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November 22, 2011

Prospectus Hit and Run

The Golden Era Ballot for the Hall of Fame

by Jay Jaffe

The Hall of Fame's Golden Era ballot has been out since November 3, offering 10 familiar names from the 1947-1972 era for Cooperstown consideration. This isn't the Veterans Committee anymore; when last year's reforms were announced, the words "Veterans Committee" were conspicuously omitted from all press releases. Rather, it's the second of three Era Committees to get its turn at bat, following last year's Expansion Era Committee, which voted on players from the 1973-1989 period and managers, umpires, and executives from 1973 to the present. Theoretically, next year’s panel will consider candidates from the Pre-Integration period (1871-1946), but the Hall has changed the rules so often lately that all bets are off.

A panel of 16 men, including Hall of Famers (Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Tommy Lasorda, Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson, Don Sutton, and Billy Williams), executives (Paul Beeston, Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gene Michael, and Al Rosen), and media members (Dick Kaegel, Jack O'Connell, and Dave Van Dyck) will meet during the upcoming winter meetings to vote on the 10 candidates, with 75 percent needing to agree for a candidate to be elected. The irony is that this is a virtually identical format to the small VCs that filled the Hall with many a questionable candidate in the years prior to 2003, as opposed to the more modern incarnations, which gave a vote to every living Hall of Famer but only once found enough agreement to elect a former player (Joe Gordon in 2009); the new wrinkle is the era divisions. Last year's process saw only one player, Dave Concepcion, reach even 50 percent of the vote; general manager Pat Gillick gained entry, while union leader Marvin Miller fell just one #$@%&@* vote shy.

I haven't weighed in on this year's slate until now because I've been bogged down with work on BP's forthcoming annual as well as our sequel to Baseball Between the Numbers. My contributions to the latter required Colin Wyers to finish work on a revised version of our Wins Above Replacement Player metric, refining a methodology for pre-1950 seasons—those for which we do not have play-by-play data—that can sit with the play-by-play-based updates to our offense, defense, and pitching methodologies that began rolling out late last year. I spent many an hour poring over the new pre-1950 values, primarily because my JAWS system has made me the most familiar staffer when it came to historical player valuations. While I still have areas of concern with regards to the defensive values it’s returning, the same could be said for Clay Davenport's version of WARP, as well as for Baseball-Reference's version of WAR; I'm reasonably satisfied with where we've landed.

For those new to this, the JAWS (the Jaffe WARP Score) system is a tool I developed back in 2004 to evaluate the Hall of Fame ballot. WARP is our metric to measure each player's hitting, pitching, and fielding contributions relative to those of a freely available reserve or minor-league callup, first in runs, and then converted into the currency of wins. Park and league contexts are built into WARP, so that a player in a low-scoring environment such as 1960s Dodger Stadium can be measured on the same scale as one in a high-scoring environment such as turn-of-the-century Coors Field. A solid, full-time player might accumulate three or four WARP in a season, an All-Star five or six; a season of eight WARP often earns a spot in an MVP or Cy Young discussion, if not the award itself.

The stated goal of JAWS is to raise the standards of the Hall of Fame by identifying and endorsing candidates as good or better than the average Hall of Famer at their position, a bar set so as to avoid further diluting the quality of the institution's membership. This is done by comparing the candidates to their enshrined counterparts; those with JAWS higher than the average Hall of Famer at their position are deemed worthy of election. The positional averages—what I refer to as the JAWS standards—are actually computed after the score of the lowest player at each position, generally an underqualified player voted in by the Veterans Committee, has been dropped. For pitchers, the lowest four scores—those belonging to Lefty Gomez, Addie Joss, Catfish Hunter and Jess Haines—are dropped, an equivalent percentage.

To prevent longevity from being the sole determinant of Hall-worthiness, JAWS compares players using their career and their peak WARP totals, the latter covering their best seven years at large. In essence, a player's best seasons are double-counted, an appropriate strategy given the research regarding pennants added and the premium value of star talent: Individual greatness can have a non-linear effect on a team's results both in the standings and on the bottom line. The career and peak WARP totals are thus averaged to compute JAWS.

For all that goes into it, JAWS can't incorporate everything that goes into a player's Hall of Fame case. It makes no attempt to account for post-season play, awards won (whether justified or not), leagues led in important categories, or historical importance, though such information is certainly germane to the discussion, and can certainly shade an argument for or against a player whose credentials are otherwise borderline.

