Hall of Stats vs. Hall of Fame

Last Friday, fellow High Heat Stats contributor Adam Darowski, the man behind the brilliant Hall of wWAR, launched the even more brilliant Hall of Stats with the help of two other top-flight developers.

The Hall of Stats builds on the premise of its predecessor, a reconstruction of the Hall of Fame based on a single, all-encompassing metric. Rather than paraphrasing, I’ll let Adam introduce the newest hall:

“They say, ‘It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Stats.’
But what if it was?
The Hall of Stats removes everyone from the Hall of Fame and re-populates it based on a mathematical formula.
You decide which Hall is better…”

Let’s do exactly that. Before we do, I highly recommend you spend a few minutes (or a few weeks) poking around the Hall of Stats to get a feel for it. See who’s in, who’s out, and who will be qualified once he’s eligible. Look at deadball hitters and liveball pitchers in a different light. See who was most comparable to players you revere. Then come back here and talk about which Hall is better.

We’ll start here: A Hall of Fame based exclusively and rigidly on statistical accomplishments would feel a little lifeless. While it may be exciting to be in the stands on the day Bobby Abreu draws the walk that gives him a 100 Hall Rating (and hence makes him worthy of induction assuming nobody else passes him before he retires), even the most cold-hearted stathead likes a Hall of Fame debate, right? And there’s certainly a case against Abreu. We would also likely see Abreu stick around for a few extra years, trying to put together enough adjusted WAR to stay in the Hall a little longer when the Albert Pujolses and Carlos Beltrans of the world become eligible and dwarf his Hall Rating.

I should clarify one point here. The Hall of Stats grows with the Hall of Fame, meaning every time a new player is inducted in the Hall of Fame, the next guy on the Hall Rating list (or more likely, the highest-rated newly eligible player) is inducted in the Hall of Stats. The baseline for the Hall Rating calculation is adjusted ever-so-slightly to peg the lowest-rated member of the Hall of Stats at a score of 100. If five new worthy players hit the ballot at the same time (as Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Jeff Kent will in 2013), but only three of them are inducted in the Hall of Fame (I expect Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas will get in on the first ballot), two players will be kicked out of the Hall of Stats to keep its population equal to that of the Hall of Fame (211, plus anyone who gets in this year). In fact, Kent will likely sneak in only to be bounced a year or two from now, when Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Gary Sheffield all dwarf Kent’s score.

Because of this element (which I believe is essential to the legitimacy of the Hall of Stats), it would be complicated to build a Hall based entirely on stats. Such a Hall would have to make a rule like adding two new players per year or requiring a newly-eligible player to exceed the lowest-rated active Hall of Statser’s score by a certain percentage to kick that player out. This creates a conundrum not all that different from the current unwritten rule that any player with 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, or 300 wins is nearly automatically inducted. As the meaning of those benchmarks changes over time, it becomes harder to define what makes a Hall of Famer. And as the BBWAA applies more stringent criteria with each passing year, worthy players old and new will be removed from the Hall of Stats to adhere to the size requirement.

Rather than literally applying the Hall of Stats’ requirements and arguing the merits of a stat-based hall versus one built by subjective balloting, I’ll look at the players in the Halls of Fame and Stats, respectively, and determine which method is inducting the better players.

Let’s dispense with one unfortunate reality first. The Hall of Fame includes Negro League players like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, whose worthiness is as obvious as Stan Musial’s or Hank Aaron’s, while the Hall of Stats doesn’t. This would be a major strike against the Hall of Stats, but in its defense, numbers from the Negro Leagues aren’t trustworthy enough to translate into accurate Hall Ratings, so there’s no point inducting the obvious choices and taking chances on the rest. For the sake of this study, we’ll isolate the Major Leaguers in the Hall of Fame.

