When I was offered this column, I was asked whether I felt I could offer useful recommendations regarding player evaluation. I said that I felt I was adequately, but not exceedingly qualified to do that, but what I really wanted to do was talk nonsense. We settled on a mix of the two, and I think I’ve been giving too much potentially useful information recently; it’s time for something irrelevant to next season, and fun!
Less than a week ago, the Hall of Fame voters elected a player to the Hall who boasts a lower career OBP than Brad Ausmus, while denying entry to a pitcher who had an overall better, but less storied, career than Nolan Ryan. Even with this group as peers, Jay Mariotti was able to find a way to have his idiocy stand out. Hey, the uniquely gifted are often able to rise to the top no matter what!
I’ve seen a few attempts at putting together a fantasy baseball Hall of Fame, but they seemed pretty half-assed, which is fortunate because if the bar was set any higher, this column probably wouldn’t meet it. I’d like to simulate fantasy Hall of Fame voting, year-by-year. We’ll be evaluating players only in terms of their fantasy numbers, you know doing what people like Murray Chass think us round-earthers do all the time anyway.
Here’s how I’m going to approach this. If we consider Danny Okrent’s 1980 league as the generally accepted inception of fantasy baseball and adhere to the rule of the real Hall of Fame that stipulates players must play 10 seasons to be eligible, that means we can begin considering players for the Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame when they appear on the 1995 Hall of Fame ballot. This means they’ve played 10 seasons, starting from 1980.
Like the real HOF, the bar for inclusion will be somewhat subjective. I am not going to determine some formula and then elect the top 2 percentile of scorers. I’m simply going to go down the ballot year by year, list the candidates and mention who I would vote for. Hopefully, the subjectivity element helps to get our readers involved in the discussion. I really do hope this – for your sake too, since I’ve decided I can milk a couple of weeks of columns out of this idea by chronicling this thought experiment in installments.
Players will be listed in order of their support for the actual Hall of Fame. Let’s take a look at the inaugural class.
Class of 1995:
So, Cobb, Ruth, Wagner, Matthewson, and Johnson this was not.
The only player in the inaugural class who would earn my vote is Mike Schmidt. (It is logical that the first few classes will be small because I can only count seasons beginning from 1980, which means that for the first few years I will be discounting chunks of players’ primes while considering their decline years.) Even though Schmidt’s prime began long before 1980, and 1988 and 1989 were not fantasy relevant seasons, Schmidt is an easy choice. He won three MVPs in the ’80s. He led his league in homers six times in the decade, RBIs four times, and even paced the league in runs once. He also only hit below .277 once from 1980 – 1987 and contributed double-digit stolen bases three times. Simply, Mike Schmidt was a first round draft pick for the vast majority of the ’80s.
I did not vote for Jim Rice and find that kind of funny. I was ardently anti-Rice for the Hall of Fame. But, as a fantasy player all the arguments against Rice as an actual player are moot. He would have regularly been an elite fantasy contributor. Alas, too many of his best seasons were before 1980. Were his 1977-1979 seasons eligible for consideration, I would have voted for him. They aren’t so I didn’t.
Allow me a quick rant here. Ironically, traditionalists often castigate us numbers geeks for looking at players’ Hall of Fame candidacies, and legacies in general, as if they were fantasy players. Rice is one of many examples for which the exact opposite of the charge is true. The inability to see past the surface stats and evaluate the context is what eventually led to his election. Traditionalists like to project their own inadequacies on us heliocentric believers.
Class of 1996
This class looks particularly weak. In fact, the actual Hall of Fame did not induct a single player this year. I voted for Quiz, though not without giving it a fair amount of deliberation. The massive knock against Quiz’s value is that he barely struck out anybody. He also only has about six really solid seasons as a closer. But, that run was pretty damn good. He led the AL in saves five times out of those six seasons and consistently posted extremely valuable ERAs. He racked up 12 wins in 1980 and came close to double-digit wins two other times over those six years. What really buoyed his value to me, though, was that he routinely tossed 130 or so innings, making those rate stats incredibly heavy.
I may live to regret this vote, but that’s one thing that is really fun about doing this exercise this way. I have little hindsight; I’m setting the standards without precedent. Early in this exercise though, I am thinking that the fantasy Hall of Fame will value peak performance more than the actual Hall does. A six-year peak with very little else surrounding it is not good enough for the actual Hall of Fame, but especially when it comes to low-volume stats like saves and steals, short but very high peaks will likely be rewarded handsomely here.
I will avow right here to not compound my mistakes. If I subsequently rue my vote for Quiz, I won’t allow myself to vote for other similarly (un)deserving candidates because I mistakenly voted for Quiz.
