The Guys You Couldn’t Even Vote For, 2016

<a rel=There’s no cliche in baseball along the lines of Hollywood’s “it’s an honor just to be nominated,” as far as I know, but there is a certain cachet attached to a player seeing his name on the BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot. One hopes that the likes of Mark Grudzielanek and Mike Lowell didn’t spend a lot of time waiting by their phones (do people still wait by phones?) last Wednesday — when Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza got calls to notify them they were headed to Cooperstown — but still, it’s got to be a nice feeling to see your name on the ballot. After five years out of the game, it’s a chance for the player’s diehard fans and the real baseball nerds among us to take a minute and remember him again. Just because you’re on the ballot, the wordiest voters (and Jay Jaffe) will write a few words about you. If a writer really liked you — as utterly insane as this practice is, when you’re limited to ten votes and there are far more than ten deserving candidates — you might even get a vote or two.

But not every player who meets the Hall’s only requirement — that they played in the majors for some part of at least ten seasons — gets that honor, or the ballot would be unmanageably long. Many of the omissions are journeyman relievers and third-string catchers whose ten “seasons” really just totaled a handful of games, but not all of them. Rather, through some clandestine backroom process, someone decides (as they did four years ago) that Tony Womack is on, while the many-times-better Edgardo Alfonzo is off.

It’s really something to have played major league baseball for a decade, though, and it always seemed off to me that nobody said anything about the guys who were eligible, but off-ballot. So while I’ve missed the last couple (I’d love to get back to them someday, but let’s be real), I try to acknowledge and say a little something about each of those guys. Here’s this year’s crop, which seems a bit more notable and less backup-catcher-y than most, in alphabetical order:

Ronnie Belliard: I picture only an off-center cap and way more padding than your average middle infielder, but Belliard was better than you probably remember. He put up a 96 career OPS+, and made the All-Star team in his first year with Cleveland in 2004, a year in which he finished second in the league with 48 doubles and put up 3.4 WAR, followed by 4.5 in 2005. His career 20.3 WAR tops 2016 ballot choice Brad Ausmus, and was essentially equal to David Eckstein‘s. Belliard wasn’t known for his glove, but this is ridiculous:

Eric Byrnes: you may know Byrnes as the broiest bro on TV. He had what looked like a breakout, star year with Oakland in 2004, at age 28, hitting .283/.347/.467 (111 OPS+) with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, 91 runs scored, and 17 steals in 18 tries. He’d basically duplicate that, plus a bunch of steals, in 2007 with Arizona — .287/.353/.460 (103 OPS+), 30 doubles, 8 triples, 21 homers, 103 runs scored, 50 steals in 57 tries, securing himself a dumbfoundingly huge three-year contract from the D-Backs that offseason — but before, after and in between, Byrnes would flit from a bit below average, to one of the worst regulars in baseball, to, very often, injured (Baseball Reference credits him with the grit-tastic monikers “Crash Test Dummy” and “Pigpen,” but I don’t remember ever hearing either). Apart from 2004 and 2007, Byrnes played in 130 or more games only once, and those two seasons accounted for 7.1 of his 10.5 career WAR.

Frank Catalanotto: a traveling lefty bat without a position or any ability to hit left-handed pitching, Catalanotto put up a 107 career OPS+ as the strong side of platoons for five different teams, though mostly the Rangers and Blue Jays. In 2001, in a career-high 133 games and career second-best 512 plate appearances, Catalanotto hit .330/.391/.490, and put up 4.2 WAR while playing left, right, second, third and first.

Jesus Colome: I have to confess that Colome is the one player on this list of whom I have no specific memory. Strictly a reliever, he pitched in parts of exactly ten seasons (including ones in which he completed 1/3 of an inning, 6 1/3 innings, 15 innings and 17 innings) for the Rays, Nationals, Brewers and Mariners. He had a solid 41 1/3 innings for the Rays in 2005, putting up a 3.27 ERA and striking out 40 against 18 walks.

Elmer Dessens: put up an average ERA over 14 seasons and more than 1100 innings, with three years as a full-time starter sandwiched between many others as a swing man or long reliever. In 2002 with the Reds, Dessens put up a 3.03 ERA (good for a 141 ERA+) in 178 innings, though with a 4.61 FIP that was much more in line with the rest of his career (and with the disappointing results the Diamondbacks got after trading for him the following season).

