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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Examining the Hall of Fame Vote for Starters

Well, the Hall of Fame votes were finally released. There are a lot of ridiculous things I could cover (like Craig Biggio’s exclusion, missing by two votes and largely caused by the artificial 10-person limit), but I won’t. Instead, I want to look at something else. Pitchers, specifically.

There were eight starters up for election this year. If you were to rank them, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens would undoubtedly be options 1 and 1A. Hideo Nomo and Kenny Rogers would probably bring up the rear (although Rogers is probably better than at least a couple pitchers already in the Hall; that’s not really a huge help for his candidacy, though).

Really, I want to look at the middle four, those being Tom Glavine, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, and Curt Schilling. Really, I want to keep it to just this year’s ballot, otherwise I would throw in John Smoltz and Kevin Brown as well, but let’s just keep it simple.

First, let’s see how they did in voting:
Glavine: 91.9%
Morris: 61.5%
Schilling: 29.2%
Mussina: 20.3%

I find this interesting for a lot of reasons. Mostly, the voting doesn’t really seem to reflect performance terribly well in my mind. If I had to rank these guys, I’d probably put them Schilling/Mussina/Glavine in a tight bunch but in that order, followed by a far lagging Jack Morris. A 70+ point spread doesn’t seem at all justified. So, just for fun, here are some comparisons. I’ll award each pitcher points based on where they finish in the group; first gets 4, last gets 1. I haven’t run this experiment, so I don’t know if it’ll turn out like I expect, but let’s see.


Wins: Glavine (305), Mussina (270), Morris (254), Schilling (216)
I don’t really care for wins, but I suppose the voters look at it, so I should for this exercise as well.

IP: Glavine (4413.1), Morris (3824.0), Mussina (3562.2), Schilling (3261.0)
Pretty close to the order they finished in, interestingly enough.

K: Schilling (3116), Mussina (2813), Glavine (2607), Morris (2478)
Pretty close to my ranking, also interestingly enough.

K/9: Schilling (8.6), Mussina (7.1), Morris (5.8), Glavine (5.3)
Actually surprised that Morris leaps over Glavine. Maybe I shouldn’t count this because it’s too close to straight strikeouts? Oh well.

BB/9: Schilling (1.96), Mussina (1.98), Glavine (3.06), Morris (3.27)
Wow, were Schilling and Mussina ever close.

K:BB: Schilling (4.4), Mussina (3.6), Morris (1.78), Glavine (1.74)
Schilling and Mussina, as I mentioned, are more or less the two best pitchers at this ever. The only pitcher with a ratio better than Schilling (Tommy Bond) was more or less done after they moved the mound back from 45 feet, which seems ridiculous to compare to. Mussina is technically thirteenth since the current pitching distance was established in 1893, but no one between him and Schilling is within 700 innings of him (and only Pedro Martinez and Roy Halladay are even within 1000).

WHIP: Schilling (1.14), Mussina (1.19), Morris (1.30), Glavine (1.31)
Again, Schilling and Mussina are sort of in their own plane here. But maybe this is too similar to BB/9.

ERA: Schilling (3.46), Glavine (3.54), Mussina (3.68), Morris (3.90)
Even with his lower-scoring era, Morris finishes last. Also worth noting that Mussina probably faced the toughest competition of the quartet, spending his whole career in the AL East.

ERA+: Schilling (127), Mussina (123), Glavine (118), Morris (105)
Well, one of these sure stands out.

HR/9: Glavine (0.73), Morris (0.92), Mussina (0.95), Schilling (0.96)
Glavine really seems to have had a knack for this. Also, Morris just barely squeaks by Mussina and Schilling even with his era-based advantage (I’d imagine league home run rates were lower in his career)

fWAR: Schilling (83.5), Mussina (82.3), Glavine (63.9), Morris (52.7)
rWAR: Mussina (83.0), Glavine (81.4), Schilling (79.9), Morris (44.1)
Fangraphs WAR is more based on the three true outcomes (HR/K/BB), while Baseball-Reference WAR is more based on ERA, explaining the large discrepancy for Glavine.

