Everyone else has reacted to the election of Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, we were busy electing Leo Durocher to the Hall of Miller and Eric’s managerial wing. So with a couple extra days to let the results sink in, here’s what our conversations have looked like.
Are you happy with Griffey and Piazza getting in?
MILLER: Well, yeah, I suppose I’m happy for them, especially Piazza because of his wait. But I’m more disappointed than anything. Early returns had me convinced for a time that Bagwell was going to make it this year too. And I even thought that Raines had a shot. Plus, I was counting on the Golden Era folks electing the uber-deserving Bill Dahlen. Good for Griffey and Piazza, bad for most everything else.
ERIC: If there’s one thing we are learning about the Hall, never expect either the best-case scenario or well-reasoned voting. This election was like a bases loaded situation with one out and the tying run at the plate. The BBWAA hit a sacrifice fly. Electing Junior and Piazza does not show competence. To now liken it to analytics, a replacement-level electorate could elect two all-time greats.
MILLER: But that’s only if we define “replacement-level” as stinky. Rather than stinky, if we just replaced the current electorate with freely available talent, we’d really have something.
What’s up with Trevor Hoffman receiving 67% of the vote?
ERIC: As we mentioned in our predictions article on Wednesday, saves are BBWAA crack. As we’ve said many times, relief pitching is incredibly valuable. Relief pitchers are not. But saves make good copy and appeal to the collective BBWAA love of hero narrative.
MILLER: I can’t understand people who compare Hoffman to Mariano as if somehow he’s the NL version of the Yankee great. Yes, Mariano has the most saves in the AL and Hoffman the most saves in the NL. That’s where the comparisons stop. ERA+ is a really easy measure to understand. Basically, 100 is average, and higher is better. Mariano has the best ERA+ in history. Since the mound moved, Hoffman is a very impressive 13th. However, they’re not even close. Mariano’s career number is 205. Hoffman reached that level in only two seasons of the eighteen in which he pitched. Hoffman’s 141 ERA+ is indeed great, but Mariano topped that number every single year after his rookie campaign.
WAR isn’t a perfect statistic for relievers, but it’s not without value. Hoffman’s is 28.0, which ranks #315 among all pitchers. He’s behind Jack McDowell and Pedro Astacio. (However, he is ahead of Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, and Billy Wagner). Anyway, Mariano put up 56.6 WAR. That’s right, he was more than twice as valuable as Hoffman by WAR. And although Mariano only ranks #72 in history, he’s around the likes of Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Red Ruffing, and Whitey Ford in terms of value. I don’t know what part of twice as valuable writers who call Hoffman the National League’s Mariano don’t understand.
Those who like relievers will sometimes look at Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA measures the impact of a player’s situational performance in terms of wins added above average. Because they pitch in high leverage, relievers tend to rack up a more WPA than those who play most other positions. Hoffman’s total a very, very impressive, 34.1, good for 18th in history (basically since 1938 when BBREF has complete or near-complete play-by-play data). However, Mariano is 3rd with 56.6 WPA. Basically, Rivera has more WPA than Hoffman plus CC Sabathia. So they’re not exactly equals.
The National League’s version of Mariano, by the way, put up a 3.46 ERA in 13 post-season innings. The actual Mariano pitched 141 innings with a 0.70 ERA. You might whine that it’s not Hoffman’s fault that he seldom pitched in the post-season. Okay, fine. But stop comparing him to Mariano Rivera! Except for this: they both gave up two playoff home runs. Sure, Rivera pitched an extra 128 innings, but who’s counting?
I have one last comparison for you. It’s from my system, which combines WAR with WPA and gives extra credit for playoff pitching, Mariano Rivera ranks as the 29th best pitcher ever to play the game. He’s in league with Carl Hubbell, Jim Palmer, and Bob Feller. As for Hoffman, he ranks 186th, just behind Mark Gubicza, John Candelaria, and Sad Sam Jones. He looks impressive compared to enshrined relievers Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers; he looks like an absolute joke compared to Mariano Rivera.
ERIC: He’s better than Sutter and Fingers—bronze him!!!
What’s the worst thing the BBWAA did this year?
MILLER: It’s Jim Edmonds joining fellow center fielders Kenny Lofton and Jimmy Wynn going one-and-done on their BBWAA ballots.
ERIC: For me, it’s Hoffman. Not because he doesn’t deserve the support, which he doesn’t, but because next year he’s going to be in a pitched battle for votes with Bagwell and Raines and perhaps I-Rod or Vlad. In other words, he’s clogging the electoral bases, to borrow a Dustyism.
MILLER: I still like my answer in theory, but I see your point. A few more votes would have gotten Edmonds to 5%, but that 5% was never going to turn into a plaque. The support for Hoffman may muck things up for a couple of guys who belong and are on the precipice.
ERIC: I know this other words that rhymes with muck that would work great in your last sentence.
Who makes the Hall of Fame voting season even more fun than it would be otherwise?
ERIC: Ryan Thibs!
What does the 2016 BBWAA election mean for the HoME moving forward?
MILLER: Well, it means a lot less exciting election than when I thought Ball Dahlen and Jeff Bagwell might get in.