Pedro Feliz: renowned (deservedly or not) for his glove at third, where the presence of Scott Rolen kept him from winning what otherwise would’ve been at least a few Gold Glove Awards, Feliz was done in by his utter lack of discipline at the plate. He had a decent year and a half or so with the Giants before pitchers were really exploiting his holes, but a .288 OBP in a high-offense era is pretty hard to live with from a third baseman, whatever you may be doing on defense. Feliz did play in three World Series, and drove in the winning run for the Phillies in their clinching Game 5 in 2008.

Jose Guillen: a top prospect in the late 1990s, Guillen put up an 80 OPS+ (.260/.305/.388) in his first six big-league seasons, and his ineffectiveness and perceived attitude problems saw him spend those years on four different teams. He was a different man in 2003, hitting .311/.359/.569 (142 OPS+) and 31 homers between the Reds and A’s. While he’d never be that effective again — and would never make an All-Star team, and would continue bouncing around, playing for ten teams in his career and never spending more than three seasons with any one of them — he was generally a productive hitter for the remainder of his career. He appeared in The Mitchell Report in 2007, and the ending to his career may be the worst since Ray Chapman: having played 42 ineffective games for the 2010 Giants, MLB began investigating his HGH use, and instructed the Giants (who’d go on to win the Series without him) to leave him off their postseason roster.

Cristian Guzman: looked like a future Hall of Famer for about three months for the Twins in 2001. That year, Guzman batted .302, put up a 111 OPS+ while playing an excellent shortstop, hit 14 triples to lead the league for the second year in a row, and single-handedly won a game for the Twins with his legs, laying down a bunt and coming around to score when his speed caused an errant throw. He was young, and made mistakes, but he was thrilling to watch, and promised to keep getting better. But he went down with an injury on July 12, missed more than a month, hit only one of those triples post-injury, and was never quite the same again. He’d have one more similarly brilliant season, improbably, at age 30, then with the Nationals, and would make his second All-Star team. Those two seasons account for 9.2 of his 12.5 career WAR.

Bob Howry: solid setup man (and one-time closer) for six teams from 1998-2010. He looked like more than that in his first three years with the White Sox, putting up a 147 ERA+, striking out 190 in 193 innings, and picking up 44 of his 66 career saves. The strikeouts stopped coming as frequently, as they so often do, but Howry learned to succeed as a somewhat different pitcher, putting up a 2.96 ERA (152 ERA+) for Cleveland and the Cubs from 2004-2007.

Gabe Kapler: known more for his looks and smarts than his talent, Kapler spent three years as a second-division starting center fielder, and nine more as more of a fourth outfielder. Now works in player development for the Dodgers, having turned down a spot on the big-league coaching staff after being passed over for the manager job this fall.

Mike Lamb: my mind is poisoned by his disastrous half-season with the Twins in 2008, but before then, he’d been about an average hitter, mostly in part-time roles despite being a rare lefty who could hit lefties, while capably playing both infield corners for both Texas teams. He was done early, and makes the ten-season cutoff only by virtue of 40 bad plate appearances mostly as a pinch hitter for the Marlins in 2010.

Jason LaRue: several years as an average-ish starting catcher, with low batting averages but some power and a good arm. His career was probably winding down anyway, but that doesn’t make it suck too much less that it was ended by a concussion brought about by a vicious attack by Johnny Cueto during a brawl in 2010.

Ron Mahay: drafted as an outfielder, Mahay never hit in the minors and was converted to a pitcher by the Red Sox in 1996, at age 25. He was in the Majors by the end of the following year and had a nice 14-year career as a lefty reliever, putting up a 120 ERA+ in 568 innings for eight different teams.

Damaso Marte: pitched fewer than 20 innings in four of his 11 “seasons,” but had several other very good full years. In 2003 with the White Sox, he put up an unfathomable-for-that-year-and-park 1.58 ERA in 79 2/3 innings, striking out 87. He earned a ring with the Sox in 2005, though by then the big guns were Dustin Hermanson, Neal Cotts and Cliff Politte; he earned another with the Yankees in 2009, appearing in four (scoreless) games in the Series despite putting up a 9.45 ERA in 13 1/3 regular-season innings.

