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Who is the best Oakland A’s player not in the Hall of Fame? Moneyball Years

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Chavez, Giambi, Hudson, or Tejada?

BBA-TEXAS/ATHLETICS TEJADA GRAND SLAM Photo credit should read JOHN G. MABANGLO/AFP via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have over a half-century of history in the books, and it’s filled with star players. Several have made the Baseball Hall of Fame after long careers wearing green and gold, but many more are on the outside looking in.

The question we’re looking to answer here is, who is the best A’s player not in the HOF? The candidates are split into four categories, and in the first two posts we examined the 1970s three-peat champion Swingin A’s and the 1989 champion Bash Brothers Era. The community voted in a poll at the end of each post, and the winners of those groups were Vida Blue and Mark McGwire by sizable margins.

This time, we’re turning our attention to the beginning of the 21st century, and the Moneyball years of the early 2000s. Once again, there are four players to choose from, and in fact one of them is debuting on the real-life HOF ballot this year. The other three each got their chances on the real ballot over the last couple years but fell off after their first tries.

After a quick word about each, and some key stats, there is another poll at the bottom for everyone to vote. The winner of that poll will go up against Vida and McGwire and one other future poll winner in a final vote to crown a champion.

First, some honorable mentions. Barry Zito is the big snub here, as his numbers just don’t quite measure up to the others on the list. There’s no real argument for him over the other pitcher in our poll, and overall he’s fifth in line for a four-player list. He has a Cy Young, and two rings including one that he played a crucial role in, but the back half of his career was mostly a dud and his 4.04 ERA, 105 ERA+, 165 wins, 33.1 bWAR, and 30.2 fWAR just aren’t quite enough to make the cut. He’s joining the real-life HOF ballot this year, and I wrote more about him last month.

We’re also skipping Mark Mulder, for one simple reason — he literally isn’t eligible for the Hall of Fame. Due to injuries that ended his career at age 30, he only pitched nine seasons in the majors, and you have to play in 10 seasons just to get into the conversation to join the real-life ballot. But leaving that aside, his 19.6 bWAR, 18.7 fWAR, 103 wins, and 4.18 ERA (106 ERA+) don’t come close to his old rotation-mates, even with a runner-up Cy Young finish and a pair of All-Star berths. Physically he was the largest of the Big 3, but he has the smallest HOF case.

There are several more Hall of Very Good stars who are mostly known for their work on other teams but had brief cameos in Oakland. That’s not what we’re looking for in this post, so we’re leaving out Kevin Appier (54.9 bWAR, 50.8 fWAR, 121 ERA+), Johnny Damon (56.3 bWAR, 44.4 fWAR, 2,769 hits, 408 steals), David Justice (40.6 bWAR, 40.4 fWAR, 130 wRC+), Kenny Rogers (50.5 bWAR, 42.5 fWAR), and some others in the 20-30+ bWAR range like Ray Durham, Randy Velarde, Jermaine Dye, and Keith Foulke.

And then there’s Matt Stairs, perhaps the greatest pinch-hitter of all time, who holds multiple oddball records amid his 19-year, 12-team, 265-homer career — he did actually spend more time with the A’s than any of his other teams, by a wide margin. And Tim Raines (who played here in 1999) is in the actual HOF, so he’s disqualified, as are Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza if we look later in the 2000s decade.

And finally, there is Jason Isringhausen. He played in this era, but he’ll instead be a candidate in the next post.

Jason Giambi | 1B

50.5 bWAR | 49.8 fWAR

You could make a borderline case for Giambi in the real HOF, if not for the steroids. And it’s not just a suspicion with him, as he’s one of the few stars to outright admit his use and publicly own his decision. If PEDs are a dealbreaker for you, then we’re done here and you can move on to the next player on the list.

Otherwise, let’s play the comp game. There are two career stat lines below. One of them is Giambi’s, and the other belongs to a first-ballot Hall of Famer whose career spanned exactly the same years as Giambi’s.

  • Player A: 140 wRC+, 440 HR, 1,441 RBI, .277/.399/.516
  • Player B: 136 wRC+, 449 HR, 1,496 RBI, .318/.379/.553

They had roughly equal playing time, within a season’s worth of games and a couple hundred plate appearances. They debuted within a year of each other. Both won an MVP award, but neither ever won a ring, and each reached just one World Series. Player B has an extra 600 hits, but Player A has an extra 600 walks to make up for it and a higher OBP, and their isolated slugging is nearly identical. Player B also has 181 steals, but they came at a poor success rate (66%) that didn’t really help his teams.

Player A is Giambi. Player B is Vladimir Guerrero, who breezed into the HOF with 92.9% of the vote on his first ballot. Vlad does have an extra 5-10 WAR depending which scale you prefer, and it helps to not be a first baseman, but RF is a high-offense position too and he never won a Gold Glove on defense. Giambi got just 1.5% of the vote last year on his first ballot.