Here are the revised standards given our new WARP data:

Position

#

TAv

RAA

VORP

FRAA

Career

Peak

JAWS

1B

18

.322

376

744

7

63.4

41.9

52.6

2B

19

.296

356

685

35

66.8

44.4

55.6

3B

11

.297

362

666

71

72.9

46.4

59.6

SS

21

.279

263

623

72

62.3

41.0

51.7

LF

20

.314

376

747

7

67.4

43.1

55.2

CF

18

.318

439

761

53

75.5

48.1

61.8

RF

23

.316

400

754

-5

68.5

41.6

55.1

C

13

.295

331

591

9

54.8

35.6

45.2

SP

58

 

280

602

0

53.0

37.1

45.1

RP

5

 

172

277

-1

29.1

17.5

23.3

As you can see, the numbers for pitchers are significantly lower than they've been in the past. Older versions of WARP compared pitchers to replacement-level pitchers backed by replacement-level fielders, whereas now, they're compared to replacement-level pitchers backed by average fielders. In the past, relievers were measured against the same baseline as starters, though the historical record strongly suggests that replacement-level relievers are better than replacement-level starters.

Turning first to the five hitters from the Golden Era ballot:

Player

Pos

TAv

RAA

VORP

FRAA

Career

Peak

JAWS

Ron Santo

3B

.297

319

620

2

66.1

50.3

58.2

Minnie Minoso

LF

.308

376

609

2

61.4

46.1

53.8

Ken Boyer

3B

.290

247

521

44

57.6

42.3

49.9

Tony Oliva

RF

.302

262

403

62

49.5

43.9

46.7

Gil Hodges

1B

.299

327

454

53

48.5

37.0

42.8

Not surprisingly, Ron Santo has the top case among the hitters; he is the Bert Blyleven of the various Veterans Committee-style ballots, and at times has rated as the single best eligible hitter not in the Hall according to JAWS. A nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner during his 14 years with the Cubs, Santo was an outstanding two-way player who hit .277/.362/.464 with 342 homers, largely in an era when offense was at its nadir. He led the NL in walks four times in a five-year span, led the league in OBP twice (1964 and 1966), and bopped 30 homers in four straight years (1964-1967). He ranked in the top 10 in MVP voting four times, and in the top five twice, though he never won an award. The only thing he lacked was a pennant, but then again, so did teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Fergie Jenkins,

and they're in Cooperstown already. Santo overcame diabetes to do all that, in a time before insulin pumps and other modern means of treating the disease; he concealed his illness until 1971 out of fear that he'd be forced to retire.

Our play-by-play fielding system has cost Santo about 50 runs relative to our previous system, with the result that he now falls below the career standard for third basemen, a consequence of retiring after his age-34 season following a crosstown trade and an ill-considered move to second base. He's still well ahead of the standard on peak; in fact, his peak score ranks fourth among all third basemen, behind only Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Wade Boggs, a whisker ahead of Eddie Mathews. It still leaves him a bit short on JAWS, but allowing for the impact his illness may have had on shortening his career (not to mention his life), and the uncertainty we have with regards to measuring fielding, it takes a hard heart to say he's not worthy of a plaque.

Despite Santo’s strength as a candidate by traditional and sabermetric reckonings, both the BBWAA and various iterations of the Veterans Committee repeatedly bypassed him in the Hall of Fame balloting. He didn't clear 40 percent of the vote until his 15th year on the BBWAA ballot, and the last time he was eligible, in 2009, he received 60.9 percent of the vote. While there appears to be many reasons for those snubs—his early retirement, the lack of a pennant, an historical tendency of voters to underrate players whose value is enhanced by high walk totals and strong defense—some of it may have been personal. Santo was a fierce, emotional competitor who apparently rubbed some people the wrong way, particularly with his 1969 post-game ritual of leaping and clicking his heels together, which may have particularly alienated New York-based BBWAA voters and some of his fellow players. That hardly seems worse than today's players admiring their home runs or otherwise celebrating, and shouldn’t be an obstacle to him being elected. Let’s hope the voters get it right.

Cuban-born Minnie Minoso's career is overshadowed by the gimmickry of his middle-aged cameos, but in his prime, the Cuban native was a fine all-around ballplayer who hit .298/.389/.459 for a career which, at its heart, ran from 1951-1964, with nine games with Cleveland in 1949 and five with the White Sox in 1976 and 1980 drawing things out. A speedster with a good batting eye, he led the AL in steals and triples three times apiece, ranked in the top five in OBP five times, and the top 10 nine times in a 10-year span. He had no shortage of sock, either; he led the AL in total bases in 1954, and ranked in the top 10 nine times in that same 10-year span (1951-1960). He never won an MVP award, but had four fourth-place finishes, including three consecutive from 1951-1954. He won three Gold Gloves, though our system likes him less than Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR does (+27 runs). Like Santo, Minoso falls short in the JAWS department, below the standard on career but ahead on peak.

The big question is how much of his major-league career is missing due to circumstances beyond his control, a question clouded by uncertainty surrounding his birthdate. Some sources say November 29, 1922, making him 28 in his first full big-league season (1951), while others (including BP's own database) say he was born in 1925, making him 25 as a rookie. In various places, Minoso has claimed both of those years, though in his 1994 memoir, he admitted that he when he arrived in the US in 1945, he had lied about his age in order to gain a visa; the 1925 date is the correct one. After playing with the Negro Leagues' New York Cubans from 1945 through 1948, he was signed by Indians owner Bill Veeck, but while the major-league color line had been broken by then, Minoso spent most of his first two years of organized ball pulverizing Pacific Coast League pitching; it didn't help matters that Veeck sold the club following the 1949 season to fund his divorce. Not until 1951, when he was traded to the White Sox, did Minoso get a shot at real playing time. He hit .326/.422/.500; that he lost two years at the major-league level is not doubted, but it might have been even more. In any event, while past versions of JAWS had him well below the line, this one has him close enough to justify a vote, particularly in light of such circumstances.

