Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hall of Fame Season Begins with the Veterans Committee!

As a preface-this was meant to be posted two weeks ago. And then my computer crashed. Thankfully, this was salvaged though!
I forgot that the Veterans Committee ballot was released so much earlier than the rest of the Hall of Fame season. I also forgot to save frequently, so the first version of this article vanished into the ether. Which is a shame, because I was on a roll, too. I’ll try to recapture my muse, though.

Anyway, since I usually weigh in on Hall of Fame things, I should probably offer my two cents. The ballot this year is fairly load as far as these things go. The twelve finalists include:

Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, and Dave Concepcion

It’s a bit of a confusing list. First, why limit it to twelve? There are plenty of people from the Expansion Era who would hold their own on a Hall ballot (I should write more about the Veterans Committee process later). Let’s assume that the limit is just for practicality though. Then why these twelve? Why are managers competing with players (not even getting into the weirdness of Steinbrenner and Miller)?

And even if we do narrow it down to just players, why these players? For example, I’ve written for the 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame project. Just look at this list to start with. Why isn’t Lou Whitaker on the list? Or Bobby Grich? Or Dwight Evans, or Sal Bando, or Graig Nettles, or Keith Hernandez, or Luis Tiant, or Dick Allen, or any number of other worthy recent players?

But it’s too late for them. Let’s focus on the people on the ballot for now. We’ll start with the managers, because I think they’re the easiest to deal with. La Russa, Cox, and Torre rank third, fourth, and fifth all-time in wins. The three combined for eight World Series wins and seventeen pennants. The only way I don’t see all of them getting in is if the voting body feels weird about voting for more than two managers at one time.

Billy Martin is an interesting case. On one hand, he’s very clearly the fourth-best manager on the ballot. On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily preclude him from being Hall-worthy himself. As is, in sixteen seasons, and 2267 games, he had 1253 wins (35th all-time), a .553 winning percentage (30th), and finished 240 games above .500 (20th). Few managers had as high a winning percentage in as many games.

He had a World Series and another pennant on top of that. He also had success across multiple teams, with playoff appearances with the Twins, Tigers, Yankees, and Athletics. There are 21 managers already in Cooperstown, plus there are the three more this year who will almost certainly get in. Is Martin one of the 25 best managers in the game? I think you could definitely make that argument. I’d vote for him, at least.

For one more comparison, here’s his numbers against recent inductee Whitey Herzog:
Herzog: 18 seasons, 1281-1125, .532, 6 Playoff Appearances, 1 World Series, 3 Pennants
Martin: 16 seasons, 1253-1013, .553, 5 Playoff Appearances, 1 World Series, 2 Pennants

They look more or less identical, I’d say. All the more reason for him to go in.

Now it’s time to look at the players. I’ve written about Ted Simmons plenty of times, including regularly putting him on my Top 50 Players Not in the Hall. I’ll just say yes, and you can go read those if you want the full reasoning.

Relatedly, I mentioned Tommy John in my last 50 Best wrap-up. Even though I didn’t put him on my ballot when filling it out, I had come around on him and said I would have put him in one of my final spots and supported him for the Hall. He may not have been the most dominant pitcher of his time, but there is value in being as consistently good as he was for as many years as he was. Add in his role as a pioneer in the surgery named for him and I think he deserves a yes.

Dan Quisenberry is an interesting case. Joe Posnanski, who I greatly admire, has written at length about him. I wouldn’t mind him getting in, seeing as Sutter is in and is so comparable.

But I don’t think I would vote for him. Sutter is already rather out of place in Cooperstown. If we make that the standard, there would be a lot more relievers elected. Look at this leaderboard I made on Fangraphs, for example. I don’t see a way to put in Quisenberry without putting in all of those closers too. I would probably sway more towards Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman’s cases first, with Quiz falling to a level with Lee Smith and Joe Nathan.

Really, it comes down to the question of “how many closers do we want in the Hall?”We already have five, between Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and Sutter. Mariano Rivera will almost certainly join them one day. It’s hard to argue Quiz is a good match for any of those six other than Sutter.

Steve Garvey was wildly overrated. Fangraphs has him as the 59th most valuable first baseman by Wins Above Replacement. A first baseman with a .329 OBP is not exactly the rarest of commodities. His 116 weighted Runs Created+ is a rather abysmal compared to the Hall standard, not even making the top 150 for first basemen (again, at a position that is offense-first).

Actually, Wally Joyner is a good comparison for Garvey. Look at them side by side; Garvey, over about two extra seasons, had a marginally higher average and slugging percentage. Joyner had a much better on-base percentage. I threw Mark Grace in for comparison’s sake as well. The point is, Garvey is much closer to their level than Hall of Fame-level. If you want to support slick-fielding, line drive-hitting first basemen, look into John Olerud or Keith Hernandez, both of whom brought along OBPs near .400 on their resumes.

