It’s the middle of May, and the annual Hall of Fame voting ritual is as far from the mind as it may reasonably get. Still, questions about Hall of Famers and their potential peers–some of them topical, some more timeless–keep finding their way to my in-box, while my big ol’ spreadsheet rarely leaves the recently opened documents list on my iMac. In the process of rounding up some of the better questions to come my way, I’ve taken the time to create a long-overdue glossary entry for JAWS, where the system is succinctly defined, and where I can stash the current positional standards for easy reference. Those of you in need of a brief refresher are invited to start there.

Rocket Returns

Given the recent news of Roger Clemens‘ impending return to the Bronx, it’s been asked how everyone’s favorite 45-year-old mercenary Humvee driver sleeps at night measures up among the all-time greats. The JAWS answer, based on the January 2007 set of numbers (which may not exactly match those on the current DT cards), show Clemens #2 in career WARP3 and #3 in seven-year peak. Note that this score incorporates Clay Davenport‘s adjustment for AL DH-era pitchers, costing Clemens a handful of WARP off his raw total of 199.6:

Player            Career   Peak    JAWS
Walter Johnson     200.9  104.6   152.8
Roger Clemens      192.9   83.5   138.2
Cy Young           178.2   83.3   130.8
Greg Maddux        165.6   81.9   123.8
Pete Alexander     153.6   88.3   121.0
Warren Spahn       156.0   74.8   115.4
Tom Seaver         147.8   73.7   110.8
Lefty Grove        137.8   80.8   109.3
Randy Johnson      136.6   78.1   107.4
Christy Mathewson  131.2   82.7   107.0

Note that the version that’s on the DT cards show the Rocket at 199.8 WARP3, with the Big Train at 203.2. Based on these numbers, I think one can say fairly conclusively that Clemens is the greatest pitcher of the postwar era. Beyond that, the differences in usage patterns, integration, equipment, and rule changes to the game over the past century throw the doors to the “Greatest of All Time” debate wide open.

Frisch’s Follies

Reader BR writes:

I mentioned to a friend that I thought a number of questionable Hall of Famers, such as Jesse Haines, probably got in, at least in part, due to the campaigning of [Frankie] Frisch for their inclusion. I am pretty sure it was Frisch and that I have read that numerous times, but cannot find my sources. I have 3 questions:
1. Is there any truth to what I said, or at least any evidence that it is so?
2. If so, what players, other than Haines, might be among those sponsored by Frisch?
3. Would you tell me any places to look to verify what I said?

Clay Davenport fielded this one cleanly:

Frisch was on the Veterans Committee from 1967-73; his teammate Bill Terry joined in 1971 and stayed until 1976. Teammates of those two who were elected in that timeframe were Jesse Haines (1970), Dave Bancroft (1971), Chick Hafey (1971), Ross Youngs (1972), George Kelly (1973), Jim Bottomley (1974), and Fred Lindstrom (1976). None of them rate it. Travis Jackson came in 1982; why is hard to say.

I want to elaborate on Clay’s very solid response. To give an idea of just how far off the mark these candidates–Frisch’s Follies, if you will–are, Hafey (CF), Lindstrom (3B), Kelly (1B), and we’ll-include-him-anyway Jackson (SS) rate as dead last among Hall of Famers at their positions according to JAWS, which makes them the players that I drop when I compute the positional averages (as explained here). Haines is the second-to-last pitcher, which puts him in the same category (I drop four pitchers). Youngs is second-to-last in rightfield, Bottomley is third-to-last at first base. Bancroft, sixth-to-last at shortstop (one hair ahead of Phil Rizzuto), is the closest thing to a defensible pick here.

