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The Hall of Miller and Eric 2.0

You may recall earlier in the year we announced that we would be reconfiguring the Hall of Miller and Eric, as the Coop now includes 264 major leaguers rather and the 235 Hall of Fame players and 29 Hall of Fame Negro Leaguers. That process will get started a week from now, but before we start rolling out the results of Hall of Miller and Eric 2.0, we wanted to share our thinking about what the reclassification of the Negro Leagues means to the HoME and what specific actions we feel prompted to take.

You all know that we strongly believe in the importance of reason and internal consistency. That’s why we’ve spent countless hours and digital column inches excoriating quarter-baked Hall of Fame ballots. When the news hit about the reclassification of the Negro Leagues, we simultaneously recognized that we must re-elect our little alt-Hall to reconcile the news about the Negro Leagues with our work here. We had elected twenty-nine Negro Leagues players previously because the Hall did. We elected them separately from MLB players because the Hall did. The Hall’s Era Committees must begin electing Negro Leagues players from within the same pool of potential honorees as MLB players, which creates a strange and inauthentic dividing line in its electoral history. We’re fussy, and we didn’t like that.

(Please note that we will use MLB to retroactively refer to the segregated majors and major leagues to represent the family of Leagues now recognized as major.)

As we thought more, we placed an increasing importance on authenticity of purpose and action. One question clarified things for us, “Had MLB been integrated from 1871 onward, how different would our electoral results look?” We arrived at the conclusion that the number of prewar HoMErs would remain the same, but a lot of the names would almost certainly change. The number of MLB teams didn’t change, and if people of color had joined its ranks, the best dark-skinned players would have increased the overall quality of play and cost some white folks their roster spots and others their starting jobs.

You might have reached a different conclusion. Maybe one that goes a little like this:

  • the Negro Leagues now count as major Leagues
  • we should treat them like expansion Leagues
  • ergo, the Negro Leagues era should receive greater total representation than it currently does.

It is important to us to state why we don’t agree with that position. Had MLB integrated fully from the get-go, African Americans and dark-skinned Latinos would never have created the Negro Leagues. They would simply do what they do now, play in MLB and its minor leagues. We prefer to integrate our elections as if that were the case. The greatest Black stars should have competed on an even basis with Whites all along, and so we will elect them that way. That means no separate Negro Leagues elections as we did before. It also means no extra representation prior to the Robinson era so that the number of prewar MLB HoMErs remains roughly the same, just with some fabulous new honorees. Thanks to our work on major league equivalencies (MLEs), we have an ace up our sleeve. We already knew how good these guys were and had numbers that placed them in direct competition with their White counterparts. But there’s one little-big problem. Can you guess?

Imagining A Better World

As we said earlier, integration increases the quality of play in the major leagues. That seems obvious. The bigger the pool of talented players gets, the more high-quality players enter the league. Speaking very reductively, whenever a top-shelf player of color comes into the league, they force a White replacement player off the roster, turn a slightly better White benchie into a replacement player, and force an ineffective starting player to enjoy the view from the dugout. Meditate on that for a moment, and you will eventually arrive at one massively important conclusion: no matter how well constructed our MLEs are, they are wrong.

See, MLEs represent what would happen if you injected one player into a league. Just one. But what about a full-scale integration where twenty to forty percent of the league comprises people of color? The MLEs must go down because the quality of play has changed dramatically. Just as important, the value of White players must decrease as well, and by the same relative amount, because integration affects them just as much as it does our Black stars. So, yes, we will tune down Josh Gibson’s numbers, and we will do the same to Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg. But how much?

We designed a study to measure the impact of integration with the ultimate goal of devising a mathematical adjustment that would put all pre-Robinson players on an equal footing with post-integration players by accounting for the stat-inflating effects of segregation. These are the steps we took

  • What did we want to measure?

The impact of integration on MLB’s White players who are the only group that was in the league before and after integration.

  • How would we measure it?

Compare the performance of top White players in an integrated league against the performance of all top players, regardless of color, in the league. This means grouping hitters and pitchers together.

  • Why only top players?

Two reasons: (A) For our electoral purposes, the impact on top players is more relevant (B) Ease of calculation.

  • What does “integrated” mean for this study?

Ask any baseball historian, and you may get a different answer. Aside from Jackie Robinson’s first game, some may point to Pumpsie Green’s 1958 debut for the Red Sox as a baseline for integration. Others may point to a time in the 1960s or even the 1970s. Since players from new or recently expanded talent pools continue to enter MLB, someone could even argue for a date as late as the 2000s. Seeing this, we split integrated into its variables, the color of a person’s skin, and the degree to which players of color have entered the league.

