HOUSTON -- Great teams tend to have great players, so it’s not unusual for a World Series to feature future Hall of Famers. But could this matchup between the superstar-laden Astros and Nationals one day stand out as an especially Cooperstown-stuffed Fall Classic?
For a frame of reference, the most Hall of Famers to play in any World Series was way back in 1932, when 13 eventual inductees played for the Yankees (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, Red Ruffing and Joe Sewell) and the Cubs (Kiki Cuyler, Burleigh Grimes, Gabby Hartnett and Billy Herman). Three other Hall of Famers -- Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, Cubs manager Rogers Hornsby (in the Hall as a player) and umpire Bill Klem -- were also involved in that Series.
This Series, as good as it looks, won’t reach that level, sadly. But according to Elias Sports Bureau, the most Hall of Famers in a World Series in the Divisional Era (dating back to 1969) is seven in '83 (Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer for the Orioles, and Steve Carlton, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Mike Schmidt for the Phillies). As you’ll see below, it’s not all that unrealistic to think that this Series could match or perhaps even exceed that one.
Let’s take a look at the Cooperstown cases on Houston's and Washington's rosters, divided into categories.
START MAKING THE PLAQUE
At 36, the righty is 30th among pitchers in Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) calculation with 71.4, just behind Twitter icon Old Hoss Radbourn (73.2).
Verlander has 225 wins, 3,006 strikeouts, one (perhaps soon two) Cy Young Award (and deserved two others) and is one of just six pitchers with three no-hitters.
One of just 10 pitchers with at least three Cy Young Awards (2013, ’16 and ’17), Scherzer will likely finish in the top five for the seventh straight year. The 35-year-old right-hander is closing in on the benchmarks of 200 wins (170) and 3,000 strikeouts (2,692), and his 48.7 WAR7 (the sum of his seven best WAR seasons) is higher than that of 30 Hall of Famers.
By any metric, Scherzer has been one of the best players of his generation, which is, ultimately, the point of the Hall of Fame.
Same rationale here. You can’t tell the story of starting pitching in this generation without Greinke. With a career bWAR of 66.7 through his age-35 season (he turned 36 on Monday, in fact), he surpassed John Smoltz (66.4), Roy Halladay (65.4) and Bob Feller (65.1) this season, and those guys were all first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Greinke’s a two-time Major League ERA champ and a one-time Cy Young Award winner (with a second-place and fourth-place finish). He doesn’t strike batters out at the rate of a Verlander or Scherzer, but he doesn’t need to. Since he locked in as a full-time rotation member in 2008, his ERA (3.11) ranks third in the Majors, and his Fielding Independent Pitching mark (3.19) ranks fourth.
NOT DIFFICULT TO IMAGINE
The 29-year-old reigning American League Championship Series MVP (and 2017 AL MVP Award winner) has really padded his legend by stepping up on the postseason stage, with a .287/.354/.552 slash, 13 homers (the most by a second baseman) and 28 RBIs in 43 games. This adds to a regular-season resumé in which, since his 2011 debut season, he has 73 more hits (1,568) than anybody (Robinson Canó is second, at 1,495). He's also fourth in stolen bases during that span.
The Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor gives Altuve 120 points, putting him in the “likely” Hall of Fame range for now. If he can keep this up into his 30s and close in on the not-inconceivable benchmark of 3,000 hits, he’s got a good shot.
TAKES SOME SQUINTING, BUT YOU CAN SEE IT
To get jazzed about the 29-year-old Cole’s Hall of Fame case would require way too much on the relatively small sample size that is his last two seasons, when he has been among the Majors' best pitchers (2.68 ERA, 164 ERA+) and further solidified that standing with this mesmerizing October performance (0.40 ERA in 22 2/3 innings).
We should obviously pump the brakes. But we’re going to put Cole in this category because of this comparison:
Cole through age 28: 3.22 ERA, 94 wins, 192 starts, 1,195 innings, 127 ERA+, 4.24 K/BB, 23.4 bWAR
Scherzer through age 28: 3.67 ERA, 73 wins, 165 starts, 1,019 innings, 116 ERA+, 3.28 K/BB, 18.1 bWAR
So if Scherzer can pitch himself into the likely Hall of Fame range in his 30s, there’s reason to believe Cole can do it, too. (And this comparison will come in handy when he’s seeking that mega contract this winter.)
Injuries have limited him to just three 30-start seasons and two 200-inning seasons, so he’d need to show a lot more durability in his 30s (he turned 31 in July) to have any shot at the Hall. That’s why we’ll put him a tick below Cole here.
But Strasburg’s had dominant stretches (like the one he’s in now), and his career WAR (33.9) is higher than what Scherzer’s was through his age-30 season (30.6).
PROBABLY NOT, BUT LET’S TALK
He’d obviously have to go crazy in his 30s. But through his age-29 season, the pending free agent has a 126 OPS+ (where 100 is league average) and 27.3 career bWAR. Hall of Fame third basemen Pie Traynor (106, 20.2) and Jimmy Collins (112, 19.9) had lower marks at this stage of their careers.
Look, we’re not putting anybody down, but it’s a fact of the matter that you’re going to hear the name “Harold Baines” a lot in future Hall of Fame comparisons, because his stats lowered the bar for modern consideration. Springer has a 131 OPS+ and 24.6 bWAR through his age-29 season. Baines is the only Hall of Fame outfielder who played in the last 80 years who had lower marks in both categories (115, 19.5) through his age-29 season. Better than nothing.
WAY TOO EARLY, BUT LET’S TALK
We keep waiting for Correa to have that MVP-caliber season, but his body hasn’t cooperated. Still, he has managed to post a career 129 OPS+ and 21.0 bWAR through his age-24 season. Fifteen Hall of Fame shortstops were lower in both categories through age 24, and some guy named Cal Ripken Jr. (131, 28.0) was fairly similar at that stage.
He has a 140 OPS+ in 1,153 plate appearances through his age-20 season. The only player with a higher OPS+ with that many plate appearances through this age was Hall of Famer Mel Ott (144), so that’s good company for the kid.
Bregman's 99 homers, 285 walks, .911 OPS and 144 OPS+ through his age-25 season are similar to those of recent inductee Jim Thome (93 homers, 310 walks, .934 OPS, 142 OPS+) at the same age. And Bregman, who might be the 2019 AL MVP Award winner, is a superior and versatile defender.
The 22-year-old had a 173 OPS+ in 369 plate appearances this season. The only rookie with that many plate appearances and a higher OPS+ in the modern era was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (193), with the 1911 Cleveland Naps. Jackson’s not in the Hall because of … reasons. But you get the idea.
HE JUST MIGHT “SKIP” IN
Seven full or partial seasons into his managerial career (and five into his Astros tenure), he has 570 wins, (at least) one World Series title and two pennants. And he’s 45 years old. For the sake of comparison, Bruce Bochy, who recently won his 2,000th game (something only 10 other managers, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame, had done) had 485 wins (and one pennant) to his name when he was Hinch’s age. The skipper role has changed a lot, and staying power is rare. But Hinch is off to a heck of a start.