A Visual Look at This Year’s Hall of Fame Ballot

Ken Griffey Jr.'s Rankometer is awfully impressive. (via Arturo Pardavilla III)

Ken Griffey Jr.’s Rankometer is awfully impressive. (via Arturo Pardavilla III)

These days, the Hall of Fame ballot is awfully crowded with qualified but not overqualified candidates, and it can be a little hard to separate them. One way to separate them a little, or at the very least get some additional context on each of them, is to examine them from a visual perspective.

Creating such visuals is something of a specialty for me. In the past, I have experimented with different forms of visualizations here at The Hardball Times. Examples include 5 Tool Analyzer, Paintomatic, Batcode, Rankometer and others. Now, I’m working on tools that will allow users to generate visuals for any player, not just the ones I highlight here.

So first, let’s take Rankometer for a spin and examine players currently in the Hall of Fame. We’ve seen recently here at THT what the average Hall of Famer looks like, but here I will break out a bunch of different player types using Rankometer. Rankometer, if you’re not familiar with it, compares a chosen player to the top 30 at his position (starting pitcher, relief pitcher or hitter) based on WAR for each season of his career. The more color you see, the more elite a player was. If a column is all black, the player wasn’t in the top 30 for WAR that season.

Here are the 10 most patterns I’ve seen. After we break down those patterns, we’ll see how the players on the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot fit in.

1. Wall of Orange

There are a handful of players whose Rankometer visual is essentially a large rectangle of yellow, meaning each was pretty much the most valuable player for the majority of his career. Babe Ruth is a classic example (with his mysterious “sick stomach” season in 1925 notwithstanding). Other examples you can search for: Honus Wagner (goodness gracious), Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, and Willie Mays.

2. Sea of Black

Rick Ferrell and George “High Pockets” Kelly don’t even have a Rankometer (i.e., there’s no color generated), so no visual is needed. 🙂 A few other players who barely cracked Rankometer: Lloyd Waner (below), Bill Mazeroski and Hoyt Wilhelm.

3. UnWARranted?

These players – like Lou Brock – register in multiple seasons, but their Rankometers are far less impressive than most of their HOF counterparts. Other examples: Chick Hafey, Luis Aparicio, and Pie Traynor.

4. Glorious Arc

These players have a nice prototypical career arc. Joe Tinker’s Rankometer is a nice example of this (save for 1907). Other examples you can search for: Charlie Gehringer, Harry Heilmann, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Larry Doby, Yogi Berra, Chief Bender, Herb Pennock, Mordecai Brown, and Robin Roberts.

5. Forever Orange

These players – like Bert Blyleven – show amazing staying power on Rankometer, spanning almost 20 years of elite performance. Other examples: Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Mel Ott, Steve Carlton, Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, and Gaylord Perry.

6. Great (while it lasted)

There’s a group of players who show the same dominance of the above group but for a shorter period of time. Andre Dawson is a classic example. Other examples: pitchers Dizzy Dean, Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers. Hitters: Frank Chance, Hack Wilson, Hal Newhouser, Jackie Robinson, and Rod Carew.

7. War leads to no WAR

A small group of players served in the military during their illustrious careers, robbing them of prime years. My personal favorite is Ted Williams who served in TWO wars. Other examples: hitters Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Johnny Mize, and Bob Feller.

8. On and off

These players – like Carlton Fisk – show flashes of brilliance but inconsistently. Other examples: Dave Winfield and Enos Slaughter.

9. The Cliff

These players – like Chuck Klein – showed elite performance but then dropped out of Rankometer suddenly and permanently. Other examples: Frank Thomas and Mickey Mantle.

10. Great x 2

These players – like John Smoltz – show up on 2 different Rankometers (Smoltz as a starter AND a reliever). Other examples: Dennis Eckersley and Ruth.

So, that’s a visual overview of some of the Hall of Fame’s players using Rankometer. Are there other patterns you see, or do you feel someone was left out? Try it yourself and share back here!

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Now that we’ve reviewed how the Rankometer works, let’s take it for a spin and examine this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. The percentage of the vote that the player received is listed after his name.

Ken Griffey Jr., 99.3%

Obviously no surprises here, but for a player who broke the record for highest percentage of votes, you might expect a better looking Rankometer. There are players like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Mike Schmidt who show more dominance. Griffey is more glorius arc than he is wall of orange.

Mike Piazza, 83.0%

Like Griffey, the Rankometer is less impressive than many others in the Hall of Fame. I often hear Piazza described as “the best hitting catcher in baseball history.” I’m sure if Rankometer compared players by position (i.e., Piazza compared to the top 30 catchers each season) he’d look much more dominant. But Rankometer uses a very high bar, the top 30 hitters across all positions. Piazza is somewhere between glorius arc and great (while it lasted).

Jeff Bagwell, 71.6%

Bagwell’s Rankometer looks pretty much the same as Piazza’s. Perhaps it’s his corner infield position (vs being a catcher) that hurts him.

