Like we said a little while back, thanks to our own petard-hoisting, we needed to shuffle some deckchairs at the HoME. Which fortunately is not the Titanic. As part of that reshuffling, we needed to elect on backlogger who was eligible before our 2016 election.
We decided in Bobby Doerr’s favor, which I’m sure his surviving family members are right now celebrating with kegs, multiple sheetcakes, and noisemakers by the fistful.
[Editor’s note: Thanks, Michael Mengel, who reminded me that Doerr is alive and our oldest living Hall of Famer. I thought he had passed on this past year, and, of course, I apologize for having my facts wrong. I wasn’t making a joke in bad taste, just a bad joke. Anyway, I hope Doerr and his family remain happy and healthy for many years, and that they are, in fact, tossing a huge blowout shindig over his HoME election. And, thanks, Michael for a slice of my favorite kind of dessert…humble pie. 😉 ]
Now you might ask, how did we arrive at Bobby Doerr’s name when we had written him off previously? The answer in a word is Retrosheet. Specifically, their update last winter update that provided play-by-play data dating back to 1930. When we made our decision to send Doerr to HoME limbo many elections ago, we did so because the little we knew about his propensity to hit into rally-killing double plays boded very badly for him. We only had his seasonal GIDP totals for a few latter-day seasons. And they were bad. Really bad. As in thrice hitting into 20 our more deuces and twice leading the league in that category. Now we have information about him from before the war that suggests Doerr hit into many fewer in his early 20s than he did after the war.
Back when we wrote his obit, Doerr had -6 runs versus the league in DP avoidance for the four seasons BBREF had calculated. They’ve still only calculated those four seasons, but with the data we now have for him and for league-wide GIDP rates, we can do a little estimating ourselves. Cribbing from Extrapolated Runs, we figured out how many runs Doerr cost his team in DPs by using xR’s -0.37 runs per DP. Then we figured the same for MLB based on its DP rates, and applying that rate to Doerr’s PAs. Subtract the latter from the former, and we have a pretty decent guesstimate. Yeah, there’s issues with using xR’s weights (calculated for 1955 to contemporary days), but this level of information was easily enough for us to make an informed decision.
When we didn’t have his DP value, we’d have said this:
- He had -6 runs in 2367 PAs that we know about.
- He had 5661 other PAs, which extrapolates to about -14 runs, or an additional -1.4 wins above average
- He’s already so close to the margin of the margin, that this downside risk is enough to scuttle him.
So our guesstimate, which put him at “only” another -7 runs felt contained. In addition, however, we’ve been doing some similar calculations about baserunning. BBREF shows Doerr at -8 for his career, but +2 for his final four seasons. Running some guesstimates based on newly available PBP data, we reckoned that where BBREF had used a regression estimate to assign Doerr -10 runs for his first 10 seasons, the real data suggest more like a -1.5 runner. That meant that Doerr picked up about 8.5 runs against average while losing those 7 for DPs.
Overall, Doerr’s value appeared to stabilize right on the borderline, and very close to fellow keystone man Jeff Kent’s. With our estimates now suggesting that Doerr wasn’t going to look like a mistake in hindsight, we also could feel really, really good about electing someone from the World War II era. We’ve got precious few of those fellows for obvious reasons, and we’re glad to bring a little balance to an era that will always have an imbalance. Positionally speaking, we also felt Doerr’s election would maintain second base’s place in the positional-balance spectrum. The position has no upcoming future eligibles with any shot, and most active players with a good case are at least 10 years away from seeing the ballot (exception Chase Utley, but it’s not yet clear how long he wants to play). So Doerr gives us a way maintain balance in our fielding forces.
In other words, everything broke right for Bobby. It could have been Heinie Groh if we’d not had similar doubts about him thanks to a dearth of data on his double plays and baserunning. It could have been Jim Sundberg if we were a little clearer on whether we think pitcher handling and game calling value is well evaluated. It could have been Sam Rice if we’d thought Vlad Guerrero was a superior candidate to him. In the end, though, we’re glad to throw open the door to Bobby Doerr.