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Can you believe that the BBWAA gave our blog voting rights for this year’s MLB Hall of Fame ballot?

Just kidding.  They haven’t made a decision that ill-informed since, um, electing Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.  But I’m going to pretend we have a vote this year and explain the decisions on our ballot.

Here is some background on how I analyze players for the HOF:

Much like the Earth and many a good joke, the views on Hall of Fame worthiness have two poles.  The first pole is the traditional view which focuses on seasonal and career ‘baseball card’ stats like AVG/Hits/HR/RBI or Wins/ERA, factors in dominance based on MVP/Cy Young voting + reputation during one’s career, and the post-season success for that individual and their team(s).    The second pole is the sabermetric view which relies on more advanced statistics with the aim of crediting the best players based on objective criteria.

I am much, much closer to the sabermetric pole than the traditionalist pole.  My view on baseball (and life) is to question and adapt my views when presented with compelling information.  I’ve been convinced that OBP & Times on Base are superior to AVG and Hits and that the traditional view of baseball has underestimated the value of walks.  I can’t view HRs or even Slugging percentage as an absolute reflection of power and look for advanced stats to adjust for era and park factors.  Runs and RBIs are clearly important – you need to score runs to win games – but it’s hard to balance these stats against lineup strength, era, park factors, etc.  The same goes for pitching:  I think ERA/WHIP needs to be adjusted per era/park factors/team defense, Wins are a questionable measure given their reliance on team strength, etc.

As advanced statistics have improved, I put less faith in MVPs/Cy Youngs/All-Star voting.  The writers (and fans for All-Star) voting for those awards over the years didn’t either have access to the advanced learnings that sabermetrics has provided and/or don’t believe it.  For instance, let’s look at the 1996 MVP voting.  Juan Gonzalez had a fantastic hitting year (.314/47/144 with a .368 OBP, below average running/defense and favorable park that led him to not even make the AL Top 10 in OPS+) but exactly how could that be considered more valuable than Ken Griffey Jr. (.303/49/140 with a .392 OBP, solid baserunning, and the most valuable defensive player in the league based on Defensive WAR) or Alex Rodriguez (.358/36/123 with a .414 OBP, positive baserunning and above-average SS defense)?  In fact, of the 21 players to get at least one AL MVP vote in 1996, Juan Gonzalez had the worst Wins Above Replacement (WAR).  In addition, there are also some years where a player wins the MVP/Cy Young by default because there really isn’t a player who warrants it and vice versa (see 1996 where Ken Griffey and Alex Rodriguez – as well as Chuck Knoblauch – were worthy MVP candidates).  Does that make their year any less MVP-worthy?

So here are the criteria/stats I’m using for my HOF analysis:

1) Career Excellence - I am measuring this by career WAR (Wins Above Replacement).  This statistic – which was developed by Sean Smith and is available for free on Baseball-Reference.com or Sean’s ownBaseballProjection.com – calculates the value of a hitter’s offense/defense/running or a pitcher’s pitching vs. those of a replacement player (minor leaguer or waiver wire claim).  Many factors such as position, era, park, defense (for pitchers) are accounted for.  (note:  there are slight differences in WAR calculations between Baseball-Reference and BaseballProjection.com – I use those from B-R unless otherwise noted.)

2) Peak Excellence - I think most traditional and sabermetric fans and voters agree that – everything equal – a player who had a dominant peak is more preferable to one who was just very good for a long period of time.  Rather than focus on awards, I’ve taken the B-R (and I assume Sean Smith) suggested breaks of 5.0+ WAR for an All-Star season and 8.0+ WAR for an MVP season.    For reference, between 1901 and 2010, there were 282 hitting seasons and 132 pitching seasons that surpassed 8.0.  That roughly 2.7 hitters and 1.2 pitchers per year which seems fair when you consider there are about 2x the hitters than pitchers who play enough to reach this total.

(Bit of trivia:  The year with the most 8.0+ WAR hitters is 2004 with 6:  Barry Bonds (12.4), Adrian ‘El Senator‘ Beltre (10.1), Albert Pujols (9.4), Scott Rolen (9.2), Jim Edmonds (8.4), and Ichiro (8.1).  The NL MVP vote went exactly in WAR order for the 5 NL’ers.  Vladamir Guerrero (7.4) beat Ichiro for AL MVP who finished 7th.   The year with the most pitchers 8.0+ was 1971 with 6:  Wilbur Wood (10.7), Fergie Jenkins (9.2), Tom Seaver (9.2), Vida Blue (8.8), Mickey Lolich (8.6), and Dave Roberts (8.5).  Vida Blue and Mickey Lolich finished above Wilbur Wood for AL Cy Young while Fergie Jenkins edged out Tom Seaver for NL.)

