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2016 Hall of Fame Election, BBWAA

Hall Logic, Gary Sheffield

Gary Sheffield, MinorsWhen I was a kid, I was in a bowling league. I was super-competitive. Insanely, unhealthily competitive. I cared too much. One year I was stuck with a kid named Brian. He was the opposite. It’s not just that he wasn’t competitive, it’s that he so absolutely didn’t care who won. Don’t think I’m exaggerating. When asked, “Brian, who do you want to win today?” the best he could ever muster was “I don’t know.” That was a better answer, I think, than his other, “I don’t care.” Anyway, to the surprise of nobody reading this, Brian didn’t try a lot. You might also predict that I hated having Brian as a teammate.

Fast-forward to 1991. Gary Sheffield was 22, in his fourth years with the Brewers, playing 3B now after a couple of seasons as short. Sheffield desperately wanted to win, but he so wanted to be removed from Milwaukee that he made errors on purpose. Or at least he said as much. Over the years, Sheffield’s claim was studied. Evidence seems to suggest Sheffield didn’t actually do what he said he did. And he retracted the comment too. But I have this anti-Sheffield taste in my mouth. I have for a quarter of a century. It’s strong enough that I could make an argument to avoid stats to keep the Brewer, Padre, Marlin, Dodger, Brave, Yankee, Tiger, and Met out of the Hall.

But is that what writers did? I don’t think so. This second in a series of occasional posts on the logic, for whatever it’s worth, of Hall voters will explore those who supported Sheffield last month. It’ll look at their explanations and try to determine what they were thinking. Or more often, what they weren’t thinking. With the help of Ryan Thibs amazing work, we know exactly how more than seven in ten Hall voters cast their ballots. And as far as Sheffield goes, we’ve heard from 40 of the 51 writers who checked his name. Do these votes make sense? Let’s explore.

Sheffield No More

Before we get into those who voted for Sheff, let’s examine the work of the seven scribes who voted for Sheffield in 2015 but couldn’t find room for him in 2016. Well, three couldn’t find room. Four others stopped voting for him and still had space. Peter Kerasotis would seem to be anti-steroid. No votes for Bonds/Clemens/Piazza/Bagwell/Sosa/McGwire. And he checked McGriff this year after not doing so last. Peter posted on Facebook. Five people, including Thibs, commented. Nothing from Kerasotis. From his bio, I gleaned that he can’t write and that maybe he’s not as straightforward as I might like him to be when he says that he writes for The New York Times. Or maybe his bio is super-outdated. Or maybe he is clear and I’m wrong. Anyway, more on that in a moment. About his writing, he uses the following line: “I have done one book…” Done what to it, Peter? That’s kind of icky. Did you “write” the book by any chance? I hope you wrote it. Anyway, I’m nobody’s idea of Shirley Povich or Joe Posnanski. But I do this blog stuff for fun (see what I did there?). It’s his job to be a good writer. As far as straightforwardness, I may be wrong about this one, but I thought The New York Times had a policy against its employees submitting Hall ballots. Whatever the case, he does link to some NYT articles of his, so I think I’m wrong. But why did Kerasotis vote for Sheffield last year but not this? I guess we’ll never know.

Dejean Kovavecic actually admitted he “blew it last year” by voting for Sheffield. It seems the Pittsburgh writer was so bad at research that he didn’t understand Sheffield’s PED connection before this year. Jack Magruder removed Sheffield from his ballot, had space on his ballot, is not anti-PED, explained his ballot, and never mentioned Sheffield. Roberto Colon writes for NBC Deportes. As such, he writes in Spanish, which I don’t read too well. But “Sheffield” is the same in English and Spanish, right? Well Colon discussed his ballot, but he made no mention of Sheffield. The good news is that he was full and Mussina and Raines replaced Sheffield. Of course, he also added Sosa, so I’m not sure I understand. Maybe he splits Sosa and Sheffield every other year? Jay Dunn, writer for the Trentonian for 47 years, explained his ballot. And he thinks Nomar Garciaparra “should be a shoo-in.” And like so many, he never mentioned Sheffield’s name in his post. Thankfully, I think, Jim Moloney and Greg Wong didn’t explain their ballots anywhere I could find.

