With Jeff Bagwell joining Craig Biggio in the Hall of Fame last Wednesday, Houston Astros fans have a reason to make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown for the second time in three years. Now that arguably the two best players to wear the Astros uniform will be immortalized, it is time to think about who is next. There are a few names that come to mind, so lets rank them by likelihood.
Billy Wagner – The former closer is the only player on this list who is currently eligible for the Hall of Fame. Wagner, who just finished up his second year of eligibility, did enough in his career to get inducted. His first two years on the ballot have not been indicative of that statement. This year, he was only able to obtain 10.2 percent of the votes. Among left-handed relievers with at least 500 innings pitched, Wagner ranks:
- First in strikeouts per nine (11.92)
- First in earned run average (2.31)
- First in wins above replacement (24.1)
- First in average against (.184)
- First in walks/hits per inning (1.00)
- Second in saves (422)
The 45-year-old’s Hall of Fame chances have been damaged only because he pitched in the same era as Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. They are the two best closers the game has seen and while Wagner’s peripherals compare favorably to the two, he was not able to achieve the same longevity.
Both players will be inducted before Wagner is able to get serious consideration. Hoffman got 74 percent of the vote this year, so he should be in next year. Rivera gets on the ballot in 2018 and appears to be a shoo-in. That will give Wagner six years to make his way to Cooperstown. If he does not make it within the 10 year time-frame, he is a strong candidate for the Veterans Committee.
Jose Altuve – Yes, if Wagner does not get into the Hall of Fame, it could be a long time before we see someone don the Astros cap. Altuve is only 26, but his last three years have put him on a Hall of Fame trajectory. His 641 hits over the last three years are 81 more than anyone else. He has remained healthy throughout his six years in the league and has improved his game every year. The righty set career highs in games played, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, walks, and on-base percentage. He has already been to four All-Star games, won a Gold Glove and three Silver Sluggers. Altuve has collected 1,046 hits already, which puts him in good shape for 3,000 hits.
Lance Berkman – The Big Puma did not have the longevity of the prototypical Hall of Famer, but he had an incredible eight-year peak. Between 2001-2008, he hit .303 while averaging 33 home runs and 110 runs batted in per year. He also had an OBP of .417 between those years, which was sixth best in baseball, only behind Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Albert Pujols, Larry Walker, and Chipper Jones — that’s some pretty good company. His WAR of 44.5 in those eight years ranked fifth, which will be one of the biggest arguments for his campaign. In those eight years, he finished in the top seven of Most Valuable Player voting five times.
While his overall numbers – .293 average, 366 home runs, and 1234 RBI – do not scream Hall of Fame, they are certainly worth consideration. His 1,905 career hits is definitely a knock against him. But, Berkman compiling these stats as a switch hitter might be enough to garner serious attention. He ranks sixth among switch-hitters in home runs.
Berkman is eligible for the Hall of Fame beginning in 2018. My guess is it will take a few years for him to get in, if at all.
Roy Oswalt – No one will look at Oswalt’s numbers and think Hall of Famer, but his career with the Astros was incredible. He debuted for them in 2001 and for his first seven years, he was a top five pitcher in baseball. Among starters between 2001-2007, he ranked:
- First in wins (109)
- Third in WAR (36.7; behind Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling)
- Third in ERA (3.08; behind Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana)
In those seven years, he finished in the top-five of CY Young voting five times. He also made three All-Star games.
Once he left Houston, his career was a disappointment. He battled injuries and general ineffectiveness until he retired from the game at only 35 years old. Between the ages of 23-29, he had 112 wins. Between the ages of 30-35, he only had 51.
Oswalt’s 163 wins would rank 66th out of the 76 pitchers in the Hall of Fame. All of the pitchers behind him were either relievers or pitched around 100 years ago. He was not able to sustain his great success into his 30s and that will most likely cost him a chance at Cooperstown. Voters could look at how he compared to his peers during his peak and be impressed, but without any CY Young awards, it will be a tough task. He, like Berkman, will be eligible beginning in 2018.
So, enjoy the induction ceremony Astros fans. It might be a while until you are able to see another player get in.
Dillon Healy is a Staff Writer for Outside Pitch MLB. You can follow him on Twitter here.