October 2, 2014

Some Thoughts on Secondary Aspects of the Hall of Fame Voting Results

January 15, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

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.

Comments

10 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Secondary Aspects of the Hall of Fame Voting Results”
  1. Steve says:

    No to Trammell, Whitaker,
    but dwight evans???? you must be a redsox fan…25th best RF of all time.

  2. David says:

    With an article like this, I’m always left thinking, “How big would this author’s Hall of Fame be?” Not in favor of Trammell, Whitaker, Evans, Smith, Martinez, McGriff, Brown, Simmons, or Grich? My guess is that you, Mr. Stone, would have a Hall of Fame which consisted of less than ten players/position, if it were up to you. So, I would guess, roughly 90-ish Major League Hall of Fame players or fewer (9 per position, with room for up to 18 pitchers). I’m curious as to this position, because in actuality, there are over 200 former ML players in the Hall. I just don’t think this position is intellectually consistent with what the actual HOF voting has been in the past. And certainly, you’re entitled to your own opinions, but it seems to me that, if you had a vote, it would be worth considering the historical precedent set by the actual institution itself, as well as your own opinion. I used to be a “small Hall” guy myself, but I just don’t see it anymore.

  3. Tom Stone says:

    @Steve — As I explicitly said, I don’t support Dwight Evans for the Hall of Fame. I was just noting the inconsistency in the amount of support he got (only on ballot for three years) and the greater support that others have received. In particular, I think he was hurt in his third year by the very strong first-timer class that year, as his vote total declined a lot, and below the 5% threshold, that year.

    @David — Thanks for your comment. I don’t know how many people I would vote for the HOF if I were starting from scratch. But I do know that there are some people who are in the HOF who do not deserve to be there. This is a common position actually, argued for quite convincingly by many people — e.g., Bill James in his book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?”. Some players, during some eras in particular, were clearly selected because they had friends/teammates on the veterans committee. In my view, these horrible choices should not be used in any way to argue for additional candidates being selected. Such members were *mistakes*, and should be viewed as such. In fact, the players I discussed in my article would be *better* choices than many who are already in the Hall, and yet I still don’t recommend their selection (I come close in some cases though). Again, I don’t use current members — the mistaken choices — as any part of the argument in favor of the likes Trammell, Whitaker, Evans, etc. I have a standard, and I argue some who are already in the Hall fall short of that standard.

  4. David says:

    @Tom

    Right, I would agree – there have been a lot of mistakes. But who’s a mistake? Let’s take second base as an example (because I find it helpful to look at benchmarks for different positions in the Hall). You can argue about some of these (Carew, for example), but here they are, in a tentative order of “ranking” leaving out Bid McPhee, since he played most of his career before 1893:

    Eddie Collins
    Joe Morgan
    Rogers Hornsby
    Jackie Robinson
    Nap Lajoie
    Frankie Frisch
    Charlie Gehringer
    Rod Carew
    Ryne Sandberg
    Nellie Fox
    Billy Herman
    Bobby Doerr
    Tony Lazzeri
    Johnny Evers
    Red Schoendienst
    Bill Mazeroski

    The question I would ask is, “Where is the significant drop-off?” In other words, if you could draw a line of demarcation, where would it be? For me, that line is between Billy Herman and Bobby Doerr. I don’t have ANY problem with Billy Herman being the standard-bearer for 2B. And I certainly wouldn’t be sad to envision the Hall purged of Doerr, Lazzeri, Evers, Schoendienst, and Mazeroski. The other option, I think, would be to make Sandberg the standard, and additionally knock off Fox and Herman. I don’t have a problem with that, either. But either way, you pick the guy, you look at the careers of all other retired players of that position, and you see if they meet the standards. In regards to Whitaker and Grich, I say they’re easily in at the Herman standard, and I think Whitaker makes it for sure by the Sandberg standard, though I don’t know if Grich would. This is just what I would recommend as a method, and I think it works pretty well.

  5. Tom Stone says:

    @Dave — OK, now we are in agreement. There have been a lot of mistaken HOF selections over the years, so we can’t use the “Player X is in already, so Player Y should be too” approach. Glad we agree on that.

    And you raise a good case for Whitaker and Grich. In fact, your comment has prompted me to consider them again, along the lines you suggest, and I’m actually now moved to supporting them as a result!

