Friday, June 01, 2007

Is This Anyway to Run a Hall of Fame? by John Shiffert

So your favorite Hall of Fame candidate didn’t get elected this time around? Fear not. All is not lost. As is sometimes the case, the 2007 Hall of Fame vote was more interesting in terms of who wasn’t elected than it was in terms of who was elected. Without discussing the relevance of relief pitchers in the Hall, nor the “issue” of Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti, a pretty fair complete All-Star team could be constructed from members of the 2007 ballot who; A) weren’t part of the Steroid Soap Opera, B) weren’t relief pitchers, C) did receive votes, and D) didn’t receive enough votes to get elected. To wit:

C – Dale Murphy .265/.346/.469 121 31
1B – Dave Parker .290/.339/.471 121 26
2B – Tony Fernandez .288/.347/.399 101 3
SS – Alan Trammell .285/.352/.415 110 0
3B – Bobby Bonilla .279/.358/.472 124 3
OF – Jim Rice .298/.352/.502 128 33
OF – Andre Dawson .279/.323/.482 119 11
OF – Albert Belle .295/.369/.564 143 28

P – Bert Blyleven 287-250 .534 118 16
P – Jack Morris 254-186 .577 105 20
P – Tommy John 288-231 .555 111 8
P – Orel Hershiser 201-150 .576 112 20

OK, so this is cheating just a little. Murphy only came up as a catcher. He built his potential Hall credentials as a centerfielder. And Parker was mainly an outfielder… he only played a handful of games at first. Fernandez was a shortstop, although he did play some second base. And Bonilla was an outfielder who was also a terrible third baseman. Still, this is far from a bunch of stiffs. If they were a real team they would win a lot of pennants. (Especially if they had Goose Gossage and Lee Smith in the bullpen—but, as noted, that’s a separate debate.) To put it another way, it’s a pretty good lineup wherein Tony Fernandez has to bat eighth.

Maybe a better way to judge the value of this group of Hall outsiders is to compare them to another team, a team comprised of players who are already in the Hall of Fame.
C – Ray Schalk .253/.340/.316 83 0
1B – George Kelly .297/.342/.452 110 13
2B – Bill Mazeroski .260/.299./367 84 2
SS – Rabbit Maranville .258/.318/.340 82 2
3B – Fred Lindstrom .311/.351/.449 110 3
OF – Lloyd Waner .316/.353/.393 99 10
OF – Tommy McCarthy .292/.364/.376 102 3
OF – Harry Hooper .281/.368/.387 114 0

What do these worthies all have in common? Essentially, they were relatively better defensive players than offensive players. Some, like the double play combination, were outstanding defenders. (In fact, there are several other keystone types who fit this pattern and who could have also made this team—Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker and Phil Rizzuto come to mind.) Others, notably Lindstrom, were merely good fielders. And that’s was this entire team is, good. Maybe verging on great once in a while, but generally just very good players. This lineup would admittedly prevent a lot of runs, but how many would they put on the board? And, does anyone really think this lineup, that averaged just over four on the Black Ink Test, with an average Adjusted OPS that is actually below average (98), would outscore 2007’s HOF rejects, who posted an average Adjusted OPS of just under 121 (and just under 17 in Black Ink)? For that matter, does anyone really think that hitters like Schalk, Maz and the Rab really belong in the Hall? Obviously, someone must have. Schalk, we’ll explain shortly. Maz, well, one swing of the bat in the ’60 Series helped his candidacy a lot. A great fielder, his famous home run apparently led people to believe he could actually hit. He couldn’t. And Maranville himself was famous all right, a famous character. On that basis, Germany Schaefer will probably get elected to the Hall some day. Then there’s Waner and McCarthy. They both got in on the coattails of distinctly better Hall of Famer outfielders they were associated with during their playing careers—brother Paul in Waner’s case, and Hugh Duffy (the “other” half of the Heavenly Twins) for McCarthy.

Then there’s this Hall of Fame rotation:

P – Jesse Haines 210 158 .571 108 8
Eppa Rixey 266 251 .515 115 10
Rube Marquard 201 177 .532 103 11
Red Faber 254 213 .544 119 22

What do these four have in common? First, the BBWAA can’t be blamed for these guys—they were all elected by the Veterans Committee (as, for that matter, were the eight HOFers previously mentioned). Faber, like Schalk, got in largely because he was one of the “Clean Sox,” the 1919 White Sox who didn’t tank the Series. Haines, like Kelly and Lindstrom, made it due to cronyism on the Veterans Committee in the 70s. And Marquard, like Hooper, is a Glory of Their Times selection, their candidacies having gotten a boost from their appearance in Larry Ritter’s seminal book and the attendant “Halo Effect” (to borrow a Jamesian term). As for Eppa Rixey, the record provides no good explanation for his inclusion in this august institution, unless maybe it’s for his unique nickname, Eppa Jeptha. (No, I don’t know what that means, and neither do you.) Each of these pitchers’ also had relatively brief (in Haines’ case, very brief) periods of excellence in the midst of what were otherwise pretty mundane long careers, something they have pretty much in common with Blyleven, Morris, John and Hershiser. In fact, a composite pitcher made up from each group wouldn’t be too dissimilar, except that the guys who are still outside might have been a little bit better.

2007 Candidates 258-204 .558 112 16
Hall of Famers 233-200 .538 111 13

If you could actually put these two teams on the field against each for an extended series, you’d have an interesting matchup. The hitting of the 2007 team against the defense of the Hall team, with two pretty equal starting staffs. Still, you have to think that, if someone were to run a long-term computer simulation pitting these two teams against each other, the non-Hall of Famers would end up on top. Moral of the story—the Veterans Committee has traditionally elected the BBWAA’s rejects. Meaning there’s future hope for 2007’s rejects. (Is this any way to run a Hall of Fame? You decide.)

As the author of the recently-published Base Ball in Philadelphia (McFarland, 2007) SABR member John Shiffert thinks fellow Philadelphia native Harry Stovey deserves Hall of Fame consideration before all of the previously-mentioned worthies. However, Harry wasn’t on the 2007 ballot.

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