Tim Raines, 69.8%

A long career, but his peaks (and number of peaks) are slightly lower than Bagwell’s and Piazza’s. You can start to see how Rankometer tracks with the ballot percentages.

Trevor Hoffman, 67.3%

Okay, so closers are controversial. And my decision to compare Hoffman to the top 30 relievers each season (vs. the top 30 pitchers) also may be controversial. I initially used the latter as the peer set, but then found (not surprisingly) that few relievers ever cracked the top 30 WAR for pitchers, which makes the argument (for some) that relievers shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.

I took a different approach and chose to compare relievers to one another, which helps us at least evaluate these players with peers who have a similar role and usage. When I first looked at Hoffman’s Rankometer, I was pretty surprised at how good it looked. If (and it’s a big if) you agree conceptually that we should evaluate reliever pitchers as its own position, then Hoffman’s Rankometer says he’s deserving for sure. When compared to his own peers, Hoffman’s Rankometer looks forever orange. The only reliever I can find who has a better one is Mariano Rivera.

Curt Schilling, 52.3%

I just don’t get it. That’s a Hall of Fame Rankometer to me. He was elite for MANY seasons. And that doesn’t take into account his postseason heroics. I ask you, whose Rankometer looks better, Schilling’s or Hall of Famer Tom Glavine’s? I probably would take Schilling’s, which is either forever orange or great x2.

Roger Clemens, 45.2%

I won’t get into the debate around PEDs, but the Rankometer obviously indicates a Hall of Fame-worthy player. Two things I noticed: People talk about how Clemens was in decline before using PEDs in the mid 1990s, but I don’t see much of a decline. Also note the unnatural increase in performance near the end of his career, which makes him a cross between wall of orange and great x2.

Barry Bonds, 44.3%

Just a ridiculous Rankometer. Could I find another Rankometer that’s as good? Maybe that of Ty Cobb? Or Babe Ruth? Bonds is textbook wall of orange.

Edgar Martinez, 43.4%

Impressive, just not as impressive as some of the others. If we used the same argument as Piazza (ie. “best hitting DH ever”) and compared him with the top 30 DHs every season, his Rankometer would be unworldly. I often hear Edgar compared to David Ortiz, just not in the way you’d imagine.

Mike Mussina, 43.0%

I’ll ask the same as for Schilling: How is Mike Mussina not in the Hall of Fame? This forever orange Rankometer screams Hall of Famer. I don’t care how many Cy Youngs he won. The man was elite for at least 10 years.

Lee Smith, 34.1%

Yeah, I know, relievers. Per my thoughts above on Hoffman, if you look at Lee Smith in the context of the best relievers in the sport every year, that’s a pretty sweet looking Rankometer. Not as dominant as Hoffman’s, but pretty strong.

Fred McGriff, 20.9%

Some nice peaks and lots of WAR accumulation “below the fold” in Rankometer. But not up to snuff with many of the others above.

Jeff Kent, 16.6%

Sorry, Jeff Kent fans. That’s just not good enough for the Hall of Fame. Looks pretty unWARranted to me.

Larry Walker, 15.5%

Similar to McGriff and Martinez. Some very nice peaks, but just not enough. Injuries really took a toll on Walker’s season-by-season breakdown.

Gary Sheffield, 11.6%

A classic on and off, this is again, just not good enough. But man did he instill fear when he was at the plate (especially with Tim Wakefield on the mound).

Billy Wagner, 10.5%

He’s a reliever. I get it. But what I don’t get is how Hoffman gets 67 percent with his Rankometer and Wagner gets only 10 percent. Wagner’s Rankometer is admittedly worse than Hoffman’s, but not by that much.

Sammy Sosa, 7.0%

A not glorious enough arc plus PED suspicion equals a dearth of Hall of Fame votes.

I’ll also speak to the three most prominent players who dropped off the Hall of Fame ballot.

Alan Trammell, 40.9%

Compare his Rankometer to Piazza’s. Are they really that different? They both fit the glorious arc profile.

Mark McGwire, 12.3%

McGwire reinvented himself in St. Louis, but once people realized how he did so, they turned their back on him.

Jim Edmonds, 2.5%

How does a player with a Rankometer like that get only 2.5 percent of the vote? Clearly there were valuable things Edmonds was doing, but they didn’t make much of an impression on the baseball writers. I’m not sure if Edmonds belongs in the Hall of Fame, but there are many Hall of Fame players with worse Rankometers. It’s shame Edmonds didn’t stick around longer on the ballot so people could gain a better perspective on his career like they did with Bert Blyleven.

Kevin Dame is a writer and visual designer who brings sports information to life in new and meaningful ways. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @kevintdame.
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6 years ago

Look at Derek Jeter’s, for laughs.

6 years ago
Reply to  Drew

And then come back and look at Trammell’s again.

6 years ago
Reply to  hopbitters

But Jeter has a solid orange block on the playing-the-game-the-right-way-ometer, and really what else matters ?

Jeff A.
6 years ago
Reply to  Drew

Posada’s is another good one.

