Sosa is a marginal Hall candidate

When we devoted an entire episode of On the Money to talking about the Hall of Fame, I mentioned late in the show that I regarded Sammy Sosa as a borderline candidate, and that I’d be unlikely to support him over Kenny Lofton or Larry Walker if only allowed to vote for 10 candidates. That got a little bit of push back, both from Mike Bates at the time and others since, so allow me to expound upon my case against Sosa.

First of all, it should be noted that Sosa’ overall body of work makes him a borderline case, statistically, to begin with. Even with the prodigious home run totals and the fact that he was a much better defender than most people probably remember, Sosa finished his career with a total fWAR of “just” 64.1, good for 120th all-time amongst position players, and wedging Sosa directly in between Norm Cash and Bill Dickey on the all-time leaderboard. I’m not saying that WAR should be the end all be all of the discussion, or even a vital part of it, but as far as starting points go, that’s pretty damning for a guy in the 600 home run club. To put it in context, Ken Griffey Jr. logged 83.9 wins above replacement, even with the sudden drop his career trajectory took after he went to Cincinnati, and Frank Thomas notched an impressive 76.2 fWAR despite copious time spent as a DH, and costing his team just shy of 70 runs with his defense, according to Fangraphs.

So, ultimately, the case for Sosa revolves almost entirely around the fact that he hit 609 career home runs and knocked out 60+ in a season three times, which means that I have to curve him below the rest of the pack when it comes to the pecking order of voting. Not because I give  hoot whether or not he used steroids or some other form of “PE”DOTTUBHA, of course, but because his case is made almost entirely between 1998 and 2003, a period during which, for whatever reason, home run totals were wildly inflated all over baseball. I don’t want to totally besmirch Sosa here, but if you take out the period of time between 1998-2003, he only hit 40 home runs one time, and has just two seasons with  5+ fWAR. That’s not Hall of Fame stuff, which is why those six seasons in which he went over 60 dingers thrice and hit a total of 332 home runs is so important to his case. And given that fact, and the context in which those huge totals were put up, I just don’t regard Sosa and anything more than a borderline case at best.

7 thoughts on “Sosa is a marginal Hall candidate

  1. Mister D

    Can't say I care much one way or another, but what the hell.

    1. Wouldn't dropping the 6 best seasons from almost any player's career make it impossible for them to hit the hall of fame?

    2. I never thought of Bill Dickey as a borderline HoFer.

    3. Wouldn't his WAR include compensation for the fact that everyone else was hitting a metric ton of homers in his prime?

    4. Looking at his B-Ref comparisons, 7 of the 10 most similar players are in the HoF, and the other three are Thome, Junior and Sheffield.

    I would think that, if you are ignoring the steroids (and for some reason I suspect you are), then his case should be more than marginal.

    • BrienJackson

      That's fair, but at the same time I don't know that I'd take it quite that literally. For the sake of argument, compare Sosa to McGwire, another guy whose case is at least 90% about gaudy home run totals. Unlike Sosa, who only cracked 40 once before 1998, McGwire hit 49 back in 1987, 42 in 1992, 39 in strike shortened 1995, and went over 50 in 1996 and 1997. Maybe it's just a matter of differently timed peaks, but I just don't think you can totally discount the broad spike in home runs that started in 1998 and carried through the first few years of the next decade.

      And to be clear, I wouldn't refuse to vote for Sosa outright, but he'd be behind Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Edgar, Lofton, Walker, Trammel, and Palmeiro in my pecking order.

  2. That's one heck of a rebuttal.

  3. Mister D

    Not exactly the biggest Sosa fan because the steroids DO matter to me, but thanks. Hoping there's a rebuttal to the rebuttal though.

  4. brian

    Sosa admittedly makes me realize how crazy this debate is…

    I've said here and many other places that I'm ok with steroid guys making the hall but it has to be a Clemens, Bonds, Arod type of guy..

    No borderline steroid guys in the hall… and yet, that's exactly what Sosa is and I'd consider voting for him… it is what it is…. and what it is is a huge gray area

    • Mister D

      I said before the steroid thing does bother me, and if I had absolute knowledge, or even something in that ballpark, I'd consider keeping out guys just for that reason. But given the widespread refusal to see what was going on or to do anything about it at all levels of the game (players, owners, union, commissioner, press, and even the fans to some extent), and the fact that there will likely be a users that "sneak through", its hard to just have a straight ban. However, I do think it is up to the voters (and those of us debating for fun) to use their best judgement, and for me that would mean trying, as best as I could, to determine if a player would make it without steroids. Bonds and Clemmens are no doubters, but the steroids knocks them down from an automatic first ballot to the next level. Similarly, I think Sosa drops from solid candidate to borderline-but-likely, and Palmero goes from borderline to off the boards. Its not perfect, and I wouldn't suggest others use the same guideline, but its the fault of baseball for letting it get to this point in the first place.

  5. Joe Gualtieri

    The idea that Sosa is a borderline player is silly. 600 HR and what did for the game in 1998 would make him a lock if not for that pesky cheating problem. Even over looking his failed drug test, he was caught using a corked bat.

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