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 Cleveland Indians.
Cody Allen: Age 27. Resume: Lead league5 in 2015 in games finished, career average of 11.5 Ks per 9 innings, and 88 saves since getting regular opportunities in 2014 (90 total). Allen maintained the closer role in Cleveland even with the addition of Andrew Miller. Does this mean that he will be locked in for compiling saves for a strong team for many more years to come or will the off season bring about a shake-up of bullpen roles or even a trade? His role will impact whether he has even the smallest of chances at the Hall or whether he becomes just another backend quality arm. He walks a dangerous path by giving up between 3 to 4 walks per 9 innings each season but he compiles more strikeouts than innings pitched each year as well which often bails him out of difficult situations. He has a solid body of work and has maintained his health, however, he is going to need to stay at this level for an extremely prolonged period (and earn saves wherever he plays) or elevate his game to the next level and join the elite for a slightly shorter period of time (earning saves wherever he plays). Hall of Fame chance: 7%.
Trevor Bauer: Age 25. Resume: 3rd pick of the 2011 draft and 29 career wins. 2016 has seen Bauer take a step forward in his development in a number of ways. Although he started the season in the pen, Francona moved him back to a starting role and the results have been positive. Although Bauer’s strikeout rate is lower than in the past, he has cut his walk rate and is giving up fewer homers. He still needs to significantly improve in a variety of areas to have any shot at compiling the impressive numbers he will need to make a real run at Hall of Fame consideration. His first step is becoming more consistent(ly good) from start to start and finding ways to pitch deeper into games. At 25 and with a strong team controlling his rights for a number of seasons, Bauer has an opportunity to make a nice run if he is able to continue to elevate his game. That’s a big ‘if’ in that last sentence. Hall of Fame chance: 12%.
Michael Brantley: Age 29. Resume: 1 All Star selection, 1 Silver Slugger award, 1 top 5 MVP award finish, one 20/20 season, and league leader in doubles once. Brantley has immense talent but has a hard time staying healthy and on the field. 2016 was limited to a total of 11 games and in his 8 year pro career Brantley has played over 150 games only twice. There’s a lot to like in Brantley’s skills profile: plate discipline, speed power combination, and OPS growth during his prime. Unfortunately, Brantley’s injuries have hurt him most during his prime years and it is going to be difficult to make up for lost time. The injuries he’s sustained (most notably his shoulder) may also impact his ability to stay on the field and/or put up All Star level counting stats. Hall of Fame chance: 14% and declining.
Carlos Carrasco: Age 29. Resume: 44 career wins and 607 career strikeouts. Carrasco missed all of 2012 due to injury but since 2014, he has proven to be an above average pitcher (although he has battled various injuries during this time). He has amassed 506 strikeouts and 33 wins in 464 innings since the start of 2014. His injury profile is difficult to ignore but Carrasco has put together an impressive run and is close to joining today’s elite pitchers. At 29, it may prove difficult for Carrasco to sustain enough momentum to compile the numbers he is going to need to make a strong Cooperstown case, however, if he could remain healthy for a 6 or 8 year stretch, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him insert his name into the Hall’s discussion. Hall of Fame chance: 14%.
Jason Kipnis: Age 29. Resume: 2 All Star selections, 19.8 career WAR in 6 pro seasons, and 75 career homers and 114 careeer steals (one 20 home run season, two 30 steal seasons, and one 20 steal season). Kipnis has put together a number of nice seasons for the Tribe and at age 29 he is continuing to perform well. However, as he enters his post-prime it will be interesting to see if Kipnis can maintain All Star level production. He’s a valuable player to his team and possesses a number of skills that are average to above average but Kipnis has never been a league leader in any statistical category and has never been the variable that propelled Cleveland to new heights. Rather, he is a nice cog in a well build machine. Additionally, many of his best attributes are skills of the young (steals, middle infield glove work) so as he enters his 30s the question becomes whether these strengths hold up. Hall of Fame chance: 8%.
Corey Kluber: Age 30. Resume: 1 Cy Young award, 1 All Star selection, league leader in wins once, league leader in losses once, league leader in games started and complete games one time, and current league leader in shutouts and hits per 9 innings in 2016. He has also amassed three consecutive 200 plus strikeout seasons. Kluber has amassed more strikeouts than innings pitched, 57 career wins, and 18.9 WAR in his six pro seasons (only 15 total appearances in his first two pro-seasons). Kluber is a workhorse who is proving he can stay healthy. He is considered to be an ace by baseball fans and elite by the sabermetric community. There is a lot to like in his profile, especially if he can maintain his health. The greatest obstacle to Cooperstown thus far has been the late start he got off to (age 27 was the first season he was earned regular starts in the rotation). I am very interested to see how the next five years play out for Kluber. Hall of Fame chance: 28%.