Matt K
6 years ago

Mike Trout needs to pick up the pace.

6 years ago

Kevin, fantastic work! Really shows up as a nice down & dirty visual aid for looking at player’s worth. I think Edmonds is a borderline case for the HOF, but he clearly shouldn’t have fallen out of the voting. Compare Edmonds & Griffey from 2000 on. Once they hit the NL, Edmonds was actually the more productive player.

You had Enos Slaughter in the “On & Off” heading, #8. I’d argue that he should have been included in the WAR category, since he lost three of the seasons, 1943-1945 to WWII. Had it not been for those three seasons, he may have fallen nicely in with the “career arc” listing.

6 years ago

Why do you only look at qualified seasons? why not just go by WAR? From what I saw on Arrieta’s page, he’s only ranked once on the Rankometer, but his 2014 season was top-15 in WAR among starters; he just fell six innings short of qualifying for the ERA title, a silly distinction when he still posted 5 WAR.

6 years ago

Kevin, this is really awesome data viz. I enjoyed the links to past articles just as much as this.

6 years ago

I’m probably the only person who cares, but the only reason that Hoyt Wilhelm’s rankometer is so black is because its ranking him as a starter when he only started more than 11 games in one season. He probably would rank very well among relievers, and probably that would underrate him, because FIP-WAR tends to underrate knuckleballers as it is.

Bud Kaiser
6 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Dame

According to FanGraphs, Hoyt Wilhelm ranked as follows among all Major League relievers from 1961 to 1969:
3, 5, 2, 6, 5, 17, 9, 1, 7

That sure is a funny kind of “he didn’t.”

Bad to the Zone
6 years ago

Why do you lump players from both leagues together when a) The NL was the much stronger league from at least 1947 until the mid to late 60s because the NL signed players like Jackie Robinson, while teams like the Boston Red Sox did not sign players with a darker skin tone until…what was it? Maybe 1960? And then they only signed one, Pumpsie Green, I believe. They were lily white for at least two decades, maybe a quarter of a century. This from a Northern city which sent many men to fight in the Civil War to supposedly “free the slaves.”
And b) The AL came up with the designated slugger in 1973. After that there could be no comparison of the two leagues until maybe interleague play began. I do not know exactly when because I do not care.

Larry Doby
6 years ago

July 1947. Cleveland Indians. American League.

6 years ago

WAR adjusts for league and ballpark. So your concerns have already been addressed.

Yogi Bear
6 years ago

Saying that Joe DiMaggio “served in the military” is like saying George Dubya Bush “served in the National Guard.” It is a disservice to players like Ted Williams and Bob Feller who actually SERVED IN THE MILITARY!
I say this after having read, “The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray, and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII,” by John Klima, a wonderful book, in which Joe D does not come off too well. Guys like the two aforementioned HOFers along with men like Hank Bauer and Ralph Houk you would want in a foxhole along side you. Joe you would want on a baseball field somewhere far away.

6 years ago

I was secretly hoping for this player to be used for “The Cliff” –

But that’s probably inappropriate.

6 years ago
Reply to  dang

Too soon? 🙂 Considering it’s been well over 100 years now, you’re probably pretty safe with that one!

I would like to see the pre-1900 #’s at some time. I think it would be a valuable tool for assessing the value of those long forgotten stars, like Big Ed Delahanty, Dan Brouthers, King Kelly, Pud Galvin, to name a few.

6 years ago

What’s up everyone, it’s my first visit at this web site, and
piece of writing is really fruitful in support of me, keep up posting
these articles or reviews.

6 years ago

I know everyone is finding one like this, but the one I just stumbled across is Kevin Brown. My goodness. How was this guy only on the ballot for one year?? Outrageous

6 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Dame


In just a few minutes of looking up borderline HOF cases here, I too am surprised in both directions again and again. If your goal for 2017 is to get more HOF writers using the Rankometer, I will wholeheartedly support that and probably join in badgering voters to at least look at some of these cases! Starting with Mussina and Schilling 🙂 both have always been slam dunks in my opinion, but the Rankometer has absolutely solidified them for me.

Bad to the Zone
6 years ago

Went to your website. Gotta admit, the Rankometer is WAY Cool! If many players were getting “pumped up” during the era in which Ga Tech alum Kevin Brown hurled, how good was he? Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez were great pitchers, no doubt, but they were even better if they stayed off of the ‘juice’. Ditto for Kevin Brown. I would like to see a Rankometer that shows exactly how good those who did not Rage with ‘Roids were as opposed to those low-lifes who took the low road.

6 years ago

Just found another fun one, comparing Jim Edmonds’ to Eddie Murray’s. Murray, absolutely a deserving HOFer in my mind, but the Rankometer would argue that Edmonds is (slightly) the more deserving – it’s essentially a toss up, but their Rankometers essentially mirror one anothers (Edmonds solid outlier season is to the left, while Murrays is to the right)… still, play around with this and you’ll learn a ton – we should all make it a goal to get HOF voters to check this out