The Curious Case of the Hall of Fame Vote

Scott and I are not dead, we promise! It has been a few weeks since we have posted and podcasted, but we are hard core adulting! Scott got accepted to grad school (I’ll let him tell you about it in his next post!), I have been lesson-planning like mad, and I am preparing for my first season of high school baseball as a coach. We have also been working on planning the next Standing Room Only ballpark tour, so stay tuned!

It has been a very slow hot stove this winter for baseball. The highlight of the last few weeks has been the election of Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome, Vladimir Gurrero, and Chipper Jones to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Standing Room would like to extend its congratulations to the newest members of the Hall of Fame.

After taking a few days to digest and process the players that got in, who came up short, and who dropped off the ballot, it became very clear to me that the voting process is flawed. The baseball writers have different standards for each position, there is a limit as to how many players a writer can vote for, and players fall off the ballot easily when they shouldn’t. Now to be clear, I agree with the writers on the four players that got in. It is the players that did not get in that I have issue with.

The debate of the standards needed to get into the Hall of Fame in the wake of the steroid era, the veterans committee, and the generational gap among baseball writers makes the voting even harder. Writers from the east coast rarely get to see players from the west coast, adding to the bias. Why does it take several years on the ballot for a player to make it to the hall and have to win over voters because the top of a ballot is stacked and a voter only has 10 votes?

There are several players that fell of the ballot early and yet players with similar numbers made it into the Hall of Fame. Take a look at a player like Kenny Lofton. Do I have a bias because he played for my Cleveland Indians? Sure. Did he deserve to fall off the ballot during his first year? Absolutely not. His numbers are comparable to those of a player like Tim Raines. Just look at the basic splits between the two players:

Tim Raines

Average .294
Hits 2,605
Home runs 170
Runs batted in 980
Stolen bases 808

Kenny Lofton

Average .299
Hits 2,428
Home runs 130
Runs batted in 781
Stolen bases 622

It is important to note that Lofton is 15th in stolen bases at 622,  60th in Runs Scored at 1,528, and 80th in WAR for Position Players at 65.3. Tim Raines made it into the Hall of Fame on his 10th on the ballot with an 86% of the vote. Kenny Lofton failed to reach the 5% threshold to remain on the ballot and fell off.loftonfansmfjpg-714bb764bd1af5fc_medium

Now, you might argue that Lofton’s stats are not as great as Tim Raines in certain areas. Fair. But if you look at the metrics, Lofton is a Hall of Famer. Five Thirty Eight uses a metric called J.A.W.S. that measures Hall of Fame worthiness by incorporating WAR. Lofton ranks as the eighth-best Hall-eligible center fielder in modern baseball history. That alone should be enough of an argument for at the very least earning the minimum amount of votes to stay on the ballot. The JAWS metric also states that a player of Lofton’s caliber should make the Hall of Fame about 72% of the time, so even more justification for a player of his skill and resume staying on the ballot. The biased towards him could simply be he bounced around so much in his career that many writers didn’t get a good look at him. Maybe its because he doesn’t have the power numbers. Whatever it may be, the writers missed the boat and it happens more often than you think.

Baseball Reference and Fangraphs put together data to compare a team players that fell off the ballot after one year vs. a team of players of players that is made up of only First Ballot Hall of Famers.

The Hall of Fame’s All-One-and-Done Team

The player who had the highest likelihood of making the Hall of Fame (based on JAWS) among players who dropped off the ballot after only one year (1979-2017) at each position.

HOF LIKELIHOOD … ACTUAL BALLOT RESULTS
POS. PLAYER JAWS* HOF % YEAR ON BALLOT VOTE %
C Ted Simmons 44.2 53.1% 1994 3.7
1B John Olerud 49.4 40.4 2011 0.7
2B Bobby Grich 60.4 88.8 1992 2.6
SS Jim Fregosi 42.9 38.3 1984 1.0
3B Dick Allen 53.2 43.1 1983 3.7
OF Kenny Lofton 56.7 71.7 2013 3.2
OF Jim Edmonds 53.9 64.1 2016 2.5
OF Jim Wynn 48.4 44.9 1983 0.0
SP Rick Reuschel 54.8 52.2 1997 0.4
RP Tom Gordon 29.3 13.8 2015 0.4
*JAWS measures a player’s Hall of Fame qualification using a combination of his career and seven-year peak wins above replacement.

