Posted January 03, 2013

JAWS and the 2013 Ballot: An alternative view

Hall of Fame, JAWS, Math
Even a different way of looking at the numbers doesn't boost Jack Morris' controversial candidacy. (AP)

Even a different way of looking at the numbers doesn’t boost Jack Morris’ controversial candidacy. (AP)

The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here.

I’ve spent the better part of the past month examining the 2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in light of my JAWS system, the basis of which is comparing each candidate to the average enshrined player at his position in terms of Wins Above Replacement, and highlighting those candidates who are above that average, which I often refer to as “the standard” at the position. I’ve chosen to focus on that average (the mean, technically speaking) while fully recognizing that there exists a significant discrepancy in quality between players voted in by the BBWAA and those voted in by the various iterations of what we commonly refer to as the Veterans Committee.

When the Hall was founded in 1936, BBWAA voters were given jurisdiction over 20th century players, while a separate Old Timers Committee was given jurisdiction over 19th century players. Believe it or not, nobody stopped to think too long about how to handle players whose major league careers significantly straddled the turn of the century, and the resulting confusion left no 19th century player with the requisite 75 percent of the vote for the inaugural class, which is why Cy Young, whose career spanned from 1890 through 1911, wasn’t voted in the first time around, while Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner were; among that group, only Wagner (1897) reached the majors before 1900.

Eventually that was straightened out somewhat, but when the BBWAA shifted from an annual to a triennial balloting cycle, the backlog of candidates piled up high enough that it was tough for any player to gain the needed supermajority, so just one player was elected in 1942 and none in 1945. In an effort to compensate for this, the Old Timers Committee opened the floodgates for 20 players (and one manager) over the next two years. After adding two more players in 1949, the Old Timers Committee was disbanded, and not until 1953 did a replacement Veterans Committee come about.

Despite playing shorter schedules, with rules that were considerably in flux until just before the turn of the century, some of the players voted in by the Old Timers or Veterans Committees measure up well against those elected by the BBWAA — others, not so much. Over the years, the various iterations of the VC have skewed towards the latter, particularly when it comes to the offense-heavy era of the 1920s and 1930s, when .300 batting averages were a dime a dozen. Even so, in my work with JAWS, I’ve always felt that any voter (or otherwise interested party) reckoning with the definition of a Hall of Famer should consider the entire spread of enshrined players rather than just a subset, but I do think taking a peek at what a strict BBWAA standard at each position would look like can be revealing.

Before pulling back that curtain, I’ve got another wrinkle to add. Many smart individuals, fans of my system as well as critics, have questioned why I don’t compare players to the median at the position rather than the mean. I’ve considered that option many times, and even written about it in years past. The basic problem is that so many more players exceed the median that even before this year’s packed slate of 37 candidates, the average ballot yielded far more than 10 candidates worthy of election. That’s an extreme position, to say the least, and one that would create a nightmare for any voter trying to apply it.

As an experiment, what I’ve decided to do is show the consequences of using these different cutoffs to construct a virtual ballot. I’ve designated any candidate who exceeds the median JAWS at his position a Level 1, any candidate who exceeds the mean JAWS (the current standard) a Level 2 and any candidate who exceeds the BBWAA average JAWS a Level 3. I’m throwing out all subjective considerations for this exercise — awards, milestones, postseason accomplishments, PED allegations — and also ignoring the career and peak subtotals lest anyone’s eyes glaze over in the resulting flood of numbers. Given that, here’s how the position-by-position standards look like at the various levels:

Pos Level # JAWS
C 1 14 38.7
2 14 40.7
3 8 45.8
1B 1 18 50.2
2 18 51.5
3 9 55.5
2B 1 19 51.9
2 19 54.4
3 10 68.9
3B 1 12 56.9
2 12 53.4
3 7 62.1
SS 1 21 52.5
2 21 52.1
3 11 57.3
LF 1 19 45.4
2 19 50.7
3 10 56.0
CF 1 18 46.7
2 18 54.8
3 8 75.7
RF 1 24 50.2
2 24 55.4
3 13 70.3
SP 1 58 53.3
2 58 57.8
3 31 62.7
RP 1 5 34.5
2 5 32.3
3 5 32.3

Note that for some positions such as first base, shortstop and third base, the three numbers are clustered fairly closely together, while for others such as centerfield and rightfield, they’re spread quite far apart. At shortstop and third base, the median is actually higher than the mean. All of that is a reminder that within the small sample of Hall of Famers, WAR-based value isn’t distributed evenly, either within a given position or across positions.

