10 who did the most to help their Cooperstown cases in 2012

Way back in the day, in one of his writings, Bill James tried to figure out which player did the most to help his Hall of Fame candidacy during the season. Who did something that might prove to be the tipping point in a successful Hall campaign?

It remains valid to query who did the most to improve their chances at Cooperstown, so let’s ask it about baseball people in 2012.

For this analysis, a player who entered the year as a consensus pick for the Hall, someone like Derek Jeter, can’t make the list. If he began the year as a lock, then by definition he couldn’t have done much to improve his candidacy. Frankly, for almost all players that make Cooperstown, there is rarely one season you can point to that got them in, Hack Wilson and Jack Chesbro notwithstanding. It’s a cumulative effort, but some seasons increase a person’s odds more than others do.

Making this list, of course, doesn’t guarantee that a player will make Cooperstown. In some cases, it’s just about putting yourself in position to put yourself in position. After all, when the list goes 10 people long, you’re going to get a bit iffier at the bottom end.

So who did the most to help themselves?

1. Miguel Cabrera

This one is pretty obvious, right? I mean, Cabrera won a Triple Crown, something no one had done in either league in 45 years. And he won the MVP, which doesn’t hurt. Remember when some people figured he was a bad bet to age well based on how he drinks booze and gains weight? Well, even if he does age poorly after this point, he’s damn near a lock to go into Cooperstown.

But that isn’t the biggest reason Cabrera comes in No. 1. Instead, his main advantage is something much more formulaic. The 2012 campaign was Cabrera’s 10th season in the big leagues, and the Hall of Fame says a player must last 10 seasons to be eligible for induction.

Even before this season, Cabrera had won a batting title and an RBI crown and topped the league in homers—just not all in the same year. He was always a great hitter, a great slugger and a perennial All-Star. One more year like that just cinched up his case. Oh, he won a Triple Crown in the process? That’s just gravy. He’d be a shoo-in even if 2012 had been just another Miguel Cabrera season.

2. (tie) Bryce Harper and Mike Trout

No, they don’t have the 10 years under their belts yet, but the rookie wonders of the world showed the other vital thing needed for Hall of Fame induction, Hall of Fame talent. Boy, do they have it, and not just a little bit. They have it in bushels.

These two weren’t merely good; they were historically great at exceptionally young ages. Their performances are up there with the 1951 twosome of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle as a great one-two rookie class punch.

One (or both) could still blow Cooperstown, but he’d either need to have a suddenly shortened career or turn into a massive underachiever. Even if they fail to fully live up to the promise shown in 2012, Harper and Trout still have great chances at induction. Al Kaline was a rookie wonder who won a batting title with a .340 average at age 20 and then never came close to that level again. Though he never lived up to that initial promise, he got 3,000 hits and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Harper and Trout have shown they have the historical talent needed. Now they need to avoid being historic flame-outs and stay healthy.

3. David Wright

He came up years ago and quickly established himself as a fantastic all-around talent. In his first full season in 2005, Wright hit 27 homers while batting .306 with 17 stolen bases and over 70 walks while playing third base. He looked like a possible Hall of Famer, and over the next several years lived up to the billing.

Then in 2010, in what should’ve been the beginning of his prime at age 27, he slipped a bit, dropping 20 points from his career batting average. Well, it’s just one year, and batting average can vary from year to year. Then in 2011, it dropped nearly 30 points while Wright hit just 14 homers in a little over 100 games. Was Wright one of those players who peaked early and fizzled in what should’ve been his prime?

Well, maybe not. Last year he hit .306 with 81 walks and “only” 21 homers, but with 41 doubles. Wright still has oodles of talent, and as long as he plays decently into his 30s, Wright should put the qualms from 2010-11 to rest.

4. Buster Posey

In 2010, Posey won the Rookie of the Year Award. In 2011, he missed most of the season due to injury. How would he do upon returning? Well, pretty good, apparently. Posey won the National League batting title, and MVP and helped the Giants win their second world title in three years. He’s got the talent, and he survived an injury. Still just 25 years old, Posey’s prime should still be in the future.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

He still has quite a ways to go until he’s a guarantee for Cooperstown, but then again, the guaranteed guys aren’t the ones who make lists like this.

5. Jose Reyes

Like Cabrera, Reyes enjoyed his 10th big league season in 2012, and thus he now qualifies for the ballot. He isn’t as strong a candidate as Cabrera, but then again, not many guys are.