    First off, I agree with you on general *method* — pick one or more metrics or means for ranking players at a position, and then determine where the cutoff is — and then any players above that should be in, those below should not. That has been Mike Hoban’s approach with his CAWS method, which he has written about extensively here at Seamheads, though one could also use career Win Shares, WAR, or a combination of such metrics to generate each position’s list.

    Your 2B list is pretty solid. I think you are missing Roberto Alomar in there, presumably in the upper half somewhere. And where Craig Biggio would rank when he becomes eligible next year will be interesting to consider (like Carew, he admittedly split time with other positions).

    Here is a listing of 2B from a career Win Shares perspective. I’m only listing the actual HOFers, but with any others with 300+ WS added in — this includes Biggio, Kent, and surprisingly Randolph.

    574 Eddie Collins
    512 Joe Morgan
    502 Rogers Hornsby
    496 Nap Lajoie
    428 Craig Biggio
    384 Rod Carew
    383 Charlie Gehringer
    375 Roberto Alomar
    366 Frankie Frisch
    351 Lou Whitaker
    346 Ryne Sandberg
    331 Jeff Kent
    329 Bobby Grich
    312 Willie Randloph
    305 Bid McPhee
    304 Nellie Fox
    298 Billy Herman
    281 Bobby Doerr
    268 Johnny Evers
    262 Red Schoendienst
    257 Jackie Robinson
    252 Tony Lazzeri
    242 Joe Gordon
    219 Bill Mazeroski

    Interestingly, I count at least 9 other 2B who have more career Win Shares than Mazeroski: Larry Doyle, Dick McAuliffe, Davey Lopes, Buddy Myer, Cupid Childs, Jim Gilliam, Del Pratt, Miller Huggins, Hardy Richardson. Either this means Win Shares doesn’t properly account for defense (Mazeroski’s strong suit), or it means Mazeroski really should not have been selected for the Hall of Fame — at least if one agrees with me that none of these other guys are deserving.

    As I noted earlier, Mike Hoban’s CAWS system takes Win Shares and tweaks it to account better for peak performance — what he calls “Core Value”. This results in a CWS metric, and you can see a fairly recent analysis of 2B at his post analyzing Roberto Alomar [http://seamheads.com/2009/12/18/the-2010-hof-ballot-%e2%80%93-the-case-for-roberto-alomar/]

    Interestingly, by his reckoning the proper Hall of Fame 2B (once all of them are eligible) would include, in this order:

    Eddie Collins
    Rogers Hornsby
    Joe Morgan
    Nap LaJoie
    Craig Biggio
    Charlie Gehringer
    Roberto Alomar
    Ryne Sandberg
    Rod Carew
    Frankie Frisch
    Jeff Kent
    Bobby Grich
    Lou Whitaker
    Jackie Robinson

    Robinson is a special case of course. But in my view he is drawing a very thin line between Whitaker (262) and the next two in his CAWS ranking, which are Nellie Fox (258) and Billy Herman (257). Whitaker has significantly more career Win Shares (351) compared to their 304 and 298 respectively, but they have higher peak performance (core value).

    After those two there is a bigger drop off, with Bobby Doerr only having a 238 CAWS. So it seems you could draw the line as Hoban does and include Whitaker, Grich, and Kent amongst those deserving, or you could also include Fox and Herman. Either way current HOFers McPhee, Doerr, Evers, Gordon, Lazzeri, Schoendienst, Mazeroski fail to make the cut.

    Finally, I’ll note that Whitaker and Grich fair even better if you look at career WAR, at least as calculated by the formula used at baseball-reference.com [http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/WAR_career.shtml]. According to that approach, the all-time 2B would be ranked as:

    Rogers Hornsby
    Eddie Collins
    Nap LaJoie
    Joe Morgan
    Charlie Gehringer
    Rod Carew
    Frankei Frisch
    Lou Whitaker
    Bobby Grich
    Craig Biggio
    Roberto Alomar
    Jackie Robinson
    Ryne Sandberg
    Willie Randolph

    This is very enlightening — Whitaker and Grich eclipse Biggio, Alomar, and Sandberg here! Also interesting is that Randolph edges out the likes of Kent, Herman, and the all the rest.

    In conclusion, at this point I am rather inclined to say Grich and Whitaker are in fact HOF worthy (and Biggio will be too). Using CAWS and regular career win shares, I like Kent too, and perhaps even Fox and Herman. Even with his better showing according to WAR, I can’t bring myself to support Randolph though.

