Baseball’s Hall of Very Good does not exist in any physical space, but any baseball fan online in the last decade or so should recognize it as a solid idea in the abstract. Annual Reddit posts on the subject generate consistent traffic. It often shows up in top comments on player retrospectives, especially around this time of year. There’s even a podcast named in its honor.
But despite fans’ general acceptance of its hypothetical existence, there are no clear indicators of what would constitute enshrinement in the Hall of Very Good. To be fair, none exist for the Hall of Fame, either, but nearly a century of practice has created useful standards and practices for potential inclusion in the Hall of Fame. This lack of criteria is what makes each player’s Very-Goodness difficult to measure, but it’s also what makes the discussion so fun, especially for Mets fans.
The Mets do not claim many Hall of Famers (30 in all that have worn the uniform, and only two wearing orange and blue on their plaque), but they have quite a few prospective Hall of Very Gooders. What makes them Very Good consists of a mix of standards typically used for Hall of Fame measurement, which inspires a couple notes on the proceedings:
- We will be using Jay Jaffe’s elegant JAWS formula to compare value amongst players, and Baseball Reference’s WAR measurement (bWAR) for JAWS purposes.
- Non-baseball factors like the character clause will be considered.
Let’s start with the obvious inclusions.
First-Ballot Hall of Very Gooders
It still feels a bit ridiculous that Keith Hernandez isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Naysayers will point to a stacked position and his below-average JAWS (50.8 against a 54.2 average at first base), but from just about any angle Keith looks like a Hall of Famer. His eleven gold gloves rank first amongst all first-basemen and top-ten all-time. He won two Silver Sluggers, played a huge role on two World Series-winning teams, and has an MVP award to his name. In fact, here’s the list of all position players who have accumulated an MVP award and 60+ bWAR and are not in the Hall of Fame:
- Barry Bonds
- Alex Rodriguez
- Albert Pujols
- Mike Trout
- Pete Rose
- Miguel Cabrera
- Joey Votto
- Ken Boyer
- Keith Hernandez
That list of nine includes four active players, two accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, one kicked out of the game, and Ken Boyer. Including Hernandez’s work as a color commentator and studio host along with his exceptional guest-starring role on Seinfeld, it’s hard not to complete the portrait of a well-rounded, no-doubter Hall-of-Famer. Put Keith Hernandez in the Hall of Fame—and put Ken Boyer there, too, to strengthen my argument.
Keith might end up in the Hall of Fame one day via the veterans' committee, of course, so there’s no guarantee of a long-term exclusion. But until then, his imaginary bronze statue exists as a first ballot, and possibly inner-circle, Hall of Very Gooder.
Beltrán will appear on next year’s Hall of Fame ballot, and his eventual inclusion into Cooperstown may depend heavily on how writers view Beltrán’s involvement with the Astros’ cheating scandal. José Altuve, Carlos Correa, and maybe even Alex Bregman are all a long way from their respective trials, so next year’s ballot may not end up a preview of what’s to come for Houston’s core. But either way, Beltrán might not have the easiest path to enshrinement.
If it wasn’t for the scandal, Beltrán would be a shoe-in for the Hall, looking precisely like the average enshrined center fielder with 70.1 bWAR and 57.2 JAWS over 20 seasons in the majors. His nine All-Star appearances, two gold gloves, 435 home runs and 2725 hits all look supremely Hall-worthy, and if that one World Series ring weren’t so weighed down with baggage it might have bumped him in on the first ballot. But his team’s crimes against baseball have put Beltrán in limbo. By this time next year, I hope we can talk about Beltrán as the third player with a Mets cap on a bronze plaque, but until then he’s in on the first ballot in the lesser Hall.
In the Hall
Wright’s name will likely show up on the ballot in 2023, and if the Baseball Hall of Fame seriously considered performance in international competitions like more open-minded halls-of-fame then Captain America may have found a path to enshrinement. But alas, Mets fans should probably live with the idea that the greatest position player in the history of the franchise likely will not enter Cooperstown.
