THT writers and the Hall of Fame

It’s Hall of Fame time. Here at the Hardball Times, we like to think about the Hall and talk about it and write about it. Most of us aren’t as prolific as Chris Jaffe, but we have our opinions and, lucky you, we’ve decided to share them.

The BBWAA results are coming out next week, so we’re stealing the thunder by releasing our results today. Twenty-three THT writers voted for the players on this year’s ballot, resulting in four players passing the 75 percent mark:

Player              Votes
Barry Larkin          23
Jeff Bagwell          22
Tim Raines            21
Alan Trammell         19
Mark McGwire          17
Edgar Martinez        11
Rafael Palmeiro        9
Larry Walker           7
Dale Murphy            5
Lee Smith              3
Bernie Williams        3
Fred McGriff           2
Jack Morris            2
Jeromy Burnitz         0
Vinny Castilla         0
Juan Gonzalez          0
Brian Jordan           0
Javy Lopez             0
Don Mattingly          0
Bill Mueller           0
Terry Mulholland       0
Phil Nevin             0
Brad Radke             0
Tim Salmon             0
Ruben Sierra           0
Tony Womack            0
Eric Young             0

In our estimation, Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell should all be headed to the Hall next week; Mark McGwire just misses the cut.

Barry Larkin was a unanimous pick, Bagwell had just one “detractor” and Raines had two. When looking at the results, it’s clear that our writers didn’t disagree so much about specific players (though there are some mighty exceptions; see below), but that they differed in the number of players they voted for. Some of our writers voted for only three or four players; others voted for 10. The ones who voted for just three or four all chose the top three or four players overall.

So vote totals for players beyond the big four or five were a result of individual writers expanding their vote set (wow, that sounded like a math nerd talking, didn’t it?). In other words, the most important question of all is: are you a Big Hall guy or a Small Hall guy?


Big Hall vs. Small Hall

The smaller the Hall, the easier the voting. The chart on the right is the career Wins Above Replacement total for the top 200 position players after 1900. As you can see, it’s relatively easy to select the top 10 players of all time. Top 20? A little harder, but doable. Top 200? Forget about it.

The overlap is bad enough, but WAR isn’t a perfect stat. You should consider a host of statistics and breakouts. WAR probably has an “error bar” of maybe 10 or so wins over a career, so you should factor that in. Plus, there really are other considerations for the Hall beyond a player’s stats (though some of our writers see it differently). Bottom line: the larger your Hall, the more problematic your selections.

I asked a couple of our writers to explain their thinking about Large vs. Small Hall. Here’s Matt Filippi, discussing his approach:

To me, the Hall of Fame is only for the greats. Not the decent, not the good, and not the very good. Only the players who truly dominated the game during the time they played deserve to make to the Hall. In the group of players that are eligible to be elected this year, I only saw three names that were deserving.

A lot of people try to vote for players based on the other players that have been voted in. But I think there are a lot of players who have selected in the past who didn’t deserve it. Using them as a standard isn’t the right way to go about things. Each player must be looked at on his own terms.

On the other hand, occasional THT writer Joe Dimino (who spends way too much time at the Hall of Merit) voted for 10 players. Here’s his rationale:

The Hall of Fame is designed to be an inclusive institution where we honor the greatest players. It is not designed to be a ‘small hall’ as some would prefer. We don’t need a Hall of Fame for guys like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. We need it for players like Arky Vaughan and Johnny Mize who were nearly as great and would otherwise be forgotten. Those are guys who are top five at their position on many lists.

So with that in mind, and the way the Hall of Fame balloting is designed (yes/no, 75 percent required) I think all voters should vote for anyone they reasonably think should be a Hall of Famer. It is very hard to get 75 percent of the vote. The BBWAA has only elected 111 players—and that’s with letting people pick 10. Historically voters usually vote for only six or seven. Many think the mistakes have come from the Vets Committee and the BBWAA guys are the ‘real’ Hall of Famers. That’s really not entirely true. The BBWAA has missed a lot of players.

The Vets Committee has given us Mize, Vaughan, Goose Goslin, Pee Wee Reese and Hal Newhouser. Those are easy Hall of Famers, and they aren’t turn of the century guys. The old VC elected 10 Hall of Merit players, including four Negro Leaguers in the 1990s alone.

Back to the BBWAA. Way too many individual voters are worried about making a mistake by voting for someone as opposed to not voting for him. But when all of the individuals do this, it breaks the voting at the group level. Players such as Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich and Dwight Evans (all in the Hall of Merit) fall off the ballot entirely. If you aren’t sure about a player, you should vote yes, not no. If you aren’t sure, 25 percent of the others will keep the group from electing him. And then as time passes you’ll become sure one way or the other.

If everyone voted for the seven to 10 players they felt were most qualified, a consensus would form around the guys that most agree on. No real mistakes would be made (my bottom five are going to differ from yours and his and hers) and the ballot would be deeper because far fewer players would fall off. This would make it easier for everyone to vote for seven to 10 players. They really should make the threshold to stay on five votes (one percent) not five percent. Several players have been elected by the BBWAA starting with less than five percent of the vote, before that rule was put in place.

Also, what’s the harm if a borderline guy goes in? The point of the place is to honor people. You don’t water it down by adding a few borderline guys. You water it down by letting Frankie Frisch and his cronies vote all of their buddies in.

Finally, this is a pretty deep ballot. There are eight Hall of Merit inductees on the ballot, one solid new candidate and Lee Smith. It’s not very tough to come up with 10, even if I wasn’t trying to be inclusive.

Are you a Small Hall or Big Hall person? It makes a Big Difference.

Tim Raines

Although Tim Raines was voted into the “THT Hall,” there were a couple of writers who didn’t vote for Rock. One was Brad Johnson (who voted for just four players):

My decision to leave Raines off the ballot was a simple matter of preference. I’m a small Hall guy but I like guys who are super elite during their peak more than players who are great for a long period of time. If you set an arbitrary line at 7+ WAR as a super elite year, he had one. Bagwell, who’s the most comparable guy in total value who I voted for, had five, as well as two-three seasons above eight WAR (depending on which WAR you like more). Not a rigorous analysis, but there it is.

