Nationals Arm Race

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So if you didn’t like Jack Morris in the Hall … what are you saying about Baines??

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Baines comes from out of nowhere to get elected to the Hall. Photo via BroBible.

Baines comes from out of nowhere to get elected to the Hall. Photo via BroBible.

Last week, we heard that Lee Smith and Harold Baines were selected by this 16-person “Today’s Game Era Committee” to be in the Hall of Fame.

Honestly, I’m not sure why we pay so much attention to this institution at this point; literally every decision they make seems to be in direct conflict with what the general consensus of the sport’s fandom thinks makes sense.

  • Too many players on the ballot?  By all means, don’t expand the ballot.
  • Too many players on the ballot needing more years to get elected?  Oh, lets shorten the amount of time players can stay on the ballot.  Of course!
  • Tired of seeing illogical votes?  The writers themselves voted to make their votes public … but the Hall of Fame said no.
  • Old-timey players found out to be relatively unworthy due to new knowledge of the game?  Oh, lets ignore years/decades of writer voting and just hand them a spot in the hall.

Lets talk about them one at a time

Smith aged off the ballot after 15 years in 2017, getting 34.2% of the electorate vote his final year, peaking just above 50% in one of his years on the ballot.   He was a journeyman closer (8 teams in 18 years) with a gazillion saves (478) and a 3.00+ ERA with a middling bWAR figure (29.4), 16% of which came in his best season.  We talked about him for years; he was a mediocre to good closer, nothing special, and came into the ballot at a time where there was a huge glut of candidates as well as better/more famous closers in the discussion.   He made 7 all-star teams and had three Cy Young leading seasons back when people thought that saves were actually worthy of voting for (to wit, he finished 2nd in Cy Young voting in 1991 b/c he led the league in saves with 47 saves … and had a 2.3 bWAR season.  Meanwhile, last year Tanner Roark, you know the guy who a lot of Nats fans were convinced we should non-tender due to his crummy performance … he posted a 3.0 bWAR for 2018.  Yeah; even a replacement level starter right now is more valuable than an all-star closer).

That is a hall of famer?

Meanwhile Baines was even more of a journey-man; playing 22 seasons across 5 franchises and hanging around as a lefty DH type with a solid bat but not highlight power.  He accumulated 38.7 bWAR in his long career, his career apex being a 4.3 bWAR season in 1984.  He made 6 all-star teams and never sniffed even a top5 MVP vote.   He hung on the ballot getting just north of the 5% threshold for several years, then was dropped off when the glut of candidates started in 2011.  That’s right; people lost their minds because Jack Morris got in despite his 3.90 ERA and peaking at 61.5% of the HoF vote … yet Baines is now in despite never getting more than 7% (!) in any year and having a career BA of .289.  His best argument for getting into the Hall seems to his high career hit total (2,866), which will now also be the eventual argument for the likes of Omar Vizquel (career hits: 2,877) and Johnny Damon (career hits: 2,769) to also get added by a chummy veterans committee filled with current employees and former managers.

That’s a hall of famer??

.289 will not be the lowest batting average for any Hall of Famer (not like Morris’ 3.90 being the highest ERA).   Not by a long shot; there’s plenty of guys in the .250-.270 range or lower.  But many of those who have these lower averages also have 500 homers, or are 10x gold glove winners.  Or have some other redeeming qualities.  Baines was often not even the best player on his own team, let alone the league.

I mean, good for him.  He gets to make a speech and join a pretty exclusive club.  He’ll also basically serve as a low-end benchmark going forward for comparison purposes.

But most of the rest of the baseball world is pretty troubled by this.  I’ve always thought that a committee would do a better job of electing players to the Hall, in the same vein that the NFL selection committee seems to do a pretty good job.  But clearly not THIS committee, that includes the arrogant and patently-anti-analytical Joe Morgan (whose letter to the electorate literally led some respected writers to quit the process), and the equally arrogant Tony la Russa, who failed so spectacularly in management with Arizona recently and literally used game winning RBI during an on-screen interview to defend the selection of Baines while claiming anyone who argues against Baines are using “weak *ss superficial bullsh*t.”

Wow.

