Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Washington's Chances at the Hall

Note: I'd like to preface this article by saying if you read this on BleacherReport or one of those other sites, it'd be spread out onto at least 5 different pages. I won't ever make you click for no good goddamn reason.

No, this isn't an investigation into the Hall of Fame chances of Leon Washington (zero) or Ron Washington (non-zero, but still really low). With the summer abuzz with Hall of Fame inductions, it got me thinking; what's it like to have someone you rooted for extensively go into the Hall of Fame?

The only Hall of Famer from one of my favorite teams that I could say that I watched a good deal was Cal Ripken Jr. But even that, I was mostly a kid when I watched Cal play. I didn't have the sports-watching history and dare I say expertise that I have now. And, for those who are more deeply entrenched in Washington sports (over Baltimore sports), Ripken doesn't really apply.

So, if you're a Washington sports fan, the most recent your HOF rewards get are Russ Grimm, Art Monk, and Darrell Green, three players whose heydays were in the 1980s. Adam Oates was elected in 2012, but his best years were in St. Louis and Boston. There's also Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith, but I don't think we can fairly define them as Washington Hall of Famers. Washington sports has been pretty lightweight of late.

So for kicks, I decided to do a little research and come up with some players from each of the four major sports franchises in Washington who would be most likely to be elected to their respective Halls of Fame. I judged the players based on their performance already, a reasonable projection of future performance, and the various criteria that go into each sport's review process. I did not include players who played mostly in the 1980s and who have already been eligible for the Hall for several years. Joe Jacoby is a player who fits this mold; he's been a semifinalist on HOF votes, so he's got a real shot at getting elected, but he's not a recent Washington player.

For this process, I took the following headline and asked myself if it would make sense: "Former Washington Great ________ Elected to Hall of Fame". If the team doesn't make sense, then no go. Then, I gave each of the top few possibilities a percentage chance of making the Hall. Anyone I put at over 50% I expect to make the Hall of Fame; anyone below 50%, I do not expect to be elected.

Without further delay, here's a team-by-team analysis of potential HOFers:

Franchise total championships: 5
Last championship: 1991

London Fletcher, LB, 1998-2013
Anticipated year of eligiblity: 2019
HOF chances: 40%
Fletcher is probably the best shot that the Skins have at getting someone into the Hall of Fame anytime soon, and even him I wouldn't bet on. He was a productive linebacker for a long time, but with only three career touchdowns and topping out at 5.5 sacks and 5 INTs in any given season, his impact on a game was more subtle. That can sometimes work, but more often than not, those guys are left wanting when it comes to the Hall.

DeAngelo Hall, CB, 2004-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2023
HOF chances: 32%
Hall is perhaps the polar opposite of Fletcher. Hall's production has been up and down, down enough in Oakland to get cut altogether. But since joining the Skins, he's been their unquestioned #1 cornerback. Furthermore, he's got those highlight reel plays, the return touchdowns and leaping pass deflections. I still think Fletcher's got a better shot, but Hall, with a few more years of high-level production, can get pretty close.

Clinton Portis, RB, 2002-2010
Year of eligibility: 2015
HOF chances: 13%
Portis qualifies as a Washington Redskin, playing seven of his nine years for the burgundy and gold. The problem is, while he had some really nice seasons, he doesn't really qualify as a "great." He was very good a few times, but never had a season like Terrell Davis' 1997 or 1998, and Davis remains outside the Hall of Fame looking in. He had more longevity than Davis, but didn't come close to Jerome Bettis or Curtis Martin, the models of "just run long enough and they'll have to let you in." Good, but not HOF good.

Santana Moss, WR, 2001-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2020
HOF chances: 4%
Moss, like Portis, is a qualified Washington sportsman, but also like Portis, falls short of "greatness." He's only had four seasons over 1,000 receiving yards, and only one season each of 90+ receptions or 10+ TDs. Fine player, probably a Ring of Honor player (or whatever the Skins' version is called), but not a HOFer.

