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  • Finishing our look at the fifteen first-year Hall of Fame candidates likely to fall off the ballot without reaching the 5% minimum, let's revisit the careers of the outfielders: Pat Burrell, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Magglio Ordonez and Matt Stairs.
By Jay Jaffe
December 29, 2016

At last, we’ve reached the final installment of my 2017 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot breakdown, this one containing five first-time candidates—all outfielders—whose stays are likely to be short, as they won’t receive even the 5% of the vote necessary to retain eligibility. That’s no great injustice, given that their JAWS are at least 18 points below the standards at their positions (my threshold for longer write-ups is generally within 20 points, but the calendar and common sense didn’t allow for that this year). All the same, these players' careers are worth another look before they head off into the sunset. Some were Hall of Fame-caliber talents whose bodies couldn’t hold together for long enough to make a serious bid for Cooperstown. Others were late-bloomers for whom reaching the 10-year minimum required to appear on the ballot was a triumph unto itself.

My annual project would not be complete without including them. This is the 14th year I’ve evaluated candidates using JAWS, and I’ve never let one go by. In the first installment, I covered the ballot’s one-and-done pitchers, catchers and first and second basemen; in the second, I hit the shortstops and third basemen.

Pat Burrell

player career peak jaws h hr sb avg/obp/slg OPS+
Pat Burrell 18.8 16.4 17.6 1,393 292 7 .253/.361/.471 116
Avg. HOF LF 65.1 41.5 53.3          

The No. 1 pick of the 1998 draft out of the University of Miami, Burrell was part of a wave of homegrown Phillies—along with Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley—who helped turn around the franchise's fortunes in the mid-2000s. Most notably, "Pat the Bat" was a key middle-of-the-order thumper on Philadelphia’s 2008 champions, and after reaching free agency, he added another ring two years later with the Giants.

Burrell starred as a third baseman at Miami, where he won the Golden Spikes award—the most prestigious in amateur baseball—in 1998, the same year that he was chosen with the first pick. He began his minor league career as a first baseman, picking up leftfield as he rose through the ranks, and debuted on May 24, 2000. He hit 18 homers to go with a .260/.359/.463 line for the Phillies, who lost 97 games that year—their seventh straight losing season. But with Rollins joining the lineup the next year and with Burrell bopping 27 homers, the team improved to 86–76. Though Philadelphia would dip to 80–81 in 2002—when Burrell set a career high with 37 homers—it would finish above .500 in all six of Burrell's remaining years with the club, winning the NL East in 2007 and then the World Series over the Rays the following year. From 2001 to '08, Burrell averaged 29 homers per year and hit .257/.368/.487 for a 120 OPS+; a patient hitter who battled deep into counts, he offset his 142 strikeouts with 90 walks per year during that stretch.

JAWS and the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot: One-and-done players, Part 2

Unfortunately, much of Burrell's value was neutralized by his defense, which three times was estimated to be at least 10 runs below average according to Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved. Slow afoot, he lacked range and was particularly unable to get to balls down the leftfield line. During that 2001–08 span, he averaged a modest 2.0 WAR per year, meaning that he was basically a league-average player in overall value. Here’s an oddity: He was pulled in 23 of his 31 postseason games in favor of a defensive replacement, and only once did he play all nine innings in a postseason win.

Burrell hit .250/.367/.507 with 33 home runs in 2008, then added three more in the postseason—two in the Division Series clincher against the Brewers and then a sixth-inning tiebreaker off the Dodgers' Derek Lowe in the NLCS opener. When the six-year, $50 million extension he signed with the Phillies in January 2003 expired after the season, he signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Rays, but after a dreadful season-and-a-month (.218/.311/.361, -1.1 WAR) marred by a neck strain and a herniated disc in his neck, he was released. He caught on with the Giants and found new life, hitting .266/.364/.509 with 18 homers in 96 games. He went just 6-for-42 in the postseason, including 0-for-13 in the World Series against the Rangers, but San Francisco won nonetheless, and his post-series celebration became the stuff of lore. He played just one more season with the Giants before retiring.

