Posted January 02, 2013

JAWS and the 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot: Counting votes

Hall of Fame, JAWS
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have numbers that usually lead a player to Cooperstown but neither is likely to be voted in anytime soon. (Walter Iooss Jr./SI)

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have numbers that usually lead a player to Cooperstown but neither is likely to be voted in anytime soon. (Walter Iooss Jr./SI)

From the time that the National Baseball Hall of Fame entrusted the primary job of voting for 20th century players to the Baseball Writers Association of America back in 1936, space on each voter’s ballot has been limited to 10 players. Within a decade, a problem emerged. After voting on an annual basis up through 1939 — a process via which 12 players were elected in five years — the BBWAA switched to a triennial system. Because the field of worthy players was so large, it became very difficult for any one player to receive the requisite 75 percent needed for election. The organization voted in only one player  in 1942, and nobody in 1945, after which the rules were changed to create annual votes, with run-off elections between the top candidates.

Even with voting responsibilities shared in parallel by various smaller committees (the Centennial Committee, the Old-Timers Committee, the Veterans Committee) — often with dubious results — the 10-man BBWAA ballot limit has endured. It has lasted through multiple rule changes, including a switch back to biennial voting, as well as several rounds of expansion that have nearly doubled the size of the major leagues. Despite no shortage of worthy candidates, there have been years when the BBWAA pitched a shutout. The last time was in 1996, when 300-game winners and eventual Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Don Sutton received support above 60 percent but less than 75 percent in their fourth and third years of eligibility, respectively; future BBWAA selections Tony Perez, Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter fell short as well, as did future Expansion Era Committee selection Ron Santo.

That year’s slate of 35 candidates was actually smaller than all but one of the 1988-1995 slates, which had been swollen because several candidates, including Santo, had their eligibility restored after sliding off the ballot due to a failure to receive even five percent of the vote in a prior year. It’s worth noting that the slate hasn’t been that large in any year since that shutout, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that a very real possibility exists that this year’s 37-candidate slate may well result in a similar zero, at least according to two online straw polls among voters who have published their ballots online, in newspapers or via Twitter.

Of the 81 ballots tracked by the Baseball Think Factory’s 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot Collecting Gizmo, no candidate has more than Craig Biggio’s 71.6 percent. A separate log of 56 individual voter ballots at the blog The Girl Who Loved Andy Pettitte (by Twitter user @leokitty) shows Tim Raines’ 73.2 percent as the high, though before any Raines booster gets too excited, it should be noted that his share via such polls has outstripped his overall voting share in years past, sometimes by more than 15 percentage points. Voters choosing to withhold their support from otherwise overqualified players linked to performance-enhancing drugs, such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro, are part of the reason that no 75 percent supermajority has emerged.

I’ve argued several times in this space and elsewhere that I don’t think PED suspicions should be used as an automatic disqualifier for election; actual evidence and the timing of the alleged infractions matters here. As I’ve shown over the past few weeks, with respect to JAWS and some acknowledgement of more subjective considerations (awards, postseason play, league leads) one can identify at least 10 candidates worthy of election, with a couple of borderline cases thrown in as well. To recap, in case you missed any of my rundowns over the holidays, here’s how the top 13 candidates rank according to the distance by which they exceed the standard at their position:

Player Yrs Career Peak JAWS Pos Std Exceeds
Barry Bonds LF 158.1 71.1 114.6 50.7 63.9
Roger Clemens SP 133.9 64.0 99.0 57.8 41.2
Jeff Bagwell 1B 76.7 46.7 61.7 51.5 10.2
Mike Piazza C 56.1 40.7 48.4 41.0 7.4
Curt Schilling SP 76.1 46.7 61.4 57.8 3.6
Alan Trammell SS 67.1 43.3 55.2 52.1 3.1
Tim Raines LF 66.2 41.1 53.7 50.7 3.0
Larry Walker RF 69.7 43.1 56.4 55.4 1.0
Rafael Palmeiro 1B 66.1 36.6 51.3 51.5 -0.2
Edgar Martinez 3B 64.4 41.8 53.1 53.4 -0.3
Kenny Lofton CF 64.9 42.0 53.5 54.8 -1.3
Mark McGwire 1B 58.7 40.1 49.4 51.5 -2.1
Craig Biggio 2B 62.1 40.6 51.3 54.4 -3.1

Seven players on this year’s ballot clear the strict positional standard by a significant margin:

Bonds: He ranks third all-time in WAR among all players, and the PED-related allegations against him predate Major League Baseball’s imposition of testing and suspensions. Even if one considers only his body of work through 1998, before he allegedly began using steroids, he would rank third among leftfielders behind Ted Williams and Rickey Henderson.

