Belated Hall of Fame Thoughts

In past years I have chimed in with my thoughts on the Hall of Fame candidates before the actual votes were cast, but like with the MVP voting process, I’ve become sick of what goes on annually in deciding who goes to Cooperstown. On the most basic level, I don’t understand how a player who has been retired for at least five years can have 15% of the voters say he had a Hall of Fame career one year and then have 25% of the voters say the exact same thing the next time around. Beyond that, many of the arguments made in support of or against the candidates are extremely frustrating to listen to.

Each year in the week before the Hall of Fame voting is announced, it is like all of the newspapers across the country make a pact to print dozens of columns written solely to upset me. Instead of getting involved, I try to stay calm, stay away, and then come in to assess the damage once the dust has settled. The big news this year is that Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg are Hall of Famers, but that’s not the part of the process I’m interested in. No, I like the part of the process you can mock, and there’s not much to criticize in the careers of Boggs and Sandberg, two extremely deserving players.

  • I would guess I am one of the bigger Jimmy Kimmel fans around. I have enjoyed everything he’s ever done, from The Man Show and Crank Yankers to the sometimes-awkward and often-panned Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC. I even give him extra credit for associating with Adam Carolla and Bill Simmons, two of the great comedic minds of this era. Because of that, it pained me to no end to see Kimmel add “baseball writer” to his resume this week when he penned a guest piece for ESPN.com’s Page 2 supporting Steve Garvey for the Hall of Fame. I won’t go into the details of the article (because really, you don’t deserve to have such things thrust upon you without your consent), but there was one part I particularly enjoyed.

    In addressing Garvey’s critics, Kimmel writes:

    We have computers now that “re-value” baseball players of the past. They travel back in time with new and frequently nonsensical formulas designed to quantify greatness — or, more often, to make a case against it. Some of these ratios and quotients even purport to rank a player’s leadership, a ridiculous notion when you think about it. These are the “facts” pointed to most often when Garvey’s Hall of Fame qualifications are discussed: Random, machine-generated equations. His on-base percentage wasn’t good enough. His OPS (whatever that is) doesn’t compare to some of the other guys.

    There are so many “interesting” things contained in that one paragraph that I’m not even sure where to begin. First of all, the computers don’t “travel back in time” to do anything. People use the computers to do things, which apparently doesn’t sit well with Kimmel. This is the same type of argument people make when bashing college football’s BCS system, blaming everything on those runaway computers. I wonder how Kimmel feels about someone using a calculator? Second, I have never once seen a “ratio” or “quotient” that has anything to do with ranking “a player’s leadership.” As far as I can tell this is a complete straw-man argument, without any sort of factual backing.

    Speaking of facts, Kimmel disparages “random, machine-generated equations” that he says are “the ‘facts’ pointed to most often when Garvey’s Hall of Fame qualifications are discussed.” Yet, something tells me if Garvey had Boggs’ incredible career numbers and people were still using “random, machine-generated equations” to look at his credentials, Kimmel wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. Plus, what Kimmel uses to discuss Garvey’s qualifications for the majority of his article are stories about how Garvey was his favorite player, how Garvey had cool nicknames, how Garvey got a lot of write-in votes for an All-Star game once, and how Garvey has a junior high school named after him. Personally, when I’m trying to decide who is a Hall of Famer and who isn’t, I’ll take some “machine-generated equations” over an anecdote about a talk show host saving newspaper clippings of the player when he was a kid any day of the week.

    And finally, my absolute favorite line of the article: “His OPS (whatever that is) doesn’t compare to some of the other guys.” There is a whole group of baseball fans who are scared of numbers, which I can at least understand to some extent. However, what I can’t understand is how a lot of those fans brag about being scared of the numbers. A little later in the article Kimmel talks up Garvey’s postseason performance, rattling off what are apparently acceptable statistics like batting average, home runs, and RBIs, but then says, “[A]nd an OPS of … well, I couldn’t figure that out.” Kimmel is attempting to make a case for Garvey being in the Hall of Fame, and in doing so he actually uses not knowing what OPS (a stat that is essentially mainstream at this point) is as something in his favor. Can you imagine that in any other setting?

    Garvey had a long and successful career, playing primarily in one part of the country (which happens to be the region Kimmel grew up in). Because of that, he obviously had many impressive accomplishments and made many diehard fans like Kimmel. The problem is that there are a couple dozen players with similar resumes up for the Hall of Fame each year. People in Atlanta could easily tell the same sort of stories about Dale Murphy. New Yorkers love to talk up Don Mattingly. Fans of the Big Red Machine no doubt think the world of Dave Concepcion. And on and on and on — Andre Dawson in Chicago, Jim Rice in Boston, Alan Trammell in Detroit. The reason we need those silly “machine-generated equations” and stupid “facts” are that people deeming players Hall of Famers like Kimmel is with Garvey are not qualified to do the same for every player.

