Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Predicting Future Hall of Famers 2017 Follow-Up: The Disappearance of Below-Median Starters

In the previous post, I was discussing active pitchers above the median Wins Above Replacement for Hall of Famers by age when I noted something interesting at the end: there are only two starters* above the overall median who are eligible for the Hall but not inducted or still on the ballot. Kevin Brown and Rick Reuschel both cleared the median by less than a full Win. Other than them, everyone above the median has made it.

*As defined last time, this is pitchers who began post-1919 with 10% or more of their total games as a starter. See last time for the reasoning on that, although I'll be jumping back and forth in this one between "Live Ball" starters and "Total" starters; I'll make the distinction clear when those shifts happen.

This makes for an interesting contrast with the hitters. Limiting ourselves to just post-1919 debuts so that we're working with comparable sets of players, the median WAR for hitters is 65.1 (held by Craig Biggio)*, just a bit lower than the pitchers' mark of 67.95 (between Jim Palmer and Carl Hubbell). While there are only two pitchers above the median not yet in or still on the ballot, there are nine such hitters, ranging from Rafael Palmeiro (71.6 WAR) to Willie Randolph (65.5). And if we expand this to include players on the ballot, it becomes five starters to thirteen position players (plus the ineligible Pete Rose). And while those three pitchers all look likely to get inducted, the four hitters are much more uncertain, with Barry Bonds and Edgar Martinez looking likely to get inducted before they age out but Larry Walker and Manny Ramirez looking like long shots.

*Note that this is a little different than the median I used in the previous piece; that’s because I did not limit that median to post-1919 batters. However, I wanted the two to be on a level playing field here, so there’s a slight upwards shift as a result.

That's an interesting level of uniformity. Maybe this is a sign of those pitchers all being particularly obvious? But let's look at the flip-side; how have players below the median done? After all, the median is the middle point, not the end-all, be-all. We should be seeing at least some below-median names getting inducted, right? Well, that's the interesting part: we really aren't for pitchers.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers, 2017 Edition

Continuing the fifth anniversary of my “Predicting Future Hall of Famer” projects, we of course have the pitchers next. Here’s this year’s hitters article, if you need to get caught up first, though.

As a quick recap of how this works, I look at what the Hall median Wins Above Replacement is for starters at each age, look at how many total players had that much WAR at that same age (only for retired players who have had a chance to appear on the ballot, with pitchers still on the ballot factored out to account for their uncertain outcome), then take a percentage to figure out a rough numerical “chance” each active player has.

I’m interested especially in starting pitchers specifically, as relievers are their own sort of beast. The Hall has only inducted a handful of relievers, and the few they’ve inducted don’t adhere to a pattern quite as well as the starters, who correlate pretty strongly with career WAR. At every step of the way, I’ve filtered my numbers down to pitchers who started 10% of more of their games played; this seems low, but I wanted to factor in starters who were eased into the role via the bullpen, as some Hall of Famers were.

Additionally, I’ve filtered this just to Hall of Famers who debuted post-deadball era (1920 on). Starting pitching is a pretty constantly evolving role, and a lot of the earliest starters would really mess with our numbers; take, for instance, Old Hoss Radbourn, who debuted at 26, pitched for eleven seasons, including ones of over 13 and 19 WAR, and then retired. We simply aren’t going to have any pitchers today who have a career that looks like that, so it didn’t make much sense to me to include them. I’ve picked a hard cut-off for the sake of convenience.

And I’ll run through the standard disclaimers, which are even more relevant for the pitchers than for the hitters. This is solely based on precedent, which can be a fickle thing in Hall of Fame voting. This is especially true when you factor in that the players in each “not in the Hall of Fame” group still have a chance to reach Cooperstown in the future by way of the Veterans Committee, which is even less predictable than the standard BBWAA voting. And of course, this isn’t to determine who will wind up “deserving” of making the Hall of Fame, as plenty of deserving players get snubbed. On the flip side, this doesn’t mean any player has no chance, as half of the players in the Hall didn’t reach the median, by definition.

Okay then, onward to the modern starters with Hall hopes:

Friday, March 3, 2017

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2017 Edition

This year is the fifth anniversary of my annual “Predicting Future Hall of Famers” project (see the past four years here), so I don’t know how much of an introduction is necessary. Let’s just jump right into the methodology refresher so that we can move on to the active players on pace, shall we?

