THT writers and the Hall of Fameby Dave Studeman
January 05, 2012
It's Hall of Fame time. Here at the Hardball Times, we like to think about the Hall and talk about it and write about it. Most of us aren't as prolific as Chris Jaffe, but we have our opinions and, lucky you, we've decided to share them.
The BBWAA results are coming out next week, so we're stealing the thunder by releasing our results today. Twenty-three THT writers voted for the players on this year's ballot, resulting in four players passing the 75 percent mark:
Player Votes Barry Larkin 23 Jeff Bagwell 22 Tim Raines 21 Alan Trammell 19 Mark McGwire 17 Edgar Martinez 11 Rafael Palmeiro 9 Larry Walker 7 Dale Murphy 5 Lee Smith 3 Bernie Williams 3 Fred McGriff 2 Jack Morris 2 Jeromy Burnitz 0 Vinny Castilla 0 Juan Gonzalez 0 Brian Jordan 0 Javy Lopez 0 Don Mattingly 0 Bill Mueller 0 Terry Mulholland 0 Phil Nevin 0 Brad Radke 0 Tim Salmon 0 Ruben Sierra 0 Tony Womack 0 Eric Young 0In our estimation, Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell should all be headed to the Hall next week; Mark McGwire just misses the cut.
Barry Larkin was a unanimous pick, Bagwell had just one "detractor" and Raines had two. When looking at the results, it's clear that our writers didn't disagree so much about specific players (though there are some mighty exceptions; see below), but that they differed in the number of players they voted for. Some of our writers voted for only three or four players; others voted for 10. The ones who voted for just three or four all chose the top three or four players overall.
So vote totals for players beyond the big four or five were a result of individual writers expanding their vote set (wow, that sounded like a math nerd talking, didn't it?). In other words, the most important question of all is: are you a Big Hall guy or a Small Hall guy?
Big Hall vs. Small HallThe smaller the Hall, the easier the voting. The chart on the right is the career Wins Above Replacement total for the top 200 position players after 1900. As you can see, it's relatively easy to select the top 10 players of all time. Top 20? A little harder, but doable. Top 200? Forget about it.
The overlap is bad enough, but WAR isn't a perfect stat. You should consider a host of statistics and breakouts. WAR probably has an "error bar" of maybe 10 or so wins over a career, so you should factor that in. Plus, there really are other considerations for the Hall beyond a player's stats (though some of our writers see it differently). Bottom line: the larger your Hall, the more problematic your selections.
I asked a couple of our writers to explain their thinking about Large vs. Small Hall. Here's Matt Filippi, discussing his approach:
To me, the Hall of Fame is only for the greats. Not the decent, not the good, and not the very good. Only the players who truly dominated the game during the time they played deserve to make to the Hall. In the group of players that are eligible to be elected this year, I only saw three names that were deserving.
A lot of people try to vote for players based on the other players that have been voted in. But I think there are a lot of players who have selected in the past who didn't deserve it. Using them as a standard isn't the right way to go about things. Each player must be looked at on his own terms.
On the other hand, occasional THT writer Joe Dimino (who spends way too much time at the Hall of Merit) voted for 10 players. Here's his rationale:
The Hall of Fame is designed to be an inclusive institution where we honor the greatest players. It is not designed to be a 'small hall' as some would prefer. We don't need a Hall of Fame for guys like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. We need it for players like Arky Vaughan and Johnny Mize who were nearly as great and would otherwise be forgotten. Those are guys who are top five at their position on many lists.
So with that in mind, and the way the Hall of Fame balloting is designed (yes/no, 75 percent required) I think all voters should vote for anyone they reasonably think should be a Hall of Famer. It is very hard to get 75 percent of the vote. The BBWAA has only elected 111 players—and that's with letting people pick 10. Historically voters usually vote for only six or seven. Many think the mistakes have come from the Vets Committee and the BBWAA guys are the 'real' Hall of Famers. That's really not entirely true. The BBWAA has missed a lot of players.
The Vets Committee has given us Mize, Vaughan, Goose Goslin, Pee Wee Reese and Hal Newhouser. Those are easy Hall of Famers, and they aren't turn of the century guys. The old VC elected 10 Hall of Merit players, including four Negro Leaguers in the 1990s alone.
