The 2021 Hall of Fame ballot has been announced! There are never any surprises here, as you can chart out ballot eligibility years in advance, but it’s still fun to see who officially makes the list each winter.
This year, four Oakland A’s stars join the group for consideration:
- RHP Tim Hudson
- LHP Barry Zito
- RHP Dan Haren
- OF Nick Swisher
Each player also had major achievements in other uniforms, but they all made their names here in Oakland first — three were drafted by the A’s, and Haren was acquired as a youngster before he’d even played a full MLB season.
Unfortunately, it’s likely that none of these four will ever make the Hall. In fact, they probably won’t even get close, and some could even fall off their first ballot by failing to reach at least 5% of the voters. But as much as anything in the sport, it’s the honor of a lifetime just to be nominated for the HOF, and every player who makes it this far was really good for a long time.
Here’s a quick word about each of the former A’s. These are going to sound weirdly harsh, because we’re no longer talking about these players in relation the general hoi polloi, but rather in comparison with the greatest handful of superstars to ever play the game.
Of the four A’s candidates, Hudson has the best chance of sticking on the ballot for a while. His 57.9 bWAR (48.9 fWAR) are at least approaching the range of a borderline HOFer, and his 48.1 JAWS score ranks him 84th among starting pitchers. If you want to play the comp game, JAWS has him ahead of big names like Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Dizzy Dean, and Chief Bender, though that doesn’t take things like awards and championships into consideration.
In that sense, Hudson lags behind. He never won a Cy Young, with just three top-5 finishes (a 2nd and two 4ths). He was only a four-time All-Star. He did finally win a ring at age 38, but did more harm than good in the postseason that year. He was a famous star for his entire career from rookie to retirement, but apparently you kind of had to be there because the paper resume sure doesn’t show it.
A 120 ERA+ and more than 2,000 strikeouts in 3,100 innings (and 222 wins) is a nice resume, but it doesn’t feel like enough on its own. Just as Hudson’s numbers rank above a few cherry-picked HOFers, they also fall short of a long list of Very Good names like Kevin Brown, Luis Tiant, David Cone, Bret Saberhagen, and arguably Kevin Appier, Chuck Finley, and Orel Hershiser.
Hudson was my favorite player on the early Beane Era teams of 1999-2004, and I would be ecstatic if he made the Hall. But it looks to me like he just falls short, and instead will have to be one of the top stars of the Hall of Very Good.
Compared with Hudson, Zito has more hardware but far inferior numbers. The lefty won a Cy Young in 2002, and he was part of two championship teams (though he only played in the postseason for one of them). His 2012 ring includes multiple personal postseason highlights.
However, the back half of Zito’s career was mostly a disaster (from age 30 on), except for his sudden last-minute redemption in October 2012. His 33.1 bWAR (30.2 fWAR) isn’t even close to the bar, and his 31.3 JAWS places him 249th among starters all-time. A 4.04 ERA (105 ERA+), fewer than 1,900 strikeouts, and only 165 wins aren’t enough, and his relatively short peak wasn’t massive enough to make up for them. He was only an All-Star twice, and never got Cy votes in any other season except the time he won it.
Zito was part of the Big 3. He got a record-breaking nine-figure contract in free agency. He was the cool surfer dude who has now pivoted to a career as a musician. His impossibly looping curveball is one of the great artistic masterpieces in baseball history. But he’s not a HOFer, even if he hangs around for a couple ballots.
The third member of the Big 3, Mark Mulder, didn’t pitch in 10 seasons so he’s not eligible for the HOF at all. Instead, we have the guy he was traded for when the A’s sent him to St. Louis.
You can pretty much repeat the Zito section here for Haren, but without the Cy or the ring(s). He’s slightly better but pretty close in the major stats: 109 ERA+, 2,000 strikeouts, 32.9 bWAR, 40.4 fWAR, 34.1 JAWS (206th all-time). He started an All-Star Game, and did so wearing green and gold no less, but it was one of only three trips he made there.
Haren had a wonderful career and he’s now one of the best Twitter follows in baseball, but he’s got a chance to fall off this first ballot.
The Governor of Brohio was one of the most fun players you could hope to watch. He was a well-rounded star on offense, with power and patience, and he could contribute defensively at multiple positions, all with an enormous smile on his face at every moment.
Swisher was also part of the famous Moneyball draft class of 2002, the first of seven 1st-round picks by the A’s that year. He turned out to be the most accomplished of the group by far, ahead of Joe Blanton, then Mark Teahen, and then the rest.
But the numbers just don’t add up. His 1,338 hits and 245 numbers aren’t close to traditional thresholds, nor is his 114 wRC+, and it all adds up to just 21.4 bWAR and 25.1 fWAR — not even one-third of the way to an average HOFer at his main position. His 22.4 JAWS ranks him 101st among just right fielders, in the neighborhood of Jermaine Dye and Danny Tartabull, and he was only an All-Star once. Swisher had a nice career as a beloved star in several cities, and he won a ring in 2009, but he will fall off his first ballot.
Rest of the ballot
The other first-timers joining the ballot in 2021 are, in order of their JAWS scores: Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Shane Victorino, A.J. Burnett, LaTroy Hawkins, and Michael Cuddyer. It’s difficult to see any of them making it, with Buerhle at the top of the list roughly equivalent to Hudson in both numbers and general accomplishments.
The following holdovers are also still on the ballot, in order of their previous vote totals: Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Omar Vizquel, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Jeff Kent, Andruw Jones, Sammy Sosa, Andy Pettitte, and Bobby Abreu.
I haven’t thought about the HOF in a while and I didn’t brush up on everyone’s cases before writing this, but off the top of my head, I would definitely vote for Schilling, Clemens, and Bonds. Those shouldn’t require explanation, and Schilling at least is a virtual lock after getting to 70% last year (need 75% for entry).
I would also listen to arguments for Vizquel, Rolen, and Jones (massive defensive value for all of them). I would listen on Helton (great career for one team), Kent (roughly a Top 20 second baseman), and Pettitte (60+ WAR and five rings). For some reason, I would vote for Manny despite the steroids, but not Sheffield or Sosa, and I don’t really know why. Pass on Wagner and Abreu for now, even though I was a huge fan of both and they each have particularly intriguing stat lines.
What do you think, Athletics Nation? Who would you vote for with the 10 slots on your pretend ballot?