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January 7, 2010

Voting Outcomes

Why the Illusion of a Binary Hall of Fame?

by Tim Kniker

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After listening to a whole afternoon of baseball talk radio-specifically to the outrage of some of the on-air personalities like Casey Stern, Kevin Kennedy, and Rob Dibble-I'm wondering why they're so surprised by Roberto Alomar not getting into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Their typical first argument is the comparison argument that says Player B is in the Hall of Fame, but Player A has better numbers and, therefore, Player A should be in the Hall of Fame. The common comparison for Alomar is Ryne Sandberg since, by all accounts, Alomar's numbers are better than his. The point that they miss is that Sandberg wasn't elected on the first ballot; he was elected on his third ballot, and that waiting is significant to the voters.

This brings us to their second argument, which is why should anyone's vote change from one year to the next since the stats don't change? I find this a naÔve view of human nature. We are obsessed with rankings, from VH1's Top 100 One-Hit Wonders (a wonderful series, although why couldn't they expand it a few hours and play each song fully? But I digress) to the Top 10 reasons why my wife should go get an account on eHarmony. Obviously, the baseball media is not immune to rankings, from Kevin Goldstein's Top 11 prospect rankings here, or his Top 101 Prospects in Baseball Prospectus 2010, or innumerable articles at Baseball America, ESPN, and other outlets.

For some reason, people have the illusion that inclusion in the Hall of Fame somehow breaks our desire to rank, or at least the process should break this desire. The simple truth is that, for at least some of the gatekeepers (and likewise for many fans, I might add), this just doesn't feel right. Some players are just more Hall-worthy than others. Given that the voters are asked only a yes or no question, they will use the only lever at their disposal to create tiers within the Hall of Fame, and that lever is when they are elected.

Let's go back to the question of deciding whether or not Roberto Alomar was given the shaft by not being elected on the first ballot. I looked at all of the first-ballot percentages for each player since 1960 and plotted them against Bill James' Hall of Fame Monitor Score (HoFM). In a nutshell, I like to think of HoFM as the measure of bling (awards and milestones that have historically attracted Hall voters), while his Hall of Fame Standards (HoFS) is more a measure of worth (how much value this candidate had compared to other people in the Hall).

Scattering Fame

From visual inspection alone, two things are apparent. There are a number of players with a much lower HoFM score that made it in the on first ballot. However, there are two players with a higher score that did not get in, so it's not like the Alomar snub is unprecedented. The reader should keep in mind, though, that those two players are Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, who had 14 and 11 World Series appearances, respectively. Given how close Alomar is to our best-fit line, the drop can easily be explained by the few voters who still say that the Hirschbeck incident does count for something; despite the apologies and feel-good stories that followed, it was still a very graphic display of unsportsmanlike behavior.

There's almost no question that Alomar will get in next year, so he will probably be a second-ballot Hall of Famer. How does he stack up with the others? And, for that matter, when (or if) should we expect the other newbies on the ballot to get in? Below is a table of the median HoFM and HoFS scores of Hall of Fame Inductees (filtered to those whose first year on the ballot was 1960 or later) based on the year they were elected by the BBWAA. The group of "Others" consists of those that were not elected by the writers and are no longer eligible, but achieved at least 25 percent of the vote in their best year.

                                 HoFM                 HoFS
Ballot Elected   Number    Median [Max,Min]   Median/Avg [Max,Min]
1st                39         214 [454,98]       56/54.3 [76,34]   
2nd or 3rd          9         158 [226,120]      50/49.1 [57,18]
4th or 5th          7         149 [178,108]      47/48.6 [58,39]
6th to 10th         8         124 [150,81]       41/39.5 [57,19]
11th to 15th        7         134 [146,89]       35/36.0 [47,17]
Other              30          98 [175,42]       34/33.3 [53,16]

Despite what pundits want to believe (or think should occur), there's an obvious correlation not only to a player's career and if he gets into the Hall of Fame, but also when he gets into the Hall of Fame. It is not limited solely to whether or not he's a first-ballot player. Based on the table above, whether consciously or sub-consciously, voters do like to peg players as to when they should get the call.

