This is the first edition of Roster of the Month: a new feature at Off the Bench. Each month, we’ll create the best possible 25-man roster with a different theme. There aren’t any real overarching rules in place, but it’s something we have done sporadically in the past. (Editor’s note: There are Kindergarteners older than that link.) In light of the recent Hall of Fame announcements, we’ll compile the best 25-man roster of Hall of Fame eligible players who haven’t made it into the Hall. Here are the ground rules:
- In accordance with Hall of Fame eligibility rules, players must be retired for at least 5 years following a playing career of at least 10 years.
- This is NOT a list of the 25 best players outside the Hall of Fame. It has to be a theoretically functional roster. This is especially evident in the bullpen.
- Inclusion on this team does not necessarily mean the player belongs in the Hall of Fame. Some of them do (Larry Walker) and some don’t (Firpo Marberry).
- Only on-field performance matters. We’re not getting into the whole morality thing here, just objectively measuring non-Hall of Famers.
- 3B Edgar Martinez: About 70% of the voting BBWAA members are disappointed that Edgar is still eligible for this team. Most likely, he’ll be voted into the Hall next year in his final appearance on the ballot. According to Baseball Reference, he’s one of only 14 members of the .310/.410/.510 club. He’s best known as a DH of course, but he played 564 games at third base. He’s also the last third baseman to start two triple plays in the same season (1991).
- LF Barry Bonds: How does one best describe the impossibility of Bonds? The home runs? The walks? The MVPs? It’s just too big to handle without screwing up and underselling it. Sam Miller does it better. So does Jordan Shusterman. Steroids have kept him out of the Hall, but we’ll never see a better hitter.
- DH Manny Ramirez: There was a time when Manny’s 555 HR would have earned an automatic induction. Instead, he’s failed to reach 1/4 of the votes in either of his years on the ballot. His .996 OPS is 8th all time, and his 29 postseason HR are the most ever.
- RF Larry Walker: It’s inexplicable that Walker doesn’t have more HOF support. Sure, he played in Coors field, but even his park-adjusted numbers stack up with any reasonable HOF measurement. Below is a comparison of the four great Expos outfielders. Walker is the best of the bunch, yet the other three are in the Hall:
Larry Walker Vlad Guerrero Andre Dawson Tim Raines AVG 0.313 0.318 0.279 0.294 OBP 0.400 0.379 0.323 0.385 SLG 0.565 0.553 0.482 0.425 OPS+ 141 140 119 123 SB 230 181 314 808 bWAR 72.6 59.3 64.5 69.1 JAWS 58.6 50.2 53.5 55.6 HOF? No Yes Yes Yes
- 1B Rafael Palmeiro: For further proof that steroids killed automatic qualifiers, check out Palmeiro’s numbers. He is one of only five players in history with 3,000 hits and 500 HR, along with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, and Alex Rodriguez. Either of those milestones used to be a guarantee of induction.
- LF Pete Rose: Rose is the all-time leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), and plate appearances (15,890). He’s the only player in history to start 500 games at 5 different positions- a record that will probably remain unbroken forever. Gambling kept him out of the Hall concurrent with his lifetime ban from baseball, but at least he’s a fixture on this fictitious roster, so that’s a nice consolation prize, right?
- C Ted Simmons: Simmons had the misfortune of playing in the National League at the same time as Johnny Bench, arguably the greatest catcher of all time. As a result, Simmons was never regarded as the best in the league. His lack of reputation caused him to fall off the HOF ballot after receiving less than 5% in his first year of eligibility. Still, his 42.4 JAWS is tenth best among catchers, trailing eight Hall of Famers and Joe Mauer.
- CF Kenny Lofton: The speedy base-stealing center fielder was the table setter for the Indians’ juggernauts of the 90s. He averaged 5.9 bWAR per season from 1992-1999. Lofton is 9th all time in JAWS among centerfielders, but voters tend to punish journeymen for some reason, and he played for 11 different teams in his career.
- SS Bill Dahlen: Dahlen’s case is hindered by not fitting neatly into a single era of baseball. He played from 1891-1911 and is simultaneously an 1800s player, a Deadball Era star, and also neither. The only Hall of Famer who spanned a similar time frame was Cy Young, who was simply too prolific to deny. Dahlen also suffers because of the over-representation of his peers. The Veterans Committee went overboard with oldsters, such as High Pockets Kelly and Joe Tinker, and a lot more modern players need to get in before Dahlen gets consideration.
- INF Bobby Grich: The more advanced stats dominate baseball, the better Grich looks in hindsight. In his day, he was just a good player- a .266 hitter with some power and three Gold Gloves. Now we know his .371 OBP, 125 OPS+ and 16.2 dWAR all contribute to 58.6 JAWS, nearly two JAWS better than the average HOF second baseman.