Francisco Lindor: Age 22. Resume: 1 All Star selection, 2nd place finish for AL Rookie of the Year award, 26 homers, 30 steals, and .309 career line to go along with 9.9 WAR in only 249 career games. Lindor shines offensively and defensively. He’s a shortstop that hits for average, flashes power, and can steal a base. He is a central piece for Cleveland and is quickly becoming the face of the franchise. He’s relatively new to the league and very young so it’s not unlikely that growing pains may arise as the league attempts to find holes in his game. However, he has shown that he is able to make adjustments and maintain all star level production throughout an entire season. There is a lot to like about Lindor. Keep compiling and stay healthy! Hall of Fame chance: 33%.
Andrew Miller: Age 31. Resume: 1 All Star selection, 10.1 K per 9 rate for his career (over 700 strikeouts in slightly over 620 innings), and 8.1 innings of work in the post season with a 0.00 ERA and only one hit allowed. Since switching from starter to reliever in 2012, Miller has put up increasingly impressive statistics. He is one of the most unhittable pitchers in the game and has put up ERA+ numbers that are beyond elite (198, 200, and 286 in the past three seasons). During this three year run of greatness, his WHIP has been .802, .859, and .721. His K per 9 has been 14.9, 14.6, and 14.7. The trade that sent him to Cleveland in 2016 has moved him from a traditional set up or closer role and into a unique highest leverage situation – fireman role. Although this role is perhaps more essential to a team than a typical closer’s role, Miller will have a difficult time compiling counting stats (wins or saves). Savvy fans will see the value Miller contributes on a nightly basis, but box score watchers may miss the true greatness he displays on a nightly basis. Hall of Fame chance: 18%.
Mike Napoli: Age 34. Resume: 2 World Series appearances and 1 World Series championship, 1 All Star selection, 5 seasons of 20 plus homers and 2 seasons of 30 plus homers (currently with 34 in 2016). He has amassed 238 career homers and 28.1 WAR. Napoli does not earn strong fielding marks and hasn’t played catcher since 2012 which makes his counting statistics less impressive in comparison to other first basemen, designated hitters, and outfielders. 2016 is arguably his statistically most impressive but at age 34 and in his 11th season as a pro, Napoli will be hard pressed to sustain this production another next half decade or more. Cooperstown is not going to happen. Hall of Fame chance: 2%.
Danny Salazar: Age 26. Resume: 1 All Star selection, 33 career wins, 10.1 career k per 9 rate (more strikeouts than innings pitched), 3.1 walks per 9 innings for his career, and ERA+ of 120 or higher in 3 out of 4 seasons. Salazar is currently working his way back from a strained forearm. It’s injuries like these that make projecting whether a 26 year old pitcher is or is not on a path for the Hall of Fame. Salazar has been impressive in his first few years as a pro and will hopefully continue to show growth as he enters his prime years if he can bounce back and avoid a significant arm injury. His numbers would look even more impressive if he could cut down his walks (and accompanying WHIP) while maintaining his high K rate. His profile has a lot of eye catching numbers that the hall’s voters tend to like; he’s amassing wins, racking up strikeouts, and starting to earn All Star selections. He’s also on a team that can get him wins and post-season notoriety. If he performs like an ace under the spotlight of the playoffs, his reputation will be further enhanced. Health and command will be the two factors that will determine whether his yearly output puts him in line for a run at the Hall. Hall of Fame chance: 18%.
Carlos Santana: Age 30. Resume: Led the league in walks once, 3 seasons of over 20 homers and has broken the 30 homer mark for the first time in 2016. If Santana put these statistics up as a full time catcher, the numbers would be more impressive. However, he has not caught a significant number of games since 2013. The defensive metrics do not like his glove work and career offensive WAR is only 22.6. He works the strike zone very well and generally strikes out as much as he walks (career: 628 walks and 711 strikeouts). However, the plate discipline he has shown has surprisingly not translated into an impressive batting average (.245 career). His career OPS is approximately .800 which is nice, but not stellar. Without an All Star appearance or any individual awards to his credit, Santana is merely a nice player but not an all time great. Hall of Fame chance: 5%.
The other profiled teams: