Razzball is psyched to being taking part in the BBWAA Hall of Fame vote. As the chief stat geek at Razzball, I take this responsibility very seriously. I admit there are obstacles – e.g., determining the right paper size and stock for fashioning a ballot (ours always gets lost in the mail), writing all the eligible players’ names, tracking down the BBWAA address, buying a stamp, ignoring the ‘return to sender’ and ‘cease and desist’ letters from BBWAA, etc – but how best to honor the nominees’ perseverance than to show a little of my own, right?
Below is my 2014 Hall of Fame ballot as well as some commentary on the Veterans ballot. As you can surmise by my votes, I’m a PED realist (vs. moralist) with a slight bias towards hitters (particularly well-rounded 2B/SS/CF) vs pitchers.
All WAR (Wins Above Replacement) figures are from Baseball-Reference.
Veterans Ballot (who I would have voted for)
Larussa, Cox, Torre, Simmons, Marvin Miller
I’d vote for Torre even if he never managed. He had a great bat for a catcher (130 OPS+ for the years – 19-29 – he caught). Based on today’s defensive stats, he appears to have been an okay fielder but was smartly deployed as a C/1B during his catching career to get his bat in the lineup more. There were only 7 seasons prior to 1970 where a player qualified for the batting title, had a 120 OPS+ and played 40+ games at C/1B. Torre had 4 of them. He was the template for Gene Tenace in the 70’s and Mike Napoli, Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, and Victor Martinez in the 90s/2000s. The trade from the Braves to the Cardinals (who had McCarver and, soon after, Ted Simmons) led to Torre being transitioned to a full-time 3B at age 30 (where he was awful) and eventually 1B. While the move off Catcher likely improved his durability/longevity, maintaining a C/1B role or just going straight to 1B might have netted a couple extra career WAR. (Fantasy note: He is 5th in career fantasy value for players with 5+ C-eligible seasons, bested only by Bench, Piazza, Yogi, and Fisk)
Simmons has the best WAR of any non-HOF catcher other than Piazza. The other players (John, Concepcion, Garvey, Parker) are just HOVG candidates and there were more worthy players of the era – Dwight Evans, Bobby Grich, etc. – that deserved their spots on the balot.
#4 – Jeff Bagwell (79.5 WAR) – The only 1Bs who debuted after 1900 that have better WARs are Gehrig, Foxx, and Pujols. He played 60% of his career with the Astrodome as his home park. His HR/PA was 22.4 in the Astrodome and 16.8 at the park formerly known as Enron Field. If he played his whole career at Enron, he likely would have had 60+ more career HRs which would put him over 500 (449 career HRs).
#5 – Mike Piazza (59.2 WAR) – Best hitting catcher ever IMO and concerns about his catching may be a bit overblown.
#6 – Frank Thomas (73.6 WAR) – Don’t care that he DH’d more than 50% of games or that he was awful on the basepaths and when he had to don a glove. Anyone who can make the .300/.400/.500 club over 10,000 PAs deserves entrance.
#7 – Tim Raines (69.1 WAR) – 10,000 PAs, .385 OBP, AND an amazing baserunner. Love the stat that he has more times on base than Gwynn. All due respect to Gwynn but any GM worth his salt would take Raines over him in some hypothetical re-draft.
#8 – Craig Biggio (64.9 WAR) – Awesome peak. The last 4 years – which got him to 3,000 hits – were worth virtually nothing (total of 1.1 WAR).
#9 – Alan Trammell (70.3 WAR) – Great all-around player. Compares favorably to Barry Larkin and even Ripken (OPS+ of 110 to Cal’s 112).
#10 – Tom Glavine (81.4 WAR) – Really a toss-up between Glavine, Mussina, and Schilling. I am a sucker for 300 Wins. I find Glavine more interesting than Schilling/Mussina in that his career ERA is considerably lower than his FIP (3.54 vs. 3.95). The high FIP isn’t surprising given his modest K rate (5.3/9) and mediocre BB rate (3.1/9). The only post-war pitchers with 3,000 career IP and a bigger differential are Jim Palmer (0.64 – aided by the best infield defense ever) and Whitey Ford (0.51)*. FanGraphs’ WAR uses FIP and this difference leads to a massive 17 WAR difference (64 FG WAR). I like FIP vs. ERA for looking at a single year to neutralize BABIP/LOB% luck but, when looking at a career, I believe this is more skill vs luck (with team defense as an external factor). Glavine’s BABIP was .280 which is about average for pitchers with 3,000+ IP. It is his ‘strand (LOB%) rate of 73.9% – better than teammates Maddux and Smoltz – which feels like the skill. That strand rate is in the top quartile among 3,000+ IP pitchers which is pretty amazing since his K rate is so poor (Palmer and Ford are #1/#2 in strand rate).