Mike Cameron

player career peak jaws h hr sb avg/obp/slg OPS+
Mike Cameron 46.5 32.5 39.5 1,700 278 297 .249/.338/.444 106
Avg. HOF CF 71.1 44.5 57.8          

Though he could never replace Ken Griffey Jr. in the hearts of Mariners fans, Cameron—one of four players acquired from the Reds in the February 2000 Griffey trade and the inheritor of Seattle's centerfield job—gave the M's more value over his next four seasons (18.3 WAR) than Griffey produced over the remaining 11 seasons of his career (13.0). An exceptional defender whose power and plate discipline made him a valuable two-way player, Cameron is within my normal threshold for a full-length profile, but in light of his being a lesser Hall of Fame candidate than Kenny Lofton, Jim Edmonds and Steve Finley—all of whom fell off the ballot immediately in recent years—a combination of sanity and brevity prevailed.

Originally drafted by the White Sox in the 18th round in 1991 out of a Georgia high school, Cameron debuted on Aug. 27, 1995, but didn't stick until May 1997. He hit .259/.356/.433 with 14 homers, 23 steals and defense that was 18 runs above average en route to 4.4 WAR as a rookie, but after slumping dreadfully (.210/.285/.336) in 1998, he was traded to the Reds straight up for Paul Konerko—a deal that obviously worked out for Chicago. Cameron restored his value by hitting 21 homers, stealing 38 bases and delivering 5.5 WAR, but 15 months after acquiring him, the Reds packaged him with Brett Tomko and two other players to bring Griffey (whose father had starred for the team) to Cincinnati. Griffey couldn't stay healthy after returning home, but Cameron helped the Mariners to back-to-back playoff berths in 2000 and '01, with a record-setting 116 wins in the latter year. He gave the Mariners a career-best 5.9 WAR via 25 homers, 34 steals, a 123 OPS+ and +11 defense that year, making his only All-Star team and winning the first of three Gold Gloves.

JAWS and the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot: One-and-done players, Part 1

Cameron hit for a 112 OPS+ with averages of 22 homers, 26 steals and 4.6 WAR in his four seasons in Seattle. On May 2, 2002, he became the 13th player to homer four times in a game, via four solo shots against the White Sox at U.S Cellular Field. A free agent after the 2003 season, he signed a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Mets and hit a career-high 30 homers despite batting a lopsided .231/.319/.479 in 2004. A violent, horrific outfield collision with Carlos Beltran—via which Cameron suffered a concussion, a broken nose and fractures in both cheekbones—limited him to 76 games in 2005 and required season-ending surgery; the Mets traded him to the Padres before he returned to action.

Cameron's two-year stay in San Diego included helping the Padres to the 2006 NL West title and winning his third Gold Glove but also drawing a 25-game suspension after the '07 season for testing positive for a banned stimulant. Despite beginning his career as a Brewer by serving the suspension, a similarly productive two years in Milwaukee followed, during which he helped the team to its first postseason appearance in 26 years.

During those four seasons, Cameron had been worth an average of 3.4 WAR, never less than 3.0. Hopes for another fruitful stop, via a two-year, $15 million deal with the Red Sox, were dashed by a hernia. He played just 126 games over the two seasons, the last 45 of them in Florida, and while he showed signs of life during that last stint, he retired the following February despite having signed a minor league deal with the Nationals.

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J.D. Drew

player career peak jaws h hr sb avg/obp/slg OPS+
J.D. Drew 44.9 32.0 38.5 1,437 242 87 .278/.384/.489 125
Avg. HOF RF 73.2 43.0 58.1          

Few players of his time have ever frustrated so many people as David Jonathan Drew, the oldest and most talented of a trio of big-league brothers that included 1997 first-round pick Tim and the still-active Stephen. Between his draft history, frequent injuries, contract machinations and the widely-held perceptions that he was both aloof and soft, lacking the fire in the belly necessary for greatness, J.D. gave his detractors plenty of ammunition.