Whatever.  I’m sure we’ll get some good candidates elected and can argue for or against them during the slow period in early January like always.  But the inclusion of Smith and Baines while the likes of Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina (in particular) is yet another nail in the coffin of believe-ability for the Hall of Fame as an institution.

Written by Todd Boss

December 16th, 2018 at 9:53 am

Obligatory Post on the 2018 Hall of Fame class

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Chipper Jones at his retirement game.  Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Chipper Jones at his retirement game. Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Its January, so that means Hall of Fame Ballot time.  BBWAA Writers who were not completely disgusted by Joe Morgan‘s ridiculous letter to the writers should have mailed in their ballots by 12/31/17.

If you still care about Hall of Fame voting, then this post is for you.  Which I do … because its the only such career-recognizing institution for our sport … even if the people running the museum are tone-deaf morons who want to make it harder to get candidates in rather than easier  despite mounds of evidence that the 80s and 90s are vastly under represented in the Hall.  They continue to enrage rationalists by doing thins like shortening the time players are allowed on the ballot, refusing to expand the ballot to allow more candidates and most recently refusing to make all ballots public so dinosaurs can continue to be unaccountable for their awful voting decisions.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading:

  • Baseball-Reference.com’s 2018 ballot with stats
  • Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes .  Which is great for those who do talk about their votes … but is tough to use as a predictor because generally the non-public votes are more in the Murray Chass category of voting; too few candidates and no consistency over who he picks.

My consideration of candidates, unlike my consideration of a lot of stuff, comes down more to “feel” than it does to stats.  I know Jay Jaffe  has his great JAWS thing that tries to do both peak and longevity.  I know b-r.com has a bunch of metrics per player.  That’s all great.  But it isn’t the hall of stats, it isn’t the hall of WAR.  Its the hall of Fame.  Its the hall of marquee players from their day.  I cannot remember the pundit (perhaps Bill James or Joe Posnanski), but they said something to the effect of if the player didn’t “scare” you when he came to bat, or if you didn’t get excited when the pitcher took the mound … then odds are they weren’t a hall of famer.

I look at the players I’d vote for and … they’re the guys you paid money to see.  They’re the arms that were on the mound and you gave the opposing team little chance.  They’re the sluggers who you wanted up in the 9th inning of a tie game.  That’s what makes the game exciting and that’s the lens I like to use when judging players.  Yeah its subjective and partisan; so is every person voting in the BBWAA.

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New to the 2018 Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Chipper Jones, Jim Thome
  • Less emphatic Yes for Scott Rolen
  • Slight pause to consider Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johan Santana
  • No on everyone else (though there are still some interesting names on that list)

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Vladimir GuerreroCurt Schilling,  Manny Ramirez, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claiming.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So, if you include all firm Yeses and more tepid Yeses … I have 12 candidates.  Probably like everyone else who thinks like I do; too many guys for the ballot.  So who do you cut?  Probably I’d trim the ballot to 10 by cutting McGriff and Hoffman.  I keep Manny Ramirez on despite his positive tests because I don’t think there was a better RH hitter during the 1990s.   I support Clemens/Bonds because I just don’t see how you can have a museum that excludes a 7-time MVP winner or a 7-time Cy Young winner, no matter what you think they took or when.

Nats connected candidates:  excluding the Montreal guys, we have two down-ballot guys who will be lucky to get a single vote: Livan Hernandez and Brad Lidge.  So far, zero votes for either guy, no surprise there.

Quick thoughts on the BBHOF tracker results so far:

  • Bonds/Clemens nearing 70% on public ballots, and keep increasing.  I’m glad to see this.
  • Who the heck voted for Johnny Damon?
  • So far, 3 looking like total locks (Guerrero, Jones, Thome) with the odds of Hoffman also going in strong.
  • It seems like both Schilling and Mussina will drastically increase their vote totals this year, also a good thing.
  • I cannot believe how little support Rolen is getting.
  • Likewise, it looks like Andruw Jones may drop off the ballot!  that’s crazy; i realize he fell off a cliff, but he was among the best in the game for many years.
  • Somewhat surprised with Vizquel’s higher totals (28% as of this writing); no i don’t think he’s a HoFamer … but i do think he deserves some consideration.

Care to argue about the HoF?