So what about the current group of 2010 candidates that will move onto next year's ballot as well?

Player        Ballot   Vote%    HoFM    HoFS
Dawson          9th    77.9%     118     44
Blyleven       13th    74.2%     120     50
Alomar          1st    73.7%     194     57
Morris         11th    52.3%     122     39
Larkin          1st    51.6%     118     47
Smith,L.        8th    47.3%     135     13
Martinez,E.     1st    36.2%     132     50
Raines          3rd    30.4%      90     47
McGwire         4th    23.7%     170     42
Trammell        9th    22.4%     118     40
McGriff         1st    21.5%     100     48
Mattingly      10th    16.1%     134     34
Parker         14th    15.2%     124     42
Murphy         12th    11.7%     116     34
Baines          4th     6.1%      66     44

Laying Alomar's HoFM and HoFS score against the first-ballot group, he does seem to fall in the cracks between the first-ballot/second-ballot group. He would not have looked out of place as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he doesn't seem that out of place going in on the second or third ballot, though he will be one of the best-credentialed of that group. As for Larkin, his high vote total is a little surprising, as he seems to be the typical player who would normally be elected on his sixth to 10th ballot; with his high vote total and the typical growth, he may sneak in on his third or fourth ballot. Edgar Martinez's first ballot percentage was perfectly in line with what you would expect. Based on his HoFM and HoFS scores, he seems to be a candidate that would fall into the sixth to 10th ballot group as well. Like Larkin, Fred McGriff got a higher vote percentage than one would expect given his HoFM score, but he profiles as a close-but-no-cigar non-inductee. On the other hand, his relatively high HoFS score suggests that if there is more of a shift in the writers to look not at the hardware but strictly the stats, he may surprise and get in toward the end of his eligibility.

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

Related Content:  Hall Of Fame,  Player Ballot,  Hall Of Famer

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

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"whether consciously or sub-consciously, voters do like to peg players as to when they should get the call"

Note that if everybody agrees that a player is a second-year Hall of Famer and votes accordingly, the candidate gets no votes in year one and doesn't even appear on the ballot in year two.

A truly perverse voting system.

Jan 07, 2010 12:52 PM
rating: 5
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

Technically true, but there are enough voters who are of the "never change my vote" mentality that the good enough players will always hang around.

Jan 07, 2010 13:05 PM

Which has never happened or even come within a light year or two of happening, but never mind.

Jan 07, 2010 12:59 PM
rating: 0
Jay Taylor

I would argue that it happened to Lou Whitaker. But then again that's what the veterans committee is supposed to be for. Hopefully they eventually get that to work right.

I actually kind of like the first ballot being only for the best of the best. If I had a vote I would probably only give first ballot votes to the Ricky Hendersons of the game.

Jan 07, 2010 13:48 PM
rating: 0
Cory Schwartz

Oh, so THAT is what the veteran's committee is for?? :-)

Jan 08, 2010 10:08 AM
rating: 3

It's not a naive view of human nature. It's disappointment with human nature. Yes, the voters will use the tool available to them to rank the players, but that's not the task they're being asked to perform.

Each of us has the capacity for rational thought (that's what makes us people). I'm asking the voters to use that capacity.

Jan 07, 2010 13:07 PM
rating: 4

Last time I visited Cooperstown, I didn't see any distinction based on whether they were first ballot, second ballot, and so on. If you go to the website list, all the inductees are equal, differing only by year of induction.

So it is, ultimately, a binary outcome -- you get in, you don't. Yes, some get in by the Veteran's Committee (and in summarizing a particular year's new entrants, the HOF website notes the number elected by the VC). But I don't think ultimately there's an asterisk on anybody.

So perhaps short-term interest in how quickly, or on what ballot, somebody gets in really doesn't matter that much (even if it's fodder for hot-stove chatter).

That all said said, Kniker's call for patience is reasonable. It ain't over til it's over. Even though it may take a looooong time.