* Some players with much worse ERA than FIP include Javier Vazquez (ERA is 0.31 higher), Curt Schilling (.23), and Nolan Ryan (.22).
Other players I’d vote for if there were more spots on the ballot
Curt Schilling (79.9 WAR) – Complete late-bloomer – only 17 WAR before 30. Could easily make case for putting him on ballot over a number of guys above.
Mike Mussina (83.0 WAR) – Pales in comparison with other pitchers on the ballot thanks to no Cy Youngs but 10 seasons of 5.0 WAR is a very strong peak (tied for 11th most all-time with Warren Spahn and Eddie Plank). That is more than (among others) Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, and Cy Young. As with Schilling, there really isn’t a defense for not having him on my ballot.
Edgar Martinez (68.3 WAR) – Equals Frank Thomas minus 1,401 PAs of .224/.430/.843. So a notch below Frank but a .312/.418/.515 career line over 8,674 PAs is still above the cut for me)
Larry Walker (72.6 WAR) – while Coors certainly helped, his career road split of .278/.370/.495 is still elite. For comparison, Ken Griffey Jr.’s road split was .272/.355/.505. The lack of durability (one season above 144 Games) is a demerit but not a dealbreaker for me.
Rafael Palmeiro (71.8 WAR) – Never the ‘best’ but he was very good for a long time. Above the HOF standard for 1Bs IMO.
Jeff Kent (55.2 WAR) – Best power bat for a 2B since Hornsby with close to league-average fielding. Played most of career in pitcher parks (higher HR-rate and SLG on road vs home).
Sammy Sosa (58.4 WAR) – career value hurt by low OBPs early in career (.308 in first 4,374 PAs from 20-28) and no value post-35.
Mark McGwire (62.0 WAR)
Fred McGriff (52.6 WAR) – on the fence. There are 8 players not in the Hall of Fame that have 10,000+ Plate Appearances and a 134+ OPS+: Bonds, A-Rod, Griffey, Thome, Thomas, Sheffield, McGriff, and Chipper Jones. Move that down to 9,000+ PA and 130+ OPS+ and you have 13 (Vlad, Bagwell, Helton, Manny, and Palmeiro). The other 34 players to make these thresholds are in the HOF with Willie Stargell having the least WAR (57.3). So tough to say whether I can endorse McGriff as he seems right above or below the cutoff line.
Kenny Lofton (68.1 WAR) – This one is cheating since he missed the cutoff last year. Here is a link to some comments I made on Lofton at Baseball Think Factory (comment #72) – the quick summary is that I think the worst piece of luck for Lofton’s HOF case was that his perception was torched by shuttling between 9 teams from age 35-40. Given his performance during those years was actually solid (comparable to Ichiro post-35), my argument is if he either was able to remain with the Indians (who ditched him because they had younger, cheaper CFS in Milton Bradley and Coco Crisp) or stayed with the Giants (who picked him up at the waiver deadline in the year they made the WS against the Angels) for the rest of his career, he would be looked upon in a much better light. (Note: Lofton is 2nd in career WAR for non-HOF players with 75+% of games at CF – 1st is Ken Griffey Jr. Beltran will likely surpass Lofton in 2014. Only 3 other players are within 18 WAR (!) of Kenny Lofton – Andruw Jones, Willie Davis, and Jim Edmonds).
Who do you think will make the HOF in 2014?
There are only two things I feel confident in predicting: 1) Maddux gets in with 90+% of the votes and 2) There will be more than 7 votes/ballot which has not been done since 1986.
I think Glavine has a very good chance (75-85%). Biggio, Morris, Big Hurt, finish 3rd-5th in some order with all three finishing short (60-72%). Piazza finishes with 50-60%. The rest of the returnees will get crushed given that the aforementioned six would represent 4.65 of the 7 votes/person. Keep Clemens, Bonds, and Schilling at about 35% and that’s 5.65 votes with 1.35 votes split up amongst everyone else. Thus, I think Bagwell, Raines, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, and McGwire see declines of 10+% versus last year and the following players (who I’d consider voting for) fall off the ballot: Palmeiro, Sosa, Kent, McGriff. I also think one of the following fall off: Walker, Edgar, Mussina, McGwire. Mussina and Kent are probably the only two of this bunch that has a shot at ever getting voted in by the writers so I hope they avoid the chopping block.