Boyer was a very good third baseman who spent 15 years with four teams, 11 of them in St. Louis (1955-1965), where he made seven All-Star teams, won five Gold Gloves and an MVP award, the latter in 1964, when he helped the Cardinals to a world championship. He went just 6-for-27 in that World Series, though three of his hits were for extra bases, including a grand slam that provided all of the team's runs in a Game Four win, and a solo homer in a Game Seven victory. Our measures have him about 40 runs ahead of Santo in the field, and while he outdoes four of the 11 third basemen in the Hall in terms of JAWS, he's short of both the career and peak standards.

Oliva, another Cuban émigré, was an outstanding hitter who won batting titles in his first two full major-league seasons (1964-1965), during the latter of which he helped the Twins to an AL pennant. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1964 and placed fourth in the MVP voting that year. He would run second in the latter in 1965 (to teammate Zoilo Versalles) and again in 1970, and win yet another batting title in 1971; he was an All-Star for eight straight seasons during that span. Alas, he was hampered by knee injuries after that, playing just 10 games in 1972, and moving to designated hitter in 1973. As such, he was worth just 1.8 WARP over his final five seasons, and done at age 37. He finished his career with just 1,917 hits, low for a modern-day Hall of Famer; in fact, no player whose career has occurred after the 1961 expansion has been elected with less than 2,000 hits. Oliva is a bit ahead of the peak standard for right fielders, but far enough short of the career standard that his JAWS gap can't easily be waved off.

Hodges was the Dodgers’ regular first baseman from 1948 through 1961, a storied span during which he earned All-Star honors eight times while helping the team to seven pennants (including 1947 as a reserve) and two world championships, one in Brooklyn and one in Los Angeles. He wasn't the best player on those Dodgers; Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, and Pee Wee Reese are all in the Hall of Fame with stronger cases, but Hodges was very good. He hit .273/.359/.487 for his career while bopping 370 home runs, ranking second or third in the league in round-trippers four times but never leading it. He won three Gold Gloves and was a very good fielder according to our metrics. His offensive numbers were helped by playing in hitter-friendly Ebbets Field during a high-scoring era, which leaches some of the value of his impressive-looking line; he hit .271/.364/.510 with 210 homers at home, .276/.354/.465 with 160 homers on the road. His post-season performance was a mixed bag; his 0-for-21 in the seven-game 1952 World Series was the major reason the Dodgers came up short, but in 1953, 1955, 1956, and 1959, he hit a combined .337/.404/.511 with four homers, and the Dodgers won twice.

Hodges' playing career ended in 1963, when the Mets traded him to the Senators; he took over as manager, though his clubs never finished closer than nine games below .500 or higher than sixth place. Traded back to the Mets (yes, as a manager) after the 1967 season, he guided a team that had never won more than 66 games to a franchise-record 73 victories in his first year, then piloted the 1969 team that miraculously won the World Series over the heavily-favored Orioles. Alas, following consecutive 83-79 seasons, he died of a heart attack during spring training in 1972.

Hodges had strong support on the BBWAA ballot, but never enough to get over the hump; he reached 50 percent in his third year of eligibility (1971), and aside from a dip the following year, polled between 49.4 percent and 63.4 percent during the rest of his stay on the ballot. Aside from Barry Larkin and Jack Morris on the current ballot, he's the only player to reach 50 percent and not eventually get in either via the BBWAA or the Veterans Committee. Alas, he comes up well short on career, peak, and JAWS measures across the board, and the lone championship as a manager, however historically amazin’, isn't enough to overcome a nine-season managerial career and a .467 winning percentage. I wish it weren't so.

To the three pitchers we turn:

Pitcher

IP

FRA

FRA+

PRAA

VORP

Career

Peak

JAWS

Luis Tiant

3486.3

3.97

108

197

400

40.8

25.6

33.2

Jim Kaat

4530.3

4.33

97

7

376

40.0

26.2

33.1

Allie Reynolds

2492.3

4.09

104

60

197

17.7

15.4

16.6

FRA is Fair Run Average, a metric that does a better job of dividing up the responsibility when a pitcher departs with men on base by taking into account the run expectancy of the situation. While it does away with the distinction between earned and unearned runs—and thus scales about nine percent higher than ERA, pegged to the league scoring rate—it adjusts for the quality of defensive support received, and for the pitcher’s sequencing; a walk issued with the bases empty is less costly than one with the bases loaded. FRA+ is analogous to ERA+, adjusting for park and league scoring levels and normalizing to a scale where 100 is average.