- OF Shoeless Joe Jackson: Shoeless Joe hit .356 for his career, the third highest batting average of all time behind only Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby. Of course, he was robbed of his decline years after his lifetime ban in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal.
- CF Andruw Jones: Unless you’re either a middle infielder or Brooks Robinson, defense won’t get you into the HOF. Jones also gets dinged for declining sharply at age 30. However, his work in his 20s was simply that good. Observe:
- C Thurman Munson: The 1976 AL MVP was on a HOF career arc through 11 seasons, when he died tragically in a plane crash on August 2, 1979. He’s 12th in career JAWS for catchers, despite his abrupt demise at age 32. He was only 6.2 bWAR away from surpassing Mickey Cochrane in JAWS and 13.6 away from Yogi Berra. We’ll never know what his decline would’ve been like, but there’s a good chance he could’ve topped the former and possibly even the latter.
- 3B Scott Rolen: Much like Andruw Jones, a lack of appreciation for the value of defense will keep Rolen out of the Hall. Also like Andruw Jones, injuries hindered his chances to accumulate even more value. He played more than 142 games in a season only 5 times.
- 2B Lou Whitaker: The Modern Era Committee enshrined two 1980s Tigers this year, but they got one of them wrong. Only 6 second basemen have more bWAR than Whitaker’s 74.9.
- Roger Clemens: How does one best describe the impossibility of Clemens? The strikeouts? The splitter? The CYs? It’s just too big to handle without screwing up and underselling it. Jay Jaffe does it better. So does Braden Campbell. Steroids have kept him out of the Hall, but we’ll never see a better Ace.
- Curt Schilling: Schilling is a disgusting, vile, fermenting sack of filth. Nevertheless, his 64.5 JAWS is 27th best all-time among pitchers, and of the players above him, only Clemens and an 1800s dinosaur named Jim McCormick aren’t in the Hall. Perhaps advocating for the lynching of journalists wasn’t the best campaign strategy.
- Mike Mussina: The only non-HOF pitcher with more career bWAR than Mussina’s 83.0 is Clemens. Perhaps it’s the lack of awards or milestones that have kept him out so far. However, after achieving 63.5% of the votes in 2018, he’s a near lock for induction in the next few years.
- Wes Ferrell: Based on his pitching alone, Ferrell was very good-but-not-great. He amassed 48.8 bWAR from 1927-1941. However, adding in his 12.8 bWAR as a hitter puts him in HOF territory. In 1935, Ferrell led the AL in wins, CG, and IP while slashing .347/.427/.523 with 7 HR. He was arguably the most complete player in baseball history (and everything we expect Shohei Ohtani to become).
- Kevin Brown: In his 19-year career, Brown earned black ink (led his league in a given season) in the following categories: WAR, ERA, FIP, ERA+, WHIP, IP, K/9, W, K/BB, and others. He averaged 7.4 bWAR per season from 1996-2000, yet never won a Cy Young.
We’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel to fill out this bullpen. There really are very few great relievers that a) are not in the Hall already, and b) retired at least five years ago. Maybe we should just go with four relievers and add Mark McGwire instead. That would leave us with a difficult time getting through the 162 game schedule. (By the way, the relievers are listed alphabetically, not in order of quality.)
- Firpo Marberry: Marberry was baseball’s first great reliever, pitching mostly for the Washington Senators in the 1920s and 1930s. He amassed 31.7 WAR in 551 games (186 GS). He frequently led the league in G, GF, and SV, while also pacing the AL in WHIP twice.
- Dan Quisenberry: The soft-tossing, submarining relief ace of the Royals dominated the early 80s. He averaged 3.5 bWAR per season from 1980-1985, earning five top-5 Cy Young votes.
- Lee Smith: Despite never surpassing 50.6% of the vote, Smith managed to stick around on the HOF ballot for 15 years. The only pitchers with more career saves than Smith’s 487 or games finished than his 802 are Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.
- Billy Wagner: Is Wagner the greatest lefty reliever of all time? His 28.1 bWAR and 187 ERA+ make a good argument in his favor. Aroldis Chapman might stake a claim, but as an active pitcher, he’s ineligible for our purposes, so Wagner it is.
- Wilbur Wood: It feels like cheating to include Wood as a reliever. As a rare lefty knuckleballer, he led the league in appearances each year from 1968-70, then became a starter at age 29 and started at least 42 games in each of the next five seasons. He was worth 11.7 and 10.7 bWAR in 1971 and 1972. If our team is going up against other mythical squads, sign me up for Wilbur Wood. Those guys won’t know what just came their way!
-Daniel R. Epstein