Some Thoughts on Secondary Aspects of the Hall of Fame Voting Results
The 2012 Baseball Hall of Fame vote was recently announced, and only one player was elected, Barry Larkin. Fellow Seamheads author Andrew Martin wrote a good post dissecting this year’s vote. I’m not going to do the same, especially since I largely agree with his views:
- Larkin is marginal but I support his election;
- Bagwell and Raines should get elected and their lack of support is distressing (see Andrew’s additional post arguing for Bagwell);
- I don’t understand the increasing support for Morris — his rise to 66.7% would be particularly concerning, except next year there are many big names joining the ballot, so I actually think Morris’ vote might decline (or at least not rise further);
- Lee Smith, Trammell, E. Martinez, and McGriff are all marginal nominees (I don’t support any of them for HOF).
In this post, what I’d like to focus on are some of secondary aspects and questions that often arise regarding the HOF vote. For instance, one such aspect is which players are “first ballot Hall of Famers.” This is seen as an informal extra honor — obviously it is a feather in your cap to be elected on the first try, rather than on the second or third, let along fifteenth. The most recent such player… the very deserving Rickey Henderson in 2009.
Another such aspect is the player’s percentage of the vote in the year they were elected. 75% is needed for election, but what successful candidates actually get above that varies a lot. Typically the highest results are from a subset of the “first ballot” guys. A good trivia question would be which players were elected with 98% or more of the vote… I would have guessed only two correctly I think. Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan were both elected with 98.8%, Cal Ripken got 98.5%, George Brett got 98.2%, and Ty Cobb also got 98.2% when he was the top vote-getter (surpassing even Babe Ruth) in the first election in 1936. (I would have correctly guessed Tom Seaver and Cal Ripken, because I distinctly remember each of their high vote percentages.) Trivia Bonus Round — who are next in line, the only two players to receive between 97.0 and 97.9% of the vote? Tony Gwynn and Hank Aaron.
But its a third aspect of the voting that I really want to dig into here. This issue is the consideration of relative ranking of players’ vote percentages, both within a year and over time. How many times have you heard others (or yourself) state things like:
- I don’t support Player X for the HOF, but he deserved to get more votes than that!
- I don’t support either Player X or Player Y, but Player X should have gotten more votes than Player Y, not less.
- I don’t support Player X for the HOF, but how could he not even get the 5% minimum to stay on the ballot for next year? That is not right.
I know I’ve caught myself thinking things like the above over the years, many times. And I assume I am not alone. In a sense, such statements are strange: I don’t support the players in question, and yet by saying any of the above, it appears I’m implicitly suggesting that more voters should have done the *wrong thing* by voting for the player. Why? Apparently so that some sort of cosmic, comparative justice would result — but of course NOT so that the player in question would actually get enough votes for election (because again, ex hypothesi these are players I don’t support for election).
Of course, the reason for this oddity is that the vote is a simple yes/no, thumbs-up/thumbs-down vote, not one involving point allocation, scoring, and so on. And yet… each year we get to see the % of voters who voted for each player, and this gives a percentage number that can be compared from one player to the next, players across years, and so on. If all the Hall of Fame told us was who was elected and who was not, and if they didn’t have the 5% rule to remain on the ballot for the following year, then this issue wouldn’t arise — we would all simply argue that certain players should be in, and others not, period. There would be nothing to talk about regarding relative rankings of the results, who should remain on the ballot, etc.
Anyway, for fun, here are some examples of the third type of statement listed above. As I implied earlier, I draw the line for middle infielders at or shortly after Larkin. I am really on the fence regarding Alan Trammell, and currently come down as being against his election. But what I find unjust is that Trammell has stayed on the ballot for 11 years now, and has recently seen his support rise from a percentage in the teens to the twenties to 36.8% in 2012… all while his double play partner Lou Whitaker didn’t even get enough votes to stay on the ballot for a second year. In 2001, he received only 2.9% of the vote. Yes, two first-timers were elected that year (Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett), and it was also Don Mattingly’s first year on the ballot. But Dave Stewart was also a first timer, and he got 7.4% and so could be considered again the next year (is he really more deserving than Whitaker?).
Here are Trammell and Whitaker’s resumes for the HOF, which in my view are very similar:
- Trammell: 110 OPS+, 66.9 WAR, 185 HR, 236 SB, .285 AVG, .352 OBP, .415 SLG, 1231 R, 1003 RBI, 6-time All-Star, 4 Gold Gloves
- Whitaker: 116 OPS+, 69.7 WAR, 244 HR, 143 SB, .276, .363 OBP, .426 SLG, 1386 R, 1084 RBI, 5-time All-Star, 3 Gold Gloves, ROY in 1978
Is there really a big difference here in favor of Trammell? I don’t see it. And so in comparing these two, I think it is wrong that Whitaker didn’t get more support and was dropped after his first year on the ballot — and yet, I don’t think he is a Hall of Fame worthy, so I admit it is a bit odd for me to say that more people should have voted for him. Perhaps it is better to say that far fewer people should be voting for Trammell! Either way, my point for now is that I consider these two guys a package deal — if you vote for one, you gotta vote for the other because it is hair-splitting to choose between them.