Tiant was the Cuban-born son of legendary Negro Leagues pitcher Luis Tiant Sr., Minoso's teammate with the New York Cubans. He reached the majors in 1964, and after four promising seasons, broke out during the "Year of the Pitcher" in 1968, when he went 21-9 with 264 strikeouts and a league-best 1.60 ERA. Battling injuries, he slumped dreadfully the following year, quickly passed through the hands of the Twins and Braves, and wound up in Boston in 1971. Though he struggled initially, he led the league with a 1.91 ERA the following season while working his way back to the rotation; at one point he threw four straight shutouts. All told, the move to Boston worked out brilliantly—the colorful, cigar-puffing Tiant became the Sox’ ace, best remembered for his 163-pitch complete game in Game Four of the 1975 World Series, as well as his 96 wins from 1972 through 1976. His deliveries were a thing of wonder, so of a piece that it took the great Roger Angell to elucidate their subtleties: "Call the Osteopath: In midpitch the man suffers an agonizing seizure in the central cervical region, which he attempts to fight off with a sharp backward twist of the head..."

For as much of a character as Tiant was—see The Lost Son of Havana, please—he suffers in comparison to the group of 300-win peers that are already in the Hall (Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, and Phil Niekro), as well as non-300 winners Jim Palmer, Jenkins, and Blyleven. He never won a Cy Young, never even finished higher than fourth, never led his leagues in wins or strikeouts, and made only three All-Star appearances; his won-loss record is a comparatively meager 229-172. He barely edges Palmer in JAWS, albeit with a lower peak. After debuting on the BBWAA ballot with a promising 30.9 percent, he never surpassed 20 percent again, sometimes falling into the single digits. In this case, the voters were correct.

Kaat pitched forever, lasting 25 years in the bigs, and winning 283 games. The ace of some fine mid-‘60s Twins teams, he was a fast worker who kept batters off-balance, one of the best at disrupting hitters' timing (in the sense of the great Warren Spahn quote, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing”). Career-wise, his timing was less than stellar. He won 25 games with a 2.75 ERA in 1966, the last year only one Cy Young was awarded; Sandy Koufax won unanimously. The previous year, Kaat had battled Koufax in the World Series, pitching Games Two, Five, and Seven, getting a complete game win in the first but losing the latter two. It took him eight years to get back to the 20-win level, the longest drought until David Cone won 20 in 1998. While he lasted forever, he descended toward mediocrity, finishing right around average with regards to Pitching Runs Above Average, and a bit below average according to FRA+. JAWS-wise, his numbers bear an uncanny resemblance to those of Tiant. He won't make it in as a player, so here's hoping he wins a Frick Award for his fine career as a broadcaster.

Reynolds, "Superchief" due to his Native American heritage, was a frontline starter who spent 13 seasons in the majors, five with the Indians (including a five-inning stay in 1942) and eight with the Yankees. He went 182-107 during his career, and while he earned All-Star honors five times, his stay was most notable for his having helped the Yankees win six world championships, including five in a row from 1949-1953. He went 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 15 series appearances, nine of them as a starter and five of them as a closer, often fulfilling both roles in the same series. The saves statistic had yet to be invented, but by modern definitions, he earned four of them in five opportunities, picking up the win on the one occasion he blew a lead.

Reynolds won an ERA title with a 2.06 mark in 1952, the only year he won 20 games; he was runner up to another pitcher, Bobby Shantz, in the MVP voting after finishing third the year before. What particularly stands out looking over his raw statistics are his walk totals; he had years where he walked more than he struck out, even with the Yankees, and for his career averaged 4.6 walks per nine against 5.1 strikeouts. Fortunately, his sequencing wasn't bad; his FRA+ is four percent better than league average. Even given his short career, his WARP totals are surprisingly meager, and he doesn't have a strong case.

 So after all that, we’re left with two candidates, Santo and Minoso, who are worthy of election to the Hall of Fame. The two non-players, Buzzie Bavasi and Charles Finley, are worthy as well. I wrote over 6,000 words in a two-part pieceon Bavasi when he passed away in 2008; as Dodger GM, he presided over a nucleus that largely bore Branch Rickey’s handprints and dominated the NL from 1951-1956, led the club through an awkward transition as they moved from Brooklyn to L.A. and helped assemble a new powerhouse that again dominated the NL from 1962-1966. The rest of his career wasn’t quite so sterling, but he did build a team that won the AL West for the first two times in franchise history in 1979 and 1982. As for Finley, the maverick owner of the Kansas City/Oakland A’s, he turned what was essentially a Yankee farm club into a three-time world champion by signing many top players himself, and while his case certainly merits closer scrutiny than that, we’ve gone on long enough for one article here. We’ll find out on December 5 who’s in.  

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

27 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

BurrRutledge

I look forward to reading more on the new WARP valuations, and thanks for keeping JAWS current.

My prediction is that Santo, Minoso, and Hodges get the most support from the VC... er, Era Committee.