With that said, I flip back and forth on my opinion of Raines pretty frequently. When in doubt, I vote No. How many years do I have left to change my mind?

Another was Ben Pritchett:

I understand that longevity and nostalgia play a role in any and every Hall of Fame vote, but I can’t seem to enshrine Tim Raines as a hall-of-famer now or ever. Maybe it’s also my youth, but I just don’t get the appeal of Tim Raines. I read over his statistics and accolades, and I’m not overly impressed. To me, he’s a dressed-down version of Kenny Lofton.

I must first say that Kenny Lofton is not a Hall-of-Famer in my opinion either, but Lofton at least has four Gold Gloves. Tim Raines has none. Lofton is a career .299 hitter to Raines’ .294 batting average. All-Star appearances are pretty even at just six for Lofton and secen for Raines. Raines has no MVP awards and hasn’t finished higher than fifth in the voting. His gaudy run and stolen base numbers can be attributed to his lengthy 23-year career.

Now, I’m not going to totally discount the fact that Raines was a great player for at least 10 years and a good player the other 13, but I can’t justify Kenny Lofton, who put up similar statistics in 17 years, as a Hall-of-Famer. Since there won’t be a Lofton on my ballot, then there shouldn’t be a Raines either.

Mark McGwire

I didn’t ask for comments about Mark McGwire from our writers, because I think we all know the issue here. Speaking for myself, I didn’t vote for the guy. He has admitted that he took steroids, and I don’t believe his playing record would qualify him for the Hall without them (unlike, for instance, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens). So I didn’t vote for him.

Might I change my mind about this? Absolutely. In fact, if this were McGwire’s last year on the ballot, I might have voted for him. But the steroids issue is nuanced and difficult. Although I’m sick and tired of talking about it, I can’t make it go away. Time brings wisdom; let’s see what it brings McGwire.

Edgar Martinez

And then there’s the issue of the greatest designated hitter to make the ballot so far, Edgar Martinez. I asked Richard Barbieri why he didn’t vote for Martinez, and this is Rich’s reply:

According to the usually reliable, Edgar Martinez hit just .317 with a .965 OPS against the Yankees in 138 games. I can only conclude that is a mistake. As far as I remember—and I watch a lot of Yankee games—every time Martinez came up against the Yankees (and especially the otherwise untouchable Mariano Rivera) he would boom an outfielder-splitting double into the gap.

So why not vote for Martinez? I simply cannot bring myself to vote for a man who did not play more than 100 games in the major leagues until he was 27 (admittedly through no fault of his own) and essentially abdicated any defensive responsibilities upon turning 30. I don’t know if the Mariners regarded Martinez as too fragile or too iron-gloved to play the field—I suspect it is the former—but it raises serious questions about the value he generated. Edgar Martinez was one of the greatest hitters I ever saw. But he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

Evaluating the designated hitter position is a tricky thing. WAR takes one approach; other systems take other approaches. Over time, we might come to some broad consensus about the value of a batter who never plays in the field, but we’re not there yet.

On occasion I’ve seen a comparison that bugs me: the idea that voters who don’t vote for DHs shouldn’t vote for relief pitchers either. Folks seem to think that DHs and RPs are both “less than full” players and belong in the same bucket for Hall of Fame consideration. I think that’s a false, simple-minded analogy.
{exp:list_maker}DH’s don’t field. Relief pitchers do everything starting pitchers do, but in fewer innings. It’s a different value equation.
DHs were mandated into existence. RPs have evolved organically because they are strategically important to the game.
DHs play in one league. RPs play in both leagues.
DHs take a regular turn in the batting order. RPs pitch some of the most important innings of each season. {/exp:list_maker}These two things are not the same. I have no problem with a voter treating the two roles differently.

Larry Walker

And then there’s Larry Walker. Walker was a fantastic, all-around great player who suffered from some injuries in his career and also suffered from playing in Coors Field for nine and a half years. I say suffered, because Coors inflated his stats mightily and BBWAA voters are well aware of that. How much credit should he get for those fantastic batting stats? How do we account for the impact of Coors? Those of you who think you know perfectly well how to factor in park effects—you’re wrong.

Because his other skills were often “hidden” in the black arts of baserunning and fielding, Walker probably won’t get the consideration he deserves among Hall of Fame voters. And it really is difficult to judge his Coors years. Still, Jeff Gross is a fan:

Larry Walker was a great player, but he does not get the proper level of respect because his career falls in that grey area between “the best” and “excellent for really long time.” Larry Walker was neither Sandy Koufax-esque (burning brightest briefly), Pujolsian (truly one of the most elite ever), and certainly he did not stick around for 20+ years (although a 15-plus year major league career is nothing to sneeze at).

Despite these knocks, Walker’s numbers stack up nicely with a lot of other deserving Hall of Famers. Walker’s career walk rate was a robust 11.4 percent. He also hit for plenty of power, as evidenced by a career .252 isolated power. 383 home runs might seem light by today’s power number standards, but it still ranks top 70 in the history of baseball. Plus it came with 230 stolen bases. Only 11 players in the history of baseball have more home runs and more stolen bases than Walker.

Coors may have bolstered Walker’s power numbers some, but he nonetheless racked up a career wOBA of .414 that was 42 percent above the major league average production level in the era of steroids, even after park factors are considered. He even stole bases at a decent clip (slightly over 75 percent success rate) and Walker was a pretty good baserunner. FanGraphs only tracks relative baserunning from 2002 and beyond, but even then, in the “twilight” of his career, Walker’s baserunning added an extra 10 runs over the final 461 games of his career. Plus, he played for the Expos (meaning he has the “Jonah Keri factor” going on) and once batted against Randy Johnson with a backwards batting helmet.