Sean Taylor, FS, 2004-2007
Year of eligibility: 2012
HOF chances: 1%
Sean Taylor's career was far too short, and he was far too erratic in his first two seasons to make the Hall of Fame. But it's a tragedy that just as he was beginning to become one of the best safeties in the league, his life was cut short. You can't extrapolate his performance from a season and a half into a fifteen year career, so there's virtually no chance he gets in. However, he does have indisputably the best play in Pro Bowl history.

Worth Mentioning
Alfred Morris has had a strong start to his career. If he can put together ten more seasons like this, he'll be in the discussion. Robert Griffin III hasn't done anything to make me think he'll be more prolific than Michael Vick, and I doubt Michael Vick gets into the Hall. Brian Orakpo is putting up good sack numbers, but his impact on the game feels small for his numbers. If DeSean Jackson ends up with a Hall of Fame career, that would likely require him to post at least some of that production with the Skins, so he's got a shot.

Franchise total championships: 1
Last championship: 1977-78

Antawn Jamison, F, 1998-present?
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2020
HOF chances: 38%
Word is that Jamison is still trying to play this year, and I think he'll get one more chance in the Association, despite being a non-factor last year for the Clippers. At his best, Jamison was one of the best mid-range scorers in the league and a good rebounder on both ends. He was never much of a passer, but hey, the guy's job is to score points. I think Jamison is a tough nut to crack as far as whether or not he'll be elected to the Hall, but in the end, I think his lack of a deep playoff push at any point in his career will be what keeps him out.

John Wall, PG, 2010-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2033
HOF chances: 30%
John Wall took a big step forward last year, improving on both offense and defense as the Wizards got into the playoffs for the first time since he was drafted. He also seems to be embracing his role as the face of a franchise that's headed in the right direction. If Kevin Durant were to come to town in two years and help the team to a title, that'd give Wall a big boost, but even just steady improvements on his own and regular playoff trips could be enough.

Bradley Beal, SG, 2012-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2035
HOF chances: 12%
Beal's fate is obviously tied strongly to Wall's, and their respective chances of election to the Hall will most likely rise and fall together, along with the Wizards' win total. Beal will most likely have a tougher time, since he has the ball in his hands less frequently than Wall, and Wall is the more highly touted talent. To me, Beal seems kind of like the Jeff Hornacek to Wall's John Stockton (though obviously Wall has a ways to go before becoming Stockton).

Gilbert Arenas, PG, 2001-2012
Year of eligibility: 2017
HOF chances: 9%
While Arenas will mostly be remembered for the bizarre gun-related incident in 2009, there's no denying he was a force on the basketball court. In three seasons, starting in 2004-05, he averaged 25.5, 29.3, and 28.4 points per game. But in an era of Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson, Arenas never led the league in scoring. He was never really the same after the combination of injury and suspension limited him to just 2 games in 2008-09. The best comparison for Arenas is Penny Hardaway, and that means he's no HOFer. His high was very high, but his lows were just way too low.

Rod Strickland, PG, 1988-2005
Year of eligibility: 2010
HOF chances: 4%
Strickland won't make the Hall of Fame, and that's correct. But he was a better player than a lot of people realize. He was a potent scorer as well as posting at least 7.2 assists per game in ten consecutive seasons. Strickland's real problem was that he wasn't a winner. In a 17 year career, he started in just 35 playoff games, or roughly one series every other year. That's not going to get you into the Hall. The worst thing Strickland ever did for the Wizards, though, was to get acquired for Rasheed Wallace. The Wiz could've used a little 'Sheed.

Juwan Howard, PF, 1994-2013
Year of eligibility: 2018
HOF chances: 2%

Don't let my percentage make you think that Howard wasn't a good player. He was a skilled scorer and a solid rebounder. But he never went beyond just being a good player. Even after being paired with his college teammate Chris Webber, the Bullets/Wizards made the playoffs only once during Howard's six years with the team.

