Oswalt, 27, is on pace for his second 20-win season, has had an ERA higher than 3.01 just once in his first five seasons, has terrific control and excellent strikeout numbers. Other than proving he can stay healthy for 10 more years and having zero recognition beyond the radar of fantasy players, he looks like a good bet.
25. Gary Sheffield
I can't wait for all the "Gary Sheffield was misunderstood" columns in 20 years: Hey, Sheffield could have gone after that lunatic fan that one year in Boston, but he showed the true character of a Hall of Famer by not walloping the guy. He gets my vote!
Well, maybe not. But Sheffield, with his ability to hit for average and power (and have more walks than strikeouts), is one of the best 30 hitters who has ever lived. Adjusted OPS for Sheffield and Hall of Fame outfielders elected by the writers since 1970:
Of course, I'll take a wild guess that most of the voters won't be checking adjusted OPS when they fill out their ballot. That will leave them to contemplate his final career numbers (which should approach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits), his reputation and whether he really thought he was rubbing facial moisturizer on his bad knee. Some say Jim Rice's relationship with the press is keeping him out of the Hall; I don't think that's the case, and I don't think that will keep Sheffield out. I do think he needs to get 500 home runs to sway enough voters (he's at 435). Can he hit 65 more home runs? Yes.
26. Frank Thomas
The Steroid Era means 500 home runs no longer ensures automatic induction -- and the Big Hurt is moving toward 500 more slowly than Bob Wickman moves through a buffet line. Ultimately, whether he scrapes past the 500 barrier should have no bearing on his Hall status; it is, after all, just a number. Thomas (along with Sheffield) is going to be a litmus test as to how much voters have learned from the Sabermetric Revolution: Do they understand that this guy was baseball's best hitter during the 1990s? Before Bonds became Bonds, there was no more feared hitter in the game (excepting maybe the late '90s blips of Mac and Sammy). He won two MVPs (and finished in the top three in three other years), led the AL four times in OPS and on-base percentage, hit above .340 three times and generally scared the hell out of opposing pitchers.
27. Rafael Palmeiro
The Hall isn't Ruth, Mays and Mantle. It's also a whole bunch of other guys who weren't nearly as good as Raffy. And ultimately, the facts are that the Hall is about the numbers. Why is Dale Murphy out but Eddie Murray in? Why is Jim Rice out and Robin Yount in? How come Paul Molitor made it, but not Steve Garvey or Don Mattingly? Some had the reputation, some have the numbers.