If you map out his WAR by season, Walker compares favorably to Paul Molitor and Carlton Fisk for his career. He lasted fewer seasons than either, but Walker had two better single seasons (1997 and 2001) than either Molitor or Fisk ever had. Position differences aside (WAR accounts for that), Walker’s value and case reminds me a lot of Ron Santo (without the off-the-field baggage).

Let me leave you with one final note regarding WAR. My HOF guideline is 70+ career WAR. That captures the greats (seven-plus seasons of 10+ WAR) and the perennial All-Stars (20-plus seasons of 3.5+ WAR). Per FanGraphs, Walker logged seven seasons with 5+ WAR and 10 seasons of 4+ WAR. Walker only posted a couple sub-3 WAR seasons, and those were all seasons where he played 100 or less games—and even then, his full season WAR pace was above 3. With 73 career WAR to his name, Walker deserves a spot in Cooperstown.

Dale Murphy

Let’s not forget Dale Murphy. I think very few Big Hall voters would have a problem with Murphy making the Hall, but he’s not on many people’s lists anymore. Here’s Chris Jaffe’s rationale for supporting Murphy:

Well, first I’m a big-Hall guy. Second and more importantly, I think center fielders are the most underrated position on the field. People tend to think of left, right, and center fielders all as outfield, when there are considerable differences in defensive value. CFs don’t get defensive credit while having to distinguish themselves at the plate in comparison with corner outfielders. Fun fact: from 1936-2011, the BBWAA has given fewer votes to center fielders in their voting history than they have to relievers. That’s impressive, given that relievers haven’t been around that long.

Murphy had a tremendous prime and did it in center field. My favorite Hall of Fame guys are usually either career guys or prime guys. (I distinguish prime from peak. Prime is a bit more sustained than peak). From 1980-88 he was a terrific player and he lasted long enough to have pretty good career numbers, too. His 398 homers are impressive for a guy who played in the 1980s.

Jack Morris

I’m on record as hating the “Jack Morris for the Hall” thing. I think everyone who votes for Morris should have their BBWAA card burned. But Tigers fan Brian Borawski thinks otherwise:

What separates me from a lot of the other Hall of Fame voters out there? Apparently, not much because when I was asked why I voted for Jack Morris in my Hall of Fame ballot I really struggled with the answer. First off, I’m pretty biased towards the Detroit Tigers and I feel that other Tigers have gotten the shaft in the Hall of Fame voting (I think Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker deserve to be in). In a lot of ways, Jack Morris is my last chance to see someone from the 1984 Tigers team make it into the Hall of Fame.

I liken him to the Jim Rice of the pitching candidates and I know that doesn’t help my case. And it’s also hard to hang your hat on his 254 wins when we all know wins aren’t a great indicator of pitching performance. Still, if you look at Morris through 1987, he was one of the best pitchers year and year out in the American League for an eight-year stretch. Then all he did after that was go on to help his team win three more World Series (okay, I’m stretching with 1993). Throw in the fact that he’s the best pitcher on the ballot and I thought it just made sense to give him my vote.

And just to prove that we’re not all sabermetric automatons here at THT, Michael Stein voted against Alan Trammell and for Jack Morris. Here are his thoughts:

Jack Morris—I think that Morris is a Hall of Famer for the wrong reasons. The biggest argument I have in support of this is that Morris was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven, who was finally admitted to the HOF after many years of eligibility. Blyleven’s statistics are numerically better than Morris in many categories, but he pitched four more years and was arguably a compiler.

Morris, on the other hand, pitched very effectively until the end of his career and was known as one of the best big-game pitchers of his era. He won multiple championships and personally had a major impact on those championship teams. Morris had the misfortune of pitching during a time when some of his peers simply had better statistics. But a baseball player’s true value goes beyond mere statistics. How else can it be justified that Ozzie Smith and Kirby Puckett are in the HOF? Neither of them had anywhere near the requisite statistics to meet the arbitrary thresholds for admittance.

In my estimation, Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame because he was easily one of the few pitchers that would be chosen to pitch in an all or nothing game. He also did have over 250 wins, a sub 4.00 ERA, and just under 2,500 strikeouts. His impact on the game of baseball was significant given that he was a dominant force behind three separate World Series championships with three different teams.

Alan Trammell—My argument why Trammell should not be in the Hall of Fame is simply that he wasn’t an elite player. He played in an era when shortstops such as Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken dominated the position. Smith set the standard for shortstops playing defense, and Ripken shattered the stigma of shortstops in terms of offense. Trammell was a solid and consistent player, but he never had any astonishing offensive numbers outside of the offensive-laden 1987 when he hit .343 with 28 homeruns and 105 RBI. That was the only year he surpassed 100 RBI in a season and was by far the most homeruns he ever hit.

His overall career numbers are simply mediocre. Over the course of 20 seasons, he finished with a .285 batting average, 185 home runs, and 1,003 RBI. That is not Hall of Fame caliber in my estimation. I think his legacy is inflated because he spent his entire career with Detroit and formed a long-time dynamic double-play combination with Lou Whitaker that was arguably the best combo in baseball for many years. Trammell was never the best offensive or defensive player at his position, and he was never the best player on his own team. He will be remembered as a solid player, but not worthy of immortal status.

Final thoughts

There are many issues and angles to the Hall of Fame voting. Are you a Big or Small Hall person? How do you account for the fact that there are 50 percent more players than there were before 1960? How do you handle the steroids issue? How do you factor in park impacts, such as Coors? How do you value designated hitters and relievers?

These are not issues that can or should be resolved quickly. They should be debated, in an open medium. We baseball fans should welcome, and participate in, the ensuing discussions. Let’s try not to mock those we disagree with (okay, there are some voters who should be mocked; my impression is that those are the BBWAA members who just don’t know baseball well enough). Let’s not rush to a WAR-only methodology.

Let’s revel in the process. All hail the Hall.