To compare apples to apples, we defined people of color very narrowly as players from the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico whose skin tone would likely have barred them from MLB. We used those five locales because the Negro Leagues and MLB both drew from them in combined numbers of robust quantity prior to Jackie Robinson’s debut—and not from anywhere else, at least not in large enough numbers.

Then we started looking at how many players of color from these five places were in the league at any moment. We started with Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt’s “Baseball Demographics, 1947–2016” to fine the number of total number of Black Americans in MLB. Then, using Baseball Reference, we pulled up players from Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico for each season, examined photos of them from Baseball Reference and from Google image searches, and assigned them classifications of white or player of color. At first blush, doing so seemed like a daunting task. Who are we to assign race? Then we remembered that we were dealing with a racist MLB. Racists are a simple folk. We classified anyone with a complexion such that they’d have been barred from playing in MLB as a player of color. Once we’d assembled that information for every season from 1947–2016, we divided the number of players of color, as we’ve defined them, by the total number of players in the league. Call this result the participation rate of players of color from our five countries.

When we graphed the details, the line very much resembled a parabola with the mid-seventies at the crest and a slight skew toward the left overall. The right tail, therefore, represents the lowest degree of participation for our group of players, just under ten percent in 2013. Because we believe that the 2013 season took place in a league that can be described as fully integrated, we decided that ten percent participation by people of color from our five locations probably represented the minimum conditions that could describe an integrated league.

We recognize that not all teams had adopted integration at the same time or in the same degree. Some would resist throughout the 1950s, and evidence exists that as late as the early 1960s teams limited the number of players of color on their rosters. We also recognize that the conditions under which Black players worked do not resemble those of today in terms of the cultures of country, clubhouse, and ownership. However, if MLB from just our five countries rostered only ten percent of people of color in 2013, ten percent would make a reasonable minimum definition for integration when in the 1950s MLB had yet to tap the vast pipeline of Dominican and Venezuelan talent. Indeed, we observed that the season when MLB crossed the ten percent threshold was 1958, which we adopted as the starting point for our calculations. So, we had the who and the when (1958 and onward). It was time to crunch numbers.

  • What does “top players” mean?

We were looking for the specific number of players to compare in a given year, and we knew that it had to be related to the number of teams in the league. So we defined it this way:

      1. Find the average ratio of HoME hitters in a league to the number of teams in that league: MLB averages about 1.1 HoME hitters per team per year.
      2. Multiply (a) by the number of teams in the league.
      3. We need to account for pitchers, too, so we assumed that a league would adhere roughly to the seventy-thirty rule of thumb: around seventy percent of Hall of Fame/Merit/Stats/Miller-and-Eric players are hitters and thirty percent are pitchers. One hundred divided by seventy is 1.429 so, we will multiply (b) by 1.429.

Voila! For a sixteen-team league that means twenty-five players, for an eighteen-team league it’s twenty-eight players, and for a twenty-team league we have thirty-two players.

We also had to define how we identified these top players. We used wins above average (WAA), not wins above replacement (WAR) because WAR includes value between replacement and average, which does not reflect performance but more like just showing up. We also did not include pitcher batting for simplicity’s sake.

All this means that for, say, the 1960 MLB season, we gathered the top twenty-four White hitters and pitchers by WAA. Then we gathered the top twenty-four players of any color from the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. We found the average WAA of the Whites-only group, and we compared it to the average WAA of the inclusive group. The resulting ratio represented the effect that integration had on Whites’ performance. Next, we took a three-year rolling average of that quotient to reduce bumpiness and widen our sample a little for each season. Finally, we looked at the three- and five-year averages from 1958 (our starting point) onward (1958–1960 and 1958–1962), and we saw that overall Whites lost 14.5 percent of their WAA when we compared them to players of all colors from our five locales.

The result: our maximum segregation adjustment, expressed like a park factor, would be 0.855. We would not adjust any seasons after 1957 because those met the minimum requirements we established for an integrated league. For seasons before 1958, we have the following:

YEAR            ADJ
===================
1871-1947     0.855
1948          0.875
1949          0.886
1950          0.921
1951          0.931
1952          0.924
1953          0.938
1954          0.938
1955          0.950
1956          0.940
1957          0.960
1958-present  1.000

In plain English, for seasons prior to Jackie’s debut and including his rookie year, we will reduce the WAA of White players and the WAA in our MLEs by 14.5 percent. Then, as we move in time from 1948 onward toward 1958, we will reduce WAA by varying degrees. Then, starting in 1958, no adjustments. Here’s how this would play out for some White players from the pre-Robinson era, using WAA and WAR values from Baseball Reference. Pitchers in the table show pitching value only.