Shout out to John Tudor’s 1985 season, by the way. He was nowhere near earning my vote, but Tudor made his owners extremely happy in 1985. He put up one of those seasons that are so stark in terms of value expected to value produced that owners are able to win leagues on the strength of it.
Class of 1997
Nobody earns my vote in another seemingly weak class. Dave Parker was a true five-category contributor in his prime, but he had most of his best seasons before 1980 and never stole more than 12 bases in his fantasy Hall of Fame eligible seasons. He made appearances on fantasy category leader boards, but I don’t think he separated himself enough from his peers to earn my vote.
I am a big fan of the Cobra though, and as a Mets fan thank him for playing a key role in prompting some incredibly bizarre events in a Cincinnati, New York game on July 22, 1986. In the ninth inning, Parker dropped a routine Keith Hernandez fly ball, which allowed the trailing Mets to tie the game and force extra innings. A Darryl Strawberry ejection in the sixth and a brawl in the 10th left the Mets shorthanded on players. This was one of the two brawls, Golden Glove Boxing Association member, Ray Knight was involved in that year (the other was with the Dodgers’ Tom Niedenfuer). In this one, Knight landed one of the best punches you’ll ever see in a baseball brawl square to the jaw of Eric Davis. As a result of this, from the 10th inning on both Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell were on the field simultaneously, alternating between pitching (based on match-up) and playing right field. Howard Johnson hit a three-run homer in the 14th to ice a Mets win in a game that should get regular airplay on ESPN Classic. Parker also homered in this game. By the way, Todd Worrell pitched and played another position in the same game four times in his career. Not surprisingly, as I remember Davey Johnson, when asked about his Orosco-McDowell platoon, remarked that Whitey Herzog was the inspiration behind the idea. (OK, so ends my audition for writing on the other side of the site too.)
I also struggled with Dwight Evans. Many think Dewey is a true Hall of Famer, and some may think he should have earned my vote here too. In the end, I didn’t pull the trigger though. He had some very good seasons in the ’80s and made very valuable contributions in runs, homers, and RBI several times. But, his best seasons were somewhat spread out (which is a frustrating trait for players in the eyes of fantasy owners) and he had a number of solid, but unspectacular seasons in that run as well. Dewey’s impressive defensive resume and superior on-base skills don’t help him here, and I’d be more inclined to vote for him for the actual Hall of Fame. Dewey is another example of the backward charges of the traditionalist electorate. Converse to Rice, the electorate relying too heavily on his counting stats (evaluating him like a fantasy player) obfuscate his noteworthy defensive value and superior on-base skills.
Class of 1998
Gary Carter’s career as a fantasy worthy catcher was probably over after 1987. And, his prime began three seasons before 1980. This unfortunate timing precluded him from being a lock. Additionally, we all know his defense doesn’t count.
However, he did make six appearances on the NL leaderboards for RBIs and home runs from 1980 on. He was also extremely durable and reliable during that run. Carter was a known, elite quantity at the catcher position. He earns my vote.
Blyleven, the better-than-Nolan pitcher I made reference to earlier, is unfortunately a victim of timing. Too many of his best season came pre-1980 and he was rather inconsistent through the first part of the decade. As much as it pains me to leave him off the ballot, I must.
Jack Clark was a much better player than he was given credit for and a better candidate than Andre Dawson for the 1987 MVP award. He’s also one of five players who hit 25 homers in a season for five or more different teams – the satisfaction of fellow dork-dom for anybody who can name the other four in the comments section….But, he doesn’t earn my vote.
Willie Randolph also has a fair amount of supporters for the actual Hall, but he was a far better real player than a fantasy player, so he gets no consideration here.
Pedro Guerrero did have some really valuable seasons, but doesn’t pass muster. He was also hurt too often to be a reliable yearly stud.
Brian Downing had a very interesting career and made some owners incredibly happy in 1982, as he would have retained catcher-eligibility from the previous season. If he would have caught just often enough to retain eligibility throughout the mid-’80s, he would have had a shot.
Class of 1999
Here we have our first very strong class.
I will somewhat begrudgingly vote for Nolan Ryan. He led his league in strikeouts four times post-1979 and finished in the top 3 five more times. However, he only made two appearances on the leaderboard for wins in that time period, seventh in his league both times. He only appeared four times on the ERA board, though he did lead the league twice. He did remarkably well in showing up on the WHIP leaders though, showing up eight times as his wildness had been worked out by this stage of his career. He wasn’t the workhorse he once was in this era though; he only made four post-1979 appearances in the top 10 for innings pitched in his league. The strikeouts and the WHIP are enough to sell me though.