What has Reyes done in 10 years? Well, let’s start with stuff he’s led the league in: batting average once, hits once, at-bats twice, stolen bases thrice, and triples four times. Not bad. And all that done while playing shortstop, the most important defensive position on the field.

I’m strongly tempted to rank him higher, but a few factors drive Reyes down a bit. First, it wasn’t that great a year (by his standards, anyway), batting .287 with an OPS+ of 111. Also, while he’s played 10 years, he’s been on just four All-Star teams. As great as Reyes has been, he needs more than 10 years to get into Cooperstown.

Still, he won’t turn 30 until next June, and he’s already almost halfway to 3,000 hits.

6. Justin Verlander

There aren’t many pitchers on this list, are there? In fact, Verlander is the only one. It’s harder for a pitcher to make it because of the greater chance for injury, so no pitcher as young as Posey would make this list. No clearly deserving hurler made it to 10 seasons in 2012. The most prominent older candidates didn’t do too much to really ensure themselves a Cooperstown plaque, either.

Verlander? He’s merely the best pitcher in baseball. Again. It was his fourth straight terrific season and sixth outstanding season out of the last seven. Injuries still can happen, but Verlander is in good shape right now, and 2012 just made his case that much stronger.

As for other pitching candidates, R.A. Dickey is a great story, but at age 37 is a little too old and has too few career accomplishments, even for a knuckleballer. Jake Peavy enjoyed a great comeback campaign, but he still needs to do quite a bit more. And someone with his injury history is always a concern.

7.(tie) Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy

What’s this, a pair of managers? Sure, why not? They can enter Cooperstown, too, and both helped their Cooperstown credentials this year.

Bochy’s Giants, of course, won the World Series, their second in three seasons. Bochy has been managing non-stop for 18 straight seasons but has been overlooked for much of that time, spending most of it with undermanned San Diego squads. But winning two titles in three years is an excellent way to get attention. As it stands right now, Bochy won’t go into Cooperstown, but two titles puts him in position to possibly do it. If the Giants can continue their recent run, Bochy has a shot.

Oh, and this year’s 94-68 Giants team gave Bochy an overall career winning record: 1,454-1,444. Now, a winning percentage barely over .500 won’t get him into Cooperstown, but a winning percentage under .500 would pretty much guarantee he wouldn’t, and he’s gotten rid of that guarantee.

Bochy is only 57 years old. He could last another decade or longer. He’s just 546 wins from 2,000, and everyone at 2,000 is either in Cooperstown or will be soon. Add that to a pair of World Series rings, and his case keeps looking stronger. But that’s getting ahead of things. For this year, Bochy has done as much as he can to advance his Cooperstown case, something no one really talked about with Bochy just a few years ago.

Bochy’s Giants beat Leyland’s Tigers in the World Series. If Detroit had won it, I’d put Leyland in the top five of this list and leave Bochy off altogether. Leyland always has been the much bigger name and more well-regarded manager. He’s managed four teams, winning a World Series with one (the Marlins), winning a pair of pennants with a second team (the Tigers), and taking three division crowns with a third (the Pirates). Only the Rockies, who Leyland managed for just one year, failed to advance to the postseason with Leyland.

8. Andrew McCutchen

This is like the Harper-Trout-Posey selections, just not as strong a case. McCutchen isn’t as young as the Harper-Trout duo, and he wasn’t the MVP like Posey. No, but a guy who is supposed to be a terrific young talent had his breakout campaign at the still-tender age of 25.

McCutchen led the NL in hits en route to a .327 average along with 31 homers, 20 steals and 70 walks, all while patrolling an up-the-middle defensive position in center field. That’s a nice bit of well-rounded talent. If he maintains this performance, McCutchen will have a Hall of Fame-worthy prime, and then if he ages well, he’ll have an excellent shot at a plaque.

9. Billy Beane

It was a mighty nice year for Mr. Beane. He’d already made a nice reputation for himself as a GM during the A’s initial Moneyball days in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With his early embrace of sabermetrics, Beane had a great run early. Since then, the game has caught up with him, and the A’s have treaded water.