Comparing them to the standards:

             BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  WARP3   Peak   JAWS
AVG HOF 1B   744   489    -9   106.1   62.8   84.5
Bottomley    496   252   -32    66.3   46.1   56.2
AVG HOF 3B   668   385    69   117.4   67.3   92.4
Lindstrom    273    89     7    56.7   48.2   52.5
AVG HOF SS   441   157   121   115.2   68.2   91.7
Bancroft     226   -23    81    87.8   54.9   71.4
Jackson      800   227   378    68.8   54.3   61.6
AVG HOF LF   752   477     7   111.1   62.6   86.8
Hafey        367   218   -30    51.4   43.9   47.7
AVG HOF RF   836   546    36   125.5   68.6   97.1
Youngs       344   191    49    58.9   53.5   56.2

             PRAA   PRAR   WARP3  Peak   JAWS
AVG HOF P    244    1041   99.0   62.7   80.9
Haines        43    637    52.6   31.5   42.1

Bancroft aside, none of these players are within 25 JAWS points of the average Hall of Famer at their positions. Furthermore, out of the 138 hitters with a JAWS score, Bancroft ranks 100th, Jackson 119th, Youngs 126th, Lindstrom 134th, Kelly 136th, and Hafey 137th–that’s right, three of the bottom five. To borrow a phrase suggested by Derek Jacques, these guys should pack their plaques.

Leave No Keystone Unturned

Reader SL writes:

Love the info and analysis. Why is it that I always hear about Bobby Grich getting snubbed? I grew up rooting for the Angels as my 2nd team (behind the Dodgers) and loved Grich but how can a career .260 hitter get in the Hall? One year batting over .300. Career RBI under 1,000. I understand he has a lot of HR for a 2nd baseman. I know he has multiple Gold Gloves but I just don’t see it. Also, you mentioned in the last chat about Kent. Are you saying he doesn’t belong in the Hall?

Bobby Grich didn’t hit for a high batting average, but he was pretty great at just about everything else, and his various contributions add up to an extremely valuable player, and make him a stathead favorite. Excellent plate discipline and reasonable power helped Grich compile a .296 Equivalent Average on the basis of a .266/.371/.424 career line compiled with the Orioles (1970-1976, though his first two years were only cameos) and Angels (1977-1986). He hit 224 homers, and while that slugging percentage doesn’t look impressive, it was 40 points above the park-adjusted league average during his career; on the Davenport Cards, it translates to .495. Between the Orioles and Angels he was an integral part of five division winners, though his clubs went oh-fer five in the playoffs while he hit .182.

Beyond his hitting, Grich was an excellent defender any way you slice it, winning four Gold Gloves and finishing at +82 Fielding Runs Above Average for his career, five runs above average for every 100 games. Looking beyond BP’s methodology for more perspective, Bill James has him leading the AL in Win Shares among second basemen for those four Gold Glove years (1973-1976) and grades him out at a solid A.

Grich measures up very well according to JAWS; he ranks eighth among all second baseman, and as denoted by the asterisks, second among those not already in the Hall of Fame:

Player            BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  Career   Peak   JAWS
Eddie Collins     1014   675   111   178.0   84.9   131.5
Rogers Hornsby    1095   843   -41   163.7   96.0   129.9
Joe Morgan        1018   696   -16   168.0   86.1   127.1
Nap Lajoie         882   577   189   167.1   83.7   125.4
Charlie Gehringer  648   364    52   132.3   77.0   104.7
Roberto Alomar*    739   434    10   131.8   74.6   103.2
Rod Carew          831   529     4   128.7   70.4    99.6
Bobby Grich*       592   351    95   122.0   72.6    97.3
Craig Biggio*      732   380  -121   123.7   69.5    96.6
Frankie Frisch     468   167   135   119.8   66.2    93.0
Ryne Sandberg      540   257    90   112.8   72.0    92.4
Lou Whitaker*      657   363    19   123.9   60.0    92.0
Bobby Doerr        419   181   164   112.5   69.3    90.9
Billy Herman       488   235    42   106.8   69.6    88.2
Willie Randolph*   522   246    95   115.4   58.4    86.9
Jeff Kent*         589   337   -17   103.9   65.0    84.5
Jackie Robinson    487   326   109    92.1   74.4    83.3
Bill Mazeroski     163  -107   268   103.0   62.0    82.5
Nellie Fox         276   -38    68    97.8   61.7    79.8
Red Schoendienst   283     2   137    95.6   61.4    78.5
AVG HOF 2B         579   304    92   122.8   71.5    97.1