The Hall of Fame’s Anti-One-and-Done team

For each position, the player who had the lowest likelihood of making the Hall of Fame (based on JAWS) among players who were actually inducted (1979-2017)

HOF LIKELIHOOD … ACTUAL BALLOT RESULTS
POS. PLAYER JAWS* HOF % YRS ON BALLOT YR ELECTED VOTE %
C Carlton Fisk 54.0 80.6% 2 2000 79.6
1B Tony Perez 47.2 30.8 9 2000 77.2
2B Roberto Alomar 53.9 70.4 2 2011 90.0
SS Luis Aparicio 42.2 24.5 6 1984 84.6
3B Paul Molitor 55.9 38.3 1 2004 85.2
OF Lou Brock 37.5 9.3 1 1985 79.7
OF Kirby Puckett 43.3 23.9 1 2001 82.1
OF Jim Rice 44.1 26.6 15 2009 76.4
SP Catfish Hunter 34.5 5.5 3 1987 76.3
RP Bruce Sutter 22.6 6.7 13 2006 76.9
*JAWS measures a player’s Hall of Fame qualification using a combination of his career and seven-year peak wins above replacement.

Now, all of this data might not mean much, but fun fact the one-and-done team would have won a projected 100 games while the Hall of Fame team would have won 96. What the data does show, however, is an inconsistency in voting standards based on the different eras, the numerical standards per position, and how writers vote based on how much a player moves around. The standards to get into the Hall of Fame is higher now (which is great), but there is still an arbitrary standard for the Hall. Players like Catfish Hunter and Lou Brock would have had no chance to be a Hall of Famer in the modern baseball era. Writers cannot use an unfair standard to judge players. If Tim Raines made it to the Hall of Fame, then Kenny Lofton should at the very least have stayed on for more than one year. If Ozzie Smith is in the Hall, then Omar Vizquel should be in the Hall. If the writers vote David Ortiz into the Hall when he is eligible and do not vote in Edgar Martinez, then the credibility of the Baseball Writers Association will really be in doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Baseball Hall of Fame is the greatest honor that a player can receive in the game. The strategies of the writers to leave players off the ballot because they cannot vote for more than 10 players is a major issue. The bias that the writers have because they might lack the sexy numbers like 500 homers or 300 wins have hindered so many players over the years when clearly they should have at least survived more than one year on the ballot or even gotten in.

The bias towards specialty players that perform at a Hall of Fame level is troubling. Omar Vizquel was punished for his mediocre offensive numbers, but as one of the best fielders in the history of the game he deserves Hall of Fame consideration. Players like Trevor Hoffman should not have had to wait to get to the Hall of Fame just because they were one inning specialists, especially when he is 2nd in career saves in the game. Players like Edgar Martinez, who not only defined the role of the DH and literally has an award named after him for DHs, should not be punished for being a limited fielder. Theses are just some of the few issues that the Baseball Writers need to address and soon.

Now, to be fair to the Baseball Writers Association, they have made some some reforms. They have put in requirements for writers that are not active in reporting on the game for a specific number of years. There is the Veterans Committee that is in place to reconsider players that have slipped through the cracks and have fallen off the ballot, however the odds for a player being voted in on the Veterans Committee who dropped off the ballot on the first year is slim to none.

With no clear front runners for the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot beyond Mariano Rivera and the late Roy Halladay, this could be a prime year for some players to make up ground. Players linked to steroids such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens should slowly start making their way ever closer to the 75% vote requirement for entry. Edgar Martinez should make it in on his last year on the ballot. This weaker class (in star studded names that is), however, only enhances the holes and issues that the Hall of Fame standards and voting process actually has. Maybe the Veterans Committee can save some players like Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton from becoming just another victim of a flawed process. Maybe the Baseball Writers Association will do better in establishing standards. Until the writers come up with a universal standard for how to handle players from other generations, players linked to steroids, and its ballot limits, there will always be credibility issues every year that the new Hall of Fame Class is elected.

Its time for reform.

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