Billy Wagner is way past due
A year ago, Wagner fell just 27 votes shy of the 292 needed to reach the Hall of Fame. This time around, on his ninth try, Billy the Kid will hopefully close that slim gap. He’s more than deserving, and frankly, it's overdue.
Wagner is unquestionably one of the most dominant closers to ever step on an MLB mound. His 422 career saves currently rank sixth all-time, and he’s one of only eight pitchers with 400-plus. Among those eight, three of which are in the Hall already, Wagner’s 2.31 ERA sits only behind Mariano Rivera’s 2.21 mark. Wagner is also 1 of 3 members of the 400-save club that sports a career WHIP under 1.00.
As far as strikeouts go, Wagner ranks among the elite of the elite. His 33.2 K% ranks among the Top 10 of all qualifying pitchers in the history of the game. Combining that with a .184 AVG against and 24.9 K-BB%, Wagner was simply lights out in the late innings from the mid-90s until his final, and only, season with the Braves.
With Atlanta in 2010, Wagner proved his career could’ve lasted even longer, as he earned his seventh All-Star selection while helping the Braves end a four-year playoff drought at the time. Wagner turned in one of the best seasons of his entire career that year, converting 37 of 44 save chances along with a career-best 1.43 ERA and 104-to-22 K/BB ratio across 69.1 innings.
Gary Sheffield is deserving, but PED issue persists
Sheffield’s two years (2002-03) in Atlanta were just a microcosm of his phenomenal career. For the Braves, he posted a ridiculous .974 OPS over 290 games and finished third in N.L. MVP voting in 2003. Sheff ripped 64 homers and stole 30 bags (36 attempts) while donning a Braves uniform.
Atlanta was just 1 of 8 stops for Sheffield. The five-time Silver Slugger raked regardless of the team for which he was suiting up, putting together a .292/.393/.514 slash line with 2,689 hits, 509 home runs, 1,676 RBI, and 253 steals across nearly 11,000 plate appearances. Those marks place him inside the all-time Top 30 in homers and RBI as well as the Top 70 in hits.
Historically, reaching 500 home runs alone meant certain entry into the Hall of Fame. The “Steroid Era” changed that. Sheffield is currently 1 of 7 Hall-eligible players connected to the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs that have, so far, come up short of induction despite eclipsing 500 homers.
The fact that some other suspected PED users have been voted into the Hall of Fame in the last several years should bode well for Sheffield’s chances. He leaped up from 40.6% to 55.0% of the needed 75% over the last two years, but this is his last chance with the Writers’ Association.
Bartolo Colon, Brandon Phillips on ballot for first time
Colon made 13 starts for the Braves during the first half of his age-44 season in 2017. Honestly, it was the beginning of the end for him. The four-time All-Star went 2-8 with an ugly 8.14 ERA before the Braves, who were in the finishing stages of a years-long rebuild, released him.
With 247 wins, more than 2,500 strikeouts, and a Cy Young Award on his ledger, Colon deserves recognition for a great career. However, a 4.12 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and a PED-related suspension in 2012 will keep him from serious consideration for Cooperstown.
Phillips also joined the Braves for the 2017 season, sticking around a couple of months longer than Colon. Phillips’ best days were also behind him by the time he arrived in Atlanta, but he did still manage to hit a solid .291 with 11 homers and 10 steals over 120 games before being dealt away at the end of August that year.
Phillips hit .275 while averaging 18 homers and 18 steals per 162 games during his 17-year career. He finished with more than 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases in over 1,900 MLB games. Phillips was also known for his excellent defense at second base, as he won four Gold Gloves while being selected to three All-Star teams. Let’s place him in the “Hall of Very Good.”
Three former Braves should be inducted into Cooperstown this summer
In summation, Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones are obvious choices that should have seen their plaques placed on the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame years ago. Gary Sheffield is one of the most feared hitters in the history of the game. The questions surrounding his candidacy are legitimate, but, given the elections of other players with similar suspicions, particularly David Ortiz just two years ago, Sheffield belongs in Cooperstown.