Back to the BBWAA. Way too many individual voters are worried about making a mistake by voting for someone as opposed to not voting for him. But when all of the individuals do this, it breaks the voting at the group level. Players such as Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich and Dwight Evans (all in the Hall of Merit) fall off the ballot entirely. If you aren't sure about a player, you should vote yes, not no. If you aren't sure, 25 percent of the others will keep the group from electing him. And then as time passes you'll become sure one way or the other.
If everyone voted for the seven to 10 players they felt were most qualified, a consensus would form around the guys that most agree on. No real mistakes would be made (my bottom five are going to differ from yours and his and hers) and the ballot would be deeper because far fewer players would fall off. This would make it easier for everyone to vote for seven to 10 players. They really should make the threshold to stay on five votes (one percent) not five percent. Several players have been elected by the BBWAA starting with less than five percent of the vote, before that rule was put in place.
Also, what's the harm if a borderline guy goes in? The point of the place is to honor people. You don't water it down by adding a few borderline guys. You water it down by letting Frankie Frisch and his cronies vote all of their buddies in.
Finally, this is a pretty deep ballot. There are eight Hall of Merit inductees on the ballot, one solid new candidate and Lee Smith. It's not very tough to come up with 10, even if I wasn't trying to be inclusive.
Are you a Small Hall or Big Hall person? It makes a Big Difference.
Although Tim Raines was voted into the "THT Hall," there were a couple of writers who didn't vote for Rock. One was Brad Johnson (who voted for just four players):
My decision to leave Raines off the ballot was a simple matter of preference. I'm a small Hall guy but I like guys who are super elite during their peak more than players who are great for a long period of time. If you set an arbitrary line at 7+ WAR as a super elite year, he had one. Bagwell, who's the most comparable guy in total value who I voted for, had five, as well as two-three seasons above eight WAR (depending on which WAR you like more). Not a rigorous analysis, but there it is.
With that said, I flip back and forth on my opinion of Raines pretty frequently. When in doubt, I vote No. How many years do I have left to change my mind?
Another was Ben Pritchett:
I understand that longevity and nostalgia play a role in any and every Hall of Fame vote, but I can't seem to enshrine Tim Raines as a hall-of-famer now or ever. Maybe it's also my youth, but I just don't get the appeal of Tim Raines. I read over his statistics and accolades, and I'm not overly impressed. To me, he's a dressed-down version of Kenny Lofton.
I must first say that Kenny Lofton is not a Hall-of-Famer in my opinion either, but Lofton at least has four Gold Gloves. Tim Raines has none. Lofton is a career .299 hitter to Raines' .294 batting average. All-Star appearances are pretty even at just six for Lofton and secen for Raines. Raines has no MVP awards and hasn't finished higher than fifth in the voting. His gaudy run and stolen base numbers can be attributed to his lengthy 23-year career.
Now, I'm not going to totally discount the fact that Raines was a great player for at least 10 years and a good player the other 13, but I can't justify Kenny Lofton, who put up similar statistics in 17 years, as a Hall-of-Famer. Since there won't be a Lofton on my ballot, then there shouldn't be a Raines either.
I didn't ask for comments about Mark McGwire from our writers, because I think we all know the issue here. Speaking for myself, I didn't vote for the guy. He has admitted that he took steroids, and I don't believe his playing record would qualify him for the Hall without them (unlike, for instance, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens). So I didn't vote for him.
Might I change my mind about this? Absolutely. In fact, if this were McGwire's last year on the ballot, I might have voted for him. But the steroids issue is nuanced and difficult. Although I'm sick and tired of talking about it, I can't make it go away. Time brings wisdom; let's see what it brings McGwire.
And then there's the issue of the greatest designated hitter to make the ballot so far, Edgar Martinez. I asked Richard Barbieri why he didn't vote for Martinez, and this is Rich's reply:
According to the usually reliable Baseball-Reference.com, Edgar Martinez hit just .317 with a .965 OPS against the Yankees in 138 games. I can only conclude that is a mistake. As far as I remember—and I watch a lot of Yankee games—every time Martinez came up against the Yankees (and especially the otherwise untouchable Mariano Rivera) he would boom an outfielder-splitting double into the gap.
So why not vote for Martinez? I simply cannot bring myself to vote for a man who did not play more than 100 games in the major leagues until he was 27 (admittedly through no fault of his own) and essentially abdicated any defensive responsibilities upon turning 30. I don’t know if the Mariners regarded Martinez as too fragile or too iron-gloved to play the field—I suspect it is the former—but it raises serious questions about the value he generated. Edgar Martinez was one of the greatest hitters I ever saw. But he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.