I’ve combined the above into one stat using the following formula:  Career WAR + 10 * MVP seasons (8.0+ WAR) + 5 * All-Star seasons (5.0-7.9 WAR).  I’ll call this ‘Peak-Adjusted WAR’ for the series of posts.  This is admittedly arbitrary but seems to do a fair job at rewarding those with high peaks vs. long careers.  Case in point:  Carlton Fisk has one more career WAR than Gary Carter (67.3 to 66.3) aided by playing close to 2 more seasons worth of games.  But Gary Carter had 8 seasons of All-Star value (most ever for a catcher amongst retired players as of 2005) while Carlton Fisk only had 4.  This adjustment puts Carter ahead of Fisk 106.3-87.3 (2nd and 3rd behind Johnny Bench).  Sandy Koufax has far less career WAR to Don Sutton (54.5 to 70.8) but his 3 MVP seasons (1963, 1965, 1966) and two All-Star seasons give him 40 extra points where Don Sutton’s 4 All-Star seasons give him 20.  Thus, Koufax scores higher 94.5 to 90.8.  (Click here for access to the spreadsheet on Google Docs).

In looking at the scores across all players, I’d say for me that a peak-adjusted WAR of 100 is a no-brainer selection, anything from 80-100 is in the consideration set (with more bias towards positions with less players who’ve reached that plateau, and anything under 80 isn’t a consideration except for relief pitchers or special cases (e.g., an untimely death, Negro-league players, a player lost peak time to serve in the war, etc.)

3) Hall of Fame Position Representativeness - While WAR takes position into account for single seasons, it cannot adjust for the fact that certain positions (notably Catcher and Middle Infield) are tougher to have long careers than other positions (notably corner OF/1B/DH).  My general POV is that if a player was in the top 10 at his position in the past 60 years (1945-2005), he warrants Hall of Fame consideration even if their stats look lower than average.

Players On The Razzball 2011 Hall of Fame Ballot (see links for posts on each player):

Rank Player Peak-Adjusted WAR Career WAR MVP (8.0+ WAR) All-Star (5-7.9 WAR)
1 Jeff Bagwell 139.9 79.9 3 (+30) 6 (+30)
2 Bert Blyleven 145.5 90.1 1 (+10) 9 (+45)
3 Alan Trammell 106.9 66.9 1 (+10) 6 (+30)
4 Barry Larkin 103.9 68.9 0 (+0) 7 (+35)
5 Edgar Martinez 112.2 67.2 0 (+0) 9 (+45)
6 Tim Raines 94.6 64.6 0 (+0) 6 (+30)
7 Roberto Alomar 88.5 63.5 0 (+0) 5 (+25)
8 Mark McGwire 98.1 63.1 0 (+0) 7 (+35)

Players Considering For The Future

Rank Player Peak-Adjusted WAR Career WAR MVP (8.0+ WAR) All-Star (5-7.9 WAR)
1 Kevin Brown 99.8 64.8 1 (+10) 5 (+25)
2 Rafael Palmeiro 86.0 66.0 0 (+0) 4 (+20)
3 John Olerud* 96.8 56.8 2 (+20) 4 (+20)
4 Larry Walker 92.3 67.3 1 (+10) 3 (+15)

* Yes, I’m shocked how high John Olerud scores on peak-adjusted WAR.  He had two 8.0+ WAR seasons which is two more than the following 1B/DHs on the ballot Rafael Palmiero, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines, and Tino Martinez.  This is because John Olerud had a much better OBP than anyone on this list (other than Edgar Martinez) and was a more valuable glove than anyone else during his peak years (about equal with Palmeiro and Mattingly).   The AVG/OBP/SLG and OPS+ for those 8.0+ WAR years were:  .363/.473/.599 in 1993 with a 186 OPS+ and a .354/.447/.551 with a 163 OPS+ in 1998.   Mattingly never cleared .400 OBP once in his career, Palmeiro did it once (a pot-friendly .420 in 1999), and McGriff did it twice (.403 and .400).  Neither of the three had a higher OPS+ than those two Olerud years.

Players Who Fall Short

Player Peak-Adjusted WAR Career WAR MVP (8.0+ WAR) All-Star (5-7.9 WAR)
Jack Morris 44.3 39.3 0 (+0) 1 (+5)
Dale Murphy 74.2 44.2 0 (+0) 6 (+30)
Fred McGriff 65.5 50.5 0 (+0) 3 (+15)
Don Mattingly 59.8 39.8 0 (+0) 4 (+20)
Dave Parker 57.8 37.8 0 (+0) 4 (+20)
Al Leiter 53.8 38.8 0 (+0) 3 (+15)
Juan Gonzalez 43.5 33.5 0 (+0) 2 (+10)
Harold Baines 37.0 37.0 0 (+0) 0 (+0)
Bret Boone 36.4 21.4 1 (+10) 1 (+5)
Marquis Grissom 35.6 25.6 0 (+0) 2 (+10)
B.J. Surhoff 34.4 34.4 0 (+0) 0 (+0)
Raul Mondesi 32.2 27.2 0 (+0) 1 (+5)
Tino Martinez 32.2 27.2 0 (+0) 1 (+5)
Lee Smith 30.3 30.3 0 (+0) 0 (+0)
Charles Johnson 27.0 22.0 0 (+0) 1 (+5)
John Franco 25.8 25.8 0 (+0) 0 (+0)
Benito Santiago 23.8 23.8 0 (+0) 0 (+0)
Bobby Higginson 21.4 21.4 0 (+0) 0 (+0)
Carlos Baerga 21.0 16.0 0 (+0) 1 (+5)
Kirk Reuter 12.1 12.1 0 (+0) 0 (+0)

