05 December 2009
The 2010 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame ballot includes 26 players – 11 players who received at least 5% of the vote in the 2009 election, as well as 15 on the ballot for the first time. In this post, I'll examine the candidacy of the 11 returning players. The 11 returning players (with their vote percentage in parenthesis; 75% is needed for election) are Andre Dawson (67.0%), Bert Blyleven (62.7%), Lee Smith (44.5%), Jack Morris (44.0%), Tim Raines (22.6%), Mark McGwire (21.9%), Alan Trammell (17.4%), Dave Parker (15.0%), Don Mattingly (11.9%), Dale Murphy (11.5%), and Harold Baines (5.9%). The 15 new players are Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, and Todd Zeile. Alomar could be the first Diamondback player elected to the HOF. I'll evaluate these 15 newcomers in the next post.
Current Hall of Famers The Hall of Fame currently has 202 former Major League players, as well as 35 Negro League players. Stats aren’t fully available for all of them, but I identified 209 Hall-of-Famers that we have fairly complete records for. Dividing these players by position, here are the average stats for a Hall-of-Famer at each position:
This gives us an idea of the typical standards of the Hall of Fame. As discussed in the recent MVP article, one way to compare players is to convert their stats into Wins. The Baseball Prospectus stat Wins Above Replacement (WARP3) attempts to do this for all players in baseball history. Here are the average WARP3 scores for Hall-of-Famers.
|HOF Position||Career WARP3|
Returning Candidates Here are the stats for the 8 players returning on the HOF ballot:
Let's see how these players do in the career WARP3 stat:
Andre Dawson, RF
Dawson came very close to getting elected in 2009, receiving 67% of the vote. There are many reasons to support Dawson’s candidacy for the HOF – very good totals in career HR and RBI, fine defense with 8 Gold Gloves, and good SB and baserunning totals. His career WARP3 total of 59.6 is below average for his position, but close enough to warrant a closer look. But the key area where Dawson is hurt is in On-Base Percentage (and to an extent, batting average). Dawson’s lifetime OBP is only .323, which is by far the worst of any outfielder (Lou Brock is the closest at .343). The average OBP for an outfielder is .385. Not only is Dawson way below average among Hall-of-Famers in OBP, he is even below average compared to the league as a whole. I have a hard time inducting a player into the HOF who is below average in such a key stat as getting on base. Even Dawson’s career batting average of .279 is low for an outfielder. Only Reggie Jackson at .262 is much lower, but Jackson overcame that by hitting 563 HRs with postseason heroics. Two others are close to Dawson's BA of .279, Rickey Henderson and Ralph Kiner, but both managed career OBPs near .400 while Henderson added speed and SB while Kiner provided much more power, including 7 straight seasons leading the league in HR.
Verdict: Very close, but Dawson's low Batting Average and On-Base Percentage should keep him OUT
Tim Raines, OF For me, Tim Raines is the strongest position player candidate on the ballot. Unfortunately, MVP and HOF voters have always favored HR and RBI and ignored OBP and Runs Scored, which partially explains why Raines only received 22% of the vote in 2009. But getting on base and scoring runs are the two areas where Raines excelled. With 1571 Runs Scored, Raines has the highest total of any eligible player (since 1900) not in the Hall of Fame. He had 8 seasons among the Top 10 in Runs Scored, 7 in the Top 10 in On-Base Percentage, 6 in Hits, and 6 in Bases on Balls. On the All-Time lists, Raines is #34 in Bases on Balls, and is #5 in Stolen Bases, with an outstanding 85% success rate. Looking at WARP3, Raines' total of 81.7 would rank him #4 among Left Fielders, behind only Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Rickey Henderson. Raines playing career overlapped with Rickey Henderson, and that’s probably hurt his HOF chances, since many regarded him as Henderson-lite. But Raines was probably the best leadoff hitter in National League history. How does Raines compare to Hall of Famer Lou Brock?
Raines has the edge in the key stats of AVG, OBP, and SLG, as well as HR and RBI, while Brock did score 39 more runs (in 114 more games). Brock does have 130 more SB than Raines, but also has 161 more CS. Brock has 418 more hits, while Raines has 569 more walks.