The truth was that Drew was less comfortable in the spotlight than most, but he actually delivered on a fair bit of his promise, not only winning a championship ring with the Red Sox in 2007 but also producing more WAR than all but three players ever chosen fifth in the draft (Dwight Gooden, Mark Teixiera and Dale Murphy, though Ryan Braun and Buster Posey could eventually pass him). He wasn’t the second coming of Mickey Mantle, but he was a very good ballplayer for some pretty good teams, albeit one whose body simply couldn't keep up with the demands of playing 162 games.

After graduating from high school in Georgia, Drew was chosen in the 20th round of the 1994 draft by the Giants, but he opted to go to Florida State, where he won the Dick Howser Trophy in '97 and the Golden Spikes Award after becoming the first college player ever to post a 30-homer, 30-steal season. Drew's demands (via agent Scott Boras) of a $10 million signing bonus—a request to match what 1996 No. 2 pick Travis Lee received from the Diamondbacks after Boras exploited a loophole that made him a free agent—scared away the Tigers, who had the top pick. The Phillies chose Drew with the second pick but reportedly offered him only $2.6 million, which Drew declined. He signed with the independent St. Paul Saints and tore up the Northern League until he was eligible for the draft again. The Cardinals took him with the No. 5 pick, and after 45 games split between Double and Triple A, St. Louis called him up in September.

JAWS and the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot: Sammy Sosa

The following spring, Drew topped Baseball America's prospect list and broke camp with the Cardinals, but he missed six weeks with a quad strain and hit a modest .242/.340/.424 with 13 homers and 19 steals. His first visit to Philadelphia resulted in fans showing their brotherly love by hurling D-cell batteries at him, causing a 10-minute delay, though he responded by going 2-for-4 with a triple. He wasn't exactly a hit with manager Tony La Russa; their relationship would color his time in St. Louis, culminating with La Russa criticizing him in Three Nights in August, his 2005 book with Buzz Bissinger, in which the manager "wondered whether Drew's underlying ailment, like it was for so many young players coming into sudden millions, was an absence of sustained passion that had no medical remedy." Oy.

Drew hit .279/.376/.489 for a 121 OPS+ and averages of 18 homers, 12 steals and 3.4 WAR in five seasons in St. Louis, though he hit the disabled list each year—left ankle, right hand, lower back, right knee (chronic patellar tendinitis), oblique and so on; he averaged just 117 games and never reached the 502 plate appearance threshold necessary to qualify for the batting title. He hit 27 homers and slugged .613 in 109 games in 2001 despite losing six weeks to a fractured metacarpal. In December 2003, the Cardinals sent him to Atlanta in a five-player deal that brought back prospect Adam Wainwright.

In Atlanta, Drew stayed healthy for a full season and helped the Braves to an NL East flag by hitting .305/.436/.569 with 31 homers in 645 PA. His 8.3 WAR, the league's fifth-highest total, made for a great walk year to take into free agency. In December 2004, he signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Dodgers, but what went virtually unreported at the time was a bit of fine print, courtesy of Boras: Drew could opt out after two years and seek a better deal. To that point, such clauses were obscure; Jack Morris exercised one after his 1991 World Series heroics, and Sammy Sosa had waived his right after the 2003 season.

Drew's first season in L.A. was a disaster, as he began his Dodger career by going 0-for-25 and in early July suffered a season-ending left wrist fracture via a hit-by-pitch. His season already done, he underwent surgery in September for unrelated injuries to his right wrist and shoulder, the latter of which was described as "an arthritic condition." He returned and put up a healthy season (.283/.393/.498 with 20 homers and 4.0 WAR), and the Dodgers, who had sunk to 71 wins the previous year, rebounded to 88 wins and the NL wild-card berth. Though Drew claimed repeatedly throughout the season—right up to the final week of September—that he had no plans to exercise his opt out (which by then had come to light), he nonetheless did in early November, and the jilted Dodgers refused to try to re-sign him.