References & Resources
Joe Posnanski also has some excellent thoughts about the history of BBWAA voting.

Career WAR totals from Baseball Reference.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.
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Joe Dimino
10 years ago

Ben, you realize Tim Raines and Kenny Lofton played in eras with vastly different offensive norms right?

Raines had a career OPS+ of 123, Lofton beat that one time.

Raines deserved the 1987 MVP, whether or not he won it is irrelevant. Since when did winning an MVP become a Hall of Fame requirement anyway?

Raines stole 186 more bases and was caught 14 *fewer* times. There’s massive value there too.

Lofton (and Lou Brock) is a poor man’s Tim Raines. They aren’t close.

Joe Dimino
10 years ago

I did brain cramp on the LF/CF thing there regarding Raines and Lofton. But the comments in the article were related to their hitting.

That being said, they aren’t close as hitters. And B-R WAR, compared with Dan Rosenheck’s version underrates Raines 65 v. 80 and overrates Lofton, 65 v. 53. There’s something strange going on, but I trust DanR’s a lot more. He needs to get it published somehow.

Ben Pritchett
10 years ago

Joe, I knew the mention of the name Kenny Lofton would cause some outcry from the pro-Raines camp. I wanted to show that Raines is and was a great player, but the fact that we can even have a discussion of if he’s better than Kenny Lofton automatically eliminates him from having a vote from me. I get that he has some stellar sabermetric numbers, and the SB/CS ratio was amazing for several years in there. Heck, I’d love to have him on my fantasy and real-life teams. But that’s about it. I will whole-heartedly yield to your statements of Raines’ superiority to Lofton offensively, but it’s fun to see how Lofton can really cause an argument. I’m also not a big fan of loving everybody from the 70s and 80s just because they didn’t take steriods and put up marginally lower stats than years before and after. Again, that’s probably a youth thing.

Also Joe, I mentioned Raines lack of gold gloves comparable to Lofton’s four. When it comes to the Hall, I will always lend to offense AND defense (exc. Edgar Martinez). But I say all that to say that I understand why someone would vote for Tim Raines. I’m just not ready to give him my vote. Maybe that will change. I don’t know.

10 years ago

“Morris was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven”.

Really?  Based on what?  Amount of warm fuzzies provided? 

Let’s ignore the counting stats completely and just look at rate stats.  Blyleven struck more guys (6.7 K/9 to 5.8), walked fewer (2.4 BB/9 to 3.3) gave up fewer HR(!)(0.8 HR/9 to 0.9) and allowed a virtually identifical batting average against (.244 vs. .243).  Then you add that Blyeleven did all of this in 1000 more innings and it’s not remotely close.  Oh, and regarding the “Morris was a champion” arguemene—Blyleven won a pair of WS rings as well (‘79 Pirates, ‘87 Twins).  Simply asserting something doesn’t make it true.  Morris was an inferior pitcher to Burt Blyleven in basically every way save for perceived grit and quality of teammates.

Any Jack Morris argument that is not clearly rooted in an extension of one’s fandom is likely disingenuous.  I have no problem with people voting for him on the basis of “Fame” or on the notion that his performance stats merit it (and all that implies about comparable pitchers). But just don’t hide behind unsubstantiated comparisons and/or inaccurate assessments of his performance.

Matthew Namee
10 years ago

I really liked Joe Dimino’s argument that you should vote for any player you’re unsure about. I think most people default in the other direction—if they’re uncertain, they vote no—but Joe’s logic is really sound.

Greg Simons
10 years ago

David Schoenfield looks at Jack Morris’ case nicely here:

A key takeaway:

Morris “never had a season ERA under 3.00. Morris topped 230 innings 11 times in his career. From 1979 to 1992, there were 80 seasons where a pitcher threw at least 230 innings and had an ERA under 3.00. Morris did not have one of those 80 seasons.”

People argue against Blyleven and others by saying they were good but never great.  Morris was that and less.

Joe’s idea of voting yes if you’re unsure seems counterintuitive to me, but I get his point.  If everyone is on the fence, the player falls off the ballot.

Brad Johnson
10 years ago

It depends again on preferences.

If you view the Hall as a tool to teach those new to baseball who the absolute best of the game were, then it’s probably better to err on the side of caution.

If instead you view the Hall as a means of congratulations for an awesome career, then Joe’s viewpoint makes more sense.

As part of my small Hall preference, I also don’t think the purpose of the Hall has anything to do with the players. It’s to allow future generations to quickly identify and learn about uniquely talented players.

That’s how I see it.

Basically, is the Hall for the players or the fans? Or both? And if both, is it more for players or fans, and how much?

Sean Smith
10 years ago

“He also did have over 250 wins, a sub 4.00 ERA, and just under 2,500 strikeouts.”

Aside from the wins, the most team dependent of those figures, this is really damning with faint praise.  A ERA just a bit under 4 for a guy who pitched most of his career before the offensive explosion?  In a world where Orel Hershiser, David Cone, Bret Saberhagen, and Kevin Brown couldn’t even stay on the ballot Morris does not even deserve consideration.

“His impact on the game of baseball was significant given that he was a dominant force behind three separate World Series championships with three different teams.”

Make that two teams.  The Blue Jays won in spite of Morris.  In the 1992 playoffs he was 0-3 and allowed 19 runs in 23 innings.  Luckily his teammates overcame that.  In 1993 they learned their lesson and didn’t let him pitch in the postseason.

10 years ago

The last writer claims Trammell was never the best player on his team. If so who was better in ‘87? For what it’s worth Trammell led the Tigers in WAR six times:  ‘80, ‘84, ‘86-‘88, and ‘90. I’m not saying Tram is no doubt HOFer, (I think he deserves consideration) but I dispute that he wasn’t ever the best plate on his team.

Dave Studeman
10 years ago

Just a suggestion: I don’t think we need to waste a lot of comments here about Morris and Trammell.  That was the opinion of only one of our 23 writers.  There’s lots else to discuss from the piece.