And that’s too bad, because while Wright probably lost at least four full seasons due to injury, his best years between 2005-2013 certainly look like the peak years of a Hall-of-Famer. His 39.5 seven-year peak bWAR falls short of the 43.1 mark of the average enshrined third baseman, but not by so much that his inclusion would be inconceivable. The fact that he owns most of the significant offensive franchise marks should be considered, though the fact that this particular franchise doesn’t seem to produce Hall-of-Fame-level hitters should be considered, as well.
Wright’s Baseball-Reference page simply lacks the longevity expected of superlative players and the black ink of those who shone bright and flamed out early. It’s as much of an indictment of the franchise as it is of the Hall, but the unquestioned greatest hitter in the history of a long-running major league franchise is merely Very Good.
Doc’s Hall-of-Fame résumé is highlighted by having pitched arguably the greatest season ever in the live-ball era, and thus possibly owning the greatest pitched season of all time. That’s a pretty good starting point! Unfortunately, injuries and personal issues hampered his immense talent, and though he pitched for sixteen seasons, he’ll likely be remembered as one of baseball’s greatest what-ifs.
Thankfully, the Hall of Very Good disposes of the what-ifs and embraces the what-dids, and what Doc did while at his brightest stacks up nicely against the greatest pitchers of all time. His first two seasons are basically painted in black ink, highlighted by an astounding 1.69 FIP in 1984 and a jaw-dropping 1.53 ERA over 35 starts in 1985. His nearly 30 bWAR accumulated from 1984-1988 alone makes him worthy of enshrinement, forever marking Doc as one of the greatest to ever throw, albeit for a short while.
Straw won Rookie of the Year in 1983 and went to the All-Star Game in each of his subsequent seasons with the Mets, a total of seven in all. If the back half of his career showed even a natural regression from his excellent front half, we would surely see his face emblazoned in bronze, but aside from a 1998 renaissance with the Yankees, he showed below-average production from 1992 onward. Missed playing time, injuries, and personal issues all got in the way from what certainly seemed like a path to the Hall of Fame.
On the other hand, my goodness, those Mets years, though. He accumulated 36.6 bWAR in eight seasons in Queens showing sustained power from the left side the franchise had never seen and has yet to see since. He played a starring role in the teams’ 1986 championship season and came breathtakingly close to winning an MVP award in 1988, deservedly awarded to Kirk Gibson. He was unquestionably one of the most feared hitters of the 1980s, a hallmark of Very Good if there ever was one.
Koosman’s career arc looks remarkably similar to Gooden’s. Both shone brightest in their first couple of seasons, sustained above-average success in their subsequent years with the Mets, and patched together a back half of mixed results with a few teams that added up to a long career in the majors. In Koosman’s case, however, he never pitched as brilliantly as Doc, but he also maintained his production for longer periods.
Arm trouble and bad Mets teams put strange blips on his early career (his 81 ERA+ in 1972 and league-leading 20 losses in 1977 are particularly alarming), but he recovered with a similar blip of 20 wins and a career-high 7.2 bWAR at 36 years old for Minnesota in 1979. All in all, Koosman pitched for 19 seasons and was Very Good for at least half of them, which seems HOVG-worthy by any reasonable standard.
Leiter pitched a long time for a lot of teams and only started finding success in the back half of his career, most notably with the Mets. His two All-Star appearances, dearth of awards, and lack of black ink leave quite a bit to be desired from his candidacy, but it’s hard to argue with 40.0 bWAR, two World Series rings, and a Subway Series pennant.
In the pantheon of great Mets pitchers, Leiter may be among the most overlooked, but the Hall of Very Good should not overlook his tremendous accomplishments over 19 seasons.