How Sheffield Voters Voted

All known pro-Sheffield voters were also pro-Griffey voters. Of course, only pro-Griffey voters are known, so that’s axiomatic. All but one who voted for Sheffield voted for Piazza, which isn’t a shocker. Bagwell was supported next most. And then it was Hoffman. Using just my simplistic logic, the Hoffman/Sheffield overlap doesn’t stun me. They’re both bad votes on this ballot, which is too deep to support either one of those guys. Someone who would support one isn’t a great voter, so it’s no shock such a non-great voter would make a second mistake. In fact, almost one-third of all voters who supported them both had space remaining on their ballots. Bonds, Clemens, and Raines got support from 58% of Sheffield voters, Schilling was at 50%, and nobody else reached 40%.

One thing I find kind of interesting is that only two Sheffield voters had ballots identical to each other. These were some pretty pro-PED voters. Brian Costello is a New York Jets beat writer, and Rob Maaddi is an Associated Press NFL writer. Maybe football writers love PEDs? Both voted for Sheffield/Griffey/Piazza/Bagwell/Bonds/Clemens/McGwire/Sosa/Schilling/Hoffman.

Sheffield, Bonds/Clemens, & PEDs

Gary Sheffield admitted using what was known as “the cream”. And he was named in the Mitchell Report as someone who was at the very least implicated in the whole BALCO scandal. I would bet most writers think Gary Sheffield used performance enhancing drugs. The only non-insane way to avoid a vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens is to argue that they were chemically enhanced. So I find writers who marked Sheffield but not Bonds and Clemens pretty curious. And of the 40 who publicy supported Sheffield, 17 of them chose not to vote for Bonds or Clemens. Let’s explore.

I admit that I only used Thibs’ spreadsheet for my research into these guys. But that should reveal a lot, right? Terrence Moore says that he votes for the best players on the ballot “without a clear-cut connection to” PEDs. Okay, I guess. In a long post for which I thank him, Dave Krieger talked about Sheffeild’s bat-wave, the eye test, danger, and other things. And he explained that “evidence of cheating” disqualifies Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, and Sosa for him. He doesn’t explain how Sheffield isn’t lumped in with that quartet, but he seems to put him into the “suspicion and rumor” category, which means he could merit a vote. Okay, I get that too. John Harper explained on MLB Network that if he doesn’t know for sure, he thinks it’s unfair to hold PED speculation against players. Okay again. Ed Petruska says that he takes “great pains to thoroughly research”, but he doesn’t explain his position on Sheffield, mention the other two, or discuss PEDs at all. Steve Simmons explained very little, but from 2015 to 2016 he changed his mind on Sheffield, Schilling, Mussina, Edgar, Smith, Kent, and Walker. Clearly, he doesn’t take this process very seriously.

Also, I found nothing in the way of explanation from Bob Cohn, Chris Haft, Jim Henneman, Steve Ingraham, Marc Katz, Kevin Kernan, Steve Kornacki, David Lariviere, Art Martone, Fred Mitchell, Bernie Wilson. And I can’t seem to find anything from Tom Verducci either. I guess that’s no real loss.

So in all, twelve voters explained nothing, two did a poor job explaining, and three offered explanations that I think we should be able to accept. Those are some discouraging numbers, numbers little different than a wise analyst would predict though.

Sheffield and McGriff

Both traveled a lot. Sheffield played for eight teams, McGriff for six. And they were separated by just 16 homers. Still, I’d expect these guys to hardly ever appear on the same ballots. Yet, 35% of those who voted for Sheffield also voted for McGriff. That’s way more than the 21% of the vote the Crime Dog actually received. I suppose I could write this off as I do for Hoffman/Sheffield votes in that they’re bad choices, and writers who make one bad choice are more likely than average to make bad choices. Sure, but let’s look into these ballots anyway.