All-Star Games: Glavine (10), Schilling (6), Morris/Mussina (5 each)
Like wins, I don’t really think this is a great evaluator, but I think I should look at it since voters do. Interesting to see Glavine so far ahead, I think. None of the numbers so far really justify that big of a lead. He was just more famous I guess, although pitchers are not picked via fan vote usually...

Cy Young Shares: Glavine (3.15), Schilling (1.85), Mussina (.92), Morris (.73)
This more or less give players a point for a Cy Young and partial points for finishing as runners-up. Like with All Star Games, Glavine has a surprising lead considering the rest of his body of work. Also, for all the talk of how you had to “be there” to understand Jack Morris’s campaign, the people who actually were there didn’t seem to think that highly of him.

Adding that all up, we get the final totals:
Glavine: 37
Morris: 23
Schilling: 43
Mussina: 38

Well, that worked out almost too perfectly. Also, it’s worth noting that if you take out wins, All Star Games, and Cy Young Shares, the three I’d argue as least indicative of performance (wins for obvious reasons and the latter two for being too popularity-based), they come out to 25, 18, 36, and 31 points, which even further explains my intuition, I think.

What if you throw out the more advanced stats? Would that explain the Hall voting? Well, removing the two WARs moves them to 32, 21, 37, and 31. I’m not exactly sure what constitutes an advanced stat outside of that, but I’d imagine it wouldn’t be too hard to get Glavine to just ahead of the other two if you just threw out enough stats (not that that speaks terribly highly of the voters…).

Also, nothing really seems to explain Morris. Although, to be fair, this approach is rather limited. For example, it doesn’t weigh distance in the rankings (third place is 2 points, whether it’s by a hair or a mile). More relevantly, this was Morris’s 15th ballot, while the other three were all either first- or second-timers. Those extra years do add up in the form of momentum.

The biggest issue, to me, is the size of the gap from Glavine to his contemporaries. I’m struggling to see a reasonable evaluation system that justifies a 60- and 70-point gap (which translate to over 250 and over 300 votes difference, respectively). Really, the only way I can see it at all is if you give absurd weight to wins and old award voting or look at almost nothing else. Knowing the BBWAA, I wouldn’t be shocked if this was the case, but it’s still unfortunate. Hopefully Mussina and Schilling can start to move towards election next year, but with three new Hall-worthy pitchers joining the ballot next year (Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz), things will probably be hard. Hopefully, though, people start to raise awareness for them in things like this, and others start to pay attention.

4 comments:

  1. You failed to recognize another bias by writers - who they like and dislike. Glavine is good looking, did a great commerical (chicks dig the longball) and was a key contributor to what the writers recognize as one of the greatest pitching staffs ever. Schilling is considered a blowhard and wears his political affiliation on his sleeve. Some writers even think the bloody sock thing was either faked or was his way of drawing more attention to himself. Mussina was always underrated and I've heard that he was surly to writers. He's very bright (Stanford) for an athlete and many writers are not so bright so they want to knock him down.

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    1. Good point but is is a sad state that the HOF is so political (no surprise there) and doesn't stress or just recognize performance on the field. It is already laden with pill poppers, racists, and partial criminals but those guys still got in on their performance on the field. (granted some are in on political connections only). The writers that elect these guys are no saints themselves and shouldn't not be used as the method to pick HOFers!

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  2. The fact that Shilling and Mussina have the two lowest K:BB ratios in the history of the modern game will get lost in future voting if voters don't look close enough at how good their control was throughout their tenure in the game. These two warrant induction based on their modern stats, old stats, and dominance. They are certainly as good or better than pitchers already inducted into the HOF.

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    1. For whatever reason, the hall has become much more harsh on starters. Maybe it's the decrease in innings and their expectations haven't caught up? At the same time, though, I never realized where the Hall standards were until I saw the Hall of Stats and saw how easily players like Bret Saberhagen and David Cone got in based on precedent. But again, it's still a pretty big difference between those guys and Schilling & Mussina.

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