Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My 2014 HOF Ballot*

*I don't have an actual HOF vote.

The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot looks like this:

There are three managers that have already been voted in by some sort of Veteran's Committee: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre. Good for them - it's pretty fuzzy trying to judge which managers deserve to be in the HOF, as far as I am concerned.

There are 17 players who
a) Received at least 5% of the vote last year
b) Received lower than the 75% they would need to get elected - nobody got elected last year
c) Have been on the ballot for less than 15 years

As such they remain on the ballot this year:

The headers are:
YoB = Years on ballot as of this year - for example, this is Fred McGriff's 5th year on the ballot.
%vote = percentage of votes received last time
HOFm = bbref's Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor score, where over 100 is a likely HOF
HOFs = bbref's Bill James Hall of Standards, where 50 is an average HOF
Yrs = years in the big leagues
WAR = career Wins Above Replacement
WAR7 = The total WAR of the best consecutive 7 year period of that player's career
JAWS = (WAR + WAR7) / 2 --> A HOF standards scale developed by Jay Jaffe which attempts to combine longevity and peak to compare a player to existing HOF standards at his position. If a player's JAWS is better than the existing mean standard, he probably belongs in the Hall.
Jpos = The average JAWS score for that player's main position (eg. first basemen = 54.0)


There are also 19 new players on the ballot. They are nominated by some HOF committee and are players that have had at least good careers that have been retired or inactive for at least 5 years. There are players here that do not have a chance of being elected, but someone has decided that they deserve to have some sort of honour of being on the ballot. Good for them - to make this list, a player was probably a solid major leaguer for at least 10 seasons, which is not a small deal.

This year is a crazy good year for new entries. While Sean Casey and JT Snow have a serious uphill battle to get into the hall, I would be more surprised if one of the players at the top of the list is NOT selected.

Alright. So here is my ballot of 10 names that I would submit if I was a BWAA voter. Voters are allowed to list up to 10 players.
1. Greg Maddux
2. Mike Mussina
3. Frank Thomas
4. Tom Glavine
5. Craig Biggio
6. Tim Raines
7. Alan Trammel
8. Edgar Martinez
9. Curt Schilling
10. Fred McGriff

Let's get right into the omissions first. Notable omissions from my list include Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa; and Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. Depending on who you are, Jack Morris might be worthy of mention here.

Clemens, Bonds, Palmeiro, McGwire and Sosa have, as far as I am concerned, been shown beyond a reasonable doubt to have taken steroids during their careers. This had two effects:
1. It allowed them to extend their primes far beyond natural aging curves, into their late 30s and even early 40s.
2. It alowed them to either throw harder or have more bat speed than they would have otherwise had, tilting the game out of its natural equilibrium.

Bagwell and Piazza have had rumblings of steroid use, and so, because it is an option available to me as a voter, I choose to wait before voting for them, especially when there are so many other worthy candidates. I do not say that they did or did not take steroids. I'm saying I don't know that they didn't with as much confidence as I would like to have.

To elaborate, my feelings on this matter are based mostly on this rationale. There are lots of ways to get a player INTO the HOF, but there is no way to get them OUT once they are in.

Until they are elected, Bagwell and Piazza's names will come up every year, and we will debate their cases based on the best information available to us at the time. If they are not elected by the writers, they will be reviewed by Veterans Committees. Eeventually I could see a big group of Steroid Era players getting elected together, if the current stalemate around voting continues. Anyways, players who truly belong in the HOF eventually get in. The current "Best Player Not In the HOF" cases (Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe excluded) revolve around players from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Eventually, I believe that these omissions will get resolved and that the most deserving cases (see Whitaker, Lou) will get in. I think we are too close to the steroid era to see it clearly, still. I am okay with waiting another 10, 15, 20 years to obtain the historical perspective that I think we need to see such an aberrant time period properly. It's not about keeping these players who I don't know about out forever. It's about waiting and allowing all evidence and perspective to emerge, then deciding.

I was on a jury last year, and the experience of having to decide the truth of the case, and guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" was extremely valuable. If I think a player did NOT use steroids, beyond a reasonable doubt, then I am comfortable in voting for them. Currently, Bagwell and Piazza do not pass this test for me.

