One of today's top stories around baseball comes from Cooperstown, where the Baseball Writers Association of America has released the list of players who will be eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame next season. 34 players will appear on ballots this season, including 17 holdovers from previous seasons and 17 newcomers. One of the newcomers is Gary Sheffield, and he's the only player among 34 nominees who ever played in a Brewers uniform.
Several months ago Craig Goldstein of SBNation.com posted a list of 27 players that could have appeared on this ballot for the first time: Sheffield was on it, but so were one-time Milwaukee players Mark Loretta, David Weathers, Braden Looper, Julian Tavarez and Ron Villone. No one of that latter group of five was included for consideration.
I think most of us will agree that none of the five snubs listed above likely merited serious consideration for enshrinement. I'd like to highlight for a moment, though, the case of Mark Loretta. Loretta was a very good Brewer from 1997-99 before struggling to stay on the field under poor management from 2000-02 and eventually being traded to the Astros.
The best years of Loretta's career might actually have come in his 30's. He was an All Star and a Silver Slugger Award winner at second base for the Padres in 2004, hitting .335/.391/.495 and collecting a career-high 208 hits. He was an All Star again two years later for the Red Sox in 2006. All told he appeared in 1726 games over 15 MLB seasons and hit .295/.360/.395 while playing primarily as a middle infielder. FanGraphs lists him as an average to slightly above average defender at second base and below average at third base and shortstop. Baseball Reference lists his career value at 19.3 wins above replacement, and FanGraphs has him at 18.9.
Those numbers aren't good enough to merit inclusion in Cooperstown, of course, but that's not my point. My point was that Mark Loretta was an underrated player, and he's more deserving of consideration than several players who actually made the ballot.
Below please find a list of four players who are under consideration for enshrinement this season:
Aurilia's career looks a lot like Loretta's with the addition of one monster year: He was an All Star and Silver Slugger Award winner in 2001 when he hit 37 home runs (the same season Giants teammate Barry Bonds hit 73). That was easily the best campaign of Aurilia's career, however: He only broke 20 home runs three other times and had a career on-base percentage of .328.
Aurilia played 15 MLB seasons, like Loretta, but had 150 fewer hits, an OPS just eight points higher (.762 to .754) and was limited to less-valuable defensive positions for the stretch run of his career. B-Ref has him at 18.1 career WAR, which would be behind Loretta. FanGraphs has him much higher at 26.1. In both cases, the lion's share of that value came in one season.
Behold the power of one shining postseason moment: Boone played just 12 big league seasons and averaged less than 100 appearances per year. He was a one-time All Star, as a Red in 2003, drove in more than 72 runs just twice and had a .751 career OPS, three points below Loretta, despite spending his entire career as a corner infielder.
Boone will always be remembered, however, for a single home run in the 2003 ALCS as a member of the Yankees. That single blast was enough to help people forget that Boone hit .170/.196/.302 in 58 plate appearances that October in the only postseason appearance of his career.
B-Ref estimates that Boone was worth 13.5 WAR over his 12 MLB seasons, and FanGraphs is much less generous at 9.8.
Clark played 15 MLB seasons as a member of six teams, including seven years in Detroit, but his best years were already over at age 27. He had a nice three-year run from 1997-99 where he hit 97 home runs over three years, but it's important to put those seasons in context: That was the 22nd-highest total in all of baseball over that span, one less than what Jeromy Burnitz had and almost 100 less than the 193 that came off the bat of Mark McGwire.
1999 was also the last time Clark appeared in more than 130 games. He made just one All Star team, never won a major award and might actually have been a below-average hitter for a first baseman of his era, posting a career .262/.339/.485 batting line. B-Ref credits him with just 12.5 WAR for his career, and FanGraphs agrees.
Erstad was a two-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove Award winner and a Silver Slugger over 14 seasons, most of which were spent with the Angels. He was a very good postseason hitter (.339/.368/.492 in 127 plate appearances) and a big contributor in October to Anaheim's 2002 World Series win, but that performance might have overshadowed a regular season career that wasn't as special.
Erstad had one spectacular season in 2000, leading all of baseball with 240 hits and setting a career high with 25 home runs, but that season is an outlier among his other performances. From 2001-2009 he was just a .267/.319/.367 hitter. Many fans likely remember him for his defensive efforts, but it's worth noting that he actually played more career games at first base (627) than in center field (540).
Both B-Ref and FanGraphs love Erstad, listing him at 32.3 and 28.3 career wins above replacement, respectively, largely due to his defensive work during his peak seasons. It's possible he was only nominated for the Hall, however, so writers could once again remind us that he was the punter during his college days at Nebraska.