JAWS: A look at the Pre-Integration Hall of Fame ballot, Part I
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the controversies surrounding their spots in history can wait. Earlier this month, the National Baseball Hall of Fame unveiled its Pre-Integration Era ballot, consisting of six players, three executives and one umpire whose most significant impact took place prior to 1946. Separate from the Baseball Writers Association of America process by which over 500 voters will judge yea or nay on players who hung up their spikes between five and 20 years ago, the Pre-Integration group is an outcropping of the late but not-so-lamented Veterans Committee, which was responsible for some of the most dubious choices in the institution’s history, as well as some of the most frustrating non-choices. In a 2010 reform, the Hall split the purview of the old VC into three committees overseeing different eras: the Expansion Era (1973-89), the Golden Era (1947-72) and the Pre-Integration Era (1871-1946). Each committee consists of a separate 16-member panels of historians, media members, former players and executives, with 12 votes (75 percent) needed for election. The Expansion Era Committee went first in 2010 and tabbed general manager Pat Gillick, while in 2011 the Golden Era committee finally found room for Ron Santo.
The 10 finalists up for discussion on the Pre-Integration Era ballot aren’t household names, but there are worthy candidates. Owners Sam Breadon (Cardinals) and Jacob Ruppert (Yankees), executive and equipment pioneer Al Reach and umpire Hank O’Day all have compelling cases. None of those spark the imagination or lend themselves to quantification the way the six former players — Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Marty Marion, Tony Mullane, Bucky Walters and Deacon White — do, however. Some of those six played during a time when the game’s rules were still evolving, making their raw statistics harder to parse, but advanced metrics can help provide context.
Enter JAWS, the Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score system, which I’ve used several times in this space and elsewhere at SI.com. First devised back in 2004 at Baseball Prospectus, JAWS is a means of measuring a candidate’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined, using sabermetrics to account for the wide variations in offensive levels that have occurred throughout the game’s history. The system’s stated goal is to improve the Hall of Fame’s standards, or at least to maintain them by admitting players at least as good as the average Hall of Famer at the position.
A player’s JAWS is his career Wins Above Replacement total averaged with his 7-year peak WAR (not necessarily consecutive years). Note that only batting WAR is used in determining the averages at a given position; rightfielders aren’t penalized by the additional value Babe Ruth accumulated as a pitcher, for example. The current Hall of Famers are then grouped by position and a positional average JAWS is computed; for the purposes of comparison, players are classified at the position where they accrued the most value, which may be different from the position where they played the most games, particularly as players tend to shift to positions of less defensive responsibility as they age. For all that is included, JAWS can’t incorporate everything that goes into a player’s Hall of Fame case; it makes no attempt to account for postseason play, awards won, leading the league in important categories, career milestones and historical importance, much of which is better handled via the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor metrics.
While I created the system using BP’s Wins Above Replacement Player as its currency, the 2013 election cycle will use Baseball-Reference.com’s version of WAR, which uses different components to measure offense, defense and pitching relative to replacement level but produces largely similar values. Thanks to the outstanding work of B-Ref founder Sean Forman, every player’s JAWS data is now on the individual player cards of the sport’s most popular statistical site; scroll down to the “Hall of Fame Statistics” section, where it sits alongside the aforementioned James metrics (yes, I get goosebumps typing that). Here are the position-by-position standards:
Turning to the hitters in question:
|Avg HOF SS||63.1||41.1||52.1||.279|
|Avg HOF C||49.6||32.3||41.0||.292|
By far the best of the position player candidates, Dahlen spent 21 years with four different National League teams, three of whom played under different nicknames than they carry now: the Chicago Colts (briefly named the Orphans, and now the Cubs), Brooklyn Superbas (now Dodgers), New York Giants and Boston Doves (now Braves). A heady player known more for his fielding, his temper and his carousing than his hitting, Dahlen was nonetheless a good hitter for the Deadball Era, as his counting stats and his .278 True Average attest; he briefly held the NL record with a 42-game hitting streak in 1894. In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, published in 2000, Dahlen ranked 21st among shortstops, with James calling him “a high-living, hard-drinking player with a great fondness for horse races,” who would regularly call O’Day (the top umpire of his era) “Henry” so he could escape to play the ponies after being ejected. Later, Dahlen was tossed 65 times in four years (1910-1913) as a manager of the hapless Dodgers, who went 251-355 (.414) on his watch; no word on how well he supplemented his income at the tracks.