The first 139 players are in both Halls. I’ll skip the Cobbs and Ruths and Mantles and Schmidts and take a look at some of the 138 players included in one Hall or the other. The first seven players in the Hall of Stats but not the Hall of Fame are the players who retired in 2007 and will appear for the first time on this year’s ballot. To wit:

Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Curt Schilling
Mike Piazza
Kenny Lofton
Craig Biggio
Sammy Sosa

Say what you will about Lofton (and maybe Sosa), but the rest of these guys are pretty obviously worthy of any Hall one might invent to honor the best baseball players ever. The fact that Bonds and Clemens, two of the ten best players in baseball history (their Hall Ratings rank second and eighth respectively), are in the Hall of Stats but will likely be kept out of the Hall of Fame, at least for a few years, is a huge credit in the Hall of Stats’ favor. Look, I hate those two guys as much as you do, but whether they replaced their bodies with indestructible robot parts or cut off fingers to even the playing field, they would clearly have been among the best players ever in their respective roles.

The seven Hall of Famers replaced by those seven guys (assuming there was a 208-man Hall before those seven were let in and they knocked off the seven lowest-rated players) are:

Red Ruffing
Jimmy Collins
Ernie Lombardi
Billy Herman
Eppa Rixey
Wee Willie Keeler
Joe Kelley

Most of these aren’t guys I’ve ever considered borderline Hall of Famers. Ruffing has the highest ERA of any Hall of Fame pitcher (3.80), but it was nine percent better than average in the high-scoring 30s, and Ruffing was key to six World Series championships and led his league in strikeouts, shutouts, and complete games in various seasons. Collins was perhaps the best third baseman ever when he hung up his cleats, and was probably second to Home Run Baker until Eddie Mathews came along a half-century later. I’ve often made fun of Rixey’s 266-251 W-L record when looking at his plaque in Cooperstown, but the man had a 115 ERA+ over 4495 big league innings.

I’d take the seven new guys over these seven any day of the week, but the Hall of Fame hasn’t had a chance to induct the class of ’12 yet, and there’s some talent in the outgoing group.

I won’t list all 62 players on each side of the rest of the study, but I’ll throw out a few key highlights. The Hall of Stats adds such no-brainers as:

Jeff Bagwell
Pete Rose
Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell
Edgar Martinez
Shoeless Joe Jackson
Tim Raines
Mark McGwire

…and such surprises as:

Orel Hershiser
Wilburs Wood and Cooper
Charlie Bennett
Jack Quinn
Chet Lemon
Kevin Appier

The first thing you’ll notice is that the Hall of Stats doesn’t discriminate against players deemed ineligible by an MLB commissioner. I’ve never been a fan of the Hall of Fame’s character clause, as I’m sure the Hall is full of guys you wouldn’t leave your kids with while you watched a ballgame (Ty Cobb and Gaylord Perry are often cited in this argument, for very different reasons). Either Hall should honor the best players ever to play the game, whether they donated their whole salary to charity, murdered puppies, or rooted for the Yankees as kids. Put Rose and Shoeless Joe in. Whitaker and Trammell, jointly or severally, are among the greatest middle infielders ever to play baseball and will probably someday make the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Stats recognizes that they were both outstanding defensive players who put up well-above-average offensive numbers in a relatively low-scoring environment. Raines was perhaps the prototypical big-league leadoff man and McGwire, for all his warts, brought millions of fans back to baseball with his home runs (and, to a lesser extent his very valuable walks).

On the other end, Hershiser only had six seasons of three or more WAR. Cooper led his league in hits, earned runs, home runs, hit-by-pitches, and losses, but never in ERA or strikeouts, and he never appeared in the postseason. Bennett was a nineteenth-century catcher with a resume as nondescript as the Cliffs Notes of a Bronte novel. Kevin Appier is very underrated, but did anyone ever think of him as a Hall of Famer?

The converse of this list, the Hall of Famers given the boot by the Hall of Stats’ formula, includes this less-than-illustrious cadre:

Tommy McCarthy
Lloyd Waner
Freddie Lindstrom
Chick Hafey
Jesse Haines

…but also names all-time greats like:

Dizzy Dean
Luis Aparicio
Kirby Puckett
Goose Gossage
Roy Campanella

McCarthy is one of the great mysteries of the Hall of Fame, a nineteenth-century outfielder who batted .292/.364/.375 over less than 6,000 plate appearances. Baseball-reference credits McCarthy with .2 wins above average for his career, the same total Will Middlebrooks added to the Red Sox in 286 PAs as a rookie in 2012. Waner is in the Hall because he had a recognizable nickname and his brother could hit. Lindstrom was worth five fewer WAR than Jeff Cirillo and ten fewer than Carney Lansford.