If you really want to obsess about Morris, try commenting on this post:

10 years ago

Well I hope my comment wasn’t considered a waste. It seems the writer should do his homework before claiming a player who led his team in WAR six times, was a WS MVP, and 2nd place in MVP voting was never the best player on his team.

Greg Simons
10 years ago

I think this is a reasonable place to discuss Trammell.  I don’t think we have another post dedicated to him (unlike the Morris debate), while we THT voters gave him 82.6% of the vote while he lingers well under the 75% mark every year with the BBWAA.

Dave Studeman
10 years ago

For people who want to see a broader discussion of Alan Trammell’s Hall of Fame case, there’s this:

I can open the comments again if people want.

10 years ago

In defense of Edgar, DH’s are docked -17.5 runs, or -1.75 wins, in fWAR due to positional adjustment. Last year, Mark Reynolds and Raul Ibanez were the only position players to have a higher negative fielding value than that. If he had played 1B, he would have been docked -12.5 runs, making the difference between the two -5 runs, meaning he could have been a below average first baseman and still posted the same value he did as a DH. Last year only 4 first baseman were worse than -5 runs fielding, so as long as he wasn’t one of the worst fielding first basemen, he would have actually accrued more value on the field. And this is only at first base.

If he was a third baseman, there is a +20 run differential in positional adjustment from DH to 3B. Meaning he could be a -20 run fielder and still create the same value he did over his career as a DH. That is Mark Reynolds bad. All of the defensive stats we do have on him from earlier in his career show him as a plus defender. He could have been as bad as Manny Ramirez defensively (career -157.2 fielding runs vs. -161.1 runs lost due to positional adjustment for Edgar), and still have the same value he had. If he played all his games at 3B instead of DH, and was at 0 fielding runs in his career, his fWAR would go up by roughly 18.4 to over 88 career fWAR. Hell, he could have been as bad as Bobby Bonilla at third, and still add 6 fWAR to his career total.

Jeffrey Gross
10 years ago

Id jump into the fray, but the beaches in Mexico are too blue, so Ill keep it short. Just because a guy played with in an era where a handful of THE BEST played doesnt mean he isnt worthy. Ditto on the argument that he wasnt the best player on his team. Hell if Pujols played on the same team as Cal Ripken…

Anyways, I think players need to be weighted against the times and history. You dont just have to be the best of the best right now in my mind. I mean relativity in the era is important, but if you are going to tell me I cant vote Bagwell or Raines or Walker in because they played with Barry Bonds, Ricky Henderson and Frank Thomas (and some roided up folk), them im just gonna politely disagree and keep drinking my Corona.


jeffrey gross
10 years ago

And just so we are clear, im not a BIG HALL guy (sry for the caps but the mexico keyboard is confusing when it comes to making quotes), but im not small hall either. Im medium hall

By my 70 WAR guideline standard, only about 100 batters would qualify. I would not necessarily let all of them in, but its not an overly sized amount IMO when you consider that 3700+ batters alone qualify on the FG leaderboard.

Brad Johnson
10 years ago

Michael, care to explain your reasoning why Ozzie Smith doesn’t meet the requisite thresholds? Are you referring simply to offensive stats?

Dave Studeman
10 years ago

I’m aware that some people think that steroids didn’t account for McGwire’s power surge and I’m willing to keep an open mind.  But the studies I’ve seen haven’t yet convinced me that they didn’t account for a significant part of his power surge.

10 years ago

This comment on Edgar Martinez hit me:

“So why not vote for Martinez? I simply cannot bring myself to vote for a man who did not play more than 100 games in the major leagues until he was 27 (admittedly through no fault of his own) and essentially abdicated any defensive responsibilities upon turning 30.”

Michael (above) responded on the DH issue, but I question the first part of that statement, about Edgar not establishing himself before he was 27.  Would it make a difference if you took the final three years from the back end of Edgar’s career and moved them to the front end of his career?  I don’t see why the age that he established himself in the major leagues should make a difference (especially when the Mariners kept him at AAA in favor of Jim “.635 OPS in 1988” Presley).  The body of work is what matters.  Edgar was an All-Star at 37, 38, and 40.  His OPS+ from 36 to 40:  152, 157, 160, 139, 141.  From ages 27 to 40, he had 14 years with an overall OPS+ of 153.  If he had done that from ages 25 to 38, would you then be more likely to vote for him?

Richard Barbieri
10 years ago

If he had done that from ages 25 to 38, would you then be more likely to vote for him?

No, but if he had done it from 25 to 38, he still would have had age 39-41 to rack up more numbers. I have a longer Edgar piece planned for this month so that’s all I’ll say for now, but the relative shortness of his career is an issue.

Jeffrey Gross
10 years ago


I never said McGwire wasnt a better overall player. In fact, im one of the writers who voted for Big Mac. I do not give a whole lot of weight to steroids. On borderline cases, itll push me to the negative. But being so relatively good when everyone, including a lot of pitchers, are on roids, well then I dont know what to feel. Ill just vote yes and if at least 75% of the rest of the population agrees….


Joe Dimino
10 years ago

Regarding Trammell, here’s a detailed case I wrote up awhile back …

I’ve warmed on Concepcion since that was written. He was actually on my Hall of Merit ballot this year. We elected Trammell (and Whitaker) in his first year on the ballot.

Joe Dimino
10 years ago

Regarding small or big Hall …. It is what it is. You can’t (shouldn’t) change the rules 75 years in. It’s patently unfair to apply a tougher standard to today’s players than has been applied in the past.

I’m not saying you go to the lowest common denominator (the Frisch selections). But going any higher than say the bottom 20-25% and applying that to the modern player makes no sense at all.

Not to mention there are twice as many teams now. We should be electing more players not fewer.

10 years ago

Might I change my mind about this? Absolutely. In fact, if this were McGwire’s last year on the ballot, I might have voted for him. But the steroids issue is nuanced and difficult. Although I’m sick and tired of talking about it, I can’t make it go away. Time brings wisdom; let’s see what it brings McGwire.