Drew landed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Red Sox, and while he struggled in his first year (.270/.373/.423 with just 11 homers and a 105 OPS+) against the backdrop of his 17-month-old son needing surgery, he came up big in the postseason. Most notably, his a first-inning grand slam off the Indians' Fausto Carmona in Game 6 of the ALCS delivered the biggest blow as the Red Sox surmounted a three-games-to-one deficit; he hit a combined .350/.395/.530 in the ALCS and World Series against the Rockies.

JAWS and the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot: Fred McGriff

Drew spent four more seasons in Boston, performing reasonably well when healthy but again struggling to stay on the field. From 2008 to '10, he averaged a 126 OPS+ but just 128 games, with a herniated disc and a bone spur in his left shoulder as the major maladies but by no means the only ones. He made the AL All-Star team for the only time in 2008 and came up big in that year's postseason: He hit a game-winning–two-run homer off the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez in Game 2 of the Division Series, then clubbed a two-run–eighth-inning homer and a walk-off RBI single against the Rays to help Boston complete a comeback from a 7–0 deficit in Game 5 of the ALCS. Further problems with his left shoulder (impingement and rotator cuff irritation), however, sapped his production in 2011. After July 19, he played only in Boston's final four games—going 4-for-15 despite suffering an avulsion fracture middle-finger during rehab—as the Sox completed their late-season collapse.

During that winter, Drew decided that his 36-year-old body and mind had enough of the grind, and he retired to his rural Georgia farm. Obviously, he’s short of Cooperstown material based on the way things unfolded, but what he accomplished—and what he withstood—during his sometimes-fascinating 14-year-career shouldn’t be underestimated.

Magglio Ordoñez

player career peak jaws h hr sb avg/obp/slg OPS+
Magglio Ordoñez 38.5 31.9 35.2 2,156 294 94 .309/.369/.502 125
Avg. HOF RF 73.2 43.0 58.1          

Ordoñez could hit. With exceptional bat speed and an ability to hit the ball hard to all fields, he hit for average and power, winning a batting title and earning All-Star honors six times. He had the talent to put up numbers that in an earlier age would have drawn some amount of Hall of Fame support, but like Drew, what he lacked was staying power. Excluding his 1997 callup season, he played in fewer than 100 games in four of 14 years and left the majors at age 37.

Signed out of Caracas, Venezuela by the White Sox in 1991 just past his 17th birthday, Ordoñez climbed methodically through Chicago’s system, even repeating Class A ball in 1993–94. He was 23 when he debuted on Aug. 29, 1997, and after a strong late-season showing, he won the starting rightfield job the following spring. Though he went 3-for-5 against the Rangers on Opening Day, his rookie season wasn’t much to write home about (.282/.326/.415, 14 homers, 94 OPS+), but he broke out the following year, bopping 30 homers, driving in 117 runs and hitting .301/.349/.510 en route to 5.8 WAR (admittedly, his +27 runs defensively, via Total Zone, screams “fluke” in the context of his -73 fielding runs during the rest of his career).

That 1999 season kicked off a five-year stretch during which Ordoñez hit a combined .312/.372/.546, averaging 32 homers, a 134 OPS+ and 4.5 WAR and generally batting cleanup behind future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. He made four All-Star teams in that span and helped the White Sox to the 2000 AL Central title. Even with a left knee injury—a torn meniscus repaired surgically in-season, followed by further complications—limiting him to 52 games in 2004, the going-on-31-year-old slugger snagged a five-year, $75 million deal from the Tigers via free agency. It did not begin auspiciously, as he missed nearly half of 2005 due to a sports hernia, and his 112 OPS+ in '06 was his worst full-season mark since 1998. Even so, he helped the Tigers win 95 games and the AL wild card, then hit three homers in postseason elimination games against the Yankees and A’s to power the Tigers to the World Series.