Worth Mentioning
Richard Hamilton might top this list, but he'd likely be considered more a Piston than a Bullet/Wizard. Chris Webber was also prolific while he was in town, but his career really crested in Sacramento; that's where people will remember him playing. And both probably fall more into the "really good player" category than "all-time great."

Franchise total championships: 0

I elected to ignore players who spent the majority of their time with the Expos, even though they belong to the same franchise. This article is intended to investigate the Washington players who might make the Hall of Fame. I was a big Expos fan, but I doubt many other Washington fans were. So with apologies to Moises Alou, Javier Vazquez, and Vladimir Guerrero, they'll have to find another blog post to make their case. That makes this a pretty short list.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, 2009-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2030
HOF chances: 23%
Don't look now, but Zimmermann is the best chance at the Hall that the Nationals have right now. His ERA has been exceptional, and he seems to be able to stand a good deal of innings. His strikeout numbers haven't been outstanding, which means he's basically Roy Oswalt in the making. If he doesn't make a leap, he'll have trouble making the Hall, but there's plenty to work with so far.

Bryce Harper, OF, 2012-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2036
HOF chances: 19%
There are plenty of highly touted guys who fall well short of Hall of Fame careers. Stephen Drew, J.D. Drew...lots of Drews. Delmon Young has also been a disappointment versus expectations. So there's certainly no guarantee Harper will be a legend. But his ability to handle major league pitching at age 19 was remarkable. You hope he becomes a better hitter; his strikeout and walk rates haven't improved since his rookie season. Hopefully he can stay healthy going forward, and hopefully staying healthy will help him improve his approach. But right now, he's still far from a sure thing.

Stephen Strasburg, SP, 2010-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2031
HOF chances: 15%
I would guess that a lot of people would expect Strasburg to be higher on this list than he is, but for a lot of the same reasons as Harper, he's got a ways to go. He's still very early in his career; he's in only what would be his third full season after losing most of 2010 and 2011 to Tommy John surgery. The other potentially larger issue, though, is that he hasn't been amazing. He's had flashes of brilliance, and his strikeout rate has been excellent since day one. But in 30 starts last season, he won just eight games. His career ERA is 3.11. Strasburg's got the tools, but as with so many Nationals, he has to improve to have a chance at the Hall.

Worth Mentioning
Gio Gonzalez is still building a resume, but he's got 76 wins at age 28, and is an innings-eater. Those are the guys who rack up wins. Ryan Zimmerman has been the face of the Nationals since nearly day one in DC, but he's only been a good player, not a great one. Ian Desmond may have a shade higher chance than Zimmerman because of his speed, but unless either one improves (unlikely at their ages in this steroid-testing era), it's doubtful either puts together a Hall of Fame career.

Franchise total championships: 0

Alexander Ovechkin, W, 2005-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2029
HOF chances: 99%
Well, now we're in business. Ovechkin is one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history. If you check out his hockey-reference page, some of the people it lists as being similar are Mike Bossy, Teemu Selanne, and Mario Lemieux. He's that good. I left open the possibility that he does something heinous to keep himself out of the Hall, like armed robbery or something, but realistically, he's already in.

Sergei Gonchar, D, 1994-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2018
HOF chances: 70%
It's been a long time since Gonchar's been in Washington, but all along the way he's been a strong scorer and a power-play quarterback. His numbers compare reasonably well with Scott Niedermayer, who's in the Hall of Fame, and Chris Pronger and Sergei Zubov, both of whom likely will be. Gonchar finished among the top ten in Norris votes on nine different occasions. He might still be on the borderline because of his sub-optimal defensive play, but his championship with the Penguins in 2009 seals the deal in my mind.