Look at the Outs made – Raines produced more runs than Brock while using up over 1000 fewer outs. That gives Raines an edge in the advanced stats such as Runs Created and WARP. Raines clearly looks like the better player, but Brock is one of the weaker selections in the Hall, so let’s try another comparison. How about Tony Gwynn, who was elected almost unanimously in 2007?
Gwynn was a little better at driving in runs, but Raines had an edge in stealing bases and scoring runs. Despite Gwynn’s much higher batting average, they reached base almost the exact same number of times – 3935 for Raines , 3931 for Gwynn.
Gwynn has the higher OPS+, but OPS+ does not include baserunning, where Raines excelled. As a result, they had almost identical totals for Career Runs Created and Outs Made. The two players are much closer than most people realize (both even have sons who played outfield in professional baseball).
Verdict: Raines should be IN.
Mark McGwire, 1B McGwire is easily the most controversial returning name on the ballot. Some feel that his possible use of PEDs invalidates most of his accomplishments. Others feel that his relatively low batting average and hit totals make him a poor candidate anyway. But despite the low batting average, his OBP (.394) and SLG (.588) are the best among the 8 returning hitters, and his HR total of 583 (#8 all-time) would ordinarily make him an easy selection. Although his career totals are not that impressive, his stats over the 6-year stretch from 1995-2000 – 316 HR, .442 OBP, .706 SLG, 192 OPS+ - give him an incredible peak. So I think McGwire’s numbers do make him worthy of the HOF. However, I expect that the voters will not be as kind to him, because of the steroids cloud around him. Who knows how McGwire's performance would have been without andro or other PEDs? No player from the last 20 years is beyond suspicion, so unless we have a Hall-of-Fame with no players from the last two decades, I think we have to evaluate them by their performance on the field.
Verdict: Depends on where you stand on the PED situation. I would vote McGwire IN.
Alan Trammell, SS Alan Trammell is an interesting case – he hasn’t received much support, but his numbers compare quite favorably with other HOF shortstops. Trammell was one of the first big-hitting shortstops of the modern era, and he also won 4 Gold Gloves for defense. His WARP total would put him #6 among all of the shortstops in the Hall. Honus Wagner is way above everyone at SS, and Cal Ripken has big counting stats, but after that, it's pretty even.
Trammell is probably not getting support for three reasons. One, he played in the shadow of Cal Ripken and Robin Yount, and their counting stats are much higher than Trammell's. Two, later shortstops, such as Barry Larkin, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, and Derek Jeter raised the offensive standards for shortstops after Trammell's career ended. And three, most of the shortstops in the HOF are either very good hitters or very good fielders, while Trammell is merely good at both. Trammell is a much better hitter than the good field group (Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio) and a much better fielder than the good-hit group (Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Arky Vaughan). But his blend of offensive and defensive skills never got him the respect he probably deserved.
Verdict: Probably won't get the votes, but Trammell should be In.
Dave Parker, RF Dave Parker’s career had a nice peak from 1975-1979 (.321/.377/.532), but his career fizzled after that point. In the last 11 seasons until his retirement, Parker only broke 25 HRs in a season twice, and only slugged over .500 once. His stats over that 11 year stretch were only .277/.322/.444. Parker was a fine defensive RF at his peak, but his overall offensive numbers just aren’t good enough for the HOF.
Verdict: Parker should be OUT.
Don Mattingly, 1B Don Mattingly had an outstanding peak from 1984 to 1987 (.337/.381/.560), including his 145 RBI MVP season in 1985. Unfortunately, aside from those 4 years, there’s not much to support Mattingly’s election – from 1988-1995, no season slugging over .480, and only one 100 RBI season. His career was shortened by back injuries, and his career totals of 222 HR and 1099 RBI just aren’t enough to make the HOF, even with Gold Glove defense at 1B.
Verdict: Mattingly should be OUT.
