Friday, January 10, 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot Results

So another HOF ballot is in the books and, like most years, there were some obvious outcomes and some that weren't expected.

I think everyone is pleased that, unlike last year, some people were actually voted into the Hall. But some of the outcomes were really surprising and/or disappointing.

The most disappointing result, to me, was Greg Maddux only getting 97.2% of the vote. There are many, many players where we can debate if they are or aren't HOF-worthy. Heck, I wish the Veterans Committee would have that debate about Dwight Evans, who absolutely deserves to be in Cooperstown.

But there is no debate about Maddux. 355 wins, a lifetime ERA of 3.16 and four Cy Young Awards in four consecutive years. His career pitching WAR of 104.6 is eighth all-time, beating legends like Mathewson, Spahn, Carlton, Ryan and Gibson. His 3,371 strikeouts are 10th all-time. And his lifetime JAWS score of 81.6 is 10th all-time for starting pitchers. There no legitimate reason, none, to deny Maddux the vote.

And yet Maddux wasn't unanimous. One voter, Ken Gurnick, explained he refuses to vote for anyone from the "Steroid Era". This despite the fact that if you look at Maddux's numbers, they are consistent in his prime and degrade at the rate one would expect from a player as he ages. As opposed to, say, Roger Clemens, who had two of his best statistical seasons at ages 38 and 41.

Maddux not being a unanimous inductee is a travesty, but at least he got in.

Glavine and Thomas as first-ballot inductees is right on the money. Glavine, like Maddux, has the kind of peak and decline you expect to see in a talented pitcher. Thomas had his best years before the age of 32, which makes sense as those are the peak years for an athlete. And his decline after that made sense: after 32 he never hit over .300 again and never had an OPS over 1.000.

Glavine and Thomas also had what I like to call the "last hurrah" season. As a player ages, their performance declines. But in that decline there is usually one last season that recaptures a piece of their younger self. And then the decline continues.

For Glavine, that year was 2006. He was 40, went 15-7 with a 3.82 ERA, struck out 131 batters and a 1.333 WHIP. For Thomas, it happened at age 38 in 2006. He had a .926 OPS, hit 39 HR with 114 RBI, cranked out 147 hits and had a 3.2 WAR. That was the only time he cracked 3.0 WAR or higher over the last five years of his career.

It's interesting to see that season occur in the careers of many Hall of Fame inductees or HOF-caliber players. Hank Aaron in 1973 at age 39. Willie Mays in 1971 at age 40. Frank Robinson in 1973 at age 37. Yaz at age 40 in 1980. Dave Winfield and his ridiculous 1990 season with the Jays at age 40. Catfish Hunter going 12-6 in 1978, his next-to-last year in his career. Randy Johnson, a mortal lock for the Hall next year (except on Gurnick's ballot, apparently) going 11-10 at age 44 in 2008 with a 3.2 WAR.

It's not a hard and fast rule. Some players are just excellent their entire career, like Babe Ruth or Ted Williams. But that year stands out because it is surrounded and/or followed by a decline in output. And it is never one of their best statistical years.

Biggio just missing was a surprise. I guess the "Steroid Era" thing plays it's part in that despite Biggio never actually being ensnared in the problems. And I don't think his hanging around for a 20th year to get that 3,000 hit helps (a season where his WAR was -2.1). If he doesn't make it next year I would be shocked.

I feel bad for Jack Morris. His career has been the touchstone for 15 years about what makes a Hall of Fame career. I have to side with those who think he is not a Hall of Fame player. No Cy Young, 254 wins, less than 2,500 strikeouts and he doesn't sit in the top 20 of any meaningful career totals for pitchers. He wasn't even a super-dominant post-season pitcher. He comes very close, but the stats just aren't there. Never mind that his JAWS numbers aren't good at all.

I think what hurts Tim Raines is that his excellence was front-loaded in his career. From 1981-89 he was a terror. But from 1990 to 2002, he made no All-Star Games, got no MVP votes, and never was the single-season leader in a major statistical category except fielding percentage in left field. And he only did that twice. But that dominance from 81-89...he's worth yet another look.

I was shocked Schilling lost votes. As I wrote earlier he has enough statistical backing to make the Hall. His win percentage, career WAR, WHIP and strikeout totals are all HOF-worthy. Add to that his post-season excellence...he should be in there at some point.

And then there is the PED Brigade. One member got axed outright: Rafael Palmeiro, he of the 3,020 lifetime hits. Palmeiro got only 4.4% of the vote and is now gone. Which shows that lying to Congress is probably one of the few things a baseball player can do that will actually keep him from getting into the Hall. Mark McGwire's total went down along with Sammy Sosa's.

Then you have the curious cases of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. What makes them somewhat unique is that you can tell where the using began..and the career before that point is HOF-caliber. I just talked about Bonds and Clemens (as much as it pains me to say this) is in the same boat. From 1984-1998, he went 233-124 with 3,153 Ks, an average yearly WAR of 6.8, five Cy Young awards and an MVP award. That is a HOF-caliber career, even before the cheating began. Which is probably why even though they both lost votes this year, it wasn't a lot of votes. It will be interesting to see where they go next year.

And in the class of 2015? I think the mortal locks are Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Which should leave enough room for Biggio to get to 75%. John Smoltz has a Cy Young award to his name and over 3,000 strikeouts. I just question whether that is enough to offset 213 wins and no extended period of dominance in his career. He could have a very Morris-esque trajectory to his voting. And Gary Sheffield got tagged in the Mitchell Report. Combine that with very good-but-not great numbers and I don't see how he makes it in.


Aviv said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aviv said...

I was also pretty disappointed that Mike Mussina received only about 20 percent of the vote, but I think his low vote percentage and Schilling's step back probably is more a reflection of just how pack this ballot was. It will be interesting to see what happens to these guys next year with Morris off the ballot and three guys having been voted in. I suspect there will be a bump across the board.

As for the lack of unanimity for Maddux, I can't get too worked up about it. The reality is that with the exception of juries, it's nearly impossible to get unanimous decision on anything ... and it sometimes it's quite difficult for a jury of 10 or 12 to reach a unanimous decision, never mind the BBWAA, which has over 500 voting member.

And Dan LeBetard, who sold his vote to Deadspin, is an idiot. Shouldn't be allowed to cover another baseball game again.

Dave said...

Dan LeBatard just exposed the idiocy surrounding these ballots. I mean, Maddux doesn't get a vote on Lawrence Rocca's ballot but Hideo Nomo does? Seriously? I think that does more damage to the integrity of the vote that LeBetard ever could have done. At least the Deadspin ballot made sense.