    In other words, Kimmel can talk up Garvey and make what he hopes is a compelling case in his favor, but I bet he couldn’t do the same for guys like Murphy, Mattingly, Concepcion, Dawson, Rice, or Trammell. And that’s no knock against Kimmel, it’s just what happens when you live in one place and watch one player a lot more closely than you do others. But when it comes time to decide who gets in to Cooperstown and who doesn’t, we can’t just have 30 different people make 30 different Kimmel-like arguments for their favorite player. We have to actually compare all of the players, both to each other and to the players of their era. Looking at their career numbers does that, while extolling the virtues of their awesome nicknames does not.

  • The yearly occurrence that bothers me most about the Hall of Fame is the debate about Bert Blyleven‘s qualifications, as well as the comparisons between Blyleven’s career and Jack Morris‘ career. I wrote about this subject in the past and had several people accuse me of being in favor of Blyleven because I am a Twins fan (which would make my argument the same as Kimmel’s). The only problem there is that, of Blyleven’s two stints with the Twins — 1970-1976 and 1985-1988 — one came well before I was born and the other came before I was a baseball fan (I was more into He-Man back in 1988). Meanwhile, Morris’ one season with the Twins — 1991 — came when I was alive and a huge baseball fan, and happened to be the year the Twins won the World Series. If I were just being a homer, you’d think I might actually lean towards the guy I saw play and saw pitch the most amazing game in the franchise’s entire history.

    While Blyleven got slightly more overall support for the Hall of Fame this year (211 votes to Morris’ 172), there is a large group of people who are under the impression that Morris was the superior pitcher. In fact, an ESPN.com roundtable discussion between five voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America shows some of the sort of thinking that goes on in regard to these two pitchers.

    On Blyleven, Jim Caple says: “For years, I wrestled with Blyleven’s candidacy. There were a lot of good arguments in his favor but something always kept me from voting for him. And every year when I sent in the ballot without his name, I felt bad. And so, last year I voted for him.”

    On Morris, Caple says: “Jack gets my vote every time.”

    On Blyleven, Jerry Crasnick says: “Blyleven is a tough one for me, but I haven’t voted for him yet.”

    On Morris, Crasnick says: “I left him off my ballot a few times because of that 3.90 ERA and a few other statistical factors, but I finally took a step back and realized that he belongs.”

    Starting to see a pattern? There is a whole section of the baseball-watching population who think similar things about Blyleven versus Morris and, I have to say, I just don’t get it.

                     G      GS      CG    SHO       W       IP      ERA       SO     ERA+
    Blyleven       692     685     242     60     287     4970     3.31     3701     118
    Morris         549     527     175     28     254     3824     3.90     2478     105

    I put the categories Blyleven has an advantage in (all of them) in bold. What I haven’t shown above is that, although he has 33 fewer wins than Blyleven, Morris’ career winning percentage is higher (.577 vs. .534). If you’ve ever doubted the power a pitcher’s won-loss record has over an awful lot of otherwise intelligent baseball fans, this is a perfect example. Blyleven threw 1,146 more innings (a staggering difference of 30%), prevented runs at a far better rate (18% using raw ERA, 12% using adjusted ERA+), tossed more than twice as many shutouts, racked up 1,223 more strikeouts, and had better per-inning rates in strikeouts, walks, hits, and baserunners. And yet a substantial amount of people can’t seem to look past the fact that Morris — partly through factors he was not responsible for, such as offensive and bullpen support — has a better winning percentage.

    Just for good measure — and assuming Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t mind — let’s take a look at how Blyleven and Morris compare using a few of these “machine-generated equations” like Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA), Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), and Win Shares (WS). I don’t have the Jimmy Kimmel Newspaper Clippings Above Replacement Player (JKNCARP) figures handy, so these will have to do.

                  RSAA                       WARP                       WS
    Blyleven       344        Blyleven      144.7        Blyleven      339
    Morris          78        Morris         92.2        Morris        225

    If you want to talk about Morris “knowing how to win” or “being a bulldog” or “coming up big when it mattered” or “being the best pitcher of the 1980s,” that’s just fine. In the end though, Blyleven was simply a better, more valuable pitcher. Whether or not you think Morris is a Hall of Famer is one thing, but everyone who casts their ballot with his name on it should be doing the same for Blyleven. It’s a real shame that doesn’t happen.

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