Dave Concepcion is another player who it’s fun to make comparisons for. Look at this, for example:

Player A: 9625 PA, 79 HR, 1181 R, 646 RBI, 649 SB, .259/.311/.342, 90 wRC+, 44.9 WAR
Player B: 2465 PA, 101 HR, 993 R, 950 RBI, 321 SB, .267/.322/.357. 88 wRC+, 39.7 WAR

The two players are functionally identical. They were both about equal in the field as well, if you couldn’t tell by the matching WARs. Player A is Bert Campaneris, while Player B is Dave Concepcion. Now, to be fair, Ozzie Smith’s offensive numbers are similar (.262/.337/.328, 90 wRC+). However, most defensive statistics and eye tests agree that Ozzie was the best fielding shortstop of all-time, making him one of the best fielders period. He seems to be neck-and-neck with Mark Belanger (who was a much worse hitter) at least.

Now look for Concepcion on those lists. He wasn’t a bad fielder, it’s just that there’s an order of magnitude between Ozzie and him. And when you start to look at the players between them, it gets much harder to justify voting for Concepcion. Concepcion was good, but if you really want a shortstop to go in, start pulling for Alan Trammell.

Dave Parker, like Concepcion and Quiz, was not a bad player. But he’s just not quite to the level of the Hall, and putting him in leaves a very confusing line of who’s in and who’s out. For example, Parker hit very well, posting a .290/.339/.471 line that comes out to a 120 wRC+. That’s very solid over 2000+ games, but let’s look at other outfielders who have hit in that range.

Bobby Bonilla: 123
Gary Matthews: 121
Al Oliver: 120
Paul O’Neill: 120
Willie Horton: 120
Ken Griffey, Sr.: 119
Jose Cruz: 119
Shawn Green: 118
Chili Davis: 118

You notice a trend? Posting a 120 wRC+ while playing center field is pretty special (for example, this range includes Carlos Beltran, Dale Murphy, and Kirby Puckett, a group that is overall pretty close to the Hall). For a corner outfielder though, which comes with less defensive value? It’s great, good for 40-odd WAR if you play a while. But not Hall-level goodness.

Or, to put it another way, where would you draw the line in that group above? Maybe you can think of some factor that differentiates the nine players I listed earlier, some reason that Parker deserves more immediate consideration than the others. But I don’t really see anything right now. Even if you want to say his defense was much better, remember that you’re dealing with his entire career, which includes several years as a DH at the end. If one or two of his early-’80s seasons had been like his late ‘70s seasons, if he hadn’t fallen off so quickly, maybe he would have made it. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

And now we get into the weird cases. George Steinbrenner represents the owners on this ballot. I really don’t know how to compare owners to the Hall standard, but I would think Steinbrenner makes it over the established bar. He was successful, which is usually a key variable in whether an owner makes the Hall. And on top of that, his approach to free agency is part of what shaped the modern game. His method is particularly striking when you consider the collusion the game experienced in the early years of free agency. And this may be one case where falling back on notoriety may help-The Boss was certainly notable. I guess I’d vote yes, although putting in owners always feels weird when there are still so many unrecognized players.

And lastly, there’s Marvin Miller. The mastermind behind free agency and original head of the Player’s Union, there’s no doubt that he had a major lasting impact on the game. I find it interesting he’s being considered as an executive, though. I mean, that was his official role in the game. But for a precedent standard, I’d prefer to classify him as a Pioneer.

I think of the Pioneer category as a good catch-all. Many people argue when people without clear roles are brought up in the Hall discussion. People point out that putting in Miller as an Executive could lead to future debates over later union heads and agents. However, none of those people would have the impact that Miller did, in that he created those roles.

This is the same way I feel about people like Dr. Frank Jobe (first practitioner of Tommy John surgery) or Bill James. There really isn’t a good way to put them in the Hall when you consider them in their most literal classifications (Doctor and Writer/Statistician, although I guess James is in a front office now too). But considering their impacts on the game, calling them Pioneers of their fields doesn’t seem like a stretch, since they did all explore new territory in what shaped the game as it is today. This definitely applies to Miller as well.

In short, my voting for the Veterans Committee ballot would be yes to Simmons, La Russa, Torre, Cox, John, Miller, Martin, and Steinbrenner. I’m voting for two-thirds of the ballot, but only one-third of the players, which definitely, I guess, especially since there are so many players not in Cooperstown that I consider snubs. But at the same time, that wouldn’t have happened if the VC was better and building a ballot.

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