Clemens: As with Bonds, his PED allegations predate testing, and his JAWS ranks third among starting pitchers behind Walter Johnson and Cy Young. Even if one considers his body of work through 1997, before he allegedly began using, he’d still rank 18th, well above the starting pitcher standard.

Bagwell: Though he retired at age 37, he racked up impressive numbers while toiling in the Astrodome for the bulk of his career, good enough to rank sixth all-time in JAWS among first basemen, ahead of 14 who are already enshrined. While a whisper campaign regarding PED usage has been waged against him, there’s no actual evidence to connect him to any illegal activity.

Piazza: He was nothing special behind the plate, but Piazza ranks as the best-hitting catcher of all-time, and outdoes all but four other catchers in JAWS. As with Bagwell, some have accused him of PED usage, but there’s no actual evidence to connect him to any illegal activity.

Schilling: Coupling regular season dominance with an outstanding postseason resume, he’s the candidate the boosters of Jack Morris wish their guy was. Despite accumulating “only” 216 wins, Schilling ranks 29th all-time in JAWS among starters, ahead of five 300-game winners and 33 enshrined starters.

Trammell: The Tiger mainstay was an outstanding two-way shortstop whom the voters have been way too slow to recognize. He ranks 11th all-time in JAWS among shortstops, two spots ahead of Barry Larkin, who was elected last year.

Raines: Though he fell short of 3,000 hits, Raines’ ability to get on base and to advance himself via the highest stolen base percentage of all-time made him the game’s second-best leadoff hitter behind Henderson, and a player of outstanding value.

Two other players clear modified standards that reflect some amount of positional ambiguity:

Martinez: He created positive value in 564 games at third base but was moved into the full-time designated hitter role to protect himself from recurring injuries, and there he was an outstanding enough hitter to transcend the limitations of his role. A whisker short of the third base standard, he exceeds the standards for corner infielders and for all Hall hitters, with enough subjective considerations (particularly postseason performance and league leads in key categories) to suggest he belongs.

Biggio: He’s a bit short of the second base standard, but when one factors in three seasons where he was primarily a catcher, he’s basically dead even with a standard for up the middle players (catchers, second basemen, shortstops and centerfielders). His membership in the 3,000 hit club puts him over the top.

That’s enough to fill nine spots on the ballot. Four other players are also within a few points, but occupy a gray area for one reason or another:

Walker: Accumulated a great deal of value in a short time even after adjusting for a prime spent hitting in high-altitude Colorado. He exceeds the JAWS standard in rightfield and ranks ninth among all rightfielders. That said, I’m slightly troubled by the defensive metric-driven discrepancy between his WAR-based JAWS score and last year’s WARP-based one, which accounts for a 5.8-point difference relative to the standard.

Lofton: Slightly below the centerfield standard but still ranks eighth all-time in JAWS among a particularly top-heavy group, and one can make a reasonable argument that a top-10 player at any position is worthy of a vote. That said, Lofton’s ranking is driven by a defensive metric-driven discrepancy that’s about twice the size of Walker’s; via the older WARP system, he ranked 22nd among centerfielders.

Palmeiro: Though he’s one of just four players to accumulate both 3,000 hits and 500 homers and is a negligible distance from the JAWS standard at first base, Palmeiro’s the one candidate on the ballot who failed a drug test that incurred a suspension. I’m not sure how long he deserves to dwell in purgatory for what may have been simply an end-of-career mistake, but on this crowded a ballot, I’d pass.

McGwire: His admission of having used PEDs pertains to the era before testing was in place (he retired in 2001, testing didn’t begin until 2004, and suspensions didn’t begin until 2005) but it’s his distance below the standard at first base that keeps him from my vote.