Gary Matthews Jr.: toiling for the Rangers at age 31 in 2006, the journeyman fourth outfielder had what the Angels apparently thought was a breakthrough: .313/.371/.495 (121 OPS+), 44 doubles, 19 homers, 5.2 WAR. He signed a five-year, $50 million contract with the Angels that offseason, which would seem huge now and was positively insane then. He was done partway through year four, having never had an average offensive season again and giving the Angels slightly less than zero wins above replacement for their investment.

Gil Meche: once a very promising prospect, Meche struggled through a career full of injuries to put up an average ERA and 17.1 WAR in 1432 innings. After seven years as a Mariner, the Royals signed him to a head-scratchingly large contract, for which he rewarded them with his two best years as a pro, including an All-Star appearance, before the injuries struck again. In an unheard-of, classy move one might view as the polar opposite of erstwhile teammate Jose Guillen‘s end discussed above, Meche retired in January 2011, voluntarily forfeiting the $12 million remaining for the final year of his contract, knowing he was no longer capable of performing well enough to justify it.

Brian Moehler: in his youth, Moehler was a better pitcher than anyone then would’ve realized, pitching in a terrible pitching environment for really bad Tigers’ teams. After missing almost all of 2003 and all of 2004 with an injury, he hung around for six more years as exactly what he looked like: a fifth starter for teams that just needed to put a guy out there every fifth day.

Chad Moeller: We’ve hit our first (and only) third-string catcher. Moeller’s career highs in games played are 101, 78, 66, and then nothing else over 50. At -3.6, he’s the only guy on this list who was worse than a replacement player, and never put up a full win above replacement in any season. Moeller hung around at the highest level for parts of eleven seasons, though, and as such, was necessarily one of the greatest athletes in the world. That’s pretty cool.

Bengie Molina: It’s actually a bit of a surprise Molina wasn’t added to the ballot; while his stats certainly don’t warrant it, his name seems to. Now it’s all about Yadier, of course, but Molina the Eldest was a minor star in his own right, finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2000 and winning two Gold Gloves. He was famously one of the slowest runners in baseball history, and hit this hilarious triple to complete the cycle in his final season:

Russ Ortiz: In his two winningest years — he was 18-9 for the Giants in 1999 and 21-7 for the Braves in 2003 — Ortiz also led the league in walks. In those years and several others, Ortiz was able to put up good ERAs despite a strikeout-to-walk ratio that varied from mediocre to awful. He limited home runs relative to his home-run-happy era, but wasn’t by any means an extreme groundball pitcher. It’s not at all clear to me how he did any of it.

Chan Ho Park: most notable for being the first South Korean player in the league’s history, Park also holds the record for wins by an Asian-born pitcher, with 124, passing Hideo Nomo in his final season. It’s easy to forget now that Park was quite good, often brilliant, in his first five full seasons with the Dodgers, including going 18-10 with a 3.27 ERA (132 ERA+) and 217 strikeouts in 226 innings in 2000. He signed a large contract with the Rangers and immediately fell apart, but managed to hang around as a fifth starter and then reliever until 2010. Interestingly, while he pitched for six other teams, the only time he was able to boast a better than average ERA after leaving the Dodgers (apart from 28 innings with the Phillies near the very end of the line) was back with the Dodgers, for whom he put up a 123 ERA+ in a swing role in 2008.

Jay Payton: other than being a borderline starter/fourth outfielder, Payton couldn’t be much different than Kapler, yet I think I got the two confused for much of their careers. Payton hit 28 homers for the Rockies in 2003, but who didn’t? Just a solid…guy, capable of being an average starting outfielder or a good first guy off your bench. Performed well for the Mets in their 2000 World Series loss to the Yankees.

Mike Redmond: Naked Batting Practice! Redmond was in many ways the ideal backup catcher: by all accounts a great clubhouse character; defensively sound; couldn’t hit enough to play every day, but could hit enough not to hurt you if you put him out there every fourth or fifth day (mostly by virtue of high batting averages). Ron Gardenhire routinely batted him third when he started simply because he was replacing Joe Mauer and that’s where Mauer batted, which was frustrating, but not Redmond’s fault. Got kind of a raw deal in Miami (but who doesn’t?), and I hope he gets a shot to manage again.