Evaluating the designated hitter position is a tricky thing. WAR takes one approach; other systems take other approaches. Over time, we might come to some broad consensus about the value of a batter who never plays in the field, but we're not there yet.
On occasion I've seen a comparison that bugs me: the idea that voters who don't vote for DHs shouldn't vote for relief pitchers either. Folks seem to think that DHs and RPs are both "less than full" players and belong in the same bucket for Hall of Fame consideration. I think that's a false, simple-minded analogy.
- DH's don't field. Relief pitchers do everything starting pitchers do, but in fewer innings. It's a different value equation.
- DHs were mandated into existence. RPs have evolved organically because they are strategically important to the game.
- DHs play in one league. RPs play in both leagues.
- DHs take a regular turn in the batting order. RPs pitch some of the most important innings of each season.
And then there's Larry Walker. Walker was a fantastic, all-around great player who suffered from some injuries in his career and also suffered from playing in Coors Field for nine and a half years. I say suffered, because Coors inflated his stats mightily and BBWAA voters are well aware of that. How much credit should he get for those fantastic batting stats? How do we account for the impact of Coors? Those of you who think you know perfectly well how to factor in park effects—you're wrong.
Because his other skills were often "hidden" in the black arts of baserunning and fielding, Walker probably won't get the consideration he deserves among Hall of Fame voters. And it really is difficult to judge his Coors years. Still, Jeff Gross is a fan:
Larry Walker was a great player, but he does not get the proper level of respect because his career falls in that grey area between "the best" and "excellent for really long time." Larry Walker was neither Sandy Koufax-esque (burning brightest briefly), Pujolsian (truly one of the most elite ever), and certainly he did not stick around for 20+ years (although a 15-plus year major league career is nothing to sneeze at).
Despite these knocks, Walker's numbers stack up nicely with a lot of other deserving Hall of Famers. Walker’s career walk rate was a robust 11.4 percent. He also hit for plenty of power, as evidenced by a career .252 isolated power. 383 home runs might seem light by today’s power number standards, but it still ranks top 70 in the history of baseball. Plus it came with 230 stolen bases. Only 11 players in the history of baseball have more home runs and more stolen bases than Walker.
Coors may have bolstered Walker’s power numbers some, but he nonetheless racked up a career wOBA of .414 that was 42 percent above the major league average production level in the era of steroids, even after park factors are considered. He even stole bases at a decent clip (slightly over 75 percent success rate) and Walker was a pretty good baserunner. FanGraphs only tracks relative baserunning from 2002 and beyond, but even then, in the "twilight" of his career, Walker’s baserunning added an extra 10 runs over the final 461 games of his career. Plus, he played for the Expos (meaning he has the “Jonah Keri factor” going on) and once batted against Randy Johnson with a backwards batting helmet.
If you map out his WAR by season, Walker compares favorably to Paul Molitor and Carlton Fisk for his career. He lasted fewer seasons than either, but Walker had two better single seasons (1997 and 2001) than either Molitor or Fisk ever had. Position differences aside (WAR accounts for that), Walker’s value and case reminds me a lot of Ron Santo (without the off-the-field baggage).
Let me leave you with one final note regarding WAR. My HOF guideline is 70+ career WAR. That captures the greats (seven-plus seasons of 10+ WAR) and the perennial All-Stars (20-plus seasons of 3.5+ WAR). Per FanGraphs, Walker logged seven seasons with 5+ WAR and 10 seasons of 4+ WAR. Walker only posted a couple sub-3 WAR seasons, and those were all seasons where he played 100 or less games—and even then, his full season WAR pace was above 3. With 73 career WAR to his name, Walker deserves a spot in Cooperstown.
Let's not forget Dale Murphy. I think very few Big Hall voters would have a problem with Murphy making the Hall, but he's not on many people's lists anymore. Here's Chris Jaffe's rationale for supporting Murphy:
Well, first I'm a big-Hall guy. Second and more importantly, I think center fielders are the most underrated position on the field. People tend to think of left, right, and center fielders all as outfield, when there are considerable differences in defensive value. CFs don't get defensive credit while having to distinguish themselves at the plate in comparison with corner outfielders. Fun fact: from 1936-2011, the BBWAA has given fewer votes to center fielders in their voting history than they have to relievers. That's impressive, given that relievers haven't been around that long.