JAWS and the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot: Manny Ramirez

Ordoñez came back strong in 2007, winning the AL batting title by hitting .363/.434/.595; his on-base percentage ranked second in the league, his slugging percentage and 166 OPS+ were both fourth, and his career-best 7.3 WAR was third. He finished second in that year’s AL MVP voting behind Alex Rodriguez. The following winter, The New York Times reported that Jose Canseco tried to shake Ordoñez down, allegedly threatening to include him in Vindicated—his follow-up to Juiced—unless he invested money in a movie project that Canseco was promoting. Ordoñez did not invest, and when Vindicated was published in the spring, Canseco claimed to have injected him with PEDs in 2001, when the two players were teammates.

Whether or not there was any truth to the Canseco revelations, Ordonez couldn’t maintain his 2007 level, and over the next two seasons, his power fell off to the point that he homered only nine times and slugged just .428 in 2009, his age-35 year. A 2010 bounceback was curtailed by a season-ending ankle fracture in late July. The ankle continued to hamper him the next year, and when he re-broke it in the 2011 postseason, he was done.

Matt Stairs

player career peak jaws h hr sb avg/obp/slg OPS+
Matt Stairs 14.3 12.9 13.6 1,366 265 30 .262/.356/.477 117
Avg. HOF RF 73.2 43.0 58.1          

Charitably listed at 5'9" and 200 pounds, Stairs looked as though he would have been at home playing for a beer league softball team. While he was a productive masher who clubbed 265 home runs (second among Canadian-born players to Larry Walker's 383) over parts of 19 seasons for 12 different teams—the most by any position player—he is also, by one JAWS-related measure, the worst such player to reach the Hall ballot in my 14 years of coverage. Suppressed by dreadful defense (-91 runs) and designated hitter duty (435 games), his 13.6 JAWS is higher than 2008 candidate Shawon Dunston's 11.2, but Dunston is "only" 43.6 points below the shortstop standard; Stairs is 44.5 points below the rightfield standard. That he's on the ballot and Javier Vazquez—41.1 JAWS, or 21 points below the starting pitching standard—is not testifies to the inefficiencies in the process, to say the least.

Born in New Brunswick, Stairs—who played hockey and rugby in addition to baseball as a youth—played shortstop (!) for Canada's 1988 Olympics team. His amateur success led the Expos to sign him as an undrafted free agent in 1989. He played primarily second and third base in the minors, though by the time he reached the majors for brief cameos in 1992–93, he was an outfielder. In mid-1993, he took a detour to Japan, briefly playing with the Chunichi Dragons. After returning, he spent two years providing organizational depth for the Red Sox. Not until he was signed by the A's as a free agent in December 1995 did he get a foothold in the majors. The A's weren't selling jeans; they appreciated Stairs' potential to provide cheap power and plate discipline. He homered 10 times in 61 games in 1996, and over the next four seasons, he emerged as a vital part of the franchise's resurgence. From 1997 to 2000, he hit .268/.362/.506 for a 125 OPS+ and an average of 28 homers per year, with a high of 38 in '99.

After Stairs helped the A's win the AL West in 2000, he was traded to the Cubs, kicking off an itinerant phase; he was a seasonal batsman always able to find a job, ready to move along when the work dried up. From 2001 to '07, he averaged 17 homers and a 117 OPS+ in 405 PA per year for the Cubs ('01), Brewers ('02), Pirates ('03), Royals ('04–06), Rangers ('06), Tigers ('06) and Blue Jays ('07). On Aug. 30, 2008, the Blue Jays dealt him to the Phillies. He homered twice in 19 regular season plate appearances, then hit a game-winning, series-turning, pinch-hit homer off the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS. That was one of just three postseason hits for his career, but it was indicative of his special skill; he holds the record with 23 pinch-homers and hit an almost perfectly representative .252/.357/.476 in 490 PA in that capacity.

Stairs didn't get another hit that year, but he won a World Series ring with the Phillies and was part of their pennant-winning team in 2009 as well. He stuck around past age 43 with a season in San Diego and one in Washington—meaning that he'd come full circle, sort of, given the Nationals' roots as the Expos—until his bat finally slowed down.

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