How would you deal with the logjam of player ?
1) Remove any maximum on number of players per ballot.
2) Realize that the BBWAA vote is only useful for voting in ‘no-brainer’ candidates. Given that they still managed to vote in Sutter and Rice with the threshold at 75%, I would not lower it.
3) Increase the voting threshold in two increments – to 20% after Year 4 and to 40% in Year 7. Why keep players like Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy on the ballot for 10+ years when there is zero chance of them reaching 75%? If a candidate cannot stay above these thresholds, they are by definition borderline candidates (aka not ‘no-brainers’).
4) Realize that Veteran Committees will never be an effective method for determining HOF-worthiness of borderline candidates so…
5) Create a new committee with greater analytic chops that reviews all players retired for 11+ years. Rotate it by position: C, 1B/DH, 2B, SS, 3B, CF, RF/LF, SP, RP, Managers/Executives/Other. Up to 5 can be voted in per year. Doing this by position makes it easier to narrow down the candidates and any review of, say, Lou Whitaker, would require comparisons to other 2Bs (Grich, Randolph, etc.) anyway.
Why Do Smart Writers Vote For Jack Morris?
And then there’s Jack Morris – he of the 3.90 ERA that was only 5% better than league average (Glavine, by comparison, was 18% better and most HOFs are 20+% better). The debate on Morris has been ranging in print+online for several years now and I am clearly in the camp of “He was a good but not great pitcher”. The fascinating part of the debate for me isn’t the arguments against Jack Morris (it begins/ends with a 3.90 ERA, 105+ ERA) – it is in trying to understand why so many informed voters continue to support him.
Here are some recent pro-HOF Morris articles from writers whom I think are well-informed (if not Brian Kenny-esque zealots) regarding statistics:
So why would these knowledgeable writers support a candidate that clearly is below HOF standards based on the most fundamental stats. Bill James reverse engineered this divide between voting and player value with his Hall of Fame Monitor – e.g., Jack Morris has a much higher ‘score’ than Dennis Martinez despite their career values being very similar. Some of that can be explained by the lack of advanced stats available in the past – but why is it still occurring?
Here is my theory: narrative bias. I define this as “a strong, potentially unconscious preference towards conclusions that satisfactorily conclude an accepted storyline.” For Morris, the generally accepted narrative is:
- Perceived as an ‘ace’ during his playing career
- HOF should reward someone who is the best in his era (aka, the most wins argument)
- Demonstrated superior intangibles with a 10 inning shutout in a Game 7
Many baseball writers – at least ones that started in newspapers – are instinctively attracted to narratives like this. Their ability to find an angle to a story is essential to their career success. It not only helps them crank out baseball articles (the reason they are in the BBWAA) but also helps with books (both non-fiction and fiction) and TV. While writers of Hollywood or TV biographies like highs and lows (think Behind the Music’s success/failure/redemption), I think standard Hall of Fame narratives need easy to digest ‘highs’ like tangible accomplishments (e.g, 20 win seasons, led the league x times, etc.), notable tidbits, and a player’s perception during his playing career. ‘Lows’ just add uncertainty to the narrative unless it involves overcoming off-the-field obstacles like fought in a war, injury/disease, etc. Under-appreciated brilliance that fails to meet these ‘high’s – like players in the past with strong (but not overly-heralded) defense or mediocre AVG/high OBP – fails this ‘narrative’ test.
Or stated in another way, the litmus test is “How easy would it be to write their career summary on their HOF plaque?”
This narrative bias is counter-productive for objectively determining whether a player meets a threshold of excellence. An ideal judge/jury come into a courtroom with no preconceived notion of innocence or guilt and let the facts of the case guide their verdict. I would argue that many baseball writers, however, start from a conclusion based on the attractiveness of the player’s narrative – aka, the narrative for Morris is more attractive than Kevin Brown despite the latter being a better pitcher. In the case of Morris (and Jim Rice), their narrative is highly driven by the player’s (overrated) reputation during their career since they failed to meet the standard accomplishments like 300 wins or 500 HRs/3000 hits.
