Hall of Fame discussions always get messy.
That’s what makes them a terrific sports topic, I suppose; lots of people love the carnage and chaos of arguing who was good, vs. who was great, vs. who was truly elite. And unless we’re talking Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, there’s always something about a player’s on-field legacy to pick apart.
So like everyone else, I’m always up for a good Hall debate, and with this week’s annual Cooperstown vote revealing two new inductees, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, I tuned into Tuesday’s WEEI Hot Stove Show featuring Mike Mutnansky, Rob Bradford, and John Tomase to hear their thoughts on this year’s ballot.
One part of the guys’ debate centered around how to begin with a baseline for discussion as to whether a player is Hall-worthy, and the thought came up of using a player’s number of top-10 or top-15 appearances on MVP balloting through the years.
I liked this idea, so I thought I’d do a little more research on the subject, and start by combing back through all the inductees of the 2000s to see what I’d find.
Unfortunately, not good. As in, it’s just not that simple.
It’s not that the Baseball Writer’s Association of America does a poor job in their yearly voting for the MVP; the top-15 vote-getters in any year I believe are an accurate one-year snapshot of greatness. But how many Top 10’s or Top 15’s should a player have to get in? Are six or seven years enough, the length of most guys’ primes? Seems reasonable, even if Carlton Fisk played for 24-years and Kirby Puckett only 12.
However, when evaluating a player’s lifetime body of work, it just doesn’t seem to hold up.
If having six Top-10 MVP ballot finishes were the standard, here are recent Hall inductees who wouldn’t be enshrined in Cooperstown: Craig Biggio, Barry Larkin, Roberto Alomar, Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg, Paul Molitor, Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski, Fisk, and Tony Perez.
And that’s just over the last 15 years. Carl Yazstremski, for instance, only had five Top-10 MVP finishes.
Stretching it to Top-15 appearances didn’t help much, getting only Dawson, Boggs, and Fisk in.
Not to mention guys like Fred McGriff, who did have six Top-10 MVP finishes, but got less than 30% of the vote this year, would be in.
And we know Fred McGriff was not the ballplayer, say, Cal Ripken was. Ripken racked up 19 All-Star game selections, two Gold Glove awards, and eight Silver Sluggers at SS, not to mention his immortal consecutive-games streak. McGriff had five ASGs, no Gold Gloves, and three Silver Sluggers, respectively.
Now, two prominent baseball writers, Bill James and Jay Jaffe, have come up with their own player-metrics for Hall of Fame rankings, and they come much closer to getting a definitive, intellectual answers of who deserves to be immortalized.
Jaffe’s ‘JAWS’ numbers, using the Wins Above Replacement metric, does a terrific job of comparing players through different eras, ballparks, and all the while including offense, defense, and baserunning into one unified number.
You can check out Jaffe’s work here.
However, the WAR numbers don’t take a player’s postseason success, career milestones, league leads in various stats categories, historical importance, etc.
Smart-guy Bill James tackled those latter categories with his ‘Hall of Fame Monitor’ metric, and you can see that here.
Myself, I particularly like the wRC+ metric that Fangraphs uses (strictly an offensive measure of a player’s run-creation value per the league averages), so I included it in my research, and broke it down to show a player’s seasons of ‘Elite’, ‘Great’, and ‘Above Average’ at the plate.
The Fangraphs wRC+ explanation is here.
And here is my chart of all of these numbers for recently-debated players:
The bottom line is, Hall of Fame arguments are complex and disorganized for a reason, and that reason is that there is no completely unifying theory of relativity that can solve the Hall of Fame debate for every player.
But the debates are fun every year, and maybe next year I’ll be more prepared for it.