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January 22, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Protracting the Process

by Jay Jaffe

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We've reached the dog days of January, the deadest of dead spots on the baseball calendar. Free-agent signings are few and far between, trade activity is nearly non-existent, and a vast, bleak expanse of winter weeks still separates today from the renewal brought by pitchers and catchers reporting to camp. And it's also the time of year for one particular ritual, because no matter how long I prolong my post-BP annual, post-JAWS series hiatus, inevitably I'm left to pick through the Hall of Fame voting results before moving on to other topics.

As you may have heard, the BBWAA elected two players to the Hall last week, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice. Henderson, the all-time leader in runs scored and stolen bases as well as a member of the 3,000 Hit Club, was no surprise. What was surprising was that 28 of the 539 voters, including the immortal Corky Simpson from that bible of baseball, The Green Valley News and Sun, did not vote for Rickey, whether because of some petty personal vendetta, a blank ballot protest, or a total, catastrophic failure to understand any part of this stick-and-ball business. One way or another, that lack of a vote constitutes mail fraud even more surely than those Nigerian bank scam spams. For his part, Simpson at least saw the error of his ways.

The 94.8 percent of the vote that Henderson received even without such fraud was still enough to rank among the highest percentages received by anyone on the ballot since 1966, when the BBWAA reverted to annual voting after a decade of biennial voting:

Year   Player              %
1992   Tom Seaver         98.84
1999   Nolan Ryan         98.79
2007   Cal Ripken         98.5
1999   George Brett       98.2
1982   Hank Aaron         97.8
2007   Tony Gwynn         97.6
1995   Mike Schmidt       96.5
1989   Johnny Bench       96.4
1994   Steve Carlton      95.6
2009   Rickey Henderson   94.8
1979   Willie Mays        94.7
1989   Carl Yastrzemski   94.6
1993   Reggie Jackson     93.6
1966   Ted Williams       93.4
1969   Stan Musial        93.2
1990   Jim Palmer         92.6
1983   Brooks Robinson    92.0
2005   Wade Boggs         91.9
2002   Ozzie Smith        91.7
1991   Rod Carew          90.5

Of course, the voting percentages at this rarefied level owe as much, if not more, to players' popularity as they do to their sheer excellence. Since Henderson ranks among the top 10 JAWS scores ever, higher than everyone here except for Mays and Aaron, the fact that he "only" cracks the top 10 in a post-1966 group does qualify as a mild upset. Ultimately, however, what really matters is that his election to the Hall was well deserved.

As for Rice, I'm afraid I can't say the same, at least from this vantage point. Leaving aside the fact that I genuinely did enjoy watching him play, going as far back as his legendary 1978 season, and that I believe he got a raw deal both from the Red Sox management and the Boston media (as detailed in Howard Bryant's harrowing Shut Out: a Story of Race and Baseball in Boston), it's nonetheless a major disappointment to see him gain entry while stronger candidates such as Tim Raines and Alan Trammell can't get the time of day from voters. While Rice made history by becoming the first player ever voted in on his 15th and final ballot, his combination of a short peak and a short career, both of which were aided by playing in a tremendously favorable hitter's park, leaves him with a JAWS score that ranks as the fifth-lowest among hitters elected by the BBWAA. The bottom 10:

Player              Career  Peak   JAWS
Rabbit Maranville    49.8   32.2   41.0
Lou Brock            54.6   36.0   45.3
Ralph Kiner          47.9   43.4   45.7
Luis Aparicio        57.5   36.1   46.8
Jim Rice             55.1   39.6   47.4
Bill Terry           53.9   41.4   47.7
Billy Williams       59.2   38.8   49.0
George Sisler        50.1   48.4   49.3
Roy Campanella       56.1   48.6   52.4
Pie Traynor          63.9   43.6   53.8

While that group would make for a pretty imposing starting lineup, it's not exactly flattering company in the context of Hall of Famers, though it's worth noting that Campanella's Negro League experience separates him from the rest of this pack, that Terry at least had some managerial success to burnish his credentials, and that Brock crossed the 3,000 hit plateau, a feat which virtually guaranteed him entry.

Last year, when Rice fell just shy of enshrinement via 72.2 percent of the vote, BP alumnus and ESPN columnist Keith Law opined, "If Jim Rice gets into the Hall of Fame, you might as well go to the front doors, take them off the hinges and just take them down entirely, because there are dozens of better players than Jim Rice who are not in the Hall of Fame, who don't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame." The point is well illustrated via JAWS, as no fewer than 120 outfielders have scores better than Rice. Perhaps even more importantly, since Rice's candidacy ultimately boils down to an argument that his heyday was ultra-special enough to overcome the handicap of his relatively brief career, a whopping 122 had better peak scores, with one tying his. Here's a sampling of Rice in the context of the ten outfielders on either side of him, peak-wise:

Player           Career  Peak   JAWS
Curt Flood        51.9   40.8   46.4
Ellis Burks       62.2   40.7   51.5
Hugh Duffy        55.1   40.7   47.9*
Fred Lynn         56.2   40.2   48.2
Harry Stovey      56.2   40.1   48.2
Pete Browning     48.5   39.9   44.2
Rusty Staub       64.1   39.8   52.0
Al Oliver         64.8   39.7   52.3
Roy White         47.6   39.7   43.7
Steve Finley      60.8   39.6   50.2
Jim Rice          55.1   39.6   47.4*
Jesse Barfield    46.0   39.5   42.8
Chuck Klein       44.6   39.5   42.1*
Tommy Henrich     49.7   39.2   44.5
Earl Averill      49.8   39.1   44.5*
Reggie Smith      63.4   39.1   51.3
Kirk Gibson       56.4   39.1   47.8
Abner Dalrymple   39.7   39.0   39.4
Billy Williams    59.2   38.8   49.0*
Juan Gonzalez     52.1   38.8   45.5
Jack Clark        64.0   38.7   51.4

While there are some fine ballplayers on that list, including four other MVP winners and four other Hall of Famers, that's not exactly a group of Cooperstown's best and brightest. None of those peak scores come close to the JAWS standards at their positions (48.2 for left fielders, 52.5 for center fielders, 52.2 for right fielders). Hell, on the 2009 ballot alone, four unelected outfielders had higher scores, three of them besting him on both career and peak measures:

Player          Career  Peak   JAWS
Tim Raines       94.3   54.9   74.6
Andre Dawson     66.3   45.6   56.0
Dave Parker      58.4   46.0   52.2
Harold Baines    63.3   32.3   47.8
Jim Rice         55.1   39.6   47.4

I'll argue that Rice gained admission because his legend grew with his protracted candidacy, perhaps furthered by a generational shift in the electorate; as Joe Sheehan put it, "Rice's honor is about late baby boomer sportswriters a little bit fazed, a little bit daunted, by the objectivist revolution in baseball validating their own youth, their own memories, their own relevance."

Beyond the fact that Rice made it in his final turn at bat, it's worth noting how uncommon it actually is for any candidate to win the requisite 75 percent after lasting for more than about five years on the ballot. Since 1966:

Years    #   Elected
  15    33     1      Rice (2009)
  14    37     0
  13    39     2      Kiner (1975), Bruce Sutter (2006)
  12    43     1      Bob Lemon (1976)
  11    45     1      Duke Snider (1980)
  10    52     1      Don Drysdale (1984)
   9    62     4      Joe Medwick (1968), Lou Boudreau (1970),
                      Tony Perez (2000), Rich Gossage (2008)
   8    68     1      Hoyt Wilhelm (1985)
   7    72     0
   6    84     3
   5    96     4
   4   107     3
   3   124     5
   2   175     4
   1   629    37

Basically, a candidate who lingers on the ballot for longer than five years has about half the chance of being elected as someone who gains entry in his first five years of eligibility:

Years     #  Elect   %
 1-5    1131   53   4.7
 6-10    338    9   2.7
11-15    197    5   2.5

All of which is sobering news for those of us Bert Blyleven boosters who maintain some optimism given the 62.7 percent of the vote he polled in 2009, his 12th year of eligibility. Only three players have been elected in their 13th year on the ballot or later, though two of those three have come in the last four years. On a brighter note, with the exception of Gil Hodges (63.4 percent in 1983, his final year on the ballot) and Andre Dawson (67.0 percent this year), every player with a higher percentage of the vote has gotten into the Hall eventually; while the BBWAA elected Sutter and Rice, the likes of Nellie Fox, Jim Bunning, Orlando Cepeda, and Enos Slaughter all gained entry via the old Veterans Committee.

Dawson appears well-positioned to gain entry, possibly as early as next year, which will be his ninth on the ballot. Perhaps owing to the mystical properties of the number in a baseball context (or more likely, to small sample sizes), the ninth time seems to be the charm, offering candidates the highest frequency of gaining election in any single year. It helps his cause (and Blyleven's) that the next few years will see relatively soft slates reaching the ballot. There will be no slam-dunks, no pitchers with 300 wins, and only one player with 3,000 hits or 500 homers-designated pariah Rafael Palmeiro, whose positive test for performance-enhancing drugs will almost certainly see him being made an example of by the BBWAA voters. Eyeballing the top players on the next few ballots without bothering to check their JAWS scores:

As for Raines, the news is grim after he drew just 22.6 percent of the vote, a 1.7 percent drop from his first year on the ballot. Even with Rice's election, the annals of the post-1966 balloting include just nine players who eventually reached 75 percent after initially getting less than one third of the vote, all of whom got better support than Raines did during their second year:

Debut  Player            1st     2nd
2000   Rich Gossage     33.3    44.3
1974   Eddie Mathews    32.3    40.9
1995   Jim Rice         29.8    35.3
1969   Early Wynn       27.9    46.7
1979   Luis Aparicio    27.8    32.2
1994   Bruce Sutter     23.9    29.8
1982   Billy Williams   23.4    40.9
1975   Don Drysdale     21.0    29.4
1970   Duke Snider      17.0    24.7
Average                 26.7    35.9

That the Rock's road just gets rockier despite his robust credentials is, to me, the saddest and most disappointing part of this year's balloting, a far worse calamity than Rice's admission. Perhaps Henderson's quick clearance from the ballot will allow those writers who wanted to make sure that the Human Run gained entry before Raines to come around on his candidacy, but I'm not incredibly hopeful.

Finally, to the process. Elsewhere on BP, Sheehan advocated a one-and-done approach to the BBWAA voting. While I do think that there's ample room for reform, particularly in light of the data above, subjecting the candidates to a single in/out vote seems to me an awful idea given the obstinacy of a portion of the electorate, to say nothing of the sorry state of the Veterans Committee. Certain voters love to parade their ignorance of any approach beyond Ye Olde Pornography Test ("I know a Hall of Famer when I see one"), and many others could stand to research the candidates much more thoroughly before delivering a potentially fatal blow to the chances of the likes of Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Darrell Evans, and Dan Quisenberry, all of whom fell off the ballot after one vote because they failed to garner five percent.

Instead of making this a one-shot deal, I'd advocate shortening a player's term on the ballot to three years-three strikes and you're out, get it?-with no minimum five percent cutoff. The portion of the electorate that feels strongly enough about the distinction between "first ballot" types and the rest of the field would still have that avenue available to them, but the process would be considerably sped up, and the field simplified.

Of course, I'd also like to see the BBWAA voting rules reformed to allow the new wave of internet writers-including my BP colleagues Will Carroll and Christina Kahrl as well as ESPN's Rob Neyer and Keith Law-their voting privileges before the ten-year waiting period is up. While there's more than a little self-interest with regards to that statement-I'm extremely hopeful that one day I might join those ranks myself-the bottom line is that those of us who have come around to any kind of sabermetric approach to the Hall want to see a better-educated electorate tackling the ballot so that the game's highest honor may be more uniformly bestowed upon the most deserving candidates. Is that so wrong?

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Brian Kopec

Hey look! A HOF article!

This is digging up a dead horse just to beat it again.

(Please don't take this to mean I don't appreciate the effort or the article, I just can't wait until pitchers and catchers report and we can start talking about things that really matter, like Pedro Alvarez's weight.)

Jan 22, 2009 09:42 AM
rating: 1

Regardless of topic, this was still a well-written and informative article. I thought I was past the point of getting upset about HOF results, but this year just made me angry again. Keep up the great work, Jay.

Jan 22, 2009 11:57 AM
rating: 2
Brian Kopec

It was a very good article. I just thought we were done with it. Of course, there is little else to write about right now.

Jan 22, 2009 12:26 PM
rating: 2

Matt Williams, HOFer? Jesus.

Jan 22, 2009 13:19 PM
rating: -1

As a kid growing up in the Bay Area in the late '80s (although an A's fan more than Giants) I remember how amazing the heart of the Giants order seemed for a couple of years. How could any trio best Will Clark/Kevin Mitchell/Matt Williams? Well, safe to say, this 10-year old didn't quite grasp small-sample-size issues, and freely extrapolated without warrant. I don't think Matt Williams was HOF-worthy, but he gave this kid some good memories.

Jan 22, 2009 15:07 PM
rating: 1

Rice is not the first player ever voted in on his 15th and final ballot.

Jan 22, 2009 13:51 PM
rating: -3
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

While we wait for you to enlighten us with the information necessary to back up your assertion...

I'll note that Ralph Kiner was elected in his final year of eligibility, but that it was only his 13th ballot. His candidacy dated back to the days of biennial voting; he appeared on the 1960, 1962, 1964 and 1966 ballots and then every year up through 1975. Thus, as far as I can tell, the statement stands as written.

Jan 22, 2009 15:30 PM
Brian Kopec

One could argue that every player who has been elected to the HOF has been elected in his final year of elligibility, since of course, once elected they are no longer on the ballot.

Jan 23, 2009 06:43 AM
rating: 0

Much like how your keys are always in the last place you looked?

Jan 23, 2009 14:14 PM
rating: 0

Like you, I don't like the one-and-done approach. If we had that, it's likely that Steve Garvey and Jack Morris would be in the HOF but Joe Medwick, Goose Gossage and maybe Gary Carter wouldn't be. It seems to me that while the long ballot does kick up the occasional embarrasment, it also serves to give some perspective on a player's career.

A ten-year-rule wouldn't be so bad, even tough it would probably cost us Blyleven.

Jan 22, 2009 18:18 PM
rating: 1

The HOF voting process is fundamentally flawed. All these old school moralist journalists with little to no sabermetric training who , you watch, will screw over all modern players with a broad steroid claim. Jim Rice while leaving Blyleven and Raines out? Come on man, the few dozen who refused to vote for Rickey Henderson should be declared incompetent and stripped of their voting privileges immediately, and dont give me that nonsense about tradition somehow requiring a nonunanimous vote. Any joker that would vote Rice in without Rickey should be shown another line of work.

Jan 22, 2009 23:14 PM
rating: 0

On Henderson, there are at least a couple voters on the record as saying they are advocates of a large Hall of Fame, therefore they voted for the maximum ten guys and excluded Henderson from that ten, knowing he would get in easily anyway.

I don't agree with this philosophy, but at least some of the guys who left off Henderson did it for what in their minds was a legitimate reason.

Jan 23, 2009 15:17 PM
rating: 1

There is no way that Rice isn't a better ballplayer than all of those outfielders with whom you rate him. Reggie Smith? Roy White? Rice by anyone's measure is a borderline HOFer. But the numbers system that you have devised devalues his contributions. FRAA is a flawed system to begin with and then to try to apply this to a player who played in front of the Green Monster is particularly egregious. Secondly you penalized Rice for hitting better at home even though Rice's main power was to right and right center. Those are dead zones in Fenway. Your system may work for other players, but it discriminates against Rice.

Jan 23, 2009 03:45 AM
rating: -3
Bill N

Rice's numbers are substantially better at home than away. You don't think the short porch in right gives him a leg up though?

Jan 23, 2009 08:46 AM
rating: 1
Dr. Dave

If the Green Monster is the problem, why don't Yaz and Troy O'Leary also look bad in FRAA? Neither of them was much like Roberto Clemente out there.

It's not BP's fault that Rice had a low OBP, hit into a ton of double plays, disappeared on the road, struggled defensively, and was finished at an early age. In reality (as opposed to mythology), those things count too. Of course, if you choose not to see that, you won't be alone -- everyone who voted for Ryan Howard as 2008 MVP is with you.

Jan 23, 2009 10:06 AM
rating: 1

The Yaz and O'Leary arguments don't hold water. If you saw Yaz play, especially outside of Fenway, you would know that he was a spectacular left fielder. The catch he made against Tommy Tresh in Yankee Stadium to preserve a no hitter in the 8th was one of the greatest I have seen. In 67 he completely dominated the White Sox in Comiskey both at bat and particularly in the field. The Green Monster limited his numbers significantly. As for O'Leary he was a good enough defensive player to play CF when he first came to Boston and played most of his games in RF. It was only when he slowed down in his last three years that he played mostly left field.

Secondly, you disrespectfully and inaccurately state that I don't accept those negatives you point out about Rice. Wrong. That is why I believe he is a borderline HOFer. A less snarky response would have argued the point instead of attacking the debater.

Jan 24, 2009 04:03 AM
rating: 0
Dr. Dave

A) Yaz & O'Leary. I saw R.J. Reynolds make some spectacular catches, too. That doesn't make him a great fielder. Ken Griffey Jr. proved years ago that being spectacular doesn't make you good. We know O'Leary wasn't a great fielder; we know his numbers look a lot like Yaz's numbers, and a lot better than Rice's, playing the same position in the same park.

B) No, you clearly don't accept the negative aspects of Rice's record, because if you did you wouldn't think he was an obviously better player than the long list of guys (Smith, Singleton, Wynn, etc.) who didn't hit for as much power, but did those other things better. To assert that Rice is a "borderline HOFer", but that these other players are not, makes that point.

Fundamentally, you're disagreeing about how important things like OBP and defense and not hitting into double plays and hitting on the road were in his era. Those are questions of fact, amenable to analysis -- which WARP and Win Shares and such provide. You have rejected the conclusions of those analyses. If you have a grounds for rejecting them, other than that they don't agree with your prior opinions, I haven't seen it. I don't see how it's disrespectful or snarky to point that out.

Jan 24, 2009 09:13 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

You vastly underestimate how kickass Reggie Smith was as a player. Switch hitter with excellent power and plate discipline from both sides of the plate, could play decent CF when he came up and had a strong arm that suited him well in RF. Career .302 EQA outdoes Rice's .293.

Smith (BRAR, BRAA, FRAR, FRAA): 642/405/189/-16
Rice: 627/359/106/-41

About 100 runs above replacement and 70 runs above average better than Rice in about 1000 less PA. Dude could play, though injuries turned him into a part-timer after his two best years in LA at 32 and 33.

Jan 23, 2009 11:04 AM

[Rice's main power was to right and right center.]

Of Rice's 382 career dingers, the locations of 273 are known. 162 to left; 12 to left center; 63 to center; 32 to right; 4 to right center.

So 63.7% of Rice's dingers where the location is known were to left and left center, and 23% were to center.

That means 13.3% of Rice's career dingers where the location is known were to right and right center.

I hesitate to bring up these inconvenient numbers it took me all of 10 minutes to find on baseball-reference.com, for fear I may be accused of using objective data to discriminate against Rice; but they are what they are.

Ignorant fans who parrot the MSM line without thinking for themselves are as much of a problem as the MSM itself.

Jan 23, 2009 12:14 PM
rating: 1
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Oh, god, not another bs-at-the-bar article about a bunch of players most of us can barely remember. In the scale of things-in-the-universe-that-count who goes to Cooperstown and why doesn't even register. It's for sportswriters who have nothing to do. How about working on the Pecotas, or updating the site's depth charts, which haven't been touched since last April.

n.b I'm older than any writer on the site, so this isn't just youthful derision. It's OAP derision...

Jan 23, 2009 06:26 AM
rating: -6
Dr. Dave

If Jay were the one who builds the PECOTAs or the depth charts, and you were the only reader of the site, these might have been valid criticisms. Next time, try just not reading the stuff you don't want to read...

Personally, I think it's fascinating that (say) Ken Singleton was a significantly more valuable player than HOFers like Rice, Billy Williams, and Lou Brock. Unlearning the false is even better than learning the truth.

Jan 23, 2009 10:13 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

What the good doctor said.

PECOTAs aren't my responsibility, and neither are the depth charts. They all start rolling around the time pitchers and catchers report, and each one of us at BP is every bit as excited to see them as our readers are. There's nothing your complaints or my work can do to speed those up, but in the meantime I hope to entertain and enlighten people via one of my areas of expertise.

Jan 23, 2009 11:09 AM

I will never be happy with the HoF until Ron Santo is inducted.

Jan 23, 2009 10:45 AM
rating: 1

One major concern with the 3-and-done rule, or the 1-and-done, is the current hysteria surrounding performance enhancers (and the players who purportedly utilized them). Were such limitations to be imposed, prior to the witch-hunt running its course, we could see many no-doubt HOFers get skipped based on personal vendettas, absolute moralism or by the lack of conclusive evidence. As more and more players from the hyperinflated statistical heyday of the 90's are open to HOF voting, those who belong -- McGwire and Bonds especially -- may be ignored based on presumptions and hysteria. Granted, both Sheehan's and Jaffe's articles are hypothetical, but until there is something resembling a consensus about the validity of surefire HOFer numbers from a questionable era, it would be obscene to institute a short-term ballot.

Jan 23, 2009 21:08 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

That's a fair point, particularly given my previously published position about preferring that McGwire stay on the ballot while the voters cool off a bit and gain more perspective on the era. Which is to say -- and this applies to everyone who may come up for a vote, not just Big Mac -- that it's obviously a lot easier for a writer to bear an irrational grudge for three years than 15.

Jan 24, 2009 09:40 AM

I enjoy the HOF/analysis articles--both before and after the vote. Keep them coming. It's an absolute disgrace that Ron Santo isn't in the Hall (and I'm not even a Cubs fan). I'm also hugely frustrated by the lack of support for Blyleven & Trammell (plus Lou Whitaker only got 2.9% of the vote in 2001!!!). Perhaps the problem of uninformed BBWAA voters could be partially alleviated by the HOF sending the voters more complete statistical summaries of the players' careers. That way the voters wouldn't just be going by the "seat of their pants" or by 1960's back-of-the-baseball-card stats. BruceG

Jan 24, 2009 08:52 AM
rating: 0
Dr. Dave

Jay, can we get a list of the LFs who rank ahead of Rice in Peak, Total, or both? I'd also love to see a list of the non-HOFers who rate higher than Rice in all of EqA, BRAA, BRAR, baserunning runs, FRAA, FRAR, and Rate2.

Jan 24, 2009 09:18 AM
rating: 0

Let's face it, the Baseball Hall of Fame has gone the way of the Academy Awards. Sometimes they get it right, often they don't, with seemingly only dumb luck differentiating the two. HOF voters have bestowed baseball fans with little more than a series of trivia questions rather than an honest accounting of the all-time baseball greats. The Trammell and Raines votes are what finally did it for me.

I understand sometimes mistakes are made. But a pattern of serious malpractice has become evident over the past decade, a panoply of errors that cannot be laid solely at the feet of the Veterans Committee and that won't be rectified until the old Hall is razed and rebuilt from the ground up. As if.

Jan 24, 2009 17:58 PM
rating: 0
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