Dahlen never led his league in WAR, but eight times he was in the top 10 and five times he ranked in the top five; his Defensive WAR (using the Total Zone metric) was in the league’s top five 11 times, including the league’s best in 1903 with Brooklyn and 1904 with New York. His career WAR total ranks seventh among shortstops and is above the Hall average at the position; his peak score, which ranks 21st, is slightly below, but his overall JAWS ranks 12th and exceeds the standard. It’s also above the scores of Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Bobby Wallace, Lou Boudreau, Joe Cronin and Pee Wee Reese as well as eight other enshrined shortstops, and it falls just 0.4 points shy of Cooperstown lock Derek Jeter’s JAWS. Dahlen’s ranking isn’t a matter of the move from WARP to WAR; he was the top candidate on the 2008 Veterans Committee ballot and rated as the best shortstop outside the Hall after Larkin’s election (the switch does bump Alan Trammell back above both him and the Hall standard). Dahlen should be in, and if the voters do their homework, he will be.
A mainstay for the Cardinals from 1940-1950, Marion was a seven-time All-Star who was nicknamed “the Octopus” for his unusually long arms. St. Louis was a powerhouse during his tenure, finishing above .500 in every year but 1950, winning pennants in 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1946, and finishing second five other times. They won three World Series during that span, and have already sent players such as Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Johnny Mize and Red Schoendienst to Cooperstown. Marion wasn’t in those players’ class as a hitter; in most years, his .270ish batting averages were quite thin, and he actually racked up fewer career steals than he did home runs. His .250 True Average is well below the defined league average of .260, and in fact it’s even further below the aggregate .279 mark of the Hall’s shortstops.
Defense was Marion’s stock in trade, though without either Gold Glove awards or modern defensive metrics, that view rested largely on reputation as well as the fact that he led NL in fielding percentage four times and putouts and assists twice apiece — crude measures by today’s standards. That said, modern metrics do testify to his skill afield; he led the league in Defensive WAR three times, ranked second five other times and third once. Only twice did he rank among the league’s top 10 in WAR overall, however. One of those times was 1944, when he won NL MVP after hitting .267/.324/.362 with a career-high six homers (!), 63 RBIs, and fielding that was 24 runs above average; he was worth 4.6 WAR that year.
Marion’s cause is hurt by a career shortened by managerial aspirations; he skippered the Cardinals in 1951 and served as player-manager for the St. Louis Browns in 1952-1953. Furthermore, his peak took place during World War II, when the pool of players was depleted; though not classified 4-F (ineligible to be drafted), his service was deferred out of concern for the way a leg fractured during childhood had healed. Neither his traditional nor advanced numbers measure up to the Hall standard; his JAWS is 58th among shortstops, below even the lowest-ranked among those enshrined, Rabbit Maranville (39.4/28.8/34.1). Passing on him is the right call.
White’s career dates back to the very inception of major league baseball via the short-lived National Association (1871-1875). Playing for the Cleveland Forest Citys, he took the first plate appearance, collected the first hit and made the first catch in NA history in 1871. After two years with Cleveland, he moved onto the Boston Red Stockings, who were managed by Harry Wright, considered to be “the Father of Professional Baseball.” Once the NA disbanded, White spent 14 years in the original National League bouncing between the Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit and Pittsburgh franchises. Baseball was a drastically different game during his day, with pitchers throwing underhand or sidearm before 1883, the number of balls and strikes necessary for walks and strikeouts fluctuating almost annually, and fielders working barehanded. Schedules were much shorter — well under 100 games until late in White’s career — and the level of competition varied widely. The 1875 Red Stockings went 71-8 and were one of just seven teams in a 13-team league to play at least 70 games; one can understand why the 2-42 Brooklyn Atlantics were less keen on filling out a complete schedule.
Amid that mess, White was a high-average hitter who won two batting titles (1875 and 1877) and finished in the top 10 six other times. Thanks to a league-high 11 triples (but just two homers) in 59 games, he led the NL in slugging percentage in 1877 as well. He actually played more games at third base over the course of his career than catcher (827 to 458), moving away from the latter position because he was tired of taking his lumps back there (chest protectors didn’t come into vogue until 1885). A true star, he was hailed for his integrity and gentlemanly nature if not his scientific acumen; he actually believed that the earth is flat. According to James, who called him the Most Admirable Superstar of the 1870s, “He picked up his nickname from the strange habit of going to church.”
Statistically, White ranked in the top 10 in WAR seven times during his career, and in the top three four times, but he suffers when compared to the Hall standards, because fully professional leagues didn’t exist until he was 23 (he was almost certainly good enough to play years before that) and because of the shorter schedules. Measured against other 19th century players, his career WAR ranks 11th, with nine of the 10 players above him and 14 of the 17 top from the era enshrined. That’s enough to suggest he probably belongs in Cooperstown.
I’ll be back with a look at the trio of pitchers on the ballot later this week.