Notable Mets (with another team’s hat) In the Hall
Delgado is very good and cool and hit a lot of dingers and doubles, and there’s a decent chance he’d be regarded as a Hall of Famer if the steroid era didn’t significantly deflate his value. And while his 44.4 bWAR makes him a nice-looking Hall of Very Gooder, he’d be rocking a muscular bird on his hat in his plaque instead of an interlocking N and Y.
Dykstra’s inclusion in the Hall of Very Good depends heavily on the character clause, which can be cited at least a dozen times for various things summarized nicely on the “Personal Life” portion of his Wikipedia page. He’s also admitted to using steroids, so there’s another impediment. But if none of those things perturb you, his highly productive career, most notably in Philadelphia, merits him a place in the Hall.
If the character clause can leave someone like Rafael Palmeiro out of the Hall of Fame, then certainly it should propel someone like Curtis Granderson and his 47.2 bWAR into the Hall of Fame. Luckily for Granderson, he doesn’t need that sort of help to enter the Hall of Very Good, with only the question of which hat he will wear on his plaque.
The Blue Jays and the Mets both seem to claim quite a few Very Gooders, sharing Leiter, Delgado, and Olerud between the two franchises. Olerud would assuredly enter as a Blue Jay, but his peak of 17.3 bWAR in three years with the Mets should certainly be recognized, as well.
Much like Olerud, Ventura arguably had his best season with the Mets (6.7 bWAR and a 6th place MVP finish in 1999), but his stellar years in Chicago plant him in most fans’ memory as an exemplary White Sock.
Santana sadly fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2018 despite his Koufaxian-like résumé. And though his remarkable career paid him the most in Queens, and though he owns the franchises’ only no-hitter, sticking Santana in the Hall of Very Good with anything but a Twins hat wouldn’t feel just.
If the cutoff for the Hall of Very Good is 40 bWAR like the Reddit post at the top of this post suggests, then Matlack just misses the cut at 39.4 bWAR. But accumulating that value in only 13 years of pitching is rather impressive, especially for some rather pedestrian Mets and Rangers team, the 1972 pennant-winning Mets excluded. Matlack’s best claim to Very-Goodness is being one of the five best pitchers for one of the game’s premier pitching franchises, which might not go a long way outside of Queens and Arlington.
If Jon Matlack’s numbers don’t do it for you, then you probably shouldn’t bother with Sid Fernandez and his 32.7 bWAR over fifteen seasons with five teams. HIs separate peaks in the mid-1980s and early-1990s make him an interesting case study in consistency, but without the exciting highs of Gooden or Matlack, he might be best left looking in from the outside.
Hall of Fame criteria for managers is difficult to measure, and while Davey Johnson is almost never mentioned in the same breath as some of the game’s most famous managers, here’s my pitch:
- Johnson has more wins (1372) than Hall-of-Fame manager Whitey Herzog (1281).
- He has a better winning percentage (.562) than Hall-of-Famers Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre.
- He coached above-.500 teams in four different decades.
I have no idea if any of that should impress the voters, but if there are a bunch of managers in his league with Hall of Fame busts, then Johnson should at least merit a Very Good label.
Ignoring his domestic violence arrest and how it might impact his legacy, José Reyes looks like a solid candidate for the Hall of Very Good. His 37.4 bWAR over 16 years may not look that impressive as a whole, but when accompanied with his generational speed stats (he led the league in steals three times and triples four times) and an out-of-nowhere batting title in 2011, he starts to look like a pretty special player.
Alfonzo was the most valuable player on a pennant-winning team and a central figure in perhaps the greatest defensive infield of all time. That’s essentially the extent of his case, which looks pretty shallow especially after he left the Mets and finished his 12-year career with a sub-30 bWAR.
If Jacob deGrom pitches like Jacob deGrom for 2-3 more seasons, he has a very good chance of making the Hall of Fame. Heck, he might even have a case right now since he’s put up a Koufaxian career in four fewer seasons than Koufax pitched, putting up 43.4 bWAR and bringing home two Cy Youngs in eight years with the Mets. His place in the Hall of Very Good depends almost entirely on a catastrophic collapse in production or a sudden retirement before the 2022 season begins, and I apologize for even bringing the thought into existence. He’s basically in there already with a great chance to step up and out.