Of those four, the best case for a vote at the moment — and thus the 10th spot on my virtual ballot — appears to belong to Walker. I do worry that Lofton is likely to fall off the ballot, as he is below 5.0 percent in both straw polls, but Walker isn’t doing a whole lot better, around 13 percent in both. If I had 11 spots, I’d include both, but hewing to the rules for this exercise, I can at best vote for only one, and that’s Walker.

Even with PED-induced squeamishness among voters, just 12 of the 56 individuals identified by @leokitty have used all 10 spots on their ballots, up from five out of 114 ballots last year. That all but guarantees a backlog of qualified candidates that will carry over to next year, when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent and Frank Thomas all become eligible as well. The wider field will only serve to make it harder for any player to be voted in, and for potentially worthy players to become almost completely overlooked. It’s a system that could use some reform, a topic I’ll address sometime in the near future.

21 comments
NealRubin
NealRubin

There's no sympathy from this corner for steroid users, and I don't care how glorious their careers were before they juiced. I've heard steroids dismissed as a factor altogether (the "Everyone was doing it" argument) and minimized (the "Just like spitballs" approach), and both defenses are ludicrous. Yes, Gaylord Perry rode the spitball to the Hall of Fame, but he lost 265 games. His pitch didn't change the nature of baseball. Steroid users defied a rule that was, in fact, in place throughout that unfortunate era. More than that, they forced other players to either cede a competitive advantage (or even a spot on a major league roster), or opt to ignore a rule, break federal law and risk long-term physical damage to keep pace. Some steroid cases are obvious: Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, McGwire, Sosa. Others are less so. Juiced-or-didn't-juice becomes just another evaluation each voter must make.

exhelodrvr
exhelodrvr

"Baseball" (including the media) knew they were using steroids, and ignored it for a number of years, just like amphetamines, so for all intents and purposes it was legal. Therefore, the voters should ignore it for the years until testing started.

denret7
denret7

Great job on the background of all candidates, Jay. It is indeed very difficult determining how to deal with the presumed/confirmed PED users, but somehow I don't think that it should be that difficult to figure out that Tim Raines deserves to gain entry into the HOF. What does it take, for Pete's (oops) sake? I think, deep down, I think that Bonds IS deserving, but given the last 6 years of his career, it's kind of like Lance Armstrong, you know? Would you like your daughter to go out with Barry or Lance?

ezwriter69
ezwriter69

Vote for none of them, or vote for all of them, because we will never know who used and who didn't... if you vote someone out for using, even the positive testers, then you're likely voting in someone who may well have cheated too but just didn't get caught.

All of them (based on the same standards as always) or none of them, you can never justify voting for some of the era and not others base on roid use, it's just indefensible.

guanxi
guanxi

Jay Jaffe writes about several players: 'Even if one considers only his body of work  ... before he allegedly began using steroids ...'

 

If one considers Pete Rose and Joe Jackson records before they cheated, they would qualify for the Hall of Fame. If one considers Bernie Madoff's record before his Ponzi scheme, he was an excellent investor.

 

You may question whether Bonds et al. were 'cheating' because PEDs weren't against the rules. Two thoughts:

 

1) There is more to morality and cheating than technically following the rules. It didn't take much insight to know it was wrong. Otherwise, why weren't they open about it at the time? Why haven't they come clean? What do they have to hide?

 

2) What do you have to offer the players who were honest enough to not cheat, whose accomplishments were overshadowed by cheaters who you want to recognize, and who lost income and championship rings to these jerks? More recognition for the cheaters?

 

One imagines current athletes and young future athletes reading this article and thinking; I'm going to be like Bonds; nobody cares if I cheat; they're even giving him an award for it!

 

 

nbdodge
nbdodge

Take your pseudo stats (bWar, JAWS, etc...) and shove them up your backside. These pseudo stats simply measure overall performance and neglect performance within the era in which a particular player performed. The only way you can adequately judge ANY player is by looking at their stats within the context of the era in which they played. That's why Murphy, Mattingly, et al, deserve to be in the Hall. 

