Thursday, December 23, 2021

Hall of Fame Thoughts - 2022 Edition

 I always begin any Hall of Fame discussion with a reminder that long-time Tigers second basemen Lou Whitaker has the highest career Wins Above Replacement among 20th Century position players not in the Hall and not connected to steroids or gambling.  Whitaker will likely get another shot in the future, but was not on any of the ballots this year, so let's turn our attention to the upcoming Baseball Writer's Association of America ballot (BBWAA).

There were no new inductees selected by writers in 2021, so the ballot of worthy candidates remains crowded largely due to confusion and division on how to deal with players linked to the Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).  Many holdovers and a few worthy new candidates still make the vote a challenge though.  There are 30 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 reference to 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 is accepted by all parties that steroid use is absolutely prohibited, this makes the evaluation 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 will still vote for an elite player such as Alex Rodriguez this year.  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 has been eligible for several years.  Based on his career numbers, 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, who was finally inducted in 2019.  I have been on the fence in regards to Ramirez for a while, but this year I'm voting for him. 

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 does not make much sense with Clemens excluded.  He is arguably one of the five best pitchers in the history of the game.

Alex Rodriguez: Similar to Bonds and Clemens, I suspect Rodriguez's links to PED use will keep him out, at least initially. However, he is one of the all-time greats and impossible to dismiss.  The slugging infielder is fouth on the all-time home run list (696), seventh in total bases (5,813) and 12th in WAR (117).

Curt Schilling: Schilling is a jerk and I wish he would keep his shallow opinions to himself, but that has nothing 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 (26th best).  

Scott Rolen: The 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.

Todd Helton: Helton is difficult to judge because of his home park in Colorado.  He Accumulated 61 WAR, and had an OPS+ of 160 or better four times.  His peak years were fantastic including three years with WAR of 8.9. 8.3 and 7.8.  If Scott Rolen is Lou Whitaker than Helton is Ryne Sandberg.

Manny Ramirez: As mentioned above, Ramirez's candidacy is clouded by failed PED tests, but he was an elite hitter with a 154 OPS+ and 69 WAR.  He was 15th all-time in home runs (555) and 30th in total bases (4,826).  His 29 post-season home runs in 111 post-season games is the most in MLB history.

Andruw Jones: Jones is difficult to evaluate because he was not an outstanding hitter like other players on the list.  He did have power and hit a 434 career home runs including a league leading 51 in 2005.  However he had a .339 on base percentage and his career OPS+ was just 111.  On the other hand, he was widely regarded as the top defensive outfielder of his time and arguably the best of all-time.  According to the Total Zone Runs statistic which uses play-by-play data and is tracked back to 1973, Jones saved 253 runs with his defense which was the second best behind only third baseman Brooks Robinson.   

David Ortiz: Most writers consider Ortiz to be a slam dunk Hall of Famer.  I see him as a difficult choice.  Based on his regular season performance - a 141 OPS+ and 57 WAR with virtually no defensive contribution, he falls short of Hall of Fame status.  His great reputation is largely based on his post-season heroics.  Is that enough?  I don't generally give a lot of weight to post-season performance and I have criticized writers in the past for giving pitcher Jack Morris too much credit for his 10-inning 1-0 shutout in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series.  That was a great historic game, but his overall post-season record was unremarkable.  

Ortiz, on the other hand, was consistently extraordinary in the post season compiling a fantastic .947 OPS in 85 games.  It was not just one moment or one series.  He did it year after year accumulating a career post-season Win Probability Added (WPA) of 3.16 which is the highest of any hitter in MLB history.  Whereas WAR is context dependent, WPA is a situational statistic which takes the score of a game, runners on base and number outs for each plate appearance into consideration.  How much weight should we give to post-season versus regular season.  Tom Tango suggested in a recent tweet a weight of three for the playoffs and ten for the World Series.  That seems a little excessive to me, but what if we give a weight of three for any post-season game?  That is nine wins for Ortiz which added to his regular season WAR gives him 66 wins.  That is high enough for the Hall of Fame.        

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