Dwight Evans is another case. He lasted only 3 years on the ballot, getting 5.9% in 1997, 10.4% in 1998, but then slipping all the way to 3.6% in 1999 — the big year when Ryan, Brett, Yount, and Fisk were all on the ballot for the first time. That is a shame in my view, because Evans I think has a resume that compares well against other players who have received more support over the years:
- 127 OPS+, 61.8 WAR, 385 HR, 1470 R, 1384 RBI, .272 AVG, .370 OBP, .470 SLG, and he was strong defensively winning eight Gold Glove awards.
Evans was underrated during his playing days, as indicated by being an All-Star three times. In my view, he remains underrated in retirement as well — and yet, I don’t quite advocate him for the HOF, so again: I’m just noting I think he should have gotten more support relative to what I’ve seen other similar players get.
Consider the case of John Franco and compare his vote with that of Lee Smith. Franco only received 4.6% of the vote in 2011, and so was not on the ballot again this year. Lee Smith on the other hand has received between 36.6% and 50.6% of the vote in his ten years on the ballot. Compare their resumes:
- John Franco: 2.89 ERA, 138 ERA+, 1.333 WHIP, 25.8 WAR, 424 SV, 4-time All-Star, 3-time Saves leader.
- Lee Smith: 3.03 ERA, 132 ERA+, 1.256 WHIP, 30.3 WAR, 478 SV, 7-time All-Star, 4-time Saves leader.
Is that really enough of a difference to justify the difference in HOF vote support? Granted, at one time Lee Smith was the all-time Saves leader, but he has since been passed by Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. So now I just see a difference of 54 saves, three all-star appearances, and mixed differences in other stats.
Another interesting case is that between Kevin Brown and Jack Morris. Similar to Franco, Brown got 2.1% of the vote in 2011, so that was it for him. Morris on the other hand has seen his vote percentage rise from a low of 19.6% in his second year on the ballot to 66.7% in his thirteenth year (this year). Compare their resumes:
- Kevin Brown: 211-144 W-L, 3.28 ERA, 127 ERA+, 1.222 WHIP, 64.8 WAR, 6-time All-Star, led the league in Wins once and ERA twice
- Jack Morris: 254-186 W-L, 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.296 WHIP, 39.3 WAR, 5-time All-Star, led the league in Wins twice and strikeouts once
Granted, Morris was outstanding in the 1984 and 1991 World Series, but he was also horrible in the 1992 World Series. He pitched longer, which gives him 43 more wins, but also 42 more losses — hardly a big plus. The ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and WAR differences — in favor of Brown — are striking. So is the massive HOF vote difference here justified? (Again, I’m not in favor of either player being elected.)
In looking over the past twenty years of HOF votes, I found a few other players that I think didn’t get as much love on their first (and only) year on the ballot, again relative to what other players have gotten:
- Galarraga – 4.1% in 2010 (399 HR, 1425 RBI, 118 OPS+, 5-time All-Star, 2 Gold Gloves)
- Jose Canseco – 1.1% in 2007 (OK, I know… steroids, big time. But still, 462 HR, 1407 RBI, 200 SB, 132 OPS+, 6-time All-Star, ROY, MVP)
- Will Clark – 4.4% in 2006 (284 HR, 1205 RBI, .303 AVG, .384 OBP, 137 OPS+, 6-time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove)
- Joe Carter – 3.8% in 2004 (396 HR, 1445 RBI, including 10-years of 100+ RBI, 5-time All-Star, though admittedly only a 105 OPS+)
- Ted Simmons – 3.7% in 1994 (248 HR, 1389 RBI, 117 OPS+, 8-time All-Star, 1771 games played as catcher — making these numbers all the more impressive)
- Bill Madlock – 4.5% in 1993 (.305 AVG, 123 OPS+, four-time batting champion, although admittedly only an All-Star three times)
- Bobby Grich – 2.6% in 1992 (224 HR, 125 OPS+, six-time All-Star, 4-time Gold Glove at second base).
I can’t really say that these guys should have gotten *more votes*, since I wouldn’t vote for them myself — I just think these players’ lack of support in their only year on the ballot is in a relative sense unfair, and worth noting.