Saturday, December 31, 2016

If I had a Hall of Fame Ballot: 2017

Former Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell should finally make Hall-of-Fame in 2017. 
(Photo credit: MLB.com)

There have been nine new Hall-of-Fame Inductees in the past three years - catcher Mike Piazza, first baseman Frank Thomas, second baseman Craig Biggio, outfielder Ken Griffey Jr and pitchers Tommy Glavine, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.  This alleviated the log jam on the ballot which was due largely to confusion and division on how to deal with players linked to the Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED).  Many holdovers and a few worthy new candidates still make the vote a challenge though.  There are 34 eligible players and writers can vote for up to 10 candidates.  I, of course, do not have a vote, but will fill my theoretical ballot here.

My selection process involves comparing players to their contemporaries, other players at the same position and current Hall-of-Fame members.  I value peak performance and career performance equally.  I use many traditional and advanced statistics, most of which can be found on Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.  Some of my favorites are plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging average, batting runs, wOBA,and WAR for hitters and innings pitched, ERA, pitching runs, strikeouts and WAR for pitchers.  I used multiple WAR statistics in my analysis, but any WAR cited below is Baseball-Reference WAR.

In previous years, I did not bring PED use into my thought process.  The use of PEDs was very widespread, not only in the 1990s and 2000's, but all the way back to the sixties and even further.  It was impossible to know which players stayed clean and which used and how much it affected their performance.  Eliminating or even judging players based on suspicion seemed very unfair to me.  It also seemed pretty obvious that the game turned a blind eye to the problem for many decades.  Thus, I considered PED use to have been part of the game and choose players solely based on their on-field performance.  

Starting in 2005, Major League Baseball players and owners accepted a new policy banning steroids and issuing penalties to steroid users.  The policy has been expanded in recent years to include amphetamines and other PEDs.  Now that it accepted by all parties that steroid use is absolutely prohibited, this makes the process more complicated.  I think it's fair to penalize players who tested positive under the agreement starting in 2005, but I do not believe these offenders should be banned from the Hall of Fame entirely. They did, after all, already serve their time through suspension.  However, the qualifications for inclusion in the Hall of Fame do include integrity, sportsmanship and character as illustrated by the following clause:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.
Those things are very subjective and near impossible to measure, but failed drug tests are objective.  Thus, I shall use proven drug use as another data point feeding my decision process.  Since I do not believe PED use turns a player into one of the game's all-time greats, I would still vote for an elite player such as Alex Rodriguez when his time comes. However, I might drop a borderline player from the ballot.  

The PED question first became an issue for me when first baseman Rafael Palmeiro appeared on the ballot in 2011.  He was a legitimate candidate, who had tested positive in 2005.  He was not a particularly strong candidate though and, given that the ballot had more than ten deserving candidates that year, it was not difficult to dismiss him.  

Outfielder Manny Ramirez who tested positive for PEDs in both 2009 and 2011 is eligible this year on a ballot that is not quite as loaded as previous years.  Based on his numbers, 69 WAR and a 154 OPS+, Ramirez was one of the best hitters of his generation and would surely make it if he were clean. I only have nine surefire names on my list, so there is room for one more.

However, the PED data point exists for Ramirez (twice!).  Ramirez was a very one dimensional player and not a slam dunk choice of the magnitude of ARod.  He is more comparable to designated hitter Edgar Martinez, another viable candidate but a one dimensional hitter.  In the end, I decided that Martinez makes it and Ramirez doesn't.  

Now, for my ballot:

Barry Bonds: The greatest player of his generation and on a very short list of the best players ever.  You can't have a Hall of Fame without him.  

Roger Clemens: As with Bonds, the Hall-of-Fame would not make much sense if it excluded Clemens.  He is one of the five best pitchers in the history of the game.

Jeff Bagwell: Not on the same level as Bonds, but still a slam-dunk selection.  He is 22nd all-time in Batting Runs and has a WAR comparable to Rod Carew, Joe Dimaggio and Pete Rose.  

Mike Mussina: Might get overlooked because he never won a Cy Young award, but had a 123 ERA+ in over 3,500 innings and his 345 Pitching Runs was an impressive 13th all-time.

Curt Schilling: Not a very bright person and I wish he would keep his shallow opinions to himself, but that has zero to do with his Hall of Fame worthiness.  Arguably the best post-season pitcher ever, but was a lot more than that.  He had a 127 ERA+, 3,116 strikeouts (15th best ever), 81 WAR (21st best).  