Unfortunately, we already know that Cohn, Ingraham, Katz, Kernan, Lariviere, Verducci, and Wilson don’t explain their choices in any meaningful way. Surprise! Terrence Moore explains nothing about McGriff. And there’s nothing I can find from Dan Bostrom, Joey Johnson, T.R. Sullivan, or George Willis. So of the 14 who vote for both, we learn absolutely nothing from 12 of them. And as you’ll read below, we learn pretty much nothing from the other two either.

Bob Nightengale called the ten on his ballot “the finest players of their era”. Yet he didn’t vote for Schilling, Mussina, Edgar, Trammell, Walker, or Edmonds. I think we could use a definition of what he means by “finest”. On one hand, I like that Marc Topkin says that Sheffield “admitted to wrongdoing before it was wrong”. On the other, he used the words “menacing” and “feared” to describe Sheffield, and he says McGriff hit homers “the old-fashioned way”. That’s not exactly in-depth analysis.

My Sheffield Disposition

On this ballot, I wouldn’t vote for Sheffield. Yes he’s in the HoME, and yes I believe he belongs there. But I only get ten votes on this ballot. Since I’m what you might call a PED apologist, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are no-brainers. I’ll take the next best players next. And since I don’t want to start a Ken Griffey debate, I’ll mention his name now. Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell are so easily in for me that it’s not even funny. I rank Piazza 6th among catchers and Bagwell 9th among first basemen. The next couple of spots are taken by starting pitchers. I rank Curt Schilling at 20th best all-time; Mike Mussina is 24th. In between the two are Fergie Jenkins, John Clarkson, and Tom Glavine. Those calls are so, so easy. I’m up to seven.

Now things get a little more difficult. If I had a ballot, the next thing I’d do is cross people off. So Winn, Grudzielanek, Ausmus, Glaus, Lowell, Castillo, Anderson, Eckstein, and Sweeney are done too. The next ranked pitcher on my ballot is Trevor Hoffman. I’ve written elsewhere that I think he fits well with Mark Gubicza and John Candelaria. So clearly there are no more pitchers in danger of getting my vote.

Now we have twelve guys for my final three votes. Though I think highly of both, straight WAR is enough to dump both Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Kendall. Add 18% to their career totals, and they’d still occupy the last two spots on our list. So we’re down to ten. Alphabetically, they’re Jim Edmonds, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker.

Nine of these ten are in the HoME. Fred McGriff isn’t. He’s last by WAR, last by WAR7, and last by MAPES. I think he’s our next cut. That leaves Edmonds, Kent, Edgar, McGwire, Raines, Sheffield, Sosa, Trammell, and Walker. Oh, and I’d choose not to put forth a strategic ballot, so there will be no last-year votes for McGwire or Trammell unless they deserve it. And I wouldn’t throw Edmonds a vote either just to keep him on the ballot. This will be 100% straight up.

So without dragging this out too much more, let’s just go to MAPES.

  • Larry Walker, 56.2
  • Alan Trammell, 53.9
  • Tim Raines, 53.7
  • Jim Edmonds, 53.3
  • Edgar Martinez, 52.4
  • Gary Sheffield, 49.2
  • Mark McGwire, 47.8
  • Sammy Sosa, 47.8
  • Jeff Kent, 45.2

Looking at these numbers, it seems like there’s a pretty easy divide. Sheffield, McGwire, Sosa, and Kent are gone. That leaves three spots for Walker, Trammell, Raines, Edmonds, and Edgar.

Is there anything my numbers ignore on purpose that I might not ignore as a Hall voter? Yes! I completely ignore post-season play in my MAPES calculation for position players. I think of it as a tie-breaker, and since there’s now a tie to break, it’s time to look.