Basically, I’m looking at how the Hall’s elected players (hitters today, pitchers next) have historically looked at each age en route to their eventual election into the Hall of Fame. I use Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference’s version, for the sake of research) due to its high correlation to Hall election, and look at how each hitter looked, career-total-wise, each year. I pick out the median as a baseline, then look at what percentage of players with the median WAR at that age eventually got into the Hall.

To put concrete numbers on this, say that there were 99 hiters in the Hall of Fame, and the 50th most WAR at the age of 28 was 30. I would then see how many total players in history had 30 WAR at 28, then take a percentage of players in the Hall out of total players (removing players still on the ballot or not yet eligible, as their status is still up in the air). So if there were 100 players with 30 WAR at 28, we’d say there was a 50% chance of a player at the Hall median for WAR at age 28 eventually getting elected. It’s a little simple and crude, but it’s a good visualization of how historic Hall of Fame careers have looked.

And of course, the standard disclaimers: this is based entirely on precedent, which is a fickle thing in Hall voting. Good, deserving players get snubbed all the time from Cooperstown. Other times they have to wait years before the Veterans Committee before they get in. On the flip side, by definition, half of the players in the Hall of Fame were below the median, so not hitting the mark is not a death sentence for their eventual enshrinement. This is just to pick out the strongest cases and assign rough odds.

Good, now, with all that out of the way, let’s see who all is absolutely, totally, 100% going to get elected on the first ballot 20 years from now:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Best Players Without a Retired Number (+Quiz!)

As you may or may not know, I have a bit of an interest when it comes to retired numbers. And that intersected with my interest in trivia a few years ago, when I decided to make a Sporcle Quiz on the best players by Wins Above Replacement who had never had their numbers retired. Well, with the Hall of Fame induction of Ivan Rodriguez last month came the news that the Texas Rangers would finally be retiring his number 7, which reminded me of that quiz.

Ivan Rodriguez wasn’t the only bit of turnover, though. In the five years (really? It’s that old?) since I had published that list, over a fifth of the names on it were no longer eligible, and twenty-five individuals in total had gotten their numbers retired by a team. This year alone will see at least four (edit: five, with the White Sox's announcement that they'd retire Mark Buehrle's number, but more on that later), between Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez for the Mariners, David Ortiz for the Red Sox, and Derek Jeter for the Yankees.

With all that change, I decided totally starting from scratch might be the easiest plan if I wanted to revisit that quiz, to see what all was different. And while I was at it, I could comment on the individuals on the list in a sort of mini-article, looking at which ones might one day get their number retired and which ones probably wouldn’t.

The quiz focuses on players who have actually worn a number, as retiring numbers for pre-numbered jersey players is a little more difficult. Not to say it hasn’t ever been done, just that it didn’t seem fair to compare the two standards. I did include a bunch of pre-number players as bonus answers though, for those who feel like seeking them out (44 in total).

Of course, if you want to play the quiz, reading the article would probably ruin the fun of it, so all of the body text will be hidden behind the “read more” break. If you want to play the Sporcle trivia quiz on “Best Players by WAR Without a Retired Number”, click here now. Spoilers will follow!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Scott Rolen: Getting an Early Start on the 2018 Hall of Fame Push

After months of anticipation, the Hall of Fame voting results were finally announced on Wednesday. We got a three-person class for 2017, featuring Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez, and all are extremely deserving of the honor. Their inductions makes for twelve total electees in the past four years, tying the Hall’s record set from 1936-9.

Of course, the interesting thing about Hall of Fame voting is that, with their induction, we can already begin looking forward to the next cycle. We know who all will be appearing on the ballot, and we know all the relevant stats we could need to discuss their inductions already; nothing will change in the interim. And so, it’s looking like the Hall will easily shatter their five year record of thirteen*.

*This is sort of fudging things; the Hall of Fame didn’t actually hold elections in 1940 or 1941, meaning that their “five year” record was actually spread out from 1936-1942. Only Rogers Hornsby made it on the first year back, although every other player in the top 30 of total votes would eventually make it to Cooperstown.

Trevor Hoffman only fell five votes short, while Vladimir Guerrero fell fifteen short. That makes them seem like safe bets to make it in on the 2018 ballot. But at the same time, we’ll also be seeing an incredible class of freshmen, headlined by likely first ballot picks Chipper Jones and Jim Thome as well as Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, and Johan Santana. And that’s on top of the rest of the returning class, which is incredible strong as well, and featured nine players with 50% of the vote or more (tied for the most all-time).