Dale Murphy, CF Dale Murphy looked like a certain Hall-of-Famer after the 1987 season, when he was only 31 years old. In those first 10 seasons, he had hit 310 HR with a .279/.362/.500 line, won two MVPs, led the league in HR two other times, played Gold Glove defense in CF and had a 740 game consecutive game streak. But after the 1987 season, Murphy’s career inexplicably fell off a cliff. Over the next 6 years, Murphy hit just .234/.307/.396, with only 88 HR. That left Murphy with 398 career HR, but only a .265 career batting average and an .815 career OPS. His WARP3 total of 45.3 just doesn’t compare favorable to other HOF outfielders.
Verdict: Murphy should be OUT.
Harold Baines, DH/RF Harold Baines had a very long career of 2830 games, allowing him to accumulate nice totals of 384 HR and 1628 RBI. But despite his longevity, Baines was rarely an outstanding player, just a very good one. His career rate stats of .289/.356/.465 are below average for a HOF-level outfielder (48.4 career WARP), and he actually played more games as a DH than in the outfield.
Verdict: Baines should be OUT.
There are three pitchers returning on the HOF ballot - Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, and Lee Smith. Here are their stats:
Bert Blyleven, SP To me, Blyleven is the most deserving pitcher not in the Hall of Fame. He ranks #5 all-time in Strikeouts, and #9 in Shutouts. But many argue that his counting stats are good only because he pitched for so long, but he was never pitched at a high enough level for the HOF. But looking at individual seasons, he finished in the Top 10 in ERA in 10 seasons, in the Top 10 for Strikeouts 15 times, and in the Top 10 for K/9 14 times. Another argument is his relatively pedestrian Win-Loss record, but that can be explained by the poor teams on which he spent much of his career. A good way to assess if a player belongs in the HOF is to see how a player compares to those already elected. The standard should not be “How does Blyleven compare to the worst pitchers in the HOF?,” because that would just perpetuate previous mistakes and continue to water-down the HOF. But the standard also should not be “How does Blyleven compare to the best pitchers in the HOF?,” because most of the pitchers in the HOF are not as good as Walter Johnson or Cy Young. But if a player is better than a significant percentage of Hall-of-Famers, I think he belongs. The HOF has 67 pitchers. Among those 67 pitchers, Blyleven would rank #21 in Wins, #3 in Strikeouts, #41 in ERA+, #9 in Shutouts, and #37 in WHIP. Looking at these together, it seems clear that Blyleven would rank near the top half of all pitchers in the HOF. A final factor to consider is Blyleven’s postseason performance – Blyleven finished 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in 8 playoff games, and was on two World Series winners (Pittsburgh 1979, Minnesota 1987). Verdict: Blyleven should be IN.
Jack Morris Along with Blyleven, Morris is a much-debated candidate for the Hall of Fame. Morris' candidacy is primarily based on three factors: 1) His dominant performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. 2) His relatively high win total. 3) His endurance and consistency. How does Morris stack up against other Hall of Fame pitchers? Morris' ERA of 3.90 is easily worse than any pitcher in the HOF. His WHIP of 1.30 would rank #54 out of 67 pitchers. His Win total of 254 would rank #30, and his strikeout total would rank #17. The Win and Strikeout ranks are respectable, but the ERA and WHIP do not seem HOF-worthy, even after league and park adjustments (ERA+ = 105). His career WARP3 is only 38.6, while Blyleven’s is 87.2.
So what else is on Morris' resume? His career totals do not seem HOF worthy – did Morris have some exceptionally strong peak seasons? His best seasons were probably 1983 (20-13, 3.34 ERA, 294 IP, 3rd Cy Young voting) and 1986 (21-8, 3.27 ERA, 267 IP, 5th Cy Young voting) – neither is particularly exceptional. Morris also went 21-6 in 1992, but had a very high 4.04 ERA. Surprisingly, Morris did not have a single season with an ERA below 3.00. So it looks like Morris does not have a strong case based on high peak seasons.
