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Reader Mac Thomason has pointed out that one of the player comments in
Baseball
Prospectus 2001
discussed pitchers from the current era who were locks
for the Hall of Fame, yet omitted Randy Johnson from a list that
included Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine.

The original comment was written by me, and my first reaction was that
Johnson didn’t belong in that company on the basis of his low wins total.
It’s an example of how an image of a player can get stuck in your head and
remained unchanged even as the player’s performance does change, the kind
of thing about which we’re constantly railing at MLB executives.

My opinion of Johnson as an unlikely Hall of Famer was established towards
the end of his time with the Mariners. While he had a dominant stretch from
1993-1995, back problems had carved up his 1996, and after winning the Cy
Young Award in 1997, he’d struggled in the first half of 1998. I was
convinced that given his age, apparent decline, and questions about his
health, he would be unable to reach a wins total that would make him a
viable candidate. At the time of his trade to the Astros in July of 1998,
he had 133 wins, nine in the current season. No matter how high his peak,
he was going to need a significant push to make himself even a marginal
candidate.

Of course, since that deal, Johnson has gone nuts, with a 46-17 record, an
ERA of 2.38 and 827 strikeouts in 604 1/3 innings. But when I wrote the
comment for BP2K1, I was still thinking of Johnson as the guy who wasn’t
going to get to the bare-minimum 180- to 200-win range he would need. Now
he’s a good bet for 200 wins and 3,500 strikeouts, and could push those
totals higher.

In fact, Johnson is now a stronger Hall of Fame candidate than Glavine.
Glavine has more wins, but Johnson beats him in winning percentage and ERA,
and of course has a massive lead in strikeouts. The Bill James Hall of Fame
Monitor, which attempts to assess how likely a player is to make the Hall
of Fame, gives Johnson 173 points to Glavine’s 106 (130 points pretty much
makes a player a lock, while 100 makes them a viable candidate). The Hall
of Fame Career Standards Test, also developed by James, rates Johnson at 47
and Glavine at 38. By that standard, Johnson would be about an average Hall
of Fame pick, while Glavine is at the low end of the Hall of Fame scale.
The Black Ink test, which measures how often a player led the league in
significant categories, is a wipeout for Johnson, 57 to 23.

The point is that I was wrong to exclude Johnson from the list of pitchers
from this era who will go into the Hall of Fame. Johnson is a viable
candidate now, and will likely add to his credentials over the next few
years. Consider it an important lesson to me to not make assumptions about
a player’s performance, and more importantly, a chance for Gary Huckabay to
get off a few good lines on the internal BP mailing list.

Now, where did I get this stuff above, the Monitor and the Standards and
such? From a site you should run to as soon as you’ve finished reading this
column, baseball-reference.com.
The site is the single best baseball data repository on the Internet. In
addition to having a complete online stats encyclopedia, site owner Sean Forman has
included all kinds of neat features, like listings of current leaders in
major statistical categories. He has the essential Hall of Fame
statistics I referenced above for all Hall of Famers as well as all current
players, so you can see how, say, Mike Mussina stacks up compared
to the pitchers currently enshrined.

What may be the best tool is the list of similarity scores provided with
each player’s statistics, so you can see at a glance who the ten most
similar players in history are to someone. Very cool if you’re a fan of
Alex Rodriguez. Less cool if Ryan Minor is your hero, but
fun, nevertheless. The similarity scores by age are also interesting,
especially for players who had dramatically non-standard career paths
(check out Darryl Strawberry, for example).

Forman also has a weblog
where he expresses opinions about baseball topics
and allows readers to provide feedback and discuss the issues of the day.
It’s a great interactive feature, one of the best things to happen to
Web-savvy baseball fans this winter.

I’ve come to think of baseball-reference.com in much the same way I think
of my Total Baseball: I’m a bit reluctant to go there, because it’s
just too damn easy to lose four hours poring over all the fun stuff.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by
clicking here.

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