Crystal Ball: Who’ll Be the First Nat in The Hall?

Who will be the first Nat in the Hall? That’s simple: Roger Bernadina.

Okay, not really. But I had you going there for a second, right? Anyway, last night, in between Tyler Clippard’s shutdown walk off the mound and Denard Span’s game-saving catch (which the Shark totally would have made as well), I got to thinking about when the Washington Nationals would ever get a player in the Hall of Fame. Quickly, my thoughts turned to who it would be. And that’s how a blog post is born kids!

I think we can all agree that the easy answer would be Ryan Zimmerman. Whether you polled 100 diehard Nats fans, 100 bandwagon fans, or 100 fans of other teams, about 90 of them would pick the UVA product. But, I’m not so sure…

Before we weigh Ryan’s achievements, it makes sense to look at a few guys who are a lot closer to the Hall’s countdown clock expiring. Right now, there are only two former Nats who have even the slightest chance and are already retired (barring a comeback tour): Ivan Rodriguez and Livan Hernandez. Obviously, one of these guys is a lock for Cooperstown and the other would require a near-miracle to get in. Pudge has a JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score System – which measures HOF likelihood) rating that places him 3rd all-time, behind Johnny Bench and Expos’ legend Gary Carter. But the odds of him donning a Nats jersey over Rangers’ gear are remote. Meanwhile, Livo spent more time as an Expnat than with any other team. Unfortunately for him, the Hall rewards consistent production over highlight moments and stat-free durability.

So we must move on. The only other “old guy” still playing that has a chance is the lightning rod that goes by the name Alfonso Soriano. He’s still got to put up at least three more seasons worth of career-average stats before voters can solidify the argument in favor of him. But I think it’s within reason to say he might deserve getting in if he hung up his cleats tonight. He’s produced more than Puckett or Rice and is a virtual mirror of Andre Dawson. [Yes, his defense has been horrid. But a lot of that seems to get washed away by vote time.] Again though, he won’t choose the curly W, unless he carries a lot of sentiment for the one year he was in Washington (which, in fairness, will be remembered more than any other).

Eliminating these three individuals forces us to pick a current member of the Nats or a yet to be uniformed mystery man. Since it would be depressing to think that the answer would be someone who has never sat in the home dugout at Nationals Park, I am going to choose a known quantity. Looking at the roster as of 8/14/13, I’ve identified seven guys who could be enshrined in the 2020s. Starting with the pitchers, I see Jordan Zimmerman, 27, as the least likely to get there. His numbers actually aren’t that far from where Stephen Strasburg will be at the same age. Sure, Stras has the brand equity and the pedigree, but for both of them to be below 50 wins at this point in their careers does not bode well for either racking up the requisite 250 or so wins to make it.

To me, Gio Gonzalez has the best opportunity of any Nats pitcher, if only by a hair. He, too, is 27 and has twice the wins. His strikeout total is way higher than Zimmermann and on par with where Strasburg will be in two years. But his ERA is higher than the others and he still has to average about 18 wins over the next ten years to get near that 250 mark. All things considered, none of the three seems like the favorite to enter the Hall.

Taking the anti-pitcher debate as gospel (which basically assumes that none of them will go on a multiple Cy Young tear), we are left with four position players. I’ll start with Jayson Werth since he is the closest to retirement. Looking at his career stats and lack of personal hardware other than one All-Star appearance and one ring, he falls well below Soriano in every category but batting average, where they share a lifetime .272 mark. Without undervaluing Werth’s arm, attitude, and beard, I still can’t see a world where he gets the votes needed.

On the opposite side of the age spectrum we have Bryce Harper. Bryce has all the tools to punch his own ticket, but, for the sake of this argument, is not in the top two alternatives. The wunderkind from Vegas will probably play another twenty years before he stops asking into the lineup. In other words, there will probably be people living on Mars before he’s even eligible to enter. Still, anything’s possible. He could crush for a decade and walk away, making him eligible before 2030. Regardless, we’d have to assume he lives up to expectations and improves markedly over the next few years. His current output of hitting .267 isn’t matched by him mashing enough taters or swiping enough bags to balance this out.

Given all the evidence we have seen thus far, it’s no surprise why Ryan Zimmerman is still in the running. He has been the face of the franchise since there was a franchise to give a face. He has performed from the day he got here and has never had a ‘bad’ year. His lowest batting average was .266 and his career average is twenty points higher than that. He’s a run producer with two Silver Sluggers and a glove that people fear despite committing 15+ errors per season. Of all the current Nationals I looked at, he has the best chance at the HOF using any of the Bill James or Jay Jaffe metrics.

In spite of all this, there are two reasons why I don’t think he will be the guy. First, the rumors of a positional switch in the next year or so will hurt his cause. Even if he plays until he is forty, the members of the BBWAA will have a slight to moderate bias against this occurrence, citing troubles with identifying players to compare to him. Secondly, he has a worrying injury history, despite playing the bulk of games over the last eight years. The injury he suffered in 2011 always seems to be in the background, whether it is affecting the arm angles on his throws or the cortisone conversations he has with the team doctor.

Of course, Zimmerman’s plate production will continue to keep him on the precipice of greatness, much like my frontrunner for the honor, Ian Desmond. The difference between them is that Ian plays a position that rewards offensive stats at a higher rate than a corner infield spot. As one of the last power-hitting shortstops in the game, Desmond has a chance to win more awards and accolades than Zimmerman, even if they post identical stat lines from now until they retire (they’re only one year apart in age). Ryan has a head start in the Triple Crown categories (though Desmond has more steals), no doubt. Despite that, they have been to the same number of All-Star games, and Ryan figures to fall behind going forward because of positional competition. Defensively, they both have a penchant for making amazing plays and following them up with a streak of the yips. Finally, looking outside of the numbers, Desmond has the long-term team captain aura that makes Derek Jeter so revered – and also so untradeable. Whether they want to admit it or not, Hall of Fame voters eat that stuff up.

So, in conclusion, I am penciling in Ian Desmond as the first 21st Century Washington-based player to earn the most sought after plaque in baseball. And, to think, some people would have traded him for a bronzed penny just a few years ago!

Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Tags: Alfonso Soriano Bryce Harper Gio Gonzalez Hall Of Fame Ian Desmond Jayson Werth Jordan Zimmermann Livan Hernandez Pudge Rodriguez Ryan Zimmerman Stephen Strasburg Washington Nationals

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