… keep an open mind … haven’t yet convinced me …
See, this bugs the hell out of me. Exactly what wisdom are you waiting for that would finally close your mind and convince you? What evidence do you hope to see to persuade you one way or another? If you’re waiting for the alleged reporters in the BBWAA to get off their asses and do some actual reporting to find some evidence one way or another, you’ve got a hell of a long wait. They seem perfectly content to yap about it for 100 years while waiting for someone else to do the dirty work of fact-finding so we can get this over with.

So why are you still on the fence?

I’ll tell you why: Because you have 15 years to sit on the fence, and that (to me) is just dumb.

On another site a poster noted that attendance at the Hall has been trending down for some time. Granted, the economy sucks for vacation trips, but I suggested that part of the problem might be that enshrining guys like Ron Santo now that he’s DEAD—a guy that most people alive never saw play and the rest can barely remember—isn’t exactly a way to pull in the crowds. And that goes for Bert Blyleven too, even though he’s alive. He pitched for my 1979 Pirates and I can barely remember him at all now that I’m ancient.

Now here we go with guys like McGwire and Clemens and Bonds. Voters are going to sit on the fence and dither and contemplate these guys just because they can, and either wait until the clock runs out and punt to some future Golden Age committee or put them in at the last minute, when the actual enshrinees may well be dead as well and few people will care. It’s also possible the public is baffled by the Hall’s esoteric voting system and wonders why, if Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Famer NOW, he wasn’t enshrined 15 years ago, when maybe they cared?

How does any of this process honor the greatest players in baseball? How does the 15-Year Dither benefit anybody? I’m becoming convinced the BBWAA is in love with its own power and enjoys dangling the Hall over the heads of players (like Bonds and Clemens) they don’t like, for reasons that having nothing to do with who took steroids but which players were assholes.

Let’s be honest here: I’ve read the BBWAA charter, and if it weren’t for deciding the MVP, Cy Young and HoF, there wouldn’t be a hell of a lot of reason for the organization to exist. (I’m going to leave aside for now my complaint about the ethics of working journalists making news themselves and deciding who profits as a result of their votes).

I simply detest the Hall voting system. It needs to be streamlined considerably, but I doubt that will happen because the Hall itself exists to benefit the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce and probably couldn’t care less who gets in as long as it can throw a big weekend bash every year, and change is certainly not going to come voluntarily from the BBWAA, which likes to feel important and the longer, the better.

Brad Johnson
10 years ago


The way I look at it is I consider the players that I want to learn about (which obviously is extremely arbitrary) and throw out all the fringy names that I have no interest in. That doesn’t actually boot out that many names. The resultant list is the standard I apply.

I go one step beyond that. The floor I apply is some distance beyond the actual floor of the remaining list. A player who is between the two arbitrary floors my process reveals has to do something particularly unique in order to catch my attention.

That floor is roughly 70 career WAR and a 5 year peak of about 37 WAR. Now, I quote WAR a lot for HoF purposes, but only because it saves me a lot of words. Clearly, leaning solely on WAR to measure HoF merit is a terrible approach.

Basically, I assume that my preferences are “correct.”

Greg Simons
10 years ago


I’m glad you gave that disclaimer about WAR not being your sole measure of gauging HOF worthiness.

It seems WAR is thrown around quite often these days to justify or degrade someone’s case for the Hall, and while it’s a valuable evaluation tool, it’s only part of the picture.  And it’s certainly not a perfect stat; the fact that there are (at least) two versions of WAR is enough to demonstrate that.

Brad Johnson
10 years ago

I know of 4 versions of WAR (learned about one yesterday and already forget most of the details, most importantly what it’s called) and WARP. They all have strengths and weaknesses.

It’s very good that WAR is imperfect. Otherwise we would have a lot less to write about…

Dave Studeman
10 years ago

bucdaddy, appreciate your thoughts.  A few responses:

– Yes, the HOF is a commercial venture, obviously, though I don’t know why you pick on the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce.  I’d focus more on the Clark Foundation (Clark proposed the HOF in the first place).

– That’s why giving election to an independent, objective body is so important.

– I agree with your frustrations about the BBWAA, but I’m not convinced there is a better solution.  All solutions I can think of have their own “political” issues.

– I disagree about the 15-year period.  HOF membership is not just a matter of evidence.  It is a matter of informed judgment.  Judgment on topics such as the rules of baseball, ethical behavior, what helps teams win, etc. etc.

This is what I tried to express at the end of the article.  The HOF process is not just about voting for players; it’s a dialog about the character of baseball greatness.  Standards of baseball greatness change over time.  This isn’t a bad thing—it’s a necessary thing—and it is a good thing to have a process that makes room for those changes.  Instead of mocking the process, we should be joining in it.

10 years ago


Just for one thing, if the BBWAA suddenly developed an ethical conscience tomorrow and removed itself from voting for the Hall, MVP and Cy, I’m sure the Hall would come up with an alternative plan. Whether it would be better or worse, I can’t say, but the one thing I am sure of is that the members of the BBWAA are not the only people in the universe who know what an HoFer looks like.

I used “Chamber of Commerce” as shorthand for “Maybe at one time we were about honoring the game’s greatest players, but now in bucdaddy’s humble opinion we are at least as much about supporting the Cooperstown tourism industry.”

Dave Studeman
10 years ago

I don’t see any evidence that the Hall is more about money than it ever was.  The major point in the first place was to help Cooperstown’s economy.

10 years ago

“He has admitted that he took steroids, and I don’t believe his playing record would qualify him for the Hall without them…”

Not necessarily claiming that McGwire is a HoFer, but a guy who hit 49 HRs, slugged over .600, and had 5.4 WAR in his rookie year wouldn’t have mashed without steroids? Do we even have evidence that they significantly impacted his performance? It seems just as likely they were responsible for him being so injury-plagued.