Peter Bondra, W, 1990-2007
Year of eligibility: 2010
HOF chances: 40%
Bondra is an interesting case, because if he'd left the Caps for a different team, he'd likely have a stronger resume. Playing on a fairly weak Capitals team for most of his career, he had mostly unexceptional talent around him, and as such didn't make it far in the playoffs, save the 1998 dash to the Stanley Cup Finals. His career stats are very good, and his year-by-year stats are very good, but he was a virtual non-factor in end-of-season awards. If he'd extended his career by a couple more years, he'd be Mark Recchi, who's likely to get in at some point. But for Bondra, he may be stuck as one of the greatest players not in the Hall of Fame.

Dale Hunter, C, 1980-1999
Year of eligibility: 2002
HOF chances: 38%
Hunter is a curious case. His playing career was absolutely noteworthy; he amassed 3,000 penalty minutes and 1,000 points, the only player to do that in, ever. He was an agitator in the truest sense of the word. But he's been on the ballot for a decade and hasn't been elected. So why do I have his chances as high as they are? Well, I think NHLers still appreciate his grittiness, and like an opposing sniper, he wears you down. Additionally, he's coached successfully in the OHL, and did an admirable job filling in for the Capitals on an interim basis. I could see him getting another NHL job if he wanted, and if he does, he's continuing to build his Hall of Fame resume. He's got a shot.

Nicklas Backstrom, C, 2007-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2031
HOF chances: 33%
Backstrom roared out of the gates as a rookie, finishing second to Patrick Kane in the Calder voting. He's averaging a point per game throughout his career so far, and as long as he and Ovechkin stay in sync, there's no reason to expect that to drop off. But I think Backstrom would be helped tremendously by a trip to the finals at least, and a Cup would push him over the top. He's a responsible two-way center who can score and he's a good hockey citizen. All that's left is to prove that he's a winner.

Mike Green, D, 2005-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2030
HOF chances: 12%
I was surprised when I looked at Mike Green's stats and saw he's coming into his 10th season in the NHL. He's spent so much time on the shelf in recent years, you forget he's been around for a while. You also might forget how good he was when he was at his peak. He was an offensive juggernaut who was so good at creating points that he finished second in Norris Trophy voting twice, even though he's at best an average defender. There's a lot of unknown with regards to Green's future, but if somehow he's able to play 75+ games each year for the next seven or eight years, he could put up scoring numbers that would be tough to ignore.

Alexander Semin, W, 2003-present
Anticipated year of eligibility: 2025
HOF chances: 9%
If it were the Hall of Talent Whether Realized or Not, Semin would be a shoo-in. But that's not the Hall. As is, Semin is a highly skilled scorer who should score more than he does, defend better than he does, and pass better than he does. All the talent is there, but there's something about taking talent and converting it to performance. Jonathan Toews isn't the most talented player in the league (or on his team), but he's widely considered an unmatchable franchise player. Semin would have to spike up to Ovechkin levels to get close to the Hall, and at this point, that's unlikely.

Worth Mentioning
Jaromir Jagr played for the Caps and is a surefire Hall of Famer, but he'll go in as a Penguin. Also he was pretty much trash in Washington. I still believe in the potential of John Carlson and Karl Alzner to be great, but it's obviously early for them. According to my friend Rick, Evgeny Kuznetsov is already a lock for the Hall. Most mentally stable people think it's too early to say that, but he's definitely talented. Olaf Kolzig was a solid goalie, and actually managed a Vezina Trophy in 1999-2000, but for the most part, Olie the Goalie was just Olie a Goalie.

So, in case you haven't been paying attention, the Capitals are way better than their city-mates. I feel like the Skins could've had some better options, but they have such frequent roster turnover that it's hard to get attached to anyone. The Nationals are still a fledgling franchise, so it makes sense that they'd have a short list for now. Hopefully that grows in the near future. The Wizards have, with few exceptions, been terrible for a while, but the future looks bright.

But there's no question that, for all-time star power, Alex Ovechkin is far and away your best bet from our home teams. So the next time you go to the Verizon Center to catch a Caps game, take some time to just watch Ovie play. That way, when he gets inducted to the Hall, you can say that you remember watching him.

I'm happy to say, I definitely will.

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