Juan Rincon: a key part of the mid-last-decade Twins teams, setting up Joe Nathan, Rincon simply lost it, as relievers will, in 2007, and never found it again. From 2003-06, though, he threw 319 innings with a 156 ERA+.

David Riske: hard-throwing righty reliever whose name is pronounced “risky,” which fits. Often dominant when healthy, though, including a 2.29 ERA in 74 2/3 innings, with 82 strikeouts and only 20 walks, for Cleveland in 2003. 121 career ERA+. A career American Leaguer until his final three seasons who never started a game, Riske batted only once, on Earth Day 2008, and popped out to the catcher on the first pitch.

Scott Schoeneweis: a serviceable starter, then reliever, Schoeneweis played a minor role on the 2002 champion Angels, but didn’t see the postseason in any of his 11 other seasons, leaving the White Sox the year before their own championship run. Schoeneweis’ career ended on a tragic note, as his wife died unexpectedly in 2009. Schoeneweis gave up 15 earned runs in nine innings after his return from the bereavement list, then 12 in 13 2/3 innings for the Red Sox in his swan song in 2010.

Scot Shields: the rare one-team reliever, Shields was a key part of every Angels team from their series win in 2002 through 2008. Mike Scioscia rode him hard, relying on him for 105, 92 and 88 innings in 2004, ’05 and ’06, but he kept on plugging away, and when he did go down, it was not an arm but a knee injury, which limited him to 18 innings in 2009 and led to his retirement in 2010. He retired with a 132 career ERA+, and had a career 152 going into 2009.

Russ Springer: not the knuckleballer (that was Dennis, no relation); Russ was just a normal-type pitcher who held on for a long time, from 1992 until 2010, generally not pitching many innings, but pitching pretty well when he got the chance. He retired with a career 98 ERA+. He put up an improbable 2.18 ERA with St. Louis in 2007, at age 37, in 66 innings. He pitched on the losing sides in the 1999 World Series (as a Brave) and the 2005 one (as an Astro), and presumably has a ring as a member of the 2001 Diamondbacks, though he missed the postseason and most of the season with an injury.

Fernando Tatis: best remembered for hitting two grand slams in one inning in 1999 (the first off of Chan Ho Park, discussed above), Tatis’ entire 1999 was fabulous; he hit .298/.404/.553 (good for “only” a 139 OPS+ in the middle of sillyball) with 34 homers, and added 21 steals. His metrics as a third baseman were dreadful, limiting him to 3.0 WAR on the year, but still. Injuries essentially destroyed his career immediately thereafter, and he played only 81 games combined between 2003 and 2007, but, impossibly, came back and contributed as the first guy off the bench for the Mets in 2008 and 2009. There used to be a pretty funny twitter account that was obviously not really him but fooled some people anyway.

Jeff Weaver: six-years-older brother of Jered Weaver, who is technically still pitching! Weaver’s most similar pitcher according to Baseball Reference is Brett Tomko, which seems right. Weaver had a bunch of good years and a bunch of bad years, and was twice traded on July 5 to contending teams that he didn’t seem very likely to help–and he did fine for the Yankees in ’02, not so well for the Cardinals in ’06, but then pitched brilliantly for the eventual champions throughout the playoffs, picking up the win in the Series-clinching Game 5.

Gregg Zaun: like Redmond, Zaun did the backup catcher thing very well, but for longer, and probably better, staying in the big leagues from age 24 through age 39. He had one shot as a starter, playing in 133 games and picking up 512 plate appearances in 2005, and did just fine, putting up 3.5 WAR for the Blue Jays. Otherwise, though, he never played in more than 110 games or got as many as 400 plate appearances. He was named in the Mitchell Report in 2008, but claimed that the check that served as the report’s only evidence of potential wrongdoing was to settle a basketball bet he’d made with Jason Grimsley.

About Bill

Bill is an employment lawyer and baseball geek. Also a comedy geek, and just a geek generally.