10 years ago

Just looked at the comment that Walker’s career walk rate was a “robust 11.4%”. McGwire’s was 17.2%.

10 years ago


Thinking it over, perhaps I have been too harsh on the BBWAA. It could be that they simply like the argument too much to try to actually settle it. You probably have some relative, an uncle maybe, who every time the family gets together at Thanksgiving or Christmas wants to argue with your dad about the shortest route to the airport or something. Now they could probably take a stop watch and get in the car and settle it once and for all in about an hour, but where’s the fun in that? Then they wouldn’t have anything to say to each other.

I’m just supposing here.

In any case, I think the whole process is kind of insulting to a) the guys on the Hall ballot, who shouldn’t have to be put in the position of sitting by the phone for 15 years like some dweeb waiting for a prom date to call, and b) the fans, who shouldn’t be put in the position of having their collective memories of some outstanding players dim over time until it’s “WHO got elected to the Hall? Geez, I can barely remember old what’s-his-name” (yawn) for the older fan, and just “Who?” for the newer fan.

10 years ago

Richard Barbieri said…

“No, but if he had done it from 25 to 38, he still would have had age 39-41 to rack up more numbers. I have a longer Edgar piece planned for this month so that’s all I’ll say for now, but the relative shortness of his career is an issue.”

Richard, thanks for the response.  I look forward to reading your longer piece on Edgar Martinez.  I hope you’ll consider the following: 

How important is it for a player to “rack up more numbers” if he does it at replacement level? 

For example, over the last four years of Eddie Murray’s career, he had 0 WAR, with an OPS+ of 95.  He wasn’t helping his teams.  During this stretch, he went over 3,000 hits and 500 homers which, at the time, were “milestone numbers” for the Hall of Fame.

So what if Edgar Martinez played another four years at replacement level to “rack up more numbers?”

I took Edgar’s actual numbers:

8672 PA, .312/.418/.515, 1219 R, 2247 H, 309 H, 1261 RBI

then added the last four years of Eddie Murray’s career (0 WAR, 95 OPS+):

10441 PA, .304/.403/.501, 1426 R, 2682 H, 372 HR, 1516 RBI

Does adding four replacement-level seasons make him a Hall of Famer?

Just to be clear, I’m not expecting a response to this question here in the comments, but I do hope you address this issue of “compiling” numbers at replacement-level at the end of a player’s career.  Another glaring example is Pete Rose, who had -1.4 WAR over his last 7 seasons, during which he had 884 hits which, of course, allowed him to pass Ty Cobb on the alltime hits list.

Dave Studeman
10 years ago

Nope, I don’t have any relatives like that.  I’m just someone who’s been around long enough to understand that perspectives can, and will, change.  It’s not that I enjoy arguing; it’s that I appreciate wisdom.

Bob B.
10 years ago

I was curious enough about the comments earlier regarding Tim Raines (who I do think should be in the Hall) and Kenny Lofton. I added in Tony Gwynn to make it more interesting. The listings are:
player   brWAR fgWAR bgWAR bgWS bgWSAB
Raines   64.6   70.9   70.9 382.1 196.9
Gwynn   68.4   67.9   57.7 386.2 197.0
Lofton   65.3   66.3   48.6 293.0 116.8

I was intrigued that in 2 of the systems all 3 players are quite close, while 2 others have Raines and Gwynn neck and neck with Lofton way back and the remaining system has them pretty clearly separated.

So… just thought it was a fun comparison.

Greg Simons
10 years ago

Thanks for digging into this Bob.  As I mentioned earlier, WAR is far from a perfect stat.  And on top of that, our ability to objectively evaluate defense has a long way to go.

The more tools we can bring to bear on the discussion, the more varied ways we evaluate players, the better.

10 years ago


What form do you expect this “wisdom” to take, if and when it comes? How do you know when you’ve got enough wisdom to actually, finally, make a decision? You could use “waiting for wisdom” as a reason to drag this out until we’re all dead (or the 15-year ballot limit forces your hand, whichever comes first). Why is it easier to achieve wisdom on Barry Larkin than it is Jeff Bagwell, or Roger Clemens? Should you be petitioning the BBWAA and the Hall to extend the ballot from 15 years to 25 years, or 35, because maybe some more wisdom will come along in year 33 that will finally clinch it? Should no one ever go in first ballot because some new wisdom might emerge in year 2? Why shouldn’t we just punt it all to a future Golden Age Committee then? Forget the five-year wait, only dead players can get in, after we’ve done the autopsies to see if we can find any PEDs in there.

It may sound like I’m mocking you, just a little, but really: I understand what you’re getting at, kind of. This is pretty permanent once it’s done, so I understand you not wanting to make a hasty decision. I just don’t know what you hope to see or hear tomorrow about Jeff Bagwell that you don’t already know today. Are you waiting for Clemens et al to confess or something? I’m just genuinely puzzled.

10 years ago

“Morris is better than Blyleven”

How can I take seriously someone who says that?  Someone else magnanimously said that a case can be made for Morris, but is there really a good case? 

He won over 250 games:  That is very good and will get the attention, but it certainly isn’t enough to be hall-worthy alone; it’s looks borderline compared to others in the hall in the last 50 years – so yeah it’s nice, but there needs to be more to make up for that low total, it’s not a plus by itself.

He magnificently won one of the greatest postseason pitching matchups ever.  Great, but we’re not gonna vote someone in for one game are we?

For someone to win a HOF borderline amount of games because of unusually high run support is disqualifying rather than a good point.

How can we still be having this debate?  I cannot imagine a sincere non-partisan superfan who pays attention to the record (stats) saying such an outrageous piece of nonsense.  Where have they been?  And why would they populate a stats oriented baseball site?  Let ‘em worship mustaches with Murray Chass.

Dave Studeman
10 years ago

Apologize for puzzling you, bucdaddy, but I’m not going to bother to answer all of your questions. Bottom line, I believe that time brings perspective.  I guess you don’t.

