DETROIT -- While Lou Whitaker's Hall of Fame case will have Detroit’s attention when the Modern Era Committee meets next month, a few other former Tigers will also appear on the 2020 BBWAA ballot. Former All-Star closer Jose Valverde -- who set a Tigers franchise record with 49 saves in 2011 -- joins Carlos Pena, Brad Penny and Gary Sheffield among this year’s Hall of Fame candidates.
Omar Vizquel, who served as Tigers first-base coach for four seasons following a 24-year career as a Major League shortstop, is also on the ballot. A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from Baseball Writers' Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Results will be announced on Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
None of the ex-Tigers on the BBWAA ballot were around for long, and none were drafted by the club. Still, they made their contributions in their time. Valverde was an All-Star closer before he arrived in Detroit in 2010, but the gregarious right-hander known as Papa Grande became a big part of the Tigers’ rise to an American League Central dynasty.
After an All-Star season in 2010, Valverde set a Tigers franchise record with 49 saves in 2011, all without a blown save. His 49-for-49 season converting save situations remains an American League record, and trails only Dodgers great Eric Gagne’s 55-for-55 season in 2003 for the all-time Major League standard. Valverde saved two of the Tigers’ three wins in an AL Division Series victory over the Yankees.
Valverde served as closer for the Tigers’ division title repeat in 2012 with 35 regular-season saves, though late-season fatigue left him part of a bullpen by committee for Detroit’s run to the World Series. His 119 saves as a Tiger rank fifth on the club’s all-time list.
Penny, too, was part of the Tigers’ 2011 division title, his lone season in Detroit. Signed as a veteran fifth starter, the big righty went 11-11 with a 5.30 ERA in 31 starts, covering 181 2/3 innings. He outdueled Rays ace David Price for a 2-1 win on an August night at Tropicana Field as the Tigers took three of four from Tampa Bay in a critical series for their postseason fortunes.
Pena spent four of his 14 Major League seasons in Detroit and was a part of the Tigers’ climb out of their 119-loss 2003 season. The slugging first baseman hit 27 home runs with 82 RBIs in ‘04. He found stardom, including his lone All-Star selection, in Tampa Bay after the Tigers released him in Spring Training of ‘06.
Sheffield is on the ballot for a sixth year, having been selected on 13.6 percent of ballots submitted last year. His 22-year Major League career included two seasons in Detroit, where he hit 44 home runs with 132 RBIs in 2007 and ‘08 combined. His 509 home runs put him in elite territory among the game’s all-time sluggers. His 1,676 RBIs put him 30th on the all-time list, with 21 Hall of Famers ahead of him and many more behind. His 4,737 total bases rank 35th all time.
In terms of Win Probability Added, Sheffield did more for his teams' chances of winning than all but 18 players in history, according to Baseball Reference. The only player ahead of him who isn’t in the Hall of Fame is Albert Pujols, who’s still an active player.
"I really believe there's a stretch -- and a good long stretch -- where Gary Sheffield was the most feared hitter in baseball," former Tigers manager Jim Leyland said a few years ago. "He was the guy who at the time had the best bat speed of any hitter in the big leagues."