MattBugaj
MattBugaj

Y;know, that's what I'd been thinking.  Nobody with any PED suspicion is going to get in for another 5 years, and that's just fine.  As long as there isn't a massive overcorrection that lets Palmeiro and McGwire in.  They weren't HOFers anyway. The other guys are just Very Good.  Biggio is a Very Good player who hung on until he hit a magic number, so I suppose they'll let him in, but I'm not impressed.

gbreault85
gbreault85

example A of why stat geeks need to go away. Anyone who makes up a stat that claims a 3,000 hit man and the best hitting catcher in history (aka better hitter than Yogi, Fisk and Pudge Rodriguez) is the definition of making up stats for stats sake.

bjvande
bjvande

 @exhelodrvr Using PEDs was never legal.   One may say this is simply another era in baseball, sort of like the days of day baseball, white baseball, dead ball baseball and so on.  One may chose to ignore the illegal behavior, such as the cheating that took place in many other eras.   However, one may not say that using steroids was legal.   Actually,  in 1991, Commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memo to all teams stating that steroid use was against the rules.    Clearly the honor code does not work in baseball.

Michael10
Michael10

Sosa's career and peak values (according to WAR at least) fall well below HOF standards.  What he's got going for him is primarily the counting stats (HR/RBI) -- Bonds, Griffey, McGwire, Bagwell, Thomas, Ramirez, Walker, Martinez, Thome, Belle and others of his era were all more productive hitters...and most were far better in the field.

mcmeanass
mcmeanass

 @guanxi And won't someone, anyone think of the children?

 

If the foundation of your children's moral compass is Barry Bonds, and they're calibrating substantial, life (and health) impacting decisions based on who the BBWAA enshrines in the Hall of Fame, chances are better than good that you probably weren't fit to raise children.

 

Why do parents think it's okay to shirk responsibility and shift blame for their personal failings to professional athletes? I find the concept of a role model, especially if it's a dude who you'll never get closer to than your television set, an asinine concept.

 

I admire what Tiger Woods and Lebron James and Kobe Bryant have accomplished as athletes but I'm also not brainless enough to use their decision making and shoddy PR decisions as a litmus test for my future endeavors and I'd sure hope my kid would be smart enough not to either.

DavidK
DavidK

@MattBugaj Biggio was a top-5 2nd baseman of all time, who unselfishly moved positions THREE TIMES AS A PROFESSIONAL so the team could bring in other bats that played 2nd. Not only does Biggio have the overall numbers (look at doubles, homeruns, stolen bases all time as a 2nd baseman), but look at his yearly stats from 1994-1999. He was an all-around dominant player in the league, garnering MVP votes each year (4th in 1997, 5th in 1998). Only player to go the All-Star Game as a catcher and as a 2nd baseman. If not a 1st-ballot HOFer, a 2nd ballot at latest.

exhelodrvr
exhelodrvr

The use of PEDs was known, and in fact was clearly encouraged, not just ignored. (Note the adulation accorded heaped on the record-breakers well after Vincent's memo.)  To now pretend otherwise by not voting for someone for the HOF is dishonest.

Michael10
Michael10

There are at least ten, arguably twelve, secondbasemen in the Hall that were better than Biggio -- and perhaps two outside it.  He "unselfishly" moved from to second base because he was a horrible catcher and "unselfishly" played outfield late in his career because he was not longer an effective secondbaseman -- not to mention it helped keep him in the lineup for many unproductive years while he slowly collected his last 1200 hits (he hit only .266 in his last eight seasons and .254 over his last three...)

MattBugaj
MattBugaj

 @DavidK  @MattBugaj No one would have asserted that Biggio was top-5 all-time while he was playing.  I'm starting to give guys a simple test now that I've been baseball-aware through entire careers: Was he a Hall-of-Famer before he retired?  Chipper Jones, Frank Thomas, Mariano Rivera, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, Greg Maddux, etc.  Those guys are closer to being inner-circle Hall-of-Famers, deserving of the first ballot.  Does Biggio measure up statistically to the other second basemen in the Hall?  Yes.  Is that enough to get him in first ballot?  I don't think so, because the Hall's a little diluted.  He's not a first ballot guy because I never thought of him as a HOFer while he was playing.

bjvande
bjvande

 @exhelodrvr I am not disagreeing with this.   That is what I meant I said the voters may simply treat the steroid era as the treated the all white era. 

However, it is clear that the use of steroids was illegal, and was considered by the Commissioner to be against the rules, and none of us should act any other way.