November 19, 2013
The Hall of Fame 50 Percent Probability Test
I was wondering whether Andrew McCutchen, after winning his first MVP award, was on a Hall of Fame track. So I went to look at what the typical Hall of Famer had at the same age, then realized with shame that the thing I’ve been doing all these years—looking at what the typical Hall of Famer had at the same age—doesn’t make any logical sense. Yes, the average Hall of Famer might have had (X) WARP through age 26, but
or any of billions of similar examples that make the point that my way wouldn’t have shown how many non-HOFers at the same level washed out. So if I can’t just look at what the median Hall of Famer had at McCutchen’s age, what can I do? Find the Wins/Age combination at which exactly 50 percent of players (or as close as possible) end up in the Hall of Fame. And then use that to name all the active players who are likely to make the Hall of Fame, times two.
(Definition of terms: We’re using Baseball-Reference’s WAR for this, as WARP is limited to seasons since 1950. We’re ignoring pitchers. That’ll be a post for a different day. And to account for players who are retired and, in my opinion, likely to make the Hall of Fame but ineligible or unapproved yet, I am assigning eight future Hall of Famers into the historical count: Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr, Chipper Jones, Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome. Of course, there’s a logical problem with this approach, too, which we’ll get to.)
Harper’s 9.0 wins are the fourth-most in history; Mike Trout almost certainly surpassed the 2.1-win threshold in a single month at least once during his age-20 season. Machado is solidly into the likely zone, but the names immediately around him are especially distinguished:
Bob Horner marks the lowest limit of probability—that is, he had exactly 2.1 wins through age 20.
Quick fact about Trout: The youngest active player with more wins than he has already: McCutchen! Five-years-older McCutchen.
Willie Randolph marks the highest limit of improbability, with 4.7 wins through age 21.
Grady Sizemore is the low end of Hall of Fame probability: [all the sad face emoticons go here]
A year or so ago, I wrote briefly about Starlin Castro’s chances of making the Hall, based solely on his playing time and age. “Knowing nothing about Starlin Castro except his age and how much he has played, we can say he is in a group from which 44 percent of players have become Hall of Famers.” Castro never felt like a future Hall of Famer, but he was an actuary’s version of a future Hall of Famer. Fittingly, so far in his career he has straddled these thresholds, too. Through age 20, he was 0.7 wins short of qualifying as likely; through age 21, he was 0.4 wins short; through age 22, he was 0.3 wins ahead of pace; and now, after a lost season, he is nearly three wins short. He’s tied with Willie McCovey at the same age, but he’s also tied with Eddie Murphy—who, like the other Eddie Murphy, didn’t age well. Only 39 percent of players with 7.4 wins or more, as Castro has, made the Hall.
Andrus, unlike Castro, has kept his head above the line from age-20 on, and at age 24 he’s comfortable ahead, with 17 wins. About 62 percent of players with 17 wins made the Hall, but even though Andrus has more wins than Frank Thomas I’d bet my house against your car that he won’t make the Hall.
Austin Jackson just, just misses making the age-26 half-probables. Buster Posey misses, too, and isn’t nearly as close. That seems like an oversight by the method. I’d probably bet on Posey over anybody named thus far except Trout, Harper, Stanton and perhaps McCutchen.
Jason Kendall is the lowest end of probability. This was the year that Chipper Jones (20.0, with a career path not unlike Posey’s) edged into likelihood.
Upper end of improbability: Fred McGriff
For players who want to stay on pace, the biggest jumps come from ages 23 to 24, ages 24 to 25, and ages 25 to 26: about 3.6 wins per year, peaking at a 3.7-win jump for 25-year-olds. Then it settles around three wins a year for the traditional prime seasons; age 29, at 3.2 wins, is the last year before the real decline starts for the group. The next year’s Hall of Fame probables will add only 2.4 wins, and the typical Hall of Famer will be only about a league-average player through his 30s. He’ll be Raul Ibanez, basically.
I told you there was a different problem with this method, and here’s where it’s most obvious. Pujols and Teixeira are both over 38 wins; combined, they are each 50 percent likely to make the Hall of Fame; and, in reality, only one is going to make the Hall of Fame. But Pujols and Teixeira aren’t really in a group at all; Pujols has produced well over twice as many wins as Teixeira has. He’s a 100 percent lock to make the Hall (on merits, anyway). So
In this case,
In Teixeira and Holliday’s cases, I can just about buy that.
This doesn’t seem to be much of a problem when the players are young. A player’s chances don’t go up much whether he has, say, seven wins or 10 by age 21. But by now the 50 percent talk is totally misleading; there are just way too many sure things, guys who have already passed not just the on-pace mark but the guaranteed-enshrinement threshold. Which is just to note that we have named 25 players so far. About half will make the Hall of Fame. They are not, obviously, all 50 percent likely to.