ERIC: That’s for sure. Since our plan is to induct the same number of players as are in the Hall of Fame, our 2016 election will see just two guys get into the Hall of Miller and Eric.
MILLER: While that’s not so much fun, at least we’re not going to have to seriously reconsider the likes of Gene Tenace, Bobby Doerr, Ned Williamson, and Sam Rice.
ERIC: No, for those following along, I don’t imagine it will be too hard to predict the results of our 2016 election…unless, of course, BBREF just happens to update their play-by-play numbers during January, and said PBP happens to boost the credentials of one or more of our oldcomers.
Who gets the call in 2017?
MILLER: Since Bagwell is the leading returning candidate, I think he’s going to make it.
ERIC: There’s almost no way that a guy debuting at 67% isn’t going in when the incoming freshman class isn’t filled with Maddux/Glavine/Thomas/Johnson/Martinez/Smoltz. Hoffman will make it. With so many ten-man ballots and several strong, new candidates, Raines may have a long walk in that last mile. Rock’s supporters out there on the internets need to come together and start campaigning for him. Because we do not want to leave his fate up to the Vets.
MILLER: Yeah, it’s his last year on the ballot. Raines will make the jump from 69%. He just has to!
How do you feel about the ballot moving forward?
ERIC: If anyone thinks the glut is almost over, they are drastically mistaken. If we care about people like Edgar or Walker or Scott Rolen (in 2018) then the writers need to pump out even more ten-man ballots. We’ll go deeper into this in the coming days, but let’s just say that this thing ain’t ovah. In fact, it’s going to get a lot worse.
MILLER: Oh dear! We started this particular conversation after the BBWAA elected nobody in 2013. Biggio led that ballot with 68.2% of the vote, while Jack Morris posted 67.7% on his 14th try. You thought it was Armageddon, while I thought the BBWAA was just working through some little (or not so little) problems.
Then came 2014. All they really did was tread water. They elected Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine, just as they should have. Jack Morris also exited the ballot, which I said would help, and it did. However, Craig Biggio fell a couple of votes shy, clogging the 2015 ballot. Mike Piazza didn’t gain enough ground to propel him in with Biggio the next year. Just as bad, Bagwell and Raines and Edgar and Schilling all lost ground. Bonds and Clemens did nothing. And Mussina debuted poorly, at just 20.3%. Still, I argued at the time that the BBWAA had gotten it right. They elected three, which was great, and they rejected Jack Morris, which I thought was even more important. Success, I said.
When 2015 came around, I stopped just making the same argument and began to gloat. Our first-time pitchers, Unit, Pedro, and Smoltz, all made it. Biggio also went over the top, and Piazza set himself up for 2016 success. Plus, everyone else gained ground! More names were written on ballots than had been in years. The BBWAA was solving its own problems. I was right, and you were wrong. Ha!
More than that, I thought I was right and nearly everyone else on our side of the BBWAA-failure argument was wrong. Man, I felt superior.
On Wednesday, I changed my mind. Mea culpa. I was so, so wrong.
Bagwell and Raines needed more votes. They needed to get in this year for the ballot to free up some. Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire going away hardly helps at all. And Jim Edmonds going away is a tragedy. None of our newbies next year will make it on the 2017 ballot, so the 2018 ballot will, as you have indicated in the past, include Bonds, Clemens, Chipper, Mussina, Schilling, Thome, Walker, Rolen, Manny, Edgar, Andruw, Sheffield, Vlad, Sosa, Kent, Santana, and Posada (if he makes it that far). Plus, McGriff, Hoffman, and Wagner should still be around. Or maybe Hoffman will already be in. I don’t know. Plus, a lot of writers will love the completely incorrect narrative surrounding Omar Vizquel’s defensive greatness. That’s 21 guys on the ballot who will receive not insubstantial support. Let’s not even think about what might happen if Bagwell is still around at that point. If “fuster cluck” has a definition, it’s the 2018 ballot.
So what do we do?
ERIC: Join us on the dark side! The people who want to expand the number of candidates that can be voted for.
MILLER: Not so fast. I know that many writers want to be allowed to vote for more than ten players. They made that abundantly clear when explaining their ballots this year. And I do understand their desire, but I think it’s a mistake to allow that. While doing so might help to clear some of the glut, it would do so at an unknown expense. Many writers have begun filling their ballots. Some, I expect, will continue doing that. And when expanded to twelve, fifteen, or an unlimited number, I worry that writers will drift toward that number. Doing so will result in the election of some less-than-deserving candidates. If I could have a Hall of Fame as it is, or if I could have it with both Fred McGriff and Larry Walker in it, I’d stay with it as it is. To paraphrase the words attributed to William Blackstone almost 250 years ago, better that ten deserving players don’t get into the Hall than one undeserving player makes it.
Also, I think there are lots of specific people who should have Hall of Fame votes. Give one to Dave Cameron and Rob Neyer and Jay Jaffe and Bill James. I don’t have all of the answers as to how to expand the pool of Hall voters, but I know it needs to be done.
