As we approach the announcement of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America 2019 Hall of Fame class, here at Pitcher List we continue our series of deeper dives into some of the more compelling and complex cases on this year’s ballot—specifically cases in which players are either right on the cusp of getting enough votes or are potentially being falsely undervalued. The subject of today’s discussion is slugger Gary Sheffield. If the BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results turn out to be anything like those of the Pitcher List staff, Sheffield won’t come close to being enshrined in 2019. But should he? Ryan Amore and Nathan Mills take a closer look.
THE CASE FOR SHEFFIELD
The thing that really stands out when looking at Sheffield’s career totals is the lack of strikeouts. Sheffield never struck out 100 times in a season and finished his career with a higher walk rate (13.7%) than his career K rate of 10.7%. That’s incredibly impressive for a modern era power hitter and a sign of a man who truly mastered the skill of hitting. He hit .292 for his career with 509 home runs and 2,689 total hits. Don’t forget the guy won a batting title and was far from a one-dimensional slugger—he was legitimately one of the best hitters of his era. In fact, his career OPS of .907 would place him 34th among Hall of Famers, right behind Mike Schmidt and tied with Ken Griffey Jr.
Interestingly though, Sheffield only received 21.95% of the Pitcher List staff vote. Meanwhile, Larry Walker, who had the huge advantage of playing in pre-humidor era Colorado and finished with significantly fewer hits, HR and RBI received more than three times as many votes.
– Ryan Amore
THE CASE AGAINST SHEFFIELD
I approached the Pitcher List ballot like I would approach a real Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. For me, that meant two things in particular:
Because I believe there are more than 10 former players currently on the ballot deserving of induction, I would use all 10 of my votes.
Because I hate to see guys fall off in the first year (a symptom of being incredibly disappointed that Kenny Lofton got so little love in his first year on the ballot), I would toss a vote or two to guys I thought might not get the appreciation they probably should for their careers.
Which leads me to the cases of Gary Sheffield and Todd Helton.
There were nine players I felt comfortable giving votes ahead of both of these guys, but my 10th vote was a toss-up. Both guys check a lot of—though not all of—the boxes to deserve entry into the Hall of Fame.
Sheffield finished his career with more than 500 home runs, a batting average near .300 and an OPS higher than .900. He made multiple All-Star teams, finished top 10 in MVP voting multiple times (though he never won) and captured multiple Silver Slugger awards late in his career.
And though Sheffield was no world beater with the glove (downright bad at times, in fact), the fact that he came up as a shortstop before transitioning to third base and then the outfield (and first base!) does say at least something about his ability to adapt in the field. Not to mention he has a ring.
The arguments for Sheffield are pretty clear.
There are some arguments against him, of course. There’s the steroid stuff, which doesn’t really bother me but has kept much better cases out of the Hall of Fame to this point. There’s the fact that playing for an entire generation helped with his counting numbers (even though many of his rate stats are all still pretty good to great for his career). There’s the fact that because he played for so many teams in so many different roles that he doesn’t have a clear identity for voters to latch onto—unless you count the way he could be a little bit of a hothead (another knock) as an identity.
The truth is I thought for sure Sheffield was safe on the ballot for at least another year. The guy fits the profile of a Hall of Famer, even if his 11 percent on the ballot last year doesn’t quite illustrate confidence he’s a safe bet to get in.
But Todd Helton? I wasn’t so sure.
From where I sit, Todd Helton and Gary Sheffield are both Hall of Famers. If I’d had an 11th vote, it would’ve gone to Sheffield. If guys were on the ballot forever with no risk of falling off, I probably would’ve just flipped a coin to decide between the two.
But with neither of those scenarios being reality, I had to choose, and I chose Helton because I was concerned he might not get enough love to stay on the ballot because there are a couple arguments working against him that have kept other players out of the Hall of Fame thus far.
Helton checks many of the same boxes Sheffield checks (plus another box Sheffield couldn’t touch—fielding) but has less baggage, making my decision even easier. After all, if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have to wait to get in because of character concerns, there’s no way guys like Curt Schilling and Sheffield should get in without a decent wait.
The only real argument against Helton, however, is that he played in Colorado for his entire career, which has kept other greats out of the Hall for far too long.
With it also being Helton’s first year on the ballot, I wanted to make sure he didn’t fall off by receiving less than 5 percent of the vote. Ballot rules plus the lack of baggage led me to choose Helton and leave Sheffield off my ballot. Helping ensure Helton gets another year on the ballot was important enough to me to keep me from using my 10th vote on Sheffield.
– Nathan Mills
Graphic by Justin Paradis/ @freshmeatcommr on Twitter