The American Baseball Hall of Fame (part 3 of 3)

Part 3:

In today’s third and final installment, I’d like to take a look at the players who should be in the Hall of Fame, but aren’t. Job one is figure out a way to determine who meets the standards of the hall, which is harder than it sounds. The guidelines for voting are extremely vague to the point of being useless as a guide. The de facto definition of a Hall of Fame player is “whoever the voters believe should be in the Hall of Fame.”

Fortunately, there are reasonably objective ways to measure which player is qualified by looking at who has and has not been elected. Several baseball statisticians have built tools to measure this, which is a good thing, because I’ve no interest in recreating this particular wheel. For our discussion today, we’re going to use Jay Jaffe’s JAWS method. It’s a method that averages the total value of a player’s career with their best seven year. In both cases, the number is expressed as “wins above replacement”, meaning the number of wins the player in question was worth above the sort of player who could be freely acquired at essentially no cost. This takes into account both the quality and quantity sides of the equation. Click the link if you’d like to see the particulars.

For each position on the baseball diamond, there’s an average JAWS score for the players who are in the Hall of Fame. The players that we’re going to look at are the guys who have JAWS scores above the average Hall of Fame player at their position, is eligible, and who have not been elected. Every one of these players is more than qualified based on the standards of Hall of Fame voters. Electing them to the hall would actually raise the standards of the institution.

Ok, with all of that out of the way, let’s take a look.

Catchers (JAWS avg.: 43.1)

Mike Piazza (51.1): Piazza may be the best-hitting catcher of all time and his defensive reputation was probably too influenced by his mediocre throwing ability. He clearly should be in, but as a steroid-era guy, you don’t know how the voters will react.

First Base (JAWS avg.: 54.0)

Jeff Bagwell (63.8): Bagwell’s probably a little underrated due to spending half of his career playing in the Astrodome. His bat alone should be enough to get him elected, but he was also a brilliant defender and baserunner. He’ll probably suffer more from steroid suspicions than most players because he was relatively short for a power hitter.

Rafael Palmeiro (55.3): Raffy has immaculate credentials but his steroid testimony will probably prevent his election.

Second Base (JAWS avg.: 57.0)

Bobby Grich  (58.6): How you view Grich as a candidate depends on how much you appreciate his ability to get on base and hit for power, as well as his outstanding defense. He and Mark Belanger anchored one of the greatest defensive teams of all time. Unlike Belanger, Grich was also the best hitter in the league at his position.

Third Base (JAWS avg. 55.0)

Graig Nettles (55.1): Nettles played superior defense and was underrated with the stick. He’s not an overwhelming candidate, but he does seem to have done enough to earn the honor.

Shortstop (JAWS avg.: 51.9)

Bill Dahlen (57.7): A deadball era star from the early days of the National League, Dahlen’s  the validity of Dahlen’s case rests primarily on how reliable our evaluation of 19th century defensive statistic is. He was unquestionably a fine player, but I have no opinion as to his worthiness of the Hall of Fame.

Alan Trammell (57.5): Trammell, on the other hand, seems like he should have a solid case. He was never the best defender in the league, but he was very good and he was clearly the best hitting shortstop of his time.

Left Field (JAWS avg: 53.2)

Barry Bonds (117.6): A Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds is silly.

Tim Raines (55.6): Raines was the Clyde Drexler of baseball. He was one of the greatest leadoff hitters the game had ever seen, but he had the misfortune of playing at the same time as the greatest (Rickey Henderson). Raines played for a team that no longer exists, which can’t be helping his case, but he should be in the Hall.

Center Field (JAWS avg. 57.2)

Strangely enough, center field has the highest JAWS average of any hitting position. There are no eligible center fielders with JAWS score above the HoF average who have not been elected.

Right Field (JAWS avg.: 58.1)

Larry Walker (58.6): How much do you adjust for the fact that he was hitting in the best hitter’s park in baseball? Walker was a very good hitter for a long time, and he was top notch in the field as well.

Pitchers (JAWS avg. 61.4)

Roger Clemens (103.3): See “Barry Bonds” above.

Jim McCormick (72.0): A big Scot who won 265 games in only ten years, primarily in the 1880’s. I have no clue if he belongs in the hall.

Curt Schilling (64.4): He got a late start as a starter, but made up for lost time in a hurry. Even though Yankee pitchers get all the press, Schilling is probably the greatest post-season starting pitcher we’ve ever seen.

Mike Mussina (63.8): Moose was a consummate professional, as smart as he was talented. If not for the ill-fated Glenn Davis trade, he and Schilling could have been teammates for a long time.

Charlie Buffinton (61.9) and Tommy Bond (61.8): Two more guys from the 1870’s and 1880’s about who I do not feel qualified to speak.

I’ve left out relief pitchers and designated hitters because there just aren’t enough Hall of Famers at these positions to merit inclusion. Edgar Martinez should probably be in, though.

Interestingly, there are no players on this list between the 19th century guys and Bobby Grich. Every player who would qualify as an above-average Hall of Fame player from 1900-1975 is in the Hall. That makes sense, of course, but it’s still a really stark pattern when you look at it. The vast majority of the players on this list only qualified recently and will likely eventually go in or else will fail due to the taint of steroids.

This list is about to get longer. There are bags of candidates who are going to be above HoF average who are about to be eligible for election: Pudge Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez are all excellent candidates who’ll be hitting the ballots in the next few years.

Let’s revisit this in, say, five years and see how things stand. If the voting follows history, almost everyone currently on the list will be in the Hall and the new list will be dominated by the new candidates. Or, maybe the voters will continue to act as though the steroid users were morally worse than, say, the amphetamine users and continue to keep them out of the hall.  I hope not, but early returns are not promising.

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