This is an area where Jack Morris gets a lot of credit. His teams reached the postseason 4 times, and twice Morris was the ace of a staff that won the World Series. In 1984, Morris went 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 3 starts, leading the Tigers to a championship. In 1991, Morris went 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA, including the memorable win in Game 7 of the World Series against the Braves. Those two seasons cemented Morris’ reputation as a big-game, clutch pitcher. Despite those two outstanding postseason runs, Morris’ overall playoff stats are only 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. Outside of the 7 Wins in 1984 and 1991, Morris had two poor postseasons in 1987 and 1992. In 1987, Morris gave up 6 ER in 8 IP as the Tigers lost to the Twins, and in 1992, Morris went 0-4, giving up 19 ER in 23 IP. Still, the Blue Jays managed to win the World Series against the Braves, so Morris’ poor performance was forgotten. Overall, I would say that the postseason is a strong point for Morris’ HOF candidacy. His performance in 1984 and 1991 was instrumental in leading his teams to championships. But it is interesting that Morris’ reputation as a big-game pitcher did not suffer from four poor playoff outings in 1992.
One stat that is often tossed out in support of Morris is that he led the decade of the 1980s in Wins with 162. That does show Morris’ consistency and durability, but it is also a bit of a fluke – shifting the time window from 1980-1989 to 1976-1985 makes Ron Guidry the Wins leader over that 10-year stretch. The pitchers who finished in the #2-#5 slots for the 1980s, Dave Stieb, Bob Welch, Charlie Hough, and Fernando Valenzuela, were not really a Hall-of-Fame group. Others like Blyleven and Nolan Ryan were at the tail end of their careers, while Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux were just starting during the middle of the decade. And pitchers like Stieb probably outpitched Morris during the decade, but did not get the run support.
A big factor in Jack Morris’ high Win total is Run Support. The Tiger teams in the 1980s were an excellent offensive club, with Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, Chet Lemon, and Darrell Evans. In 1986, when Morris won 21 games, the Tigers scored 5.72 runs per game when Morris started. In 1992, another 21 win season for Morris, the Blue Jays scored 5.66 runs per game for Morris.
Pitching to the Score
A common argument about Morris’ high ERA is that he would “pitch to the score,” meaning that he was concerned about Wins and Innings, and not ERA, and would allow a disproportionate number of runs when the Tigers had a big lead. This idea was examined in great detail in this article by Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus. Here are his ERAs in different situations: Morris ahead: 4.24 ERA Morris tied: 3.97 ERA Morris behind: 4.82 ERA So if he was allowing meaningless runs when the Tigers had a big lead, it’s hard to find any evidence of it. Another fact that Sheehan points out is that Morris actually blew a Tigers lead 136 times during his career, and put his team behind in 344 of 527 career starts. But many of these turned into Wins for Morris and the Tigers, because of Morris’ durability, which he should get credit for, but also the Tigers’ great offense.
Verdict: A few great playoff outings, but a very high ERA. Lots of Wins due to great run support, and no evidence of “pitching to the score.” Morris should be OUT.
Lee Smith, RP Lee Smith lead the league in Saves 4 times, and was the major league career Saves leader for over a decade, before Trevor Hoffman passed him in 2006. How does he compare to other relievers in the HOF? Well, there are only 5 relievers in the HOF, and two of those, Dennis Eckersley and Hoyt Wilhelm, also had contributions as a starting pitcher.
|Dennis Eckersley (1987-)||46||43||2.96||789.2||0||387||0.999|
Smith has the most Saves of the group, but his other stats are not that impressive. He has the highest ERA and WHIP of the group (looking only at Eckersley’s stats as a reliever). Most of Smith’s Saves were of the 1 inning variety, unlike Fingers and Gossage, who were often called on in the 8th inning to get the team out of jams. Even with the relatively easier save chances, Smith’s save conversion rate was only 82%. And Smith’s stats look inferior to current closers like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Verdict: Smith should be OUT.
Of the 11 returning players on the 2010 Hall of Fame ballot, I would vote for 4 – Tim Raines, Bert Blyleven, Alan Trammell, and Mark McGwire. I’m not sure if the BBWAA will select any of these 4 this year. I think Andre Dawson’s low batting average and OBP should keep him out, but he was the closest to selection last year. The others – Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, and Lee Smith – had excellent careers, but just don’t have the resumes for the Hall of Fame.