NAME            WAA      WAR  adjWAA  adjWAR
============================================
Dave Bancroft    23.7    49.1   20.3    45.7
Cupid Childs     22.3    44.3   19.1    41.1
Ty Cobb         101.9   151.1   87.1   136.2
Jimmy Collins    26.6    53.4   22.7    49.5
Hank Greenberg   35.1    55.7   30.0    50.6
Bob Johnson      29.0    55.3   24.8    51.1
Joe Sewell       23.2    53.9   19.8    50.5
Al Simmons       34.0    68.0   29.1    63.1
Paul Waner       39.8    73.9   34.0    68.1
Mordecai Brown   34.1    57.2   29.2    52.3
Red Faber        28.3    67.7   24.2    63.6
Lefty Grove      73.0   113.3   62.4   102.7

As you can see, for players like Cobb and Grove it makes little difference because they started from such a high place on the totem pole. For Simmons and Waner, around tenth at their respective positions, this effectively knocks out the equivalent of one All-Star season from their portfolios. When we get down toward the borderline, however, things get very interesting. Red Faber barely scraped by our in/out lines. Can he do it again with a career featuring only 24 wins above average? That’s very, very low for a Hall-level player. Players like Dave Bancroft, Joe Sewell, and Bob Johnson may find themselves on the other side of the line having barely eked by it before. Cupid Childs and Jimmy Collins are not adjusted here for schedule, but boy will they need it. Even Hank Greenberg might find himself in a little trouble. To take up the instances of Bancroft and Sewell for just a moment, shortstop is the Negro League’s richest or second richest position. The MLEs of John Henry Lloyd, Willie Wells, Dick Lundy, Dobie Moore, and Grant Johnson already look better than the actual careers of Bancroft and Sewell, who rank lie at the bottom of the electable group of shortstops. Even though the MLE shortstops will also get ratcheted down, they start from a more prominent place. At some positions, twenty percent of White HoMErs could find themselves in jeopardy of not making it into HoME 2.0. At others, such as second base, they may not need to worry too much.

Let’s Get on With the Show

Now that we have that important business out of the way, and you know our thinking and actions, it’s time to lay out how this process will work. Starting next week, we return to electoral mode. Each week, we’ll report on two elections so you can follow along at home. Or at HoME. We will wrap this all up by the time the 2021 season comes to its close. Just in time for us to start our annual Hall of Fame coverage. Here’s our anticipated schedule.

February 8:  1901 & 1906
February 15: 1911 & 1916
February 22: 1921 & 1926
March 1:     1931 & 1936
March 8:     1941 & 1946
March 15:    1951 & 1956
March 22:    1961 & 1966
March 29:    1971 & 1976
April 5:     1977 & 1978
April 12:    1979 & 1980
April 19:    1981 & 1982
April 26:    1983 & 1984
May 3:       1985 & 1986
May 10:      1987 & 1988
May 17:      1989 & 1990
May 24:      1991 & 1992
May 31:      1993 & 1994
June 7:      1995 & 1996
June 14:     1997 & 1998
June 21:     1999 & 2000
June 28:     2001 & 2002
July 5:      2003 & 2004
July 12:     2005 & 2006
July 19:     2007 & 2008
July 26:     2009 & 2010
August 2:    2011 & 2012
August 9:    2013 & 2014
August 16:   2015 & 2016
August 23:   2017 & 2018
August 30:   2019 & 2020
September 6: 2021

Elections get underway in just seven days!

Discussion

16 thoughts on “The Hall of Miller and Eric 2.0

  1. My own approach to the Negro Leaguers all along is what you’re suggesting now with the caveat that I hadn’t considered lowering the MLEs and/or downgrading MLBers from the same era. Since we’re looking at the best-of-the-best in each era, if everyone is downgraded, my guess is that they’re still the same, relative to each other. That is, if Josh Gibson is the best catcher of the 1930s (over Bill Dickey, let’s say), then downgrading both would still leave Gibson as the best catcher of the 1930s. I’ll certainly be interested in exceptions to this that crop up from your research!

    Posted by BigKlu | February 1, 2021, 7:28 am
    • Relative to each other, there’s no doubt you’re right, Klu. However, the interesting thing to me is how pre-integration guys line up against post-integration guys. It’s possible that we’ll have some interesting ranking results and in/out results. Time will tell!

      Posted by Miller | February 1, 2021, 7:50 am
    • There’s a secondary benefit to this as well, though not one we intentionally went after. We’ve written before about the Schoenfield Effect because David Schoenfield first wrote about it at ESPN many years ago. It is the paradoxical effect that even though baseball players are better now than they’ve ever been (for all the reasons we all know about already), old timers score higher in many categories, including WAA and WAR because lower-level players in MLB were much worse than those in MLB today. The gap between top and bottom levels of talent has narrowed, which means it’s generally harder to stand out (though no one told Trout and Betts that). Of course, the lack of players of color is a big reason why talent is thicker on the ground now, so this adjustment also brings some of those outlying WAA/WAR totals a little closer to earth. An example of the upshot for me is that a guy like Buck Ewing no longer looks like the greatest catcher ever, and more modern backstops rise in the rankings. This occurs to various degrees around the diamond.

