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The path to Cooperstown for some Yankees stars

Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, and Giancarlo Stanton could have legitimate shots at Cooperstown.

ALDS Game 4 - New York Yankees v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are in, and Scott Rolen finds himself awaiting induction into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Living in Colorado, I was hoping Todd Helton would join him, and as someone who remembers Prime Andruw Jones in center field, I likewise rooted for the former Yankee to crack the threshold this year. Alas. We can’t always have what we want.

In the days since, I have pondered which current Yankees have a discernable chance at election to the Hall at some point. The list, it seems to me, currently consists of three: Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, and Giancarlo Stanton. What might they need to become the latest Yankees to gain induction?

Aaron Judge - AL ROY, AL MVP, 4x All Star, 3x Silver Slugger, 37.0 bWAR, 163 OPS+

As things stand now, a few factors have conspired to keep Judge’s counting stats a bit low. He did not debut until after his 24th birthday, injury robbed him of time during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic chopped 100+ games off the 2020 campaign.

But some of his rate stats put him in rarified air. His .583 career SLG is 13th all-time, his career .977 OPS is 15th, and his OPS+ ranks 15th. So despite not quite being in range of some numbers that would almost guarantee enshrinement, all things considered, Judge is in a decent spot.

FanGraphs recently posted their projection of what Judge’s performance will look like for the duration of his mega-deal with the Yankees, and that provides a good jumping-off point for what the back of his baseball card might look like when he hangs up his cleats.

ZiPS Projection - Aaron Judge, 2023 to 2031
Dan Syzmborski, FanGraphs, 7 Dec 2022

If The Captain exactly hewed to FanGraphs’ projection, he would retire with 483 homeruns, 1,209 runs batted in, 1,204 runs scored, and 71.0 fWAR. If he overperforms those projections to any degree, 500 round trippers becomes a certainty, while the other counting stats also get a boost.

Perhaps the key, even if Judge doesn’t overperform, is seeing his rate stats stay as high as possible. Finishing one’s career anywhere near the top-25 - let alone where Judge currently sits - in SLG, OPS, and OPS+ would be a boon to his Hall chances. Throw the hardware he has already accumulated into the equation, and that he is now the American League single-season home run king, and of all the current Yankees, Judge is probably the most likely to have his name called to Cooperstown at some point in the future.

Gerrit Cole - 5x All Star, 130 W, 1,650 IP, 1,930 K, 33.7 bWAR

Cole is another candidate who, though a little light on some counting stats while on the wrong side of 30 years of age, has rate stats working in favor of eventual Hall candidacy.

His WHIP currently sits 24th all-time, his strikeouts per nine innings eighth, his strikeout-to-walk ratio seventh, and his winning percentage 39th. So much like Judge, there is a foundation, on a rate basis, to prop up his chances if he comes up short on some counting stats.

One counting stat that will almost certainly end up Hall-worthy is strikeouts. He enters the 2023 season on the cusp of breaking into the top-100 in career Ks. Since leaving Pittsburgh, he has averaged 275.5 strikeouts in each full season he’s played. Assume he averages 250 strikeouts, which is much closer to where he’s been as a Yankee, over the next four seasons. Doing so would rocket Cole into the top-20 in strikeouts, with presumably at least a few couple seasons remaining in his career.

Speaking of the end of his career, his career similarity to another starting pitcher who’s likely Hall-bound is another mark in his favor. Through Cole’s age-31 season, his number one Baseball-Reference comp is Max Scherzer, who’s maintained ace level performance deep into his 30s.

Finally, the magic number of 300 wins is unlikely to see anyone threaten it in the near future (Justin Verlander sits closest, needing 56 to meet the milestone). But assuming the Yankees continue to play at a high level for the next few years, Cole should reach 200 without much difficulty.

With any luck, a World Series ring (or four, but I’m not greedy) would also burnish Cole’s CV. And if he keeps up his high level of performance in the postseason (2.93 career ERA in 104.1 innings with 134 Ks), that also won’t hurt.

Giancarlo Stanton - NL MVP, 5x All Star, 2x Silver Slugger, 378 HR, 971 RBI, 141 OPS+

Maybe the least likely of the three to get the Hall call, Stanton still has a shot. In all likelihood, his candidacy comes down to health, and arresting his decline phase. At the risk of stating the obvious, Stanton needs to stay healthy, and produce when he’s in the lineup.

When he’s in the lineup, the tools are still there. A quick look at his Statcast page makes it abundantly clear that Stanton is still obliterating baseballs at a high level, with most hitting metrics a deep red, denoting a place among baseball’s best. In Stanton’s case, availability could really be the most important ability.

Yesterday, Sam discussed Stanton’s (and Judge’s) path to 500 career homeruns and it seems well within reason for Big G to reach that immortal number. And he’ll likely have to, because with one notable exception, Stanton’s rate stats don’t have the same aura that Judge and Cole boast.

That exception is isolated power. As of writing, Stanton’s ISO ranks 11th all-time, and the names ahead of him are a who’s who of baseball immortals. If Giancarlo can get to 500 dingers and keep within striking distance of the top of the ISO leaderboard, his prodigious power output might be enough to get him into the Hall.

Another reason for hope? Stanton’s closest current comp is already in Cooperstown. Through his age-32 season, Harmon Killebrew most closely resembles Stanton’s career arc, and the former went on to club 573 home runs on his way to induction. Stanton might have the narrowest path of himself, Judge, and Cole, but it seems to exist nonetheless, and to be attainable for one of the most powerful hitters in baseball history.

All three of Judge, Cole, and Stanton have a long way to go before the Hall of Fame becomes anything approaching a near-certainty. But each of the three have put themselves in a position where, if they stay healthy and play well, the BBWAA will in all likelihood end up spending serious time and energy discussing each of them as Cooperstown candidates.