Now that the Hall of Miller and Eric (HoME) has caught up to the Hall of Fame with our own 2015 election, it’s time for at least one moment of reflection. You don’t publish 348 posts (collectively) in a little over two years without learning something. The trick is to be able to step back from all the details of that aggressive publishing schedule and see the big stuff.
Here are 10 things, some big and some small, that I’ve learned so far through this process.
10) Ya can’t get it perfect.
Try this process, and you will see this within, oh, two hours of getting started. If that doesn’t scare you off, then you’ll get to see it again every time you look into a borderline player’s case. The closer you get to the 215th player, the less sure you are you’ve gotten the right 215.
9) Ron Cey was one hell of a player.
Perhaps the most shocking result of this process wasn’t someone we elected (OK, OK, maybe Art Fletcher). It was Ron Cey. I recognized Cey as a good player, skilled, a several-times All-Star type. Actually he’s about one good season away from being HoME material. He was around average in the field, slightly below on the bases, but he hit a lot and synched his better-hitting seasons to his better-fielding seasons. Perhaps the dampening effect of Dodgers’ Stadium got in my way? I don’t know, but I would never have thought of him as so close to the in/out line.
8) Recursion is inevitable, sometimes it’s invaluable.
OK, so what the heck does that mean? Basically that we often had to encounter the same question multiple times across these two years before we could effectively answer it. We didn’t yet have the background knowledge or the expertise to riddle it out. But eventually, when we saw it enough times, something would click, and the answer or the process to achieve it would be clear. And often frustrating dead-ends led to interesting results down the line. Funny how that works.
7) Andy Pettitte is a HoME-level pitcher.
I’m sorry if I’m spoiling a future election for anyone, but going into this process, I was adamant that Andy Pettitte was today’s Herb Pennock and didn’t deserve any plaque bronze or digital. I’ve changed my tune. Actually, I like him a lot better than Whitey Ford. I won’t say he’s a superb candidate, but he’s clearly over my in/out line, and I will vote for him when the time comes. As a Yankee hater, I’m shocked and a tad appalled. As a human being, one for whom know-it-all-ism is a huge character flaw, I’m delighted.
6) Our current information and tools are ****ing amazing.
Miller would concur when I say that I’m in favor of Sean Forman’s enshrinement in the Hall of Fame just as soon as he’s eligible. The inclusion and implementation on BBREF of a host of stats such as WAR and WPA are by themselves amazing, especially given their excellent and reproducible explanations. But that’s nothing! The BBREF Play Index is truly astounding. It saves hours, days, weeks, years of researching and transferring handwritten tabulations to excel. On top of that are their splits and game logs. What a treasure! What’s great is that BBREF is supplemented by The Baseball Gauge at Seamheads.com where DRA lives. Then there’s the incredible SABR Bio Project when you need qualitative, historical information. All of these sites continue to improve themselves and/or increase the amount of information they provide and deserve your eyeballs on them all the time.
5) Fielding means a lot.
Not that we didn’t know that fielding meant a lot, but when I was involved with the HOM, we didn’t have a strong sense of just how much. Win Shares with its funky caps on team fielding value and its unwillingness to assess vs. average gave us only partially useful information. You couldn’t trust Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA numbers at all, and they were a black box anyhow. Now with DRA an entirely open system and the wide acceptance of Sean Smith’s Total Zone and BIS’ numbers, we have a far clearer sense of the magnitude of fielding’s contribution to overall player value. That’s a huge bonus for our project and helped us see value in fellows like Bobby Veach, Tommy Leach, Joe Tinker, and Art Fletcher that was known before but not well enough.
4) Bobby Doerr hit into a lot of double plays.
This one is perhaps a synthesis of several previous points, but it was very interesting to me and showed how they all worked together to influence our results. The HOF and the HOM both elected him. He’s very close to making the Hall of Stats (HOS). The Hall elected him because he was a power-hitting second baseman, a leader on some strong teams, and reputed to have a fine glove. The HOM elected him because he graded out well on the then-popular omnibus stats like Win Shares, because he posted good hitting stats at a scarce position, and because it (like the Hall, probably) credits him with a missing year for World War II. The Hall of Stats sees him just under the line because it doesn’t give war credit (just as we don’t). Unlike the HOS, however, our decision wasn’t formulaic. In fact, both Miller and I might have chosen to elect Doerr just as easily since he rated out in line with or above Jeff Kent and other HOME second basemen.