      One place, however, that Miller and I have to watch pees and queues and our QoPs is in positional balance. The Negro Leagues kicked ass at shortstop, centerfield, and catcher for reasons that have been discussed on our site before. We have to watch out because it’s possible that some of those SS and CF players might have ended up at a different position in an integrated MLB because they’d face competition from many more excellent athletes. Not necessarily a big problem, but something we will keep an eye on as we trundle along.

      Posted by eric | February 2, 2021, 3:06 pm
  2. The issue of all players black or white being of a bit lesser “greatness” if they had played in an integrated league has long bothered me, but I never knew what to do about it. Thanks for putting in this work. A couple follow up questions:
    1) Do you do standard deviation adjustments for old time leagues? If so, do those go away as the SD would obviously decrease in the theoretically integrated league.
    2) How do you handle below average seasons? A straight reduction in WAA would make that player better.

    Posted by Carl | February 1, 2021, 8:30 am
    • Carl, good questions!
      1) A very thorny question, and one I don’t have much of an answer for, unfortunately. [Hit send too soon. Edits hereafter.]

      I adjust all MLB seasons for their relative STDEV on WAA/PA. I adjust MLE pitchers for STDEV on RA9, and hitters for STDEV on wOBA. But I don’t adjust the MLEs for the WAA/PA STDEV. For one thing, I’m not certain that it’s going to mean much to an MLE given how many estimates go into it. Good estimates, I assure you, but there’s enough uncertainty in them that adding a STDEV adjustment might not be all that helpful.

      That said, your point is a very good one. I’m not sure what portion of a league’s STDEV comes from integration/the racial classification of its player population. I do know that STDEVs in the NL shot up in the 1960s and in the AL were pretty low because most of the dark-skinned talent in MLB went to the NL. But many other things can affect STDEV, including but not limited to: R/G, mix of parks in a league, expansion, contraction, war, changes in rules or in equipment that cause noticeable on-field changes, probably error rates, and quite possibly the quality and amount of minor-league instruction that players get prior to becoming big-league regulars.

      2) For below average seasons, I divide instead of multiply by our integration adjustment.

      Posted by eric | February 1, 2021, 10:31 am
  3. To be absolutely clear (which is sometimes a challenge for me) you will have the same number of players just not be restricted to 29 Negro Leaguers? Also will this change your manager and contributor lists?
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | February 1, 2021, 8:43 am
  4. 🙂

    Posted by Ryan | February 1, 2021, 12:23 pm
  5. Thanks very much for all your thoughtful work, not just on this post but through all your years on the blog. This reader has enjoyed it immensely.

    One question that comes to mind about this project, though, and please forgive me if you addressed it and I missed it. You’re dinging the white major leaguers because they didn’t face the best of the black and Latino players. Fair enough. But what about the reverse: Why are we assuming that black/Latino players would perform at the same level in an integrated league when (for instance) they never had to face Lefty Grove or Walter Johnson before, or Ruth and Sisler?

    Clearly, in an integrated league, a lot of low-level white players would lose their jobs to the cream of black/Latino competition, and some white people’s stats would get dinged. But how do you arrive at the idea that the previously shut-out players would be just as top-notch when facing top-tier white competition?

    I’m not arguing that the whole thing would be a wash; that’s a hand-wave. But it seems that you can’t adjust one side without adjusting the other.

    All the best and please keep up the tremendous work.

    Posted by JBC | February 2, 2021, 2:40 pm
    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, JBC!

      Our apologies if we haven’t been clear. The segregation adjustments mentioned above will apply to ALL players. You’re absolutely right that we’d be making a mistake if we just assumed degradation of performance from some and not all.

      Posted by Miller | February 2, 2021, 2:50 pm
    • Hi, JBC! Thanks for being a loyal reader, we appreciate it more than you all know. Thanks too for your comment. And the answer is that, yes, we will make an adjustment to BOTH Negro Leaguers MLEs and to MLBs. As you point out, they must both be adjusted because so many of MLB’s least productive players will be removed, and because the best Black players will accrue more playing time than the journeyman white players whom they would replace in the lineup.

      I think I may not have made that point clearly or clearly enough in our article because it’s VERY important, and our friends in the comments section have asked a few times now. Sorry about that lack of clarity.

      Posted by eric | February 2, 2021, 2:56 pm

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