Of all the active players in Major League Baseball right now, only a small handful seem to be destined for the Hall of Fame. Indeed, that list is debatable, but no one would argue against you if you deemed Clayton Kershaw, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera “surefire Hall of Famers.” That list should also include Ichiro Suzuki (set to retire early in 2019) and the recently retired Adrian Beltre (who finished with the most hits by any third baseman in MLB history).
There’s no need to make the case for those six players.
Instead, let’s look at eight players and debate whether or not they are destined for Cooperstown.
Madison Bumgarner, Pitcher, Giants
The case for Madison Bumgarner:
From 2010–2014, Bumgarner excelled in the playoffs, including an unbelievable 0.25 ERA in the World Series alone. His legendary status was boosted when, clinging to a one-run lead in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, he was brought into the game in relief and shut down the Royals to earn his third ring in five years. In the postseason, he’s the closest there is to a “sure thing.” His highest ERA in any of his full seasons is his 3.37 ERA in 2012, and his career ERA sits at a solid 3.03.
The case against Madison Bumgarner:
Bumgarner has not been a leader in any major pitching category in the NL over his 10-year career. He’s never finished higher than fourth in Cy Young voting, even if Kershaw is the reason why he keeps getting bumped out. Injuries have kept him to under 130 innings pitched in the last two seasons, and he has yet to have a regular season where he sets himself apart from other top pitchers in the NL.
Buster Posey, Catcher, Giants
The case for Buster Posey:
By this point, Posey has accomplished just about anything a player would want to. He won the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year award, the 2012 NL MVP, and World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers and All-Star Game appearances are just icing on the cake.
Also, you can’t have much more of an impact on the game than having a rule named after you. After Posey was barreled over at the plate by Scott Cousins in a 2011 game, MLB revised its rules regarding home plate collisions in order to protect their catchers. He was that much of a star: Major League Baseball couldn’t stand to see him miss the rest of the season.
The case against Buster Posey:
He’s been relatively quiet for the past handful of years. He still hits for a good average but hasn’t matched the numbers of his excellent 2012 campaign. He now shares first base duties with Brandon Belt, so his oeuvre as a catcher is front loaded, and he will need to be an offensive or defensive star in order to stay relevant.
Yadier Molina, Catcher, Cardinals
The case for Yadier Molina:
Molina is entering his 16th season with the Cardinals and has been one of the finest defensive catchers in all of baseball for more than a decade. He has nine Gold Glove awards and was the recipient of the Rawlings Platinum Glove award in its inaugural year—an award given to only one player in each league. His career BA sits at a respectable .282, and he is a standout for being one of the few players who has stayed with one team his whole career.
The case against Yadier Molina:
The last two catchers admitted into the Hall of Fame were Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez, two players known for being outstanding sluggers at their position. Molina doesn’t have the offensive numbers to match up against catchers in the Hall of Fame.
Justin Verlander, Pitcher, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros
The case for Justin Verlander:
Verlander put himself back into HOF discussion after his remarkable run with the Houston Astros in the second half of 2017. Verlander was unstoppable after being acquired from Detroit, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA, and leading the Astros to a World Series championship. His best season came in 2011 when he took home the Cy Young and MVP awards. Verlander was otherworldly in ’11, going 24-5 and twirling his second career no-hitter.
The case against Verlander:
Things were looking grim for the right-hander following a subpar 2014 season when his ERA ballooned to 4.54. He had reportedly lost some of his velocity, and his numbers continued to decline. Verlander fought hard to get his form back and eventually delivered a solid 2016 season, where was barely edged out for his second Cy Young award. But his career numbers are still affected by his performance dip from 2013–2015.
Joey Votto, First Baseman, Cincinnati Reds
The case for Joey Votto:
It’s an admirable feat to lead the league in on-base percentage for the past three years. And while Mike Trout accomplished this in the AL, Votto quietly led the NL. Votto gained prominence after a superb campaign in 2010, which earned him the NL MVP. Votto has become the darling of the sabermetric thinkers—a player who can get on base with the best of them. He has led the NL in OBP in seven of the last nine seasons.
The case against Joey Votto:
Votto’s peripheral numbers have been all over the place since 2010. While he often leads the league in walks, his home run totals have dipped as low as 12 (2018—145 games) and shot as high as 36 (2017—162 games). His RBI and run-scoring chances have been low due to his poor supporting cast. His inconsistency has prevented him from being a standout player year to year. His counting stats look fair at this point (269 home runs, 897 RBI), meaning he will have to keep up his dominance in the on-base department to set himself apart from other first basemen.
Craig Kimbrel, Relief Pitcher, Boston Red Sox
The case for Craig Kimbrel:
If nothing else, Craig Kimbrel has been the one active relief pitcher who’s had a hold on closing duties the longest. He didn’t need a World Series ring to be respected as one of the greatest closers of his time—he has averaged 42 saves for the past eight years and has an outstanding 1.91 career ERA.
The case against Craig Kimbrel:
Hall of Fame voters have been very picky when it comes to voting for closers. Lee Smith and Billy Wagner, both dominant closers in their time, were never voted in on the regular ballot. Smith, however, was finally voted in by the Today’s Game Era Committee in 2018. He will be inducted in the summer of 2019. Kimbrel may have to creep closer to the 600-save mark that Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera passed in order to be in the discussion. Additionally, you can argue that Kimbrel’s best days are behind him, as he had a 1.43 ERA in his five years in Atlanta, and it jumped a full run higher in his three years with Boston (2.44). Kimbrel also led the NL in saves for four consecutive seasons (2011–2014) but showed signs of weakness in the 2018 postseason run for the Red Sox.
Max Scherzer, Pitcher, Nationals
The case for Max Scherzer:
Scherzer has seemingly gotten better every season, and really started to take off in 2013. Since then, he has racked up three Cy Young awards (with one second-place finish). He twirled two no-hitters in 2015 and struck out a record 20 batters in a 2016 game against Detroit.
The case against Max Scherzer:
Seemingly, he will need to keep up this level of dominance in order to be considered for the Hall. He has been a bit of a late bloomer and has delivered his best seasons for the Nationals. It’s become tougher for active pitchers to cross the 200-win mark these days, so voters will most likely focus on his career ERA (3.22, currently) and his awards. His current run of six All-Star Game appearances is a good start.
Chris Sale, Pitcher, Red Sox
The case for Chris Sale:
Fresh off a stellar 2018 with the Red Sox that earned him his first World Series ring, Sale has been plowing through American League lineups for close to a decade. He has been one of the most effective strikeout pitchers in all of baseball, crossing the 200-strikeout mark every season since 2013 (and striking out a league-leading 308 in 2017). He is in the Cy Young conversation every year, even if he has no individual trophies on his mantel yet.
The case against Chris Sale:
Sale may need those individual trophies to set himself apart from his contemporaries. Voters will notice his All-Star selections and his strikeout numbers (which put him on pace for 3,600 over a 15-year career), but recent inductees like Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson have set the bar quite high.
Who else might be a Hall-worthy player?
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), whose primary role is to nominate and vote on inductees for the Hall, is looking for those players who can excel throughout a successful career.
There is a wealth of young talent in the game today, and players like Bryce Harper, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado have shown stellar starts to their careers.
But Hall of Fame voters tend to prefer consistency spread out over a large stretch of time. Don Mattingly has been kept out of Cooperstown because he had only five or six standout seasons.
Who else should be considered for the Hall?
Only time, and great seasons, will tell.
photo credit: Click2Houston