You would think that ‘He was underrated during his playing career but his career was really valuable” would be an attractive narrative but I cannot think of an example except maybe Blyleven (who, it should be noted, is 5th all-time in strikeouts and 11th in career WAR for pitchers. His narrative was the only thing that kept him out all those years.)
This bias cripples a statistical review in two ways:
- It creates ‘HOFer before proven inferior’ and vice versa scenarios where an otherwise slam dunk statistical case for/against a player may be dismissed as insufficient proof to abandon one’s perception.
- The statistical review skews towards supporting the conclusion, taking the voter down alleyways they otherwise would never go.
The 2nd point would explain why Verducci has to resort to stats like “He pitched eight or more innings in AL games more times than any pitcher in the history of the DH (248), a record unlikely even to be approached.”? Or that he had the most wins and complete games for pitchers who debuted between 1971-1983?
How many statistical dead ends does one have to reach before turning to 8+ inning starts or complete games as proof of Hall of Fame worthiness? Career Wins, not quite. WAR, nope. ERA+, nah. WHIP, uh-uh. K-rate, mediocre. Cy Youngs, nada. Innings/game against all eras, not even close.
Why does era matter for Wins? Was it harder to get wins for pitchers who debuted in 1971-1983 than those who debuted afterwards? Some eras are loaded with HOF-worthy talent (say, SS in the 1980’s with Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell, Robin Yount, Barry Larkin) and some eras have none (SS in the 1970’s). Once you statistically adjust for environment/competition of an era, the only value left for ‘era’ is as as part of a narrative.
When Sherman notes that Morris started 6 Game Ones as a support point, it is as if he is saying the narrative (and the perception behind it) IS the proof rather than doing analysis to determine whether the narrative/perception may have been false (for instance, in 1992, Morris lost both the ALCS and WS Game Ones and was probably the 4th best pitcher on the staff after David Cone, Juan Guzman, and Jimmy Key).
The expectation that the majority of baseball writers raised on these narratives will discard this bias for HOF voting is unrealistic. It is like raising a civilization where 90% of the calories are delivered via sugar and then being disappointed they reach for the candied yams over the mashed potatoes at the Thanksgiving table.
The case for/against Jack Morris will not be the last one where narrative bias plays a role but it will likely be the last one for a while where the narrative bias HELPS a player get inducted. Thanks to steroids, most of the previous perceptions on 90’s hitters have been chucked out the window. Who is the next eligible hitter that has a poor sabermetric case but potentially a great narrative? Omar “He is perceived to be the best fielding SS since Ozzie Smith, doubtful he did ‘roids, he had a good number of hits/SBs, and he’s honest enough to call out Jose Mesa’s choke job” Vizquel?
As for starting pitchers, borderline candidates like David Cone and Kevin Brown couldn’t even make a second ballot. Curt Schilling’s has a compelling narrative but it still pales in comparison to his actual value. Statheads will likely have to push for Mussina whose narrative is so-so. Andy Pettitte is probably the closest thing to “The Jack Morris of the 90’s/00’s” but he’s got the HGH and “not even close to best pitcher of his era” things going against him.
The silver lining here is that, with the proliferation of advanced stats, a player’s actual greatness will increasingly define his reputation/perception during his career. In addition, newer writers are more likely to be more statistically driven than the retired ones they will be replacing. So maybe by the time someone like Scott Rolen (70 WAR) is eligible for the HOF in 2017, he will get 6-10% of the vote instead of the less than 4% that Ron Santo (70.3 WAR) received. Woo-hoo!
(Fantasy note: To my surprise, Jack Morris actually passes my $200 fantasy baseball career value threshold for a Fantasy Baseball HOF with $224 (http://razzball.com/playerrater-pitchers-career-sp). The SPs not in the hall that are ahead of him are: Clemens, Randy, Maddux, Pedro, Smoltz, Schilling, Maddux, Glavine, Cone, Brown, Halladay, Sabathia, Paul Derringer (30s/40s pitcher), and Billy Pierce (50’s/60’s). He makes it largely because of Wins where he had the 2nd highest average $ contribution after Christy Mathewson. Amongst the $200+ club, he is last in ERA, towards the bottom in WHIP, and middle of the pack with K’s. Contemporaries that just miss the $200 cut include Dennis Martinez ($194), Frank Tanana ($184), Fernando Valenzuela ($183), and Bob Welch ($183). All players on my HOF ballot had greater than $200 in career fantasy value except for Alan Trammell at $198.5 and Edgar Martinez at $190 (heavy DH penalty))