Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This Year's HOF Ballot, Part 1

Many have been talking about the ballot this year...and why now more than ever it's time to revise the methods of election - after all, each writer is only allowed to include 10 names on their ballot.  When one looks at the 36 names, there might be half of them who earn some support.  I don't know how writers decide to vote, especially in a year like this, but I presume there are 3 or 4 ways to approach it:

  1. A voter selects those whom he feels are the best.
  2. A voter may choose a few whom he thinks are deserving, and vote for a few others who he is sure won't get enough support but would like them to stay on the ballot to give them a chance in upcoming years (though, with some of the names coming in 2015 or 2016, may be a long shot)
  3. A voter might leave a ballot blank because if Babe Ruth wasn't getting unanimous support, they'll be damned if anyone else does.
  4. Anyone suspected of PEDs will be left off their ballot, whether there is any proof or not.
Let's look at this year's ballot alphabetically and see who might get in, who might stick around, and who doesn't stand a chance in hell. (all WAR comes from Baseball-Reference.com)

Moises Alou (1st year on ballot):  Alou was a hell of a player and may have generated significant support for the HOF if he had stayed in the lineup as much as Barry Larkin did...and Larkin was known for being injured often.  Compared to Alou, Larkin was a Ripken/Gehrig type.  He was a six-time All-Star, finished third two times in the MVP voting...and played in 150 or more games 4 times in his 17 year career, and was forced to miss the entire 1991 and 1999 season due to injury.  What if we added in two full seasons to his career totals to make up for some of his lost time?

  • .303 career average
  • 2490 hits (top 100 all time)
  • 388 HRs
  • 1501 RBIs (top 60 all time)
  • 47 WAR? (ahead of Jim Rice)
  • 128 OPS+
Alas, these aren't his numbers...so he won't get many votes...especially on this ballot

Prediction:  3 votes (out of 570)

Jeff Bagwell (4th):    I don't need to rehash Bagwell's claim to the HOF...but I will.  He was the Rookie of the Year in 1991, MVP in 1994 (2nd and 3rd place finish as well), 4 time All-Star, .297 BA, .408 OBP, 449 HRs even though he played some years in the Astrodome, 1401 RBIs, 202 SBs (impressive for a first baseman), and a career WAR of 79.5.  Each year his support has increased for the HOF - his 1st year on the ballot he got 41.7%, then up to 56%, and last year 59.6%.  Unfortunately, this is a ballot packed with future HOFers.

Prediction:  He will get just under 50% of the vote, and will eventually find his way to Cooperstown, though I expect it will be closer to 2020 than 2015.

Armando Benitez (1st):  2-time All-Star, and 25th in career saves isn't going to be enough to get any support in a year like this one.

Prediction:  No votes

Craig Biggio (2nd):  7-time All Star (at 2 positions), 4 Silver Sluggers (at 2 positions), 3 top 10 MVP finishes, 3060 hits, over 400 SBs, 291 HRs.  In his blog, Joe Posnanski calls Craig Biggio the 93rd best player to have ever played baseball.  In his entry about Biggio, Posnanski references Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract, in which James argued that Biggio was a better player than Griffey from 1994-99, but because he did so many things well his ability he was overlooked.  It's a great article, in one of the best baseball books around (hell, it's one of the best BOOKS around, period).  So why wasn't he voted in last year (68.2%, tops of all vote getters)?  Because last year the ballot was packed as well, and voters were split among them.  So why will he get in this year, when even more great players are on the ballot?  In my opinion (unfounded), I think BBWAA members are influenced by the votes of others.  As Blyleven's support grew, I feel like voters fell in line and pushed him towards the magical 75% mark.  The same thing has been going on for Jack Morris as well, but Morris' time will run out before he gets there.  This is only Biggio's second time on the ballot, but I think a few of the voters don't vote for first-timers, and the nine ballots left blank will probably have his name on them.  The 3000+ hits gets the old-timers' votes, Bill James' analysis gets the new ones.  The only thing that prevents him getting over 90% is the quality of this ballot.