    Oh, and as I noted in my original post, I consider Whitaker and Trammell to be so similar, since I am now supporting Whitaker for the HOF, I am now also supporting Trammell. Not surprisingly, this brings me in line with Hoban’s CAWS results for SS, as discussed in his post about Barry Larkin [http://seamheads.com/2009/12/27/the-2010-hof-ballot-%e2%80%93-the-case-for-barry-larkin/], where both Trammell and Ozzie Smith barely make his cutoff.

  6. David says:

    Good to see I’ve gained a convert, Tom! ;)

    Whoops on missing Roberto Alomar. I used an older list of 2B in the Hall, and didn’t think to add him. But yes, I would definitely say he’s in, and I don’t think there needs to be TOO much discussion about it.

    Obviously, I agree that Jackie Robinson is a special case among 2B. His peak was phenomenal as it is, and he would have had much higher career numbers if he’d been able to break in earlier.

    I actually thought of using Mike Hoban’s CAWS gauge when doing this, but I didn’t feel like digging through all of his article to find what I needed, so I just generated the list subjectively. It appears to be in relatively close agreement with CAWS, though, so I feel pretty solid about it. If I’d looked at some numbers while I’d done it, I’m sure it would have matched even moreso.

    As I said in my own comment, Fox and Herman could go either way for me. I’m inclined to keep them as part of the “in” group, simply because they actually ARE in. But if someone were to argue that they belonged out, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Regardless, I think it’s pretty clear based on the Hall’s own standards that Doerr, Lazzeri, Evers, Schoendienst, and Mazeroski are a cut below the others. The rest are much more comparable to one another.

    I think it would be an interesting exercise to try this on a few more positions sometime. So, if you’re looking for an idea for a post here at Seamheads, this would be a good one!

    By the way, thanks for continuing to correspond with me in the comments. As a reader, I really appreciate it. I look forward to reading more of your work here!

  7. Mike Lynch says:

    If you’re okay with Herman and Fox, I don’t understand why you’re not okay with Doerr. Among the “questionables” you mention, Doerr has the highest WAR/154 games at 4.1 and is second in Win Shares/154 games at 23.4. Herman is at 3.7 and 23.8; Lazzeri is at 4.0 and 22.5 and Fox is at 2.8 and 19.9. The others aren’t worth calculating because I know they wouldn’t crack that group of four. By contrast, Eddie Collins is at 6.7 and 31.4 per 154 and Joe Morgan is at 6.6 and 31.0 per 162. Those guys (and others) are obviously head and shoulders above the likes of Doerr and Herman, but if Herman can go either way, I think Doerr can too, even above Fox.

  8. David says:

    @Mike –

    The reason I put Doerr lower than the others is because his best seasons weren’t as good as the others. Doerr’s best season was one of 6.4 rWAR*, followed by 5.5, 5.3, and 5.2 (total or 22.4). Don’t get me wrong, those are great numbers. But Billy Herman’s best four seasons were 7.2, 6.4, 5.5, and 5.3 (24.4). Fox’s best four were 7.3, 6.2, 5.2, and 5.0 (total of 23.7). To me, those four seasons make a big difference, because after that, they each have some seasons of 4, a few of 3, a couple of 2, and then become sub-average players, and I’m not really interested in that when considering whether or not someone is a Hall-of-Fame-type player. Peak is definitely more important, in my opinion, because it’s peak seasons that lead to pennants. Consistency is wonderful, but it’s just not as meaningful to the pennant count, and so I don’t value it as much. So anyway, the peak values are the reason I drew the line where I did. I hope that makes sense.

    *I used rWAR here. Frankly, if I were trying to be more thorough, I would have checked Fangraphs, as well as the Baseball Gauge to see their calculations, but the point was more to be quick-and-dirty than to be super thorough. I apologize if you looked at different sites and reached different conclusions. Regardless, the issue probably merits further study.

  9. Mike Lynch says:

    @David,

    Thanks for sharing that. I’m not familiar with rWAR, so I guess I’d better familiarize myself with that metric. No apologies necessary; it’s debates like these that make baseball so much fun to discuss. There are umpteen ways these days to measure player performance and they differ enough that we’ll be “arguing” about this subject until the end of time. :-)

  10. Mike Lynch says:

    @David,

    Never mind about rWAR; I just figured it out. By the way, the numbers I used came from the Baseball Gauge, which, as you know, has different scores than Fangraphs and B-R.com. Again, not right or wrong, just different.

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