George Brett is a historically great player, but he was kind of Chipper Jones-ish when you look at only his post-1979 seasons. He had great rate stats, and contributed substantially in four categories. (Pre-1982, he stole bases too!) But, by 1983 you could really only expect 125 games per season. Still, the combo of Brett and a replacement would have been elite (like A-Rod this past season). Brett was just too damn good not to be included.
Robin Yount did it all, a true five-category stud who would have been shortstop-eligible through 1985. Subsequent, he became an outfielder, which would have hurt his value a bit (unless you were playing in a league that differentiated between outfield positions, because he was a very good center fielder). Yount was also rather durable, though his overall production did fluctuate a bit year-to-year. The trivia tidbit for Yount is that he has the uncommon distinction of having won two MVPs playing different positions, one as a shortstop and one as a center fielder. …Kind of like Derek Jeter. Oh wait, he hasn’t been moved from short yet AND he hasn’t won an MVP. Sportsman of the Year doesn’t count? Actually, I love Jeter, I kid only to break of the monotony of this Bill Simmons length column.
I did not vote for Carlton Fisk because he had some gaping holes in his fantasy resume. He was fairly unreliable and inconsistent from 1980 on. He missed large chunks of seasons, often posted very damaging batting averages, did not put up the run totals we should expect from an elite catcher, and had few great seasons. I have no problem with him in the actual Hall of Fame, but things like the remarkable physical achievement and value being able to catch more than 2,200 games while posting a career 117 OPS+ just isn’t really relevant for this Hall.
Dale Murphy earns my vote on peak value. From 1982 through 1987 he was probably a first-round value four or five times. He played no fewer than 159 games and could be counted on for 35-plus homers, 100 runs and RBIs or more and .285-plus batting average and anywhere from a helpful to truly impactful stolen base total. I’d also likely vote for Murphy for the real Hall of Fame based on peak value.
George Bell is worth an honorable mention, but was more of what mouth-breathers like to call, “Hall of Very Good.” He did have a few seasons that were, in their context, probably similar to some of Juan Gonzalez’s better campaigns. But, I don’t think he had enough of them. He’s a strong AL-only Fantasy Hall of Fame candidates. (Notice how my entirely fictional institution is now developing offshoots?)
Nobody else is really worthy of consideration here. Though it’s worth mentioning that young Frank Tanana was a damn good pitcher, and people often seem to be unaware of that.
Class of 2000
We end the first group of classes with another blank ballot.
Goose Gossage didn’t have enough great seasons to earn my vote.
Jack Morris was a well-above average pitcher with nice strikeout totals and win totals. He was extremely reliable and very valuable as a fantasy asset throughout his post-1979 career. But, right now I am protecting the standard with this vote. Morris was rarely elite and as I mentioned earlier, I think we’re going to see a greater emphasis on shorter, higher peaks, and less reverence for longer runs of being a tier-2 player when this exercise is said and done. Maybe his candidacy will be re-evaluated by the Veteran’s Committee in time. (This institution has made-up bodies too, not just made-up offshoots.)
I am very glad Willie Wilson’s 82-steal season missed the cut off. Wilson had only two seasons of more than 50 stolen bases and very paltry appearances on the leaderboards for runs and batting average. I have successfully avoided having to give serious thought to speed monsters who have no place in the regular Hall of Fame until next column, in which I’ll have to deal with Vince Coleman in the class of 2003.
So, let’s see where we stand right now, through six classes.
Number of players elected : 7
Number of players elected who have been eliminated for real HOF consideration: 2
Members by position:
SS: .5 (Yount is really split)
This is harder than I expected. And, I can see how the writers make mistakes without the benefit of hindsight. I tried to really simulate voting as if I was looking at each ballot year by year, so six seasons in the canvas is still pretty blank. Good-but-truly great starters, relievers, and speed guys will continue to give me problems, I predict. Not surprisingly, these are the types of players who we regularly seem to have problems projecting value and draft position for.
Subconsciously, I know that my perceptions of these players as actual Hall of Fame candidates affect the way I view them too. Rice, Bell, Evans… they may be better candidates than I think they are. It’s hard to be objective without running detailed analyses of standard deviations from positional average performances year-by-year. But, I actually wanted to do this exercise without having done that work to more accurately simulate what early Hall of Fame voters were experiencing.
Finally, I am not old enough to have played fantasy baseball in the era of Bell’s prime. So, I don’t have the benefit of being able to say, “Oh yeah, Bell was a top-15 pick every year” just as a useful anecdote.
Still, this has been fun and I look forward to part two and I hope you do too because there will be two more future columns of this. Oh, and by all means, flame away!