Much like deGrom, Lindor is already on a Hall-of-Fame path with 31.1 bWAR through just his age-27 season, and his potential inclusion into the Hall of Very Good with a Mets hat is even more convoluted than deGrom’s. He would likely have to play at an average-or-below level for the next decade, but still somehow outshine his excellent early years in Cleveland. Perhaps that would include two or three Mets titles over the next ten seasons? With perhaps a few sparkling playoff performances? Those factors in their entirety seem unlikely for this franchise’s franchise player, but stranger things have happened with the Mets.
Having put up 9.8 bWAR in the past two-and-COVID seasons, it feels safe to pencil in Alonso for at least three wins per year for the next decade or so. Much of that will depend on his still-improving fielding and whether he transitions to a designated hitter role later in his career, but the good news for Pete is that his power-hitting is always valued and will likely age well into his thirties. I may believe in Alonso more than most and think he even has Hall of Fame potential, but I don’t see it unreasonable to eventually declare Pete a Very Good polar bear.
It’s tough to project greatness onto someone who has only played essentially one full season in the majors, but hear me out: Brandon Nimmo could one day be Very Good. He has accumulated 12.1 bWAR through his age-28 season in the equivalent of three full seasons of play, and there’s a decent chance he’ll stay as the Mets long-term option in left field. Though his talents aren’t as obvious as Pete’s, he’s in a very similar position production-wise to Alonso, and with his improved glove and steady bat there’s reason to believe he’s getting better while not having quite hit his peak. His potential inclusion in the Hall of Very Good will depend heavily on health, which has never been dependable in his career, but if by some grace the Mets get 5-7 more 2018-Nimmo-like seasons, then he has a chance.
Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling
The Baseball Hall of Fame annually hands the Ford C. Frick Award to a superlative broadcaster, with recipients including Vin Scully, Bob Costas, Red Barber, Dick Enberg, and Bob Uecker. It’s entirely possible that Mets play-by-play maestro Gary Cohen will one year win this award, but seeing as the title has yet been awarded to a pair of broadcasters, the likelihood of it being awarded to a trio seems slim.
Gary, Keith and Ron deserve this honor, of course. With their mix of old-school wisdom, refreshing open-mindedness to the modern game, and sincere camaraderie in the booth, SNY’s televised broadcast with these three men consistently ranks amongst the best baseball broadcasts in the majors. With Keith’s advancing age and the ongoing shifts of televised broadcasts, it’s unclear for how much longer this trio will remain intact, but it seems clear that this group of voices is both Very Good and pretty special.
All of this, of course, is a fun and silly exercise in projection and remembering some guys. I had a lot of fun looking at Robin Ventura’s stats and flashing back to 1999, when things were simpler and the Mets took names off their jerseys, for whatever reason. I learned quite a bit about Jerry Koosman, who I’ve forever associated as Very Good but could never produce any hard evidence off the top of my head. The Hall of Very Good doesn’t actually exist, and I doubt any of these players would appreciate induction into a fake Internet club when they were so close to reaching the real Hall of Fame.
But the Hall of Fame is pretty silly, too. It was originally constructed as a marketing ploy based on a fabrication that Abner Doubleday invented the game in Cooperstown (by the way, in which small city in upstate New York should we build the Hall of Very Good? I’m thinking Oneonta). It claims to be a museum but aggressively rejects artifacts and stories it finds distasteful. They haven’t let in Keith Hernandez. It’s a silly place, no doubt about it.
So why not celebrate the merely Very Good? Doing so just so happens to highlight historically average expansion franchises like the Mets and Blue Jays and Royals, and every team deserves some shine whether they claim a handful of Hall of Famers or not. The Hall of Very Good may not exactly be the place every player would want to end up, but there should be no shame in inclusion.