It's clear that I do not want steroid users in the HOF. I don't. I don't want them to have plaques and I don't think that they should be included among the collection of Greatest Players Ever. Baseball is a game unlike any other in that the dimensions of the playing field, the limits of human ability, and the statistics that players are able to produce are completely linked and related. Those statistics dictate a lot about game play, strategy and the time it takes to play a game. Bear with me here.

Suppose the basepaths were extended by 2%. That's all. 2%. Now the bases are 91' 9.5" apart. How many plays are close enough at first that that extra 2 feet makes a significant difference? It becomes harder to get a hit. It becomes farther for a player to steal a base. The extra 1.8 feet for a runner vs. the extra 2.5 feet for a catcher favours the catcher. Do we make the distance to the pitchers' mound longer too? Now a hitter has extra time to react to pitches, tilting the game back to the hitter.

What if the distances are reduced by 2 feet? 88 feet instead of 90. Now the game favours hitters more. Base hits get beat out more often. It is easier to steal bases. Speed is more valued. A .300 hitter is no longer special. It is harder to get outs. Games take much longer.

The most beautiful equilibrium in the game of baseball comes, I think, from the stolen base. Run expectancies are set up such that that if a stolen base is successful more than about 75% of the time, then it is a worthwhile play. The limits of human ability are set up such that in the time it takes for the pitcher to throw the ball 60'6" as hard as he can to the catcher, who then throws the ball as quickly and as hard as he can to second base, is almost exactly the same time as a runner takes to get to second base, given that the runner is able to lead off of first base such that he can return to first safely given the quickest pickoff move the pitcher is able to perform. And that runner, arriving at the same time as the ball, is safe about 75% of the time, in general. It is completely remarkable that the dimensions of the game, the limits of human ability, and the odds and statistics inherent to in-game strategy can line up so perfectly.

Steroids changed the human ability side of the equation. Suddenly, a batter could be stronger than ever before. Wait longer to start the swing to save precious milliseconds of decision time. After starting the swing, control the bat more completely than ever before. And during contact, hit that ball with more force than was ever possible. The fly ball will travel over the fence more easily. The ground ball will get by infielders more easily. The line drive will blast past everyone faster, except maybe the pitcher if it is aimed right at him. That same hitter also does not age normally, and at 38 plays as if he is 28.

Then again, the pitcher on steroids throws harder and recovers more quickly. And also throws hard deep into his career, avoiding injury and time on the disabled list.

Steroids broke the game because they disrupted its natural equilibrium, and that offends me. Other forms of cheating do not offend me nearly as much. Cheating confined to the playing field is, in my opinion, fair game because the offended party may call out that player on cheating. Amphetamines, while certainly performance enhancing, appear to disrupt the game in a different and more minor way - improving concentration and allowing a player to play his or her best more frequently, without allowing that player to go beyond his or her natural "best". Tommy John surgery, as currently performed, does not appear to allow players to go beyond natural limits after surgery. The fastest pitch the human arm is able to bear seems to be about 101-102mph. Players throwing harder than this (see Zumaya, Joel) have broken down eventually (watch out, Aroldis Chapman!). Pitchers who throw 98 do not return from surgery throwing 106.

Moving on.

I have only heard one good argument for Jack Morris to be in the HOF that I truly liked, but it was not enough of a plus to make me think that he was more than a good pitcher on great teams who compiled a more impressive W-L record than he deserved (see my work on Wx-Lx). THe good argument was that he pitched 8+ innings a lot, saved a team's bullpen, and that managers loved having him on their teams as the #1 ace type guy. It's hard to have these discussions without feeling like I am putting these players down, but Jack Morris just doesn't make the cut, for me. However, I suspect that the best thing that will happen to Morris is to get off of the BWAA ballot after this year so that he can be elected by some incarnation of a Veteran's Committee made out of Baseball Men.

Those are my omissions from the ballot, explained as best I think I can. I know there are voters (real and make believe) who agree or disagree with my stance on steroids. I think that the two camps are both currently populated well enough that these players will receive more than 5% and less than 75% of votes for the foreseeable future.

Now for the better part. Here are the players that I want to vote for, and a little reason why.

1. Greg Maddux
Maddux was an artist on the mound and should be a unanimous selection. In a jam on the mound, his advice to younger pitchers was to throw slower, and slower and slower, which clearly worked for him. Maddux has an argument for the greatest pitcher of all time, combining an insanely good peak with a long and sturdy career. He did his best work in the heart of the steroid age with four consecutive Cy Young awards 1992-1995, losing a dozen or more starts to the strike. Maddux got hitters to beat themselves, once throwing a 9 inning complete game on only 76 pitches. He threw 9 inning complete games on less than 100 pitches 28 times, which is a fun stat.

