question. He finished with a career line of .279/.401/.419 and 127 OPS+. To be able to post that high of an on-base percentage over 25 years is remarkable. He redefined the leadoff man, simply doing it all offensively. He got on base, hit for power— he ranks among the 100 all-time home run hitters—stole bases more frequently than any other player in history and consistently ranked among league leaders in runs scored.

Henderson, in his career, stole more bases (1,406) and scored more runs (2,295) than any other player ever to step foot on the diamond. Baseball is about runs, not hits, which makes what he accomplished so impressive. He also sits second all-time with 2,190 walks, surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2007, and is in the 3,000-hit club—the golden ticket to Cooperstown.

Henderson was a ten-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, three-time Silver Slugger winner, the 1990 M.V.P. and also holds the record for most career leadoff homers. He put together some of the most productive offensive single seasons in history, and is one player who is such a slam dunk that it is unnecessary to cherry pick any single-season stats.

If Henderson does not get more than 90 percent of the vote, there should be an investigation into the BBWAA and each member with a vote should be given a drug test.

Case closed.

*Two brief Rickey Henderson stories, told through second hand accounts. I cannot verify if they are true, but they are the stuff of legend.

Back in the 1980s, the Oakland Athletics' accounting department was up in arms about a missing amount of money in the million-dollar plus range. As it turns out, or so the story goes, the money was really not missing at all. Henderson did not cash his signing bonus, instead choosing to frame it and hang it on his wall. Crisis averted for the cost-conscious A's.

The other story is one which I am sure you have all heard. Henderson, during his days with the Toronto Blue Jays, was a teammate of John Olereud. Olereud, of course, wore a batting helmet in the field in the aftermath of a serious head injury. The pair was reunited a decade later in Seattle, where Rickey allegedly was surprised that he was playing with another first baseman who wore a helmet out in the field. While this story has been refuted, it is pretty humorous, nonetheless.

Raines was overshadowed by Henderson while playing in small markets for much of his career. But he is the second greatest leadoff hitter of all time.

Again, baseball is about runs. Not hits. Raines got on base at a .385 clip and scored 1,571 runs, the highest total of any player not already inducted into Cooperstown. Although he failed to collect 3,000 hits, he reached base more times than several members in the historic club, including Tony Gwynn. He also stole 800-plus bases, with a higher success rate than Henderson.

Lou Brock is also considered one of the best table setters of all time. Brock, who is in the Hall of Fame, finished with a line of .293/.343/.410. Although the St. Louis Cardinals star had some excellent seasons, he was nowhere near the player that Raines was. The latter ended up at .295/.385/.425 for his career, better in each rate category.

Raines also produced a 123 OPS+, 1,627 runs created and 6.59 RC/9, in addition to an excellent .374 wOBA. Essentially, a team made up of nine Tim Raines would have scored many more runs than a team of nine Andre Dawsons or Jim Rices. He got on base at a Hall-worthy pace, the one thing that has the most direct correlation with runs and thus winning, stole bases as well as a handful of players to ever play and even hit for some power. While his defense left a bit to be desired at times, the man was one of the most effective players in his era, in the sense that he did more things that lead to wins for his team compared to his peers. His career is still to this day seriously underrated, however, since writers tend to overvalue counting stats like home runs and RBI.

Although Raines is unlikely to get voted in 2009, hopefully he will get in eventually.

Dawson and Rice were excellent players, but Cooperstown is home to the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good.

Dawson finished with a .323 OBP, and good-but-not-great .805 OPS and 119 OPS+. He compiled RBI totals (only five 100-plus RBI seasons), the function of opportunity, over a lengthy career. While he was an excellent defender, he simply was responsible for making far too many outs.

Rice is likely to get in on his final time on the ballot, but the Boston Red Sox star finished with an .854 OPS and 128 OPS+, not exactly Hall-esque for a power hitter. He had a great stretch during the ‘80s and is often referred to as one of the "most feared hitters" of his generation, but he faded at the end and did not maintain his peak long enough. His entire case is built off RBIs, nothing else.

Rice also benefited from playing at Fenway Park, evident by his home/road splits. The man could play, but would not get my vote.

What do you think? Send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com with your thoughts on the Hall.


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