The difference was in the double plays. Would you have ever thought that Bobby Doerr grounded into a tremendous number of double plays? Would you have guessed that he lead the AL twice and finished in the top ten four other times? That from 1939 (the first year we have GIDP data for) to 1951, Doerr not only led the majors in GIDP, he led by 14? (Partly because he only missed one year to the war) It took another six years for someone to top him! BBREF’s WAR calculation only counts the GIDPs against him beginning in 1949. So the thinking we had to do was to ask ourselves how many runs and wins he cost his teams prior to that. The BBREF Play Index and its extensive WAR documentation helped us create estimates that led us to believe that Doerr’s double-play problems worked enough against him that he dropped below other candidates in the pecking order. We couldn’t have generated that kind of insight seven years ago. We applied similar processes to Ernie Lombardi (on GIDPs and base running), on Joe Medwick (DPs again), on Max Carey (base running), on Harry Hooper and Sam Rice (outfield assists), and many others. But of all of these, Doerr’s DPs shocked me the most. I guess I just wasn’t expecting them.
3) A lot of questions remain unanswered…and will just have to wait.
Despite learning a ton I still have unanswered baseball questions when it comes to electing HoME members. Here’s a few big-picture type questions:
- How best do I adjust for the crazy workloads of 1870s and 1880s pitchers?
- How do we best adjust for a catcher’s defensive reputation as a framer, game caller, handler of pitchers, and plate blocker?
- What is the best way to adjust relief pitchers? And can they truly be valuable enough to make the HoME?
- Exactly how much should we give catchers a pass for the long-term damage the position does to their bodies?
- What is a fair way, when seeking balance across time, to acknowledge that today’s players face a much higher caliber of competition?
Then there are questions about specific players that await the release of more retrosheet data:
- Just how valuable were Hooper’s and Rice’s arms and that of many other outfielders?
- How valuable were Rice’s and many others’ legs (and anti-valuable were Lombardi’s), especially in the deadball and 1880s eras when running had a whole different meaning to it?
- Just how many DPs did the early guys hit into?
- What kind of leverage were early relievers (especially guys like Brown, Dean, and Rommel) used in, and how does it affect their value?
These results could drastically affect our perception of several players just above or just below the HoME’s borderline.
2) It’s good to have a very patient wife.
Look, every man marries up. Which means every woman marries down. The question is how we trick them into marrying us before they realize what a foolish mistake they are making. Keep your wife happy, guys. Cultivate her patience in whatever way you can. Then one day, you too can concoct your own hall of fame because your wife will allow you to go off and do silly baseball research projects at a whim.
1) Miller’s a great guy.
OK, I knew this before, or else I wouldn’t have done this project with him. But given my frequent inability to communicate in a timely or effective manner, without his patience with my idiosyncrasies, we’d have been screwed. So great job, pardner. We did it! And we’re still pals, which was always more important than the project anyway.
* * *
This is a good spot for some thank-yous because the thing you learn about any big project is that they don’t occur in a vacuum.
- Obviously to the folks at the websites listed above.
- Adam Darowski and the Hall of Stats.
- Everyone at the Hall of Merit.
- The folks at Baseball Think Factory, especially for the Hall of Fame Gizmo and the discussion that goes on around it each year.
- Bill James for, you know, everything that’s come from his work.
- Retrosheet and its incredible volunteers for gathering the play-by-play data that informs so much of the work we’ve done.
- Google Groups for facilitating our off-blog discussion.
- WordPress for making this site easy.
- Microsoft Excel for existing.
You know, there’s two kinds of pride. One is the bad kind that arises from fear and wants to save face. The sort that’s always afraid that our very public process could be taken apart by greater minds than ours. That’s the one not worth trucking in. There’s also good pride. It’s the same deal as self-esteem, really. It’s what comes from doing something well. From estimable acts. That’s where I am today. We did it, and we loved it, and stay tuned for more. Because while we aren’t going to publish posts as often going forward, we have plans for more that we think you’ll dig. So thank you for joining us so far and for staying on with us as we transition into our next phase.