Tim Raines:  Sometimes Raines gets pumped up a bit too much by his supporters, but his credentials are Hall-of-fame worthy.  The statistical highlights are 69 WAR, 1,571 runs (40th all time) and 808 stolen bases (4th). 

Edgar Martinez: Gets knocked down by some because he was primarily a designated hitter. On the other hand, some of his supporters think he belongs because he was one of the best ever at his position.  This is not a good argument because the position is limited to a pool of players who were among the worst fielders in the game.  For a designated hitter to make the Hall of Fame, he needs to be an elite hitter and Martinez's 147 lifetime OPS+ (32nd best ever) shows that he was.  He also accumulated 68 WAR with virtually no fielding contribution. 

Pudge Rodriguez: Had only one really good year with the Tigers and I got the impression he didn't always give his best effort in Detroit.  So, he is not a big favorite of mine.  I am sure I would feel differently if I were a Rangers fan because he built a solid Hall of Fame resume in Texas.  He caught more games (2,427) than any catcher in the history of the game, was an outstanding defender for most of his career and he could hit too - batted .300 or better 10 times and posted an OPS+ of 120 or more seven times.  

Larry Walker: A bit controversial because his numbers were inflated by the Denver altitude, but he had a 141 OPS+ and 73 WAR and was also an excellent fielder.  

Honorable mention

Vladimir Guerrero - Was a tremendous all around player with a lifetime 140 OPS+, but he falls a hair short (in part because of his 59 WAR).   

Manny Ramirez - See above


5 comments:

  1. I always see using WAR to make arguments on HoF like using colour to determine height. It may tell you something, but nothing actually useful. Way, way too subjective. I much prefer using solid facts, winning%, HR, BA, nearly averages, as they are easy to compare and always valuable. The more one uses "advanced stats" to argue HoF, the less serious the argument becomes. Might as well decide a batting lineup based on WAR; if WAR or similar stats are any good they should help you build a team and win. But they don't, they have limited applications. Find RBI, BA, OBP, those matter. And no, PED excuses and obfuscating don't wash with me. I don't make excuses for PED cheats, whether they had actual test results against them (and how many got caught but were let go, given a pass by MLB, 2003 included?) or cold facts against them like Bonds and Clemens.

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    Replies
    1. Also, why ignore what batting position a guy normally hit in, whether the wind was blowing in or out, what quality of pitchers he faced normally, how he did on the road, how he did RISP, on and on. Why put in base running or defence when neither is close to objective? If they were Jeter would have a negative WAR or close to it. WAR is not worthy of using when actually discussing facts.

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    2. I disagree with pretty much everything you say, but thanks for reading and contributing. :-) Although I think WAR is useful in Hall of Fame discussions, I actually did use other things beyond WAR in my selections. Players with high WAR absolutely do help teams win though. There is a strong correlation between WAR and winning percentage of teams. If WAR does not seem to fit well for a certain player, you should look at other things but it's pretty useful over a long career. I am not understanding your Jeter argument. Are you saying he belongs or does not belong? WAR indicates he belongs, but was maybe not as elite as he was built up to be which I think is accurate.

      Things like RISP and whether or not the wind is blowing out even out over a really long career, so there is not much point in using them even if you can measure them.

      It is pretty hard for me to call PED users during the 90s and 00s cheats when I believe the majority of players were using them. Hundreds of players were "cheating" and it's just not possible to figure out who was using and how much it helped them. Bonds and Clemens probably took PEDs (although there are no cold facts as you suggest) but hundreds of others did too in any arguments where the rules of use were foggy.

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    3. Hi Lee,
      Welcome back...I have missed your thoughtful, well researched posts. Interesting topic...I'm sure most of your HOF choices did juice it, based on their physical appearances, and the era itself...certainly this is not " legal" proof, and I don't condemn them for it. Major League Baseball knew what was going on, and benefited from the increase in homers. Bonds would have still been a great player with 30 fewer pounds of muscle and 30 fewer home runs a year...but Manny Ramirez...probably not. Pudge would have still hit .300 without PEDs and been outstanding defensively...Clemens would have still been great throwing a couple miles an hour slower...your list is solid, they would get my vote too.
      Hope you keep posting!
      Arlie

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  2. Thanks Arlie. I still won't be posting regularly, but there some annual posts that I enjoy doing. So, I will be here from time to time.

    Lee

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