Clearing out three players looks good, but going forward, it might not have been enough. Which makes me incredibly nervous that Scott Rolen is going to be lost in the shuffle. Maybe he’ll get something in the low 20%, which is as good as not going anywhere, but I’m even worried about him getting the 5% minimum required to stay on the ballot. We’ve lost some deserving players that way in the past, including (most recently) Kenny Lofton and Rolen’s former teammate Jim Edmonds.

So, what can be done about it? How do you make someone see that a player is deserving of induction? I think the best cases are the ones that you can reduce to one simple, straight-forward concept. Voters work better in one dimension than two; it’s why they have an easier time inducting “milestone” guys, or ones who were the best at one thing rather than very good at a bunch. Maybe you can use two points if they work together well and you can get them repeated a lot (like some advocates have done in the past with Raines or Bert Blyleven). But those points have to distill down the larger case for the player.

So let’s work in reverse. Let’s start with the broader question, “What makes Scott Rolen worthy of the Hall of Fame?”, then from there reduce it to a list of highlights, and then from there see if we can narrow it down to a one-sentence “elevator pitch”-type case.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Congrats to the Class of 2017, but also the 2017 Hall of Fame Vote Showed Why 10-Person Ballots Are Awful

Yesterday’s Hall of Fame inductions didn’t turn out to be a disaster! That seems like a good place to start.

I had been following Ryan Thibodaux’s annual Ballot Tracker, and I was starting to get a little nervous there. It started off very strong, with five players above the 75% mark needed for induction. Five! I couldn’t believe it! That would put it in a tie with the initial Class of 1936 for largest number of inductees in a year, and it would go a hell of a long way in clearing out some of the ballot’s logjam.

But of course, things are never as rosy as the initial predictions look. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines continued to pull in strong numbers, so they were never in doubt. But first Vladimir Guerrero* slipped below the mark needed for election, then Trevor Hoffman followed. It was starting to look like Ivan Rodriguez would follow, ending up at 79.6% with a strong possibility of a big drop coming once the anonymous ballots came in. After all, only one catcher had ever been inducted on the first ballot**, and I had always assumed Trevor Hoffman would have the better chance of making it in this year.

*I’m still kind of surprised that Guerrero did so well. In all honesty, he wasn’t one of the five best corner outfielders on the ballot this year, and even if you limited it to just the non-steroid set, it was still difficult to argue that he was better than third best at the position. In a world in which Raines took ten years on the ballot, Bagwell took seven, Larry Walker is stuck in the low 20s, Jim Edmonds fell off after one season…it just doesn’t make much sense. I guess voters went for the big home run and hit totals though (even if he didn’t hit 500 or 3000)? I won’t complain, as I think he’s deserving and I’m not nearly as concerned now about guys going in “in the correct order” as I once was, but it’s still kind of confusing.

**I still can’t get over how crazy this is. This might be the clearest sign that something in the BBWAA’s approach in voting was wrong, that a position had only had one first ballot guy. Hopefully, Pudge is the signal of coming change.

After a start like that, and a ballot that overall saw an incredible number of players pulling in large totals (nine different players got greater than 50% of the vote, tied with the all-time record set seven decades earlier in 1947*), only getting two players in would have been an incredible disappointment. But thankfully, Rodriguez held on to join Johnny Bench as the only first ballot backstops. Three candidates isn’t bad, in the grand scheme of things. And all three constitute and incredible Class of 2017.

*Every one of those nine would eventually make it in to Cooperstown. That year saw the top four get in: Carl Hubbell, Frankie Frisch, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove. Fifth-place Pie Traynor and ninth-place Herb Pennock made it the next year (with Pennock somehow leapfrogging everyone on his way to the most votes), with sixth place Charlie Gehringer coming the year after that. Rabbit Maranville and Dizzy Dean wouldn’t make it until the early ‘50s. Overall, I’d say this ballot is much stronger than that one, and yet, the top seventeen finishers that year all found their way to the Hall eventually.

But then…we discovered that Hoffman only missed by five votes, while Guerrero missed by fifteen. This marks the third time in four years that we’ve had a candidate miss by an extremely narrow margin like that, after Craig Biggio fell two votes shy back in 2014. And of course, if you go back just a few more years to 2010, you’ll find it happened again, with Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar missing 75% by five and eight votes, respectively. Clearly, this is not a rare issue.

And what’s worse is that, given how crowded the ballot is, the 10-player limit on Hall ballots is what probably kept them out. Well, maybe not Alomar and Blyleven, given that 2010 was a little less crowded and they had other things going on, but certainly with the other three; after all, public ballots over on the tracker averaged 8.5 names. And Ryan even kept track of names columnist mentioned when they said they would have voted for more than 10 players. Hoffman has four votes, while Vlad has ten*. Given that we don’t know 40% of the ballots, and that not every full ballot that we know even listed eleventh choices, it’s basically a given they would have made it.

*Eleven if you count Joe Posnanski, who wrote a good column on how hard it was to decide his final spot but wasn't included in the tracker's list.

This has been a recurring issue, and everyone knows it, but the Hall refuses to do anything. It’s stupid to have players competing for votes when the question is simply “Are they worthy?”, and not “Are they more worthy than everyone else on this arbitrary ballot?”. But even dumber, the Hall has refused to compromise on this issue at all, shooting down a request from the BBWAA to moderately expand the ballot to twelve slots two years ago.

Nothing about Hoffman or Guerrero will change next year. 75% of writers already think they’re deserving, which should be the most important thing. Instead, about 330 writers will need to waste at least 660 ballot slots (out of a possible ~4400) on guys that, for all intents and purposes, have already cleared the necessary requirements, ballot slots that could be better spread around to the other five players who cleared 45%, or the incredible class of newcomers (which includes Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana, and Omar Vizquel, among others), or the numerous players struggling at the bottom of the results who deserve more attention (like Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Billy Wagner*, etc….). All in all, 19 different players on next year’s ballot will have 50 or more career WAR, and that’s excluding Hoffman, Wagner, and Vizquel. With that much depth, we're going to need as many spare votes as possible.

*Let’s be honest, if Hoffman is going in, it’s very difficult to argue against Billy Wagner unless you reduce their cases to comparing save totals.

Fewer votes being wasted on guys who “should” be in already means a greater chance that someone deserving falls off the ballot, or sees their case stall out (which, given the time limit has been reduced from fifteen years to ten, is much more urgent). It’s a waste of time for everyone involved, and there’s no good reason for this rule to exist. Baseball writers have historically been fairly resistant to change; when they’re proactively requesting fixes, something is massively wrong in the system.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The 2017 Hall-of-Fame-a-Palooza (featuring over 20 guys up for induction, plus my ballot)

When we last left off, I was writing about my thoughts on the Veterans Committee election, albeit a little late. It’s a shame, too, because maybe my random article on the internet would have filtered up to someone on the committee, and they could have shared it with the other fifteen voters to spread my wisdom. I should probably write about the BBWAA ballot before the results are announced to avoid a similar tragedy.

The easiest way is to probably just look at last year’s ballot and look for what I would change. So, without further ado, last year’s ten-person ballot:

Jeff Bagwell
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Jim Edmonds
Edgar Martinez
Mike Mussina
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Larry Walker

Yep, I did the “don’t vote for Ken Griffey, Jr. because he’s a lock so you can spread the votes around”. Clearly, the BBWAA did not find my article last year, as Jim Edmonds couldn’t lock up the requisite votes to stick around another year. That, plus the election of Mike Piazza, freed up two spots for me this year, which is good, because we got four solid candidates in Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jorge Posada. So, we can just add those names and be done with…

Nope, never mind, I did that math wrong; four is more than two. I’m gonna have to do some parsing of the names. And I forgot all the holdovers I couldn’t vote for anyway; even with Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire aging off, there are still plenty of interesting names remaining.

Let’s start with the most simplistic ranking: if we just line up everyone by Wins Above Replacement (WAR, Baseball-Reference edition), what does that top ten look like?


That’s…not too bad, actually. It’s basically my ballot from last year, with first-timers Pudge and Manny thrown in to fill those open spots. And not only that, but there’s a pretty clear demarcation there-Gary Sheffield is next, a full 8 Wins below Edgar, with the rest of the ballot below 60. If we were trying to draw a line somewhere between those four names between 68 and 70 WAR, that would be one thing, but this is a lot more noticeable break.

And I do think some positions need some upward adjustments to their WAR totals; notably, catcher and relievers. But Rodriguez made it on his own, while Posada is the lowest non-reliever I think of as “in consideration”, with only 42.7. A 25+ WAR boost is just ridiculous. Posada is right where I would consider the borderline for catchers, so I’m not too bent out of shape by omitting him anyway. With the Hall already missing catchers like Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, and Bill Freehan, I’m much more comfortable leaving him off my list.