2. Mike Mussina
I think that Mussina might be the most underrated pitcher of his generation. I can't believe how little hall buzz he has gotten. In the era of juicy Clemens and Pedro, he did not win any Cy Young awards. He pitched a lot and he pitched very well, with most of his starts happening in the jacked up AL East. Mussina was still pitching well when he retired, walking away after his 131 ERA+ 20-win age 39 season He's not a spectacular hall of famer, but he is solidly average among the all time greats. He gets my vote.

3. Frank Thomas
For the first eight years (1990-1997) of his career, Thomas was a shooting star, heading straight for the title of Greatest Right Handed Hitter of All Time (GRHHAT). His 1991-1997 average was .330/.452/.604, good for an OPS+ of 182, with 36 home runs, and a K/BB ratio of 75/119. At age 30, Thomas came back to earth somewhat. His last great season was at age 32 (.328/.436/.625, 43HR), although he was still good for a 130 OPS+ for the remainder of his career, fighting through injuries to have low-BA productive seasons with Oakland and Toronto at 38 and 39. During the last couple of years, as we have collectively gone bonkers over Miguel Cabrera (deservedly so - 160 OPS+ over last 9 years and 177 OPS+ over last four), it would behoove us to remember the first eight years of Frank Thomas (182 OPS+)  and the first ten years of Albert Pujols (172 OPS+) as examples of GRHHAT candidates we have seen over the last 25 years.

4. Tom Glavine
I separated Glavine from Maddux on this list on purpose, for two reasons. One, Maddux was way better than Glavine, which speaks more to the greatness of Maddux than to any shortcomings of Glavine. And two, they are often linked in memory, both because they pitched for the same team and in similar ways, but I wanted to separate them and focus on each. Tom Glavine pitched a lot of games for a lot of very good Atlanta Braves teams. He won a well earned Cy Young in 1991 and a more questionable award in 1998, with his peak age 26-30 years coinciding with Maddux being legendary. His career is much more similar to Mussina than to Maddux - a long collection of very good years without injury leading to a very impressive career. Through his age 39 season, Glavine was 275-184, a lot more similar to Mussina's 270-153 than Glavine's final 305-203 record. A very solid hall of fame starting pitcher, one of three such pitchers on my list.

5. Craig Biggio
The dirty word concerning Biggio's HOF case has been that he was a "compiler" - that is, he was an effective player for a very long time and stumbled his way into 3000 hits in order to get into the hall of fame. How about this instead: he was a significant offensive contributor to the Houston Astros for 19 years (and a poor contributor for his last year) who played three different and very difficult defensive positions depending on the needs of his team.

Here is the list of players who logged more than 250 games at C and have more than 2500 hits:
Craig Biggio
Ivan Rodriguez

Here is the list of players who logged more than 250 games at CF and have more than 3000 hits:
Ty Cobb
Hank Aaron
Stan Musial
Tris Speaker
Willie Mays
Robin Yount
Craig Biggio
Rickey Henderson
Al Kaline

Here is the list of players who logged more than 250 games at 2B and have more than 3000 hits:
Pete Rose
Paul Molitor
Eddie Collins
Craig Biggio
Rod Carew

There are only four players who have ever played more than 250 games each at 2B and CF. None of these players ever played catcher. Only one of these players (Derrel Thomas, career OPS+ = 84) ever played catcher (6 games).

Craig Biggio is one of the most unique players to ever play the game. An important offensive contributor who handled three very different and difficult defensive positions, he is above my HOF line.

6. Tim Raines
Although lately he has been most often compared to Tony Gwynn lately, I think that it is largely for the HOF argument: how come Gwynn cruised in while Raines is still waiting? I think that Tim Raines was more of a poor man's Rickey Henderson. But here's the thing - Henderson is a slam dunk no doubt first ballot inner circle hall of famer. Very few players ever compare favorably to Rickey. So I say a poor man's Rickey - in the way that Ken Griffey Jr. was kind of a poor man's Willie Mays. But since they were contemporaries, and Raines had maybe some bad luck (/ bad decisions) during his career, he is completely overshadowed.

