Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hall of Fame Thoughts and Theoretical Ballot

Now that our 1980s heroes Alan Trammell and Jack Morris have been voted into the Hall of Fame via the Modern Era ballot, there is a lot less HoF anger among Tigers fans. The historic 1984 team which went 35-5, won 104 games overall and won the World Series is finally getting represented in the Hall of Fame.  They had been one of only two championship teams prior to the 90s - the other being the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers - with no Hall of Famers.  So, now we can relax.  Well, not completely.  That won't happen Trammell's double play partner Lou Whitaker gets in.  

Trammell was always a fan favorite in Detroit and has always gotten a lot of support from the sabermetric crowd as well.  If you favor a small Hall of Fame of only top tier players, then it made sense to leave him out as he is not in the elite class with the likes of Honus Wagner and Cal Ripken Jr.  However, Trammell was as good or better than half the shortstops in the Hall of Fame, so I would say he belongs based on the standards that have been set by the voters. I would vote for Whitaker on a similar basis.   

Jack Morris is more controversial and has long been one of the most debated players on the ballot.  Baseball traditionalists felt that he belonged and the sabermetrics crowd argued that his statistical credentials fell short.  I would not have voted for him, but I am happy that the debate can finally be put to rest and I am not upset that he finally made it.  

Morris was not the best pitcher of the 80s, there is no evidence that he pitched to the score more successfully than anyone else and he was not always a big-game pitcher.  However, he was very good and very durable (he completed a third of his starts) for the era in which he pitched and was an important part of three world championships and there was that epic game in the 1991.  That's not enough for me to vote for him, but if that is your argument (and not the winningest pitcher of 80s and pitched to score stuff) then I respect your views.  

I am done arguing about Morris and am excited to see two Tigers go in together.  We can now end the arguments and move onto other Sweet Lou!
Whitaker is not eligible for at least a couple more years though, so let's take a look at this year's candidates.  There have been 12 new Hall-of-Fame Inductees in the past four years including 2017 inductees Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Pudge Rodriguez.  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 33 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 earlier 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. 

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.

Chipper Jones: New to the ballot this year, he is an easy choice based on a combination of peak quality and career length.  He had 85 WAR along with a .401 OBP and 141 OPS+.  

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).  

Jim Thome: Might get overlooked because he was a power hitter whose career was defined by the "steroid era", but he was truly one of the great sluggers of his time accumulating 612 homers to go with a 147 OPS+.  

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. 

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.  

Scott Rolen: The Alan Trammell/ Lou Whitaker of his time, had a long distinguished career, but was never regarded as a superstar.  His 122 OPS+ and outstanding defense at third base helped him accumulate 70 WAR.

Vladimir Guerrero - Was a tremendous all around player with a lifetime 140 OPS+, but had a relatively short career by Hall of Fame standards and accumulated only 59 WAR.  Some view him as a slam dunk Hall of Famer and he got 71% of the vote last year.  That was a bit surprising to me as I think he is a bit overrated.  I am still on the fence because he didn't have as many good years as most Hall of Famers, but I am voting for him this year.  


  1. Vlad is a slam dunk. Total package. Hit for power, very good on D until his knees and back went, hit for average, always strong at going 1st to 3rd or third to home, excellent RBI man, RISP hit leader, teams he played on always went up and up, low K's, consistent, great teammate, played the right way, hit every month, every inning. WAR is subjective and useless.

  2. I think WAR works well for Guerrero because it gives him credit for what he did in the field and on the base paths as well as his hitting. It says that he had some great years, but did not have as much longevity as most Hall of Famers. Yes, he did hurt is knees and that does and should count against him.

  3. To address your point about RISP, his lifetime batting average was .318. HIS BA with RISP was .309, so I don't think he should get any extra credit for his RISP ability. He hit for a good average in all situations, but did not perform extra well with men in scoring position.

  4. Interesting topic...who belongs in the Hall of Fame and who doesn't. Should we include those who used peds (or we are pretty sure did) or not? What about one dimensional players...just how dominant do they have to be to be Hall worthy? Stats vs. the eyeball test, which way would you vote? Everyone has their own take on it. Clemens and Bonds would have likely had Hall of Fame careers, or at least very dominant careers without juicing, so in my mind I have no problem with including them...some players (i.e. Sammy Sosa) level of performance improved dramatically as their physique and hat size obviously changed...I would not vote for them. Walker is interesting because he was a very good player whose stats were inflated by his home ball park. His career batting average in road games was .278. I didn't see him play much, but would have trouble voting for him. Martinez and Thome were both certainly one dimensional. Thome killed the Tigers, year in and year out, for years and years. He certainly would get my vote, as he seemed to be that dominant for many, many years. 600 homers is a powerful statement. Martinez was a great hitter, but not with Thome's kind of power. He just didn't scare me the same way. I would have a harder time voting for him.
    Great topic Lee, really enjoy your posts!



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