Going purely on accomplishments, Beane’s fellow Bay Area GM Brian Sabean has a better case for Cooperstown and did more this year to earn a possible plaque as his Giants won their second world title in three years. True, but popular reputation means a great deal, and Beane has been in the forefront of the public consciousness for a long time; Sabean is more in the background.

If the 2012 A’s, with all their young pitchers, turn into the start of a new run for Oakland—and if they win some postseason hardware during that time—Beane has an excellent shot to make Cooperstown. He’ll be a GM who won despite significant financial limitations and transformed the game in the process.

10. Adrian Beltre

Every generation has some players who make Cooperstown as everyone expected—Mickey Mantles and Ted Williamses.

Then there are the other guys, the ones no one expects to make it. These are the really good players who stay really good for longer than expected and end up posting some surprisingly fine career numbers.

Beltre hit .321 with 36 homers last year while winning a Gold Glove for his play at third base. After never making a single All-Star team in his 20s, 2012 was Beltre’s third straight time on the squad. He’ll turn 34 next April but already has 2,227 hits, 463 doubles, and 346 homers.

You could also put Paul Konerko or Aramis Ramirez here, but Beltre has the best combination of a strong 2012, strong career numbers, and enough future seasons in front of him to round out this list.

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Bill McKinley
11 years ago

Ryan Braun has now put together a remarkable 6-yr career and while there is now a PED taint, you know he passed multiple tests last season.

Andy Pettitte returned after a year hiatus and didn’t miss a beat. He added 5 wins to his career mark, maintained his K%, hurled two quality post season starts though he didn’t get his 20th win.

And Chipper Jones should have solidified a first ballot selection with a strong finale.

11 years ago

Felix, with his perfect game, probably advanced his case a smidge, as well.

Bob Rittner
11 years ago

I think you have to add David Price to the list. Winning the Cy Young, whether you think Verlander was a better choice or not, in a season he won 20 games and struck out over 200 batters as well as making his 3rd consecutive all-star game certainly improves his aura.

Admittedly had the Rays gotten to the post-season the narrative, winning all 5 September starts, would have helped even more. Even so, his September record redounds to his credit as the Rays had another great stretch drive.

11 years ago


Now that we’re pretty sure who he is, he seems like a very strong candidate.  Through his age 29 season, he matches up beautifully with Mickey Cochrane.  As long as he stays at catcher for another 4-5 years and stays healthy, I’d say he’s got a very good case to be a top 7 catcher.  Certainly top 11.

or he’ll turn into Jason Kendall

David P Stokes
11 years ago

“Remember when some people figured he was a bad bet to age well based on how he drinks booze and gains weight?”

Must have been people who’d never heard of Babe Ruth.

11 years ago

Yadier Molina, maybe?

He improved upon his 2011 “career year” with a 2012 season that might’ve won an MVP if not for Posey’s pluperfect performance.

It’s fair to say that the more we know about defensive metrics for backstops, the better Molina looks. Fielding, throwing, pitch-blocking,and pitch-framing: he’s among baseball’s top 5 in every category.

And 2012 puts his offense into a whole new classification—not because 2012 is his new baseline of expected hitting performance… but rather because 2011 is. Now his very, very good 2011 season looks quite far from a fluke or career year.

And every year that he hits like 2011 (while providing his stellar defense) is a HOF-quality season. All-Star Games, numerous Gold Gloves, two world championships. I’d say the 30-year-old is definitely at least 50% of the way to the Hall. And with his exceptional durability, I wouldn’t bet against his being effective until age 36 or 37.

Chris J.
11 years ago

Good suggestions

Braun – the PED test really hurts him.  I know it was last year and I know he passed tests this year but his stock has fallen w/ voters, not gone up.

Pettitte & Chipper – I don’t think 2012 did anything to really affect their candidacies.  You think 2012 helped solidify a first-ballot case?  That just means he was already a lock to make it in (even if it takes a few ballots).

Felix Hernandez – that’s a good one.  I don’t think the perfect game makes much difference, but he’s on course so far.  But we’ll have to see how he holds up.  Pitching ain’t easy.

David Price is another great talent, but I’m very leery around young pitchers.

Mauer.  Good call, but I think he already had a really strong case prior to this year.  I can see how he’d make a list though.

Molina?  No.  He’s had a few nice years, but he needs a lot more than that.  How does he stack up against Lance Parrish or Bill Freehan or Benito Santiago or Ted Simmons or Darrell Porter …. those are all catchers who didn’t come close.