Taking another look at this year’s 37-candidate slate, here’s how the players on the ballot would classify:

Player Position JAWS Level
Barry Bonds LF 114.6 3
Roger Clemens SP 99.0 3
Jeff Bagwell 1B 61.7 3
Mike Piazza C 48.4 3
Curt Schilling SP 61.4 2
Larry Walker RF 56.4 2
Alan Trammell SS 55.2 2
Tim Raines LF 53.7 2
Kenny Lofton CF 53.5 1
Rafael Palmeiro 1B 51.3 1
Edgar Martinez 3B 53.1 0
Craig Biggio 2B 51.3 0
Mark McGwire 1B 49.4 0
Sammy Sosa RF 48.5 0
Dale Murphy CF 40.8 0
Bernie Williams CF 40.8 0
Fred McGriff 1B 40.7 0
David Wells SP 39.1 0
Don Mattingly 1B 37.1 0
Steve Finley CF 35.4 0
Jack Morris SP 35.1 0
Julio Franco SS 34.4 0
Reggie Sanders RF 30.9 0
Shawn Green RF 30.4 0
Jeff Cirillo 3B 30.3 0
Woody Williams SP 24.2 0
Lee Smith RP 23.7 0
Rondell White LF 22.7 0
Ryan Klesko LF 22.5 0
Aaron Sele SP 17.5 0
Roberto Hernandez RP 16.9 0
Royce Clayton SS 15.9 0
Jeff Conine 1B 15.7 0
Mike Stanton RP 13.8 0
Sandy Alomar C 11.7 0
Jose Mesa RP 10.8 0
Todd Walker 2B 8.6 0

Viewed through this lens, the current ballot has four players who exceed the strict BBWAA standard at their position, which is to say that their JAWS are above the positional averages of the players voted in by the writers since 1936: BArry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. Four other players fall short of that but exceed the mean at their positions: Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell and Tim Raines. All eight of those players made the cut on my virtual ballot.

Two other players exceed the median but not the mean at their positions: Kenny Lofton and Rafael Palmeiro, neither of whom made my ballot. Meanwhile, two players who did not exceed either the median or the mean at their positions did make my ballot: Craig Biggio and Edgar Martinez. In reviewing their candidacies, I argued that both should be measured against modified position standards reflecting their trajectories around the diamond — up-the-middle players for the former, since he spent significant chunks of his career at catcher and centerfield, and all Hall hitters for the latter, who spent most of his career as a DH out of injury concerns. By this alternative methodology, it’s a bit harder to justify those votes.

Further down, it’s worth noting that some of the ballot’s more controversial candidates also fall below even the median at their position. That group includes both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, whose candidacies are clouded by PED allegations, Jack Morris, who’s well below any sabermetric standard for starting pitchers, and Dale Murphy, who’s gotten a fair bit of attention given that this is his final year on the ballot.

Among this year’s crop, the median produces a manageable 10-candidate slate, but in years past it didn’t, and in future years that may be the case as well. If I were to shift to a system along those lines, it might mean advocating for the elections of a whole lot more players via either the BBWAA or Veterans Committee processes. Those ballots already appear quite full, and produce only a trickle of inductees as it is; widening the field would likely make it harder for any candidate to reach 75 percent.

Consider centerfield, for example: unenshrined players surpassing the WAR-based median include Ken Griffey Jr., Lofton, Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran, Jim Edmonds, Jimmy Wynn and Willie Davis. Griffey and Edmonds aren’t yet eligible for the BBWAA vote and Jones and Beltran are still active, while Wynn and Davis are eligible for nomination during the next Expansion Era ballot cycle in 2014; the last time around, in 2011, they didn’t even make the final ballot, and they’ve fallen well short when appearing on previous VC ballots. Both are a significant distance below the mean, and if they were to join the ranks in Cooperstown, that number would drop by a small fraction, lowering the standards a hair.