Whether it's enough support to get inducted, if anybody gets in, Santo will. Ron Santo, Hall of Famer.

Nov 22, 2011 08:03 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Ya know, I don't look forward to the new WARP valuations. It means I have to question any previously existing WARP-related analysis I've read and it makes player comparisons between the two systems hard. I can't just look at an old BP Annual and compare that to the context of today's WARP (though I can through the player cards)

Heck, whether it's a new WARP or a new way of measuring fielding that takes 50 runs (and I assume 5 wins) of value off Santo's defense, that's a significant swing. A new acronym is created so the two won't be confused. That way, when I read an older article about WARP, I'll understand I need to use the old definition and when I read a new article about eqWARP+ or whatever, I'll know to use that definition.

Nov 22, 2011 19:26 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Richard, while I share some of that concern and frustration - believe me, the hours of labor it takes to refine these metrics for Clay or Colin or whomever is massive. For me to reorient my system, and update my take when I've put in considerable amount of research (this guy used to be 5th in the league in WARP for 1983, now where is he?) the investment of time is considerable.

But I think you have to adjust for era, so to speak. What was state of the art five years ago with regards to our thinking has become outmoded, and looks a bit naive in retrospect. Or maybe a better analogy is a computer processor - what was top of the line five years ago is now a replacement-level machine you hand down to grandma or donated to a non-profit organization, and what we have in its place runs 50% or 200% faster or whatever. Can you believe we used to have to wait days to get in-season WARP updated?

I don't love everything about the new WARP relative to the old, and I don't love change, but Colin tackled some age-old problems that smart people had with the system, things like the replacement-level fielding problem and the counterintuitive calculations involved in EqA. Baserunning is now in there, where it was not before. Play-by-play defense, where it was not before. In a year or two, as the PitchFX and HitFX stuff that guys like Mike Fast are doing revises our thinking about the nature of DIPS, we'll incorporate that. Sooner or later], someone will come along and solve some defensive quandary - maybe it's the adjacent fielder ballhog effect - that will make our current system look like we found those numbers by banging rocks together.

At any given moment, these numbers represent our systematic best estimates, but they're still just estimates, not permanent figures carved in stone. We make a mistake when we think that we've solved the answer once and for all. Six years ago I had Ron Santo as a slam dunk Hall of Famer and told people to GTFO in no uncertain terms when they disagreed. Now I see him as closer to borderline, with a strong peak, short career, and extenuating circumstances that still make him a Hall of Famer, but also make more clear the differing perceptions - maybe we were overrating him considerably with the glove - that have kept him outside.

Nov 22, 2011 19:51 PM
 
BurrRutledge

Jay, with the "new JAWS," where would Santo appear in a ranking of inductees and non-inductees? What couple players are above / below him on the list?

Are there other 3Bs now who have passed Santo as "most-worthy" non-inductees (who are no longer on the BBWAA ballot)?

Thanks!

Nov 22, 2011 20:47 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I have Santo 64th all time overall, with 50 of those above him already in the Hall (out of 206 for which I can JAWS; i.e., those who meet the 10-year requirement). Most of the rest are either active, waiting to reach the ballot, on the ballot, or banned (Pete Rose). Jimmy Wynn (60.9) is the best player outside who doesn't fit those categories, and Santo is second.

Three guys above him: Brooks Robinson 58.8, Frank Thomas 58.6, Ed Delahanty 58.4.

Three below him: Darrell Evans 57.7, Al Simmons 57.6, Mike Piazza 57.5. Of the five above and five below, six are in the Hall, 3 are awaiting eligibility (Thomas, Piazza, Manny Ramirez), and then Evans who's outside.

There are 6 3B ahead of him overall: Schmidt, Brett, Mathews, Boggs, Molitor (who had positive defensive value) and Brooks Robinson. Alex Rodriguez will outrank him as well one day, though the system still classifies him as a shortstop. Santo is the best eligible 3B outside the Hall.

Of those active 3B, Alex Rodriguez already outranks him (he's still a SS in the system but will be classified as 3B by the time he retires)

Nov 22, 2011 21:05 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Jay, I realize people do a lot of work and it's hard to adjust everything when a new line of thinking comes in. I run reports in SQL for a living. Sometimes the data I get changes and I have to adapt. Sometimes I can't even change the name of the field or what a value of that field means because that would be a requirement for the IT department. So, I gotta write the date down and let everyone know that we're no longer comparing apples and apples.

But I'd think it'd be different and BP owns the process from beginning to end.. so why not just change the acronym name to avoid confusion, continue producing WARP and the new acronym, and everyone downstream (whether they are a part of BP or not) can adjust to the new metric or keep using the old WARP as they see fit?

Nov 23, 2011 16:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

Because you're then pretty much guaranteeing that people will continue to use the old data that they are more familiar with, even though it's now substandard? Surely, if the point of WARP is to demonstrate how much better a player is than the idealised "replacement player", if we can now do a better job of that, then we should?

Nov 24, 2011 01:50 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I don't buy that argument.

Anyone who does a new study using "the new WARP" and tries to compare it to past research that used "the old WARP" will be unable to compare apples to apples because of the changes in WARP itself. Just as the changes to WARP changed JAWS, one could not look at Jay's past articles and understand why Santo went from a surefire Hall of Famer to borderline unless they happened to read this article right here.

Let's say you wanted to compare playing batting average. And you see a bunch of people from the late 19th century with high batting averages. You might conclude that those players were better contact hitters without knowing that, in those days, walks counted as base hits. Same kind of thing with changing WARP, it has the danger of lacking context.

There's a WARP, a WAR, a VORP and about ten different terms to define someone's value relative to replacement. There's no reason to reuse WARP as an acronym if it is undergoing change.

Nov 24, 2011 08:16 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Before I dig into the meat of this argument, let me point out that walks counted as hits for, like, one year (1887). Meanwhile, other rules were changing on a nearly annual basis (number of balls for a walk, for example). Pretty much everything before 1893, you have to look up the year to get the rules. Nobody who does any serious investigation of the statistics of that era is unaware of that.

This is not that, I don't think.

I appreciate the passion you all bring to this argument, but I have to point out that some of you are carrying a misperception. The "old WARP" of yesteryear was hardly static. It underwent countless revisions without Clay calling a lot of attention to it - if I wanted to do a JAWS study in July, I'd have to get an updated data set because January's was out of date. Some of the revisions were minor, some were jarring. The biggest one came circa the 2009 annual, when Clay raised the replacement level and instituted a PBP defensive system both of which made what came before outdated - there might have been 20-point JAWS differences for a given player. Hell, I changed the JAWS definition of peak from a best 5-consecutive to best 7-at-large early on; actually, that might have been the year I christened it JAWS instead of something (even more) godawful like Weighted WARP.

This is not the first time a WARP change has worked against Santo's HOF case either - I've done sets where he was well above the line, and ones where he straddled it. Given how he's fared in the voting, I have to wonder if the ones where he's straddling it are more onto something - he's not a "surefire" Hall of Famer, he's a bit more on the fringe - still clearly worthwhile to anyone who actually studies the matter, but at a distance, to a casual fan or a half-assed voter, less obviously so. That's a reflection of reality.

Hell, there was one year that hit Blyleven's JAWS score pretty hard as well. And I have to tell you, this new data does Tim Raines no favors, particularly on the fielding front (we will get a closer look before running with the BBWAA ballot data). But you know, that also is more of a reflection of reality, in that it lines up a bit better with the common perception that he's a bit fringier as a candidate than some of us would like to believe.

Given that BP has long battled to spread the sabermetric gospel and advance the more mainstream conversation about baseball statistics, I think there's far more danger in us letting 20 different versions of WARP float around out there with fine print as to which version we're referring to ("this is the original Port Huron WARP, not the watered down second draft") - see how easily the knuckleheads and Chassholes of the world dismiss WAR because there are two competing versions and my god, we can't have that!

Sabermetrics is the pursuit of objective truth about baseball. If our understanding of the truth changes - "hey, we've been underestimating where the replacement level line should be set" or "pitchers deserve a bit less credit than we have been giving them for controlling balls in play" - we owe it to ourselves and our audience to review our previously held assumptions and revise our thinking a little bit. Bill James wasn't doing things in the 1987 Abstract the same way he was in the 1982 Abstract, after all, to say nothing of the two Historical Abstracts.

Here at BP, the philosophy has generally been to go forward with the best information we have without worrying too much about what we've superseded. That doesn't mean what came before is wrong - it means it's ripe for revisiting with a fresh eye.

Nov 24, 2011 09:32 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Hey Jay, sorry I didn't respond earlier but it's been a busy week and I did read your response once you posted it. I just wanted to make sure I had enough time to return the effort you gave me with more than a line or two of text.

I understand your rationale and I know WARP has changed before, just like FRAA and quite a few other metrics. Perhaps it's just a pet peeve of mine but it just makes it harder for me to compare apples to apples. So, I understand what you're saying, but basically, I'll have to agree to disagree.

I realize sabremetrics is still a developing science in that new ways of measuring players are constantly overwriting older methods. Still, the bouncing around can get a bit jarring. In any event, as always, it does not detract from my enjoyment of reading your articles (except maybe that one ESPN article I commented on) ;)

Dec 02, 2011 19:46 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Thanks for this article. Not only is it highly informative; it also puts into sharp focus what has been bugging me for years about the notion of Ron Santo as Hall of Famer. I hadn't quite been able to focus it before. I can now.

Put simply, it just seems extraordinary to me that the sad-sack Cubs teams of the 1960s and early 1970s could have had as many as four future HoFers playing for them at the same time. We are not exactly talking about a Yankees-like dynasty here. The only other team in, say, 1971 to have this many HoFers at one time was San Francisco, which during this time period was a considerably better team, and also -- I can't think of another way to put it -- _felt_ like they had future Hall of Famers. I am well aware that "feelings" are not a good basis for evaluating who belongs in Cooperstown. But four Cubs at once ... it just can't help but raise the question of whether these metrics, which assuredly do improve on gut feelings, are really as good at identifying Hall-worthy players as we think they are.

