While watching baseball, I often think about which of today’s players will end up enshrined in the Hall of Fame. There are a number of players that seem like no brainers (ex. Mike Trout) while others are borderline candidates (ex. Carlos Beltran). There are some that were easily first ballot but have harmed their chances (ex. Alex Rodriguez) while some were headed in the right direction until injuries steered them off course (ex. Adam Wainwright).
As a thought experiment, I decided to examine the current 40 man rosters of each team in the American League Central and highlight the players on each team with the best chance of making it all the way to Cooperstown, New York. I have avoided players who have accumulated one full year or less of service time with their pro club due to the lack of stable data from such a small sample. Today’s post focuses on the Detroit Tigers.
Miguel Cabrera: Age 33. Resume: 2 A.L. Most Valuable Player awards, five Top 5 MVP award finishes, 11 All Star selections, 6 Silver Slugger awards, 2 World Series appearances and 1 World Series Championship. He’s been the league leader in homers twice, doubles twice, RBIs twice, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and batting average four times. Cabrera is now in his 14th season. For his career he has a .320 average, 436 homers, almost 2,500 hits, a .959 OPS, and a 76 offensive WAR (he has a -14 career defensive WAR). He could stop playing now and enter the hall once eligible. The only thing that would derail his ride would be a performance enhancing drug (PED) suspension. See you in Cooperstown, Mr. Cabrera. Hall of Fame chance: 99%.
Nick Castellanos: Age 24. Resume: 44 career homers. Castellanos hasn’t shown a lot but he has shown flashes. He was having somewhat of a breakout season in 2016 when an injury shelved him. Although 2016 had been fueled by an elevated batting average on balls in play yielding a .285 batting average, his power looks legit. Castellanos is only 24 years old and has time to continue to grow as a player. His batting eye needs to take a giant leap forward as his career walk to strikeout rate is 1 walk for every 4 strikeouts (in his first three full years: 36:140, 39:152, and 26:106). Without a marked improvement, it’s extremely doubtful that any meaningful long term progress will occur. Additionally, the defensive metrics do not like his work in the field (-4.4 defensive WAR for his career) so it will be interesting to see where Castellanos ends up sticking. It will be tough for him to overcome some of this profile but a clearer picture should develop in the next 2 years. Hall of Fame chance: 6%.
Ian Kinsler: Age 34. 4 All Star selections, 2 World Series appearances, over 200 career homers and steals. Kinsler is in his 11th pro season and has compiled over 51 WAR. He’s shown nice power and speed throughout his career and the defensive metrics like his work at second base. Kinsler would be helped tremendously if the Hall’s voters took his defense into account. However, unless a player is truly special defensively (ex. Ozzie Smith), glove work is typically overlooked. If Kinsler was able to get himself a few World Series rings or put up a few more 20 – 20 seasons without a drop in production in any other key counting category, I could see him having an outside chance at the Hall of Fame. However, at 34 those scenarios seem less likely. Hall of Fame chance: 24%.
J.D. Martinez: Age 29. Resume: 1 All Star selection and 1 Silver Slugger award. Martinez has really turned things around since being released by Houston and signing with Detroit. He retooled his stroke and has become a top power hitter in the game. He’s put up 80 homers since the start of the 2014 season and would have more if not for injuries keeping him out of the line-up. He has been able to maintain a consistently solid batting average since the start of ‘14 even though he’s struggled with his walk and strikeout ratios. His on base percentage would look a lot better if he’d walk more and this would likely lead to more opportunities to compile stats like runs (in addition to strengthening his percentages/averages). Martinez’s career may play out in a similar fashion to Jose Bautista. They both struggled at first and then started to significantly compile power statistics in their late 20’s. Martinez will need to have a prolonged peak as a power threat and hone his batting eye in order to maintain and/or grow his batting average, OBP, and OPS. He’ll also have to stay healthy because he has some catching up to do in regards to his home run total. His final homerun tally will determine whether he is a viable Hall candidate or not. Hall of Fame chance: 20%.