Murphy had a tremendous prime and did it in center field. My favorite Hall of Fame guys are usually either career guys or prime guys. (I distinguish prime from peak. Prime is a bit more sustained than peak). From 1980-88 he was a terrific player and he lasted long enough to have pretty good career numbers, too. His 398 homers are impressive for a guy who played in the 1980s.
I'm on record as hating the "Jack Morris for the Hall" thing. I think everyone who votes for Morris should have their BBWAA card burned. But Tigers fan Brian Borawski thinks otherwise:
What separates me from a lot of the other Hall of Fame voters out there? Apparently, not much because when I was asked why I voted for Jack Morris in my Hall of Fame ballot I really struggled with the answer. First off, I’m pretty biased towards the Detroit Tigers and I feel that other Tigers have gotten the shaft in the Hall of Fame voting (I think Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker deserve to be in). In a lot of ways, Jack Morris is my last chance to see someone from the 1984 Tigers team make it into the Hall of Fame.
I liken him to the Jim Rice of the pitching candidates and I know that doesn’t help my case. And it’s also hard to hang your hat on his 254 wins when we all know wins aren't a great indicator of pitching performance. Still, if you look at Morris through 1987, he was one of the best pitchers year and year out in the American League for an eight-year stretch. Then all he did after that was go on to help his team win three more World Series (okay, I’m stretching with 1993). Throw in the fact that he’s the best pitcher on the ballot and I thought it just made sense to give him my vote.
And just to prove that we're not all sabermetric automatons here at THT, Michael Stein voted against Alan Trammell and for Jack Morris. Here are his thoughts:
Jack Morris—I think that Morris is a Hall of Famer for the wrong reasons. The biggest argument I have in support of this is that Morris was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven, who was finally admitted to the HOF after many years of eligibility. Blyleven’s statistics are numerically better than Morris in many categories, but he pitched four more years and was arguably a compiler.
Morris, on the other hand, pitched very effectively until the end of his career and was known as one of the best big-game pitchers of his era. He won multiple championships and personally had a major impact on those championship teams. Morris had the misfortune of pitching during a time when some of his peers simply had better statistics. But a baseball player’s true value goes beyond mere statistics. How else can it be justified that Ozzie Smith and Kirby Puckett are in the HOF? Neither of them had anywhere near the requisite statistics to meet the arbitrary thresholds for admittance.
In my estimation, Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame because he was easily one of the few pitchers that would be chosen to pitch in an all or nothing game. He also did have over 250 wins, a sub 4.00 ERA, and just under 2,500 strikeouts. His impact on the game of baseball was significant given that he was a dominant force behind three separate World Series championships with three different teams.
Alan Trammell—My argument why Trammell should not be in the Hall of Fame is simply that he wasn’t an elite player. He played in an era when shortstops such as Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken dominated the position. Smith set the standard for shortstops playing defense, and Ripken shattered the stigma of shortstops in terms of offense. Trammell was a solid and consistent player, but he never had any astonishing offensive numbers outside of the offensive-laden 1987 when he hit .343 with 28 homeruns and 105 RBI. That was the only year he surpassed 100 RBI in a season and was by far the most homeruns he ever hit.
His overall career numbers are simply mediocre. Over the course of 20 seasons, he finished with a .285 batting average, 185 home runs, and 1,003 RBI. That is not Hall of Fame caliber in my estimation. I think his legacy is inflated because he spent his entire career with Detroit and formed a long-time dynamic double-play combination with Lou Whitaker that was arguably the best combo in baseball for many years. Trammell was never the best offensive or defensive player at his position, and he was never the best player on his own team. He will be remembered as a solid player, but not worthy of immortal status.
There are many issues and angles to the Hall of Fame voting. Are you a Big or Small Hall person? How do you account for the fact that there are 50 percent more players than there were before 1960? How do you handle the steroids issue? How do you factor in park impacts, such as Coors? How do you value designated hitters and relievers?
These are not issues that can or should be resolved quickly. They should be debated, in an open medium. We baseball fans should welcome, and participate in, the ensuing discussions. Let's try not to mock those we disagree with (okay, there are some voters who should be mocked; my impression is that those are the BBWAA members who just don't know baseball well enough). Let's not rush to a WAR-only methodology.
Let's revel in the process. All hail the Hall.
References and Resources
Joe Posnanski also has some excellent thoughts about the history of BBWAA voting.
Career WAR totals from Baseball Reference.
Dave was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Comments about this article can be sent to him through the miracle of e-mail.