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The newly-constituted Veteran's Committee takes its third look at the Hall-of-Fame ballot, and if they don't elect Santo and Co. this time, says Jay, it should be "three strikes and you're out."
In 2002, the Hall of Fame revamped its Veterans Committee. Formerly, it was the freight-elevator entrance to the institution for those unable to enter via the red-carpeted front door of the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. Out went the old 15-member voting body, a group which included baseball executives, writers, and former players. That group annually conducted its dirty work behind closed doors, outside of which nobody knew who was up for election, and unless someone received 75 percent of the vote, nobody knew any results. With the process completely opaque and with accountability nil, cronyism and senility abounded, and errors that diluted the honor of election to the Hall were made. Legend has it that the Veterans Committee (or VC) elected the vastly inferior Waner brother, Lloyd, in a case of mistaken identity. For that among other reasons, I say good riddance to a flawed system.
In its place is the new VC, a body of 84 eligible voters: 61 living Hall of Famers, 14 Frick Award recipients (broadcasters), eight Spink Award recipients (writers), and one "old VC" member whose term hadn't expired. The new VC uses a voting process analogous to the BBWAA's: a pre-screened ballot made public before a decentralized vote conducted by mail, with the results made public afterwards, and 75 percent of the vote required for election. The vote is held in odd-numbered years for players, and in every other odd-numbered year for nonplayers (managers, umpires, executives). The pool of potential honorees is determined by a panel of 60 BBWAA writers (two for each major league city/team) plus a board of six Hall of Famers; my colleague Steven Goldman turned a jaundiced eye on the new process last fall.
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Jay Jaffe uses JAWS to look at the newly eligible hitters on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.
Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) figures make an ideal tool for this endeavor because they normalize all performance records in major-league history to the same scoring environment, adjusting for park effects, quality of competition and length of schedule. All pitchers, hitters and fielders are thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level, making cross-era comparisons a breeze. Though non-statistical considerations--awards, championships, postseason performance--shouldn't be left by the wayside in weighing a player's Hall of Fame case, they're not the focus here.
Election to the Hall of Fame requires a player to perform both at a very high level and for a long time, so it's inappropriate to rely simply on career WARP (which for this exercise refers exclusively to the adjusted-for-all-time version, WARP3). In past years I identified each player's peak value by his best five consecutive seasons, with allowances made for seasons lost to war or injury. That choice was an admittedly arbitrary one, and for the 2006 ballot I've revised the methodology to instead use each player's best seven seasons without concern as to whether they're consecutive or not. It's a subtle change that doesn't have a huge impact, but it does require less manual labor to determine the injury and war exceptions, a welcome development from where I sit. Effectively, we're double-counting more of a player's best seasons, but given what we know about pennants added and
the premium value of star talent, individual greatness can have a nonlinear effect on a team's results both in the standings and on the bottom line.