While not the most prolific, an argument could be made for Raines as the best basestealer ever, with a terrific 84.7% success for his 808 SBs. Among those with more than 300 SB, he is only behind Carlos Beltran in SB%. His .294/.385/.425 line is not so different from Rickey's .279/.401/.419, albeit with 3000 fewer PA.

Raines spent his peak seasons in Montreal, away from the spotlight. He was a terrific leadoff hitter who I think is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

7. Alan Trammel
I was around only for the end of Trammel and Whitaker's careers, so when I was younger I tended to think them overrated - they weren't really all THAT great. Upon further review, maybe they were that great. Trammel in particular was overshadowed for basically his entire career by Cal Ripken Jr., one of those inner circle HOF types. He also has that typical aging middle infielder thing that Roberto Alomar had, where he was basically done after 35. Anyways, he was, in general, a terrific fielding SS who contributed significantly at the plate, providing a lot of overall value to those successful 1980s tigers teams. For whatever reason, the 1980s aren't getting a lot of love in the HOF voting. Trammel deserves to be in.

8. Edgar Martinez
One of the baseball things that I have managed to teach my wife is that a player who is slashing at least .300/.400/.500 is a nice player to have around. Of players with at least 7000 plate appearances, there are 17 such players in MLB history - that's it. Edgar Martinez is one of those 17. If we improve the criteria to .310/.410/.510, Martinez becomes one of 12. He was a great hitter. Martinez mostly played DH because the Mariners decided that was where he provided the most value. I have no doubt that he could have been a sub par first basement and put up similar numbers. All of that DH time is accounted for in the WAR stats, and the WAR says to me that he deserves to be in. In a similar way that Barry Larkin is a hall of famer for his spectacular skill despite playing only a few full seasons during his career, I vote for Edgar Martinez to become the first mostly-DH to be in the hall.

9. Curt Schilling
Schilling had a weird career, but it was excellent and I think deserving of a vote. He had some ups and downs, but once he put it all together, we have rarely seen such a combination of such dominant power and control from a starting pitcher. His 2001 and 2002 seasons are spectacular: 22-6 and 23-7 with 609 total strikeouts against just 65 walks. Both times he finished second in the Cy Young voting to an even better Randy Johnson (another pitcher who took a while to figure it out). Schilling's good seasons with the Phillies were overshadowed by the team (and his win loss record) being really bad almost every season except 1993. His great seasons were so good - and his good seasons often enough - that I give Schilling my HOF vote. His playoff record is also amazing, and it's not just the bloody sock. As a Toronto Blue Jays fan in 1993, I hated Schilling in that world series.

10. Fred McGriff
Of all the things ruined by the steroid age - innocence, BALCO, androstendione, Jose Canseco's marriages and good reputation, Jose Canseco's poor reputation, Ken Caminiti - one of the most underrated, I think, is Fred McGriff's chances for the HOF. McGriff was a prime 80s slugger, blasting THIRTY home runs or more in SEVEN straight years from 1989-1994. Starting in 1995 in his age 31 season, through his age 38 2002 season, McGriff hit 27, 28, 22, 19, 32, 27, 31, and 30 HR. So... he started to decline normally. He held on for a couple more years to try to get to 500 HRs, but he was essentially done. That, of course, was when 500HR was one of those magic HOF numbers.
I think that McGriff is hurt by basically having half of his career pre-1993, and half post-93, because those two eras are so different.

1987-1992, McGriff hit .279/.391/.528, good for a .919 OPS and 154 OPS+
1994-2002, McGriff hit .290/.373/.501, good for a .873 OPS and 125 OPS+

Yes, from age 31 on, McGriff was not quite as effective. However, the league around him changed so much that his consistent excellence was left behind. OPS+ adjusts OPS for changes in era and ballpark. In 1990, his .930 OPS was worth 153 OPS+. 2001, his .930 OPS was worth only 144 OPS+.

McGriff was rated to be a bad defensive first baseman, which really hurts when considering WAR. However, context-adjusted WAR does not credit McGriff for staying the same when the league changed around him. Viewed in the context of the late 90s, McGriff's numbers are not special. Viewed in the context of the 80s and early 90s, his numbers are pretty spectacular. I choose to do the latter. McGriff gets my vote.

*They would not give me an actual HOF vote - obviously.

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