When Aramis Ramirez announced his retirement from Major League Baseball last week, it brought the total to five of some of the bigger stars of the 2000s who decided to hang up the ol’ cleats. He joins Torii Hunter, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Dan Haren as the current list of candidates that are eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2021. Do any stand a chance?
First, lets take a look at the stats:
- Ramirez: .283/.341/.492, 386 career home runs, 1417 RBI, 32.1 WAR (according to Baseball Reference)
- Hudson: 222-133, 3.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2080 K/ 917 BB, 57.2 WAR
- Zito: 165-143, 4.04 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 1885 K/1064 BB, 33.5 WAR
- Haren: 153-131, 3.75 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 2013 K/500 BB, 32.9 WAR
- Hunter: .277/.331/.461, 353 home runs, 1391 RBI, 50 WAR
Ok, first things first. Let’s just cross Haren and Zito off the list right from the get go. I will admit, I gained a lot more respect for Haren after seeing the final totals in his K/BB ratio. He struck out 1500 more batters than he walked? Had he been able to do anything else with his career, those are honestly Hall of Fame, stand out numbers. One World Series appearance as a reliever (in which he ironically walked more than he struck out) and no awards to his name will leave Haren getting to Cooperstown like you and I… paying for a ticket at the door.
It’s hard to believe that Zito has the only major award out of this bunch, with his 2002 Cy Young behind a 23-5 season. People like to point the finger at the mega-deal — when he became a turncoat and headed across the bay as the downfall of his career — but the truth was that his career began a slow downward spiral immediately after 2002. Both his ERA and WHIP would rise on an annual basis and after 2003, after throwing four complete game shutouts through his first four seasons, Zito would throw one more.
I — as well as the rest of the baseball world — would love to see Huddy get into the Hall of Fame. But what’s that old adage? Nice guys finish last? This isn’t the Hall of Really Cool Guys to be Around. It’s the Hall of Fame, where numbers matter. Numbers that Hudson never captured.
He did retire the active leader in wins and averaged a respectable 13 wins a season over the course of his 17-year career. He did earn the 2010 Comeback Player of the Year Award, but was only in the top five of Cy Young voting four times. Hudson may retire the best of Oakland’s Big Three, but he was overshadowed by some of the game’s greats and other Hall of Famers for most of his career, like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux. His 57.2 WAR is impressive on this list and amongst many of his current contemporaries, but it left him 10 points short of Smoltz (the lowest WAR of the five aforementioned names) and 50 points short of Maddux and the Big Unit.
Ramirez struggled for the early part of his career. He had a monster year in the Minor Leagues in 1997, leading Baseball America to name him the No. 5 overall prospect in baseball heading into the 1998 season. He really struggled in ’98 at the big league level at the age of 20, and it didn’t get better until his age-23 year when he broke out.
That 2001 season Ramirez would go off, slashing .300/.350/.536 with 34 home runs and 112 RBI. It would start his run of one of the best offensive third basemen in MLB, becoming a doubles and home run machine. He would be traded to the Cubs for a bunch of nobodies and 2003, and later sign with the Brewers in 2011 before being traded back home last year to finish his career in Pittsburgh.
When potential Hall of Famers have questionable numbers offensively, you can look to their defensive numbers to make a case. Ramirez, for the most part, was a nightmare at third base. He finished with a career fielding percentage of .952, which was three points below the league average for third baseman over the course of his career. His career dWAR is -6.4. To put that in perspective, Scott Brosius finished his career with a 4.9 dWAR, and he was about as middling a third basemen as it came.
Ramirez never snagged a Gold Glove, never finished higher than ninth in the MVP voting, and only led the league in sacrifice flies (twice) and doubles (once) over the course of his career. We can safely say Ramirez is not Cooperstown bound.
Does the lackluster 2021 Hall of Fame eligibles make Torii Hunter’s case more compelling? When it came to outfield defensive play in the first decade of the 2000s, the list started with Ichiro and ended with Hunter. Everyone else showed their ability, but every year from 2001 to 2010, Ichiro and Hunter were Gold Glove winners. So when it comes to fielding, Hunter was a master at his craft. Compare his 3.3 career dWAR to his contemporaries and he is even stronger. Vernon Wells — who won four Gold Gloves during that same span — finished with a career -1.0 dWAR, while Ichiro — one of the most electric outfielders in current history — has a 4.1.
His offensive numbers are modest, but in the era of live baseballs, he was never questioned. Twice he was a member of the 20/20 Club and he knocked on the door just about every season in the early part of his career. When the Minnesota Twins started their uprising in the early part of the decade — you know when they made the playoffs EVERY year and you still wondered how — Hunter was the face of their young squad.
Hunter came alive in the playoffs. The Twins lost back-to-back seasons in the first round to the New York Yankees, but to no fault of their leader. Hunter hit .429 with a homer and two RBI in 2003, and followed it up with a .353, one homer two RBI performance in 2004.
Under normal circumstances, Hunter — who was the 6th active leader in hits with 2,452 at the time of his retirement — would probably never garner Hall of Fame discussion. The lack of any real superstars in his 2021 eligibility year may swing enough votes his way, and get him into the Hall of Fame. It may also open the door for a guy like Roy Halladay — who is eligible the year prior — to sneak into Cooperstown.
The Hall will be interesting over the next few votes. There are a few surefire inductees on the list — like Chipper Jones, The Sandman, Vlad Guerrero and Derek Jeter — but there are others who’s participation in the Steroid Era will leave many question marks. The omission of some statistically deserving candidates could easily open the door to someone like Hunter to get in, although I think it is a bit of a stretch. But hey, what do I know, Barry Larkin got in under some of the same circumstances. Anything can happen in the HOF voting process, just ask Jim Rice.