  1. Doug Ault says:
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    It’s cool to see Alomar enter the HOF wearing a BJ cap.The first one

  2. Terrence Mann says:
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    Thanks for including Walker in your analysis. His WAR numbers hold up fairly well vs. the rest of the field.

  3. Jackie says:
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    Love the analysis Rudy. Keep up the good work!

  4. Steve B says:
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    I think we can tell who the great players are without all your confusing numbers.Its the borderline players that you need to look at the numbers.My feelings are if you gotta go through all that to see if they are deserving than they dont belong there

  5. KeeblerMN says:
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    Love these posts! Nice work!
    Congrats Bert! We love you in MN no matter how many F-bombs you drop on live television and now they’ll love you in Cooperstown too!!! :-)

  6. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Rudy Gamble:
    I am certainly happy to see Blylevin make the Hall – his selection was long overdue. Alomar deserves induction, but I think there were several others who should have preceded him, including Larkin, for sure, and possibly Trammell. However, I believe that the one player who deserves induction over any of these three was Tim Raines. I believe that it was you a year or so ago who stated that Raines was the 3rd/4th best lead-off hitter in the last 70 years, behind Henderson, Joe Morgan and Rose, although Pete often batted other slots in the lineup. Raines has a better life-time stolen base percentage then Henderson, Brock or Cobb. (84.7%). He played in an era where run production was near a nadir, and relatively few fans saw him play, as he was with the Expos for most of his career, then the black hole of baseball. Other impressive stats: Raines led the league twice and was 2nd twice in Runs Scored. He led the league once in Runs Created, was 2nd 3 times, and 3rd once. He led the league in OBP once, was 3rd twice, 4th twice, 5th once and 6th once, with a lifetime OBP of .385, a most impressive figure. Led the league in SB 4 times. Led the league in doubles once. Raines was in the top ten in walks six times, nine times in triples, four times in OPS+, 4 times in total bases, four times in BA, and seven times in Adjusted win Percentage. I believe that if you are using Sabermetrics as a base-line, “The Rock” is a no-brainer.

  7. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Rudy Gamble: One postcript. Guys like yourself are the ones who should have HOF ballots. How many sportswriters are even familiar with modern analytical tools? Maybe individuals like Bobby Grich and Kevin Brown would get a fair shot. I recall you doing a post on Richie Allen, perhaps the most misunderstood individual in modern baseball. If you are as old as me, you saw Allen hit; nobody in that time had his power except for Mantle. At any rate, as always, you have done a terrific job.

  8. @Terrence Mann: I’m glad Walker got more than 5.0% of the votes so he can be considered again next year. Hard to get worked up about Olerud but it was ridiculous for Kevin Brown to get so much fewer votes than Jack Morris and Lee Smith given he was almost as valuable as the two of them put together (based on WAR)

    @Jackie: Thanks!

    @Steve B: I agree that there are ‘no-brainer’ HOFers where analyzing the numbers is almost redundant but they are few and far between. I don’t think any of this year’s ballot was no-brainer – Alomar was the closest but he’d only be no-brainer with 3,000 hits. And analyzing the numbers does help for those that mass perception had underestimated (Blyleven, Trammell) vs. overestimated (Morris).

    @Paulie Allnuts: I’m with you on Raines. I don’t think many fans/writers appreciate how rare it is to have a leadoff hitter with speed and a near .400 OBP. Since I’ve watched baseball (circa 1980), the only leadoff hitters with speed that were in this stratosphere for more than a season or two are: Henderson, Raines, Lofton, Brett Butler, Knoblauch, and Ichiro. I really think that the bar for leadoff hitters is too high – focusing on times on base vs. hits would be a good start.

    @Paulie Allnuts: I think sportswriters are becoming more and more familiar with advanced analytics. Kevin Brown was a borderline case who wasn’t helped by the fact he was in the Mitchell Report. As you’ve seen in my posts, I still think that the voting has certain biases that will take a long time to fade – notably HRs and round career milestones are overrated and OBP, glove, baserunning and position are underrated. Stats like WAR have done a great job to incorporate those more subtle stats along with the basics. My bet is that Grich, Whitaker, and Trammell eventually make the HOF – maybe in 10-20 years?

  9. mic says:
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    kirk reuter should be in the hall for his good looks alone…

  10. @mic: Ha – yeah, if Pixar ever does an HOF movie, I’m sure he’ll be in it…

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