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2015 Hall of Fame ballot: Many are James worthy

BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
Special to the Sun-Times

Each year, Hall of Fame voters are called on to judge players who spent their careers at different positions, under different conditions at different ballparks, in overlapping but somewhat different times against different opposition.

Naturally enough, the idea of what it takes to be a Hall of Famer is going to be different for each position. The average rWAR for a Hall of Fame catcher is 52.5, far below the 65.1 for an HOF left fielder. That reflects the realities of the positions, where catchers play fewer games per season and often have shorter careers as regulars.

In the outfield, average Hall rWARs of 70.4 in center and 73.2 in right are giant steps up from the left-field average. Players as valuable as HOF left fielders are being left out, perhaps because their contributions on defense, baserunning and on-base ability are undervalued.

Average rWARs for infield Hall of Famers are 65.9 at first, 69.4 at second, 67.4 at third and 66.7 at shortstop. Starting pitchers are at 73.4, and relievers are at 40.6.

None of those differences is intentional. It’s only in recent years that some voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America have started paying attention to metrics such as WAR and Bill James’ Win Shares in marking their ballots. But the metrics can help by including parts of the game not covered by Triple Crown stats.

The 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot that went out to voters last week has 34 names, and each voter can mark up to 10.

James has suggested a player with 300 Win Shares is clearly Hall of Fame level, and we know the average rWAR for HOF members at each position. The following players on the ballot, listed with rWAR followed by Win Shares, exceed at least one of those standards.

Catcher: Mike Piazza, 59.4, 307.
First basemen: Jeff Bagwell, 79.6, 387; Carlos Delgado, 44.3, 303; Mark McGwire, 62.0, 342.
Second basemen: Craig Biggio, 65.1, 428; Jeff Kent, 55.1, 339.
Third baseman: Edgar Martinez 68.3, 305.
Shortstop: Alan Trammell, 70.4, 318.
Left fielders: Barry Bonds, 162.4, 704; Tim Raines, 67.1, 390.
Right fielders: Gary Sheffield, 60.2, 430; Sammy Sosa 58.4, 321; Larry Walker 72.6, 305.
Starting pitchers: Roger Clemens 140.3, 421; Randy Johnson 102.1, 326; Pedro Martinez, 84.0, 256; Mike Mussina, 83.0, 270; Curt Schilling, 79.9, 252.

That’s 18 players, and the list doesn’t even include John Smoltz, close to Hall average with a 69.5 rWAR and strong with 289 Win Shares.

If you wanted to narrow to those who have both higher than HOF average rWAR and at least 300 Win Shares, the list is Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Piazza, Raines and Trammell.

Some candidates will fall by the wayside because of their association with performance-enhancing drugs.

Still, no matter what positional adjustment you make, there are plenty of candidates qualified by the numbers to fill a 10-spot ballot and then some.