11 years ago

Matt Cain:

All Star 3rd time in 4 years, Perfect Game, 2012 SF Giant.

Bob Rittner
11 years ago

I agree with you about young pitchers, Chris. And in no way do I suggest that Price is on the way to the HOF. But a couple of points to consider.

One is that mentioning first year players or, in the case of McCutchen, one who had done little until this season to merit consideration for such a list, it seems to me you open the door to players like Price. After all, if you pick McCutchen now, you might have had Justin Upton on the list after 2011. The uncertainty of anyone at that stage of his career is a given, pitcher or not.

Also, in Price’s case, we have a pitcher who shows no signs of fragility. Between his body type, his mechanics and the way he has been used, he is, as far as pitchers are concerned, about as sure a thing as you can get.

And while he is young, at 27 he is mature and has passed what is often considered the injury nexus years.

I don’t argue with your picks, or for that matter with you being leery of Price. But forced to choose between Price and McCutchen, I think I would go with Price right now. He has done more in the last 3 years which, in my mind, makes up somewhat for being a pitcher. In fact, because of the fragility issue, I might even choose Price over Reyes.

11 years ago

Great article.

I think you’re shorting Molina a bit.  Since the standard is ‘who did the most to help their…cases’ Molina went from almost zero to maybe around 25%.  I think he did more than Verlander, who was already almost there.  5 straight gold gloves (plus the platinum one), 4 straight all-star games, started as regular at 21, so unless he ages poorly, and with a few more all-star appearances and gold gloves, he’s looking like an Ivan Rodgriguez type of candidate.

D Leaberry
11 years ago

Lance Berkman hurt himself last season due to his physical breakdown.  Perhaps a solid finish as a Rangers/Orioles DH might get him to Cooperstown.

Chris Horvath
11 years ago

I think Beane is the biggest lock on the list. Besides Branch Rickey, he’s probably the most influential GM in baseball history. At least that’s his reputation.

However, I’m a life-long Oaklander, so I could be biased.

Also, I’m pleased that you recognized Beltre for his HOF potential. In a similar vein, I’d suggest Tim Hudson.

11 years ago

King Felix pitched a perfect game AND put up a better fWAR than he did in his Cy Young season. At some point Felix needs credit for making pitching look easy. My fear is at some point HOF Voters will morph the Coors Field effect into the Safeco Field effect. Although there have been years where he performed even better on the road than at home, Safeco has helped his career numbers so far, and moving the fences in will make or break him (if voters even realize he may no longer ply his trade in pitching nirvana).

Molina had a 6.5 fWAR season the year after his team won their 2nd World Series with him as catcher. His last 5 years are outstanding among catchers.

Unless you’ve already punched your ticket to Cooperstown, 6+ WAR seasons are huge steps forward.

However, if you’re saving both of these players for next year when they’ll be closer to 10 years in the game, I respect that.

Chris J.
11 years ago

Bob – Good argument for Price.  I can see the case.

KJOK – Maybe I’m shorting Molina a bit, but there’s no way his case is at 25%.  There’s a lot of players who have a couple nice years in their late 20s.  For him to have a case, he’ll need a sustained period of excellence into his 30s.

11 years ago

Surprised no mention of Jay Bruce even though he hits for a low average, he’s got a good glove and his top comp through his age 25 season is Reggie Jackson.

John C
11 years ago

The only thing that’s changed about Beltre is that he’s finally playing in ballparks that favor the hitter, rather than murder their stats. He’s the same player he was in Dodger Stadium and Safeco Field, just without having to play in them anymore.

There was once a guy named Hank Aaron who seemed to be a better player in his 30s than he was in his 20s, but what really happened is that he escaped from Milwaukee County Stadium and moved to the Launching Pad in Atlanta. Beltre’s not Aaron, but it’s the same thing at work here.

Brian Standing
11 years ago

If Johan Santana had retired right after his no-hitter (the NY Mets’ first ever), I’d say he would have been added to this list.  Unfortunately, he fell apart in the second half of the season. 

He may rue the day he signed with the Mets. His first two otherwise-stellar seasons in Queens were marred by a lack of run support. 2013 may be Johan’s make or break year for a run at the HOF.

Klements Sausage
11 years ago

So 12 who did the most to help their Cooperstown cases in 2012, then, not 10?

And still there was no room for Braun.