A dozen dismissed: the best players left off the Hall of Fame ballot
While the BBWAA screening committee was keeping up with the Joneses -- Jacque and Todd, to be precised -- it left a bunch of superior players off Tuesday’s Hall of Fame ballot reveal.
In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters who makes the ballot to be cast off after one year and who is left off altogether. But let’s give some recognition to those who won’t even get a token vote when the results are announced in January. Here are the best dozen players eligible but left off the Hall of Fame ballot.
Keith Foulke: Foulke was a more valuable pitcher than any of the three closers who made the ballot (Armando Benitez, Eric Gagne and Todd Jones), but he spent his first five years as a setup man and managed only 191 career saves. It seemed like he pretty much gave up his arm for the Red Sox’s run in 2004, when he pitched 83 innings in the regular season and 14 more in the postseason (allowing just one run). He pitched just three more seasons afterwards, none of them healthy, and stumbled to a 4.84 ERA. From 1999-2004, he was about as valuable as any reliever in the game, amassing a 2.43 ERA and 171 saves in 522 innings (Mariano Rivera, by comparison, had a 2.20 ERA those years, but threw 100 fewer innings).
Shannon Stewart: A dynamic player when he first arrived, Stewart swiped 51 bases in his first full season with the Blue Jays in 1998. Unfortunately, he lost his speed and eventually had his career cut short because of leg injuries, but not until after he was an above average regular for seven seasons, which is six more than Jacque Jones managed. He even finished fourth in the AL MVP balloting in 2003, though that was a misguided narrative driven vote based on him playing well for the Twins after a summer trade. From 2000-2004, he had an OPS+ between 112-118 every years.
Trot Nixon: The original Dirt Dog, Nixon was a bit of a late bloomer. He was the seventh overall selection in the 1993 draft, but he didn’t establish himself in Boston until he 1999, when he was 25. He went on to have his best year in 2003, hitting .306/.396/.578 to finish fourth in the AL with a .975 OPS. He also hit four homers in 11 postseason games that year. Nixon missed most of 2004 with back troubles, though he was back for the stretch run and the Red Sox’s postseason run. He managed just two decent seasons as a platoon player in his 30’s, but he did enough before then to justify a spot on the ballot.
Jon Lieber: Lieber won 20 games for the Cubs and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2001 and mixed in several other above average seasons to finish his career 131-124 with a 4.27 ERA (103 ERA+). The Pirates wasted some of his early seasons shuffling him between the pen and the rotation and he missed a year and a half in his 30s following Tommy John surgery, so his overall numbers aren’t overly impressive. Still, he was a rock solid pitcher.
Geoff Jenkins: The NL’s answer to Nixon, Jenkins had seven seasons of 20 homers for the Brewers and three times topped a .900 OPS. He always struggled against lefties, which is probably the biggest reason that he never drove in 100 runs, and he was done at age 33, but he was just as valuable as a player as his more famous teammate, Richie Sexson, who did make the ballot.
Jose Vidro: While not quite a Hall of Fame path, Vidro looked like a future Hall of Very Good guy through age 29, hitting .304/.367/.470 and making three All-Star teams in his career up to that point. And that was pretty much it. After six straight seasons of OPSs from .820-.920, he failed to top .780 again. In 2008, he hit .234/274/.338 in 85 games with the Mariners, got released and was never heard from again, even though he was just 33.
Steve Trachsel: Famed for being an incredibly slow worker on the mound, Trachsel is a punchline now, and he was never much recognized as a quality pitcher over the course of his career. Still, he lasted 16 years with an ERA+ of 99, which rates as a pretty good career from here.
Esteban Loaiza: As a 31-year-old journeyman, Loaiza suddenly came through with one of the most surprising seasons in memory in 2003, going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA and an AL-leading 207 strikeouts for the White Sox to finish second in the Cy Young balloting. He had a 5.71 ERA the season prior and a 5.70 ERA the season afterwards, though he did have one more nice year with the Nationals in 2005. He ended a 14-year career 126-114 with a 4.65 ERA (98 ERA+).
Matt Morris: Morris went 12-9 with a 3.19 ERA to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting as a 22-year-old with the Cardinals in 1997, but then blew out his elbow in 1998 and missed two years. Back at full strength in 2001, he went 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA to finish third in the NL Cy Young race. Morris, though, declined quickly from there, turning into a pretty average starter at 28 and failing to even stay at that level from age 31 onwards. He was done at 33 after going 121-91 with a 3.98 ERA (107 ERA+) in 11 seasons.
Jose Cruz Jr.: Since he spent most of his career hitting in the .240s, Cruz struggled to earn respect and bounced around a lot. Still, from the day he entered the league in 1997 until 2005, he was never worse than an average regular. In 2001, he had a 30 HR-30 SB season for the Blue Jays. He scored 90 runs three times and walked 102 times in 2003. Like many of these guys, he was pretty much done by 32-33.
Damion Easley: Easley is an exception: he played 17 years before retiring at age 38. However, he was a role player from age 32 on, never batting more than 350 times in a season. From 1997-2001, he was the Tigers’ starting second baseman, topping 20 homers three times and driving in 100 runs in 1998, when he went to his lone All-Star Game.
Dmitri Young: OK, so at this point, I’ve run out of players clearly better than Jacque Jones and J.T. Snow to list here. Young is in their neighborhood, though. He hit .300 with 830+ OPSs for four straight seasons with the Reds and then later went to All-Star Games with the Tigers and Nationals. He didn’t add anything defensively at first base or in the outfield, but he was quite a hitter. He finished his career at .292/.351/.475.