Incorporating some kind of striation into the JAWS system in the future is an idea I’m not entirely against, but it does have the potential of making the coming crowd of candidates even more unwieldy, and makes the system a bit harder to explain to someone exposed to it for the first time. JAWS has made significant inroads with actual voters over the years, and I’d hate to undo that by making the system harder to follow. So for now, I’m playing it straight down the middle, and sticking to the average as the standard by which candidates are measured.

5 comments
WillieBallgame
WillieBallgame

I would love to see Edmonds in just for the highlight reel player he was, similar to Walker who's also deserving.

John Thomas
John Thomas

Admittedly, Larry Walker was a great player for a fairly small window, which makes him a borderline HOF candidate anyway. I think the most interesting thing going on with Hall of Fame balloting is the logjam of PED users crowding up voters ballots. Seems quite likely that no one might get in this year, and with only ten votes on ballot and Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Palmiero and Sosa taking up space on a decent size block of ballots there might not be room for borderline guys like Walker or Morris or Smith or Martinez or Raines or Schilling to gain much momentum. Logjam will really get rough next year with first ballot guys like Maddux, Glavine and Thomas coming on and more borderline guys like Kent and Mussina. Past Hall of Fame inductees like Blyleven, Rice, Dawson, Gossage and Sutter would never have made it in through that ballot quagmire if they had to do it again. The PED or not PED voting blocs will keep everyone else blocked for next 15 years. You can probably pencil in more PED blockers like Arod and Manny in a few more years. The HOF should be proactive and adjust ballots accordingly, by letting voters temporarily add extra names beyond the current limit of ten if voters choose to vote for more than ten.

Michael10
Michael10

The average voter doesn't use all ten votes as it is -- they never have.  The problem is not as much a logjam as it is gridlock.  Those supporting the big number PED-era candidates have likely been ignoring players like Morris, Smith and Trammell for years; they will not suddenly support those players if there are a few more ballot slots.  Likewise, those who oppose any PED-linked candidates and have turned to statistically weaker or accolade-short candidates like Biggio or Schilling because they are perceived as "clean" are not likely to ever change their minds, no matter how many votes they have. 

 

What sort of candites would be helped by a 12- or 15- vote ballot anyway?  Certainly not any I'd like to see in the Hall of Fame...

John Thomas
John Thomas

 @Michael10 Candidates would still need to be supported by 75% of voters, which would be same criteria that has always been used.  If you were a voter who supported Bonds, Clemens, Arod, Manny Ramirez, McGwire, Palmiero and Sosa because of their career stats you would effectively only have a 3 vote ballot left EVERY YEAR for next decade - since the no PED voters would effectively keep them on the ballot every year with less than 75%.  This might not stop Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine  or Randy Johnson, but will hurt guys like Biggio or Schilling or Raines who probably deserve to be in HOF not to mention guys like McGriff or Walker or Morris or Lee Smith that will never even be given a chance.  I get the it isn't the Hall of the Very Good thing, but Drysdale, Gossage, Eckersley, Hunter, Dawson, Rice, Blyleven and Sutter are already in.  They certainly would not have a chance if they first became eligible in 2013 and neither will current or future players on ballot  who are not slam dunks.   From my perspective, it is an very interesting mathematical statistics dilemma that I don't think people looking at in from a purely baseball perspective appreciate.  It will make for fewer and smaller induction ceremonies for sure!

Michael10
Michael10

@John Thomas @Michael10 I don't think the voters who believe the Hall is for guys like Bonds, Clemens, Arod, Bagwell, Piazza, Maddux or Johnson are worried about not having first ballot votes available for guys like Biggio or Schilling or any votes ever for guys like Morris or Smith (as much as I think Smith belongs). Voters who values big numbers and accolades (read: fame) as well as modern sabermetrics will find room on the ballot for guys like Walker and Raines, perhaps at the expense of low/short-peak guys like Sosa and Schilling or accumulators like Biggio and Palmiero. It tears me up that guys like Rice, Perez and Dawson are in while similar or arguably better guys like Belle, McGriff and Edmonds may never make it, but I think I'd rather have a HOF that included none of them than all of them...