Grich fell off the ballot with just 2.6 percent of the vote in 1992, his first year of eligibility. That was a tough ballot to crack, one that saw Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers elected, while future inductees Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, and Bill Mazeroski received considerable support, and Veterans Committee warhorses like Tony Oliva, Ron Santo, Dick Allen, Joe Torre, and Minnie Minoso had their followers as well. Hell, Vida Blue, also new to the 1992 ballot, stuck around for four years, while Grich got sent home before lunchtime. That he hasn’t been on any of the reconstituted Vet Committee ballots since then, while the ghost of Roger Maris is trotted out for one more dismissal, delegitimizes those efforts considerably.

As for Jeff Kent, a few weeks ago, Joe Sheehan and I engaged in an email dialogue about the merits of his Hall of Fame case, some of which was excerpted in Joe’s article. As you can see by the ranking above, JAWS doesn’t think all that highly of Kent’s candidacy, which is surprising; my gut instinct having watched Kent’s career–first as a hated rival, now as the second baseman for my favorite team, the Dodgers–would be to vote for him if given a ballot. Digging into the numbers, and even reading Joe’s piece, I’m less convinced. There a few points I want to make regarding Joe’s Keltner Test rundown:

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime? Even at 39, Kent is statistically still near his peak years, which is odd for a player his age. His 2004 (7.9 WARP) and 2005 (8.5 WARP) seasons qualify as part of his Peak score, and if he turns in anything higher than a 7.7 this year or beyond, he’ll continue to push that higher.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in? Obviously, Kent’s not eligible, but as you can see above, three guys who can’t buy space on the ballot–Grich, Whitaker, and Randolph–outrank him on the JAWS scale. While he’ll pass the latter very soon, there’s almost no chance he reaches the top of this particular heap. He is the only one of this quartet to win an MVP award, but I’m not sure that’s enough to get him over the top.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant? In the service of one of the chapters I wrote for the forthcoming It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book, I measured how often a team whose best player is at n WARP wins a pennant or division title. As a general tool for future Keltner tests, I think that’s cool data to have. From 1901 on:

BEST          #    PCT    PW%   Avg. GB
>15.0        23   .550   17.4%   10.2
14.0-14.9    42   .563   31.0%    6.1
13.0-13.9    64   .553   28.1%    6.9
12.0-12.9   128   .557   32.8%    7.8
11.0-11.9   206   .536   23.8%   10.6
10.0-10.9   329   .532   21.9%   10.8
9.0-9.9     390   .512   14.9%   14.5
8.0-8.9     384   .492    9.9%   18.1
7.0-7.9     265   .457    3.8%   24.8
6.0-6.9     169   .429    0.0%   29.6
<6.0         82   .370    0.0%   39.9

Reading across, we have the WARP intervals, the number of teams with best player in that interval, their combined winning percentage, the percentage of the time those teams won a pennant or division title, and the average number of games behind the teams finished. Kent had one season in the 12s and two in the 10s, but other than that, he's got only one in the 8s and four in the 7s. In a 16-year career, that's not all that impressive. As a point of reference, Grich mops the floor with him, posting two 11s, three 10s, and two 9s within his peak score--and it's reflected in Kent's subpar peak score (65.0, 6.5 less than the average Hall second baseman). As I pointed out within Joe's piece, below-average defense (-17 runs) and a middling .356 OBP (just 20 points above the park-adjusted league average; Grich by comparison was 47 above) are what hold him back. And unless truck-washing tall tales become a criterion for JAWS, I'd have a tough time advocating a vote for him at this point.