On a personal note, I realize have not written much in this space over the last couple of years. I like writing but also like maintaining a job, a healthy relationship with my family, and several other interests. However, I would like to be a little more active this year and at least share what I am thinking about occasionally. Right now I am still thinking about the Baseball Hall of Fame. Thus this post.
Most everyone who writes about baseball writes a Hall of Fame post around this time of year, evaluating the ballot and explaining their own. I will do some of that, but mainly I want to use this post to point out a couple resources that have increased my interest following news about the Hall, then modify them for my own use.
If you don’t follow baseball news, you’re probably not reading this post. Another Baseball Hall of Fame class has been elected, and Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza will be enshrined this summer for their fantastic careers. I’m happy for both.
Cool Hall of Fame Stuff
If you know much about me, you know I am fascinated by any reasonable analytical approach to baseball. As with every aspect of baseball, there are people using an analytical approach to Hall of Fame voting.
- Jay Jaffe and his JAWS system have been around for a while. Here is his 2016 ballot write-up. Basically JAWS takes the Baseball-Reference version of WAR and averages career WAR with the player’s 7-year peak. Not bad.
- Craig Edwards of FanGraphs has posted a two-part series (Part 1, Part 2) this year with an fWAR-based point system that doesn’t try to define a set peak period, but rather assigns points for each season based on the degree of the player’s performance above average (2 WAR).
- Ryan Thibodaux meticulously keeps track of the public ballots and tweets updates @NotMrTibbs.
I think Craig’s approach strikes the best balance I have seen between peak and longevity, the two aspects of a player’s career which often define his Hall of Fame candidacy, so I’m using it as the basis for my own system.
This section gets a little technical.
I took Craig’s approach and made a few tweaks of my own. As I mentioned, Craig uses FanGraphs WAR, which I like for hitters but not for pitchers, for the purpose of looking retroactively at a player’s career.
FanGraphs uses FIP instead of ERA as the basis of its pitcher WAR, which makes it more skill-based and more predictive than if they used ERA. However, I’m confident enough in pitchers having the ability to influence contact that I prefer using the hybrid (50/50) FIP and RA9-WAR (which FanGraphs also publishes) to a strictly FIP-based WAR. I prefer 50/50 to the straight-up RA9-WAR because I also believe defense matters. It’s not a perfect approach, but it will work for evaluating an entire career.
I am also including pitcher hitting in my numbers, which is not something typically evaluated for pitchers. But those hits happened, and in more than a few cases, hitting value bumps a pitcher’s overall season WAR into a different tier.
I used this system to rank the top 250 players whose career started after 1970. This catches most everyone who has played or been elected to the Hall of Fame since I started seriously following baseball in the 1990s. On the list below, you will see the player’s career WAR and HOF Points, using Craig’s system with my own WAR tweaks. As Jay and Craig have both done, I averaged the two to come up with a HOF Rating.
There are two additional categories of information I am providing in addition to the point totals and ratings:
- IN: Hall of Fame induction year, for players already enshrined.
- OUT: Whether the player is still active, recently retired (with eligibility year), or currently on the HOF ballot. For players already off the HOF ballot, this is the last year they were included on the ballot. Years highlighted in red indicate that the player was not on the ballot at all, or is not projected to be on the ballot by this list from the Hall of Fame.
I also expanded the list beyond 250 in a handful of cases to include everyone who was on the 2016 ballot or who is projected to be on the next several ballots.
The Top 250 players since 1970
Hall of Fame Philosophy
This is the part where I give you my personal philosophy for who should be in or out of the Hall of Fame. I won’t rehash these arguments in detail but will at least let you know where I stand.
First, I’m a big-Hall guy, meaning that I think the Hall of Fame should be open to more than just the inner-circle baseball greats. I think it is not unreasonable to suggest that as many as three or four players out of every new class of retirees belongs in the Hall. This is not a revolutionary idea, but it is contrary to the way a lot of current voters still treat the Hall.
Second, I’m PED- and character-agnostic. I don’t think voting for Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and others has to be a vote for their character (and yes, I’m aware that the official HOF voting criteria includes a character clause). These are among the best baseball players of all time, and they are the players I care to see someday when I hopefully pay the Hall a visit. I am also dubious of anyone’s ability to clearly determine who is “clean” or “dirty” with regard to PEDs—at least among players who have not admitted use—and I choose not to make those judgments myself. There are likely PED users already enshrined in the Hall. There are definitely terrible human beings in the Hall, just like there are probably terrible human beings playing for the team you root for. I simply don’t care to make the Hall a moral issue.
Third, on the topic of “specialists” like closers and DHs, I am more likely to vote for the latter than the former. Modern closers simply do not pitch enough innings to have an all-time great impact on the game, even when you consider the leverage in which they are used. It would take someone truly transcendent in that category to get my attention, someone like Mariano Rivera. Hitting, on the other hand, is still a huge part of the game, and players like Edgar Martinez I think deserve serious consideration.
Overall, when you look at the HOF Ratings of the top 250 players, I think it should take a rating of around 45 to warrant serious consideration for the Hall, and probably in the 50–55 range for me to actually vote you in. That’s roughly 50 players from the group that has retired within the last 20 or so years.
My Hypothetical Ballot(s)
On the list below, I have included everyone who is currently on the Hall ballot as of 2016 or who will be eligible through the Class of 2021 (players who retired after the 2015 season). Griffey and Piazza are not on the list because they are in, but I have them #3 and #5 in 2016, respectively.
My ballot assumes no one is elected and does two things:
- Ranks all the players on the ballot in each year.
- Notes which of the players would actually receive my vote (which may be more than the 10 the Hall allows on a ballot). Those players are highlighted yellow.
You will notice red highlights for years after the player’s tenth year on the ballot. I am not projecting who will or won’t fall below the other threshold for being removed from the ballot (polling under 5%).
More Fun Stuff
For one exercise, I thought I would filter the list of 250 for only the currently-active players and make a few additional observations.
- A-Rod has had plenty of detractors throughout his career, first for the massive contract he signed with the Rangers, and later for the PED use, but he is an inner-circle baseball great.
- Albert Pujols would be an automatic Hall of Famer if he retired today.
- Chase Utley will deserve very strong consideration. I would vote for him, but I suspect it may take the voters a while to recognize his accomplishments.
- I’m probably also inducting Beltre, Cabrera, Beltran, and Ichiro if they retire tomorrow. Sabathia and David Wright are the borderline guys to me.
- Clayton Kershaw, at least by my own criteria, is already very close to completing his Hall of Fame case.
- Mike Trout is one more Trout-like season away from being a borderline candidate at the age of 25.
- Injuries stink. Johan Santana and Cliff Lee are so close but probably won’t make it.
Next, let’s consider players from this era who probably shouldn’t have been inducted. The list below is filtered for players who are in with a rating under 50.
I would keep Eck in, but the other three are errors even from a big-Hall standpoint. Jim Rice is the only really bad induction choice by the BBWAA since 2001.
Should Have Been In
For this last exercise, I’m filtering the list for players with a rating above 50 whose time on the Hall ballot has already expired.
It’s not a terribly long list, but there are some very good candidates who were overlooked. Brown had the best case of the group, but I think you can make a strong argument for any of these players.
That’s all I have, but hopefully you found this to be a fun exercise. If not, how did you make it all the way to the end?