Finally, reinstate the 15-year eligibility rule. If the Hall chooses to do this after Bonds and Clemens fall off the ballot, okay, I get that. But it needs to be done. Cases for some guys take time to develop. Edgar Martinez is a good example. I don’t think he’s going to make it in ten years, but I think he might just in fifteen. (The voting leading up to Edgar’s 15th year, by the way, would take place during the 50th anniversary of the DH in MLB. Maybe writers will admit that it’s a position after existing in the rule book for half a century?)
ERIC: A major reality in all of this is that the Vets have not done their job effectively either. What the Hall needs to do is create a unified reform package. They’ve been doing piecemeal work for years now and trying not to offend their electors and Hall members while doing so. It’s time to admit that the current process is not sufficiently modern enough and relies on a lot of people who are being asked to do work for which they are either not well qualified or are not qualified at all.
Who are the qualified people? Here’s 50 to start with. I’d probably disagree with some of their votes. Some I’m totally sympatico with. All are people who have a strong sense of baseball’s history and/or a specialization in it that would make them important contributors to any kind of selection process. This is, of course, just a starter dough.
- Charles C. Alexander (Author of many baseball histories)
- Roger Angell
- Dave Appleman (founder of FanGraphs)
- Mark Armour (Highly decorated SABR researcher and author)
- Phil Birnbaum (Editor of SABR’s By the Numbers and the guy who, literally, wrote the book on baseball research)
- Dick Cramer (Long-time research)
- Adam Darowski (founder Hall of Stats, Chair of SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legends committee)
- Clay Davenport (Cofounder Baseball Prospectus and influential analyst)
- Bill Deane (Baseball historian)
- John Dewan (Founder Stats Inc., owner Baseball Information Solutions, former Director Project Scoresheet)
- Joe Dimino (Founder, the Hall of Merit)
- Sean Forman (The guy who brought you the greatest website in history)
- Jim Furtado (Founder BaseballThinkFactory.org)
- David Gassko (Editor of The Hardball Times who did a great study about baseball’s timeline)
- Larry Gerlach (Former professor of American sports history, researcher)
- Gary Gillette
- Peter Golenbock
- Dan Hirsch (Founder, Seamheads.com)
- Michael Humphreys (Author of Wizardry)
- Chris Jaffe (Expert on managers and on Hall of Fame voting)
- Jay Jaffe (Creator of JAWS)
- Bill James
- Rany Jazayerli (Cofounder Baseball Prospectus, lots of good research)
- Kevin Johnson (Seamheads.com, behind-the-scenes guy of their Negro Leagues database)
- Roger Kahn
- Christina Kahrl
- Brian Kenney
- Sean Lahman (Baseball data guru)
- Jane Leavy (Author of Sandy Koufax and the Mickey Mantle biography The Lost Boy)
- Daniel Levitt (Author of numerous baseball history books, especially about team building)
- Mitchel Lichtman (Coauthor of The Book)
- David Neft (Founder of The Baseball Encyclopedia)
- David Nemec (19th century baseball expert)
- Rob Neyer
- Pete Palmer (Coauthor of The Hidden Game of Baseball and Total Baseball)
- David Pietruza (Former Total Baseball editor)
- Dan Rosenheck (Hall of Merit voter who created his own version of WAR in 2006–2007)
- Tom Ruane (Retrosheet board member, noted baseball historian)
- Alan Schwarz (Author)
- Joe Sheehan (Baseball Prospectus cofounder, national baseball writer)
- Nate Silver (Creator of PECOTA, founder fivethirtyeight.com)
- Mathew Silverman (coeditor of the Baseball Biographical Encyclopedia)
- David Smith (Founder Retrosheet)
- Sean Smith (Creator of the WAR BBREF adopted)
- Lyle Spatz (Researcher)
- Dave Studeman (Owner, The Hardball Times)
- Tom Tango (Coauthor of The Book)
- John Thorn (Only baseball’s official historian, coauthor of the seminal The Hidden Game of Baseball, and a cofounder of Total Baseball)
- Bob Tiemann (19th century baseball expert)
- David Vincent (Researcher and the famed “Sultan of Swat Stats”)
- Graham Womack (Impressario of annual Who’s Not in the Hall of Fame survey)
- Craig Wright (Author of the classic The Diamond Appraised)
So there are many possible avenues of reform. We can strip the BBWAA of its vote. We can augment it with highly knowledgeable people like those above. We can change from a check-box ballot to an MVP style ballot. We can include “no” votes. We can change the eligibility limits. We can institute a minimum number of honorees every year. We can dump the 5% rule. We can make all ballots public. We can keep scrubbing ridiculous electors. We can take the ex-players off the VC and the ex-writers too. We can improve the VC screening committees. These have all been suggested at some point as well as other reforms. We could do really interesting things like have acclimation votes for the Griffeys or Jeters that open up an extra ballot space to keep sifting through the non-no-brainer candidates. We can take up Bill James’ multi-tiered proposal from the Politics of Glory.
No matter what reform is undertaken, however, it must include and align both electoral bodies, it must put electoral power into the hands of highly qualified people, and it must address the reality that there are way more highly qualified candidates than at any time in the past because there are twice as many players in the league.
MILLER: From your keyboard to Jeff Idelson’s ears.