I’m not saying Giambi should be in the HOF, but he’s definitely toward the top of the Hall of Very Good. Just like Guerrero should be. But I’m a Big Hall proponent, so I’m not going to complain too hard about Vlad getting in. Who doesn’t love Vlad?

As for Giambi, he was one of the biggest heroes in A’s history right up until he wasn’t. He was the unofficial captain and clubhouse frat president of an exciting young upstart contender in 1999-2001, a homegrown slugger who seemed larger than life every time he stepped into the box. He won the MVP in 2000 and nearly did again in 2001, averaging 40 homers and nearly a .500 OBP those two years, and he led the A’s to their first postseason berths in nearly a decade.

Then he bolted in free agency, to none other than the evil Damn Yankees who had knocked his ragtag green-and-gold squad out of October both times. Knife, meet back.

He returned to Oakland years later as a 38-year-old, but it was just a token cameo at that point as he batted .193 in a half-season. His legacy had already been written, as the source of some of our greatest recent memories and also one our worst recent heartbreaks. Are those good times, plus his impressive numbers, enough to earn your vote in this A’s poll?

Tim Hudson | RHP

56.5 bWAR | 48.9 fWAR

He joined the real-life HOF ballot this year, so I just wrote about his case last month:

His 56.5 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.

Like Giambi in the previous section, Hudson is right on the border of the real-life HOF but probably on the wrong side of the line. However, I think he’ll have more success among HOF voters than Giambi or Zito or the others on this list, and maybe even stick around for a few ballots. Between that measure, and his lofty WAR, he would logically be a front-runner in this A’s poll.

Miguel Tejada | SS

47.1 bWAR | 39.7 fWAR

His overall case resembles Giambi’s. His numbers aren’t quite as high, but as a shortstop he ranks similarly among his position group as Giambi does among first basemen. Tejada has a strong WAR total, over 2,400 hits, 307 homers, and an MVP award, though zero rings. And he also has the PED shadow, having tested positive twice for amphetamines after years of other steroid allegations against him.

In an odd coincidence, Tejada’s second-most similar batting comp on Baseball-Reference is Robinson Cano, himself serving a PED suspension in 2021 for a second positive test. But the other nine names on the list are seven Hall of Famers plus Jeff Kent and Scott Rolen, who are both on the current ballot and reached personal highs in votes last year. Among shortstops, Tejada ranks above a few old-timey Hall of Famers, but near or below some Hall of Very Gooders like Bert Campaneris, Nomar Garciaparra, and Jimmy Rollins.

Giambi was the leader of the pack when he was in town, but after he left, it was Tejada who stepped into his shoes for two more playoff seasons. He won the MVP in 2002, and provided two straight walk-off hits toward the end of The Streak. He got even better in Baltimore, where he put up several more good years, and he ended up with MVP votes in eight seasons (one more than Giambi). He’s definitely not a HOFer, but he deserves a long look in this A’s poll, at least for those who don’t disqualify him for PED use.

Eric Chavez | 3B

38.3 bWAR | 35.7 fWAR

While his career numbers are good enough to beat out Zito for the last spot on this list, there’s only one way Chavez can hope to earn your vote in the poll. You have to first disqualify Giambi and Tejada for their PED use, and then it’s just Chavy vs. Huddy among clean players.

It was pointless to pit Zito against Hudson, but perhaps you could make a case for Chavez based on specialty expertise. His six Gold Gloves are tied for the fifth-most at the hot corner, and only 55 players in history have ever won a half dozen of them at any single position. Add to that his 260 homers, solid on-base skills, and a 113 wRC+, and he was a star contributor on both sides of the ball even when his raw numbers didn’t jump off the page.

The problem is that his career effectively ended far too early. Injuries took over before he even turned 30 and he was never a full-time player again, though he did make a comeback years later as a bench bat for a few summers in New York and Arizona. Beginning with his age 29 season, he played only 449 games the rest of the way (not even three seasons’ worth) and racked up only around 3-5 WAR total.

With another half-decade of moderate productivity, maybe Chavez could have better matched the career numbers of Giambi and Tejada. Instead, his case in this A’s poll revolves around him staying clean and putting up an underrated peak that featured a somewhat historic amount of award hardware. And although he received MVP votes four times, and ranks Top 50 all-time among third basemen, he holds the distinction of being one of the biggest All-Star snubs in history.

***

Alright Athletics Nation, time to vote. One of these 2000s Moneyball A’s stars will move on to the finals to face off with players from other eras, including Vida Blue and Mark McGwire. Who you got?

Poll

Who is the best Moneyball Years A’s player not in the Hall of Fame?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Eric Chavez
    (73 votes)
  • 32%
    Jason Giambi
    (183 votes)
  • 40%
    Tim Hudson
    (227 votes)
  • 12%
    Miguel Tejada
    (72 votes)
555 votes total Vote Now