No rings for Walker. He was only so-so in October. Trammell won a ring and was outstanding in 1984, winning the World Series MVP. Raines has a ring but was rather blah overall. Edmonds has a ring, and while he was very good at times, he was pretty much the same post-season player as he was during the regular season. Same with Edgar, but he has no rings.

So if I use the playoffs a a tie-breaker, only one guy stands out. That’s Alan Trammell. And since MAPES likes him in the top-three anyway, I’m okay making him the eighth guy on my ballot.

On the margin, and only on the margin, I’m going to hold the DH thing against Edgar. Yes, there’s a huge penalty within WAR when it comes to not playing the field. I completely understand that. However, when you don’t play the field, it’s easier to stay healthy. And when it’s easier to stay healthy, it’s easier to hit. Do I think Edgar Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame? I sure do. But on this ballot, I have to nitpick.

That leaves Walker, Raines, and Edmonds for two spots. Walker’s fragility left his teams short more than is desirable. Only four times in 17 years did he play 140 games. On the other hand, Edmonds only played 145 games four times in his 17 years. Raines did play 150 games six times in 23 seasons. But he only did so once after age-26. And he only played 140 games eight total times. To my surprise, there’s not a ton to see here.

Let’s go to the positions. Walker is 10th in right field, Raines is 13th in left, and Edmonds is 10th in center. That’s pretty much a wash. I don’t really know how, in what I meant not to be a long section of this post, to separate these three. My fallback is straight MAPES. So my complete, honest, 2016 Hall of Fame ballot would be:

Bagwell-Bonds-Clemens-Griffey-Mussina-Piazza-Raines-Schilling-Trammell-Walker

Because I think it’s fun, here’s a chart explaining how I match the 311 Hall voters we know about right now.

Number of Matches     Number of Voters
----------------------------------------
 1 match                4 votes
 2 matches             14 votes
 3 matches             29 votes
 4 matches             26 votes
 5 matches             40 votes
 6 matches             66 votes
 7 matches             58 votes
 8 matches             53 votes
 9 matches             16 votes
10 matches              5 votes

To my surprise, there are five writers who voted exactly how I would have. Let’s see how brilliant they are!

Mark Bradley admitted that he “never really had a method.” Oh no! He also said that he had a positional bias of liking closers. Oh no!! But later in the post, he transitions – to WAR. No he didn’t vote straight WAR, but he came close. And I like for the first time that he really tried on his ballot and came up with the same guys I did. C. Trent Rosecrans wrote about his ballot, and I like his thinking (in one-third of the words I’ve needed). He said he didn’t know who used PEDs, so he wasn’t using that as a disqualifier. He says Schilling is the post-season pitcher some argue Jack Morris was. He compared Raines to Gwynn and Trammell to Larkin. He mitigated anti-Coors arguments regarding Walker by saying he hit 228/383 career bombs outside of Coors. All of that was simple and effective reasoning.

Thibs’ spreadsheet says that Rick Plumlee voted for ten, my ten, but through his Twitter feed, it seems clear he voted for seven. Then again the BBWAA page says he voted for my ten. Is it possible he was trolling his own Twitter account? Did he forget who got his votes? I just don’t understand. Bernie Miklasz and Ray Ratto also completely agree with me. And I find nothing from either of them explaining their choices.

This is a little disappointing. I thought for sure those who agree with me would do a great job explaining their votes. That’s not the really the case at all.

Do you think I care too much about the Hall of Fame?

Conclusions

There are no real conclusions here. Well, there’s nothing new that we can conclude from this analysis. Members of the BBWAA are bad at their jobs. And they’re even worse at explaining themselves. Taken together those two characteristics make sense. If you put a lot of thought and reason into something, that thing is really easy to explain. If you don’t, it’s hard. So why even try?

On the other hand, even those who I think are good at their jobs don’t really explain in the way I’d like.

Yeah, I care too much.

Miller

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