Nov 22, 2011 08:12 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Gonna have to disagree with you, first about the characterization of the early Seventies Cubs as sad-sack. From 1967-1972 - a stretch which covers all of the Durocher years except his first - the Cubs finished above .500 every year, with three second-place finishes in the NL East, and three third place finishes, two in the 10-team NL prior to expansion and one in the NL East. For that time, they had the league's fourth-best record. They didn't reach the playoffs, but that was their longest sustained stretch of good baseball since the Thirties, one that they have yet to top, at least in terms of consecutive .500+ seasons.

When they won 92 games and missed the playoffs in 1969, they had the league's best run differential - better than the 100-win Mets or the NL West-winning 93-69 Braves. They were more or less even with their Pythagorean projections from 1967-1969, but finished 10 below in 1970, largely due to a horrible bullpen (4.63 ERA, 10th in the league). They were six games below Pythag in 1972, the year they fired Durocher midseason.

They did not, unfortunately, have all four HOF-caliber players peaking at the same time, which was one problem - Banks was a below-average to replacement-level first baseman for most of that stretch before retiring after the 1971 season, when he made just 92 plate appearances. Banks' prime (1955-1962) and Santo's (1963-70) didn't even overlap. For most of the time they overlapped, they had bad pitching; in the 8-team NL in 1960-61, they were seventh and eighth in RA/G, in the 10-team league from 1962-1968, they were 8th twice, 9th twice, and 10th once, for an average league ranking of 7.4.

As for Santo, the notion that it's the metric that's off because it's saying he's a HOFer, well, we're talking about a nine time All-Star a well-decorated player who was clearly considered among the elite of his era. Of the 17 players with exactly nine AS appearances, eight are already in the hall, plus two others will be (Torre and Pujols), with Vlad Guerrero and Gary Sheffield having decent shots as well.

Nov 22, 2011 09:01 AM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Santo has the highest peak and JAWS of those four Cubs, and is second in WARP despite his short career. The other three are above their respective position standards, but Santo suffers relative to them because the 3B standard is about 8 points higher than at SS. He's basically even with Brooks Robinson (72.7/44.9/58.8), who is below the standard on all three measures (career by just 0.2).

Banks 59.3/48.1/53.7
Jenkins 56.6/37.2/46.9
Williams 69.1/44.3/56.7
Santo 66.1/50.3/58.2

Nov 22, 2011 09:19 AM
 
DavidHNix

I can't accept your premise that the standard should be "better than the average Hall-of-Famer." While there are certainly guys in the Hall who shouldn't be there, it is preposterous to says that HALF of them are unworthy. Not even Frankie Frisch had that much power. Figure out where the real cut-off line should be (lowest quarter? lowest third?), and set your JAWS line at that level.

Nov 22, 2011 09:09 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

First off, you have misinterpreted me if you think that I'm saying that anyone below the current standard who is already in the Hall is by definition unworthy. I use the adjusted average as a point of reference to guide future selections. Even so, I am more generous than the average BBWAA voter once you account for the large split between BBWAA-elected HOFers and VC-elected ones.

Years ago, I looked at what my system would look like if it used a lower standard; I did so using median position scores instead of adjusted means; see http://www.baseballprospectus.com/unfiltered/?p=229.

The basic problem is that it creates situations where there are far more than 10 players on an individual ballot who meet those lower standards. In the time I've been doing this nowhere has it been suggested, by voters or anyone who has studied the issue, that there are TOO MANY qualified candidates to list on a ballot, and since I strongly believe that JAWS should have some real-world grounding in terms of the number of candidates it says are worthy, I must reject the notion that I'm not setting the standards high enough. If anything, a more predicitive model (w/r/t voting performance) might require them to be even higher, but I am shooting for one that is more fair, not necessarily more predictive.

Nov 22, 2011 09:29 AM
 
dodgerken222

I think the number of All-Star teams named to is a good indicator for Santo's time, but I think that this measure may have to be reconsidered in the future. With rosters being expanded to 30 players, and with so many players opting out of going to the game these days and having to be replaced, sometimes you get the 70th-best player in baseball at the All-Star game. On the other hand, closers are currently being over-represented on AS squads, at the expense of starters.

Nov 22, 2011 09:56 AM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson

Actually, I'd say the opposite problem may exist. The rosters haven't expanded by nearly as much as the leagues have. With the requirement for at least one player per team, the competition for roster slots has intensified, not weakened.