Prediction:  Biggio is elected with just over 75% of the vote.

Barry Bonds (2nd):   The most polarizing player since Albert Belle, and maybe ever.  If one were to look just at his statistics, he might be considered one of the 3 best players in the history of the game.  The story has been told of Bonds' jealousy over America's fawning of McGwire and Sosa's HR chase in 1998, and how he responded by doing steroids.  As pointed out numerous times, if Bonds' career stopped after 1999 and he dropped off the face of the Earth, he was still a Hall of Famer.  So how can Cooperstown exist as a place where fans can see and read about the greatest players in history, when Bonds/Clemens/McGwire aren't there?  And what is going to be done about it?
  1. Before this year, I always thought they should be left out of Cooperstown - why should the cheaters be rewarded for cheating?  
  2. This year, I've changed my mind:  after seeing LaRussa, Cox and Torre rewarded (unanimously, by the way) for managing during the Steroid Era, and knowing Bud Selig will eventually get into the HOF upon his retirement, I can't hold the players accountable while everyone else comes away from this tainted period in baseball history unblemished.
  3. The current PED policy was implemented in 2005.  
  4. I think that maybe the steroid users should be taken off the ballot until their 15 year eligibility period is over, then voted on by a different group.  Until then, there is going to be backlog and arguments in favor of the Hall of Fame directing the voters how to vote...but as of now, they haven't shown any interest in doing so.
Prediction:   Just under 30%.

Sean Casey (1st):  .302 BA, 3 All-Star games.  Good player, friendly by all accounts, and has found the perfect post-baseball career on the MLB network.  Congratulations on everything.

Prediction:  Due to his good relationship with...well, EVERYONE, someone will give him a vote.

Roger Clemens (2nd):  354 wins, 143 ERA+, 4672 K's (3rd all-time).  See Bonds, Barry.

Prediction:  Got just over 37% last year...that will drop to just over 30% this year.

Ray Durham (1st):  2 All-Star games, 2054 hits, and...nothing particular to make him stand out, especially on this ballot.

Prediction:  No votes.

Eric Gagne (1st):  Cy Young, 3 All-Star games, 187 saves (152 in 3 years).  Eric Gagne is not going to get in the Hall of Fame - we can all agree on this.  But does anyone remember how dominant this guy was?  I picked up Gagne when he was in the Dodgers farm system with the hope he would become a decent starter.  He didn't; in his two years as a starter he was 10-13 with a 4.91 ERA.  Gagne threw hard, and threw two pitches, and doing that isn't going to get you around the lineup a couple of times.  The Dodgers figured it out, moved him to the bullpen where he was lights out for three years.  What I find interesting is how the strikeout rates have increased over the last thirty years or so:  Rob Dibble blew people away when he was strikeout rate was 12 per 9 inning, peaking at 14.1 in 1992.  Five years later Gagne topped 15; today Craig Kimbrel has topped out at 17.4.  When Bill James wrote about a pitcher effectiveness, he estimated that to stay in the majors, a starter needed to average at least 5.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.  This was certainly true when he wrote it fifteen years ago, but I would suggest that number has been increasing for decades.  The average K/9 in the deadball era was closer to 3, so a pitcher could've hung around average 2 strikeouts per game.  With that type of context, Walter Johnson's 5.3 strikeouts per 9 innings is impressive (77% higher than the average).  Today, the major league K/9 is 7.6 - to be as dominant as Johnson was, someone would have to average 13.5 K/9 for their career.

To put that even more in context, Randy Johnson is the all-time leader at 10.6.  Kimbrel career average is 15.1, but he hasn't pitched enough innings.

Gagne is at 10.0.

Prediction:  No votes.

I'll carry on part 2 tomorrow with Tom Glavine.

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