Hall of Fame Ballot: Cubs’ Style

Wrigleyville Nation’s review of the 2014 Hall of Fame voting takes a look a crowded field of potential Chicago Cub inductees. First-year Cub candidates include Moises Alou, Luis Gonzalez, Jacque Jones, and Greg Maddux. Sammy Sosa appears on the ballot for a second year while Rafael Palmeiro shows up for a fourth year and Fred McGriff for a fifth time. Finally, this year marks Cub closer Lee Smith’s twelfth time on the ballot. With eight Cub candidates on the ballot to analyze, this will be the first of four posts on the subject between now and the official announcement on January 8, 2014.

Before analyzing the individual merit of each former Cub player, here are some of the relevant data points.

Who votes for the Hall of Fame?
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (“BBWAA”) vote for the Hall of Fame. The group consists of active baseball writers who each have at least ten years of prior experience.

How does a player get on the Hall of Fame ballot?

All Major League Baseball players who played ten years and have been retired for five consecutive years become eligible for Hall of Fame consideration. The BBWAA appoints a six-member screening committee who review all eligible first-time candidates. Any player nominated by at least two screening committee members has his name placed on the official ballot. In addition, each player who received 5% of the vote on the previous year’s ballot automatically appears on the next year’s ballot with one exception: If a player appears on fifteen consecutive ballots without election, the player is removed from the following year’s ballot.

How is a player elected to the Hall of Fame?
Each BBWAA member can vote for up to ten players on any year’s ballot. To be elected to the Hall of Fame, a player must receive 75% of all BBWAA votes cast. The last player elected to the Hall of Fame was Cincinnati Red Barry Larkin, who received 86% of the vote in 2012. Last year no player received the necessary 75% for Hall of Fame inclusion.

What happens to players on the ballot who are not elected to the Hall of Fame?
If a player fails to get 5% of the vote in any year, that player is removed from the Hall of Fame ballot. Last year, former Cubs Rondell White, Kenny Lofton, and Todd Walker received less than 5% of the vote, so none of these players’ names will appear on this year’s ballot. Also, as noted above, if a player does not obtain election within fifteen years, the player’s name also is removed from the ballot. For example, Atlanta Braves great Dale Murphy will not appear on this year’s ballot as his fifteen year window has closed.

Cub Candidates:

Moises Alou

During his illustrious 17-year career, Moises Alou hit 332 home runs, drove in 1,287 runs, and posted an impressive on base plus slugging percentage (“OPS”) of .885. Alou’s brief three-year Cubs career, on the other hand, had its ups and downs. From 2002 to 2004, Alou’s Wins Above Replacement (“WAR”) fluctuated from 0.2 to 1.1 to 3.9. Despite his slow start as a Cub, by Alou’s third year, he slammed 39 home runs, drove in 106 runs, and produced an OPS of .919.

Despite his fairly impressive offensive numbers, Alou frustrated Cubs fans with his poor fundamental play. Alou strikes me as a prototype Jim Hendry-era player in that he seemed to produce better numbers on paper than his game performance otherwise indicated. I make this observation not as a knock on Hendry, but rather as a general reflection on the style of play of that era’s Cubs. Take, for example, Alou’s 2003 campaign. While Alou posted a fairly decent slash line with 22 home runs, 91 RBIs, and an .819 OPS, he posted a meager 1.1 WAR. Clearly, Alou’s poor defense significantly diminished his overall value. Any Cubs fan who watched the team’s games during Alou’s tenure remembers his frequent fielding blunders as well as his plentiful baserunning missteps.

Irrespective of how he performed during his Cubs career, Alou forever will be remembered by Cubs fans for the catch he did not make on that fateful October 14, 2003 night in game six of the National League Championship Series against the then Florida Marlins. What fans forget, of course, was Alou’s .907 OPS during that playoff series which followed an incredible 1.074 OPS versus the Atlanta Braves during the National League Divisional Series. As Cubs fans can attest, the numbers on paper never really told the full story about Alou.

Projected percentage of the Hall of Fame vote: 9.8%

Luis Gonzalez

Luis Gonzalez played nineteen years for six teams, most notably the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks, and amassed a career total of 354 home runs, 1,439 runs batted in, and an OPS of .845. During his long career, Gonzalez spent one and a half years with the Cubs sandwiched between two stints with the Astros. After being traded to the Cubs along with Scott Servais in exchange for Rick Wilkins in June 1995, Gonzalez rejoined the Astros as a free agent in 1997.

Although Gonzalez’s Cubs career proved nondescript, including just 22 home runs in 862 plate appearances, everything changed for him in 2001. In that breakout campaign, at the age of 34, Gonzalez hit 57 home runs and drove in 142 runs while posting a 1.117 OPS. Gonzalez also led his Diamondbacks team to a World Championship that year. Prior to that year, however, Gonzalez never had hit more than 31 home runs. Gonzalez’s newfound power led to widespread speculation concerning possible steroid use. Although Gonzalez maintains his innocence, the steroid rumors have formed a cloud over the legitimacy of his statistics.

Even if Gonzalez had never become embroiled in the steroids scandal, his career statistics would not carry him into the Hall of Fame. Until he reached his early 30s, Gonzalez was a career journeyman who had put up some solid but unremarkable seasons. His late career surge will not propel him into the Hall. Gonzalez’s career WAR of 51.5 places him 20th among players on this year’s ballot, behind other unlikely Hall of Fame candidates Larry Walker, Alan Trammell, and Edgar Martinez. Steroid-linked Rafael Palmeiro ranks tenth in WAR among current Hall candidates and, despite far stronger career numbers than Gonzalez, received only 8.8% of the vote last year. With Palmeiro’s lack of Hall of Fame success as a guide, a significant chance exists that Gonzalez will fail to receive the 5% of the vote needed to qualify for next year’s ballot.

Gonzalez may become baseball’s first steroid scandal Hall of Fame casualty while superior steroid-linked players such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens, will sit in limbo between the 5% and 75% thresholds.

As far as Gonzalez’s Cubs career is concerned, I remember that he posted a decent on base percentage and had a fair number of doubles while occasionally hitting a home run. His combined 4.6 WAR in 862 plate appearances over two seasons was respectable. Yet, I no more expected to discuss Gonzalez’s future Hall of Fame odds than I did fellow teammate Scott Servais’s.

Projected percentage of the Hall of Fame vote: 5.6%

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