Victor Martinez: Age 37. Resume: 5 All Star selections, 2 Silver Slugger awards, one Top 5 MVP award finish. He has led the league in OBP and OPS one time and has 7 seasons of 20 or more homers. Martinez sports career numbers of 223 homers and a .302 batting average, .366 OBP, and .835 OPS. He has a career offensive WAR of almost 39 (the defensive metrics do not like his glove work as indicated by his -6.4 career defensive WAR). Martinez controls the strike zone very well and he seems to get better with age. However, at 37, time is running out. Injuries robbed him of significant time in 2008 and the entire 2012 season. He played hurt for most of 2015 and put up his worst season. These injury filled seasons hurt him in his quest to compile numbers making his case for the Hall difficult. In addition, Martinez would have a stronger case if his career numbers came as an everyday catcher. However, as a designated hitter with a few games at first base thrown in (he hasn’t caught more than 20 games since 2011) his battle is more than an uphill one. Hall of Fame chance: 10%.
Francisco Rodriguez: Age 34. Resume – 6 All Star selections, three Top 5 Cy Young award finishes, 1 World Series Championship, 423 total saves (1st active/5th all time), career average of over 10 Ks per 9 innings, and single season saves leader (62). K Rod has led the league in saves three times, games finished three times, and appearances one time. He burst onto the scene as a rookie with the Angels and although he is well traveled and has had his share of negative publicity due to poor behavioral choices he continues to compile saves. Tales of his demise have been greatly exaggerated as he learned to pitch with diminished velocity. He needs to stick around for a few more years, remain a closer and pile on to his already impressive save total, and stay out of trouble if he is going to have a legitimate case for the Hall. Another World Series title as a closer would help him tremendously as well. Hall of Fame chance: 33%.
Justin Upton: Age 29. Resume: 3 All Star Selections, 1 Top 5 MVP award finish, and 2 Silver Slugger awards. This is Upton’s 10th pro season. He has two 20-20 seasons, over 200 homers, over 120 steals, and 25 career WAR. He strikes out a lot and doesn’t take many walks, thus his OPB suffers. Additionally, his batting eye negatively impacts his ability to hit for average as well. For years he was touted as the next big thing and although he flirted with greatness he has been unable to gain any real traction as one of the game’s best players. At age 29, things are likely as good as they are going to get for him. Unfortunately for him, his work is not a Hall of Fame resume. Hall of Fame chance: 10%.
Justin Verlander: Age 33. Resume: A.L. Rookie of the Year, 1 A.L. MVP award, 1 Cy Young award and another three Top 5 Cy Young award finishes, 6 All Star selections, and 2 World Series appearances. Verlander has 171 wins and 48.5 WAR in his 12 years of pitching and has led the league in wins twice. He has also led the league in ERA once, strikeouts 3 times (5th place for active pitchers/63rd all-time in strikeouts), WHIP once (leader in 2016 as well), and innings pitched 3 times (leader in 2016 as well). Verlander had extreme velocity and stamina for a while but after a rough stretch he needed to rethink his approach (reports indicate that he has also begun to read more scouting reports on hitters rather than just relying on his pitching ability). During his rough stretch, there were questions as to whether he would ever be an effective starter again. His performance (especially throughout 2016) has quieted his critics. If he hadn’t shown the improved results that he’s consistently demonstrated his Hall of Fame case would have likely fallen short. However, Verlander has a solid case for induction if he is able to maintain his current level of success for a few more years. Important to consider when viewing the likelihood of his entry into the Hall of Fame – Verlander has gone to the World Series twice with the Tigers and has fared poorly in both 2006 and 2012. Although his performance is based on only a few starts it will be interesting to see if the writers hold that against him when voting. Hall of Fame chance: 38%.
Jordan Zimmermann: Age 30. Resume: 2 All Star selections and 1 Top 5 Cy Young award finish. He has led the league in wins once, shutouts once, games started once, and walks per 9 innings once. He has also thrown one no hitter. This is his first year with the Tigers and although he started strong he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Zimmermann has already had one Tommy John procedure which may make it difficult for him to stay effective and healthy over the long term. Overall, Zimmermann is often solid, yet not dominant (7.3 Ks per 9 for his career). After 8 big league seasons, Zimmermann is not putting up enough counting stats or building a reputation within the sport as a game changer. To have any real chance at the Hall, Zimmermann is going to have to stay healthy and get a little lucky. Hall of Fame chance: 9%.
* Daniel Norris: Age 23. Although he has been up for parts of three seasons (27 appearances – 22 of them starts), he has not pitched enough in any one season to make a thoughtful projection at this time.
Other AL Central analysis:
NL Central Analysis: