Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Who Are the Hall of Famers Playing Today, If We Adjust for Size?

With the Hall of Fame induction over the past weekend, I’ve had a few ideas for related articles lately. Let’s start with the most directly-related idea.

I saw an interesting article over at Sporting News recently from Hall of Fame expert Graham Womack. If you aren’t already familiar with his work, you may still recognize his name from the “50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame” Project that I frequently participate in. In any case, he ran a piece recently looking at how many active players today might one day make it to Cooperstown.

It actually reminded me of something I wrote several years ago, and even though we took slightly different approaches, we wound up with similar conclusions: the Hall of Fame, as is, is just too small. And not just that, but we even wound up with similar numbers for our numbers too: while we’re seeing a little under 40 active players per season making the Hall, based on the precedent, it should probably be a little over 50 at least, possibly even as much as 75 (although we both agreed that end of the spectrum seemed a little too high).

It’s nice to see someone else who knows what they’re talking about come to that conclusion. And I figured it could be a good opportunity to run an update on my subsequent articles on the matter, where I tried to demonstrate how a Hall of this size would look transposed onto modern times (using both 2012 and 2006; you can find all of those pieces on this page under “Series 2”). It’s been five years, and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony was on Sunday* after all, so this is extra timely!

*Also, six months later, it’s still hard for me to believe Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines , and Ivan Rodriguez all got in this year, let alone that two more players missed by less than 20 votes.

So, what would 40/50/60/70+ active players making the Hall of Fame look like in todays game? Which players would we be looking at?

Let’s start with the no-doubters: Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Cabrera, and Adrian Beltre are all locks. Not only are they all clearly worthy of induction, but I just don’t see enough voters standing against their candidacies.

(4 players)

I’ll borrow someone else’s work to make some quick work of this next part: The Hall of Stats is Adam Darowski’s attempt to fill a Hall of Fame-sized body of players entirely from a single statistical formula. The resulting stat, Hall Rating, works a little like OPS+, where 100 is the baseline for Hall induction and every 1 point over that is 1% better than Hall minimum.

Not everyone over this mark actually gets inducted, because voters sometimes make some dumb choices and snub easy calls (I fear that’s going to happen with Carlos Beltran and Chase Utley, personally), but if we’re looking for 70+ names, I think it’s hard to argue that anyone already over 100 would be getting snubbed. That brings us fourteen more names: Utley, Beltran, Robinson Cano, Clayton Kershaw, CC Sabathia, Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, and Ian Kinsler.

(18 players)

Of course, why stop there? Dustin Pedroia, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Joey Votto all finished last season at 97 or above. Given that Adam updates the site’s numbers after each season rather than during, and given that all four of those players have positive value in 2017, they’ve all certainly made it for next year by now.

(22 players)

Of course, we’ll need to expand to younger players as well. I never understand why some writers shy away from doing that when they write about future Hall of Famers. Assume there are about 40 active players who will eventually make the Hall in any one season (that’s generally the round number estimate that’s used, and it tends to hold up). Then, assume the average Hall of Famer has a twenty year career (this is probably too high, but underscores our point well). Even with those pretty conservative estimates, we wind up with an average of two Hall of Famers per career year, meaning two rookies, two ten-year veterans, two twenty-year vets, and everything in between at any one time. Sure, you won’t have even distribution, but that just means some years will have three or four players while others will have none. If you’re predicting a future Hall of Fame, you’re almost certainly better off picking young guys rather than throwing yet another fifteen year vet whose career is winding down maybe a few years shy, but if you look at his stats and squint just right… etc., etc.

Anyway, that was partly why I started my series projecting younger player’s odds; there had to be at least some young players with a good should at baseball immortality, so why not start trying to pinpoint them early for fun?

In my last update, I noted 20 hitters and 6 pitchers* that I haven’t already mentioned above the median Wins Above Replacement for Hall of Famers at their age, and therefore “on pace” for the Hall of Fame. Granted, many of them have low “odds” despite that fact, but a lot qualify as “more likely than not at least” at this point, it’s a good way to fill out our list quickly and relatively objectively.

*In no specific order, they are: Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Addison Russell, Rougned Odor, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Yelich, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Andrelton Simmons, Jose Altuve, Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Julio Urias, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Julio Teheran, Madison Bumgarner, and Chris Sale.

That brings us up to 48 players, which still isn’t even up to our lowest bar of “a little over 50”, let alone our highest bar of “75 or more”. It’s worth noting that, due to WAR’s problems with catchers, my list of 26 included no catchers. However, Salvador Perez and Buster Posey both came very close despite that, so it’s probably reasonable to add them in and bring our list up to an even 50. If you think there should be a fourth catcher on the list, you can probably add Yadier Molina. I’ve seen many people arguing that he’s a likely inductee, but even as a Cardinals fan, I can’t say that I agree with that. I can see how it would happen, though (a few more strong years, voters give him a lot of extra credit for defense, leadership, and intangibles), and since we trying to get to something like 75 players, four catchers seems definitely reasonable.

(51 players)

Similarly, relievers are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to a counting stat like WAR, so we need to add a few in to keep things realistic. Unfortunately, due partially to the relative newness (in the wider scale of the history of the game) of the modern bullpen and partially to the erratic standards Hall voters have shown when it comes to electing relievers, this part is a little more of a shot in the dark. Four now, let’s stick to four like we did with the catchers and we can go back and add more if we decide we need to later on.

A Hall that sees four modern closers as Hall of Famers is probably electing Francisco Rodriguez; despite struggles this year and multiple personal issues throughout his career, he had an impressive peak and has built up some large career totals.

You could probably also throw in two of Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Craig Kimbrel, based on whichever two wind up with the most impressive careers. Relievers have high enough flame-out rates that they definitely won’t all retire with Hall of Fame numbers (plus, Miller hasn’t really been a “closer” for most of his career, and Hall voters have never really elected a non-closer reliever). I’d go with Kimbrel and Chapman as the most likely in this volatile bunch. And we should probably add a younger closer to our group to avoid clustering our choices; we’ll use Roberto Osuna to stand in for our “young closer” spot, since he’s indeed young and already had success in the majors.

(55 players)

From here, the next place to expand would be to players who are below the Hall median for their age. After all, some Hall members by definition are below median, plus some of those players are in good position to cross the Hall median in the near future anyway. In particular, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Martinez, Lance McCullers, and Max Scherzer all look pretty likely to make their respective goals for next season. If you’re feeling generous, you could also include Alex Reyes here, who missed this season with Tommy John surgery but was pretty close to his Hall median goal. Besides, young pitchers are pretty unpredictable anyway; if you feel uncomfortable using Reyes specifically, feel free to mentally substitute in another young pitcher of your choice. With 75 spots on our list, we have to make some iffy picks along the way.

(61 players)

From here, the strategy is basically to fill up the rest of the slots with below-median players; since we’re “expanding” to 75 players, at least some will need to be as such. David Price, Jon Lester, and Johnny Cueto are all good pitchers who, with graceful aging, one day measure up to Cooperstown’s standards, but as of now, they aren’t quite there UNLESS you’re inducting a bunch of active stars. On the hitters’ side of things, you could probably extend those arguments to players like Ben Zobrist and Matt Holliday, who have been good but don’t quite have the counting numbers due to relatively late starts.

(66 players)

David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, and Troy Tulowitzki all fell off of Hall pace due to injuries, but if we’re lowering the standards to induct that many players, it’s much more plausible that they’ll manage to reach those marks. Wright already has a Hall Rating of 98, while Ryan Zimmerman’s big bounce-back year might bode well for him hanging around long enough to reach a lower Hall standard.

And lastly, we can probably polish it off with some younger, iffier players, guys who look a little far off of the real Hall pace (still within reach if they play well in their 30s, or course), but much more within reach of our “lessened” pace. We’ll say Jose Quintana, Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Elvis Andrus, Ender Inciarte, and Michael Fulmer. You could quibble with these players, but keeping in mind how far down the list we are at this point, I’m not sure there’s much of a reason too.

And that's basically a rough approximation of what 75 Active Players making the Hall of Fame would look like. You might say “Wow, this would be lowering the Hall’s standard significantly”. You’re right, except it’s worth again noting that 1) this is something like twice as many players being inducted as we would expect; and 2) this is basically what the early days of the league look like when it comes to Hall induction, on a percentage basis. I’m not sure I’d go all the way to arguing for 75 players, but at the very least, a middle ground between that and what we’re actually getting seems reasonable to me.


  1. Sabathia and Kinsler are not going to be inducted into the HoF, nor should they be, so you lost me at that point. What I found most interesting in your article however was your dismissal of the potential for induction of Yadier Molina. I think he is highly respected, 8 Gold Gloves, hit over .300 in all three World series he started in, outstanding catcher ERA (that is not factored in to WAR). As voters progress and realize that catchers are underrepresented and specifically there are catcher components that are ill-defined by WAR, his peripherals may well sway enough voters. I'd say he has a 20% chance of eventual induction.

    1. I wouldn't write off Sabathia so quickly. He's had a resurgent last two seasons, and he's within 200 strikeouts of 3000. He could definitely make that.

      I do agree that Kinsler is unlikely, but if part of this was to highlight how many 70 players is, even if 70 active players making Cooperstown is comparable to how many players made the Hall back in older eras. Some of these guys will need to be stretches.

  2. Paul Goldschmidt is much better than you rate him. He got a late start but is definitely one of the three best hitters in the game today.