As an example, I believed at the time that it was a mistake to forego Roberto Clemente’s five-year waiting period.  There was no way to have a proper perspective in the wake of his tragic death.

The use of steroids is a very difficult moral issue, and I believe that time will bring all of us a better perspective on the issue.

10 years ago


Fair enough, and all the questions didn’t need to be answered anyway. They were taking your position to what I thought were logical extremes in an effort to make a point (and meanwhile I was wondering whether if you only had one year to make a decision, rather than 15, you could have made it by now, and if you can make that decision in one year, why do you need to stretch it out over 15?). Surely you can understand that if we gave some people 100 years to make up their minds, they’d take 100 years. I’m not saying that that is bad or good, it’s just the way people work and the bizarre voting system encourages it.

Another problem: Last night I read a piece about Jack Morris, who has spent 13 years on the ballot. It made the point that if Morris doesn’t make it this year he is unlikely to make it at all, given the HoF classes coming up in the next two years. But why should Jack Morris’ HoF chances diminish because of who else is on the ballot? Shouldn’t Jack Morris be evaluated ON HIS OWN CREDENTIALS and be found either worthy or wanting based ONLY on what Jack Morris did? Why should he be held up in comparison to Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza? They have nothing to do with Jack Morris, but their presence on the ballot with significantly affect whether Morris makes it or not. And to me, that’s dumb.

But it’s the kind of thing the 15-year ballot encourages. I just think it would have been far better for everyone involved if 13 years ago the voters had told Jack Morris, once and for all, “You’re not worthy,” and be done with it. Then he wouldn’t have to (metaphorically) sit by the phone every year until he’s an old man, and we wouldn’t be subjected to stories about Jack Morris waiting by the phone every year.

Dave Studeman
10 years ago

For every Jack Morris story there is a Bert Blyleven story, in which open-minded people changed their minds.  It happens.  It not only happens, it *should* happen, and we should have a process that incorporates it.

Bottom line, we have better results in the 15-year system than we would have in the one-year system.

10 years ago

A compromise, then:

Five years.

BTW, how do we know Barry Larkin wasn’t ‘roided? Look at his age 32 season. Where did those HRs come from? Sure seems like everyone was in a big rush to put him in the Hall.

10 years ago

Tell you what, I’m going to throw one more idea out here and then get on with my life and leave you alone, at least until next year, but see if this doesn’t make sense (copying a comment posted on SB Nation):

Let’s extend the waiting period from five years to 10, and then make it a one-and-done election, keeping the 75 percent standard. Ten years should be plenty enough time to wait for new revelations or information or “wisdom” or whatever to occur. One-and-done eliminates the need to compare each player with the other members of his class; in fact, if you really want to spark new interest in the Hall, I’d propose that instead of one big election every year, with a realistic chance for at most three or four guys to get in, no matter how many are qualified, why not hold an election once a month, up or down on one player at a time? This should not be hard in this day and age, it could be done by Twitter, with every Tweet made public.

That removes said deserving player from the competition created by loaded Hall classes and allows him to stand on his own merits. January 2013: Vote on Barry Bonds. February 2013: Vote on Mike Piazza. Etc. Imagine the buzz all year. You could have as many as 12 players a year elected. (This would necessitate eliminating many of the marginal players on the ballot, but the Hall does that already, deciding whether to put Omar Moreno on and keep Duane Kuiper off. This just cuts the list further. The Omar Morenos will not make the final ballot.)

This will also spare us sob stories about Jack Morris sitting by the phone for 15 years like some dweeb waiting for a prom date to call. Jack gets his shot (maybe) and closure. No Golden Age committee, 2nd/3rd/15th etc. chance, no dangling in limbo, it’s in or out and get on with your life.

Perhaps the 12 finalists could be determined in a vote of fans and broadcasters and ex-players, managers and executives, to get more people involved in the process and break the loathesome BBWAA monopoly. They can’t be the only people in the universe who know what a Hall of Famer looks like. The more people involved, the more voices join the argument, the more interest generated, the less the process gets dragged out until players on the ballot are forgotten or dead, the better for everyone, right?

10 years ago

bucdaddy, I think a better solution to your concern about how others on the ballot impact someone’s vote total is to remove the limit of ten votes per voter. I don’t think going to one and done would in any way be better than the current system. In fact, all it would do is increase the importance of the Veterans’ Committee, and they really haven’t been a model of rationality.

10 years ago

Michael, Hmmm … I can see some merit to that.

Part of what my idea was meant to address, though, was the fact that attendance at the HoF is trending down and interest in the Hall as an institution seems to be waning. As it stands, we get about two weeks of argument in late December/early January, when everyone but hardcore baseball geeks is paying attention to football or basketball, and one big weekend in the summer and that’s about the only time anyone thinks about the HoF.

I can’t imagine some of that lessening interest isn’t due at least in small part to 1), the esoteric voting system and b)the 15-year waiting period + Golden Age committee, which means that sometimes there are players inducted that few people alive even saw play.

My proposal, I think, sparks interest and debate and attention to the HoF year-round. Put the vote on TV in prime time every month. Hell, ESPN has managed to make something as mind-numbingly boring as the NFL draft into a three-day spectacle, imagine if, on Jan. 28, 2013, they could carry a two-hour special: “Barry Bonds: In Or Out?” and tabulate the votes in real time. And do that with a new player every month. You think that wouldn’t be riveting TV? At least as riveting as the NFL draft.

10 years ago

Ok, all you Jack Morris for the HOF fan club members. Take the stats of Jack, Morris, Dennis Martinez, Jerry Reuss, Micky Lolich, Jerry Koosman, Joe Niekro, Rick Reuchel, Jim Perry, Kevin Brown, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Luis Tiant, Billy Pierce, Vida Blue on one spreadsheet and remove the names. I dare you to pick out which stats belong in the the HOF, actually I double dare you.