I was looking at exactly this point in connection with Santo, who was the starter in 4 of his 9 ASG appearances, and was named a reserve in the others. Look at the starting lineup for the NL in the 1968 ASG: Mays, Flood, McCovey, Aaron, Santo, Helms(!), Grote(!!), Kessinger(!!!), Drysdale. The reserves included such "stars" as Leo Cardenas (career OPS+ of 88, and that wasn't one of his better years), Gene Alley (also a career OPS+ of 88), Julian Javier (career OPS+ 78!, although that, to give credit where due, was not as bad as many of his years), while the AL had Don Wert (OPS+ of 67 that year) and Duane Josephson (who?) as reserves. Hanging around with that kind of company does not necessarily mark one as one of the greats of the game, although to be sure, being in a starting lineup with Mays and Aaron, and hitting in one of the power positions, does suggest that Santo wasn't exactly chopped liver.

Nov 22, 2011 10:36 AM
rating: 2
 
perhaps

Citing career OPS numbers when discussing all-star appearances just doesn't work.

The all-star game has always been about the performance of a player in that year. It's trivial to find examples of players in the game that had career years, or hey--just career halves! Even so, they did what they did, and obviously they garnered enough respect and support to be selected. You can't dismiss them based on career numbers.

Nov 22, 2011 11:01 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Fair enough, but Cardenas wasn't just a one-trick pony; he got named to several All-Star teams, largely as a backup, and almost entirely on the "strength" of abominable offensive seasons. He made as many or more All-Star teams than several Hall of Famers (Hank Greenberg, Richie Ashburn, Phil Rizzuto, numerous pitchers). Javier was also a repeat All-Star, as was Alley.

My point is not that these guys were undeserving. They were all up-the-middle players, in a time when it was almost taken for granted that shortstops and catchers couldn't hit; Cardenas, for example, was fourth in the league in TAv among shortstops, with a "robust" .236, and the top NL SS TAv belonged to Dal Maxvill, of all people. It is that the bar is higher today, not lower. Yes, Jay, I agree, making it to multiple ASGs does count for something. However, it counts for more today than in the sixties, simply because it's harder to do.

Nov 22, 2011 12:15 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I can't speak for any of the other commenters, but my point in all of this isn't that one All-Star appearance means anything - flukes happen every year - it's that the cumulative weight of them certainly does.

Nov 22, 2011 11:33 AM
 
eighteen

I'd like to know what qualifies these 16 panel members to pronounce on a player's Hall-worthiness. I doubt any of them, except possibly the media reps (and then only sparingly), know the first thing about proper statistical analysis to evaluate performance.

This is just another Old Boy network trotted out to pretend the BBWAA's ignorance and incompetence are being addressed.

Nov 22, 2011 11:24 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It's not the BBWAA's ignorance that's being addressed here - the BBWAA voters do a generally good job of recognizing the best candidates during their time of eligibility (with some occasional groaners). Very few Ron Santos make it to this stage. It's the ignorance of previous Veterans Committees, with a panel that looks remarkably like they used to. Not sure how that is going to correct for previous mistakes.

Nov 22, 2011 11:55 AM
 
dodgerken222

'68 was such a weird year....nobody really hit except for Rose, Ken Harrelson, and Frank Howard. Even Clemente, Mays, Aaron et al had down years in the real year of the pitcher. If Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame, then Gene Alley deserved an All-Star nod. Tommy Helms was Rookie of the Year in '66. If Yaz led the league at .301, there wasn't much to chose from offensively.

Nov 22, 2011 11:53 AM
rating: 2
 
Behemoth

And then they lowered the mound, which was the first step in the pussification of America.

Nov 24, 2011 01:54 AM
rating: -1
 
John Collins
(110)

Jay, I wonder if you would agree that the relatively small number of enshrined 3B boosts at all the cases for Santo and Boyer. For instance, you say that Boyer outdoes 4 of the 11 enshrined 3B -- that places him 8th, which would be comfortably above the average, if a proportional number of 3B had been selected for the hall. Or do you think the low number of enshrined 3B reflects a relatively weak group of players at that position?

Nov 24, 2011 20:18 PM
rating: 0
 
Meatpacker

Surveying the comments, it seems that most consider Ron Santo to be worthy of the Hall. I agree with that assessment.

Still, I have mixed feelings about this election. Enshrinement in Cooperstown is not just about recording a roll of the best players in the history of the game. It is also about honoring the individual by allowing him to experience the thrill and joy of his own induction ceremony - standing on the stage with his peers, giving his acceptance speech, etc. Waiting until a guy is deceased to induct him makes the induction honor rather hollow.

I didn't know Santo personally, but we shared a mutual friend, with whom I have often spoken about Santo. I know how he very much felt he was worthy of the Hall and wanted to personally experience the induction ceremony. Sadly, that will never happen.

I'm not saying that Santo should fall off the radar due to his passing. Still, it would almost seems cruel for him to have been snubbed for three decades by the various "experts" who previously considered his worthiness, only to have him finally pass muster at the first election after his death.

Nov 26, 2011 23:36 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Many of the comments in this discussion have been incorporated into my latest piece on JAWS. I invite you to offer further feedback:

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15598

Dec 02, 2011 08:59 AM
 
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