Happy 5779. For those among you looking puzzled, today is Jewish New Years (called Rosh Hashana in Hebrew). If rush hour traffic seemed a little off today, that is probably why. For those fellow members of the tribe discretely reading this on a smart phone in synagogue, may I say, “Shana tova.”
At any rate, today marks the beginning of year 5779 in the Jewish calendar, just a few years ahead of the Gregorian passage of time. While it may seem foreign to some to use anything other than Anno Domini, the tracking of years is a somewhat arbitrary number. Indeed, the same can be said for quite a number of things around which our lives revolve.
Among the most egregious abusers of arbitrary numbers is the Baseball Hall of Fame — how about that segue? — which often bases admission on the backs of baseball cards. I was recently having a debate with a friend about whether we are watching any future Hall of Famers with the current Cubs right now. So I went to the numbers.
While any player could break theoretically break out and become worthy of Cooperstown, I’m going to limit the field to manageable proportions. I will only consider players who have already reached 15 career bWAR, which means Javier Baez, Wilson Contreras, and Kyle Hendricks (among others) are not under consideration.
Nine current Cubs meet the 15 career bWAR cut-off, so I’ve categorized them in reverse order of selection likelihood.
Not gonna happen: Daniel Murphy, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish
Murphy has 19.1 career bWAR, but was a late bloomer who is already 33. Best-case scenario, he has three more All-Star worthy (5 bWAR) seasons left in the tank. That would only take him to 35 career bWAR, when most HoF’ers have at least 65.
Quintana has 22.4 career bWAR and is far younger than Murphy. He could have 10 more years in his career, including 3-4 more in his prime. Yet Quintana has never been considered the best pitcher on his own team at any point in his career. Technically, you can make the Hall without meeting that threshold (e.g. John Smoltz), but it likely takes a Cy Young or two. It is hard seeing Quintana blossoming to that level at this point in his career.
If Darvish had started his career in MLB, he might have a better candidacy. But between his Japanese career and injuries, Darvish has only pitched five MLB seasons. He has a respectable, but hardly remarkable, 18.6 bWAR in those years. The voters might give a little credit for his time in NPB, but Darvish would need multiple Cy Young-caliber seasons in his 30’s to have any shot. That would be awesome, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
Unlikely: Jason Heyward
It seems odd to even mention Heyward as a candidate given his level of play since joining the Cubs. Yet he already has 35 career bWAR, far more than Anthony Rizzo, who is the same age. Almost all (non-steroid linked) players with 70 career bWAR are in the Hall of Fame (how Mike Mussina is not in yet boggles my mind). In other words, Heyward is halfway there at age 29. He also has five Gold Gloves on his mantle with room to add more. If by some miracle Heyward re-discovers his early career form, he has a solid foundation on which to build.
Will get votes, but probably fall short: Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester
From 2009-14, Ben Zobrist was among the best players in baseball and had two MVP-level seasons (’09 and ’11). He also is a ground-breaking player, as history will likely remember Zobrist as the first of a breed of positionally flexible stars. He has three All-Star appearances and deserved three more, made multiple World Series appearances and won twice, and earned World Series MVP.
If Zobrist had made it to the majors a bit younger (he broke in at 25) he might have had a shot at the Hall. But time is not on his side and he lacks the classic counting stats and awards traditional voters like. His candidacy would need to rest on newer metrics, like WAR. Yet Zobrist only has 44.7 career bWAR and is already 37 years old. Fifty career WAR is possible, the 60+ it would take to get any serious consideration is not.
Rizzo is only 29 years old and already has 28 career bWAR and three All-Star seasons. But his numbers have been trending the wrong way the past two years. If Rizzo wants to get voted in, he needs to return to his 2014-2016 form for the next five years and throw in an MVP-caliber season. Perhaps the biggest mark in his favor is that he is the undisputed face of the current Cubs dynasty in the making.
David Ortiz is going to sail into the HoF despite surprisingly weak career numbers largely because he helped break the Curse of the Bambino and then led the Red Sox to two more championships. Rizzo could take the same path.
Lester has been among the best pitchers in MLB for a decade. He has 42 career bWAR, six All-Star appearances, three top-5 Cy Young finishes (including No. 2 in 2016), a no-hitter, and over 2,000 career strikeouts. On the other hand, Lester had two seasons in his prime (2012, 2017) where he was replacement level. Baseball Reference tracks two metrics for judging likely HoF’ers in the making: the HoF Career Standards Test and the HoF Monitor.
Lester has accumulated 36 points in the HoF Career Standards Test, where 50 is calibrated to represent an average Hall of Famer. He also has 88 points on the HoF Monitor, where 100 is a legit HoF candidate. While he could add to those totals, his age and recent results make that unlikely. Lester is a classic member of the Hall of Very Good. He probably gets a few votes from the Boston and Chicago writers, but falls off the ballot within two years.
Well on his way: Kris Bryant
Bryant’s injury-plagued 2018 has derailed what appeared to be an inevitable march to the Hall. With nearly 20 bWAR in his first three seasons, Bryant looked on pace for 80+ career bWAR and a ticket to Cooperstown. Hopefully, this year was just a blip.
Legit Contender: Cole Hamels
This is a bit cheap, seeing as Hamels has been a Cub for less than two months. Yet he has the best HoF resume on the current roster, and it is not even close. Hamels has 56 career bWAR at only 34, and his recent success shows he still has a bit left in the tank. If he can continue his recent performance, guide the Cubs to another World Series, and then put together another few quality seasons, he will have a decent candidacy.
Unfortunately, Hamels has never won a Cy Young and was rarely considered the best pitcher in baseball at any point in his career. He also gets very little love from the Bill James tests (he is lower than Lester on both). But Hamels has four all-star appearances, anchored a Phillies rotation that went to back-to-back World Series, and was Series MVP in 2008. He’s also got that (in)famous no-hitter and should also reach 2,500 strikeouts next season.
His numbers compare unfavorably to Mussina, who is still languishing on the ballot, and Hamels’ candidacy will really pick up steam if he can get to 200 wins (he is currently at 156). Personally, I doubt he gets over 75 percent of the vote, but he is the closest current Cooperstown Cub candidate (alliteration, always fun).
I began this conversation based on the concept of numbering years, so allow me to leave you with the following thought. May this be another October in which we turn the calendar AC000000.
Bonus Feature – Daydream Cubs: 1997
In a parallel universe where Moshe was transported back as GM of the 1981 Cubs, we rejoin the Daydream Cubs. For a full explanation of what is going on here, this original post explains it all. Click here for 1996, or here for a summary all drafts & rosters to date.
On the subject of Hall of Famers, the Daydream Cubs have five on the 1997 roster: Jim Thome, Mike Piazza, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Trevor Hoffman. Budget constraints forced us to release three more before their time: Jeff Bagwell, John Smoltz, and Tony Gywnn.
On the subject of budgets, 1997 is the last year the Daydream Cubs ever run a payroll deficit (as compared to the real-life Cubs). The 1997 Cubs were absurdly stingy, but surpluses from previous years allow me to not break up a truly kick-ass group that clocks in with 77 bWAR.
1997 Draft: (#) Player’s real-life selection round; AS= All-Star; GG = Gold Glove.
- Round 1:Tim Hudson (6) – SS: AS (x4), Cy-Young runner up (x1)
The 1997 draft is shallow, yielding only Hudson. Thankfully, the next shallow draft is not until 2005.