Then, there are the relievers. We’re basically looking at Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. And I can see them all having a case for Cooperstown, but given how crowded the ballot is, I wouldn’t want to vote for more than one. So which one do I go with? Let’s line them up, and include some other stats, excluding their save totals to make who is who less clear:

A: 29.6 bWAR, 26.6 fWAR, 1289.1 IP, 2.93 FIP, 1251 K, 8.73 K/9, 1.256 WHIP, 82.3 SV%
B: 28.4 bWAR, 26.1 fWAR, 1089.1 IP, 3.08 FIP, 1133 K, 9.36 K/9, 1.058 WHIP, 88.8% SV%
C: 28.1 bWAR, 24.1 fWAR, 903.0 IP, 2.73 FIP, 1196 K, 11.92 K/9*, 0.988 WHIP, 85.9 SV%

*This would be the all-time record, if C had enough innings to qualify.
So…which one do you pick? Because honestly…they all look too similar to me. I just can’t vote for one of them and feel like it wasn’t made somewhat arbitrarily. And I’m still not convinced that any of them deserves a spot over the other ten.

(For reference, A was Smith, B was Hoffman, and C was Wagner.)

Let’s look at things a different way, though; how does our list look when we use Wins Above Average? For reference, WAA is basically WAR, with the baseline set at 2 rather than 0 (that is to say, to calculate a player’s WAA for a season, subtract 2 from their WAR). This gives us a better sense of dominance, how much better the players were than just some random starter. For that, we’ve got:

Sammy Sosa-28.0
Jeff Kent-26.3
J.D. Drew-25.0
Mike Cameron-20.8
Fred McGriff-19.6

First things first: not a great look for those last five, falling below Drew and Cameron (at the same time though, good on those two; they had great but underrated careers, even if they fell a little short overall). And this further cements my belief that I can scratch off all three closers.

Once again, the same ten names are at the top, albeit in a shuffled order. And once again, there’s a decently-sized gap between ten and eleven. I feel like I can say that the top six are locks, because of how far ahead of the rest they are. There’s just no question that they’re the cream of this crop.

Plus, Rodriguez made the top ten in both cases despite all of the lack-of-playing-time penalties that double-count against catchers. I think it’s safe to say he’s easily the best catcher not in Cooperstown too, so he’s in. And this is Raines’s final year on the ballot before he ages off, and he’s right on the cusp, so I feel obligated to throw him a vote. So that gives me eight names.

So, those last two spots seem like they come down to Edgar, Manny, Vlad, Sammy, and Sheff, with those first two the favorites. This is a good group to look at too, as it’s four corner-outfielders who were got most or all of their value from their bat alone, plus a designated hitter.

If you want to compare them, here’s a custom Fangraphs leaderboard. To be honest…I’m kind of inclined to stick it out with Manny and Edgar. They were far and away the best hitters, with Sheffield the next closest. Vlad probably has the best “intangible” arguments, given how notable he was and the steroid ties for Ramirez, Sosa, and Sheffield. But at the same time, he’s far and away the weakest candidate, to the point where he’d be noticeably among the weaker outfielders in the Hall.

So that’s the final ballot: Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Martinez, Mussina, Raines, Ramirez, Rodriguez, Schilling, and Walker. If I were feeling clever, I would probably drop Manny and Walker in favor of Hoffman and Guerrero; based on the early returns, those two are riding the knife’s edge, currently at 75.0% and 73.3% on 175 ballots as I type. Meanwhile, the rest of my ballot is over 50% and needs help building momentum, while Ramirez and Walker are just sorta languishing in the low-20s. The more people we get in this year, the more cleared out the ballot is next year, meaning we can work to getting even more people inducted.

And we’re gonna need those spots next year. Because outside of Bagwell, Raines, Hoffman, Rodriguez, and Guerrero, everyone else I mulled over is basically a lock to return next year, plus we’ll be adding Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, and Johan Santana, all of whom I have strong opinions about (plus Omar Vizquel, who I personally don’t but many other people will). A five person induction class would reduce so many headaches going forward (and it would match the largest Hall class ever, which would be cool). So godspeed, five guys getting over 70% of the vote; let’s hope we all see you in Cooperstown this summer.