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Astros’ best players not in Cooperstown

@brianmctaggart
November 16, 2020

HOUSTON -- It wasn’t until Craig Biggio was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 that the Astros had their first player enshrined who had an Astros cap on his plaque. Jeff Bagwell followed two years later. Biggio and Bagwell are undoubtedly the greatest two players who

HOUSTON -- It wasn’t until Craig Biggio was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 that the Astros had their first player enshrined who had an Astros cap on his plaque. Jeff Bagwell followed two years later.

Biggio and Bagwell are undoubtedly the greatest two players who played the majority of their careers for the Astros. Biggio spent his entire 20-year career (1988-2007) in Houston, and Bagwell spent all 15 of his Major League seasons (1991-2005) with the Astros.

Clemens, Pettitte, Wagner on HOF ballot | Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Several other players in the Hall of Fame have passed through Houston, including Joe Morgan, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton and Ivan Rodriguez. There’s also a handful of players considered among the best in club history who aren’t in the Hall of Fame.

Here’s a list of the greatest retired Astros players not in the Hall of Fame:

1. Lance Berkman
Key fact: His 52 bWAR is first among switch-hitters with fewer than 1,900 games played.
Lance Berkman, an outfielder turned first baseman, performed at a Hall of Fame caliber at his peak in the mid-2000s and played in 1,879 regular-season games in 15 seasons, amassing a .293 batting average, 422 doubles, 366 home runs, 1,234 RBIs and a .943 OPS that ranks 25th in Major League history. Still, he fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2019 after receiving only 1.2% the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote in his first year.

In the decade from 2000-09, Berkman ranked in the top five in the National League in multiple categories, including second in RBIs (1,026); third in total bases (2,887), walks (968), doubles (357) and runs (959); fourth in homers (309) and on-base percentage (.413); and fifth in OPS (.972). He also was sixth in slugging (.559). In those 10 seasons, he posted an OPS higher than .900 nine times and higher than 1.000 three times.

Among switch-hitters, Berkman ranks second in career OPS and slugging (.537), third in OBP (.406) and sixth in homers.

2. Billy Wagner
Key fact: His 422 career saves rank second among left-handers.
The hard-throwing Billy Wagner, who logged 225 of his 422 career saves while with the Astros from 1995-2003, has appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot five times. Last year, he received 31.7% of the vote, which was sizable jump from the prior year (16.7%), so he’s still got a shot in the next five years.

During his 16-year career that concluded in 2010, Wagner logged 1,196 strikeouts and posted 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings, the best of any pitcher with at least 900 innings. His saves total is the sixth highest in history. Wagner's career 2.31 ERA is lower than two of the three relievers who have more saves than him and are in the Hall -- Trevor Hoffman, who had a 2.87 ERA during his 18-year career, and 2019 inductee Lee Smith, who compiled a 3.03 ERA, also over 18 seasons.

Wagner's innings total (903) appears to have been the main factor working against him. No Major League pitcher has been elected to the Hall having thrown fewer than 1,000 innings. But his 0.998 WHIP and .187 batting average against could serve as a counterpoint to the workload argument, especially considering Wagner's WHIP is the fourth lowest among relievers since 1913 who pitched at least 10 seasons.

3. Cesar Cedeno
Key fact: Cedeno was the second player in Major League history to hit 20 homers and steal 50 bases in one season.
Cesar Cedeno, signed by the Astros at age 16 out of the Dominican Republic, made his Major League debut at 19. He was compared to Willie Mays early in his career by manager Leo Durocher, but injuries took their toll. Still, Cedeno was an electrifying and dynamic center fielder for the Astros for a decade and is still considered perhaps one of the team’s top five offensive players in history.

With a rare combination of speed, power and defense, Cedeno was the second player in history (Lou Brock, 1967) to hit 20 homers and steal 50 bases in a season -- and he did it three years in a row (’72-74). The only Astros player to hit for the cycle twice, Cedeno won five consecutive NL Gold Gloves (’72-76) and appeared in four All-Star Games with the Astros.

In 12 years in Houston, Cedeno had a .289/.351/.454 slash line with 343 doubles, 55 triples, 163 homers, 778 RBIs and 487 stolen bases. He holds the club record for steals nearly 40 years after his final game with the Astros.

4. Roy Oswalt
Key fact: His 135 ERA+ was fifth highest in the Majors from 2001-10.
Roy Oswalt was the club’s ace in the early 2000s and didn’t take a back seat when Houston acquired Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte before to the ‘04 season. Oswalt posted back-to-back 20-win seasons in ’04 and ’05 and helped the Astros go deep into the playoffs each time, including a clutch win in Game 6 of the ’05 NL Championship Series in St. Louis to clinch Houston’s first pennant. (He was 4-0 with a 3.66 ERA in the postseason for Houston). Oswalt won 143 games in 10 seasons with the Astros, putting him one shy of Joe Niekro’s club record of 144.

A 23rd-round pick in the 1996 Draft, Oswalt was pitching at Class A Advanced Kissimmee in 2000 when he was called up to Double-A Round Rock to make a spot start.

“They called me up and said, ‘You’re going to pitch one game, and you’re going back to A ball,’” said Oswalt.

Instead, Oswalt struck out 15 batters that night and impressed Ryan -- the Hall of Fame pitcher and Round Rock owner -- so much that Ryan convinced the Astros to keep him in Double-A.

“That night, I’m thinking, ‘I might just be able to stay up here,’” Oswalt said.

The Astros canceled his return ticket to Florida, and Oswalt went 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA that year for Round Rock. He was in the big leagues a year later at 23 years old and went 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA as a rookie. Oswalt became one of the NL’s best starting pitchers over the next decade, winning 19 games in 2002. The Astros traded him to the Phillies in ’10 in a deal that started the team’s massive rebuild.

5. Jose Cruz
Key fact: His 51.4 WAR with Astros is third to only Bagwell and Biggio.
One of the most popular players in club history, Jose Cruz played 13 of his 19 big league seasons in Houston. The outfielder retired with 2,251 career hits, 165 homers, 1,077 RBIs and 317 stolen bases. Cruz still holds the Astros’ career record with 80 triples.

Cruz led the NL in hits in 1983 with 189 and finished in the top six in the NL batting race three times: third in 1978 (.315) and ’83 (.318) and sixth in ’84 (.312). He was among the top 10 in the NL in RBIs three times, triples four times and stolen bases four times.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.