Jan 07, 2010 13:38 PM
rating: 1
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

Yes, while technically the plaques are binary: there is one and there isn't, I do think there is a strong distinction between 1st ballot and not 1st ballot. Many times I hear a player referred to as 1st ballot Hall of Famer X, etc.

But with that said, I do think there is a bit of another tiering. While it may never be said and mentioned, there is no question that a guy who got in on the 2nd or 3rd ballot are typically better players than those that got in on the 9th or 10th or 14th.

Jan 07, 2010 14:08 PM

Now there's a test that could be conducted, maybe using Jay Jaffe's JAWS to predict which ballot a person got in on. I suspect that JAWS better predicts whether someone got in on 1st ballot vs. all later ballots than in predicting which ballot after the 1st ballot someone got in.

Jan 07, 2010 15:38 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

Another of interest would be to see if in the last few years there's been some divergence from the hardware to the stats. Ideally this could be shown if 20-30 years ago, HoFM was a better measure of induction and first ballot percentages but in the last few years if HoFS/JAWS is becoming a better predictor.

Jan 07, 2010 16:54 PM
Richard Bergstrom

Isn't the whole idea of waiting five years before a candidate is available for election part of the justification behind voters' perceptions changing over time?

Jan 07, 2010 13:43 PM
rating: 1

A player's not even eligible for the Hall until he's been retired 5 years. How much longer do the voters need to properly evaluate a career?

The problem with letting time determine who gets voted for is that time dims and confuses memories. Jim Rice is the classic example: a player whose performance the voters couldn't accurately remember nor put into context, making them vulnerable to the Red Sox hype machine.

Jan 07, 2010 13:54 PM
rating: 2
Jay Taylor

On the flip side of Jim Rice is bert Blyleven. When he retired, he just wasn't considered a Hall Of Fame caliber player. Over the las 20 years though more and more advanced stats have shown that he most definitely was that caliber of player.

People always say that a player doesn't accrue any more stats after they quit, so why not have a one and done voting process. I don't like this though, because while the player might not change, the way we look at the game definitely does, and I for on like that the voting gives a long time to figure out what a player's true worth was.

Jan 07, 2010 16:24 PM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

Five years have passed and we still can't properly evaluate the steroids era. We still can't figure out Coors Field, nor the relative value of closers in regards to the Hall of Fame.

So I have no problem with the length of time someone's on a ballot.

Jan 07, 2010 17:08 PM
rating: 1

I like this approach to analyzing the vote. This should be a yearly article accompanying the HOF vote. Not that I approve of the process or 1st vs 2nd vs ... 10th ballot HOFers, but if it's happening, we should understand it. Good work.

Jan 07, 2010 13:57 PM
rating: 1
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

My hope would be that with a little more work (understanding likely "improvements" in voter percentage from ballot 2 to ballot 3, etc.), I'd like to develop a vote percentage "predictor" that would estimate vote totals for that year's class.

Jan 07, 2010 14:06 PM

My problem with the first ballot fetishists is that they are really just grandstanding on the backs of other voters. Since they KNOW Alomar will get the minimum required to stay on the ballot, it allows them to get on their high horse, and draw this false distinction between first ballot hall of famers and other hall of famers. It's all BS. If everyone bought their argument and didn't vote for Alomar on the first ballot then he would be dropped from consideration. So, unless you really feel a guy doesn't deserve to be in the Hall you ought to shut up and vote for him. Anything is else just pious BS. That's my $.02.

Jan 07, 2010 14:45 PM
rating: 6
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

Then maybe the best thing is just force a person on only one ballot. You get one shot and that's it (or you have to wait a few more years). Until that is done, the grandstanding will continue and some writers will exploit the decision of the others

Jan 07, 2010 15:11 PM
Matt Lentzner

Isn't pious BS what sportswriters do for a living? Present company excluded, of course.

Jan 07, 2010 15:17 PM
rating: 7

I like saving the first ballot hall of famers for the inner circle. I think the Alomar vote was suprisingly strong --was expecting a high 50%. I think waiting a year makes sense. Ultimately the decision is binary and Blyleven in year 15 is the same as Alomar in year 2, but I think first ballot players should be special.

Jan 07, 2010 18:54 PM
rating: 0

Tim - great article - and yet more proof for the validity and necessity of the Hall of Merit. We have tiered voting and perpetual eligibility. Set numbers of inductees (based on Cooperstown counting) and constant debate over the periphery.

Jan 07, 2010 19:00 PM
rating: 0

Great point about Alomar and the first-year ballot. Nothing outrageous there.

An example of what gets me frustrated is Edgar Martinez garnering 36% in his first year, while Tim Raines barely gets to 30% in his fourth year. Raines failed to crack 20% on his first ballot, I believe.

Crazy stuff! No disrespect to Martinez, but he wasn't 1/2 the player compared to Raines. It's hard to not show some frustration towards the voters when considering outcomes like this.

The process itself can use updating. Fifteen years of eligibility might have made sense in the late 1930s when they had to deal with the pre-1901 backlog. Slicing it to about ten years now seems reasonable. And let's consider consider killing the Veterans Committee, although its current form is not nearly as harmful as previous versions.

If that means that a Blyleven wouldn't make it, so be it. Tough call, but I'd rather err on the side of trying to keep the standards very high. Ten years should be enough time to analyze, ponder, brood, and campaign.

The problem with players like Rice and Tony Perez entering on their 15th try is the slippery slope theory. Excellent players Perez & Rice. My dad is huge Perez fan, in fact. I grew up hearing how clutch he was again and again and again. still, I don't think the Hall would really miss either player.

Perhaps process reform is something for the new Selig Super Task Force to tackle? Patience? Yes, we'll need plenty. After all, is there an organization slower to embrace change than MLB? I'm exaggerating, but not by too much ...

Jan 07, 2010 20:09 PM
rating: 3

The Hall should be about more inclusion. The Hall won't really miss anyone on a personal level. I have always maintained that one of the greatest functions the Hall can have is in validating our own personal memories of baseball greatness. In that light, it is far better to make mistakes of inclusion, and having a more expansive history, than of exclusion and reductive history.

Jan 07, 2010 20:24 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

I guess my philosophy differs from you on this. I would prefer to be conservative and error on the side of exclusion, since one always has the Veteran's Committee as a fallback.

The thing I worry about is setting the bar too low. When you do that the standards slowly creep down and down and down, until it gets the feel of the Hall of Occasional All-Stars or worse the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jan 08, 2010 05:45 AM
Richard Bergstrom

I am a fan of inclusion. All the better for me, or other fans, to remember a person and an era.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame might be mocked, but for each Hall of Famer, there are a thousand who don't make the cut. Same thing goes with baseball.

It is possible standards might creep down. Yet, as long as baseball keeps out churning players with talented careers that force post-retirement evaluation, comparison and criticism with their peers and others, there will always be some level of standard there.

Jan 10, 2010 13:58 PM
rating: 0

Saying Tim Raines was twice the player Edgar Martinez was is wrong. Raines is, to me, a HoFer, but Edgar was a better player by the percentages.

I don't think shortening the time frame would do anyone any good. By the 15th ballot you're 20 years from retirement and likely 30 years from the player's peak, which means the sentimentality is fading among the old writers and a new generation has had time to digest the statistics and the stories. It does lead to poor choices sometimes, but it also means that there's fair consideration to their case.

If you want to shorten the timeframe, then we should also lower the bar for induction to, say, 60% from 75%. And we should make sure the Veterans Committee is doing its job as well to correct the mistakes of the writers. (Personally, I'd like to see the BBWAA lose its sole arbiter position over HoF entry; I'd open it up to include players, coaches, executives, historians, and yes, even fans, though I'd limit the number to 2-3 for every MLB team's fan base.)

I do feel like they should make all the ballots public and eliminate voters who submit blank ballots. Sunshine is a wonderful disinfectant.

Jan 07, 2010 22:15 PM
rating: 0
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Raines played defense, hence was twice the player every DH was.

Jan 08, 2010 06:16 AM
rating: -6

The prejudice against Martinez as a DH seems very similiar to that against electing relief pitchers (they aren't real pitchers) into the Hall of Fame for so long.

Just as the evolution of baseball made the relief pitcher an important role, MLB created the DH position, and it seems very narrow-minded to exclude the greatest person to play in that role.

One of my criteria to elect someone into the Hall is whether that person was ever considerd the best at his position. On that score I'd say Martinez could easily be considered the best at his position, both on an annual and lifetime basis, while Raines was never considered the best OF of his day in any given year.

Jan 08, 2010 06:51 AM
rating: 0

But also remember that's not an apples-to-apples comparison. In any given year Edgar only needed to be better than at most 13 other DH's. To be considered the best OF you're being compared to a peer group of about 80 players.

Jan 08, 2010 08:45 AM
rating: 1

Okay, guilty as charged on being prejudice. I think the majority of relievers have no business being in the Hall, just as I have serious doubts about Edgar & any other full-time DH.

Jan 08, 2010 16:38 PM
rating: -1

Good point. Moreover, there seems to be little prejudice against bad by first basemen and slugging outfielders; why do we hold *no* defense against a DH? Isn't a DH who gives up no runs in the field less of an albatross than a Dr. Strangeglove at another position?

Jan 08, 2010 19:59 PM
rating: 1

The simple answer is, no, he's not. Manny Ramirez was, to put it very kindly, a poor LF for the Red Sox. But if Manny was as bad a defender as David Ortiz, they couldn't have played both of them. Manny's marginal defensive adequacy enabled the Red Sox to use Ortiz' bat. The defensive value of a DH is at best equal to the worst defender on the team -- eliminate middle infielders and catchers if you want -- and any system which gives them more credit than that is flat out wrong. Add in the increased likelihood of injury which exists for players who have to play the field and the bar for a DH making the Hall should be exceptionally high. To my mind, Martinez doesn't make it over, Frank Thomas does.

Jan 09, 2010 18:52 PM
rating: 1

I think if you permanently disqualified any voter once they failed to vote for a couple of people that got elected with 85% or more, maybe you'd get rid of the idiots farily quickly.

Jan 08, 2010 06:19 AM
rating: 1
Rowen Bell

An interesting tidbit is buried in the data. Many BP readers (myself included) are of the opinion that Raines is properly viewed as a no-brainer HoF member. In that light, it's interesting to note that, had he been elected on the 1st ballot, he'd have had the lowest HoFM score ("bling") of any 1st-ballot electee. As such, armed with this data we should have been able to predict that -- despite what "we" may think of Raines -- there was little chance that "they" would elect him rapidly, and instead his candidacy would at best be a slow-build one, like Blyleven.

Jan 08, 2010 06:24 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

Good point. The quality (HoFS) of Raines' stats suggest that he will likely go later than a sixth year.

But the point is that if he gets in at all, he will have one of the lowest HoFM of ANYONE who was elected by the Writers.

Jan 08, 2010 06:58 AM
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

Also on another point, the HoFS scores (Median, Mean, Min) are a little low because they include relief pitchers in which the HoFS doesn't really make sense. As B-Ref suggests, he just don't have enough relief pitchers in yet to get a feel for what the right stats are for them. If you take out Sutter, Gossage, Fingers scores from the mean, these will likely bump up some of those HoFS numbers.

Jan 08, 2010 07:01 AM

OK, what's the knock on Jim Rice? I haven't seen the arguments.

I'm a Yankees fan, and I remember Rice as being downright feared in that Red Sox lineup.

Jan 08, 2010 19:00 PM
rating: 0
Dr. Dave

Mr. Van Winkle, it's time for your 11:00...

Jan 08, 2010 21:34 PM
rating: 1

Any bets this was sarcasm?

Jan 12, 2010 19:58 PM
rating: 1
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