On the other hand, Campanella might be the third-greatest catcher ever to play the game. His Hall Rating (76) suffers enormously from years missed at the beginning of his career due to segregation and at the end due to injury. Gossage had a career ERA+ of 126 and may have been the best relief pitcher ever until Mariano Rivera came along, but even in an age when relievers commonly topped 100 innings in a season (Gossage did five times), it’s nearly impossible to accumulate Hall-worthy stats in that role. Dean led his league in strikeouts four straight times, and in innings pitched and complete games three times each, winning one MVP Award and finishing second each of the next two years.

At the middle, it’s hard to get too excited about a Wilbur Wood or a Billy Herman jumping in or falling out. At the extremes, though, players like Campanella build a firm case against basing Hall-worthiness on a single stat, while Cooperstown neglectees like Bagwell make it pretty clear that advanced metrics have a prominent place in the discussion.

The Hall of Fame has a few clear advantages. While the Hall of Stats merges Wins Above Replacement (which are heavily boosted by longevity) and Wins Above Average (which speak primarily to peak greatness), Hall Rating still sells short the case of a player who had an insane peak, but whose career ended prematurely for one reason or another. This will be exaggerated in a few years, when Sandy Koufax, whose Hall Rating sits at a tenuous 101, is kicked out in favor of what will likely be a far lesser player who hung on longer. Dean and Addie Joss fit in this group as well. The Hall of Fame also rewards postseason greatness, which buoys the cases of Ruffing and Puckett, while the Hall of Stats seems to ignore postseason numbers (can somebody prove me wrong on this?).

The Hall of Stats has some more obvious advantages. It recognizes era factors. While the BBWAA and Veterans Committee saw fit to induct just about every hitter who batted .300 during the juiced-ball ’30s, the Hall of Stats adjusts offensive numbers to separate the Al Simmonses from the Chick Hafeys. Similarly, deadball pitchers are a dime a dozen in the Hall of Fame, but the Hall of Stats sees through Rube Marquard and Jack Chesbro, and understands how remarkable Kevin Brown’s numbers were in the Selig era. The Hall of Stats also applies a consistent standard over time, rather than flooding the roster with Frankie Frisch contemporaries and compensating by tightening standards on subsequent generations.

If forced to pick between the populous of the Hall of Fame and the current membership of the Hall of Stats, I’d take the Hall of Stats in a heartbeat. Give me Larry Walker and Rick Reuschel and Dwight Evans and Billy Pierce over Joe Sewell and Kiki Cuyler and Jim Rice and Phil Rizzuto.

But it seems pretty clear that the choice is not that easy. A Hall based on a single stat, as thoroughly vetted as that stat may be, will always miss a few deserving players who built their cases in non-traditional ways. It would be easy to make a blanket statement like “as soon as Sandy Koufax is out of the Hall of Stats, it’s not worth paying attention to anymore”, but I’d rather look at it this way: If we want to identify the 200+ best players in baseball history, the Hall of Stats makes for a far better starting point than the Hall of Fame. If we want a Hall that comes alive and tells us the story of baseball, well, we’d still get a lot of great stories from the players objectively deemed the best ever (though Enos Slaughter, Bill Mazeroski, and Catfish Hunter would be missed).

The Hall of Stats is an essential reference for the casual baseball fan, and should be even more essential for anyone privileged enough to have a Hall of Fame vote. Whatever we call the shrine in Cooperstown, it should look an awful lot more like Adam Darowski’s Hall than Jeff Idelman’s. But subjectivity is a vital element to its composition.

Just ask Sandy Koufax.

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8 Responses to Hall of Stats vs. Hall of Fame

  1. Bryan, this is a wonderful writeup. Thanks so much.

    Of course, you hit on a bunch of “known issues” with the Hall of Stats. In fact, two of the guys I feel the worst about are Sandy Koufax and Roy Campanella (Koufax is currently in, but barely). But, it’s kinda the price to pay to show “Hey, Wes Ferrell’s career was cut short by injury, too… and he provided just as much value as Koufax” or “Thurman Munson died in a plane crash… but before he was gone he produced enough to reach the borderline”.

    I also feel bad about guys like Enos Slaughter, Red Ruffing, and Bobby Doerr. The only reason they missed out is the fact that they served our country in World War II. I’m thinking the best thing to do is document these issues that I personally have so they are clear right up front.

  2. I love this analysis too, Bryan, even if there’s an obvious undercurrent that you’re pissed the Hall of Stats proves Carl Hubbell was better than Sandy Koufax. 😉

  3. Speaking of Koufax, how long is he safe for? Or, how long does Adam have to figure out how to keep him from getting bumped?

    Since Adam’s already added this year’s eligible players to make 208, in 2014 five players will be added to the HOS (Maddux, Mussina, Glavine, Thomas, Kent), bringing it to 213. If two players are inducted to the HOF in 2013 and 2014 each (which is basically the average), that brings it to 212, meaning Orel Hershiser gets bumped from the HOS.

    Assuming a growth of two players per year, in 2015, Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz and Sheffield get added, with Billy Pierce and King Kelly getting bumped.

    At this point, I can’t tell whether Koufax or Kent would be the lowest rated HOS guy (they’re both at 101), but in 2016, it’s only Griffey and Edmonds who get in, so maybe neither gets bumped. In 2017, three more guys get in, leaving possibly one guy (Koufax or Kent) getting bumped.

    But, reality is, in one or more of these upcoming years, more than two players are going to get elected to the Hall of Fame. Not all of them are going to be kept out by the holier-than-thou BBWAA.

    So, assuming there are no flaws in my methodology here, I’m thinking Koufax, while there’s no doubt his spot is tenuous, might be safer than at first glance.

    • Bryan says:

      There’s a real chance Koufax gets bumped soon and finds his way back in eventually. The class of ’07 has two steroid guys who are obviously worthy (Bonds and Clemens) and a third with three 60-HR seasons (Sosa), along with a polarizing character in Schilling who won’t get in right away, and shoo-ins in Piazza and Biggio who might get Bagwelled for one reason or another and have to wait a few years.

      If Morris doesn’t get in, Bagwell has to wait a few more years, and the steroid guys create the predicted log jam that allows for only the Madduxes and Griffeys to get in over the next 6 or 7 years, the HoS could have to kick out several guys. Then when the dam breaks open with Bonds’s induction, or when the VC gets to Trammell/Whitaker and co., we could see 14 or 15 guys get in over a 3 or 4 year period, while fewer new players are added to the HoS. Then we’d have to restore some of the guys rated 99, which would probably include Koufax by then.

      Maybe it’s wishful thinking to assume we’ll all get over this steroid nonsense in the next decade, but once it happens, a lot of new guys are going to get added to the HoF.

  4. Pingback: High Heat Stats » Carl Hubbell vs. Sandy Koufax: A Hall of Fame Inner Circle Debate

  5. Theo says:

    I think you more or less hit the nail on the head. If I’m making a Hall of Fame, I would much rather start with the Hall of Stats and add in Slaughter, Kiner, etc. than start with the actual Hall of Fame and have to slog through the early Deadball players and Veterans Committee filler.

    And really, when you think about it, the other major problems that will arise (players like Koufax getting kicked out) will really exist only because the real Hall of Fame isn’t doing its job properly and inducting worthy players fast enough. And even then, of the next 16 players to be kicked out of the Hall of Stats, only Koufax and Larry Doby (and maybe Thurman Munson) would I feel strongly about. And if the Hall adds in another player or two, that will only add to the buffer.

    Maybe I’m being too pessimistic. Maybe Cooperstown will surprise us the next few years and induct more than one-two players per year.

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